by Ruth Draves
The story behind an important artifact.
Her kind built no great structures that survived their extinction, created no art that outlasted them, and quickly faded from memory after a brief flourishing before dying out. Their genetic cousins and descendants wove no tales of them into their own budding cultures.
Of her own life, little was remarkable. She was ordinary. No seer foretold of any greatness for her ordinary life. She survived childhood, helped her family group, learned from her elders. If any memories of her existed, they would of someone who was quiet and kind but just about invisible. She did not seek out adventure, never traveling more than ten miles from the place of her birth. Instead, she lived simply, preferring to stay with her family and helped her mother with her younger siblings and their needs.
Her favorite times were in the evenings after her younger siblings had gone to sleep. She would sit out under the widening sky, watching the darkness spread and the stars appear first one by one, then in numbers too great to count. She loved the sounds of the gathering night, how even the wind hushed.
Even she noticed the changes in the weather. The rains came late, then not at all. The grasses thinned then stopped sprouting. Trees stopped producing leaves. Streams and rivers dried up. The winds no longer hushed at night but grew into howling storms that gathered the topsoil and blew into the sky. Darkness no longer fell but rose up in billows of dust, blotting out the stars.
Her youngest brother developed the cough first. Then the sister born right after her. Soon, the cough spread through the entire family. There were no cures, only worry. She gave up her nights looking for stars to watch in terror as, one by one, the children she had helped raise struggled to breathe until they could no longer inhale.
The rains came back the day they buried her mother. She had noticed the darkening horizon as the few mourners began their walk to the sacred place to lay her mother to rest. No longer able to remember clouds, she saw only more dust on its way.
The simple ceremony was well over when the first drops of rain fell on the desiccated earth. At first, she was too numb from exhaustion and grief to notice the wet as she stood alone by the scrape in the hardened ground that passed for her mother's grave. Then the raindrops became heavier and quickly went from a trickle to a stinging downpour, soaking her through. Out on the drought-burned plain, there was no shelter. She would have to run back to her home to stay safe.
It was a journey that would both end her life and make her immortal.
The land could not take in the sudden rush of water. All the rain channeled into long-dried creeks and streams, turning them into raging torrents of water. The path she was blindly running down followed one of those creeks, now a churning mess of brown water and crumbling banks. She either could not hear or did not listen to its angry roar. She did not see the water cutting away at the banks, and may not have known why the ground disappeared under her feet. There was no time for her to register the shock of the cold water as it sucked her into its chaotic currents.
Whether she drowned or hit her head on a rock is a fact lost to history. Her death was neither merciful or cruel. The waters tossed her against rocks and dragged her along its gritty edges. Her battered body bumped downstream for many miles, ending up buried under several feet of mud and debris. Her remaining family never found her.
And there she lay for centuries. Forgotten and alone.
The land changed. Her kind died out, and their descendants rose up only to die out. They would be replaced by another brighter, more capable species. This cycle went on for ages while her body decayed. The clay that was her grave hardened and the minerals trapped in it leeched into her bones, turning them to stone.
The land changed. Seismic plates raised and twisted the land, while wind and water strove to cut it down. Over time, the surface wore away until one final storm washed away enough that her remains once again bathed in sunlight.
One of her distant descendants unknowingly followed the path she took on her last day, only he was not fleeing a sudden storm. He was a scientist who looked for the ancestors of his species. It was a combination of thorough research and sheer luck that made him walk down the gully where her pelvic bone now gleamed in the morning sunshine. It was the discovery of a lifetime. In all, almost half of her skeleton would be recovered.
Before giving her an official scientific designation, the research team nicknamed her after the song they played while celebrating their find. That nickname became instantly recognizable. Others of her species would be dug up, as would some of their descendants, but she remained the most complete find, and the most famous. Her bones would be studied and argued over for years. Each bone fragment held some secret to anyone who studied it.
Advances in research led to her remains being dated to a turbulent time in Earth's history. Rare artifacts referred to the era as “The Twentieth Century.” Further research indicated she died in what was once called a “Dust Bowl,” though no one could figure out the term.
This invisible woman from a dead culture became the most celebrated member of her species. It was a pity no one in her new era realized the irony of calling her “Lucy.”
Word count: 974