Quit Monkeyin’ Around and Run For The Hills
The circus is in town.
I observe my surroundings from my cage with my warm hands clamping the frigid metal fence and my eyes passing from person to person. My attention was held by the final tent that had been mounted into the ground by the tired, angry workmen. It now stood 33 feet into the glum, cloudy sky.
The air is sticky and stale. I hear crazy laughs coming from men with their faces painted ghost white. And I hear restrained roars, howls, and screeches of defeated, caged animals, like me.
The atmosphere is unique.
Can you feel it?
Yes. The circus is in town.
The circus and I are one and the same. It's where my life ended and a new one began. I remember exactly how I died and I remember how I was born again.
Except, in this new life I was born into a different body. The body of a small monkey, and given the name, Pines, by my owner, Virgil.
My owner and I, work at the circus performing assorted acts for eager crowds nightly. Our goal is to 'wow' the crowds just enough so that we can pay for the night's dinner.
Last night, I had three bowls of monkey chow and Virgil had a full serving of green beans, mashed potatoes, and steak.
It was a rare night and I was thankful.
Most nights we can only afford half a bowl of chow, stale bread, and one handful of peanuts.
Because the thing is, we aren't very good at what we do. We are below average in performance and above average in sorrows.
My owner, Virgil, is a poor man. He's a slave to the circus; born and raised into a circus family.
And Virgil, not knowing any better, blindly accepted this life. He's been plagued by American circus life. The most infectious disease and a life sentence for his kind.
You may wonder how I, a little monkey, would know any of this.
And the truth is rather simple and also quite odd.
I am Virgil.
Or at least I was Virgil in my previous life.
I worked at the circus my whole life with a little monkey I named Pines. I would mistreat Pines often because I was a poor circus performer and a failure in general. I took my anger out on him whenever I had the chance. And I always had the chance.
I married my wife, Virginia, at age 26. She was part of another circus line. She was an exotic performer who perfected a dangerous dance using fire and sharp knives. I was captivated by her vigor and taken back by her grace.
We married 6 months later.
And at age 31, on my birthday, I died in an accident. I took a bad fall while performing and snapped my neck.
Virginia had told me that she had grown tired of circus life. She wanted to live quietly with me somewhere in the hills. I was inspired to make it happen; I adopted her dream as my own.
The Felker Brothers were hosting their biennial competition at the time to showcase the country's most outrageous and exciting circus acts.
There were rumors that the show was rigged. Some big names would pay the Felker Brothers big money to have certain people win so that they could garner as much fame and exposure as possible.
I didn't feed into these rumors because the show was my only chance, and it would have been foolish to not even try. The event took place on my birthday and had a grand prize of $20,000.
I thought it was fate. It was a way for Virginia and me to live our dream and finally leave this loathsome circus life behind.
I needed to win. I needed the money. I was desperate.
I gave myself one month to prepare for the most dangerous act I've ever attempted. I worked Pines like a slave for long hours. I didn't let him eat nor sleep until I felt satisfied. And I never felt satisfied.
It became an obsession.
And when it was finally time to perform, I remember knowing everything would go wrong. Yet I had too much pride to quit.
So I went through with it; my most dangerous trapeze act.
I had planned to climb up as high as I could, with Pines around my neck, and jump to catch a pole nearer to the ground. I practiced it 2,789 times, and of those times, I was only successful 3 of them. I prayed performance night would be my lucky night; my 4th success.
But when I made the jump. I immediately knew it was too short. I saw Pines luckily grab onto a wire to stop himself from falling to his death.
I would fall onto the space that the trampoline didn't cover. I knew that I'd die but my only concern was that I had failed, again. I remember closing my eyes in shame.
And now I'm here, as that little monkey I spent most of my life mistreating. And my punishment is to watch my human life from a whole new angle and suffer at its harshness.
I want to weep at how wretched I let my life become. I watch as the new Virgil, the soulless Virgil, lives the exact life I lived. Making every mistake, taking on the same failures, drowning in the same misery.
It's all thrown up in my face.
Virgil is writing love letters to our sweet wife, Virginia, in his little black book in his train car right now. He'll die before he can give them to her personally. She'll get the book of letters and a tiny tin box of his belongings mailed to her a month later.
And perhaps she'll even receive a letter from the head of this circus line, expressing his obligatory condolences. It's just standard protocol, no one actually cares about a circus man.
