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Excerpt for The Sun Has Wings: the Story of Yewbie, the Talking Ape by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Sun Has Wings:

The Story of Yewbie, The Talking Ape

By James T. Morrow


Published by JT Morrow at Smashwords.


Copyright 2015, James T Morrow


Discover other titles by James T Morrow:

Blue Jasmine

Crazy Town

Prophet: Starkiller

Prophet: Dragon Chaser


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If youre reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This is a work of fiction in its entirety. Any resemblance to actual people, places or events is purely coincidental.



For Azinda

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. —Henry David Thoreau




Chapter 1


She dreamed she was back in the jungle

chasing the elusive old man of the forest.

High above her an orangutan sat on a branch in the Sumatran rainforest. The ape, which the locals called the old man of the forest,shook his shaggy red hair and smacked his lips before hooting his long-call: an ear-splitting whoo-unnnhh—whoo-unnnhh.

Then the hoot morphed, sounding like a banging noise: whump-whump-whump.

Melissa Joyner opened her eyes and, for a moment, wondered where she was. She expected to see the inside of her tent, where shed slept for the last year. Instead, she saw a ceiling with a fan, whirling slowly above her.

The thumping sounded again and Melissa sat up, holding her aching head. She was in a dimly-lit hotel room, still in the clothes shed worn out of the jungle: khaki shorts, a sweat-stained shirt and muddy socks. The trip from her camp in the Indonesian rainforest had taken five days. Two were spent trudging through thick brush to the small village of Bukit Lawang. From there she and Zeze, her guide and assistant, had taken a long meandering bus ride to the coastal town of Medan. And, finally, theyd taken a thirty-six hour ferry ride across the strait to Singapore.

Exhausted upon her arrival, she had kicked off her boots and collapsed onto the mattress.

Again, the thumping sounded and Melissa realized someone was knocking at her door. Brushing sleep from her eyes, she stood and stumbled over her mud-caked boots. Yawning, she opened the door and Zeze smiled at her.

He was a white-haired man with crinkly, brown skin. Zeze smoked worse than the Krakatoa volcano and she caught the scent of the clove-scented cigarette in his hand. Back in the jungle he would have been dressed only in baggy black shorts and a porkpie hat. Here, in the hotel however, he had added a shirt covered with flowery prints.

Big find!Zeze said as he rushed into her room.

He seemed frantic, nearly breathless and began tugging at her arm, insisting that she follow him.

Wait,she said, stifling another yawn. What did you find?

Ling Setan.”

Ling-what? Oh, wait,she said, remembering. Back in the jungle, Zeze had once told her a local myth. What is it, a Devil Monkey, right?

Ya, ya, Missa. It real. See it with my own eyes.

She gave him a dubious smile while brushing a strand of blond hair from her eyes. “C’mon, Zeze, stop kidding around.

No, no kid, Missa. You come; I show you.

Zeze was vague about the details, saying only that hed found a weird apeon display in the city. He wasnt vague about his determination that she go with him, however. So, a few minutes later, after a quick wash-up in the bathroom and donning clean clothes, she was inside a taxi. Under a steady drizzle, they took a long ride across the city. Evening was falling and neon signs began flickering from storefronts. After a year in the forest, Singapore seemed too bright and too hectic to Melissa.

During the ride she did get a few more details from Zeze. The ape was not alive but a stuffed specimen. It had been shot and, according to Zeze, it still sported the bullet holes in its chest. He also claimed the apes head was as big as a soccer ball. She doubted that was true, he was either exaggerating or she considered the possibility that the creature might have had hydrocephalus, water on the brain. Yet, the more questions she asked, the less he seemed willing to divulge.

Better you see with own eyes,he kept repeating.

Eventually Zeze pointed out the window and instructed the cabbie to pull to the side of the road.



Chapter 2


Youre kidding,Melissa said after climbing from the taxi. This is where youre taking me?

“Ya, Missa,” Zeze said. Big surprise inside.

Zeze grinned as he gestured at the hand-painted sign above Melissas head. The sign, illuminated by a pair of light bulbs, was chipped by age and featured a man covered with snakes, a fire-eater and women contortionists. Off to one side, in fresh paint, glistened a fierce, golden ape.

Melissa sighed, realizing it was all hocus-pocus, carnival fare. The trip had been a waste of time. Inside there would be no strange ape. Certainly no Ling Setan. Only a bogus fabrication concocted by some Asian P.T. Barnum.

Melissa glanced back at Keppel Road, one of Singapores seedier areas. The street was crowded with produce stalls, gritty bars and neon-flashing massage parlors. The smell of beer and overripe produce hung heavy in the warm air. Here and there, prostitutes paraded the crowded sidewalks like painted birds of prey.

“I’m going back to the hotel,Melissa said and glanced around for another taxi. Would you like me to drop you off at your cousins place?

Zeze narrowed his eyes, confused.

You not go in and see ape?

Its a fake, Zeze.

No-no-no. Inside is real ape I never see before.

Melissa stared at him for a moment. If anyone besides Zeze had told her that hed discovered a weird unknown ape—in Singapore, no lessshed suspect the person of being either a liar or a fool. But Zeze had lived most of his life in the rainforest. He knew every plant, every bird, every snake and every primate.

Please, we here, Missa. Take five minute to look. Okay?

Melissa smiled, realizing that even if the ape inside proved to be a fake, she had valued Zezes help and his friendship too much to say no.Refusing to even look at the specimen risked offending him. Something she would never do.

“Okay,” she said. Five minutes. Then its back to the hotel. I have a long flight to California tomorrow.

Zeze grinned and brushed aside the beaded curtain at the doorway, allowing Melissa to enter. They paid a gnarled, elderly Chinese woman at the entrance. Then Zeze led Melissa down a long hallway. Insects scurried up the walls and across the dirt-scuffed floor.

Incense filled the muggy air, making it almost too unbearably sweet and thick to breathe. Melissa followed Zeze into a room crammed with exhibits of two-headed snakes, stuffed exotic birds, and several shrunken Indonesian heads—each black with stringy hair and with their eyes and mouths sewn shut.

I must be pretty damned gullible, she thought, to think I might make a major primate discovery inside a city as big as Singapore.

