Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Threshold of the Apes
By Tony Rauch

I’m far from home and excited to visit my cousins, whom I have not seen in quite some time. I’m almost to my cousins when I hit a large rut in the narrow sandy road. The wagon lurches to a wobbling halt. I bend to look back and see that a spoke on one of the back wheels has snapped. I manage to work the wagon to the side, into the long grass, out of the middle of the road before the broken wheel bends completely to fold in half under the weight. I jump out and begin to walk up the road to a little farm. I know there is a farm up ahead, a house and barn nestled deep in a field ahead, under a canopy of trees. I know this from hunting around these parts with my cousins when I was younger.

I start down the road, then turn to cut through a path in the field. The entire time I walk I get this strange feeling that someone, or some thing, is watching me. In no time I see the clump of tall trees ahead that hides the little farmhouse and barn.

The wind whips the grass around me as I trudge. Finally I reach the house. The house is in darkness, tucked deeply under a tangle of twisting old trees. The barn is off to the side, before a rug of open sand. I hear a noise from inside the big old barn – some banging and twisting of metal. I approach the open doors, calling out as I walk, “Hello! Hello! Is anyone here?” I step carefully, cautiously looking about, for I do not want to startle anyone. “I need your assistance. Please. I mean you no harm.”

“Yes. Yes,” a voice answers from deep within, “Enter my friend. How can we be of service?”

I step into the shadows. Inside the barn is a young man in work clothes and long white work bib. He stands before an elaborate workbench filled with fantastic gadgets. I stop in my tracks, peering in with curiosity. The work area stretches into the shadows beyond. It is crowded with tall glass test tubes, spiraling wires, coiling tubes, and whatnot - all attached to elaborate wire frames. On a shelf above is a series of large jars, each containing strange things floating in golden liquid.

To the side of the man is a wagon constructed of ornate curving metal framing. Between the metalwork is a wooden infill painted a glossy white with red trim. It is a small wagon similar in size and shape to mine, only this one has thin wiry wheels of metal, springy coils above its axles, and decorative gold fringe and golden decorative rope around the canopy. It is a very fancy wagon, not like the plain ones around these parts. In the corner is a large globe on an ornate wooden stand, and a large brass telescope.

The man sees that I am looking around, almost afraid due to the unfamiliarity of the situation I find myself in. “Oh yes, all of this,” he looks about. “Quite a setup isn’t it?” he chuckles. The man stands not like some all-knowing, granite-solid religious figure that I thought he would be, but softly, like an uneventful, gentle soul. “Please, kind sir, do not be afraid. These are just some small projects I am working on. Some minor diversions to fiddle with in my spare time. Some hobbies I am attending to, if you will,” he gestures his arm about.

“I broke a spoke on my wagon out on the road there,” I gesture, “and I lent my spare to a lady in distress the other day.”

“Oh, well now, surely we can see to that, no trouble. No trouble at all,” the man wipes his hands on his work bib. “That was very nice of you. A nice gesture to help that woman. I’m sure to see that your generosity is repaid in full here today. Do not fret for we will have you on your way in no time. No worries for you, that’s for certain,” he steps and leans to the back of the old barn and snaps his fingers.

A small figure waddles from the darkness of the back. It’s about two feet tall and totters a crooked wobble. It’s a little chimpanzee. And then another appears and then yet another. They’re carrying strange twisty tools the likes of which I’ve never seen before. They approach the wagon and begin applying the tools to it, cranking and adjusting the back of it in some fashion. “Whoa!” I gasp in inspired imagination, “That is very impressive, sir. How did you train those chimps to help out like that? Where did you get them? How did they get so smart as to be able to service your wagon?”

“Oh, I guess you could say they belong to me. As much as a person can own another intelligent being. I guess they’re more like employees,” he looks down at them as they crank away, twisting one of the tools around. “They’re not actually mine, in so much as they stay with me. They assist in taking care of the place. And of course they help take care of me. Yes, they work for me, I guess you could say,” he looks back up to me and smiles.

“Wow,” I exhale, “Very impressive, sir.”

“Demour, Ivor, Pavel, would you be so kind as to see to our new friend here in his needed repairs so he may be on his way and not delayed any longer than is necessary. He is in need of a new wagon wheel,” he looks over to the chimps and they stop what they are doing and turn their attention to the man. They stand still as if thinking for a moment. “And please let Jerimiah and Rafiel know where you are going,” the man nods.

There is a brief suspension of activity and then one of the chimps spins away and waddles chimp-style into the back of the barn.

The man looks back up to me, “My name is Doctor Alexander,” he bows slightly.

“Pleasure to meet your acquaintance sir,” I nod and tip my hat to him, “I am Stephon and I am on my way to visit my cousins in Potter’s Post. I reside in Jeffersonville.”

“Aw, yes, Potter’s Post, a bucolic little village,” the Doctor nods and looks off to the distance with an easy smile, as if considering the locale.

“Did you train all these chimps to help you out around here?” I wonder aloud.

The doctor looks about, “Well, I don’t know that I trained them really, not in the academic sense, unfortunately. That would’ve taken a great deal of time and patience on my part,” he shakes his head and thinks for a moment, placing his hand on his chin to explore the depth of the question, “I don’t know that I trained them really, more like I assisted in their development. By applying certain medical procedures. Oh, ointments, serums, herbs, creams, various injections, and electromagnetic applications. . . . Really now, the potential was always there, as with all living matter. I just helped to bring it out. Raise it to the surface. Accelerate their natural potential. That’s all. So as to ascribe more human capacities – wisdom, worship, freedom of choice.”

