View Full Version : Women of the Forest (short story or first chapter?)

December 26th, 2013, 01:32 AM
Author's Note: I'm actually unsure whether this would work as a whole short story in its own right or whether it reads more like a novel's opening chapter.

Women of the Forest

Sheets of gray mist brooded over the tropical forest. Dim arrows of sunlight pierced through the tangled canopy and faded into the understory’s black depths. Between the colossal trees echoed an unending chorus of bird squawks, insect chirps, frog croaks, and every now and then the roars of mightier beasts. To a civilized person this dark and overgrown world would seem too unkempt, even ominous, for human habitation. To Yejide it was home.

Bounding over the spongy earth without sound, she glided through the foliage that submerged her. Her lean and muscled figure, black as a moonless midnight, disappeared into the shadows. Brief strips of reptilian hide protected her breasts and crotch, yet rings of fangs and claws adorned her neck and limbs. These hunting tokens showed Yejide’s heritage as a woman of the forest, and with the obsidian spear she gripped she could earn herself another set of teeth soon.

Yejide did not hunt alone. Two other women near her age, Chinwe and Nkiru, ran by her side armed with their own spears. Their circle of friendship went back to childhood and grew stronger once they came of age and left their mothers’ bands to forge a new one together. They became sisters not from birth but in spirit.

The pungent stench of dung stung Yejide’s nose. She signalled her friends to stop and crouched in search of the odor’s source. Among the rotting leaves of the forest floor there rested little green thumbs of scat mottled with white urea. Yejide tapped one with her finger, noting its softness and warmth.

“Fresh as new,” she whispered.

Chinwe pointed out hand-sized impressions in the dirt with three blunt prongs each. These formed a staggered trail strewn with trampled leaves and splintered twins.

Chinwe licked her lips. “Swala passed here.”

“I see no other trails,” Nkiru said. “It must be a lone buck.”

Yejide measured one of the prints’ depths with her finger. “And a big one too.”

“Then we’ll feast for days,” Chinwe said.

Nkiru looked at her askance. “If he doesn’t crush us first.”

Chinwe snorted. “We need the challenge. So many days have passed since we last had any sport.”

Yejide smirked and shook her head as her friends debated whether they should follow the tracks. Typical how Chinwe would treat hunting as sport rather than the simple procurement of food, the opposite of how Nkiru saw it. Yet Chinwe spoke for everyone when she said the past few days had been slow and uneventful, with nothing larger than a python to eat. Besides, Yejide’s stomach was rumbling.

“You both stop it,” she said. “We don’t want to lose our prey.”

Chinwe nodded with a smug grin at Nkiru. “So I win.”

The three women dropped to their knees and crept over the trail on all fours. They held their bodies low to the ground to further immerse themselves into the undergrowth. Yejide planned every movement of her limbs to rustle the maze of plants as little as she could. Her mouth melted inside as she imagined herself biting into Swala's rich and tangy flash. Nkiru's fears notwithstanding, these humble little plant-eaters were seldom difficult to slay in the huntresses' past experience. There was no reason why this Swala would prove any different.

A distant roar, faint but thunderous, resounded across the forest. Yejide froze in mid-crawl with an icy serpent of dread slithering up her back. Only the cavernous jaws of Mkosu, the tyrant beast of the forest whom all other creatures feared, could let out that distinctive cry.

“We should leave,” Nkiru whimpered.

Chinwe shot her an annoyed glare, but Yejide signaled them to silence before either could retort. They waited in silence for the roar to repeat, but only the regular jungle chorus sang.

“Maybe Mkosu’s the one who left,” Yejide said. “And Swala will too if we don’t press on.”

They crept on until another cry seized Yejide’s attention. This one sounded not like Mkosu’s roar but rather the soft bleat of Swala, and its sharper clarity hinted that it came from close by. In addition Yejide caught a musky whiff almost similar to the dung they found earlier. She smiled with a nod.

“You see him?” Chinwe asked.

Yejide crawled towards a patch of yam plants and poked her head up through their cover to peer across the understory. A few yards ahead some more yam plants brandished their triangular leaves, revealing a stiff tail hanging over the ground.

“Now I do,” Yejide said.

