Das Oberhund (the Superhound)
About 10 minutes and 52 seconds to read
Even when we went to their church, they could not conceal their revulsion and loathing of us. Picture if you will, my dear reader, that desperately poor young family two adults and four children, taking up a single pew, heads bowed in prayer and trying so hard to “belong” to that community; we were in rags and half starved, yet they attracted nothing but the opprobrium of the other church-goers. Eventually my father decided that we were to stop going and after that we never entered into the church again.
School itself was fraught with hostility and some danger. My sister Elvira and I held each other’s hands for protection on our journeys to and from school. “The incestuous family” they called us, mocking our appearance which they ascribed to “inbreeding”. But where did all this hatred come from? Was it because we looked different? Because we were poor? Because we lived rough? Maybe it was because we were tough… Elvira was as strong as any boy and the two of us could take on any bully: the three of us (i.e. Elvira, I and our dog Red) could take on any anyone.
I just accepted it – the rejection, the poverty, the constant hunger; to my young mind, this was just the way life was. Only once did I feel something different, when I caught Elvira in tears and somehow felt all her pain and rejection. To me Elvira was beautiful: big skull, long red-hair, super-strong, and tolerant of the cold; I found so much to admire in my formidable sister. Yet she was rejected by all her class-mates and just that one time I saw how much that rejection cut into her spirit.
We fought on. Occasionally we had a camp-fire outside our hut, the family huddled around it, vigilant for any sound that could be a threat, suspicious of any shadows. Then we felt it: the total aloneness – no cousins, uncles, aunts, no friends, no kith no kin; just ourselves to watch out for. We had no time for the trivia of tenderness, but we truly loved each other; this was our world.
I cried no tears after the “Accident”; there was no space for tears – it was all about survival. Just Red and me, alone in the woods. They called me “The Feral Boy” as I lived wild, hunting with Red, but mostly eating roots and berries and stealing what we needed to survive. Yet what mostly kept me alive was my blinding hatred and lust for revenge for the murder of my family. Of course the fire was no accident! In fact it destroyed all the evidence; just me and Red survived, seething with hatred and praying to heaven for revenge, the cries of my sister screaming on from the deepest bowels of my soul for justice and revenge.
The woods were my home and even in my pains I could feel the beauty of the stars, the glory of the trees the wonder of the creatures which shared my domain. I knew that there would be an opportunity in the future for sometimes there is a force in nature – a sacred direction – which some people call destiny and others call God. I could never feel alone here in my true kingdom where we ruled together – Red and the Feral Boy. We were equals and we worked together, whether in the hunt or even fishing from the beach by moonlight. When we were stealing, Red would somehow know to create a distraction so I could sneak in through a rear window. We only stole food to survive. Red was not a “pet” and it would be ludicrous to think of him in such patronising terms; he was a brother, a colleague, a friend. He was my dearest love. We shared everything down to the last crumb and beyond. When I was injured, it was Red who hunted alone and brought me food and water. He could read my thoughts and shared my despairs and my hatred. I could never love another creature as I loved Red. There were some rare and precious times when our bellies were full and we rested in front of the camp fire, happy just to have each other, his big trustful eyes looking up at me and knowing – as I did of him – that we would die for each other.
You ask me how I could love a lowly creature like a dog?! How can any sane being not love a creature of the exact opposite aspect of the human – whose loyalty, love and self-sacrifice are unwavering? If it is the love of this divine animal which has led to my destruction it has hardly been the emotions of a madman, but of a very sane one, embracing the noble and rejecting the squalid. Each day I would talk to Red, sharing feelings, stories and experiences; each day he would be close to my side whenever possible.
The more I know of Red and the more I learn of humans the more ashamed I am to belong to that degenerate breed.
Yet I know in the greatest depths of my being that I am capable of the deepest, most self-sacrificing love as my story will surely prove. Red was the noblest creature I ever knew. He was a being of such ferocious devotion and loyalty as to defy description. Each morning when I awoke the joy in his heart was there to behold – a daily greeting of friendship, loyalty and love. I swear that he even enjoyed my singing – judging by his behaviour at least – and he shared all my loves and hatreds, especially my deep longing for our day of revenge. It could not come soon enough.
The day began like any other, but I had some strange prescient that it would be a God-sent day. Red heard it first – an odd sound – which we followed through the woods for maybe 200 yards. Then we saw him – Hugo – the hated enemy with a gun, pointing at an older man who he had dragged from his home. Red remained silent and followed as we ghosted together behind him. The end was swift as the two of us attacked as one. Breaking a human neck is like breaking a rabbit’s – just a bit bigger – and with the full power of my searing hatred and Red fanged into his gun arm, it was easy: it was beautiful. I signed to the old man to stay silent; Hugo’s brother Zack would be nearby. We soon heard Zack’s bird call and quickly tracked the sound.
