“We at Pseudopod would like to dedicate this story to all of them: Cheetah, Lancelot Link, Mojo Jojo, Monsieur Mallah, Bobo the Detective Chimp, Gorilla Grodd, Comrade Dmitri-9, Cornelius & Zira, Konga, Mighty Joe Young…and all the rest…and most of all, of course, to Kong…whom we all owe an apology…he must have been a great bloke.”
Please check out Grady’s next novel — a Faustian bargain signed with heavy metal power chords — We Sold Our Souls.
by Grady Hendrix
Off the muddy tracks between the House of Shadows, the Freak Out and the Gravitron, where passengers are pummeled with physics until they puke, behind the generators that push power to the Top Spin, the Zipper and the Rainbow, back where the night air is so thick you can chew it–stale cotton candy, old dough fried in rancid oil, the ripe aroma of the IQ Zoo with its pathetic poultry who plink pianos with their beaks–here in the jumble of shooting galleries and hoopla trailers, next to skeet ball concessions leaning against Crystal Lil’s Refreshment Emporium lies the secret heart of the fair: MOFONGO: GORILLA OF THE MIND.
The pulsating brain of the mighty ape is no longer as powerful as it once was, but even its passive presence subtly alters atoms. Read the subconscious signs. Hear the tiny fanfare. For all roads lead to Mofongo. Drop a slice of pizza, and it lands pointing towards his cage. The Wheel of Luck favors its Mofongo side. Lost children are always found in the litter-choked muck outside his tent.
On one side: the Ten-in-One. On the other: Saddam’s Spider Hole featuring “The Marine who took DOWN the BUTCHER OF BAGHDAD!” In between: Mofongo. Buy a ticket. Part the canvas. Turn the corner. Stare at the stage. See his cage. This is where they come – the the Scatch n’Win junkies, the astrology freaks, the overcompensating rednecks and their greasy haired dates, the sullen and drunken, the viciously hip, the middle-aged losers with no more illusions, the unwed mothers broken by debt, the credit card crucified, the ghetto schemers, twelve-year-old thug life dreamers, public housing divas, squad car preachers, barroom philosophers, professional television watchers, expert beer can emptiers, bastard babymakers who don’t return calls, bail bond skippers, dream destroyers, home wreckers, art school zeroes, the angry, the humiliated, the tired, the downtrodden, the hate crazed and all the unappreciated secret geniuses who will die still waiting for their big break – they all come here for his wisdom–for he is Mofongo, Gorilla of the Mind. And Mofongo knows.
“Mommy, the monkey is stinky.”
Mofongo bows his mighty head. Yes, he knows that his jungle musk is too heady for humans.
“Mommy, the monkey smells like poop.”
Mofongo’s head droops lower. A soul-rattling sigh leaves his massive chest.
“Ew, Mommy, his breath smells like dog doo. He’s wearing a hat.”
Yes, this is his Power Turban, possessing the ability to part the veils of time and peer into the future. A spangled head wrap with an enormous jewel pinning a peacock feather to its center.
“He looks dumb and dirty like Mee Maw.”
Tokens rattle. Mofongo sighs and picks up one of the “Mofongo Knows” cards from the table and writes on it with a pen. Then he pushes the card through the slot and into the hand of the adult female, standing with its mate and spawn. The card reads: “Mofongo Knows…that you will overcome all obstacles. This is a bad month for financial decisions.”
The humans snort in derision: for this they paid five tokens? For this sad ape with his heavy brow and his matted fur they used tokens which could have been employed in the pursuit of gravity-defying thrills over at the Hi-Flyin’ Swings? This monkey would not get their gratitude, this monkey would get their backs as they walk out the door, mocking him in their high, reedy voices. The young, golden-haired child hangs back from its parents to hurl a final insult at Mofongo, hawking a loogie into its soft throat, expecting to expectorate on the great ape.
But Mofongo knows his reach, and with one leathery hand he seizes the tiny child and lifts it from the floor, pinching off its cry, pulling its red, bulging face close to the bars.
“Human,” Mofongo growls, “your days are numbered. I remember your scent. I will come to your home as you sleep and break your bones and drink your blood. I will crush your kidneys. I will split you in half, human, and you will die of pain. Go, and tell your friends: Mofongo is coming.”
