Short story: The Mamontogist’s Tale


In a post-apocalyptic world, is it possible to resurrect the woolly mammoth? By Matthew Chrulew.


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You deaf children of Tickbird-sapien-ape, listen now to the Lament of Mamont; hear with both sides of your ears and perk your heart to this cry:

Mamont is dying!

Great, eck-stinky holes open up in the frost, storm eyes chasm down to Underearth. The tundra spews forth Mamont’s dead children, the ferryfolk of the buried, to thaw in their sunlight fright. And the herd gathers to mourn missing elders, as has ever been their custom.

But Mamont is not comforted. ’Stead she falls overill. Her wool curls brittle and sheds in broad patches. Her limbs grow frail ’til she can no longer range. Her trunk clogs with phlegm and her hide weeps with pus.

I tell you, comrades: soon Moon will no longer sing to her, and the eck-stinky holes will call to Mamont in her grief, draw her back down into Underearth depths. The firm grassy ground will grow soggy with moss, and the plenty scenery will fall hollow once more.

I come among you from the follow pack to break your slumber,

to tell her plight, to sing the Lament

You Tickbirds of Mamontgrad, grown idle now in your sedentary winters, you recite the Lay of Mamont and sleep sound in its storied warmth. You know Mamont’s shaping of the Earth. You know her enduring generations grassing the steppe. You know Teck-sapien-ape taking her tusks, her vigil among the dead, and you know her ’surrection, when the Gnome became flesh mid the strophic collapse. You know her rescue by Tickbird-sapien-ape, whose legacy we hold keep, whose methodology we perform in this plenty scenery. Yet you dream now so remote from the herd you pledged to perch alongside. You sleep here sound in your bonehide huts, wrapped warm in her woven wool, guts full of her flank cooked on fires lit by her shit, and dream of her lives and yours entwined, immuned.

But I come among you from the follow pack to break your slumber, to tell her plight, to sing the Lament. Ten cycles I have trailed the herd, observed their customs, guided their research, guarded the wandering march: know my knowing, comrades, trust the proof of my watch. Hear as I say: ever since her dead children burrowed up and the eck-stinky holes swallowed down, Mamont has been dying. One by one, child and elder, ill and hale – all dying, dying.

Yes, I am here to tell you – again! For I stood before you not one Moon ago – hush your jeers! – and made prophet and fool of myself while you, so faithful children of the Tickbirds, closed both sides of your ears and abandoned your duty to be ever watchful, ever tending, to help Mamont thrive in this broken Earth.

You were already told, and you do nothing.

Oh yes, you perform your niche from afar, send the follow pack to roam sentry and at threats from beyond – snow lions, hellydrones, hungry children of Sapien-ape and other famished folk – we jump about and make a screechy racket like Tickbird once did and alert Mamont to move on to safe ground. From your stuck huts and warm fires and swelling junkpiles you venture bravely out to knock down trees, search out the best grasses, warn of frozen wastes and peaty bogs, of cliffs, slurries, craters and sinkholes. But Mamont needs not only grasses and tracks. Mamont dies not only from predators and snares. Earth breaks anew. Her danger this day comes from deep below – deep inside – from her own thawing children, our herd’s lost elders, returned sick from Underearth to haunt these times, infect these places, to fester and spread their strophic overillness.

I tell you, idle Tickbirds, these ferryfolk are not come to help member and mourn; they are viral ghosts come to containt and ruin.

Last quarter moon, I stood before you and sang this Lament, and you laughed and argued – like you shout at me now – and shooshed me away, like a tail shoos Fly. Cry Wulf, boy, you cried, and the mutts mimicked howls. Well hush you now, fools! Shush you, crone! You told me the Gnome-book holds remedy, that your trancing would immune Mamont. You told me it is good and hale that Mamont gather around her dead children to mourn lost generations. I came among you and sang the Lament and you told me that yes, Mamont will die, like every thing all ways, and anew Mamont will live.

