A World Changed


There is a rumor rippling about the clan. The young ones came back with the tale of invaders. They are always telling tales, especially those that involve danger and adventure. They do not remember, and how could they? It has been a long time since we were forced to flee. I myself was a young one, then. Generations have known the peace of these clanlands. Then why do I fear as I have not in a very long time?


Scouts were sent out. It seems I was not the only one to fear the young ones’ tales.


The scouting party has returned. There is an encampment on the far fringes of our clanlands, nearer to the badlands and its inhabitants. Most avoid it and them at all costs. Some of our clan settled near to it because it is easier to find food amid their refuse. It is also far easier to get killed. They care nothing for our kind. I have seen what they do to those who wander too close, those who are careless or simple or trusting. When they are through with us, they leave our bodies for the crows, as a warning to the rest of us to remember our place.


It has been many todays since the scouting party was first sent out. The encampment has been deserted. It sits like a sentinel on the edge of our land, waiting. What it waits for, I fear, but perhaps it is because I am old and I remember too much. Perhaps it is because I have so much to lose. Children. A home. Friends. Perhaps it is because I am not a warrior, and never wished for a glorious death. Perhaps it is only because I fear I no longer have the strength to fight, or to flee.


The cold season has come. The growing season was good to us. The clan is well stocked for the white months. Those settled along the badlands are not as well prepared. They never are. But we will share. It is our way.

The encampment remains deserted. Elders have discussed its purpose, but none can agree. I do not know what I say. I am not consulted, in any case.

The young ones, those daring, precious fools, have made the encampment a gathering place. They go there to be away from old and prying eyes, to do those things young ones believe were never done before. I prefer not to tell them that their mysteries are old ones, long ago solved; or at least, tasted. Better to let them learn on their own, these safe and natural curiosities. Best to save the lectures for the most important lessons, so that they hear.


The encampment is no longer deserted. Badlanders come and they go, but they never stay. Scouts report that they carry tall rolls of white and blue, but no weapons. I do not know what this means. None of the clan elders do either. The oldest of us all only cringed, but said nothing. I believe she knows; and I believe she has all along. Her silence frightened me more than those first tales the young ones brought home.


The growing season has begun. The white season was mild and our supplies were replenished by a burst of warmth when the ground should have been frozen. The encampment is once again deserted, but the young ones no longer gather there. We all feel it now. Something is coming.


Some have already begun to move deeper in to the clanlands. Some cannot. There are too many whose roots go so deep that leaving is inconceivable.


The encampment swarms. They have come, as we feared, but not as they did the last time. Their weapons are more efficient, deafening. Immediate. The settlement closest to the badlands is gone. We see them drilling on the area they have already razed. Why do they paint their weapons all the colors of the sun? Why do they taunt us? Or is it warning they give, ranging back and forth like a thousand summer storms? Flee! Flee or die!

Some will flee. And some will die.


It is over. The devastation is complete. So quickly they destroyed what took generations to build. Our clanlands are gone, down to the last blades of grass. Many fled. Many died. All the babies, unable to escape, were left behind. An entire generation, lost. Our homes. Our gathering places. Our storage facilities. They have left the corpses to brown in the sun. Why do they do this? What sort of viciousness takes what belongs to others simply because they wish it? They spread and they spread, like a disease gone unchecked. How long before all clanlands are badlands?

We could not fight them. I believe there is not a force that can.


Now that the bodies are despoiled by the traitor sun, the enemy has returned to cart them away. Some are stacked upon vehicles. Some are thrown into what the young ones call the maw, to be ground up beyond recognition. What they do with our beloved dead, I will not consider.


It is an alien world at night. What was once my clan’s home is a vast and empty landscape. It is not morbid sorrow that compels me back, but respect. Love. I was so very young the first time our clan was forced to flee, and now I am very old. My roots did not go as deep as the eldest among us, for hers first burrowed into the soil generations and generations before my clan became refugees. When we took shelter in what became our clanlands, she was already there. She and her kin welcomed us, soothed us, awaited their own inevitable doom.

It was to her that I went tonight, to the place where she had lived. We had been friends as far as friendships between the sub-clans could go. I sat beside what was left of her, for they had not taken all the corpses away. She was there in the air and in the soil and in me when I touched that place still sticky with her.

I did not think I would have to see this twice in my lifetime. No one should have to. And next time, for there will be a next time, I will not survive. Their weapons will be more powerful, more efficient. There will be no time to flee.


The sun shines. These new clanlands are crowded but clanlands still. Those who were there before us welcomed us, as we were welcomed before, as we will welcome others. The growing season draws to a close and it will become cold. In the time before the devastation, our supplies were plentiful. For this white season, they will be sparse, but enough.

The young ones speak of revenge, but there will be none. There will only be survival. And bitterness. And sorrow. And resolve. And survival. And more babies born when the growing season returns. These babies will live. They will know nothing of what came before, until we tell them.

(Note: This was written in response to driving past a forest I drove past almost daily to find it gone. Razed to the ground. Every tree just dripping sap in the sun. Tremendously upsetting. It was spring. Doubtless, a whole generation of birds and squirrels and rabbits died. It just really hit me; thus, this story.)


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