Melissa glanced from one exhibit to another and chuckled to herself. She resolved to feign being impressed by whatever Zeze showed her. After a polite show of thanking him, she would head back to the hotel for a quick meal and a good nights sleep. Shed need it when she arrived at the University of California at Berkeley and began the fight to reclaim the funding they had just ripped from her.

Zeze rushed into a second room and stopped in front of a glass-encased exhibit. The spotlights from the ceiling threw a glare on the glass, obstructing Melissas view. Zeze waved an enormous moth off the glass before sweeping his arm out as if he were making a major presentation. Along the bottom of the exhibit was a sign reading: Ling Setan. She fought back a smile and moved to one side to avoid the glare.

Melissa froze. The creatures golden fur, snarling face and glistening, pointed teeth were the features of no primate shed ever seen before.

Holy Einstein,she whispered.

The specimen stood upright, a bit under five-feet high and with only the slightest hunch. Alive, it probably weighed a hundred and ten pounds. The apes long arms were raised high in a fierce attack position with one hand clutching a club-like branch. But, clearly, the apes arms werent used to aid walking the way other apes used their knuckles. And the thumbs were longer than an orangutans, making its grasp of the branch quite human-like.

The creatures facial features were similar to an orangutans, but it didnt have the pronounced cheek flanges. Nor did it have the plump round belly of an orangutan. Its legs also were longer than other apes.

The face was contorted into a menacing, sharp-toothed snarl surrounded by a spray of whiskers hanging from its chin. But close inspection told Melissa the teeth had been filed sharp by a taxidermist. There were also four deep scars down the middle of its forehead that had long ago healed. She noticed too that the shoulders looked overly padded. In fact, the taxidermy job had been so obviously rigged in places, she wasnt sure how much she could believe—even of those parts that appeared unaltered.

That was especially true of the head. Zeze had exaggerated the size of the skull when hed told her it was the circumference of a soccer ball. Yet Melissa knew no primate except man ever had a cranium as large as this creatures.

She circled the exhibit and was astonished to find that—unlike the obvious patchwork at the shoulders—the fur about the skull seemed unaltered. She also spotted the bullet holes in the chest that Zeze had mentioned and had to admit they lent the creature an eerie air of authenticity.

Incredible,” Melissa muttered.



Chapter 3


Melissa pulled her Nikon from its bag and began snapping photos, adjusting the flash so that it wouldnt be reflected in the glass. Her skin was tingling with a spooky excitement.

She realized if anything about the creature was real—and that seemed an enormous if—then the specimen in front of her was no deformed orangutan. That had been her first suspicion when Zeze announced his news. And no, this wasnt the mythical Ling Setan—but something altogether undiscovered. An entirely new species!

Hold on, she told herself. Youre a scientist. Think like one! Lets get some facts and see if any of this is real.

She turned to Zeze and asked to speak to someone in charge. Zeze hurried off.

Melissa continued examining the creature. She jotted observations in her notebook, trying to tell what was real from what wasnt. A minute later, Zeze returned with the old woman who had taken their money at the door.

Melissa always had a knack for languages, speaking four fluently, including Indonesian. But she had barely picked up enough Cantonese to get by. Awkwardly, she asked where the ape had come from.

The old woman held out her hand and, in Cantonese, said, “Chin.” Money.

Well,Melissa mumbled in English with an exasperated smile. “I’ve heard Singapore is one of the worlds great capitalist cities.

She pulled her wallet and laid five Singapore dollars in the womans hand. When the old woman didnt close her fist, Melissa counted out five more. The old woman at last stuffed the money in her pocket.

My son bought it from a man in Thailand,she said in Cantonese. Up at the Andaman Sea.

Her voice was squeaky and the Chinese words tumbled out so fast that Melissa had trouble keeping up with her.

Would you know the man’s name?”

No. And we dont keep records but my son has a good memory. Perhaps he remembers.

When Melissa asked where her son was, she discovered he was performing on stage. The old woman led Melissa and Zeze into a small, bleak auditorium filled with sixty or so patrons. On the stage a man was doing a snake act—wearing the reptiles like a suit. For thirty minutes she watched a fire-eater, acrobats, and jugglers do their acts. When three, near-naked female contortionists began twisting and writhing on stage, the old woman returned.

My son can talk now,she said, raising her voice over the crowd of cheering men.

Melissa and Zeze followed her backstage. The old woman opened the door to a cluttered room filled with filing cabinets and boxes. Sequined costumes hung from hooks, doorknobs and picture frames. A man in his forties with a stringy build sat at a make-up table removing his white face. Melissa recognized him as one of the acrobats and the fire-eater. He stood up, looking foppish in his red silk robe and yellow scarf.

I Mr. Loo, proprietor,he said in English.

Melissa drew back from the smell of gasoline on his breath. But she was relieved to hear him speak English. She introduced herself and then Zeze.

You interested in Ling Setan?he asked, slicking down his thin mustache.

Melissa nodded.

Most rare, indeed—not for sale,Loo said with a grin.

His hungry smile, however, seemed to admit that his denial was a ruse to inflate the price.

Melissa wasnt sure she wanted to buy a specimen that had been so heavily altered. She knew enough about taxidermy to know there were no bones in the specimen, only a frame made of wood or fiberglass. But she could run DNA tests on the hair to see if it matched any know apes.

I understand you bought it from someone else,Melissa said.

Yes. Very costly,Loo said as his smile broadened.

Did he have it stuffed, or did you?

I did—also very costly.

“I’m sure. Listen, how many changes did the taxidermist make to the creature? For instance, did you bleach the fur blond?

“No. Fur is natural color.”

Melissa pulled out her digital camera and began reviewing the pictures on the screen. She pointed out the obvious alterations she had noticed, such as the padded shoulders and sharpened teeth. Loo narrowed his eyes at the photos and sat back.

A few changes made for exhibiting,he admitted. Very minor.

Did you change the length of the arms or alter the hands in any way?

Loo shook his head.

How about the skull? Did you enlarge it?

No. Look for self; hide covering head never been changed.

Melissa nodded and asked Loo if he knew whether the taxidermist had kept the bones.

Loo laughed and said, No, he grind bones to powder and sell to people who think they buying rhinoceros horn.

Ground rhinoceros horns, Melissa knew, was thought by many in Asia to be a potent aphrodisiac. Loo seemed to think the taxidermists little con was hysterical. Melissa pursed her lips, disappointed.

Tell me, do you remember the mans name who sold you the ape?

Loos laughter faded. He studied Melissa closely, as if suspicious of so many questions. Guardedly he said, Months ago. Not sure I remember.Quickly he added, I recall he say he search island for more Ling Setan but found only one he killed.

Melissa flinched at the remark, seeing her hopes of observing and documenting live specimens evaporate. But as she stared into Loos eyes, she decided hed said that only as a way of increasing his specimens value. Besides, Melissa knew that few lay people had the patience and knowledge to search out shy apes in the forest.

Is it possible you could take me to the man who found the ape?” Melissa asked.

What? You want to buy Ling Setan or not?

Perhaps. Id like to run some tests on it first. Id also need you to help me find the man who sold you the ape.

Woman, I have business to run!he said and gestured toward the cheers coming from the auditorium. I no waste time running around Thailand—”

I will pay you for your time.

A smile slowly appeared on Loos face. How much?



Chapter 4


I’m a fool for being here, Melissa told herself.

She was in the front seat of a cramped Toyota, bouncing down muddy roads in Thailand. Mr. Loo was driving while Zeze sat in the back seat, humming old Beatle tunes to himself. He had an irritating habit of shifting from one song to another in mid-chorus.

It turned out the only place Loo had ever seen the man whod sold him the ape, was in a bar. But Loo couldnt recall which bar. So, Melissa was deep into the second day of searching every bar along the Thai peninsula.

With each mile, Melissa felt she was getting lost in a fools errand. Her career as a scientist had gotten off to a slow and rocky start, so she had been grateful when the University in Berkeley agreed to fund her fieldwork. She knew it seemed an odd dream to most people—to track and observe orangutans in the dense forests of Sumatra. But it was her dream. She knew her work not only had scientific significance, but helped in the fight to protect the apes against poachers, against deforestation and the growing palm oil plantations that encroached on their habitat. The population of orangutans had plummeted by 20,000 over the last decade. A horrendous loss, because, at that rate, theyd be wiped out in twenty years.

Yet, instead of sitting in an office back at the University of California, fighting with the administration to reinstate her funding, she was bouncing along the rutted roads of Thailand.

And, even more absurd, there was no guarantee that the creature she was searching for would prove to be real. Odds were it wouildnt. She was on the verge of telling Mr. Loo to turn the car around when Zeze poked his arm out the window.

“Look, Missa,” he shouted.

Zeze pointed at a tiny, dilapidated building made out of rusted sheet metal near the docks. Across the front, in huge crude lettering was the word: BAR.

Melissa turned to Loo and asked, Does it look familiar?

Loo shrugged. I told you: it was night before.

Melissa told Loo to park in front. She climbed out of the mud-splattered car, chewing on an aspirin to nurse a headache.

They were now in the town of Phuket, a scrubby little seaside town. It was late afternoon—hot and sticky.

Although Loo kept referring to the mysterious man as “Rat-face,” earlier he had claimed his real name was Bambang.

“Bam-bang?” Melissa responded when hed told her. Youre joking, right?

Loo shook his head, confused. Then Zeze assured her it was a legitimate name in Indonesia. The name didnt carry the same connotations in Southeast Asia that it did in English but, to Melissa, it seemed oddly fitting for the man who had gunned down a hitherto unknown species.

Inside, the dirt-floored bar was nearly empty. Two sweaty fishermen sat at a table, arguing until they noticed Melissa. When they fell silent, a lone, gaunt man perched on a rickety stool by the bar turned to see why. Loo squinted at the man and grinned broadly.

That him,he said. “Rat-face!”

Melissa walked toward the plywood bar and saw why Loo had been referring to Bambang as Rat-face. He had big ears, a wide nose, a receding chin and black haggardly eyes. Bambang clutched an empty whiskey glass and a cigarette dangled from his lips. He clearly hadnt shaved in weeks and his suit was soiled and smelled as if he had slept in a fish hold.

Sawat kil,Melissa said in greeting and introduced herself.

Bambang sneered at her, his attitude as repulsive as his odor.

Melissa knew little more than helloin Thai, but Loo had sworn that Bambang had spoken English to him during the sell. Now Bambang refused to speak any language. Melissa pulled out a color print shed had made of Loos specimen and laid it in front of Bambang. He jumped at the sight of the ape, almost toppling from his stool. After recovering himself, he sneered at Melissa, coughed and spat black phlegm at a can near her feet. Melissa guessed the inside of his lungs must be as black as axle grease. Bambang raised his empty glass and sucked at the last droplet of whiskey. Afterwards, he stared at the glass as if, somehow, more whiskey might be hiding from him.

Melissa called to the chubby barman and bought a glass of whiskey. She slowly poured a swallow from her glass into Bambangs. His attitude instantly improved.

You shot this golden ape, Melissa said, pointing at the photo, which you later sold to Mr. Loo here. Isnt that right?

Bambang nodded.

Ling Setan,he slurred. Many attack. Try to kill me.

Many?

Melissa glanced at Loo who had sworn his specimen was the only one Bambang had seen.

Loo shrugged innocently and whispered, He drunk.

But it was Bambang Melissa chose to believe. She poured another swallow into his glass and said, Tell me how you came to find the ape.


****


Bambang licked his lips and sipped the whiskey slowly. The liquor didnt dull his memory as it usually did and he guessed that was due to the photograph of the horrible ape on the bar. It had brought the ordeal back to him in sharp, frightening detail.

He had been the sole passenger one night, riding in an old Twin Otter Seaplane. Half an hour after taking off Chin Peng, the little Chinese pilot, began screaming for Bambang from the cockpit.

Bambang left his cabin seat and headed down the aisle, wondering what Chin Peng wanted. The plane bounced as if it were a raft shooting rapids, throwing Bambang against the walls.

