Red fur and lanky arms swung by the glass window as the large, fat ape swung by in a blur. Panji, the large male on display, was attempting to claim the area for himself by pissing on everything, running all over the enclosure to cover it in his rank. The smaller apes avoided him, not yet ready to interact. People leaned against the glass, children smiling and laughing at the antics of the big lug.
Olly was having the time of his life, the psilocybin mushrooms kicking in at full swing. The glass had a gorgeous rainbow shimmer that scattered across it like static, the sheen glistening under the fluorescent lights that seemed to brighten every minute. As the large ape reached the apex of the wooden platform he climbed, one of the vines was gripped in a huge hand and he swung passed the glass again. Olly watched him go, “ooo-ing” and “Aaah-ing” with the rest of the crowd. His face was red, he knew it, but with the lights so dim and pathetic for everyone but him he was not worried about being noticed.
Well, due to both the lights and his state of mind.
The crowd began to disburse significantly when the gate to the outside play-area was opened and most of the orangutans went outside, following the new male who continued out to put on his display. Everyone had come to see him and his antics continued outside, the surge of people headed out through the electric sliding doors. Olly, however, remained seated at the glass. He gazed inside at Tao, the oldest of the group. He had been asking about these apes for a few weeks now and the zookeepers through he was just curious. In his head it had made sense, his trip would be a lot better if he was more personally connected to the animals, but he had ignored all of the others except this one for the most part.
She was bearded, her hair growing out in a long and even tuft from her chin and cheeks like a red cascade. She moved slower than the others; nearing forty had slowed her down significantly from her youth. The kids had been freaked out by the sight of her through the glass, watching them and analyzing what they were doing. She had followed a tiny toddler as he drank from a sippy-cup and the child had begun to cry, unsure of why the ape was showing special attention to him. His mother had comforted him and gone to check his pants, certain he had crapped in them, but Olly knew better – he knew that the brilliance of this wise, old forest-ape had frightened the child.
He got off of his bench and went to the glass. She sat directly on the other side, eyeing him. Her long legs were crossed and her longer, ropelike arms were extended to her sides to stretch them. Olly reached in his pocket and drew out the lighter he had carried for the last few years. It was special and he brought it to each of these little trips of his, a gift from his father before the old man had died.
“Whenever you…uh…alter the way you think,” the man had said with a wink, “flick this sucker on and off. It’ll keep your attention and keep you from wandering, from getting hurt. You’ll do a lot better if you do that, keep you from flailin’ around like a jackass.”
Olly had taken his father’s words to heart. The first time they had dropped the fungus together he had flicked the lighter on and off with his old man, keeping his gaze on it and focusing so that he did not wander off into the night. They had sat on the porch, watching the fire pit crackle and trying to guess the intention of the flames.
“She likes you,” said a small voice behind him.
Olly flicked the lighter off as quick as he could, pocketing it. The ape followed it with her eyes, watching it nestle in his pocket, before returning her eyes to his. Olly smoothed his shirt, then turned around.
A small boy stood behind him, no more than six or seven. He was away from his parents, hiding from them in the interior of the enclosure. “Tao likes you,” the kid continued. “She does that with me too, when I come here with mom.”
“That’s nice,” Olly told him. “Do you come here a lot?”
“Once a week, maybe twice,” the boy said. “Mom’s new girlfriend likes to bring us here because I said once that I liked the zoo. I wasn’t even really sure what to say to her, she just asked what I liked and I said the zoo because dad used to bring me here when him and mom were together.”
“That’s still not bad, you get to come to the zoo all the time,” Olly pointed out.
“Yeah, it’s been fun. I’m really into the new penguin exhibit but since mom and her Sally are making out in the bathroom I came over here. It’ll scare them a bit and it’s funny when they get scared.” He smiled at this last part, laughing a bit. The boy clearly did not like his mother’s new suitor. “I’m Tyler,” he said.
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get in trouble?” Olly asked.
“Nah,” the boy said. “They’re too worried about me liking dad more right now. Dad has a nicer house and gives me nicer stuff, so they’re trying to be better. I don’t get in trouble, right now I kinda can’t.” Olly thought about this. The boy was in a predicament, trying to act out and having no way to. He thought about it, then settled on a solution.
“I can get you in trouble. Lots of it,” he offered.
The boy looked up at him. “How?” he asked the older boy. Reaching into his pocket, Olly took out a plastic baggie. It was the stash he had brought with him for the exhibit, for the introduction-day for the new male orangutan. He popped two of the mushrooms out, highly potent things, and extended them to the kid. “What are they?” the boy asked.
