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SCREAM COMES OUT FOR CHRISTMAS

We are extremely proud to announce the publication of a ‘Master of fantasy’s’ hard fought and much awaited epic SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR and just in time for Christmas.

 

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For current time limited Christmas Ebook promotions or to purchase the paperback please CLICK HERE

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A LETTER ABOUT SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR

 

Dear fans, readers and friends,

I wanted to apologise for the rather fantastical delay to the publication Scream of The White Bear. I don’t want to replay an old story, about fights with publishers, or the seismic shift in the whole publishing culture and industry.  In real life it was a difficult true story, but all I hope is that you enjoy a fictional tale.

Scream of the White Bear is also, I think, much a story for our very challenged times.  It is inevitable that my books, so much about animals and nature, should have always carried the implicit themes of conservation, but no more so than in this novel. A problem with that is I think over didactic books rarely make for great storytelling, which I certainly hope is not true in this case. Yet in the more than ten years of Scream’s delay, the genre of environmental fantasy, in the US at least, has even spawned University courses and degrees and many are waking up to the need to act, worldwide,  especially those extinction rebels of our times. While of course all writers, especially of fiction, attempt to speak to the whole world and anyone that can read or listen. I do not pretend to know the solutions, but where I am in tune with that environmental genre, I think anything that helps us explore the issues, deepen our thoughts and understanding and find a voice too, some depth of response at least, the very essence of the search for meaning and value,  a good thing.

But a writer’s first job is to enertain their readers and in that vein Scream also contains many of the terms and some of the characters from my three favourie books Fire Bringer, The Sight and Fell. I hope it expresses that love of animals I have always felt.   It has been a long road, but the greatest recompense for that is that you the reader take pleasure in it. I hope you do.

Warmest wishes,

David Clement Davies

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PHOENIX ARK PRESS IS PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THE COMING PUBLICATION

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November 19, 2019 · 4:42 pm

PHOENIX ARK PRESS TO PUBLISH SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR

ONE – SLAYERS AND STORYTELLERS

“God created man in order to tell stories.”—Hasidic saying

The scurrying arctic blizzard was done and in the enormous white silences settling like a sigh across the huge expanses of frozen sea ice, up here, high above the Arctic Circle, a savage cry cut the winter night—“Aooooooow”. It was the lonely song of the wild wolf. The searching call seemed to quiver into form on the air, as if the cry itself had suddenly turned into the eerie coloured lights, flickering brilliantly across the great black canvas of moon-clad night.

The glowing astral pathway rose through the winter cold like billowing curls of blue-green smoke, sweeping up off the ice sheets and into the air in a drifting arc around the moon, the single Pole Star, and the great constellation hanging there in the heavens, men in more wondering days knew as Arktus, the Greek word for a bear.

The Aurora Borealis the modern language of science calls these strange astral lights, although the Sioux Indians traditionally believed they are the spirits of unborn children, and some Inuit tribesmen, the ghosts of their dead ancestors: phantoms, swirling in the darkened skies. Closer to their freezing earth world, the Eskimo claim the famous Northern Lights as favourite beasts instead: like caribou, whale, or dancing salmon. But the Lera, the wild animals of the earth, truly know what they really are, and so they call them The Beqorn – “Those that bite with their teeth.”

If the language of science is to classify them, in truth the magical display of Northern Lights is really caused by the sun’s superheated flares, bursting in outer space, sending out the solar winds through the void, that charge unseen particles in our upper atmosphere, making them swirl and flow toward Magnetic North. Yet, as the wolf howl came again, calling out in nature’s most primitive tongue, the ice itself seemed alive with a real magic this deep winter night—a storyteller’s magic.

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THE WHOLE OF AMAZON RAT IN ONE!

 

 

                                       For the Planet, Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebels

 

AMAZON RAT

By

David Clement-Davies

Or the tail that soaked saved 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 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, so completely alone in the world, abandoned himself.

It happened 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 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 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, 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.

“Yes Hermano, or sort of. It’s a modern place where humans store things,” explained Raoul.  “A warehouse. Store things like toys, and clothes, like furniture and tools. Deposit them.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, wondering why and what these things were anyway.

“So when people ask for them, Hermano, and put a price on them…” Raoul went on.

“Price, Grandfather?”

“What they pay for them with money, Hermano.”

“What’s money, grandpapa?” asked Hermano.

Raoul frowned but turned and ran to a hole in the Graviola tree and with his long nose the old tree rat pushed something out, a scrunched-up ball, made of old paper, that he rolled back along the branch towards his grandson.  He unrolled it and Hermano saw a kind of multi-coloured leaf.

“That’s money,” declared Raoul, with a sigh, looking unhappily at the old US dollar bill. “They make it out of paper and things. Humans give each other these, Hermano, so they can buy things. Like the things in the depository that they then package up and send out, all around the World. To countries called China and India, to Australia and to Samoa, to Italy and to France, and even to a place called the United Kingdom. To places far, far away, my brave little Hermano.”

Raoul smiled knowingly, because he used to boast that he was a very world wise old tree rat himself.  Indeed Raoul had once told Hermano the story of how his own father had even been to the country called America, far to the North of the great Amazon jungle.    Now Hermano, who was naturally very inquisitive indeed and keen to learn all about the mysterious World himself, twitched his long brown snout.

“But if those places are so far away, Grandpapa,” he whispered, thinking again of those lost civilizations in the rainforest, “why do they have the things here then, in our secret home, just to send them there, and why are they cutting down all our lovely trees?”

It was Raoul’s turn to shrug and shake his head.

“Progress, Hermano, that’s what humans call it, I think, progress,” he answered, a little doubtfully. “And because things are always changing, and growing too, like the forest trees.  But in life you will find that people like to dump their garbage on other people’s doorsteps,” he added, looking at the hole in the trees.  “Although I suppose to them their Depository is a kind of temple to their things.”

Hermano’s huge eyes looked sad and he wanted to cry again. He thought of Cartel calling him garbage and felt like it too, as a teardrop ran down his cheek.

“Besides, it’s the modern world, Hermano,” said Raoul philosophically. “And we all have to be modern now. That’s the future. So I hear that with their computers and their laptops now, their tablets, and personal devices, the Humans have invented something called the Internet.”

“Internet?” muttered Hermano, thinking immediately of the giant spider’s webs that hang in the forest and catch flies and even little birds sometimes.

“Oh yes, Hermano. Which means they can talk to each other, but without really talking to each other, like real animals do in the forest. Humans talk online instead now, you see, and so order things in secret from giant companies, at the press of a button, from anywhere in the World. That is called Globalisation, Hermano, and the Web.”

Now this all sounded very strange and mysterious indeed to a little spiny tree rat, something Hermano could not even see, like this Internet or this web. But clever Hermano realised immediately that although he did not understand it, this modern world out there had certainly affected his life already.

“So now too they have special machines,” Raoul went on, frowning even more deeply, “and something called electricity, that makes things move on their own, Hermano. So everything can be automated inside the Depository, with hardly any people there at all, to make more and more money, for the people who own the factory anyway. That is something humans call economics.”

Hermano wondered if Che had been wrong, because how could that ever help the poor human people working on the building, if this strange Depository was automated? Yage the tree frog though, who was listening nearby, raised a green frog eyebrow.

“But it sounds horrible, grandpapa,” said Hermano, his spines tingling again.

“Hmmm,” said Raoul, with a heavy sigh, “Perhaps it does, Hermano. Except there will be one great bonus.”

“Bonus, Grandpa?”

“Inside there they will have things too that you cannot put a real price on, ever. Priceless things.”

“What priceless things, grandpapa?” asked Hermano more eagerly, cheering up a little.

“Books, Hermano,” declared Raoul delightedly, “books and stories and ideas inside. For this too will be a great Amazonian book depository.”

“Books!”

Hermano’s bright brown eyes lit up in wonder now, because in all the things his grandpapa had told him already about the world, just like the rest of the family, Raoul had taught him to love the idea of books and stories.  Books, that Hermano’s father had said were made by humans from trees, and sometimes even covered in bark, but which had pages of paper and ink and writing on them. Things to make up tales of the world, or tell the long tale of time itself and of the human civilizations too that had been and gone already. Like Hermano’s family. In fact, both his father and Raoul had told Hermano the name of many made-up stories they had heard, by famous human writers, like The Hump-back Whale of Notre Dames and The Lizard of Oz.  Wonderful titles, which had filled Hermano’s head with amazing dreams.

“Books,” croaked Yage though, rather sourly too, “there’s only one book ever worth really reading, Hermano, the secret book of the mighty rainforest itself. There, if you journey with Shaman eyes like mine, you can know the whole world too. The whole of Nature and all the amazing things in it. But without having to destroy it all, like the humans do. Or make a hole in it either.”

“Destroy it?” said Hermano, wondering where his parents had gone and his tail curling like the creepers on that broken face on the temple, as another tear ran down his cheek.

“Right, Hermano,” said Yage very angrily now, “since humans are the most destructive animals on Earth and what the humans always forget is what a Shaman like me knows instinctively.”

“And what’s that, Yage?” whispered Hermano keenly.

“That there is life in everything, Hermano,” declared the shaman frog. “In the animals and insects, in the birds and bees. But in the flowers and plants too, and in the trees and even the rocks, and that everything is connected somehow. That’s a Shaman’s true wisdom, Hermano.”

Hermano nodded but he wondered how there could be life in a rock, or that stony human face in the trees.

“But I’ll tell you another deep secret of the forest too, Hermano,” whispered Yage gravely, looking all around them now, “in fact, the very deepest. Which is this, Hermano: because everything in the forest is really alive, it has memory too, a very ancient memory.”

Hermano felt very strange and Yage noticed the tears welling in his eyes again.

“So remember this, Hermano, that if you ever cry looking at what you see and learn of the World, at all its sadness too sometimes, its darkness, to look only with good eyes, and to remember that in life there are good tears and there are bad tears.”

Hermano gulped and wondered what Yage meant, but old Raoul scowled.

“Now, now, Yage,” he scolded softly, “don’t teach Hermano things he doesn’t understand yet. Hermano must grow and be brave, not full of fear, and know how to find his own story in life.”

Hermano looked at both the adults and felt very small and wondered if he would ever find a story.

“He must remember too, never do harm to anything less than yourself, and that if you strike, you must always strikes upwards, even as high as the stars themselves,” said Raoul and Hermano felt almost dizzy. “And I love human books, Yage, and their stories,” Raoul went on eagerly, “Like the one written long ago by that man in the land of America, in a city called New York.  My grandfather went there, he always told me, long, long ago, and made friends of the human, and my own father visited too, in the time of something called The Great Depression. So in a way we have a connection to America, Hermano. And I will tell you the story the human wrote one day. All of it.”

Yage and Hermano smiled, for Hermano’s Grandpapa was always talking of this Great Depression and the other animals of the Amazon said it was why he was always so depressed.

“I want to be a writer,” said Hermano suddenly, “and to write books too, grandpapa.”

“Yes, Hermano,” said his grandfather approvingly, though with a smile, “the great thing in life is to be an artist.  Then perhaps you can really be immortal.”

“Immortal?” said Hermano.

“It means you’ll live forever, my little rat.”

Hermano wondered what it wold be like to live forever.

“Stories,” said the Shaman tree frog though, “Write not just books but great stories, Hermano. So if you must be an artist, which is always a hard life, don’t be just any old writer, Hermano, but a magic, shaman storyteller. Be a teller of tales then that really change the world.”

“Change the world?” gulped Hermano.

“But by changing the way we see.  Stories that always tell the truth too, of course.”

“Truth?” said Hermano nervously.

“Yes. And special stories to light a fire in other’s hearts, Hermano.  Though with a tail like that,” added Yage, with a froggy wink, “Perhaps stories with a little twist in them too.”

Then it was that Hermano the spiny tree rat decided that this was a very good idea indeed and that he would do exactly that in his life and be an artist and a writer.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO – THE DEPOSITORY

“And I want to travel,” said Hermano eagerly now, “I want to travel all over the world, Grandpapa, and to see everything there is in it, Yage. I want to hear all the stories, good and sad, and bad and mad, and go to America too.”

“In time, Hermano,” whispered Raoul wisely among the leaves, “in time. You’re still only little.”

“No, Hermano,” said Yage disapprovingly though, “you should stay safe and secret deep in the deepest rainforest, little brother. Here, with us.”

“But why, Yage?”

“Because it’s dangerous out there in the Human world, Hermano,” answered the tree frog, “very dangerous indeed sometimes, even more dangerous than the jungle floor. It is in fact gruzzly. Sometimes nowadays it is filled with Terror too. Terror! But here the animals are free and safe and secret. Besides, they wouldn’t let you in now, into America.”

“Wouldn’t let me in?” said Hermano indignantly, wondering what Terror was, “but why not Yage?”

“Because then you’d be an Immigrant, Hermano,” answered Yage gravely, “A Foreigner. Not having been born there. And I hear now that, since they like building things like the depository, and making their money doing it, in America they are even putting up an enormous Wall, to keep little rats out, and humans too.”

“A Wall?” whispered Hermano in horror, his eyes opening wide, because he had seen walls around those vanished cities.

“It’s true,” said Grandpa Raoul gravely, looking even more depressed, “the humans seem to fear each other more and more nowadays, Hermano, and it would be hard to get into America, perhaps even impossible.”

Hermano was appalled, as his grandfather sighed, and he thought it very unfair that people should come to his rainforest, cut down his trees, and murder his family, then build a horrid wall to stop him going where he wanted in life. Wasn’t it a free World after all, like it was in the Amazon?

“But there’s another way of travelling,” said his Grandpa, to reassure the spiny tree rat.

“Another way?” said Hermano hopefully.

“Oh yes, Hermano. Through stories, so in your own imagination, like the dreams you have at night. Because no matter what they do to you in life, what life does to you too, Hermano, no-one can ever stop you dreaming.”

Hermano smiled and a tear dried on his cheek.

“Just like how your great, great grandfather, my father’s father, met and made friends with that human writer in America,” said Raoul softly, “whose name was Hermano too, or sort of. Herman, it was.  Your namesake.”

“Namesake?”

“Yes. Though this Human collected money all day long, working at Gansevoort Pier on the Hudson River in New York City, pier 54 I think it was, he travelled as well. Both in life and in his mind, he travelled on the wide ocean, and then in time too, through something called History. So he wrote a famous story of a great white whale, that a man with a wooden leg was hunting for. A whale his hero came to believe was perhaps God himself, or the Devil.”

Hermano thought this sounded amazing and wondered if God was really a great white whale and what it looked like.  But it was all so long ago it sounded too like those lost human civilizations in the heart of the forest.

“I don’t believe it Raoul,” said Yage the tree frog though. “To make friends with a human?  It’s impossible, Raoul.  Besides, only Shaman animals can see God, in everything there is.”

“But this Herman human helped to change the world, Hermano,” insisted Raoul nonetheless, “by simply sitting still and thinking and writing.  It is great stories you can really rely on in life, you see. While a very famous tree-rat writer once said that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. And so we must all aspire to be like that Hermano, to make something really big happen in life and be a hero, be a real rainmaker.”

“A rainmaker?” said Hermano, as they sat there together in the seething, dripping rainforest and the shaman frog looked rather embarrassed, since he couldn’t think of a Shaman story himself, and the building went on and on.

So Hermano did begin trying to tell his stories, in his plan to be a writer and an artist, making up tales about everything that happened in the Amazon, and those temples in the forest too, playing with his crooked tail as he did so.  His were stories about all the creatures and plants there, as some of the other animals came to listen to him. Though, being rather nervous, Hermano would sometimes trip over his stories and lose his way and somehow Hermano didn’t quite feel big enough to be a true Shaman storyteller yet.

But then, one day, something terrible happened, or something very sad indeed, that wasn’t a story at all, but the end of one.  Hermano woke up one bright Amazonian morning to the strange, exotic noises and ran to his grandfather to ask him something. But he found Raoul as still as stone and when the little tree rat touched him with his nose he was colder than that temple.

“He’s gone, Hermano,” whispered his grandmother mournfully, coming sadly along the branch of the Soursop plant, “my darling Raoul has gone to sleep forever.”

“Gone, Grandmamma?”

“Death, Hermano,” said Yage gravely, hopping up beside them with a tear in his viscous frog eye, “it’s just called Death, Hermano. It comes to us all in the end, quite naturally. Like those great human civilizations that just passed away.”

Hermano was very sad indeed as he looked at his dear grandfather and felt even more alone, as the tears began to come again, like a little river.

“Death,” he 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.”

“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.”

“Ever, Che?”

“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.”

“Immigration?”

“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. 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE – FEDXED TO NEW YORK!

 

That is how our hero Hermano found himself leaving the new, modern Amazon Depository in his ancient rainforest, in floods of tears, boxed, packaged and FedXed to New York.  Hermano was travelling, all alone in the dark, although cushioned in his bubble wrap, wondering what on Earth was happening to him. Suddenly the rat was in a truck, Hermano knew it from the sound of the growling engine, and all the shaking and bumping. Then he was in something that roared like a panther and seemed to lift high, high into the air, which if he had known it was a great big aeroplane. That night Hermano cried himself to sleep.

After what seemed an age, certainly a day and night, Hermano and a lot of other modern postal parcels and packages were in a car in a high speed train. A train that finally arrived in no less than Grand Central Station, in the heart of New York city, in the distant land of America. Which isn’t so far away at all these days. Hermano might have ended up anywhere, if the rat hadn’t realised how long ago it was since he had chewed on a delicious piece of Brazil nut and how very hungry he was too. If he hadn’t had very sharp little teeth, typical of a spiny tree rat, but made sharper by Brazil nuts and so begun to nibble and gnaw at the FedX box. Which was much easier because Hermano had cried so many tears he had made the thing soggy.

Now cardboard doesn’t taste very nice, but it isn’t poisonous like Yage’s skin, being made of wood pulp and paper anyway.  So soon not only was his stomach full again, but Hermano had made a hole himself and could see the light, as he pushed out his long nose. The Light?  What lights Hermano saw, high up in the domed ceiling of Grand Central station, like judging eyes glaring down on him. But it was what he saw when he popped out of the FedX box, onto the station floor, that terrified him. Just before a US Postal official and his friend the female Customs officer sent his box on its way again.

Hermano’s spines were bristling again like gruzzly daggers. The tree rat saw a forest of legs; bare legs and trousered legs, booted legs and jeaned legs, skirted legs and even the odd wooden leg, like that man in the story. They were scurrying back and forth like the million army ants that march through the Amazon all the time, these human commuters, but far bigger and faster than anything Hermano had ever seen before. Hermano moved too now, fast, right across the lobby of Grand Central station, trying desperately not to be stepped on and squashed by the hurrying humans, just as the US Customs woman spotted his escape in horror.

“Hey, stop that dirty little rat,” Hermano heard her crying furiously, “He’s an Alien, an illegal alien. Gruzzly. It’s a disease.”

But Hermano escaped, out into the streets of the greatest city in America: New York.   Oh no.  Hermano had never seen anything like this in his entire life.  It wasn’t just all the people and the yellow cabs rushing by, the belching cars and the huge black limousines, nor the smells and terrible noises, nor the folk scurrying along the sidewalks, with pocketbooks and briefcases and telephones. It was those buildings rising before him: The Empire State. The Chrysler tower.  The Flat Iron building.  Very famous buildings indeed, that climbed like those ancient stone temples in his forest, or like gigantic trees.

Up and up and up Hermano’s bulging brown eyes went now, climbing the great, soaring buildings like a Brazil nut tree. But they seemed to go on and on and on forever, so that when the tree rat’s eyes almost reached the top, they were as high as a hundred rainforests, a jungle of giant skyscrapers under the clouds.   Hermano felt sick and dizzy and never wanted to climb anything ever again.  The tree rat saw too up there, in the heat of that hot summer day, one of the hottest days on record, in fact, that one of the City canopy tops seemed to be smoking, as if it was one fire and then Hermano heard a wailing siren call too. Now the Amazon jungle is a hard place, a dangerous place sometimes, but with its great leaves and bursting flowers, with its rich grasses and thick, moist earth, it can be a soft place as well.  New York City wasn’t soft, on no, it was made of pavements and concrete and glass, of metal and cement, entirely man-made, like the modern Depository. It was as hard as the shell of the hardest Brazil nut, which are very hard to crack indeed. Hard too in the way people live there, day and night, some never sleeping, never stopping, never being very natural either.

Now Hermano found himself being swept along by all those moving city feet, running for his life, huge, blinding tears falling from his eyes.

“Perhaps they build all this and move so fast,” Hermano found himself thinking, “because they really don’t won’t to die, like grandpapa Raoul, although that was only natural.”

As Hermano went though, at least the tree rat was a little reassured that there weren’t only humans in this terrible jungle city, but animals too, so his tears began to dry.  Hermano saw birds everywhere now, although not like the glorious coloured sunbirds of the Amazonian jungle. For these scrawny urban pigeons were dull and grey, as they tottered along the pavements, or looked down from the city ledges and cooed nervously, or dropped guano on the sidewalk and the people’s heads.

Hermano saw cats too, like the prowling wild cats of the forest, but these were lounging on the Manhattan balconies, arching on the stoops and slinking down the alleys: City cats. There were dogs as well, everywhere, Poodles and Chiwawas, Terriers and Labradors, Saluki’s and Pomeranians.  Dogs that were being walked in the parks, among so many human children, or strolling down the sidewalks, wearing little coats, or having their coats groomed and shampooed in the windows of expensive New York beauty salons. There were huge dogs, and medium sized dogs and dogs so small they looked like toys you could put in your pocket. Sometimes Hermano could not tell if the humans or the animals were in charge of the city.

Hermano stopped again on the side walk, panting desperately in the heat and dust, and as his gaze went up again to that forest of buildings, his eyes began to bulge and Hermano felt terribly dizzy once more. In fear he pressed himself back against the dirty walls of the city library, breathing heavily.

“Vertigo,” said a gruff voice, and Hermano jumped as he saw a rather elegant Ginger Tom cat, although with only one eye, licking his right paw and watching him carefully. “I diagnose vertigo, buddy.  A pathological fear of heights. I’m a medical cat, see, and I’ve seen it in many of my patients, especially in New York.”

The cat’s single eye blinked slowly and he purred.

“Verteeeego,” gulped Hermano, feeling tiny and utterly spineless too, “A feeeer of heights, Senor?”

The one eyed cat tilted his head and looked sympathetically at Hermano’s tail.

“And a stranger too here, I see,” he said. “Or hear. An Immigrant, perhaps? Though I promise not to tell anyone. We’ll, you’ll be wanting somewhere to stay, I guess, but it won’t be easy, friend.”

“It won’t?” said Hermano miserably.

“Nope, it won’t.  Especially not for a rat in New York,” said the cat, with a cold, one-eyed smile. “They’re everywhere now, looking for accommodation and a place to be. They say in New York City that at any one time you’re no more than ten feet away from a rat.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, feeling a little reassured and wondering if he could make friends with his brothers.

“But not your kind,” said the medical Tom Cat quickly. “Dirty rats, I mean. Really dirty rats. Smooth black rats. The Criminal fraternity.  The mobsters of the East Side. Crooks. Otganised grime. They run the City streets. It’s an infestation. So keep a sharp eye and watch your back, or your crooked tail at least.”

Hermano remembered that angry, female human voice calling him an illegal alien and a disease too.  Perhaps then Hermano was a Criminal already and a dirty rat, after all, just like his cousin Cartel, even if he was spiny and not smooth at all? Even though he couldn’t dance.

