I.

19 Nov

Although Lugeus was only two years older than his fourteen year-old brother, Alpheus, he acted towards him like a mature adult toward a subordinate child. The younger sibling felt this attitude with special force when the pair made a trek on foot to a summer fair in their district of Upper Provincia.

The forest the twosome passed on their way to the festival site wore the leafy green coloring of acer, rhus, fraxine, morus, quercus, tilia, and haw trees prevalent in their region.

Lugeus set a brisk, quick pace for his shorter, lighter brother. Both of them, blond and azure-eyed, had received several copper drachmae from their father. Even a poor cottager like the latter could afford to send his boys to the once-a-year celebration of the countryside’s most pleasant and happiest season of the year.

But Alpheus was not free of commands and directions even on such a holiday.

“Lift your feet faster,” barked Lugeus. “I want to arrive there early, not late.”

“Stick close to me, because I don’t want to have to hunt for you in the crowd.”

“I will decide what you buy to eat, so don’t try to feed yourself.”

“Don’t stray away, but keep close to me at all times.”

On and on went the unending instructions, admonitions, and orders to Alpheus.

After a while, the latter’s ears seemed to turn off and tune out on their own, as if saturated and overfilled. His mind wandered forward to the games and attractions he had witnessed year after year when the upland district assembled for its celebration of the aestival pause of summer.

Alpheus looked ahead with the expectation of the earlier joy and wonder he had experienced there. What new things was he going to see this year?

As they neared the cleared-off field with its attractions, many rural inhabitants were taking the same path through the buttonwood forest. A crowd became visible in front of and behind them.

Finally, the wooded area ended and the brightly colored tents stood before the pair. A growing throng was already present.

“Follow me as I circle around the outer edge of the fair,” said Lugeus to his brother.

Several thousand celebrants had congregated from far and wide for the occasion. Their mood was a rollicking, festive one. The villagers and cottagers appeared determined to have themselves the best time they possibly could.

Along the outer meadow, mensals and tables had been set up for card games of slapjack, spoilfive, scarto, canfield, corncan, lansquenet, videruff, slam, gleek, piquet, cinch, and monte.

Daring country swain played at tip cat, knocking large wooden pieces into the air with all their strength. Running races went on without pause or end.

At numerous stalls, women sold maypops, soursops, cracknels, shandygaff, and freshly baked farl cakes. Adult men swigged local oenomel and malt. Mudcat and tench from nearby streams was offered for sale.

Costermongers who wandered the roads sold nugae and trifles available only once each year, at fair time. Furtive chiromancers read palms and told fortunes in the dark of their tents. A box full of marionettes performed on a traveling wagon. Giant tugs-of-war drew spectators to an open spot. An old barrel organ sent dissonant hurdy-gurdy melodies through the ever warmer air.

The two brothers bought themselves almond macherones, followed by cups of apple shekar.

As they finished eating and drinking, they heard a loud cry from down the fairway path.

“The dancing ape is performing now!”

“Let’s go at once before it finishes!”

“They say it looks like an old, bent-over little man.”

“The crowd is crushing itself around the ape-owner’s wagon.”

Lugeus and his brother exchanged quick glances and the former decided instantly. “Let’s go see what everyone is excited about,” he said with authority to Alpheus.

The two immediately joined the throng drifting toward the scene of the ape show.

A sinuous, undulating music was sounding from a small reed melodeon played by a tiny, wizened oldster on the tail of a large wagon. Beside him was the gyrating figure of a stoop-backed ape, only four feet high.

Lugeus and Alpheus muscled their way gradually forward, till they stood close enough to see for themselves the wildly excited, abandoned dancing about of the dumb creature.

The two brothers stared with total fascination at a sight neither would have ever imagined. It was something utterly odd and strange, from an unknown distance away from their region.

By what name did this creature go? each asked himself.

They watched in awe as the animal raised its extremely long arms and waved them about to a rhythm from the melodeon playing loudly to its side.

The face was completely hairless, though simian in structure and contours. The ears were so small as to be almost invisible against the shaggy hair of a reddish-brown hue. A low, heavy brow hung down above lively chestnut eyes.

