The long, dark grass plains of the Grand Basin stretched away in the vast nature of an ancient sea. Mt Thirsty’s prominence over the landscape was challenged only by its own permanency – looming in the distance in every brute and critter’s nervous scan over territory for immediate danger like it wasn’t there. Mt Thirsty’s serpent tongue protruded with a regular dark jet of poisonous red bile and spit and fumes. And it was forever covered in thick stubborn cloud, concealing the fiery open jaw of a volcano.
Mt Thirsty hisses into the atmosphere day and night. Occasionally its radiant breath will change hue to a mustard-rainbow or orange-silver and gas-blue then back again. And sometimes the quiet growl of Mt Thirsty’s stomach, deep in the bowels of the earth ripples along underneath the flat plains of the Grand Basin.
It is said long before memories the wet season was angered. By who and what for is lost to the ages. The ancient sea usurped an echo of its former glory. The Grand Basin flooded to where Mt Thirsty’s steep jungle canopy came crashing to a halt on the open graduated slopes that ran seamlessly into the lowlands.
It’s late in the dry season and the thick green grass is now reduced to brittle clumps of golden white spines. And the ribbed network of waterways and lake has contracted to a few stagnant swamps, quagmires and the Bedlam Marshes.
The Tedious Giraffe’s loneliness is deep and quiet, like soft rain that lasts so long it stops registering a sound. It exists nonetheless. By midday the heat rouses most swamp toads and newts with thumping heads from a late night that already seems distant and irrelevant in waking moments. The Tedious Giraffe rises at dawn and spends her day avoiding the heat under the shade of Crab Claw trees – away from Bedlam Marshes and other animals.
The toads and newts spend the afternoon sunbathing on dirty, mud-baked rocks, or floating prone, star-shaped and motionless in boggy pools of water. By early evening they’re drunk and riotous again on swamp fumes, burbing and croaking loudly into the night. The Tedious Giraffe dreads this time of day most. The Longtongues and Koocaws homeward screeches overhead signal the end of day and she’s forced to the marshlands to drink.
The Tedious Giraffe never escapes the toads and newts cruel intent and malicious desire to disrepute her – their throaty taunts and jeers and righteous tones loudly blurble lurid and hurtful suggestions and insidious asides. And the cackling chorus of Ladylegs and Shovelbeaks, and trill of yellow Fox-eyed Flamingos and other water birds out in the shallow darkness of the marshes only compound her rejection.
None of them hated the Tedious Giraffe in their hearts. It was her gauche and weighted presence – it made their stomachs sink when she approached. She was so boring. Her monotonous stream of gruff critical bleating and slurps twisted their guts and coiled their blood into a state of acute reproach they couldn’t control. Her long, dowdy fringe grew level over her sight, casting her eyes in sullen shadows. She farted loudly and made no excuses, sang in the rain and only sung songs she knew perfectly.
Sometimes in the evening lecherous toads and randy newts with heads spinning on swamp gas become overwhelmed by a peculiar merriment. They pester the Tedious Giraffe and ingratiate her with compliments to solicit turns riding atop her crowned head. They knew between her pointed, furry ears rested a privileged view of the Grand Basin, born to the sole giraffe inhabiting the plains.
We all need to feel like we belong. It was not because of weakness that the Tedious Giraffe acquiesced one night and permitted the more raucous and wasted toads and newts to share her omnipotent view. They woke late the next day as usual with throbbing heads and gravel in their throats. When the Tedious Giraffe approached carrying a smile mercilessly affable and desperately convinced about her new acceptance, she was not prepared for the swamp dweller’s sudden reversal of affection. Their disdain was obvious and affronting like the thick, rancid stench of Bedlam Marshes at the end of the dry season. Woops and wallops rained – full of indecent accusations and bawdy insults. They called her a ‘sniferbug’ and ‘desert mole’. The toads and newts who took a ride on the Tedious Giraffe the night before were the most caustic and abusive. And they turned her away in tears.
