So, the first full week of 2014 is drawing to a close and as such I am due to be up one story for my ’2014: A Year In Stories’ challenge. And what do you know, I AM up one story.
My first brief came from John Muskett on Facebook, and was as follows. ‘A story about a circus Monkey suffering from ennui induced alcoholism, learning to love life again.’ Because apparently, despite being my friend, he hates me. Well, I never thought that any of this was going to be a walk in the park, so why not start out with a hard one, eh? So, please read on for the story of Barnabus the monkey. I present to you, Ennui.
2014 – A Year in Stories
Barnabus puffed contemplatively at his cigarette. In the background the dull repetition of the train running over the tracks was the only sound. In the dark carriage he was alone with his thoughts.
5 years now he had been living this life. No one place to call home and nobody he could really call his family. He pawed around on the floor for the bottle, and eventually he felt its cold, glassy exterior. He smiled, such as it was possible for him to do, and lifted the bottle to his lips.
A solitary drop fell from the neck on to his waiting tongue, but no more. It seemed he was out of luck. He shrieked in anger and hurled the empty vessel, sending it crashing in to the opposite wall of the carriage.
The loud crash raised a cacophony from the next carriage over. The corrugated sheet metal walls were thin after all. Excited hoots, hollers, whoops and whines flittered across the air for a fleeting moment before dying down again.
Turning his mind to his fellow passengers he considered how much they bored him. He was so much better than they. He knew it, his employers knew it, and even they probably knew it; those that had the capacity for rational thought at least.
It was pitch black and the cabin was stiflingly hot. He knew they had recently passed in to South America and the heat had been unbearable.
A light shone briefly through a gap in the sheet metal and tantalisingly illuminated the liquid that covered the spot on the wall that had so recently borne the brunt of his frustration. Perhaps there had been more of the sweet nectar in the bottle after all.
Barnabus picked himself up from the floor, stubbing his cigarette out on the wall, being careful to avoid letting any ash drop on to the dry straw that lined the floor. He definitely did not want a repeat of THAT incident.
Edging his way closer, trying not to be thrown from his feet by the bouncing train, he could not quite reach the wall. He strained harder, but the chain shackled around his ankle simply would not allow him to get any closer. “Eeeeek,” he uttered, soulfully, and was then thrown to the floor by a particularly bumpy section of track.
Rolling around the carriage, unable to right himself until, in desperation he cast his tail upwards.
He felt it catch on a metal bar and, using it to pull himself up, he got to his feet, before climbing up on to the bar. He breathed a sigh of relief, though he was no closer to the delicious whiskey that painted the wall of his mobile home.
Fortune was on his side, as moments later, disturbed by the jolt, a heavy metal box containing costumes wrestled free from its moorings on a high shelf and came smashing down to the carriage floor. He stared in disbelief. A few seconds earlier and he would have been killed. Those idiots. Didn’t they know how to secure their supplies? They could have lost their star attraction.
He felt a breeze on his face. It was almost imperceptible, but in the stuffy carriage it was a welcome change. It took him a moment to realise where it was coming from. He looked down at the floor of the carriage. The crate had dented the wall just enough to create a little gap, but still big enough for him to crawl through.
He could be free. Free from this life that he had loathed for so long. Free from the other animals, whom he found so intolerable. He could get his life back.
Barnabus made to go out of the hole, but stopped, suddenly arrested by memories of the good old days. He hadn’t always hated this life. Back when he was first purchased from the zoo he knew he had been destined for greatness.
The circus owners had spent a whole day pondering over the entire litter of infants the zoo had available to sell, and after a series of tests, Barnabus had been the lucky monkey selected above his peers to be trained for the circus.
He had been the star of the show, and still was, but the circus was a dying concept. Where’s once he had wowed audiences across the globe with acrobatic feats that even a highly skilled human could not hope to reproduce, now thanks to the rise of MTV and the apathy of Generation X audience numbers were dwindling. Nobody came to the circus anymore.
He felt a debt of loyalty to the circus that had given him everything, but he could not deny his misery. The decline in attendance over the last couple of years had contributed to a decline in his performances, and ultimately his descent in to alcoholism.
Suddenly he remembered vividly the day that, seeing the flap of the ringmaster’s tent open and unguarded, he stole in curiously. He saw what he thought was the apple juice they used to give him in an open bottle on the table. It had been a particularly hot day and he felt the need to quench his thirst. He had never looked back. Now the keepers knew to leave a bottle in his carriage on the longer journeys if they didn’t want to be mauled on arrival at the next destination.
