This story was written by Justin Yung, a 15-year-old student from South Island School.
He is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2018 Summer Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book which each finalist will receive a copy of. The winning entry will be published in Young Post on August 25.
Like a pig on its way to the slaughter, I was fattened into preparation, seduced into ignorance, and filled with sinister substances that turned my skin sickly shades of green.
Step by step, I was taken towards my ending: the test.
The trees. The forest. That’s where I came from. I remember the lush treetops where we slept, the scintillating lake that marked the borders of our home, and the meadow we capered and frolicked in.
During the day, I would scamper around with the others. We would tease and play-fight with one another among the plants and flowers, and help ourselves to the sweet fruits that grew everywhere. At night, I would wrap myself in my mother’s warm embrace as we watched the gods draw curtains of shimmering stars across the great expanse above. Lying on my stomach, my mother would groom my fur, untwisting knots and plucking out dirt or bugs.
“Hoo hoo, Matuwi, you will be a great chimpanzee, just like your father. You will protect us all from the monsters,” she whispered.
I stared at the lone chimpanzee who watched over the group like a bird guarding its nest, and I was filled with pride. I caught his eye, which seemed to smile at me, and I beamed back, before melting into my mother’s warm torso. The chirruping crickets and my mother’s steady breathing would always send me into a peaceful sleep.
I thought that life would always carry on that way. I was mistaken.
They came for us one day. A cavalcade of enormous vehicles filled with hard-faced men, sticks strung across their backs. Shots were fired. The trees were burned to ashes, the meadow was stripped of its dignity, and the lake was stained with blood. Warriors fell. My father was one of the last. He howled and pounded his chest, before succumbing to a hail of streaking pellets.
In an instant, my mother scooped me up and ran. She wove through the thickets and hollow tree trunks. We followed the edge of the lake, navigating the intricate maze of bushes and roots … but the hunters were still there. They trampled over the obstacles, gaining ground on us almost effortlessly.
“Mama, where are we going? “ I cried.
“Hoo hoo, we’re close, my love, we’re close. I know a hiding spot. We’ll be safe there. I promise. It’s going to be alr—”.
She was cut short by a swarm of bullets that ripped through her torso. Grunting in pain, she fell; her eyelids flickered, fluttered and were still.
I was grabbed roughly by the folds of skin on my neck and tossed into a crate with other shrieking infants. Among all the frightened faces, I caught sight of my friend, Gashowee. I shifted numbly towards her.
“Where’s your mother?”
“I … I don’t … know. ”
“Where’s your papa?”
“I don’t know … hoo hoo … I don’t know.”
We fell silent as we listened to the growling of engines being started up. I peeked through the slits of the crate and watched as the smouldering remains of our home faded into the distance. I did not know if I would ever return, nor did I know what would happen to us. My mother’s image entered my thoughts and I started humming a lullaby that she used to sing to me:
Go to sleep, go to sleep
The day’s been glum,
But night has come.
The moon up there
Watches with care,
We build our nest
And lay to rest.
By now, the rest of the infants had exhausted themselves and were clinging to one another, fast asleep. Yawning, I felt Gashowee leaning against my shoulder softly. I willed myself to fitful sleep against the mountain of sweaty bodies.
I awoke to a sudden jerk as the vehicle came to a stop. Agitated voices rose. Light pierced through the crate and a gloved hand slithered through in search of its prey. It pounced on me. I tried to wriggle free from its iron grip. I held onto Gashowee’s arm, screaming. I was rewarded with a sharp blow to my shoulder. A wave of nausea rushed over me.
I was unloaded into another dark crate, and was soon joined by the other chimps. The crate was sealed, banishing all light our temporary home. Frightened whispers arose.
“Hoo hoo, where are we going?”
“I want to go home.”
Suddenly, the crate slid forward and tilted on its side, before falling back into place. Infants shrieked and held onto the slats of the crate in an attempt to defy gravity.
The fear became too much for some, and the putrid stench of bodily fluids filled the stale air. The crate was so cramped, that every time we shifted to find a more comfortable position, we collided into one another. We were sick. We were hungry. We were very frightened.
After what seemed like years, our box was opened and we were gently lifted out by human hands. However, the journey had proved too much for some; they hadn’t made it alive …
Would the humans care that my friends and family hadn’t survived? How long would it be before none of us were left?
