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HERMAN MELVILLE, GARBAGE AND MR SUGARBUG!

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.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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AMAZON RAT CONTINUED, WITH A BIT OF RUMI…

 “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.

 To be continued….

 

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AN AMAZON RAT, COWBOY POEM AND WISDOM OF A LOBSTER

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.”

 

To be continued….

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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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