Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?
Here’s a summary:
Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.
Every week, I’ll post part of this story.
A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.
Here’s Part 6:
Homo habilis Emigrates to the Savanna…
Suitably clothed and with a cap to obscure his low forehead and
beetle brow, he would probably go unnoticed in a crowd today.
—Mary Leakey, regarding Homo habilis
Lucy threw a last look at her beleaguered past. Feq’s refusal to blame her as she said goodbye only made her guilt worse. Her life had been snatched like Rabbit from its hole, the dreams shattered like the crunch of the hare’s neck. She felt as worn as the landscape. One step forward, and then another. She could do that, but nothing more.
None of them had spoken since coating themselves in mud and dung and leaving Feq. She moved like a shadow, timing her footfalls with Raza’s to mask the sound of her passage along the narrow path, hemmed in by thick-trunked trees to the side and layers of canopy overhead. Only once, when a spotted snake slithered across her traveling trail, did Lucy hesitate. Raza grunted and Baad grumbled as her out-of-sync thud reverberated from canopy to forest floor. Even Cousin Chimp screeched a sharp cry of warning.
Finally they broke free of the forest and entered a meadow laced with the scent of flowering herbs and grazing deer. They flew through the waist-high grasses, past trees laden with fruit that had quenched her thirst on hot days and around the termite mound where Cheetah slept, and she gorged on squirming white insects when Cheetah left to hunt.
I haven’t been back here since that day…
Her eyes flicked sideways to the overlook where the males had died. It looked so calm, painted in vibrant vernal colors and scented with poacea. A herd of hipparion raised their equine heads to watch the hominids, found no danger and returned to their meal of fresh new buds.
As though nothing happened…
Lucy’s vision glazed over. Her head throbbed behind her eyes. She couldn’t hear anything except that pounding. She sprinted, faster and faster until her pace matched the sound in her head, sure she could outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, feet springing off the hard-packed earth, each step pushing her forward a little farther and a little faster. Her arms pumped and lungs heaved in rhythm with her speed. Her carrying sack, made from the stomach of a gazelle and strung around her neck with the animal’s tendons, smacked against her chest in rhythm with her beating steps. Her sweat left a potent scent trail, but Lucy was beyond caring.
“Lucy!” Someone was using her call sign, someone far behind her, but she only slowed when the thumping in her chest overcame her ability to breathe. She fell forward onto her outstretched arms, heaving the tropic air into her pained lungs, hearing the pummel of approaching steps.
“Don’t do that again.”
Nothing more. Without a backward glance, they left the only land Lucy had ever known.
It might be the language difference, the reason Raza ignored Lucy’s every question, though she tried endless combinations of vocalizations, hand movements and grunts. Sometimes he glanced her way, but usually he ignored her. He spent much of his time peering back along their traveled trail as though something lurked there.
His jumpiness made Lucy anxious. She sniffed, but caught no scent, nor did she see any shift in the distant shadows. What hadn’t he told her? Why did he never relax? She searched the line where earth met sky one more time before turning her attention to one of the many questions she asked of Sun, now that Garv was gone: What attached the blue above to the ground. Was it Spider’s web, in the same way it held insects for Spider’s meals? Lucy had once moved Spider and her web over a narrow crevice. She returned later and the gap remained, just as wide. When she returned the next time, the crevice hadn’t changed but the web was gone.
Whatever held sky to earth didn’t do it well. At times, herds or dust or fire would escape and hurtle forward, and at the end of every day’s light, Sun slipped through only to rise from a different fissure on the opposite side. She had tried to reach this ‘horizon’ many times, but it moved away as fast as she approached.
One truth Lucy knew: If Sun stayed at the horizon, it must be safe. With Garv gone, Sun was the one friend Lucy was sure of. It was only in Sun’s absence that the clouds cracked and sent lightening to burn the ground, and flash floods stormed through the canyons. No, Sun must be a friend that used its strength to keep dangerous predators at bay.
A grunt startled her back to present. Baad rubbed his wrists, massaging swollen nodes that rose like hillocks from his wrists. His face hardened, but she saw the pain in the lines around his mouth and the squint of his eyes. The elders of her Group had the same aching, gnarled hands.
Why did Raza bring Baad? His head-fur was peppered with grey and Lucy could see broken teeth through his parted lips. Maybe this was why he didn’t bother her with the rutting, as males did before they paired. Pain often prevented mating. Or was it because she was pairmated to Raza? Did this band, like her band, choose only one pairmate?
“Baad. This will help.” She handed him a root bundle from her neck sack. “Break the bulb with your teeth and swallow the juice.”
Baad took the dry, finger-sized root pack from Lucy and studied it a moment before biting it and slurping in the liquid. By the time they passed a hillock that had been on the horizon when Lucy first offered the herb, his jaw relaxed and the tension drained from his face.
“How did you know this would help?” Baad motioned as he searched her face. His voice was kind. Lucy guessed he had been handsome in his youth, with his huge size and thickly-haired muscular chest and back. Now, the muscles sagged and the hair had grayed, and a ragged white line as thick as Lucy’s finger cut his face from temple to ear, probably damage from a predator. It gave him a menacing look.
