Weekend Fiction: Dancing Around The Monolith

“But Earth is 4.54 billion years old!” he exclaimed, banging the cup of coffee on the table in frustration.

“That is just atheist rubbish,” she retorted.

“No it isn’t. It is pure scientific fact.”

“You said evolution was a fact, but it’s just a theory,” she stated.

“It is both,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry,’ she retorted. “I can’t accept the fact that we evolved from monkeys.”

“We are part of the ape family!”

“We didn’t evolve from monkeys or apes. Although I’ll admit you look like a gorilla.”

“This isn’t a joke. I’m deadly serious.”

“I’ve got you some bananas. I know you like them. They’re in the kitchen.”

He sighed heavily, as if admitting defeat. “Thanks.”

He scratched his hands. This argument, which currently seemed to be the biggest difference between them, was occupying more and more of their time together. It was more his problem than hers; in fact he drove most of their arguments. Being an entirely rational human being, he strove to convince her of the folly of her beliefs. In response, she’d put Creationist blogs on her Facebook page, which infuriated and to a certain extent, embarrassed him.

He’d of course reacted with a flurry of words and predictable pictures of the chimpanzee evolving into the man hunched over a computer. And then as things progressed, because she liked equestrianism, Eohippus through Merychippus to the modern horse.  He even took her to the zoo, pointing out the similarities between the captive creatures and the humans that stood in front of the cages; however, where he saw similarities, she saw differences. Nothing seemed to shift her feelings that at one point in time, there had been a divine being that had put humans on the world.

“But when? When did this made up creator put humans on Earth?”

“I don’t know. Before Jesus.”

“Jesus Christ!” he swore.

“Yup, that’s the one!” she replied, jauntily.

* * *

He scratched his hands, noticing not for the first time that the dorsal surfaces had become hairier recently. In fact he’d started sprouting hair on all kinds of places, places where he hadn’t had any previously: his ears, his nostrils, but most of all his back. He cursed getting old, but then regretted it - getting old was of course part and parcel of human evolution: humans had to get old and die, otherwise their genes wouldn’t have such a fast turnover, feeding evolution’s hungry appetite.

Recent bouts of confusion he’d also put down to age - the inability to cope with the stress of his work in a busy hospital. Or maybe it was just too much caffeine. Occasionally his thoughts just whirled and he found it difficult to concentrate unless he imagined something calming: running through a peaceful forest often sprang to mind.

* * *

“But we are so complex! How can evolution possibly create something like us!” she exclaimed a few days later.

He smiled – he had her now. This was too easy to deal with; it was almost as if she’d presented the argument to him on a plate.

“The human eye,” he stated, waving a finger, before proceeding to describe the development of strips of photoreceptors, which over millennia had invaginated because sensitivity to light, and thus approaching prey, was better through an aperture. The aperture in turn became a hole, which eventually became an enclosed chamber, which was eventually covered by a lens.

“It’s just too complex.”

“But...” he was waiting for this moment. “The octopus eye is very similar to the human eye. However, human and octopus eyes do not share any evolutionary ancestors. They developed independently of one another.”

“But that’s impossible.”

“Nope. They developed independently.”

“So now you think you are an octopus instead of a monkey?” she asked, by way of reply.

* * *

The days passed until one day he found himself becoming angry at work, lashing out at a staff member. His mind was filled with a kind of red rage, which he couldn’t control. As he calmed down, he found himself grateful that he hadn’t hit a patient.  That afternoon he was called in front of the medical director, told to take some time off. There would be some kind of disciplinary action in due course.

On the way home, as he clutched the steering wheel of the Audi, he noticed how the backs of his hands were hairier than ever before. In fact, hair follicles had erupted along the length of his fingers, right to the tips. It looked slightly odd, he thought to himself, but he put it down to some medication he’d started taking for his thinning hair. His girlfriend was still at work when he returned home, so he raided her stash of toiletries, which had spread out of a cabinet in the bathroom and across almost every surface like an odd consumerist fungus. Eventually he found the waxing strips he was looking for and set to work.

He left for the pub before she got home, having arranged to meet some friends. After the day’s events, he felt he needed it. His friend Jim, a tall bear-like figure of a man, looked at him oddly when he arrived.

“Are you okay?” he asked, as they waited for their drinks to be poured. “You look a bit different.”

“Bit stressed at work at the moment,” he explained.

“It’s just... you’ve lost some weight or something?”

