Saturday, January 10, 2009

Miniatures: The Tale of the Monkey Temple

The Tale of the Monkey Temple
as told for the price of a drink by the broken man who always sits at the back table of the bar, all alone.

My name is Rene Larou. A long time ago I used to run a steamship along the rivers of Africa. I had the great fortune to encounter a benefactor who funded many of these expeditions, he was a missionary called Father Labou, perhaps you have heard of him, no? On this particular trip the Father had been asked to help find a missing explorer named Edward Fritzlange. We were to take his family down river to the village where his boat was found, then trek into the interior to pick up his trail. I hated going inland, preferring the relative safety of the rivers where my stokers and crew knew all the dangers that lurk in the dark. On this occasion I should have taken greater note of my foreboding and left the expedition at the village, but Father Labou's financial backing was too lucrative to dismiss. Besides The Fritzlange family we were lucky to count Lord and Lady Challenger among our company, and many of us returned safely because of their presence.

The trouble began before be even departed on our journey. We were at the docks loading supplies and preparing the boat when I noted suspicious movement at the tree line. I ordered my crew to hurry their preparations, but did not have time to sound a general alarm.

Slavers came rushing out from the trees and were upon us in no time. In those days in Africa a captured white woman could bring good price as a slave, so the devils went straight after Mrs. and Miss Fritzlange. The Lady Challenger, no doubt, would have brought them a healthy profit, but the fire in her eye and the fire from her revolver made her a less appealing target.

I managed to bring one of the brutes down as they charged in, and I think the Lady winged one of them, but on they came. Lord Challenger dove into the midst of them swing a hefty sword and sent many to hell before they could even bring weapons to bear. One of the slavers grabbed the Fritzlange girl and started off towards the trees. I managed to cut him off and creased his skull with the butt of my pistol. I yelled to Father Labou to get the girl to safety, then took cover from the Arab's fire.

Lord Challenger held the brutes at bay while the Father and my crew started loading everyone onto the boat. None of our adversaries could withstand the terrible fury of the scientist and his sabre.

Eventually we dispatched the fiends, though Lord Challenger and the Fritzlange woman's elderly father both suffered some wounds from the fray. We hastened to get the boat underway least more slavers turn up, and thus began our doomed adventure.

We passed through the village with no hardships. I hired some of the locals to watch my boat and we took off into the interior on the trek that Fritzlange had taken. The trail lead through some rough rock out crops and eventually took us to a narrow ravine. Lord Challenger led the way, though none of us at the time knew how fortunate his doing so would prove.

Lurking among the rocks were a pride of wild lions. No sooner had Challenger entered the ravine, then we were assailed on many sides by the ferocious beasts.

The Dahomey retainers of the Challengers spread out amongst the rocks and began firing at the beasts. The Lord himself drove several of the beasts off by giving them a taste of the sharp side of his sabre. Father Labou gathered the civilians into a protective huddle that would likely have done no good should the beasts have broke through our cordon.

My crewmen managed to bring one of the males down and Challenger drove the rest off. We escaped a terrible fate, though one of the Dahomey was injured and Lord Challenger was a bit scratched up. Because of later circumstance though, I was never able to sell the hide from the male we brought down, pity really.

Once through the ravine the land opened up to a lush valley. In the distance we spied the ruins of an ancient structure, a city or temple perhaps. None in our expedition had seen the likes of this place before, but a lingering feeling of dread held us back all the same.

Dark shapes emerged from every crevice and from behind every stone as we stood dumbfounded and took in the spectacle.

We soon discerned that the temple was simply crawling with apes of all size and shape. They hovered and howled, but a few approached quite close. Father Labou whispered something about a legendary city of intelligent apes, but I was too mesmerized to pay him any mind.

Father Labou carefully approached one of the beasts and attempted to communicate with the creature. While he managed to get some response from the brutes, it was Lady Challenger that was able to discern their manner of speech. With gestures and a guttural exchange the two of them managed to convey that we came for the lost Fritzlange.

With some concern on our part, the Father and the Lady allowed themselves to be drawn away by the leading apes. They were taken to the mouth of a cave or tunnel that emerged from the main structure. The tension was near unbearable as Lady Challenger and Father Labou disappeared into the ruins with the apes. I do not believe that Lord Challenger took a single breath while they were out of our view.

To our relief, however, they soon emerged with an injured Fritzlange in tow. He'd found the city of the apes, but had a nasty fall that broke one of his legs in the process. Because of his injury he had been stranded there with the apes ever since. We all smiled and rejoiced as the tension left us, that is until we noted the agitation building in the monkeys all around us. I was told later that some amongst us could hear a distinct clicking sound over the din of the brutes, a sound that I now still hear in my sleep each night.

The ground all about us seemed to explode upwards as if hit by an artillery shell, and as the dust settled we were horrified to see ants the size of ponies speedily crawling towards us.

The carnage that followed cannot be described. The ants were everywhere, unstoppable, able to crawl along any surface with ease. The apes were in a panic now and rushed for their underground shelter, climbing over one another to get out of harms way. Many were snatched up by the ants and torn in two by giant mandibles.

The utter chaos and the shear horror sent many in our ranks into a mad panic. My lead stoker ran for the ape cave right into the jaws of an ant where he was bore down and crushed. His screams brought others to their senses as they realized it was time to fight or die.

The Dahomey women took a stand together in an attempt to cover our frenzied retreat. One by one they were bit by the ants and then they would writhe in agony as the poison coursed through their veins. Challenger rushed ahead trying to clear a path and to reach his beloved wife, who had already reached safety. I stood by the last of my crew as we braced ourselves for a horrid death.

Father Labou fought his way through the rush of fleeing apes and left the safety of the caves. He ran back our way and helped the civilians get out of harm's way. As Lord Challenger reached the mouth of the tunnel he was attacked by an ant and the struggle blocked our way to safety. The brave Father lead his flock up a narrow stair and along the top of a wall into a tight doorway that he hoped was too small for the ants.

With rifle and pistol blazing the last of my crew and I brought down two of the creatures that were determined to be our undoing.

Lord Challenger was bitten and fell, succumbing to the vile poison of the giant ants. His loyal and brave wife rushed from the safety of the cave and stood by his side, blazing away at the ant that threatened to devour him. Her determination paid off and she dispatched the last of the ants. Fortunately, her medical training allowed her to save the life of her husband, though I am told that he carried menacing scars left by that deadly bite.

Yes, I can see the doubt in your eyes. Afterall, I am nothing but a ghost of a man, drinking and sitting alone with my thoughts in this miserable place. But if you should ever venture to the interior of the dark continent remember what old Rene Larou has told you. Beware the ants, my friend, beware the ants that grow as big as a pony, ants that can cut a man in two like a knife passes through butter. There is more to that dark land than man should ever know.

1 comment:

Grey Wulfe said...

Good memories of a lot of fun!