Sorry about the long delay in posting. I’ve been kind of busy with my hobby of curling up under an electric blanket and sobbing at the endless cruel, frozen hell that is Minnesota winter and wondering whether this thing called “spring” is merely a delusion, something that I imagined during the fifteenth year of the endless cold in the same way that people trapped in sensory deprivation chambers start to hallucinate simply in order to keep their brain from shutting down altogether from apocalyptic despair. And that sort of thing takes up a lot of time. By way of apology (or possibly punishment) I’ve written a short fiction piece for you after the cut!
The rock felt heavy in his hand. And yet, it didn’t feel unwieldy. If anything, it felt surprisingly ready to be wielded; Jacob curled his fingers around it experimentally, and found that it fit smoothly into his palm. It didn’t look like much, just a chunk of smooth granite unshaped by anything except the elements, a uniform dull gray except for a faint discoloration near one end…or that could have just been his imagination. It probably didn’t look interesting at all to a layman. But it had a certain beauty that only an archaeologist could appreciate. After all, first of a kind is always special. The stone protruded just a bit near the heel of his hand. It would have been a formidable natural weapon. The skeleton in front of him bore mute testimony to that.
On the other side of the desk, the director of the institute continued to talk. “–don’t want to make this about your religion, Ted. I don’t want to make it about religion at all. I just…” He sighed heavily. “I really wish you’d consulted with me before you talked to the media. As a courtesy, at the very least. Even if I couldn’t…well, it would have given me some time to prepare. As it is, we’re being pressured to make a statement before we even know what we’ve got.”
Ted knew exactly what they had. He’d known ever since that moment when he delicately brushed the curve of the skull and found a jagged, splintered hole that practically obliterated the parietal bone. A blow from behind. Not just any blow, but a massive, shattering strike that had almost certainly been instantly fatal. The body lay face-down in the strata, denying with its position the very possibility of accident. No, Ted knew it as soon as he saw it. Over a hundred thousand years ago, back when humanity was in its mere infancy, the fertile river banks that would eventually become the rock of Amboseli Gorge had witnessed a murder.
No. Not a murder. The murder.
“…hell of a find, Ted. Nobody’s disputing that. It’s definitely a murder, definitely archaeological history. It’s just…” The director sat down hard in his chair, his head slumping in his hands. “Couldn’t you have just left it at that? I mean, for God’s sake, Ted!” He bit his lip as if suddenly aware of his poor choice of words. “For Pete’s sake. We’ve got Time Magazine, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all hounding us. And it’s not just me, Ted. Carlson came in here today–he had a reporter from the New York Post calling him up at home at two o’clock in the Godda…in the morning, asking if he agreed with you!” He looked up at Ted again, bleary-eyed. “He doesn’t, by the way. Just in case you weren’t sure or something.”
Ted knew all about Carlson. They’d argued from the moment he uncovered the skull. And Ted had been right every single time. The skull belonged to a homo sapiens, just like Ted had predicted. One of the earliest, quite possibly the earliest specimen ever found. Radiocarbon dating backed him up on that, again in the face of Carlson’s protestations. But Ted had been meticulous. Every step of the way, from documenting the position of the skull fragments as he uncovered each one mere inches away from the body to photographing the angle that the limbs splayed out from the specimen’s torso. There could be no room for error, not on the enormity of this find. Not when every anthropologist and archaeologist and know-nothing idiot with an opinion was going to be on him about it. Ted had to be right, but more than that, he had to have proof.
It took him a week to find it.
“…not saying you need to go out and commit seppuku,” the director said. Ted looked up momentarily, feeling like he’d lost the thread of the conversation somewhere. He clutched the rock again, feeling the smooth surface against his palm. How many thousands of years of wind and rain had fallen against it before the soft mud of the riverbank concealed it completely from view? “But you need to make a statement. Call it a clarification if you want. Tell them you didn’t realize how it would sound to a layperson. You don’t have to retract, the find is real, but…Jeez…I mean…oh, hell. The implications, Ted. We can’t back you up on that. I’m not threatening you, but…I don’t think I can support you if the whole damned staff mutinies over this. And they just might.”
They thought he hadn’t considered the implications, then. That was rich. How did they think he’d found the rock? By accident?
He remembered the moment when it had all come to him. The moment when he stood there over the find, trying to imagine what it had been like for both of them. Had he even suspected? Could he even suspect? The word hadn’t even been minted, the concept as yet unbirthed into the world. No. He must have stood there, glorying in his triumph, basking in praise and adulation. He’d never even have noticed his brother picking up the rock.
And then the moment. Anger unleashed, that was nothing new. Animals killed each other all the time. But this was something terrible and new, brought into the world for the first time. When the rock came down, when the younger brother crumpled to the ground and lay still…for the first time, that was a choice. A decision born of human will. If murder had a birth-cry, it was in the sound of rock on bone.
He must have stood there for a long time, watching his brother. It might have been too big a thing to fit into his head at first, this idea that one man could end another. Maybe at first he simply tried to figure out why his brother no longer moved, no longer breathed. Perhaps, once the enormity of his act sank in, he contemplated asking his Lord to take back the deed.
Either way, he’d dropped the rock right where Ted had imagined doing it.
“Ted.” The word fell with a grim finality into Ted’s train of thought, smothering the memories of that night he’d spent in Amboseli Gorge contemplating what it must have been like to be the first murderer. “I need an answer, here.”
“Sorry, Jim, um…to what? I was distracted for a moment.” The look on the director’s face told Ted that his answer didn’t go over very well, but it was hard to look at this find, to contemplate the vast scope of history and not find the concerns of the moment drift away. Why was it so improbable to everyone else that he’d actually found the site of the first murder? Everything had to start somewhere. Even murder had to be invented. Did he teach it? Ted wondered. Did he go around to the other humans, telling them of his amazing new discovery for getting rid of people who bothered you? Or was murder like gunpowder, springing up independently in tandem with human civilization? Even if it was, Ted had found the original innovator. He was sure of it. Something, call it luck or destiny or the hand of Providence, had preserved this important moment for humanity to uncover. He could feel it. He could look down at the body, hold the stone in his hand and know just what it felt like.
“I need you to hold a press conference, Ted,” the director said. His exhaustion and exasperation had hardened into anger. “I need you to go out there and tell all the religious nuts that are camping out on my goddamn lawn that when you said you found Abel’s skeleton, that was a metaphor or a joke or an oversimplification or however you want to frame it, but you cannot make this institution into a laughingstock by sticking to this goddamn BS! Are we clear?”
He knew just what it felt like. That moment when it all clicked together, when he realized that there was a way to make all his problems go away. It must have seemed so simple. It must have seemed so easy. It must have felt so obvious once he thought of it. He must have wondered why nobody had ever tried it before.
The director leaned across the desk, his shadow falling across the find as he glared at Ted. “I said, ‘Are we clear?’”
Ted looked up at the director as if seeing him for the first time. And perhaps he was. Perhaps he was seeing everything for the first time, just the way that the man holding the rock had seen it. Perhaps that was the secret to murder. Everybody invented it anew, when they became aware that what they were holding was a weapon and what they were looking at was a victim. Ted’s hand gripped the rock a little tighter, as though trying to hold it back from its intended purpose, but it was two hundred thousand years or so too late. “First time for everything,” he whispered to himself.
The director furrowed his brow in confusion. “Ted, I don’t–”
And Cain rose up, and slew Abel.