She was the weird kid in class everyone loathed because an intangible awkward knot no one could place twisted horribly in the gut whenever she was around. So they teased and punished the Tedious Giraffe.
The greatest participants in these circled attacks were the young, gawky, weak amphibians. The worst was Gamy, a small, fat newt. He was always regenerating a foot, or an arm, or part of tail severed in attacks by stronger, older males, who in turn teased him about the fact. And it is relief and thanks and fear that fuels bullied bullies.
Mother Heron is the only one who doesn’t participate. She stands clear of the other flocks, proud and sophisticated, on the muddy banks. Her elegant, long beak holds perpendicular to the sky. And her white and grey plumage, dulled by the hot summer, still remains pristine in the dry and dusty winds. What some disregard as arrogance is a deep worldliness carried in such light deportment. She is a migratory bird. Her life-mate has never been spotted. And no one has ever heard Mother Heron mention him. Her soft, penetrating eyes often gaze out beyond the Grand Basin, to the horizon as if she is waiting for something lost to turn up.
The air was cool. It tingled with the scent of rain and change that was still far off, thundering over some distant ocean. Disconcerted voices regularly rose and fell in agreement over big nothings. The Tedious Giraffe’s long mane stood piqued and erect in the wind that swirled over the Grand Basin. Grass blade tips rippled in gusts that cut and curled in waves over the surface producing an uncanny illusion of a Martian sea.
The Morose Blue Gorilla emerged from the mountain, between two giant boulders that appeared to halt the jungle’s assault on the lowland plains. He was small for an adult male gorilla, graceful, androgynous and utterly beguiling. An arresting stripe of silver hair followed the spinal groove of his back. Disconsolate eyes like oysters filled his face, trapping his spectacular symmetry and beauty and made others jealous, uneasy, confused and angry at him. His family and cousins named him ‘fish leach,’ and ‘white tick’. Goodwill and optimism didn’t feed the Morose Blue Gorilla. He was a black hole of despair, such a sullen creature it was unavoidable not to be affected by his presence. When anybody got too close, happiness and contentment simply escaped them, sucked into the vortex of the Morose Blue Gorilla’s endless dark depression. The Bedlam Marshes were never kind or welcoming to strangers and the Morose Blue Gorilla preferred his own company. No one knew why he left the jungle. And the Morose Blue Gorilla didn’t entertain curiosity, or gossip.
The friendship struck between the Tedious Giraffe and Morose Blue Gorilla was strong and sudden. It was an unlikely match. But best friends are often found this way – forged together by convenience or circumstance. Vulcanised by a tacit reluctance to evolve, the bond becomes impervious to corrosive elements such as time, disaffection and betrayal.
The Morose Blue Gorilla’s coat fluctuated through the spectral aspects of aquatic formations to reflect his dark moods; from a barren ocean, and indigo sea to a flooded reservoir and briny estuary. In rare moments he hinted an emerald lagoon, or tropical embayment. Only once, stuck on a childhood memory did he reach near contentment and the cerulean tincture of an alpine lake, with his silver stripe erect, reflecting a lucid teardrop in the sunlight.
They never spoke much, but it became a common sight on the Grand Basin to see the Gorilla on the back of the Giraffe, galloping through the long grass in the distance. At sundown when they went to drink at the marshes, the Morose Blue Gorilla protected the Tedious Giraffe’s honour. He jumped up and down, roaring tyrannically and smashing his fists into the boggy ground to silence the toads and newts – at least while they carefully recovered and regained their position on rocks and stones and started their hollering all over again.
Over time more and more clouds began to gather over the Grand Basin. They expanded and melted together and grew dark and bold, drawing a low, heavy sheet over the sun and sky. Then it started to rain – jungle rain that falls fast and hard. It struck the ground discharging pillows of cold breath that makes feet skip, hearts jump and breath shallow because it’s something powerful and exhilarating to be caught in.
