Xaxxyn Wuju peered through the opening of the cave, disappointed to find the sun no less blurry than the day before.
...or the day before that.
The world was a hazy, black smudge, and across the plains and distant mountainsides light was cast as if by a vanishing dusk or harvest moon, the ash ever present and ever thickening, closing in, stinging his lungs.
...stinging all their lungs.
The ash was in his temples now, and he tried to rub it away and rub the throbbing pressure too, but nothing.
They were all drowning in bad air.
He slumped to his knees and wheezed to catch his last breaths, Xaxxyn's bloodshot eyes lifting to scan the village lake outside the cave entrance where atop its murky waters the fish had been swarming for days: some bobbing, some finning sideways, and others belly up altogether. It didn't take an above-average, Mesolithic kid to know why fish were bobbing: because they were dying too, of course, like the beasts beyond the village that had coughed and spat and toppled over in the mountain valleys day after day, leading up to this, which meant, of course, that he would soon topple over same as them, same as all his people were toppling, everyone alike, old and young.
Behind him, like a cave of belly-up cockroaches, they lay: His family. Could be heard sprawled about moaning and clutching their guts, some coughing up blood and others spitting up blood - some even bleeding from the eyes and all of them sickly pale, just like Xaxxyn was, which was particularly distressing since all these people were deep, dark, almond brown.
It was 11,453 BC.
Then suddenly, like armageddon, came monsters tall as paperbark trees: hairless, dressed in garments of steel, swaying like liquid metal - like the world itself had opened up and molten power had marched forth from over the mountaintops and up from the distant valleys, there stomped such great creatures and vessels quaking the Earth, making it rock, as they made a beeline to Xaxxyn’s village.
Beneath his aching, kneeling knees, he could feel the crescendoing vibrations. Wheezing with death, Xaxxyn looked to the left and right of him and noticed the stones and pebbles were dancing wild like swarming fleas around his thin and dirty shins.
Behind the spectacular squadron of gold and blue and red-uniformed beings there rolled a fleet of machines so grand and imperceptible that Xaxxyn, rising now, teetering to his feet, became so suddenly beside himself with such fear and horror that he could only blink at the flashing lights and the strange smokes that emitted from these godly chariots, and the steams and roars and buzzes that belched from them as they thundered forth down the distant slopes and up the steep ravines, almost now to his village, sparring with their spewing white puffs of exhaust against the ashen, dirty darks of the atmosphere.
“Chaaxolq…” Xaxxyn coughed over his shoulder, but it was no use. He was absolutely out of air.
“Uns xad fedta,” he spoke to his dying family in the cave behind, his quavering voice too weak to rise above the decibels of the magnificent machines.
Surely this was the end.
What a strange time to be alive.
As the gods reached his village, then congregated by the shore, Xaxxyn ducked behind the cave wall and dared to peek out with a wide, charcoal-colored eye. He could see his neighbors were peeking now too, the Stone-Tree girl from her neighboring cave who he used to play with, as the machines arranged themselves in a semi-circle, grinding to a halt uniformly, each vessel announcing its full-stop by blasting an ear-shattering note in some harmonious orchestra of otherworldly hums.
Some idled on round, black circles; others idled on nothing at all - they rather hovered just off the ground as if on wheels of magic or as if, perhaps, they were merely the heavenly chariots of the gods themselves – Xaxxyn’s gods - and rode on the shoulders of his ancestors' dead souls.
The gods themselves.
And after a moment’s pause, as Xaxxyn and the village watched on from their cave dwellings, the tallest among these alien creatures stepped forth, motioning with three of her six arms. She was glorious, like the sun, her face of beige but eyes of yellow - the only yellow eyes amongst her clan. Instantly, with a mighty jolt, a machine she'd hailed (a gargantuan vehicle, a silvery thing, easily as big as a small mountain and certainly as wide as eight stacked evergreens) jolted forth with power like Xaxxyn had never seen, and approached the blackened lake.
He stepped out into the dim light now, too infatuated by the proceedings to be afraid now, as the behemoth’s wheels rolled to a stop adjacent to the lake shore. Then, what happened next, it must have been a sign from the constellations: Plunging forth from the belly of the silvery monster were two large corrugated tubes, and deep into the murky waters they went; then, somehow, with amazing power, with an ear shattering whirr from deep within the guts of the titan machine, one tube began to suck up undrinkable lake water, while the other began to gush out clean, clear, ash-free water.
Xaxxyn could tell from where he stood: The lake was almost instantly crystalline blue and the fish (who'd also been sucked up and spat back out) suddenly darted around again. Somehow their life-giving lake was healthy and alive, thank the gods.
Then the machine rolled back a few yards, and as the giant six-armed creature approached the lakeside and gazed out over the waters, her two large, yellow eyes darted back and forth.
She was inspecting the work.
Satisfied, she turned and nodded a kind of approval. The lake behind her rippled clear as quartz.
Xaxxyn turned and his family was there, everyone peering out over his shoulder at this transformation. Their blood-stained, fear-filled eyes searched his face for answers.
“Unka dewdoq,” he whispered to them, pointing a thumb to the lake.
The lake was clean, he said.
Xaxxyn’s father, Boqdroq, gazed down at his thirsty, dying children, and nodded in surrender. Spanning his arms, he corralled them and then led his family forth, all stumbling after him, all limping like a beaten squadron toward the lakeside and between the towering machines and, hopefully, toward a life-saving drink.
As they crept between the row of stoic creatures - who had all turned to gaze down at the family now - Xaxxyn looked up and noticed their strange, translucent eyes – aqua eyes that seemed to ripple like water as they stared down. Xaxxyn’s father lifted his hands to show he meant no harm, then pointed to the lake before them and to the blistered lips of his wife who coughed silently into her hand, who reached out to pull her children in tight.
And that's when the tall god, who'd overseen the lake cleansing, with the yellow eyes, lifted her enormous feet and stepped aside, allowing the Wujus safe passage. Xaxxyn watched his father study her and think it over for a moment, a being who could just as easily squash them like ants as anything else, rather than give them a drink.
But gruesome death never came.
Down by the lake’s edge, his family kneeled, yet as Xaxxyn bent over a coughing fit like no other had ever overtaken him began to manifest itself. Through hot tears he coughed into the lake, trying hard to catch his breath, his lungs rattling and cracking as his family paused with clean water in their cracked hands to look over at him with sympathy. As Xaxxyn continued to convulse and shake, he could feel the tall leader god stepping behind him, casting him in a long, dim shadow. Xaxxyn straightened up and winced, spitting one last time into the clean waters, finally catching his breath, and stared at the rippling giant behind him in the water's reflection.
Then he stood and turned to face her, her translucent eyes studying and peering into him, it seemed, and somehow, she seemed to convey something that felt like humanly compassion. He could feel it soundly.
And then, with a mighty, flesh-like finger, she reached out and touched a streak of blood on his chin, blood he had coughed up, which made Xaxxyn’s mother leap up and stand between them.
She withdrew her giant finger and nodded - she waved six arms down at Xaxxyn's mom in understanding.
Then she stepped back and motioned for another machine.
This time, a ship jolted forth that resembled a pair of giant coconut halves stuck together, but open ends out: a machine that hovered and was about half as tall as a small mountain and as wide a six hefty boulders. At the six-armed god’s request, its engine revved with the cry of a million eagles and the coconut shells quaked violently. Somehow through the left shell, it began to suck in the dirty, ashy air of their world and through the right shell, it spat out clean, breathable air onto Xaxxyn and his village.
Millions and millions of gallons of clean air poured out from the machine, like a wondrous and welcome cyclone, covering their village instantly, and Xaxxyn could feel it instantly: he and his family were being pelted with renewed, ash-free, life giving oxygen, and he found it was medicine to his very bones.
As the air entered his lungs and he gasped and choked and coughed out the old, terrible air, he could feel the suddenly nourishing elements flooding in like water to all parts of his body: out to his fingertips, all the way up to his throbbing head and out to the tips of his toenails where instantly there was relief. Sweet, long-awaited relief. It was as if he'd been smothered by a sheep's hide for weeks now and suddenly, it had all been lifted. Through blurry eyes he gazed up and smiled at the god, lifting his hands to her, then peered out across the lands beyond her giant feet to what was now a zone, a bubble, of clean air all the way out to the mountains where beyond it was still dark, the region where the clean air had not yet reached.
