Chapters Four, Five, Six
The agile primate swung hand over hand and foot over foot and by his tail too through the mossy branches and slippery vines. He was on his way forward and was making good time. He felt as though his journey might finally take him someplace. He could almost sense his monkey dear somewhere before him and all his will and commitment drove him toward her. It was then a beam of sun broke through the canopy.
The monkey swung into the bright sunlight of a wide clearing. Here the ground was solid and the plant life resembled that of the jungle he’d left behind. The swampy atmosphere receded and the air in its place was fresh and full of the scents of fruit and flower. It was strange though; the monkey neither heard nor saw a single living creature other than the silently stretching herbage.
He stood still at the edge of the glen, light pouring down upon his monkey head. Before his feet the grass was carpeted by tiny flowers clothed in myriad colors. These perfect four and five petal-ed buds waved in the slight breeze and our hero could not help but dreamily wander out into the open space. As he did so however the flowers closed upon themselves and their colors dimmed almost as the sun itself grew dim.
Though the flowers closed as the monkey passed through the field they opened again behind him. If one were there to watch him cross that open place one might get the sense that color was absent just around our hero but shone more brightly before and behind him, as if the flowers themselves supplied the color of the world. The monkey did not notice much of any of this however and he continued cross the clearing.
As he crossed the open glen he saw a pathway winding away through the trees on the far side. The path did not seem to be a normal game trail. Rather, it was very clear and packed down, almost seeming to be made of stone rather than dirt. And in fact, when he came up to the tree line he saw that it was indeed stone, square cut blocks perfectly interlocked with one another. Behind him the flowers gleamed.
For a long while our monkey stood before that stone path and looked it over. Who built this path? Where did it lead? A strange sensation was flowing from the forest before him and his animal instincts did not know what to make of it. It was the sense of plant growth and death, the loamy scent of the earth but it moved through him and through his nostrils and silently through his ears and subtly through his heart.
The monkey shook himself and stepped onto the stone path. As he began to walk he heard a rustling movement behind him. When he turned there was no clearing and there was no path. There was nothing but swaying jungle. He could see no way back and so he moved forward deeper into this mysterious place. As he walked on the pathway disappeared behind. Before him the stones dug deep into the jungle.
As he walked he saw the vegetation grow excessively exotic and begin to behave strangely. He was startled by giant flower buds erupting suddenly in massive petals just beside him or great fronds unrolling without a moment’s notice across his path. Thick vines roped down as if to catch him by the neck. Tree roots surfaced from the stones just before his feet.
The farther our hero forced his way through the vegetation the denser it grew around him. Soon he felt as if he could no longer press on. Just as he began to throw himself to the stones at his feet in despair there came a call threading through the green growth. He recognized this chatter instantly for it issued from the mouth of his mate. He jumped up from his stupor and vaulted through the tangle.
Sunlight poured upon the primate as he cleared the jungle’s grip. The line of trees stopped dead at a tidy clearing. Rising up before our monkey was a great edifice. The stone path led right to the stairs of this secret temple and its hard sandstone edges rose up to the sky, or so it seemed to the monkey. He saw carvings of familiar and unfamiliar animals covering the stones. More chattering drifted down to him.
The monkey looked up to the top of the temple. It stood out against the darkening sky. High at the top, where the pyramidal monument flattened out into a wide platform surrounding a central stone hut, he saw a small monkey form backed up to the precipice. Our hero let out a cheerful chirp but then he saw a monstrous form approach his lady. It was none other than Chthublious, the salamander king!
Our hero knew he could not now simply run from the danger. He had trekked this long path to find the lost love of his little life and now that he had found her he would not leave her for the slovenly mouth of some swampy salamander. Without further hesitation he clambered up the opposite side of the temple to alight on the wide top. The strange hut stood between our monkey and the tidal terror
The salamander had his back to our hero and upon his shoulders sat the lump of moss and grass like a silly jockey. Chthublious licked his lips as he looked upon the pretty monkey love.
