6 | The Howlers
His stringy, unkempt hair crowned wildly-wide black eyes housed in pocked socket ports of a ruddy complexion, with wrinkles like freeways ramping a meaty neck, and the taxidermy board. This was Ailill. His name was shortened from “Ailill Edge-of-Battle,” occasionally to “Ailill of Battle,” once they knew him, and were content, but it was usually just Ailill. It seemed to temper him, to be remembered as a warrior. He had been captured at the Isle of Joy, and he was generally deceased, which remained concealed from the eye, and many of the situations of this place, concealed as if by a white, cloudy frame. His capture owed to his role in the fable Voyage of Bran, commenced in the seventh century, for his tactics, and manner fell into dismay. His lodging, Ailill was told, was actually a “rescue”; and he took heart in the compliments of most everybody about the work of the taxidermist, a man named Bol, who sheared else but Ailill’s renowned head, and the battler was assured this would be a permanent mural at the Isle of Salmon, or they would keep him posted, a slice of mirth, and withal Ailill was soothed. The Salmon isle, as many know, and legend informs, there is an “empty, solitary house,” and also a “huge feast,” where souls of a kindred ore vow thanks to God.
Ailill was still grumpy. “You should be more like the goats,” Ailill was advised by Eligan, a watchman, and the supervisor of the domain. He hoped Ailill may contain his native anger, at least in a manner which did not seem suspicious. “The goats go along to get along.”
(Note: One may say these type of accounts are easily dismissed, and this is additionally a warning, like those issued by medical prescription ads, to point out the influence, especially if, and where there is within a reference to binging a television series, or to dreams or nightmares, or to aged scotch, or ambulatory recuperation, and definitely if binging multiple television shows is mentioned, which, taken together, can often present the mind with a hazy, quilted, perhaps composite view of reality, however temporary, replete with such emoluments, – a drift, as it were, to scenes melting into one scene, but somehow including, say, Survivor, and Lost, and Naked & Afraid, and the Planets of the Apes. It is not to say all matter is different; it is to wonder how, or why it is alike. Of course, this quilt may never have occurred, but it is implicit in sundry allusions; the question we may entertain, after the proper attribution for any familiarity, is, if it seems neither satire or cajoling: “What if it did occur?”, and/or, “Were these inspired navigations truly visionary, as much as, say, Galileo?” One must watch out for such things.)
Quite frothily, Ailill protested, glaring from the mantelpiece, “I should be a howler.”
[Television shows, to digress again, were only intended to be viewed for a single hour, in case anyone else has noticed, and with a week allowance, thereafter, to reflect, before the next, and another episode. We remain mystified about the long-term effects of a “binge,” but that is evident, so let’s rejoin our story. And, not interrupt it again.]
The medieval Irish echtra, or adventure, the Voyage of Bran, was planned out to be an “Immram,” a junket, to the “Other-World.” The son of Febail, Bran was peer to Mael Duin, and apparently traversed the same waters, if separated by time, and by integrity, and what’s more, we could possibly say, and include Saint Brendan, the Navigator. Ailill Ochair Aghra, our Ailill, was Duin’s father, conceived under criminal circumstance by a nun, hardly a laughing matter. Ailill, a warrior chieftain of great reputation, was slated for death by fire at the hands of vengeant marauders from Leix, and a church aflame fell in upon him. Duin’s mother sent him to be raised by the Queen of Eoganacht, but he soon, having learned of his father’s demise, believing he was the son of a king, and queen, abandoned all to discover his father’s murderers. The journey was encouraged by a somewhat perverse druid, by the name of Nuca, and brought him ultimately to such exotic locales and storied isles as the Island of Joy, in a term of several hundreds of years at sea; (there is no correction offered for time, or readily-given, thus we must presume not all of this passage occurred within the familiar bounds of anno domini. In none of these excursions did Duin find his father. It was still a source of amusement to Eligan, who was frequently rather sinister, and certainly knew Ailill’s location. [This we suppose.]
“Howlers?” Eligan repeated. “They remind me of bikers.”
Ailill rejoined, “Howlers? Really?”
