The Golden Monkey

… And there is one of these myths, a myth not spoken of today in but the most knowing of circles, of a certain golden monkey. It has been said by the monks of East India that the golden monkey is a most venerable and esteemed artefact, an artefact which gives some undisclosed power to any who would possess it. There are no known instances of anyone ever having found it, and to this day we have only a vague knowledge of its general whereabouts – that it is in a forest in India. Those who believe in it say that it is in a place called the Lost Temple, guarded by a thousand sleeping monkeys, monkeys so full of wrath that if they are awoken – and they can be awoken by the slightest sound – they will viciously attack and kill the intruder, all in an attempt to prove their blind devotion to the golden monkey. But with the only written mention of it dating back to roughly 3000 B.C., I nor anyone I know has any reason to suspect that this myth is founded, however loosely, upon the truth.

– Taken from A Brief Introduction to the Relics of Ancient India

When I first learned about the golden monkey I was overawed. I mean, monkeys are pretty amazing without being golden. It was at the British Library. I remember that for certain because there was a strong smell of dust, and, me being allergic to dust, I sneezed a lot. I asked the girl at the counter if she knew any books about ancient Indian relics. Of course, I wasn’t expecting her to know – I wasn’t really even expecting there to be any. This kind of thing is kept very hush hush. It’s not the kind of thing you just haphazardly publish books about. But to my surprise, she said “yes, right this way” and gave a coy smile. About half the way to the book, she told me that I was the second person today to ask about ancient Indian relics. I was just about to sneeze, but with sheer willpower I refrained myself.
“Really?” I queried.
“Yes. I only point that out because no one ever asks for books about Indian relics.”
“Hmm.” My nose was getting itchy. “I see.”
“Is something troubling you? You look like you’re about to sneeze.”
“Yes. It’s the dust, you see.”
“Oh. Would you like a tissue?”
She held out some tissues she had just removed from her breast pocket. I took them, and sneezed in them.
“Bless you,” she said with a little laugh.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“Here’s your book,” she said, as she took it off the shelf.
“Ah, yes. Thank you.”
I opened the book to the first page and wiped the thin layer of dust off. The girl was still there, looking at the book, intrigued. I looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back, then turned and went to her desk.
I looked back down at the book. ‘A Brief Introduction to the Relics of India,’ it read, and below that was ‘NOT TO BE BORROWED,’ stamped severely.

Later on that day, I think it was five hours or so later, I was still reading the book intently, though with the distinct urge to sleep coming over me. The librarian girl came over to me and with a tired smile told me that it was closing time in 10 minutes. My bedtime, too, I feebly joked. She gave a tired laugh. Funnily enough, seeing her laugh made me lose some of my sleepiness and gave me a small burst of energy, like a shot of caffeine. I doubt I had the same effect on her – I was just another customer, another member of the public. I handed her the book anyway and asked if as a special favour she could hide the book somewhere so no one would find it. She bit her lip as if in deep thought about that, told me that it was against the rules but that she’d do it anyway. She also reminded me that she was making an exception and told me not to presume that she’d do it again. I thanked her and asked her name.
“Jessica,” she said, and I told her that that was my aunt’s name too. She seemed surprised. Outside in the dark of the London night it was cold and bitter. Raining, too.

The next morning was bright and sunny. I would usually be an optimist in that weather, but I couldn’t help but feel a pessimist. I had read for hours and all I could decipher from the unnecessarily complex book the day before was that there was a thing called the golden monkey, it possessed some kind of inexplicable power, and that it was in India. Whereabouts in India it would not say. For all I knew the author was making it up. It could be their idea of a joke.
Just as I thought those very thoughts, the phone rang.
“Hello?” – it was work.
“Hello. Do you have any information yet?”
“A little bit.” I rolled my eyes, not looking forward to my boss’s response. “Could I have a few more hours?” I said, “I’m sure I’ll have more then,” not being sure at all.
My manager begrudgingly obliged.
“Remember the deadline,” he cautioned, and hung up. I sighed as the no-signal tone buzzed in my ear, then absent-mindedly peered out of the window before brushing my teeth and shaving. The weatherman said it’d be raining later. Yawn. Perhaps if I was more optimistic about the weather when I woke up it wouldn’t be raining later. I’ve noticed that sometimes things happen like that. But I can’t help it. Working for The Monthly Explorer (the world’s least-well-known travel journal) wasn’t what I hoped it would be when I signed up for it. For one thing there’s no travelling. The editor, you see, was an eccentric old man (that’s an understatement) who thought his journal would sell more than its rivals if it got scoops on obscure things – like the golden monkey. Judging by the circulation it seemed not – people who buy travel journals just want to know where to travel.
But nevertheless I trudged on to the British Library again, in the hopes that maybe I’d find something of any use, however remote.