Were headed into a hell of a storm,Chin Peng said over his shoulder. His round face was creased with fear. I think we should turn back and wait it out.

Bambang paused in his story and glanced at the tall American woman who was doling out the whiskey to him in sips. What was her name? Melissa something. He wiped his mouth and said, Weer, we deliver medical supplies—”

Do I look like the police to you?Melissa said, taking a seat next to him. “I’m not going to put you in jail. Just tell me the truth.

Bambang shrugged and admitted they were delivering heroin. He studied his empty glass and licked his lips. Melissa poured a couple of swallows into the glass and Bambang took another sip, still debating just how much he should tell this American woman.



Chapter 5


Bambang continued the story, remembering how hed bopped Chin Peng on the head and said, The bossll cut off our balls if we dont deliver the shipment on time. Cant you fly above the storm?

Chin Peng swallowed hard. Buckle yourself in. Its going to get bumpy.

Dont waste any sweat over me,” Bambang snapped. “Just get us to the Americans yacht on time so we can make the transfer.

Chin Peng turned to the controls and began whistling—a sure sign, Bambang knew, that the pilot was scared. Bambang staggered back to the cabin and checked on the stacks of caked heroin. He didnt want three hundred kilograms of China White shaken loose and scattered across the cargo hold. The ropes holding the plastic packages were reassuringly taut.

Bambang buckled himself into his seat and watched the lightning coming from the dark boiling clouds. Below, the Indian Ocean looked as black as raw opium gum. Bambang lit up a Marlboro but he could hardly inhale; the storm unnerved him and left his chest feeling tighter than a junkie’s fist.

He leaned over to make sure Chin Peng wasnt looking, then pulled out a flask of whiskey he had sneaked on board. Bambang downed two quick swallows. His boss had an ironclad rule against drinking on a job, but Bambang hated flying and the whiskey did a good job of taking off the edge. Suddenly, a blast of wind battered the plane as if it had been hit by the tail of a dragon. The flask flew out of Bambangs hand and tumbled across the aisle. Chin Peng stopped whistling and that made the hairs on Bambangs neck bristle.

“Bambang!” Chin Peng shouted. Help me, damn it!

The Twin Otter shook violently in the storm, causing Chin Pengs voice to vibrate like the engines.

Bambang sat clutching the arm rests—his entire body as tight as the ropes around the stacks of heroin. He swallowed hard and unbuckled his seat belt.

GRRRANNNCHHH!

Sparks flew as the right engines metal cover sheered away. Orange flames suddenly erupted from the exposed engine. The plane shuddered and lurched to one side, sending Bambang tumbling across the floor.

Chen Peng screamed, May day! May day!into the radio.

Bambang spotted the box of emergency supplies strapped to the wall and scurried toward it.

BHOOOOMM!

The burning engine exploded, shooting flames along the wing. The interior lights blinked out and the plane dipped into a tailspin. The sudden jolt sent Bambang crashing about the cabin. He grasped wildly in the dark, trying to break his fall. Bambang caught hold of an empty chair and held fast. The falling plane screamed in his ear like a giant angry falcon.

The downward spiral seemed to last forever. Bambang pulled out a satellite phone and started to dial his boss just as the plane slammed into the ocean. The impact bounced Bambangs head against the fuselage, leaving him dazed.

Bambang groaned and sat up. He blinked, trying to focus on the scene around him. Blood ran into his left eye from a gash across his forehead. He wiped the blood away and, in the flickering light from the burning wing, he realized the seaplane was floating on the ocean but at an odd angle. He had dropped his phone at the moment of impact and glanced about for it. It was nowhere in sight. But he did notice that the ropes holding the heroin had broken and loaves of packaged heroin lay scattered about the cabin. Several had ripped open and now fogged the air with dust.

Bambang quickly tied a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. He shoved the bags of heroin aside, searching for the box of emergency supplies. He found it, dragged it across the aisle and swung open the cabin door. Outside, the waves surged up at him like angry dogs.

“Chin Peng!” Bambang shouted. Come on, damn it!

Bambang peered down into the cockpit and saw Chin Peng slumped forward, still strapped to his seat. The cockpit was a mass of twisted metal and dangling wires, shooting sparks. Water swirled around the pilots waist and Bambang realized Chin Peng must have been knocked cold by the crash. Bambang cursed and started down after him.

The angle of the plane forced Bambang to climb into the cockpit as if he were descending into a shaft. He found a foothold in the water, grabbed Chin Pengs shoulder and shook him.

Chin Peng! Come—”

The pilots head rolled to one side and Bambang reeled back in horror. One of Chin Pengs eyes dangled from its gaping socket. And chunks of red tissue hung from his mouth, exposing the teeth and forming a grotesque grin.

Bambang kicked at the water and scrambled from the cockpit as if Death itself had smiled at him.

He crawled across the cabin, snatched up the box of emergency supplies and dove into the stormy sea. Bambang pierced deep into the water, righted himself and kicked toward the surface. The water, lit by the burning plane, took on an eerie, orange glow. When he broke the surface, Bambang heard a series of hisses and realized they came from pieces of the burning wing falling into the water.

He left the box of emergency supplies floating on the water and swam to where an aluminum boat was attached to the planes belly. The storm tossed him across the churning waters as if he were a dead fish. Yet, he made it to the boat and unhooked it. It dropped onto the waves with a loud slap! Bambang climbed in and rowed to the floating box of emergency supplies.

Kha-ruck! Khu-rack!

Both struts holding the floats to the plane snapped—one after the other—and the Twin Otter plunged halfway into the ocean. As it sank, Bambang saw the flames reaching for the gas tanks near the tail. He plucked the emergency supplies from the waves and turned to the small two-stroke engine bolted to the boat. Bambang yanked the chord—three, four, five times. Yet, the engine refused to catch.

He cursed, grabbed the oars and paddled away from the plane as if it were a dragon, breathing fire. A loud gurgle erupted. Bambang looked up, expecting to see the wreckage slide underneath the water. Instead, the flames licked at the tail and the fuel tanks detonated.

KHAAA-RUFFF!

The blinding orange ball thundered, sending flares out like a fountain of fire. A chunk of hurling metal slammed against Bambangs head and knocked him out cold.