Swala trotted out from the plants on a pair of bird-like legs. Vibrant blue scales shimmered all over its slender body that ran as long as a man stood tall. The reptile used its scrawny arms to scrape the forest floor while snipping at saplings with a blunt beak. As it browsed, Swala’s copper eyes twitched side to side as if scanning for danger. Yejide sank deeper into her cover once their line of sight neared her position.

“He’s awfully thin,” Nkiru said.

“But also tall,” Chinwe said. “That’s more than enough meat for us all. Now stop being a little girl.”

Yejide licked her fingertip, raised it to the air, and pointed downwind of Swala. She kept an eye on the creature as she and her friends stalked closer to it. So far it showed no awareness of their presence as it fed.

Again the roar of Mkosu crashed through the forest’s calm, this time louder than before. Yejide’s heart throbbed with the frenzy of battle drums and she wobbled on her limbs. Swala cocked its head up from its meal, tail standing erect, and neighed.

“Should we strike now?” Chinwe asked.

Swala twisted its neck around to face their direction, pawing the earth with its feet.

Yejide shrugged. “Better now than never.”

From the brush Chinwe sprang up into the air, spear raised and aimed down at Swala. The braying animal bolted away before she could land. All the huntresses dashed after it together, bursting and dodging their way through vegetation which Swala could weave through with ease. Yet Yejide paid no heed to her leg muscles’ burning.

She ran up the leaning trunk of a half-fallen tree, slid down its mossy bough on her feet, and jumped down a yard before Swala. She twirled around with spear facing forward, but Swala reared its underside away from her weapon’s path. It bit onto the spear and recoiled its head. The tug’s force knocked Yejide off her footing and onto the forest floor, but she kept her hands on the shaft. It took a second yank for Swala to pry the spear from her grip.

Shrieking with bloodlust, Chinwe swung off a vine and descended onto the reptile’s back, pinning it to the ground. She stabbed down for its thrashing head until it bucked her off. Yejide, after snatching her spear back, thrust it into Swala’s thigh. With a shrill bleat it fell forward.

Nkiru charged into the scene. The moment Swala tilted its front half up to stand, she drove her spear deep into its breast. Blood erupted from the animal’s beak in its effort to screech out its pain. Once Nkiru withdrew her weapon, Swala collapsed back to its death.

She wiped perspiration off her brow. “That wasn’t so hard after all.”

“Especially not since Yejide and I took most of the beating,” Chinwe muttered. She brushed the leaves and dirt off her body and sighed in relief. “Though on the bright side, we had some sport at last.”

Yejide laughed. She rubbed the hide over Swala’s injured thigh, feeling for the meat underneath. “Not too fat, not too lean. Who’s hungry?”

The women pulled out their flint knives and cut into the carcass. After slicing a shred of flesh off, Yejide popped it into her mouth and chewed. She hummed with satisfication as she savored the gamy flavor.

“It feels like ages since I last ate anything this good,” Nkiru said, smacking on Swala’s blood. “You’re right, Chinwe, this was worth it.”

Chinwe tore off a mouthful from the animal’s arm. Yejide snickered as she watched her friend devour the limb as ravenously as usual.

THUD. A pulse rippled through the earth underneath Yejide’s feet. Understory trees rattled their branches, twigs snapped, and birds fluttered off their perches squawking in panic. More thuds shook the ground, but Yejide and her friends turned stiff and cold as stone. Steam that reeked of rotten flesh warmed her back while saliva dripped onto her skin.

Mkosu towered overhead, glaring down at the women with its fiery yellow eyes. Blood-stained ivory spikes glinted around its gaping mouth which could bite off at least half a hippopotamus. Bristly dark green and black feathers blended the beast’s hulking body into the forest shadows. It lifted a muscled hind leg to crush the Swala carcass underfoot, cracking the bones.

“How dare you destroy our kill like that, monster!” Chinwe swiped at Mkosu’s snout with her spear, but missed as the carnivore jerked its head back.

Nkiru grabbed Chinwe by the shoulder as she drew back for another swing. “Don’t set him off,” Nkiru said. “Stay still.”

