|THE CALL OF THE MONKEY GOD by Carlton Herzog|
I am a student of the mind in all its infinite complexity and strangeness. It is the hidden sea where dreaded things glide below the surface of the sanest faces. I have found that insanity never leaves. It merely changes to a subtler form masking its brutish self beneath the trappings of the civilized man.
I do not content myself with the merely insane or the garden variety lunatic. To be of interest to me, the subject must walk in gardens few could dare hope to contemplate let alone visit with the imagination. I want those minds so warped and twisted, so bent around themselves, their neural pathways could pass for Einstein’s curved space where coiled Time devours its own tail and beginnings and endings are one and the same.
That search for the maddest of the mad led to a certain patient in Bethlehem Hospital London. Andrew Ward had been a sergeant major in the British SAS and a soldier in the Coldstream Guards. He was an expert in jungle warfare and survival.
He had been institutionalized following several failed suicide attempts. When he had been questioned as to why he had tried to kill himself, he would either ramble on about the end of the world or laugh hysterically.
I had asked to see him. I was not prepared for the encounter. His nose and lips had been eaten away. In their place was a giant weeping sore.
The disfiguration stemmed from the ghastly flesh-eating disease mucocutaneous leishmaniosis, or white leprosy. It is caused by the bite of infected sand flies of the sort he encountered on his recent expedition to Brazil.
That sight was chilling enough. But he was also covered in scar tissue from skin grafts. Ward had been sprayed with the venom of the fer-de-lance, an Amazonian pit viper, from six feet away. It necrotized the points of contact and the dead flesh had to be debrided down to the bone.
To keep Ward calm and ameliorate his pain, the staff kept him on a Dialaudid drip. The presiding physician warned me that he would do little more than spout gibberish, but every now and then it would be punctuated with moments of lucidity. All the staff psychiatrist knew was that Ward had been the sole survivor of an expedition that went in search of Cidade Negro, or the Black City. In his hysterical moments, he would call it the City of the Monkey God.
They had him strapped down tight to prevent any further suicide attempts. Next to his bed was an artefact that he supposedly brought back from that forbidden place. It was a black onyx carving, no more than six inches high, of a winged monkey sitting on its haunches. The thing had a fiendish leer on its face of the sort you see after a monkey hurls its faeces at a zoo goer. The wings were partially opened suggesting it was about to take flight. Its arms and legs were human-like, but instead of hands there were claws, instead of feet there were talons digging into the tiny pedestal on which it perched.
Ward had claimed that he had brought it back from the Amazon. At first, I regarded it as a gag gift from a novelty shop. But the more I studied it, the more uneasy I became. Amazonian tribes were not known for such exceptional workmanship and detail. Nor did its theme fit within the canon of artefacts recovered from that region. I picked it up and rubbed my fingernail against it. While its composition seemed to be black onyx, it was, in truth, something else, neither metal nor stone. A polymer plastic perhaps, but that would mean it was a modern piece Ward had purchased or been gifted.
I stood there looking at him as he stared into empty space seeing I know not what in his mind. It was then that I first noticed a buzzing in my ears. Very slight. And for some then unknown reason the hair on my bare arms were standing on end as if I had rubbed my feet on a carpet. Weird but not threatening, so I pushed those anomalies to back of my mind and focused on why I was there.
Without any prompting from me, he began to speak.
Friend, don’t you recognize your father? Or didn’t you know that the monkey is father to the man.
I mildly retorted, Wordsworth leavened with Darwin.
No, he said. Not poetry, not evolution, but, with apologies to Michelangelo, the brutish hairy hand of creation reached down and gave us the spark of life. And now, Deus Macaco brought us together after all these years. We share a blood line.
I said, I speak Portugese so I get Monkey God. But we’re not related.
His riddling continued: We had the same father. Meu irmao meis novo. He was an organ grinder and we are his monkeys, trousered and capped, tiny tin cup in hand begging alms from passing strangers.
I stopped him: Captain Ward, I want you to tell me about your trip to Brazil.
He looked at me solemnly and said, there are certain protocols to which I must adhere before I can bestow such esoterica. I must baptize you in the name of Deus Macaco. Come closer candidate that I might cleanse thee of the world and make a monkey of you.
I leaned in and he spit in my face: I baptize you not in the name of the father but in the name of O Destruidor De Mundus. For He rules the kingdom of which I will speak, and soon enough he will rule this world again. Even now I can feel his awful stirrings within me, black legions massing in a swarm of tails and wings.