She shrugged. “I just knew.”
Lucy couldn’t explain the healing herbs. Long ago, she noticed that sick animals sought out certain plants. She had reasoned, if Gazelle rubbed sap onto a gouge on her flank and it healed, why wouldn’t it work on Lucy’s cut? If Cousin Chimp ate the plant with tart leaves and Sun-colored flowers and pooped out white worms, why couldn’t Lucy? She tried the herbs first on herself. Some didn’t work, but many did, until she had a collection for many ills.
Baad remained at her side, jogging in Raza’s steps, and tried to answer her many questions.
“Baad. Why did you and Raza come for me?”
He made her repeat the question, first observing her hands, her body movements, and finally her face, before nodding that he understood.
“Kee sent us. After the Deaths. After the move.” Lucy watched memories flow through his mind like molten lava down the slopes of Smoking Mountain. He used ‘sent’ in an odd manner. One finger grazed the side of his palm and traced a path toward his body—‘return’ in reverse. She let that go, forcing herself to memorize his gestures. The other part made no sense at all.
She thought he meant death by a predator, as when Krp fed Leopard’s family, but his facial expression and tone carried a rage her group didn’t associate with dying. Why would death anger Baad? Predators attacked those who violated their terrain, as Mammoth had done when the males stumbled into their territory. Lucy was not angry with the Mammoth herd that killed the males. She was at fault. They had done what they must. When she asked him to repeat his answer, he seemed to intimate ‘deaths without reason’, but that made no sense, either.
She also was confused by ‘move’. Her band described places by surroundings and what happened there—stream-where-hunters-drink, mountains-that-burn-at-night. Locations meant nothing without those descriptors. She cocked her head, hoping he would continue.
He frowned, creating great clefts between his brows and causing the puckered scar on his battered face to redden and throb until Lucy feared it might burst. Finally, he blurted out, “Why did you come?”
Pain pierced Lucy ’s heart and sickness welled in her stomach. The ache she’d hoped would remain behind slithered from its dark hiding place somewhere within her thoughts. She wanted to tell him she had failed everyone that meant anything to her. The males died when she led them to undead scavenge. Garv died from the flush of their pairing. She wanted to promise she would never again place herself above others. She wanted desperately to convince this kind old male—and herself—that she was useful if given a second chance, but even that might not be enough, so she squinted her eyes and tilted her head as though she misunderstood his question.
“Will we never rest?” Lucy wondered to no one in particular. Sun’s searing rays moved from the back of her head into her eyes. She’d consumed her travel succulents long ago and still they chugged onward past an endless panorama of sameness. She now understood the power in Raza’s legs. Lucy followed the monotonous bounce of Raza’s head. She heard nothing beyond the thump of her feet and smelled only the stuffy heat wafting in clouds from her body.
And something else. She snorted in a foreign scent. Her eyes followed it to the top of the berm they’d just passed. A lone figure stood, outlined against the cerulean blue of the sky. His head fur puffed to the side as though blown by a breeze as he stared after them.
“Garv!” Lucy mouthed before she could stop herself. He is dead. I saw it.
No arm waved, and no voice howled the pain of separation. Lucy stared without varying her speed, and then turned back.
“Raza!” Baad jerked his head toward the berm.
“Man-who-preys?” Raza’s gestures asked with a rigid parallel movement.
Lucy understood each hand motion, but not the name.
“Man-who-preys?” If there was danger, she should know.
Raza dropped back, his face concentrating on hers. “Your males died hunting? You know nothing of Man-who-preys?” This seemed important to him.
“We don’t prey. We are prey.”
Why did this confuse Raza? Who was Man-who-preys? Did he follow Raza from his homeland? A quick tonal bark from Raza called Baad forward.
“Would Man-who-preys show himself?” Raza asked with quiet hand movements.
Baad shrugged and gripped tighter on his chert cutter, his wrist cords bulging like the roots of an old baobab. Lucy stretched her legs to match Raza’s increased pace, her powerful buttocks balancing her graceful lope. Her hand tightened around her obsidian scraper, as sharp and sturdy as the one Raza carried. Everything she passed—the beauty of the multi-colored washes and steep cantilevered arroyos, the scrubby bushes and the shallow striations etched from timeless winds—blurred until all she saw was that familiar stance. Legs spread under powerful shoulders as Garv waited for her to return from foraging. Chest balanced over feet ready to spring as Garv hunted with her. Weight tipped over one foot as Garv watched her collect healing herbs.
Garv is dead. I saw him die.
Baad no longer took time to talk with her. They pounded onward and an edginess now defined both males’ bodies. They grunted to each other with an urgency that worried Lucy and diverted from the well-traveled animal path they had been following to one less trodden, but protected by jutting stone cliffs. They continued the quicker-than-normal pace across the savannas and rock-strewn talus fields, well-past the edge of her world.
She fled from her memories. No ‘Man-who-preys’ could be more dangerous than what preyed in her mind.
Part VII next week…
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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a tech columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, will be out this summer. Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.