The fish weren’t biting.
Not only that, but the mammoths were too mammoth, the sloths weren’t slothful and even the hares were evading the snares.
Ugg hadn’t caught anything for over a week now.
Ogga looked on as he stared despondently into his breakfast bowl, which she had filled with oats. She had meant no implied criticism in this, yet she knew that to him every gritty mouthful would taste of failure.
And not much else, she had to admit. She sadly watched his face contort as he tried to work down a first spoonful that had sucked his mouth dry of all saliva. He looked up at her. His hollow-eyed, soul-dead expression nearly broke her heart.
“It’s a bit dry,” he mumbled, through a small spray of grains. He stood and walked to the pot over the fire, took a ladleful of water from it, and poured it into the bowl. He stirred it absently as he walked back to the table.
“Careful,” said Ogga urgently, “that water’s boil-”
She stopped, and the two gazed in horror at the bubbling gloop that was forming in the bowl. They watched as it grew, as it turned a sullen gray, as it sent tendrils over the side. Ugg dropped the bowl, which rolled around on its edge before settling.
“We should warn the village,” said Ogga. “It’s going to devour us all.”
“No, look,” said Ugg. “It’s stopped.”
Sure enough, the substance had ceased expanding and now seethed balefully, like an angry brain.
“What will we do with it?” asked Ogga. “Pebble-dash the cave?”
Ugg stared at it for a long time. “I’m going to eat it,” he said quietly.
“Oh, please don’t,” groaned Ogga. She snatched up the bowl and held it upside down. None of the glop poured out.
“Imagine what that will do to your insides,” she said flatly. “You’re going to fossilize yourself from the inside out.”
“What it will do to my insides,” said Ugg, ” is fill them. It’s still just grains and water.”
He took the bowl from Ogga and stuck his spoon into it, trying to ignore the sucking sound as it forced its way in. He dug out a small amount, lifted the spoon and slurped the ooze into his mouth. Ogga watched, open-mouthed, as his closed mouth worked it down.
“What’s it like?” she breathed.
Ugg swallowed. “It needs salt,” he said.
“Yes. Or sugar. Or honey. Or fruit. Or cowpat. Anything, really, because it tastes of nothing.”
“Never mind,” said a relieved Ogga, reaching for the bowl. “Here, I’ll get you some more oats.”
To her surprise, Ugg pressed the bowl to his chest. “I didn’t say i didn’t like it,” he said.
He ate the rest, in silence, then trudged off hunting. Ogga was left with the task of trying to clean the bowl. In the end she buried it in the woods, and made another one.
Ugg returned five hours later. On his spear were skewered three salmon, strapped to his back were the carcasses of two deer, and he was dragging, for his first time ever, a sabre-tooth tiger.
“Where did you get all them?” gasped Ogga.
“I caught them,” said Ugg proudly.
“Well, we can certainly eat well now,” said Ogga. “No more grains for you.”
“No,” said Ugg. “It’s the grains that did it. I just felt so strong and full of, well, full, mostly. I felt invincible, possibly because I reckoned I could be gored in the stomach and not be harmed. It really is the Breakfast of, of, of people who win things. From now on I’m going to get my oats every day.”
Ogga looked into his beaming face. My Ugg is back, she thought. She took his arm in hers and smiled.
“You certainly will,” she said.