I took that as the preamble to whatever lunatic ravings he was about to bestow. Yet, he spoke in tones that were cool and unsympathetic. H seemed to regard me as an object of study the way a biologist might study a bacterium under a microscope.
I have been a soldier all my life. Nevertheless, there was a part of me that always yearned to explore arcane and hidden places. In that respect we are alike. Me for the dark places of the earth, you for those of the mind.
I was first infected with the lost city virus when I was doing covert operations in Argentina for her Majesty. Keeping an eye on things so we didn’t have a repeat of the Falklands War. I learned that NASA had recently flown a DC-10 carrying laser mapping tech over unexplored Brazilian terrain. LIDAR as it is called does not penetrate the jungle canopy. Instead, it exploits small holes in the foliage. The light goes in and the bounce-backs create a point cloud of ground images. In this case, the point cloud revealed archaeological features in the form of geometric shapes—circles, rectangles, squares and triangles.
What NASA had found was not on any map. Nor is it mentioned in a book, historical or otherwise. But there is the myth of Cidade Negra, the Black City. Supposedly it predates the Aztecs, the Incans and the Mayans. It was that legend, in conjunction with NASA’s findings, that prompted Harvard and the Smithsonian to lay the groundwork for a joint archaeological expedition within the next two years.
Argentina is a stone’s throw from Brazil. I took leave from Her Majesty’s Service fully intending to mount my own expedition as much from scientific curiosity as from gold fever. Whatever its scientific value, the legend held that the Black City was a repository of gold artefacts.
I assembled my own mercenary team. The financing came from Bruce the Deuce Hendricks. His father had made a fortune selling his oil business to John D. Rockefeller. Bruce had Clarke Gable good looks complemented by a thick black moustache and slicked back black hair. He was known for his Palm Beach suits and white shoes.
The nuts and bolts of lost city skulduggery came from Bear Rankin, fixer, prospector, drug smuggler, tomb looter and prick. Bruce was as they say a fat fuck with more chins than a Chinese phone book and rolls of blubber that rippled under his clothes as he moved. He was loud, pretentious, dripped gold and smoked fat cigars. But if anybody could put together an expedition in short notice, let alone to one of the more dangerous places on the planet, it was he.
The three of us partnered with three mercenaries, former Brazilian Special Forces commandoes. I chartered a Huey to fly us from Base Camp to an open space near the target area. The pilot Frosty Meyers and his co-pilot and wife, Misty Meyers had stripped off the M-60 machine guns and rocket launchers and refitted the Huey with extra fuel bladders.
When we were with 10 kilometres off the LZ, we hit what I initially thought was turbulence. As the Huey bucked, I could hear the rotors grinding. Something was smacking into the blades. From the window, I could see a mass of black wings. Blood sprayed on the windows. Dusky-legged guans or black curassows, I thought.
Whatever they were, they gummed up the blades and clogged the intakes. The chopper pitched forward and dropped like a stone nose first into the jungle below. It slammed into trees and came to rest perpendicular to the ground with the stabilizer rotor spinning like crazy. I, along with everyone left alive, choked on the smell of smoke and oil.
I made my way forward. Both Frosty and Misty had been impaled by bamboo shafts. They were dead. Not slumped over dead, but impaled and split in half dead.
I came back to a chorus of moans. The three special ops commandoes were in bad shape and bleeding out. For their part Bear and Bruce were torn up but otherwise ambulatory.
We got the commandoes out of the Huey. We patched them up as best we could and hooked up morphine drips. Then we deliberated as to our next move.
Bear: We’ve come this far. We need to at least see what we came to see.
Bruce: Fuck you Gunga Din. These guys need serious help. Dicking around looking for a lost city is stupid. The radio is destroyed. There’s no phone service. We need to make litters to carry our wounded and walk out of here.
Me: We are less than a day away from the target. I say one of us stays here and tends to the wounded. Two of us will go find the city. Otherwise, this whole expedition was a waste of time. We may not get another chance.
Bruce: And if these guys die?
Bear: We’re going to leave them in your capable hands. So, see to it they don’t. Sure, they’re pretty banged up, but I don’t see any evidence of internal bleeding. We’ve got enough morphine to keep them on ice for a week, if we need to.
Me: If we can grab one or two artefacts, we’ll be set for life and so will they. So, a little discomfort is a small price to pay for a life of luxury.