“But what are you and where are you from, buddy?” asked the funny eyed cat disinterestedly. “A squirrel.”

“NO. I’m Hermano,” answered Hermano firmly, “I’m a spiny tree rat.”

“Ah, yes, and a Para spiny tree rat, I see, from Brazil. Mesomys stimulax,” declared the clever cat, “That’s your scientific name.”

“Stimulax?” said the Amazon rat with a gulp, much preferring Hermano, or brother, and not liking this label at all. “Well, maybe. But I’m from the deepest, darkest forests of the great Amazonian Jungle, although they’re cutting them down now, Senor.”

“So I hear, brother,” said the Tom Cat, rubbing his nose with his paw and giving a little cough. “So I hear. So soon no-one will be able to breathe. While the whole world will be nothing but concrete and petrol fumes and smog, perhaps. Dying.”

“Dying?” said Hermano in surprise. “But why won’t it be able to breathe, Sir?

“Don’t you know anything?” answered the serious Cat rather critically, wondering if he should try to eat Hermano. “Because trees and plants and flowers aren’t just pretty things, or wood you cut down to use for paper and fancy furniture. Oh no, Sir, they’re living things, that make air for the whole world, make Oxygen out of Carbon Dioxide, so everyone can breath and live. Like the rivers and the oceans. And what’s more precious than air, buddy? That’s just Science, little rat. So your home in the Amazon is like a giant lung, the lungs of the planet, in fact.”

Hermano was amazed by this erudite medical Tom Cat, and once more the tree rat thought of those mighty human civilizations that had disappeared back into the jungle. But he remembered Yage too and what he had said about everything being both alive and connected. Perhaps it was really true.

“Science,” said the one eyed cat archly. “The only way to see the world, Hermano, if you want to be really modern is scientifically. Though of course a way of seeing in your mind too.”

“Seeing in your mind?” whispered Hermano with a frown and thinking of the story of a white whale, which might really be God.

“Sure. I mean, you can’t easily see what’s really underneath with your ordinary eyes, even two of them, so you have to use knowledge and reason and science too.”

“Can’t see?” said Hermano in surprise.

“No Sir,” said the cat, squinting with that eye. “Of course not. I mean you can’t see that the sidewalk is really moving.”

“Moving?” said Hermano in astonishment, as humans hurried past, for it seemed the people were certainly moving, but not the hard ground.

“Well, not the side walk as such,” said the scientific cat, “but the molecules and atoms that makes up the stuff that makes it up. Like globes, or little balls, tiny little particles that make up everything. Though of course the Earth is a ball, spinning in space at 60,000 miles per hour.”

“Wow,” whispered Hermano and it was if a whole new world was opening up before him. Hermano could not believe the Earth was a ball turning round so fast though, because then why didn’t everything fall off? It sounded like magic.

“Like a drop of water,” the cat went on thoughtfully, “that’s round when a rain drop falls, because of the way the molecules connect, and because of surface tension and gravity. Although to our eyes water is just water, but if you could see it with stronger eyes you might see all sorts of things in it. Not just its own molecules and atoms, I mean, but things living in it too, like microbes and bacteria. That when we pollute it enough can cause disease.”

Hermano thought of that woman calling him an immigrant and a disease again and of the great Amazon River too and of all the things that lived in it, large and small. It had sometimes looked very dark and slimy indeed.

“You see the more successful humans are,” said the clever cat, “the more of them there are, and the more things they make for each other, the more they like to dump things on each other’s doorsteps. But I guess we don’t care about that anymore in America,” frowned the cat. “I mean not with the human boss Silas Trunk Junior in charge now.”

“Who?” said Hermano, as the cat turned his head and hissed at a huge poster of a man with a very bald head.

“Silas Trunk Junior’s the great big US President, junior now, their number one politician. Although he’s really just an hotelier,” said the cat, “if he acts like God.”

“God,” said Hermano, wondering what a politician is, “But I thought God was a whale.”

“Oh, I don’t mean a real God, rat, I mean metaphorically. I mean God doesn’t exist anyhow.”

“He doesn’t?” said Hermano in surprise.

“Course not.  But Trunk wants to put up borders, and go it alone and break all the new treaties between countries to stop pollution around the world. While whatever humans do, they love to dump garbage everywhere.  Like all their rubbish they just bury in huge holes in the ground. Landfill sights, they’re called. Except what do you do when you’ve filled up all the holes? Or like all the plastics they chuck in the seas and living oceans. Terrible.”

The cat scowled, but then his single eye lit up beadily.

“But I guess that’s the problem with Science too,” said the cat, looking around at the ceaseless city. “I mean it works and makes things faster and faster, but it drives humans in straight lines too, just like the grid pattern this city is laid out on. New York’s Avenues, up and down the island. Like the Romans laid out their cities centuries ago. Nature doesn’t have any straight lines though.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, wondering who the Romans had been.

“Yet there’s money and profits to be made now, even for a medical Cat,” said the cat, cheering up. “Like the new drugs they’re finding all the time in the secret places of the forest. I mean we all die, brother, and one day, in say five billion years’ time, the sun will go out anyway. So why should we worry about it all? “

“Well I’ll stop them,” said Hermano hopefully and a little heroically, feeling very hot under the city sun.

“Stop them?” yawned the one eyed Tom Cat, looking at all the humans swarming past, “but how, Hermano?”

“I don’t know, Sir,” answered Hermano humbly, “but I’ve come to find the man who owns the modern Depository in my rainforest, the warehouse, to ask him to stop it. I mean its Automated, so it doesn’t give the humans much work anyhow, despite what Che says. Perhaps I can make friends with a human being then, like my great Grandpop did long ago.”

“Friends with a human being?” said the cat in surprise, who certainly liked humans to feed him but was a rather independent creature. “Impossible.”

“And I’ve come to find a book too,” said Hermano. “All about God, or a human, or a whale, or something. Even if you say God doesn’t exist. To teach me to be a Shaman storyteller. And a real artist.”

“Oh,” said the Cat doubtfully. “Then I definitely diagnose delusions of grandeur, Amazon Rat. A clear case of Munchhausen syndrome, in fact. And a rat obviously not happy in its own skin. A little autistic too, or on the spectrum at least. Obvious, buddy.”

Hermano wondered if the cat was right and he wasn’t happy in his own skin.

“Well thank you,” said Hermano doubtfully, hating these labels even more and turning to hurry on. “And I will keep a sharp eye, and watch my tail too, even though it’s bent, I promise.”

Hermano hurried away again and soon all the sights and sounds of New York City were so bewildering it wasn’t just looking up that made the tree rat dizzy, but just walking along.  As he went though Hermano at least began to feel a little more at home in the strange modern city, and for one particular reason.    It was because if he was an Immigrant, suddenly FedXed to New York, a foreigner lost in the big city, trying to be an artist, Hermano realised that many of the other animals here seemed to be strangers too.

Crossing through China Town then Hermano met several Chinese pugs, and in Little Italy a Roman Canary that loved to sing Opera, and he even bumped into a Japanese iguana on a lead. He met a British poodle in a tartan waistcoat too, who looked very hot indeed, and several mangy pooches from Poland. As Hermano stopped at a famous place called The Algonquin Hotel he bumped into a Mexican Cayman too, a city crocodile, who was about to disappear down a storm drain. He told Hermano his parents had once been flushed down the toilet bowl in the fancy hotel, when their owners had got bored of their exotic but dangerous pets. So now he and several other little crocodiles were living underneath the city in the storm drains instead, ready to gobble everything up for their dinner. It sounded a little like the Amazon.

Just down the way though, avoiding the crocodile’s many sharp teeth, Hermano passed a number of Palm Reading shops promising to tell your fortune, and came to a window filled with nicely groomed animals in smart silver cages, and coloured fish in huge green tanks. It smelt nice. But here in the Manhattan Pet Shop Hermano saw an extraordinary sight.   It was a huge bearded hamster on a wheel, running around and around, but going nowhere at all, just like Hermano had done in the Depository. Yet this hamster was smiling as he went and looking very serene indeed.  Through the window the hamster was watching the humans too, in their headphones, running on machines in the gymnasium opposite, all like little hamsters themselves, or even like slaves.

“Don’t you want to get off though, Sir?” asked Hermano, as he poked his snout around the door. “I could help you, brother.”

“By Golly gosh, no,” answered the Indian creature, who was originally from Gujarat. “Why would I be wanting to get off?  The World is being a ball, friend, like a globe, a circle or a tear drop, perfectly round, so it is.”

“It is?” said Hermano, remembering what the cat had said too.

“As round as the Great Wheel of Fate and Fortune, my good friend, or as Karma itself. So if you are ever down, you just have to keep on going and then you’ll be up again, especially in New York City. Never give up then, friend. Simple. For the great wheel always turns.”

Hermano thanked the Indian Hamster for his strange wisdom and went on. But now Hermano was growing rather frightened at the thought of where he would sleep that boiling hot City night, with a huge moon rising in the Manhattan sky already. Especially if everyone, including so many smooth street rats, were looking for accommodation too.  As Hermano went on he began to notice that although New York seemed filled with millions and millions of human beings, fighting for the yellow cabs, or shouting and screaming at each other, or pushing and shoving, or shopping and eating and buying stuff, very few of them seemed really to be talking to each other at all. Not properly anyhow, like Hermano had to Raoul and Yage and Che.

Instead they spent their time looking at their mobile phones, in offices, cafes, shops and restaurants, or peering at their computers and laptops and iPads. Or playing games on consoles that made strange noises, or listening to music on the headphones round their ears, as they walked or jogged or roller skated frantically along.  It all seemed very confusing to the arboreal tree rat, this city, but sometimes as if they were in a race. Hermano guessed that this must just be the modern world then. He thought of Yage again, and wondered how everything could be connected, if the humans seemed so much in their own worlds.

Hermano noticed too some of the humans with animals, and how amazingly similar they were to their owners. There was the huge, slavering bulldog walking beside a giant, muscle-armed, snub-nosed bodyguard. There was the elegant saluki, strolling beside a beautiful Persian super model, its snout lifted high as her high heeled shoes.  There were the young men in very tight Jeans, with perfect hairstyles, carrying little poodles and chiwahuas, as if they were bunches of flowers.   But there were the tough New York street cops too, in helmets and dark glasses, sitting on top of huge, stern faced horses, with leather eye guards and the tramps and kids on the streets, as well, with mongrels and strays at their sides. At one point Hermano stopped on a busy, short little street and asked a New York pigeon who seemed to have a damaged wing where he was.

“Can’t you read, buddy?” answered the bird, looking up at the Black and White Street sign, “This is Wall Street, pal.”

“Wall Street?” gulped Hermano, “So this is where they’re building their Wall then, to keep out little rats and migrant humans too?”

“Course not, pal,” answered the pigeon, “That’s far down south. No, this is where they make all the money. Not like Main Street where the ordinary animals and humans live. That hole there, where the fountain is, there used to be two of the tallest buildings in the city there. Here though they make Millions and billions and trillions. Although money means a wall to many, and going up in the world too. Up and up and up. Though it makes them all like slaves to me.”

“Slaves?”

“Day in, day out, working non-stop just to make human money,” said the Pigeon, trying to flutter his wounded wing. “Slaves. Like the scandal of dogs in this city.”

“Scandal?” said Hermano.

“Puppy mills,” said the Pigeon, “All over the place. Breeding little dogs as pets, but since their owners want only the sweetest, cutest or the prettiest, so they look good on a lead, they’re being farmed. All those puppies.”

Hermano was horrified. Now the tree rat noticed some very dishevelled looking foreign animals trundling along though, looking around as if they were about to be attacked by a condor.

“Refugees,” explained the scrawny pigeon gravely. “Who’ve left their own countries, because of war or disaster or persecution? And it’s not just animals, pal. I heard last year around the world Sixty five Million humans were driven from their homes. Think of that.”

Hermano was appalled. It sounded terrible, this human world.

“So where you going?” asked the pigeon, but looking up longingly again at the skyline.

“I guess I’m looking for somewhere to stay,” answered Hermano, “Safely for the night.”

“Try the web then,” suggested the pigeon.

“Web?” said Hermano in surprise, “you mean animals here really use this Internet too, just like Humans?”

“Nope,” answered the pigeon, scowling, “Charlotte’s Web. A downtown spider started it in the window of a sewing shop, but it runs everywhere now. Like those electric cables you see nowadays; Internet cables, and Fibre Optic cables, Telephone cables and electric cables. To connect all the humans on their machines, with their electricity. But on Charlotte’s web animals still use Morse code, tapping the spiders’ webs, to send news and so plugging into Animal Media.  It’s all the rage. ”

“Oh,” said Hermano.

“Then of course there’s the bird telegraph too, Twitters, and the bumblebee network, Buzz feed,” said the pigeon.

Hermano nodded but the tree rat couldn’t speak Morse code and he wandered on again. Hermano had come to a place called Greenwich Village, although it was a village inside the city, and so no longer a real village at all. As he went Hermano began to see a great body of water too, like a lake.   It was sunset now, the flames of the fading sun burning orange across the great Hudson river and as Hermano stopped and looked out, tears welling in his huge brown eyes again, with all the strange things he was feeling, all alone in New York city and so far from the Amazon, he saw a giant figure rising in the distance, on a little island. It was made of glinting metal and holding something in its raised hand, like a sword. It was an enormous statue of a human being.

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR – JEB COWPAW

 

“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.”

“But where  are we going, Jeb?” asked Hermano nervously, thinking his new friend the groundhog might lead him to a safe, snug hole, deep in the ground. But instead the Groundhog led Hermano to a huge shop front on the Greenwich Village sidewalk, with whitewash on the windows.

“What’s this, Jeb,” asked Hermano.

“Was this. Used to be a great big bookstore,” answered Jeb Cowpaw, frowning. “Biggest in New York City, they say. Borderline it was called.  Where people not only used to read, but meet and talk too and drink groundhog coffee and eat ice creams together.  But it’s closed down now, with the Internet and EBooks and everything delivered to folk online. It’s like Greenwich Village. Used to be filled with poets and musicians and actors and artists, but now the rent’s just too steep. But come on in.”

Inside, with all the shelves, it was rather like the Amazon warehouse, except there was nothing on them at all but an old, faded copy of Time magazine.

“But what happened to all the books, Jeb?” asked Hermano.

“Pulped,” answered the groundhog gravely, “turned back into wood pulp.”

Hermano remembered what Che had said of books having characters, like the people who read them, and thought this horrible. Had all the stories inside just been killed then? But the Groundhog led Hermano up some steps into a lobby with a dusty marble floor and towards a giant stairwell.

“I’m really not sure I can climb, Jeb,” muttered Hermano as they went, looking fearfully at the stairs.

“Don’t have to climb, little brother,” said Jeb reassuringly, looking at the walls beside the stairwell and two sliding doors. “Not much anyhow.  I’m mean, I’m a groundhog, so I don’t like climbing neither, Hermano. In New York City you use the elevator though. So you don’t have to look out half the time, with that fear of heights. That diagnosed Vertigo.”

The kindly Cowboy groundhog led Hermano through one of sliding doors, into a metal box with buttons on the wall and since the human janitor had just got in too, not noticing the animals, up they went, up and up in the elevator, but with Hermano hardly feeling frightened at all.  When the doors opened again Jeb led the tree rat down a peeling corridor and up some little metal steps. So out they came onto a flat roof outside, which looked out over the whole of sweeping New York City and Manhattan Island that it’s built on.

“But heights,” trembled Hermano, feeling dizzy again and starting to shake furiously. “This is higher than I’ve ever been before, Jeb, even higher than my Brazil nut tree in the Amazon.  And we can’t sleep out in the open, Jeb, it’s not safe from eagles and condors.”

Just as he said it Hermano he felt a swooping gust of wind and his spines began to bristle furiously as a huge bird fell towards him. But seeing Hermano’s spikes, the bird changed its mind and turned up again.

“That’s Conrad,” cried Jeb Cowpaw. “An American bald eagle that lives even higher than this, up on the roof of The Empire State. Then someone’s always higher up in life, specially in New York.”

Hermano scowled but relaxed his spines a little.

“There,” said Jeb though, with a happy smile, turning his head. “That’s home, Hermano.  Just like way back West. This is how a sensitive, artistic groundhog overcame a fear of heights.”

Hermano saw an extraordinary sight in the silvery moonlight.  It was like a huge barrel on metal stilts, like those barrels to collect rain water in the Amazon, but with a kind of Chinese hat on top and standing on the roof, up there among the clouds.

“It’s the old Water Tower, partner,” explained the groundhog proudly, his face pouring with sweat in the strange, unnatural heat. “Like they have all over the dirt farms of the Wild Way-out West, though down on the ground. And what is it that nothing can live without in life, partner?”

Hermano shrugged.

“Water, Hermano. Take it from a thirsty groundhog. And a little food, and somewhere to sleep. But they have them all over New York City too. Water towers, I mean. Just take a look, kid. There.”

Hermano plucked up all his courage and dared to look out, and the rat began to see them everywhere, among the strange buildings and the soaring modern skyscrapers, the little Wild-West Water Towers of New York city.  Some were taller than others, others were sprayed with graffiti,  some even had human advertising on them. The sight somehow made the jungle of giant modern metal and glass buildings less terrifying and rather old fashioned too.  But then that’s one secret of modern New York, it’s rather an old fashioned sort of place, as well.

“If you’re lost, partner,” declared the groundhog softly, “Always find something to remind yourself of home, that’s what I reckon, Hermano. A home from home, yes Siree. We city vagrants found our way up here when the bookstore closed and up here we’re all trying to be artists too. Well, most of us.”

“Artists, Jeb?”

“Yes, Sir. It’s an artistic community, so it be.”

Jeb led Hermano up to his Cowboy Water Tower on the rooftops of New York City, that impossibly hot summer night, with Hermano feeling a little surer of heights.  The huge red-coated squirrel creature scurried him up the strut of one of the metal stilts, wide enough to run a uni-cycle along, and by a huge faucet that was sticking out of the side of the water tower, through a hole that the Groundhog had made in the wooden side with his huge front teeth, but below the actual metal water tank itself.

Jeb had made it rather fine up there under his Cowboy Water tower. The place was like a little attic room, where poets work burning the midnight oil, the slats letting in the growing moonlight. It was filled with Groundhog furniture, that Jeb had made from things he had gathered on the hoof in the city.   There was a mattress bed made from old straw, a cowboy hat and a kind of saloon bar Jeb had made from bits of crate. There were plastic bottles he’d used as plant holders and an old bicycle wheel that kept turning and creaking like a weather vein. In the corner was Jeb’s wooden guitar.

The one thing poor Hermano immediately noticed about the place though, as a water droplet plashed on his head from above, was first a strange tapping from above. Tap. Tap. Tap.  Then that the tower was rather damp inside, but in the terrible heat it didn’t seem like a bad home at all.  Jeb frowned though and said they should be grateful because in this darn heat, like no summer on record, in fact, he was worried that the old Water Tower was drying out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE – THE ROOFTOP VAGRANTS

That is how Hermano settled in with his new friend Jeb Cowpaw, up there, high above ground zero, listening to his stories of what it had been like way out west once, fighting rattle snakes. The greatest rattle snake wrangler America had ever known was Jeb Cowpaw, or so he said, who knew about all the critters in the world. Hermano listened to tales of some great wagon trek too, that Jeb’s family had once made way out West, to conquer the land, heroically. Jeb the Cowboy poet recited his poetry as well and sometimes sang his Country and Western songs, when the mongoose picked up the little guitar.   Hermano of course returned the favour, telling  Jeb tales of the Amazon rainforest and all the magical animals and birds and insects and plants there, and of those great, lost civilisations as well. Telling his story in fact. Yet, although he was getting better and better, still Hermano did not feel like a real Shaman storyteller.

Hermano liked Jeb’s poetry, he loved the rhymes and rhythms.  Yet up there in the Water Tower he also liked gazing out safely through the gnawed slats in the wood and counting not only all those buildings, but the thousands and thousands of offices and rooms and windows everywhere.  Somehow numbers made Hermano feel safe and more certain of things and after what the one eyed cat had said of science, and his being a little autistic, Hermano wondered if his real calling was to be an artist at all. Hermano got to know some of his neighbours as well, who were all homeless vagrants, but artists too, as Jeb had said. They had been attracted to the Water Tower, through the entrance in the old bookstore, because of Jeb Cowpaw’s guitar playing and the ease of a getting a cool drink, or showering under the steady drips. But perhaps, well, just perhaps because of each other too and the love of art.

Up here though, high above the abandoned bookshop, there was a Korean Peacock called Kim who specialized in making shadow pictures on the wall with his feathers in the moonlight. There was Pepe the Puerto Rican Porcupine, a very prickly customer indeed, although also a poet, but always getting angry, shooting his spines about and talking Animal Rights, who lived with Alfonse the very effeminate husky. Alfonse had a very fine tail and when he moulted he would use the fur to make special paintbrushes.

On the first day Hermano met Pepe though, the Porcupine glared at him and cried “Strike One.” It turned out that it was because Pepe’s other passion was Baseball, and Strike One meant the first time you miss a swing at the ball.  Miss three times and you don’t get another go, so it’s three strikes and you’re out. Up there too was the cheerful little microscopic bird called Buzzy, with the very long beak from Central America, who kept humming to herself day and night and could flap her wings at incredible speed and hang in mid-air like a drone. Buzzy’s art was beak-painting and acapella. Not all were artists though, some were just vagrants, like the scrawny old Irish wolfhound Seamus, always talking about science himself, and as he gazed out at the city would suddenly declare “Now, the Universe is just a pot of boiling chemistry, and that’s my point!”

There was the long haired Native American Racoon too, Lenno, who although a celebrated singer, kept much to himself, and kept saying that everyone had stolen his land. Then there was the very serious, God-fearing long eared hedgehog Rumi, who wore horn-rimmed spectacles. Rumi had wanted to be an artist once, but now spent most of his time thinking deeply and reading about anything from Astronomy to Alchemy. Rumi had lived in the deserts of the Middle East and before his escape into the city had been smuggled into New York by bad people, as something called an ‘exotic pet’.  Rumi would pray to God day and night, bending his head to the rising sun, and was always calling Hermano and everyone else brother, a bit like Che. So Rumi got to know Hermano in particular as ‘little brother-brother’.   There was an Owl too, with enormous, serious eyes, all the way from Hampshire in England, named Walpole, who liked to sculpt strange shapes out of twigs and branches.

Hermano soon realised that all these poor artistic animals had somehow abandoned in the City though.  The Raccoon because his owners had only wanted him for Christmas, and Kim for showing off, and Rumi because there wasn’t enough food around. Buzzy had escaped from a crowded bird cage and Pepe had been dumped because he kept leaving his spines everywhere.   Horace was the exception, who had flown away from England, three thousand miles, because at home the place called United Kingdom didn’t want to be friendly to its neighbours any more.

But now something wonderful happened. As Jeb read Hermano his made-up Cowboy poems, all about the West and the Wild, about the prairies and the good old days, Jeb would carefully show Hermano the letters that made up the little words with his paw. So bit by bit clever Hermano learnt how to read from the Cowboy poet.   What better teacher could you have in the world than a Cowboy poet, under a Wild West water tower in New York City?

There’s dust along the highway, but flowers across the prairie,

There’s singing in the churches, where they praise the Virgin Mary,

There’s drinking on the pack-trail, and fighting on the ranges,

And when the sun is sinking, they’re ringing in the changes.

