Genesee and the girls of her clan sit laughing and chirping like happy geese, warm and content by steady flames.
Then night comes to rest in waves of setting shadows.
The girls huddle with their mothers to blunt the icy teeth of winter’s breeze.
As words grow calm and slow, the elder mothers begin to discuss which man they shall next choose to make their chief.
Meanwhile, the men out in the plains crouch together beneath ancient trees, laughing all the more.
They know these same trees once protected all their fathers.
They have every reason to expect their sons to one day shelter here as well.
How many lifetimes have been spent hunting these same plains, carrying out adventures for the women?
No man can say, of course.
For seasons have always come and passed, and so they must continue.
Nothing is ever gone, or better, or worse.
Nothing is ever counted.
One day, a strange water vessel hits ground just in sight of where Genesee and her clan make winter camp.
All in the clan lay hidden, and watch amazed as smaller vessels emerge from the first like baby wolves from the belly of an enormous mother.
These little vessels are filled half with living men, and half with rotting bodies of the dead.
The living strangers busy themselves as soon as they reach the shoreline, digging holes and burying their dead in the ground.
They also cut the legs of trees with funny, shiny tools.
And they hunt, killing even the noblest creatures of the land.
By winter’s end, other great vessels like the first have begun to arrive, advancing from over the edge of the sea in packs.
It is then that Genesee and her people become the strangers’ focus, like a squad’s worth of arrows suddenly aimed at the head of a single buck.
A crash of thunder . . . peals of shouting . . . and all see quickly the strangers’ great power to harness and kill with ghostly fire.
Then no more yelling.
No more fighting.
A new way has come, and the old must go where all bodies, and seasons, and fire, and laughter, and all things dear and dreaded end . . . to be swallowed underneath.
Now never to return.
Genesee is as accepting as a lake collecting rain.
Yet the many new things she sees do sway and trouble her spirit so.
The strangers set up ugly colored markings everywhere.
Genesee asks of the markings’ meaning, and is told the strangers carve the land to claim parts as their own.
This baffles her, for such a thing as owning has never been discussed.
How could one so small and agile ever hope to hold and keep all that lays forever fixed and deep beneath them?
An idea for how the two peoples might live together is brought forth from across the sea, shown somehow in tiny drawings on thin white leaves.
The idea comes from the strangers’ homeland.
It says the strangers will promise to use their powers of fire and death to protect Genesee’s clan.
The strangers will also promise to teach Genesee’s clan everything that can be known of vast worlds far away.
In return, Genesee’s clan will be put to work to scrape the land plain and flat.
They will also deliver to the strangers special stones and other useless items found or made.
Certain strangers are set as chiefs.
Some of these new chiefs are cruel, killing those in their charge who grow ill or overly weary in their work.
Genesee is made the wife of a young stranger chief named Adrian.
A kind man, Adrian is the only of the strangers Genesee and her mothers come to love.
The house Adrian builds is odd, made from legs and arms of trees.
Yet the house sits near enough the mouth of what is called Great River that Genesee might always feel the same misty kisses on her skin.
Great River’s steady, crashing voice never ceases to assure her of old and trusted things.
After the days of Genesee and Adrian, the two peoples become one.
A man proclaims himself to be chief of all.
None are permitted to question or speak against this man.
He makes others like himself as little chiefs.
And these chiefs only kill, and hurt, and steal from those they rule.
Thousands are consumed by great fire and a cursed mist that kills when breathed, sent by those still living in the strangers’ homeland.
Battles stretch beyond lifetimes until no one remembers laughing around fires or out beneath old trees.
Men tasked with keeping order are kept poor, and so left with a single choice: overlook, take what can be taken, or die.
Tales come to be whispered in hidden huddles of a new land . . . a land where all are said to be made free.
One night, the children of Genesee and Adrian’s children’s children set out in secret, taking with them many others in trickling streams like dawning light.
In the new land, all must make their way to a place called the City.
Once there, dazzled by unimaginably bright colors and loud sounds, the travelers rejoice.
But freedom in the City is not the same as bygone, forgotten freedoms.
The travelers are all grouped to go work jobs the City’s natives need done but almost never do themselves.
. . .
Somewhere in the City, a boy named Ray Golel lounges, warm and alone, in a bubbling pool behind his parents’ home.
There he gleefully melts snails with salt, and tortures other small things for fun.