Lucy: A Biography–Part V

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.

Here’s Part 5 (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):

Chapter One (continued)


Lucy saw no doomsday covey of blackbirds. No thick banks of clouds darkening the sky. No eclipse of Sun or meteors crashing to earth. In fact, the day dawned propitiously under Sun’s opalescent glow. The night rain left the ground

smelling sweet and loamy. A herd of mammoth bellowed in the distance while Cousin Chimp chattered the location of his morning food. Lucy scattered the grasses of her ground nest and joined the band to forage.

This was a rich area. To the side where Sun woke was a vast pond with succulents that grew from the water. In the opposite direction, to the side where Sun slept, stretched a prong of forest that marked the edge of the band’s territory. Here, Cousin Chimp lived. With his long arms and gripping feet, he swung through the canopy as easily and smoothly as Lucy ran. She envied him. Nowhere was silence more complete than high above the traveled trails.

Today, they must travel beyond this forest, across a golden field dotted with shrubs and spindly trees, to the grasslands abutting Smoking Mountain’s rocky foothills. This most bountiful turf was also the most dangerous. The mountain often disgorged burning rivers of molten fire and shook until the ground cracked and swallowed everything in its path, but the band had scoured the corms, tubers, bulbs, roots, eggs, berries, nuts from closer areas until nothing could be found. The insects and lizards and snakes they trapped left their stomachs growling so they had no choice. Until the vegetation regrew, the hominids would travel outward.

Sun sent shining bars of light through the white clouds as the band arrived at an open meadow surrounded by rocky crevices and a meager copse of aspens. It was filled with arid scrub bushes, dying patches of grass—and food if Lucy could pierce the hard ground. She slumped as she hacked at the dry soil, watching for grubs and lizards as she worked and wondering.

“Can Sun warn of danger? Does it care Garv died?”

The air shimmered with heat. The mammoths grazed a long jog away, ignoring the tiny primates. The sociable Great-dog or maybe Giant-great-dog—Lucy couldn’t tell from this distance—loped across the plateau. Its enormous bushy tail swept a trail through the forbs like the slipstream following a flock of birds. Garv had felt safe around these amiable canines because they lived in groups as he did, with Primaries overseeing the pups.

Garv had taught Lucy much about surviving.

Today, despite Sun’s warming rays and the hope of food, felt bleaker than most. When the group returned to Camp, the new pairmates would eat first. A female mated freely until her bleeding began, and then accepted a single pairmate. He brought food while she carried a child, and then fed both until the youngster could feed himself. Lucy would have pairmated Garv if he hadn’t died. Instead, it would be Ghael.

Lucy had never recovered from Garv’s disappearance. She didn’t smile any more at the antics of the children or the splendor of her arboreal home. She found herself staring toward the Great Rift where she’d last seen Garv.

Lucy focused on wrestling the scrubby stalks from their earth coffin and finally gave up. She breathed a sigh and duck-walked over to Old One. The elder’s thin gray hair-fur ballooned like tumbleweed around her face and her hunched back forced her gaze forever down. She grunted a greeting as she eased the pressure from her ancient ankles. When they returned to homebase, Lucy would chew the flowers of the plant with the palm-sized leaves and apply a salve to Old One’s ankles.

Here where Old One worked, the soil crumbled as though loosened by a herd of insects. Ticks bit Lucy’s skin as her fingers teased the ground. She unearthed the pale corm with the many layers and set it aside. A scorpion darted forward and paused, pincers extended. Lucy snatched it, chopped the poisonous stinger off with her digger, popped the creature into her mouth and continued to work.

“At least today, the predator who lives in Smoking Mountain is quiet.”

Before Old One could answer, the earth shuddered. Lucy placed an ear to the ground and then continued digging. Just Mammoth, following the matron to new forage. Lucy felt a bond when she worked beside Old One. The Elder’s skin was darker than other females, and wrinkled beneath her graying fur. Thick cracked calluses, yellowed with age, covered her fingertips and feet. When she worked, she patted the ground as she might a youngster, asking the plants if it was time. She studied insect trails and moved her foraging with their guidance. Today, she seemed satisfied.

