"In any case," he continued, "it all worked out all right because the cliff dwellers simply hid. They all survived the attack."
"That's good," I said.
"Not exactly... 'Cause by hiding, they gave something away."
"The leader's daughter?"
He laughed. "You just won't say chief."
I grinned. "You tell stories your way, and I'll tell 'em mine."
We both found that funny.
"No, the Indian princess was safe. And don't blame me for calling her that... I can see you flinching. But it's what my dad always called her. He may be one-quarter Apache, but he's always considers that quarter Indian."
"My grandmother's the same way," I admitted. "At least, she was when she was younger. Now, she goes the politically correct route."
"I try. But not in this story."
"What do you call the young warrior?" I asked. "If we have the chief and the Indian princess?"
"He's always the young warrior. The story's called the Warrior and the Princess. 'Tell us the story of the Warrior and the Princess,'" he suddenly said, in a much higher voice. "Even I knew better than beg, 'Tell us the story of The Massacre.'"
He said that in his normal voice.
"You're probably twisting this," I joked. "Like your story of creation."
"No... I try not to," he answered seriously. "I try to keep to the facts, so that when everyone dies, it doesn't seem depressing."
"Well, most of the Apaches get away. Otherwise, there'd be no one to tell the story."
"Most of them?"
"Yeah... you gotta kill a few for reality... The newly married one... The one with the half-lame horse..."
"Technically, they didn't have horses yet... Those came with the Spanish..."
"I know... I'm pretty well up on my bows and arrows... And I know when they replaced spears... and when rifles replaced them."
He suddenly stopped and asked, "What time is it?"
I didn't know. I don't normally wear a watch, and there wasn't a clock in the living room.
"I'll check," I said.
"No, I'm just saying it's late, and I'm taking the long way around this." He paused again, then took another deep breath and seemed to summarize. "OK, there were the cliff dwellers. There were the young Apaches. There was the handsome warrior. And there was the Indian princess who fell in love..."
"Then there was the surprise attack. The hidden cave. And I think that's where I left off. But I've got to explain something else first. When I was a kid, I always figured the cliff dwellers lived on the top of the cliffs... Kind of in mud... adobe... houses, sort of like treehouses. And when enemies came, the cliff dwellers simply pulled up their ladders and were safe."
"A lot of people think that."
"A lot of people are wrong."
"When did you find out?"
"When I started looking at pictures... The cliff dwellings are at the bottom of cliffs... stacked against hills or mountains... And the whole community is sometimes inside an open, protected cave. There are ladders, but they lead to houses higher up. And there are ledges and sharp drops, but no real places to hide. So when the dwellings were attacked, the people left them completely and hid in other caves... secret ones..."
"Like my family's."
"Like your family's only..."
And he stopped again.
"Only... larger," he finished. Though he didn't sound completely convincing. "Yours would never fit all the cliff dwellers."
"So there was this second cave? This bigger one?"
"Or connected one..."
He said it, but I still thought he was covering something. Because a 1000 people could fit in our cave. It's not like they had to live there or be comfortable. They could be crammed in overnight, like the English in the subways during the Blitz. I told Cory this, and he seemed to think it over.
"As long as they could be sealed in," he decided.
"For the massacre?"
"How did that happen?"
Again, he hesitated.
"Well, the larger group of warriors appeared... and they were probably also Apaches, just to confuse things. Because there were a lot of Apaches in those days, and they were always beating up on each other. There were a lot of buffalo to eat, but there were even more Apaches. And there weren't just good Apaches and bad Apaches. There were only hungry ones."
"So the hungriest Apaches attacked the cliff dwellers..."
"And the cliff dwellers hid in the secret caves... Only for some reason the Indian princess gave away their location to the handsome warrior."
"He didn't discover it just by watching?"
"He could have."
"But that's not how you've been told the story?"
Cory smiled. "Actually, it goes both ways."
"She could just have been in love?" I offered.
"That's more what we're told."
"Love causes a lot of trouble."
He smiled again.
"Anyway, after the large group of warriors took everything they wanted, and the cliff dwellers came out to repair what was left... the smaller group of young warriors went home."
"But they took with them the location of the secret cave."
"Yeah. And then they came back with a war party... a huge one. And the young warriors faked a small attack so the cliff dwellers would hide. Then the large group sealed the cave and killed almost everyone in it."
"Well, the Indian princess escaped. She went off with the handsome warrior. That's the happy ending."
"From the Apaches' point of view."
"From some Apaches' point of view... Remember, they were all Apaches."
"You're trying to distract me."
"Yeah, you are. Tell me how the princess escaped. So I don't think about the dead people."
Again, he hesitated. Then he shrugged. "Now that's always been the mystery."
And he laughed and seemed really nervous. I waited, but he didn't go on.
"It has something to do with the caves," he finally admitted. "Though it has more to do with the magic stream."
"The Magic Stream?"
He'd almost mumbled that.
"Yeah, that's the part I've been trying not to tell you. It's why... well, before... when I said they needed a larger cave... Well, of course, they didn't. Your cave is just fine... it could fit over a 1000 people. But the magic stream is where everything falls apart..."
I thought about that. It did seem stupid. But I still wanted to know what happened.
"Go on," I told him. "Say I get past the magic part. What happens next?"
He looked at me, as if there was something even more unbelievable.