by D. A. Cairns
As angry and frustrated as Goyyou felt, his punches were usually weak and ineffective --like pins trying to penetrate rocks. But not this time. This dream was different. Now his fists were like sledgehammers smashing rocks to pieces. He could not see who he was punching but he knew the blows were connecting and causing pain, and that pleased him.
Frightened and breathless he woke from the dream and tried to shake off the uneasiness he felt. Although it was a dream, he was sickened by its violence, by his violence.
His stomach full of breakfast, Goyyou sat uncomfortably with his large frame squeezed into a regular size office chair. Bored, he jabbed his index finger into his hairy nostril then ran his hand through his thick hair. Looking at the round clock on the office wall, he sighed when he realized only five minutes had passed since the last time he looked. Watching the time, watching the walls, watching a cockroach scurry across his desk. Just watching and waiting. Wasting time.
Picking up the large remote control unit, he aimed at the bank of nine forty eight centimeter televisions lined up in three rows of three, and clicked them into life.
One screen showed a sparsely furnished and unoccupied bedroom, while another showed the empty corridor outside. A third displayed a view of a park, covered in green grass with a smattering of trees and multi-hued shrubs. There was a scene of a lake, its water flat and still like glass, and another, an entrance to a cave, dark and foreboding. Then an empty room, windowless and sterile. Televisions seven and eight were completely black; the last screen in the bottom right hand corner featured a short stretch of footpath, starting as concrete then turning to dirt. In the middle of the dirt path was some different colored soil which nobody would notice unless there were looking for it.
Screen number nine was the most promising, and that was where Goyyou focused most of his attention although it had so far failed to deliver. At least he did occasionally see people. But all they did was run over the patch of dirt and on out of view. There was no sound, no audio track for him to listen to short, garbled and breathless conversations. Seemingly no chance that one of those runners would stop and notice the patch of different colored dirt which was his only real hope to escape the prison in which he was living. A prison where he was free to do whatever he pleased, whenever he felt like it. Anything, except leave. Worse than that was not having anyone to talk to, no one to laugh with, and no one to love. Not since Father had left. Goyyou was lonely, and loneliness, he had come to learn, was the worst hell of a jail ever created.
"Come on, Jason. Man, you're slowing down in your old age."
"Thirty is old age now, is it?" said Jason, putting on a burst to bring him up beside his taunting friend.
"It obviously is for you," replied Aman.
Jason laughed as best he could while gasping for breath. The truth was he did feel sluggish. He and Aman ran along this same path every weekday morning, and usually he could comfortably keep pace with his fitter friend. Today he was really struggling, and could not understand why. Lack of sleep wasn't the problem as he had an early night, and neither his dinner of a bland stir fry dish with some steamed rice, nor his breakfast of toast and orange juice was out of the ordinary.
"All right, old fella, I'll go easy on you today," said Aman.
"Thanks," replied Jason, accepting the ribbing in the spirit in which it was intended.
Was there something to what Aman was saying about his age? Thirty seemed like a long way off a few years ago, and had sounded a little old when he was a boy, but he didn't suddenly feel old now he was thirty. It wasn't as though blowing out the candles on his birthday cake had left him breathless and wheezing from the strain. No, there was no reason. It was just one of those days when he woke up and didn't feel one hundred percent.
Jason decided he could help the torpor pass by running it out of his body and with that he put on another sprint which incited riotous laughter from Aman.
"That's the way, old boy. Run it off."
Aman stopped laughing when his friend fell to the ground heavily. Jason had seen the end of the concrete section of the path coming up and was concentrating on it, knowing that extra care was required when striding off the hard, firm concrete onto the soft, uneven dirt. The harsh sucking in of air as he ran and the whoosh as he pushed it out through his mouth drowned out the sound of Aman's laughter. His heart threatened to break out of his chest, and crash to the path in front of him. Unable to get out, it took Jason's whole lanky frame down with it.
Aman reached Jason in a matter of seconds, and quickly knelt to assist his friend.
"You all right, Jas ?"
Jason was lying face down in the middle of the dirt track. Too exhausted to move, he could barely manage to turn his head to talk.
