A Tale of Truth, Fiction and Crime

WINTER FORESTThe white, furry beast trudged through the forest, ahead of myself, who from time to time stopped to take in the icy scenery. The cold was bitter, to be sure, but it had not fully frozen the streams and ravines, so that their crystalline water sparkled as it flowed beneath imperceptible layers of ice, roaring gently, like a small sleeping animal. The rest of the forest, which in summer-time engulfed these sparkling waters with thick and lustrous flora, seemed to have a surreal, almost fairy-tale-like look to it in the winter, with icicles stretching from the tip of naked tree branches covered only by a white blanket of snow that sparkled as radiantly as the water; the slightly mountainous terrain gave the entire trip the air of a quest, as we trudged and climbed and even crawled at times; in the sun-light, which peered intermittently through the opened branches of the tallest eucalyptus trees, the entire thing felt enchanted behind an azure hue, though at night and against the bitter cold, the darkness behind the trees felt macabre, and you could almost hear whispers emanating from within the nothingness that seemed to lurk in there. But at this time we were safe, and practically felt serenaded by a concert only orchestrated for our quest – a mixture of nature sounds that seemed to still break through the bitter and lonesome winter cold in the humming of the waters, the guttural hollowing of the air and the rest of the subtle background full of hidden chitters and snapping twigs. But there was not much time to stay still, for my furry companion was still young and impatient, and he demanded that we carry on. Plus, remaining for too long in the same spot was an easy reminder to the bones of how cold it was outside, despite the breath-taking scenery.

However, despite moving quite quickly, by the time we arrived at the peak of the forest, where the little furry beast knew we’d set up camp, the sun was already slowly disappearing behind the trees at the western end, illuminating the sky above them a fiery purple and orange colour, which made it feel as if we were being set on fire. My wolf-like companion, full of energy and completely equipped to not only stand the winter cold but, indeed, to thrive in it, ran around frantically, barking and howling in a seemingly uncontrolled but elated fit. When I finished setting up camp, we played together, fighting as most brothers do – without a care in the world and full of confidence in the other. But as the night began to approach faster and faster, with darkness beginning to engulf everything like a gigantic devouring maw, we settled into our nest near the fire, and braced ourselves for the wonders and terrors that come with the night, especially under the open, vast and unforgiving winter sky. The cold was surprisingly tamed, so it was easier to stare into the nothingness without feeling assaulted at the joints. After a while, I realized I must have dozed off, or perhaps just lost myself in the night, because I suddenly became aware that the little furry beast had run off. I got up and began calling for him immediately but heard no response, so I started walking towards the thick blackness in front of me, where I was sure only trees and night critters lurked.

Nevertheless, as I approached the darkness, away from my camp-fire, I began hearing twigs snapping and a low growling that I recognized as that of my own furry friend. When I finally got near enough to make out a slight silhouette in front of me, with the aid of the beast’s white fur, I realized he was tugging at something that he held in his mouth, but which was attached firmly at the other end to something which I could not make out. I called out to the beast but he refused to come; he simply continued tugging and growling. When I got a little closer, and aiding myself with the scant moon-light that was sheepishly peering through, I realized it was only a tree branch. Relieved that it wasn’t anything or anyone else, I let out a deep sigh and rested my back against the nearest tree, still able to witness the scene. And that was it…The only thing that happened after that was that I watched the beast tug at the branch and pull it backwards until it snapped, making such a loud “THWACK” sound that it resonated through the hollow forest like a gunshot. I felt there was something sinister about that entire scene; that I was enjoying seeing the beast tear at that poor branch for no reason at all, and that I felt somewhat disturbed at that fact. NIGHT TREE