Chinwe shoved her off and jabbed at Mkosu again. It caught her spear in its jaws, tore it out of her hands, and crunched down to splinter it into pieces. Shrieking a curse, Chinwe flashed out her knife, but Yejide pulled her away by the arms.

Mkosu lowered its head, opened its gape up even wider, and blasted out its loudest territorial roar. The cry filled the whole forest, smashed against Yejide’s eardrums like storm waves, and toppled her onto her back. As she scrambled back up, Mkosu sucked into a gust of air as if taking a deep breath.

The next roar drowned out Yejide’s scream to run.

And so the women shot through the forest swifter than before. Time sped along with them and Mkosu crashed and thudded close behind. Now Yejide’s abdominals burned like her legs. Her sprinting broke up into staggered jogging just as Mkosu closed in on her, steaming her back again with its breath.

Chinwe bounced up and grabbing an overhanging vine. “Up here!”

Nkiru followed her up the vine. Yejide leapt but fell short of it, landing on her front side. Mkosu dropped its open maw down on her.

She rolled around and slashed its tongue with her spear. As Mkosu backed off to holler, Yejide rocketed to catch the vine and climbed after her friends to the thick bough supporting it. Mkosu glanced up at them and sent them one more roar which the women answered with defiant shrieking. After a snort the beast turned and lumbered away.

A shuddering Yejide panted until her mouth dried up. Her pulse faded from frantic drumming back to calm.

“That’s enough excitement for one day,” Nkiru said.

Chinwe growled. “And I’m been disarmed again.”

“You’ve only yourself to blame for that.” Nkiru stretched her back over the bough to rest and smirked with triumph.

“No more bickering, you two,” Yejide said. “We should all thank our ancestors we got out alive.”

“But my spear? How can I hunt without my spear?” Chinwe crossed her arms and pouted.

“You could make yourself a bow and some arrows,” Nkiru said.

Chinwe grimaced. “Bows are for men and cowards. Real women hunt with spears. Besides, that spear had a fine obsidian head. You don’t find stones that sharp all over the place.”

“You can around the Smoking Rift,” Yejide said. “But that’s a moon’s worth of travel from here.” She patted Chinwe on the shoulder and smiled. “Don’t worry, everything will work out in the end.”

“You always say that.” Chinwe rolled onto her side, laying her dreadlocked head over her arms, and shut her eyes.

In truth Yejide did not know whether she could find a new spear for her friend. Even if they could make it to the foothills of the Smoking Rift, they might not get past its craggy terrain and legendary fumes of death. Perhaps they could find a place to trade for a new spear, but first they would need to comb this unfamiliar part of the forest with meticulous care. That would mean having to brave more predators like Mkosu. But Yejide could think all that through after she got her sleep.

The sun sank behind the forest canopy to the far west, bringing its gold light with it. In its wake the twilight sky graded to violet and sprinkled with stars. Yejide searched these twinkling dots for the souls of her parents and grandparents, assuming their time had already passed since she left them. She could only guess what happened to them or whether they still wandered somewhere else in the forest’s vastness. And what of her little brother Kayode? Surely he came of age and now foraged by himself, searching for young women to satisfy his newfound manly appetite. Yejide giggled at the thought.

She took in a deep yawn, reclined on the tree bough’s soft moss, and let the songs of nighttime creatures lull her to sleep.

December 26th, 2013, 01:50 AM
There's not enough resolution, I think, to be a short story that stands alone. I do like it very much as the opening chapter to something longer though!

I like your eye for detail.

December 26th, 2013, 02:25 AM
There's not enough resolution, I think, to be a short story that stands alone. I do like it very much as the opening chapter to something longer though!

I like your eye for detail.
Thank you, I'll go over this and see what loose ends need to be tied up.

December 28th, 2013, 09:50 PM
It's a great beginning. We get a quick sense of what life is like in her world, and there is plenty of excitement. The dialogue is fantastic: it defines each character's personality without having to describe it with wordy explanations, and it only serves to move the story along. You have a keen ear for it.

