Adam Jones wanted to become a caveman. You will kindly note that, despite the improbability of his situation, he did not think he was a caveman. In that case, I would have shared my concerns with registered doctors. No: it was more of a temporary residence in time, like signing up for hunter-gatherer tee-ball and quitting after the first season, after he had won a trophy. The trophy was insight and the opposing team was saber-tooth tigers.
We were both history teachers at the high school. One day we were in the lounge eating sandwiches when Adam’s sanity started leaking from his brain. He explained his plans to ditch his tweed jacket and lesson plans and go live in a cave and wear a loincloth—to invent the wheel and hunt mammoths. I tried breaking the news that all the world’s mammoths were dead. Apparently I wasn’t thinking like a Neanderthal.
“You can’t reinvent the wheel,” I said.
“You can rediscover it,” he said.
He complained that it was really unfair there were only secondhand accounts of primitive man to go by. Everything about Homo neanderthalensis was basically just an educated guess. Sure, prehistoric history is an oxymoron; there were no authors named Ugg. But who’s some Oxford guy, buried in a stack of books, to say what kind of language they had, and how they used tools? And was I going to eat my pickle?
His conviction was astonishing. If he behaved like our bone-swinging forebears, he would automatically think like they did. That was the key to his experiment, and to his success: he was going to write the first primary source on cave life, and thereby achieve critical acclaim, unfathomable grants, and tenure among historians. Yes, of course he was loony. But what an offer he made me! Help me with a few minor things, and you can write the introduction to my book.
Now, I’m not one to doubt an eminent paleontologist when he says that a cave drawing of a buffalo represents an actual buffalo. So I tend to believe the stuff in history books about cave people. But take a look through my glasses. I had written manuscripts on everything from Columbus to civil rights. I had been sucker-punched by eleven publishers a total of twenty-eight times. I would have signed a contract with Satan to have my initials published on a mint wrapper if he offered. But introductions are easy, and they span several crisp pages in a nice shiny volume with the introducer’s name on the cover in small print.
I decided Adam wasn’t so loony after all.
A farmer—and mutual friend of ours—had recently announced the discovery of a small cave in the woods on his property. So Adam divulged his plans just days later. It was November, and Adam needed a sub and an alibi. These were Mr. Grinnell and an urgent vacation in the Alps.
When a man retrogresses to the Stone Age he typically brings three provisions. The loincloth is a case for modesty. The other two are necessary anachronisms: a notebook, to bring literacy to prehistory, and a cell phone, for emergencies. Or in case this caveman invents text messaging, ha ha ha.
Beyond my most optimistic forecast, Adam was still staunchly stuck in time a week later, away from indoor plumbing and frying pans. I was revising a lesson plan when the phone rang.
“This better be an emergency,” I answered.
“It’s not,” he said. “So what about the sub, is he a moron?”
“Cavemen don’t know about school. Shouldn’t you be discovering fire?”
“That was Wednesday. Listen, can you come out here?”
“I need your help with something. You said you would.”
“Remember how you’re writing the introduction?”
Yes, I was writing the introduction. I was indentured to my dream. I would have done anything he told me to. He promised not to make me wear a loincloth. So I drove out there, to Pennsylvania, to the beginning of civilization, and found the little cave on a hillside. I knocked. There was no response, so I went a ways in—but it was dark, and a sort of smacking noise echoed throughout, which I met with a sneeze.
“It must be you,” a voice bounced. Its progenitor stepped from the shadows. He looked like Adam, but was a slovenly mess, and his hands were gloved in auburn mud. The Adam I knew didn’t look like that.
“You know the Cave of Hands?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said. He was referring to a cave in Patagonia covered with constellations of handprints in relief.
“I know why they did it,” he said. “I’m getting in touch with the earth here, communicating with nature. It’s liberating, like my soul is touching the cave walls, touching the earth or something. People should do this more.”
“I see you’ve developed spoken language.”
He laughed and disappeared again. An echo resounded: “Let me get this, it’s right over here.” When he re-emerged into the light he shoved a lump of beige fabric in my hands and smiled.