As I neared the library I heard an alarm. A small crowd was developing on the stairs that led into the library. My curiosity was sparked and I accelerated as I tried to find out what was going on. A man barged roughly passed me as I crossed the road. I made him drop his briefcase, and he impatiently picked it up. I turned round and stared at the man, who, after adjusting his turban, began walking off without a word of apology or an acknowledgement that I was there. Under normal circumstances I would have brought him up on that point with a swift fist to the face, but as I was somewhat pressed for time I gritted my teeth and walked. I squeezed through the crowds, hearing nothing but bemused citizens making unlikely suggestions as to what was the cause of the alarm. I looked up at the archway that grandly marked the entrance, and made my way in.
I looked around everywhere for Jessica, and, after a few security guards ran past me and out to the street, I realised that she wasn’t there. Either it was her day off or she was on her lunch break, and either way I saw it as an ominous sign. I’m superstitious like that. I approached the man at the desk and asked if he knew where Jessica was. He looked a little bit troubled – stewed a bit, looked into my eyes, then told me she was upstairs in the office.
“Could I speak to her?” I asked.
“What is it regarding?”
“It’s something important. She’ll know what it is.”
He paused to give me a look of suspicion.
“I’ll just go get her for you.”
With that he went up the stairs, in no particular hurry. Run along now, I thought. What a rude individual. What a stinkingly rude individual. If I was a thinking man I’d say he was attracted to Jessica and was protective of her – or jealous, whatever you want to call it. But I’m not a thinking man, well – at least I don’t think I am. Regardless, some minutes had passed and the man came down without Jessica.
“She says if you must speak to her, then could you speak to her upstairs.”
Immediately I said yes but it wasn’t until a few moments later that I realised the possible implications of what he said. Why should Jessica be so reluctant to speak to me? Did something happen to the book – the one book in London with any information on the golden monkey?
When I got to the office I found out. Jessica, hunched on a chair at a desk with too much paper on it, looked obviously distraught and was wiping tears from her eyes in a desperate bid to hide them from me.
“He, he, that man…”
“What man?” I asked. But she was sobbing uncontrollably now and it was barely possible to decipher her code. Calming her down was a task to say the least, but I half-managed it. A man, she said, dressed in black, had forced her to hand over the book. In the ensuing scuffle she managed to rip out one page which would be useless by itself. A piercing gaze, she said he had. I didn’t know if I knew anyone that fitted that description.
“Did you notice anything else strange about him?”
“Not really… he was carrying a briefcase…”
“Anything else?”
“Well he was wearing a turban, but –”
Then it hit me. It must have been the same man I had passed outside the entrance. And whoever he was, he must’ve had a vested interest in the golden monkey.
“Jessica,” I said, “remember yesterday when I came in asking about the book?”
“Uh huh.”
“You said that someone came in before me about the same book. Was it the same person?”
“I don’t know.” She looked genuinely mixed up. “They were both tall. They both wore black overcoats and turbans, but – I don’t know.”
Even if she didn’t know, I had more than a hunch that it was the same guy. Two strange occurrences in two days has got to be a record for any library, and they both involved the same book. I concluded that he must have been a madman, and, after excusing myself, called work to keep them up to date.
“Hello?”
“Hello, James. Have you finished with the blasted golden monkey or what?”
“Well, not quite.” I could hear a deep breath being drawn. “Somebody’s stolen the book from the British Library, and that was the only one that has anything to do with the golden monkey.”
“Who stole the book, James?”
“I don’t know him – some madman, I think.”
“Right. Well there’s only one solution.”
“Yes, I know. We’re going to have to forget the whole thing.”
“Forget it? Oh no. You’re going to India to find it.”
An angry silence followed.
“Find it, sir? That’s impossible. Not in two and a half weeks.”
“It is possible, James, and it’s inevitable. The only other story we have is about the damn fishes of the Congo river, and no one cares about them!”
“But –”
“They say India’s a treat this time of year. Goodbye.”
Then came the irritating click and buzz of the phone hanging up. Except this time it made me want to punch the walls.
“Is something wrong?” asked Jessica.
“That was my boss. He has just informed me that I’m going to India to find the golden monkey.”
“Lucky you!” was her unexpected reply. “Do they pay for your flight?”
“Yeah.”
“Would they pay for me too?”
“Well I wouldn’t want to be the one to ask.”
~
Two days later, me and Jessica both were in Calcutta. I surveyed my surroundings with a thorough eye. There was nothing suspicious on the plane, nor as we got off the plane, nor as we got to the main hub of the airport. The only thing disorientating was the heat. Practically everybody who got off the plane was Indian and probably thought of the heat as a comfort. Jessica didn’t appear to be too moved by it, either. I put on my sunglasses as if it would have helped, then continued carefully inspecting the situation.
“Jessica,” I said, “how did you convince the journal to pay for your flight?”
She looked like she was thrown off by that question, wasn’t expecting it.
“How did I do what, sorry?”
“I said how did you get the journal to pay for your flight? Those guys are notoriously tight with money. Well, with me anyway.”
“Oh. Let’s just say I used my feminine wiles.”
“You slept with my boss?”
“No! I didn’t say that. I said I used my feminine wiles. There’s a difference.”
So she slept with him, then. Anyway I couldn’t be distracted from the business at hand. According to my boss the unreasonable task of finding the golden monkey in two weeks was actually very reasonable, even though I didn’t know where it was or where to start looking. The way I figured it, it had to be in a jungle because that’s where the lost temple was, and it had to be close, because if it wasn’t then I sure as hell wasn’t searching all of India. I didn’t need the job that much.
I asked Jessica if she knew any more than I did, but her response was negative. She knew even less. Over some coffee we talked about how we were going to tackle this, but quickly I discovered she was more interested in seeing the sights than finding the golden monkey in time. I was stuck with doing the thinking myself.
I fretted about, walked to and fro for a long time – mostly worrying and not actually thinking.
“Excuse me, sir,” I would ask passers by, “do you know where the lost temple is?” to which everyone either thought I was a madman or an overexcited tourist, but nobody knew what I was talking about. People knew where the jungle was – that was common knowledge – but what good would that do me? Occasionally people would look away oddly if I mentioned the golden monkey, or sometimes even cover their mouths and say “sssh,” but nobody could point me in any rough direction.
And then came another problem – I had lost Jessica amidst the crowds. I rolled my eyes, then began shouting out her name. Surprisingly, she showed up about a minute later.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing running off like that? Like a crazy person?”
“Sigh,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
She guided me through the crowds and out of the airport onto the main road. There were many taxis, many horses, many rickshaws, and many people holding up signs. I was so frustrated that I didn’t see, until Jessica pointed him out, a guy with a sign that read “THIS WAY THE MONKEY GOLD.” It felt like God had taken the form of a funny-looking Indian and was giving me directions.
“Hey!” I called out to the man. “Hey!” I ran over to him and asked if he knew where the golden monkey was.
“Take this,” he said, handing me a map. “But be very careful who you meet.” He ran off. I wasn’t interested in what he said, frankly. I was just happy I had a map.
“Right, Jessie. Can I call you Jessie?”
“Uh huh.”
“Let’s find the golden monkey, Jessie.”

