Joyland

New York |

The Modern Stone Age

by Luke Geddes

edited by Rebekah Bergman

At first they walked the earth with nothing. Their hands clasped no tools, their bloodied knuckles dragged along the treacherous terrain. They dwelled in caves and slept, ate, and mated in these dark, stone wombs, emerging from their maws naked like newborns each morning to scavenge for food. They survived almost by accident, chewing tough weeds the females had foraged, sucking the oily insides of pilfered pterodactyl eggs. On occasions of great fortune, the males stumbled upon an already wounded and dying wildebeest and feasted comfortably on the meat scraps for days, the constant hunger that haunted their lives temporarily mollified. Theirs was an existence bereft of intention. They did not think; they acted. When a male identified a female with whom he desired to mate, he took that female forcefully. And when that female already belonged to another male, on the grounds that he’d grabbed her wrist in his furry palm first, he sent a heavy, flat stone—the first tool—into the other male’s skull.

But then came the sharp point of a stone dagger, succeeded shortly by the spear. And finally, glorious fire issued forth from the hot friction of two sticks held by an enterprising female. Nourished in body and mind by the abundance of meat these inventions afforded, they fashioned the first wheel, and with this the most advanced specimens eventually migrated far away from their unwelcoming environs, leaving behind the soft-willed and atavistic Savages, whose hammer-browed visages hid sodden brains incapable of speech or innovation, whose clumsy hands could scarcely wield fists let alone torches and spears. Abandoned, the Savages continued to live, wildly and without meaning, among feral and heartless animals, huddling for warmth in the facile safety of their caves.

Meanwhile, the migrated few ushered in a glorious new epoch. They settled in the flatlands and constructed new contraptions of unnatural complexity and novelty. Now the barren, threatening homeland they had known was but a distant memory as the men steered their wood-and-stone cars along the paved roads of suburban Bedrock and the women vacuumed the floors of their luxurious ranch houses with wheeled baby woolly mammoths. Walking upright and clothed, they regrouped, from loose-knit clans, to neighborhoods and city blocks, to, finally, husband and wife. The men worked civilized jobs that utilized the technological advancements of tamed beasts, while the women kept home with a wide array of state-of-the-art appliances and utilities: the indoor plumbing of a mastodon’s trunk, the washer of a pelican’s enormous pouch, the sewing machine of a mounted bird’s needle-beak. Things had evolved. Life was easier than it had ever been.

II.

But was it any better, Fred wondered as he reclined in the tree hammock in his neat, straight rectangle of a backyard. He downed another beer, the stone can chalking his tongue with an unpleasant aftertaste. To think, he used to slurp water from murky streams. Lately, the comfort had begun to overwhelm him. At work, perched atop the bronto-crane, he’d sometimes be hit in the pit of his stomach with a sudden panic, a fluttering, desperate feeling like he’d swallowed a live bird whole. He’d sit still and methodically tighten and loosen his lizard-skin necktie while his boss Mr. Slate yelled for him to quit slacking. Fred rolled off the hammock and crawled through the yard searching the numerous empties strewn about for any remaining droplets. Odd, he thought, how he spent every day at work riding and co-operating with the same creature that Wilma served to him on a plate for dinner.

Just then, Wilma opened the back door and Dino came tumbling out, yipping and yapping. The poor mutt sniffed the empty cans and licked Fred’s chin affectionately.

At one time Fred would’ve been hurling a spear into Dino’s supple flesh as the dinosaur whipped his snakelike neck and brandished bone-crushing teeth. There was something vaguely unnatural about it. Prey had become pet. Dino squatted in the grass and released a putrid turd. Fred fanned the stinking air from his nose and kicked an empty can into Dino’s muzzle. He yelped and galloped back inside.

In the next yard over, Barney pushed a dolly with an alligator strapped to it that clipped blades of grass with its sharp teeth.

In earlier times there was no language, no names. You’d simply introduce yourself by pounding your fist on your chest and grunting. Fred relished the precise movements of his tongue as he beckoned his friend: “Barney boy, Barney, old buddy, old pal, Barney!”

Barney swerved the alligator and met Fred at the other side of the stone fence. “Uh, you called, Fred?”

“Barney my boy, you doing yard work on a Sunday? Cage the gator and take a load off.”

Barney leaned his elbow on the fence and rested his chin in his palm. “Like to, Fred, but I told Betty I’d have the lawn done by the time she’s back from Stoneworth’s.”