Three months pass. The torrential downpour continues with endless determination and consistency. The intricate network of tributaries and billabongs swell and the banks burst. Water freely flows through the long grass to the base of Mt Thirsty and floods the Grand Basin. Large, able beasts retreat to the elevated jungle slopes. Beyond the prominent ring of monolithic stone boulders, under the saturated jungle canopy the Morose Blue Gorilla sits astride the Tedious Giraffe in silence.
Distant, desperate cries travel feebly through belts of rain, from where Bedlam Marshes used to be. Exhausted toads and newts thrash and struggle without any purchase in the deep, swirling underwater currents. They yelp the singular tone of helplessness and despair.
The Morose Blue Gorilla punctuates the liquid static with his sonorous growl.
’We need to help.’
‘I know,’ the Tedious Giraffe replies. Humility can’t be directed or contained. And kindness can’t be exclusive – to do so is a form of retribution and will never end well. And as her pink prehensile tongue wraps around her own words she realises how deeply she cares for the Gorilla and every other creature. It is a release of potential that fills her insides the way water swells over a thirst.
‘Do you trust me?’ she asks.
‘There’s not much time,’ the Morose Blue Gorilla replies.
‘You’re the only friend I have,’ the Tedious Giraffe says.
‘I’ll hold on.’
With that said the suddenness of the Tedious Giraffe’s initiative is inspiring. She hurtles down the soft decline, leaps over an uneven rocky outcrop between boulders and splashes heavily into the Grand Basin. Her momentum slows temporarily. She regains her rhythm, her long legs slicing through the water like rudders. The Morose Blue Gorilla bounds up and down on the Tedious Giraffe’s hard bare back. His obdurate grip digs into her mane, pinching her neck, while his strong shoulders and arms fix him in place. The Tedious Giraffe flinches with pain, but it is a pain she doesn’t mind. Her neck begins to sway back and forth like sapling timber. Her graceless design is exaggerated by the motion. Then her gallop strikes a rhythm. The parade of disconnected movement, stilted hooves splashing down and up and slender neck gyrating forward and back synchronise in a display of extraordinary magnificence.
The pair nears the cries for help. The Tedious Giraffe slows and cuts deep figure eights in the flooded swamp. The Morose Blue Gorilla stretches out his superior hands and feet and his opposable thumbs and toes wrench the obnoxious drowning amphibians delicately from their grim fate. The nimble newts clamber high as they can up the Tedious Giraffe’s neck while the fat toads stick to where they can on her wet, knotted, shaggy fur. The Tedious Giraffe soon becomes completely covered in a second skin – glistening, wart covered, black and marbled green. She lopes to the Crab Claw Trees. It is higher ground and even the young trees are only up to their knees in flood waters. The Tedious Giraffe ambles alongside their ivory trunks and watches her slimy second skin peel off like a disease and traverse across to the trees. The noisy, amphibious veneer on the trees gleams in the gloomy light. The Tedious Giraffe doesn’t notice the Morose Blue Gorilla squeezes a baby toad until he’s an empty tube, or see him capture and stash a handful of juvenile toads in his armpits. They turn their backs on the bizarre spectacle swaying out-of-water in the storm and return to the safety of higher ground.
The Morose Blue Gorilla conceals his prisoners away from the Tedious Giraffe, high up in the jungle canopy out of her sight. He warns them with horrific clear detail – if any of them escape he’ll squash them into oblivion. The rain continues for three more weeks. The Gorilla milks the toads to untangle his moods. Passing the days his demands grow too frequent for their supply, and he becomes aggressive. Unaware of his growing addiction the Tedious Giraffe wraps her long neck around the Morose Blue Gorilla. She senses a force governing the Gorilla. She ignores it in favour of enjoying the glacial glint in his coat and his long arm around her thick throat. She remains silent and they fall asleep each night to a din of croaks, whistles and bellows above the rain, praising their names across the Grand Basin.