“This,” Olly told him, “is a handful of mushrooms. They make you see fun things in your head for a few hours, usually something totally funny. Sometimes you just see fun things, the shapes moving a bit or patterns swirling. These, though,” he said with a chuckle, “are strong. They’ll let you do fun stuff.” The boy looked at the two greyish-brown fungi, the pale caps on top shining.
“What do they taste like?” he asked.
Olly laughed. “Ass,” he said. “They’re disgusting but that only lasts a few seconds. Then, after they kick in, it’s all fun and games.” The boy hesitated, looking at the two caps. Then he snatched them, gobbling them up, and turned his attention to the glass in front of them.
It took about half an hour, and they stood in silence. Tao sat before them, her wise face staring at them. The air-conditioner blew through her fur, and Olly watched it shiver and wisp in the air, seeing it dance off of her to become rays of light. The ape rose from the floor, floating before him. The music in his head was divine, dangerous, and intoxicating. She stared at him, the brilliant creature, analyzing him.
“Are you seeing this?” Tyler asked.
“Depends. Do you see the ape floating about three feet off the ground, it’s arms spread out like the risen Christ?”
“No,” the boy said. “I see her flowing in the air but still on the ground. She’s wavy, like water when you pee in it. You know, it gets bubbly and the little ripples happen?”
“Uh huh,” Olly said.
“You really should find a better analogy. Perhaps describing me as a trickling brook in the mountains of my birth?” offered Tao.
Olly stared. “You heard that, right?” he asked Tyler.
“Yup,” the boy said. “She talked, that what you heard?”
“Ok. Is that nomal?”
“No,” Olly said. “I mean, yes, but us having the exact same hallucination is not normal. Usually it doesn’t work that way.”
“Perhaps,” said the ape, “you are not hallucinating. Perhaps we are all one, you two and I. Perhaps, even, complete understanding has been found.”
“Ok then…” Olly said.
“She wants out,” Tyler observed.
“What? What are you talking about?” Olly asked him. Tyler pointed to the ape and Olly followed his hand. Tao had raised her arm. Whatever the boy saw, he also saw a form of it now. The orangutan pointed to the door, the exit from its captivity. The door was code activated, a nine-digit pinpad shining on the wall just outside of it. They could get back there relatively easy, most of the zookeepers were outside watching the new male with the rest of the herd.
“You wanna?” Tyler asked him.
“Yes,” Toa said. “Would you like to free me?”
Olly looked back and forth between them, lost in his own fog. He nodded, and the kid too him by the elbow and led him to the back room where the pinpad was.They stood in front of it. Tao followed them, floating just on the other side of the glass, to hover in front of the window by the door. She radiated light, at least to Olly. What Tyler saw, he had no idea. The two humans looked at the pinpad, the third member of their holy trinity staring at them.
“Use it,” she commanded.
“How?” Tyler asked.
“What are they?” Olly said. The ape pointed and he looked. The number pad was covered in dirt on certain keys. The first four, to be specific. “Oh,” he muttered, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” He punched in the code, 1-2-3-4, and heard a click. On the door there was a little light, a red that flicked over to green. Tyler gripped the door and pulled it open.
The orangutan walked out, the pongo abelii emerging from it’s glass sarcophagus to see the new world. It looked at Tyler and reached out a long arm, shoving him against the wall. The boy flew back, smacking into the wall, and crumbled to the floor. He sat there, grinning, and stared lazily at the ape as it knuckled it’s way passed him. The creature glanced at Olly, who now only saw an animal, and nodded its head. Tao continued on out of the enclosure. Years of experience had told it everything about the displays, the glass, the doors. It had seen and observed humans for over thirty years at this zoo, and it knew how to get out.
The electronic doors opened as it put its weight on the floor sensor, the world opening before it. Olly watched as it walked out. Standing, holding its arms above its head, it looked back and forth. Tao saw what she was looking for and bared her teeth at it, a deep and angry howl bursting from her throat. She leapt in that direction. To Olly, it seemed as though she flew away in the wind as a monster, a creature of darkness. The screams began to float in, roaring through the doors as they shut. When they clamped together a peace came over the room, the sounds blocked out by the soundproof barriers to the outside world. He sighed, then sat back down on the bench, looking into the empty cage. The glass continued to swirl in front of him, and in the silence Olly began to laugh.