“Zack” I called as the startled youth emerged from the undergrowth. “Behind you” I sneered. He just had a split second to see Red’s body hurtling through the air and feel the fangs tearing into his wind-pipe.
The old man helped me bury the bodies. He was very kind and gave us the most wondrous food we had ever tasted. At first I was suspicious, but later I felt some kinship. He, like all my family had red hair and a ready smile; he too, was clearly alone. Red and I moved in with Frank on his farm; we became friends. He made me go to school for the first time for 2 years; I was way behind in my studies, but Frank arranged for his cousin Agnes – also a red-head – to give me extra tuition and I quickly outshone the others in my class. They were too full of nonsense and distractions, whereas I just wanted to please Agnes and Frank.
Then Red died; he died in my arms. Then the tears truly did flow. Only those of you, dear Reader, who have lost a true love will understand when I say I came close to losing my sanity and my reason to live. I stayed with his dead corpse for 2 days. Frank did not understand, but he tiptoed in and brought me a jug of water and left me to my grief.
From now on I was truly alone. My friend, my warrior, my confidant, my everything was gone.
Did I seek another Red? Dear reader, how can you doubt but that I searched the very heavens for his like, but always some imperfection was present and deterred me having a dog companion again. I studied different species of dog; I studied their form, their skulls and their brains. Surely brains would be the clue? I began to read more and more about brain size and the possible locus of virtue in the canine brain. Soon I could identify every species of dog by their skull and could predict generally their behaviour – or rather their capacity to be the perfect dog, owners permitting! Yet still I could not find a Red in all my studies….. the Superhound remained elusive.
You may speculate that surely Red had pedigree, parentage? Do not forget that we had a “family” of this breed from my childhood which defied classification and now I knew to be unique; I concluded that Red was the last of an extinct breed.
Now I continued my school studies with even greater fervour. I had no friends, no distractions so it was absurdly easy for me to excel in all subjects. Frank was so proud of me and was keen for me to go to University, but to me, what was the point of all this? Frank knew my devotion to my late love and he suggested that I pursue my search through academia. The choice was obvious: I went to veterinary school. Then of course I became a specialist in dogs. As you may surmise, I became a legend in treating these creatures, their “owners” believing I could actually talk to their “pets”! In a short time I became very, very rich – by my humble standards at least – but still there was no sign of a dog bearing any resemblance to my beloved Red.
I satisfied myself that Red was the last of his kind and that there could not exist another “Red” on our planet. Then dear reader, I began to chase the impossible; I began to seek Red’s ancestors in archaeology. Having studied everything about extant dog breeds, I knew Red’s species must be an extinct one; my search, therefore, was of preserved bones from ancient times and such searches led me to the study of fossil remains. I became so obsessed with my search for Red that I took further degrees in Archaeology and Geology – I even taught at the university, which paid my way, but did not deflect me from my sacred task – i.e. the search for the ancestral Red. Every day his image was with me; I could not rest until I found his roots.
Then my department at the university were notified of a “find” in the Western part of Germany, close to the Neander Valley. As there were some paradoxes in the findings, I had been especially invited to help with the excavations and their interpretations. It is well-known that Homo sapiens did not domesticated the dog until maybe 15,000 years ago, yet here were skulls of dogs in ostensibly a human settlement which seemed to go back more than 30,000 years; this finding offered new hope! I began my studies of early man and the Neander Valley. Because the alliance between man and dog had not started until 15,000 years ago, my interest in archaeology prior to this time had been skimpy; now I approached it with a new fervour. Archaeology in the Neander Valley is most famous for “Neanderthal Man” whose remains had first been discovered there. This species of hominid had moved out of Africa 400 to 800,000 years ago to live in Europe; Homo sapiens followed the same path between 80,000 to 50,000 years ago. After some slight and erratic interbreeding with Homo sapiens, Neanderthals became extinct about 24,000 yrs ago. Could this mean that there had been an earlier association between man and dog? Could it even be that Neanderthal Man had “domesticated” (how I hate the word!) canine ancestors long before that time? I felt a tingle down my spine and studied feverishly.
I re-read the descriptions of the Neanderthal: big brains, red-haired, super-strong, and tolerant of the cold. I found as many picture re-constructions of this early hominid as I could lay my hands on and studied feverishly. Then one night I awoke exhausted from a fitful sleep and staggered over to the wash basin; there in the mirror a primitive man stared back at me and a shudder shot through to my very soul: there could be no doubt: the similarity was perfect – not just to myself but my whole family: in a trice I learned what I now know for a fact: I am Neanderthal. But how could this be? Evidence shows that there was some in-breeding with Homo sapiens with up to 4% Homo Sapien’s genes being Neanderthal so how could I be pretty well pure Neanderthal? We had always been mocked at school for our “inbred family” …. could it be that we had somehow preserved and selected our Neanderthal genes? One thing was for sure; I was at least 90% Neanderthal. My hatred of Homo sapiens now became clear and so too did their hatred of me; I belonged to an alien and extinct species.