It was Ailill’s destiny. He had sought escape to the Isle of Salmon, prior to this casement at Joy, and had been certainly searching, in a fog of unknown seafaring, either salmon, the fish, or an equally-rumored Island of Enchanting Women. Many sailors alas invested their fates in such days to chasing dubious lands with famous names, and mountainous legend, and usually landed, as did Ailill, to peruse just forested shores, these shores, yes, the Isle of Salmon, but it had become better known by the adage, the “Island of The Howlers,” and, previous to his abrupt capture, they saw very few fish. Perhaps there was a feast of salmon waiting to be had, and vows to God, but, shortly upon his arrival to the Island of Salmon, sic, Howlers, not actually four minutes expired before the Fugitive King, as he liked to call himself, that is, Ailill, was snared by a rope trap.
Subsequently, as a mire of time passed from then, his mentor became Eligan, a keeper-of-sorts, who did bestow the canons of great hospitality to Ailill, and some gratitude to God, as required for this employ, and did presently stalk the room below Ailill in a circular, and pensive row. Ailill heard Eligan pace, and it annoyed him. “Stop,” he would insist. Even lightly severed at the neck, and stuffed above the fireplace, Ailill’s black eyes gaped, and rolled about him, Eligan; and Eligan’s loud, repetitive clack of heels was intentionally infuriating. The door of the dining room where Ailill, or Ailill’s head, was posted, not unlike a trophy deer, was heavy, and oak. Eligan could usually open it with a nudge.
“I don’t knoooo,” Eligan would hence allow, in the words of a unsure host. It sounded to Ailill more like “nooo,” or “neeew.”
He corrected Eligan: “It’s ‘I don’t know,’ not ‘I don’t new.’”
Eligan braced his jowls with a frown. He was a hefty mentor, who did not like to be addressed, or judged; his name alone, Eligan, was derived from his continuing evolution as a vitula eligan, which is to say, a cow; it was a matter of pride, but also, perhaps, gave him a sense of insecurity. Eligan pursed his lips, nodding, a bit too fervently, about the comeuppance, and then paced laboriously to the fire place, just below Ailill. The cow, Eligan, was ready to converse, and studied Ailill somewhat dully, and more dutifully, trying to understand homo sapiens. Exasperated, that is, without resolution, Eligan replied only, finally, “You’re not very aromatic, Ailill.” The cow waited for Ailill’s eyes to bulge in fury.
Ailill was speechless, and glowering, allowing Eligan to puzzle more about their common state at the Isle of Salmon. “This is not the island of Howlers, you know,” the cow stated, mostly to no one. “I’m not prepared to allow that.” The cows, a variety of birds, and certain other wildlife did live jealously on the island along with the howlers, – howler monkeys, – who were, by far, many times the most populous residents of Salmon, and were renowned for their wily sense of humor, and vivid sex lives. Eligan feared his life had become mundane.
Ailill recovered his wits. He quipped to Eligan, “You’re a hamburger.”
Eligan was analytical, unfettered. “You should try to more like us. Or the goats.”
Ailill concluded, “What I need is a bag of fries.”
Eligan, rumbling about the mansion, in the morning, pushing doors open with his muzzle, meandering through them, continued to troubled by the prospect of more visitors, other forms of life, arriving by surprise from the seas of the isle of Salmon, and the current need, at least, for the howlers’ aid. Free was not free. He stomped slowly from the mansion front doorway to appraise the day, gazing at the clouded sky with a woeful lurch of his meaty head, looking, as it were, both ways, with the slow demeanor of a metronome. “Sapiens,” he muttered. “Heh.” Day to day, life at the Isle of Salmon was as an awful blur for sapiens, as they were called, – officially, homo sapiens, or “humans,” another word often used to describe them. They were far fewer in number around the atoll Joy than other species, particularly the Howlers; the latter, howler monkeys, dominated life, and the population of Salmon from virtually every, and any branch and persuasion, and likely were already devolving which, Eligan grimaced, and whether not on this day, whom of the sapiens would be for dinner. This would be decided by a fete, the “Morning Games,” and Eligan was never late to attend them. He was accompanied to the Morning Games generally by two of his brethren, two bulls named Johnson, both named by a long-digested botanist. They were Johnson-A, and Johnson- B, which dismayed them. The two Johnsons were waiting for Eligan in the front of the yard, and shortly the three hustled to another channel of the wood, into the deep, deep jungle, to witness, and admire the Howlers’ mischief. God help whomever might be in their way. Eligan chided the Johnsons, A and B, with the reveille, “Let’s goooooo!”