“Old One. Do you smell that?” Lucy tried to identify the odor that caught their attention.

The Elder tilted her head up as two vultures wheeled lazy circles in the air. They were so graceful in the air, the pounding beat of their vast wings a sure sign of carrion, and so awkward on the ground with their hunched bandy-legged toddle.

“I’ll see to it,” she motioned with her hands and jogged toward the circling vultures.

Sun moved a hand’s width across the sky before Lucy found a mammoth cow at the base of a hillock. Mammoths ruled from Smoking Mountain to the Great Rift, moving in a slow-stepping, swaying mass identified by the rumbling earth and cracking sounds of trees being shredded, but this particular proboscidean would rule no more. A ragged white bone poked through a shredded tear in her thick hide. Crimson blood poured down her wrinkled forefoot and pooled beneath her hind leg. At the base of the cliff lay a weathered tusk, broken during her fall. One forlorn eye latched onto Lucy and then moved on.

Lucy reconstructed what must have happened. Mammoth must have been eating on that overlook across the gully, her head high, engulfed in the wealth of foliage. She must have tumbled into the gorge and broken her leg. When she tried to rise, she pushed the wrecked leg bone through her hide.

The cow snorted hot air and mucous as her head bounced in the mud with each failed effort to rise. Ants poured from a dead tree stump over her lower body in a moving mass of legs and thoraxes. She couldn’t swat them with her stubby tail and their tiny mandibles couldn’t penetrate her epidermis.

She bellowed and an answer trumpeted back:  her calf. He begged Mother to rise and lead him back to the herd. Instead of his mother’s comforting low, Snarling-dog growled an answer. The calf bleated, his skin too thin and his stature too short to ward off Snarling-dog’s attacks for long.

Ghael sidled up to Lucy.

“There, the cow,” Lucy motioned, keeping the disgust from her face.

Where most males had a uniform coat of fur—thick and long on their heads, short and patchy on their shoulders and limbs—Ghael’s clumped in wiry reddish tufts, even in his ears and on the underside of his hands. No one would groom him, so it was infested with lice and ticks. His facial hair held rotting bits of blood and tissue from past meals, giving him a chronically-bad odor. As a result, no female would mate with him.

With Garv gone, Lucy had no choice.

“And there,” Lucy pointed to the side, “…is the baby.”

Ghael dismissed her with a nod. His eyes sparkled as he tagged after a group of males heading toward the calf. Each clasped a cutter flaked from obsidian that morning and ready to slice meat from bone in the moments between mammoth’s death and the arrival of Vulture and Snarling-dog. They hunkered around the calf and catty-corner to Snarling-dog.

As Sun crossed the peak of invisible-mountains-in-the-sky, mother’s calls grew feebler. She could barely lift her great head, but her legs continued their deadly thrusts, trying to give the herd time to rescue her calf before she died. The youngster stood stiff-legged, frozen by fear. Lucy started to circle back toward the cow, but Ghael dismissed her to the meadow’s edge where his sister Krp stood. Lucy tightened her grip on her cutter, but obeyed. When she reached Krp, she got only a skittish glance from huge, frightened eyes. Krp’s mouth gaped and her always-concave shoulders shook with fear.

“You have never hunted?” Lucy motioned.

Lucy knew Ghael allowed his sister to do nothing except forage with the females and serve him. Their parents had been killed by wild-beasts. The Group, as was its duty, adopted the orphans. Krp’s weakness disgusted Lucy, but her brother Feq—skinny gangly Feq who threw up at the sight of blood—realized the shy female might be his only chance to pairmate. He’d begged Lucy to care for Krp today, and Lucy would do anything for Feq.

The stench of fear and sweat pressed against Lucy as they waited. She felt faint, from hunger or heat or something else. Lucy leaned into the tree and felt a wet gooiness against her back. The trunk had bled, as Lucy did when scratched. A Chalicothere had sharpened its claws here. She broke off a piece of the sap and popped it into her mouth when Krp ignored it, choosing instead to pick a bloody scab from her arm. The sweetness would stifle her hunger until the carcass was ready. When they returned to camp, she’d spread Healing Leaf over Krp’s sore.