“You tricked…me once…monkey king…but now…I’ll eat you…up!”
Our monkey gathered his courage up within his round belly and let out a thundering call.
“Chthublious! I am the monkey who tricked you. I am the one you want.”
The salamander king stopped his advance. His mouth closed and opened again. His tongue slipped out and around his mouth. Our hero stood still, just past the central hut, but looked into the eyes of his love who returned his wide-eyed gaze. Slowly the beast shifted his bulk to face the brave primate. His wide head swung on a wider neck to peer around the obstacle.
“Is it…you…Monkey King? When Chthublious finally faced the monkey his thick lips turned up.
“I am…hungry…monkey…very hungry. The long…toothed one…told me…I’d find…you here…and I know…a shortcut…to this place…but still…I was hungry…before…and now…I am ravenous. I will…eat you first…monkey who claims…to be king…and then I’ll eat…this one who seems…so important to you!”
Our hero puffed himself up.
“You can try,” he said.
The monkey glared into the cold shallow eyes of the approaching beast.
“Shake the ground swamp king. Strike fear into my heart with your stomping!”
Our hero backed up to the edge of the pyramid. It dropped steeply off behind him and was a very long way to the thick jungle below. His sensitive monkey paws gripped the stones and his long toes dug into the crumbling mortar. Chthublious began to stomp.
The monkey girl looked at her hero. Her eyes were wide and glossy but her mate looked over the monster and into those orbs. His were steady and resolute. Our hero looked back to the beast. Chthublious was stomping and stomping hard. The pyramid seemed to shake. The bits of mortar jumped and danced in the cracks.
“Is that the best you can do Swamp King? Your journey here must have tired you!”
“I am NOT…tired…little…monkey…fool! My shaking is the movement of the waters…and my quaking is the movement of the earth! I will show…you…how terrible I…can be.”
One foot up and then a fierce stomp. The temple shook. Second foot up and then a mighty stomp. The stones jumped. One foot stomp, other foot stomp, blocks of rock bounced and the beast put the weight of the world into his show.
The monkey’s maiden clasped her small hands together and brought them to her mouth but our hero projected a strong steady look her way. Meanwhile the stomping salamander shook the temple down to its deep roots. Large stones jumped from their seams. The monkey felt the blocks shift dramatically beneath his feet. Bits of stone and mortar tumbled down the pyramid slope behind him.
“Are you ready Salamander King? The monkey motioned to the beast.
“Come get me.” The swamp king opened his huge mouth and smiled.
“Are…you…ready little…monkey fool?”
“I am.” And the monster thundered toward our hero. The ground broke beneath his feet. The monkey girl saw her love disappear behind the massive form and she gasped.
“Oh my capuchin sweetheart!”
There was a moment that froze for our hero. He saw the approaching beast. He felt the stones crumble beneath his feet. He felt the open space behind him yawn for his life. He saw the destructive earthy elements within the salamander’s eyes. He leapt toward the swamp king’s face and planted his hands upon that flat head. He pushed upward and flew over the grass doll saddled upon the shoulders of the beast.
The monkey hero pulled into a tight midair flip and landed to watch Chthublious plant his slippery feet upon the crumbling rocks of that steep edge. The swamp king ground to a teetering halt, stones clattering down the pyramid side.
“I’ll give you a taste of your own powerful dance oh King of the mud.” And the clever primate stomped his flat foot down upon the stones.
Rocks cracked, blocks broke and stones slipped beneath Chthublious’s feet. The lumbering monster jerked as gravity took hold. That side of the ancient temple gave way and large chunks fell around Chthublious. His great form tumbled from the edge. A gurgling gasp escaped his wide mouth as he fell away. Branches snapped as he crashed through the distant canopy. The tree tops shook and waved but finally stilled and quieted. When certain the jungle had swallowed up that slippery terror our hero turned to meet the eyes of his love.