So I went and wandered, heeded my ridicule, questioned my story. Was I mad like the peat-eaters and hole-jumpers? Had I wronged the Tickbird warning niche? I researched and researched on the steppe with the herd. I mused the teachings of Tickbird-sapien-ape: the methodogy, the gnomogy, the norms of symbiolitics. And still I watched Mamont die. Like every thing all ways, but more so: even young and hale, even strong and juve, faster than growing, faster than birthing. Death out of time, out of flow. More her children burrow up, more she gathers to grieve, more she grows sick and dies. Trunk phlegm flows, knees cave, Mamont topples in the snow. I journeyed to the edges of eck-stinky holes, to the herd gathered round exposed bones hung with thawing flesh. I sat before a waning bull, heard his wheezing gasps, smelt his weeping wounds, mopped his slimy trunk. I felt his woeful bellows ring in my chest. And I pledged then to be Tickbird truly. If all you were grown blind, comrades, if all you would not hear, then the task fell to me, according to my ability: I must find a way to rescure Mamont from the overillness of Underearth.

So I took the Gnome-book – hush your cries! It was returned safely long back, its blind keeper never knowing. I studied its secrets, combed deeper than codes. You vere the Gnome – but there are more than four letters. You hearse the Lay – but have you heard all histories? You know the symbiolitic protocols, the methodogical statement – but do you truly grasp the Tickbird niche? There is much more to grok, much more to be wrought, behind the tales of Mamont’s ’surrection and rescue. So I searched out peripherals to catch what they got. I listened to peat-eaters’ ramblings; I ’membered junkers’ trailtales; I tracked down old Tickbirds exiled for refusing trek or collecting teck and I heeded their whispers and drivels. And from composting it all I dredged up the riddle of the sorrow gate mother.

I tell you, idle Tickbirds, these ferryfolk are not come to help member and mourn; they are viral ghosts come to containt and ruin.

Hush, you Gnomogist! Hush, her yaysayers! Yes, comrades, hold them back. Stop her intrumps. It is not hale to always obey. To only heed one version. To close your ears, to respond so slow. We were not always that way. That crone only knows how to tell, teach, heal. She don’t know how to do. Yes, she tells the Lay and tales. Teaches the gnomogy and methodogy. Heals the breaks and bleeds. But she don’t tell the deaths, won’t teach the losses, can’t heal the virals. She only trances the sequins, only veres the Gnome.

She talks like all is knowed and done when even rock melts like sunning snow. She might know both science and magic, she might keep the Gnome, but she don’t know the herd’s lives and ways. She never grabbed no handfuls of wool, copped no chargefuls of ire or stunk no moundfuls of turd. She never roamed them grassing together, a hundred one after another, birthing and teaching each other. She never felt the bulls in musth, the cows in heat, the whole in fear, the herd drew near. She never gained their trust.

And she don’t know the tale of the sorrow gate mother. None of you do, sitting here by the fire ears closed on both sides.

But we can’t keep following those ways. To be Tickbird is to know when change is needful. To know when to act. We saw when Teck-sapien-ape was just specting Mamont. We saw the coming of the strophic collapse. We intravened to help her wild and thrive. And we know how to immune her from overkill and overchill, as prescribed by the methodogy. But Mamont no longer thrives. Mamont is dying! Overill! To be Tickbird is to see that, to know it and to intravene.

So hush her now, hut-maker. Hold her back, shit-collector and tuskhorn-carver. Shush her intrumps and let me tell you the tale of the sorrow gate mother.

It was she who membered the spirit of Mamont. Who taught her anewborn the customs her vigil with the dead Underearth forgot.

Was I mad like the peat-eaters and hole-jumpers?

Had I wronged the Tickbird warning niche?

But she slept hidden west beyond the steppe. I had to journ past Surge’s fences, to the plastic park where Teck-sapien-ape ’spected Mamont. I packed dried fruits and flesh and nuts into a hide bundle, took up my tuskhorn knives and bugle beak. None would come with me. Not one from the follow pack, even my teacher, even my shaglover. None dared dispute the Gnomogist and her sequins trancing. Even the lone junker I parleyed past the regrowth fringe, who shared his poach and showed the track to the fences, even he would go no more west into the land of haunts and ruins.

