“Sojourn in a Monkey Suit,” by Steve Smith

Aug 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The aspirants lounged restively within the open chamber in paired seats, twelve across and twice as many deep. Bands of mist drifted throughout. At the lectern before them stood a display easel bearing the chalked inscription: Life 501: Unperfected Entities. Species Human. Group L7911933. Release Date Var.

An unclothed bipedal figure materialized out of the mist and went directly to the lectern where he spread open the mammoth book set there and leafed forward several pages. He glanced over the assemblage and intoned, “All right, pay attention please. And no drifting about.

“As you must have gathered, the Elysian vacation is over.” He waited for the stir to subside and continued. “The lolling about on fleecy clouds plucking stringed instruments and imbibing Angels’ milk directly from their delectable source has served its purpose. Now that you are fully recovered from the rigors of your previous incarnation, you are about to embark on a great new adventure—”

A chorus of groans arose. The term adventure in this context fooled no one. It foretold not of exciting discoveries that awaited them but of unimaginable misery and calamity. As entities in varying stages of spiritual evolution, each knew that more hard work and suffering lay before them. Their recent ventures into organic life forms remained all too vivid.

He raised an appendage for silence. “—an adventure in a strange and distant place where you will assume the life form in which I present myself to you.”

He stepped away from the lectern and turned slowly, displaying his vertically aligned form with paired appendages. He explained that the lower pair upon which his form balanced in an upright fashion was for locomotion and the other—he raised these out to his sides and waggled the slender extensions at their end—were for grasping and general utility.

“All in all, your new organic vehicle is unimposing in its shape and general appearance. Only these two lower members provide locomotion unlike the four that some of you were accustomed to. This round thing on top is called head. Head contains basic sensory organs and the master controls for maintaining the various systems required to sustain your continued existence. So don’t misplace it.”

He grinned sardonically to inform them the remark was intended as humorous, but only silence greeted him. “To continue, then. Notice that in contrast to the other life forms you have cycled through that there is very little natural covering in the nature of hair or fur. You will reside within a fleshy conveyance much like this, consisting of bone, fibers and assorted softer tissues. In this middle region are a tangled mix of squishy organs involved in the ingestion of nutrients and the expulsion of unneeded byproducts. Avoid at all costs exposing these organs to view as once on the outside they’re difficult to put back.” His glance swept the assemblage to send home the point.

“This thing here,” he flicked a protrusion dangling from the point at which his lower appendages joined, “is for eliminating excess fluids. It also has something to do with reproduction. I’m not entirely clear just what that is, but I’m sure it will make its significance known in time.

“The whole organism is somewhat complicated and burdened with a relatively brief endurance factor. Which is all to the good actually, owing to the troublesome venue in which you will attempt to fulfill your mission.” A low moan issued from the aspirants.

“Life on this benighted sphere where you will soon find yourselves is a primitive system whereby one creature devours other creatures weaker than it.” He paused to let this sink in. “Each creature in turn becomes prey for another larger creature, and so on. This is called the Food Chain.” He studied what he’d just read, gave a brief shiver, and continued.

“Some of you might wonder where you fit in this scenario. With a few exceptions you’re pretty close to the top of the dung pile.” Another dolorous sigh arose from his audience.

“However, your kind is known for engaging in violence and strife. In some parts of this world killing one another seems to be the guiding principle. This is done for any number of spurious reasons, as often as not in the name of the Great Overall Director himself.” Another pause followed.

“That was the bad news. The good news, of course, is that growth can only occur under situations of duress. This you’ll no doubt experience in abundance. So be of good cheer—you couldn’t find a better place to seek advancement in your dizzying ascent toward spiritual perfection.”

The aspirants exchanged uncertain glances as he scanned the pages. He began to mumble verbatim. “… following a violent expulsion from the body in which you’ve gestated… dependent for feeding and excretory functions upon… hm. Skip that.” He paged ahead. “Skip that. Skip that, and that… ah, here.

“‘It is decided at birth which basic form you will take. Some of you will come forth as caregivers, others as providers. The two forms will join to become a self-sustaining unit devoted to the bringing forth of progeny, which I assume means offspring.”

In answer to the silence that greeted this, he amplified. “That means copies of you, newly formed versions that you will be required to—” He saw from the blank expressions before him that his words fell into a vacuum.

“Well, never mind. You will find that things will be somewhat more complicated than merely following the instinctual patterns that have governed your behaviors in your past lives. You will be required to utilize your two basic organs of comprehension in order to make the right choices. These are the seat of intelligence,” pointing to his head. “And the center of wisdom,” pointing to his mid-section.

“Together these two create what is called ‘mind.’ I urge you to use this organ every step of the way. Though a somewhat dim and tenuous tool, it is unfortunately the best that you have.”

He gazed down at the book and read on mechanically. “‘A great many obstructions will stand in your way, mostly others of your own kind. This can be valuable, since resistance of one kind or another provides the abrasive substance against which you will hone your spiritual tools. Unfortunately for these obstructive others, however, they are doomed to return to the planet in their next incarnation as much grosser forms.”

He looked up with a bleak smile. “No doubt a good many of you in this very group, sad to say.” Over a few groans of dismay, he continued, “Now, I know you probably all have questions, but we’ll let them go for the time being, since you’ll never remember any of this anyway. We go through this briefing only because it is required.”

A wail of chagrin came from an adjacent area.

“That’s from a group of recidivists going back as a lower order: burrowing intestinal parasites, I believe.”

A mass exclamation of revulsion greeted this statement.

He closed the book. “Now, during this sojourn, you will have no awareness of your previous travels. You will seem stuck in an out-of-the-way place with no sense of how you got there or what your purpose is. Just bear up and plug along, doing your best to do your best and keep from being digested.” His eyebrows arched meaningfully at this.

“Upon your de—, ahh, upon the culmination of your stay, you will be evaluated and for some this will result in a more elevated life form for your next incarnation. For the rest—”

He cast his glance toward the adjacent assembly area, causing a few to shiver at the prospect.

“I’d wish you safe journey, but that isn’t the nature of things, is it?” He gave an insincere smile. “Right, then, you may now return to your cubicles and await your summons.”

He abruptly turned and walked back through the roiling mist, and with subdued murmurs, the aspirants began to drift to their cloudy cubicles.


Defenestration-Steve SmithA lover of the desert and all things western as a result of growing up in El Paso, Texas, Steve Smith moved back to Southeast Arizona after forty years in the cold winters of Michigan. He lives on a “ranchette” surrounded by mountains, where he is polishing a novel, a humorous memoir of his peacetime Army days, and assorted short stories.

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