Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
" Superpredator "
Submitted by Irene Vallone
"...And judging by the most recent fossil finds, the Neanderthals went extinct approximately thirty-two thousand years ago."
Damon sat in his desk, rightmost in the middle row, idly doodling in his notebook, while his anthropology professor lectured. He was extremely interested in human prehistory, but that unfortunately meant he already knew everything they had gone over in the introductory class so far.
Extinction: 32,000 years ago, he scribbled down in his notes.
"There are a variety of theories as to why the, er, Neanderthals went extinct," the professor said, clicking ahead to the next slide in the PowerPoint, which read "Why Did They Die Out?" in large text.
"One theory is that Neanderthals were just outcompeted by Homo sapiens, that they weren't able to... adapt to the changing climate as well, or, that we out-hunted all of their food sources, or even that we had some kind of war with them and there was a, a genocide, and all the Neanderthals died out. You know, supposedly there was a very sort of violent clash of cultures or what have you, and all the Neanderthals died out. This theory's pretty popular among the anthropological community, but, er, it seems a little bit... I dunno, almost kind of racist to me, you know? Like it kind of suggests that one kind of human is 'better' than another. But, you know, you can believe whatever you want, about Neanderthal extinction."
Damon scribbled down more notes. Outcompeted? Climate change; over-hunting; genocide.
"Uh, another theory, the theory that I personally support, says that Neanderthals were not a genetically distinct species from Homo sapiens, that they were a subspecies, rather, and the two species, the two types of humans interbred, and gradually the Neanderthals were just sort of absorbed into the population and Homo sapiens traits became the dominant ones. Some scientists who support this theory are right now working on cloning a Neanderthal baby, and they're currently looking for volunteers to be the, er, the mother, in fact, so if any of the women in this room would like to volunteer for that, I'm sure I can get you an address."
Damon chuckled at the joke. He wrote Interbreeding? and returned to cross-hatching the arm of the giant robot being attacked by cavemen he had drawn in his notebook.
"Now, there is one more rather interesting thing about Neanderthals that you should make a note of," said the professor. He clicked to the next slide.
Damon glanced up at it. The slide read "SUPER-APES", and had the famous hoaxed Bigfoot photo in the center of it.
This was new.
"Some scientists believe," the professor went on, "That not only were, er, all of our reconstructions of Neanderthals incorrect, and that they looked much more apelike than the humanlike appearance we've given them, but that they were predatory, and were a sort of species of super-ape, and that they preyed on early humans. This theory isn't really taken seriously by most scientists, primarily because we don't particularly have any evidence for this, and the real question with this is why, er, don't the Neanderthals survive today, if they were such successful predators? So, not really a very scientific theory, but, er, I thought you might find it interesting."
The professor exited the PowerPoint.
"That's all the time we have for today," he said.
The students began rising from their chairs and packing up their books and notes, Damon included.
"Your assignment!" bellowed the professor, trying to be heard over the students. "Your assignment for next Friday is to write a paper about some aspect of Neanderthal culture, evolution, or extinction! Minimum of three pages! Alright, have a good weekend."
Damon opened the door of his dorm room to find his roommate, Tom, lying on the bottom bunk, reading from an English textbook.
"What's up?" asked Tom without looking up.
"Guess what I learned in anthropology today," Damon asked.
"I dunno. What did you learn in monkey class?"
Damon sat down in the desk chair beside the bed and opened his backpack, taking out his laptop and plugging it in.
"So we were talking about Neanderthals some more, yeah?" he said.
"I don't know much about this," Tom said. "Those are cavemen, right?"
"Yeah, cavemen," Damon continued as he logged into his computer. "So we were talking about Neanderthals, and the professor brought up that some scientists think that, like, Neanderthals were a lot more like apes than humans, and that they were human predators thousands of years ago."
"Huh," Tom said.
"Yeah, I had never heard about this before."
"Wow. And you're big into cavemen, right?"
Damon opened his Internet browser. "I'm gonna try to find out more about it," he said.
"You have fun with that," said Tom.