“So you’re done.” Fred shrugged. “Don’t you know, pal, when the wives’re away, the boys will play.” He chuckled mischievously.

Barney stared blankly as he thought it over. “If you say so, Fred.” He began to climb the fence, his posture betraying the hunched, brutish gait of old.

“Wait a minute. There’s a price of admission. How’s about you go grab us some beers from the kitchen.”

“Sure thing, buddy.” Barney disappeared into his house and reappeared a moment later with a six-pack of Rockweiser. He sat recumbent in the shade of the palm tree and handed a cool, sweating can to Fred.

Fred finished the can in one gulp and chucked it over the fence into Barney’s yard, where it bounced off the alligator’s snout. Irritated, the alligator looked up and sneered. “Betty’s at Stoneworth’s, you say? Kiss your paycheck goodbye. Women,” he spat, “they don’t know how good they got it.”

III.

Inside, Wilma, on her hands and knees, scrubbed the sandstone floor with a porcupine brush. Working the stain Dino had just left, she clenched too hard—porcupine wincing—and pricked her fingers. She dropped the brush and stood. The porcupine scurried under the sofa. Hot blood slithered down her fingertips. It reminded her of scavenging wild berries, a long time ago. Their palms calloused and juice-smeared after an endless day of combing bushes and fields, often the females would be so tired by evening that they collapsed in a pile at the foot of a nearby cave. Now every couple had their own neat domicile, each house perfectly positioned along its immaculately aligned street like a molar in a T. Rex’s gums. Wilma could go a week or more without seeing another woman, even Betty, who lived right next door.

She licked a drop of blood from her finger. She cupped her hands and watched the blood collect in her palm, then wiped it across her rabbit fur tunic, a solid, ruddy streak from the base of the neck to her hip, and wrapped her hand snugly in the fuzz of her skirt to staunch the bleeding.

She looked down at the mess she’d made of her garment and uttered a single syllable: “Ug.” Then, her face flushed, she tugged her pebble necklace, cleared her throat and said, “Oh dear.” She pattered into the laundry room, let the dress collapse at her bare feet, lifted the washer’s beak and dropped it into the soapy water. The pelican that served as washer waggled its eyebrows and grinned, then began to shake its floppy beak vigorously.

Wilma stood naked in the doorframe, gliding her buttocks along the stone wall, as smooth as a woolly mammoth’s tusk. She wouldn’t put on a new dress, she decided. She would stay this way. Natural, she thought as she thumbed a furry tuft of pubic hair. She let down her bun of hair as a scenario played in her mind: Fred barging in, grabbing her by the neck with his brawny, dirt-caked hands and dragging her outside—out in the open for anyone to see—and taking her there, by force, like in the old days, sticks and rocks scratching her back, her skull knocking against the hard ground.

But it was only a fantasy. They hadn’t touched each other in weeks.

IV.

After a couple of trips back to the refrigerator, Barney had had quite a few drinks, but nowhere near as many as Fred. Barney rubbed his back pleasantly along the ridges of the tree and watched the clouds in the sky. Fred had pissed his loincloth and was now mumbling, “What’s the big deal? That’s the way we used to do it. Piss on the ground, not into the trunk of some animal. Shit where you piss. Eat where you shit. That’s nature.”

Barney nodded absently. He had no reason to feel nostalgic for the nature Fred spoke of. He’d been the tribe runt. His meek reflection looked back at him in the riverbed one day as a young male, and from then on he acted in accordance with the smallness he perceived. He hung back during the hunts, letting the alpha-Ug (who later called himself Fred) and the other sinewy, boulder-headed Ugs tousle with the large cats and small dinosaurs whose meat provided precious sustenance. In truth, Barney would have preferred to pick berries with the females, but he knew such a preference was deeply shameful in the tribe. For his cowardliness he always received the least desired cut of meat, stone-tough triceratops tail or stink-haunted, chewy entrails. During mating season, Barney’s candidacy went unacknowledged by both the Ugs and the females. He’d watch longingly the females being dragged by their hair into caves or behind bushes, and then retire to his small, secluded grotto to satisfy himself with his own womanly hands. The Modern Stone Age had been kind to Barney. He wouldn’t have survived another year or two of the old life. Presently he had a home warmer than any cave, a loyal and dependent woman, and an icebox bountiful with seasoned meat.

“I’m tellin’ ya, Barn—” Struggling to sit up, Fred wrestled with the hammock net. After a minute or two his arms collapsed and he lay back down on his stomach and fell asleep.

