cave

Without being told, Mung realized that this ‘carnivorism’ she had just witnessed was ineluctably linked to the multiple graves. Retreating along the tree branch (with a heart-sick caution), her reunion spoiled by what she dearly hoped was a band of juvenile ‘renegades,’ the elderly monkey continued her search for those uncorrupted. It was not easy. The musk that marked her could likewise damn her, if kith from kith and kin from kin had been estranged. She might be mistaken for an enemy, a meat-eater (though sniffs at groin and armpit would confirm her vegetarianism). What, she wondered, had the time elapsed brought to bear? Whom among her peers (in a shrinking habitat filled with discord) had managed (against such mounting pressures) to survive?

‘We,’ came her answer from the canopy, ‘us’ from the roots, knots, crooks, and vines, ‘we’—‘us’—‘we’ from an isolated stand of trees intermingling… a universe unto themselves… a green and lush arboreal haven wherein welcomes whispered—subtly, psychically—mixed with the breeze-stirred leaves. Mung, suspended in their midst, found every nerve alert to her troupe’s spontaneous greeting—invisible though it was; not a whisker’s twitch nor a flea-bite’s itch betrayed her brethren’s presence. Theirs was an indirect attendance, if no less palpable… to such a one adept at its cryptic signs… even to one grown rusty… perceptions put in touch like fingers passing over Braille… dispelling tension onto Mung’s unfurled extremity—the signal for her clan to come out from hiding.

Muzzles nuzzled. The course of Mung’s experience mapped her fur with telltale scents, each tuft a customized code—whose decipherment, alas, would have to wait—for she, once taken for dead, had come to life, stood resurrected! She, abducted by Wind, by Destiny had been returned…

…to a tribe in mortal jeopardy. It was the Elders who had perished (one and all) upon that pyre, which had been set by errant youth—still up in arms.

‘With tools, it started.’

‘Yes, with tools.’

‘O, terrible!’

‘Never listen.’

‘That’s the problem; youngsters never, ever heed.’

‘They knew the Rule.’

‘For sure.’

‘And broke it. Wanted sticks.’

‘Then bows and arrows.’

‘Spears, and what not.’

‘Terrible. Terrible!’

‘Why can’t youngsters ever listen?’

‘It got worse.’

‘O, yes, much worse. The killings started.’

‘O, the killings, Mung. So senseless.’

‘Done for sport.’

‘Just youngsters misbehaving, as youngsters must.’

‘Must not; we all have brains that need be bridled.’

‘True, but youth…’

‘Must heed as well.’

‘Except they don’t.’

‘You mean they wouldn’t.’

‘True, they liked what they were doing, thought it fun to make another living, breathing creature dead.’

‘A crude enjoyment.’

‘It’s a shame to gain by dealing death on purpose.’

‘That’s the truth.’

‘An evil precedent.’

‘And to do what they did next!’

‘Was even worse.’

‘It caused the warp.’

‘The awful turn.’

‘Their spirits twisted.’

‘Transformed totally.’

‘Felt superior.’

‘That’s the crux. Their minds puffed up.’

‘Grew big as boulders, broad as tree trunks.’

‘Proud as promenading peacocks.’

‘"Who were we to tell them different?" ‘"Who were we but backward, lazy, measly leaf-eaters?"’

‘Terrible. Terrible!’

‘So the Elders finally met.’

‘Too late.’

‘For sure.’

‘They nonetheless met. And then…’

"O, horrible, Mung. You won’t believe.’

‘She won’t.’

‘It seems incredible.’

‘Just an accident.’

‘Ha!’

‘A prank gone wrong.’

‘A prank?! A villainous murder!’

‘Arson.’

‘Fire; it’s true; they used it.’

‘Turned our Elders into cinders!’

‘Just a runaway spark, was all.’

‘Deliberate; sparks don’t plot a clear perimeter! Sparks don’t spread a conflagration blocking all escape.’

‘Too true.’

‘Too dreadful.’

‘Diabolical!’

‘They denied it.’

‘Who believes them?’

‘Then they did…’

‘You shouldn’t tell this part.’

‘…their absolute worst.’

‘No proof.’

‘It’s so unspeakable, Mung.’

‘There was no proof!’

