“Lady Liberty, partner,” declared a lazy voice admiringly, as Hermano turned to see the strangest animal imaginable.  He was much bigger than Hermano, with fiery red fur and huge front teeth. He looked a bit like a giant rabbit, or a cat, or a mix of the two.

“That’s Lady Liberty herself,” muttered the stranger, giving a sudden whistle. “Given the humans by the darn Frenchies, when they won their freedom in America and their independence. The 4th July.”

“Oh,” said Hermano.

“That statue rises to one hundred and fifty one feet high and one inch, and carries a great torch in her hand, the torch of liberty. But nowadays the light in it don’t even work.”

“But why not?” asked Hermano, feeling a great depression coming on again.

“Guess someone’s forgot to change the bulb, kid. All too busy and disconnected now, the humans. Especially up at the top. Totally disconnected from what it’s really like down here, anyhow.”

“But they seem connected to me” said Hermano. “I mean, all those buttons and phones, and wires and cables and instant communication and this Internet thing too.”

“Connected to what though?” said the stranger mournfully. “Something else, somewhere else, not what’s on their stoop, or right in front of their eyes. They all live in Virtual Reality now. Or perhaps it’s cos we ain’t free, no more, that the light don’t work, like we used to be, partner. Now they’s building a great wall cross Mexico and everyone lives in fear and hate and terror.”

Hermano gulped. There was that word again – Terror.

“But that great statue stands on Liberty Island,” said the stranger. “Even if the light don’t work. While over there across the bay is Ellis Island, where many peoples of the World, the animals too, used to flock as immigrants into America, fleeing from the bad things around the world. The Country of Immigrants and freedom, this was once at least.”

“And who are you?” asked Hermano politely.

“Name’s Jeb, partner,” answered the red-coated stranger, matter of factly, but whistling again. “Jeb Cowpaw.  I’m a Groundhog, son, from way out West. And I’m a poet too, a cowboy poet. I guess you could say I’m a Cow hog, or a Ground paw. They call me a Whistle pig too.”

The Groundhog chuckled to himself and whistled again and with so many names Hermano wondered what Jeb Cowpaw was really, but Hermano was delighted to have met a real artist and a poet as well, which seemed a bonus.

“Well, I’m Hermano, Jeb,” whispered Hermano, “it means brother.”

“You a squirrel then, son?”

“No. I’m a spiny tree rat from the deepest Amazon. An Amazon rat, I guess.”

“Darn good ta meet you then, Hermano,” said Jeb Cowpaw. “And what can you do, partner? I mean, back home I’m a famous snake wrangler. But I came out East to the big city to seek my fortune, brother, and to help my folks too.”

“Do?” said Hermano modestly, “Well I guess I can tell stories, Jeb, sort of. But I want to tell Shaman stories, to light a real fire in animal hearts. I guess I want to be an artist then, just like you.”

“Why, that’s just swell, Hermano,” said Jeb Cowpaw approvingly. “And I just love stories, partner.  Specially since I guess I miss home already, and the old days.”

“Me too,” said Hermano mournfully, “I wish I was back in the Amazon.”

“And I guess we’re cousins then too,” said the Groundhog, looking closely at the tree rat.

“Cousins?” said Hermano in surprise.

“Sure. You’re a rat, aint you?  And Groundhogs are kind of rats too, like squirrels and Gerbils and mongooses, or geese. But then many things are related, that wouldn’t even know it. We’re all connected, I guess, but especially us artists.”

Again Hermano thought of Yage.

“But it’s getting dark, Jeb,” said Hermano suddenly, as the sun sank behind the watery horizon. “And it isn’t safe down here, with all the dirty rats, I hear, and the yellow cabs and all the crocodiles in the City sewers, and the humans too, of course. One says I’m a disease. Apart from the fact no one seems to know where they’re going, or why.”

“No, partner, I guess it ain’t safe,” nodded the Groundhog sympathetically. “Which is why I took action on the ground myself.  Yet this is New York and you’re a tree rat, so why don’t you just climb up to safety, brother? Get away from it all, up there.”

The friendly groundhog was looking high up at the city jungle skyline.

“Vertigo,” answered Hermano, feeling spineless again and very small, even more so with the scientific label. “I’ve got a fear of heights, you see, Jeb, since my family was killed, I think, and those buildings look very high indeed. Even higher than my Brazil nut tree, that the humans cut down. I’ve been something called diagnosed. Besides, I don’t have any human money, or any friends either, and I’m lost and very hot too, and hungry.”

“A fear of heights,” muttered the Groundhog poet, whistling again. “Jeeese, that’s swell. If a little tricky.  Well I guess I can help you then, partner. I mean use just gotta help folks out, don’t ya? Come with me then, little Amazon brother.”


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