— by Bill Gadbow —

— an excerpt from “Neanderthal: Paradise Lost” by Bill Gadbow – available in paperback or as an e-book from Amazon books —


The rain had caused the steppe to bloom. Within hours of the end of the storm, the dry wasteland had turned green. For miles in every direction, flat brown land suddenly was full of grass. The sparse bushes were covered with tiny green leaves and a profusion of flowers. The flowers were every color – red, yellow, orange, pink, purple. Where the only sound had been the wind whistling between small rocks, now the land was alive with the buzz of insects.

There were many large rocky landscapes where the wind had blown away all the soil. On those, dry lichen had colored the rocks brown and red. Now, soaked in water, the lichens were every shade of green – some bright like emeralds, some dark like seaweed, some blue green like ocean water.

Duryl and I had walked up onto one of the rock-scapes to get a better view of the land. Although the rocks only provided a few feet of elevation off the ground, the land was so empty and flat that a few feet of height were significant. Far off in the distance, I could make out a spot where the horizon was broken by a jagged line. That might be a line of trees, which would mean that there would be a stream. In this normally dry land, the few trees were only found along the streams. The jagged line looked a little taller than it did when I had viewed it the previous day. We were still far away, but we were getting closer.

We were lost. We had come down off the mountain in a different spot from where we had gone up. When I had been following the strangers, my only thoughts had been to keep going and to not lose their trail. I really had no idea which direction would lead us home. I remembered that while trailing the men, the afternoon sun had been in my eyes. So now, I chose to walk, keeping the afternoon sun at our backs. Our home was only a few days walk from the ocean. If we got to the ocean, the shoreline might be familiar.

I laid back on the lichen covered rock and enjoyed the warmth of the sun in my face. Here the lichen had transformed itself from a flat, thin covering attached to the hard rock to a thick bushy blanket. Tiny feathery growths grew up from the lichen bodies. Some had tiny red or white growths that looked like berries. When you picked them, however, the little red growths would burst and send out a shower of a dry powdery substance. This wasn’t something to eat. There were plenty of bugs that were easy to catch and some of them were tasty. So Duryl and I weren’t hungry. The white and red berries looked like they might be food, but Duryl and I both knew enough about plants to be wary of eating unidentified plants. Only a few were poison. But some were, and many of the poisonous ones were red or white.

Lying on the cushion of plants, I let the sun relax me. I felt it go deep through my skin, into my muscles, and deep into my bones. I felt safe here. Instead of feeling exposed out in the middle of this vast emptiness, I felt sheltered. There was life all around me. I felt myself merge with that life. Instead of being alone and threatened, I was part of the vastness. I felt my sense of self extend far beyond the border of my skin. I felt the life around me extend deep into my body. Their life and my life were as one. The softness of the plants was more than a cushion for me against the rocks. The plants reached out and shared their energy, pulling, probing. Life to life.

“I am not a plant.”

“We are not plants.”

The singularity spoke with force and dominance. It was not subtle. It thundered through me and challenged me. “I am the builder. I am the protector. I am the traveler.”

The plurality spoke with compassion. Their voices flowed around me. “We eat the sun. We are the many. We are the makers.”
The thunder spoke again. “The plants are strong when it rains.” I saw the image of tall grass waving in a breeze. “But they die when the rains don’t come. I can wait. Plants die. Animals die. Through drought, flood, scorching heat, and freezing cold, I am here. I survive.”

“Who are you?” My question was a thought that blended into the other voices.

“I am one.”

And softly, below the thunder, “We are many.”

Then they opened themselves to me and I felt myself sucked into another world. Above me the sun beat against a hard, translucent skin. Around me the soft flesh of the builder swirled in crazy curves. White arches pressed against the skin, shaping it. Tendrils of white flesh curled about me, touching, searching, growing. Water and rich air from above flowed around me. Poisonous air from below seeped through the flesh and out through the skin. Also, from below, a sweetness. Food for the builder. Food to build more flesh.

“We are the many.”

Then I was with them. They were clear and gelatinous. Each one had as many as a dozen green spots, throbbing within their skins. They floated in pockets of water, pushed against each other, shifted their shapes as they pulsed. They gathered water, air, and sunlight. They moved aside, when I pushed through them. I felt their heat. Inside they were burning and shaping. Taking the simple bits of water and air and building something complex and enormously different.

“We are the many.”

I knew them. I had felt them wash over me in their billions when I swam out in the ocean. They had many names. Algae. Green tide. Water blanket.

Out here in the dry steppes, they lived hidden inside the flesh of the builder. Looking up at him, I thought I knew him too. I saw mushrooms growing and spreading beneath a forest floor, shooting up the familiar growths with the stubby white columns topped by rounded bulbs. But this builder looked very different from mushrooms. He had lost his roots and instead of the familiar shoots, he was twisted into a great swirling mass that stretched out a long way, in every direction.

“We did that.” The many answered my unspoken question. “With us, he grows like this. He gives us water. He lets sun through, but he protects us from the heat. We give him sugar. He builds. When he travels, some of us go with him. We are the many.”

Then I was suddenly outside the skin. Around me was a bright red structure, much thinner than the white flesh of the builder’s body. The structure burst, and white powder flew up into the air. I floated with it. Each granule of the powder was a tiny spore. Each spore had eight seeds within. Each seed had algae clinging to its side.

As the spores spread apart on the wind, I went with a single spore. I felt myself spin higher and higher. Almost weightless, I was carried high above the earth. As the hot air from the steppe rose, I went with it, until there was no air to carry me. I hung in the blackness above the sky. Deep cold washed over me. Inside the spore, cold, darkness, the void, did not matter. Time did not matter. Gradually I floated farther into the emptiness.

“You cannot stay!” The builder’s voice thundered through me. “To stay you must share. You are not ready for that.”

My eyes blinked open. I was lying on a lichen covered rock with the sun shining in my face. A single cloud drifted in a pale blue sky.

5 thoughts on “Lichen

  1. Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out.
    Please let me know where you got your design. With thanks

  2. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your
    content. Please let me know. Thank you

    1. Sure. Of course, you can share. Get your group to sign up and they will get monthly emails alerting them to new articles on the website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *