By David Clement Davies
For the planet, Greta Thurnberg and the extinction rebels
AMAZON RAT or a tail that soaked New York
CHAPTER ONE: HERMANO
Hey there, I bet you’ve never heard this amazingly true story, my gruzzly little brothers and sisters. The true but some say incredible tale of Hermano, the spiny tree rat, who lived in the wild and once very wooded forests of the great Amazonian jungle. A tree rat who saved the Planet! Now the Amazon is a very hot and steamy place indeed, in deepest South America, and mainly in a modern country called Brazil. Although the magical animals of the jungle there, the brightly coloured sugar birds and the slithering, writhing ground snakes, the snapping Cayman crocodiles and the ants, bees and insects, don’t exactly use Human names for things. No, you see animals, birds and insects have a quite different understanding of the World, so a different way of looking at things too.
Hermano was an exception to these dumb animals without words though, like all exceptional little creatures. Hermano’s family had had dealings with the humans once, you see. So, despite several bad things happening to them, as they do to all families, sometimes, they had come to love the humans’ words, their stories and even their books. So, at his birth in a giant Brazil nut tree, soaring so very high up there above everything, our hero’s father had given his son a human name, Hermano, which means brother, my gruzzly little cousins.
It was a name Hermano whispered in his deepest dreams, as he listened to the strange sounds of the mighty Amazonian rainforest, talking to him in the darkest night. Listened wrapped around a great big brazil nut for comfort, and food too, since above all Hermano loved gnawing on delicious nuts and sharpening his teeth. There Hermano heard the soothing drip of the great forest canopy too and the buzzing fizz of flashing fire flies, heard the wailing whoop of howler monkeys and the screech of ten thousand Amazonian birds.
Hermano heard that gurgling too, that came from the mighty river that runs through his jungle home, and right across the vast continent of South America – the longest in the world, called the Amazon. They were sounds that were filled with wonder and mystery, but sometimes with threat too. Among these strange noises though, for a time, also came the steady sound of his father’s strong, reassuring voice, softly telling Hermano stories, to help Hermano go to sleep. For all good parents should tell their children stories. Stories that were sometimes made up and sometimes true, and of both the animals and the Humans, in the great lands of the Americas.
Hermano heard tales of the human cities too then and the lost civilizations of the Aztecs, Incas and the Maya, that had come into being many hundreds of years before. One day Hermano’s father had even taken his son deep into the rainforest, past a thundering jade-green waterfall, and shown him a great carved stone face, giant stone steps and a human temple. All of which were now abandoned though, broken down and covered in ivy and vines. Hermano’s father said these were the remnants of human civilisations, that had once been. Which had been so powerful that they had had chains of mountain runners moving through the rainforests like army ants to bring them news, or to warn of threat and tens of thousands of human slaves too, to do their bidding. Civilisations which had vanished altogether though, so that some said the place was haunted, and had been abandoned and disappeared with time. As Hermano’s father suddenly disappeared. For one day poor gruzzly Hermano was something called an orphan, and so completely alone in the world, abandoned himself.
It happened very suddenly and like this. Soon after Hermano had seen that lost temple in the forest, there had come other angry noises in the jungle night, but this time made by humans. Among the sounds of animals then little Hermano had heard the sudden snarl of a vicious knife with glinting metal teeth called a chainsaw, and the growling thunder of a moving bulldozer too, with lights like Jaguar’s eyes. So the humans had suddenly come in the night to cut down Hermano’s ancient Brazil nut tree, and many others too. That’s how Hermano’s entire family had been squashed, in an instant – THWACK. Their home had been bulldozed and snapped up by the horrid machines and the heavy falling branches, along with many other little creatures of the forest. Creatures that to humans are often invisible. It was terrible.
Hermano only just survived himself though because, half asleep, wrapped around a brazil nut, he had pushed out his spines in fright, as he always did when he sensed something bad was about to happen, and rolled like a yucca fruit. So Hermano had fallen into a soft clump of purple forest flowers, safe and sound. Safe as a gruzzly little orphan can be, at least. For if truth be told, the jungle is not always a very safe place at all, sometimes, with the hungry snakes, and the biting bullet ants, with the soaring condors that can swoop so low and pluck little creatures from the ground to gobble them up. With the fires too that can burst out on their own in the heat, or start when the humans are close by and being careless. Meanwhile, in his spiny fall to safety, Hermano had landed on his tail, ouch, and from there-on-in Hermano’s tail had a kink in it. It made Hermano feel different, and very alone indeed, with his family suddenly gone. It made him feel rather prickly and out of place.
Happily, the free creatures of the Amazon are rarely really ever alone though, and besides, in the countries of South America not only is family everything, but there they have things called extended families too, that try to look after one another in trouble. So Hermano had been taken in by his Grandfather, Raoul, a kind, wise old white-faced spiny tree Rat. If Raoul was always very sad and melancholy too, often depressed in fact, with drooping grey whiskers and gentle wrinkled paws.