What was one to call this unusual creature? pondered Alpheus. What kind of ape was it?

At last, the little man in charge of the beast stopped playing music and rose from his stool.

No longer dancing, the animal sidled over to the man who was its master. As the latter faced the audience crowd, so did the ape. Loud applause broke out, growing louder as it continued.

Lugeus and Alpheus could not but join in the frenzied clapping of hands on all sides of them.

Smiling with joy, the human owner bowed to the captivated public, his hand clutching that of his performing pet. A slight squeeze signaled the latter to imitate the low bow of its master.

The short man in an old, discolored city suit then spoke to the assembled crowd.

“Thank you, fellow citizens. Both Pongo and I are grateful to you. For now, we both need some time to rest up, but a complete performance of our act will follow shortly. In the meantime, my assistant will pass among you with a cannikin in which voluntary contributions for maintaining Pongo can be made. We both thank you all.”

Lugeus turned to his younger brother as the audience began to disperse.

“I am thirsty for some spicy milk posset they always have available down at the opposite end of the fair.”

Alpheus had a ready reply to that. “It is curdled with strong ale that I am not old enough to drink yet. Father and mother would both be angry if word of my drinking strong posset ever reached them. No, I think it best to stay right here where I am and wait for the ape to do its funny dance once more. Is that alright with you, Lugeus?”

The latter gave him a wry smile. “Don’t wander off anywhere. I’ll be back to get you when the time comes for us to start home.”

With that, the older brother set off to enjoy an alcoholic milk drink by himself.

Alpheus looked back at the small performance platform at one end of the wagon. The master and his Pongo had retreated into the closed sleeping cabin in the front of the vehicle.

Feeling how intense curiosity was seizing hold of him, the young man decided to have a closer look and perhaps ask the old man some questions about his simian charge.

The assistant, a stocky fellow with green eyes and flaxen hair, blocked the forward progress of Alpheus as he approached the big nag that pulled the show wagon.

“Wo! Where do you think you’re going?” challenged the act’s helper.

“I wanted to speak with your boss and ask him about his animal, that’s all.”

“He and Pongo are busy eating inside,” grumbled the subordinate. “I can tell you anything that might be of interest. Just shoot.”

“Well, what variety of ape is this creature called Pongo?”

“Don’t you know? Can’t you tell? He comes from faraway islands off the coast of Provincia. The native population calls him a Oran or Orang. For many years, people called these beasts a type of wild man from the jungle forests.

“Our Pongo, though, is a very smart animal. He is able to accomplish many surprising things. Did you notice how his brain sticks out from his forehead? No one dares call him stupid.”

“I have no doubt at all that Pongo possess sharp intelligence for an ape,” grinned Alpheus. “Would it be possible for me to have a private view of him, all by myself? I mean with you present, of course.”

Before the assistant could reply, the master showed his face between the folds of the front curtain of the wagon’s sleeping cabin.

“You say, young man, that you wish to see Pongo by yourself, in private? Can you furnish me ten drachmae for such a privilege, my son?”

Alpheus remembered how much remained in his coin pocket.

“I still have eight left from what I came here with, sir,” he answered.

“That will have to do, then. Jump up the front step there and I will lead you to where dear Pongo is now fast asleep, resting from his work for the public.”

With energy and enthusiasm, the country boy did just that.

“My name is Mr. Thalum,” said the owner once Alpheus was standing in the prow of the wagon. “Come with me into the interior where you can have a good look at my oran.”

The two stepped into the dim cabin where Pongo lay in a bed resembling a manger. But the ape was not asleep, for his darkly gleaming eyes took in the stranger standing beside his master.

“We have awakened the creature with the noise we made outside,” whispered Thalum. “But that is even better, for now you can see the animal when it is fully conscious. Move closer, if you please. But do not try to touch the precious dear.”

Alpheus inched nearer, till he stood at the edge of the wooden cradle holding the ape. The eyes of the latter followed the unknown intruder, peering into his azure-colored eyes.

