“Okay class, have a nice…”Mrs. Murphy hesitated at the sight of Hanuman leaping from his seat and loping out the door, backpack coiled into his tail, Wisp enshrouding him. “Weekend,” she concluded.
“Camping! Camping, camping, camping!” Han chanted as he spent some of his excitement on the monkey bars, swinging and flipping about until Sita caught up. “You know Sita, all of us came from living in the wild, not just me.”
Sita walked up to the playscape, and waved goodbye to her siblings and other classmates as they dispersed for the commuter train or began their walks home. She texted a message to her mother before looking at Han, one eyebrow raised. “Wow monkeyboy, you’re a bit excited, aren’t you?”
“I get plenty of chances to hang around my cousins, but I’ve never been able to spend the night with them. Any time Elsaap and Pringar take me camping, it’s far off on another continent, and we’re playing archaeologist at some dusty old Anki ruin.”
Wisp seemed excited too. While Han and Sita walked, the cloud girl transformed into a fall gust of wind, and she pushed along a few leaves to heighten the effect. Whenever they encountered someone on the street, Wisp would send a breeze through their hair, or ruffle their outfit a bit.
“Hey Wisp, looks like you’re pretty excited about the trip too,” Sita said.
The yellow puffy cloud solidified into the shape of a monkey and swung from branch to branch keeping pace with her friends.
“She loves my cousins,” Han said. “I know Master Craygarta gave us the weekend off from training so we could work on our wilderness survival skills, but maybe we’ll have time for a match out there.”
“Yeah, maybe. Did you know that a Nefilim once disguised himself as a big Liberty monkey, except he was copper-colored with green flecks? He was one of the first Nefilim the humans faced when the colony landed.”
“Pringar told me about him. That Nefilim fought with a stick too. She talked to him before his fight to the death with your dad, Grandpa Travis, and some shugarra corps.
Sita giggled. “It’s funny to think about Travis being a grandpa, his human kid is only a toddler.”
“Uncle baby?” Han asked. “Just wait until the little guy figures out he’s a monkey’s uncle!”
Wisp burst bright rays of pink and orange at Han’s joke.
They walked past the end of old colony, the massive steel buildings receded and suburban sprawl began. Craygarta’s temple was one of the largest and first structures completed since the colony set down on Nibiru. Craygarta built it himself, with the help of Gilgamesh’s people, the Minotaur, and the strength of their shugarra. The temple was made of cured logs and planed boards from the forest nearby. Craygarta insisted that the work be performed without machines. Hand plaining, sanding, and assembling the structure as his people had done for countless generations. Han, Wisp, and Sita had heard the story a dozen times while holding a ready pose, standing perfectly still during training.
“Hey guys,” Cray’s singsong voice resonated from within the temple’s entry. “Who’s ready to live with monkeys for the weekend?”
Han did a backflip. Wisp was a burst of color. Sita gave a thumbs up.
The four made their way down the road that bordered the old colony and the beginning of the suburbs. Their walk was about a mile and a half. Every so often they would pass a train stop. Commuters returning home from work in the city would disperse, prepared for weekend plans of their own. By the time they reached the boardwalk south of the colony, and the shugarra and idgeul corps practice grounds, Han was nearly trembling with excitement.
When the woods were in sight, Han tipped his head back and bellowed a primate call. Hanuman spoke the monkey language. No one had thought being civilized necessitated the boy turning his back on his unusual origins. Dozens of higher pitched screeches answered, followed by little green figures leaping from the trees and loping up to Han and his friends.
“They made space in their camp for us,” Han said. Most of Han’s tribe lived in the hollow of a tree near the edge of the woods. The boy had asked his cousins to clear space around it for their tents during his last visit.
Cray, Han, and Sita worked at setting up their tent. Wisp proved the most helpful by holding the tent in its form until the other could negotiate the poles and stakes. After settling in, Hanuman’s belly rumbled, eliciting chitters of agreement from his cousins.
