AMAZON RAT – Continued
“Death,” Hermano gulped, “Then we aren’t immortal at all?”
As Hermano stared at poor Raoul’s old body he suddenly noticed a trail of soldier ants marching towards his grandfather and nosing at him, as if they would pick him up and carry him away.
“And where is he going?” asked Hermano. “What will happen to him now?”
Yage looked at Hermano’s grandmother significantly, and she looked at Yage and they both looked at Hermano, but they said nothing, as the little tree rat went on crying.
So at last it was finished though, the strange new modern Depository in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest, built on someone else’s doorstep. But because it was indeed automated, very few of the humans worked inside it, among its rows and rows of teeming shelves and booths and cubby holes, stacked with stuff. Except for the Robot machines that trundled up and down its gangways in the dark. Day and night trucks would arrive to deposit things too, or to take them away again, for special delivery all around the World, in boxes stamped with strange letters like UPS, DHL and FedX.
One day though, as is very common, Hermano’s curiosity just got the better of him. You see, while he wasn’t trying to make up stories, after Grandpapa Raoul’s very natural but very upsetting death, Hermano had been dreaming too, day and night. Hermano had been dreaming of all the things his grandpapa had said, and of travelling too, like his great great grandfather to America and like his grandfather too. But dreaming of a wall to keep out travellers too and of a place called Gansevoort pier, on some Hudson River. Yet Hermano could not decide if these places were real or just a story, even a dream, and he thought too that his great great grandfather and this human writer must have lived a very long time ago.
Hermano had been dreaming too of all the things inside the great new Depository though, but especially of books. Of one book in particular, that story by a human called Hermano, and of a great white whale, or perhaps of God, or even the Devil, that his own grandfather had tried to tell him before he died, but never really finished. So one evening, late at night, Hermano decided to have a look inside the depository and find the book for himself. Hermano plucked up all his spiny courage, what was left of it anyway, and ran down the stem of his Graviola tree and scurried across the forest floor towards the giant building that had killed his parents.
Beyond in the human clearing Hermano found the great metal roller doors of the Depository closed, but since the little tree rat was very good at getting into small and awkward places, like all clever little rats, Hermano found a drainpipe that led him straight inside. Now Hermano found himself sitting on a workbench, his huge tail hanging down the side, with the kink at the end, gazing at the astonishing place in the moonlight pouring through the vast windows – the Amazonian Depository, that had made a hole in the forest.
The warehouse in the jungle was huge, huger than even Hermano’s little dreams, or so it seemed, and the shelves and stacks crammed now with modern stuff seemed to stretch for miles and miles. So down Hermano hopped in the darkness and started to run along the rows of human things, gazing all around, like a child in a toy shop at Christmas time. It was amazing what Hermano saw there in the moonlight. Not only were there new human toys and tools and furniture sitting waiting on the shelves, but there were salt and pepper mills, and pots and pans, computers and radios, toasters and smart new coffee making machines. It certainly all looked so amazingly modern. There were even boxes stacked there, but coloured boxes to put in ordinary boxes and more packages than Hermano had ever seen before. Hermano wondered why humans would want to put boxes inside boxes and needed so many packages.
Yet now something strange happened, as Hermano looked down the rows, because it was as if a clock was suddenly ticking inside his head and his twisted tail twitched and Hermano found himself immediately counting all the things there, almost instantaneously. It was as if little Hermano could actually see numbers in his head. As he went on again though Hermano began to wonder who had made all these things in the Depository, this modern temple to human stuff, and what on earth the humans used them for, and what they paid for them in their paper money, and why there was so much of it. Hermano wondered who really needed it all. Hermano thought too that although the place was amazing and very modern too, none of it was as beautiful as his living rainforest, or his ancient Brazil nut tree. Nor worth the lives of his mamma and his papa and all his family. Yage had been right. Hermano began to grow depressed too, just like grandfather Raoul with his Great Depression, because nowhere he looked could Hermano find the thing he was really looking for now, the book.