We were in the middle of the jungle. That much was certain. There was nowhere else we could have been but in the middle of the jungle. We had only each other, a map and our sense of direction to tell us where to go. There were no people or roads, but there were a lot of trees and swamps and flying insects that stung you. Yep, we were in the jungle alright. Technically, it wasn’t a jungle – it was a mangrove forest, actually. The biggest in the world, I believe. They call it the Sundarbans. You can even look it up if you don’t believe me. The thing was that even as forests go, this was a pretty dangerous one. Lots of treacherous animals here, the most famous being the Bengal tiger, a nearly untameable beast closer to making the local population extinct than being extinct itself. We were told before we left that there are some tactics you can employ to fend them off. The most important – and most difficult – of these was to stay perfectly still and not look them in the eye. I digested this information as detachedly as I could.
After a good few hours walking we arrived in a calm-looking clearing and decided to take a break. I lay down on a log and Jessica lay down on the grass, and we both stretched our legs. It seemed like Jessica’s enthusiasm was waning at that point. I felt a little sorry for her, but then what did she expect? I did say it wouldn’t be a holiday but what I said and what she heard me say were two different things. “Are you alright?” I’d ask her, and “are you sure?” but there was something indefinably different about her. I had only known her for a few days so I figured this must just be a side to her personality I hadn’t seen. It wasn’t so much that she was tired, but that her mind was roaming someplace else, someplace that wasn’t the jungle. Maybe it was the pressure of the job getting to me, I don’t know, but I was starting to see Jessica in a different light. I started to see something serene about her presence that I just hadn’t noticed before. In a strange way, I felt like I’d known her for much longer than just a few days, like I was starting to get actual feelings for her.
She looked at me dreamily with a glazed expression, and I turned around thinking that she was looking at something behind me.
“What’s that you’re looking at? The clouds?”
“No,” she replied.
I had an idea for something I thought would cheer her up, so I asked her if she could look after the things for a few minutes.
“And don’t leave the clearing, whatever you do.”
“I won’t.”
So I retraced the path that we took to get to the clearing because I remembered that about five minutes back there had been a small area with these beautiful flowers growing. Not being a flower connoisseur I didn’t know what they were called, all I knew was that they were nice. I thought that maybe if I picked a few of them, Jessica might cheer up, or at least snap out of it.
After I had picked about five flowers I spied a swamp a few feet away, besides which there were many more flowers. So naturally I went over and started picking some, until I noticed that sitting next to me was a strange-looking multicoloured frog. The damn thing was so inanimate I thought it may as well have been dead. It stared at me blankly. As I continued picking the flowers I began to get more than a tad irritated by the stare, and tried to do something, but anything, to get it to stop staring at me. I started prancing around and doing all kinds of things I would never do in front of people, but it wasn’t moved by any of it. When I walked round to the other side of it, it stayed where it was and this just made it even creepier. I can’t explain why, but I felt that before I returned to Jessica I had to get that frog to move, that was the only way my mind could rest. I ripped a branch off a tree and poked at it, softly at first, then gradually harder and harder when I realised it wasn’t responding. No amount of pokes would do it. He was trying to freak me out. I figured he had to respond to what I did next, which was to flip it over onto its back with my foot. But it continued staring, just upside down. I walked away from it to test it, to see if it would leap away once it had thought I’d gone. But it was a patient frog. It had all the time in the world, and knew that I didn’t. Mentally, I was exhausted. I walked back to it, kneeled and said “you’re a worthy adversary, but for God’s sake man, just go. There’s more to life than staring, you know.”
Oddly this was the only thing that got a response. He gulped. I thought that was going to be all, and was just about to be on my merry way when he spat at me straight in the left eye. To say I was in pain would be quite a big understatement. I maniacally rubbed whatever it was out of my eye, then, even though I was still in extreme pain, I grabbed the branch and beat the frog into submission. At least I thought it was submission, but after the melee I saw that it had barely moved. I caught my breath back, then kicked it into the pond. I decided after that that I didn’t like frogs.
The flowers were slightly crumpled but I didn’t care because my left eye was watering with pain. I followed the path back to the clearing only to see that Jessica wasn’t there.
“Jessica!” I called out, but no reply. “Is this some kind of joke, Jessica? I told you to stay here, didn’t I, Jessica? Jessica?”
Still there was no reply, and I was going blind.