He turns his back on the bars. The human child flees. The room is empty. Mofongo adjusts his Power Turban to better conceal his giant, pulsating brain, the enormous thinking engine that has deformed his skull, this overgrown tumorous organ swollen to the size of a beach ball.
A beer bottle shatters against the bars of Mofongo’s cage, misting his back with glass and beer.
“You fucking touch a customer?” an angry voice slurs. “You fucking touch a customer, you jungle fuck?”
Mofongo tries to use his mind rays to kill Steve Savage, Hero of the Jungle, but these days his mind rays are weak. Steve Savage is also weak, but Mofongo’s mind rays are weaker still. Mofongo tries to kill his old nemesis with contempt instead.
“Drunk again,” he says. “How original.”
“Oh, fuck you. Fuck you right between your beady eyes, you fucking hairy fuck,” Steve Savage says. “What do I tell you? Don’t touch the customers. Don’t speak to the customers. Don’t take your turban off in front of the customers. You know what would happen if I called the Feds? One phone call and they’d fucking incinerate you. They’d fucking cut out your giant fucking brain and put it in a jar and they’d stuff you in a trash incinerator and turn it up to eleven and turn you into seven hundred pounds of ape-flavored ashes.”
Steve Savage is a Man of Adventure, and Men of Adventure age slowly, their lives dragging on long after the actual adventures are over. Together, Mofongo and his ancient enemy are almost two hundred years old but neither of them looks a day over eighty.
Steve sways, filling himself up with Budweiser and rage. This is their fight, one that they used to perform with wondrous weapons that pushed the boundaries of science so far that they shattered. These days they have nothing left to fight with but paltry profanity. But it is a fight that never ends.
“Steve Savage,” Mofongo says. “One day I will get out of this cage and on that day I will rip your head from your puny human body AND WASH MY FACE IN YOUR BLOOD!”
“If you could do that, you would’ve by now,” Steve screams back. “I beat your Science Army, I blew up your Danger Trees, I fucked up your Femme-Apes and Gibbon Guerillas, and I tore off Comrade Carnage’s Anti-Gravity boots and beat the shit out of his Commie ass with them. So keep on threatening me, monkey!”
“You didn’t defeat the Femme-Apes!” Mofongo yells, jumping up and down and shaking the bars. “You didn’t defeat them! I saw photographs! You had SEX with them!”
“They were shaved! I had a concussion!” Steve Savage screams. “You can’t prove anything!”
“I can still smell their love musk on you,” Mofongo cackles. “All these years later and you still stink of ape sex!”
Steve Savage climbs onstage and starts kicking the bars of the cage and Mofongo reaches out and tries to grab his legs. They slap at each other, locked in puny combat, man and gorilla, each with death in his eyes.
Then they fall back, panting, gasping, hearts pounding, on the verge of stroke. Steve throws a plastic shopping bag down, just outside the bars.
“There’s your newspaper and your Dutch Masters,” he says. “But no more books until you stop touching the customers.”
Mofongo’s muscles ache so badly that he can barely raise his arms, but with a heroic effort he manages to get them up and he shoots Steve the bird with both hands.
“That your IQ or your sperm count, cancer brain?” Steve shouts over his shoulder as he leaves the tent.
Mofongo opens the plastic bag and his enormous brain twitches painfully with humiliation. Anger, rage, hate, death. Steve knows he reads the Wall Street Journal, but inside the bag, beside his pack of natural wrapped cigarillos, is a copy of USA Today.
“House full a got I,” Barry the Backwards Man says, throwing down his hand.
“Jesus, Barry, you’re making Herman look bad tonight. What’re you doing? Counting cards?” Gretchen the Two Ton Beauty says.
“Lucky naturally I’m,” he says.
“Everyone knows you can’t count cards in poker,” Herman the Human Calculator grouses. “Too many variables, not enough data points.”
“Everwhat,” Barry says.
“What he said, but vice versa,” Gretchen says. “You wanna’ play the next hand, Mofongo? We’ll push the table over.”
Mofongo presents them with his back.