Finally nothing stood between the two, no vast jungle or deep swamp or thunderous beasts. Time slowed. He opened his arms wide. She opened her eyes wide. They smiled, bouncing toward one another, tails waving in the wind. They met beneath the doorway of that stone hut, clasped one another and promptly sat down to pick bugs from each other’s fur.
The daring primate sat with his fingers combing through her fur and munched on a mite. “My monkey love, I have to ask, why you ran from our jungle home and to this terrible land. Did I upset your tender countenance in some unforesee…eep…eep…een way?” The lovely monkey girl looked long into her hero’s eyes and pulled a flea from behind his ear.
“My brave capuchin, it was not you I ran from to this distant place.”
The monkey maiden sighed and looked up into the open sky.
“I sat quietly in our pleasant jungle but felt some deep unrest. I could not name this churning in my chest but knew that my peace was failing me. I was happy when I sat with you, my love, and swung upon the vines but I was not as happy as I wished to be. I wandered the canopy and pondered upon this feeling. It was then I heard a whispering voice.”
Our hero narrowed his eyes at this. His sweetheart continued.
“I hung from the trees and looked down upon our monkey troupe and the jungle we inhabit and I thought to myself that we could have more if we so desired. A hiss sounded next to my ear and I almost fell from my branch in surprise.
‘I knooow the sssorroww and desssire in your heart fair monkeeeey.’”
Our monkey’s girl continued to relate her story.
“A long serpent hung from the branches by my head and whispered secrets to me. He put a name to my nameless agitation. He told me the woman inside me longed for stability, safety and reliable sustenance.
‘A monkey queen like you longs to set down roots herself that reach far past the roots of these jungle trees.’ he said to me.
“The whisperings of the serpent placed visions within my head. I saw multitudes of monkey children laughing and playing, running across wide grass lands. I saw monkey men erect constructs like beehives and all the monkeys slept safe within. I saw a monkey man crouch before a bundle of twigs. He rubbed his hands together and fire as if from the sky leapt up to consume the bundle.
“It was as if I fell into a dream,” the monkey girl said. Above them the wind swept down and rustled their furry heads. Our monkey hero looked through the branches to the fluid sky.
“I saw in this vision our kind throw pointed sticks at the four legged beasts of the plain. I saw our kind garbed in bright colors and shining stones. I want these visions as truth for our kind.”
The monkey hero spoke finally.
“And how would we as an animal kind realize this fantastical dream?”
“That wondrous serpent gave me more than just the dream my love. He gave me the most sacred secret of all secrets.”
“What is a secret?”
“A secret, my heroic monkey man, is a dark and hidden place but made from words and knowledge rather than dirt and root. He told me the secret of a mystic fruit.”
At this point our monkey wanted to share his knowledge of the twisted serpent with his mate but she hurriedly expounded her story and so he remained silent and listened a while longer.
“The serpent told me of a fruit that has wondrous powers of transformation. This fruit awakens the sleeping potential for any creature that eats of it and it is good to eat and will make our kind great.
“The serpent gave me directions to this place and informed me that if I truly loved my kind and you, my monkey man, I would hurry away in secret to retrieve this sacred fruit for our betterment,” said the monkey lass.
“Now here we find ourselves atop the sacred pyramid and indeed we sit upon the stoop of this sacred fruit tree’s temple. Let us lay hands upon this future.” She turned her eyes upward and for the first time they looked upon a wide and wondrous tree grown up within that stone hut and laden with shining fruit. The roof of the hut was open and sunlight poured down upon the waxy leaves. Our hero took her hands and looked long upon her.
“My dear monkey love, I must tell you this same serpent sent me along behind you on the perilous path to save you from the hand of fate but now it seems such a hand belongs rather to the creature equipped not with arms but armed instead by forked tongue.”
“The serpent told me how to find you but asked in return that I bring back a bite of this sacred fruit. Now here we stand beneath these branches. I have my prize but am bound by promise. It may be foolish but if I do not fulfill my word I will lose my honor and be no different than this dirt-eating worm. We will not eat this fruit here my dear. We will return to our home with it and confront our deceiver.”