I had been searching for her for hours, during which time the sheer pain in my left eye subsided only slightly and very gradually. But I reckoned the chances of finding her were stacked against me. You always hear stories about backpackers going to some jungle or desert or wherever else, and it always ends the same. They get split up, or they die horrible deaths at the hands of cruel nature. Something bad always happens. In light of all that, I realised I didn’t care that much about the golden monkey anymore. I didn’t in the first place, but I really didn’t now. How would I feel if I got back to England having completed my mission successfully, the manager praising me, maybe even giving me a pay rise, if I knew that Jessica was lost. Or dead, even. I did everything I could to kick those evil thoughts out of my head, though. She probably wasn’t dead. Something strange had definitely happened. If she was attacked by a tiger then surely I would have seen her somewhere, but no. And nobody lived in these parts. I was starting to believe that there was more to the golden monkey than just an ancient artefact…
There were a few rare moments when I couldn’t think about Jessica; not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought I was under threat. One of those times I was real tired and I heard some rustling and what I thought was footsteps. When I didn’t see anyone for a good twenty minutes I put it down to fatigue. These sounds would come then go away for long periods of time, making me forget about them, then when they came back I got a little scared again.
The night was mostly calm. There was barely a sound apart from some birds in the trees, but nothing that sounded dangerous. I saw a silhouette but didn’t think too much of it, because it was gone in the click of a finger. It could have been anything, I reasoned to myself. At night time in a forest, you can forgive your eyes for seeing things that aren’t there – shadows, trees moving in the wind, anything. The only things I was told to fear in the Sundarbans were the Bengal tigers, but they were being hunted and my chances of meeting one were low. In those peaceful moments I thought of Jessica, and sometimes I’d call out her name, thinking maybe the silhouettes were her.
A few hours later, as the sun was just beginning to rise, I spied a strange looking man wearing a white turban, and sitting on a log. He faced away from me, and on the back of his head he wore a tiger mask. I didn’t know what to think. People aren’t supposed to live here; I was told it was a completely uninhabited area. Either this was some strange solitary man who lived all alone in the forest or I had stumbled inadvertently across a tribe. So I just sneaked away as quietly as I could.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said excitedly. Damn. I had rustled some leaves.
“Yeees,” I replied, turning back achingly slowly.
“I play the flute. I can play you music…”
I sighed deeply. “Do you know Mozart’s Fifth Concerto in D?”
“No, but I learn. I am a very good at learner.”
“Ah, well, I’m sorry. I only have ears for that tune. If you don’t know it then I can’t help you.”
“No no, I learn, I learn.”
“Look, I’m searching for someone who’s lost in the middle of this damn place somewhere, and if I don’t find her soon – well who knows what could happen to her?”
“My music can give you inspiration…”
“Alright, I’ll make you a deal. I give you five minutes, and if you don’t learn it by the end, I’m gone.”
He sat down and smiled. “Look into my eyes,” he said.
After glancing at my watch, I grumbled and did as I was told. He began playing his flute. I didn’t know what tune it was, but it certainly wasn’t anything by Mozart. He pierced his gaze into me, and just as I recognised the eyes that were glaring at me, I fell asleep.