“Holeass an what,” Barry says.
“We come here to keep you company,” Herman says. “The least you could do is act civil.”
“Buy me a Wall Street Journal,” Mofongo says.
“This is South Carolina,” Herman answers. “They don’t carry the Wall Street Journal.”
“Then give me your copy.”
“I read it online,” Herman says. “And you know that Steve doesn’t want you near a computer. The last time you got near a computer the space shuttle crashed.”
“I forgot you humans stick together,” says Mofongo.
“Oh, come on. None of us thinks you still want to take over the world,” Gretchen says. “But Steve would freak.”
“Stick a cake in it, Gretchen,” Mofongo snarls. “This conversation is for superior intellects only.”
“Hey,” she says, hurt.
“Gretchen, personally it take not do,” Barry says. “Business Brainiac strictly is this. Us to are they superior how themselves reminding keep to have they.”
“One day, you will die,” Mofongo growls.
“We’re dying every day, ‘fongo,” Gretchen says. “But it doesn’t mean we have to be rude to each other in the meantime. Besides, if you’re such a superior intellect then how come we’re all down here and you’re up in that cage?”
Yes. Why is Mofongo up in that cage? The Genius Gorilla of Ghana, the Warrior of Wagadou, the Monster Who Shook the World, aka Professor Silverback, Science Ape and Eater of Europeans, what is he doing in this cage in a filthy, stinking, fly specked, weary, rundown, water stained, used up, played out, cheapjack funfair? Bad luck, mostly. And hanging around with the wrong people.
When Mofongo sleeps he dreams of his glorious past, of his first desperate pilgrimage to Opar, the Hidden Jungle City, with its wondrous Atlantean geo-technology. His first Revolutionary Gorilla Army! The piezoelectric death rays! The anti-gravity granite! The neural enhancers that raised an army of thinking apes who rode anti-gravity platforms down the Daka River to crush the British imperialist pigs. The day they burst into the hall at Accra and turned the Big Seven into the Big Six, the head of Kwame Asanti dangling from his hand and dripping onto the expensive carpet.
He dreams of his first Ape Empire whose borders were drawn in the blood of white men whose spines he happily ripped out and used to beat their women to death. The lady gorillas. The monkey love. His primate harem. And then the coming of Steve Savage, American adventurer and Grade-A asshole.
At first, Savage was just a jumped-up poacher with a flashy public image to peddle. Mofongo should have ignored him, but he didn’t and his attempts to kill the little twerp lent the creep legitimacy. Then, over the years, it turned personal. When Mofongo had taken in the refugees of the Third Reich, Savage had been there to destroy his Diamond Dome. When Mofongo had dug the Death Mines of Yendi, Savage had appeared and the ensuing Radar War had seen the floating Science City of If plunge into Lake Volta, its mathematics burning. The decades were a heady blur of fists connecting with jaws, ray guns melting screaming faces, the ozone tang of jetpack exhaust, the click-whir of supercomputers calculating the unsane, the oily stink of robot death squads.
It all ended when Mofongo allied himself with the Communist freedom fighter, Comrade Carnage: half man, half clockwork terror ruled by an atomic brain. Their dreams of domination died in the nuclear fires unleashed by Steve Savage in his cowardly sneak attack. Mofongo’s hover plane had risen up out of the glowing rubble of his Necro-Palace, another hairsbreadth escape, another last minute dodge that left him at large to go on to greater and more grandiose schemes, and then the cold push of Steve Savage’s sten gun against the back of his skull, the poaching bastard having hidden in the co-pilot’s seat until Mofongo was distracted. Mofongo knew he should have whipped around with his lightning fast reflexes and punched Savage in the face, but he was so tired, his limbs were filled with lead, he just couldn’t do it and so, in a split second, Mofongo’s days of freedom came to an end.
Trapped in a cage, Mofongo traveled with Savage, his parole officer, his warden, his captor, his keeper. He became Savage’s meal ticket, the highlight of his road show. But the venues got smaller, the crowds got thinner, Savage got older, Mofongo’s mental rays got weaker and twenty-five years ago they became a single-o show, a traveling psychic ape and his owner floating from one redneck carnival to another, endlessly spinning through the Southeastern United States, crossing paths and sharing midways with the same bunch of increasingly marginalized attractions as the big conglomerates took over the funfairs pushing the sideshows further and further to the side.