Damon typed "Neanderthal pred" into Google. The second auto-complete result was "Neanderthal predation theory".
That sounds about right, he thought.
He clicked on it. The first Google result was titled "Them and Us: How Neanderthal predation created modern humans."
"ThemAndUs.com?" Damon said, reading the website's URL confusedly.
"Who and us?" asked Tom, still reading his book.
Damon clicked on the Google result and was greeted by the computer-generated face of a snarling, dark-skinned ape with orange reptilian eyes.
"Jesus!" he exclaimed.
"What?" Tom said, looking up for the first time. "What the fuck is that thing?"
"Listen to this," Damon said. "'Put aside everything you thought you knew about being human - about how we got here and what it all means. After five years of rigorous scientific research, Danny Vendramini has developed a theory of human origins that is stunning in its simplicity, yet breathtaking in its scope and importance.'"
"Oh really," Tom said.
"'Them and Us: How Neanderthal Predation Created Modern Humans begins with a radical reassessment of Neanderthal behavioral ecology,'" Damon continued, still reading off the website. "'He cites new archaeological and genetic evidence to show they weren't docile omnivores, but savage, cannibalistic carnivores - top flight predators of the stone age. Neanderthal Predation theory reveals that Neanderthals were 'apex' predators - who resided at the top of the food chain, and everything else - including humans - was their prey.'"
"Is this like a real thing?" Tom asked, getting up off the bed and going behind Damon to get a better look at the website.
"I dunno," said Damon. "I think it's just this one guy who believes it."
"What else is on here?"
"Lemme scroll down," Damon said. "Uhhh, he says that Neanderthals hunted, killed and cannibalized early humans, and they abducted and raped human women..."
"This shit is pretty dark, huh," Tom said.
"And so then we came back somehow, it doesn't really say, and we killed them all I guess? This is pretty vague for the, like... the new defining human evolutionary theory."
"Hey, this is hard science," Tom said sarcastically.
"And here's a thing about them and a thing about us, and a blah blah blah, buy my book, ugh, whatever. There were more tabs at the top, I'm going to look at those."
"Start with 'Them'," Tom suggested. "I already know about Us."
"Okay," Damon said, scrolling back to the top of the site and clicking on the "Them" tab.
"'"Them" - Neanderthals in Art, Myths, and the Movies'," read Damon. "'NP theory argues that, like all prey species, early humans acquired an innate 'predator identification' module that allowed them to identify Neanderthals and remain hyper-vigilant for tell-tale signs of their presence'- okay, this is already bunk science, I can tell already."
"It is?" asked Tom.
"Yeah, like, there were other things that preyed on early humans, like saber-toothed tigers and shit, it isn't as if these super-ape Neanderthal fuckers would have been the only ones."
"Okay, well, keep reading," Tom said. "This is sort of interesting."
"I don't need to, this is all garbage," Damon said, scrolling down quickly. "Blah blah blah, genetic fear of Neanderthal sexual predation, big stupid eyes for nocturnal hunting, some shit about werewolves... This is crap."
"Oh yeah?" asked Tom.
"It's the same implication as with that show, 'Ancient Aliens'," Damon explained. "The basic idea behind it is that every mythical thing has to be inspired by some sort of real-world supernatural phenomena because ancient people were stupid. It's really, like, weird and racist, and it's not science."
"Okay, well, I'm not a science person," said Tom, returning to the bed. "I'm willing to trust your science judgments."
"Alright," Damon said with a laugh. "I have to go to my math class now, and then after that I'll probably be in the library for a while."
"Have fun," Tom said. He was already back into his book. Damon packed up his laptop into his backpack again and headed out of the dorm.
Later, in the campus library, Damon was hard at work on his anthropology paper. He had been at work for since his last class ended, researching and writing even as seven o'clock approached and the sun could be seen setting outside the library windows. Now almost finished, he decided to read over what he had completed of his paper and see if he needed to make any changes.