But as they fight and work and die, and fry up all those fritters,

There’s friendliness and laughter and hope among the critters.

Jeb Cowpaw

But one hot evening, when Hermano and Jeb were chatting together again just below the water tower, Hermano suddenly heard that strange knocking from above again.

“What’s that, Jeb,” whispered Hermano with a gulp, remembering the legends around those lost temples, “Is it a ghost?”

“No, Hermano. That’s Max,” answered Jeb Cowpaw, with a wink, “he’s a lobster.”

“Lobster,” said Hermano in astonishment, “in the old Water Tower?”

“Best place for him,” said Jeb. “ Max used to hang out in the live tank of Sardis’s Celebrity restaurant, waiting to be eaten. But he was about to serve his turn as the main course for a very important US Senator, when Conrad swooped in and stole the fair. But it was windy that day and so the bald eagle dropped Max and he fell through a break in the roof of the old water tower. Come to mention it, I must mend that hole. But he’s the oldest darn lobster that ever lived.”

“Ever survived,” said a grumpy voice, through the dripping ceiling above them. “I’m only twenty five, but that’s pretty good for a lobster in these parts.”

“Why, Max?” whispered Hermano.

“Food and over fishing, course,” answered the lobster. “I mean, you spend six years growing a body and a ravishing, knobbly Exo-skeleton around it too. But then what do the humans do but pluck you from the sea and pop you in boiling water to turn pink, so they can eat you, with lemon and egg mayonnaise?”

Jeb Cowpaw the groundhog whistle pig whistled and strummed his guitar knowingly.

“Agony,” said the lobster, “And because there are so many of them now, humans I mean, they just fish and over fish, and now we Lobsters are all tiny and rarely make it beyond three.”

This made Hermano rather sad and sorry for the lobster, though he couldn’t see him, indeed for every lobster around.

“They’re very clever mind,” said Max mournfully. “Humans.”

“Clever, Max?”

“Clever at making things, like lobster pots, or the old water tower. And the pipe that leads below it too and the faucet on the side, which if you turn the wheel, will let all the water out, so you can even clean it. Though luckily they won’t be letting any water out soon, with the drought and the new City water restrictions. It all works by Hydrostatic power though.”

“Hydrostatic power?” said Hermano, wondering what a drought was.

“Pressure. Just a fancy scientific name for pressure, with the water so high up.  So I guess they aren’t as clever as Nature, because it really works by natural gravity.”

“Gravity,” said Hermano, thinking of the cat, “What’s gravity?”

“The unseen force between things, Hermano, which stops us flying off the earth, and makes the water fall to earth too.”

Hermano suddenly realised gravely this was the force that had made him fall from his Brazil nut tree and twisted his tail and killed his family. Gravity.

“Though clever humans have even gone into space now,” said Max knowledgeably from above, “and some are talking of living up there too.  But they have to wear space suits, of course, to breathe, because everything really exists in its own element.  Like Lobsters have to live under water.  That’s why the key to life is always being happy in your own skin.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, his spines tingling strangely and remembering what Cartel had said of his not being happy in his own skin.

So there they went on living up below the old Water Tower.  Yet as Jeb Cowpaw told his stories and wrote his Cowboy poems, Hermano began to notice something else – inconsistencies. For a start, one day a pigeon dropped a little grass snake on the hot, flat roof, but which made the groundhog jump and bolt back to his Water tower in terror.  So Hermano wondered how a groundhog that was afeared of snakes could have been a famous Snake wrangler back home. Then there was that great wagon trek way out west, that in a different telling, when Jeb had drunk some hooch, spoke of how it had gone completely wrong, and the wheels on the wagons had all fallen off and half the animals had died of thirst.

Then the native American racoon Lenno, who overheard Jeb Cowpaw talking one day, told Hermano of how the Western pioneers had been bad and not heroes at all and had killed so many of the Native American animals, to steal their home and trees and land.  Hermano was very shocked indeed. The raccoon also described a terrible war among the humans, after that thing called Independence, that had killed many animals too, between the North and the South of the country, over the fact that some humans had kept others as slaves, and little better than animals.  Hermano thought it sounded like the great lost civilizations of his home, the Incas and Aztecs and Maya.

Then, one evening, Hermano met a very superior Miner bird, or rather saw him.  Because the old fellow landed on the edge of the roof, but refused to mix with the neighbourhood, although he had clearly been here before. Instead he kept looking at them all with disgust and making a noise that sounded like “Grunts.”

“Why, that’s Colonel Black,” explained Jeb Cowpaw laconically, when Hermano asked who he was. “A Veteran of the skies.  Very proud and superior old East Coast sort of bird, is Colonel Black. He’s old school and thinks America is just going to the dogs.”

“And is the Colonel an artist too?” asked Hermano.

“Not a bit of it, partner. Colonel Black hates artists, much as vagrants. Thinks we’re pointless and just take up space. But I wouldn’t bother trying to talk to the dude, Hermano. He’ll just ask you if you’re paying your taxes, which you can’t if you don’t earn any human money, and go on and on about the Founding Feathers too. Military type, you know. Though he sure is grizzly.”

“Founding Feathers?” said Hermano.

“The birds who got together years back to write an Animal Constitoootion, about how all the animals in America should behave properly and really work together. Very self-important is Colonel Black and always going on about defence too, and Mastery of the skies being key.  He’s particularly suspicious of Rumi and his kind, although he believes in God too.”

“Crap on them all from a great, big height,” cried the Miner Bird suddenly, peering out at the skyline and at the pavements far below them. “Damned filthy pigeons.  Flying rats, if you ask me, taking over our God damn marvellous City. Like all these damned animal immigrants, and artists and vagrants.”

So there Hermano was, safe if a little unsound, with his strange new artistic neighbours, up there in Jeb’s Way-Out-West Water Tower. Hermano was happy for a while, but we all miss home soon enough and soon Hermano was thinking of the Amazon all the time, and of Yage and Che and even cousin Cartel.  Hermano wondered if they ever worried about him, or wondered what had happened to him and how, since he had been FedXed to New York City, quite by mistake, he might ever get home again.   Hermano had quite forgotten his mission to ask the human who owned the Amazon Depository to stop cutting down his trees and making a hole in his rainforest. Forgotten about Raoul’s father’s book too. He was growing rather depressed again too, because frankly now Hermano didn’t believe half the tales that Jeb, or the others told him about the past. While it seemed far too difficult to be an artist in New York city.

Then one especially hot evening, when all the animals seemed to be melting, just like the sticky covering of the roof the old water tower stood on, Hermano was sitting outside again, feeling more confident about going near to the edge and taking off that label of Vertigo, when Rumi wandered up.

“And what you looking at, little brother-brother?” asked the Middle Eastern hedgehog softly.

“That great human statue, Rumi,” answered Hermano mournfully. “Lady Liberty. She’s very beautiful, Rumi. Like some great idea. But not as beautiful as the river. As Nature herself.”

“The Hudson river,” said Rumi, his little eyes sparkling and nodding, “and I wish we realised that all around the World, although there are different languages, and different beliefs too, we’re all united by the beauty of Nature, little brother-brother.”  The Middle Eastern desert hedgehog sighed wistfully and blinked through his spectacles thoughtfully.

“Rumi,” said Hermano, “isn’t it true you wanted to be an Artist once too, but now you don’t anymore. Why?”

“Because how can anyone make anything as beautiful and true as what God has made all around us,” answered Rumi seriously.

“And you don’t seem very happy here, Rumi,” said Hermano softly, wondering if God even existed.

“Oh, I am, my brother, I am. But they don’t like immigrants these days, especially not vagrants.  They don’t think we’re really all brothers and sisters at all.  And they love putting labels on you, and trying to put you in a box.”

Hermano thoroughly agreed, thinking of how he had been labelled with vertigo and on-the-spectrum Autism and sent to New York in a box.

“It’s all this Terror, I think,” said Rumi sadly.

“Terror?” said Hermano and Rumi sighed.

“When bad humans from my land attacked the City once, from the skies. They say they did it in the name of God, Hermano.  But that’s silly, because how can anyone know what God thinks, who thinks of everything? But here they won’t forget.”

Hermano looked out nervously at the skyline and the surging streets below them and wondered if it might happen again.

“Still, we shouldn’t talk about sad things, Hermano,” said Rumi, more happily. “Just look at the glorious evening then, and the sunset too.  There, over the pier. There’s God in that Sunset all right, my little brother.”

“Pier?”  said Hermano though, his spiny ears pricking up sharply.

“Down there along the great Hudson river, Hermano.  That’s Gansevoort Pier. It’s where I arrived in Manhattan, before I escaped. I’ll take you if you want, Hermano. Hermano?”

Rumi looked around in the boiling hot evening, but Hermano had vanished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE – VLADIMIR AND THE MUNICIPAL GARBAGE DUMP

 

Hermano was on the streets again, down in bustling New York City, this time making his way along the hard pavements towards Gansevoort Pier, or pier 54. To find the place where that man Hermano Bellville had written his famous book about God and a great white whale. Hermano hardly knew why, it was like looking for an ancient temple lost in the rainforest. Except he still wanted to be a Shaman storyteller, a true artist and it was something about his great, great grandfather, even his great grandfather, and the past and stories. Besides, at least now with Jeb’s teaching and all that cowboy poetry, the spiny tree rat could certainly read.

Hermano read the names on the metal street signs as he went along and soon he was passing through Chelsea, and then the famous Meatpacker’s District of New York, wondering if all that meat got FedXed too and how many boxes they needed.   Then Hermano started to see them, the river Piers, all numbered as well – One, Two, Three, Four and so on – and soon Hermano was scurrying along the Hudson river, the Pier numbers flashing by, keen to get to the end of his great quest, that had really brought him all the way to America, but to find that great Shaman book too. Then there he was at last, at Pier number 54. Though what did poor Hermano see now, but a huge sign saying this? – NEW YORK CITY MUNICIPAL GARBAGE DUMP.

Garbage dump? Was this the end then of Hermano’s great, if rather accidental journey from the heart of the Amazon jungle to be an artist?  Not a fine meeting with a famous American writing gentleman in a tall top hat, to tell him the end of a Shaman story. Not a great white whale either, certainly not God himself. But a line of mechanised Garbage trucks and a load of rubbish piled all about. Hermano noticed too that most of the black bags lying everywhere had holes gnawed in them, like the holes he had made with his teeth in the FedX box, and that the garbage was spilling out onto the ground.  It was as if this was suddenly the end of Hermano’s journey, his very destination, in fact, and somehow the end of all journeys too.

“But it’s terrible,” whispered Hermano bitterly, “what can it all mean?”

“Terrible, kid?” said a sharp voice. “Why you talkin’ terrible, buddy?”

Hermano blinked and looked about, since no one was there. But then he saw a huge, smooth black rat sitting on top of a broken garbage bag, looking like a King and gnawing a large fish bone in his paws.

“I wanted a story.  But it’s just a trash dump,” said Hermano disapprovingly, his spines pricking up. ”It’s not even covered in vines and forest creepers. There’s nothing here.”

“JUST?” said the rat though, with shining, cunning eyes. “But where there’ trash, there’s plunder and profit, kid, for some anyhows. This place then is the real source of all my power and why I rule the dirty rats in New York City now. By keeping them fed and fat and happy on human garbage. The name’s Vladimir, buddy. My family are second generation Russian, from Siberia, but New Yorkers now. And what’s wrong with it anyhow? Smells just fine to me. Delicious.”

Hermano looked around mournfully.

“Yes, Sir, but this is where a famous human was once a tax collector,” explained Hermano quietly, “to make their human money. Pier 54. In truth, I mean. But he was also a great writer too, an artist. So he travelled in his imagination, like a Shaman. And if you can do that you’re always free, whatever the world does to you.”

The smooth black street rat raised a large black eyebrow doubtfully and Vladimir frowned.

“He wrote a book that I want to read about a great white whale and a man with a wooden leg called Captain Ahab,” explained Hermano. “But that’s really about God, or the fact maybe there isn’t one, except in our heads.  Herman’s my namesake, because great, great Grandpapa made friends with a human. And like him I want to light a fire in animal’s hearts.”

“Light a fire?” whispered the black rat thoughtfully, his eyes suddenly sparking strangely.

“But I guess poor Grandpapa Raoul was right and all is change. So it’s all gone now,” finished Hermano sadly, wondering when they would finally cut down the last tree in the Amazon too.

“Naaaah,” said Vladimir though.

“No, Sir?”

“No. I mean, I heard that story and its bunkum, kid.  Your human Hermano wasn’t a tax Collector, at all, but a Custom’s Man.”

Hermano thought of that human female chasing after him and calling him an alien.

“And he didn’t work at Pier 54, though I think his relation owned all the land hereabouts.  But I’ll tell yer a different tale, kid,” said Vladimir suddenly. “About two great ships that were meant to dock right here, at Number 54, from distant lands, but never even made it. The Lusitania and the Titanic.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, cheering up a little, that at least something exciting and important had happened here after all.

“The Titanic was the most famous God darn human ship in all the World,” said Vladimir gravely. “But it hit an Iceberg at sea one day in the Atlantic and sank, on its very first voyage, its Maiden voyage, drowning most of the humans on board. So I guess yer right, kid, all is change and everything alive dies.  Which is why a dirty rat has to look to the future and thrive, in the world he finds himself in.”

“Oh,” said Hermano doubtfully, wishing things wouldn’t change at all and that he hadn’t lost his parents either, or his grandfather, however naturally. Hermano suddenly felt very alone.

“And the future’s mine,” said Vladimir greedily. “Just as the whole City will soon be mine.  I’se got big plans, see, specially with this unnatural heat, to make sure that soon enough they’ll be garbage everywhere. Dumped on everyone’s doorsteps. Mayhem too.”

Hermano looked rather nervous. Mayhem sounded awful. Just as bad as Terror, in fact.

“You see, kid” said the black rat, looking around the municipal garbage dump. “The humans that work here are getting fed up with the holes we make in their trash bags, and the awful, yummy smell too. So they’re threatening to go on strike, for more money, and if they do that there will be no one at all to collect the rubbish all over the city.”

“Strike?” said Hermano, thinking of Felipe and the number three, “What’s that, Sir? Baseball?”

“The free and absolute right of any human being or any animal to withhold their labour,” declared the rat oddly. “So one day I’ll really make it.  Live high up too.  In fact, I’ve got my eye on an especially beautiful looking Gerbil I know.”

“Oh.”

“But don’t look so disapproving, kid. I mean, look where they put their rubbish anyhow. In huge holes in the earth, or transported for money to other countries. And there’s so much bad stuff in it, plastics and metals, impurities and poisons, that they can never really destroy it, anyhow. I mean, in the ocean now there is an island of floating plastic the size of Texas, because plastic ain’t something called Biodegradable. So why not dump the stuff on the humans’ own doorstep?”

“But why, Vladimir?” asked Hermano sadly.

“To spread confusion, kid, and fear, because then you can take control, ” answered Vladimir, “Why’s a squirrel interested though?”

“I’m not a squirrel,” said Hermano, “I’m a rat too, Vladimir, but a spiny tree rat from the Amazon.”

“A rat?” cried Vladimir in surprise. “Well join us then, brother, and I’ll makes sures you never go hungry, no more. Come join me in my lair in Central Park Zoo.”

Hermano suddenly noticed that several other very large, smooth and ugly looking black rats had appeared, as if from nowhere, clearly Vladimir’s henchmen. But despite Vladimir’s invitation to join them, they were looking at Hermano as if they wanted to eat him, or throw him in the Hudson River.

“Thank you, but no,” said Hermano politely, thinking of cousin Cartel.

“You a coward then?” snorted Vladimir scornfully. “Don’t you have it in you to be a real dirty rat, kid, and be true to your nature too? You just spineless?”

Hermano wondered what his true nature was, but now he was feeling very unhappy in his own skin. With that there was a cry though and who should come racing toward Hermano but the Lady Customs Official from Grand Central Station? The human was holding a big net, and she didn’t stop to comment on the huge smooth black rats swarming around the garbage bins, or the rubbish littered all about. Instead she made a bee-line straight for the illegal immigrant tree rat.  Hermano turned and fled.

“It’s garbage,” cried Hermano bitterly, as he raced along. “Stories are just garbage.  Like God. The one about Herman Bellville wasn’t right either, or my great, great grandfather, and Jeb Cowpaw’s just a coward and a liar, and so am I, and not a shaman storyteller at all. I bet my great grandfather never even came here anyway, or made friends with any human beings, who eat up all the world anyhow, including the lobsters, and there are no heroes in the world. None. I wish I was dead.”

Hermano had stopped though, in the middle of a huge and very busy square and as he looked up now he didn’t see words. All the slightly autistic tree rat saw were numbers.  There were thousands of numbers everywhere, on electronic billboards that seemed to be moving all the time, here in Time Square, in the centre of New York City. Hermano blinked and he seemed to get Vertigo again, there were so many numbers. But suddenly he felt a pain and it was as if he was falling. Except Hermano was being lifted into the air instead, and his twisted tail was hurting and he found himself staring into a horrible human face.

“I want it,” said a freckled face eight year old boy, looking greedily at the spiny tree rat, “I want it, so I’ve got it.”

Hermano realised in horror, as he started to wriggle, that the little boy had picked him up by his twisted tail and it hurt.

“Then the young Master must have it,” said a very old fashioned English voice, belonging to a tall man in a smart Chauffeur’s uniform. “A welcome companion for Hermione indeed.” Hermione, thought Hermano. Although I believe your father has invited a friend today for you to play with.”

“Hermione bores me, Augustus,” said the nasty little boy though, popping Hermano in his pocket now, “but I can have fun with this one, all right. Torture it day and night.”

Hermano was moving again, not quite packaged, but inside the little boy’s pocket, into a huge stretched white Limousine and out again, up the steps of a very grand building on New York’s Upper East Side, into a sparkling glass walled elevator and up into the air again. With the chauffeur Augustus and the little boy came a man too, as the doors closed, the boy’s father, in a baseball shirt and cap, holding a strange black oblong object in his hands, with a strap attached.

“Don’t bother me now, Junior,” the man was saying, as the boy tried to hold his father’s hand, “far too much to do, far too much money to make. Now they’ve made your dad Mayor as well, Junior, it’ll be non-stop from here on in.”

“I’m very pleased for you, Sir,” said the Chauffeur, beside them. “I mean, Mr Mayor.”

“Thanks, Augustus, buddy.  Could hardly say no. But everyone knows the power of a true King of Social Media.”

“Yes Mr Sugarbug,” said the Chauffeur admiringly. “Of course Mr Sugarbug. The lord of the Internet itself.”

Thin faced Mr Sugarbug gave a huge grin.

“Think of it, Augustus, dude. Me. A mathematical genius, sure, a bit of a geek too, sure, but what do I know about people? I mean, I don’t even like ‘em.”

“No, Mr Sugarbug.”

“Yeah, I can create a programme, a platform, come up with an algorithm, a clever string of numbers, and think of ways I can seem to make folks talk to each other online. So I can really charge them all money for the advertising and all the devices they’re using. But politics, or anything really social? I ask you.”

“Yes, Mr Sugarbug,” said Augustus, “I mean no, Mr Sugarbug.”

“Well, Power and politics are really about money, Augustus, old pal, that every human wants and needs. So while they go on chattering and posting their selfies, and playing their games too, money I make gazillions of, day after day. After all, I’m the richest Man on the Planet now. I’m bigger than Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon and Alibaba put together. And that’s real social responsibility. It’s just what to do with the stuff, that’s the problem, Augustus.”

The mayor sighed.

“Yes, Mr Sugarbug. I mean, Mr Mayor. Problematic.”

They had stopped again though, the elevator doors opened and they were suddenly in the most extraordinary room. It was the 54th Floor Penthouse apartment, the most expensive building on the Upper East Side, in fact in the whole of Manhattan.  The huge wall to wall glass windows looked out across the entire city, there was a fountain in the corner, which reminded Hermano of the Amazon and one of its temples, while there were gadgets and laptops, computers and iPads everywhere, but also toys strewn carelessly about the floor. On the huge Mahogany dining table though Hermano saw a sight that took his breath away. There, in a gorgeous gilded cage, a solid gold cage, in fact, half asleep on a bedding of cashmere pullings, was the most beautiful looking white-coated house rat, or groundhog, or mongoose, or something, that Hermano had ever seen in his life.  Hermano was very embarrassed though, because while his dad looked out of the window and sighed, the nasty little boy had pulled Hermano from his pocket again. He was swinging the helpless tree rat right in front of the beautiful caged creature by his tail, as Hermione yawned and hardly looked at the mortified rodent.

“See,” said the boy angrily, “if you won’t play ball, Hermione, I’ve got another toy now.  My very own ground squirrel. But what to do with it?” he added, gazing carelessly at his messy toys around the room. “Strap it to my model Super train, put it inside a Transformer, and make it climb the fountain, then drown it, or drop it from the 54th floor? I’m so bored.”

Poor Hermano gulped as the boy wandered over to a scale model on the table of something that made him gasp again. It was the Depository, his Depository, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, although now it seemed ten times the size.

“Scale, Junior,” said the boy’s father, coming up beside them. “Everything’s a question of scale, son.  So always look down on the world, from a great height, and if you treat it like your toy, everything drops into place. Take my new, hyper modern, automated Brazilian Depository here. Fully self-functioning. No great labour costs.  Servicing the whole world instantly, delivering things.  And soon it will grow and grow. Think of all the furniture we can make too, Randy, from those goddam cut-down trees.”

Hermano looked up in horror. Then this was the very human who owned the modern Depository and Mr Sugarbug was going to make it bigger and bigger. Soon there wouldn’t be any Brazil nut trees left at all, or Graviolas, or kapoks, or anything else for that matter.

“Even more so now that President Silas Trunk is onside,” said the Chauffeur Augustus quietly, coming up beside his boss. “Now the big man doesn’t believe in Environmentalism, or Global Warming, or Mankind doing any damage at all to the Planet. Now he has decided that it just isn’t true, despite what all the scientists say. Because business is business and what Trunk Junior says goes, Sir.”

Mr Sugarbug nodded and grinned and Hermano scowled. The rat knew from his Brazil nut tree and the modern Depository that it was true.  He knew from the mayhem of the city that it was true too. He even knew it from Max the Lobster’s tale.  But above all Hermano could count, could see numbers instantly. So above all the tree rat knew, having seen all those people in New York, that even if it wasn’t true now, one day and one day soon it would be true, just as true as the fact in five billion years the sun would go out. Because if you double a thing, and double it again, and again, then all those buildings with them, or the people inside them, one day there would be more of them than trees themselves, or even the insects. The threat to the world was just a simple question of mathematics.

“But it is true,” whispered the rat desperately, although nobody heard Hermano, or was listening either. “And you can’t cut down the Amazon, because the rainforest are the lungs of the planet and besides, it’s my beautiful home and the animals are my friends, or some of them.”

But with that the lift door inside the apartment opened again and out stepped a little girl. She had red hair, long pigtails, huge eyes and freckles all over her face, and she was scowling.

“Hi,” she said, glaring at Randy, “I’m Toola Iceberg and I’ve come to play with you. For an hour. Though it won’t be much fun, because we’ll soon all be extinct anyhow..”

“Extinct?” said Randy, scowling at her, “Wos that?”

“A fact,” snapped Toola Iceberg, “Not an opinion, not something you can deny, but a fact. A fact, fact, fact. We are all eating up the planet so fast that very soon we’ll be extinct. An X species.”

Hermano looked up at her, hanging their in Randy’s hand.