When it was all finished, a green scab covered what was now the stub of the branch, and the beast simply ran off with the rest of it in his mouth, happily prancing back to our camp-site. I was speechless, for I felt as if I had witnessed a crime, almost enjoyed it, and had done absolutely nothing to stop the perpetrator or even help the poor victim who, I immediately began to realize, had been utterly defenceless. I approached the mangled tree slowly, almost embarrassed to be in its presence and finally placed my hand on its wounded and severed limb. I began to feel infused with something; to feel something inside of me…Emotion…Yes, that’s what it was…I began to feel emotion for this victim, and I whispered, “I’m sorry…” I don’t know why. But I felt as if I were starring into the watery eyes of a bullied victim after the fact; as if I were responsible for not having stopped the tyrant when I saw what he was doing and had the chance to do so…

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I realized then that all those fears of the night which I had held onto not long before, and the images of something horrendous lurking in there, waiting to snatch my soul or my mind away, were indeed unfounded. And not because they are impossible things, for the mind is powerful and can find any horror where it faithfully seeks to find one; but because what really lurks in the night in the deepest and thickest forests and jungles and parks and backyards are only Trees: Guardians of our most precious need – oxygen – and authors of our most coveted dreams – pure and awing beauty.

As we walked back the following night, now against a slightly harsher cold, the trek suddenly felt more alive…more holistic…more serious…more solemn. And the engulfing night no longer seemed tenebrous but rather tender, like a cozy and quiet womb inviting you to rest. However, what really felt different was the way these benevolent giant creatures, who’d never dare cause harm and who never speak a word, seemed to be watching over us, painting a picture of enchantment and reality far beyond the confines of our understanding.

ANIMAL STORY

A long time ago, in a corner of the earth that existed far away from the savage wrath of man, every grassy knoll, forest and jungle was overrun by all types of animals. Everything from monkeys to sheep to roosters to cows to lions to elephants – absolutely anywhere the sun shone, there were animals freely roaming the place.

Now, at the beginning, before any of them understood the intrinsic dilemma of their situation, there was a long time when many of them starved to death. You see, with no humans around, the natural tendency of the strongest and carnivorous animals to prey on the weak ones and the herbivores went unchallenged, and after a short while of this unfettered pattern, scarcity became a number one issue. Every carnivore began starving because there were very few herbivores due to the fact that not much hay or grass was being cultivated since the carnivores went around eating their prey whenever they wanted. So because there weren’t many herbivores around, the land could not get ploughed and eventually it starting drying up. The fact that they were going through the worst drought in decades did not help either. So this vicious cycle went on for a while, until all the animals realized that until they started working together, they would continue to starve to death until eventually there wouldn’t be anyone left, and the rich forests and jungles would then wither away in neglect. This was too serious to ignore simply because some of them wanted more meat more often. So they decided to do something about it.

One day, the leader of the reigning pride of lions roared an announcement targeted at every animal that could hear him and that could then go on to pass the message to further lands. To amplify his already monstrous roars, the lion used empty conches from the withered slugs and snails that had perished in the absence of fresh grass and leaves. Clutching it between his clumsy paws, he began his tirade:

“Listen here, comrades!” roared the head lion, a beast of about 300 pounds of pure muscle, with a golden-brown mane and fangs as thick as nine-inch-nails. “It is no secret the horrible famine that all of us are going through.” At this, many of the animals, who were often victims of the abuse of the lions and who could hear the message but could not be seen from their hiding spots, murmured and grunted in irony. “But things cannot go on this way! Call it selfish if you want – call it self-interest, even! – but the fact of the matter is that because of the insatiable and greedy hunger of the strongest in these jungles, who’ve abused their natural strengths – a group which includes us, the Lions, of course – all of us are now threatened with the looming certainty of extinction!”

Every animal was whimpering and trembling because they knew the veracity of the Lion’s words. The treetops shook along with the bands of monkeys and apes that rested on them, peering at the lions through the safety of leaves and branches. The earth rumbled from its entrails as the few worms and snails convulsed their way through the dirt. Even debris began falling from mountaintops, as the sheep and mountain-goats ran amok in fear and disdain. Overall, the entire jungle was gripped by a worried low, vibrating roar that emanated from the deepest parts of the souls of all the animals that could hear their very possible demise being recited.