When he regained consciousness, he was lying in the boat. A puddle of rain and seawater lapped at his face. It was mid-day and the storm had passed, leaving behind a few dark clouds near the horizon, heavy winds and giant swells. The plane was nowhere in sight—only endless blue water surrounding him on all sides. Bambang noticed a gummy paste had covered his boat. He scooped up a bit and sniffed it. Heroin.

He scanned the water, hoping to find some packages floating on the waves. But all the heroin appeared to have sank, dissolved or burned in the fire.

The Americans will be as angry as wasps, Bambang thought. Which will make my boss angry as a scorpion. Which will make me...envy Chin Peng.

Bambang glanced at his clothes, nearly torn to rags by the crash, and he reached for a Marlboro, only to find them soggy.

Damn this world!he said and began carefully pulling out his cigarettes, laying them on the box of supplies so theyd dry in the sun.

Bambang yanked at the cord to the small two-stoke motor but it didnt even cough, much less start. The gas tank was full, so he decided to tinker with the motor, hoping he could fix it.

A motorboat wasnt standard equipment on a drug run. But Bambangs boss hadnt trusted the Americans and the plan had been to land the Twin Otter a hundred meters or more from their yacht and ride the motorboat out to pick up the money first. So there wasnt much gas. Just enough, now, to chase down a ship if he was lucky enough to spot one.

Bambang found water in the motors fuel line and drained it. He also cleaned the grit from the spark plug. When he touched one of the cigarettes he found they had dried and smiled. Bambang lit one with his pocket lighter and sucked in the warm smoke. It gave him a pleasant calm as the boat bobbed up and down on heavy swells.

From the corner of his eye, he spotted a sliver of green along the horizon.

Bambang’s heart quickened. He clumsily stood in the boat and stared above the rolling waves along the horizon. He saw a fog bank hugging the water. Nothing else. But just as he decided hed been hallucinating, the swirling fog thinned in one spot and Bambang spotted the jade-like color of trees.

“Land!” Bambang hooted.

He gave the cord a firm yank and the engine came alive. Bambang chuckled, even though the bearings clattered like rocks inside a barrel. He tightened his hand around the steering rudder and headed toward the bank of fog.

Soon an island came into view.



Chapter 6


When Bambang reached the wide, shallow reef, he hesitated.

The thick coral and jagged rocks below the surface threatened to smash the blades on his propeller. So, he cut the engine and pulled the motor from the water. Grumbling, Bambang began the laborious job of rowing more than a hundred and twenty meters to the beach.

He rammed a couple of sharp rocks and held his breath until he was certain he hadnt poked a hole in the boat. When he finally drifted into a peaceful cove, Bambang glanced about for signs of civilization. He saw no buildings. Not even grass huts. No fishing boats clung to the shore, which didnt surprise him considering the treacherous reef. There wasnt even an antenna tower for an unmanned weather station. Nothing but thick, lush rain forest.

Bambang was hungry, so he pulled a fishing net from the box of supplies, unsnarled it and flung it into the water. When he pulled the net back into the boat, several fish thrashed about, trapped. Bambang kept a couple of archerfish but tossed the smaller butterfly fish back into the water. After rowing into the shallow surf, he jumped out and pulled his boat onto the glistening white sand.

The jungle looked wild, forbidding. He pulled his Beretta automatic from his shoulder holster and checked to make sure it was loaded. Only then did he start collecting a pile of dead leaves and twigs from the edge of the forest. Bambang ignited the kindling with his Bic lighter and cooked the two fish. They tasted bland without any soy sauce but they filled his belly. The bottled water hed also found in the box of supplies had tasted heavily chlorinated, but it washed down the fish.

As he ate, Bambang became aware of how quiet the island was. Eerily quiet. He saw and heard no one but had the odd sensation that he was being watched. Bambang pulled out his Beretta and made doubly sure it was loaded.

Afterwards he set off, wandering the beach and shouting to see if anyone else was on the island. No one answered him. After searching the entire day, Bambang returned to where hed left his boat just as the sun sank into the ocean. Using a flashlight from the emergency supplies, he gathered more kindling and built another fire on the beach. Bambang ate a crab he had captured and drank the milk of a coconut. Afterwards he took off his gun holster and lay on the sand, blowing cigarette smoke at the stars. When he felt the urge to sleep washing over him, Bambang curled up and pulled his Beretta closer.

Hell, he thought, I didnt survive a plane crash simply to be clawed to death at night by leopards.

He closed his eyes and was asleep within minutes.

YEWBIEEBAHNAAA!

The scream snapped Bambang awake.

He glanced around in the pale dawn and saw an ape—charging him. It had shaggy golden fur hanging from its raised arms. And its teeth were bared, screaming as it streaked toward him.

Bambang fumbled for his gun, clicked off the safety and fired: K-RAACKK!

The ugly ape was thrown back by the bullet and slumped onto the sand. Bambang panned the island, looking for more apes, his gun pointed and ready. The beach, now bathed yellow by the first rays of sunlight, was deserted. Bambang slowly approached the fallen ape, and kicked its leg. It didnt react, apparently dead. He figured it was a female from the floppy teats hanging from its chest. Bambang started to pump a bullet into its head, to make sure it was dead, but hesitated and decided not to. He only had seven more rounds in the pistols magazine and hed need those if more of the horrible beasts rushed him.

Bambang noticed a half dozen red bananas, three or four mangoes and a few orchids near the remains of his campfire. Someone, he thought, had placed them there while he slept. Footprints spoiled the smooth sand near the fruit and, when he examined them closely, he saw they didnt look human. They were ape-like prints and led to a huge boulder near his camp. A boulder as big as a hut. That made the hairs on Bambangs neck stand on end. He started toward the boulder, his gun ready.

Akka-bann!” came a scream from behind him. Bambang spun around and saw a second ape erupting from the bushes. It was larger and a stringy beard hung from its chin.

Bambang fired: K-RACK! K-RACK!

The first shot threw sand up on the beach. But the second knocked the bearded ape backwards into a tree where it slumped to the ground. Blood poured from its chest. The noise seemed to reanimate the female ape. She struggled to her feet, clutching the bloody wound at her neck. Bambang took aim to finish the creature off. But a new scream sounded—from the boulder at his back.

