Junum the Young

Posted on: September 15, 2015

Junum the Young was the last of the Cloud People. All the others from his tribe had disappeared one by one, wandering off into the fog when their time came. The Cloud People were quiet; they kept to themselves living in the crags and caves of the tallest mountain peaks.

At just over 7 feet tall, Junum was small for his kind. His long, thin limbs were coated in fine white hair. The fur sprouting from his grey skin grew chaotically, fanning out in all directions. It grew thickest on his head where it matted together, and if you saw him through the fog, you would see what looked like the distorted silhouette of a man. But you would never see Junum the Young, or any of his kind. They lived in small family groupings, hidden in quiet caves, melting silently into the mountaintops.

The skies were clear and crisp, and the clouds hung low in the world, hugging the barren rocks. Junum scrambled up the mountain using his strong hands to cling to the narrow ledges and heave himself along on his wide, sturdy feet. He was returning home after weeks out scouring the nearby mountains. He was returning alone, unsuccessful in his search. Junum had not found a companion.

For years he had searched the surrounding terrain for any other Cloud People. He had wandered until the rocks turned to grass and the clouds were high above. He traveled until the plants towered over his head. The world became flat and the air smelled of earth and flowers and other strange things he could not name. Junum was disappointed, for once again he had been unable to find any other creatures like himself.

As he crested the lip of the ridge and the ground opened up to reveal the mouth of his familiar cave, Junum caught the scent of something on the wind. It was the smell of meat, urine and salt, a smell his mother had told him belonged to man. The smell he had been taught to always avoid. There was something else, a foreign smell, both sweet and smoky. The strange aromas were coming from within his home. Junum knew he should disappear back over the ridge, he should blend into the fog and disappear before the man caught sight of him, but years of loneliness overruled his natural inclination for timidity, and Junum entered the cave.

The man was small. It sat unmoving with its legs folded and its hands resting palm up on its knees. Eyes closed it did not see Junum, and he was able to approach the creature and examine its strange appearance.

The man-thing was wrapped in skins that hung loosely from its body, obscuring its shape. The skins were unlike any pelt Junum had ever seen. They were the bright colour of summer berries and looked as soft as grass, as though they could be ruffled by the slightest breeze. The man-thing had no fur on its head, its pale skin was smooth and shiny. It held a collection of pebbles in its hands; each one perfectly round, and pierced through the centre. The pebbles had been strung along a piece of sinew. Junum watched as the man-thing mumbled strange sounds, sliding the pebbles along the sinew, passing them from one hand to the next.

The cave was filled with the same sweetly scented smoke, which had caught his nose outside. The smoke seemed to be coming from a small, solitary stick that had been stuck in the ground. Junum decided to approach, intending to extinguish the ember. The smoke caught in his nostril and stung his gentle grey eyes.

As Junum knelt in front of the man-thing, its eyes suddenly popped open. Its mumbles gave way to a shriek so shrill it seemed to have come from a bird. Junum stumbled back, and in an instant the man-thing rose to its feet. Fear ran swift and thick through Junum, coupled with regret. He knew he should not have entered the cave. Junum reached out to push the man-thing aside, intending to run away and disappear into the mountains. But the creature shoved him hard to the ground. Junum raised his hands to shield himself from the monster but its eyes were full of panic and rage. It grabbed a rock from the floor of the cave and slammed it into Junum’s head.

The impact shook Junum, and he fell to his knees in front of the howling creature. He felt blood oozing from his scalp. He looked up just as the rock came crashing down a second time against his skull. This time, Junum sprawled to the ground, immobilised by the impact. The third thud of rock against skull stole Junum’s vision, and as the world turned black around him, he knew the next blow would take his life.

Junum closed his eyes and thought of the others who had been gone for so long. He thought of his mother with her gentle hands and his father leading them through the hidden mountain paths that had been their home. Junum thought of the smell of the wind, the songs of the birds and the feel of cool mountain streams in spring. He thought of the taste of summer berries, sweet and vibrant. He did not think of the man-thing and his skins of the same colour. He did not think of his lonely years after the others had gone. He thought only of his home and the good things he had loved. Then, when the final blow fell, Junum the Young thought no more.

Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

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