We voted. Bear and I won. We set out with our hopes high that we would find what we came for.
Progress through the undergrowth was painfully slow. We had to cut through dense, unyielding vegetation. We had been at it for over two hours when Bear sank into quick mud. It filled up his waders and dragged him down to the waste.
I got him a line and was slowly pulling him up when a fer-de-lance that had been behind a log struck him on the neck. I cut it in half with my machete, but by then, it had juiced him with enough venom to kill a rhino.
I threw him the anti-venom. He injected himself. But because it had caught him the neck, the poison made rapid progress throughout his body. I might have pulled him out, but the venom made him so weak he couldn’t use his hands to help pull himself out of the mud.
A few moments later, he slumped over into the mud. I pulled and pulled, but his dead weight sank into the goo, until he disappeared.
Now I was alone. Part of me wanted to say fuck it and turn back. But another part of me said fuck it, keep going. So, I did.
The time-chiselled, majestic trees watched my progress, silent sentinels keeping dark secrets. This was not an enchanted place, nor even primeval, but ominous and sepulchral filled with coiling vapours and enormous serpentine roots. Jaguars slunk around me while cruel corvid eyes studied me from branches and wondered if I could fit inside their beaks. Rhythmic grunts and squeals echoed all around me, a devil’s chorus of thing eating thing eating thing at nature’s bloody buffet where the diners soon become the dined upon. Tennyson was right: nature red in tooth and claw; what I would have given to have those as back-up when I ran out of bullets.
My mind began to unravel from the heat and stress. How the fuck were we going to make it back to civilization lugging three bodies when walking hands free through that green hell was task enough? My body ached from the sting of fire ants and the bite of kissing bugs. And that god-awful humidity that made my ass and balls sweat and itch.
I felt a cruel intelligence watching me. Not a person. Not an animal. But a cruel jungle mind that inhabited every root and tree and twig and bug and bit of soil, an intelligence that flowed through the veins and skulls of every viper and deer and flying thing, an intelligence as old as the earth itself, that vomited forth at its dawning, a first mind if you will, that was tolerating my presence here if only to study me, and perhaps judge me, taking my measure as a living thing to decide whether I was worthy of my life or just a convenient snack for one of its many animal incarnations.
By now, I had gone completely around the bend as they say and began to see the stuff of Brazilian legend: the bortata, the serpent with the horns of a bull and eyes of fire; the corpo seco, or dry corpse, dancing in the green around me. I even saw the lobisem, or werewolf. I was delirious and seeing shit that wasn’t there, and once or twice thought about sticking my Glock tonsil deep down my throat and squeezing the trigger to make it all go the fuck away. Time to die asshole, time to die.
I was trained to be a tough motherfucker. I had killed men before, and not batted an eye. But here I was being crushed by panic from my own psyche. What would the boys at the regiment think if they could peel back my skull and see all that little bitch cognition eating away at the foundation of my courage like so many termites eating away the foundation of a building.
Fear is the breaker of men. The adamantium to their cheap flesh and bone and blood and other emotions. Roosevelt got it right: fear itself is the only thing we truly must fear. Everything else is stamp-collecting.
I soldiered on despite myself driving forward on auto pilot. A few hours later my machete struck a barrier. When I cleared away the green, I was staring at a lustrous wall of black. It wasn’t stone and it wasn’t metal. I dragged my machete across it, and there was neither a scratch nor a sound in its wake.
I knew that the wall was the outermost layer of the Black City. I followed it. As I did, I could see faint images on its surface. Nothing that made sense, they were fragments and bits of things. I suspected that at one time those images where whole and displayed in brilliant colours, but whatever had once powered the wall was running low on energy. Like a flashlight as the batteries fail.
After an hour or so, I came to a pair of massive swinging doors. I knew for sure that this was the Lost City of the Monkey God because on the arch above them sat a giant monkey with outspread wings. A much grander version of my diminutive friend you have in your hand. And by the looks of things much hungrier.
I heard something crashing through the jungle behind me. Two hairy, hulking figures emerged and stood on either side of me. They grabbed my arms then called out in some guttural tongue, half man half animal. The doors swung in to reveal a tribe of hairy giants, some men, some women, and even children. The ulaks of Brazilian legend. I couldn’t remember if ulaks were cannibals, but the way things were going, being grabbed by a tribe of hairy cannibals had an air of consistency about it. Shit rolls downhill, and as it does, it gathers speed and more shit along the way.