Hermano stopped, somewhere in the middle of all those rows, wanting to find his way back to his drainpipe, out into the lovely air and moonlight again. But the poor tree rat could not remember which row he had come down – he was lost in the Depository. Suddenly Hermano’s spines were tingling again too and standing up on end.
“Hey man,” said a voice and the tree rat nearly jumped out of his skin, among all those things, “Hermano. What you doing in here, little brother? A modern warehouse isn’t for little rats.”
Hermano looked up to see none other than Che, the cheerful Communist cockroach, gazing down at him and laughing. As much as a cockroach can laugh, for they have very still faces indeed, being insects. Perhaps Che’s eyes were laughing.
“I’m looking for something, Che,” answered Hermano gravely, his spines relaxing a little. “I’m looking for a very special book to help me make up Shaman stories that will light a fire in animal’s hearts. But I can’t find it anywhere. The book.”
“This way then,” said the cucaracha, “if it’s books and stories you’re after, little brother. At the far end of the Depository. Though you may be disappointed.”
“Disappointed?” said Hermano, as the tree rat followed on behind the cockroach. “But why?”
“Because in the modern human world no one really reads anymore, Hermano, not like in the old days anyway,” answered the cockroach wisely. “And when they do it’s often not on real paper pages anyhow, man, but on screens and computers and laptops.”
“Screens?” said Hermano, remembering his Grandfather talking about some Web. “Laptops?”
“Sure, Hermano. I mean with computers and the Internet, with iPads and Kindles,” said the Cockroach gravely, “with all those human boys and girls staring at their smart phones, playing games too, or sending texts, I hear they can read the words there. So why buy real books at all, even if they were interested? They have something called EBooks too now, Hermano, millions of them, so you can never choose a good one to read. Anyhow, here we are at last.”
The cockroach turned the corner and Hermano was very disappointed indeed at what he saw. In front of them were not lovely hard backs and paperbacks, not beautiful picture books and pop-up books, not hefty tomes or slim little novellas, all waiting to be read and pawed over and thought about, but rows and rows of empty metal shelves. Except right at the far end, on its own, was just one very thin book waiting to be shipped across the world.
“But Grandpapa said this was a priceless Book Depository,” said Hermano, hardly able to disguise his disappointment.
“I know,” said the cockroach wearily. “But nowadays they don’t even have to print physical books beforehand, because they can print and make them here in the warehouse instead, as soon as someone orders one, automatically. With a special machine.”
Hermano looked miserable, but he was looking up and trying to read the title of the book. A book which wasn’t a story, or a history, a travel book, or a clever book on food or politics, but a book on Self Help. Hermano suddenly felt very embarrassed indeed though because the spiny tree rat realised that although he had become better at making up stories himself, if not quite Shaman stories yet, he had never even learnt to read.
“But is this book by a Hermano, Che, or a Herman?” Hermano asked, “Herman Belleville, I think it was. He’s my namesake, Che. He wrote a story about the sea once, and an angry captain with a wooden leg and a huge white whale who bit his leg off. So the Captain wanted revenge, or perhaps revenge on God himself. So he set off to hunt him down, but killed everyone trying. The shaman man who wrote it worked at Pier 54 and my great great grandfather even made friends with him, with a human being.”
For some reason Pier 54 was so specific it had lodged in Hermano’s head. Perhaps it was his mysterious talent with numbers too.
“No, Hermano,” said the colourful cockroach, looking at the book spine. “It isn’t that one. This is called The Secret.”
“Oh. And just one book,” said Hermano, “How sad.”
“Yes, Hermano. It’s not like the old days, or the great Library of Congress in America. There they have a copy, a real one, of every single printed book ever made. Ever.”
“Billions and billions and billions of books they have. And though the humans publish words online now, millions of them every day, it’s not the same. Because each book has its own individual character, like a person or an animal, brother, or even like the people who have read and loved the stories. Think of that.”
Hermano wondered now if these numbers could be right though and there really were billions of real books in the world.