Hunting was the way of life at Salmon. It was more of a pastime for the howlers, who consumed scare little of the fresh sapien; they had no taste for them, but merely nothing else much else to do. The society of howlers was immense; everyone remarked about it, about their unique system of ropes, and traps, devised, and expanded to engulf the entire island, no more than fifty yards apart; hundreds of homo sapiens, given to the seas, to wanderlust and imperialism, at the peak of a weekend, would be stocked in howler traps by a cooperative Mother Nature. They were fated by the sea, and by Salmon, to roam this isle, and invariably were caught, or eventually, a better word, in the rope traps, clumsily, dozily, distracted by the vague comments of the howlers, tripping upon guide ropes, and strung twenty feet into the air, they were, they were, by lunch time, just after the Morning Games, and in the plumage of the abiding trees, and forest, in a snarl of a lariat hawser, where they could, theoretically, be speared, or, occasionally, dropped and set into a pond to sanitize, or chilled for the evening banquet. It was all a ball of fun. And there was the “cheer.” This was the howlers’ warning to humans, to sapiens, once tied to the branches, and suddenly eyeball-to-eyeball with Salmon’s goats, who gawked, and ogled the humans with a dose of hauteur. Yes, the cheer; there was always the cheer, each and every confounded time a sapien, or a group of them, was caught, by the ambush: The Johnsons’ invariably lead the other wildlife in surprising English to the platitude, “Oops, there goes another glass of iced tea!”
Ah, the cheer. Eligan doted at the doorway, bemused by the prospect. He was not, Eligan, the greatest fan of the “saps,” as the Johnsons were wont to call them, or even the howlers, to be truthful, but the howlers who were undeniably entertaining, at least, and life on Salmon, even without fish, of any kind, progressed, one day obscuring the last, and while hunting was the centerpiece of the day, the wildlife delighted more at dusk, at the withering sight of the sunset, when humans were allowed to go free, and they scrambled en masse, amid the teeters, and guffaws of all kinds, to scamper awkwardly into the woods. Eligan mumbled to the Johnsons along the way how, almost every day, the humans were utterly incapable of sparking flames for a fire, and would inevitably spend the night shivering in the nude. Staring at the sapiens’ hapless effort to build a fire, Eligan complained to the Johnsons, “Don’t they remember buttercup? From childhood! They need a mirror, eyeglasses. Didn’t everyone do the buttercup-thing, putting a buttercup under their chin, the yellow glow, as a child? It’s supposed to inspire them.”
He watched them, and noticed several of them staring at the dead wood on the ground, bespectacled, on even with sunglasses, and issued his daily curse. “Great Danes!” The Johnsons never understood Eligan’s phrase. The bulls would slowly nod, nonetheless.
The homo sapiens were “adroit, and intelligent descendants of Ardi,” Eligan once read, in a biology book in the Island of Salmon library. He scarcely believed it. “Maybe one day they’ll have their day in the sun,” he remarked, but for now, humans were more fun to watch; seething, beneath the wry, satisfied expression on the faces of countless howler monkeys, sovereign in the trees, trap ropes would be yanked, and sapiens, on cue, tumbled to the ground, and stood stupefied in glaring huffs, peering madly, and pivoting every which way, in shock, in the gravel, and the howlers would howl crazily, and then howl some more, before absconding from perch to perch in their plumage situation. Livid humans would always try to chase the howlers, which they were intended to do, and by the closing act of the Morning Games, all of them were captured, and hopeless in futility. The tears of mirth ran uncontrollably from the howlers’ eyes, who, skipping easily away from tree to tree, knew, they were too swift for any form of sapien vengeance.