Then the whole village came pouring forth from their caves, who’d hid from sight until now but now basked in the clean air and took in huge, reviving lungsful while coughing gleefully, flocking down to the clean lake like wild geese and drinking greedily, splashing joyously in the waters, hollering, laughing, celebrating. Xaxxyn and his family cackled and followed suit, suddenly refreshed by the wondrous clean air around them and the water in their veins and the vast amounts of drinkable water to come, and the renewed fishes and renewed world - they all scurried back to the lakeside to take in the delicious nourishment. As it coursed through his veins, and the clean air through his chest, he was suddenly like a person again.
Maybe they were saved.
That’s when, from the heavens, at the giant god's beckoning, one last, heavenly machine descended: the sleekest of all of them, easily as tall as a towering cypress tree, but only as wide as a large boulder – like a silver, celestial snake, or a worm.
On front of this vessel spun a large, rotating spiral, and as it neared the ground the spiral began to turn ever faster, more and more furiously now with each passing second, its humming and whirring ear-shattering as it floated ever downward. The god then waved all her arms toward the various caves nearby and ushered the village to take shelter quickly, and obediently, Xaxxyn’s family and the villagers all retreated to their homes, lingering just long enough in the cave openings to peek out and to see what just might come next.
Clean air from the coconut machine continued to blow liberally into the caves as they watched the descending machine, as it reached the ground and finally, with its rotating spiral, it tore into the earth.
Bearing down now, sending huge chunks of dirt and rock and Earth’s crust flying while crystalline vents on all sides of the machine began to open and suck those flying chunks in - every pebble, every piece of crust, all of it caught like a leopard's mouth inhaling dear meat, leaving no earth or boulders or earth crust ever strewn about - it dug.
Then the diving machine was gone, off into the deep Earth, leaving nothing behind but a vibration beneath their feet. In its wake, a 17-foot-wide hole in the ground remained. Then the six-armed-god motioned the villagers back outside to corral them around this hole, and presenting it to them, she pointed downward, off into the blackness.
Xaxxyn looked down past her fingertips and could see the tail end of the ship still descending, about 40 yards below into the earth, and from its tail, perhaps ias a conversion from the chunks it had taken in, it had lined the side walls with golden, keenly inscribed bricks.
They were shiny and beautiful and were like nothing Xaxxyn had ever seen before - like treasure from the gods.
The entire hole shined from the Earth like the sun.
"This takes you safely to the other side," she said, "where you can be safe from the falling star." She was speaking in their own tongue, he realized. How did she know their language?
"You must jump to get there," she continued, "but do not worry. You will be safe. Just grab the side wall when you get to the other side. The place you will find there, it will make a good home for you. Much better than this place." She looked around at the quickly deteriorating world just outside the bubble of fresh air and frowned with her sparkly lips.
“Yaard-gontaah,” exclaimed Xaxxyn. He waved his arms up at her in protest. There was simply no way: he was petrified of heights.
"You can," she encouraged, "you must do it, if you want to live. But once you get there - and heed this, all of you, village - whatever may come, do not jump back down the hole. This hole is made for one trip only, and after that, there can be no more." She bent lower to them and raised her arms in warning. "Multiple trips can be extremely dangerous! Our bricks have strong characteristics for you. More than one trip can be deadly. Please hear this."
Not to worry, thought Xaxxyn, as he looked back down into the earth. As deep as this hole was, one trip would certainly be enough.
Later that day, at three in the morning North America time, Xaxxyn and his village climbed up from the hole, one by one, safe and sound.
They were welcomed by a blast of cool, clean air, a brilliant starry sky, and a slew of healthy beasts off in the field grazing peacefully.
Strange beasts, they were, unlike any the villagers had ever seen before.
They were the first American settlers, Xaxxyn and his village, and as they waved goodbye to the last benevolent machine of the gods, as it rose into the sky with its big spiral whirring and blinking with otherworldly lights, they then turned their focus to the strange land, and finding shelter, and to building a new life here in this world.