Under a burning yellow moon the dead grass shimmers bronze. And even the elders take pause of the Grand Basin’s recent aquatic transformation – a phenomenon only previously relived in folklore and imagination. Now there isn’t a single amoeba-brained mind that could conjure such an awestruck vision without bearing witness to it.
Days grow long and slothful. The miasma of the Bedlam Swamp rises with renewed and fierce retribution. The indolent weather steels all the ambition, appetite, libido and desires from the Grand Basin. The heat soaked hours quickly push the recent calamity into the back of most creatures mind. For it is a natural reaction to bury bad experiences in favour of happier times.
Dawn becomes day and the blistering temperature climbs through the afternoon on another unassuming day. The Morose Blue Gorilla is resting under the Tedious Giraffe’s haunches when her thin, sensitive legs feel a strange subterranean rumble across the Grand Basin. She stomps and neighs with nervous aggression. A second and third ripple follows with perceivable force. A cacophony of roars and screams erupts over the late afternoon. The wise, older beasts take notice of the omens. Mother Heron feels an inexorable desire to leave. Nobody notices her disappear towards a new horizon. Again the earth trembles.
A humongous ashen cloud mushrooms silently above Mt Thirsty and into the darkening sky. A ring of sound cracks the heavens. It spreads at awesome speed through the air furiously trying to catch up with the sight of the explosion. The sonic boom shakes the Grand Basin. An outburst of fear and silence detonates the summer gloaming.
Mollifying bellows and whimpers gradually return, slowly creeping back over open spaces like Cherry Rot. The prolonged anxiety draws the gassed toads and newts out of their stupor. Thick black smoke envelops the sky and eclipses the sun. Darkness grabs the earth quickly and quietens terrified voices. Smoke continues billowing with a blood red halo from Mt Thirsty’s angry mouth. And it‘s sinister broken-tooth hiss cuts all the more sharply across the Grand Basin.
Bedlam Swamp grows restless. Laden by fear the inhabitants become frustrated, unreasonable and argumentative. Terror guides them. They cannot make sense of the situation and no one has any answers so they look for someone to blame to salve their panic. Another almighty boom ignites overhead and thunders under foot. Mt Thirsty belches an igneous discharge high into the atmosphere like a satanic flare. A soft thud is felt nearby – repeated with greater frequency, again and again. Rocks and debris, whistling with deadly weight and speed through the darkness splatter across the Grand Basin.
At the Tedious Giraffe’s infuriating insistence the Morose Blue Gorilla stays sheltered under her soft belly. The irascible mountain coughs and sneezes again. Flaming marmalade plumes billow high into the night. Then it stops. Silence and darkness crashes down on the Grand Basin.
After a short time relief oozes back through the Grand Basin. Between the smouldering rocks and scorched patches of dry grass subdued nattering and quiet confused murmurs rain. For a moment Mt Thirsty almost appears conciliatory, glowing serenely like a lit cigar.
A cataclysmic blowout lifts the earth crust right off the planet’s core like shaking a rug out for dust. The Tedious Giraffes loses her feet and slams to the ground like felled timber. The tectonic eruption obliterates Mt Thirsty’s head and neck, launching a monumental fiery chrysanthemum into the night sky. For an instant the Grand Basin gasps in a single reverent voice. Every creature remains silent, drinking in the diabolical display, tracking the molten fire balls to their vertical apex. The flaming shower pauses, faltering on the edge of its downward trajectory to irradiate the night in a devilish glow. Then it arches with malicious intent and descends down on everybody’s head like red glitter. Pandemonium prevails.
Screams resound in an awful choir. As the deafening blows begin to land and strike blazing crispy craters in the earth, insults and arguments ignite back and forth with the same speed. Toads burp at newts, which gurgle at the flocks of birds, which squawk and screech back with equal ferocity. They end abruptly when unlucky souls are caught between the earth and the demonic cannonballs, but start up again just as quickly by those who are spared.
The Tedious Giraffe and Morose Blue Gorilla remain calm and quiet. The Tedious Giraffe is unable to flex her neck backwards and see the sky to avoid the incoming fireballs. Through the noise and confusion she relies on the Morose Blue Gorilla and his sad voice to direct her out of danger.