Barney listened to the crunch of the tires as the car rolled into his driveway and braced himself for the sight of her shopping bags. Relieved when Betty approached from the back door holding only a single dress by its hanger, he drained another can of beer and burped happily. He waved hello and brought the Rockweiser to his lips although the can was empty. He rose, steadying himself against the tree trunk, and met her at the fence.

“Oh, Barney dear, you’ll never believe the deal I found at Stoneworth’s this afternoon.” She paused then, surveying the half-mowed lawn, and frowned. Barney opened his mouth to explain, but she continued, “What a beaut. You like it?” She held up a blue dress made from the hide of an indeterminate animal identical to the one she was wearing. “And it was so affordable, too. Only—”

Instantly Barney calculated how many hours at work the dress had cost him. Like Fred, he was employed by Slate Rock and Gravel Company, though his job was not so glamorous or high-paying as even Fred’s. It would’ve been cheap flattery to call him a middle manager; he was essentially a paper pusher, and although lugging around stone tablets all day had sculpted his arms, Fred still mocked him for performing what he considered women’s work; little difference, he said, between scavenging for contracts and scavenging for berries.

Well, at least it was only one dress, he thought. Maybe Betty was finally starting to curb her spending. “It’s, uh, it’s very nice, honey. Since you only bought one, I s’pose there’s no harm in splurging a little.”

“Only one? Are you kidding. I’ve got more boxes inside. There was no passing up these sales.”

Barney hooked his finger around his collar. It was one thing he’d never had to worry about before civilization: bills. He’d hate to have to ask Mr. Slate for yet another advance on his paycheck.

Fred stirred in the hammock. Spying Betty, he rose and smiled. “Ah, Betty Rubble, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

Betty cupped her mouth and giggled. “Oh Fred, you charmer.” She took a breath. “Anyway, Barney, I hope you’ll have the lawn finished by the time I’m done organizing my new things. You do know how important it is for me to have the outside of the house as neat and pretty as the inside.”

“Yeah, Barn, don’t you know a man has certain responsibilities at home.” Fred scratched himself.

“Uh, sure thing,” Barney said as he patted Betty on the shoulder, sending her back into the house. As she sashayed across the lawn, taking care to make a show of tripping on patches of uncut grass, Fred eyed her and rested his hand in his crotch.

V.

Betty stood, arms akimbo, unsure of where to begin. Stacks of boxes and bags from the department store surrounded her, piled on the stone slabs of the sofa and coffee table, on the kitchen counter, and crowding the doorways. Perhaps she had gone a little overboard, but it all—just a few inexpensive trifles, really—made her so happy. It was the mess of it she hated. Each thing should have its own place, she felt. The thought of the way she had once lived, the way some still did—dirty and naked, homeless and without possessions, wrapped in raw, blood-stained animal hides, bugs crawling in hair—she shivered and pawed compulsively at the silkiness of her new dress.

Barney complained that she shopped too much. So many things, he said, she would never wear or use, so what was the point? Couldn’t he see that shopping was the point? She had to have something to occupy her time. Would he rather she pick berries all day? The Flintstones understood how to live. Routinely Betty would watch through the buffalo hide curtains as her neighbors brought home their latest purchases. A certain cat skin rug had caught her eye recently, and she threw a fit until Barney agreed to work overtime to afford it. Still, she’d had to put it on layaway, and the endless wait agonized her. If only Barney’d ask for that raise. But, no, it wasn’t in his nature to take initiative, to act without orders, to desire strongly enough or with enough passion to hurt or kill for it. He was a wide-eyed, furless little cub: reliable, predictable, and undoubtedly weak. And Betty always got what she wanted. Most of the time, anyway.

VI.

Fred had an idea, and with the alcohol buzzing like a swarm of bees between his ears, it didn’t matter whether it was a good one or a bad one. The beer all gone, he’d sobered up just enough to reach that tenuous state between gleeful overconfidence and easily triggered violence. “Say, Barn.” Fred patted Barney on the shoulder. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not Barney would go for the idea, only how much Fred would have to tolerate his hemming and hawing before he inevitably agreed.

“Uh, yes, Fred?” Barney was taking a leak on a nearby tree. Finished, he stumbled into the hammock next to Fred, who put his arm around him and squeezed.