All at once, the oran sprang into an upright position, surprising his unexpected visitor.

Pongo extended his right hand forward.

“He wishes for you to shake it,” murmured Thalum in a low tone. “Go ahead, there is absolutely no danger at all to you, young fellow.”

Alpheus did so, soon holding the hairy forepaw of the dancer. He could feel the clutching grip of the animal’s fingers. How strong it was!

A weird guttural sound flowed out of the oran’s throat as its mouth opened wide.

“He likes you,” declared the master with a small grin. “Pongo judges you to be his friend. That is the reason he purrs that way, for he is a sensitive judge of human character.”

Staring into the sparkling dark brown eyes of the ape, the country youth sensed an influence that contained a mysterious wisdom that was inborn and natural. What could it be? Why was it affecting him so?

An unforeseeable message beyond his comprehension was sent to and received by Alpheus.

The two beings of different species held each other’s hand in a fast grip of amity. Both their minds felt an inscrutable link, arcane and invisible.

Thalum broke their connection with words of intervention. “You will have to go now, because the time is coming near for our second performance today. Pongo and I have many things we must get ready at once.”

As Alpheus released the hand of the oran, its arm dropped and it let out a gutteral noise from deep inside itself.

The youth moved to the front of the cabin and parted the curtains hanging there.

Before jumping to the ground, he threw a rapid glance at the animal whose fingers he had held.

Was it a wink that Pongo sent in his direction?

It was impossible for Alpheus to determine whether he had actually seen what he believed he had.

Lugeus appeared at the edge of the audience crowd as the final show was about to begin.

“We must leave immediately if we are to reach home before nightfall,” he said to his brother. “There is no time to lose. Come along with me at once.”

What was Alpheus to do? He wished to stay and see Pongo dance again, for a third time. But it would worry his mother and father were he to be out of their area at night.

Without resistance, the younger brother fell in behind Lugeus.

Soon the pair were away from the site of the oran’s performance. The music of the melodeon came to their ears, fading into the general noise of the fair. The distance from that particular show  grew ever greater.

Into the buttonwood forest they moved as the first signs of dusk fell from the sky.

As he walked on, Alpheus kept returning to his most recent experience, that with the ape.

His memory clung to the manner in which the oran gazed at him. He could not recall ever before being the focus of such a persistent, penetrating look. No human being had in his few years of life made him feel such intense attention. There was something inexpressible and undefinable in the eyes of the ape.

As the sky swiftly darkened and the brothers approached home, Alpheus had an uncanny sense that there was going to be a major change in store for him. But he had no idea what it might consist of when it came.

He turned his head back as he walked toward the family cottage. Why did he have a feeling of being followed and watched?

Lugeus abruptly stopped and turned to his companion for the day. “You had better go to the ecurie and feed the horse,” he grunted harshly. “That should have been done before we left for the fair, but we hurried off.”

Without a word, Alpheus turned away and headed for the stable opposite the cottage.

Why does my brother enjoy ordering me around? he asked himself as he walked away.

The interior of the barn was becoming very dark and shadowy. Alpheus picked up a pitchfork and started moving hay to where the plough animal could reach it for a late supper.

As he worked with speed and diligence, the boy thought that he heard a noise at the barn door. Turning his head around, his eyes caught sight of an intruding figure.

Alpheus stopped his chore and moved to face the stranger who was moving closer to him.

A small, bent shape with a square head and glowing chestnut eyes stared at him, addressing the farm boy in a guarded, muffled whisper.

“I need your help. Is it possible for me to spend the night here in this barn?”

No immediate reply came from the startled, dumbstruck Alpheus. When he succeeded in opening his mouth, the voice was nearly gone.

“Who are you?” asked the youth. “What is your business in our barn?”

“I am but a fugitive in need of refuge. Please, do not allow me to perish tonight.”

It took time for the confused, alarmed Alpheus to formulate a decision. “Stay in the barn, if that is necessary. You look hungry. Can I bring you some food to eat?”

“That would be fine. I will always be in your debt, my friend.”

