Chapters Seven, Eight, Nine, Epilogue
The jungle ferns and bushes shook and parted. A monkey troop, their own, began to file out of the green depths. The serpent hissed and lifted his coils high. Still he held our heroic pair wrapped tight.
“Where are my brother-sssnakesss?” But as these words escaped his scaled lips he saw and knew. The monkeys triumphantly banged on drums made from coiled branches and stretched hide, the spotted skins of snakes.
They held long serpentine bodies above their heads and danced with alert vigor. The king snake drew a long hissing breath at the sight of this defeat. Still, he did not uncoil from his hostages. The monkeys continued to file in and then they stopped and grew quiet and solemn. Here more monkeys carried pallets made from fern and leaf and atop these pallets were the still bodies of four monkeys.
The primates sent up a chant.
“Here lie our fallen brothers, those who bit the snakes even as the snakes bit back. Poison ran quickly through their blood but freedom ran faster. Take these fallen souls and reunite them with the truth! We remember their names: Water-Wader, Banana-Peel, Palm-Leaf-Roll and Grub-Grabber. These are our liberators.”
These heroes were set upon the ground and the tribe turned toward the great snake. The oldest monkey stepped forward from the troup. The hair along his back shone silver in the jungle light. He began to speak and his bowed back straightened with every word.
“These snakes, these twisted serpents, hoped to push us from our home and drive us from the sheltering canopy into the burning sun where four footed beasts with claws roam intent to spill blood.
“These slave drivers pushed us far from home and willed to push us farther but in our heart of hearts we began to resist. We slowed our march even as they threatened toxic fangs and crushing coils. They whipped us with their stiff tails but still we stumbled and rolled. Finally four of our most brave and noble kin could take no more and driven by celestial courage rose up to shake their snake-chains free.
“These four fallen heroes lept upon our captors and sunk long teeth into spines, as many spines as they could find even as the serpents bit back. These heroes died with snake skin in their teeth. We all rose up upon their death and those we could not kill we drove away into the brush. Now we march back the long distance to our home only to find the king serpent has coiled around our kin and our future.”
The snake tightened his grip on our two heroes even as he rose up and held his head as if he hung in air.
“Ssstay back fool monkey tribe and do not take a ssstep clossser. I will bite through thesse neckss as if they were dried leavesss.”
Our hero spoke even as his breath was pressed from his lungs.
“Brave monkey kin, you have risen up against oppression and shown yourselves to be a most noble and free breed.
“Now, do not fear for our lives but shed this snake skin. Cast the serpent from our garden and take claim of your true future beneath the sky. If death must come now for us we will die and know that our tribe will continue strong and free,” he said.
The serpent hissed.
“Sssilence little monkey. I decide when your life is free or forfeit.
“More sssnakes will rise from the dussst at my behesst to sssweep your sssilly blood from the floor of thisss jungle.” Now our maiden monkey spoke.
“My mothers and children and sisters and brothers, my fathers. Listen to my words now too and put out these wicked sounds of a most wicked creature. I’ve had a bright dream of our future where we are free to roam through trees and fields and even across the shining sea.
“I dreamed the ingenuity of our kind and the great feats we might accomplish, the great accomplishments we might create. Do not now let this tempter turn you from this bright future. If one or two or three die now at least our children and the children of our children will be born free and not born to move from the coils of a serpent to the belly.”
“You ssstupid female. I will kill you all without remorse if it comesss to that,” said the snake. But now it was too late and the monkey tribe was roused and they rushed forward to free their kin though not before the serpents struck. He struck quick as lightning.
For anyone present who witnessed the following there was little more than sun glinting off teeth, sun glinting of the widening monkey eyes full of shock and surprise, sun glinting off waxy leaves, sun glinting off snake scales that moved like a light beam. Then the movement was over. Long serpent teeth were sunk deep in perspiring flesh.
