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         “This particular goddess, Lilumei,” Sariel continued, through what sounded like a clenched jaw, “loved the entire universe.  She was too much in love with everything to create only one thing.”  She glanced skyward and appeared to relax a bit.  “Lilumei was in love with the trees that stood strong and tall… and the prairies’ long grasses which danced in the wind.  Above all, she loved the animals, with their vitality of action.  She was in love with the concept of life itself.”
         Chess could not stop himself from blurting out, “She was in love with a idea?”
         Sariel raised one eyebrow at him.  “Some people are,” she answered dryly, and then shifted her gaze to Ileana.  Ileana merely stared back at her with an expectant look.
         The children in the circle appeared to be listening intently, except for the girl sitting next to Ileana, who had some strands of clover flowers that she was tying together.
         “Eventually, though,” Sariel continued, calmly surveying her audience, “Lilumei’s creative energy needed an outlet… and so she created humans: the most dynamic and vital thing she could imagine.  She created men, and women, and giggly little children,” she said, smirking at two small boys who were seated directly across from her.  Then she narrowed her eyes.  “But what do you think happened then?”
         The wide-eyed boys shook their heads vigorously.  Even the girl with the clover looked up.
         “Well,” Sariel explained, straightening her shoulders, “she found that she liked these humans more than her own kind – more than the gods and goddesses.”  She looked around the circle again with a benign smile.  “Some of the humans, you see, were quite intelligent and enterprising.  They had grand plans which they enjoyed discussing with Lilumei, and she… well, she found herself sneaking away to keep company with them – and with one man in particular: secret trysts that she hid from the gods.”
         Chess noticed that Ileana was now staring blankly.  She sat as if frozen, focused on Sariel, and she appeared not to notice that the little girl was tying a clover bracelet around her motionless wrist.
         “As for what happened next,” Sariel murmured, “that is a story for another time.”  She rose from the ground amid a chorus of groans from the children, who were now also beginning to move.
         Ileana, however, remained seated, staring at Sariel’s retreating form.  When Chess went over to her, she looked up at him with a fearful expression.  “How does she know?” she whispered.

         Later, Chess confronted Sariel.  “What was that all about?” he demanded.  “Why did your story upset Ileana?  She wouldn’t even talk to me, she just ran out of there.”
         Sariel met his agitation with a calm smile.  “She will not say anything about those poor people now.  She will not reveal our secret, because I know her secret: Tez.”
         “Oh,” Chess breathed, surprised.  But, really, he was not shocked.  He had heard some of Ileana’s opinions on both Tez and Razor.  And he supposed that if he had actually given the situation some thought, he might have realized.  “But how do you know?” he asked Sariel.
         Sariel gave a careless shrug.  “Men talk, sometimes, when they are happy.  I remember much.”
         “Oh,” Chess repeated.  He closed his eyes briefly and tried again to block out thoughts of her with other men.  “Sariel?”  Gently, he took her hand, feeling his heart begin to pound as he looked into her dark eyes.  “Do you remember every man?”
         “Oh no,” she laughed, as if the idea was absurd.  And then she added thoughtfully, “Some.”
         “Is there…,” he ventured, feeling breathless now, “was there ever anyone you loved?”
         She frowned at him.  “Yes,” she answered impatiently, and started to turn away.
         He held tightly to her delicate hand.  “Someone from your village?” he persisted.
         “No.”  She sounded annoyed.  “He was a doctor at the hospital where I worked.”
         “Hospital?” Chess echoed in astonishment.  “When did you work at a hospital?”
         “After I left my village,” she answered flatly.  “Before I came here.”  She extracted her hand and began to walk away.  “Do you think we can get Princess to come back?” she called to him over her shoulder.  “Some of the women are eager to speak with her again.”  

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Sylvia: He watches, he drinks, and when he’s drunk too much, he talks in his sleep like all men.
Gregoire de Fronsac: Do I talk in my sleep?
Sylvia: Mmm hmm.
Gregoire de Fronsac: And I say...?
Sylvia: Encore... encore...
-Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

         In my story, vast areas of the country, some of which were once thriving suburbs and even cities, have been completely abandoned.  But I did not have to use my own imagination to determine what this future environment would be like, because, in The World Without Us, Alan Weisman did considerable research on this very subject.
         In his book, Weisman seeks to define what would happen to all of our man-made structures if we were no longer here to put in the energy to preserve them.  To carry out this investigation, he confers with industrial scientists and biologists, architects and the engineers who construct and maintain our infrastructure.  He looks at the history of what ancient wilderness was like before humans encroached on it and also visits some areas of the world that people no longer occupy, like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
         Some of his observations seem common sense, such as the way that plants will eventually overcome all of our concrete.  And some are surprising, like the way that newspapers can remain in readable condition at the bottom of dense garbage landfills.  Also, the list of materials that will persist, besides the obvious plastics, includes older materials like kiln-fired ceramic and the better-quality cement of bygone eras.  The author also describes the one destructive force that all homeowners fear: insidious water leaks.  But Weisman is not the apocalyptic pessimist that you might expect him to be, based on this one book.  I was surprised to realize that he is also the author of another book I have enjoyed, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, which I will mention in future blogs.

An angry Ent is terrifying. Their fingers, and their toes, just freeze onto rock; and they tear it up like bread-crust. It was like watching the work of great tree-roots in a hundred years, all packed into a few moments.
-Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien



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