“Him,” said Toola Iceberg immediately, “at least he’s gruzzly, like me I guess.”

“Gruzzly?” said Randy, as Hermano wondered rather irritably what it meant too.

“Sure. So what are you going to do about our imminent extinction, boy? I mean there are things we can all do, sure, each one of us. Each and every one of us. Right now. IF we wake up.”

“Nothing,” said Randy, with another scowl “I’m only 12 and I’m bored. D’yer wanna play or not”

“Not,” said Toola Iceberg, “I’m 15 and I’m going to do something. Right now. That’s a fact.”

With that Toola Iceberg stuck out her tongue, her freckles blazing, walked back into the lift and pressed the button, as Randy’s father shrugged at Augustus.

“The Map,” he cried though, “Unfurl the map, Augustus. Specially if Randy’s bored.”

The English chauffeur pressed a button and a huge map on the wall lit up. It was an old ink drawn map of New York City.

“Don’t mind about Toola Iceberg. Look Randy. Manhattan just a hundred and fifty years ago,” said the Mayor and as he pressed another button it changed, to show so many more buildings and skyscrapers. “But now look. That’s growth, Junior. Progress. Reach for the skies.”

Junior though was too busy twisting Hermano’s tail now, as the mayor pressed the button again.

“Now look at the world, junior,” he said. “Look at all the Cities, and not just New York.  Mexico City, London, Paris, Rome, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney. Growing and growing, on and on. The Planet,” said Mr Sugarbug, with another sigh, “look how many of us are on it now. Like dirty rats. Well, since Toola Iceberg is right, the only future now is up there, up in space,” Sugarbug added, turning to look out of the window, “which I’m addressing with my new space program to colonize Mars, why sweat it? Have fun while you can, I say. Wot else can one do?”

“Which reminds me, Dad,” said junior, with a scowl, “I ordered a new robot, online, on your Platinum Credit Card, but when the box came it was empty. Just bubble wrap and a stupid hole, with tooth marks. It was wet too.”

New Robot, thought Hermano? Then this boy had been the very reason Hermano had been FedXed to New York City in the first place.  It all seemed connected and very strange.

“But Robots are boring,” said junior, glaring greedily at Hermano again, “not like live pets. I mean, they feel real pain. They’ve got nerves.”

CHAPTER SIX – HERMIONE’S GUILDED CAGE

 

With that the elevator doors opened again and in strode a man in a shiny silver suit this time and a white velvet waistcoat, carrying a long, rolled up piece of paper under his arm.

“Coolidge,” cried Mr Sugarbug, “The best darn lawyer on the whole East Coast, let alone the East Side. My very own rainmaker. How’s it going, buddy?”

“Trouble,” answered Coolidge, the big New York lawyer, sweating in the heat, “big Union Trouble, Mr Mayor.  In this heat everyone wants a pay rise, and the Garbage people have gone on Strike. The Fire Department and Sanitation men are threatening one too, especially with your water ban in this drought. Worst on record. But what’ll happen out there if folks’ trash ain’t collected?”

“Garbage,” whispered Mr Sugarbug thoughtfully. “You know I always say the problem with cleaning up garbage is there’s just no darn money in it. But make them some promises we can’t ever keep though,” added the Mayor, “So keep them sweet. Their bosses at least. Sack some others. That’s politics, Coolidge. That’s life.”

“Yes, Sir, Mr Mayor,” said the lawyer with a smile.

“And how are Business plans progressing, Coolidge? My mastery of the Virtual world.  My online Omnipotence,” said Mr Sugarbug proudly, but then he paused. “And why are you carrying a piece of darn paper, dude?”

“It’s a brand new business patent, Mr Sugarbug. You still have to file a physical version. I think you’ll like it.”

“Sure, but what’s it doing on paper? You know my motto, Coolidge. All online. After all, I closed down all those god damn bookstores, like Borderlines, made ‘em declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and stole everyone’s words too, and put them up there free. On the Net.”

“Sorry, Mr Sugarbug.”

“Sure, sure, Coolidge. So what have you got this time? Any bright ideas?”

Coolidge the big lawyer unrolled the patent to show a drawing of what looked like a huge glass ball.

“A light bulb,” said Mr Sugarbug disapprovingly.

“Yes Sir, but a very special one.”

“You a dinosaur, Coolidge? What’s so special about a God damned light bulb?”

“LED, Mr Sugarbug,” answered Coolidge nervously, “but it’s also Everlasting.”

“Everlasting?” cried Mr Sugarbug in horror. “Idiot, Coolidge. LED is fine, saves 85% energy and costs more.  But Everlasting? If it’s everlasting how will we sell any more of the things? Redundancy, Coolidge, built in redundancy, that’s what you need. So make sure the darn thing can break.”

“Yes, Mr Sugarbug.”

“No, no, this is what we really need, Coolidge,” said Mr Sugarbug, holding up the black oblong object he had been carrying in his hands. “The brand new Sugarbug Virtual Reality goggles. With these on you can watch everything in 3D, in a 360 degrees, and recreate anything you want. Travel the world, sail the seas, even go to the moon. Heaven. Now Augustus, what’s for lunch?”

“Lobster, Sir,” answered the chauffeur.

“Lobster,” cried Mr Sugarbug angrily. “Am I surrounded by morons? Are you trying to poison me, Augustus? Don’t you know lobsters are just scavengers, Augustus, the vacuum cleaners of the sea, which eat anything nasty and filthy and disgusting?”

“But reassuringly rare and expensive Sir,” said Augustus, “The executives at Google have them for lunch all the time.”

“Oh. Fine,” said Mr Sugarbug, “then I’ll have three, with a Thermador sauce. But junior, can’t you clean up your darn toys?”

So Mr Sugarbug had lunch, and Hermano was glad that Max was at least safe, and nasty little junior didn’t clear up his toys, but set to work on Hermano instead. By sunset the poor tree rat had been hung from the window, made to climb the fountain, raced around strapped to a roller skate and nearly drowned twice. But junior, who got bored easily, got bored. So he went off to play his new Computer Wargame, as he dropped poor Hermano in the corner of Hermione’s huge gilded cage – Ooof.

“Oh, but I am sorry, Mon Ami,” said a gentle female voice, as Hermano landed, “He’s a horrid, nasty, beastly little human boy. If that were not being rude to beasts. It’s why I refuse to play with him anymore. Je refuse.”

Hermano looked up and saw the most gorgeous pair of huge brown eyes looking back at him and his twisted tail. Hermione was so elegant, so graceful, so beautiful, that Hermano promptly fell in love with her.

“Je suis Hermione,” declared the pretty creature, waving her beautiful tail. “I am by origin French Canadian, from Quebec, c’est vrais.  But now I live here, in splendour, at the top of the World, in New York City.”

“And I’m Hermano,” said Hermano nervously, introducing himself too, “My name means brother, Hermione. I’m from the Amazon. I’m a tree rat, though I don’t like heights. And I think I’m a little autistic.”

“Tres exotique,” purred Hermione approvingly. “But tell me, Hermano, mon cheri, are you in love with me already? Everyone is, bien sure.”

“No,” lied Hermano, “I’ve only just met you, Hermione.”

“Love at first sight, non, as the stories say?  All things enter through the eyes. And this book you can certainly judge by her lovely cover.  It must be a great privilege for you to meet me, Hermano. Of course you are in love with me, mon amour, but it’s quite impossible. Our love, I mean. Doomed.”

Hermano frowned, for he didn’t like the way Hermione was talking at all, although she was so beautiful that he couldn’t take his eyes off her either.

“Why impossible, Hermione?” asked Hermano, with a gulp.

“Because you are a rat, of course, a tree rat who’s scared of heights, with a crooked tail too, and I am a rare golden Gerbil. Priceless.”

“Gerbil,” said Hermano, thinking of what Vladimir had said and that this must be the Gerbil he has his beady eyes on, “but then we’re related.”

“We are?” said Hermione, fluttering her huge eyelashes. “But how interesting, chere Hermano, maybe we have a connection. Perhaps you will stay with me then, a while until I get bored, non? I have many admirers. What can you do?”

“Do? Count.  And tell stories, I suppose. Well, I’m getting better. I want to be an artist, I think.”

“Very well then. You shall tell Hermione stories every evening. You will be happy here.”

“Happy?” said Hermano, “But it’s so high up here, much higher than the Water Tower, and I don’t really like heights, and besides, you’re in a cage, Hermione.”

“A gilded cage,” corrected the pretty Gerbil coldly, “With a Platinum wheel and a twist of Lemon and Ginger in my water bottle. All the creature comforts. What could be more perfect? Parfait.”

“But you aren’t free,” said Hermano, missing all the artistic vagrants around his Water Tower, Jeb especially, with his tales of freedom in the Wild West, and of the prairies and the endless open spaces, even if his stories weren’t quite right.

“Free?” said Hermione, with a heavy sigh. “And what is really free, Mon pauvre Hermano?  Out there it is frightening and cruel, like a Jungle, in fact, and you have to work to make your way, so who is ever really free? And what do expect me to do instead, live on some Garbage Dump?”

Hermano wondered, as Hermione laughed, yet he felt strangely sorry for the beautiful creature.

“I’d protect you out there, Hermione,” he said, his heart thumping in his chest, “I’m Street Wise, Hermione. And I’ve travelled too. All the way from the Amazon, in fact. In a FedX box.”

“How very democratic,” said Hermione, with a tolerant smile. “But you protect mois? You’re just a spineless little rat, Hermano, who’s autistic and afraid of heights. And filthy too, very smelly indeed actuallu.”

Hermione grimaced as she sniffed at him and Hermano realised that with the water shortage he hadn’t washed, up there with the artist vagrants, and had forgotten what his grandfather had taught him too.

“When I’m the cleanest, prettiest most elegant Golden gerbil that ever lived,” declared Hermione. “They come to groom me twice a week. While I bet you can’t even dance.”

“Dance?” said Hermano, blushing very deeply, as Hermione started to hum and spin around.

“Oh there’s nothing J’adore so much as dancing,” cried Hermione delightedly. “Waltzes and Tangos, Samba and Salsa, Jive, Charleston’s and Break dancing . I am an artist of the dance. The divinest diva of the dance.”

Hermano still looked rather reluctant.

“And if you think you’ll be unhappy here, ma Cherie,” said Hermione, “Just think of a bed of cashmere and all the lovely things you’ll have to eat. Like that bowl of Brazil nuts.”

Brazil nuts? Hermano’s eyes boggled as Hermione turned her head, for there, in the finest cut glass bowl, was a huge pile of freshly cracked Brazil nuts, already out of their impossibly hard shells. This was luxury indeed, in Penthouse 54.

“But now I must get some sleep, silly little Hermano.  Hermione’s beautiful beauty sleep.  So try not to disturb me, Mon Cheri, and keep your crooked tail to yourself. Bon nuit.”

So Hermano met Hermione and stayed with the beautiful Golden gerbil in her gilded cage, when junior wasn’t torturing him, or threatening to drop him form the 54th floor. Up there he looked down on the city, like the Mayor of New York and King of the online world himself, at all the people moving like ants and the traffic hurrying back and forth below. Hermano wondered what it all meant and how the humans didn’t seem to be able to stop, just like slaves, as the Wall Street pigeon had said. Hermano began to despair that he could ever do anything about the Amazon Depository, or anything else for that matter.  But worse than that, that second evening when Hermione called on Hermano to tell her a bedtime story, Hermano did fairly well, describing something of the Amazon and his home.  For a good week Hermione seemed to like his stories too.  But as Hermano went on looking out of the high Windows, and thought of Jeb Cowpaw and the others, of Pier 54, just a garbage dump, more and more numbers began to swirl around his head, and one evening he just stopped speaking. Hermano could not think of any stories any more, or anywhere to go.

Another evening though when junior had forgotten him for a moment, and the spiny rat’s nerve endings, Hermano noticed that those Virtual Reality goggles were lying on the floor and that Mr Sugarbug had left them on. The rat scurried over to them and as he climbed over the strap and stared at the screen, Hermano’s eyes began to boggle.  It was as if Hermano was suddenly floating in space, in mid-air among the stars, looking at it in Virtual Reality. Now Hermano could see a blue green ball, that he knew was the Earth itself. It was just like a ball, as the one eyed cat had said, or a water droplet, or a tear drop. It was like he was floating too, though still on the ground, as if he was free of gravity itself.

“It’s amazing,” whispered Hermano, “and the humans couldn’t do this without Science. Perhaps I shouldn’t be a silly artist then, who can’t tell stories anymore, but a scientist instead. I mean that would make me really modern and I do like numbers too, see them all the time. What did Grandpapa Raoul say but strike upwards, even if you strike the stars?”

Yet as Hermano looked at that image of the Virtual planet from Space, he thought of his fallen Brazil nut tree too, and his dead parents, thought of all the cut down trees like matchsticks and the swelling cities and Hermano felt very sad. He started to cry again and he hadn’t done that in a while. Then Hermano heard a voice. While Hermano had been floating in the Virtual World Mr Sugarbug had come back into the room and was talking on his mobile phone.

“Look to the future, Coolidge,” Sugarbug was saying loudly, “I mean, people whine on about Social Media and VR, and change and say nothing’s real anymore.  But if we’re really destroying the Planet, surely we want more Virtual Reality and less things?  Less books for a start, that use all that paper, and take up all that space, when we can just read them online.”

Hermano frowned and yet there seemed a truth in it too.  Meanwhile, although Hermano loved admiring the ravishing Gerbil, who would sometimes dance for him like a diva, divinely, Hermano began to miss even his temporary home with Jeb and his friends below the Water Tower more and more. The only consolation were the Brazil nuts, for Hermano had as many as he could eat.  One sweltering morning Hermano was tired of being tortured though, eating one of the nuts again, and even missing the threatening noises of his forest, when he suddenly heard a welcome buzzing.

“Found you, Hermano,” cried Buzzy, who was hanging in mid-air before him like that Virtual Reality picture of the Earth itself, “Jeb sent me up like a drone to spy you out.”

“Buzzy,” cried Hermano delightedly. “And how is dear old Jeb, and his Cowboy poetry, and Lenno and Rumi? Pepe, Alfonse and even Colonel Black? I miss them all so much, Buzzy. They’re my friends.”

Buzzy the Hummingbird frowned.

“Not so good, brother,” she answered. “The summer’s getting hotter and hotter and even the Water Tower’s nearly run dry, with the ban. Max is noisier than ever.  Jeb has given up Cowboy Poetry too. And the dirty rats, and Vladimir, they seem to have a plan, Hermano. I heard them whispering the other day about spreading terror and mayhem everywhere.”

“Yes, Buzzy, I know,” said Hermano sadly.

“There’s rubbish all over the streets too, and the Firemen and Sanitation department have gone on strike,while the other humans are so busy online, they don’t seem to notice anything. Except for Toola Iceberg, of course, who is certainly doing something, and that’s a fact. But anyhow Hermano, I’ve come to help you escape.”

Hermano nodded.

“Escape,” whispered Hermione in horror though, who had just woken up with a huge, lazy yawn. “But who would want to escape from paradise, mes Cheris, from me and the finest view in all New York? With Lemon and a twist of Ginger.”

Already little Buzzy was at work though, with her long and very thin Hummingbird beak, that can sip the finest pollen from the tiniest flowers, hovering there, picking the lock on Hermione’s gilded cage.

“Aren’t you coming Hermione though,” said Hermano, bits of Brazil nut falling from his mouth, as the golden door sprung open, and Hermano realized he was very much in love after all.

“Coming where, mon Cheri?” answered Hermione softly. “There is nowhere in the World to go anymore.  Except perhaps Space. To Mars. Face reality.”

“I’m sorry, Hermione,” cried Hermano, “but I have to be free, spiny tree rats are born to it, and I miss my friends, and Jeb has given up Cowboy Poetry and something bad is happening out there…”

“Coward,” cried Hermione scornfully, “you’re simply afraid of l’amour, Hermano, of love and commitment, and of living in Heaven with me. Go then, go back to your filthy street rats and your worthless vagrant artist friends. See if I care.”

Hermano paused heavily and looked back sadly, for he knew he was a little afraid, and he felt a strange tearing in his heart, as the tree rat dropped to the ground, the lift doors opened and junior ran in and cried out furiously, seeing Hermano had vanished.

“Gone,” snarled the nasty little boy, “Stolen. Everyone abandons me in the end.  That’s why I’m always bullied on Social Media and don’t have any friends.  Like Mommy left me, left me that day the horrid men attacked New York city.”

Hermano felt strangely guilty as the little boy burst into tears himself. For the boy had lost his own mother that terrible day Rumi had talked about, just like Hermano had lost his parents, when the humans had come to cut down his tree.  But already Buzzy was in the elevator pressing the button with her beak and Hermano scuttled inside too, just in time. Once more, the spiny tree rat was on his way down.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN – HERMANO’S FALL

 

My, but how pleased the artist vagrants were to see Hermano back at the old Water Tower, even Colonel Black, but Pepe and Alfonse, Lenno, Seamus, Rumi and Walpole too.  So much so that Jeb Cowpaw took up Cowboy poetry again and strummed his old Guitar. But Hermano was very sad and worried now, because as Buzzy had led him back to the closed bookstore he had seen garbage all over the streets of New York, blowing like tumbleweed in the hot wind.

“Thought we’d lost you to the darn City, boy,” said Jeb that same evening. “The Urban Jungle. Darn good to have you back again. Though something’s up, Hermano.  Or down, among the rats. The city animals are really frightened now.”

“Vladimir,” whispered Hermano nervously. “I met him at Pier 54. But there wasn’t any great writer there at all, or white whale either, and everything has changed, Jeb. Perhaps it always does. Now it’s just the Municipal Garbage dump. It’s like your stories of the Wild West, not being quite right. And I don’t think great great grandpapa ever came here at all, or made friends with a human being either.”

“He didn’t, partner?” said Jew Cowpaw sadly. “Heck.”

“No, Jeb. People don’t tell true stories at all. It’s all just a lie and we all die too. Even become extinct. X. Like one day the sun will go out.”

Jeb Cowpaw looked rather guilty as well.

“But what do you think the rats want, brother,” asked the Cowboy poet, “the dirty rats, I mean?”

“Terror,” whispered the spiny tree rat sadly, “somehow they want to spread terror, Jeb, and fear and mayhem throughout New York City. Someone should stop them.”

“Sounds dangerous, brother,” said the cowardly Groundhog with a gulp. “But can’t the humans do it?”

“They don’t notice anything anymore,” said Hermano, feeling ashamed of his friend, “always on their smart phones, and IPads, on their Laptops and Game’s Consoles. I doubt they’ve even noticed the Municipal strike. But it’s hopeless anyhow. I mean, it’s not just the garbage on their own doorsteps. It’s what they do with that anyhow. Plastics and poison, landfill sites and destruction. How can they ever clean up?”

“Recycling,” said a grave voice above them.

“What?” said Hermano, jumping slightly.

“They have to learn recycling,” said Max the lobster from inside the Water Tank, who was feeling rather hot and pink, “like us lobster scavengers. First they have to find ways to eat up all the nasty stuff, I find delicious. Then how to re-use the harmful stuff they throw away too, so they don’t just make more and more and more of it. Cut down on all that packaging, as well.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, wondering if with all the humans it was possible, “I guess they do, Max.”

“But they won’t really wake up until they realize that we’re all going the same way, Hermano, and that we’re all recycled in the end too.”

“We are?” said Hermano.

“Sure,” said the lobster cheerfully, “and eaten too.”

“Eaten?” gulped Hermano in horror.

“Of course,” said Max the lobster more gravely. “I mean, even if we don’t get eaten in life, on the Sardis’s menu of existence, we are all going to die eventually, and then something else will eat us, make use of us, even if it’s just the soil. We’re bio-degradable. Cruel but fair.”

“Not if you believe,” said a voice, as Rumi’s head popped through the hole in the tower peering through his spectacles, “Believe in God and Eternal Life, I mean. The Afterlife.”

Inside the water tank Hermano could not see Max frown, but Hermano thought of the ants and grandpapa Raoul. Now, like a light bulb coming on in his head, Hermano realised what the ants had been doing, recycling his dead grandfather. It made Hermano feel strange and even dizzy.

“And since we’re all going to die, Hermano, what’s the thing above all that we should do when we live?” asked the Lobster from above.

Hermano could not answer, because he had just pushed passed Rumi and set off alone through the City, and as he went he grew more and more frightened of meeting Vladimir again. But above all Hermano found himself missing Hermione bitterly. It was as if he wasn’t himself without the pretty gerbil and he wondered if he could be happy in her gilded cage after all. But Hermano was thinking of what the lobster had said of everything dying and being eaten one day, despite Rumi’s words, and it seemed so horrible, so terrible, as again he thought of what the ants had really been doing in the rainforest, it made everything seem darker and sadder and lonelier.

At last Hermano reached the Zoo in Central Park, where Vladimir had said he lived, and looking about for the boss of the rats, hearing the whooping, hooting birds in their cages, and the bark of wild dogs, the ceaseless call of caged animal, he saw the strangest beast he had ever seen. It was part cow, part horse, with spindly legs and the longest face below its horns, hanging with a wispy beard.

“Woof,” said the creature mournfully, “it’s hotter here than even in Botswana.”

“Botswana, Sir?” said Hermano.

“Where I come from, my good friend, in the mighty continent of Africa.  I’m a wildebeest and I’m a very long way from home indeed.”

“Me too,” said Hermano, “I come from the Amazon. I’m Hermano. It means brother.”

“Lots of animals come to America then,” said the Wildebeest, nodding. “And the World is getting smaller and smaller, all the time.”

Hermano nodded too, thinking of that Virtual Reality image of Earth through Mr Sugarbug’s strange VR goggles. Just seeing it seemed to have changed his knowledge of everything, or his thoughts about it all at least.

“But they don’t like us anymore,” said Hermano, “with their wall and their borders and their Customs Officials.”

“No,” said the Wildebeest sadly. “It’s terrible.  But so very Human too.”

“So very human?”

“Countries and flags and words,” said the Wildebeest, chewing his leathery lips thoughtfully. “Even names. They create the borders, when they aren’t real at all.”

“Not real, Sir?”

“Not in Nature, Hermano, or among animals and plants. I mean, does a tree know it grows in America, or Botswana, or Brazil? Does a plant or a flower? No, they just grow and are. They live and flower. And when a bee collects pollen and flies to the hive, does in know it might be crossing a human border?” said the wise wildebeest. “When a beautiful Brazil nut tree sends its roots into the ground to drink, does it know they might be passing a human checkpoint?  And if the birds and the bees stopped flying where they wanted, how could they pollinate the plants and flowers and make beautiful things grow?”

“I don’t know,” answered Hermano sadly, thinking the wildebeest very intelligent indeed and realising that then everything really is connected somehow.

“No, it’s Humans who like to build and make and own so much stuff, who do that,” said the African Wildebeest, “and make it so unnatural too.  Look at my proud little country of Botswana. There they’ve put up lots of fences now to stop something called Foot and Mouth, and so we Wildebeest and our Zebra friends can’t migrate anymore, or get to our water holes, so we’re dying. CRASH. Did you know that two species are made extinct every fifteen minutes?”

“I’m sorry,” said Hermano, thinking of his poor family too.

“So am I,” said the wildebeest gravely, “but they just can’t stop it. It’s partly fear. So they go on trying to be better than everything else, or living in taller buildings, or bigger cities, or getting ahead and growing richer and richer, with all their progress, getting more and more stuff. When they should just go for a walk in the forest and remember how beautiful it is just to be alive and be.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, thoroughly agreeing and wanting to be walking in the Amazon again.

