Welcome to Skull Island
Stevy was being naughty again. He was running up and down the aisle of the ferry, bumping into the legs of other passengers. The scowls were directed at me.
"Stop it, or I'll take you home right now," I said.
Stevy stopped for a moment, a little uncertain, as six years old often are, then he grinned.
"You can’t," he said. "You’re not driving the boat."
He accelerated down the aisle, screaming at the top of his voice: "We’re seeing the Kong, we’re seeing the Kong."
I chased him, grabbing his arm and lifting him up. He kicked at me and started to scream.
"Be quiet and I will buy you something special when we get there."
I carried him outside on to the bow of the ferry, away for the judgement in the cabin.
"What ever you like."
He thought about it
"Put me down."
"Are you going to be good?"
He nodded and I set him down on the deck. He climbed up onto the railing and leaned forward into the ocean spray.
"Be careful," I said, grabbing the back of his shirt.
He ignored the warning and began singing: "We’re seeing the Kong ..."
He really wasn’t a bad kid, its just that he had worked out the advantages of having divorced parents. I spent two weekends a month with him, and one holiday a year ("which holidays to be agreed between the parties"). He knew that I wanted to impress him with my fathering skills and he knew that on return to his mother, she would bribe him for information. His behaviour was structured to gain the maximum benefit from the both of us.
We stayed on the deck outside as the ferry docked, and then we joined the queue that snaked down the gangplank towards the buses on the shore.
"We’re seeing the Kong," Stevy said softly.
"Yes," I said.
He pulled at my hand.
"I’m being good now."
I smiled: "Yes you are."
The buses offered various options, from the full island tour to a direct shuttle to the Kong enclosure.
"Do you want to see the other animals first?"
Stevy shook his head.
"Are you sure. There’s plenty of time to see him."
His lower lip started to curl and he raised his voice, threateningly.
I shrugged and we flowed into the line that lead to the ‘Kong Bus’. On board, we settled into seats in the mid section and waited as the bus filled up. Once it did, a young man in a uniform marked "Park Ranger", tapped the microphone and asked us whether we could hear him. Several passengers shouted back they could. Satisfied, he sat on the dashboard and smiled.
"Hi, I’m Ranger Teddy," he said. Then patting the driver on the shoulder, "and this is Driver Alan"
Driver Alan waved without turning to face us.
"A couple of things before we get going," Ranger Teddy continued. "I need you to stay with the group when we hop off the bus, and I need you to keep your arms inside when we are on it." The smile again "Otherwise you’ll be the only 'armless' thing on the island."
A couple of polite laughs seemed to satisfy him. He shifted back on the dashboard, and leaned against the inside of the windscreen.
Stevy started to fidget in the seat next to me.
When we first broke up, my wife I agreed that we would be civil for his sake. No carping about each other in front of him, no vicious property battle. I would see him whenever I wanted to.
Maybe that happens in another dimension. But in this one, divorce kids are a prize. You feel like crap when you break up, and who your kid loves most is the prop for your self esteem. I was going to be Stevy’s favourite even if I had to take him to every fun park in the world and buy into every craze that came along. There was nothing better for an overweight divorced man, on a lower middle income, who has been pushed into subsistence living by alimony and child support, than to hear his son say: "You’re the best one, Daddy," as he cradled some new toy in his arms.
"When are we going to see Kong?" Stevy demanded, in a voice loud enough to carry through the bus. I blushed and shrugged.
Ranger Teddy smiled his perpetual smile.
"We’ll see him real soon, little fella," he said.
"I’m not a little fella," Stevy yelled back, making a face
"Shhhhh," I said
"I’m not!" The voice louder this time.
Ranger Teddy’s smile started to look strained.
"Of course, you’re not. You’re a big kid." He tapped Driver Alan on the shoulder and the bus started to move. A couple of people behind us clapped, but when no one joined in, they let their hands drop into their lap, and rubbed them together in an embarrassed way.