But I had to journ there, nowhere else, to trieve the sorrow gate mother.

I kept on west past the fringe, yes, beyond the running rivers – hush those fraidy yarns – past frozen tundra and peaty bog, lone taiga Tiger and high soaring Hawk, past hail and snow, Sun and Wind, hiding Hare and grazing Horse, skulking Bear and prowling Wulf, ’til I came to the famed maze fences of Surge Zee. I crossed one by one, found horn-torn holes to clamber through, climbed over if I had to, from one plastic paddock to the next. Larch or Pine. Shrub, Rat and Moss. Bison and Grass. No true composting, no entwining, ’cept at the edges. Each paddock kept to a flaural composition, picking apart the great oiko system. I kept clear of grassing Reindeer and Elk preyed by fence jumping Lion. Kept clear of packed paddocks overgrown by slippery Moss. Past fence after fence, grassed paddock after weedy park, I journed ’til I stood before Surge’s last great fence, gated and layered with scaffold and stair.

Where Teck-sapien-ape stood to ’spect anewborn Mamont.

I found the stair’s entrance and climbed its skied heights. Below shrunk every thing. Like soaring Hawk, endowed beyond my kin, I surveyed Earth below. Straight roads strewn with dead steelbirds. Patchworks of green and white patterned paddocks, high standing fences and blurry flauna. Behind stood a built ruin roofed with shiny silver solars, walls vined over like in tales of old cities. Retaken, yet hiding what knowings?

UNA / Jacky Winter Group

This was there, I knew, the plastic park sung in the Lay, where Teck-sapien-ape first sang Mamont’s song, recited the sequins and ’surrected her with a powerful gnomogy. Where they journed on steelbirds from Londinium and Beijingrad to ’spect her grassing, to marvel her anewborn flesh. Where with great sadness Mamont became dumbeasticated like Sheep and Rat, fed and protected, infenced and desensed. ’Til. ’Cept. ’Til Teck-sapien-ape unhinged Earth. When they fracked and mined ’til she cracked and quaked. When they warred over oils and waters, when seeds failed and forests burned, ice melted and deserts stretched, oceans died and virals spread, when migrations and coprorations overwhelmed and undid nations.

You know the Lay. Collapse and strophe. Collapse and strophe.

And Mamont still grassed infenced like Sheep, but no body came now to ’spect or care. And Teck-sapien-ape prepped to journ Mamont to Merica to hide away from snares and threats. It was then that the Tickbirds combined their powers: biogists and genetists, herders and keepers, ethogists and ecogists, hunters and trackers, archogists and anthrogists, libbers and wrenchers. They broke Mamont from her cage and led the herd beyond plastic park, beyond Surge’s fences, into the Berian steppe, where they helped her wild and thrive among the folk once more, where she ranged so the grasses grew, made the soggy ground firm and the hollow scenery plentiful.

You know the Lay. But. ’Cept. Is that all?

I descended the fence and fathomed the ruin. Its walls stood hale, minding, remaining, mid new trees and nests. I hollered and clattered ’til birds and mesos split. Round the far side sat a clossal gateway topped by script, all but T, C, A now fallen of the letters naming plastic park, topped again by a great tecky Mamont head, tusks branched out to protect, trunk raised to greet those come to ’spect.

I stood ’neath the entrance in dead hush. This was it. The sorrow gate.

Where was the mother?

The tecky trunk gestured no true hail, but I had come to research, to know anew. I lit my lampstick and strode ’neath the rustmetal gate, then through the door of the ruin beyond.

