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Posted on 8 May 2020 in Extracts, Fiction |

CHRIS FLYNN Mammoth: extract

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In the storeroom of an auction house in New York in 2007, a mammoth and a dinosaur settle in for a chat … At least, their bones do. This unlikely conversation is the premise of Chris Flynn’s entertaining and thought-provoking new novel that ranges from prehistory to the impact of humans on the environment.

As Mammut the mammoth tells his story to T. bataar (Tyrannosaurus bataar, a distant relative of the more famous Tyrannosaurus rex), recounting the fate of his herd at the end of the Ice Age and the events after his reawakening when his bones were uncovered in 1801, they are joined by a disputatious fossilised penguin and the mummified hand of Queen Hatshepsut.

Here Mammut has been reflecting on the depredations of homo sapiens. T. bataar, however, takes a longer view ….

Extract courtesy of UQP

Listen, Mammut, buddy, it could be worse.

You think so? We are the disembodied spirits of prehistoric beasts, T. bataar, condemned to live in the infernal world of bipeds for as long as our body parts remain above ground, instead of crumbling to dust in the earth as they were meant to. We are currently on display in a seedy warehouse, being poked and prodded by all and sundry. Then, once we are sold to the highest bidder, we’ll spend our days as museum exhibits, with grotty human children wiping their hands on our bones. How could our humiliation be any deeper?

At least we’re not million-year-old fossilised penguins, like the one in with all the smaller exhibits. Have you seen the state of that guy? He’s not in good health. Physically or mentally. I’ve heard they’re moving him into the main room with us later. He’s not generating much interest out there next to the mummy’s hand.

That is obviously stolen from a collection in Egypt. I hope it’s cursed.

Apparently she’s talking too. Demanding she be reunited with the rest of her body. She and the penguin are driving each other up the wall.

It’s the indignity of it all that gets me, T. bataar.

Well, on the bright side, the humans won’t be around much longer.

What makes you say that?

Asteroids, bro. You just can’t plan for them. One minute you’re lord of all you survey and the next – BOOM! Space rock impact. Cataclysmic environmental damage. Tidal waves, volcanoes erupting, dust blocking out the sun – the whole shebang. These puny cockroaches don’t stand a chance.

How do you know there’s one on the way?

It stands to reason, Mammut. I mean, it’s been a while. Each day that passes where an asteroid doesn’t destroy Earth increases the odds of it happening tomorrow, yeah?

I’m not sure that’s empirically correct.

I’m telling you, bro. Watch the skies.

Where did you learn to speak English again, T. bataar?

I lived in a warehouse in Orlando for nine months. I was in a packing crate, mostly, but I picked it up from the guys who worked there. I’ve got a pretty good ear. I speak Russian and Spanish too, and a couple of Mongolian dialects: Khalkha and Chakhar. Not much call for those over here.

A little niche, perhaps.

How about you, Mammut?

English, French, Spanish, Italian and German, obviously, but also Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Afrikaans and a little Gaelic.

That’s quite a lot.

One must occupy one’s time somehow, T. bataar.

Do you speak the old tongue? I mean, the old one?

It had probably changed a little by my time, but yes.

That penguin jabbers on in it sometimes. Weird hearing it again. Poor little guy. I think he’s lost the plot. I feel bad for him.

I heard one of the bipeds mention there is a Canis dirus skull in here somewhere too.

A dire wolf, huh? They were around the same time as you, eh? Maybe you know her, Mammut.

It seems unlikely, though I may have enjoyed a familiarity with one of her scions. We shared a compact with her kind for a while.

You made a deal with the wolves? That sounds risky, bro.

They proved honourable. In any event, we had no choice. We were forced to band together against a common enemy.

Oh, I know this one. Man, right?

Yes, my friend. But also, a much greater foe. Time. We ran out of time.


When the Neanderthal arrived on the steppe, they lived alongside us in relative harmony. They were truly stupid. They had at their feet all the materials required for the construction of shelters, and yet it never occurred to them to erect a wikiup. Instead, they fought with bears and lions for prime cave real estate. They hunted Mammut too, in their own pathetic way. Their spears were laughable sharpened sticks that bounced off our hides. Their sense of self-preservation was not very evolved. They would rut out in the open, exposing themselves to attack. My grandfather told me he saw a couple torn apart by a pack of Smilodon who snuck up on the humans while they were copulating in a woodland glade. Talk about coitus interruptus.

We figured if these were the best hairless bipeds nature could throw at us, we would be lords of the steppe for the next million years. Then Clovis turned up. Their numbers were few at first, but we knew immediately they would be trouble. These bipeds were dressed head to toe in animal skins, carefully sewn together with bone needles. It was my introduction to the oddly intertwined human notions of pride and style. Fur was in that season, as it was to be every season thereafter.

If my stomping on one of the Clovis hunters seems cruel, it is worth stating that our numbers dwindled into the thousands after their arrival and subsequent domination of the landscape. The problem was one of natural selection. Clovis singled out mature bulls such as myself for our tusks. They fashioned them into thrones for their chieftains. My species was being wiped out so their leaders would have somewhere nice to sit.

Without the guidance of older males, the immature young bucks ran amok. They fought among themselves and treated the females poorly. Many cows died from injuries sustained while breaking up bulls that had locked tusks. They were too young to be suitable mates, and their progeny withered in the womb. Calves were stillborn. We were extinguishing our own kind.