Bambang spun and saw a third, somewhat smaller ape. The creature held its arms outstretched and babbled nonsense—as if begging to be shot. Bambang was not about to disappoint the ape. He aimed for its head but a frightening groan and a thrashing noise sounded from the bushes behind him.

Bambang jerked off a shot at the ape near the boulder, twisted around and spotted the bearded ape stumbling toward him—clutching a club above its head with blood soaked hands. Bambang drew a bead on the ape and fired another bullet into its chest. Blood gushed from its furry breast, misting the air as it crumpled onto the sand.

Bambang spun back to the boulder and realized the third ape had vanished, meaning hed missed it. He stumbled over the fruit lying on the sand as he approached the boulder. He moved cautiously, holding his gun straight out like hed seen cops do on American videos. As he rounded the boulder he spotted the shadow of the smaller ape and realized it was keeping the boulder between them. When Bambang waded into the surf at the far side, the creature darted across the beach to the female. The ape pulled the female to her feet and half dragged her toward the jungle.

Bambang slipped in the wet sand as he shot at them, recovered his footing and shot again as they dashed into the thicket. He started to fire once more but stopped, realizing he was now down to two miserable bullets.

In the deadly quiet that followed, Bambang realized hed pissed in his pants. Not even the plane crash compared to the fear that had gripped him during the ape attack.

He quickly threw his supplies into the boat, including the fruit he hadnt stepped on. He was about to shove off when he paused and glanced at the bearded ape still lying on the beach. He hurried to it, gun drawn and kicked it hard three times. When it didnt react, he bent down and checked to make sure its heart had stopped. Certain it was dead, he dragged it by one leg to his boat and threw it inside.

Bambang turned to the American woman, Melissa, took another sip of whiskey and said, That is all I remember.

In truth he had not told her everything hed remembered. Hed kept several details from her concerning the drug run. And hed babbled on about other meaningless details—pausing often, as if his memory was faulty—just so the American woman would keep adding whiskey to his glass. Only when he had a true buzz from the liquor and was tired of talking did he wind up his tale.



Chapter 7


Why did you take the dead ape?” Melissa asked.

Bambang took another swallow of whiskey and shrugged. Food,he said and explained he realized he might drift for days before he chanced upon another boat. Indeed, four days passed before a fisherman rescued him. Bambang took the apes corpse back to Thailand to sell, thinking it was strange enough that it might bring him some money—money hed need now that he didnt dare return to his boss, the drug lord.

Melissa wasnt sure how much of Bambangs story she believed. All the apes shed ever studied were shy creatures that only attacked when they felt threatened or believed their offspring were in peril. Bambang had done something to upset them—either unknowingly or on purpose. Most likely, Melissa guessed, he had omitted the fact that hed done something malicious, which had riled them.

She neither liked nor trusted Bambang. But he was the only human on earth, as far as she knew, who had seen the apes. Melissa explained that she was a licensed pilot and offered to pay him if hed guide her to the area where his plane had gone down. Bambang shook his head furiously.

I not fly!Bambang said. I crash once, Buddha not smile on me twice.

She argued for twenty minutes, trying to convince Bambang that she was an experienced pilot and that hed be perfectly safe. It was no use. He wasnt about to tempt fate again.

Melissa began chewing another aspirin and asked Bambang several detailed questions: What was his destination before the plane crashed? How much time elapsed before the plane went down? In which direction had he drifted after leaving the island? And more.

Bambang’s answers came slowly, each prompted by another swallow of whiskey poured into his glass.

“Okay,” Melissa said, youre afraid to fly. Youre not afraid of another boat ride, are you?

I no wish to see Ling Setan again—”

You wont have to set foot on the island. Is it a deal?

Bambang smiled and raised his glass in salute. You pay, I go,he said and finished his drink.


****


Too much monkey business...Chuck Berrys voice wailed from the boats speakers.

The old song was a favorite of Melissas, one that—as a primatologist—always gave her a chuckle. To help relieve the boredom of the long, idle hours at sea, she listened—and often danced—to rock ‘n’ roll. Everything from early rock to the latest hip-hop.

She had rented a fishing trawler and hired the two young men who manned it. Kukrit, the older of the two, was burly and jovial. Sweat seemed to glisten on his skin, as shiny as fish scales. The other, Chalong, was lanky, shy. A thin wisp of beard dangled from his chin. Both smoked like tugboats.

The two fishermen watched and smiled as Melissa sang and danced across the rear deck. Bambang, moody over her refusal to allow him to bring whiskey on board, ignored Melissa. Zeze clapped and waved his arms to the music and often Melissa would grab Zezes hand and try to show him how to dance to rock.

“Shake,” she would shout over the music. Let the beat move you.

Zeze tried to copy her movements but he was too stiff-legged and self-conscious to let the music take him. Always half a beat behind.

The thirty-foot fishing trawler had an iron hull, which was streaked with rust and strung with old rubber tires to prevent damage when bumping against other boats at the dock. The cabin was cluttered with fishing gear, unwashed dishes and piles of greasy rags. Amidst the scent of dead fish that permeated the boat, there was also the smell of tobacco and the sweat of men living in close quarters. The cabin slept four and the tiny galley carried enough food for three months.

Not the Queen Mary, Melissa had thought after first touring the boat, but she was sure it could get her to the island and back.

Before leaving Thailand, Melissa had downloaded charts of the ocean currents, satellite photos of the Indian Ocean and a special GPS app for her iPhone. The GPS, using signals from satellites over 20,000 kilometers overhead, would pinpoint her exact position anywhere on Earth. With these, she felt confident she could backtrack the currents to the islands location.

Melissa had Kukrit follow the Monsoon Drift Current by the west coast of Sumatra, then catch the South Equatorial Current and sail into the middle of the Indian Ocean near the Tropic of Capricorn. After thirteen days at sea, they were well south of normal shipping routes and hadnt seen another boat in six days. The last plane anyone had spotted had been three days earlier and that was only because Zeze noticed the sun glinting off the jets wing. And, although theyd passed an occasional atoll—small rings of sand and coral, Melissa hadnt seen any land worth noticing since their brief stop at the Cocos Islands, a week earlier.