“And their Walls.  Did you know that in America some of them hardly even know about the rest of the world?  I mean only 5% even have passports. But boy it’s hot, I could do with a drink, or a shower.”

Hermano felt sorry for the poor Wildebeest and thought he deserved a place among the vagrants, below the water tower. But he went on, sort of keen to find Vladimir. Which he did, at the far corner of the zoo, near the Polar bear enclosure, among another huge pile of garbage.

“Little brother,” cried Vladimir, with a smile as he saw Hermano. “I heard what happened with that pretty chick Hermione. Tough call. Though can’t say I’m sorry. But I see you’s come to join us after all.  To be a dirty rat. A true city criminal. I’m proud of you, Son. Good job.”

“No,” said Hermano softly though, “I’ve come to stop you spreading mayhem and terror everywhere, Vladimir.”

“Stop us,” cried the rat, with a laugh, “and how is a spineless, snivelling, cowardly little out-of-place autistic Amazon tree rat ever gonna stop the ruthless rat gangs of New York?  We’re all united now, under me, and sharpening our teeth too, in readiness.”

“Sharpening your teeth?” whispered Hermano, trying to fathom their plan. “But why?”

“Never you mind, son,” said Vladimir suspiciously. “Unless you’re with us now.”

Hermano shook his head.

“Haven’t you got the nuts to be a dirty rat then, Hermano?  That’s why you lost the girl.”

“I….” whispered Hermano, missing Hermione even more and feeling very spineless indeed, but with that two of the rats jumped on Hermano and beat him mercilessly with their paws and tails.

“Get lost,” cried Vladimir coldly, when they were done, looking at Hermano’s now badly blackened eye, “You haven’t a home anywhere.  You’re not even worth the name of rat. Spineless.”

Hermano was too small to fight them, and off he ran again, feeling utterly miserable and totally ashamed. Although he was on the ground anyhow, Hermano felt as if he was falling and falling, far further than he ever had before, and would never stop. Perhaps he was a spineless coward after all. Hermano didn’t have the courage to fight Vladimir, or save the world, he didn’t even have the courage to love Hermione and everything that lives is going to die anyhow, one day. Night came in over New York City, and then a day and another night, as Hermano wandered along alone in the terrible heat and now huge tears began to well up in Hermano’s brown eyes again and out they came, pouring down his long nose and dripping off the end.   Hermano thought of all the terrible things that had happened to him, as he went he knew not where. He thought of his falling tree and his murdered parents, of all the trees being cut down in the Amazon, and the vagrant animals too, and the wise Wildebeest as well.

He thought of those two great ships, the Lusitania and the Titanic, that had never even made it to Pier 54, and all the people lost inside them. The world seemed a terrible place indeed, nothing but evil, and now the weight of all those tall buildings seemed to press down on the little tree rat. But fighting any of it seemed utterly pointless. Besides, Hermano was thinking of something his cousin had told him, that he was just garbage. As he went, and slept in doorways, Hermano looked into the windows of those cafes and bars and restaurants and everywhere he saw humans eating, consuming things, and stuffing their faces with food. Then the tree rat began to notice some of the humans living on the streets, in alleys and in doorways too, and they didn’t look rich and well fed at all.   Hermano saw animals as well, scrawny dogs and cats, mice and rats and even a fox, which seemed to have been beaten like him, and so had two black eyes.  It seemed that somewhere there was always something suffering, or losing out.  Hermano suddenly felt the whole city was like a wheel, or an elevator, and to get anywhere you had to be on it, but that the gap between up there and down here was becoming impossible.

Hermano also noticed that the black rats were all out on the streets, openly now, and that they had started to gnaw at the human wires running everywhere, if you notice them. But with the strike of the New York Garbage, Fire and Sanitation men, there was no one to stop them at all.  Not that the other humans seemed to mind, because they went on as ever locked in their machines.  Yet wasn’t it true what Mr Sugarbug had said about it being better that there was a Virtual World, if the humans were set to destroy the real one? As he thought it Hermano realised that the world isn’t black and white at all, but that every story seems to have another side, but if that was true, what was the Truth?

Hermano hardly cared now though, even if he thought that he guessed Vladimir’s plan. But why stop the rats anyhow, why not destroy everything, since it would be destroyed in the end anyhow, especially when the sun goes out, in five billion years?  Everyone was a liar, everything out for itself, and stories were lies too, especially hopeful or heroic ones.   As the hot tears went on falling and falling, it was as if Hermano had been blinded, or saw in his own unhappy tears only images of anger and fear, loneliness, cruelty and hate. But always there was Vladimir too, laughing cruelly at him, whose face seemed to turn into Cartel. “You’re garbage, Hermano, just trash and rubbish.”

Then suddenly on a street crossing one of New York’s great avenues Hermano bumped into a shivering little creature. It was a red squirrel, but it was tiny and looked much the worse for wear, having been attacked by grey squirrels in New York and its tail had almost been bitten off, like that human’s leg in the story. It look petrified.

“Get out of my way, trash,” snarled Hermano and with that all the fear and hurt and anger at the rats welled up inside Hermano and he delivered the little red squirrel such a box with his spiny snout that it went sprawling across the side walk.  But as the little creature went flailing there Hermano heard a voice in his head, old Raoul’s kindly voice, talking to him still: “Remember too, never harm anything less than yourself, Hermano, and that if you strike, you must always strikes upwards, even as high as the stars themselves.”

Hermano felt bitterly ashamed, as night came in once more, that he had struck the little creature. He desperately wanted to be with Hermione too, and thought of her saying perhaps they had a connection. Then Hermano realised that if Yage had told him everything was connected, like those other poor animals, Hermano felt connected to nothing at all. As a hot wind blew down the hard New York pavements, it brought a terrible fear to poor Hermano. Worse, it brought a Terror. Hermano was utterly lost.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT – MOBY DICK

Like standing on the edge of some giant cliff, Hermano the spiny tree rat was on the very verge of giving in, of giving up hope entirely, when suddenly he stopped. He was standing in the light of an old fashioned street lamp in New York city, in front of a little bookstore, on 7th Avenue now, one of the few bookstores to survive the Internet and the Virtual, Online world.  In the window Hermano had never seen so many books together before.  There were hundreds of them and they all looked very real. Then, as the tears cleared a little, in the window, right in the middle, the tree rat saw a large old book, with the picture of a huge white whale on the cover.  ‘Moby Dick’ it said, by Herman Melville. There it was then, at last. THE BOOK.

“Herman Melville,” whispered Hermano wonderingly, “it wasn’t Bellville then, but Melville. Then he did write his Shaman book after all. It’s called Moby Dick.”

Hermano suddenly longed to be sitting safe and snug somewhere with Hermione and reading it from cover to cover to their children. By the book, with a little card, was a photograph of the famous human writer, a hundred and fifty years ago, with bright eyes like Hermano’s once, and a huge moustache and dangling beard.  He had a strange smile on his face. Hermano wasn’t looking at the human now though, but at what else was in the faded photograph. For there, sitting by a manuscript, was an old fashioned looking White faced Brazilian spiny tree rat, with a smile on his face too.

“Great, great grandpapa,” cried Hermano delightedly, for he looked very like Hermano himself, apart from the rather antiquated white face, “then you and grandpa Raoul didn’t lie. You did come here to New York City, all those years ago, as an immigrant yourself, and you did make friends with a famous human being. A great and immortal writer. Herman Melville. It is possible for people and animals to be friends after all.”

Hermano felt a strange warmth in his heart, and now another huge teardrop fell from his snout but as it broke on the pavement, Hermano remembered Yage.

“Tears,” the tree rat whispered guiltily, drying his eyes, “there are good tears and evil tears, and thinking of myself alone, I have been crying only bad tears and seeing only bad things. Seeing only evil and sorrow and the dark. But the world is like a water drop, that reflects light too, not just darkness and sorrow, and as round as rain, and it turns too.”

Hermano was remembering the Indian Hamster as well, as he saw a red light flicker in the window of the old bookshop, telling him that on the Great Wheel of life and karma things always turn.  Then, as he saw his tear trickle off the edge of the pavement, which he knew was somehow always moving under the surface, if very, very slowly indeed, he saw a little ant. The miniscule thing was scurrying along, carrying a part of a leaf in its pincers, five times its own size.  Ants must be incredibly strong, thought Hermano, and at first he remembered poor Grandpapa Raoul’s body and thought of Death again. But as the ant turned left, and right, clearly looking for something, Hermano remembered Che saying that insects, and especially ants, are the wisest things there are and wondered why.  Hermano saw other ants now, with the leaf carrying ant, almost bumping into each other, though they seemed to be talking and then the leaf carrying ant joined a column of others, all carrying bits of carefully carved leaf, and all going in the same direction.   With such tiny heads Hermano wondered if they all had brains, but nonetheless they seemed to have an extraordinary, instinctive purpose, one that used natural bits of waste, recycled them, and an amazing determination. Nature was incredible. Hermano looked up and suddenly his courage rallied, as he felt heat on his fur from somewhere nearby.

“Stories,” he whispered, looking back at Moby Dick through the window of the bookshop, “the world is full of stories, millions and millions of stories, some true and some false, and all told from different opinions and points of view.   But what really matters is finding your own story among them all, and your own courage. And for that you have to play a part, like the ants. You can’t do anything else.”

“Courage,” cried a scornful voice, Hermano recognised immediately, “and what darn courage do all you dang wastrel vagrants ever show, spiny little spineless squirrel?”

Hermano turned his head and saw a familiar black bird sitting on the ledge of the bookshop snapping his beak at him and remembered Jeb had called him grizzly too.

“Colonel Black,” cried Hermano, realizing the superior East Coast miner bird had been watching him coldly. “And I’m not a squirrel, or garbage either, and nor are my friends.  You have to be happy in your own skin in life, Colonel Black, you should know that. And in your element too.”

The minor bird was looking about too though, nervously, at what Hermano had seen as well, in the reflection in the bookshop window. Because along the pavement little flames were leaping up in the heat.

“Fire,” cried Hermano, “that’s what the rats have been doing, Colonel Black, gnawing through the city cables, so setting fires everywhere, among all that garbage. It’s my fault too, because Vladimir’s eyes lit up when I said I wanted to light a fire in animal’s hearts. And in this heat, all New York City will soon be ablaze.”

“With no darn humans to stop it,” said the Minor Bird gravely, “with all of them on strike and the others stuck in their own little worlds. Even the kids seem on strike now. I mean.”

“Yes, Colonel Black. And with no water either, with the ban. Then we’ve got to stop them, Colonel Black, us animals.”

“Stop them? But how, grunt? It’s impossible.”

Hermano was thinking of Hermione, up there in her gilded cage, and Toola Iceberg too and as he looked up and up, his vertigo vanished all together, and glancing repeatedly at Jeb’s Water Tower, his bright eyes shone.

“I’ve got a plan, Colonel Black, I think, that’s a fact, and you’ve got to help me.”

Colonel Black may have been very superior, but he was good at responding to orders, and a plan too, being a military kind of bird and grizzly as well. So after he had listened to Hermano whispering in his ear, he flew off immediately. Hermano was left alone again, wondering if he could really do anything at all. He felt lonely once more, and wondered if Hermione was looking down on him somewhere, or had forgotten him completely. All around him the city seemed on fire now though, a burning ring of fire. But suddenly, through the flames, came Jeb Cowpaw and Rumi, Lenno and the others. Walpole the Owl was flying above them down 7th Avenue.

“Jeb!” cried Hermano.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a coward, partner,” said the mongoose, whose nose was covered in soot, “and don’t really like fighting snakes. I guess I lied, or liked a braver story about the Wild West and myself too.  But we’ve all come to help you now. I mean, use just gotta help out folks, don’t you? Though we’re not sure how.”

“The Great Wheel,” said Hermano immediately, looking up at the stars, his eyes sparkling, “it always turns, Jeb. And if a great writer once said we’re all in the gutter, he also said that at least some of us gruzzles are looking up at the stars.”

“Huh?” said Jeb Cowpaw.

“Never mind,” said the literate tree rat, “but you’ve got to go back up there, Jeb, to the rooftops and take others with you.  And somehow we’ve got to make all the animals wake up and help. We’ve got to make them realise everything has to work together and really be connected.”

As Hermano thought of his plan though he was suddenly worrying about a lobster.

“No,” said Rumi gravely, “they hate us Immigrants, Hermano, and us vagrants, especially ones who believe in God.  They don’t believe we’re brothers and sisters at all, even cousins, just something else that isn’t them, and which they fear.”

“But we are, Rumi,” said Hermano, “because everything is connected, somehow, perhaps even more now.  So an angry boy pressing a button killed my parents in the Amazon, even if he didn’t mean to, and the fences and human borders in Botswana are killing the Zebra and the Wildebeest, and junior’s cruel because he’s sad he lost his mother that terrible day and everyone bullies him on Social Media and Toola Iceberg is right because she’s gruzzly. While the most terrible thing in life is not being connected to anything at all. We all have to wake up, Rumi. But how to make the animals do it?”

“Strike,” said Pepe angrily, as Rumi pondered.

“Oh not now, Pepe. Please. Not baseball.”

“No, Hermano,” said Pepe angrily, “Not Baseball, but a Strike. A General Strike. If the humans can strike, caramba, and now even the kids too, led by Toola Iceberg, then why can’t the animals? A General Animal Strike. “

“The free and absolute right of any human being or any animal to withhold their labour,” said Hermano, nodding, “If they’re not slaves, at least. Yes, Pepe.”

The animals blinked at him.

“But how do we persuade them?” said Hermano, frowning again. “I mean there are so many, just in New York alone, and there’s no time. The fires are spreading and the rats are out in force. This is the real world and we have to live in that too.”

“Animal Media,” cried Buzzy, “Charlotte’s Web and Twitters and Buzz feed.”

“Of course,” cried Hermano delightedly. “I mean it’s rather modern, but it’s all the rage, and you have to work with the world as you find it.  We’ll call a General Strike on Animal Media, then the Humans will have to notice too. Their kids have already.”

So Buzzy flew off to alert Buzz feed, and Walpole the owl Twitters, and Pepe started striking at Charlotte’s Web, with Morse Code, tap, tap, tap, to spread the Word on Animal Media, as the others set off to climb upwards again, with the other critical part of Hermano’s clever plan.  Hermano was left alone again, wondering how they could really drive out the terrible, smooth black rats, except this time Rumi the thoughtful hedgehog was still at his side.

“Well, Rumi,” said Hermano, with a sigh. “I’d pray to your God, though I’m not sure he even exists.  I’m sorry. I’ve looked. And it’s Science we’ll really need now, if my plan’s going to work. Though it was a book, Moby Dick, that strangely gave me hope again. Even if stories aren’t exactly true.  It’s a bit confusing, Rumi.  Like those bad Humans that attacked the city. Is it all hopeless?”

“No, Hermano,” said Rumi, peering through his horn-rimmed spectacles wisely, “because I’ve worked it all out at last.”

“You have, Rumi?”

“Oh yes, Hermano. Suddenly. The problem is really the two languages.”

“Two languages?” said the Amazon Rat in confusion, “but there are hundreds of languages in the world, Rumi, like there are hundreds of countries and peoples. A lot of them in New York City, it seems.”

“Oh yes,” said Rumi, “that’s true, Hermano. But they are all really talking just two languages now. The Language of God, Belief and meaning and the language of Facts and Science.”

“Oh,” said Hermano in surprise, but looking rather impressed with the mystical hedgehog.

“But the two languages are at War now,” said Rumi sadly, “that causes real wars too. Because they are both trying to drive each other out and speak only one language instead. To win. But they can’t really win, because they don’t understand that they are really just two different languages, that both have their use and meaning.”

“I don’t understand, Rumi,” said Hermano humbly.

“The language of God and Belief,” said Rumi, “it’s like the language of feeling and love and storytelling too. Of dreaming and making things up and finding your own meaning in things. That’s just like books and stories, even if they aren’t always strictly true.”

Hermano glanced at Moby Dick again and thought of the word ‘metaphor’.

“But the language of Science is about how things really are underneath,” said Rumi, “and how they work. And the language of Science is winning, because it helps them control the world, and do things and make stuff and the humans to make money too.  But it can’t teach us anything at all in the end. I mean anything moral, or about feeling or meaning or the heart, or why we’re here and what to do with it all. How to really be.”

Hermano thought of Max’s question he hadn’t answered about what to really do with life and what matters.

“No,” said Hermano, thinking of all those numbers in Time Square too, “I guess it can’t.”

“So we have to wake up and realise there are really two different languages at work, brother,” said Rumi, “and how they have to learn to talk to each other again. And if they can’t agree, at least know which language is being spoken at the time.”

“And God,” said Hermano, “I mean, does…”

“In the start was the Word,” said Rumi, with a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes. “Though you can’t prove it with the scientific language. Perhaps the idea of God makes humans human.  Perhaps God is the connection of everything. But wouldn’t it be terrible in life if you couldn’t believe in something bigger than ourselves?”

“What’s the point though,” said Hermano, and he missed Hermione once more and felt as if he was falling again, or slipping at least. “I mean I came here to be an artist, Rumi, to be the greatest Shaman storyteller that ever lived, and light a fire in animals’ hearts. But now I see that you can’t do anything to really stop or change it at all, or save the World. Art is pointless.”

“Well, I’ve just been down the cemetery,” said Rumi, looking at Hermano kindly.

“Cemetery?” said Hermano, thinking of his grandfather again.

“River Green Cemetery,” declared Rumi. “A famous human painter called Jackson Pollock is buried there. But I saw an inscription there too, Hermano. And it said this. ’Artists and poets are the raw nerve endings of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.’”

Hermano looked at Rumi, and thought of junior swinging him by his tail.

“Little worth saving?” he whispered, his heart rallying again. “Yes, Rumi, then what matters isn’t just living, and surviving, eating everything up, but how you live. So Art does matter and I will be a storyteller, a very great storyteller too.”

Yet Hermano sighed again.

“Yet isn’t the real story that the humans are just going to destroy the whole World in the end, Rumi, and the animals too? Like Toola Iceberg says.”

“Perhaps,” said Rumi thoughtfully, “and yet there’s the hole, Hermano.”

“Hole?” said Hermano, thinking of what he had seen as he looked through the leaves of his Graviola tree.

“In the sky,” said Rumi, looking up. “There used to be a great big hole in the sky.”

“There did?” said Hermano in amazement.  It seemed there was so much to discover.

“Yes, Hermano. In the atmosphere, in something called Ozone, that used to be eaten up by the human sprays and chemicals. But when they found out about CFC’s they stopped it and now the hole’s nearly better. In the sky itself.”

“So they can do something about the harm they cause?” said Hermano, thinking it amazing there could be a hole in the sky, like in the forest.

“Yes, and in the country of India recently ordinary people planted a million trees in a day. Though the problem with Humans is that so often they only wake up when it’s nearly too late. Yet, though bad things happen,” added Rumi, “perhaps they see things in too short a time span. I mean, take the internet, that changed everything, and their books, real books I mean, they seem to be coming back now. Sometimes what seems like change then is only temporary. You have to have hope.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, “and if all is change, you can change the story too.  In fact you have to. So come on, Rumi. It’s time to fight the dirty rats. Together.”

So they started to run, run through the burning, garbage strewn streets of New York City, and that is how it happened, as Jeb Cowpaw and the vagrants began to climb with Hermano’s orders back to the rooftops, higher than a Brazil nut tree.  For having been alerted in a very modern way on Animal Media, all the animals of New York City suddenly went on strike.   They refused to walk their owners, or be stroked, or be groomed and shampooed. They refused to do tricks, or walk to heel, or make silly human noises for the children. As they did so the humans got very uncomfortable indeed, and started to wake up too. It was partly because so many Computer Modems had gone on the blink too, with all that gnawing. They noticed the little fires, that were growing, and the garbage piled up on the streets and soon the phones and emails were jammed, ringing and badgering the Mayor, on the 54th Penthouse Floor, and some even went in person.

“God damn it, Coolidge, what the hell’s going on?” Mr Sugarbug boomed furiously in the lofty Penthouse, as the lawyer and the chauffer stood beside him. “Something will have to be done this time. And junior, while I’m away, play with Hermione, when you’ve cleared up your darn toys, boy. Come on, Augustus.”

But as the Mayor looked around he saw that Hermione’s golden cage was open and empty, and that his son had vanished too.

“Is the stupid kid looking for that silly French rat?” the Mayor asked his chauffeur.

“I don’t think so, no Sir. Hermione vanished last night. But Sir, she’s a Golden Gerbil anyway, and it’s French Canadian, Sir.”

Coolidge looked coldly at Augustus.

“But I think your son is very upset. He can’t stop crying, day and night,” said Augustus. “Between you and me he says he misses his mother, Sir, when she, you know, when she went away that terrible day and that everyone abandons him and he doesn’t like being bullied Online either.”

Junior’s father suddenly looked miserable, as the King of Social Media hurried toward the elevator. Down there on the streets a little rodent was moving along the hard New York pavements, tired and frightened and alone. Hermione looked miserable as she dodged the flames around her, which had already singed her beautiful tail.  But suddenly the golden Gerbil stopped in horror. Along the sidewalk were a huge group of smooth black rats glaring greedily at her and at their head was Vladimir.  Poor Hermione started to shake, but with that there was a cry and something flew through the air and landed in a ball of quivering spines between them.

“Hermano,” cried Hermione, as the rats backed away a little from the bravely bristling shape.

“Stand back, Hermione,” ordered Hermano courageously.

“Oh, Hermano, Mon Cheri,” cried Hermione happily, as Hermano’s spines seemed to get bigger. “Oh my love. How I have missed you, Hermano, missed your stories too, sending me safely to sleep. How I love you.”

“But you said I’m a spineless coward, Hermione,” said Hermano, with a frown, glaring at Vladimir. “And I stopped telling stories too. I’m sorry.”

“No, my love, I have been the coward, Moi, up there in a Gilded Cage, an Ivory tower, and without you at my side, Mon amour, it’s just a prison. Yet now at least we shall die together, for nothing can fight the dirty rats.”

The rats looked very nasty indeed as they advanced again, Vladimir in the centre, looking especially hungrily at Hermione. The elegant Gerbil was petrified. But suddenly it was as if the rain clouds had come, for the skies were turning black, and the New York air was filled with cawing and the flapping of wings. There were birds everywhere, and they were swooping and diving at the rats.

“The Founding Feathers,” cried Hermano, as he saw Colonel Black at their head, “Colonel Black’s brought the Founding Feathers to save us.”

“And to defend the Animal Constitution,” cried Colonel Black. “For I believe in Government of the animals, by the animals and for the animals.”

“Which is why you have to save the forests too,” cried Hermano, “and the seas, and the whole planet, like Toola Iceberg says. I mean, people are animals too.”

“Yes, brother. So I’ve even recruited those God dang pigeons,” cried Colonel Black, as the black rats began to be spattered with something white and slimy. “To crap on them from a great height. It’s like the good ol’ days.”

The rats were in mayhem now, at this sudden attack from the skies, and several had begun to run, some into the storm drains to be gobbled up by abandoned crocodiles, since like all bullies they were really cowards, even abandoning Vladimir himself.

“It’ still hopeless though, Hermano,” cried Hermione desperately, “the rats may be frightened, but nothing can stop these terrible fires, my Hermano. This terrible terror too, in this terrible heat.”