"Yeah, I guess. Man, that was fun. I felt like I was flying. My head was wanting to go faster than my legs could carry me."
"You weren't going that fast, mate, sorry to tell you."
"Really, mate," insisted Jason. "I really thought I was flying."
Aman laughed, "The flying part wasn't the problem, but I reckon you could use some work on your landing technique. Look at yourself, man."
Jason struggled to a sitting position. He could see the humor in Aman's comment but didn't have enough wind in his sails to laugh.
Eventually, Jason managed to get to his feet, and was even able to throw a few jibes back at his running partner. While he was brushing the dirt off his clothes, Jason noticed its color. At the same time Aman observed the hole Jason's body had left in the path from the impact of the fall.
"Look what you did to the track, Jas. They're going to need a road crew here to fix it up before anyone else can run along here again. Look at the hole you made."
Jason was momentarily impressed with himself.
"See? I must have been really motoring to make a crater that big."
Staring hard at it, the two men realized the hole could not have been totally due to Jason's fall. Resembling choc-chip ice cream, the darker soil was flecked through with lighter bits, obviously hiding something.
Jason reached down to the nadir of the crater, and began to brush away the dirt, widening and deepening the hole.
"What are you doing? A minute ago you were huffing like an old man and, now you're playing in the dirt like a little boy."
"There's something here," said Jason excitedly, "Look. Help me."
They both started to brush and push the dark soil away, although Aman was much less enthusiastic. When Aman's hand scraped against metal, he stopped digging and looked at Jason, who also ceased on hearing the sound.
"What have we got here?" said the two in unison.
Goyyou watched screen number nine and could not contain his excitement. He began to yell and to whoop and to dance and jump around his office, unable to believe his eyes, or restrain the flood of happiness he felt as he watched the two men uncover the door. Free at last. There was no way the two men on screen nine could fail to find their way down to him and release him. Excitedly, Goyyou made preparations to receive his guests, his liberators. Initially, the men would be confused and frightened, and they may see the situation differently, but he would do his utmost to make them feel comfortable.
He squeezed out through the door of his office and walked down the hall to the lounge. It would not be long before Goyyou would have to widen the door as he continued to put on weight at an alarming rate. Boredom had much to do with the extra kilograms, despite vigorous daily exercise and a balanced diet. Father would have told him not to worry because he was a growing boy, but Father was no longer with him, and Goyyou was very concerned. Not being able to fit through a door definitely constituted a problem.
Although the lounge was clean and tidy because nobody used it, Goyyou fumbled with the cushions on the sofa, attempting to fluff them as he had seen Father do many times. All the euphoria of seeing the two men discover the key-hole began to ebb away as fear invaded his heart bringing doubts about the two men's willingness or ability to accept him. He had been alone for two years since Father died, and had no contact with anyone since then. Would he be able to communicate with them? Would they like him?
Plonking his massive frame down on the sofa, Goyyou shook his head in resignation, preparing himself for the disappointment of rejection.
Warily, Aman stood and watched his friend Jason brush all the dirt away from what now appeared to them as a lid, like a manhole cover. A strong feeling of ill-ease caused him to shudder as Jason feverishly looked for a handle or a latch to open the lid.
"Here," announced Jason. "Here it is. Help me open it."
"Why not? Come on man, help me."
Shrugging his shoulders Aman reluctantly moved to Jason's side and grabbed hold of the large handle. There was room enough for two pairs of hands, and it took every ounce of strength they had to lift the heavy cover. Carelessly dropping the cover on the ground behind them, they crouched down and peered into the hole.
"I can't see anything," said Jason.
"Obviously nothing to see," suggested Aman. "Let's go home."
Jason was desperate to go down the hole and investigate as memories of childhood adventures flooded his excited mind, but Aman was right. They did not have the time, or the equipment, namely a flashlight, but there was definitely something worth seeing down there. He could feel it, and tomorrow he would see it and touch it, whatever it was.
"I'll need a flashlight anyway, and you're right. We don't have time. Tomorrow we'll have time."
Aman decided against arguing the point and simply assisted Jason in replacing the lid and covering it with a thick layer of dirt and leaves before they left.