But then the majestic lion, who like Simba was giving his great speech from the top of a cliff that oversaw the entire forest and which was only a silhouette against a gloomy, orange-purple Sun that was now looking to rest, came back with words that filled every animal with a glimmer of hope.

“But it is still not too late!” Every animal was looking up eagerly, attentively. “We must work together if we want to make it through this….Every animal that lives off of the land shall work it to the best of their abilities, and those that prey on the herbivores must stick to only feeding for hunger and not for sport. Every worm and every snail shall again get back to work on purifying the earth. The stronger ones will help the weaker ones where it is needed, and the more agile ones, like the apes, will be in charge of supervising the work in every single forest and jungle and farm, as well as providing all their abilities with tools and construction. In the coming weeks, we will all meet and decide what type of work we will each be best at.”

By this time the animals were openly cheering and waving in joy.

“From hereon in,” concluded the Lion after more details of the work that was to be done, “every animal will be part of the largest and most loyal Tribe: The Animal Tribe.”

With the ending of his message the entire jungle reverberated in celebration. Every ape and every animal that could muster the strength to run, swing or fly, shot out of the forest like furry bullets and headed to adjacent ones to spread the word. After a few hours, animals from all over were traveling towards the Green-Zone, as they dubbed it, the jungle where the message had been first announced. Even later on the night, the jungle was bursting at the seams, swollen five times its size with a stampede of wild, partying animals!

Gorillas assaulted congo drums made of turtle backs as elephants trumpeted a jazzy intro in the background. Birds of all types adorned and sung in the sky, which had turned dark as the sun finished hiding, but an orchestra of fireflies had lit the night-sky like a giant candle. Those that could not produce music simply danced and cheered until neither their hind nor their front legs could stay up anymore. The animals were once again alive with hope and life.

The party went on for three entire days.

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Not surprisingly, the project was successfully implemented and running smoothly within a couple of months, albeit with a few minor setbacks at the beginning.

For the most part, the problems had to do with lazy animals that preferred to swing on the trees or sleep on them rather than work. This was a major problem with the sloths and turtles and snails, who would use their mind-numbing lethargy as an excuse to slack-off. At first, the apes that patrolled the trees and forests to make sure no animal was slacking off during work time, simply told them to get back to work, advice which they would then heed until the apes were out of sight.  Left with only the food they could pick for themselves, however, the slackers quickly realized that unless they helped with some work, there just wasn’t going to be enough food for them after all the faster and hungrier animals devoured it.  So they agreed to work to the best of their ability as long as the stronger, quicker and hungrier animals agreed to save a share big enough for them. Everyone agreed, and the work continued.

Though there were other small obstacles like this one, for the most part all animals were happy with the new system and happy that everyone was working together, and this caused everyone to have much more time for leisure now that food for everyone was being produced easily and continually. Everyone lived well, and there was almost nothing that made them unhappy….

…Except for one self-imposed rule that no one had ever thought of challenging, and which caused a silent discomfort and uneasiness in each of them. Despite all their collaboration and team-work, every animal knew better than to mess with another one from a different species. Especially when they belonged to opposing groups, such as herbivores and carnivores, or herbivores and omnivores for that matter.

This went unchallenged for a long time as well, and though no one appeared to have a major problem with it, the crisp and cool air in the atmosphere was always sullied with a faint hint of a thick and morose sadness. Especially young pups and cubs of all species felt this denseness in their chest, and if you listened carefully, the cheerfulness in their actions was sporadically interrupted by a low and stifled sigh.

But this could obviously not go on forever.  And sure enough, one day as the forest snoozed calmly – among tiny whimpers that sounded like wings fluttering from the excitedly-dreaming animals — and a Giant Full Moon that rained light down like golden spears, a beautiful sleeping cow caught the eye of the brutish gorilla that swung through the vines that night, guarding the precious comrades of the greatest Tribe of all: the Animal Tribe.