There were a few years, though, when things might have gone differently. Savage had knocked up Nancy the Snake Girl and they had a daughter. Nancy was a woman of infinite practicality and limited patience for the male ego. She was in love with Steve, however, and gave him eight years to get his life in order and to give up the carnie life. While Steve was busy wasting every single one of those years, little Theresa Savage discovered Mofongo.
What little girl wouldn’t want to listen to a talking gorilla? And what talking gorilla wouldn’t welcome a captive audience? And when Theresa went missing and everyone assumed she was hiding near the teacups or gorging on cotton candy it was Mofongo who used his mental rays to locate her and it was Mofongo who sent Dogtag Donald racing over to Bombo’s Baby Show trailer to drag her out in the nick of time. It was Mofongo who identified that the drug in her system was nothing more than vodka, and it was Mofongo who planted a phobic aversion to children under 18 deep inside Bombo’s mind. Not that anyone ever said “thank you.”
Three months later the eight years were over and on the dot Nancy Savage ditched the carnie life without a backwards glance. She didn’t even hear Steve’s weak protests and pathetic rationalizations. She just picked up Theresa, got her real estate license and vanished into an alternate America where people lived in houses, went to school and paid their taxes, leaving Steve Savage and Mofongo to return to their interminable bickering and to try to forget the eight-year interruption as best they could.
Now, every year Mofongo gets fewer visitors, and every year his mental powers fade, and every year he and Steve find new insults for old injuries, and every year he smokes his Dutch Masters and reads his paper and dreams about revenge until it is an abstraction worn smooth and featureless by constant fantasy.
It’s been thirty years without a whiff of Theresa Savage, yet here’s her smell again like a golden oldie.
“We need to talk,” she says, standing outside Mofongo’s cage with three men in dark suits.
“Let me guess,” Mofongo says, sitting up. He is excited to have some new playmates, especially ones who wear suits. None of his visitors ever wear suits, and he hasn’t seen a human being in forty hours. He can mentally dampen his hunger and thirst but his boredom knows no bounds. He points to them in order. “CIA, FBI, NSA.”
“CIA, FBI and Animal Control,” the youngest says to him.
“I am not an animal,” Mofongo says.
“You’re not a human either,” the man says.
Mofongo’s nostrils flare.
“What is this, Theresa?” he asks. “Why did you come back?”
“Dad’s dead,” she says.
“He’s dead,” she repeats.
“Who did it?”
“A bottle of Southern Comfort and a handful of Vicodin,” she says. “Day before yesterday.”
“Wrong,” Mofongo says. “One of his enemies, returned for revenge.”
“Mo, I appreciate that you’re upset but this isn’t part of you guys’ soap opera. He killed himself.”
“No,” he says, and he feels fear because he really does not know who did it. Old allies can turn into new enemies, old friends can become new foes. Men of Adventure are no stranger to psychosis. “One of his enemies is here. I may also be in danger. You must free me so I can defend myself.”
“I can’t let you come to the funeral,” she says, ignoring him. “People will want to know why a talking ape is there and you’re kind of hard to explain.”
“I don’t want to go to his funeral,” Mofongo snarls. “I want to defend myself.”
“I’m sorry,” Theresa says. “I really am. On the plus side, we’re getting you out of here.”
“You are setting me free?” Mofongo asks. The concept is alien to him.
“There’s a Primate Refuge outside Austin,” the Animal Control man says. “They’ve agreed to take you. You’ll fit right in. That chimpanzee who did all those Geico ads is there.”
“Chimpanzees? Chimpanzees! Masturbating, shit-flinging, pants-wearing attention whores! I am Mofongo: Gorilla of the Mind. I am a threat to mankind! I’m on the UN watch list!”
“You’ve been off that list for twenty-six years,” the CIA agent says. “No one remembers you anymore.”
“If men do not still feel fear,” Mofongo snarls, “why do they send the CIA? Why the FBI?”
The FBI agent shrugs. “I just wanted to see a talking monkey,” he says.