From a distance the Grand Basin is glamorously lit by scattered blazes feeding greedily on the long, dry grass. In the chaotic mist it’s hard to imagine Gamy’s voice finding an audience. Gamy hated the only creature who didn’t detest him – who was civil and didn’t speak condescendingly or in derogatory tones towards him. I guess he blamed the Morose Blue Gorilla for taking away the only animal that was thought less of than him – that made his life infinitely more liveable.
Somehow creatures are often threatened by the utterly unthreatening. Gamy’s twisted conscience won’t admit he was out to punish the Morose Blue Gorilla. Gamy was possessed by fear and anger. Virtue and compassion was lost to him. But the Morose Blue Gorilla didn’t care for such social matters of decorum and trivial standings – he cared only for decency. He placed total importance on others’ level of common courtesy, which determined the few souls he spent time with.
‘This is all the Gorilla’s fault,’ quacked Gamy.
‘Aye, it’s the stinking blue ape,’ barked a Longtongue.
‘Yeah,’ a distant Shovelbeak concurred.
Pink-billed Waders crowed in support, and Limebellys and Ladylegs tweeted timid agreement. Cowardice ruled. And it swelled into a flood of false complicity.
A mob can be an ugly transformation. Individual principles and ethics are surrendered to the majority, who turn unpredictable, lawless and thirsty for justice of their own design. They are emboldened by numbers, easily persuaded and urged onwards to greater and more violent retribution. One can find themselves divided and acting completely out of character. The mob rules – that’s why it’s called a mob. And the entire Grand Basin turned quicker than the wind or oculars against the Morose Blue Gorilla and the Tedious Giraffe.
Derision and anger gathered momentum as all the animals called for order and marched off in unison through burning pits and craters to the Crab Claw trees. Gamy grows cocky, encouraged by what he’s started. He scrambles ahead and puffs out his vocal sac so as to be seen leading the confrontation to the Grand Basin’s harbingers of death and destruction. The Tedious Giraffe’s elevated sight spots the assembly.
‘What do they want?’
‘To be done with us I suppose.’
‘Why? We saved them.’
‘We can’t stay here much longer.’
‘Shall we go see what they want then?’
The Tedious Giraffe neighs nervous approval, but already the Morose Blue Gorilla has pinched a lump of her fur and hoisted his strong nimble frame effortlessly onto her back.
The spitting and hollering increases in vehemence as the mob comes face-to-face with their foes. They lambast chants;
’Go A-wayyyy and awayyyy,’ and ‘Don’t come back no more no more,’ Gamy adds, ‘Our home, not your home,’ to fuel their rage.
‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ the Tedious Giraffe bleats.
‘It never does,’ the Morose Blue Gorilla replies.
Never one for many words he roars and leaps from the Giraffe to the scorched earth and pummels his fists against his chest and ground. But the rabble has found confidence in numbers and besieges their saviours with little respect.
‘The stupid, dirty monkey is cursed. He has brought this upon us–disaster and catastrophe,’ Gamy declares to provoke the crowd.
The abuse grows louder and more vicious. Guthrie, the fat, giant scrub toad remains silent. He remembers the forsaken feeling of helplessness and doom during the flood like a deep glass splinter. But wisdom often breeds cynicism and hesitation. He doesn’t speak out against his heroes, but will not defend them either. He burrows underground, into a protective embryonic sack with a sickness in his belly he does not acknowledge is shame.
The Tedious Giraffe swings her great long neck back and forth defensively. She caws and clucks in anxious aggression to keep the fierce encroaching assembly from surrounding them. She stops to look down at her only friend. Full on incrimination the animals don’t notice Mt Thirsty’s voracity abating, or the sky clearing. Physical frustration exhausts the Morose Blue Gorilla. He stumbles backwards to lean against a Crab Claw Tree. The weight of solitude and disenchantment has finally become too heavy to ignore.