“Don’t think so. Probably just stress.  Cheers.”

They clinked glasses, their subsequent conversation jerking along an unhappy course, large chasms of silence stretching between them. For some reason, he couldn’t find the words and it was a relief when some of their other friends arrived, just in time for the weekly quiz. He made excuses and headed to the gents, where he examined his face in the mirror. It was true, he did look a bit different; his forehead seemed to be more prominent, almost bossed. And his jaw seemed to be more protuberant than before; he struggled to think of the medical name for such a phenomenon, the word prognathic finally easing its way into his grey matter.

He staggered back home, having drunk more than he should. His other friends had been similarly concerned about him, but he’d found himself losing his inhibitions more than usual with the alcohol; he’d sworn at them loudly, shouted answers to the quiz questions across the crowded room. At one point the landlord had wandered over, but Jim had dealt with the situation, taking the man to one side for a few delicately placed words. And when Jim encouraged him to leave, he got the impression his friends were glad his part in the evening was over.

“Nice time with your friends?” she asked, after he’d crashed through the doorway.

He grunted a reply.

“Oh, I’ve made you some dinner by the way,” she continued, pulling out a selection of baked tropical fruits from the oven. He stared at the dish, confused - she usually cooked him something more conventional. Baked pineapples, mangoes and bananas were certainly a different kind of dinner, but one which he found strangely appealing. He wolfed it down while she watched patiently, swirling a glass of white wine in her hand.

“You know, dinosaurs...” he started.

“Not this again!”

“There is fossil evidence of creatures changing, evolving... All the fossils we find are in the correct order, there isn’t one out of place...” He didn’t feel he was making himself clear. The fog that had been affecting his mind in recent days seemed to have clouded his thoughts, the drink compounding the effect.

“I think it’s time for bed,” she muttered, annoyed.

“But... the Burgess shale... the Cambrian explosion...,” he managed, but as the words issued from his mouth, he found himself struggling to remember what exactly they meant. He decided to take her advice, clambered up the stairs, for a fitful night’s sleep.

* * *

The following morning he told her what had happened at work, used it to explain away his behaviour the previous night. She looked sympathetic, held his hand as he relayed the sorry situation. As he told her, he looked solemnly at his hands, noticing that they had grown thicker hair over night. When she left for work, he ran up to the bathroom, but before he found the waxing strips, he caught himself in the mirror. The usual morning’s stubble seemed to have spread across his cheeks and over his forehead, his whole face covered in a downy black fur.

He began questioning what was happening to him, but at the same time, the fog which had fell over his thoughts seemed to reappear. Every time he tried to think he seemed to be stopped from doing so. He began to shave his forehead, but found himself bored halfway through, instead found himself drawn to the smell of the bath bombs neatly arranged in a bowl. He selected one and before he knew it, found himself taking a bite.

When she returned from work, the house was a mess. He’d gone on a rampage, a fit of anger consuming him. Vinyl LPs, his most treasured possessions, lay smashed on the floor amongst a sea of empty cans. Strewn on the sofa was a broken guitar, its neck splintered, strings buckled and twisted. Books were also scattered around the place, pages torn out. She picked up a ruined first edition hardback from the floor, one that she’d bought as a Christmas present for him a few months ago. He looked at her from where he was crouching in the corner of the room; it was a while before she registered his presence.

“What are you doing down there?”

“I... I don’t know. I kind of lost my temper.”

She walked over to where he was and helped him up. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, and a brief hug, which seemed to be divested of all affection. He remembered when they’d met, how different things had been then. She moved the guitar from the sofa and settled him down there, flicked on the television. As she hit the power buttons on the remote, the DVD player also sprang into life, one of his favourite films rolling into action. It was “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  He watched until the monkeys began to beat the monolith with a stick, and then he fell asleep.

He woke in the middle of the night, desperate for a drink. His throat felt odd, as if he’d slept with his mouth open. As he tried to clear it, the tone that came out sounded strange. He swallowed some water, but it didn’t seem to help. He found himself trying out words with his tongue, but all that came out was a guttural grunt. In a fleeting lucid moment, he wondered if he had some kind of nasopharyngeal infection - could that explain his strange behaviour over the last few days? Then he caught sight of himself in the windowpane, saw somebody or something he didn’t recognise.

He grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, began to write, hoping to leave a note for his girlfriend. “I am unwell, call a doctor,” was what he wanted to write. But for some reason, his thumbs couldn’t seem to hold the pen correctly, and instead, the only impression he left on the paper was a child-like squiggle. He tried to remember what his symptoms could be, but as the thoughts became more complex, his mind seemed to shut down, blocking out the memories of his medical training. He finished the glass of water and resumed his place on the sofa, sleep and uneasy dreams quickly absorbing his affected mind.

When he woke up, it was because of the unusual banging upstairs. He tried to shout, but all he managed was a kind of roar. Words appeared in his mind only to vanish, as if they were constantly too far away to reach. He hid under the table and waited for the banging to stop. He heard voices shortly afterwards: a female voice he recognised speaking to a male voice.

“Don’t you worry, we’ve built all kinds of things for people. I could tell you some stories. Celebrities too, really kinky shit.”

“We appreciate your discretion.”

“No problems, love. It’s a pleasure.”

The door shut, and then the female appeared.  He recognised her, but his feelings were confused. She took him by the hand and led him upstairs to a room at the back of the house. Metal bars partitioned the room, and were also placed over the window. He saw some food on the floor and dashed over to it, lifting the leaves from the wooden boards and lifting them to his mouth hungrily. At the same time he heard a noise behind him: a clang, then a rattling of metal. When he turned around, the female was nowhere to be seen. He grabbed the railings of the cage and began to scream.

The days passed and he found himself bored, prone to outbursts of anger. For a while, the female came to visit him regularly, passing him food through the railings. But her visits were starting to become shorter, her face curled in an expression which upset him. He noticed how she tried not to look him in the eye, but when she did, he found himself more confused and occasionally punched the wall with frustration, large chunks of plaster falling down to the floor.

After one long night of thrashing at the walls and the metal partition, screaming at the moon he could see through the barred window, he heard noises downstairs. Someone was shouting at the voice he recognised as the female. Eventually the shouting stopped, and the door closed. A few hours later, the female appeared in front of him.

“I’m sorry it has come to this,” she said. But he didn’t grasp the meaning of the words. She seemed to be carrying something, something he didn’t recognise as food, but which he recognised as a threat. As she raised the object, he felt a thrill of fear run along his spine and began to howl at her, shaking the metal bars. There was a bang and he looked down to the metal dart at his leg, not quite understanding what had happened. Then his vision blurred and he felt heavy; he wasn’t so angry anymore, just felt sleepy. He closed his eyes.

* * *

When he woke up, he was in another cage, but this time one with a different shape. He stood up and fell over, as the floor on which he was standing seemed to be moving. He sat on his haunches, muttering to himself as the van lurched from side to side through the streets.

After a time, it came to a halt. He used this opportunity to bang on the metal sides of this new cage again, but it was of no use. Then there were voices outside: he heard the female talking to someone, a male. He realised he could smell their scent, but there were other smells there as well, in the background.

The van began to move again, more slowly this time. It travelled mostly in one direction, but then at the end of the journey, its direction seemed to reverse. Moments later the doors opened. In front of him was an open space. He saw some trees, some rocks, the glimmer of water. And as he sprang out of the back of the van, he noticed shapes in the trees surrounding him, figures watching from the branches. He bared his teeth at them, ran around in the open air, enjoying the freedom of the night.

* * *

She’d suggested they went to the zoo. He had agreed willingly, keen to try and explore her feelings about evolution, her dogged belief in creationism. They took the tube. He noticed how men looked at her legs in the short skirt she was wearing, felt almost proud to be accompanying her. It was their fifth date and things seemed to be going well. He’d realised they had some differing opinions, but had been willing to let that slide - the sex had been great.

They saw the penguins first, laughing at the creatures as they shot around the pool, occasionally flipping out of the water to catch the fish their keeper threw for them. As they passed the meerkats, he made some jokes about a recent television advert, which seemed to go down well. Then they were at the chimpanzee enclosure, watching the apes as they flung themselves through the trees.

“They’re kind of like us, aren’t they...” he ventured, but she didn’t rise to the bait. She just smiled at him, but there was a glimmer of something in her eye. After a while, one of the chimps came close to where they were standing and sat down in front of them. For a while it was engaged in chewing on some leaves, but then it seemed to notice them. It began to stare at his new girlfriend, as if transfixed by her presence.

“I think he likes you,” he said, laughing.

“He reminds me of someone,” she said.

“I hope you don’t mean me,” he replied.

THE END

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