The CIA agent takes a picture of Mofongo. “You’re just one more thing on my To Do list,” he says.
“I’m sorry to dump all this on you at once,” Theresa says. “I really am. I’ll come visit you in Austin. We can catch up. I’ve got friends I can stay with and we can just hang out. Like we used to, right?”
“You are making a grave mistake,” Mofongo says. “I still have my secret Science Bases hidden throughout your country. You put me in this refugee camp and I will break out and go to them and manufacture a cloned army of super-apes and together we will grind your country beneath our paws!”
“There are no more secret Science Bases,” the CIA agent says. “We got them all back in ’51.”
“But what if I have one location locked away in my subconscious?” Mofongo says. “What if it’s buried down so deep only my mental rays can find it? What then? Will you risk humanity’s future if you’re wrong?”
But Mofongo can’t even convince himself.
“Mofongo,” Theresa says, “You’ll be out in the sun again, able to live a normal life. I’ll check in on you and make sure you have everything you need.”
“I should have snapped your neck when you were a child,” Mofongo says.
“I’m sorry I left you alone for so long, Mo,” Theresa says, then she turns and walks out of the tent with the government men.
“Don’t be sorry,” he shouts at her back. “Be afraid! Afraid of my wrath!”
But she is already gone.
It takes Mofongo all the cash hidden inside his power turban to convince Herman to let him out of his cage.
“If Theresa finds out I did this, I’m dead meat,” Herman says.
“Pathetic,” Mofongo spits. “The power of a computer in your skull and yet you tremble like a chimp.”
“The power of a million brains in your skull and yet a Yale lock has kept you prisoner for thirty some odd years,” Herman says.
“I will have my revenge,” Mofongo says.
“Yeah, yeah,” Herman says. “I only let you out because it’s cruel to keep you locked up if some old arch enemy’s come back to bump you off.”
Mofongo enters Steve Savage’s trailer. It’s dingy and stained, depressing and undersized with no room to walk around. Mofongo expected wall-to-wall photos, Steve Savage shaking the hands of presidents, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, scrapbooks, posters from the old movies, the radio shows. But there’s nothing here except McDonald’s wrappers and empty bottles.
Mofongo lets his mental rays scan the space. They strain to detect a trace of any number of old enemies and allies: The Cat, Red Charlie, The Beast with Five Thousand Fingers, Two Gun Chang and all the rest.
There is no trace of murder. No hint of death. No whiff of vengeance. No deathtraps, no mantraps, no exotic poisons or mechanical ants. The only psychic residue in this trailer is despondency, despair and the deep ache of a man who wanted to die long before he got this old.
Mofongo’s nose begins to bleed and he feels a headache throb deep within his brain. He wipes the heavy black blood running from his nostrils with the back of one hairy paw.
The chair in front of the 13” TV is worn down to fit Steve’s body. Mofongo sniffs it and detects something familiar. He reaches underneath and pulls out a dried leather scrap, black with age: Shaira’s leather headband. Passed down the generations, it was made of the hide of a thirty-foot Mokele-Mbembe lizard living on a riverbed near Boyoma Falls, a great beast that had a taste for Oparian flesh. The Third Blind Prince of Opar killed it, fashioning armor from its hide and three thousand years later the final surviving piece was passed to Shaira, the most valuable of her possessions. It once commanded the respect of thousands, and now it is lying on the floor of Steve’s trailer.
Mofongo runs his finger along it, but it crumbles at his touch and the brittle pieces fall to the linoleum. He and Steve Savage had fought a bitter war over Shaira the Jungle Empress, each of them in love with the seven-foot warrior queen who ruled the city of Opar. Their battle reduced her city to cinders, and she died in the crossfire. Mofongo hadn’t thought about her in years. He always wondered which of them had loved her more, and now he knows.
There are only two of us left who remember Shaira even existed, he thinks, then corrects himself: With Steve gone, now Mofongo is the only one.
There are no enemies here, only bad memories. Let them come and put him in the primate refuge. He deserves to be with the bad monkeys now. The chimps will be his new companions and he will not speak of revolution or revenge. He will just pray each day to remember less and less until finally he dies.