My hirsute escorts shoved me into the city. It was an eclectic mix of black featureless geometric shaped structures and primitive grass and bamboo huts. It smelled of animals and faeces.
As we marched through the square, I could see a group of children playing soccer with an all too human head. Farther along, I saw an open-air orgy of rutting ape men and ape women pleasuring one another.
Here and there were stone carvings on pedestals: a red brocket dear with the head of a snake, a vulture with a monkey’s head, a jaguar’s body with a man’s head, and of course, more than anything else, winged monkeys. I wondered how they had settled on that as such a powerful fetish, since I was sure not one of these monkey men had ever seen the Wizard of Oz.
Although my handlers grunted and snorted as they pushed and pulled me along according to some unspoken protocol, they didn’t seem bothered by my rifle or sidearm. I don’t think they had ever seen a gun before, so to them, my weapons were nothing more than a bit of attire.
We came to a large black pyramid. Inside I could hear chanting in some strange language. I could also feel a weird vibration in the air. It made my hair stand on end and my skin tingle. Even my teeth chattered.
When we passed into the pyramid proper there was a congregation of ape-men kneeling before an altar. I saw live—I mean alive—not my hallucination or febrile imagination run amuck—but live in the flesh monkey-headed vultures and winged monkeys perched on the eaves above while snake-headed deer monitored the service at ground level. Ushers and demons straight from hell or some alternate eldritch dimension where the black planets roll.
Given the city’s legendary name and the other fetishes and statutes I had seen, I was not surprised to see an enormous black winged monkey statute above the altar leering like the proverbial Cheshire cat. As I looked into its jewelled eyes, the feeling of being watched by something very old and very evil returned. It was hot as hell in that temple, but I felt a chill creep over, and I started to shiver and shake. It was not the chill of an icy blast coming into a warm house of a sere winter day, but of an absence of anything alive or human or friendly to this world. A blast from beyond the frigid revolving realms of Pluto and Chiron, a blast from the nothingness of cold, dead, empty space.
And that vibration was getting stronger. I could feel it in my feet and running up my leg. I almost wanted to call it a signal, but that made zero sense. Perhaps, I considered, it was a seismic peculiar to this region or errant magnetic flux.
There was frost coming from my breath, real honest to goodness frost. It was an unnatural thing from somewhere else, an exhalation of the mephitic air of hell flowing around the frozen lake that imprisons Dante’s Lucifer, perhaps. In that place, the rules were bending and twisting so I should not have been surprised at any deviation from normalcy no matter how bizarre.
My handlers pushed me forward then down onto my knees. When I resisted, they shoved me down onto my chest and kept me grounded with their feet on my head and back.
I turned my head just enough to watch the proceedings on the altar. Behind the monkey statute, a kind of movie was playing. A great winged monkey was having his lesser monkeys build things. Structures of one kind or another. But they were having no luck. It was a combination of not understanding the instructions and being fumble-fingered despite their opposable thumbs. So, the Great Monkey God fashioned men to be his architects and builders. These he charged with building his city.
Sometimes, he would spit a mucus or venom on his subjects. I couldn’t tell whether that was to punish or promote them because that yellow ooze seemed to have a curious effect. Sometimes, it would dissolve them. Other times it would transform them into howler monkeys. At others, he would make a hairy man thing by spitting on a howler monkey.
The show went on for some time. It showed the armies of the Monkey God conquering the lands around the city. Once satisfied that everything was just as he wanted it the Great Monkey God created a portal and left. Thus, the show ended. But that was just a prelude to the real show that was about to happen.
For a moment later a blast of hot air filled the temple. Where there had once been a visual narrative of the Monkey God’s works, there now appeared a swelling circle of eldritch light. As that circle expanded, there came an animal stench of fur, faeces and urine that made my eyes burn.
Then as if on cue, the Great Monkey God flew through that shimmering portal and came to rest on a pedestal behind the altar. It dwarfed its monstrous effigy before it. It sat on its haunches licking its lips and drooling as it surveyed the assembly of minions and worshippers.
My handlers said something unintelligible and pointed to me. The Monkey God flapped his wings, took flight and glided to within a foot or so of where I lay prostrate. It bent over for a closer look then using its claw hand like tweezers pinched my shirt in the back and slowly lifted me up, so we were face-to-face.