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He was a beastly 500 pound gorilla with a shiny black coat of thick fur that, under the sun-light, looked silver. He always carried a stern look on his leathery face: his eyes were a dark-orange that looked like the sunset caught inside two half moons as they were always only half-opened, eyebrows frowned; his lips curved downwards, which gave him a distinct sad yet determined look of melancholy.  In his face, he carried a lonesome and troubled history, being the only survivor of a large family of gorillas that had fallen victim to the greatest predator of all: Man.

He was just a pup when he miraculously escaped the poachers that were viciously pursuing his band, his family.  But it was a bittersweet escape, because as he frantically climbed the treetops and swung from vines, screeching alarmingly for his life, he could hear the gun-shots thundering behind him, accompanied by the chilling silence of his fallen mother, father and brother.  He had hidden in one of the tallest trees for about a week and a half, terrified and dying of hunger. Without the strength to hold himself up there anymore, he climbed down, resigned to die in land, beside his family. But when he got to the bottom, the image he saw froze his bones and all his hunger.

The flames were gripping and consuming everything in sight: Trees crackled and crumbled, and black smoke filled the entire jungle. But the howls and screams of the other animals that were burning, unable to escape the hell they had been entrapped in, would remain with him for the rest of his life. At that moment something in him gained strength, and rather than waiting to die like the others, he pulled strength out of every feeble bone in his body and climbed back up the tree. Then he started jumping to the nearest branch or vine or whatever surface he could get his hands on. He swallowed a lot of smoke and much of his body was charred, but nothing for him ever felt as great as that moment did, when he walked away from an image he refused to turn around to look at one more time. Behind him, he knew, he was leaving the hell that those evil creatures on two legs and with thunder in their hands and fire in their mouths had created, and he couldn’t spare a single effort to see it again. Instead, he walked for months until he found a vast green land again that he made his home and saw grow isolated from human touch into what today was the Green Zone. Yes, for him nothing ever felt like the ecstasy and freedom he felt the night he left an emblazoned hell behind….At least until he saw that sleeping-beauty, that tender cow that was sequestered by sleep as he guarded her dreams.

In the following days, he would go out of his way to trade his guarding routes so he could see that precious creature. Though he didn’t really follow her, he was always sure to have to swing by those vines, above the humble farm ran by her family, and which fed a large portion of all the animals. From time to time, when she caught sight of him as she grazed the land, she would shoot him an amicable “mooooo,” and he would return the greeting by thumping on his chest and giving her a quick snort-like roar, then swing away rapidly and into the thick green forest, away from her sight. Better analyzed, one could have sworn that he was trying to smile at her, but his constant piercing and unyielding look made it so difficult to ascertain. However, it became very clear that he had fallen under a spell when he kept returning to her farm, thumping his chest and dropping off wild exotic flowers that looked like psychedelic church bells attached to a translucent-green stem; or bunches of bananas wrapped in bamboo sheets. During the nights,  when in other times he would have been atop some trees with the other gorillas sipping on fermented coconut milk, he was now sitting on top of a rocky cliff, far above the tallest trees, but in a place where the giant moon bounced directly on top of her as she slept, making her look like a glowing angel with black and white spots.

After a while, his buddies began to catch on to his being missing so much. They began to question him, but he never said anything, and none of them pushed him because of the severity in his look. So one day they decided to follow him, and that’s when they realized where he was always going. They confronted him in a very friendly way, not accusing him of anything but rather asking if he is sure that this would be a good idea, should it be pursued. And they constantly warned him, that if anyone found out, it would be very probable that they’d be in some deep trouble, though no one knew what because it had never happened before. Cows only went for bulls, and gorillas for their own counterparts. But our dear friend didn’t care…Plus, he thought, he wasn’t doing much to pursue it; he was just admiring her beauty from afar.