“And what of my vision? What of my dreams?” The monkey maid spread her arms to encompass the scope of her foreseen future.
“My outward heart,” he replied, “I too do share your dream and will carry it atop my shoulders for you and our kind but we are not the kind to sneak about below the tall grass. No my queen, it is time to return home with our true honor intact.”
Our monkey lass dropped her arms resignedly.
“If this way is the way it must be I will not argue. The way is not clear to me but I trust your judgement and I support your commitment to honor.” He lifted her head.
“If your dream is worthy of belief as I believe it not a fruit in the world is necessary for it’s fulfillment nor a serpent will stop it.” She smiled at him.
He reached up and took one large tender orb in hand, his strong thumb dimpling the flesh. The fruit separated from its branch with a pop while the leaves made a soft and lovely sound.
“Let us return home. We’ve been too long away.”
The heroic couple clambered down the crumbling pyramid with sacred fruit clutched in tail or hand and passed between them when necessary. They came to the dark canopy and swung away across the mossy branches. Below the swamp could be seen and a grass doll’s form rose up between two bulging eyes that did not even glance their way as they passed by overhead though some gurgled mumblings could be heard, something about ‘those wily…monkeys…’
It seemed easy going for the happy couple even with fruit in tow and even when they had to drop from the canopy to the loam at the swamp’s edge where the trees became impassable. Finally their verdant home was in view. The monkeys broke from the gloom into an easy light. The tree where the primate children sat was now empty and it was only after some time our pair took notice of the eery quiet.
No monkey chatter fell from the trees, no bird chirrups sounded from the canopy, no insects buzzed in the underbrush. Only the occasional rustle of wind moved through the leaves, or was it the wind? Our hero took the fruit from his girl’s paw and curled it up within his tail which he tucked behind his back. They slowly began to move forward to the heart of their home.
The pair came eventually to the stand of great trees that served as the monkey kind’s meeting place and still they found no friend or aquaintance along the way. Indeed they found no creature. Our primates stood surrounded by the rocking limbs and leaves, suddenly naked beneath the churning eye of the sky.
A sudden low “hiss” wormed its way into their ears and they turned to see the great serpent drop himself from the trees slowly to the dust.
“Welcome home my brave travellersss. Welcome back into your fold my entrepid and prodigal children,” the worm whispered. Our monkey queen lunged, teeth bared but her king took her ahold. The snake hardly seemed to notice.
“Ahhh…I sssee you’ve brought that which I’ve sssought.” He eyed the fruit intently.
“We have,” our hero replied, “but tell us where our monkey kind have gone. We’ve seen no one since our return.”
A look like the wind rustling briefly the leaves over the mouth of some hidden pit passed across the serpent’s sun absorbing scaled face. Then he spoke,
“Lovely ape of a woman, you remember the dream you had for the betterment of your kind.”
“Of course I do,” she snarled.
“I asssk the most graciousss lady only because it sseemss the resst of the monkey tribe hass alsso sssuddenly had this ssame vission and have ssspontaneoussly sset out for the open plainssss.”
“But you told me we must have the power of the sacred fruit to effect such a change.”
“Ssso I did and ssso you must but it wass beyond my skills for elocution that they were convinced otherwisssse.” Our hero spoke to the shifty one.
“So you say our kind has moved beyond this, our ancestral home, with no true hope for evolution of mind or body, no hope for salvation from the cruelties of our harsh world, and you say too that though you did your part to diswade them it was for naught but to watch them tromp away to certain doom?” The serpent put on a mask of wounded pride.
“It was not MY doing that sent them out to the jawsss of death. It is not MY fault that you monkeys are foolissssh furry fanaticsss that hurry into the waiting arms of Mother Oblivion. I have told you of the sacred fruit. I have guided you to the ssweet loversss’ reunion. It wasss I that put thisss vission into your empty coconut skullsss!
