By Alejandro Bruzzese and Mike Cavalier
[That’s the last straw] he thought to himself.
He walked to the jungle just beyond the city limits, shedding various layers of shame, disappointment, and inadequacy as he marched. It was cold. And though he was not yet hungry, the Young Man began to fear the oncoming hunger.
To say our hero was unprepared for this grand exit from civilization would be to state underly. He did not have the luxury of being raised by wolves or apes or even pangolins. He had read exactly zero books, consulted zero experts, and looked up zero websites on the topic of survival before stepping into this world of rocks and bark and teeth and filth. This would, indeed, be a difficult new way of life.
The feral walls of the monsoonforest enveloped him. Heavy, dripping, leviathan leaves hung so low that he had to crawl on his knees, like an overgrown infant eagerly returning to its womb.
He spoke it aloud in this new world as if English were its native tongue, as if nature understood any language besides violence. A bitter breeze answered back, leaning into him, cutting through him, pressing a thousand shards of glass into his flesh. The Young Man could’ve sworn he heard it whispering advice.
But he couldn’t go back. Going back would require an exit. A path that had been marked. Foresight. The cardinal directions were four shrouded ghosts, taunting him from unseen balconies as he looked to the sky for a clue that would never reveal itself.
THE UN-BIRTH OF A BUFFOON
Before descending into savagery, the Young Man assumed foraging would be simple. He thought he would just stretch his hand in any direction and pluck a murder of berries hanging conveniently before him, or, at worst, he might settle for a juicy caterpillar, roasted over a crackling fire that he would somehow build himself. How hard could it be? Is the jungle not full of life? But here in the wild, a question echoed in the hallways of our hero’s frontal lobe: [What did those legendary wild men do for food?]
His first instinct: eat the leaves. There was certainly no shortage of them, and they were enormous. He wrapped his fingers around the thick, leathery flaps of flora. A poor excuse for a tug sent him to the muddy floor, empty hands to match his empty stomach. The gargantuan elephant ears bobbed on their branches, as if the jungle itself were giving him a raspberry with a dozen tongues. (mmm, raspberries.) He got up, wiped his hands on his wet chest, grabbed ahold once more — and managed to tear a slippery frond from its base, about the size of a small hand towel. It was as if the branch felt sorry for our hero, and so, gave of itself.
Here’s a secret about those leaves that only our intrepid hero knows: they taste like spicy, rotten toothpaste. At first, the Young Man had the audacity to spit out the green mush in revulsion, but soon thought better of it. This mush was his salvation. He finally realized what should have been obvious from the very beginning of this adventure, that survival was not all mangos and wild onions and roasted squirrel on a spit.
He was actually quite lucky, because the other options in this particular jungle, many of which he would sample in the meals to come, were far worse than the enormous leaves. He would soon encounter a species of cheetah frogs that leave a trail of delicious, hippocampus-damaging slime whenever they rocketjump off a perch. He would also find tiny fruits that taste like sugary pan-seared llama piss. That taste-test, however, is a story for another day. SPOILER ALERT: he vomits.
– or –
A DIVERSITY OF IMPROBABLE LIFEFORMS
Once he noticed them, he wondered how they’d evaded him for so long: stout, typewriter-sized, violet-colored pigs, digging their snouts beneath rotting vines. The Young Man had hitherto been subsisting on megafrond mouthfuls, so the sight of these seemingly defenseless, perfectly meal-sized creatures gave his salivary glands an erection.
They were slow enough to simply pick up, and even easier to kill. The Young Man was not aware of this poison pig’s postmortem vengeance, and so, he ate. Really, he barely chewed. He gnawed and swallowed and smiled until he could not, then put his back to the ground beneath a pygmy tree as the impulse to nap seized his skull organ.
What he did not know, but would soon discover, was that violet junglepigs do not react well to the acids of the human stomach. They aren’t digested, so much as liquefied and rocketed downward. The blissful sluggishness of fullness was not to be his, nor the extreme discomfort that typically follows such rapid consumption. All he felt was an urgent need to defecate. His eyes screamed open; he hastily stood and covered the end of his body. His arse came before he could find a suitable makeshift restroom.