Transporting a non-human primate over state lines is complicated business. There are protocols, procedures, shipping container regulations, squeeze box quarantines, OSHA guidelines, permits to be displayed, licenses to be stamped and the least important thing in all of this is the non-human primate himself. Mofongo sits, not eating, not drinking, staring off into space.
“You are a giant pain in my ass,” the Animal Control agent says. “Seriously. It’s a relief to get you out of my hair.”
He clanks out of the tractor-trailer, leaving Mofongo alone. Theresa Savage walks up the metal ramp.
“Hi, Mo,” she says.
Mofongo says nothing.
“I was just with those weird collectors. They’re buying all the old advertising canvases and one sheets. It’s not a lot, but it’ll pay for some of this, you know, getting you down to Austin and all.”
A fly lands on Mofongo’s nose. He doesn’t notice.
“I’m glad you’re not fighting or anything,” Theresa says. “But would you just talk to me?”
But Mofongo will not talk to anyone anymore.
“I want you to be happy,” she says. “I want you to think of this as a vacation. It’s not a punishment, it’s a time when you can relax. Like retirement. People really look forward to retirement. I’m already looking forward to mine! You’ll have fun. You’ll have a really fun time.”
Mofongo does not care.
“It’s pretty hot down in Texas,” she says. “I really will come to visit. I want to talk to you about stuff, my dad and things. You were the only person he was close to. The only gorilla, I guess, not really person.”
The air is thick and heavy.
“After we moved, I pretended you could still hear me. I’d lie under my bed and talk to you like you could still hear me through your mind rays or something. You couldn’t really hear me though, right? I mean, you never actually heard me,” she says. “Could you?”
It’s getting hot in the tractor-trailer.
“Mom sold Dogtag Donald a split level outside Atlanta. He’s a born again Christian now, with two little boys and everything,” she says. “He told me what you did, about the baby show guy.”
Mofongo will not look at her.
“You saved my life,” Theresa says. “All my good memories from when I was a kid are about you.”
A ten-year-old girl with an iPod jammed in her ears, pink tennis shoes and a denim miniskirt stands at the bottom of the ramp.
“Mom!” she hollers. “Are we going?”
“That’s Chrissy,” Theresa says. “My daughter.” She yells back. “Come up here and meet Mofongo.”
The girl gracelessly tromps into the trailer.
“It stinks,” she says.
“I didn’t even notice,” Theresa says. “Do you want to talk to her, Mofongo? Say ‘hi’ to my daughter?”
“He used to talk all the time,” Theresa says. Then, thoughtfully, “Mostly cussing.”
“Mom,” Chrissy says. “You’re so dumb. He can’t talk. He’s a monkey. It was a stupid carnival trick.”
“He’s a gorilla,” Theresa says.
Chrissy rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”
“Hey,” the Animal Control agent says, standing at the bottom of the ramp. “Come sign these final permits and let’s get this show on the road.”
Theresa turns to go.
“I’ll be right back,” she says and she leaves Mofongo and Chrissy alone.
Chrissy contemplates Mofongo. She goes outside and comes back with a few small rocks. She tosses them at Mofongo. One bounces off his chest, one bounces off his forehead, then she aims one at his crotch.
“So do you talk or anything?” She asks. “Or do you just sit around and smell like shit?”
She takes a step closer, and pings Mofongo on the beaner with another rock, but Mofongo doesn’t notice. Because deep within Mofongo’s mind a door has opened and he sees a future where everything Theresa says is true. He will have friends. He will relax. It will be like it was, and he will astonish Theresa’s spawn with stories of the marvels he saw in Africa and Theresa will thank him for helping him raise her daughter, for being an inspiration, and the spirit of Mofongo will live on.
“Will you come to Austin?” he asks, throat rusty with disuse.
Chrissy stares at him. Mofongo repeats himself.
“Will. You. Come. To. Austin?”
Chrissy’s high-pitched screams bring everyone running, and she crashes into them as she barrels out of the trailer, sobbing.
“Thanks, Mofongo,” Theresa says when she comes back a few minutes later and Mofongo grins. Then he realizes that she’s being sarcastic and his grin fades.