It was not the flesh of monkey that the sinuous enemy pierced. It was not blood that flowed from broken skin. It was shining fruit juice. The serpent held the sacred fruit in maw and left our heroes standing dumb and numb as he skated away across the dust to stop beneath a great mango tree. The monkeys shook the sudden stupor from their nerves and looked upon their enemy. The juice flowed down his throat and splashed upon the ground. His muscular length twitched to work the orb down his gullet and once it disappeared down that dark hole there was nothing but silence. For a whole eternal moment only silence.
A ‘crack’ sounded out suddenly, as if some great bone had snapped or perhaps as though the earth herself had broken in two. The ground shuddered and the trees shook. A mighty wind picked up and blew through the glade. The monkey tribe ducked their heads and shielded their eyes. A magnificent and awful spectacle met them once the wind died down and they looked up.
The serpent convulsed upon the ground and his length kicked dust into the air and he turned back and forth. One could see the bones of his body stretching and lengthening. And then four limbs burst out from his belly and those arms grew long claws and the claws raked the dirt. The sounds coming from his mouth could have been in joy or pain, one could not tell.
Two swells pressed up from his back before they too erupted and unfurled as wide leathery wings that beat the air as if on their own accord. Still the serpent turned upon the ground. Feathers finally burst from his scales to complete his transformation and then he was still. The bravest monkeys (our heroes included) looked on with morbid fascination while the rest huddled in the shadows of the trees.
The long muscled body twitched, feathers ruffled in the wind. The serpent shook himself, purposefully now and rose up on his newly sprouted limbs. His head rose up to take in the jungle and then the wide sky. A sigh escaped his scaled lips. He turned, set the monkeys in his sights and a wicked grin stretched across his mouth.
Movement occurred instantly. The monkeys scattered as the serpent skittered across the ground toward them. His wings hung behind and waved like palm leaves. Our heroes made for the closest tree, the very same climbed at the start of our monkey’s quest for his girl. The couple now scrambled from branch to branch just ahead of the snapping fangs of the dragon.
A limb snapped beneath the paws of our lovely monkey lass and she slipped but her partner reached down to grab her by the hand. The branch tumbled down and caught the dragon square on his cold nose. He hissed in anger and dropped from the trunk. But he did not fall. Those terrible and beautiful wings began to flutter and flap and hold him aloft. He rose.
Such a magnificent and malificent sight, the sinuous serpent born aloft on brightly feathered wings. His fresh claws clutched the air. “I am coming for youuuuu,” he said. Our monkeys lept from branch to branch, climbing higher and higher. Finally, they burst free into the sunlit canopy top of the jungle. A vast blue sky stretched overhead though dark clouds hung on the horizon.
The monkey pair hunkered down amid the broad leaves and fanned branches. They waited for the treacherous snake to rise. And rise he did. Those wings spread upward over the canopy top like twin rainbows before a storm and they lifted up an angled head filled with needle fangs, a long twisting body with razored limbs, a tail that whipped fiercly.
The advarsary did not immediately strike at our heroic couple for reasons we may never know. Instead he continued his ascent. The sky opened up around the evolved tempter. Broad rays of radiant light poured down about him. The sun flared brightly behind his curling form. That light shone through the colored feathers and bathed the jungle roof in refracted wonder.
But for their hard fear the monkeys almost fell on their faces before that vision. Still, their hatred and anger won out and they simply watched this impending doom fill the sky. Down on the ground the rest of the tribe sent up a whoop and hollar to start the jungle ringing. Frogs joined in, bugs, jungle cats, rodents, the whole menagerie added their call. This din rose up as an invisibly solid animal form.
One might almost hear its words,
“Lo Oh wise and bitter serpent. Lo there brave primates. Oh come down upon us with mercy wide Lord of the Jungle and the Earth. Turn us from our foolish circlings. Turn us to the straightest path so that we too might rise upon the winds and star-tails and return to You.” The serpent laughed.
“Sssilly lowly beastssss. Why caussse sssuch a ruckusss with your lassst breath?”
Below the jungle creatures hummed away. Above the serpent turned and curled in the sky. Sun flashed through the dark shadows of his coils. Between our monkey pair held on the the high branches and braced for some certain end. In their ears there was a rising tone, a low vibration issuing perhaps first from the beasts on the ground, or perhaps some hidden sacred tone only heard when on the banks of death’s cold shore.