At first Raoul had invited his grandson high up into the branches of another great tree, the very giant of the forest, a Kapok tree. But looking up at it Hermano had started to shake like a maraca, and stuck out his spines and burst into floods of tears too, now frightened at the sheer height of the thing. Perhaps it was the fall. So Raoul had moved both his wife and his grandson into the branches of a Graviola tree instead, also called a Soursop, much closer to the ground. There Raoul taught Hermano how to bury nuts and told him especially how he must always keep clean and be tidy, for to be clean was a sacred thing. So they started a new life on the edge of the human devastation.
Devastation? Yes. For that’s what poor Hermano saw now with his huge brown eyes, which were often crying, as he looked out at the hole the humans had cut in the great rainforest that had killed his family. For in front of Hermano in the Amazon jungle now were a carpet of fallen trees, like discarded matches, and a space like five football pitches, football being a game they love to play across Brazil, almost as much as they love to make music and to dance.
“A hole,” Hermano whispered, “They’ve made a hole in it. They’ve made a hole in me.”
Since Hermano had once loved trees, being an arboreal rat, loved scurrying up and down their mossy trunks and swinging with his huge tail from their tangling branches, clever Hermano could not understand why the humans should want to do such a dreadful thing, let alone murder his whole family. It hurt his heart and Hermano had a very big heart indeed.
Until one day Hermano’s spines began to tingle again and prick up on his back as more humans arrived in the rainforest. There were hundreds of them now though, in hard, yellow plastic hats, and stomping black boots, not only to clear the fallen trees, but with metal poles and diggers and strange rotating machines with huge mouths to mix something called cement. You see, the humans had begun to build something on the edge of Hermano’s beautiful rainforest, an edge that is always getting smaller, as the Humans eat into it all. Something that soon became a place of much heated speculation among the animals round about the land of Brazil, something almost as strange as that temple covered in jungle vines.
Whatever is it they can be making there, the animals all wondered in the chattering Amazon night, and what did the humans want to do inside it? Could it be some strange laboratory, on the edge of nowhere, for secret and terrible scientific experiments in space and time? Could it be some kind of cruel prison for the humans to punish each other in, or to keep as their slaves? Or could it be the start of a new Mayan Mega-City that one day would simply swallow up the Amazon rainforest altogether and all the animals, birds and insects in it too?
Che, the cheeky Cucaracha, a cockroach who lived on the next door Soursop fruit, chirruped that it was to bring the humans work, so that they could feed their families. And because he was something called a Communist too, Che thought this was a very good thing indeed, to help the poor human peoples of Brazil. Yage the tree frog though, who claimed he could call to the Brazilian Rain Gods themselves, and see secret things by travelling in his dreams, croaked and rolled his huge frog eyes, as he licked his sticky tongue across his own Emerald green back. Then Yage croaked that it was a terrible sign of Evil and the end of the whole World too and only a Shaman knew it. It was the very first time that Hermano had heard that strange word, Shaman, which means a creature of vision and magic power. For Yage himself claimed that he could see strange things with his mysterious gifts.
Hermano’s crooked cousin though, a vicious toothed water rat called Cartel, who hung out along the winding banks of the Amazon River, told Hermano that it was all just the way of the wicked world, which was always on the move. That Hermano shouldn’t worry about it and that the only way to be in life was to turn to crime like Cartel. So to really make it in the modern jungle, as a dirty rat. Brutal faced Cartel would look at Hermano though and shake his head doubtfully. Because Hermano was so nervous and gentle, not to mention afraid of climbing and often bursting into tears. While, unlike all Brazilian rats and most Brazilian animals, even the humans, Hermano couldn’t even really dance. Hey, gruzzles, think of that, a Brazilian tree rat that can’t dance!
“Spineless,” snorted Cartel one day, “and always blubbing too, like a baby. You’ll never be modern, stupid little Hermano, or happy in your own skin, or hard as a Brazil nut, like me, or a really dirty rat either. In fact you’re just a worthless piece of Amazon rubbish.” This made Hermano feel very small and sad indeed. As for the strange building, near which the humans had placed large plastic barrels to collect their drinking water from the rainfall, it was Grandfather Raoul, who watching the work day and night, looking as mournful as ever, realised just what it really was. Raoul guessed it when the noisy vans began to arrive, down the concrete access roads, that the humans had laid in the forest, to deliver things to be stored on the endless rows of metal shelves that the men were putting up inside.
“Please tell me what they’re doing in there, grandpapa,” said Hermano with concern one day, as they watched together through the huge, rubbery leaves, dripping with globes of moisture like enormous tear drops, “What is it the humans are making?”
“A Depository,” declared Raoul softly and very sadly, as he looked out at the rainforest, “I think it’s called a Depository, Hermano.”
“Deposi-tree, Grandpapa?” whispered the prickly arboreal rat, in a confused little voice.
To be continued…..