I awoke in the stifling heat. The flute man was nowhere. I appeared to be surrounded by an archaeological dig in the middle of a large clearing. Only about twenty feet away was the entrance to a cave. Although they had only uncovered an ancient pot, it was quickly obvious that what was being dug up was not merely a place with pots, it was the lost temple itself. Being underground, I guess that explains why it was lost. The question was, who was in charge of the dig?
I got up and brushed the sand off my clothes. A man in a respectable-looking archaeological suit came up to me and asked a strange question.
“Are you in pain?”
“No,” I replied, not willing to tell a complete stranger that a frog had spat venom into my eye.
“Oh. I see. Well don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that later.”
I thought for a second that maybe reality had flipped over or something, and that I was in an alternate reality where pain was now a good thing. Then I realised, he was a psychopath.
“Are you sure you’re not in any pain?” he probed again. “Because your eye doesn’t look in the best of shape.”
“It’s fine!” I snapped. “What’s going on? Where am I?”
The man laughed. “I should have introduced myself. I’m Captain MacDougall. I will be the bane of your existence for the duration of the day.”
“Very good sir,” one of his followers said in appreciation.
“Really? Thanks. I’m new to the whole villain game and I’ve still got a lot to learn in the art of terrifying the life out of people. But gradually I’m getting the hang of it.”
The guy’s vernacular was starting to get on my nerves. You could tell he was one of those snobby guys who sat at home reading books about villains and thinking, ooh that seems like marvellous fun. “Oh, mummy, when I grow up I want to be a villain!” And his mum’d be reading her newspaper saying “yes, darling.”
“I don’t suppose you were poisoned, were you, by a frog?” he asked. At that moment the same frog I had seen earlier bounced into view from behind his leg.
“Get that thing away from me,” I said as I stared into the familiarly blank eyes of the frog.
“That thing? That thing you refer to is my dear pet, Bouncy. He must have gone off for a little stroll. Very clever, he is. He knows when someone’s not trustworthy.”
Bouncy, he called him. Bouncy. For someone who’s called Bouncy, he does stay still an awful lot.
One of the archaeologists came to MacDougall with an old plate he had just found, lavishly decorated with sacred monkeys and cows. But MacDougall dismissed him angrily and looked as if he was tempted to smash the plate right then and there.
“Say, how long did it take you to get here then?” he asked me.
“About five days. And I’m a little malnourished and in need of sleep, if you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all. Five days? You do know you could have come from Rajpur. Lovely two hour walk that is.”
I stared at the man. It took me five days and he dared to tell me I could have done it in two hours. He must have been lying. That was the only way – he was lying just to annoy me, that’s what it was.
“Anyway,” he continued, “let’s dispense with the pleasantries. Toss them in a rubbish bin. Forget about them. Pay them no mind. Have away with them and speak no more of them.”
“Alright.”
“Dissolve them in the lost passages of time. Disintegrate them in the bombarded ruins of existence.”
There was a pause as he looked for some response.
“Do you think I went on too long?” he asked.
“Yes sir, just a tad,” his cohort replied.
“Good good, I’ll note that for later – know when to stop. Anyway, I’ve lost my thread – where was I?”
“You were talking about the pleasantries, and dispensing with them,” I said.
“Ah yes. I mean we could stand here all day complementing each other’s shorts, talking about how nice the weather is, but we’d never get anything done. That is a nice pair of shorts by the way.”
“Thank you.” I thought I could buy me some time by keeping the pleasantries going. “I got them in London.”
“Really? Whereabouts?”
“Oxford Street, I think it was. Or was it Tottenham Court Road? You know the one with the big bookshop?”
“The big bookshop, the big bookshop…”
“You know the one – has loads of books… can never find the ones you want…”
“Hmm.”
“That’s Tottenham Court Road,” interjected his cohort. The no-good sycophantic suck-up.
“I think,” he said, “that he was trying to distract you from the business at hand.”
I can’t stomach people like him.
“Trying to distract me, was he?” Giving me the most evil look he could muster, he said, “you will rue the day you ever tried to distract Captain MacDougall. Men! Take him away and chain him up.”
His men responded hastily and had me in chains in a matter of seconds. They carried me off to the nearby cave which was lit on the inside with torches. I was then tied to a rock, and left to my own devices.
It wasn’t the most emasculating experience in the world. I felt like a mythical princess held hostage by an evil king, waiting for a brave knight to come and rescue me. At the same time Jessica was probably somewhere thinking the exact same thing about me. Dammit, I said to myself. I should have kept my wits about me! I should have ignored that weird flute man! More importantly, I shouldn’t have left Jessica…
Anyway I had to look on the bright side. That Captain MacDougall didn’t seem very smart. In fact even by villains’ standards he was pretty stupid. So all I had to do was wait. Just wait until he made some cataclysmic error of judgement.