“All I asssked in return was a ssss ssssample of the ssame ssweet ssacred fruit, the sss ssstuff of dreams. Isss that not what you’ve brought back to me from the disstant dark landsss?” Our hero paused and thought for just a moment.
“Now I believe that when you and I made our bargain back atop the aviary trees it was not for a piece of the fruit but for the location of the sacred tree that you asked.”
“I have that information and will readily give it to you. But now it seems our monkey tribe has greater need for this fruit than any other I can see and my lovely bride and I must hurry away before fate falls too harshly atop the heads of our kind.”
The serpent laughed low and long.
“SSSSSSsssssss…sssilly monkey. Can you not sssee how this ssscenario musst play itssself out?”
“I knew the secret location from the beginning. I knew the weaknesss of your kind, both you and your wife. It wasss I who followed you through the darknessss. It wass I who turned the might of the earth upon you in that ssslimy aquatic form. It wass I who watched your battle atop the rock and heard you tell your love that honor must surpassss pride and the ssssimple sssself.”
The serpents eyes were cast low, as if he searched the dust for some secret. Our heroic pair stood close together and eyed him warily. The attack came as lightning, or as the strike of some fish hidden in the lightless depths. The strong corded form moved through space as if space parted before him and his coils held the pair together in a crushing embrace.
His tongue played at the ears of the startled monkeys. His words cut into their brains as his teeth might at any moment. “We the ssserpent tribe cannot grassp the unplucked fruit. We through curssse have been banned forever from taking the ripe harvesst for oursselvesss. Our legss have been struck from beneath usss. Our wingss have been ssstripped and our scaless fall alwayss as flaking tearss.
“How can we live forever as the lowesst of the low, the poissson of the earth? I will not have thiss ssshame any longer. I will bear this trial no more. Only thosse with the two-sssided brain and tool-turning thumbss can pluck this blessing down. And ssso I usssed you for thiss end and now that the end hasss come I’ve no more need for your furred formss.”
The scaled lips parted. The jaws stretched wide to reveal an inner mouth soft and white as snow. The teeth folded down and shone with sparkling saliva and darker venom. The serpent’s pupils contracted to sharp dark lines. Our primative heroes watched with awe their reflections shrink and finally disappear within those endless orbs. Coil after muscular coil turned above as their captor prepaired to strike.
Our monkey turned his eyes to face his wife. He looked deeply at her and said,
“Do not worry my love. If our bodily end is tied to this roping monster we will not have reached our true end but rather our truer beginning. If you believe in your vision you will see we are not only this bone and muscle and hairy body but something more, bright and luminous as the sun that warms us.
“We too are something dark and solid as the round ground that bears us up. Have faith in faith my love. Face this void without fear or regret.” She responded in turn,
“My faithful companion, you speak no truer words than these. I too see past our fleshy veil into and beyond all understanding. Now, though fear shakes my blood, courage stills my heart. I will tromp willing into the mouth of death with you by my side.” The serpent laughed,
“SssssssSSSSssss…Death issss all you will ever now know my tender children. Lay down atop the sssacrificial ssslab and take thesse poissoned pointss deep within your heart and sss soul. There is no faith left in this tortured land but the faith that ssstrength and cunning bring. The wingsss to return me to the heavenss I will ssstitch with the coursse fur sshed from your poisoned bodiessss.”
His teeth flashed with finality, reflecting light from the setting sun. Our couple clutched one another tight and prepaired for the end. But rather than the sharp pain of needles entering skin an altogether different sense pierced the tension. A low drumming sounded through the dusk and umbrage. The snake paused in mid strike, his delicate sensory organs registering the deep vibration.
Louder and louder came the sound. Where before the jungle seemed to hold its breath now it thrummed and danced with the drum. The serpent drew back from his captives and turned his flat head this way and that. His slivered eyes rolled across the scene. Still the drum noise grew in their ears and brains until finally a strange sight accompanied the sound. What a strange and wonderful sight it was.