She talks like all is knowed and done when even rock melts like sunning snow

My head spun in the bounded air, the in here barricaded from out there. My eyes searched the dark, started to shift, before tecky light ’bruptly shone from all round. The solars must have stored spark. None of you been in Teck-sapien-ape’s builds? Stuck walls of the teckiest sedentry. Bricks you can’t carry on your back. Tents that can’t trek. No wonder they sung up such strophe when they built up such splits from the flows of Earth.

Yet I journed on, deep inside. I carried with me Sun and Wind. They might have reduced and divided and ’spected. They might have strangled and unhinged Earth. They might not have knowed the methodogy or the gnomogy, might barely have guessed symbiolitics. But maybe they knew something else. I might still find remedy, stored away like a seed in a pouch.

I had to find the sorrow gate mother. Maybe somewhere inside she slept, holding the knowing to rescure Mamont.

I came into anewlit rooms, each built itself like somewhere else. A room of warm blue ice, buried with bones just to ’spect. A room like an Underearth cave, walls painted tusks of ochre and red. A larger room, then, that held many things – tecks, pics, scripts – collecting together all knowings of Mamont. As if Teck-sapien-ape indeed knew deep the secret of Mamont, that Mamont was the secret, was the birthing and the dying, that Mamont was the stauration of Earth. They knew it, but not what to do with it. Were trying to work it out. Trying to tell a tale.

I passed from wall to hollow, script to pic. Tecky mural to shiny glasslet. There were words, too, more words than even in the Gnome-book, Cyrillic and Anglish and Mandarin. I sat before them and followed my finger but couldn’t trans the gridded scripts.

At the tall end wall was a wide hard curved curtain. Versions sparked as I stepped forth. Glinting eyeglass sat nearby, earmuffs hummed with noise. I placed them on my head and ghosts rose before me, bluish moving pics tracing tales and ’memberings, messages from Underearth where Teck-sapien-ape now lingered.

I mused all these tales, composted and transed. I did this, comrades, I listened to our elders – for indeed it was Teck-sapien-ape who died and birthed us – listened as they sang for me. Another Lay. Another tale. Their version.

Behind stood a built ruin roofed with shiny silver solars, walls

vined over like in tales of old cities

I grokked its gist and milled its grist, and relay to you now the Lay of Teck-mamont:

Mamont taking shape. Mamont shaping Earth. Mamont grassing steppe. Mamont migrating through Europa and Beria, across the frozen seas to Merica. Teck-sapien-ape sharpening knives. Silencing Moon. Chasing Mamont into pits with spear and fire, taking her tusks and her flesh. Ice hardening, Mamont sick and dying, sinking Underearth.

You see, comrades: Teck-sapien-ape knew what Teck-sapien-ape did.

They still knew nothing of her journ Underearth, nothing of her wait, her fear, her burrowed fables and dialogue vigils – all the tales that Tickbird-sapien-ape membered.

But they did know more. Archogists and herders finding anew Mamont’s bones, dreaming of monstrous giants and moles. Biogists reciting the sequins, trancing deep in tubes and glasslets, shifting Gs for Ts and As for Cs, creating a new gnomogy for Mamont. Hearsing towards her surrection. Mamont’s unwooled cousin needled and emplanted. Melephont born – then dying, body broken. Mamelephont born, body growing – spirit dying. Mamephont born, body growing, spirit trying – yet still dying. Then finally Mamontephont anewborn, body and spirit growing, trying.

Yet she had forgot so many customs. Forgot how to grass and fight for herself, forgot when to trek or flee or bellow or trample. Forgot how to sing her song. New biogists came, with sticks and clicks, and parleyed Mamephont, but still she did not learn, still she lived barely in that plastic park.

Then came more biogists, who brought Elephont, to teach Mamontephont how to live. Yet heed the Lay of Elephont. For much too in living had these hardskins forgot. They journed to the hot steppes and jungles and lost their wool. Teck-sapien-ape speared and rode them and took their tusks, too, ’til even they lost their mothers, even they became mad and unhinged, even they fell down eck-stinky holes. They might teach their own language. They might teach to grass plains or push over trees or drink from waterholes or trample annoying predaters. But could they teach of surviving in snow, goring Sharp-tooth Tiger, tramping around shifting slurry, grooming the plenty scenery? What could these hardskins teach of growing wool thick and warm? Of tales and tracks of the steppe? Of listening to Moon’s song?

