A rejuvenating blush blossomed in Mung’s 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 pleased—though 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 Mung’s flesh into food, for any number of sneakier, stealthier, more powerful creatures)… her proneness to injury compounding the hazards (euphoria of youth’s brief comeback no contest in a habitat strict in enforcing its one-false-step rule)… status as the jungle’s brainiest denizen (therefore capable of ‘imagining’ demise) weighing upon Mung’s consciousness with equal, depolarizing influence, as she came to re-understand the Golden Mean—made 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 Mung’s approach. Unless the distance dividing them had widened not narrowed—a 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 Elder’s 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 heritage—though 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 cling—Mung sighed—nothing 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 ecosystem’s sphere—tribute, 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 dolphins—though Mung had no pretensions about the philosophy of sea creatures; it simply stood to reason that Reason thrived—bent 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 brethren’s scent… strong, at last… fresh!

She followed it, with worry-ridden eagerness, into the deepest of the forest’s 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 abductor’s 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 antelope—caught by the hoof in a snare, evidently, its leg, by the sapling’s 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 Mung’s kinsmen, their musk unmistakable—if altered by this shameful deviation from the dietary norm; meat, for Mung’s generation (and countless generations prior) had been unilaterally forbidden. Intelligence and carnivorousness were not to be mixed—not 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.