Winner of the January 2011 KidPub Writing Contest
The probing eye of the video camera watches silently as a girl strides into the exhibit. Propping the heavy metal door open with her foot, she calls to someone on the other side. “Go home, Mandy! It’s fine, I just forgot my watch…”
The door slams shut.
The girl shoves a bit of hair behind her ear. “Worst summer job ever,” she says viciously. “Cleaning the monkey house. Where the heck did I put my watch?”
She looks up expectantly at the top of the thick glass that separates the empty room from the monkeys in the jungle beyond. The watch is not there.
“Are you kidding me?” she asks incredulously. “I distinctly remember putting it there.”
One of the monkeys on the other side of the glass scampers up a tree and leers at her. It grabs something from a branch—something shiny—and throws it at the ground. Then it scampers down after it.
“Aw…” the girl groans as realization hits. “Come on!”
There’s a door on the other side of the room. She stomps towards it, pulls a key from her belt, and unlocks it. The door creaks open and the raucous shrieks of monkeys are suddenly amplified.
The monkey with the watch is very clearly laughing at her. She runs after it, further and further into the exhibit, until finally, it becomes bored and throws the watch at her. The little clock face tumbles through the air, and she catches it, simultaneously losing her grip on the keys.
She puts the watch in her pocket and bends down to retrieve them. “Stupid primates.”
The stupid primates clearly don’t like being insulted. One chucks a rock at her. It hits her on the head and she falls to the ground.
The rock-thrower jumps over her unconscious body, grabs the keys, and scurries away.
The watch reads 7:25. It is a Friday, and the zoo is about to close for the weekend.
I wake up to a muddy monkey foot on my face. This isn’t a good way to wake up, and my headache isn’t helping. It feels like I got clubbed in the head or something—which could probably explain why I have no clue what I’m doing here in this jungle with a monkey standing on my face.
I knock away the foot and sit up. The monkeys all burst into cheers.
“Aw jeez,” I groan. “Ow. What the heck?”
The monkeys chatter and laugh. I get to my feet and they all scurry away. Stupid things. I feel grumpy and dizzy. Where the heck am I?
My name is Dierdre Johnson, and in case you haven’t guessed, waking up in the jungle is a new thing for me. The closest I’ve ever gotten to a jungle was the monkey house at the zoo, where I work. I hate my job there, mostly because it consists of wiping monkey doo off the glass.
Even when I was there on my pooper-scooper duties, I was always right by the door to civilization. I had heard the exhibit is pretty big, but I’d never actually tried to find out. Venturing into monkey-poop land was never high on my to-do list.
Neither was finding myself in the jungle.
I close my eyes and try to figure out what’s going on.
Option one: I’m having the stupidest dream ever. I go through the required pinching ritual, and decide to ditch option one.
Option two: I got lost. I can’t think of any plausible chain of events that would allow a city girl from Pennsylvania to get lost in a jungle though.
Option three involves being kidnapped by aliens. I quickly shorten that to plain being kidnapped. Maybe my little brother’s actually an evil genius, and I was in his way. Maybe it was orchestrated by one of the monkeys, and I am now going to be a pet. Maybe this is some sort of test, like an initiation into some freakish jungle club that I never signed up for.
Maybe I have a cell phone in my pocket. That wouldn’t get me any answers, but it would solve a good deal of my problems.
I rummage through my jeans and do an inventory. I count three sheets of paper, one ballpoint pen, one pack of gum, one dog biscuit, one yo-yo, one watch (mine, and absolutely covered in gunk), one plastic library card (also mine) and zero cell phones.
I put the watch on my arm. It reads 8:30. I’m not sure if that’s AM or PM.
Nor am I sure what I’m doing with a dog biscuit, on account of not having a dog. My friend Mandy has a dog named Jojo, and sometimes I’ll go home with her after work and bring a bone with for him.
But of course, Mandy and Jojo aren’t here, on account of me being in a jungle. I stare at the dog bone. Maybe it’s to sacrifice to the great monkey king.
It’s strange how I don’t remember anything though. I put a stick of gum in my mouth, select one piece of paper, and click the pen. My plan is to write out what I know, but I somehow the paper turns into an airplane.
I throw it and get a new sheet. This time, I actually start on the list.
Wednesday: Went to school. Went home and did book report on Catcher in the Rye until midnight, then went to bed.
Thursday: Went to school Handed in stupid book report. Went home and wasted time playing Farmville on Facebook. Remembered math homework, freaked out, scribbled down random numbers, and went to bed
Friday: Went to school…
I draw three confused dots after that and put down my pen. The paper practically crumbles of its own accord; a second paper airplane flies through the air, causing a startled monkey to scamper up its tree.
Friday. Did I have work on Friday? Or was that last week?
I think about it for a bit, but thinking gets pretty boring after a while. My stomach grumbles at me.
I crumble up the last piece of paper, stuff it into my pocket with the pen, and go look for something to eat.
Eating, it soon transpires, is easier than one might think. There are bowls of food all over the place, which seems a little weird. I mean, I’ve heard that some animals hoard their food, but where’d they get the pottery?
Not that I’m complaining. The bowls make it seem like a breakfast buffet or something, except a whole lot grosser. I grab a piece of some sort of fruit—surprisingly, not a banana—and wipe it on my shirt until it seems mostly clean. Then I start raking at it with my fingernails, trying to get the skin off.
An angry screech interrupts me. I look up and see that there is a monkey giving me a dirty look. Apparently, scratching the food is a no-no.