Eligan was a contemporary of Ardi, and Lucy, a female. He hoped one day to meet them, and treasured the likely contrast to these sapiens at Salmon. Ardi was the first, and eldest of the homo sapiens, and, like the howlers, was, in fact, a monkey. He eschewed any further interest in mentoring Ailill. It was perhaps happenstance, when, principally the howlers, stealthily prowled at dusk to free the sapiens each day, for the Morning Games, and another day of the hunt; it was once, as the sapiens were freed, they adopted a crazed expression, sneered in anger at each other, and decamped to hunt themselves. It became a new rite, the next era of the hunt, and the howlers’ howls about the rite were deafening, but Eligan had enough. This was the jungle, he felt, and “it’s not all good.”
Peace was not a new instinct, Eligan pondered, sharing his frustration with the Johnsons. They shared a disability; they could neither sit, or lie down, or do much of anything but stand and stare at the world. They could never use a rocking chair. It cemented their friendship. Howlers could stalked sapiens, swiftly, and adeptly, using all number of muscles, and limbs, and even the sapiens could happily track and nab each other. These such times, it inspired the cow to think about Ardi, about the bonobos chimpanzee, and wonder if peace was possible, and what peace, in fact, was; would life become a “joy,” somehow, or less tedious? Perhaps if there were any salmon at the isle of Salmon; why were they were few in number? Is this the way of Nature, just like the howlers? Eternal failure? Eligan was determined this was not to become his destiny; a solution must exist, perhaps for the younger calves, eager for more education, the ones not yet instilled with the trappings of their parents. They could feel Eligan, mornings after the dawn, alone with the grass, his cow’s eye envisioning rare images, close to him, to his mind, but distant, scores of things, out there in the sky, glimpses of another universe, it must exist! The “Other-World,” the other side of some dark, outlined abyss, glimpses of life fleeting from the rising sun. Eligan could see the dew on the hay, the aging bark of trees, like it was the very first time; and the images disappeared too quickly; the doddering cow could remember how, every time he saw these images, he looked away; were they never really there?
He should probably not be alone, the Selective Monitoring Unit, or SUM, estimated, and it placed a call to his colleague, Joe, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was adjusting to a dozen new medications for congenital heart failure. Joe recognized the number, and was befuddled by a GrubHub call from KFC, but put one-and-two together. SUM had actually probed Salmon years ago, and recalled annotating the record to show their cheer originated on Earth in 1978. They got it wrong: “Oops, there goes another glass of iced tea!” They substituted “glass of iced tea” for “orange Hi-C,” a brand of soft drink.
It was a dubious proposition, rising from the chair, whether it was Coney Island, or space interstellar, although both were fairly comfortable places for repose. He did enjoy the ergonomic creation of the LifeRaft®, the passenger chair; aboard the “glass canoe,” New Age prescriptions were pumped into his system routinely using medical patches, enhancing his functions, and allowing him to pensively view the sights, and discoveries of his return from İo. The voyage included the solitary passage through a molecular cloud, which SUM speculated “may have been Planet X, or 9.” There was soothing muzak emanating from the ship’s speakers. SUM had kindly stopped the constant backdrop of the iconic, twentieth century piano rag, “Jelly Roll.”
The landing in New York was a perfect glide, a pleasant, invisible skiff soaring through the early day invisibly upon a dune at Brighton Beach, in Coney Island. He arose, like any customer of an airline, as the pod door opened, like a sliding panel at a Safeway supermarket; there was a fwush of the cool air, and the sound of the Atlantic Ocean, which chased his memory of the black, skeptical noise of the Deep Vast; it didn’t matter to him; no one would believe any of it, if told. He cheerfully felt a word of thanks should be parsed to SUM, after all; but before he could speak, SUM recognized this was a parting, a departure of new friends, and it churned without misgiving to the sound effect of a vinyl record, dropping onto an ancient record player. He exited the LifeRaft® to the surround sounds of notes of a vintage 38 Special hit, and lyrics: “A heart needs a second chance.”
“Let me out!” he hollered, with a broadening grin. He gave SUM a quick salute, and his best New Yorker grimace, and exited the ship. The automatic door slid to an easy close, and the LifeRaft® shortly disappeared, in a dune, in New York, in Coney Island. He took a deep breath. He squinted at the partly cloudy sky over Steeplechase Pier. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Second Chance,” 38 Special | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile, (No. 51)
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom