Albert – short story

A man was born fifty thousand years ago as of next Friday. He was born with only one leg. Hopping became second nature to him during infancy. His parents forced him to learn how to get around with only one leg. You see, Albert (his name is Albert), grew up in a world that treated men like horses. If you can’t run, you can’t gather food and escape predators. The men who couldn’t race were just killed as a mercy and buried alongside the racing track. By the time Albert was 15, the musculature of his leg was powerful enough to propel him five feet forward with each hop. It was a jawdropping sight to watch Albert hop up in the air and see his shadow travel a good five to six feet before he landed. He could easily outpace any predator or prey. The hunt was too easy for Albert. He could hop and hop until he matched the pace of some prey. He perfected the technique of sacrificing vertical jump distance for horizontal jump distance during his early hunts. When he spotted the prey he would cartwheel into the first hop to build up energy. He soared a good 8 to 9 horizontal feet when he cartwheeled into a hop. He would grunt and soar then land and grunt rhythmically with his shadow far behind a confident antelope. He put all of his energy into horizontal distance to catch up to the deer. Once he got enough hops in, he would outpace the deer. Then Albert put some of his energy from the horizontal leap into a vertical leap so he wouldn’t land too far ahead of the deer. Once he had a feeling for the prey’s pace, he would put more and more energy into the vertical component of the leap. On his final leap, he would mechanically draw, spin, and brace his homemade spear against his chest and land tip first slicing through the deer’s flesh and often pinning the deer to the ground. His tribe never went hungry. There were predators that attempted to compete with Albert and show him the proper way to hunt. Men, tigers, jackals, all sorts scoffed at the goofy hopping half man. When he met another tribesman, their first inclination was to give Albert a little shove and watch him tumble to the ground. “This man cannot stand up to us,” they would say as they shoved Albert off balance. Albert would simply cartwheel in the direction of the push and use that energy in his next hop. He was still mocked by the tribes. His one legged body was humorous to the children of the tribes. The races were held once a year every year. All the tribes would meet and put up three champions to race the other tribes. The racers were allowed to shove and trip each other because it just made the race more fun. All the racers took one look at Albert and spent the rest of the race shoving him. Their eyes would widen as Albert just fell in the direction of the shove into a cartwheel and hopped even further along the track. There was one woman from a different tribe that knew something interesting about Albert. You see, Albert had a balance blindspot. Normally, Albert can cartwheel out of any push. The thing is, if you shove him at just the right angle in just the right direction right at his center of mass he just loses his balance and can’t cartwheel. Albert willingly told her this information. She watched him slaughter an antelope one day. She was impressed and intrigued by the blood drenched twirling figure kneeling mournfully before the dying antelope caressing its head. She asked him how he did all the hops and cartwheels. He explained how his parents forced him to try to hop in infancy for fear that the tribe deem him unfit to walk and hunt. Training was difficult, he said, but my leg was always naturally strong. “Nature gives when it takes,” he said. That’s why he mourned the antelope’s death. He lamented having to do such disgusting things to survive. Albert confided his blindspot to her to make her laugh. He let her push him in all directions and then told her to shove his left shoulder for about a 50 degree twist counterclockwise and then shove hard. The races just happened to coincide with Albert’s 20th birthday that year. The race track was a wide oval curve in red clay saturated soil that clung to the bottom of your feet even when it was dry. Albert didn’t see her approaching his shadow, but he knew it was her when he felt the shove. Albert wasn’t used to being shoved in his blindspot without warning. He panicked and used his left arm to brace the fall. His wrist was shattered and crushed under the weight of his back. She didn’t mean to hurt him, she even stopped mid race to help him to the side. Albert knew she had to do it. She had to win to survive at any cost. Her tribe would go hungry if they didn’t win the race. The tribe that wins the race wins the hunting rights to the forgotten forest, you see. No one knows why, but the deer, rabbit warrens, all sorts of prey loved that forest. The other hunting grounds were unreliable, some days they were deserted and others prey abounded. If the hunters went out on unlucky days, when the animals were burrowed underground, people would go hungry. The forgotten forest always supplied hunters with easy plentiful prey drinking from the brooks. Albert just sat by the side of the race track until everyone left. No one stayed to help him. He tried to hop back to his tribe, but he kept losing his balance. Eventually he made it back. Albert’s arm quickly developed an infection and had to be amputated by one of the tribesmen. Albert struggled to hop without leaning too much to one side or the other. When he lost his balance, as a one legged man will do, he could always cartwheel. With only one arm, Albert could do nothing but tumble to the ground when he was off balance. He insisted he was just as able a hunter as ever and practiced hopping in balance until it was too dark to see each day. Once he felt confident enough, he went out alone to hunt as he did before. Tribesmen insisted that he bring some other hunters along to form a party but Albert refused. Albert was doing fine in outpacing prey, but he was not the only hunter in the forest. A cougar’s main advantage is not in speed, but in how rapidly it can switch direction. Cougars can dart back and forth literally running circles around you before you even turn your neck to look. Albert was stalking a deer and he made eye contact with the cougar poised to leap off of a rock. Albert hopped away knowing there were plenty of brooks with deer and he left the cougar to chase the deer. As he hopped away, he saw the cougar still making eye contact with him. He tried to hop away quickly but the cougar was darting around too fast for him to know which direction to hop in. The cougar completely ignored the deer. It was as if the cougar was protecting the herd of deer from Albert. In one fated moment, Albert hopped at too steep an angle and he smashed face first and chest second into a rock and bounced off rolling into a pile of leaves. The cougar spared Albert’s life but badly mauled his leg. It was as if the cougar was attempting to make sure Albert never killed again. Albert had but one arm left to move himself by. He dragged himself back to camp covered in leaves, snails, slugs, ants, mud, and blood. His wounds were cauterized by red hot metal in an attempt to save his leg. The pain was intense and he pleaded and screamed for them to just amputate it. Finally, unable to stop the bleeding, they knew they had to use a tourniquet to save Albert’s life. The tourniquet was fastened firmly around his upper calf and the wounds were recauterized successfully with the tourniquet stopping the blood flow that obstructed clotting. Of course the tourniquet had to be left on long enough to suffocate Albert’s leg. Albert stared at the torn, crushed, burned bloody flesh that was his leg. He couldn’t even recognize it anymore. The handy tribesmen that saved Albert’s life told him that his leg was beyond saving. “I have already mourned my leg,” Albert said, “I cannot recognize it anymore, it is not part of me. You may cut it off.” Albert tried to strengthen his arm, but he couldn’t balance on just one arm. He could only dig his fingers into the clay and drag himself a few inches forward. His arm kept getting stronger and stronger. He could drag himself a little quicker and a little further, he could drag himself to berry bushed to sustain himself. One day, he just stopped. All the tribesmen got used to seeing Albert dragging himself around the camp all day and night every day. One day he was missing. The tribesmen followed his drag marks to his little animal skin tent and saw him lying just outside it eyes to the skies. He looked up at the cloudless blue sky with a smile on his face. “One day, I hope we can fly,” he said. He didn’t know the girl’s name, but the tribesmen knew her as the girl who had won the races. He handed them bundled feathers tied to a sturdy flexible pine branch resembling a bird’s wing. “I have but one arm, I cannot use these wings. I cannot fly with one wing. Please give them to her.” This was the last thing he ever said. The tribe did not kill Albert even though he could not walk or hunt. They brought him water and food and tried to talk with him. All the tribe wanted to hear his story, but Albert remained silent. Albert drank the water but refused to eat the food. He just layed there for months and months slowly starving. He refused to utter a word or make eye contact with anyone. They buried Albert with the wings.

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