Where you lose some of your strength is actually, I think, in your detail. There are some very good parts, like when they attack the Swala, but then there are other parts when you get a little too exuberant with the adjectives. I had a critic once tell me I had "adjectivitis", telling me that I was trying to cram too much stuff into each sentence. That critic recommended that I include short snippets about the creatures, characters, and world as I introduced them, no more than three adjectives in the sentence where they first come in, something like Chinwe having dreadlocks, being tall/short, having a muscular figure when she speaks her first line. I promise this will streamline your story. You do a good job of this with Mkosu, but not so much with the others. Also, there are parts like this one: "but first they would need to comb this unfamiliar part of the forest with meticulous care." When you say meticulous, you imply care. Either say she did it meticulously, or say she did it with care. Another example is "and blasted out its loudest territorial roar." When you blast something, we assume that it's loud, right? And if it's a territorial roar, we can pretty much assume the same thing, no? Eliminating these extraneous additives can really amp up the action in your story and keep the reader at it.

Also, the difference between a short story and a first chapter, in my opinion, is resolution. This leaves a lot of things unanswered at the end, a couple of things are actually introduced at the end, so keep this going into other chapters. I would love to read more about her adventures at, say, the Smoking Rift.

December 29th, 2013, 01:26 AM
I greatly appreciate your critique, theprancreas11. I will definitely watch my adjectives in future writing!

On another forum I had a discussion about the utility of various materials for anti-dinosaur weapons, and apparently obsidian isn't that great a choice. It's very sharp, yes, but also easily shattered and therefore wouldn't work well in a fight situation. Therefore I should probably scrap the whole plotline about finding a new obsidian point for Chinwe.

December 29th, 2013, 01:53 AM
Hmmm, I'm curious as to what you would kill a Dinosaur with? Steel? But then, that might be a bit historically inaccurate. Stones are mostly brittle things, but I love the idea of this Smoking Rift place. I wonder if there is another weapon that might arise out of it. Either way, I agree: everything is​ better with dinosaurs.

December 29th, 2013, 02:01 AM
Hmmm, I'm curious as to what you would kill a Dinosaur with? Steel? But then, that might be a bit historically inaccurate. Stones are mostly brittle things, but I love the idea of this Smoking Rift place. I wonder if there is another weapon that might arise out of it. Either way, I agree: everything is​ better with dinosaurs.
People and dinosaurs co-existing is historically inaccurate by definition. Nonetheless it is possible for so-called "tribal" cultures to produce iron tools. The ancient Germanic peoples of northern Europe and the Bantu of southern Africa come to mind. That said, iron-smelting societies tend not to be nomadic hunter-gatherers like my three characters.

December 30th, 2013, 06:20 AM
I love the detail. It paints a wonderful image of what the setting is. You filled my head with images of a jungle and I love it when authors are able to do that. Nice work. I agree with Breila in that it doesn't have any conclusion, so i would make it either a chapter one or modify it to close up the loose ends, but you already said you would do that. Great job. :D

December 30th, 2013, 11:13 PM
I agree that you have a great eye for detail. The struggle I often have is balancing detail with maintaining the flow of a story. You did remarkably well, keeping the pace consistent throughout.

It does not, however, work as a short story as it stands. I want to know more. Will they return to defeat Mkosu? Has Mkosu been plaguing them for some time (I'd assume so, considering how hungry they were). And you introduce another location at the end; the Smoking Rift sounds like a fascinating setting for a second chapter.

December 31st, 2013, 07:06 AM
I really enjoyed this and it's a great first chapter. It doesn't have a feeling of closure that a short story would need. As a first chapter, however, it really sets the setting for both the world, and the interactions between the characters. Even though it's not exactly the same, I suggest reading the Clan of the Cave Bear series. It takes place in the time of the last big ice age (mammoth hunting and saber toothed tigers are in the books). I suggest it because the author really went into detail on how weapons were made. Clan of the Cave Bear (book 1) shows more of the Neanderthal side, and the Mammoth Hunters (book 3) shows our ancestors. I only mention it because they may give you ideas as to how weapons and items such as baskets and pottery were made. Dwellings, tanning hides, and preparing for winter were all mentioned. The author did a lot of research, and I'm assuming you did too (such as most people don't realize that people did eat meat raw when it was fresh).

*hugs* Let us know when you write more!

January 4th, 2014, 05:09 AM
I really like the idea of female huntresses. They're almost like daughters of Artemis. This could be developed into something very interesting.