"Folks, what you are going to see today is truly the eighth wonder of the world," Ranger Teddy said, his voice pitched perfectly to be heard over the rumble of the engine. "So before we get there, let me give you a little history lesson." I heard a couple of groans. Stevy was slapping his legs in time with some internal music he was creating.
"Kong was found on this island in 1932, as part of an expedition led by a man called Danewright. He had heard legends about a giant ape and had decided if they were true, he was going to be the one to capture him. Danewright was a showman. We call them entrepreneurs these days. So he had the idea that he would bring the ape back to the States and show him all over the country for a buck a head. That was a lot of money then…" The smile came back "…though a lot less than you folks are paying today."
Some laughter and someone called out, Damned right.
The bus started climbing a gentle slope. High fences bordered the road on either side, and behind them you could see lions stretched out absorbing the sun.
"Look at them," I pointed. Stevy looked, then turned away.
"They’re not big," he said and began slapping his legs again and chanting, "I want to see Kong" in a voice that started low and began to build.
"Sssshhh. We’re almost there"
"The lions, like a lot of the other animals, are not native to the island. However, they are the descendants of the originals that were brought here when Danewright set up the park. But I’m getting ahead of myself." He tapped himself on the back of his hand, in a mock reprimand " When Danewright arrived it didn’t take long to confirm the stories about Kong were true. It also didn’t take him long to work out there was no way that he was going to take something that big back to the States"
"What about the movie?" someone called out.
Ranger Teddy smiled.
"Danewright needed some money to finance his idea of setting up this park, so he sold his story to Hollywood. Of course, in a movie there are no problems bringing a giant ape back in a cargo hold. So that is what they did. They also changed Danewright’s name to Denham and brought in a beauty to tame the beast. Danewright didn’t particularly mind the writers’ poetic license. He already had his money and besides, as I’ve said, he was a showman. He knew you needed something that would make people part with their hard earned. In fact, it was Danewright who convinced the writers to change the end. They had Kong climbing the Statue of Liberty, but he told them that a giant ape swatting planes at the top of Empire State Building, then falling into the street was going to have more people screaming than a splash in the harbour "
The bus began slowing, then turned into a large carpark built in front of an archway labelled: Welcome to Skull Island.
"We’re here, folks. Now when we get off the bus, like I said, please stay together and follow me through the archway. That will take us through the gift shop – we can’t let you get away without seeing that. On the other side, is the viewing area for Kong’s enclosure. We’ll have ten minutes in the shop and then gather on the platform outside."
Stevy stood on the seat and started chanting "Kong! Kong! Kong --". I grabbed his hand and lifted him down to the floor. We shuffled off the bus and followed Ranger Teddy through the archway and into the shop.
Stevy ran between the various stands of toys, finally stopping at one displaying a Kong robot. The price tag said $200 (marked down from $259).
"That," he said, pointing. "That’s what I want"
"Stevy that’s pretty expensive."
He stamped his feet, and curled his lips.
"You promised. You promised to buy me something if I was good."
"But there are other things here. You should look first…"
He worked some tears into his eyes.
"No. I want that. You promised, you liar."
The voice was loud enough to cause silence in the shop. I blushed and shrugged my shoulders at the other customers.
"Okay, we’ll get that," I said taking his hand. "But let’s go see Kong first. We’ll get it on the way back."
He nodded and followed as I led him out of the shop. With luck the excitement of seeing Kong would make him forget about our agreement.
We followed the path with signs that pointed to the Kong Viewing Platform. Ranger Teddy was there when we arrived and motioned us to join the semi circle of people that formed around him.
The platform was about hundred feet off the ground overlooking an enclosure. There was a thick glass panel that rose up another 100 feet from the decking. There was a clearing in the enclosure, perhaps the size of couple football fields, and well worn path lead out of it and into a densely vegetated jungle.
"Where’s Kong?" Stevy yelled.
Ranger Teddy smiled.
"He’ll be here soon, champ," he said, and then carried on, while ignoring Stevy’s pout.