Goyou awoke dazed from a sleep he was not expecting. Slightly disoriented he scratched his big hairy head and yawned luxuriously before turning to look up at the clock. An hour and a half had passed. Where were they? Did he miss them? Anxiously, he lumbered back to his office and forced his bulk through the door. His heart sank when he saw that the hole in the path had been covered over with dirt once more and the two men were gone. Why? Pawing at the leathery skin on his face, Goyyou began to call down curses on himself, and for the first time since Father had died, he questioned the wisdom of his Father and the value of his own miserable existence.
To console himself, Goyyou went to feed his pets. Father had amassed quite a menagerie and although their care was Goyyou's responsibility and he loved them, he was still lonely. His pets liked him and returned his affection but they could not speak. Two dogs, a cat and a half a dozen chickens had the run of the compound while the others, including a boa constrictor, a tiger and an American Bobcat, lived in cages which were too small for them. Born in captivity they knew nothing of freedom but surely, Goyyou reasoned, their instincts would have cried out for it. His did. Unable to convince Father to set them free, Goyyou had accepted it was better for everyone if they remained locked up.
"You worry too much," said Goyyou aloud, mimicking Father's words and tone of voice. "What are they to you? Dumb beasts, that's all. The fact you care about them proves your superiority. God gave mankind dominion over the earth and all therein."
Mechanically, Goyyou tended to the animals, speaking to them in soothing tones and petting them as he continued to think of Father and the two strangers on screen nine who had discovered the entrance to Goyyou's underground compound, his subterranean mansion.
Goyyou went to the kitchen and ate some fruit without bothering to cut it up and present it elegantly as Father had always done. What was the point of such rituals? After eating his fill of bananas, mangoes and pineapple, he drank a bottle of fresh milk, grabbed a packet of Scotch Finger biscuits and went to his bedroom where he quickly ate his dessert and played video games until he fell asleep on the floor. He slept fitfully, dreaming of Father and the long gone happiness of his childhood.
Jason had to bribe Aman to get him to tag along for this expedition. A week's worth of dish washing and laundry and his pick of television shows was the bounty Aman finally secured for himself. At daybreak, dressed as usual in runner's sweats to avoid suspicion, Jason and Aman returned to the hole in the track they had stumbled across. Breathless with anticipation, the two men swept away the dirt, lifted the lid off and tossed it on the ground.
"Should we close it behind us when we go in?" asked Jason.
"Are you nuts? I'm not even going in."
"Yes you are. We have a deal."
"I've fulfilled my end of the bargain."
"Get serious man. Come on. Should we close it behind us or not? What do you reckon?"
"I reckon I should have got you to do the dishes for a month!"
"Quit whining," said Jason as he flicked on his flashlight and poked it into the hole. Even with an effective range of one hundred meters its light was not sufficient to show Jason the bottom.
"There's room enough for both of us, Am. Get in here and we'll pull the lid over the top of us."
"Might as well leave it open. It'll be so obvious. You're not the only curious person around here, you know."
When Jason ignored him, Aman lowered himself into the hole after dragging the cover close to the edge. Once inside they pulled it over the opening and quickly removed their hands allowing the heavy lid to drop into place.
"Well, that's it then," said Aman. "We"re dead men now."
Goyyou dived into the pool and pushed himself through the cold water, kicking his thick legs and waving his muscular arms to keep himself near the bottom. At the far end of the pool he surfaced and hauled his heavy body out and onto the side. Laying there under three powerful sun lamps, Goyyou dried himself off eventually and went to his office via the kitchen for some microwaved eggs and tomatoes. This was his daily routine and today was just another day, or so he thought.
Screen nine. He looked hard. Pushed a button for a close up and looked again. Screen nine. The cover was exposed again but there was no sign of the men. Goyyou rubbed his eyes and pulled at his dense beard. Was it the same two men? Were they already inside, or had they left again without entering? Perhaps frightened off? Screen nine. If they're here where will I see them? Where do they go? What's the sequence? Goyyou struggled to remember information for which he never realiztically expected to have any use. What's the sequence? Three, then five, then two.
"Yes," he yelled, his hand claps echoing like thunder. "Three, five, two."
Focusing on screen three, Goyyou saw two men walking slowly through the park, and nervous nausea twisted his stomach.
