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Javier Fernandez

The Cleft

by Javier Fernández

Introduction by Mariano Martín Rodríguez

Javier Fernández, born in Córdoba, Spain, in 1971 is one of the leading writers of the Afterpop group of writers. Among other things, they endeavour to introduce experimental writing into genre fiction, as a way to emphasise its literary nature against the growing commercialism and the conventionally flat style prevalent in those kinds of fiction in most instances nowadays. As an example of this group’s approach, as well as of Fernández’s writing, “The Cleft”, from the book with the same title (La grieta in its original Spanish, 2007) and here translated by Álvaro Piñero González, combines two prehistoric scenes, one set in palaeolithic times and the other one likely in the Neolithic period, linking them through a cry from the earth through the abyss of time, nature and belief. The plausible archaeological recreation of human behaviour confers the text its speculative force within the framework of prehistoric fiction, a genre highly successful in contemporary Spain, as the novels by Antonio Pérez Henares show. Unlike Pérez Henares’ best-selling prehistoric saga of Nublares, which competently follows a traditional concept of writing, Fernández uses a rather experimental style, especially in its syntax, which enhances its poetic tone, as well as the suggestive mystery of the narrated events. This serves a poetically symbolical reflection on the hallucinatory origins of ritual and religion.


The Cleft

Translation by Álvaro Piñero González


So far away. Never before. Nobody. Alone.

In the right moment – Now! – the hunter takes his massive spear: a matt branch thick as an arm, twice as tall as the tribe’s tallest man, smeared with blood up to the handle. He leaves his seat by the river and goes down the ravine separating the two large prairies at the break of dawn.

He marches without ever releasing his weapon and leaps in ample strides from one rock to another, anointed with dried excrement and pounded grasses and making laboriously his way through the ravine on the eastern flank. This vantage point. No, this one. Another. Further down. There. The hunter stops near the end of the hollow, at the narrowest point of the canyon, and hides himself beneath the leaves of a small bush, right above the passage. Crouched, arms around the shins, he readies himself for the waiting. His dirty thick hair swings with wind and becomes undistinguishable from the branches and the hawthorns.

Unmoving like a rock and bent like a root’s knot, the hunter closes his eyes and lies in wait for his prey. His brow is knitted, his mouth half-open. He is alert to the sounds coming from the bottom of the valley: first, silence; then, eventually, a faint murmur, growing to a roar, down the gorge. He opens his eyes and looks at a thick cloud, like a smoke signal over the horizon fast approaching through the plain. The din of the furious ride. Ever nearer with every clop. Here they come. His muscles become tight, and his senses are sharpened. He clenches his fists around the wood.



Hidden and tense, the hunter peeks over the rock. Some metres below, the enraged beasts run in a swarm. The roar has turned into turmoil. The smoke signal is now a dense and coarse fog, made of soil particles and insects fleeing to find shelter from the horde. Sometimes, the cast-off pebbles and the sharp locusts bounce against the hide of the hunter, who, impassive and crouched, continues to stare. Waiting, waiting.

Suddenly, the roar comes to an end, and the hunter finally stands up straight.

Below him there are now only the last animals, the weakest, the slow and meek ones, and the sick or hurt. Amongst them, there is a magnificent specimen limping ostensibly. Its horns are splintered. One of its legs is bleeding. Perhaps it stumbled while at full gallop and was trampled by the pack. It moves around in circles, stunned, with lessened senses, striving to follow, unsuccessfully, the ever-dimmer trail of its company. Around there are other beasts in similar conditions: a clumsy, aching group made of the oldest, least capable exemplars, those who often become the hunter’s trophy.

Never before has he had at his mercy a piece of game like this, young, robust, one time and half the ordinary size of a skilful spearhunter’s prey. The beast is panting arduously. It shakes in an attempt to banish the pain from its broken leg, or perhaps as if to intimidate the others – the worse ones – making clear they ought to carry on, without halting to watch him in his humiliation.

Without losing a moment’s time, the hunter throws vigorously the weapon and impales the beast. The stabbing pain coming from the spear runs through the animal’s flank, which folds its legs and bends its head, its eyes full of tears. Then it shudders and violently tries to shake off the piece of wood, without success. It crawls and seeks refuge, a wet place in which to dampen its dried tongue for a last time. It barely has the energy to lift its snout and stare at the apish figure of its slayer. At last, it groans and falls flat at the feet of the hunter.



The hunter trembles like a frightened child. His heart is beating wildly.

In rigor mortis, the beast keeps staring at him, the dark spheres of its eyes fixing his, as if wanting to challenge him from the afterlife. Then, the hunter starts jumping and dancing. He sits down to admire his prey and starts again. He treads in circles, rounding up his prey, observing it from every angle.

From this close it is even more majestic. Almost twice as large as any piece he has impaled before. It will take a superhuman to carry all the meat. A few men would be needed. As for the bones, even if splintered, they are as thick as his arm. The hunter growls and hits his chest. Smarter than you. I killed you. I will rip your skin. I will eat you. Your strength. It will become my strength. Together. We will have no rival.

The sky has gone dark in the east. There are shadows of birds flying around the hunter and his catch. He must make haste, or he will have to fight them. The hunter takes the silex, faces the wounded side of the carcass and, inebriated by his deed, makes the worse mistake: instead of stabbing the animal with the spear to kill it once and for all, he pulls it out and throws it around carelessly. He then pierces with the stone knife near the wound, ready to start with the work.