"You may not be aware of this, but much of the profit from the park funds a long term research program into Kong. We know he is the only one of his kind, or more precisely, the only one left. We have found bones that suggest there was once at least 30 giant apes on this island. We don’t know where they came from, whether they are a throwback to prehistoric time or whether their size is an aberration of nature. Some people have suggested it might have been a genetic modification done as an experiment by some other race…"
Some one hummed the Twilight Zone theme and several people laughed, including Ranger Teddy.
"The most interesting thing for our scientists has been trying to determine Kong’s age. Their best guess is that he is at least 800 years old, and he is only mid aged. He could well live another one or two thousand years."
"Boring, boring, boring."
Stevy sang out the words and Ranger Teddy’s perpetual smile faded momentarily. But before he could say anything there was a rumbling sound behind him. Something large moving through the jungle.
We all took a step towards the glass.
"I can’t see!" Stevy screamed out, and I lifted him onto my shoulders.
The trees were shaking and I could sense the people around me holding their breath. I suddenly realised I was holding mine, as well.
There was sudden roar, and Kong burst out of the trees, his arms above his head and his mouth open in a snarl. Several people screamed, including Stevy.
Ranger Teddy’s smile was back
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "the Eighth Wonder of the World, King Kong!"
Kong stood in the centre of the enclosure for a few moments, then slowly moved towards the glass, his head to one side, as if he was not sure why we were there.
People moved forward cautiously, some touching the glass, where Kong’s breath was forming mist.
"Kong has actually grown five feet, since Danewright originally measured him... "
"Daddy, can I go inside and touch him?" Stevy was pulling at my hand.
I shook my head. Ranger Teddy cut off his spiel on Kong’s dimensions and knelt down in front of Stevy.
"Your Daddy’s right," he said. "That’s way too dangerous. Kong may look like a big teddy bear, but he is a wild animal."
Ranger Teddy stood up and a spoke to the rest of the group.
"You will have read stories on those groups who have been protesting about Kong being kept in this enclosure. They want to see him free, not a circus attraction. Of course, they all seem to forget that this is his home. We don’t keep him in a cage. This is the same place he was living when Danewright found… "
A woman’s voice cut across Teddy’s.
"My God. There’s some body in there!"
The crowd took another step forward.
There was a man running out of the jungle towards Kong. As he got closer, I could make out the logo on the tee shirt: Free the King.
Kong seemed to sense the man behind him and he turned. The man was screaming something, but I couldn’t make out what it was.
Kong stared at him for a moment, then reached down and picked him up. The group held its breath. I looked down at Stevy. His eyes were saucers.
The man wriggled in the giant paw and Kong’s head rocked from side to side. Curiosity again.
After a minute, Kong opened his mouth. He popped the squirming man inside and swallowed.
Everyone was screaming, including Stevy.
"He ate him…"
Ranger Teddy stepped into the group, still smiling. He waved his hands for quiet.
"Okay folks. Don’t be alarmed. There’s nothing to worry about." He turned towards the enclosure and made some sort of signal.
Kong opened his mouth and inside, sitting on his tongue was the protestor.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce Ranger Tom."
Ranger Tom swung out of Kong’s mouth and onto his shoulder. He stood there waving.
"Nothing better than a little scare to get the day going," Ranger Teddy said, and people began laughing to release the tension.
Everyone except Stevy. I looked down and he was standing with his arms crossed, his face fixed by disgust.
"That’s a cheat!" he yelled. "That’s a cheat!"
He grabbed my sleeve
"I don’t want to see Kong anymore," he said.
"We’ll go in a minute."
He slapped my thigh.
"No, we’ll go now. I want my robot. Now."
The group had turned from Kong and were staring at us. I gave my practiced pathetic smile and shrug, then I took Stevy’s hand and we made our way back to the Gift Shop.
As I was walking, I couldn’t help thinking that Kong wasn’t the only trained animal on the island.
Bio: Bart Meehan lives in the deep dark jungles of Canberra, Australia and occassionally emerges to publish a story. In the past, these excursions have led to publications in Aurealis, Mattoid, Far Out and Another Realm, among others.
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