“It occurs to me, pal o’ mine, that I haven’t dipped my club in any woman ‘sides Wilma since, well, since B.C.—Before Civilization, ha ha.” Barney chuckled. He was clearly drunk. Better at hiding it than Fred, maybe, but drunk enough to be pliable, even more easily given to suggestion than usual, as long as Fred played it right. “How’s about we flashback to cave dwellin’ times. You follow me?” An image of Betty in that era played in Fred’s mind: taut, muscular thighs from crouching in bushes all day; silky black hair, tangled and dry with dirt, sexy in some animal way; firm berry nipples nesting in her soft, white breasts.

Barney swung his legs nervously, rocking the hammock like a swing. “I, uh, I can’t say that I do.”

Fred brought his face close to Barney’s, like a kiss, the stubble on his cheeks scratching his chin, and whispered into his ear, “I’ll take yours, and you take mine.”

In the horizon, miles away, a volcano colored the sky with harmless blue smoke. A wild pterodactyl screeched its mating call. Fred watched Barney’s solid black pupils quiver as the idea settled in his mind. Of course Fred had seen the way he looked at Wilma when she sunbathed in the yard, had noticed he often timed his exits so that he’d graze her body as he passed through the doorway.

Barney turned to Fred, clapped his hands on his knees, and sighed—or maybe it was a laugh. “Er… huh, huh, whatever you say, Fred!”

VII.

The little violet bird perched patiently atop the clock. Most of its life was a slow, monotonous wait, but it was a living nonetheless. Its job was to watch the sky through the bedroom window, to follow the movements of the sun and moon. Once a cycle, when the sun, on its way up, shone a beam precisely in the center crack of the windowsill, the bird pecked its beak emphatically on the clock’s bells to wake the snoozing man and lady of the house. Its legs ached from standing still and its wings were attenuated from disuse, but as an appliance it was safe from predators and warm from cold. And the indoor goings-on of the man and lady were not altogether uninteresting.

Presently the lady of the house was sitting on the bed, fingering a new mink scarf and blushing with delight, her soft cheeks the pink of earthworm flesh. Torn up packages from the department store littered the floor. The door in the next room creaked open. The lady wrapped the scarf around her neck. “Barney? I hope you remembered to put the gator back in the cage.” No reply. The bird couldn’t remember the last time the man of the house didn’t respond with a submissive “Yes, dear” when addressed. The lady slung the scarf off her neck like a whip and said, “You did finish your chores, didn’t you?” She glanced at the clock. The bird tried to look disinterested.

Gruff, unfamiliar laughter carried into the room. Someone—not the usual man of the house—was standing in the doorframe now, but the bird couldn’t get a good angle on him from its position. The lady gasped, her ruby lips trembling, and rose. A big coconut nose preceded the man as he lurched into the room. His bright orange tunic slung over his shoulder, he was naked, his red penis throbbing like a stubbed toe. “Miss me, baby?” he said as he kicked a Stoneworth’s box out of the way.

The lady shrieked. “Fred, why—”

The man named Fred grabbed her shoulders with graceless bear-paws and kissed her, teeth clicking, sloppy tongue moistening her chin. She resisted at first, but when he slid his hand up her dress she bit her lip and moaned and began to kiss back. He grabbed her by the bow in her hair and threw her headfirst onto the bed.

The bird wondered if it should sound the alarm, but that was against protocol. She lay there, her breath heavy with anticipation. The man muttered, “I bet you like this,” and picked the mink scarf from off the floor.

“Oh, yes,” she cried and lifted her dress. The man spanked her with the scarf for a while as she dug her hands into the sheets and gasped. Then he tossed it aside and swung his head back, his eyes meeting those of the bird upon the clock. The bird remained very still, even stiller than usual, as if a predator had crossed its path in the wilderness.

The man turned sharply back and climbed onto the bed, his stocky, apelike body damp with sweat. He mounted the lady and repeated, “You like this,” in time with his movements. His words devolved to animal grunts, his monkey lips peeling back in satisfaction. Finally, reaching climax, he arched his back and pounded his chest, a primeval battle cry erupting from his diaphragm: “Yabba Dabba Doo!”

VIII.