"Father help me," whispered Goyyou as he stood frozen to the floor and stared at screen three. "Please help me."
Fidgeting in his seat Goyyou watched as the men disappeared from screen three then reappeared in screen five. There was no sound but on close up, Goyyou could see their lips moving and one of the men, who was walking slightly behind the other, was gesturing wildly.
Curiosity tingled through Goyyou's body as they entered the dark cave in screen five and after a few minutes reappeared in screen two. The hall. They were very close now so Goyyou hurried off for a final check of the lounge. On his way back to the office, he heard their footsteps coming down the hall towards him.
Aman had argued all the way down the hole, across the field, and through the cave that they should turn around and get out of this unnatural place. Jason would not listen, in fact he refused to even discuss it. He simply kept on marching purposefully forward as if he knew where he was going.
"This is crazy, Jason. Where are you going?"
Aman stopped and stood his ground. "I'm not going any further. This place is wrong. How can all this be under the ground and nobody know about it for...how long has Menai been populated?"
Ignoring the question, Jason continued down the hall unable to harness his apprehension and use it to act rationally. He felt compelled, pushed and pulled along simultaneously in the same direction. It was without doubt the most alive he had ever felt. The words of his more cautious friend were only background interference, like a television in the corner of a room with the sound turned down.
The hall was tiled all white and was covered in a fine layer of dust. It ran straight from the exit of the cave for one hundred meters before turning sharply to the right. Jason stopped suddenly just before he reached the turn, to wait for Aman, who although still whining had resumed his reluctant pursuit.
"It's quiet, isn't it?" said Jason as Aman drew to his side and they rounded the corner.
"Have you only just noticed that? Did you hear any birds in that park? Did you hear anything?"
"I heard you complaining all the time."
Then they saw it.
Goyyou was pacing back and forth at the entrance to his office, occasionally glancing up towards the end of the corridor. He was practicing what he might say to his guests and trying to remember all the things Father had taught him about manners and making people feel welcome, when he heard a loud gasp.
For thirty seconds Goyyou stood staring at the men, and Jason and Aman stood staring right back at him. All three too frightened to speak or even move. Aman grabbed Jason's arm and squeezed it so tightly it turned white, while Jason instinctively clenched his fists. Three heartbeats boomed like bass drums in the empty corridor as the two men and the gorilla remained silent and still, separated by one hundred meters of smooth tiled floor.
Finally, Goyyou took a step forward and cleared his throat to speak causing Jason and Aman to both step back.
"Welcome," said Goyyou, "I've been expecting you. Welcome."
"What the hell?" said Aman to Jason as they exchanged petrified looks. "Did you hear that?"
Jason nodded and somehow come to the conclusion that if this gorilla could talk and if it was offering a warm welcome, they should probably take it and assume it was safe.
"Come on, Am. I think we'll be okay here. Let's go talk to it."
"No way, man. No way." Aman ran away, and although Jason momentarily thought about chasing him, he began to walk slowly towards the gorilla which he noticed was moving constantly in an apparent display of nervousness. Lifting his hand to greet the great ape, Jason continued his slow approach as it appeared he had nothing to fear.
Goyyou returned the gesture and when they were at last toe to toe, he extended his hand and Jason eagerly shook it and introduced himself. Listening to perfect English escape through leathery black lips had Jason spellbound. Had he been able to analyze the situation, Jason might have decided he was dreaming which would have explained why he was going along with this while Aman hid in the distance watching with fascinated terror. In real life, a man couldn't climb down holes in the ground and discover subterranean landscapes inhabited by talking gorillas. It just didn't happen so it had to be a dream. He had nothing to fear because at some point he would just wake up and the experience would be over.
As they sat on the lounge and ate fresh fruit and drank milk, Goyyou explained that his father had died two years ago and he never had a mother so he had been alone in the compound which his father built many years before Goyyou was born. To answer the most obvious question Goyyou told Jason his father was human.
"How is that possible?"
"What do you mean?" asked Goyyou, looking genuinely puzzled.
"You're a gorilla. How-"
"I am part gorilla and part human."
Stunned, Jason sat there quietly devouring a slice of sweet mango. Goyyou suddenly stood up and made for the door.
