Chapter 07 – The Life of a Lizard
The tree dwelling lizards used holes in the trees for their family units, sometimes carving out the hole themselves with sharp rocks. But for the ground and shore colonies, the shining black rock of their home was pockmarked with a myriad of holes in which to make a family home, so there always seemed to be plenty of room. When holes became scarce, they broke off into new colonies rather than overcrowding the current colony.
Starlight eventually found a female Defender to form a family unit with, and two other males from a straggler unit joined in before their family solidified. The time of her being a mother was near, and while I could not influence her children as I had done with her ancestors, I was still excited to see the little ones. I wondered if they’d share her sense of wonder.
Starlight’s family hole bordered the forest. It was convenient for food, but required the Defender to be more on guard against predators hiding among the trees. I enjoyed the interactions of the family unit, each playing their part in society. Starlight and one of the males did food runs for the colony, and the other male helped appropriate food to the weaker members. The Defender, true to her name, helped Defend the borders of the colony.
During the next mating season, she was taken by both males, as was the female Defender. The two males brought protective and heat incubating foliage to decorate the hole with. Once the eggs hatched, the dead foliage would be removed so it didn’t mold in their little hole. THe extra warmth provided by the foliage was perfect for growing eggs, and after hatching, sharing body heat among the family was plenty warm enough. A number of weeks passed before Starlight and the other female laid their eggs on top of the foliage bedding. Starlight clutched five eggs, impressive for a first clutch. The Defender clutched two, which was normal as the Defender females generally clutched less than their smaller counterparts. A Defender could not be overburdened with eggs and still be able to defend her family.
They all tended the eggs as they continued to grow. The incubation period outside the mother’s belly was longer than in, and the eggs doubled in size by the time they were ready to hatch. Most of them anyway. Two of Starlight’s and one of the Defender’s eggs became discolored over time, indicating the unborn had not made it through development. It was a common occurrence, but no less saddening.
After the hatchlings emerged, the discarded shells were removed from the family hole and the discolored eggs were taken to the water. The parents all shared a moment of sorrow before pushing the discolored eggs into the water, and sought each other for comfort. The four hatchlings were raised by all four family members, physical contact in the form of nose bumping and cuddling along with affectionate scale shimmers conveyed their love to their young and each other.
As their scales hardened, the young were encouraged to mingle with the community, and they were taught many things by their extended family, like how to shimmer their scales for certain messages, and how to catch prey. Before full dark, the family units would return to their holes and huddle close together for warmth against the cold night.
Starlight still sat outside her hole every night to look at the stars until it became too cold and she was forced to retreat back to her family. I cherished every moment she spent out there. Although alone among her peers, she was not truly alone, as I was there with her. I felt a kinship with her, as I also saw the wonder of the stars, shining beautifully in the night sky. I hoped the other lizards would one day know the beauty of the night. Perhaps it was selfish longing hoping they would look at the stars so that I could feel they looked at me.
Starlight was a good mother to the four children, as well as the community’s children. She took to task teaching the young about smells. Her scales flashed light green and blue along her sides for good smells, yellow and orange along her back for bad smells. The young copied her and practiced for days until they could manage the appropriate shimmers. All the young were born knowing how to shimmer their scales, and emotions such as happiness, fear, sadness, and anger were natural. Learning the ‘words’ of the shimmers was more involved and took much practice.
One day, Starlight’s family unit took a group of youngsters out into the woods to show them nearby food sources their colony used, places Starlight and one of the males frequented often on their food runs. She showed them how to use their clawed fingers to get at the shallow roots of plants where ground bugs liked to feed and breed. It took a certain amount of dexterity to get at the bugs without uprooting and killing the plant, which the youngsters still worked to improve. A lucky few managed to round up some bugs on their own, and ate them as a reward. Starlight and the two males made sure the others didn’t go hungry and appropriated them with food as well.
As they moved onto the next feeding ground, I was witness to something disastrous. A huge, long, snake-like creature dropped down from the tall trees into the middle of the young, quickly snatching one for a meal. The great snake creature was a dark green with mottling of a reddish brown, like the bark of the tall trees.The adults flashed colors of ‘Danger’ and ‘Bad’ and the Defender rushed in with her spear to drive away the monster. Calls from deep in their gullet sounded a warning to any other lizards that might be nearby.
This was the first time any of the young had encountered a predator, and some panicked. A couple of the panicked ones became another morsel for the snake monster with it’s whip-fast attacks. The Defender hissed at the predator, flashing her scales in warning, a yellow color that ran from her tail up to her head in an endless loop. She jabbed her spear towards the giant snake, and the snake monster responded by unfurling its sharp fangs, hissing back at the Defender.