Betty was the only woman Barney had ever been with. They’d met shortly after the invention of cars. A few primitive stone edifices had been erected in what would one day be the center of Bedrock, but life was still a long way from modern. A workable language hadn’t emerged yet. Most still went around slapping their chests and going, “Ug! Ug!” Actually, the car had been Barney’s creation—just four wheels and a simple rectangular structure of logs—but of course another Ug took credit for it. Yet Barney was the first to have one of his own, and on his debut drive through the encampment, rollicking along the twig-strewn ground (it would be quite a while before paved roads were invented) all the Ugs shook their heads and stomped the dirt enviously while the females appeared from out of their huts and swarmed the majestic new vehicle. Of all the females who called to Barney that day wanting to be the first of her sex to ride in the car, none was more desirable than Betty. The other females were so desperate, shaking their fists with threat of violence or lifting their furry tunics pleadingly. Not Betty. She stood behind the pack, an indifferent smirk on her face. “Ug,” she said and pointed, like she knew Barney had no option but to choose her. And she was right. His first time was in that car, and many times afterward.

Now, Barney thought as he approached the Flintstones’ house, he could scarcely remember the last time he and Betty had even kissed. She was more interested in shopping than mating. They slept on separate sides of the bed and barely touched. Barney entered the house. His hands shivered with desire and shame as he crept through the door. He followed Wilma’s scent toward the laundry room, skulking silently like a burglar. He passed Dino resting on the sofa and then he saw her, framed by the doorway. She was naked, glistening with sweat, as if she expected him. Had she and Fred planned this together? Did Betty know, too? Once again he felt like the runt of the pack, the last to know, the last to grow up.

Their eyes met. Without a word, Wilma waved to him, then reached behind and untied her necklace, let the pebbles roll onto the floor like marbles. Barney blew out the torch on the wall and darkness enveloped them. Fumbling in the dim moonlight, his body bumped hers as his feet grazed the soft cat skin rug. He kissed the peach fuzz on her neck, then stopped himself. “Gee, Wilma, I’m sorry.” She put her hand on his mouth and pulled him down onto the rug. He kneeled before her and she pinned his face between her thighs, hairs bristling Barney’s cheeks. Her legs weren’t smooth like Betty’s, but he liked the overgrownness of her. It marked her as untamed somehow.

She pulled him up by his cowlick. When he hesitated, she pushed him onto his back, his head hitting the hard floor with a thud, and clasped his wrists in her hands. She pinned him, and he lay there helpless and delirious. Oblivious, Dino snored hot breath on the sofa above.

IX.

The kid on his bike tossed the newspaper with such force that the stone tablet frisbeed into Fred’s nose and knocked him on his ass. And like always, the delivery boy pedaled away before Fred could smack him. He carried the paper inside and set it on the kitchen table. He sipped his coffee and found it had already gone cold. “Wilma,” he called. She took the cup and set it before a tiny fire-breathing dinosaur that warmed it with its flame, then set it back on the table, humming all the while.

Fred glanced at the paper. “What put you in such a mood?”

“Oh, nothing,” she trilled, fingering her bare neck.

“Where’s your necklace?” Fred asked, too-hot coffee dribbling down his chin. “That was an anniversary gift, you know.”

“Must’ve misplaced it,” Wilma said, and skittered into the bedroom.

Her good mood annoyed Fred. An unwanted thought entered his mind and he shook it out angrily. No, of course not, there was no way that imbecile Barney was a better mater than he was. His flesh-club was no bigger than a twig, the puny thing. And as for his woman, Fred had shown Betty what it was to know a true alpha-Ug.

The crime column, neatly chiseled into the corner of the Daily Slate, reported that a Savage had wandered into Bedrock city limits and beaten a local man to death with his bare hands. Unconfirmed witnesses were on record claiming the beast had cut the victim open with a sharp rock and run off with his liver, possibly for cannibalistic purposes. An artist’s rendering of the culprit—rippled forehead and bulging eyes—accompanied the story.

Fred threw the paper down in disgust. To think, he might’ve admired those Savages for their tenacity for survival and their simple, unencumbered lives. He spat. They were dumb animals like any other, and weak, too. Things like that, he thought, ought to either be serving people like me or exterminated. Why the authorities allowed those unevolved, dung-smelling freaks to continue to exist was beyond him. Those troglodytes had graduated to little daggers, maybe, but their peanut brains would never comprehend the intricacies of a simple wheel. Everything was fine as long as they stuck to their turf and the civilized people to theirs. Problem was those damn Savages were too dumb to find their way out of their own caves, let alone trying to prevent them from dragging their knuckles into Bedrock. Why, if Fred caught one of them on his property, he’d skewer it and feed the mangy thing to Dino.

But anyway, Fred had more important things to worry about, like getting Betty alone again.

X.