Without a word, Alpheus threw down the pitchfork in his hands and made his way past the stranger, out of the barn and toward the cottage where supper awaited him.

“How did you enjoy the fair?” asked the father, turning azure eyes on his younger son.

“It was exciting,” mumbled Alpheus, peering down at his plate of rockahominy grits.

His mother, short and squat, with her straw hair fastened in a bun, sat down across from her lanky husband.

“What was the biggest attraction for the two of you?” she asked both sons simultaneously.

Lugeus was the one who replied first.

“I liked the athletic contests and the card games going on. But my little brother was fascinated with the dancing ape, I believe.”

“Oh!” chirped the mistress of the farm. “I can remember once seeing such a creature when I was a small girl and father took us to the festival. Was this animal what is called a babuin?”

The father turned his eyes on Alpheus, as did all the rest of the family. “Yes,” he noted. “I can recall seeing an ape they called a mandrillus one time.”

Alpheus felt obliged to describe what he had seen himself.

“This one was an ape with red hair and a ridge above its eyes,” he explained. “It goes by the name of oran. In the coastal islands where it lives, they call it an orang.”

“I think my brother was entranced by the strange creature” mocked Lugeus. “I was afraid he was about to run off with the animal and its owner. They travel in an old cabin wagon. Who wants to live around the smells of an ape, though?”

Alpheus felt compelled to justify himself in any way possible.

“This oran, whose name is Pongo, is quite intelligent. Not only has he learned the patterns of various dances, but he can also adjust his movements to different melodies and tempos. It is an amazing show that was put on by the pet and its trainer.”

“My brother is under the spell of a dancing ape!” sneered Lugeus. “Perhaps you should get him one to raise and take care of, father.”

Small smiles and light laughter followed, but then everyone turned to finishing their supper.

Alpheus, remembering the promise he had given, watched for scraps of food and leftovers that might be taken to the fugitive hiding in the barn.

The parents were sleeping soundly in their bedroom. As the midnight hour arrived and passed, Alpheus lay awake in the attic loft of the cottage. He was waiting to hear loud snoring from his brother across from him. At last, with certainty that it was safe to move, he rose and slowly crept down from the upper storey. Down the ladder he cautiously climbed, into the dark, lightless kitchen. Memory told him where the larder box was. He noiselessly opened it and removed a long loaf of stale rye bread that was to be fed to the horse for breakfast the following morning.

Taking it in hand, Alpheus closed the box and stole out of the cottage without a sound.

To the barn and into it he walked in the starlight from the sky.

Would he have to wake up the stranger? wondered the youth bringing him nourishment.

As soon as Alpheus entered through the barn door, he found the straw-haired man standing near the opening, as if he had sensed the approach of his rescuer.

Without saying a word, the fugitive seized the bread out of the hand of Alpheus and started to devour it with speed and force. Only when it was completely gone did the unknown person speak.

“Thank you. I will be forever beholden to you.

“Let me first of all introduce myself. I go by the name of Naren. But you must tell no one, even those closest to you, of my presence here. I depend absolutely on your discretion. Will you protect me from being found and identified?”

“Yes, of course I will,” answered the frightened, confused teenager. He was uncertain why it was he felt compelled to cooperate with the unusual person seeking his aid and protection.

The man who called himself Naren now gave an explanation of his plight that, at first, was difficult for the boy to understand.

“I have to wait for the district fair to end, the day after tomorrow. Only then can I be certain that my employer will not be able to locate me and drag me back into servitude. Only a little while, then I shall be able to surface in my other form.

“It looks as if it will be a difficult process. But I am determined to appear and act as a free human being, despite my nature of being folded into opposite forms. None of it will be easy for me.”

He stopped and gazed intently at Alpheus, asking him a vitally important question.

“Are you understanding the kernel of what I am telling you about myself and my nature?”

The reply was a simple, truthful “No.”

Naren then reached out his right arm, grasping the other by his wrist.

“I was born in possession of two opposite natures: one that of human and the other that of an anthropoid ape. Do you remember Pongo at the district fair? You watched the dancing with fascination, then paid to go into the wagon cabin and have a closer look. Do you know why it is I am aware of all that happened there?