Many hours must had passed because when MacDougall’s men hauled me out of the cave, my legs and head banging on every obstacle in our path, it was dark. I hadn’t eaten, either. Outside it was too dark to see much but I gathered from the general atmosphere that they had found something. MacDougall could barely hide his glee, though he was trying desperately. The moonlight reflected in his eyes and you could easily make out his childlike excitement, but you wouldn’t know it from the rest of his body. He was standing in a pose of bent-backed villainy with his hands clasped together and his fingers tapping each other. He turned to me.
“I have found it,” he said. “I can see that you’re hungry. Don’t worry about that for the time being. Men! Carry him away.”
His cohorts did as they were told and there was yet more pain as I was lowered with a rope down into what was uncovered. At the end of it I was in too much pain to even look around me, though I figured I couldn’t have been in any immediate danger.
“Aren’t you going to look around you?” yelled MacDougall.
I felt I had to. And to my amazement there it was – the golden monkey, surrounded by a thousand regular but sleeping monkeys. I was in the fabled lost temple, a place that time had mostly forgotten or presumed non-existent. My breath was momentarily halted as I stared in sheer wonder at what surrounded me. Admittedly it didn’t look like the work of a great architect, but it’s what it stood for that mattered. And if the lost temple existed, what of the myth of the golden monkey?
MacDougall put down his copy of The Art of Villainy, said “I’ll leave you alone with them for a while,” then left. Around me I could see how deep underground I was. And there didn’t seem to be any possible method of escape. I don’t know what MacDougall expected me to do, eat them? According to legend, the sleeping monkeys turn violent when awoken. But this wasn’t legend, this was real life. I figured if they hadn’t been found for centuries they’re dead, not sleeping. If that was the case it meant getting the golden monkey would be easy – but escaping with it would be no simpler. No, I had to think of some cunning way out of this situation. Some cunning way out…
Perhaps if I could lure MacDougall down into the ditch with me it would set us on equal footing, thereby giving me a much better chance of escape. Well there’d be no harm in trying. I called out for MacDougall and he arrived shortly.
“What do you want? I need to get some sleep.”
“Well some food if you don’t mind.”
He laughed feebly at the request. “That rather defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”
Just as he turned to leave, I shouted “wait, Captain MacDougall! What is the purpose?”
“Oh,” he replied, “well. You’ll just have to work that one out for yourself.”
“But I can’t work things out on an empty stomach!”
He had gone, though, and probably couldn’t care less for my predicament. Or could he? He couldn’t possibly want me dead; otherwise he’d just have me killed. And if he wanted me alive, what did he intend to get out of me?
Those monkeys were starting to look appetising though.

A few hours later I had devised an elaborate scheme. I would join the sleeping (or dead) monkeys together to form a rope, which I would then climb up to freedom. As optimistic as I was, I quickly discovered a flaw in this plan – they wouldn’t stay stuck together. But I had to think of something, and preferably before MacDougall woke up, or before I died of starvation.
If MacDougall himself wouldn’t budge, then maybe one of his cronies would. All the ones I’d seen so far had been pretty sycophantic, though. On further thinking I concluded that he must have picked them on that basis, so they wouldn’t be much help. All I knew was that my stomach was rumbling really loud, and my mind was going a bit mad.