As large as the Defender was, she would still only be a mouthful for the great snake. It had likely lived a long time for how large it was, which meant it was either very lucky or very crafty. To get past the forest colonies without them raising alarm was certainly a crafty feat.
The snake monster bobbed its head back and forth, striking with feints and lunging with blows. It would wiggle its tail to draw attention, then attack as the Defender looked towards the source of movement. The young adult Defender would be lucky to make it out alive.
Between jabs with her spear, she would also whip her body around to strike with her long, hard tail like a whip. It was a careful dance between the two, the Defender slowly losing ground as she kept her distance back. For all her practice, the learned movements with the spear were no match for the speed of the snake’s natural coil and strike attacks and experience of age.
Meanwhile, Starlight and her males gathered up the other young and ran back to the colony. She looked back, seeing her family member being attacked by the great snake, bleeding from cuts, but remaining defiant. She cried out from her gullet for her beloved, her scaled shimmering with concern. Between the looping flashes of warnings, there was a shimmer of affection, and a word shimmer for ‘Go’. Starlight returned to the young, keeping a watch behind even after they were out of view, partly to keep an eye out for danger, but mostly to see if her family member came back to them.
A few Defenders met them closer to the colony, hearing the warning cries from Starlight’s group. Two escorted the group back to the colony proper while five more ran to the scene of battle to protect their colony-sister.
They had lost four of the young to the giant snake. By the time the sky was darkening, three Defenders returned, but not Starlight’s. They gave off flashes for ‘Danger’ and ‘Alive’, so the snake monster was merely warded off, not killed. The colony family mourned their losses with no bodies to put to water.
Having no Defender, Starlight’s family was placed with a family unit of two and their two young ones, merging their families together that night. Her Defender had been brave, and thanks to her many of the young still lived. A noble sacrifice.
While not overly common, there were still many Defenders that lost their lives protecting the colony. But Starlight still mourned, long into the night. She asked the stars, asked them ‘Where’, shimmering and flashing with emotions of sadness. But they never answered back.
And for my part, I was helpless but to watch it all happen. There was nothing I could do for her or anyone in my current state. I couldn’t even offer comfort or condolences. The sadness of every lizard flowed through me, and I wept for each loss, though I had no tears.
I could not protect them, not from predators nor the sadness in their hearts. Powerless, that’s how I felt. My essence was massive enough to be with every lizard, and yet it felt so very small.
Starlight didn’t come out the next night, nor the night after that. It became apparent she would no longer return to gaze upon the starlit sky. It made me feel lonely and abandoned. It was like she spoke to me when she came out at night and shimmered to the sky, though I could not answer her. But now, no longer. The night felt darker with her absence.
She and her males were very understandably heartbroken, and although part of a new family, they did not share the same connection with them as they did with their Defender. The other two families that had lost their Defender fared about the same.
A message was sent to the forest colonies, warning them of the massive predator, one that was not easily scared away. Hunts were organized, sometimes with the Defenders of Starlight’s colony. It struck one of the forest colonies and Starlight’s colony once more during Starlight’s lifetime. They were never able to kill it.
Starlight eventually went back to her routine of food runs for the colony and teaching the young her trade and signals related to food gathering. She could not mourn forever, and though one of her family was gone, she still had her males, children, and new family that were still alive. Her children grew, and she raised many successful clutches after that. Her bonds with her two males grew deeper, and she eventually bred with the male Defender of her new family unit and after a time warmed up to the female.
My sense of time was returning, taking me away from the focus on Starlight and her family. The seasons passed, and I remained a passive watcher. Finally, Starlight entered the last phase of her life, living among the old and invalids. I saw her in all of her children and grandchildren, her legacy would live on long after she was gone.
And then one night, she came out of her hole and looked once more to the stars. It was like my own time had stopped, all my attention focused on that single moment. She had come back to the stars. Her shimmering was weak with old age, but she managed to speak to the stars for a short time. They said ‘Take’. My heart cried out to her, she hadn’t abandoned me, hadn’t forgotten about me. Even if it was to the stars, the one who heard her was me. Of course I would take her. I would take all my memories of her and keep them safe so that she may live on in my heart, just as the Little Leader, Strong Light and countless unnamed lizards did. I would take them all unto my self.
Then she laid down under the starry sky she had loved so much, and never woke up.