Marvellous Hairy — An Excerpt
"… methinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch."
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
"The pleasure of love is loving, and we get more happiness from the passion we feel than the passion we inspire."
Maxims, La Rochefoucauld
The Cult of the Claw
Nick’s life as a monkey began with a wedding.
He wasn’t getting hitched; that would be too predictable. Man gets married. Becomes lower primate. No, the wedding was just the beginning of this story, so you know it’s not going to be a classy one.
Except for a slightly strange smell — incense mixed with some nameless funk — it started off like a pleasant dream. Sunlight streamed through the stain-glass windows, and flecks of dust floated in the beams, tiny specs of brilliance that slow danced like faeries reeling with whiskey and magic mushrooms. The wedding march played, women shed happy tears, and a bride festooned in about ten pounds of baby's breath walked up the aisle towards the groom and Dr. Maximilian Tundra, who was officiating. He looked about as priestly as you'd expect a drug-addled psychiatrist with fire-red hair, a yellowish green cassock and boundary issues possibly could. Actually, without the chartreuse cassock, I think somebody might have asked him to leave.
Most of the participants in the ceremony were friends from university, and I was attending with Erma, one of the two single females in our circle. (The other woman, Hot Helena, was strangely absent.) How Tundra had convinced Tom and Dina to allow him to perform their marriage, I never did find out. He was an ordained minister in the Church of the Irredeemable Bong-Hit, or some equally questionable Internet sect. (Nothing as mainstream as Rastafarianism, or even Scientology.) Tundra was a madman, which is why I knew something was going to go terribly, terribly wrong with these nuptials.
I had itchy palms and an awful, sick twitchy feeling just behind my left eye. Perhaps the incense had been laced with something? I'm tall and fit and good looking (really), so it never occurred to me that I might be having a heart attack.
I looked over to see how Nick was handling it, and I was astonished to see that he was climbing a set of stairs to the balcony, presumably where the choir sang during church services. What the hell is he doing, I thought.
Then I was distracted by Max, who began the service; I was pleasantly surprised that he was going for the traditional "dearly beloved" spiel, instead of something unusual enough to match the bright yellow robes he was wearing. Erma patted away a few more tears, while my attention returned to Nick. What was he up to in the balcony? When he got to the top, he'd obviously decided to get on his hands and knees so that nobody could see him. Staging a pre-emptive rice strike? Releasing doves? I heard a strange noise — kind of like a dove but more of an "oo-oo" sound than a cooing. I had a feeling the answer would not be so benign as doves. My attention wandered between the menace hiding up in the balcony, and the service itself, which seemed to be going off without a hitch. Tom remembered his lines, and though Dina faltered a bit, overcome by emotion, she got out her personalized vows too.
The ceremony approached its climax, and the tonal qualities of the dream changed from that pleasant [cue posh British accent] "oooh, isn't this a lovely punt down the river?" feeling, to the sensation you have when you can't wake up, and you know the dream is about to become a nightmare — a mood much more in line with my itchy palms. (And no, I wasn't having a heart attack.)
Tundra's green eyes telegraphed it too. The adoring couple were exchanging promises of life, liberty, the purfuit of happiness. Fidelity. Obedience. A corporate reward system that was actually worth something. It didn't matter, because it was about to be overwhelmed by the perfidy that is Dr. Maximilian Tundra.
He blessed them. He said that by the powers vested in him by a variety of vile and hierarchical organizations, they were now pronounced husband and wife. Then the hammer fell, and he shouted:
"Release the monkeys!"
If you have ever been in an enclosed space filled with monkeys, then you will know the terror of the sound of thirty macaques being set free. It is an awesome, mind-bending experience.
I still have no idea how they kept them so quiet during the ceremony, but the mechanism that opened their cages sounded like a gunshot. The noise terrified the poor beasts. The macaques didn't like it very much either. A number of cages were stored strategically under the pews, and of course, up in the balcony with Nick.