It was at this point, soiled in shame by the pygmy tree, that our hero heard an odd sound for the jungle: bass. Beats thumping and dropping. Trebles and plucks. Falsettos and raps. A deep, throbbing pulse that, to his tastes, was actually quite annoying. Then another sound: laughter.
[I must investigate.] So he followed the bass and the polylaugh to a clearing near a hidden pond, where a tribe of Moderately Attractive Young Women, four in total, danced with violent abandon. Back in the city, he would never have the nerve to approach women even a quarter as attractive as these four, but his circumstances had changed. He had changed. These Young Women seemed familiar to him, and not dressed for life in the jungle whatsoever. [What happened?] the Young Man cried out. [Have you been here this whole time? Can you help me?]
As if on cue, the Young Women turned at once and disappeared into the jungle walls, rushing in four different directions. Begging that they wait, the Young Man picked one at random (the West Indian redhead with the orange-and-black striped dress and black leather heeled boots) and followed, dripping from his lower back cheeks as he ran, pushing through a pillar of waxy alocasia leaves — only to find no ground beneath his outstretched foot.
The Young Man’s weak body rolled down the hillside to a sun-drenched valley below, which he found bereft of heeled redheads. No bespectacled Northeast Africans either, nor tattooed South Asians or hoodie-wearing Polynesians. Only birds overhead, objecting to the commotion by causing some of their own. Our hero fainted into the sleep of ages.
Its obese tentacles swept carefully across the Young Man’s skin, wiping off the poisoned excrement and other accumulated grime with affection, much in the same way a mother might wash her child in a kitchen sink. Our hero awoke from his shame-coma. He looked up to see the largest eye in the world staring back at him. He gasped, choked, stumbled to his feet, slipped, landed face-first in the moist grass, hastened to his feet again, ran to hide behind a moldstone.
[What the hell was that?] he thought to himself. He would’ve shit his pants if he had anything left in his hollow intestines, or pants. After gathering his courage, he cautiously stepped out from the moldstone, leaving behind deep handprints on the green colony, and looked back at the behemoth.
The enormous cephalopod sat hunched over, or as close to “hunched over” as an animal with no skeleton can get. It had the appearance of despair, but still, it was a giant octopus. [Who are you?] yelled our hero, cloaking his fear in bravado. The octopus turned to the Young Man, and in response, slowly raised its tentacle and waved.
Our hero approached this would-be surrogate mother, stopping just yards away. [Were you … cleansing me?]
The beast looked on with eyes devoid of expression.
[Can you speak?] he asked, realizing almost immediately how ridiculous the question was.
The lack of response remained.
AND SO, HAVING CONQUERED THE WILD, I SHALL RETURN TO MY HOME, FOR WHICH I AM SICK
– or –
The Young Man sat at the edge of the cliff, absentmindedly sharpening his incisors on a rock shell, watching the greater-than flock (>) fly across the tangerine-skinned sky — the ninety-third bright sky he had declined to count since escaping the world of sky counters. Our hero was content. He placed the stone in a pouch he had made out of violet pigflesh and watched the sky peacefully shift to the deep blue hue of a bruise.
It was time to hunt. He unsheathed a crude knife fashioned from bone and advanced downwind toward the foot of the slope. Along the path, he harvested llama piss fruits from their bushes, having acquired a taste and tolerance for their putrid, vomitous flavor. The now-familiar cold breeze slipped through the Young Man’s hair and skin and molecules, making him wonder aloud, [How can a place so green, so full of the heat of life, be so damn cold all the time?]
Just then, our hero felt the breath of fire upon him, molesting his upper back as he vibrated to attention. He swiveled his head skyward to see the tusked, hypertrichotic terror framed in blurry starlight, smelling of fecal matter that can only be produced by a monster-eating monster.