‘There was; the corpse’s scattering. Burning bodies stay in place.’

‘That’s true.’

‘That’s logical.’

‘One did not; it had been dragged a good ways off…’

‘Don’t tell.

‘…where it lay…’

‘Enough!’

‘…half eaten.’

At this point every voice fell silent. Mung sat stunned. The worst had happened—an atrocity… one with which she felt familiar. A recurrence? D�j� vu, her mind regressed through untold years…

…through incarnations…

…countless eras…

…epochs…

…stretching unto eons…

…then, with lips distended—mutely—Mung affixed the primal blame.

‘Juke?’

‘Who’s that?’

Brought back, Mung flinched; her subtext went unspoken—yet the monkeys in attendance had, through intuition, heard. She tried to censor apprehensions, re-assess the situation. Were the Lesser Apes accursed henceforth, as the Great Apes had been prior? Or might there yet exist some recourse, some redemptive intervention? Mung, bereft of those who would have known her name (save by repute), who would have recognized her face not just her kindred smell, despaired. Without the Elders, she was it. The awful weight of their authority now fell solely onto her who wanted none. She took a breath. And then, acknowledging the import every word from her would carry, she decided it was time, instead, to listen… to observe… to sink the well of her ancestral understanding.

 

With such heavy obligations (for a soul advanced in frailty) Mung delayed her second childhood. She was titled "Venerable Sage"—a role for which she humbly judged herself miscast, despite the rumors. Word had spread about her Hegira from the Humans. Hope revived—among disciples…

… whereas dread described the rebel camp’s reaction. Had a Simian really come to comprehend the Upright’s language, learned to cipher, gained proficiency in the Land of Wayward Ways? Could it be true that Man’s undoing had been posited, even forecast? Those who killed for food suspected plots afoot, grew anxious, wary. They were outlaws; justice threatened. Numb to neither doubt nor guilt, the freshman flesh-consumers rehashed their position.

‘Maybe we should…’

‘What?’

‘Go back.’

‘Revert to haploid herbivores? Brains need meat to reach their full potential. Protein promulgates power!’

‘But what has power to do with a life worth living?’

‘Everything.’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘It gives us control of habitat. Otherwise, we’re controlled by it.’

‘But…’

‘DO NOT "BUT" ME! Look at Uprights. When it’s cold they make a campfire; when it rains, they build a roof—while we sit shivering like a homeless mob of morons in our pelage. They apply themselves, is what I’m saying. We subsist. What for? Our link in the food chain? Cosmic concord? Yuk. I’m sick of fields Elysian. We’ve been cultivating ‘indolence,’ calling it ‘philosophy’!’

‘Too extreme. I think the blaze we set, for instance…’

‘That was purely accidental. Flames go crazy, once they’ve started. How were we to know our show of strength would fry that clique of fossils? Serves them right for trying to dictate.’

‘They at least refrained from force.’

‘They used persuasion—power is power—backed by penalties: censure, exile.’

‘But…’

‘DON’T "BUT" ME!’

‘Or you’ll what; bash in my skull or torch my fur? The Realm of Reason settles arguments by consensus not coercion. If one wins by might or stealth one loses in the long-run.’

‘I’m here now! Don’t talk of long-runs; life can start and end in a wince. This "Realm of Reason" is for souls in need shepherding; we’re not livestock.

‘She has notions odd and new and even radical.’

‘Who?’

‘The Sage. She merely wants for us to re-unite, they say.’

‘We’ve split. That’s final. Don’t be fooled by bits of shrewd misinformation. Sure, they want us back; we’re threats. Our independence proves them wrong. They fear our fierceness. They abhor our zest for unalloyed autonomy. We’re progressive; they’re reactionary. We’re the fittest of the fit; they’re frail—and she who leads them isn’t "sage" so much as senile!’

This debate, no matter how much meat the revolting monkeys swallowed, came up often. Even he who argued loudest longed to meet the far-famed Ancient (disrespect for whom was little more than an act, a bold charade that contradicted basic Simian-Nation norms). The Rebel Leader, furthermore, shared with Mung a common sire—their troupe’s polygamy linking members in a daisy-chain of dominance that ensured, if not accord, at least affinity. Where Reason faltered, Bonds of Blood might prevail.

 

Antecedents fared...

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