No matter the source of this frequency it rose in intensity and scope, beginning in the ears, moving to the skull, shuddering down the jawbones, flinching the neck, the shoulders, turning the belly to pulsing energy. Now for our hero-duad there was little more than the sound and the light.
Their flying foe became nothing more than a whisp of cloud before the blazing sun even as his solid shadows split the jungle floor between light and dark. The jungle receded from their minds. Future, present, past fell away as dry husks. There was no sacred fruit, no crumbling ruin, no arduous journey, no twisted snake. There was light. And sound. Union.
A booming shriek shredded this vision. This call obliterated all previous reality. All creatures froze. A great shadow fell upon the canopy top, but not from the serpent. This shadow decended from behind the snake but before the sun. As uncomprehension crossed his face the snake turned toward the darkened solar orb. Time hardly moved. Our pair looked up, their faces blank and awefilled.
What was it that fell from the bright sky? With vengence and fury a great eagle struck the serpent as lightning strikes trees. Iron wings flapped forward to envelop the snake. Talons clutched forward at the scaled coils. The snake turned his head to strike his attacker but a cleaving beak caught him on the neck, just behind his jaws. Far below the monkeys shielded their eyes from the glare.
They saw the eagle drop and tackle the snake. They saw the distant form twist in the eagle’s grasp. They saw the snake attack but did not see the eagle’s own swift strike. They did however see a small dark object pop off and drop away. The terrible serpent’s head tumbled into the wild jungle and his body went limp just after. The eagle proceeded to snip the snake to bits.
This was the great deciever’s end. His coils dropped away as the eagle lifted up upon wide wings into the bright oblivion of the sun. Our monkey couple simply sat atop the high branches and held each other. They did not speak. It was many hours later before they worked their way down to the ground. The animal chorus had long since subsided and all was silent but for the humble jungle hum.
Later that same night, as the stars formed advanced geometry in the distant void and the full moon swung slow across the sky’s dark pathway, our monkeys joined their tribe around a large termite mound. Sticks striped of leaves and knobs were passed liberally around and the troop feasted upon the juicy insects. Their fury bodies danced long under the silver disc in celebration of everlasting liberation.
Years later two young monkeys, a boy and a girl, scamper in the underbrush through the deepest jungle paths. They play a game of tag. The girl monkey runs quickly, keeping just out of her playmate’s reach. Perhaps he allows her to do so but regardless they race at top speed, leaves and branches whipping against them. Above a flock of colored birds keep with them, dipping and diving through the canopy.
For hours they run like this, laughing and chattering, far now from their tribal home of straw and leaf beds high in the trees. Their is something familiar about the girl monkey. Perhaps it is the way she leaps over logs and swings from low branches that remind us of the monkey couple we met years ago. Perhaps it is that all monkeys look alike to our eyes.
Finally she bursts free into a wide clearing. Here the air is heavy with humidity and pollen. Monsterously beautiful flowers cover the ground. They wave as if by some breeze but there is no breeze. There is only a massive tree in the center of the grove. It rises up above the surrounding jungle trees and its trunk is many monkeys wide. The pair slowly approaches this arbor.
Subtly the great tree turns its branches to the couple as they step under its shade. She gasps as she spies a whitened skull protruding from the bark. Here and there are sections of vertebrae imbedded too. The bones are from some creature the pair has never seen but perhaps has heard of in old stories told by the eldest of their tribe. No creature such as this has been seen in a generation.
The pair looks up and there in the low branches hang golden orbs that glisten with dew and sugar water. A strange magic begins its work upon the pair. Their mouths water, their eyes widen, their fingers grasp at air. And she reaches up. It may even seem that the fruit she reaches for drops to her hand because moments ago it was certainly out of arm’s length.
She plucks the fruit, turns it over, smells it, slowly she tastes the dew and finally she opens her mouth and takes a bite. Nothing dramatic occurs that we can see. But we see she enjoys the fruit immensely. She hands it to her companion and he too takes a bite. His eyes brighten. There they stand and share the fruit before collecting a few more. They turn from that spot and head home.