Through the night, Betty cooing by his side, Barney lay awake and replayed in his mind what he and Wilma had done, revising the course of events slightly each time to suit the obscure triumph throbbing in his heart. As the moonlight reflected in the clock bird’s eyes turned to yawning early sunbeams, Barney recollected that it was he who suggested the swap in the first place, he who had stripped Wilma of her clothes and pinned her to the cat skin rug, and he who, as Barney and Fred met at the fence in the yard on their ways back to their respective homes, brushed shoulders with Fred, nearly knocking him flat on the grass, a smug and satisfied smile on his face as Fred skulked away.

In the morning he scooped cereal into his mouth while Betty sat at the other end of the table and prattled on the way she always did. Barney did not bother to affirm her with a “yes, dear,” or even an encouraging grunt. He was through playing the obedient and uxorious mate. He thought again of Wilma and became ravenous with hunger. He poured more cereal, set aside his spoon, and slurped straight from the bowl.

Betty waved her manicured hand in Barney’s face. “Barney? Are you even listening?” He shrugged, continued to gulp down sweet dino-milk. “I was saying, I’ll need the Rhinos Club card this afternoon. Stoneworth’s is having another sale, and if I don’t charge it, I’ll have to put it on layaway, and you know how I hate to—”

Barney shot up and hurled his empty bowl against the wall. Betty remained upright, shoulders relaxed, too surprised to cower. “Uh, I’ve had about enough of you throwin’ away all my hard-earned dough on this shit,” he yelled, a cocoa pebble stuck to his lip, “No more!” Angry blood surged through him; it was turning him on. He sat down and crossed his legs.

“All right,” Betty said meekly, an echo of a sob in her throat.

“Uh, and another thing. You are gonna go to Stoneworth’s, to take back the garbage you bought yesterday.”

Betty nodded and, pouting, went into the bedroom to pack up her returns. Barney helped himself to more pebbles. He deserved it. He felt young and victorious, as if he’d speared his first wildebeest. He wanted to celebrate—with Wilma—but he’d have to wait until tonight.

XI.

As they drove to Stoneworth’s that afternoon, Betty recounted Barney’s tantrum to Wilma. In the gleaming, tropical sunlight the incident took on a humorous tone, and she found herself less and less bothered by it. Of course, it certainly helped that she had borrowed Barney’s Rhinos Club from the dresser when he wasn’t looking. “It’s not like him to lose his temper,” she said.

Wilma fingered her necklace thoughtfully. She’d been quiet since she’d gotten in the car. “Sounds like something’s got him hot and bothered,” she said.

Betty braked at the intersection, lifted her sunglasses and glanced at Wilma. Was it possible she had found out about Fred? The monkey on the perch dropped the red sign and held up the green. Betty proceeded with a sharp left turn. She would take the scenic route today. Normally she enjoyed a leisurely drive through the suburbs, admiring the order of it all—the perfect green squares of the lawns, the immaculate asphalt of the roads, the precise geometry of the architecture—but she found herself craving sights of a less cultivated nature. “But I guess you must know from barbaric behavior,” Betty continued, “what with being with Fred all these years.”

“Mm.” Wilma gazed out the window.

The rough terrain of the unpaved road scraped Betty’s feet. She slowed the car to a gingerly trot. Out here the wild grass grew long and thick, with no regard to aesthetics. It reminded Betty of a man’s chest hair. “I mean,” she said as though she’d rehearsed it and couldn’t stop herself now, “that man can hardly suppress himself sometimes.” In truth, she’d found herself getting damp in the loincloth as Barney raged at her. He’d never acted like that before, so much—well, so much like Fred.

Wilma turned and stared at Betty, her line of sight a spearhead on Betty’s cheek. “Not like Barney.”

Betty nodded, picking up speed now. Chiseled stone signs warned of stegosaurus crossings. They weren’t that far out—posh summer cabins dotted the road—but suddenly the land seemed positively feral.

“Would you look at that,” Wilma pointed. In the distance, a man crouched in a brook that was hardly more than a mud puddle compared to the neighborhood swimming pool. He cupped water in his hands and splashed his firm pectoral muscles. He was naked but without embarrassment.

Of course, Betty thought. It wasn’t a man at all, but a male Savage who’d evidently lost his way. Seeing the car, he jumped out of the water and began to gallop closer. He didn’t drag his fists like the caricatures in the Daily Slate cartoons, but rather used them like an extra pair of feet. Lupine, he rested on haunches a few yards from the road, his eyes focused and steady.