A jungle yeti. The most fearsome creature the Young Man had confronted in the jungle — with the best-tasting meat he had eaten during his tenure in the wild. The hulking ape dropped its enormous fingers atop our hero’s head, but the Young Man rushed forward, pushing the beast against a tree, snapping the yeti’s right ulna. [Look it in the eye!] the Young Man demanded of himself. [Be big!] The yeti released its grip and ran screaming through the darkness as the Young Man gave chase, brandishing his weapon.
As our hero sprinted through the night in pursuit of his dinner, a curious thing happened to the jungle walls around him. The trees seemed to be further and further apart until he was surrounded by nothing but cracked concrete. He throttled down to a jog, then stopped. Looking back, there was nothing but blackness and shadow. A fog began to roll in, but as it crept into our hero’s nostrils, he realized it was not fog. It was smoke.
Questions replicated inside the Young Man’s skull like single-celled heathens. He looked ahead to the jungle yeti, which was frozen in time mid-step, and watched as its mouth began to open in a silent scream — wider, and wider still, the jaw snapping, the left tusk hanging limp, the maw peeling back into a bloody, gaping cavern.
«Nice work, pussy!»
A woman’s voice said the slur, but the Young Man didn’t see anyone else around. Then a human foot, bony, with dry, cracked skin, appeared from the yeti’s exposed esophagus, searching for the earth beneath it.
«Did you really think you could just leave?» The foot carefully put its weight down, attached to a small, pale woman wearing a suit of snazz and a silver moustache to match her cropped silver hair and shiny silver revolver.
«Leave society, you fucking pussy.»
[Alright then, I think we’re done here.]
He turned around and started his way back to his jungle home.
«Nobody gets out alive. That’s not how this works.»
The Young Man was unsure of the distance, but was certain the right direction was away from this woman.
«No, come back. You and I must talk.»
«About the birds and the bees and the humans.»
He didn’t look back, and so he didn’t see the two shots coming, pumped in and out through his right shoulder. Sharp pain rang out from the exit wounds, but it was the sight of the gushing blood that brought our hero to his knees.
«You know,» the mustachioed woman said, reloading her revolver, «it was quite difficult to keep this beauty clean inside that thing.» She took out a kerchief from her breastpocket and began to polish.
The Young Man tried to retrieve his knife made of bone, but the burning in his arm was too great, his fingers unresponsive.
«Now listen. You won’t figure this out all at once, especially since you’re fighting to stay conscious right now. But when you realize what’s happening here, the last face you will see will be…»
He spun around and lunged at the woman, biting hard at the artery in her throat, clamping down and drinking her life till it filled his mouth. The moment he pulled away and pushed her body to the concrete with his non-dominant hand, he knew he was no longer the boy who trembled at the sight of the jungle many bright skies ago.
The silver-haired woman crumpled to the ground, but her face seemed resigned to the point of boredom. She let out a sigh, then one final piece of advice. «You can abandon society, young man. But the wild can abandon you, too.»
As the adrenaline faded, our hero felt the need to do something rational, or seemingly rational, to avoid the painful reality that he had just claimed his first human life. So he put on her suit of snazz. Rifled through her pockets. Picked at her belongings like a vulture pecking carrion, hoping that the lowly act of robbery would take the edge off his literal bloodthirst.
Then he saw it. More accurately, her. The woman holding the boy in the picture in the wallet in the pocket of the coat of the corpse lying on the cracked concrete. The woman who had once given birth to him, and bought him his favorite pistachio ice cream right after the picture was taken. One final «Suck my dick» from his fallen adversary.
With a sudden awareness he could feel but not describe, the Young Man took the pressure off his wounds, letting the blood rush down his chest as if spouting from fountains on his shoulder. He dropped his left arm, then everything else — his pig pouch, his yeti-femur knife, his plans for building a garden, his friendship with the giant octopus, his hopes for re-encountering and falling in love with one of the Moderately Attractive Young Women, and as he stared up into the gray nothing above, he was finally warm.
“And So I Shall Abandon Society to Thrive in the Wild”
A short story by Alejandro Bruzzese and Mike Cavalier.
Published in 2015 by the Citrus Arts Collective. All rights reserved.