The excavation site was beautifully ordered and was reflected in the cleanliness and tidiness of the neighbouring villages. But my expertise was needed in some deep underground caves which had only been revealed during a deep mining operation. Furthermore, the time constraints were severe, as the mining company allowed us only 6 weeks to complete our researches. Beatrice was the site leader and her fluent English was a joy to the ear, embarrassingly so when contrasted to my rudimentary German. She even knew much of my work and quickly set out to show me the startling topography of the site. Soon we had all the modern testings and scans available and that is how we found “The Pit of Skulls” as the press called it. This was given over to me to supervise; bones going back as far as 60,000 years, mysteriously preserved in the kaolin clays of the cave. Perhaps this would give me the answers; I set to work with a light heart.
The “Pit of Skulls” was just exactly that: skeletal remains thrown together over thousands of years, continually mixed, samples removed, new artefacts thrown in… it was even possible to find a skull as recent as 3000 years old close to one that was 60,000 years old. The latter was, of course, the very oldest find and it is impossible to be accurate with such ancient bones, but the apposition of such chronologically distanced finds will give you the picture.
I beg you, my dear reader, to imagine my fervour as we dug deeper into the crypt of archaeological treasures, with time against us. The deeper we went, the more separated in the mud and kaolin were the findings. Just trying to analyse them in those depths was extremely difficult. Indeed, each evening when I was forced to leave the site, I took a box of the most recent finds to study in my tent with all the tools at my disposal.
And it was from one of these boxes that I made my discovery; the skull of a dog, but dear reader, no ordinary skull. The three pieces of this skull – so fortuitously close together – were a perfect match for my beloved Red; I had found my Superhound. I shouted out with joy for I had at least found an ancestor of my beloved.
Next, of course, we had to go through the routine of dating this find and samples were duly sent off via Beatrice to fit in the final piece of the puzzle.
Meanwhile I continued to dig. More and more fragments of canine and human skulls were found and each night I picked my way through the specimens. Such fevered sleep as I had left me looking gaunt and ill.
“You are working far too hard” opinioned Beatrice, gently chastising me, but she did not understand the sacred nature of the work.
Then the word came through; the canine skulls were estimated at 35,000 years old! The human skull fragments had also been estimated to be of the same time; furthermore, the so-called “human skull fragments” were in fact “definite Neanderthal”! I had to sit down I was so over come. Now I understood: Neanderthals had had a partnership with a canine species – with the Superhound. Everything fell into place: for the first time in my life I knew who I really was, and why I was so locked with my genes and history into my beloved Red. For the first night in months I slept the deep contentment of a man who has found his true roots, his true belonging.
We continued our excavations; more and more skulls of dogs and “men” were unearthed; the students became infected with my enthusiasm and we achieved the impossible in the short time we had, Staggeringly we unearthed the remains of at least 20 men and eleven dogs just in the sector we excavated; this would translate into a thriving community….. the community where I should have lived, the community where I belonged!
I was irritated when Beatrice asked to see me, as it meant interrupting my work. She smiled:
“You have done some exceptional work here” she said with obvious approval, “and your dedication has been an inspiration to all our students.”
“Yes” I said dismissively as this meant nothing to me.
“We have come up with a rather unexpected finding”.
‘Surely this was not going to undo everything that had gone before?’ I thought in terror to myself.
“I have sent the specimens from your sector and every sample of hominid and dog seems to have met with a violent death” She went on to say how specimens had been sent off to several centres of excellence and concurrence was complete…my mind raced… I did not even hear the rest of what she said. I excused myself and left the room.
I thought back again to this perfect community of Men like me and this Superhound for their companion. How perfect they were for each other – each with a passionate loyalty, fervour, and honesty… tears began to fill my eyes. I imagined what happened here in the Neander Valley 30,000 years ago… only one creature on the planet could exterminate a settlement like this, only one with the will, the cunning and the evil…. Homo Sapiens were the killers of my beloved Superhound and his wondrous fellow warriors. Of course the Superhound could have fled, but dear reader, you know that such a thing would never happen.
I walked trembling up the valley to the very highest point, looking down and picturing the scene of destruction of such beauty with tears running down my face. Now I knew! I thought of my red hair, my small stature, my short limbs and my birthright: I was Neanderthal and my peoples were dead! My Superhound lives no more. My only choice is to die here, where all that I love perished so long ago. I will put these diaries in a safe place and then, and then I must do what I must do….