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The Undiscovered Tribe

by Jan Stannard

The Undiscovered Tribe

This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019.
You can listen to the People's Choice winner on the LoveReading Podcast.

We were children when we first saw them.

We had been deep in the forest that day, in lands we did not know, and we came home bursting with a story to tell our mothers and fathers.

Listen, we said, you must listen. We went far away today, further than we have ever been, and we found a strange place. You have never taken us there and it was not like any place in the legends.

Our mothers and fathers looked at each other. Go on, they said.

We were pretending to hunt deer, we told them. We were good hunters; we avoided every twig and made no sound. We found paths made by animals and went along with our bows and arrows at the ready, like you taught us. After a while, we came to a place where the trees stopped and beyond them was a huge plain. We dropped down flat and wriggled forward, to see what lay ahead.

We did not understand what we were seeing. All the forest had been cut down and from the ground rose tall, grey things like towers of rock.

We went nearer until we could see big holes in the sides of the towers. We went closer still and through the holes, we could make out people just like us, sitting and watching shapes flicker on a flat thing in front of them.

Between the towers were wide tracks of hard, black stuff. Along these tracks went moving objects with people in them. There were puffs of grey like small clouds coming out from behind them and a smell came into our noses like smoke from a fire, but not as good. Grey paths ran each side of the black and on them were stony-eyed walkers, holding something odd in one hand. Some bent their heads to gaze at it, while touching it with their other hand; others raised it to one ear and seemed to be speaking into it. They did not talk to each other though; people went past as if they were invisible. No-one smiled. We looked about for other creatures, but there were none, not even birds.

We felt frightened and we jumped up and ran home to tell you.

Our parents had listened attentively, then they looked at one another again. We waited for their fear to erupt, or their astonishment, and their insistence that we take them back to the place right away. Instead, they applauded us. They congratulated us on our tall tale and our vivid imaginations.


Our resentment at not being believed softened as we basked in such high praise. They knew that would be the effect; nothing was more important to our people than being able to tell stories and we were youngsters learning our craft. Tales did not come more fantastical than this. Our parents banked on that, too. They wanted to protect us; we know that now. They did not want us to tread those grey paths.

In our huts that night, we began to doubt ourselves in the face of their disbelief. We went over every legend for clues, even the one about the old civilisation that nearly spoiled the earth until it heated up in vengeance. Nothing explained what we had seen.

We are parents now and we tell our children the story of how we once found an undiscovered tribe, and went back to make contact when we had grown up. It was sad that so many of them died from our diseases. But those who survived returned to the forest in the end; they abandoned their traditions of watching screens and being lonely.

Our children smile when they hear this. They say they cannot imagine living like that. Then they go outside to play.

The black stuff and the grey paths? They have long since crumbled. Birds fly over the place, calling. And our children pretend to hunt for deer in the forest that grows there again.

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