"We must find your friend."
In the office Goyyou searched the screens and cried out in alarm.
"He is trying to leave. I have to stop him."
"He will tell others about me and my life will end. Father warned me not to let any outsiders in," said Goyyou, squeezing through the office door.
"But he built the tunnel to the surface," protested Jason, "He must have known one day this place would be discovered."
The dream had become a nightmare as Goyyou turned quickly to face Jason, and said, "I built it. I dug the tunnel after Father died. I was stupid."
Then he loped down the hall with astonishing speed. Jason had a quick look at the bank of screens and saw Aman in the park. Realizing the danger and feeling afraid for the first time, he too questioned his good sense, and sprinted after Goyyou to stop him and probably protect Aman. By the time he had reached the corner of the corridor, Goyyou was entering the cave and before Jason could pass through the cave he could hear Goyyou shouting at Aman.
Had he not fallen in a small hollow in the field, Aman may have reached the tunnel to the surface. But as he got to his feet, Goyyou was upon him, and without warning began to feverishly pummel Aman with his fists.
Seeing this from fifty meters away, Jason screamed at Goyyou to stop, but the beast was unrelenting.
After struggling and doing his best to dodge the blows for a few minutes, Aman received a mighty blow which knocked him out.
But Goyyou was in a frenzy and continued to punch and hit the lifeless man as if unable to stop himself. He jumped on Amman's head crushing it like a tomato just as Jason arrived, then picked him up and tossed him against a tree, breaking his back.
Jason vomited and collapsed on the ground, wailing and pleading with Goyyou to stop, but it was too late. Aman had been dead before Goyyou squashed his head.
Still the great ape's rage was unabated as he picked up the smashed and lifeless body and tossed it like a child tosses a doll with which it has become bored.
Picking himself up, Jason ran at Goyyou, cursing him and crying.
"Why? Why? Why?" he shouted as he punched into Goyyou's back. Through the soft fur and straight into hard muscle, the punches must have felt like mosquito bites to Goyyou.
"He would have betrayed my existence," said Goyyou, sitting down heavily on the grass. "He was afraid of me as others would have been. I must stay here alone until I die."
"What about me?" said Jason still crying as he looked over at the crumpled heap of flesh and blood which used to be his friend.
"You will stay with me or I must also kill you."
"I won't tell. You can trust me, I won't."
"You will," said Goyyou, staring at Jason through dark and hateful eyes. "Father always told me humans could not be trusted and I was stupid to ignore his wisdom. He built this place to get away from a world in which he said, humans were the most selfish, vengeful and destructive species on the planet. He was ridiculed and ostracized for his experiments with cross species genetic manipulation even though the results were promising and offered a beacon of hope for humanity burdened as it was with its own predisposition to tribalism and violence."
Goyyou stood up and looked down at Jason, who in shock was sitting crossed legged and rocking gently back and forth.
"They should have listened to Father and so should have I."
"Why did you have to kill my friend?"
"I feel remorse, I am sorry I did it but it was necessary," replied Goyyou, reaching down and offering a hand to help Jason to his feet.
Angrily pushing Goyyou's hand away, Jason jumped up and lifted his head to stare into the gorilla's eyes.
"You'd better kill me too," he said. "I won't stay as your prisoner."
A look of sadness came over Goyyou's face which was so human Jason almost felt sorry for him.
Sighing loudly the great ape bent down to pick up a fist sized rock, and before Jason could decide to run or fight, Goyyou smashed the rock into the side of his head and killed him.
Goyyou watched dark red blood pour from the hole in the side of Jason's head and form a pool on the green grass.
"You don't belong here, you're right," he said. "You belong with your species. I am my own species and I will stay here alone until I die." He picked up Jason's slowly-cooling body by the collar of his running suit, shuffled over and grabbed Aman with his other hand, and trudged off toward the compost pit that provided fertilizer for the subterranean greenhouses.
© 2011 D. A. Cairns
Bio: D. A. Cairns is married with two children and lives on the south coast of New South Wales in Australia where he works as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had seven short stories published. Devolution is the name of his recently released first novel.
E-mail: D. A. Cairns
Website: square pegs
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