“Unbelievable,” I utter under my breath, looking around.

“I merely help them achieve what is possible with various currently known techniques, that’s all,” he shrugs, “I think I could go deeper, bring out more. I mean, with further research and study, I think . . . Well, who knows, really,” the Doctor trails off, “I mean, I ask them if they prefer to stay this way, or remain as they were, returned to their previous natural state prior to my intervening. Most of them want to stay this way. They are a curious bunch, that’s for sure.”

“Why the chimps?” I shrug.

“Well, they’re our closest relatives, so . . . Anyway, I was hoping to accelerate myself, make myself much smarter, but I needed to test my theories out on . . . well, so far, it looks like my applications have been successful. They’ve been working and holding so far. . . . Now just imagine a world full of geniuses. Just take a pill once a day. . . . Or imagine having helpers around, several of them. . . Imagine. . . Think of the time you would have if you had someone there to take some of the load off of you, to . . . well, gee, . . . You never know, I guess. I mean, who knows?” he raises his eyebrows in hope.

“You have others?” I ask, surprised.

The chimp who went to the back of the barn returns from the darkness, rolling a new wagon wheel before him. He rolls it past me, out the large open barn door, and into the sandy path and sunlight.

“Several others, yes,” the Doctor nods politely, “And they are good companions,” he smiles, “Loyal.”

“But . . . How did you?” I stammer.

“Well, there were some unfortunate complications early on. Some initial side effects. I mean, there were some problems with some of the applications at first. But I consulted other doctors, specialists in certain areas, and modifications were made to their treatments. Now I’m fairly certain that. . . . Well, . . . we’ll see,” he smiles hopefully.

“Problems? They look great,” I shrug.

“Well, certain aggressive behavior and such, but I feel . . . I had to isolate certain genes and such, and . . . Well . . .” he looks over to the other two standing before the strange carriage, “Oh, now, run along you two. Please. Really. Assist the gentleman and see that he may resume his journey and be on his way now.” The other little chimps waddle out to join the first in the bright sunlight.

I watch them wander down the sandy path, still carrying their tools in their herky-jerky chimp movements and mannerisms. “Well,” the Doctor sighs, “I guess you should be on your way now.”

“Yes. Indeed,” I nod, “Thank you for your hospitality and patience. And thank you for the new wheel,” I turn to the door, “I shall repay you when I am able. When I am out this way again. I promise,” I bow in gratitude.

“Oh my, no need for that my friend, just come by for a visit sometime when you can. I get so few visitors. Living out in the peaceful quiet has allowed me to concentrate and focus on my work. But it would be nice to talk to people of my own age from time to time. Unfortunately, I fear the chimps and other animals may make people uncomfortable.”

“Oh, sure, the next time I find myself out this way, I promise to stop in,” I don’t really know what to say or do, so I wave and turn and step out the door.

The man calls after me from the shadows, “Anytime. Anytime at all, kind sir. I will show you some of the other things I am working on as well. Goodbye now.”

“See you soon, friend,” I wave and return to the sun and sand and blowing grass. I continue down the sandy path to the road, and then up the road, back to where my wagon tilts in the grass and sun. By the time I get there, the chimps already have the new wheel on. One is standing at the back, holding up the far end of the wagon, his arms stretched out above and holding the entire thing up. The other two tighten the new wheel onto the axle with the strange tool. The one at the back slowly lowers the heavy wagon and settles it gently into the sand and long grass at the edge of the road. The one at the wheel steps back, away from the wagon. The one in back walks around the corner. He is now wearing my old wagon wheel around his neck like a big, cumbersome wooden necklace. He sways from side to side across the road and back into the field. He disappears into the waving grass, I assume to return to his home with the Doctor. The others spin and scamper into the field as well.

“Thank you!” I call out, “I really appreciate all your help. Thank you very much. Really! Thank you! You are an inspiration and positive example for one and all!” I wave.

One of the chimps peeks his head from the tall grass, looks to me, stretches his long hairy arm to wave it back and forth above his bobbing head, sort of giggles or chuckles, then pops back into the field.

I resume my travels and all is restored to a comfortable state of well and fine, the ride as smooth as ever. But then, after a while, in the distance I see several vague gray dots in the sky. I squint to try to make them out. It could possibly be an excursion of balloonists off in the haze. As I continue on and the dots grow closer. I eventually see that they are not balloonists, but several unique winged vessels of some sort, the likes of which I have never seen before. They seem to have light wiry frames underneath their wings. The metal of the frames curls around and around in an ornate pattern, just like the metal of the Doctor’s wagon back in his barn. It is difficult to gauge the size of them, but from this vantage point it looks as if the wings extend about twenty feet. There looks to be three of them, just hanging on the gentle breeze, just floating there, about three hundred feet to my left and fifty feet in the air. As they maneuver to turn away, I see beneath their large wings more clearly. The sun catches them as the wings tilt to turn. Tucked under the wings, within the nest of wiry metal framing, is a large shape lying flat on its stomach. These must be the drivers. I squint and notice they are wearing light blue coveralls. Then the light catches them again, and I see more clearly. They appear to be large, dark, hairy gorillas piloting each of the fantastic flying machines. In studying them more carefully, I see that the wings are also painted a light blue, to try and blend in with the sky. But today the sky is a faded blue and white, with not a cloud in sight, so they are able to stand out a little more, especially as they are near me. They turn to glide away, as smooth as can be, as if silently watching from above, as if to see that I am safely resuming my journey.

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Tony Rauch has three books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press). He has additional titles forthcoming in the next few months.

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