The trumpet of the female mammoth dragged Lucy’s attention back to the drama unfolding below. Snarling-dog had begun nipping at the cow’s thick hide and suffering her still-bruising kicks with a stoic acceptance of his part in the hunt. While he leaped in and out of the cow’s range, his pack charged the calf. Though young, power exuded from the baby’s sturdy frame. A wave of his trunk sent one canine flying, a warning that many would die before he lost this battle. The baby understood the danger he faced, but not what to do.

Sun still cast a faint yellow light through the trees when a wall of mammoth bulls answered the mother’s final howl, their ears blowing as they crashed through the trees, tromping scrub and deadwood and forming a protective circle around the youngster. There they stood, lashing the air with their trunks, daring any animal to attack.

The males now settled around the cow, close enough to Snarling-dog to challenge him for the carcass, but far enough to avoid angering the bulls. When the female died, the herd would depart with the calf in tow. It was just a matter of time.

It seemed Snarling-dog hadn’t learned that lesson. They charged the calf.

The bulls bawled as they reared up and slammed their forelimbs to the ground, then bulldozed through the pack, throwing gore and body parts everywhere. The stench of blood and feces and fear permeated the air. A red mist settled onto the human males, but only the grass’s wavering from their shaking bodies gave away their position.

The mammoth herd plodded in slow-moving gray river between the corpses of Snarling-dogs and the living flesh of the hidden males. The female had died, so all that remained was to guide the calf back to the herd. The lead mammoth slapped his trunk, telling the herd they were done. All the band’s males had to do was remain hidden until the herd reached the open savanna.

Krp’s teeth started chattering like a rock on a hammerstone.

Kali hissed, “Stop! They will hear you!”

But Krp couldn’t help herself. “They will die! Ghael is all I have!”

“Shush!” Kali hissed again, but as though someone heard Krp’s plea, a single voice called from within the herd. Another hunter? Why would he risk the bulls turning on him? The voice rang out again, ululating into the twilight. The bulls bawled, flailing their trunks and swinging their forefeet, searching for the threat.

And then Ghael stood up.

“Ghael!” Lucy screamed. “Get down!”

His mouth gaped. His eyes widened and he froze. The lead bull scented him on the hot wind and split the air with its scream. Eight massive heads turned toward Ghael. Sixteen ears flared and the meadow filled with their trumpeting. The rest of the males exploded from hiding like a covey of quails attacked by Cat, flailing their arms as they sprinted for the trees. Only Ghael remained, limbs rigid and mouth open in a silent scream at the approaching tidal wave of elephantine bodies.

“Ghael! Run!”

His head snapped toward Lucy. His eyes blinked and he fled. He pumped his legs, trying to outrun the mountain of muscle bearing down on him. One moment, he ran smooth and long-strided. The next, he fell, tripped by a half-buried root. In slow motion, he shook himself, crawled forward, and pushed up to his full height. The herd split to either side of him. If he had stayed the course, he might have survived, but he wobbled, putting himself within reach of one substantial trunk. He flew through the air and landed with a thud amidst the stampede.

Lucy could no longer watch him. She dragged her attention to the lead males. Even as their legs stretched and their arms thrust, their quarry caught them. With a mighty bray, the lead bull swung a tusk into the fragile hominid line and tossed them like straw into the rampaging herd. Crushed before they could utter a sound, lifeless eyes stared up at the receding pachyderms.

Foe defeated once more, the herd wandered without purpose. The matron swung her forefoot like the seedpod on a grassy stalk, toenails raking the hard ground. She returned to the cow, and poked the dead body gently with her tusks and feet. She caressed her with her trunk until finally trumpeting a ‘Follow me!’, and left.

Krp refused to raise her head, but Lucy forced herself to study the carnage. She hoped for some indication that life continued and found one—a shadow scurrying into the dusk, a scent she’d smelled before but couldn’t place. It made the hair prickle on her neck even more than the gore in front of her. She had to hurry.

