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AND SO TO THAT OLD NEW YORK WATER TOWER

CHAPTER FOUR CONTINUED….

“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 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. 

 

 TO BE CONTINUED…

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AMAZON RAT, ENTER A GROUNDHOG COWBOY POET TO HELP HERMANO SAVE THE PLANET!

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.”

TO BE CONTINUED….

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AMAZON RAT- ENTER LADY LIBERTY!

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.

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AMAZON RAT LIVES ON IN THE US OF A

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….

 

To be continued…..

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AMAZON RAT – FEDXED TO NEW YORK!

AMAZON RAT – Continued

“Death,” Hermano gulped, “Then we aren’t immortal at all?”

As Hermano stared at poor Raoul’s old body he suddenly noticed a trail of soldier ants marching towards his grandfather and nosing at him, as if they would pick him up and carry him away.

“And where is he going?” asked Hermano.  “What will happen to him now?”

Yage looked at Hermano’s grandmother significantly, and she looked at Yage and they both looked at Hermano, but they said nothing, as the little tree rat went on crying.

So at last it was finished though, the strange new modern Depository in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest, built on someone else’s doorstep. But because it was indeed automated, very few of the humans worked inside it, among its rows and rows of teeming shelves and booths and cubby holes, stacked with stuff.  Except for the Robot machines that trundled up and down its gangways in the dark. Day and night trucks would arrive to deposit things too, or to take them away again, for special delivery all around the World, in boxes stamped with strange letters like UPS, DHL and FedX.

One day though, as is very common, Hermano’s curiosity just got the better of him. You see, while he wasn’t trying to make up stories, after Grandpapa Raoul’s very natural but very upsetting death, Hermano had been dreaming too, day and night. Hermano had been dreaming of all the things his grandpapa had said, and of travelling too, like his great great grandfather to America and like his grandfather too. But dreaming of a wall to keep out travellers too and of a place called Gansevoort pier, on some Hudson River.  Yet Hermano could not decide if these places were real or just a story, even a dream, and he thought too that his great great grandfather and this human writer must have lived a very long time ago.

Hermano had been dreaming too of all the things inside the great new Depository though, but especially of books. Of one book in particular, that story by a human called Hermano, and of a great white whale, or perhaps of God, or even the Devil, that his own grandfather had tried to tell him before he died, but never really finished.  So one evening, late at night, Hermano decided to have a look inside the depository and find the book for himself.  Hermano plucked up all his spiny courage, what was left of it anyway, and ran down the stem of his Graviola tree and scurried across the forest floor towards the giant building that had killed his parents.

Beyond in the human clearing Hermano found the great metal roller doors  of the Depository closed, but since the little tree rat was very good at getting into small and awkward places, like all clever little rats, Hermano found a drainpipe that led him straight inside. Now Hermano found himself sitting on a workbench, his huge tail hanging down the side, with the kink at the end, gazing at the astonishing place in the moonlight pouring through the vast windows – the Amazonian Depository, that had made a hole in the forest.

The warehouse in the jungle was huge, huger than even Hermano’s little dreams, or so it seemed, and the shelves and stacks crammed now with modern stuff seemed to stretch for miles and miles. So down Hermano hopped in the darkness and started to run along the rows of human things, gazing all around, like a child in a toy shop at Christmas time. It was amazing what Hermano saw there in the moonlight. Not only were there new human toys and tools and furniture sitting waiting on the shelves, but there were salt and pepper mills, and pots and pans, computers and radios, toasters and smart new coffee making machines. It certainly all looked so amazingly modern. There were even boxes stacked there, but coloured boxes to put in ordinary boxes and more packages than Hermano had ever seen before.  Hermano wondered why humans would want to put boxes inside boxes and needed so many packages.

Yet now something strange happened, as Hermano looked down the rows, because it was as if a clock was suddenly ticking inside his head and his twisted tail twitched and Hermano found himself immediately counting all the things there, almost instantaneously. It was as if little Hermano could actually see numbers in his head. As he went on again though Hermano began to wonder who had made all these things in the Depository, this modern temple to human stuff, and what on earth the humans used them for, and what they paid for them in their paper money, and why there was so much of it.  Hermano wondered who really needed it all. Hermano thought too that although the place was amazing and very modern too, none of it was as beautiful as his living rainforest, or his ancient Brazil nut tree. Nor worth the lives of his mamma and his papa and all his family. Yage had been right.  Hermano began to grow depressed too, just like grandfather Raoul with his Great Depression, because nowhere he looked could Hermano find the thing he was really looking for now, the book.

