Pig, Monkey, Fire, by Thao Le
Back before Eden fell. Pig lived alongside Monkey and all the other animals of the earth in an endless plenty. But he was greedy and gluttonous. No matter how much fruit of the earth he devoured, he always wanted something more—more food, better, more exotic, different. Monkey also wanted something. He loved to travel far and wide, studied anything and everything he could observe.
When it rained in the jungle, he went deep into it, climbed high branches, sat on the boughs and watched the rain clouds pour on the horizon. Thunder boomed and lightning struck. Cold winds whipped frenetically, numbing his hands, but still Monkey watched with swelling pupils. The strike of lightning set ablaze a large, old tree. The dancing fire was red amongst the gray of the rain and wind in the night. His eyes caught its glow. It seemed to warm him somehow, even from so far away. He knew it could warm him forever if only he could catch it. He chased after the lightning and the fires, running from branch to branch, night after night, storm after storm, until summer came and he could beat back the insatiable hunger no more.
He sought out the hairless apes that lived deep in the jungle. They were tailless, soft, and ugly, but they were full of knowledge. They had captured the fire long ago, guarded it with their lives. Monkey approached them, apologetic.
“Please give me a bit of the fire,” he said.
The apes stared at him with their pale, bulging eyes for long moments. Monkey cowered. The way they looked at him and did not speak made him nervous.
“We will give you our fire, if you help us with something in return,” they said.
“The wild pigs eat our fruits. Our young can barely survive because of it. We want them gone.”
“They are rude monsters with large tusks designed to gore eand maul. How can I get rid of them?” Monkey questioned.
“You are smart beyond your stature. You can figure something out,” they said.
Monkey went away to think. He was not fast and could not outrun the wild pigs. He was not strong and can not subdue them into submission. But, he had his cunning. He could fashion. Monkey decided he only needed to trick one pig.
Pig sported the largest and sharpest tusks. Nevertheless, Monkey lured him into the field with fruit. He watched on the branches as Pig’s snuffling brought him closer to the hidden snare. Monkey waited. Pig snuffled closer and closer, then the right back hoof was caught, the snare snapped and Pig yelped and oinked, kicked and ran around in circles with the snare tied to his hoot, encircling two thin trees. In his blind fear, he began to bore at the tree with his large, white tusks. Pig bucked and charged again and again, boring his tusks against the tree, pushing the two trees against each other. The trees were dry from the heat of the summer and snapped and cracked, then sparked and crackled. Fire caught, began to sizzle the dry, dead wood. Pig snapped its hoof from the snare and ran away, snorting loudly into the brush. Monkey smiled victoriously.
“You rub two branches together to make fire,” Monkey proudly proclaimed to the assembly of apes.
They did not answer but whispered amongst themselves. This irked Monkey.
“I don’t need a bit of your fire anymore. I can recreate it,” he said.
“Be careful about playing with fire, little one. It can be dangerous and you will make a mistake sure enough,” they said.
But Monkey went away unheeding the apes’ warning. He spent his time building fires. All dead things he found—leaves, bones, even dead animals, were not spared from his fires. Afterward, he would leave these fires and the charred carcasses behind. Soon enough, the wild pigs came and devoured everything. Pig, greedy and gluttonous, approached Monkey for the secret of how to make the charred flesh, in return for a horde of fruits. Monkey, unable to help himself said,
“I don’t have to give it to you in exchange for tokens. I’ll show you how to make it.”
Monkey proceeded to show Pig and when the spark lit up the branch, Pig’s black irises reflected the glow. Pig went away and tried it on his own. But, once fire caught, Pig did not know how to keep sparks from igniting nearby trees, or how to put out the fire. The spark caught and became a blaze. Soon, wildfire spread throughout the land, burning everything. Monkey hid deep in the jungle, Pig bore down into the ground to hide. When the wildfire burnt out in the waning heat of summer, no trees stood left. No fruit nor vegetable could be found anymore to eat. The apes went hungry, grimly reduced in numbers. Charred carcasses littered the dead fields. In desperation, the apes began to hunt. They ate the meat of monkeys, charred over their tame fires, in righteous retribution for what Monkey did with his knowledge of fire.
Pig went into hiding, coming out at night to scavenge. It was a grim way of life in the land of lost plenty, but trees and fruit began to grow again, bursting saplings pushing through the dead earth. Though the apes still supplanted their diet with meat.
Monkey, having lived for too long afraid of being hunted, found Pig scavenging under the full moon in a barren field. Pig snuffled at bones, Monkey hissed,
“Don’t run away, please. You have to help us,” he said.
“Why? You gave me powerful knowledge and look what happened.”
“I made a mistake. I’m sorry. But you must help us now. We are being hunted. We will all die if you do not help. Remember, I tried my best to help you.”
“They will hunt both of us.”
“If we tell the truth, they will take that into consideration. Look around you, the bushes are flowering and the trees grow heavy with fruit again. I wish most to bring order back into this lost land. Please, help me.”
Pig wanted to argue but eventually gave in, not wanting to be a bad Pig for turning away a desperate monkey.
The truth came out that Monkey was not cause of the fire, but the Pig and its tusks. The apes looked on, unblinking. Monkey realized his fate was never in his hands, but in the hands of the assembly of apes who had tamed the fire. They decided that there was to be a great trial—for the apes had a great sense of justice. The trial decreed that they were to hunt and char the meat of the pigs and celebrated its charring, as punishment for the mistakes committed so long ago.
Thao Le loves reading books the old fashioned way where she can turn the pages, drinking a hot cup of tea, and frolicking with cats. Her boyfriend thinks she’s actually an 80 year old British woman who has bamboozled him into dating her. Her perfect day would be spent reading or writing in front of an open window with her cat, Mena, by her side.
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Tags: allegory, fantasy, Thao Le