“Nothing, Hermione?” said Hermano softly, gazing high, high up into the heavens, “Except the animals, perhaps, working together. For the wheels always turn.”

Hermione looked up too, in amazement now, for she had felt it on her snout, like a single tear drop – water.  Now the gerbil saw it too, everywhere, rushing down the sides of the burning buildings, pouring from the New York rooftops like rain, quenching the terrible flames of the fiery city as it did so.  Then Hermione saw them too, the animals who had climbed up again with the Cowboy groundhog, swinging on the wheels above the faucets in the skies.

“Les Water towers,” cried Hermione happily.

“Yes, Hermione,” said Hermano, “Jeb Cowpaw has made the animals open the taps on all the Water Towers. Hydrostatic Pressure. Though that’s just gravity. You have to work with Nature, Hermione, scientifically, it’s very clever, but they’ve turned the wheels of fate. You see Hermione, in life you have to be a Rainmaker.”

“And we’re saved, my brave, clever Hermano,” cried Hermione adoringly, as a great waterfall came pouring down from the Chrysler building, just like in the Amazon, pouring down over both Hermano, who certainly needed a bath, and over Hermione.   Hermione laughed, and shook out her beautiful Golden tail, and with that she grabbed Hermano by the paws and started to turn him, round and round, and dance with him in the dripping streets, as Vladimir looked on jealously. As they did so both Hermano and Hermione found they were crying.  But as they laughed too, they knew they were crying with happiness and love and that these were good tears, not bad. Then everyone was dancing, the animals and the humans too, especially all the kids in New York, who were all on strike themselves, thanks to Toola Iceberg, who not only did not want to die, like any normal person, but didn’t want anything to be extinct and X either. Besides, they had heard sirens, seeming to sound in rhythm like music, and the human Authorities were racing through the streets again, the Garbage and Firemen, the Sanitation men, and suddenly the rats all turned and ran. All except Vladimir, that is. Instead Vladimir was advancing on Hermano, despite his bristling spines, and Vladimir’s huge teeth were prone to strike, murderously. He was far bigger than the little rat.

“No,” cried Hermione desperately, but something else was moving through the air, something huge, an American Bald Eagle, swooping right down 5th Avenue, and then something purple, with snapping claws, came falling straight toward Vladimir.

“Max,” cried Hermano, as the rat saw its snapping claws and the Lobster landed straight on the huge black rat, knocking Vladimir out with his hard shell and squashing him completely.

“Dear Max,” said Hermano desperately, rushing up to the flailing lobster on the pavement, “Thank you, Max, you saved my life. And I’m sorry, Max, that I had to make a choice to save the city. Your water tower.”

“I understand, Hermano,” whispered the Lobster faintly, “we all have to make sacrifices sometimes.  For others to live well. And give our own lives meaning too. I’m glad Jeb never managed to fix that hole in the roof.”

“But we’ve got to get you to a tank,” said Hermano, “to some water. To your own element. Sardis?”

“No, Hermano,” said the lobster, as Hermano noticed the crack along his purple Exo-Skeleton, “I’m finished. But it doesn’t matter, brother, I’m old anyhow, oldest dang Lobster that ever lived, and I’ve had my time, for sure.”

“Oh Max,” whispered Hermione warmly.

“But Hermano,” said the Lobster suddenly, “What Rumi said about Eternal life.  Maybe I was wrong.  I don’t mean in some hereafter, we can never see or know.  I mean things can live for ever in this life too.”

“They can?” said Hermano in surprise, thinking Nature very extraordinary indeed and again remembering Yage saying everything is alive and that above all the living forest has memory.

“Turritopsis dohrnii,” whispered Max faintly, the life leaving his lobster Exo-Skelton, “it’s a kind of jelly, brother, which grows on the bottom of the sea, like a polyp, then changes and floats about and mates too. But if it’s in danger it can become a young polyp again, and plant itself once more on the sea bed. It’s called the Immortal Jellyfish.”

With that poor old Max the Lobster died, but if Lobsters, that are very stiff creatures, could have a smile on their faces, Max would have had one in that peaceful moment.

“Thank you, Max,” whispered Hermano, “My grizzly brother.”

“Gruzzzly, mon cheri,” said Hermione a little irritably, “what does it mean?”

“Mean?” said Hermano, “well, its just a made up word. But I guess it means, well, a cross between grizzly and lovely, so hard on the outside, but kind within.”

Hermione smiled.

“Look Hermione,” said Hermano in astonishment though, as he looked out towards the Hudson Bay now.  Hermione was amazed too, for there in the water, they had suddenly seen a huge face push up through the waves and look at them approvingly. It was a Right whale. In the heavens too the skies were grumbling, and a great storm seemed to be coming to break the heat. But as the animals and humans stood there, and the fires died and the rain from the Way-Out-Western Water Towers finally stopped too, still there was water in New York City. But only in the eyes of a little boy, who was standing on his own, outside the old bookshop on 7th Avenue, still shedding bad tears.

“Junior,” said a soft voice behind him though. “There you are. Thank God you’re safe.”

“Just leave alone, Dad,” said junior, “Everyone leaves me alone in the end. Everyone always abandons me. And Toola Iceberg. She never even asked me to join the strike.”

“No, junior,” said Mr Sugarbug, as he came up behind his son and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’ve been working too hard. All this politics and money. And your mum, she didn’t mean to leave you alone. She just died. That terrible day. And she loved you very much indeed, Randy.”

“She did?” whispered Randy, almost breaking into a nasty smile.

“Like me. And sometimes bad things happen that you can’t do anything about, but you mustn’t let it get into your heart and head, if you can help it.”

The Mayor, the Internet Wizard, the King of Social Media, the richest man on the Planet, Mr Sugarbug, was suddenly hugging his little son tightly, looking like a grown up, thinking that this was much better than any Virtual World.

“That book,” said the Mayor thoughtfully, as they broke apart, looking into the bookstore window. “Melville’s Moby Dick. Your mom was reading that that day when I met her in Borderlines, and we fell in love. She loved that story.”

Randy looked up too and wondered if everything is connected.

“You came from that story, in a way then, Randy,” said Mr Sugarbug, “And you know son, this city just ain’t the same without real bookstores, where real people can really meet and make friends and be truly connected, even if they’re gruzzly.”

“Make friends,” whispered Randy longingly and thinking of Toola again.

“I mean books aren’t just the words floating around, but they have personalities, like people and animals too. Not the same with everything online and in VR. Too many bullies about too, who just don’t understand. Too many people who just don’t notice what’s going on under their God darn noses either, all the time, always, let alone their skins.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Randy.

“So our Depository in the Amazon, son, I think I’m gonna convert it, since it mucked up your order, and plant some trees instead. And use my vast fortune too, to set people to work, and clear up all the plastic in the oceans, and find new ways to use stuff safely and recycle. If they’re no money in it, well, I’ll spend some of mine, but start festivals too. Clean-Up festivals, we’ll call them, where folk can be together but sell things too. We’ll travel too, Randy, all over the World, because, son, you’ve made me realise what’s really important about being alive and what you should do above all.”

Standing there, Hermano the tree rat suddenly realised it too, the answer to Max’s question. That if being alive is not just about surviving, but how you live, which is quite an Art, and if we’re all going to die anyway, one day, as is only natural, then what really matters too is what you leave behind you.  Hermione winked at Hermano, as Jeb the Groundhog loped up too, having climbed right down to the ground again, and offered his Amazon brother his Cowboy paw to shake.

 

CHAPTER NINE – CONCLUSIONS?

Hey, grizzly cousins and brothers and sisters, that is nearly the end of the incredible story of Hermano the amazing spiny arboreal Amazon rat, though stories never end. Of how he saved New York City, or soaked it at least, and saved the whole World too, or at least a bit of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet. Of how Hermano got back his heart and belief.

Of how, not six months later, Hermano and Hermione were sitting wrapped in each other’s arms, high, high up above New York city, in their wonderful new penthouse home.   It was one they had been given special dispensation for from the Mayor of New York himself. Because, of course, with all the good things he was doing around the world, Hermano and Hermione had become friends with the human, Mr Sugarbug, and even his son, Randy, who had cleared up all his toys and now liked to read anything he could, voraciously but had made friends too, with Toola Iceberg.

Hermano no longer had any fear of heights at all, or of love and connection either, for he knew what the world can be like without it. Terrifying.  It was raining outside, heavily, but they were both safe and warm behind their glass windows, although feeling connected with everything going on below them too.  And as they sat there, a light shone above them, burning brilliantly once more, but saving energy too, and with no built in redundancy at all:  Coolidge’s huge Everlasting LED Lightbulb.

Now they were both remembering, thinking of the journey they had made together back to the Amazon, on Honeymoon, a journey they would always make, for half the year. Of how Hermione had met Hermano’s Grandmother and Che and Yage too, the Shaman tree frog. How she had seen the wondrous rainforests, and heard all its amazing sounds, sometimes beautiful, sometimes threatening, and admired those ruins, but seen the humans too, convert the Depository into a place that invented solutions for the problems of the planet.

They had taken Jeb Cowpaw with them, who had wanted to see the Wild South of America with his own eyes, on the ground. Who had agreed as they stood there that it was a darn good thing the forest had memory. Who on returning had written a Cowboy poem about it all, and the amazing healing power of animals, that had won the Hermano Melville Memorial Prize for Poetry.  It had been awarded Jeb in the newly reopened bookstore below the water tower, which was now named not Borderlines, but Connections.

But of course Hermano had taken to writing too, writing stories, but Shaman stories to light a fire in animal’s hearts, and he had won the Moby Dick Prize for literature, that was famous right around the world.  Animal Media had lit up with the news and Pepe, who used it all the time now, couldn’t stop going on about it. So much so that Alfonse almost left him, then changed his mind. Lenno was sceptical about the whole lot, and turned his art to depicting the old days.  Walpole had gone back to England and got involved in politics there, though he didn’t like it, and Rumi had settled by the banks of the Hudson, watching the wondrous sunsets. Meanwhile the great statue of a Lobster had been erected at Pier 54, to remember the heroic Max and his sacrifice. Max had become Immortal like Herman Melville. It was the same month that President Silas Trunk Junior had stepped down, since it appeared in the news one day that he had had secret links with Vladimir. Besides, his policies were ruining the planet even more. As Hermano had heard the news he had looked knowingly at the twist in his tail and smiled.

Now though Hermano and Hermione were back in New York again, looking out at the wonderful views themselves and wondering how they could both help in future.  From here they would always look at the human city, but being at times modern too, and sometimes very scientific, in the night they would both look up as well, up into the inky black skies, at the billions of twinkling stars, and wonder and imagine and travel in their dreams out to other worlds. So Hermano decided, thinking of human money too, and all those numbers in Time Square, that the sun going out in five billion years was rather a long time after all. As Hermano looked, looked with his mind too though, remembering those Virtual Reality goggles, he often found his thoughts travelling up and out, like striking upwards, and on and on and he wondered about the Universe. How it could all possibly be, because the Universe means everything there is, doesn’t it?   So even if Space is like a box, like that FedX Box he had been posted inside to New York, what was outside the Box? And if the there was more space, or even a wall, that was still part of everything there is too, part of the Universe, so the Universe had to go on and on and on, forever.  Didn’t humans know that too, and if they did, how could they be so silly and small sometimes?  The mystery was far greater than they knew.

One day Hermano had met the one eyed Medical cat again and asked him about it, who had said something about space-time and space really being curved, like time, but Hermano hadn’t really understood.  Perhaps one day someone will come along who does understand, Hermano thought as he looked up now, and Hermano smiled as he decided to save the Universe too, his thoughts and dreams as free as the wind, up there in their wonderful home. Then Hermano thought something else important too – you’ve always got to think outside the box.

Yet where had the spiny tree rat made his half-year home, for lovely, now far more humble Hermione, and all the little spiny arboreal Gerbil-rats they would bear together too, high above the Hudson River? Why you know, don’t you, brothers and sisters? Of course you do, for a rat so famous and filled with such big ideas too, one now so very happy in his own skin, it was up there, high up in the torch of Lady Liberty herself.

 

 

The End

 

Copyright David Clement Davies All Rights Strictly Reserved 2019

 

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The mystery of ‘Anno’ and sculpture

In a series of articles discussing sculpture this month we look first at the work of the mysterious ‘Anno’ and most especially their identity.

An artist, like Banksy, who refuses to be identified, or even meet gallerists or collectors, who cherishes anonimity, why then did they agree to be commissioned and published by Sculpture Out of The Box, with a special piece inspired by the immortal Phidias?

20190821_175008

“Perhaps it was both because we guard anonimity and because we gave Anno a brief to create something that captures the very spirit of sculpture itself”, says David Clement Davies, himself a sculptor and Creative Director of Sculpture Out of The Box.

‘The Eye of Apollo’, a limited edition of 20, after a famous Ivory mask by Phidias, but adapted to include a tear drop and the third eye of Horus in Egyptian myth, is accompanied by two little bas relief taken from friezes from the Parthenon.

And Anno? All Mr Clement Davies will reveal, even hiding the sex of the Artist, is that Anno may have ties to the Greek island of Corfu, indeed may be a Greek natural. Fitting then that their work draws inspiration from the greatest Master of them all.

Phoenix Ark Press

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SO TO SOME WONDERFUL CONCLUSIONS

EPILOGUE – CONCLUSIONS?

Hey, grizzly cousins and brothers and sisters, that is nearly the end of the incredible story of Hermano the amazing spiny arboreal Amazon rat, though stories never end. Of how he saved New York City, or soaked it at least, and saved the whole World too, or at least a bit of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet. Of how Hermano got back his heart and belief.

Of how, not six months later, Hermano and Hermione were sitting wrapped in each other’s arms, high, high up above New York city, in their wonderful new penthouse home.   It was one they had been given special dispensation for from the Mayor of New York himself. Because, of course, with all the good things he was doing around the world, Hermano and Hermione had become friends with the human, Mr Sugarbug, and even his son, Randy, who had cleared up all his toys and now liked to read anything he could, voraciously, but who had made friends too, with Toola Iceberg.

Hermano no longer had any fear of heights at all, or of love and connection either, for he knew what the world can be like without it. Terrifying.  It was raining outside, heavily, but they were both safe and warm behind their glass windows, although feeling connected with everything going on below them too.  And as they sat there, a light shone above them, burning brilliantly once more, but saving energy too, and with no built in redundancy at all:  Coolidge’s huge Everlasting LED Lightbulb.

Now they were both remembering the journey they had made together back to the Amazon, on Honeymoon, a journey they would always make, for half the year. Of how Hermione had met Hermano’s Grandmother and Che and Yage too, the Shaman tree frog. How she had seen the wondrous rainforests, and heard all its amazing sounds, sometimes beautiful, sometimes threatening, and admired those ruins, but seen the humans too, convert the Depository into a place that invented solutions for the problems of the planet.

They had taken Jeb Cowpaw with them, who had wanted to see the Wild South of America with his own eyes, on the ground. Who had agreed as they stood there that it was a darn good thing the forest had memory. Who on returning had written a Cowboy poem about it all, and the amazing healing power of animals, that had won the Hermano Melville Memorial Prize for Poetry.  It had been awarded Jeb in the newly reopened bookstore below the water tower, which was now named not Borderlines, but Connections.

But of course Hermano had taken to writing too, writing stories, but Shaman stories to light a fire in animal’s hearts, and he had won the Moby Dick Prize for literature, that was famous right around the world.  Animal Media had lit up with the news and Pepe, who used it all the time now, couldn’t stop going on about it. So much so that Alfonse almost left him, then changed his mind. Lenno was sceptical about the whole lot, and turned his art to depicting the old days.  Walpole had gone back to England and got involved in politics there, though he didn’t like it, and Rumi had settled by the banks of the Hudson, watching the wondrous sunsets. Meanwhile the great statue of a Lobster had been erected at Pier 54, to remember the heroic Max and his sacrifice. Max had become Immortal like Herman Melville. It was the same month that President Silas Trunk Junior had stepped down, since it appeared in the news one day that he had had secret links with Vladimir. Besides, his policies were ruining the planet even more. As Hermano had heard the news he had looked knowingly at the twist in his tail and smiled.

Now though Hermano and Hermione were back in New York again, looking out at the wonderful views themselves and wondering how they could both help in future.  From here they would always look at the human city, but being at times modern too, and sometimes very scientific, in the night they would both look up as well, up into the inky black skies, at the billions of twinkling stars, and wonder and imagine and travel in their dreams out to other worlds. So Hermano decided, thinking of human money too, and all those numbers in Time Square, that the sun going out in five billion years was rather a long time after all. As Hermano looked, looked with his mind too though, remembering those Virtual Reality goggles, he often found his thoughts travelling up and out, like striking upwards, and on and on and he wondered about the Universe. How it could all possibly be, because the Universe means everything there is, doesn’t it?   So even if Space is like a box, like that FedX Box he had been posted inside to New York, what was outside the Box? And if the there was more space, or even a wall, that was still part of everything there is too, part of the Universe, so the Universe had to go on and on and on, forever.  Didn’t humans know that too, and if they did, how could they be so silly and small sometimes?  The mystery was far greater than they knew.

One day Hermano had met the one eyed Medical cat again and asked him about it, who had said something about space-time and space really being curved, like time, but Hermano hadn’t really understood.  Perhaps one day someone will come along who does understand, Hermano thought as he looked up now, and Hermano smiled as he decided to save the Universe too, his thoughts and dreams as free as the wind, up there in their wonderful home. Then Hermano thought something else important too – you’ve always got to think outside the box.

Yet where had the spiny tree rat made his half-year home, for lovely, now far more humble Hermione, and all the little spiny arboreal Gerbil-rats they would bear together too, high above the Hudson River? Why you know, don’t you, brothers and sisters? Of course you do, for a rat so famous and filled with such big ideas too, one now so very happy in his own skin, it was up there, high up in the torch of Lady Liberty herself.

 

 

The End

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HOW HERMANO SAVES AND SOAKS NEW YORK

CHAPTER EIGHT – MOBY DICK

Like standing on the edge of some giant cliff, Hermano the spiny tree rat was on the very verge of giving in, of giving up hope entirely, when suddenly he stopped. He was standing in the light of an old fashioned street lamp in New York city, in front of a little bookstore, on 7th Avenue now, one of the few bookstores to survive the Internet and the Virtual, Online world.  In the window Hermano had never seen so many books together before.  There were hundreds of them and they all looked very real. Then, as the tears cleared a little, in the window, right in the middle, the tree rat saw a large old book, with the picture of a huge white whale on the cover.  ‘Moby Dick’ it said, by Herman Melville. There it was then, at last. THE BOOK.

“Herman Melville,” whispered Hermano wonderingly, “it wasn’t Bellville then, but Melville. Then he did write his Shaman book after all. It’s called Moby Dick.”

Hermano suddenly longed to be sitting safe and snug somewhere with Hermione and reading it from cover to cover to their children. By the book, with a little card, was a photograph of the famous human writer, a hundred and fifty years ago, with bright eyes like Hermano’s once, and a huge moustache and dangling beard.  He had a strange smile on his face. Hermano wasn’t looking at the human now though, but at what else was in the faded photograph. For there, sitting by a manuscript, was an old fashioned looking White faced Brazilian spiny tree rat, with a smile on his face too.

“Great, great grandpapa,” cried Hermano delightedly, for he looked very like Hermano himself, apart from the rather antiquated white face, “then you and grandpa Raoul didn’t lie. You did come here to New York City, all those years ago, as an immigrant yourself, and you did make friends with a famous human being. A great and immortal writer. Herman Melville. It is possible for people and animals to be friends after all.”

Hermano felt a strange warmth in his heart, and now another huge teardrop fell from his snout but as it broke on the pavement, Hermano remembered Yage.

“Tears,” the tree rat whispered guiltily, drying his eyes, “there are good tears and evil tears, and thinking of myself alone, I have been crying only bad tears and seeing only bad things. Seeing only evil and sorrow and the dark. But the world is like a water drop, that reflects light too, not just darkness and sorrow, and as round as rain, and it turns too.”

Hermano was remembering the Indian Hamster as well, as he saw a red light flicker in the window of the old bookshop, telling him that on the Great Wheel of life and karma things always turn.  Then, as he saw his tear trickle off the edge of the pavement, which he knew was somehow always moving under the surface, if very, very slowly indeed, he saw a little ant. The miniscule thing was scurrying along, carrying a part of a leaf in its pincers, five times its own size.  Ants must be incredibly strong, thought Hermano, and at first he remembered poor Grandpapa Raoul’s body and thought of Death again. But as the ant turned left, and right, clearly looking for something, Hermano remembered Che saying that insects, and especially ants, are the wisest things there are and wondered why.  Hermano saw other ants now, with the leaf carrying ant, almost bumping into each other, though they seemed to be talking and then the leaf carrying ant joined a column of others, all carrying bits of carefully carved leaf, and all going in the same direction.   With such tiny heads Hermano wondered if they all had brains, but nonetheless they seemed to have an extraordinary, instinctive purpose, one that used natural bits of waste, recycled them, and an amazing determination. Nature was incredible. Hermano looked up and suddenly his courage rallied, as he felt heat on his fur from somewhere nearby.

“Stories,” he whispered, looking back at Moby Dick through the window of the bookshop, “the world is full of stories, millions and millions of stories, some true and some false, and all told from different opinions and points of view.   But what really matters is finding your own story among them all, and your own courage. And for that you have to play a part, like the ants. You can’t do anything else.”

“Courage,” cried a scornful voice, Hermano recognised immediately, “and what darn courage do all you dang wastrel vagrants ever show, spiny little spineless squirrel?”

Hermano turned his head and saw a familiar black bird sitting on the ledge of the bookshop snapping his beak at him and remembered Jeb had called him grizzly too.

“Colonel Black,” cried Hermano, realizing the superior East Coast miner bird had been watching him coldly. “And I’m not a squirrel, or garbage either, and nor are my friends.  You have to be happy in your own skin in life, Colonel Black, you should know that. And in your element too.”

The minor bird was looking about too though, nervously, at what Hermano had seen as well, in the reflection in the bookshop window. Because along the pavement little flames were leaping up in the heat.

“Fire,” cried Hermano, “that’s what the rats have been doing, Colonel Black, gnawing through the city cables, so setting fires everywhere, among all that garbage. It’s my fault too, because Vladimir’s eyes lit up when I said I wanted to light a fire in animal’s hearts. And in this heat, all New York City will soon be ablaze.”

“With no darn humans to stop it,” said the Minor Bird gravely, “with all of them on strike and the others stuck in their own little worlds. Even the kids seem on strike now. I mean.”

“Yes, Colonel Black. And with no water either, with the ban. Then we’ve got to stop them, Colonel Black, us animals.”

“Stop them? But how, grunt? It’s impossible.”

Hermano was thinking of Hermione, up there in her gilded cage, and Toola Iceberg too and as he looked up and up, his vertigo vanished all together, and glancing repeatedly at Jeb’s Water Tower, his bright eyes shone.

“I’ve got a plan, Colonel Black, I think, that’s a fact, and you’ve got to help me.”

Colonel Black may have been very superior, but he was good at responding to orders, and a plan too, being a military kind of bird and grizzly as well. So after he had listened to Hermano whispering in his ear, he flew off immediately. Hermano was left alone again, wondering if he could really do anything at all. He felt lonely once more, and wondered if Hermione was looking down on him somewhere, or had forgotten him completely. All around him the city seemed on fire now though, a burning ring of fire. But suddenly, through the flames, came Jeb Cowpaw and Rumi, Lenno and the others. Walpole the Owl was flying above them down 7th Avenue.