I held the demented cousin of a Halloween costume, the kind somebody’s frugal mom makes for them, stitched together with embarrassment and adorned with shame. It had two white protrusions, like soft, flexible icicles. It had googly eyes. It was the first and only saber-tooth tiger with a zipper.
“What authenticity! Is it a real pelt?”
“What authenticity indeed,” he said. “You are going to be a real live saber tooth tiger so I can learn how to hunt. Put the suit on.”
My compliance to that point had been less an investment in friendship than a child of ambition. But if this was material for Adam’s book, introducing him as a scholar was a risk. My mind’s scale weighed a feather of awkward fame against a brick of shameless obscurity. Couldn’t Adam just go back home, take a shower, get some sleep, and forget the whole thing? It was doomed to fail from the start. No one can become a caveman.
I resigned my ambitions and turned to leave. But a hey! caught my attention, and I spun around to see Adam’s palms conspiring against my chest—and soon I was in touch with the earth. I rose, but only in empty air. Then suddenly a riptide voice breaking among the shadows: “Yes! Turn that rage into predatory instinct!”
The suit made me feel as if a felt animal had swallowed me feet-first and choked before eating my head. But how could I just head home and forget the whole thing when Adam was begging me to tackle him? How was I going to get home, anyway? This was the Stone Age. There were no cars. I let my predatory instinct run free. I got down on all fours and snarled. Adam advanced to the edge of his cave and surveyed the land. From behind a boulder I pounced at him, narrowly dodging the spear.
I do verily believe that in prehistoric times, when saber-tooth tigers were confronted with human weapons, they rose on their hind legs and sprinted towards their assailants with mad googly looks in their eyes. And I’m positive of their uncanny ability to strangle a human about the neck as if they had opposable thumbs. Such was my reenactment, for the sake of authenticity. I must compliment Adam’s excellent portrayal of a caveman under attack. You can’t teach that kind of terror in acting school. I imagined that his face beneath the mask of mud (I slathered it on for beauty) was the color of the pale November sky, something he undoubtedly yearned to see at that moment in order to deliver his last respects to the Nature he so worshipped—before Neanderthals went extinct for good.
In frenzied states of passion the human mind forgets itself in a visceral whirlpool. Not mine! I yanked out the stopper on Adam’s drain and used it to plug up my own emotions. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to kill the farmer too. He would have said something about the dead caveman in his cave. Good thing no one saw me abduct the farmer from his kitchen table or I would have killed them too. But what are two meager murders? We’re dealing with history, here: look at all the battles and wars throughout time! Thousands, millions of people killed! Adam and the farmer are mere grains in the silo. And grains are easily hidden in the back of a cave with oh-so-many twists and turns.
When it comes to killing, strangulation is convenient for its lack of blood.
I went to my car but could not unzip my costume. I wonder what people thought of the saber-tooth tiger zipping past them on the freeway!
A cave is an excellent location to hide two bodies. Three years have passed, and the only speculation about Adam is just how long he survived in the Alps before becoming a human Popsicle. As for the farmer, the police are forever investigating—it’s one of those cold cases.
Regrettably a page or two of Adam’s copious notes became soiled with mud, leaving several paragraphs unintelligible. The rest I readily converted into my book, Prehistoric History. If I were boastful I’d say that it earned me critical acclaim, unfathomable grants, and tenure among historians. That a world-renowned anthropologist wrote a simply smashing introduction. That just about every bookstore everywhere has a copy in its window perched like a deliciously enticing cake. That people can read it in Zulu and Russian and Navajo, and that universities are using it for their classes. But I’m not boastful.
There was a funeral for Adam, eventually, when enough people surmised that he was a Popsicle. I wore his old tweed jacket, as a sort of homage to his memory. But this is a good place for the story to stop—I still have lots of packing to do. Ah, you see, there’s the phone now. It’s probably Mr. Grinnell wondering about the lesson plans. Tomorrow I leave for the future, to start research for my next book.
Click here for Kevin Dickinson's bio