It was Kan’s first hunt. At fourteen, he had to bring home an animal, any animal, or be banished from the clan, forever an outsider. And the kind of animal he brought back would determine his place.
Rabbits were commonly brought back from first hunts, as well as badgers and raccoons. Those boys didn’t stand out. No, nothing smaller than a deer would win him a good place; one with a thatched hut instead of a canvas tent and maybe even Chief’s daughter for a wife.
Kan gripped his spear as he hopped from one boulder to the next, and scanned the forest for any signs of life. Not even a squirrel. Songbirds called from the branches above. What place would a bird get him? Village idiot, probably. No, he needed something bigger. Much bigger.
Dark clouds rumbled overhead. Great. All the animals would be hiding in their dens and holes by now. The hunt would have to wait. But where could he wait out the storm?
Kan ran through the light rain. There had to be a cave around here somewhere. He couldn’t go back to the village; it would look like a failed hunt and he’d be banished. No, he had to wait out the storm and continue his hunt, no matter what.
Lightning flashed. The entire area lit up in harsh white light for a heartbeat, then sank into a blackness deeper than night. Another flash. A cave! Kan ran through the darkness to an even darker darkness. But at least it was dry. Kan stood near the entrance and wrung out his clothes. Phew! Running through the rain made him stink something awful. Rain pelted the ground. The wind shifted, blowing the rain into the cave. Kan scooted further in.
His stomach growled. Loudly. Kan hadn’t realized how hungry he was. Actually, he wasn’t hungry at all. He put a hand on his stomach. He had eaten well before his first hunt so that he could last for hours if need be. Why then…?
He heard the growl again. Louder. From behind. Lightning flashed and illuminated the cave and the hulking, growling shape beside him.
“Aagghh!” Kan tore out of the cave and ran through the soaking forest. A roar behind him told him the bear was right on his heels.
Kan pumped his legs. Run! Branches and brambles tore at his arms and rocks shredded his moccasins. Run! Through familiar paths now soaked with rain. Run! Thunder and lightning fought overhead and rain fell like stones. Run! Kan tore through the forest. The village was in sight! Just a little further!
“Help!” Kan wove between canvas tents and thatched huts. “Bear!” He screamed at the top of his lungs, but could barely hear himself. Would anyone else hear him? “Bear! Bear! Bear!” Every twist and turn he repeated the word, like a chant, to wake up as many hunters and warriors as possible to bring the monster down.
Heads poked out of a few tents and the warning was repeated. Soon, the villagers had the bear surrounded. Kan leaned his hands on his knees and panted. The warriors poked the bear with spears. The animal reared up on its hind legs and slapped at the spears. Several were knocked out of a warrior’s hands or broken in two.
Kan renewed his grip on his own spear and took aim. He threw it as hard as he could. Thunk! The weapon sank into the bear’s skull. Splat! It hit the soaked, muddy ground. Dead.
Stunned silence greeted Kan as he and the warriors inspected the dead bear. But the warriors backed off as Chief came through. He stared hard at Kan. Kan stiffened, only now realizing that he came back without a catch.
“Chief,” Kan knelt and bit his lip. “I beg another chance. The bear-.”
“No one gets a second chance, Kan.” Chief’s voice was steady and loud, despite the rain. Kan bowed his head and closed his eyes. No second chances. He really botched his hunt. First the storm, then the bear…
Kan glanced over to where the hulking mass of fur lay. The bear had chased him back to the village. And he had killed it. Maybe-? “Chief,” Kan looked up, “Can I claim the bear?”
“You may.” Chief bowed his head.
“Then I do!” Kan jumped to his feet and thrust his first in the air. “I claim the bear for my first hunt!” The shaggy animal, once a taker of life, had just given him the best life of all.