All of a sudden, unannounced, the beast turns its head and delivers an unexpected blow. Its horn pierces the inner side of the hunter’s thigh, right over the knee and it breaks in two. Pushed by the impact and screaming with pain and fear, the hunter flees hastily carrying the half horn in his body. Meanwhile, the animal turns again, weaklier, and out of its open wound flows more thick blood, almost black. It dies soon after.

Writhing in pain, without seeing or understanding what happens, the hunter reaches for his leg, fumbles in the wound and touches the horn. It grabs it and pulls it out with all his strength. He collapses beside the spear and then he faints.

The shadows grow larger. There is the threat of storm in the sky.



When the hunter wakes up, the sky is black as stone and the wind blows furiously on the grass of the valley.

He attempts to stand up, but a jab of pain from the groin forces him to turn around and bite the ground to soothe himself. He then realises he still has the pulled-out horn in his hand. The hunter releases it terrified, fearful. He turns his face to the clouds and touches the wound with his fingers: it is deep, but not the bone. He feels weak, his head spins. How much blood has he lost? He crawls up to the spear and uses it as a staff to stand up. He sways. One time and then another he is about to lose balance.

The hunter leans against the dead beast to regain strength. And the birds? Surely they must have fled because of the threat of storm. That’s why he has not been devoured. A lighting crosses the dark sky. The thunder shakes the ground under his feet. Quick. Quick. The hunter walks down the valley. He needs help and shelter and is thirsty. He walks hindered by fatigue, supported by the spear, his other hand on the wound of the leg. He has no energy to begin the climb, so he heads for the natural spring behind the hill, praying to the god of storm not to unleash his rage on him.

The ground shakes once more. The hunter moans and cries, terrified by the nightmares galloping in his thoughts, begging for mercy. The image of the prey’s eyes, dark like the sky above his head, is stuck in his mind. He curses again his bad luck and tries to walk faster. Then the deluge begins. Lightning and thunder drown his stifled screams. Impaired by pain and disoriented by the slimy curtain of water, the hunter falls over and rolls down the soft but pebbly hillside, stumbling until, at last, he stops – eyes wide shut and arms protecting his head.

As suddenly as it began, the raining stops and the sky clears – the two dark chunks collapsing on either side of the horizon. The hunter tries to stand up, but he cannot. He loses his balance and sways from one side to the other. Then, for an instant his feet hover over the emptiness and next he falls in the depths of the earth through a narrow cleft on the ground.

His hands scratch the ground but will not stop the fall. With each movement, the body sinks further and further into the wet soil. With each desperate attempt at climbing up, he is driven further down. The mud slims his eyes and enters his mouth and nose. Blood does not cease to flow from his wound.

Inside the cleft, the walls close in and, in the end, the hunter stops falling. From where he is, the sky is nowhere to be seen.

His screams are barely heard outside.



Once the storm is over, a man comes out of the cave. He carries a lost sheep. He left after it last night and found it shortly before sunrise, trapped between brambles near the gorge, bruised but alive. It is a good piece, one of the best of the flock. He will not let it die.

The storm catches up with them near the natural spring, but the man has had time to take the animal to the ravine and take shelter in the gap on the walls of rock where he has sometimes hidden away from the predators. There they have remained quiet, both scared, while the sky discharged rain and fire.

The man thinks now it is more dangerous to climb the wet blocks and decides to go around the hill and try to cross the ravine, even if it takes him an extra half day. The animal is tired after the long time being lost and so the man takes it on his shoulder effortlessly. The sun now shines between the changing clouds, which disappear filling the air with moist. Careful. This way. Don’t move. The hill is less steep on this side, the ground is softer. With each step, the man sinks his ankles deep in mud.

With great effort they reach the hilltop and then they climb down the steeper side. They try not to slide down. There. Very good. They stop to drink by a stream, and they keep on marching down the hillside until they find a cleft on the ground, stark and narrow.

The man approaches the edge of the cleft. Suddenly – What is that? – he seems to hear a noise, like a groan, coming from down below.



Here is the man. Petrified. Standing beside the cleft. Staring at the earth’s lament. Not daring to move forward, not daring to step back.

It is a constant whimpering. At times there is a cry of pain, at others, a sobbing. Silence. Then back again.

The man lets the sheep go and crouches beside the cleft. He rubs his palms against his face and looks left and right. He leans out and walks back. A scream. Another. His legs are shaking. The cleft has no bottom. It is dark and no wider than the distance from the hand to the elbow. Wet tossed red earth. Now the shriek is strident. The man dries his tears and kneels. He looks at the sky and begs for mercy. Yet the voice does not stop.



What? I do not know. I am cursed. The end of the world. Kneeled by the gorge. Arrested time. Doom has reached him. He remains still while the sun moves above. There is nothing else. No sound. Just the shriek. Earth’s and man’s cry blended. They are one. Hush. Tell me. What? The man takes a handful of sand and let it fall through the cleft. Silence. Then another scream. Once again. Ceaselessly. Horrific. The scream of agony. Of madness. Of damnation. For how long? The sun is at its highest. And the horror will not stop. It starts again. The man hits his head, shakes his arms. He screams as loud as he can. Hush. Hush. He covers his ears. He bites his lips. He is crying now. But it is to no avail. Hush. He stands up and takes the sheep. He is shaking. Then he slits its throat. He pours the animal’s blood into the chasm. Warm blood. Gushing from the neck into the deepest ground. It smears his face and arms. He squeezes it down to the last drop. He drops the lifeless body inside the black mouth. And then he stands there waiting. Waiting. Waiting.



Suddenly, the earth lets out a last death rattle. It is, finally, satisfied. Silence. Silence. There is time still to get back. Silence. Climb the mountain. Silence. Go back home. Silence. Before the dark.