Hermano stopped, somewhere in the middle of all those rows, wanting to find his way back to his drainpipe, out into the lovely air and moonlight again. But the poor tree rat could not remember which row he had come down – he was lost in the Depository.   Suddenly Hermano’s spines were tingling again too and standing up on end.

“Hey man,” said a voice and the tree rat nearly jumped out of his skin, among all those things, “Hermano. What you doing in here, little brother? A modern warehouse isn’t for little rats.”

Hermano looked up to see none other than Che, the cheerful Communist cockroach, gazing down at him and laughing.  As much as a cockroach can laugh, for they have very still faces indeed, being insects. Perhaps Che’s eyes were laughing.

“I’m looking for something, Che,” answered Hermano gravely, his spines relaxing a little. “I’m looking for a very special book to help me make up Shaman stories that will light a fire in animal’s hearts. But I can’t find it anywhere. The book.”

“This way then,” said the cucaracha, “if it’s books and stories you’re after, little brother. At the far end of the Depository.  Though you may be disappointed.”

“Disappointed?” said Hermano, as the tree rat followed on behind the cockroach. “But why?”

“Because in the modern human world no one really reads anymore, Hermano, not like in the old days anyway,” answered the cockroach wisely. “And when they do it’s often not on real paper pages anyhow, man, but on screens and computers and laptops.”

“Screens?” said Hermano, remembering his Grandfather talking about some Web. “Laptops?”

“Sure, Hermano.  I mean with computers and the Internet, with iPads and Kindles,” said the Cockroach gravely, “with all those human boys and girls staring at their smart phones, playing games too, or sending texts, I hear they can read the words there. So why buy real books at all, even if they were interested? They have something called EBooks too now, Hermano, millions of them, so you can never choose a good one to read.  Anyhow, here we are at last.”

The cockroach turned the corner and Hermano was very disappointed indeed at what he saw.  In front of them were not lovely hard backs and paperbacks, not beautiful picture books and pop-up books, not hefty tomes or slim little novellas, all waiting to be read and pawed over and thought about, but rows and rows of empty metal shelves. Except right at the far end, on its own, was just one very thin book waiting to be shipped across the world.

“But Grandpapa said this was a priceless Book Depository,” said Hermano, hardly able to disguise his disappointment.

“I know,” said the cockroach wearily. “But nowadays they don’t even have to print physical books beforehand, because they can print and make them here in the warehouse instead, as soon as someone orders one, automatically. With a special machine.”

“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. 

 

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AMAZON RAT – continued

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.

 

To be continued…

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AMAZON RAT

CHAPTER ONE – HERMANO  continued

“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, 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.

 

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AMAZON RAT – a summer serialisation

AMAZON RAT

By David Clement Davies

For the planet, Greta Thurnberg and the extinction rebels

AMAZON RAT or a tail that soaked New York

 

CHAPTER ONE:   HERMANO

Hey there, I bet you’ve never heard this amazingly true story, my gruzzly little brothers and sisters.  The true but some say incredible tale of Hermano, the spiny tree rat, who lived in the wild and once very wooded forests of the great Amazonian jungle.  A tree rat who saved the Planet! Now the Amazon is a very hot and steamy place indeed, in deepest South America, and mainly in a modern country called Brazil.   Although the magical animals of the jungle there, the brightly coloured sugar birds and the slithering, writhing ground snakes, the snapping Cayman crocodiles and the ants, bees and insects, don’t exactly use Human names for things. No, you see animals, birds and insects have a quite different understanding of the World, so a different way of looking at things too.

Hermano was an exception to these dumb animals without words though, like all exceptional little creatures.  Hermano’s family had had dealings with the humans once, you see. So, despite several bad things happening to them, as they do to all families, sometimes, they had come to love the humans’ words, their stories and even their books. So, at his birth in a giant Brazil nut tree, soaring so very high up there above everything, our hero’s father had given his son a human name, Hermano, which means brother, my gruzzly little cousins.

It was a name Hermano whispered in his deepest dreams, as he listened to the strange sounds of the mighty Amazonian rainforest, talking to him in the darkest night. Listened wrapped around a great big brazil nut for comfort, and food too, since above all Hermano loved gnawing on delicious nuts and sharpening his teeth. There Hermano heard the soothing drip of the great forest canopy too and the buzzing fizz of flashing fire flies, heard the wailing whoop of howler monkeys and the screech of ten thousand Amazonian birds.