“Jeb!” cried Hermano.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a coward, partner,” said the mongoose, whose nose was covered in soot, “and don’t really like fighting snakes. I guess I lied, or liked a braver story about the Wild West and myself too.  But we’ve all come to help you now. I mean, use just gotta help out folks, don’t you? Though we’re not sure how.”

“The Great Wheel,” said Hermano immediately, looking up at the stars, his eyes sparkling, “it always turns, Jeb. And if a great writer once said we’re all in the gutter, he also said that at least some of us gruzzles are looking up at the stars.”

“Huh?” said Jeb Cowpaw.

“Never mind,” said the literate tree rat, “but you’ve got to go back up there, Jeb, to the rooftops and take others with you.  And somehow we’ve got to make all the animals wake up and help. We’ve got to make them realise everything has to work together and really be connected.”

As Hermano thought of his plan though he was suddenly worrying about a lobster.

“No,” said Rumi gravely, “they hate us Immigrants, Hermano, and us vagrants, especially ones who believe in God.  They don’t believe we’re brothers and sisters at all, even cousins, just something else that isn’t them, and which they fear.”

“But we are, Rumi,” said Hermano, “because everything is connected, somehow, perhaps even more now.  So an angry boy pressing a button killed my parents in the Amazon, even if he didn’t mean to, and the fences and human borders in Botswana are killing the Zebra and the Wildebeest, and junior’s cruel because he’s sad he lost his mother that terrible day and everyone bullies him on Social Media and Toola Iceberg is right because she’s gruzzly. While the most terrible thing in life is not being connected to anything at all. We all have to wake up, Rumi. But how to make the animals do it?”

“Strike,” said Pepe angrily, as Rumi pondered.

“Oh not now, Pepe. Please. Not baseball.”

“No, Hermano,” said Pepe angrily, “Not Baseball, but a Strike. A General Strike. If the humans can strike, caramba, and now even the kids too, led by Toola Iceberg, then why can’t the animals? A General Animal Strike. “

“The free and absolute right of any human being or any animal to withhold their labour,” said Hermano, nodding, “If they’re not slaves, at least. Yes, Pepe.”

The animals blinked at him.

“But how do we persuade them?” said Hermano, frowning again. “I mean there are so many, just in New York alone, and there’s no time. The fires are spreading and the rats are out in force. This is the real world and we have to live in that too.”

“Animal Media,” cried Buzzy, “Charlotte’s Web and Twitters and Buzz feed.”

“Of course,” cried Hermano delightedly. “I mean it’s rather modern, but it’s all the rage, and you have to work with the world as you find it.  We’ll call a General Strike on Animal Media, then the Humans will have to notice too. Their kids have already.”

So Buzzy flew off to alert Buzz feed, and Walpole the owl Twitters, and Pepe started striking at Charlotte’s Web, with Morse Code, tap, tap, tap, to spread the Word on Animal Media, as the others set off to climb upwards again, with the other critical part of Hermano’s clever plan.  Hermano was left alone again, wondering how they could really drive out the terrible, smooth black rats, except this time Rumi the thoughtful hedgehog was still at his side.

“Well, Rumi,” said Hermano, with a sigh. “I’d pray to your God, though I’m not sure he even exists.  I’m sorry. I’ve looked. And it’s Science we’ll really need now, if my plan’s going to work. Though it was a book, Moby Dick, that strangely gave me hope again. Even if stories aren’t exactly true.  It’s a bit confusing, Rumi.  Like those bad Humans that attacked the city. Is it all hopeless?”

“No, Hermano,” said Rumi, peering through his horn-rimmed spectacles wisely, “because I’ve worked it all out at last.”

“You have, Rumi?”

“Oh yes, Hermano. Suddenly. The problem is really the two languages.”

“Two languages?” said the Amazon Rat in confusion, “but there are hundreds of languages in the world, Rumi, like there are hundreds of countries and peoples. A lot of them in New York City, it seems.”

“Oh yes,” said Rumi, “that’s true, Hermano. But they are all really talking just two languages now. The Language of God, Belief and meaning and the language of Facts and Science.”

“Oh,” said Hermano in surprise, but looking rather impressed with the mystical hedgehog.

“But the two languages are at War now,” said Rumi sadly, “that causes real wars too. Because they are both trying to drive each other out and speak only one language instead. To win. But they can’t really win, because they don’t understand that they are really just two different languages, that both have their use and meaning.”

“I don’t understand, Rumi,” said Hermano humbly.

“The language of God and Belief,” said Rumi, “it’s like the language of feeling and love and storytelling too. Of dreaming and making things up and finding your own meaning in things. That’s just like books and stories, even if they aren’t always strictly true.”

Hermano glanced at Moby Dick again and thought of the word ‘metaphor’.

“But the language of Science is about how things really are underneath,” said Rumi, “and how they work. And the language of Science is winning, because it helps them control the world, and do things and make stuff and the humans to make money too.  But it can’t teach us anything at all in the end. I mean anything moral, or about feeling or meaning or the heart, or why we’re here and what to do with it all. How to really be.”

Hermano thought of Max’s question he hadn’t answered about what to really do with life and what matters.

“No,” said Hermano, thinking of all those numbers in Time Square too, “I guess it can’t.”

“So we have to wake up and realise there are really two different languages at work, brother,” said Rumi, “and how they have to learn to talk to each other again. And if they can’t agree, at least know which language is being spoken at the time.”

“And God,” said Hermano, “I mean, does…”

“In the start was the Word,” said Rumi, with a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes. “Though you can’t prove it with the scientific language. Perhaps the idea of God makes humans human.  Perhaps God is the connection of everything. But wouldn’t it be terrible in life if you couldn’t believe in something bigger than ourselves?”

“What’s the point though,” said Hermano, and he missed Hermione once more and felt as if he was falling again, or slipping at least. “I mean I came here to be an artist, Rumi, to be the greatest Shaman storyteller that ever lived, and light a fire in animals’ hearts. But now I see that you can’t do anything to really stop or change it at all, or save the World. Art is pointless.”

“Well, I’ve just been down the cemetery,” said Rumi, looking at Hermano kindly.

“Cemetery?” said Hermano, thinking of his grandfather again.

“River Green Cemetery,” declared Rumi. “A famous human painter called Jackson Pollock is buried there. But I saw an inscription there too, Hermano. And it said this. ’Artists and poets are the raw nerve endings of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.’”

Hermano looked at Rumi, and thought of junior swinging him by his tail.

“Little worth saving?” he whispered, his heart rallying again. “Yes, Rumi, then what matters isn’t just living, and surviving, eating everything up, but how you live. So Art does matter and I will be a storyteller, a very great storyteller too.”

Yet Hermano sighed again.

“Yet isn’t the real story that the humans are just going to destroy the whole World in the end, Rumi, and the animals too? Like Toola Iceberg says.”

“Perhaps,” said Rumi thoughtfully, “and yet there’s the hole, Hermano.”

“Hole?” said Hermano, thinking of what he had seen as he looked through the leaves of his Graviola tree.

“In the sky,” said Rumi, looking up. “There used to be a great big hole in the sky.”

“There did?” said Hermano in amazement.  It seemed there was so much to discover.

“Yes, Hermano. In the atmosphere, in something called Ozone, that used to be eaten up by the human sprays and chemicals. But when they found out about CFC’s they stopped it and now the hole’s nearly better. In the sky itself.”

“So they can do something about the harm they cause?” said Hermano, thinking it amazing there could be a hole in the sky, like in the forest.

“Yes, and in the country of India recently ordinary people planted a million trees in a day. Though the problem with Humans is that so often they only wake up when it’s nearly too late. Yet, though bad things happen,” added Rumi, “perhaps they see things in too short a time span. I mean, take the internet, that changed everything, and their books, real books I mean, they seem to be coming back now. Sometimes what seems like change then is only temporary. You have to have hope.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, “and if all is change, you can change the story too.  In fact you have to. So come on, Rumi. It’s time to fight the dirty rats. Together.”

So they started to run, run through the burning, garbage strewn streets of New York City, and that is how it happened, as Jeb Cowpaw and the vagrants began to climb with Hermano’s orders back to the rooftops, higher than a Brazil nut tree.  For having been alerted in a very modern way on Animal Media, all the animals of New York City suddenly went on strike.   They refused to walk their owners, or be stroked, or be groomed and shampooed. They refused to do tricks, or walk to heel, or make silly human noises for the children. As they did so the humans got very uncomfortable indeed, and started to wake up too. It was partly because so many Computer Modems had gone on the blink too, with all that gnawing. They noticed the little fires, that were growing, and the garbage piled up on the streets and soon the phones and emails were jammed, ringing and badgering the Mayor, on the 54th Penthouse Floor, and some even went in person.

“God damn it, Coolidge, what the hell’s going on?” Mr Sugarbug boomed furiously in the lofty Penthouse, as the lawyer and the chauffer stood beside him. “Something will have to be done this time. And junior, while I’m away, play with Hermione, when you’ve cleared up your darn toys, boy. Come on, Augustus.”

But as the Mayor looked around he saw that Hermione’s golden cage was open and empty, and that his son had vanished too.

“Is the stupid kid looking for that silly French rat?” the Mayor asked his chauffeur.

“I don’t think so, no Sir. Hermione vanished last night. But Sir, she’s a Golden Gerbil anyway, and it’s French Canadian, Sir.”

Coolidge looked coldly at Augustus.

“But I think your son is very upset. He can’t stop crying, day and night,” said Augustus. “Between you and me he says he misses his mother, Sir, when she, you know, when she went away that terrible day and that everyone abandons him and he doesn’t like being bullied Online either.”

Junior’s father suddenly looked miserable, as the King of Social Media hurried toward the elevator. Down there on the streets a little rodent was moving along the hard New York pavements, tired and frightened and alone. Hermione looked miserable as she dodged the flames around her, which had already singed her beautiful tail.  But suddenly the golden Gerbil stopped in horror. Along the sidewalk were a huge group of smooth black rats glaring greedily at her and at their head was Vladimir.  Poor Hermione started to shake, but with that there was a cry and something flew through the air and landed in a ball of quivering spines between them.

“Hermano,” cried Hermione, as the rats backed away a little from the bravely bristling shape.

“Stand back, Hermione,” ordered Hermano courageously.

“Oh, Hermano, Mon Cheri,” cried Hermione happily, as Hermano’s spines seemed to get bigger. “Oh my love. How I have missed you, Hermano, missed your stories too, sending me safely to sleep. How I love you.”

“But you said I’m a spineless coward, Hermione,” said Hermano, with a frown, glaring at Vladimir. “And I stopped telling stories too. I’m sorry.”

“No, my love, I have been the coward, Moi, up there in a Gilded Cage, an Ivory tower, and without you at my side, Mon amour, it’s just a prison. Yet now at least we shall die together, for nothing can fight the dirty rats.”

The rats looked very nasty indeed as they advanced again, Vladimir in the centre, looking especially hungrily at Hermione. The elegant Gerbil was petrified. But suddenly it was as if the rain clouds had come, for the skies were turning black, and the New York air was filled with cawing and the flapping of wings. There were birds everywhere, and they were swooping and diving at the rats.

“The Founding Feathers,” cried Hermano, as he saw Colonel Black at their head, “Colonel Black’s brought the Founding Feathers to save us.”

“And to defend the Animal Constitution,” cried Colonel Black. “For I believe in Government of the animals, by the animals and for the animals.”

“Which is why you have to save the forests too,” cried Hermano, “and the seas, and the whole planet, like Toola Iceberg says. I mean, people are animals too.”

“Yes, brother. So I’ve even recruited those God dang pigeons,” cried Colonel Black, as the black rats began to be spattered with something white and slimy. “To crap on them from a great height. It’s like the good ol’ days.”

The rats were in mayhem now, at this sudden attack from the skies, and several had begun to run, some into the storm drains to be gobbled up by abandoned crocodiles, since like all bullies they were really cowards, even abandoning Vladimir himself.

“It’ still hopeless though, Hermano,” cried Hermione desperately, “the rats may be frightened, but nothing can stop these terrible fires, my Hermano. This terrible terror too, in this terrible heat.”

“Nothing, Hermione?” said Hermano softly, gazing high, high up into the heavens, “Except the animals, perhaps, working together. For the wheels always turn.”

Hermione looked up too, in amazement now, for she had felt it on her snout, like a single tear drop – water.  Now the gerbil saw it too, everywhere, rushing down the sides of the burning buildings, pouring from the New York rooftops like rain, quenching the terrible flames of the fiery city as it did so.  Then Hermione saw them too, the animals who had climbed up again with the Cowboy groundhog, swinging on the wheels above the faucets in the skies.

“Les Water towers,” cried Hermione happily.

“Yes, Hermione,” said Hermano, “Jeb Cowpaw has made the animals open the taps on all the Water Towers. Hydrostatic Pressure. Though that’s just gravity. You have to work with Nature, Hermione, scientifically, it’s very clever, but they’ve turned the wheels of fate. You see Hermione, in life you have to be a Rainmaker.”

“And we’re saved, my brave, clever Hermano,” cried Hermione adoringly, as a great waterfall came pouring down from the Chrysler building, just like in the Amazon, pouring down over both Hermano, who certainly needed a bath, and over Hermione.   Hermione laughed, and shook out her beautiful Golden tail, and with that she grabbed Hermano by the paws and started to turn him, round and round, and dance with him in the dripping streets, as Vladimir looked on jealously. As they did so both Hermano and Hermione found they were crying.  But as they laughed too, they knew they were crying with happiness and love and that these were good tears, not bad. Then everyone was dancing, the animals and the humans too, especially all the kids in New York, who were all on strike themselves, thanks to Toola Iceberg, who not only did not want to die, like any normal person, but didn’t want anything to be extinct and X either. Besides, they had heard sirens, seeming to sound in rhythm like music, and the human Authorities were racing through the streets again, the Garbage and Firemen, the Sanitation men, and suddenly the rats all turned and ran. All except Vladimir, that is. Instead Vladimir was advancing on Hermano, despite his bristling spines, and Vladimir’s huge teeth were prone to strike, murderously. He was far bigger than the little rat.

“No,” cried Hermione desperately, but something else was moving through the air, something huge, an American Bald Eagle, swooping right down 5th Avenue, and then something purple, with snapping claws, came falling straight toward Vladimir.

“Max,” cried Hermano, as the rat saw its snapping claws and the Lobster landed straight on the huge black rat, knocking Vladimir out with his hard shell and squashing him completely.

“Dear Max,” said Hermano desperately, rushing up to the flailing lobster on the pavement, “Thank you, Max, you saved my life. And I’m sorry, Max, that I had to make a choice to save the city. Your water tower.”

“I understand, Hermano,” whispered the Lobster faintly, “we all have to make sacrifices sometimes.  For others to live well. And give our own lives meaning too. I’m glad Jeb never managed to fix that hole in the roof.”

“But we’ve got to get you to a tank,” said Hermano, “to some water. To your own element. Sardis?”

“No, Hermano,” said the lobster, as Hermano noticed the crack along his purple Exo-Skeleton, “I’m finished. But it doesn’t matter, brother, I’m old anyhow, oldest dang Lobster that ever lived, and I’ve had my time, for sure.”

“Oh Max,” whispered Hermione warmly.

“But Hermano,” said the Lobster suddenly, “What Rumi said about Eternal life.  Maybe I was wrong.  I don’t mean in some hereafter, we can never see or know.  I mean things can live for ever in this life too.”

“They can?” said Hermano in surprise, thinking Nature very extraordinary indeed and again remembering Yage saying everything is alive and that above all the living forest has memory.

“Turritopsis dohrnii,” whispered Max faintly, the life leaving his lobster Exo-Skelton, “it’s a kind of jelly, brother, which grows on the bottom of the sea, like a polyp, then changes and floats about and mates too. But if it’s in danger it can become a young polyp again, and plant itself once more on the sea bed. It’s called the Immortal Jellyfish.”

With that poor old Max the Lobster died, but if Lobsters, that are very stiff creatures, could have a smile on their faces, Max would have had one in that peaceful moment.

“Thank you, Max,” whispered Hermano, “My grizzly brother.”

“Gruzzzly, mon cheri,” said Hermione a little irritably, “what does it mean?”

“Mean?” said Hermano, “well, its just a made up word. But I guess it means, well, a cross between grizzly and lovely, so hard on the outside, but kind within.”

Hermione smiled.

“Look Hermione,” said Hermano in astonishment though, as he looked out towards the Hudson Bay now.  Hermione was amazed too, for there in the water, they had suddenly seen a huge face push up through the waves and look at them approvingly. It was a Right whale. In the heavens too the skies were grumbling, and a great storm seemed to be coming to break the heat. But as the animals and humans stood there, and the fires died and the rain from the Way-Out-Western Water Towers finally stopped too, still there was water in New York City. But only in the eyes of a little boy, who was standing on his own, outside the old bookshop on 7th Avenue, still shedding bad tears.

“Junior,” said a soft voice behind him though. “There you are. Thank God you’re safe.”

“Just leave alone, Dad,” said junior, “Everyone leaves me alone in the end. Everyone always abandons me. And Toola Iceberg. She never even asked me to join the strike.”

“No, junior,” said Mr Sugarbug, as he came up behind his son and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’ve been working too hard. All this politics and money. And your mum, she didn’t mean to leave you alone. She just died. That terrible day. And she loved you very much indeed, Randy.”

“She did?” whispered Randy, almost breaking into a nasty smile.

“Like me. And sometimes bad things happen that you can’t do anything about, but you mustn’t let it get into your heart and head, if you can help it.”

The Mayor, the Internet Wizard, the King of Social Media, the richest man on the Planet, Mr Sugarbug, was suddenly hugging his little son tightly, looking like a grown up, thinking that this was much better than any Virtual World.

“That book,” said the Mayor thoughtfully, as they broke apart, looking into the bookstore window. “Melville’s Moby Dick. Your mom was reading that that day when I met her in Borderlines, and we fell in love. She loved that story.”

Randy looked up too and wondered if everything is connected.

“You came from that story, in a way then, Randy,” said Mr Sugarbug, “And you know son, this city just ain’t the same without real bookstores, where real people can really meet and make friends and be truly connected, even if they’re gruzzly.”

“Make friends,” whispered Randy longingly and thinking of Toola again.

“I mean books aren’t just the words floating around, but they have personalities, like people and animals too. Not the same with everything online and in VR. Too many bullies about too, who just don’t understand. Too many people who just don’t notice what’s going on under their God darn noses either, all the time, always, let alone their skins.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Randy.

“So our Depository in the Amazon, son, I think I’m gonna convert it, since it mucked up your order, and plant some trees instead. And use my vast fortune too, to set people to work, and clear up all the plastic in the oceans, and find new ways to use stuff safely and recycle. If they’re no money in it, well, I’ll spend some of mine, but start festivals too. Clean-Up festivals, we’ll call them, where folk can be together but sell things too. We’ll travel too, Randy, all over the World, because, son, you’ve made me realise what’s really important about being alive and what you should do above all.”

Standing there, Hermano the tree rat suddenly realised it too, the answer to Max’s question. That if being alive is not just about surviving, but how you live, which is quite an Art, and if we’re all going to die anyway, one day, as is only natural, then what really matters too is what you leave behind you.  Hermione winked at Hermano, as Jeb the Groundhog loped up too, having climbed right down to the ground again, and offered his Amazon brother his Cowboy paw to shake.

 

To be continued one more time…

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HOW HERMANO GETS UTTERLY LOST..

CHAPTER SEVEN – HERMANO’S FALL

My, but how pleased the artist vagrants were to see Hermano back at the old Water Tower, even Colonel Black, but Pepe and Alfonse, Lenno, Seamus, Rumi and Walpole too.  So much so that Jeb Cowpaw took up Cowboy poetry again and strummed his old Guitar. But Hermano was very sad and worried now, because as Buzzy had led him back to the closed bookstore he had seen garbage all over the streets of New York, blowing like tumbleweed in the hot wind.

“Thought we’d lost you to the darn City, boy,” said Jeb that same evening. “The Urban Jungle. Darn good to have you back again. Though something’s up, Hermano.  Or down, among the rats. The city animals are really frightened now.”

“Vladimir,” whispered Hermano nervously. “I met him at Pier 54. But there wasn’t any great writer there at all, or white whale either, and everything has changed, Jeb. Perhaps it always does. Now it’s just the Municipal Garbage dump. It’s like your stories of the Wild West, not being quite right. And I don’t think great great grandpapa ever came here at all, or made friends with a human being either.”

“He didn’t, partner?” said Jew Cowpaw sadly. “Heck.”

“No, Jeb. People don’t tell true stories at all. It’s all just a lie and we all die too. Even become extinct. X. Like one day the sun will go out.”

Jeb Cowpaw looked rather guilty as well.

“But what do you think the rats want, brother,” asked the Cowboy poet, “the dirty rats, I mean?”

“Terror,” whispered the spiny tree rat sadly, “somehow they want to spread terror, Jeb, and fear and mayhem throughout New York City. Someone should stop them.”

“Sounds dangerous, brother,” said the cowardly Groundhog with a gulp. “But can’t the humans do it?”

“They don’t notice anything anymore,” said Hermano, feeling ashamed of his friend, “always on their smart phones, and IPads, on their Laptops and Game’s Consoles. I doubt they’ve even noticed the Municipal strike. But it’s hopeless anyhow. I mean, it’s not just the garbage on their own doorsteps. It’s what they do with that anyhow. Plastics and poison, landfill sites and destruction. How can they ever clean up?”

“Recycling,” said a grave voice above them.

“What?” said Hermano, jumping slightly.

“They have to learn recycling,” said Max the lobster from inside the Water Tank, who was feeling rather hot and pink, “like us lobster scavengers. First they have to find ways to eat up all the nasty stuff, I find delicious. Then how to re-use the harmful stuff they throw away too, so they don’t just make more and more and more of it. Cut down on all that packaging, as well.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, wondering if with all the humans it was possible, “I guess they do, Max.”

“But they won’t really wake up until they realize that we’re all going the same way, Hermano, and that we’re all recycled in the end too.”

“We are?” said Hermano.

“Sure,” said the lobster cheerfully, “and eaten too.”

“Eaten?” gulped Hermano in horror.

“Of course,” said Max the lobster more gravely. “I mean, even if we don’t get eaten in life, on the Sardis’s menu of existence, we are all going to die eventually, and then something else will eat us, make use of us, even if it’s just the soil. We’re bio-degradable. Cruel but fair.”

“Not if you believe,” said a voice, as Rumi’s head popped through the hole in the tower peering through his spectacles, “Believe in God and Eternal Life, I mean. The Afterlife.”

Inside the water tank Hermano could not see Max frown, but Hermano thought of the ants and grandpapa Raoul. Now, like a light bulb coming on in his head, Hermano realised what the ants had been doing, recycling his dead grandfather. It made Hermano feel strange and even dizzy.

“And since we’re all going to die, Hermano, what’s the thing above all that we should do when we live?” asked the Lobster from above.

Hermano could not answer, because he had just pushed passed Rumi and set off alone through the City, and as he went he grew more and more frightened of meeting Vladimir again. But above all Hermano found himself missing Hermione bitterly. It was as if he wasn’t himself without the pretty gerbil and he wondered if he could be happy in her gilded cage after all. But Hermano was thinking of what the lobster had said of everything dying and being eaten one day, despite Rumi’s words, and it seemed so horrible, so terrible, as again he thought of what the ants had really been doing in the rainforest, it made everything seem darker and sadder and lonelier.