But one day, as he was patrolling his route, he saw her going somewhere he’d never seen her go to before. He climbed the tallest tree and observed for a few seconds. Then he realized that she was heading inside the History Class, a cave where information was stored regarding the History and past of the Green Zone, and material warning of a two-legged beast that one day had the entire Animal Tribe subjugated. Everything was drawn on the walls by the very clumsy claws of the older animals who knew their past. There were also always elders there, of every species, who spoke to anyone who wanted to listen about their History.  When she came out of the History Class she saw him sleeping atop the tree, so she playfully hit the bottom of the tree with her horns to shake him awake.

“Hi!” she yelled cheerfully. “Isn’t it uncomfortable sleeping on top of a tree? I prefer hay myself!”

He let out a big groan and again thumped his chest. Then he climbed down the tree, and mesmerized by her beauty from up-close, he stumbled on his remark.

“Ah….It is, but not always…depends…” Though his face didn’t budge, it was clear that his brain had been blinded by the light she emanated. But she was more than beautiful. She was nice.

“I didn’t know you like history,” she asked him.

“I’ve been part of history,” he answered drily. “Didn’t have much to like. But I think I may have to brush up on some facts.”

“Great!” she answered, unaware of the seriousness in his answer. “We can come to class together next time! It’ll be fun! I love history!”

He didn’t know it yet, but for very obvious reasons, he would soon come to love History Class as well.

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At first he was intimated by her, especially by the fact that she did not mind being seen with him. Despite stern warnings from his and her friends to not become involved with each other, particularly because no one knew what could happen in such an unnatural mixture, the two of them kept attending History Class together. After a while, he told her of his own history, and she listened intently to his every word. For the first time in a long time, our lonesome, brutish friend had found companionship in an animal he never thought he could be a friend of. As he spoke to her, he analyzed her beautiful face and the life and purity that hung in every one of her breaths. He noticed her cute black ears sticking out at the sides like little bike handles; he fell in love with her beautiful snout, which ran like a ramp until her lips, which always curved upwards, forming a smile in her face that could sooth the strongest storm. She loved life, and this was evident every time she mooed excitedly about something he said. Yes, the seed of love had been planted in our great, brutish friend, and she was the Sun and the Water and Oxygen needed for it to live and grow. And for that matter, she too had become fertilized by the same power, and in his dark, deep eyes and menacing past, she only saw love: a companion with whom to graze the world.

After hanging out together in the History Class for many, many months, they became the first couple of Green Zone to be of different species. Though most people frowned at this at the beginning, eventually everyone rejoiced in their freedom and lived vicariously through it. Of course, the new generations, free of the irrational prejudices of the older ones, made it their custom to fall in love with whomever the winds of fate may bring; and the older ones learned to accept the new progress.

After many, many years together — too many to recount — the couple died a pain-free death of old age.  They were found together, atop the tallest tree, where he had taken her to die, as her dying wishes.

“I’ve never seen the forest from the top of the trees,” she had said to him. “Before I die, please help me do so, love.”  All he did was grunt and nod at her request. But that night, as both of them enjoyed each other’s company under the full moon above, their gentle sighs in each other’s arms told them the time had come. He carried her on one arm and with his three other extremities began climbing the tree. When they got atop, she kissed him and let out a gentle moo.

“I always pictured it would be like this, honey,” she said weakly. “The sky is so beautiful from up here. The Moon looks like a goddess, and look!…the stars are dancing around her!” In the distance, the ocean could be heard roaring, waves crashing upon rocks. The air was crisp and howling like a coyote at the moon, swaying the palm trees rhythmically to the beat of the ocean’s waves. “Thank you, my love. I’ll see you on the other side of the river.”

In the morning, when they were found, every animal from every forest came to the Green Zone and howled in sadness. Everyone wept, because they were both the symbol of Freedom and of Love. His integrity and severity were only matched by her purity and her warmth.

Today, every animal roams around free and in love. And from the top of the trees, at night, under a bright full moon, birds still sing and dance in ode to the Loveliest Two Beasts in Earth.