Barnabus sighed. He had made up his mind. This life had given him so much but it was no longer giving him what he needed, and he reasoned that he may never get another opportunity.
Rummaging through the straw on the floor of the carriage he dug out his battered Fez and waistcoat, and donned them for the last time. He edged closer and closer to the hole in the carriage, nearly changing his mind when he saw the speed at which the ground was passing below him.
Steeling his resolve, he pushed through the gap and clung to the outside of the carriage. He tried to move off down the side of the metal sheet, using whatever hand holds he could find, but his progress was impeded. He had forgotten about one thing; he was still chained to the floor.
The scenery rushed by him as he wondered what he could do. And then it came to him. The wheels of the train would cut the chain. It was dangerous, but it was the only way. If he didn’t cut the chain and escape they would find him at the next station, clinging to the car still, and he had come too far to go back now.
Barnabus took a deep breath and leaped in to action. Using his tail he swung underneath the train and made a grab for one of the cables that ran along the undercarriage.
For a brief, horrifying second the cable swung away with the undulations of the train, and the ground rushed towards him at a terrifying pace. At the last moment the cable swung back and Barnabus managed to grab hold, safely pulling himself up until his body was flush with the metal undercarriage.
Breathing heavily after his narrow escape he gathered as much of the chain as he could in his paws and began to let out the slack in the direction of the nearest wheel.
He tried his best to lower the chain on to the wheel itself, using it like a grinder to bore down through the metal, but a bump sent the links flying from his hands and on to the tracks. The wheel bounced over the chain with an audible screech, nearly knocking the carriage off course. He could hear the screeching of his former colleagues in the next carriage along as the train teetered briefly before righting itself.
The chain was cut. He was free. He braced himself and then let go of the undercarriage, dropping on to the ground. Upon landing he bounced and rolled hard, but somehow managed to avoid ending up on the rails in the path of the wheels that had just granted him his freedom.
When the train had passed over him and the dust had finally settled he stood up on his hind legs. He had lost his Fez in the near fall, and his already battered waistcoat had practically been ripped to shreds, so he discarded it by the side of the track. Finally he checked his body over for injuries, but excepting some bruising he seemed to have escaped the events unscathed.
Dusting himself off with his paws he checked the landscape around him. He was surrounded by fields, but off in the distance he could see the faintest glimmer of green trees. Without hesitation he was off.
Several hours later, after the train had pulled in to Lima station and all the carriages had been transported to the site where the circus was due to set up, Barnabus’ keepers approached his carriage. One produced a key and after removing the padlock, swung the the large door aside.
“Barney!” he yelled in to the carriage. “Where are you?” There was no response. Helped by his colleague, he clambered up in to the car and cast about, looking for his monkey charge. But Barnabus was nowhere to be found. Spotting the hole in the carriage and the broken chain dangling through it, he turned to his colleague in shock.
“Where’s Barnabus?” she asked.
The ringmaster approached the sign with a solemn look on his face. A group of small children were clustered around it, trying to get a glimpse of what the attractions would be at the circus that night.
With a heavy heart the ringmaster pushed his way through the group, and with a marker pen crossed out the words ‘The Magnificent Barnabus defies gravity with his deadly leaps and bounds!’
A chorus of disappointment rose from the group of children. “I know, children, I know,” the ringmaster said in reply. “I am sad too.”
After what felt like an age, Barnabus reached the forest. When he finally reached the cusp of the trees it looked dark and intimidating, and he began to wonder about what a mistake he had made. There would be no whiskey in this forest, and no one to come and feed him. He was on his own now, and would have to fend for himself.
But there was no going back now. Even if he wanted to he had lost the train and would likely never find it again. He steeled himself and took a step inside the dark forest.
He was greeted with a high pitched shrieking noise. He turned, startled, to see another monkey, clutching a piece of fruit. Barnabus was so astonished that his tiny jaw dropped. For the first time since he left the zoo all those years ago he was looking at another member of his own species.
Shocked in to silence by this discovery he merely stood there, mouth agape. At first he thought the other creature was going to try and hurt him in case he tried to steal its food, but after a prolonged silence the tension dissipated and the other monkey, who had clearly decided that Barnabus was not a threat, broke off a piece of the fruit and timidly extended its arm in his direction, offering the morsel to him.
Gingerly he took it and was greeted with a satisfied “EEK” from his new compatriot.
Perhaps I won’t be so lonely here after all, he thought, and with a smile on his face and a newfound enthusiasm for life he followed his new friend in to the depths of the jungle.
Well, that’s one down and 51 to go. Next week, tune in for the story of a mountain trek gone mildly wrong.