The oceans constantly changing colors amazed her. Sometimes in the morning, the waves would be a calm cerulean blue but, by late afternoon, a storm might blow in and the ocean would become a steel gray with swells high enough to obliterate the horizon. A few times, the water had turned a muddy brown, carrying huge kelp beds to some distant shore. Now and then, shed spot mounds of plastics and other garbage floating by—refuse that would drift forever, harmful to sea creatures and a blight to the eye.

When Chalong announced dinner, Melissa turned off the music. The sun was setting—a tapestry of red and gold. The dinner was identical to the ones theyd eaten since they sailed: sticky white rice, oily tuna and strong, bitter coffee. Melissa could only tolerate the coffee by spiking it with some chocolate syrup shed brought along. Aside from apes, chocolate was her one great addiction in life.

After eating, she used her GPS to pinpoint her position, pulled out her charts and studied her notes. Normally the southern equatorial currents moved an average of two knots in the southwestern direction. But there had been a storm at the time of Bambang’s plane crash, which Melissa had learned earlier, blew at thirty knots for twelve hours in a northeasterly direction. After careful calculations, Melissa zeroed in on the most likely target, an island known only as IB-47.

Zeze,she said. Tell Kukrit and Chalong that I want them to head southwest, exactly one hundred and forty-two degrees. That should lead us straight to the apes in about two days.

Melissa walked to the bow and stared at the southern stars along the horizon. She pulled up Aretha Franklin on her iPhone and listened to her sing “Respect.” As she listened, the old worries that had plagued her the entire trip returned: What would happen if she failed to find the apes and word of her search became known? As she knew it eventually would. Most scientists would laugh and accuse her of searching for the Ling Setan. Cryptozoology, they would call it—like hunting for unicorns or sea serpents. Ridicule was the last thing she needed, since her standing in the scientific world was already shaky.

If only I can locate the apes, she thought, it’ll rewrite zoological textbooks. If not...well, I can forget about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.



Chapter 8


Two days turned into three. Three days turned into four. And still no island emerged.

Melissa went back over her maps. Recalculated the currents and weather. Time and again. Another day and shed have to give up the search. She was beginning to think it had been a fools errand from the start.

Melissa rolled up her maps and sat at the galley table. She was cleaning her Nikon camera when she heard shouting coming from the deck. Still she stayed in her seat. Yesterday the men had begun shouting, excited about a sighting and she had sprinted to the deck. But there had been no island, only a miserable little atoll.

“Missa!” Zeze shouted.

Melissa looked up as Zeze hurried down the steps.

We see island,he said.

Youre sure this time?

“Ya, ya. Big island. Trees, hills. Big island.”

Melissa hustled onto the deck and leaned against the starboard bow. She raised her binoculars and studied the distant island. Her heart throbbed in her throat.

The dense jungle glistened in the sun like an emerald on blue velvet. A breeze rippled the palm trees. Birds swept through the air. A half-moon cove sparkled with turquoise water. The island looked warm, inviting. Full of promise.

Yet, as they neared the island, Kukrit cut the engine and began shouting as if something was wrong.

He say reef and rocks too dangerous,Zeze translated and pointed at the wide reef of pink coral surrounded the island. A multitude of jagged rocks rose from the bed of coral, guarding the island like sentries.

They were well over four hundred feet from the beach as Chalong dropped the anchor, just beyond the edge of the reef. Yet to his amazement he found the chain wasnt long enough. The ocean seemed to plunge into an abyss. Slowly Kukrit steered the boat along the edge of the reef, drifting two hundred yards before the anchor finally hooked onto something.

Melissa worried about rowing the dinghy through the claw-like fingers of coral. And she noticed that aside from the rocks that pierced the water, there seemed to be twice as many only inches below the surface. Even with high tide, she knew it would take careful navigation to row to shore in one piece.

Of course,Melissa whispered to herself, realizing that the treacherous reef helped explain why no one had ever discovered the apes before.

Chalong helped Melissa and Zeze lower the dinghy into the water before loading their gear. Bambang stayed at the rear of the boat, smoking and looking edgy. Once the gear was piled in the dinghy, Melissa and Zeze started the difficult job of rowing through the coral and rocks. They became hung up on the rocks three times before they managed to drift into the peaceful green cove.

When Melissa finally stepped ashore, she knew she was in a place unlike any other.

A flittering white tern flew down and hovered in front of her face. It seemed unafraid, even curious, as if its black eyes had never seen a human before.

When it came too close, Melissa shooed it away. With Zeze following, she trudged across the glistening white sand toward the jungle. Mosquitoes and sand flies bit her and she constantly had to wave her arms to keep them away.

As she stepped near the edge of the jungle, Melissa noticed two circles made of stones, each with a few mangos inside. One circle had lines radiating out like a sun. The second was cut in half like the dark and light sides of a half moon. The sight gripped her. She hurried to the stones, set down her rifle loaded with tranquilizer darts and lifted her Nikon. Noticing that the circles lay in the shade of the trees, Melissa used her flash unit to provide fill light so that no detail would be lost. She snapped off four shots.

The stone arrangement was a clear sign of intelligence. But Melissa had no hint of what meaning the circles might have for whoever had fashioned them or—more importantly—who had done them. She realized, contrary to Bambangs denial, there must be people on the island. They might be watching her now, hiding among the trees.

“Hello!” she shouted in English, then in Indonesian, Selamat siangand in Chinese, Nin hao.”

When no one replied, Zeze called out, Sawat dee khrap,” in Thai, and Tak bik,” in Malaysian. No one called back.

Melissa suspected the islanders might be primitive and frightened. She hadnt seen any boats when they had circled the treacherous coral reef. That possibly meant the islanders were no longer ocean travelers. Or it was possible the stone circles had been made some time before and the travelers had sailed away.

The fruit could have fallen from the nearby tree, she thought. Or been dropped by monkeys.

Melissa’s skin tingled at the prospect of meeting an unknown island people. Not only because such a discovery was noteworthy in its own right but also because they surely could lead her to the golden apes.