“It is because my secondary form is that of the oran that you saw yesterday while at the fair.

“This now is my human form, but I remain cursed with double forms of myself. When I fall into my animal stage, I become Pongo, the Oran.”

Alpheus sensed a painful dizziness in himself that grew the more he heard.

Was Naren some sort of madman? Or was he, as he claimed, a freak of nature?

“I do not at all understand what you say,” confessed the confused lad.

“Do not worry, I shall explain more for you tomorrow,” promised the weird guest. “Can you come here in the early morning hours of the day?”

“Yes,” promised Alpheus. “I will bring you more to eat.”

With that, he turned and exited, stealing back into the sleeping farm cottage.

There was no more sleep that night for the youngest member of the family, not a single wink.

How could what he had heard be true? Yes, he had listened to local legends about double-natured creatures with opposing forms. Children often spoke of vampiric and ghoulish monsters that hid themselves as human beings. His own father had once spoken of bifold beings said to dwell far away beyond the forests of Provincia.

Was Naren a deluded fool, a victim of fantasy of the mind?

Or was it a credible truth when he characterized himself as an anthropoid oran from the faraway islands of the sea? What should he believe or not believe?

Could a double being be there on the family farm? It took time for the idea to consolidate and solidify in his mind. Could Naren and Pongo be different forms of the same being?

As the solar daystar rose, illuminating the sky and the world below, the sleepless young fellow had to accept the conclusion that what Naren had revealed to him was true. It had to be accepted.

“You must not stay here in the stable barn longer,” Alpheus warned his new acquaintance. “My father will soon be coming to fetch the horse for morning plowing in the bleuet field down by the stream. It will not be safe for you in that area or here.”

Naren swallowed the last of the rockahominy that the boy had brought him to eat.

“Yes, I can understand what you are saying. It will be necessary to spend the day in the woods nearby, even though Mr.Thalum is probably still hunting for me.”

“Won’t he have to give up the chase when he fails to find Pongo?” asked Alpheus.

“No one can say for sure, because he is stubborn and obstinate.”

“Does he know of your two different phases and forms?”

“I have tried to keep that secret, but I suspect that the bastard has guessed the truth about the condition of his oran.”

“Was he a cruel master to Pongo?”

Naren nodded his head yes. “It became necessary to leave him.”

“Forgive me for asking, but how does it feel to have two forms by nature?”

“It is not easy, nor always pleasant. Look at what my present situation is.”

Alpheus dared to continue probing. “Do you enjoy control over the change of form, or does it happen by itself without choice or decision?”

The fugitive grew tense. “At first, in my early years, the leaps were always surprises. But in time I came to possess considerable power of will over these transfers back and forth.”

“I see,” said Alpheus, although that was perhaps only half-true.

In a short while, Naren ran off into the buttonwood trees in the distance.

As the family finished eating breakfast that morning, Lugeus turned to his younger brother.

“Guess what? Father decided I can take the little shooter and try to find small game in the forest. Who knows? I might get me a lepus or a sciurus if I’m lucky. But having a scout to help me would be a favorable boost. That is why I want you to accompany me.”

Alpheus attempted to conceal the inner shock that he felt.

“I don’t think I want to go out hunting. There are chores around the cottage that have to be carried out. They will keep me very busy.”

“That can wait,” insisted Lugeus with force in his voice. “This is more important, even father says.” He gave his brother a cold, unflinching stare, nearly a glare.

What could Alpheus do, then?

He surrendered, realizing what might happen out among the trees.

Which form would his new friend be taking out in the woods? wondered Alpheus.

The elder brother removed the antique fusil from its resting place above the fireplace in the front parlor. Then the pair left the cottage and started walking across the farm.

I must watch every move my brother makes, silently resolved Alpheus. I must look out for the possible presence of either Naren or Pongo. One or the other, whatever the form, might be endangered by shots aimed in error.

The hunter and his scout went into a thick stand of buttonwoods. They penetrated deeper and deeper into the forest where shadows outnumbered the few spots of light.