Suddenly the church was filled with the shouts of outraged humans and the screaming of lower primates. The dream had turned the corner, from that lovely vision of boating on the Cam, to one where you suddenly had an angry monkey clawing at your eyes or biting your ears. Tom's mom must have been wearing some cutting-edge perfume designed to attract the maximum number of unsophisticated primates possible, because she found herself assaulted above and below by six of them. Two were hanging from her geometrically coifed hair, two were climbing her legs, and two had landed on her chest. They were hanging from the only protuberances available. Luckily for the little devils, Tom's mom was relatively well-endowed in that department.
At this point, thankfully, the bride fainted. (Also not a heart attack, at least not literally.)
People were running around, shouting, and the monkeys were chattering loudly, no doubt terrified by the whole thing. I sat quietly in the pew, and physically restrained Erma, though she was panicking. All the yelling and movement seemed to draw the monkeys' attention, so I thought it best to keep still. "So that's what's causing the weird smell," I said to Erma as I held her down with my right arm.
"Rob... I'm freaking out," Erma said, confirming that she was, indeed, in the freak-out zone. (The hyperventilation was a giveaway too.)
"Shhh," I said. "Let it flow Erma." I'm still not sure what that meant.
Max blew a shrill whistle that he'd produced from under his cassock. Instead of calming the macaques, this drove them onto further paroxysms of monkey violence. You can hardly blame them. I was frightened, and I'd been to other weddings.
Nick started tossing some of the poor creatures off the balcony into the assembled congregation beneath. He later confided that those had been the macaques too terrified by the screaming and whistle to sneak out of their cages; to Nick's credit, he felt some remorse about that later, the fear of those tiny, way-distant cousins. He also felt some remorse about what happened next.
Some of Tom's relatives from Hong Kong were a little more used to the idea of catastrophic invasions, and managed to form a small cordon around Tom's parents. They fought their way towards the side door, where they hoped to escape the simian assault. Unfortunately, that was exactly where Max had left the cage for the climax of this little marraigerie.
Just as Tom's dad managed to get the last macaque off his wife's décolletage, Tundra bellowed: "The Monkey has been sated. Release the Lizard!"
A collective "huah?" went through the crowd — humans and monkeys alike. Lizard? I gently grabbed Erma's elbow, and steered her, slowly, making no threatening noises or movements, towards the emergency exit to the right of the nave.
Another ominous crack, as the bolt on the Lizard's cage was released. The momentary silence ended, and a new fear gripped us all. Releasing the Lizard — you could definitely hear the uppercase "L" there — didn't sound like a good idea. Tom's parents and their protectors suddenly saw what kind of "Lizard" Tundra meant.
I have no idea where they got their hands on a fucking komodo dragon. They're an endangered species, you know. Except for a few islands in Indonesia and some zoos, I'm pretty sure they're all-but extinct. Still, Max had managed to procure a komodo dragon for the festivities.
It ran straight at the small throng of Hong Kongers who wisely jumped out of the way. Tom's mom managed an impressive three-foot vertical leap out of the aisle and onto a pew. Only the matriarch of Tom's family — an elderly Chinese woman who'd survived the Japanese, expatriated British twits, and the Communist takeover — was unable to get out of the komodo dragon's way. In Chinese mythology, people born in the year of the dragon are supposed to be feisty and gifted with power and luck. I'm not sure when this particular lizard was born, but it was certainly feisty, and powerful; all seven feet of it steamed out of its cage at full speed, and launched itself at Tom's grandmother.
It's pretty safe to say that she wasn't born in a lucky year. She tried to run, but it grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her down, thrashing its head back and forth.
As Erma and I got to the emergency exit, I could hear Tom scream, "Holy fuck, the Lizard's got granny!"
Then it let her go. Apparently, komodos normally attack and then let their wounded prey limp off into the forest to die, where they can snack on them later at their leisure.
That wedding had a real hallucinatory feel to it, which is something most couples don't achieve on their special day. I was glad that I'd attended. As strange as it sounds, something spiritual happened when that vestige of the Cretaceous Period grabbed Tom's grandma by the ankle. I was a little peeved Max and Nick didn't include mein their plans,but I understand why: it was too on-the-nose for me, and I probably would have warned Tom.
I'd never admit it to anyone, but I thought that ceremony was a work of demented art. I still dream about it and what happened next...