Arturo Asensio “Decorating Altamira Cave”
In Illo Tempore / In Those Days
The splintering happened slowly, one figment of soul at a time. When nothing was left, she took to drinking.
It wasn’t all nectar and ambrosia. She enjoyed pain, blood, tears. Fear lay thick upon a world of her making. The creatures bearing her image skittered from cave to cave, avoiding wide-open spaces. She played with the weather, sending them thunder, lightning, hail. Terrified, they crawled through mud, chanting a name they had invented for her. They went to war with their neighbors chanting that name. When food grew scarce, the fools sacrificed their children chanting that name.
Every century or so, she’d grow bored and go to sleep. Through the thin layer of her dreams, she’d hear them celebrate the return of the sun—again, chanting that name. As if she had something to do with it.
It annoyed her, their apparent belief that she could be appeased with a chant and a sculpted face in the rock that looked nothing like her. She’d make long vengeful lists in her sleep, dispensing death in the form of a rockfall, a blizzard, a pack of snarling sabertooths. That kept her busy when she woke up.
But even the most inventive deaths tended to grow dull after a while. Especially those unpleasant deaths in childbirth. Once their mothers were gone, the little worms shriveled to nothing within hours. The few who made it to the crawling or walking stage were often carried away by predators. That wasn’t always her fault. She simply enjoyed making powerful creatures much more than weaklings.
The only thing that rankled was that her beloved creations didn’t show the same reverence as the weaklings. They didn’t sculpt her face in the rock, nor did they chant her name. Death didn’t tame them. The more of them she killed, the more feral they became. Even their cubs were ferocious.
She loved them nonetheless. They were pure and ruthless, true reflections of her eternal being. Authentic.
The thought that she had been decimating her playthings with careless abandon caught up with her when the chanting stopped. The shrines went untended. The sculptors laid down their tools and withdrew to their caves. No one went to war any longer. No one sacrificed their children in her name.
She knew they were dying, these weaklings she had loved so little. She wondered whether it mattered. She wondered whether she should do anything.
Then, one day, she saw a pack of sabertooths corner a weakling child that had ventured out of its cave. The child held a rock in its hand. One single rock against a whole pack of sabertooths. It was ludicrous. The outcome was clear as day—and as boring.
In the aftermath, she wondered why she had done it. Why the rock hitting the graying muzzle of her most-prized creation had spurred her forward, made her enclose the child in the palm of her hand, made her bring the mountain down on the pack.
Perhaps what she had found delicious this time was not the fear in the eyes of the child, a girl who had barely learned to walk, but the weakling’s defiance. The child knew it was going to die, but picked up the rock anyway.
She smiled when the fires were lit again on the shrines, when the sculptors picked up their tools. She laughed like thunder when she saw whose face they sculpted in the rock, whose name they chanted around their fires. She let them. There was so much she could forgive now, so much she could learn to love.
They had finally found her likeness—the face of a little girl holding a rock in her hand. Someone pure and brave. Someone like her. Authentic.
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