We had arrived in a place called Hong Kong, a desolate island with towering skyscrapers. We were taken inside a white, shiny facility … maybe a lab of some sort. Artificial lighting had made the place so bright that I began to feel dizzy. Stange-looking instruments towered over me. Humans wandered around in long white coats holding unusual devices. Our arrival seemed to have caused a commotion, and many of the humans approached us excitedly.
It was all very strange, and my skin crawled as though a thousand flies had settled on it. I convulsed violently when the humans drew close, attempting to bite anyone who dared to touch me.
They responded to my resistance by holding my struggling torso and brandishing needles. A substance was injected into my neck, rendering me useless and languid. Curious symbols were stitched on my stomach afterwards.
In my dreary state, I caught sight of one human in particular. A female who, unlike her colleagues, had a kind-looking face, with soft features and a warm expression. As she stopped to smile at each infant, she reminded me of my mother. When she stopped at my station, her eyes were brimming with affection. Vulnerable and scared as I was, this was enough to secure my good opinion of her.
I was placed in an enclosure with Gashowee, who I was relieved to be reunited with. It was to be our new home – if you could call it a home. We were provided with entertainment, food, and water. For a few years, I lived in relative peace. Although the sky was cloudy and the stars were veiled by the artificial lighting, and there was no meadow or lake, I was safe and somewhat content. And there was the female human who came to see me every day, who I came to affectionately call Gaga. She called me Mojo.
We spent hours and hours playing odd games with wooden blocks of peculiar shapes and sizes. Sometimes, I would be prodded by needles like I had been on that first day, but I tried to tolerate it for Gaga’s sake.
In time, I became the leader among my group of chimps. I even had an infant of my own with Gashowee. Slowly but surely, the grievous wounds on my soul were stanched and healed; my deep mistrust of humans began to soften. I was happy with my life. Until …
One day, I noticed that the males of my group were beginning to disappear. It had begun innocently enough – a medical check here, a fitness test there. But the disappearances had become more frequent and the whole group was becoming uneasy. I decided that I had to investigate.
That evening, as my cage was being cleaned, I crept out and hid behind a storage box until night, when I stole into the main facility. Tiptoeing my way around the dark compound, I paused to peek my way through every room, but only saw the usual devices and instruments. I was on the verge of giving up and returning when I heard footsteps reverberating down the hallway, and a soft whimper.
Panicking, I looked around in search of a hiding spot. Should I hide underneath the chair? The plant pot? No, that wouldn’t work.
As if sensing my fear, the footsteps quickened, heading in my direction. Suddenly, I saw the ventilation shaft and it gave me an idea. Using the pillars as support, I climbed up to the ceiling, unscrewed the air shaft, and crawled in. I tucked myself within the air shaft so that I wouldn’t be seen. Peeking out, I squinted to see who it was.
It was Gaga.
She was holding a cage with something inside – Jojo, the male chimp who disappeared a week ago. My mind was struggling to process what I was seeing. I could not imagine why Gaga would do anything like this.
I decided to follow them. She went through long winding corridors until reaching a door with a warning symbol on it. Chuckling softly, Gaga went in and I followed silently.
Behind the doors was a harrowing sight. Chimps hunched in cramped cages, their eyes glazed. One chimp lay on the table, his limbs paralysed and his expression insipid. As I made my way around the compound, there were more appalling sights in store. Infants, separated from their mothers, were confined in cages and terrorised by demented sounds, while the humans observed them, entirely unfazed, through glass windows. Other chimps lay shrivelled, their skin mottled and stained.
I had to leave. I turned around and was about to sneak out when Gaga saw me.
I stared back, my eyes welling with tears but my expression defiant, daring her to take responsibility for what she had done. Shaking her head, she reached out with her gloved hand. Her eyes were still full of beauty, though now I saw the venom that lay beneath that mask. I shrank back, then suddenly bolted towards her, roaring and slashing and clawing at her face. Guards appeared almost instantly. They held my torso, I felt a prick and was sedated.
“Oh Mojo,” Gaga chuckled and waved her hands. I was left in a cage to rot.
As I lay confined, I began to understand that I had been fooled. We were nothing but subjects for their testing. There was no escape.
As the days passed and horrible substances were injected into my helpless body, I quickly deteriorated. As I spent my final days in a tiny cage, vivid images came back to me: my mama, my papa, the treetops, the lush lake, the meadow, the wild, my home. I was finally free from the test.