Chris Flynn
Photo by Jo Duck

Fires on the grasslands meant less forage. Trees grew where before there were none, and enormous forests appeared. That may have been great for the birds, but for megafauna? Not so much. It began to rain all the time. The ice receded. Snow fell on the plains, covering the grass in a layer of insulating white powder. It was getting hotter, and wetter.

I called for a powwow. Word went out to whichever old bulls were left standing in the region. We met with the female elders, representing the great herd.

‘Too many Clovis, and it’s getting too hot,’ I told the assembled proboscideans. ‘I say we head north and follow the ice.’

Not everyone was convinced this was a good idea, but many agreed to come with me. Most of the younger females came – they were smart enough to see the writing on the wall. The rest thought they could tough it out, that the Clovis expansion would be checked by nature, that balance would be restored. They honestly believed these new hairless bipeds were smart enough not to hunt their food supply to extinction.

They were wrong.

It was quite a thing to see, one thousand head of mammoth striding forth in unison across the steppe. We attracted considerable attention. It had not occurred to me that other species might feel the same anxiety we did concerning our potential annihilation. Glyptodon and Bison were never the brightest of vertebrates, and so our passage among their numbers was met with shrugs of indifference. Megalonyx were too laconic to be bothered even inquiring where we were going. But the beasts of the plains who were fleeter of foot – the Equus, Canis and felidae – exhibited a definite curiosity towards our mass movement.

The horses were the first to join our procession. It was a wise move, permitting them to come along. They proved a tasty distraction for predators. The noise of so many hooves attracted every big cat and wolf for two hundred leagues. I had never seen so many sabretooth, lions, jaguars, leopards and dire wolves assembled in one place before. Great packs of them snarled about the edges of the herd, flanking us, unsure if they should charge en masse or fight each other. They seemed to settle on a wary armistice in the face of such abundant game.

You know what they say about cats, though. A few foolhardy felidae – and, in some cases, literal lone wolves – couldn’t stand the heady scent of such an ambulatory smörgåsbord and waded recklessly into the breach. It did not go well for them. All attempts at separating calves from the herd were rebuffed by a cohort of bulls who at first were irritated by the attacks, but soon warmed to the task of actively taunting the observing packs of drooling carnivores.

Eventually, they sent a cowed envoy, requesting parley. I halted the herd and strode out to meet the alpha cat. An impressive dire wolf stood alongside him, bemused and clearly prepared for betrayal.

‘Can I help you with something?’ I said.

‘If it’s not too much trouble,’ the Smilodon alpha said and purred, affecting nonchalance even though I could tell he was frightened of the much larger dire wolf. ‘Would you mind telling us where you’re going?’

‘Why would I do that?’

‘This constant chase is boring me,’ said the big Canis dirus, yawning. I presume this was an attempt to intimidate me with his fangs. ‘We’ll run ahead and wait for you to catch up.’

‘You’ll be nice and tired by then,’ said the sabretooth. ‘We’ll eat you while you sleep.’

‘Very considerate,’ I told him.

‘Consider it professional courtesy,’ the wolf said.

‘Best start running,’ I told them. ‘We’ll be along in a month or so, if you’re still alive.’

The alpha cat and dog looked at each other in a way that I have never seen two representatives of their respective species do since. I put them out of their misery by briefly summarising my intention and rationale.

Canis dirus turned away and looked up at the emerging moon. Crepuscular hour was ending. It would soon be night. Smilodon merely scowled, muttering under his breath.

‘We’ve been thinking along similar lines,’ the wolf admitted. ‘This balmy weather doesn’t agree with our kind. We were concerned there’d be no prey, but …’ He flashed me an accommodating grin.

‘So, tag along,’ I said, surprised at my munificence.

‘I think we will.’

‘What about your lot?’ I asked the sulking Smilodon.

‘Are the Bison going?’

‘Do you see any Bison? I thought cats had good eyesight.’

‘Fucking Mammut. Piss off, then, to your mythical ice fields of the north. We’ll stay here, where lunch is guaranteed. I’m not scared of those puny bipeds. We’ve dealt with men before. We’ll just kill them.’

Canis dirus took a deliberate step away from Smilodon towards me, turning as he did so to stand by my side. It was the closest I had ever been to a dire wolf that wasn’t trying to devour me.

‘The truce is over,’ he told the big cat.

‘It’s like that, huh?’

‘Yep. Run along now, kitty.’

‘Fuck you.’

The wolf and I watched him lope back to the array of cats, who shook their heads and laughed when he brought them up to speed. They skulked off to a safe distance to watch the herd. I don’t confess to understand how Canis dirus communicated the instructions to his pack, but they stood up and trotted towards us, coming to a halt at a respectful distance, so as not to spook the Equus. It didn’t work.

‘Were you really thinking of heading north?’ I asked the alpha wolf.

‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to piss him off. I hate that guy. Good idea, though.’

‘Do me a favour and tell your carnivorous cabal to try to stick to the horses.’ I didn’t expect the wolves to betray their instincts, but it was worth a shot.

‘If I promised, would you trust me?’

‘About as far as I could toss you.’

‘Well, then. I believe we have an arrangement.’

From Chris Flynn Mammoth UQP 2020 PB 265pp $32.99

Like to keep reading? You can buy Mammoth from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.