At last Hermano reached the Zoo in Central Park, where Vladimir had said he lived, and looking about for the boss of the rats, hearing the whooping, hooting birds in their cages, and the bark of wild dogs, the ceaseless call of caged animal, he saw the strangest beast he had ever seen. It was part cow, part horse, with spindly legs and the longest face below its horns, hanging with a wispy beard.

“Woof,” said the creature mournfully, “it’s hotter here than even in Botswana.”

“Botswana, Sir?” said Hermano.

“Where I come from, my good friend, in the mighty continent of Africa.  I’m a wildebeest and I’m a very long way from home indeed.”

“Me too,” said Hermano, “I come from the Amazon. I’m Hermano. It means brother.”

“Lots of animals come to America then,” said the Wildebeest, nodding. “And the World is getting smaller and smaller, all the time.”

Hermano nodded too, thinking of that Virtual Reality image of Earth through Mr Sugarbug’s strange VR goggles. Just seeing it seemed to have changed his knowledge of everything, or his thoughts about it all at least.

“But they don’t like us anymore,” said Hermano, “with their wall and their borders and their Customs Officials.”

“No,” said the Wildebeest sadly. “It’s terrible.  But so very Human too.”

“So very human?”

“Countries and flags and words,” said the Wildebeest, chewing his leathery lips thoughtfully. “Even names. They create the borders, when they aren’t real at all.”

“Not real, Sir?”

“Not in Nature, Hermano, or among animals and plants. I mean, does a tree know it grows in America, or Botswana, or Brazil? Does a plant or a flower? No, they just grow and are. They live and flower. And when a bee collects pollen and flies to the hive, does in know it might be crossing a human border?” said the wise wildebeest. “When a beautiful Brazil nut tree sends its roots into the ground to drink, does it know they might be passing a human checkpoint?  And if the birds and the bees stopped flying where they wanted, how could they pollinate the plants and flowers and make beautiful things grow?”

“I don’t know,” answered Hermano sadly, thinking the wildebeest very intelligent indeed and realising that then everything really is connected somehow.

“No, it’s Humans who like to build and make and own so much stuff, who do that,” said the African Wildebeest, “and make it so unnatural too.  Look at my proud little country of Botswana. There they’ve put up lots of fences now to stop something called Foot and Mouth, and so we Wildebeest and our Zebra friends can’t migrate anymore, or get to our water holes, so we’re dying. CRASH. Did you know that two species are made extinct every fifteen minutes?”

“I’m sorry,” said Hermano, thinking of his poor family too.

“So am I,” said the wildebeest gravely, “but they just can’t stop it. It’s partly fear. So they go on trying to be better than everything else, or living in taller buildings, or bigger cities, or getting ahead and growing richer and richer, with all their progress, getting more and more stuff. When they should just go for a walk in the forest and remember how beautiful it is just to be alive and be.”

“Yes,” said Hermano, thoroughly agreeing and wanting to be walking in the Amazon again.

“And their Walls.  Did you know that in America some of them hardly even know about the rest of the world?  I mean only 5% even have passports. But boy it’s hot, I could do with a drink, or a shower.”

Hermano felt sorry for the poor Wildebeest and thought he deserved a place among the vagrants, below the water tower. But he went on, sort of keen to find Vladimir. Which he did, at the far corner of the zoo, near the Polar bear enclosure, among another huge pile of garbage.

“Little brother,” cried Vladimir, with a smile as he saw Hermano. “I heard what happened with that pretty chick Hermione. Tough call. Though can’t say I’m sorry. But I see you’s come to join us after all.  To be a dirty rat. A true city criminal. I’m proud of you, Son. Good job.”

“No,” said Hermano softly though, “I’ve come to stop you spreading mayhem and terror everywhere, Vladimir.”

“Stop us,” cried the rat, with a laugh, “and how is a spineless, snivelling, cowardly little out-of-place autistic Amazon tree rat ever gonna stop the ruthless rat gangs of New York?  We’re all united now, under me, and sharpening our teeth too, in readiness.”

“Sharpening your teeth?” whispered Hermano, trying to fathom their plan. “But why?”

“Never you mind, son,” said Vladimir suspiciously. “Unless you’re with us now.”

Hermano shook his head.

“Haven’t you got the nuts to be a dirty rat then, Hermano?  That’s why you lost the girl.”

“I….” whispered Hermano, missing Hermione even more and feeling very spineless indeed, but with that two of the rats jumped on Hermano and beat him mercilessly with their paws and tails.

“Get lost,” cried Vladimir coldly, when they were done, looking at Hermano’s now badly blackened eye, “You haven’t a home anywhere.  You’re not even worth the name of rat. Spineless.”

Hermano was too small to fight them, and off he ran again, feeling utterly miserable and totally ashamed. Although he was on the ground anyhow, Hermano felt as if he was falling and falling, far further than he ever had before, and would never stop. Perhaps he was a spineless coward after all. Hermano didn’t have the courage to fight Vladimir, or save the world, he didn’t even have the courage to love Hermione and everything that lives is going to die anyhow, one day. Night came in over New York City, and then a day and another night, as Hermano wandered along alone in the terrible heat and now huge tears began to well up in Hermano’s brown eyes again and out they came, pouring down his long nose and dripping off the end.   Hermano thought of all the terrible things that had happened to him, as he went he knew not where. He thought of his falling tree and his murdered parents, of all the trees being cut down in the Amazon, and the vagrant animals too, and the wise Wildebeest as well.

He thought of those two great ships, the Lusitania and the Titanic, that had never even made it to Pier 54, and all the people lost inside them. The world seemed a terrible place indeed, nothing but evil, and now the weight of all those tall buildings seemed to press down on the little tree rat. But fighting any of it seemed utterly pointless. Besides, Hermano was thinking of something his cousin had told him, that he was just garbage. As he went, and slept in doorways, Hermano looked into the windows of those cafes and bars and restaurants and everywhere he saw humans eating, consuming things, and stuffing their faces with food. Then the tree rat began to notice some of the humans living on the streets, in alleys and in doorways too, and they didn’t look rich and well fed at all.   Hermano saw animals as well, scrawny dogs and cats, mice and rats and even a fox, which seemed to have been beaten like him, and so had two black eyes.  It seemed that somewhere there was always something suffering, or losing out.  Hermano suddenly felt the whole city was like a wheel, or an elevator, and to get anywhere you had to be on it, but that the gap between up there and down here was becoming impossible.

Hermano also noticed that the black rats were all out on the streets, openly now, and that they had started to gnaw at the human wires running everywhere, if you notice them. But with the strike of the New York Garbage, Fire and Sanitation men, there was no one to stop them at all.  Not that the other humans seemed to mind, because they went on as ever locked in their machines.  Yet wasn’t it true what Mr Sugarbug had said about it being better that there was a Virtual World, if the humans were set to destroy the real one? As he thought it Hermano realised that the world isn’t black and white at all, but that every story seems to have another side, but if that was true, what was the Truth?

Hermano hardly cared now though, even if he thought that he guessed Vladimir’s plan. But why stop the rats anyhow, why not destroy everything, since it would be destroyed in the end anyhow, especially when the sun goes out, in five billion years?  Everyone was a liar, everything out for itself, and stories were lies too, especially hopeful or heroic ones.   As the hot tears went on falling and falling, it was as if Hermano had been blinded, or saw in his own unhappy tears only images of anger and fear, loneliness, cruelty and hate. But always there was Vladimir too, laughing cruelly at him, whose face seemed to turn into Cartel. “You’re garbage, Hermano, just trash and rubbish.”

Then suddenly on a street crossing one of New York’s great avenues Hermano bumped into a shivering little creature. It was a red squirrel, but it was tiny and looked much the worse for wear, having been attacked by grey squirrels in New York and its tail had almost been bitten off, like that human’s leg in the story. It look petrified.

“Get out of my way, trash,” snarled Hermano and with that all the fear and hurt and anger at the rats welled up inside Hermano and he delivered the little red squirrel such a box with his spiny snout that it went sprawling across the side walk.  But as the little creature went flailing there Hermano heard a voice in his head, old Raoul’s kindly voice, talking to him still: “Remember too, never harm anything less than yourself, Hermano, and that if you strike, you must always strikes upwards, even as high as the stars themselves.”

Hermano felt bitterly ashamed, as night came in once more, that he had struck the little creature. He desperately wanted to be with Hermione too, and thought of her saying perhaps they had a connection. Then Hermano realised that if Yage had told him everything was connected, like those other poor animals, Hermano felt connected to nothing at all. As a hot wind blew down the hard New York pavements, it brought a terrible fear to poor Hermano. Worse, it brought a Terror. Hermano was utterly lost.

To be continued,,,

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WELL, SINCE THE WORLD IS GOING TO HELL, AND THERE IS NO TIME FOR DICKENSIAN SERIALISATIONS, ANOTHER CHAPTER OF AMAZON RAT—

CHAPTER SIX – HERMIONE’S GUILDED CAGE

With that the elevator doors opened again and in strode a man in a shiny silver suit this time and a white velvet waistcoat, carrying a long, rolled up piece of paper under his arm.

“Coolidge,” cried Mr Sugarbug, “The best darn lawyer on the whole East Coast, let alone the East Side. My very own rainmaker. How’s it going, buddy?”

“Trouble,” answered Coolidge, the big New York lawyer, sweating in the heat, “big Union Trouble, Mr Mayor.  In this heat everyone wants a pay rise, and the Garbage people have gone on Strike. The Fire Department and Sanitation men are threatening one too, especially with your water ban in this drought. Worst on record. But what’ll happen out there if folks’ trash ain’t collected?”

“Garbage,” whispered Mr Sugarbug thoughtfully. “You know I always say the problem with cleaning up garbage is there’s just no darn money in it. But make them some promises we can’t ever keep though,” added the Mayor, “So keep them sweet. Their bosses at least. Sack some others. That’s politics, Coolidge. That’s life.”

“Yes, Sir, Mr Mayor,” said the lawyer with a smile.

“And how are Business plans progressing, Coolidge? My mastery of the Virtual world.  My online Omnipotence,” said Mr Sugarbug proudly, but then he paused. “And why are you carrying a piece of darn paper, dude?”

“It’s a brand new business patent, Mr Sugarbug. You still have to file a physical version. I think you’ll like it.”

“Sure, but what’s it doing on paper? You know my motto, Coolidge. All online. After all, I closed down all those god damn bookstores, like Borderlines, made ‘em declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and stole everyone’s words too, and put them up there free. On the Net.”

“Sorry, Mr Sugarbug.”

“Sure, sure, Coolidge. So what have you got this time? Any bright ideas?”

Coolidge the big lawyer unrolled the patent to show a drawing of what looked like a huge glass ball.

“A light bulb,” said Mr Sugarbug disapprovingly.

“Yes Sir, but a very special one.”

“You a dinosaur, Coolidge? What’s so special about a God damned light bulb?”

“LED, Mr Sugarbug,” answered Coolidge nervously, “but it’s also Everlasting.”

“Everlasting?” cried Mr Sugarbug in horror. “Idiot, Coolidge. LED is fine, saves 85% energy and costs more.  But Everlasting? If it’s everlasting how will we sell any more of the things? Redundancy, Coolidge, built in redundancy, that’s what you need. So make sure the darn thing can break.”

“Yes, Mr Sugarbug.”

“No, no, this is what we really need, Coolidge,” said Mr Sugarbug, holding up the black oblong object he had been carrying in his hands. “The brand new Sugarbug Virtual Reality goggles. With these on you can watch everything in 3D, in a 360 degrees, and recreate anything you want. Travel the world, sail the seas, even go to the moon. Heaven. Now Augustus, what’s for lunch?”

“Lobster, Sir,” answered the chauffeur.

“Lobster,” cried Mr Sugarbug angrily. “Am I surrounded by morons? Are you trying to poison me, Augustus? Don’t you know lobsters are just scavengers, Augustus, the vacuum cleaners of the sea, which eat anything nasty and filthy and disgusting?”

“But reassuringly rare and expensive Sir,” said Augustus, “The executives at Google have them for lunch all the time.”

“Oh. Fine,” said Mr Sugarbug, “then I’ll have three, with a Thermador sauce. But junior, can’t you clean up your darn toys?”

So Mr Sugarbug had lunch, and Hermano was glad that Max was at least safe, and nasty little junior didn’t clear up his toys, but set to work on Hermano instead. By sunset the poor tree rat had been hung from the window, made to climb the fountain, raced around strapped to a roller skate and nearly drowned twice. But junior, who got bored easily, got bored. So he went off to play his new Computer Wargame, as he dropped poor Hermano in the corner of Hermione’s huge gilded cage – Ooof.

“Oh, but I am sorry, Mon Ami,” said a gentle female voice, as Hermano landed, “He’s a horrid, nasty, beastly little human boy. If that were not being rude to beasts. It’s why I refuse to play with him anymore. Je refuse.”

Hermano looked up and saw the most gorgeous pair of huge brown eyes looking back at him and his twisted tail. Hermione was so elegant, so graceful, so beautiful, that Hermano promptly fell in love with her.

“Je suis Hermione,” declared the pretty creature, waving her beautiful tail. “I am by origin French Canadian, from Quebec, c’est vrais.  But now I live here, in splendour, at the top of the World, in New York City.”

“And I’m Hermano,” said Hermano nervously, introducing himself too, “My name means brother, Hermione. I’m from the Amazon. I’m a tree rat, though I don’t like heights. And I think I’m a little autistic.”

“Tres exotique,” purred Hermione approvingly. “But tell me, Hermano, mon cheri, are you in love with me already? Everyone is, bien sure.”

“No,” lied Hermano, “I’ve only just met you, Hermione.”

“Love at first sight, non, as the stories say?  All things enter through the eyes. And this book you can certainly judge by her lovely cover.  It must be a great privilege for you to meet me, Hermano. Of course you are in love with me, mon amour, but it’s quite impossible. Our love, I mean. Doomed.”

Hermano frowned, for he didn’t like the way Hermione was talking at all, although she was so beautiful that he couldn’t take his eyes off her either.

“Why impossible, Hermione?” asked Hermano, with a gulp.

“Because you are a rat, of course, a tree rat who’s scared of heights, with a crooked tail too, and I am a rare golden Gerbil. Priceless.”

“Gerbil,” said Hermano, thinking of what Vladimir had said and that this must be the Gerbil he has his beady eyes on, “but then we’re related.”

“We are?” said Hermione, fluttering her huge eyelashes. “But how interesting, chere Hermano, maybe we have a connection. Perhaps you will stay with me then, a while until I get bored, non? I have many admirers. What can you do?”

“Do? Count.  And tell stories, I suppose. Well, I’m getting better. I want to be an artist, I think.”

“Very well then. You shall tell Hermione stories every evening. You will be happy here.”

“Happy?” said Hermano, “But it’s so high up here, much higher than the Water Tower, and I don’t really like heights, and besides, you’re in a cage, Hermione.”

“A gilded cage,” corrected the pretty Gerbil coldly, “With a Platinum wheel and a twist of Lemon and Ginger in my water bottle. All the creature comforts. What could be more perfect? Parfait.”

“But you aren’t free,” said Hermano, missing all the artistic vagrants around his Water Tower, Jeb especially, with his tales of freedom in the Wild West, and of the prairies and the endless open spaces, even if his stories weren’t quite right.

“Free?” said Hermione, with a heavy sigh. “And what is really free, Mon pauvre Hermano?  Out there it is frightening and cruel, like a Jungle, in fact, and you have to work to make your way, so who is ever really free? And what do expect me to do instead, live on some Garbage Dump?”

Hermano wondered, as Hermione laughed, yet he felt strangely sorry for the beautiful creature.

“I’d protect you out there, Hermione,” he said, his heart thumping in his chest, “I’m Street Wise, Hermione. And I’ve travelled too. All the way from the Amazon, in fact. In a FedX box.”

“How very democratic,” said Hermione, with a tolerant smile. “But you protect mois? You’re just a spineless little rat, Hermano, who’s autistic and afraid of heights. And filthy too, very smelly indeed actually.”

Hermione grimaced as she sniffed at him and Hermano realised that with the water shortage he hadn’t washed, up there with the artist vagrants, and had forgotten what his grandfather had taught him too.

“When I’m the cleanest, prettiest most elegant Golden gerbil that ever lived,” declared Hermione. “They come to groom me twice a week. While I bet you can’t even dance.”

“Dance?” said Hermano, blushing very deeply, as Hermione started to hum and spin around.

“Oh there’s nothing J’adore so much as dancing,” cried Hermione delightedly. “Waltzes and Tangos, Samba and Salsa, Jive, Charleston’s and Break dancing . I am an artist of the dance. The divinest diva of the dance.”

Hermano still looked rather reluctant.

“And if you think you’ll be unhappy here, ma Cherie,” said Hermione, “Just think of a bed of cashmere and all the lovely things you’ll have to eat. Like that bowl of Brazil nuts.”

Brazil nuts? Hermano’s eyes boggled as Hermione turned her head, for there, in the finest cut glass bowl, was a huge pile of freshly cracked Brazil nuts, already out of their impossibly hard shells. This was luxury indeed, in Penthouse 54.

“But now I must get some sleep, silly little Hermano.  Hermione’s beautiful beauty sleep.  So try not to disturb me, Mon Cheri, and keep your crooked tail to yourself. Bon nuit.”

So Hermano met Hermione and stayed with the beautiful Golden gerbil in her gilded cage, when junior wasn’t torturing him, or threatening to drop him form the 54th floor. Up there he looked down on the city, like the Mayor of New York and King of the online world himself, at all the people moving like ants and the traffic hurrying back and forth below. Hermano wondered what it all meant and how the humans didn’t seem to be able to stop, just like slaves, as the Wall Street pigeon had said. Hermano began to despair that he could ever do anything about the Amazon Depository, or anything else for that matter.  But worse than that, that second evening when Hermione called on Hermano to tell her a bedtime story, Hermano did fairly well, describing something of the Amazon and his home.  For a good week Hermione seemed to like his stories too.  But as Hermano went on looking out of the high Windows, and thought of Jeb Cowpaw and the others, of Pier 54, just a garbage dump, more and more numbers began to swirl around his head, and one evening he just stopped speaking. Hermano could not think of any stories any more, or anywhere to go.

Another evening though when junior had forgotten him for a moment, and the spiny rat’s nerve endings, Hermano noticed that those Virtual Reality goggles were lying on the floor and that Mr Sugarbug had left them on. The rat scurried over to them and as he climbed over the strap and stared at the screen, Hermano’s eyes began to boggle.  It was as if Hermano was suddenly floating in space, in mid-air among the stars, looking at it in Virtual Reality. Now Hermano could see a blue green ball, that he knew was the Earth itself. It was just like a ball, as the one eyed cat had said, or a water droplet, or a tear drop. It was like he was floating too, though still on the ground, as if he was free of gravity itself.

“It’s amazing,” whispered Hermano, “and the humans couldn’t do this without Science. Perhaps I shouldn’t be a silly artist then, who can’t tell stories anymore, but a scientist instead. I mean that would make me really modern and I do like numbers too, see them all the time. What did Grandpapa Raoul say but strike upwards, even if you strike the stars?”

Yet as Hermano looked at that image of the Virtual planet from Space, he thought of his fallen Brazil nut tree too, and his dead parents, thought of all the cut down trees like matchsticks and the swelling cities and Hermano felt very sad. He started to cry again and he hadn’t done that in a while. Then Hermano heard a voice. While Hermano had been floating in the Virtual World Mr Sugarbug had come back into the room and was talking on his mobile phone.

“Look to the future, Coolidge,” Sugarbug was saying loudly, “I mean, people whine on about Social Media and VR, and change and say nothing’s real anymore.  But if we’re really destroying the Planet, surely we want more Virtual Reality and less things?  Less books for a start, that use all that paper, and take up all that space, when we can just read them online.”

Hermano frowned and yet there seemed a truth in it too.  Meanwhile, although Hermano loved admiring the ravishing Gerbil, who would sometimes dance for him like a diva, divinely, Hermano began to miss even his temporary home with Jeb and his friends below the Water Tower more and more. The only consolation were the Brazil nuts, for Hermano had as many as he could eat.  One sweltering morning Hermano was tired of being tortured though, eating one of the nuts again, and even missing the threatening noises of his forest, when he suddenly heard a welcome buzzing.

“Found you, Hermano,” cried Buzzy, who was hanging in mid-air before him like that Virtual Reality picture of the Earth itself, “Jeb sent me up like a drone to spy you out.”

“Buzzy,” cried Hermano delightedly. “And how is dear old Jeb, and his Cowboy poetry, and Lenno and Rumi? Pepe, Alfonse and even Colonel Black? I miss them all so much, Buzzy. They’re my friends.”

Buzzy the Hummingbird frowned.

“Not so good, brother,” she answered. “The summer’s getting hotter and hotter and even the Water Tower’s nearly run dry, with the ban. Max is noisier than ever.  Jeb has given up Cowboy Poetry too. And the dirty rats, and Vladimir, they seem to have a plan, Hermano. I heard them whispering the other day about spreading terror and mayhem everywhere.”

“Yes, Buzzy, I know,” said Hermano sadly.

“There’s rubbish all over the streets too, and the Firemen and Sanitation department have gone on strike, while the other humans are so busy online, they don’t seem to notice anything. Except for Toola Iceberg, of course, who is certainly doing something, and that’s a fact. But anyhow Hermano, I’ve come to help you escape.”

Hermano nodded.

“Escape,” whispered Hermione in horror though, who had just woken up with a huge, lazy yawn. “But who would want to escape from paradise, mes Cheris, from me and the finest view in all New York? With Lemon and a twist of Ginger.”

Already little Buzzy was at work though, with her long and very thin Hummingbird beak, that can sip the finest pollen from the tiniest flowers, hovering there, picking the lock on Hermione’s gilded cage.

“Aren’t you coming Hermione though,” said Hermano, bits of Brazil nut falling from his mouth, as the golden door sprung open, and Hermano realized he was very much in love after all.

“Coming where, mon Cheri?” answered Hermione softly. “There is nowhere in the World to go anymore.  Except perhaps Space. To Mars. Face reality.”

“I’m sorry, Hermione,” cried Hermano, “but I have to be free, spiny tree rats are born to it, and I miss my friends, and Jeb has given up Cowboy Poetry and something bad is happening out there…”

“Coward,” cried Hermione scornfully, “you’re simply afraid of l’amour, Hermano, of love and commitment, and of living in Heaven with me. Go then, go back to your filthy street rats and your worthless vagrant artist friends. See if I care.”

Hermano paused heavily and looked back sadly, for he knew he was a little afraid, and he felt a strange tearing in his heart, as the tree rat dropped to the ground, the lift doors opened and junior ran in and cried out furiously, seeing Hermano had vanished.

“Gone,” snarled the nasty little boy, “Stolen. Everyone abandons me in the end.  That’s why I’m always bullied on Social Media and don’t have any friends.  Like Mommy left me, left me that day the horrid men attacked New York city.”

Hermano felt strangely guilty as the little boy burst into tears himself. For the boy had lost his own mother that terrible day Rumi had talked about, just like Hermano had lost his parents, when the humans had come to cut down his tree.  But already Buzzy was in the elevator pressing the button with her beak and Hermano scuttled inside too, just in time. Once more, the spiny tree rat was on his way down.

 

TO BE CONTINUED….

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