Since the original discovery of their remains in the early seventeenth century, he read, Neanderthals have been generally accepted to have been close relatives of modern humans, with a relatively similar appearance to match. However, not all anthropology enthusiasts agree with this common idea. Danny Vendramini, author of Them and Us: How Neanderthal Predation Created Modern Humans, believes that Neanderthals were not a mere human subspecies, but a highly advanced form of primate that preyed on early human beings for thousands of years ("Neanderthal: Profile of a Super Predator"). Unfortunately for Mr. Vendramini, this theory lacks a great deal of scientific support.
He minimized Word and reopened ThemAndUs.com. The reconstructed Neanderthal stared at him with its glowering orange cat-eyes. He knew it was nonsense, but the face still unsettled him. He quickly minimized his Internet browser and reopened Word.
Undoubtedly the most damning piece of evidence against the Neanderthal predation theory is the lack of an answer to this simple question: If the Neanderthals were so much superior to the human species in the realms of hunting and survival, then why did they go extinct, and why did Homo sapiens survive?
Mr. Vendramini's theory claims that Neanderthals hunted early humans, both for food and for sexual gratification, in the Mediterranean area for approximately fifty thousand years, beginning one hundred thousand years ago and ending fifty thousand years ago, when human populations declined to as little as fifty individuals (Vendramini, "Them and Us: How Neanderthal Predation Created Modern Humans"). Let us, for a moment, set aside the fact that fifty thousand years ago, humans were present not only in the Mediterranean, but in Africa, the Middle East, and southeast Asia, and were not present solely in the supposed Neanderthal hunting grounds alone (Grabianowski, "How Human Migration Works").
A faint thump startled Damon out of his concentration.
Must have been a book falling or something, he thought.
He went back to reading.
If the human population had been reduced that greatly that early in our species' history, what stopped it from vanishing altogether due to overhunting by Neanderthals? Overhunting by humans has led to the extinction of numerous species in Earth's history - the passenger pigeon, the dodo, the Tasmanian tiger, the woolly mammoth - so one would think that overhunting by Neanderthals would lead to the extinction of a species as well. (Interestingly enough, 100,000-year-old human skeletons discovered in China have displayed telltale signs of inbreeding - an interesting coincidence which might lead one to believe that the human population had recently been significantly lowered, but definitely not enough to prove that Neanderthals hunted humans during that time or in that place) (Trinkaus, "Skulls of Early Humans Carry Telltale Signs of Inbreeding, Study Suggests").
Damon glanced at his phone's clock. 7:30 P.M. The library was about to close for the weekend.
He began to shut down his laptop and put on his coat. He glanced over his shoulder as he did so, imagining someone was watching him.
Damon walked down the sidewalk, heading from the library back to his dorm building. The sky was starless, and the campus was completely silent. Even though his path was lit by lamp-posts, the darkness still made him nervous.
Get over yourself, he said to himself, irritated. It's just a fucking crackpot writer who made a site to shock people. It's not even real.
Damon knew that didn't make it any less scary.
He had never been one for horror stories. Even if those horror stories were transparently fiction.
He kept walking, and kept thinking about the Neanderthals. Scenes flashed through his mind of early humans fleeing through a jungle, pursued by spear-wielding apes with glowing red eyes; Neanderthals peeling the flesh from captured human limbs and gnawing on their bones.
He saw a pair of luminescent eyes in front of him.
He froze in his tracks. The eyes stared into him. He stared back, transfixed in terror.
The cat the eyes were attached to jumped down from its perch and ran across the street.
Jesus Christ, he said to himself. I need to calm down.
He picked up the pace.
After several more minutes of speed-walking down the campus sidewalks and periodically glancing over his shoulder, he was in his dorm building. Sighing with relief, he turned from the lobby down the ground-floor hallway where his dorm was.
Damon walked slowly down the white brick hallway to Tom's and his dorm room. The halls were unusually quiet. The only thing he heard was his own footsteps on the grey carpeted floor.
He approached the door to the dorm room. He heard muffled sounds coming from underneath the door.
He slowly opened the door.
Tom was lying on the bed, watching a movie on the wall-mounted TV.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," Damon said, exhaling.