The Felker Brothers' Competition is a week from now and Virgil, the imposter, and I have been practicing nonstop.
He starves me and strikes me if I mess up. And it's during these times where I feel despicable for the way I treated Pines when I was human.
The day before the big performance, Virgil looked like a lifeless machine. His eyes were inhuman and his body moved mechanically.
We've been practicing since dawn without any significant improvement. Virgil is infuriated and has struck me many times and threw monkey chow in my face.
I quickly realize that I must do something, anything that can help Virgil actually win.
Because at this rate, he'll fail again.
We'll fail again.
On the 246th attempt, I fall to the ground in fatigue. Virgil rushes over to me with a thick stick in his hand, preparing to strike me again.
I roll over quickly and run to his train car. I retrieve the book full of letters to our wife and throw it at his feet.
It opens up to the last page he's written in.
The first time around, I wrote a short letter to Virginia expressing that I'd win the grand prize money to support our dream.
I thought showing it to Virgil would ground him again, help him remember his true motive, and calm him down enough that he'd be more precise on his jump.
Virgil picked the book up and his eyes shot to the last page. In an instant, his face softened and his body became less tense. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I could feel the shift in him; things were slightly different now.
And that slight difference translated to Virgil successfully completing his jump a 4th time during practice, instead of 3.
On the evening of the show, it was time to see just how much greater 4 is than 3.
We took our starting positions and after several moments of silence, I felt Virgil preparing to make the jump. I danced on top of his shoulders for a while, like we practiced, and then gripped onto his neck tightly. When it was time for Virgil to jump, he waited just a few seconds more.
And those few seconds proved fruitful because he perfected his jump with ease.
We safely made it to the bottom pole and the crowd cheered almost in disbelief. Virgil then took me off his neck to hug me and for the first time, I could see the sense of accomplishment in his eyes.
He did it.
We did it.
After all 100 acts were over. It was time for the judges to choose the winner.
And in a unanimous decision, Virgil had won! The judges thought that his act was so outrageous, it was downright stupid. And that's what really won them over.
Virgil walked onto the stage to collect his prize, leaving me in the performer's section. His eyes scanned the large crowd and he took in his applause before taking his final bow.
Suddenly, I hear the roar of a gunshot coming from somewhere in the crowd.
I can't find its origins.
And when I look back up on stage I realize Virgil was struck and shot dead.
He lied lifelessly on the stage in a thick pool of his own blood. The crowd was in chaos.
Apparently, there actually was an agreement for the Felker Brothers to rig the show. But somehow, Virgil still won and paid the price for someone else's lack of honoring their word.
The rest of the day dragged on as if nothing had ever happened.
And in the morning, fellow crewmen gathered Virgil's belongings and placed them into a tin box. The head of the circus line had prepared a letter expressing his impersonal condolences and enclosed the $20,000 check from Virgil's win.
I had noticed that the crew didn't put Virgil's little black book inside the tin. So I went into Virgil's train car and retrieved the book from under his cot.
I held it in my hands for a few moments before opening it up to the last page that had been written two mornings ago. It read:
I'll be performing tomorrow and I will win the grand prize of $20,000. I can already see you so boldly and beautifully immersed into our new life. I am thankful in advance. So hold on tight to our dream. And when you're ready, we can abandon circus life forever, take our belongings, and run for the hills. I love you.
I handed the book off to a crew member responsible for getting Virgil's belongings together. He looked at the front of it with confusion but then immediately understood. He patted my head, gave me a peanut, and said "good boy" before placing it into the tin as well.
I was then loaded back onto the circus train, in the last car with all the other animals. I thought of my sweet wife, Virginia, and came to terms with the fact that I'd never see her again. I wept for the life I'll never get to live with her.
I put my hands on the bars of my cage and peered out the tiny window in the train car. I saw the trees begin to look small as the train began to move and they fell into the distance.
I sat down in my cage with my head hanging low. Even after everything, I was never able to escape circus life.
I guess it truly is my destiny.
My quiet life in the hills with Virginia is only a dream for me that she is now holding onto forever.
But as for her, she can step right into her dream, boldly and beautifully.
With vigor and grace.
I am thankful for this.
I hope that she takes the money I had won and runs for the hills...
for the both of us.