All of a sudden, Lugeus stopped. His brother was compelled to do the same.

The two glanced a second at each other, until the one holding the weapon aimed it and shot.

Alpheus waited in shock, peering toward the point where tree branches formed a solid wall.

There was something there, the younger brother realized. Lugeus had seen and aimed at some target. It was a low shape near the ground and had a reddish coloring. He recognized at once what it had to be.

His eyes turned on Lugeus. When he had fired the fusil, it had made a thundering sound in the previously silent forest. Alpheus continued to feel the echo in the cells of his body and brain.

How could such a thing have happened? he asked himself.

Alpheus saw that he animal had fallen to the ground, for his brother had a keen, accurate eye. He had no doubt but that Lugeus had brought down the fugitive ape, the oran that was the other self of the man who called himself Naren.

As if petrified, the body of Alpheus refused to move.

It was the brother with the shooter who stepped forward to examine and claim the prize. He bent down to touch the fur of the felled animal, then looked up and called out to his shocked, paralyzed younger brother.

“You will not believe what we have here. This is an ape, just like the one we saw doing its dance at the fair. What an amazing development that is. How can there be two such unusual beasts in the same region where they are not common or natural? Come over and have a look yourself.”

But Alpheus refused to move. His eyes were focused on the corpse lying on the ground. Why go forward to see? he asked himself. I know what has been done. I saw how this form was killed by my brother. What is left that anyone can do? The deed is accomplished and finished. There is no going back. The future has been decided. Naren and Pongo are both no more. The oran was killed, but so was the friendly human being I talked with.

Neither phase now exists. There is nothing left alive of either one.

Alpheus heard his brother thinking aloud. “This was useless shooting, because no one can eat or make any use of a dead oran. It’s best to bury it here as fast as possible. You and I cannot tell father or mother what has happened. Do you understand why? This has all been a mistake and we must get rid of all traces of the dead body.”

The other nodded his head, then followed Lugeus back to the barn.

Instead of helping his brother dig a grave for the dead animal, Alpheus made the excuse that he felt ill and stayed in the stable where Naren and he had met.

Isolation became the haven of the fourteen year old.

He only spoke to his brother when specifically addressed, and only in the briefest possible terms. His attitude toward his parents became one of silence and passivity.

Alpheus fell into a stupor of depression and regret.

Why had he been unable to protect his double-formed friend? Why had he failed to take immediate action that could have resulted in a different outcome?

Alpheus placed final blame and responsibility onto himself. Was it too late to liberate his conscience from its heavy burden of guilt? Perhaps not, if a proper escape was now attempted by him. A desperate dream arose in his imagination.

He had to flee from he farm and a brother he could no longer tolerate.

If he ran off from home, as countless country lads had done over the centuries, his life would become a rough, hazardous adventure. He would never again see his mother or father. His mind would forever contain an empty gap. But then he considered what might have been had the man named Naren survived and gave him new knowledge and understanding.

No, Alpheus concluded, I have to leave. But where am I to seek my future? To what location do I go now?

While he ruminated in bed one sleepless night, an idea occurred. It struck him with the force of inevitability. The concept had a certainty to it.

Alpheus had often heard of the great metropolis of Provincia, the capital of Diaema. He could both lose and find himself there. But how was he to feed, house, and cloth himself as a new migrant?

There had to be ways to survive in the big city. And he would be far away from Lugeus and what his brother had done in the buttonwood forest that day.

Secretly he hid the clothes he would need in the barn, along with a small supply of food.

When the night of escape arrived, he was as ready as he could be.

With a gunny bag over his shoulder, he stole off into the summer woods.

From village to village, then to towns and boroughs, he tramped over trails and roads. In several weeks Alpheus reached the outskirts of Diaema. With unexpected luck, he found a job as a kitchen helper in a lower class eatery.

Alpheus became a part of the busy, energetic urban drama of the great metropolis.

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2 Responses to “I.”

  1. snottylawsuit3931.wordpress.com March 6, 2014 at 1:49 AM #

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    • ogledalosf January 21, 2015 at 11:35 AM #

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