“America,” whispered Hermano though, “Now that I’d like to see, Che, and New York City and this great Library too. Just as I’d love to travel.”
“Well you can’t,” said Che quickly.
“Can’t? Why not, Che? Because of this Wall they’re building?”
“That, yes,” answered the Cucaracha, frowning as much as an insect can frown, “but then there’s Immigration too.”
“At the borders, and Customs, that stop strange and illegal things going in and out, and passports that you need to travel with and tickets that cost you human money, sometimes lots of it.”
Hermano was horrified.
“But I’ve got money,” he said though, “The Dollar bill in our Soursop tree.”
“Oh, that old thing,” laughed Che, “that was out of date years ago, Hermano, so you can’t use it anymore. Besides,” said Che, seeing Hermano was getting depressed again, “who would want to go there really, brother? I mean we’re the country, Hermano, the forest, the true adventure, freedom itself. Not great big human cities like Boston, San Francisco, or New York. So it’s here that anyone should travel, to really see the World, not there. The living world, that is.”
“New York,” said Hermano wonderingly though, if he thought too of what Yage had said of seeing the wonder of Nature in the forest.
“Yup,” nodded Che, “The City that never sleeps, that’s New York.”
Hermano thought of what Yage had said of everything being alive, even a rock, and wondered what a city that never sleeps dreams about.
“But you’re staying put, right here, little brother, in the rainforest, forever. Although there won’t be any forest left soon, the way the humans carry on. Because whatever they do, good or bad, Hermano, they ALWAYS carry on. There are just so many of them now, billions, although of course it’s us insects that will inherit the Earth one day, they say. Since insects, especially ants, are the wisest thing there are.”
Hermano thought of the ants beside his grandpapa, as Che led his friend back through the warehouse. Hermano was feeling rather sad again, because although he loved his home and the Amazon rainforest, and all the amazing animals in it, he still wanted to travel and see the World. Hermano realised that he never could though. While he had listened to what the cucaracha had said of the humans always carrying on, and wondered how long his home would even survive.
“Che,” said Hermano after a while though, and it was as if a light had suddenly come on in his head. “I wonder if I could travel to the Human who owns the Depository and ask them to stop cutting down our beautiful trees and making a hole in the forest? Perhaps then I can make friends with them too, just like my great great Grandfather did, long ago.”
Che wasn’t listening because the cucaracha had just found a set of flying, modern, battery operated drones on the warehouse shelves, with camera eyes, waiting to be sent out around the world, and which looked like him. So the cockroach had hopped up to try and make friends with them, even though they were made of plastic. Che would never have dreamt of trying to make friends with humans, even though he was a communist Cucaracha. Meanwhile Hermano thought he had got back to his workbench near the drainpipe, but when he scuttled up, passed an open cardboard box sitting on the floor, he cried out: “HELP!”
Hermano found his legs slipping from under him, and as he started to run, frantically, along the rollers the little tree rat was on, faster and faster, he got nowhere at all. Hermano started to giggle though, because he found it rather funny, running there, without getting anywhere, like being on a treadmill, or like being a slave. It was with that that somewhere far away, in the very modern land of America, someone clicked a button on a little computer. A button that, because everything is more and more connected nowadays, automated too, sent an order to a machine. That sent an order to a company that sent an order to distant Brazil and to the new Depository in the heart of the Amazonian jungle.
So, as Hermano ran there on the spot and his spines began to bristle again, as he sensed something big about to happen, something else started to move, in the Automated Jungle Depository. It was a robot trolley that set off down the endless aisles and picked up some stuff, a smart new Transformer toy, and trundled it back to the rollers. So a strange robot toy plucked from one of the shelves was suddenly coming toward Hermano, pushing at the tree rat’s very long nose and shoving him off the bench altogether: “Woooooooooah.”
Hermano was falling, falling into the cardboard box, filled with bubble wrap, and metal arms were closing the lid and sealing it automatically with brown tape and a stamp was coming down on the lid, hard, with Hermano sealed inside, marking it FedX- NEW YORK CITY.