She hung her dart-rifle over her shoulder, drew her machete and began hacking a path through the interwoven tangle of bushes, ferns and flowers. Many bushes were the dreaded scaevola, which grew twice her height in dense thickets along the beach. The tips of each branch curled like eagle claws and, when she brushed against them the wrong way, they drew blood. As she battled the bushes, Melissa felt packs of crabs and rats scurrying about her feet.

She heard movement in the foliage overhead and glanced up. But the animal—whatever it was—stopped and remained hidden.

After Melissa and Zeze finished hacking a path through the bushes, they entered the forest. The jungle opened up, becoming a field of columns—the trunks of adult trees. The tree barks were gray and branchless until the trees reached a height of a hundred and twenty feet or more. At that point, branches stretched out and a tangle of leaves, in endless shades of green, blotted out the sky. Only a dim light filtered through.

There was no grass; only dead leaves and rotting vegetation covered the thin layer of dirt. The narrow stalks of young trees struggled in the heavy shade but most were already bent and dying from lack of sunlight. A few orchids and bromeliads fed off the leaf mold caught on exposed roots. And heavy moss clung to the trunks while vines hung from the high branches.

A cacophony of birds called overhead. In the distance Melissa could hear the cascading duets of a pair of howler monkeys. She also heard the familiar incessant patter of water from an earlier rain, dripping onto the broad jungle leaves.

Sweat ran in rivulets down her skin, soaking her cut-off jeans and T-shirt. Yet, it did little to cool her in the humid, oppressive heat.

To locate the new species of apes, she fell back on her expertise as an observer of orangutans. Melissa had learned that the density of the jungle forced primates to rely less on their eyes and more on hoots and bellows as a way of keeping in touch with their own kind. She also listened for the dropping of fruit pits, guessing that the apes ate in trees like most other primates. Over the next eight hours, she spotted a few langurs and a lone howler monkey but no other primates.

Zeze began complaining that he was tired and asked to end their search for the day. Melissa rotated her shoulders, sore from the weight of the camera gear and dart rifle.

“Okay,” she said. Well pick it up here tomorrow.

She glanced around for a landmark and noticed part of a limestone cliff peeking past a cluster of trees. She hacked her way past the brush for a better view and discovered the cliffs face was punctured with three separate caves.

Wed better check this out first,Melissa said.

Zeze sighed but followed her up the steep incline, climbing with the aid of vines. Melissa paused at the entrance of the two lower caves and peered inside their small chambers with the aid of her flashlight. She saw no sign of human habitation and proceeded to the larger cave above. Most of the moss and ferns near the top caves entrance looked as if they had been worn away by foot travel. And ashes from several large fires lay scattered just inside the cave.

Definitely human activity,she said. And recent.

Melissa asked Zeze to stand watch at the caves entrance in case any natives returned. He nervously took up his post as Melissa switched on her flashlight and entered the cave.



Chapter 9


On the caves floor, Melissa found a collection of strings made from vine fibers, several of which had been strung with seashells and broken coral to form necklaces. More evidence that natives inhabited the island. There were also several stacks of crushed palm leaves along the walls, which looked as if they had been used as bedding. If so, Melissa guessed, there were fifty to sixty beds. A lot of people.

She headed down a tunnel and realized the cave was a lava tube. The floor was mostly smooth where the lava flows had long ago cooled. And, here and there, there were lavacicles, much like the traditional stalactites and stalagmites found in most caves. But these were more shark tooth in appearance or tubular in design. After several minutes, she entered a larger chamber where intricate lava pillars rose from floor to ceiling. Spotted about the chamber, cylindrical rocks stood like mammoth half-molten candles.

Melissa panned her flashlight past a cluster of leaf-nosed bats hanging upside down. She lowered her light and spotted something in the center of the cave that mystified her. Junk.

An odd assortment of jetsam—carefully arranged—sat atop a flat rock. Among the debris was part of a slashed Goodyear tire, the cracked front panel of a Sony radio, an empty Pepsi can, a broken Budweiser bottle, sixteen plastic collars which once held six packs together, the face of a Spartus alarm clock, a stuffed Ziggy doll, an empty tin of something called Huntley and Palmers Superior Reading Biscuits, a rusted cap to a Ronson cigarette lighter, a womans red dress shoe, and a battered gasoline can with the words British Commando Special Z Unit stenciled across it.

My god, Melissa thought. These natives must be some sort of cargo cult.

Most of the objects were fairly recent, but some, like the gasoline can, dated back to World War II. The womans shoe appeared to be even older, from the nineteen twenties. Perhaps most amazing of all was a breastplate probably dating from the sixteenth century. Ornate carvings surrounded a Spanish cross at its center. But each object, whether it was an antiquity or an aluminum can, was displayed as if it were a sacred icon.

The cave didnt seem to go farther, so Melissa turned back. On her way out, however, she spotted a narrow tunnel and followed it to a side chamber. The room had a low ceiling and at the far end sat a flat, oblong rock that was covered with a strange, reddish-black substance. Melissa knelt beside the rock and scrapped off a bit of the substance with her fingernail. She examined the flakes in the flashlight before sniffing them.

Dried blood. And lots of it.

So much blood had flowed over the stone that Melissa felt certain it must have been used as an alter for animal sacrifices. She scraped more flakes into a clear plastic bag for later analysis and noticed several golden hairs were stuck to the dried blood. The golden hairs both excited and alarmed her. They were her first hint that the golden apes might indeed exist. But, if a native tribe did use the rock for sacrifices, it also suggested they were killing the apes. Her stomach knotted inside her.

As Melissa turned to leave, she noticed markings on the low ceiling: a circle with radiating lines—similar to the one made of stones that she had found on the beach. But this circle looked as if it had been drawn in blood. Melissa felt vaguely creepy but she fought the urge to flee. Instead, she photographed the drawing and gathered additional samples of dried blood—including a few more golden hairs. Only then did she return to the caves entrance.

There are definitely natives on the island,Melissa told Zeze.

Then why they not come out?Zeze asked.

Melissa shrugged. “Wary of strangers, I guess.She turned to the forest and shouted, “Hello!”


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