Hermano heard that gurgling too, that came from the mighty river that runs through his jungle home, and right across the vast continent of South America – the longest in the world, called the Amazon. They were sounds that were filled with wonder and mystery, but sometimes with threat too. Among these strange noises though, for a time, also came the steady sound of his father’s strong, reassuring voice, softly telling Hermano stories, to help Hermano go to sleep. For all good parents should tell their children stories. Stories that were sometimes made up and sometimes true, and of both the animals and the Humans, in the great lands of the Americas.

Hermano heard tales of the human cities too then and the lost civilizations of the Aztecs, Incas and the Maya, that had come into being many hundreds of years before. One day Hermano’s father had even taken his son deep into the rainforest, past a thundering jade-green waterfall, and shown him a great carved stone face, giant stone steps and a human temple. All of which were now abandoned though, broken down and covered in ivy and vines.  Hermano’s father said these were the remnants of human civilisations, that had once been. Which had been so powerful that they had had chains of mountain runners moving through the rainforests like army ants to bring them news, or to warn of threat and tens of thousands of human slaves too, to do their bidding. Civilisations which had vanished altogether though, so that some said the place was haunted, and had been abandoned and disappeared with time. As Hermano’s father suddenly disappeared. For one day poor gruzzly Hermano was something called an orphan, and so completely alone in the world, abandoned himself.

It happened very suddenly and like this.  Soon after Hermano had seen that lost temple in the forest, there had come other angry noises in the jungle night, but this time made by humans. Among the sounds of animals then little Hermano had heard the sudden snarl of a vicious knife with glinting metal teeth called a chainsaw, and the growling thunder of a moving bulldozer too, with lights like Jaguar’s eyes. So the humans had suddenly come in the night to cut down Hermano’s ancient Brazil nut tree, and many others too. That’s how Hermano’s entire family had been squashed, in an instant – THWACK.  Their home had been bulldozed and snapped up by the horrid machines and the heavy falling branches, along with many other little creatures of the forest. Creatures that to humans are often invisible. It was terrible.

Hermano only just survived himself though because, half asleep, wrapped around a brazil nut, he had pushed out his spines in fright, as he always did when he sensed something bad was about to happen, and rolled like a yucca fruit.  So Hermano had fallen into a soft clump of purple forest flowers, safe and sound. Safe as a gruzzly little orphan can be, at least.  For if truth be told, the jungle is not always a very safe place at all, sometimes, with the hungry snakes, and the biting bullet ants, with the soaring condors that can swoop so low and pluck little creatures from the ground to gobble them up. With the fires too that can burst out on their own in the heat, or start when the humans are close by and being careless.    Meanwhile, in his spiny fall to safety, Hermano had landed on his tail, ouch, and from there-on-in Hermano’s tail had a kink in it. It made Hermano feel different, and very alone indeed, with his family suddenly gone.  It made him feel rather prickly and out of place.

Happily, the free creatures of the Amazon are rarely really ever alone though, and besides, in the countries of South America not only is family everything, but there they have things called extended families too, that try to look after one another in trouble.  So Hermano had been taken in by his Grandfather, Raoul, a kind, wise old white-faced spiny tree Rat. If Raoul was always very sad and melancholy too, often depressed in fact, with drooping grey whiskers and gentle wrinkled paws.

At first Raoul had invited his grandson high up into the branches of another great tree, the very giant of the forest, a Kapok tree. But looking up at it Hermano had started to shake like a maraca, and stuck out his spines and burst into floods of tears too, now frightened at the sheer height of the thing. Perhaps it was the fall.  So Raoul had moved both his wife and his grandson into the branches of a Graviola tree instead, also called a Soursop, much closer to the ground. There Raoul taught Hermano how to bury nuts and told him especially how he must always keep clean and be tidy, for to be clean was a sacred thing. So they started a new life on the edge of the human devastation.

Devastation? Yes. For that’s what poor Hermano saw now with his huge brown eyes, which were often crying, as he looked out at the hole the humans had cut in the great rainforest that had killed his family. For in front of Hermano in the Amazon jungle now were a carpet of fallen trees, like discarded matches, and a space like five football pitches, football being a game they love to play across Brazil, almost as much as they love to make music and to dance.

“A hole,” Hermano whispered, “They’ve made a hole in it. They’ve made a hole in me.”

Since Hermano had once loved trees, being an arboreal rat, loved scurrying up and down their mossy trunks and swinging with his huge tail from their tangling branches, clever Hermano could not understand why the humans should want to do such a dreadful thing, let alone murder his whole family. It hurt his heart and Hermano had a very big heart indeed.