"How was the library?"
"Oh, you know," Damon said, taking off his backpack and setting it down. "Same as it always is."
Damon grabbed a white T-shirt and a pair of pajama pants out of the dresser next to the desk. He took them into the bathroom and began to change into them.
"I'm going to bed once I'm done with this movie," Tom called from outside.
"Okay," Damon called back. He put on his pajamas and exited the bathroom.
"You get any work done?" Tom asked as Damon climbed into the top bunk.
"Yeah," Damon replied. "I did a lot with my anthropology paper."
"I looked at that website more," Damon said, getting under the covers.
"Was it still crazy?"
"Yeah, but... I don't know. I got kind of scared by it."
"Are you afraid the Neanderthals are gonna get you?"
Damon laughed. "A little bit, yeah."
"I thought you said it was crap science."
"It is, but it's not really meant to be science, it's just meant to be shocking and scary. And I guess it succeeded."
"I'm gonna go to sleep," he said.
"I'll turn the volume down," Tom said.
"Thanks," Damon said.
With that, Damon rolled over and began to drift off to sleep, trying to block out the sounds of Tom's movie.
Damon woke with a start in the middle of the night. He had felt his bed shake.
He glanced back and forth. He couldn't see much - the only light in the room was the faint glow of the TV, which Tom had forgotten to turn off - but everything seemed to be fine. Tom had probably tossed too hard in his sleep and shaken the bunks.
As Damon exhaled with relief, he noticed an odd sound, a sort of low-pitched humming.
"What's that?" he asked himself quietly. He thought about waking up Tom to ask him what it was, but quickly decided against it.
He suddenly realized that Tom wasn't snoring. That was unusual for Tom.
He sat up in bed for several minutes, wondering if he should make sure that Tom was alright.
The humming was interrupted for a split second by another odd sound, like a sharp, quick inhalation.
Damon finally leaned down over the edge of the top bunk.
"Hey Tom," he whispered.
There was no response.
As Damon's eyes adjusted to the change in lighting, he realized that Tom's bed was empty.
Damon's heart skipped a beat.
He quickly looked back up in horror as the bathroom door opened.
"What are you doing?" Tom asked.
Damon stared across the room at Tom as he stood in the bathroom doorway.
"Oh, uh... Nothing, sorry."
"If you say so," Tom said. He clicked off the bathroom light switch. The humming stopped.
Damon climbed back under the covers as Tom got back into the bottom bunk.
That was stupid, he thought, with a quiet laugh. I guess I'm more on edge from that dumb website than I thought. Just need to relax... and calm down.
Soon enough, Damon was back to sleep.
Outside of Damon's window, something was watching him sleep.
The thing stared into the window of Damon and Tom's dorm, watching Damon as he slept on his back in the top bunk. Its huge orange eyes stared into the room, seeing its contents perfectly even in the pitch darkness.
Sleep, cousin, it thought. You are safe tonight.
The Neanderthal turned away from the window. Hundreds of feet away, another pair of luminous orange eyes burned in the darkness from atop another residence hall. The eyes blinked rapidly in a calculated pattern.
"Have you found prey?" the eyes asked.
The thing blinked back.
"Not here. Have you?"
After a moment, the distant eyes blinked a response.
"These prey are too valued. We must look elsewhere, for one that will not be missed."
"Understood," the thing blinked in reply. With that, the other pair of eyes shut, and their orange light was snuffed.
The thing shut its eyes and began crawling down the wall of the residence hall, its broad pad-tipped fingers and toes latching onto the concrete wall like a gecko's. It moved in complete silence, its dark fur camouflaging it completely in the night.
On the ground, the thing loped away from the hall, walking on its knuckles like a massive silverback. Its eyes remained shut. It raised its head, allowing the air to flow into its broad nose. It picked up the faintest scent of its partner, who had separated from it an hour ago to stalk the residents of the other hall.
The thing began following its partner's scent. It knuckle-walked slowly away from the residence hall, taking great care to be silent. It did not hurry. It had all the time it needed. The night was just beginning.