We were hiking in the woods when they circled around us. I thought it was a couple of deer at first, or maybe a bobcat, at worst, from the weight of the steps; but definitely not a band of wild monkeys. This isn’t even the right ecosystem for them. But there they were, springing out from behind the bushes, four or five of them.
They didn’t touch us, but they were screaming, trying to intimidate us, hitting the ground and breaking sticks. I always thought of apes being mostly vegetarian, with square teeth for grinding and chewing bark and leaves, but they all had really nasty, sharp teeth, bones in triangles and rhombuses, glistening with drool and spit.
There was one off to the side. I didn’t see it at first amidst the haze of the onslaught, but at some point I became aware of him sitting just slightly off in the distance, sharpening a rock. His dispassionate gaze reminded me of a yakuza in a Takeshi Kitano film just before something horrible happens.
So that’s where it comes from, I remember thinking.
I don’t know how long we were standing there, but eventually they became quiet and one of them jumped in front of us, and started walking off the trail, the rest forming a half-ring behind, herding us. The one with the rock stayed a farther distance off to the side, just barely in view.
I started to think about Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston, and then of course, the NRA–Why had I never learned to shoot a gun? Why didn’t I have a gun with me? There was no alternative now; it was too late to run or fight.
We walked for maybe an hour, through thick vegetation, some of which seemed liked poison ivy (or was it poison oak?) Sure enough, soon after we got to “camp,” we both started to itch terribly, and rashes had started to form all over our bodies. It was pretty creepy there because there were quite a few of them, and it was clear that the group that had captured us was merely a thin reconnaissance unit. Did they know we were there or were they just looking? I’m not sure.
We weren’t put in a cage or anything; they just dumped us off on a patch of fallen leaves and went back to doing other things like it wasn’t unusual. None of them really made much of an effort to interact with us, but it was clear enough that we weren’t free to go. They seemed to just watch us, periodically. “Pet” isn’t the right word, but neither is “equal.”
I felt like they were waiting for us to do something, but it’s not like they were giving us commands or requests. There wasn’t any evidence to suggest that they were anything other than a variety of chimpanzees, but they had somehow developed enough structure to decide we would be held captive. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t in their proper environment, and had never heard a single report of any person in the area seeing a single ape, monkey, chimpanzee, or any other non-human primate. That really bothered me.
Food was brought to us, thankfully. They had gotten hold of some fruit from somewhere—sometimes they’d bring peaches, banana, oranges—I swear I recognized a persimmon once as being the exact variety that this one bearded-mystic guy at the farmers’ market sold, and that made me really upset, broke my spirit. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t, so Mary did instead, and I tried to console her, even though I was the one who had explained it to her. This was after about a week.
We ate bugs as well. Neither of us were too eager about that decision, but we were both losing weight and feeling hungry most of the time–the fruit wasn’t enough—we had to more fully adapt to the chimps’ lifestyle. Like everyone says, it’s not so bad once you get used to it. You can get used to anything.
It was the same for sleeping and warmth. It would get really cold and we’d be shivering, and huddling together for warmth—couldn’t they see that we didn’t have fur like them? A few of them would come over and brush their hands over my arm, the hairs of which must have seemed so sparse compared to their own, lush coats. They especially liked Mary’s hair, which they’d play with. She really didn’t like that, but we weren’t in a position to protest. I don’t think they were malevolent, just ignorant–curious.
Our clothes were totally filthy by this point, so we discarded them. We had gotten used to the weather and it had stopped feeling so cold. Obviously, we didn’t have any extra garments, so this marked the conclusion of our Return to Nature. It was a little odd, but not all that alarming after what we’d already been through. After awhile the whole idea of wearing clothes started to feel silly and extraneous.
Mary still had a rash that was bothering her. Mine was mostly gone, but I had developed some sort of ear infection that impaired my hearing and made it feel like I was underwater. I missed playing music. I would get fragments of songs stuck in my head for days at a time, unable to remember the endings. An inner tension gnawed at me. One time I got that one Smiths song stuck in my head,
“Why, do I give valuable time, to people who don’t care if I live or die.”
That got me thinking about all the people we had “left behind,” because they must have thought we were dead. Where were the search parties, the helicopters? Had they even tried?
After years of neglecting my voice in favor of my instrumental skills, I got really good at singing. Mary and I would sing for hours at a time, trading harmonies, switching keys, just because we’d had plenty of time to figure it all out. That was a lot of fun. I could tell the monkeys really enjoyed it, too. They would stop what they were doing and listen to us. I’ve rarely had a more captive audience.
We even got up to doing more complicated works, everything from delving into polyphony to Miles. Personally, I think In a Silent Way was our greatest accomplishment of that period, although there was some confusion as to whether were aping (no pun intended) the Miles Davis classic, or the original piece as envisioned by Joe Zawinul. Now that I think about it, Jaco Pastorious comes off as a rather ape-like creature. I think he would have handled this ordeal all right. I’m not sure about Miles, though.
Sometimes we would do yoga for exercise, and of course, we got really good at that also. I think we may have even invented some new poses. The monkeys didn’t seem too interested.
At other times we would just watch the rain come down for hours. I got the sense that our little masters didn’t care for it much more than us, though it did provide us with ample drinking water. It turns out if you watch the motion of raindrops long enough, a lot of features about the principles of fluid dynamics start making more sense, something my engineering instructors never mentioned during the endless integrals.
One day, one of the chimps slipped us a flyer. That was an odd enough event in itself. He/She then quickly walked away. None of the others seemed to have noticed. It read:
A Harmonious Gathering of the Two Species.
