This was, if you like, a part of a suicide note. The name of the author has been suppressed. I am not sure why I am hesitant to give his name, except that his description of himself was uncomfortably close to the way I would describe myself: red-haired, of Celtic extraction, and with an interest in the more recondite aspects of history. The suicide note, for want of a better term, was a jumbled and often incoherent manuscript that dealt with Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. I found it beside the author's body. In it, he maintained that what is reproduced below was a translation of a text written some 30,000 years old, scratched on slate. This is well before what most people believe to be the invention of writing: a time when Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted. Very uneasily. As the author put it in the last sentence of his translation/suicide note, immediately after this text: “She was right.”
Dzuki la Port was right. She usually is. For a full day, sunrise to sunrise, I have thought and (insofar as I believe in such things) prayed. Today I must die. So must my darling husband Chuso and our two darling daughters. Chuso understands and agrees with me. Our younger daughter Mesi can neither understand nor agree: she is less than a year old. And we think it better not to explain too much to our older daughter Yali. She is nearly seven.
We are too few, and they are too many. Even if Mesi lived – and I have heard that they kill babies by dashing their heads against rocks – what future would there be for her? And if she were older: well, they rape our daughters if they are old enough. I fear they might find Yali old enough. They also rape the women among us, if we are young enough. I am twenty-five summers old: I am probably young enough. Chuso they would kill out of hand. He and I agree that the risk to all of us is too great. Better the herb of forgetting and dying.
We discussed it for a long time. Chuso wanted to take responsibility, to kill me and our daughters, before taking his own life. But eventually I prevailed. Women are stronger, not physically but mentally. So it is I who will kill him and our daughters, the three people I value more than all the world. When we finally agreed, he said it was a burden he was glad I am willing to bear. The tears were streaming down his face as he said it.
I have four stones prepared and ready. Three big ones, to smash the heads of my husband and daughters, and one well sharpened to slash my own neck and wrists. Just before I kill them I will drink my own portion of the bitter decoction of the herb of forgetting and dying. Like Chuso I will drink it neat, as a symbol of the bitterness of our fate. We have mixed it with honey for Yali: she and Chuso will drink it a thousand heartbeats before I do and I shall kill them while they are asleep. Mesi is too young to force it down: I must kill her while she may even begin to understand what I am doing. Then I will kill myself. All of us will die while the sun is yet high in the sky.
We have so much more than the new people. What I write today bears witness to this. I do not think that they have any equivalent to our writing, let alone to our knowledge of herbs or indeed very much else about the world in which we live and struggle one against the other; though they are more against us than we are against them. The pity is, they are much more numerous. They will overrun us. Perhaps more importantly, they can kill others – especially us – seemingly without compunction. I can, after reflection and prayer, kill an animal for food. I find it much harder to kill a seemingly rational being. Better to die than to kill. But perhaps they are not rational in the sense in which we understand the word.
Why do we compete? It is a big world. There is more than enough in it for both of us. Then again, I say that, but how generous were we to the little people? We all needed food; we were bigger and tougher; and although we didn't kill them, we ate the things they needed to survive. At first sight, we are bigger and tougher than the new people. I'd say – and of course I would say it, wouldn't I – that we are also more decent. Based on our experiences with the little people, we have since tried to live and let live. As far as I can see, the new people don't have that. With them, it's kill or be be killed. I like to think we've left that behind. Maybe we haven't, but it's nice to think so.
I've already mentioned writing and herb-lore, but there's more to it than that. History, for a start. That includes taming, or half-taming, pigs to eat. If you can read this, you'll understand what history is. It's the story of being human, and perhaps more importantly the story of what we learn from being human. Another word for this is philosophy. I'm not sure that the new people could understand the concept, let alone the word. We have to live at peace with the world. I'm as fond of roast elephant as anyone, but the truth is, there are fewer and fewer manageable sized elephants anywhere. As far as I can see, they're getting bigger everywhere. According to the people who come up from the south, they're getting huge. We seem to have eaten most of the small ones. We have to balance ourselves with the world, and with everything that lives in it.
That reminds me of another thing: travel. Throughout my lifetime, and my mother's, and my grandmother's, travel wasn't a problem. You could go pretty much anywhere, and although the language got harder and harder the further you travelled, you could usually find someone to translate between one tribe and the next. Not any more. Even if you don't get killed by the new people (and eaten too, from the reports I've heard), our own people are increasingly suspicious of one another, so there's an ever greater risk of being killed by our own kind, never mind the new people.
It's only a matter of time, therefore. We can't hold out: our village must fall. Other villages of our people must go the same way: perhaps all of them. With them will go all that we have learned: writing, herb-lore, philosophy, history and even the arts of building in stone, baking bread and making beer. Perhaps others of our people will keep knowledge alive, or perhaps in time the new people will learn for themselves the lessons we have learned so hard over so long a time. For myself, I have written enough. The little time that is left to me, I will embroider by embracing my darling husband and daughters. Then I will kill them.
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