What could they teach about becoming Mamont?

Indeed, what could Teck-sapien-ape? Would he teach her to walk two-legged, to make knives of her tusks to cut off her own trunk? But perhaps, with his cleverness, he might still ’member. ’Member customs, habits, language, lifeway – not just the Gnome. For then came more biogists still, seeking a true mamontogy. Archogists delved deep Underearth, digging up patterns of the ways of Mamont. Ecogists progged oiko rhythms to member when Sapien-ape knew he was folk. Ethogists tranced and tranced, researched and researched, ’til they membered Mamont’s spirit – her mores and lesses, her ethos and mythos. ‘Til together they created the mamontogy.

They transed Mamont’s spirit into numbers and letters, progged them into tecky brainware. And more came from Tokyograd with roboteck and animateck, to shape the spirit into steel and spark. And they progged and progged ’til finally it arose anewborn: the great Teck-mamont.

I lit my lampstick and strode 'neath the rustmetal gate,

then through the door of the ruin beyond

And Teck-mamont parleyed Mamontephont, and she gored it with her tusks. Teck-sapien-ape reshaped Teck-mamont, researched and researched and progged and progged, and still Mamontephont gored it.

And they researched and progged, ’til one day Mamontephont hailed Teck-mamont. And they parleyed and parleyed, and Teck-mamont taught and Mamontephont learnt. ’Til Teck-mamont led Mamontephont into the plastic park. She, this spirited animateck of steel and spark, showed Mamontephont what to eat, where to sleep, when to flee, how to fight, why to live, til she knew, and could teach herself, teach her herd, her children.

Do you see, comrades? Even before the strophic collapse, Teck-sapien-ape became partway Tickbird, knowing what was needful, intravening to create the mamontogy. It was they who membered her customs ’til Tickbird-sapien-ape heard the calling of Earth and became Mamont’s people.

And Mamontephont became Mamont once more, mother of the Tickbird herd. And Teck-mamont became Mamonteck: the sorrow gate mother.

I had to find her. She knew how to survive and thrive. The herd would listen to her teaching; Mamonteck would intravene in their mourning and lead them away from the ferryfolk ghosts.

I threw down the teck and pushed or broke doors to journ deeper through rooms. Came to one great metal space full of bars and chains where Mamont must have slept. Had I fathomed it all? I passed through more rooms filled with books, rooms filled with tubes and glasslets smashed and hale. And then, Sun and Wind – I stood outside the built ruin once more in open air. Here stood only bricks climbed with vines and rank swollen trashpiles.

Only then did I see it, haunched like a mutt, grown over with rust and moss, dull grey ’neath its rotted red, draping tecky wool and sleeping deathly still with metal tusks curled up to the skies: the great Mamonteck.

Hushed and listening now, aren’t you, comrades?

Tired and hungry, I stepped up to the beast and placed my hand on its trunk.

Cold. Dead cold.

Just another pile of old teck. Just like all the junkpiles of useless scrap, all the silent ruins left to rot after collapse.

But I had to hope, to try. Maybe she just slept all this while. Maybe she still held spark. I wished then I hadn’t so often scorned junkers peddling teck. Maybe they weren’t so useless after all. I found some rags to clean her, scraped the greenish growth off her joints and jambs. I can care for Mamont no matter flesh or steel. I’d mopped their mess, whispered comfort to their panicky pains ’til they sang their last song. I knew Mamont dying, too early, too often, and I would suffer it no more.

This one lay stiff and crusted, but not yet dead. No, not yet. Its broad saggy ears were old solars, overgrown with moss and grime. I ragged away the muck, scrubbed ’til they shone silver again. I stretched them out and waited while they sunned.