Wilma grabbed Betty’s shoulder and squeezed. She was nervous, but Betty wasn’t. Looking into his small, doleful eyes, almost an afterthought to his enormous forehead, something turned in her and she no longer cared about ever making it to Stoneworth’s. It wasn’t as if all this stuff she’d bought, all the stuff she was going to buy, meant anything, had made her feel halfway as euphoric as she had last night. Why cover herself with gilded clothes when passion required none?

The Savage darted away, disappearing into the woods. Wilma relaxed her grip. The road curved and became smooth again and miraculously, almost instantly, they arrived in Bedrock’s shopping district.

“Thank goodness,” Wilma said as Betty pulled into the parking lot. “I thought you wanted to go to the store, not the zoo.”

XII.

The T. Rex t-bone sizzled over the flames of the hot stove. Wilma jerked the pan and flipped the meat. A little hot oil splashed on her wrists but she didn’t wince. With all the cooking she had to do for Fred, she was used to it by now. One side of the steak was overdone. Fred was so finicky about his food. He’d pitch a fit if she served it to him like this. It was hard to believe he’d once eaten raw, bleeding flesh from animals whose hearts hadn’t yet ceased beating. Wilma put the ruined steak on a plate and set it aside for Dino, then got another from the freezer and dropped it on the pan, making sure to push the button on the stove that pinched the fire-breathing dinosaur inside the oven, causing it to reduce the heat of its flame.

She’d been distracted all day, for obvious reasons. And also she couldn’t stop thinking about the Savage she and Betty had seen. Rumors, lurid tales of packs of Savages breaking into suburban houses at night and raping and killing anything that moved, traveled by telephone horn from one house to the next. Wilma didn’t believe them, really, but she had been just a little scared to see one in the wild. It looked threatening, sure, but so simpleminded, too. She wanted to catch it and tame it, keep it like a pet or a servant, use it for her own pleasure.

Wilma flipped the steak. It was perfect, just the way Fred liked it. In the next room he pounded his fists on the table and yelled, “Dinner, woman! Where is it?” Wilma ignored him, transfixed by the sizzling meat. “Damn it, woman,” Fred called, “if I don’t get my supper now, I’m going to, to, to—well, you don’t even wanna know what I’ll do.”

Wilma plopped the steak onto a plate. She just needed to get Fred out of the house. She lifted the heavy pan, imagined the cracking sound it’d make colliding with his thick skull, then set it back down.

When Betty had dropped her off at home after shopping, Barney had been in the yard, trimming the hedges with a sharp-beaked bird. He gave a little wave, a double wink like something had caught in his eye. A signal, Wilma thought, that he’d meet her tonight. She’d already begun planning what she was going to do to him. It involved a granite pestle.

How silly it was to think that she’d once thought she wanted to be dragged by the hair. What she really wanted was to be the one doing the dragging.

XIII.

Barney, cards in hand, sat across the table from Betty, Fred and Wilma flanking him. It was bridge night, a Flintstone-Rubble tradition, but no one was paying attention to the game, least of all Barney. He’d used to enjoy it, but it seemed to him now too tame, too restricted by exacting rules, too civilized. There was also the matter of Wilma’s hand on his crotch. Fred wouldn’t notice; he was too busy refilling Betty’s coconut cup with booze, leaning close and brushing his arm against her breasts as he poured, acting drunker than he really was.

“I, uh, I guess we should start the game,” Barney said.

They had, by this time, been swapping wives for weeks, passing each other at the fence separating their backyards nightly. It was as much of a routine as clocking in and out at Mr. Slate’s. If the women knew what their husbands were up to, they didn’t show it and they didn’t care.

“Whose turn is it?” Fred asked.

Betty and Wilma looked at each other and shrugged.

“Don’t know.”

“No idea.”

They’d been holding the same cards for over half an hour now and no one had bothered to get the game started. Barney wasn’t especially eager to. The animal urge to mate ballooned in his lap and he wanted to lift Wilma onto the table.

Fred was playfully hooking his finger under the strap of Betty’s dress and pulling it down. Betty giggled, readjusted it, and Fred pulled on it again. Barney turned to Wilma. Unbothered, she smiled, set her cards down and began to massage Barney under the table with both hands. Barney’s eye met Fred’s. Nobody said anything for a long moment. They set the cards on the table. Betty had never even picked hers up when they were dealt. Wilma ran her arm across the table, still keeping one hand in Barney’s lap, and swept the cards onto the floor. Betty made no attempt to fix her loose strap, and Fred had snaked his hand over and was working on the other one. She stared straight ahead, watching for, Barney thought, his reaction. Wilma grabbed his wrist and set his hand in her lap. She was not wearing a loincloth.