“You’re all signed off, sport,” the Animal Control agent snarls.
Theresa is jabbing her signature on a final form. Mofongo wants to say something but he’s too confused. Did he do something wrong? He doesn’t think so. Theresa marches over to the bars of his cage.
“What did you say?” she snaps. “Did you say something gross? I know how you can talk. Did you say something ugly to my little girl? Because she’s sitting in my car sobbing.”
Mofongo can’t think of an answer, his brain is so sluggish and confused and the words float to the top one at a time, like bubbles in syrup. It takes forever to put them together. Theresa’s expression softens.
“Why do you have to make everything so hard, Mo?” She rests one hand on the bars. “Why won’t you just talk to me?”
Mofongo wets his lips to say something, but Theresa doesn’t notice. She just shakes her head and turns and walks out of the trailer. Men drop the metal ramp with a clang and slam the doors shut and Mofongo speaks too late.
“Don’t go,” he says.
But no one hears.
Flat as a putting green, Arlington National Cemetery stretches out to the horizon, interrupted only by the bone white dot, dot, dot of headstones. Theresa wishes she could have a glass of wine. A thin, tinny, pre-recorded version of “Taps” has just finished drilling its way into her skull and now two pimply soldiers in dress blues are folding up the American flag from her father’s coffin.
They march over to her like clockwork dummies and present her with the folded flag.
“As a representative of the United States Army,” one of them chants in a shrill voice that is still breaking, “It is my high privilege to present you this flag…”
He squeaks on and Theresa remembers how much her dad hated the military. He thought men in uniform were chumps, that’s why he killed so many of them in the war. He would have died twice if he knew he’d wind up being buried with so many of them. Theresa uses a Kleenex to blot the sweat off her forehead.
A wild scream cuts through the hot noon air. Human blood instinctively freezes in its veins.
It is the wild scream of the great ape.
“Hoo hoo hoo!” Comes the terrifying, jungle hoot. “Haa haa! Huh huh huh!
And they look up in the sky. Hanging by one arm from the robed figure on top of the Monument to the Confederate War Dead is Mofongo. His head looks bigger than Theresa remembers, as if his brain has turned malignant. His skull looks sick and dark, like rotten fruit.
Confusion and chatter, and Mofongo shoulders some kind of rifle and one of the clockwork Marines dissolves into bones and dust. Everyone screams and scatters, as a SWAT team, who were waiting for just this kind of incident, run forward. They outnumber the mourners two to one.
The FBI agent grabs Theresa’s arm and drags her behind a round concrete memorial where men in black are doing frantic things. The Animal Control agent is here. He says. “I’m so fired,” and lights a cigarette off an eternal flame.
“I am holding you personally responsible for this travesty,” the CIA agent yells at the Animal Control agent.
“I blame you people, too,” the FBI agent joins in. “We’ve monitored this monster for almost fifty years, we turn him over to you and he busts out of that big rig like it was nothing in less than seventy-two hours.”
“He used his mind rays!” the Animal Control agent says. “We didn’t think they still worked. We thought they were supposed to be killing him!”
“Does he look dead to you?”
Mofongo leaps off the Monument to the Confederate War Dead and charges Steve Savage’s freshly dug grave, tossing aside fleeing mourners like ten pins. The SWAT Team sets up a skirmish line.
The SWAT Team opens fire. They shoot to kill. Their automatic weapons chop the still summer air. Mofongo doesn’t slow down. He barrels through them like they’re a bunch of crippled children. One of the Marines in full dress makes a patriotic last stand. He locks eyes with the charging gorilla, he aims his rifle at Mofongo’s overflowing skull and fires. The air around Mofongo shimmers and the bullet falls to the ground. Mofongo plucks the rifle from the soldier’s hands and bashes him over the head with it.
The SWAT Team fires again, but the air around Mofongo keeps shimmering and their bullets keep falling. Theresa realizes that she’s relieved. She thought Mofongo was committing suicide by SWAT, trying to go out in a blaze of glory, but Mofongo is smarter than that.
More firing. More shimmering. More bullets fall.
“What the fuck is that?” the CIA agent screams.
