How It All Began…

Terry Pratchett

October 10, 2023 
The following is a story from Terry Pratchett's A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories. Pratchett was the acclaimed author of the global bestselling Discworld series, the first of which, The Color of Magic. In all, he was the author of more than fifty bestselling books which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. He was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to literature in 2009, although he always wryly maintained that his greatest services to literature was to avoid writing any. He died in 2015.

Right from the start some of the older cavemen were completely against the idea.

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‘It’s unnatural,’ they said. ‘Anyway, where’s it going to end?’

But the younger cavemen said: ‘That’s progress, grandad. Pass us another log.’

The thing was called ‘fire’, and it was brought back to the cave by Og the inventor, who said he found it eating a tree. You had to keep it in a little cage of stones, he said. It kept you ‘warm’, he said, which was the opposite of what you felt when the rain dripped into the cave at night.

Hal the chieftain was a bit puzzled and worried by it.

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‘Are you sure nothing will go wrong this time?’ he asked. ‘It was bad enough when I was hit by one of your throwing sticks.’

‘Spears,’ corrected Og. ‘That was a design error, that was. This is foolproof. If you don’t feed it with wood, it dies.’

‘Remarkable,’ said Hal.

That night, the cavemen sat round the new fire and ate cold mammoth while giant creatures trundled and sneezed in the dark night outside. Og talked at length about the amazing possibilities of his invention. Hal just chewed his mammoth and watched the flames.

The fire bit him. ‘Ouch!’

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‘You shouldn’t touch it,’ said Og hurriedly. ‘It’s snappish.’

‘I’m going to bed,’ said Hal huffily, and shuffled off sucking his finger.

One of the women was appointed to look after the fire and keep it fed while the men were hunting. Soon it was part of the cave way of life.

Then, one day, Og accidentally dropped a lump of wild pig into the fire and invented cookery. Cookery! Even Hal couldn’t disagree with that! There were twenty-seven ways of cooking mammoth, to start with.

There were dodo-egg omelettes with snake sauce. There were great slabs of baked boar with honey gravy. And, of course, there were toadstool pies and deadly nightshade soup, which was unfortunate.

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‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs,’ said Og cheerfully. ‘We all make mistakes.’

There was no stopping him after that. He drew with char- coal on the cave walls and invented Art. He managed to tame a wolf puppy and invented Dogs. But the trouble really started later.

Og invented . . . well, he happened to leave some grapes in a bowl of water, and when he remembered them, they had fermented. The wine tasted lovely. When everyone came home from hunting, they all tried it too. All except Hal. He was still down on the plains chasing a particularly fast giraffe.

He stopped when he smelled smoke. It was coming from the cave.

‘!’ he thought. ‘The fire’s broken loose!’

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Hal dropped his giraffe and ran. All round the cave the grass and trees were ablaze, and he grunted and swore as he crashed through the hot ash. Inside, the tribe were peacefully sleeping off the effects of Og’s latest invention.

‘Wake up!’ screamed Hal. ‘You’ve let the fire escape!’

And it was growing fast. For miles around great flames were crackling through the grass. Animals fled. Birds flew squawking out of the smoke.

Half blinded by smoke, choking in the hot air, the tribe were led by Hal down to the river. They slopped down among the rushes and burst into tears.

Hal was white with fury as he turned to the miserable Og.

‘Right,’ he growled. ‘That’s it. I’m not standing for any more. I’ve had enough. Everything you do leads to trouble. I’m a patient apeman, but this time you’ve gone too far. Get out of the tribe.’

Og slunk away through the reeds without a backward glance.

‘Is that wise?’ asked Ug, one of the oldest apemen. ‘He’ll perish all by himself.’

Hal snorted.

‘What chance has he left us, then? There’ll be no game for miles around. The fire doesn’t seem to have spread so far downriver. Come on. If we don’t move on, we’ll starve.’

All the next day they trudged through the mud. Here and there the fire was still burning, and where there were no flames there was just grey, hot ash.

In the evening it rained. The tribe slept fitfully in the branches of a charred tree, while growling sabre-toothed tigers prowled beneath them.

The rain continued all the next day. The tribe spent most of it huddled together in a little hollow in the rocks.

After a while someone said: ‘The fire was warm.’

And someone else added: ‘Cooked zebra was one of the best things that ever happened to me.’

As the sun sank into a mass of black clouds even Ug said wistfully: ‘He wasn’t a bad sort, in his way.’

Hal shivered. ‘He’d have probably set fire to the whole world if we’d let him,’ he muttered.

A wolf howled in the distance. Another one answered. It was much nearer.

Suddenly Hal saw the black shape padding around the edge of the hollow, and his hair stood on end.

‘Women and children in the centre!’ he yelled, reaching for a stone.

The wolves closed in. The apemen hit them with sticks and threw stones, but the wolves were desperate with hunger because of the fire. And more of them seemed to be appearing.

Then Og leapt into the hollow, holding a blazing branch in his hand. He hurled it at the wolves and started fiddling with an oddly shaped piece of wood. It was a bow. Arrows started rain- ing down on the yelping pack.

He didn’t say anything. When the last of the wolves had fled, he simply beckoned the tribe to follow him and led them to a small clearing where several zebras were roasting over a fire. Under some trees he had built a strange sort of cave out of branches and bracken. It looked warm and inviting.

Well, Hal couldn’t refuse to let Og back into the tribe. Not since most of the apemen were already tucking in to slices of zebra.

‘I followed you. I thought you might need me eventually,’ was all Og said.

Soon a little village had been built.

Og discovered that seeds would grow, and invented Farming.

He invented animal traps, which was a much better way of catching meat than hunting. Then he invented wings, and unfortunately decided to try them out from the top of a cliff.

But several up-and-coming young apemen had got the idea and they invented Civilization – eventually.

The village grew. Some of the open plain was turned into fields. Pretty soon hunters like Hal were beginning to look a bit foolish. That’s how it all began.

Hal sat in front of his hut, looking thoughtful and feeling slightly uneasy.

‘I wonder where it’s all going to end?’


Excerpted from A Stroke of the Pen by Terry Pratchett. Used with permission of the publisher, Harper.  Copyright © 2023 by Dunmanfestin Ltd.

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