Of course they knew, Barney thought. How could they not?

Fred and Betty’s seats were empty. Fred had Betty on the floor. He was grunting and peeling off her dress with his teeth; it looked like he was skinning a carcass. Wilma eyed Barney expectantly. He stood, his erection tenting his loincloth, lifted Wilma and set her on the table. As he pulled off his clothes, however, she kicked him swiftly in the chest, hurtling him over the chair and onto the ground. She leapt off the tabletop and mounted him, growling with passion, and he tore off her dress, splitting it in half with his bare hands.

XIV.

The alarm clock bird, who had been recently promoted to the grandfather clock, peeked through the eyehole of its new home and shook its head disdainfully. It had been anticipating the bridge game with some interest, glad finally to have something to look at besides the empty den, besides the big-nosed man named Fred and the lady of the house, Betty, mating in the most unnatural positions

But now this—it was enough to make the bird molt. These creatures—who possessed the incredible ego to call themselves people, who wore a façade of civilized manners but only until the lights went out, who adorned themselves with cumbersome and useless accoutrements, who mowed their lawns and drove their cars as if it kept the natural world in order, who celebrated the convenience of modern appliances at the expense of the animals they enslaved—these creatures were rolling naked together on the ground like grumbling beasts in heat. No shame, no regard for who might have to watch. Just what did they live in these houses for? Why did they even bother to drape cured animal hides over their bodies and communicate in a needlessly complex language? The bird in the grandfather clock was sick of watching these animals fight against nature. They were no better than brontos that tried to walk on only their hind legs.

The coconut-nosed man, Fred, finished with the lady of the house and threw her aside. She collapsed at the foot of the sofa, flushed and sleepy, her black hair sticking with sweat to her forehead. The man of the house, Barney, had the red-haired lady called Wilma against the wall and was still eagerly going at her. He looked pathetic, like a desperate wolf humping a felled tree.

Fred, apparently wanting his turn with the red-haired lady, hit Barney on the arm and said, “Barn—UG!”

Wilma, clawing the floor, shook her head. Barney, not even slowing down, said, “Ug! Ug!” and hit him back.

The little bird shifted uncomfortably. It should have been gliding across the treetops or digging its claws through the dirt, not trapped in a dim, little box studying the mating habits of loutish Neanderthals.

Frowning, Fred rubbed his irritated arm and steadied himself. With a particularly guttural “Ug!” he knocked Barney with his shoulder so that he fell out of Wilma and landed squarely on his butt, tumescence wagging in his lap.

Betty stood up. “Fred, cut it out, will ya? Leave Wilma alone.”

But the one called Fred was already on top of the one called Wilma, chanting, “Yabba dabba doo, yabba dabba doo, yabba DABBA DOO!”

Barney stood and, growling like a saber-toothed beast, tackled Fred. The women screamed as they scuffled, biting, pounding their fists, scratching as though their soft ape hands were claws. Finally, Barney pushed himself off Fred, grabbed the club of an unlit torch from the wall and brought the thick end fiercely into the brute’s skull. Fred hit the floor lifelessly, deep red fluid spilling from the wound.

Barney dropped the club and looked to the women, who trembled on the sofa. He opened his mouth, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead he shouted, “Ug! Ug! UG!” and swung his arms around like a monkey. He’d devolved.

More like a return to his roots, the bird thought, a cheap pantomime of true savagery. Animals didn’t mourn, didn’t feel regret. Even the stupidest beasts on earth didn’t kill their own kind for reasons such as this.

The bird would have no more of man’s order. It burst from the clock face but did not announce the time with a melodic cuckoo-cuckoo. Instead it squawked wildly, its wings unsteady, and soared out of the house and upward into the sky. From on high it watched the other animals follow. Its fellow birds from the other clocks and appliances swarmed the clouds. The alligator wiggled out of its dolly. The fire-breather from inside the stove stomped down the road with its cub from the coffeemaker, torching any vehicles that got in their way. The woolly mammoth that had provided running water galloped away, the earth shaking under its giant feet. Even domesticated Dino chewed free of his leash and followed the direction of the herd, the little violet bird pointing the way with its beak. It would lead them to Savage territory and beyond, far from the houses and roads and carefully manicured lawns. And if the Savages caught them and or the elements killed them, at least they’d die natural deaths.