I threw up all over myself at its rank odour. That didn’t alter its intentions because it opened its mouth wide exposing row upon row of razor-sharp teeth. It meant to chew me up and then swallow clothes and all.
Its pink tongue, thick and long as an anaconda snaked forward to lick me.
I didn’t hesitate. I unslung my rifle and gut shot the thing. 12 high velocity light armour piercing rounds. It howled and dropped me, grabbing it protuberant belly. It tried to rip me with its claws, but I ducked away. I shot it in the head with my Glock. Nine head shots. That only made it madder.
It backed up and coughed a prodigious amount of phlegm and promptly spit it all over me. It turned and flew back through the portal to wherever it had come from.
The phlegm burned my skin. It felt like it penetrated to the core.
I staggered back. As I did, the entire congregation backed away from me. They were clearly afraid of contact with that stuff.
I got outside and rolled around in the dirt. The stuff mixed with the dirt. I got most of it off me. I staggered out of the city and into the jungle.
I followed our cut path back to the Huey. When I got there, I saw my compatriots being carried away by a squadron of flying monkeys.
It took a month to get out of the jungle. During that time, I was bitten by kissing bugs and scorpions. I was sprayed with fer-de-lance venom that burned me to the bone. I had malaria and dysentery.
The worst part was the nightmares. In them, I change from a man to a monkey. I chalked it up to fear of what I saw in monkey cinema of men being changed into monkey. Whatever weird things I had seen down there, I didn’t believe in magic spit that could cause such a metamorphosis. Besides, I hadn’t seen any extra hair on my body.
I said, So, you believe the nightmares to be the afterburn of your experience and nothing more?
He said, No, that’s what I told myself to keep myself going until I got back to civilization. I kept telling myself you’re not going to change so forget about it. Be grateful you got out of that Amazonian freak show alive.
I said, Right, but what do you believe now?
He laughed, I believe that I’m totally fucked, just like everybody else. He’s coming back to redo the world and finished what he started.
With that, he hopped out of bed, removed his hospital gown and turned around. I could see the beginnings of a tail emerging from his rear end. Maybe I should have been alarmed, but vestigial tail growth in humans is not unheard of. Such tails are composed of adipose and connective tissue with bundles of striated muscles, as well as blood vessels and nerves. But there’s never been one with any sign of vertebrae or controlled movement.
I asked, So, you think that’s from the Monkey God’s spit?
He said, No, I got all that slime off me before it could make any changes. That’s from his call. Ultra-low frequency. That pyramid of His is a transmitter amplifier, so it’s not just me, but everybody sooner or later is going to hear his call and change. Those what are already changing are walking talking living breathing signal boosters transmitting--I guess you could say evangelizing—his message and helping to convert those who aren’t. See, my knuckles weren’t hairy before. Look at my ears. And see, even though its short, I can control it.
I didn’t know what to say. Something was happening to him, but I assumed it was isolated. I left him to his metamorphosis and had a word with the attending physician. I left, promising to return the next day for further consultation with the patient.
It was then that realized the buzzing and tingling had abated. At some point, I thought, I’ll look up potential causes for such things when I have the time.
On the drive back, I felt a strange sensation on my butt. A discomfort, as if something were sticking me. I chalked it up to the power of suggestion. Three hours of talking to a lunatic who thinks he’s turning into a monkey must have affected me.
I got home and fixed myself a martini. As I sat down, I again felt that poking sensation above my buttocks. I got pissed off and put down the drink. I yanked down my pants and felt my behind. Sure enough, there was a stump of something or other sticking out of me.
I went to the bathroom. I grabbed a hand mirror to look at the protuberance and sure as shit there was a little hairy tale growing out of me. I consoled myself by classifying it as nothing more than a cyst, an innocuous growth that could be hacked off by a dermatologist.
But I made the mistake of trying an experiment. I tried to wiggle it and wiggle it did. And when it did, I felt a presence around me. Something was in the room with me, unseen, ethereal, watching me.
I looked at the bathroom mirror to see if there were any changes to my face or ears. I looked long and hard. Although I didn’t see any changes to my face or ears, or any excess hair, there was something about the eyes looking back at me that seemed odd. I could see a second set of eyes—eyes with no whites to them--within my own looking back through the mirror into this world. They were big and brown, hungry and unsympathetic. They were the eyes of the Monkey God and I was now one of his subjects.