Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

When the migrant birds first arrived on this continent, they marveled at how few upright, two-legged hominids there were. They could fly for miles and spy only a few small gatherings.

They found most of the hominids in meadows and glens, grazing on high grasses whose oily seeds they plucked from billowing blades. The hominids were resourceful and moved in packs. The migrants, fascinated by these creatures, listened to their grunting, guttural language and wondered what these strange creatures could be debating.

The migrants encountered resident birds, fellow winged creatures with brighter plumage but reticent dispositions. These colorful cousins were masters of the higher elevations, dominating treetops and rock ledges. Their nests, while not as ornate as the ones to which the migrants were accustomed back home, were nevertheless sturdy and did not buckle in heavy wind and weather. But the resident birds possessed an odd habit of abandoning the ground to the hominids. They showed no interest in influencing hominid behavior.

These birds bored the migrants, who studied the hominids with fascination. They hunted for their grounds nests and studied their dietary habits. The migrants wondered whether these odd, hair-covered creatures who went everywhere on their hind legs had any aspirations or were they content to live at the mercy of the forests and meadows. Unlike their cousins in this new land, the migrants had learned agricultural arts and cultivated fruits, nuts, and berries to suit their tastes. It puzzled them that anyone, least of all a fellow flyer, would not reshape the landscape in its own image. And there was so much land….

The migrants crossed unbroken forests and soared over swaybacked mountains that slumped down into still more forests. There were wide rivers of purest blue and tributary creeks with arms resembling threads of gossamer. The forests were everywhere webbed with water; sweet water that seldom clogged with mud or silt. The migrants could hardly believe the taste of this land.

Where the forests gave way to scattered clumps of trees and increasingly wide growths of tall grass, there were again a few scattered hominids, now more plainly visible to migrant scouts who glided many hundreds of feet above. And where the hominids roamed the grasses, so did large four-legged creatures who outran the two-legged with ease. These beings, with their horns and black wool were scarcely different than some of the wild horned bellowing beasts the migrants knew at home. The only difference was these creatures were considerably larger and somehow hairier.

The grasses overtook the trees, and soon there were no trees at all. Then the grasses shortened, and the hominids disappeared. The migrants noticed that rivers were also increasingly scarce, and some of the spidery creeks that fed them dried up in the unshaded weather. But then a rainstorm would come, the creeks would flood, and the water would flow as sweet as any other river and creek they had so far tasted.

There were mountains now to rival those of home, peaks with snow on them during the summer months. And these mountains had trees and large flows of ice recalling the great glacial ranges the migrants had explored on their turf of origin. In some ways, this new land was not so radically different, and among the highest peaks, the migrants grew bored. They considered how if they had seen one mountain, they had seen them all, especially since no hominids had been spotted for hundreds of miles.

But then, as they descended from the highest peaks into lesser ones and finally into an area of salt-tasting water and shivering heat, the migrants found that this land was not like home at all. They could not eat the stones and sand granules that replaced the grass. There were no more berries and the insects they found were stinging, with claws and bristly hairs that forbade good eating.

There seemed to be no relief, only a scorching mockery. The one large lake the migrants found was undrinkable, so saturated with salt was it that it made the migrants sick. They thirsted worse after sampling its waters. In the throbbing landscape about them, they saw ghostlike beings with spikes on their heads moving through this wavering world that made large objects -impossibly large objects- seem to float in midair. The migrants could hardly believe what they were seeing, and in their surprise, they turned on one another, plucking out feathers and leaving their weaker brethren and sistren for dead on the searing flats. The shrunken flock that made it to a new line of cooling mountains was a fraction of the original party that had set out to bound and define this new land.

It was on a night of no moon that they came to the wall of cold peaks that marked a coda to the salt-encrusted landscape that had driven even the hardiest migrants nearly mad with thirst. These were frigid heights, and after an unmeasured stay in the desert, the migrants found their wings seized with cold; they plummeted to rocky ledges that were glazed with frost. Several in the party slid off into crevasses and found their bodies broken in pitch black ravines, while others were shattered by the jaggedness, the adamantine indifference of the alpine stones.

By morning, a handful of migrants remained. As the sun rose, the rocks heated and thawed, loosening the feathers, the bone and sinew of their wings. The remnant party, still helpless, watched as a hominid, clutching a long pole cast in obsidian shadow, speared each one of them into darkness.