“It’s his Kinetic Suspenders,” Theresa says. “He invented them a long time ago. I would tell your flamethrower guys not to bother.”
A Flamethrower Team is trotting through the headstones, then they stop and unleash a black and orange column of fire at Mofongo. No effect.
“Kinetic Suspenders,” the CIA agent moans. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Where the hell did he get them?” the FBI agent asks. “We closed down all his stupid Science Bases.”
“I guess you missed one,” Theresa says.
Mofongo jumps down into the grave. SWAT snipers take a few more useless shots. A CNN helicopter appears on the horizon, zooming closer.
“Listen, Savage,” the CIA agent says. “We only gave your old man a plot in Arlington because he shot up a bunch of Nazis back in the day. See that helicopter? That’s CNN. America is going to see this desecration of our country’s most sacred site live on cable TV and you will have good, clean children throwing up into their breakfast cereal and it’s all going to be your fault.”
There’s the distant sound of something breaking and pieces of plasticized wood are tossed out of the hole. Suddenly Mofongo is clambering up from the grave, and in his arms is the corpse of Steve Savage.
“Holy shit,” the FBI agent says. “He’s taking the body!”
“Will you people show some respect!” the CIA agent yells impotently at the CNN helicopter.
Theresa just watches.
A few more shots ring out. She flinches. Mofongo raises his middle finger at the SWAT team and then touches a control on his chest and a cloaking device clicks off and a hover plane materializes behind him. He lopes over to it, climbs on board, puts Steve Savage’s corpse in the co-pilot’s seat and gets in. The ship lifts off.
They watch it rise into the air. It hangs there for one unnatural moment, every swooping, graceful curve of its Atom Age engineering sneering at the 21st Century. Then it’s gone, screaming for the horizon.
“Which direction is that?” shouts the CIA agent.
“East,” the FBI agent says. “Towards Africa.”
“Wow,” Theresa says.
“Wow?” the CIA agent says. “Our nation’s most hallowed resting place is vandalized by an obscene baboon and you say wow? Are you sick?”
Hearing it like that, Theresa wonders if she is sick.
“I just wanted to protect people from dangerous animals,” the Animal Control agent whines. “I’m going to lose my job. What am I going to tell my family?”
“Come on, people,” the CIA agent says. “Let’s find out where they’re going and shoot them down. Anyone know where they’re going?”
But no one knows, because suddenly the hover plane vanishes off the radar. Expensive satellites blink in amazement. Where did Mofongo go? No one knows.
Tight-lipped, agents of the United States government stuff Theresa into the back of an armored SUV and question her severely. They want her to know just how angry they are, and so they take turns sitting backwards in the front seat, yelling questions at her. Where did Mofongo go? Why did he steal her father’s body? Did Mofongo have contact with Islamic fundamentalists or with members of Al Qaeda? What does she know and when did she know it?
What can she tell them? She doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t even know where Mofongo has taken her father. A Viking funeral in Antarctica? A memorial on the moon? A secret base buried deep beneath Saharan sands? In a way, it feels more natural to not know where her father is. He was out there, somewhere, the way he’d been out there somewhere all her life. No known phone number. No known address. Maybe in the Himalayas, maybe in a bar, but as long as she never knew for sure, he could be anywhere.
She smiles again, and they ask her what’s so funny? Why is she smiling? She doesn’t answer them. But Mofongo knows.
In the hover plane, Mofongo wipes more blood from his face and feels his ultra-brain collapsing into mush. He was still smarter than five thousand men, but that number was falling fast. His push to escape the tractor-trailer, his push to locate his last science base, his push to open its doors – three pushes too far.
“Feels like old times,” Mofongo says to Steve’s dead body. “Except I’m not punching you in the face.”
Then he turns around and punches Steve’s corpse in the face.
“That’s better,” he says, and smiles.
Mofongo flies, finally free. America is behind him, shrinking with every second and Africa is up ahead, getting bigger all the time.
About the Author
About the Narrator
Ant Bacon is an actor and voice artist from Manchester, England where he lives with his husband Neil. He loves Lego, theatre and has a mild obsession with Nigella Lawson. His professional credits range from television and theatre to podcasts and radio work. He is represented by Lime Management