Arejuvenating blush blossomed in Mungs bewhiskered jowls; it was good to be back in the lap of unspoiled Wilderness picking her way through foliage with sure-footed ease swinging, on occasion, just for the fun of it a lovely lubrication infusing her knees and elbows limbs limber among the limbs eating, defecating, urinating, sipping rain water from branch crooks napping, navigating wherever, whenever she pleasedthough counterpoised by the droll exigencies of savagery itchily aware of being fed upon by lice, ticks, and fleas (not to mention more microscopic parasites); the dog eat dog of life played itself out on every scale big mouths, with appetites to match, prowling the landscape for bite-size morsels (a strike, a clutch, a snap of the jaws could turn Mungs flesh into food, for any number of sneakier, stealthier, more powerful creatures) her proneness to injury compounding the hazards (euphoria of youths brief comeback no contest in a habitat strict in enforcing its one-false-step rule) status as the jungles brainiest denizen (therefore capable of imagining demise) weighing upon Mungs consciousness with equal, depolarizing influence, as she came to re-understand the Golden Meanmade poignant by her indefatigable isolation. Where were her kinfolk? Evidence of their presence, to date, had been circumstantial. Could her five senses have withered so severely to have shriveled the Sixth and most important, diminishing her ability to detect and commune with her peers? Surely their telepathy had signaled Mungs approach. Unless the distance dividing them had widened not narroweda likelihood the lost monkey posed more and more, her reclaimed bliss discolored by a bluesy loneliness then by frustration then by despair.
Graves! In a clearing rendered conspicuous by its aura of vacated entities, Mung came upon the telltale Litters of Last Remembrance. She counted six of the intricate structures. Too many. Normally erected in honor of an Elders passing, one would have caused no alarm. Two deaths, simultaneously, would have been rare, though not unprecedented. But six in a troupe typically comprised of twenty-odd individuals, was a calamity. Still smoldering in the diagonal beams of late-afternoon Sunlight, reed-woven mats, up on stilts, had been reduced to cobweb-thin ash (by Flint, whose memory sparked a fire-and-brimstone heritagethough Mung and her kind, long-familiar with the Elements, chose not to manipulate them except under extraordinary circumstances). Rubble of reverend bones, most turned to powder, sprinkled the soil underneath. Mung sniffed around in hopes of finding a sibling a cousin a friend. The pyre had done its work, however; nothing was left behind to which a soul might clingMung sighednothing whatsoever. Does an orchid owe a debt of gratitude to the compost on which it flourishes? No; Mung answered her own question. Gratitude was a given within an ecosystems spheretribute, worship, thanks-giving mere symptoms of Incomprehension, and dangerous for a species both conscious and committed to staying Entire, evolving Full Circle, as exemplified by the least of the Lesser Apes (not to mention whales, and dolphinsthough Mung had no pretensions about the philosophy of sea creatures; it simply stood to reason that Reason thrivedbent by Man alone into self-serving shapes).
Heartened and saddened alike, Mung circled the scorched periphery, nosing each square inch in hopes of catching her brethrens scent strong, at last fresh!
She followed it, with worry-ridden eagerness, into the deepest of the forests dark green depths wherein:
birds swallowed their own song
bees lodged in the protective throats of flowers
gnats took refuge on the underside of leaves
boars, in the bush, refrained from rooting
mosquitoes from whining
a heavy-handed hush stifled each and every peep
like an abductors palm clapped tight
over the mouth of a frightened virgin.
Mung, grown aware of her own panting, her accelerated pulse, paused mid-stride stock-still as if in close proximity to a predator poised-to-pounce listening watching sampling the supercharged atmosphere with all her enfeebled might detecting
Or maybe something?
A gnawing sound, scarcely audible, issued from a source she ventured to pinpoint without success until she chanced a pair of ultra-cautious strides, the branch beneath her trembling like a tightrope, nerves impossible to quell in her quivering, stretched-taut tail, staring down at a scene her old eyes marked as utterly appalling.
There, surrounding an animal (still beset with vital signs in a torment of death-throw spasms), a band from her very own tribe tore at entrails of a newly born antelopecaught by the hoof in a snare, evidently, its leg, by the saplings whiplash, snapped into disconnected parts, adrenaline its only anesthesia while the feast, genitals first, progressed unconstrained, bite by blood-thirsty bite devouring the pith of its most fragile parts. Without a doubt, these were Mungs kinsmen, their musk unmistakableif altered by this shameful deviation from the dietary norm; meat, for Mungs generation (and countless generations prior) had been unilaterally forbidden. Intelligence and carnivorousness were not to be mixednot on land, at any rate, not among primates, for whom animal protein had proven a primeval bane, driving the wedge between ape and primordial ape, on that ancient occasion when a gene went recessive and threatened, ever after, to reassert its trait.