I managed to get some sleep, however, and woke up before sunrise. It wasn’t the sunrise that woke me up, though, it was something else. I panicked a bit at first but after regaining my composure I saw what was happening. The flute-playing man was dragging Jessica and laying her on the rocks. She was sleeping heavily.
“Hey flute-playing man!” I shouted. He seemed tired, and quite surprised to see me.
“Could you get me out of here?”
“I – I, no. I cannot. This not allowed.”
“What do you mean, not allowed? What is MacDougall planning?”
“I don’t know. Only he know.”
“Alright, alright.” I figured a different strategy might be in order. “Did you learn how to play Mozart’s Fifth Concerto in D, then?”
He lit up at this question. “Yes, yes! I learn how to play!”
Of course I didn’t expect him to, I mean, where would he get the sheet music in the middle of the Sundarbans? But shockingly, he did. And in my tiredness I drifted back and imagined a better place – well, any place was better than this place. I thought of my home in America, I thought of London, I even thought of the British Library. Then annoyingly I thought of work, and just as the music got more impassioned a picture of my boss popped into my head, telling me to hurry up or else. This caused me to snap out of the trance I was in and I noticed something strange. Jessica was waking up, the flute man himself seemed to be in a trance, possessed, and more pressingly the monkeys were slowly waking up. As the music got louder and louder, MacDougall arrived, at first angry and then, it seemed, a little bit scared.
“Jessica!” I called out, “Jessica you’ve got to get me out of here! The monkeys are waking up!”
I think it was at that point that Jessica realised where she was, and then gradually where I was.
“There’s some rope right beside you. Hurry!”
She ran towards it but that bastard MacDougall had pre-empted that and was standing on it. Luckily her female instinct served us well as she kicked him in the chest – softly, but just hard enough to cause him to fall off the edge. Some of the monkeys, who were still waking up, cushioned his fall. But he was in pain, and the monkeys could smell his fear. Meanwhile Jessica was desperately lowering the rope. The problem was that the rope was nearer to MacDougall than me, and I had to run through the monkeys to get to it.
Now that the rope was fully down and the top end tied to a rock, I reckoned I had no choice. Without another second’s thought I waded through the lot of them and climbed up the rope and out.
“Quick, let’s run!” said Jessica.
But I had forgotten something.
“Come on,” she said, “what are you waiting for?”
“The golden monkey.”
“Forget about it!”
“No. You go on ahead. I’ll be with you real quick.”
“No, I’ll wait,” she said, “but hurry up.”
I quickly fashioned a lasso out of one end of the rope, hoping the loop would be just the right size to hold the golden monkey. I lowered the rope and tried desperately to grab hold of it, but to no avail.
Without further notice MacDougall grabbed it himself and attempted to climb up the rope. But the monkeys’ attacks were just too violent and too many for him to hold off.
I briefly questioned whether or not I should save him, but Jessica’s insistent yelling distracted me. Would I save him if he was Hitler? Probably not, but then again, he was someone’s child just like I was. His mother and father couldn’t predict what would become of him.
“Save me!” he screamed, his eyes wide open and his expression verging on maniacal. “I wasn’t going to kill you,” he shouted, “I honestly wasn’t!”
“What were you going to do to me?” I retorted, eager to hear him lie his way out.
“Just save me! Save me from these monkeys and I’ll tell you!”
As evil as it made me feel I left him to be eaten by the monkeys, amidst slowly weakening cries of pain and mercy.
“Let’s go,” whispered Jessica.
Below me was a dead man surrounded by a pool of his own blood and a thousand monkeys jumping up and down, looking celebratory. I looked on as the monkeys one by one began to fall asleep again, and Jessica again whispered “let’s go.” The situation was calm, so I climbed down the rope, retrieved the golden monkey and got back out.
As me and Jessica left, the flute man, who was still in a trance, fell down and looked unconscious. It appeared that all of MacDougall’s followers were still sleeping.
“I’m so hungry I could eat a cow,” I believe I said.
Jessica must have been a little startled by that, because she said “stop looking at me like that,” and started walking a little faster.