He feels his companion’s large amber eyes arrest him but cannot bear to look up. He leaves the Tedious Giraffe in a speechless pool of betrayal as he silently turns his back on her, and the vitriolic slogans – full of words with sharp fingers that push him into the glowing night.
A heavy lull rolls over the Grand Basin, as if to vindicate the Morose Blue Gorilla’s abrupt exile. The fireworks cease and the ground turns still and quiet again. All around the seared swamp tails of smoke curl off cindering vegetation and mirror the smouldering cradle remains of the mountain. The Tedious Giraffe is the only one to watch the Morose Blue Gorilla retreat all the way into the shadows of the jungle where he first cometh until he vanishes into the darkness.
So it is fated, that the Tedious Giraffe with a futile, damp gaze still locked on the horizon first sees the stream of molten bile spew upwards to inflame the dark. While anxiously still hoping to glimpse her only friend she watches a tongue of red magma silently burble over its broken lip.
It descends quickly, growing fat and wide like raindrops on window panes. The Tedious Giraffe blinks soot out of her eyes and suddenly there’s a river cutting a hellish divide down the far side of the former mountain. Two nearer tracks appear over the cracked grimace of Mt Thirsty’s shattered jaws and gather volume and velocity like melted candle wax. Those who first spot the viscous scorching doom coming their way realise immediately it matches the direction the Morose Blue Gorilla was last seen. They turn to the Tedious Giraffe. Others simply turn out of habit, but she is already gone.
The vengeful congregation scatter in a frenzied tumult of death cries. The molten lava crashes through the undergrowth at the base of the mountain. The youngest and weakest souls have no hope. Mortal fright and self preservation tramples them in moments. Only the strongest birds can lift off unhinged by the ash and smut filled sky. The rest hop and flap along in the wake of the hairy quadrupeds. The hysteria becomes a stampede. Every animal knows they’re in it for themselves – in a death race to escape the broken mountain and the cursed land.
Moist saplings squeal and trees crack and pop in futile defiance until inertia grips the red river. It draws to a halt where the mountain gradient levels off into the Grand Basin. It sizzles and expands, slowly cooling to hard crusty spines and formations over the land. It’s hard to say how long the fleeing survivors ran before turning around to see they were spared and safe. And like any disaster it’s always surprising how soon communities invite normalcy back. The Tedious Giraffe never returned. The Morose Blue Gorilla and her were never heard of or seen again.
The nature of Bedlam Swamps is fickle and the Tedious Giraffe and Morse Blue Gorilla were easily forgotten. The toads and newts didn’t notice the exodus of large horned beasts to more suitable pastures. They didn’t acknowledge the arrival of strange slender creatures and the giant growling yellow beasts they harnessed that stunk and puffed over grass along strange new tracks. The toads and newts lived in the hiatus of the afternoon and the oblivion of the night. Beside strange new coloured water ways, intoxicated on fetid and noisome new fumes they didn’t recognise or even care as relatives and friends disappeared daily, one by one.
If you do find yourself here by the Grand Basin walk one of three brisk scoriaceous veins up the cradle of old Mt Thirsty’s to the elevated crater-lake forged from the destruction and many rains. Monkraft Island is a strange petrified shaped rock in the centre of the cool violet water. If the light’s right locals claim you can see the image of an ape on the head of a giant giraffe.
If you’re lucky, early in the morning you may see a line of Blue Fairy Moneys with eye lashes like whiskers and long furry tails like wrapping ribbon. They crash through the heavy foliage spilling out over the lip of the water. They spring off high branches and over the shimmering lake using the igneous charcoal pinnacle in the middle of the cool water as a launching platform to complete their aerobatic feat and reach the opposite side. They vanish into the green canopy on the far side as quickly as they flew out of it. Take time to bath in the bracing indigo baby waves that are reputed to alleviate all misery and melancholy from your heart and allow you to contemplate passing shadows and clouds.