Some monkeys understand sign language, I’ve heard, so I give it a rude gesture and go into an awesome rendition of The Lion King--this comprises all I know of sign language. Maybe the monkey understands me, and maybe it doesn’t, but at any rate it isn’t happy. It glares at me and advances.
“Whoa,” I say, reaching into my pocket. “Get back. I have a yo-yo and I know how to use it.”
The monkey is doesn’t much seem to care.
I make my best ninja sound and start spinning it wildly. The monkey backs off, which is a good thing, because I really have no idea how one might fight with a yo-yo. Plus, I mean, I really don’t want to hurt it, because if I ever get out of this jungle, PETA would never let me hear the end of it.
I put the yo-yo back and return to peeling the whatever-it-is, while thinking about how annoying it would be if I went through all this trouble and the fruit wound up being poisonous. I think I’ve seen these things at the supermarket, but I could be mistaken, or maybe they’re there as a practical joke or something.
Another monkey comes at me. Bad fruit-scratcher.
“Did you not see me the first time?” I ask. “I am an epic yo-yo ninja. Don’t make me pown--ew, that’s disgusting.”
I will not comment on what was so disgusting, because I have the feeling that you won’t want to know. I will say that no-way-Jose am I going to be eating any of the fruit in those ceramic bowls.
So I reach into my pocket and eat the dog biscuit instead.
It doesn’t taste so bad, actually. I’m not sure what it tastes like, but it isn’t so bad.
The aftertaste, on the other hand, is gross. But hey, that’s what chewing gum is for, right? I stick another piece in my mouth and contemplate the opportunities that come with being a yo-yo ninja.
My watch reads 8:23. Probably in the morning, I decide. I mean, if it were at night, it would probably have gotten considerably darker by now.
Of course, if it were daytime, it should have gotten at least a little brighter.
What the heck is with that? I wonder, falling onto my back to stare upwards. My vision is blocked by the leaves of trees. The little I can see looks white, but it’s more likely that it’s just a pale shade of blue.
Definitely daytime, at any rate.
My watch ticks softly. It’s 8:24…8:25
With a finalized click the lights switch out.
The change is sudden, unexpected, and very unnatural. A few monkeys shriek in surprise by the change, but the reaction isn’t very strong. It’s almost as if they were expecting this, and were just a bit startled.
A moment later, they had calmed down and were hopping around in the trees again, doing their monkey business. Well, why not, I though. They can probably see in the dark. Either that, or they can find their way around through smell or hearing or something. Or may be they all just have infra-red night-vision goggles.
I couldn’t see anything. I sat there on the jungle floor, staring into space and wondering if the sun had exploded a couple million years ahead of schedule.
My watch reads 8:32 when it is stolen by a monkey.
I’d taken it off my wrist, and had been pushing the button to make the interface glow, soothed by the little bit of light it provided. But I guess glowing things are even more attractive to monkeys than not-glowing things, so one especially obnoxious primate went and grabbed it out of my hand.
I jumped up, cursing, and thwacked my head on a tree limb.
The monkeys laugh.
This, I’ve been learning, is what monkeys do when you physically injure yourself.
I can see the watch-stealing monkey easily, because there’s something teal and glowing in its hand. The watch, to be specific.
I then do something so stupid, it should be illegal.
I reach up and grab the lowest limb of the tree and haul myself up.
Never mind that it’s too dark to see anything, that I’m not exactly the world’s greatest tree climber, and that I’m chasing after a freakin’ monkey, which can definitely climb better and faster than I can, and which probably would have no objections to knocking me out of the tree. I grope out branches, running my hand down their entire length, double-checking to make sure that they’re not rotten or booby-trapped or anything.
I never do catch the watch-stealing monkey. The blue light that I’ve been following darts from tree-limb to tree-limb faster than I will ever be able to go, and eventually disappears. Maybe it went out of my sight, or maybe the setting just turned itself off. At any rate, I’m not finding it again.
I swear, cussing out the monkey and the watch and the tree. The latter of the tree does not like being cussed at. There’s a cracking sound and a branch falls off in my right hand.
I drop it, cursing some more, and stretch out to find another handhold. My fingers scrape against something hard and rough and I freeze.
Because whatever I’m touching is not made of wood.
It feels like cement, a huge flat rock above my head. It is clearly man-made, and I’m amazed I haven’t noticed it before, but I suppose it was mostly blocked by the canopy of trees.
I’m not in a jungle.
I’m in the monkey house! I punch the air and wind up whacking my knuckles on a tree limb.
The monkeys laugh.
“Stupid primates,” I grumble, which just makes them laugh harder.
It takes time to get out of the tree, but I figure it’s worth not falling on my face. Then I set off across the exhibit, tripping on rocks and walking into trees.
I continue in this way for some time. Soon the entire front of my body is sore from hitting things, and I’m feeling dizzy from whacking myself on a tree branch.
The monkeys are laughing at me, but I’m jubilant.
There is a red sign in front of me and slightly to my right. In neon red letters it reads EXIT.
Which sounds pretty good to me.
I step forward and walk into the glass. My face hits it with an almost musical noise. A low F-sharp, to be precise.
It’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.
Tracing along the glass, it doesn’t take long for me to find the door. Naturally, it’s locked.
I dig the library card out of my pocket and fit it into the slot between the door and the cement wall. I’ve never done this trick before, but it works in movies, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t give it a go.
I yank down on the card and the door swings open.
Of course it has to swing inward and hit me.
The monkeys laugh.
I so don’t care.