A few days later we were back in London. One of the first things I noticed when I got back was The Sun strewn roughly on the ground, its pages scattered across the pavement. Tearing my eyes away from page three, I noticed – on page thirty seven I believe it was – something very surprising indeed. “TRAVEL MAGAZINE GOES BUST – ON STORY OF FISHES.” I couldn’t suppress a little laugh. I didn’t realise my boss was serious when he said the only other story he had was on the fishes of the Congo river. I picked up the page and skimmed through the article. Apparently that fishes article was their main piece. I couldn’t help but wince at what the other articles were about.
When I got home Jessica said something about how messy my place was, after which I checked my answering machine. I waded through a pile of nonsensical messages until I found the one I was expecting. It was my boss, sounding pretty distraught, saying that I was fired.
But I didn’t mind. You see, Jessica gave me a brilliant idea. It was so obvious that I really ought to have thought of it myself – we sell the golden monkey. There was bound to be some museum owner or eccentric old man who’d snap it up like that…
But it didn’t turn out to be so simple. As we left the apartment to get a bite to eat, a strangely familiar face was waiting right outside my door. Jessica immediately hid behind me in recognition. It was the man with the turban, the very same man who’d bumped into me outside the British Library, the same man who gave us directions to the golden monkey, and the same man who sent me to sleep with his flute song. This time, however, he looked distinctly angrier than at all those other times, and, if I wasn’t mistaken, he had a gun with him instead of a flute. I was just about to ask what he was doing there, but he spoke first.
“Give me the golden monkey, and I will not shoot.”
“I don’t have it,” I lied.
“I am no fool, Mr. James. I saw you take it with my own eyes!”
“That’s true, I took it, but I haven’t got it.”
“What happened to it?”
“What happened to it?” I repeated nervously. “Well… I –”
“He sold it,” Jessica cut in.
“Sold it?” repeated the man. “Well in that case you wouldn’t mind me searching your place.”
“I would –”
“Why?”
“Well you see, my place is a tip right now. Not fit for guests.”
The man eyed Jessica suspiciously, then looked at me.
“Not fit for guests, you say?”
By that point I was getting a little tired of the conversation.
“Look, can’t you just forget the golden monkey? It’s history. Thousands of years old, nobody cares now. Your boss – MacDougall was it? He wanted it, fair enough, but he’s dead now, and I think you know as well as I do there’s no point working for a dead man.”
There was a strangely uncomfortable silence for a few moments, and the man looked like he was in agony trying to put something into words.
“My boss? My boss? You think MacDougall was my boss? You Americans make me sick. MacDougall is not worthy of being anybody’s boss – he just liked to delude himself that he was. Sure – he had a few minor cronies, but nothing more. No, no. MacDougall worked for me – he just had a few archaeology contacts that I needed him for, but little to no talent. And as for the golden monkey, Mr. James… you say that nobody cares about it. Well, I cannot account for the rest of the world, but I care about it a great deal. It is – how shall I put this – a family heirloom that I have never seen. That is to say, it belonged to my direct ancestors and it is my personal right to possess it. So you see, that is why you should give me the golden monkey… Apart from the fact that I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“That’s all very well,” I said, “but I don’t have it. If I did I’d gladly give it to you.”
But he wasn’t listening; instead he was pulling the gun out of his pocket and slowly aiming it at my head. You’d think I’d have been scared. Well if I’m honest I was a little, in spite of the fact that I knew the gun couldn’t have been cocked if he had risked keeping it in his pocket. But logic was one thing and instinct was another, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to rely on the hope that his gun couldn’t hurt a fly when there was more than a chance it could blow my head off. Luckily for me I didn’t have to, because at that moment Mrs. Honeybartle, the kind old lady from the flat above me, walked past.
“Ah, Mrs. Honeybartle!” I exclaimed in some kind of desperate relief.
But the gunman kept the gun pointed at me and didn’t move.
“You think I am so stupid as to fall for that? I know of no older trick!”
Mrs. Honeybartle, meanwhile, had just realised that there was a man holding a gun to my head and her mouth opened to what seemed like twice its usual size, but she made no sound to prove her existence.
“Mrs. Honeybartle,” I said, “everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me. But if you’d kindly call the police, that would be great.”
She kept paralysed and dumbstruck. Meanwhile, my heart was pounding faster and faster while my head was doing everything to think of a way out… until I thought of one.
“Er, Mrs. Honeybartle?” I said. “Do you remember that golden monkey I sold you?”
At this the man couldn’t help but look back (somewhat cautiously), and was shocked to see that Mrs. Honeybartle wasn’t at all some fictional character I had invented for convenience. In the time it took for him to digest this, Mrs. Honeybartle, like some possessed demon, hit him over the head with her umbrella. He fell over, but didn’t seem to be in much pain. I took my chance and grabbed the gun that had fallen from his hand. Now it was he who looked terrified.
Mrs. Honeybartle, who seemed now to be recovering slightly, simply said, “golden what?” to which I replied, “oh, it doesn’t matter.”
I hadn’t noticed her leave in the first place, but she obviously did, because just then Jessica came out of my apartment, telling me that she had called the police, and that they were on their way as we spoke.

A few weeks later, the gunman was in jail and we had sold the golden monkey. We hadn’t just sold it, we sold it for £50 million. In a weird way I almost felt sorry for the gunman, if it even was his family heirloom. But I rationalised that he was a madman, and if there’s one thing you don’t give a madman – it’s fifty million pounds. Whereas Jessica celebrated by jumping up and down and screaming in the auction house, I preferred the staring-into-the-distance-flabbergasted approach. Nobody in the room seemed to share our excitement but in their defence, most of them lost the auction.
Outside Sotheby’s, Jessica was panting wildly.
“Oh. My. God.” I said, finding it hard to breathe.
“I know!” she said.
“Oh. My. Dear. Lord.”
Without warning she kissed me. I was in too much of a whirlwind to give a proper reply, so I just said “thanks.”
“That’s alright,” she said, vivaciously.
Who would have known that a search for an ancient artefact would lead to this? I looked into her eyes and we both smiled.
“I think we should give Mrs. Honeybartle part of the money. After all, without her we might not be alive.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You’re thinking about Mrs. Honeybartle?”

The Golden Monkey

donkeyhoot

London, United Kingdom

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