Until one day Hermano’s spines began to tingle again and prick up on his back as more humans arrived in the rainforest. There were hundreds of them now though, in hard, yellow plastic hats, and  stomping black boots, not only to clear the fallen trees, but with metal poles and diggers and strange rotating machines with huge mouths to mix something called cement.  You see, the humans had begun to build something on the edge of Hermano’s beautiful rainforest, an edge that is always getting smaller, as the Humans eat into it all. Something that soon became a place of much heated speculation among the animals round about the land of Brazil, something almost as strange as that temple covered in jungle vines.

Whatever is it they can be making there, the animals all wondered in the chattering Amazon night, and what did the humans want to do inside it?  Could it be some strange laboratory, on the edge of nowhere, for secret and terrible scientific experiments in space and time?  Could it be some kind of cruel prison for the humans to punish each other in, or to keep as their slaves? Or could it be the start of a new Mayan Mega-City that one day would simply swallow up the Amazon rainforest altogether and all the animals, birds and insects in it too?

Che, the cheeky Cucaracha, a cockroach who lived on the next door Soursop fruit, chirruped that it was to bring the humans work, so that they could feed their families. And because he was something called a Communist too, Che thought this was a very good thing indeed, to help the poor human peoples of Brazil. Yage the tree frog though, who claimed he could call to the Brazilian Rain Gods themselves, and see secret things by travelling in his dreams, croaked and rolled his huge frog eyes, as he licked his sticky tongue across his own Emerald green back. Then Yage croaked that it was a terrible sign of Evil and the end of the whole World too and only a Shaman knew it.  It was the very first time that Hermano had heard that strange word, Shaman, which means a creature of vision and magic power.  For Yage himself claimed that he could see strange things with his mysterious gifts.

Hermano’s crooked cousin though, a vicious toothed water rat called Cartel, who hung out along the winding banks of the Amazon River, told Hermano that it was all just the way of the wicked world, which was always on the move. That Hermano shouldn’t worry about it and that the only way to be in life was to turn to crime like Cartel. So to really make it in the modern jungle, as a dirty rat. Brutal faced Cartel would look at Hermano though and shake his head doubtfully.  Because Hermano was so nervous and gentle, not to mention afraid of climbing and often bursting into tears.  While, unlike all Brazilian rats and most Brazilian animals, even the humans, Hermano couldn’t even really dance. Hey, gruzzles, think of that, a Brazilian tree rat that can’t dance!

“Spineless,” snorted Cartel one day, “and always blubbing too, like a baby. You’ll never be modern, stupid little Hermano, or happy in your own skin, or hard as a Brazil nut, like me, or a really dirty rat either.  In fact you’re just a worthless piece of Amazon rubbish.” This made Hermano feel very small and sad indeed.  As for the strange building, near which the humans had placed large plastic barrels to collect their drinking water from the rainfall, it was Grandfather Raoul,  who watching the work day and night, looking as mournful as ever, realised just what it really was.  Raoul guessed it when the noisy vans began to arrive, down the concrete access roads, that the humans had laid in the forest, to deliver things to be stored on the endless rows of metal shelves that the men were putting up inside.

“Please tell me what they’re doing in there, grandpapa,” said Hermano with concern one day, as they watched together through the huge, rubbery leaves, dripping with globes of moisture like enormous tear drops, “What is it the humans are making?”

“A Depository,” declared Raoul softly and very sadly, as he looked out at the rainforest, “I think it’s called a Depository, Hermano.”

“Deposi-tree, Grandpapa?” whispered the prickly arboreal rat, in a confused little voice.

 

 

To be continued…..

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

A very happy New Year’s Eve and a toast to a brilliant, realised and joy filled 2019

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WHAT A CITY IS THIS!

Phoenix Ark's Blog

Well, forget the rats, or a journey down into the terrible Paris sewers, and sing of the wonder Bobolan feels seeing Paris and just being alive…!

LYRICS – WHAT A CITY IS THIS!

What a city this is, what a brave new world
What people, what wonders, what streets
There’s everything here, like a banner unfurled,
Like a star-spattered heaven, where worlds have been hurled
Or a heart, that eternally beats.

What a town this is, what a marvelous dream
What houses, what buildings, what lights
A place that’s forever, where all can be seen
From a lord to a beggar, a cat to a Queen
From crime, to earthly delights
What a City is this?

EVICTION!

Walk through the city, seeking a home
People all dreaming and people all scheming
And people all alone.
Lost in the city, walk on your own
Guard for the danger that creeps in…

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