“Krp. We must go.”

An inner strength greater than fear of predators controlled Lucy. She would allow no more deaths today, especially Krp’s. She would bring her brother’s pairmate home.

With one hand, she brandished a tree limb at Snarling-dog to keep him at bay while she checked each eviscerated heap of male blood and tissue, hoping for life but found only death. Lucy hung her head as she approached Old One, fresh roots still clutched in her hand. She appeared peaceful, as though she faced this end without fear.

Snarling-dog growled from the edges. Their bared canines sparkled with saliva and tails extended back. They set up a perimeter around Krp and Lucy and moved forward. With vicious snarls, Lucy backed out of the killing grounds just as Snarling-dog tore into the bellies of the dead males. The vultures started on the eyes, the easiest and tastiest morsel.

Hurrying, Lucy led Krp toward the cow. They had only a brief time before Snarling-dog and Vulture turned their attention to what had drawn them here. Lucy thrust a cutter into Krp’s unwilling hand and barked her orders.

“Like this!”

Lucy grabbed a haunch and slashed with all the might she could muster. The tough hide opened. Hot wet air with a sweet carrion stink pressed in, but Lucy slashed again and again until the leg broke lose. Krp whimpered, but did the same, until they both heaved dripping limbs onto their shoulders and headed for home.

The evening shadows had deepened to blue and purple by the time they approached the camp’s entry point. When Feq appeared, his face tight with fear and eyes bloodshot, no explanation was needed; Nature had spread the feast’s scent throughout the habitat.

As the days passed, Lucy had little time to wonder at the odd voice that caused the mammoth herd to charge. In the end, it didn’t matter. It was she who called out Ghael’s name. If not for that, the mammoths might have missed him in the fading light. His brown skin and dark hair might have blended into the grasses and the gloom of night.

But she had called, and now he and everyone else was dead. She drove herself from dawn to dusk in a frenzied effort to feed her group while images of blood and death haunted her sleep. When Lucy found Krp’s body dangling over a tree limb, awaiting the return of the leopard that killed her, she gave up. He had acted as Nature intended:  Sought the weakest of the herd so he could eat. She sat on a vacant termite mound and stared up at Sun, wondering if Sun knew why the mammoths stampeded. Something had frightened them before Ghael stood. Ghael became their focal point, but not what drove them to a frenzy. Did it have something to do with the howl she heard? Was that why Ghael stood up?

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“Did you know it would happen, Sun? Did you warn me, but I didn’t hear?”

Somehow Lucy drew strength from talking to this silent orb that never judged her. A light breeze whispered through the grasses and cooled her fevered brain. Her ordered world had crumbled. Females who once foraged with her now shunned her. The only thing she had left, the only thing she knew for certain, was herself.


Lucy began tracking the young male and his old companion with the battered face when they first stepped into her territory. The youth had the most powerful legs she had ever seen. How did the other keep up with him? They grunted and signed to each other without noticing her. When they approached Feq, she squatted directly overhead.

“I seek a young female who hunts like a male,” the youth motioned.

Lucy found his face intelligent and kind, despite the thin lips and dark skin. His short hair was tightly-curled and exposed cone-shaped ears that twitched at every sound. His wide sloping shoulders tapered to a narrow waist. He smiled, but his odd appearance made Feq do something Lucy had never before seen him do: He lied.

“I know of no female who hunts, stranger-with-the-odd-looks. Why would a female hunt?”

Feq shifted uncomfortably as Lucy dropped to the ground. The stranger’s eyes were gentle, forgiving. Lucy would have preferred to leave after the baby arrived, but the Stranger offered a new beginning where none would judge her. Feq didn’t even try to change her mind.

It hadn’t worked as Nature planned, but she reveled in the confusion of ‘free will’ and ‘ decisions’. These primates would never grasp her goals. All they could do was wiggle and squirm like flies in a spider’s web.

“Soon, they will ask for help. Only I can show them how to be the fittest for survival.”


Part VI 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.comEditorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write AnythingCurrently, 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.

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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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Books I’m Reading

Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography

Jacqui's favorite books »
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