I was three days vigilant, resting against Mamonteck’s flank, trancing

deep in the Mamontogy, when she shifted

Yet darkness came and still she slept. So I did too, laid my hide swag alongside Mamonteck and slept there that night well hale and kept.

I woke, nibbled dried fruits, watched Sun rising, awaited its giving. I sang the Lay, muttered the letters of the Gnome. I bugled great cries to the Winds, yet no one yet came. As she slept and sunned her solars, I begged her to wake and come help.

I was three days vigilant, resting against Mamonteck’s flank, trancing deep in the mamontogy, when she shifted. Her head raised, eyes opened, and Earth and Moon once more heard bellows from her trunk – halting, hurt, but veritruly live.

Rightly should you gasp and cheer!

We parleyed along. Let me tell you of Mamonteck. I have roamed 10 cycles in the follow pack. I reminded Mamonteck of her niche duty: to member Mamont’s song, to rescure Mamont. I taught her our methodogy, the norms of symbiolitics. But from her I learned still more of Mamont’s ways, her habits and customs, her times and places. It is from her that I truly learned my mamontogy, her spirit anewborn upon me.

I asked her to stand. I stood before Mamonteck and begged her to rise, to come and lead Mamont from the eck-stinky holes and viral bones. She craved wholly to journ here to parley Mamont. But try as she might, grind and stretch as she did, and so deeply she bellowed with struggle and woe, still she could only lay there on old junky legs.

And I could not heal her. I am no junker, and for all I squawked with my horn-beak there were none to be found. I had to depart, return home to seek help. She bellowed her sorrow and I took my leaving.

I journed back past the ’spection fence and Surge’s paddocks, back past the running rivers and peaty taiga, back to the steppe and here to Mamontgrad, stuck right where I left it and where I left you. Still idling by the fire, all you sedentry sentries.

She waits there still, the sorrow gate mother, sleeping, sunning, trusting in my pledge to return. She must be healed, to help heal Mamont. Rejoice that I am not alone! That we are folk and kin. That we are Tickbird. Together we will ’trieve Mamonteck.

Hush your intrumps! I know the whyfores of the junkers’ exile. Yet after two gens, has not teckfever passed? Mamont is dying! Old problems begone. It is time we renewed peace with the periferals and junkers, to heal Mamonteck, to rescure Mamont.

Yes, I know too the protocols. I too only keep them. We will still never ’spect her, never dumbeasticate her, never make Mamont slave or show. We might watch and warn but we will never be Mamont’s mahout. But Mamonteck holds no whip: she plies her own trunk. Mamont is stubborn, she keeps her own head, she will not be budged from her corpse mourning. But Mamonteck is stalwart, she will teach her, not bow her. Mamont is dying! Earth breaks anew. We can no longer wait and watch just to warn – we must intravene. The methodogy prescribes it. Only thus can we truly honour her elders; only thus can Mamont truly mourn. Only thus can we rescure Mamont once more.

Hear my witness. Know the trouble. Come with me, comrades, my people of Mamontgrad. For this is what we must do: Journ back. Mobilise the follow pack. Salvage the periferals and make a new junker pact. Return with them to the plastic park ruin where Mamonteck waits. And with their tecksavvy knowings heal that ancient animateck. And I will mount her steel flank, ride upon her shoulder, and guide her back to the eck-stinky holes and viral ferryfolk where Mamont mourns and dies. And they will parley ’til Mamonteck leads Mamont to march in full pride on the track to grass promised plains, to once more create a new plenty scenery.

So now, fellow Tickbirds – will you listen at last with both sides of your ears? Will you come with me now? You, bone-collector and teck-junker? You, ranger and forager? Shit-burner, tat-needler, statue-carver? You, Gnomogist, trancer of the sequins and keeper of the Gnome?

Mamont is dying!

I hear her cry, and I journ now, Tickbirds, friends; I journ now, and I ask you, who will follow with me?

Matthew Chrulew is a speculative fiction writer and a research fellow in the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University.