There were some crude instructions printed on the back of it. We really didn’t have much to go on, and in retrospect, it might have been foolhardy to risk capture or injury from something that looked like it was out of an adolescent-constructed ‘zine, but that just shows you how desperate we were.
One night, when it seemed like no one was watching, we followed a path off to the side, orange paper in hand. They had gotten used to us being there. We hadn’t made a move. That’s why it was so important to go for it when we finally decided to do it.
We followed the directions to the letter and arrived at an encampment with some markings that showed the presence of others. Around a fire we were welcomed by a host of both humans and apes. It was astonishing, but before we were able to process any of that, we were overcome by joy and deprivation. They all had different stories about how they had ended up there, and though the mix was odd, somehow it worked.
As we got used to life there (and at that point, returning to “civilization” seemed even too distant to contemplate), it began to grate on us. Even though our previous confinement couldn’t be described as pleasant, the freedom from time and rules provided us a certain expanse of liberation. Xenia, while a self-professed vesicle of liberation (with us, as the proteins being gobbled and transformed, as one follower put it), had certain cultish tendencies, and too many simple-minded followers (to say nothing of the chimps), and we started to contemplate other options. Not to mention, the rigor of our own regimens was at odds with their rather loose sense of discipline.
Just as we were hatching our plans, everything came tumbling down—two park rangers flew in one night (and where the hell had they been up until now?) and started smashing things up, just like that, and it was over. Monkeys were screaming, people were yelling, pissing everywhere, while the mustachioed rangers shot tranquilizer darts and the apes came out swinging. Suddenly we didn’t even know whose side to take. I didn’t, anyways. I saw Mary just standing there, dazed, and I realized she was looking at me with the same expression, just because it seemed like the only reasonable thing to do in such an unreasonable situation, even though reason didn’t really play any part in it.
A few weeks after readjusting to some semblance of a regular life, the doorbell rang and there was an official-looking character with an upright posture and a masculine mustache, standing too close to the entrance.
“Hello sir, do you remember me?”
I did—he had been one of the rangers that had interrogated me, but had been pretty understanding about it, considering the circumstances; then again, we had probably been a joy to deal with compared to some other members of the “family.”
“Well, you see, in the raid, we discovered something that only became clear later,” he vaguely explained.
He motioned towards the car, and I saw something that looking like one of the apes, but not exactly, sitting calmly next to another man.
“My partner,” he said, noticing my gaze, without addressing the whole picture.
“Well, and you can see..at first we thought this was,”
He thoughtfully paused, trying to consider my position and his predicament,
“One of the other species, but it soon became clear to us, with the help of the proper scientific and medical personnel,”
He stopped again, seeming to be in mid-recall,
“Well, it was determined that this..being you see there, was judged to be a hybrid.”
My eyes must have really splintered, because he continued,
“Yeah, I know, it’s..unusual.”
“So you mean at some point the apes and the people..?”
“As best as we can figure.”
“But isn’t that biologically impossible?”
“I sure as hell thought so,” he shot back, grinning slightly.
“So,” he intoned, returning to his sober tone of protocol,
“Basically, sir, I am here to discuss certain options with you regarding the care of this child, which, due to your unique experiences, have been judged to be of particular value.”
I started to see what he was getting at, and immediately resented his presence.
“Hey, what? Do you think that it’s mine? Is that why you’re here?? Whoa, nothing like that ever happened!”
“Now, wait, hold up, I did not insinuate that, sir.”
Pause for time. Fiddling with his mustache.
“What I am saying is simply that, because of your experiences, as you conveyed to us, prior to your time spent with the group in question, and your mental faculties, relative to..some of the individuals we have taken in,”
Scratching his chin,
“–That can talk, you understand—well, we have not been able to determine the parents of this hybrid juvenile, and the relevant authorities have decided that a more normal introduction into human life may be more suitable than a clinical facility, for the time being.”
“It’s a child? And…what, you want to know if I would..take him in? Is that it?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking, yes.”
He flashed a toothless smile, looking back at the car.
“This isn’t something you’d have to do alone. There’d be visits, with various professionals. We’d want you to bring him in from time to time to assess progress, analyze the state of things..of course, all necessary funds would be provided for, we’re not asking for charity.”
And we were silent. The kid was looking peacefully around the car, gnawing on what looked to be a tennis ball. Huh.
“We think he’s about 5,” the ranger seemed to whisper.
“I understand if you need time to think about it, but the sooner we can start the bonding, the better.”
“Could I just meet him? Get a little closer?”
“Sure, no problem. That’s why we’re here.”
We walked the 15 or so steps to the car, slowly, sensory details of fading events flooding back to me, and the ranger slowly opened the backseat door. In his best kid-voice, he spoke to the half-chimp, half-human,
“Hey there, how you doing? You want to meet someone? He’s real nice, he just wants to say hi.”
The boy-chimp stared out, didn’t say anything, but cautiously nodded his head. He looked like a 5-year old boy, but his jaw-line was much more pronounced, and a ring of fur already spun itself around his head like the protagonist of a cheesy werewolf movie, mid-transformation. He had normal child clothes on, but no shoes, and I couldn’t help but think of The Hobbit when I noticed his feet, shouting at myself from the inside not to be making comparisons like that at a time like this, at a real moment. He came up to maybe my knees.
“Hi, hello there,” I finally said, instinctively reaching out my hand.
He looked at me, and my outstretched hand, and parted his lips slightly, to reveal a slight smile and three, jagged teeth. The inner part of his palm, away from the fur, was almost the same color as my own hands. A vision of sitting in a forest listening to Bill Evans suddenly came to me, and I smiled back.