“Good thing King Gil showed us how to set traps a couple days ago,” Han said, holding his prize; a plump rodent about the size of a chicken.
“I’ve gathered roots and veggies for the stew Han, are you going to get the meat ready?” Cray said.
Han pulled out his knife and went to work on the prize. Sita piled wood while Wisp started the fire, it helped that she could fan a spark in just the right way. To their dismay, Sita and Han had to spend a good part of their evening checking in with on their slates.
Their mothers weren’t the only ones fussing over the campers. Mother Liberty monkeys with infants on teat and toddlers wobbling in tow, inspected the camp and their tent. Han played with the babies carefully, and Sita shared the remains of their evening meal with the hungry ones. Sita, Han and his cousins danced by the evening fire as Cray played rowdy ballads, which sounded like a folk singer’s fiddle. Wisp accompanied him with flute-like gusts of music.
The four campers collapsed in a heap, halfway through the night. Warmed by the fur of dozens of Liberty monkeys, who, uninvited yet not discouraged, slept in every nook and cranny the tent provided.
“Howdy,” a little monkey told Han, poking the boy in his nose. Morning sunlight gave the tent’s fabric an opaque glow. The little primate tugged at his big cousin until the boy rubbed sleep from his eyes and sat up.
“Hi, little one,” Han replied.
Many of the monkeys had been up long before dawn, and the children rose to a pile of fruit awaiting them.
“These monkeys are a lot more sociable than humans give them credit for,” Sita said. A monkey on her shoulder nuzzled her cheek at the compliment. “I haven’t seen a single one of them fling poo, and they were all very tidy in the tent.”
“My cousins are also excellent dancers,” Han said with a grin. “Those brown monkeys in the Earth habitat aren’t so tidy. They are violent too. I got into their enclosure once and the biggest chimpanzee tried to pull my face off. I had to bite his finger, then the guard told me it was animal abuse. I convinced him to let me off with a warning because I’m a monkey too.”
Wisp sat in her girl form, eating fruit and smiling. Monkeys tried to sit on her lap and shoulders, as they did with the other children, but they simply fell through her form.
“How can you allow monkeys to pass through you when that fruit sticks to your ribs?” Sita wondered.
Wisp showed a coy smile, her cheeks flushed pink, and she put one finger to her lips, “Shhh.”
After breakfast, Han and his friends packed up camp and hiked into deeper corners of the woods. Master Craygarta had pinpointed on their slate’s map where the deadly Anzu birds nested. The children plotted a path that took them a few miles east of the feline-raptor hybrids.
It was a pleasant hike, birds sang, wind rustled leaves with a cool breeze, sunlight shone through the canopy, and the monkeys chittered happily. They walked all morning, laughing, exploring, and talking about the strange and wonderful life forms they encountered.
As the sun reached its zenith, the young explorers halted and unpacked lunch. Left-over fruit, dried meat, and granola bars made a well-rounded meal. The monkeys supplemented human fare with insects living in an upturned log.
They sat upon the giant roots of a maple tree, whose branches disappeared above the canopy overhead, an ancient tree nearly as thick as a house. A couple of monkeys raced up the trunk toward the canopy.
“Where are your cousins headed?” Sita asked Han.
“They want to make sure there are no Anzu birds hunting nearby. One of them talked about a skin changer, but I’m not sure what sort of animal that is.”
“Is this a door?” Cray sang from the far side of the root tangled base of the tree.
Wisp breezed over in a swirl of vapor. Han and Sita climbed over waist high roots to join their friends. Cray stood on a thick root looking down upon a rusted metal trap door that seemed to lead below the ground. Han lowered his tail and grasped a handle on the door’s edge. A cool draft wafted air into their faces as they peered into a tunnel, lit by a dim pinkish-orange glow.
Han grinned. Wisp flashed pink and yellow bursts of light. Cray hummed happily.
“Does this lead to the underworld?” Sita asked.
A couple of monkeys jumped through the doorway. Their paws skittered down the tunnel. Sita shivered, Han glanced at her and shivered too.
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