[Donna 2nd place]
The Tale of the Bhamo Monkey
By: D.S. Renzulli
He inherited the brass monkey from Uncle Phineas. The only reason his two cousins didnt sue to get it back was because they probably thought it was another piece of junk collected by their father during one of his frequent expeditions. The writer thought so too, at first. The package had arrived one morning, a month after his uncles death. It was a square box wrapped in plain brown paper and thick, white string. He recalled the telephone call from the lawyer.
Dont get your hopes up, The lawyer had told him. Its only a remembrance from the old man. His children split the stocks and real estate.
It was a surprise to the writer he was in the will at all since his uncle never bothered hiding his dislike for him.
What did he leave me? he asked the lawyer.
I dont know. I had strict orders to forward it unopened to you.
That was two weeks ago, and the writer had forgotten the conversation until now. He held the box at eye level, shaking it slightly. It was heavy. Taking it to his den, he put it on the desk. He heard his wife in the background, her voice pitched high from stress. She was yelling at the kids. Afraid she might burst in on him while he was opening the box, he went over and shut the door. There wasnt much she respected about him, but when the den door was shut, she knew enough not to enter since it meant he was working.
Rummaging in a drawer, he found heavy scissors to cut the thick string. He tore the brown paper off, uncovering the box, which was actually a small mini-crate. On one side were black-stenciled words: Bhamo, Burma. Using the tip of the scissors, he pried the top open. The crate was filled with hay, and he dug deep inside, removing a statuette.
How ugly, he thought. The writer placed the foot high object on the desk and studied it: the brass surface was dull and pitted. The monkey sat frozen on its hind legs, the arms held high above the head. It seemed to glare at him with anger.
Gee, Uncle, I hope it isnt cursed.
As he spoke the words, he felt a chill crawl up his spine. As a child, he vaguely remembered Uncle Phineas telling him about a legend: something to do with a Burmese curse and a monkey. Hed been scared, and at the same time, thrilled. His uncles tales had influenced him to become a writer. Looking at his inheritance, he shook his head. The particulars of the long-ago-told tale were beyond the grasp of his memory.
He went back to the mini-crate to look for an explanation. At the bottom, he discovered a handwritten note with a simple message: CLEAN THE MONKEY.
The writer used a soft cloth normally reserved for his computer screen. The more he polished, the brighter the monkey became, its imprinted fur taking on a yellow luster. The writers hand stroked the curved figurine. Rubbing. Polishing. Buffing.
Abruptly, he stopped and stared at the statuette in his hand; mesmerized by the way the brass fur swirled down its back; the atavistic smile revealing pointed teeth. It was so vibrant. He shivered, and felt as if he was drowning in its intense gaze.
The soulless eyes blinked.
My God! the writer cried out. He released the statue: it landed feet first on the table. The arms continued to reach up, as if attempting to grab the writer and force him eye level with its unnerving stare. It is not alive, he reminded himself. To break the spell, he focused on the computer screen where the words of his latest book idled in mid-sentence.
He mockingly announced to the screen. It is my imagination working overtime. It happens when Im in middle of writing key scenes.
He felt a soft, almost unnoticeable touch on his right hand, which was resting on the desk, then a stab of pain at the webbed skin between his thumb and index finger. He stared with disbelief, first at the blood on his hand, and then at the monkey. Its jagged teeth grinned at him; they were stained red.
The writer backed his chair away. The brass monkey was no longer inanimate. Its tail flicked with impatience, and the hirsute head moved from side to side while glaring at him.
It spoke in a hoarse, unnatural voice. Nephew!
No! said the writer. It cant be you.
It is, said the monkey, scratching at an ear with a paw. Your dear Uncle Phineas.
How did you
I thought youd figure it out, nephew. In your profession, youve written many strange things. The monkey nodded, as if the writer had asked him a question. Yes, Ive read all your books.
The writers hand throbbed painfully. The teeth marks were starting to look purplish. Why did you bite me? he asked.
Part of the ritual. Sorry, but it needed to be done. The monkey gave him a beady glance. I hope youre not going to be a baby about it. Thats why I ruled out my worthless sons. Theyd have gone screaming from the room. But, you, on the other hand, take after me. I knew your curiosity would keep you here.
His uncle was right, he was curious. With a hesitant hand, the writer touched the monkeys fur. It was soft, and golden. Amused green eyes stared back at him.
Im not going to be a pet, said the monkey. Dont think Ive returned from the dead to amuse that brat pack of yours.
The wife wouldnt allow it anyway, said the writer.
Still married to the shrew, are you?
In the back of the house, they both heard his wife screaming obscenities. The writer knew in a half hour, shed be falling down drunk, and hed have to leave his den sanctuary to take care of the children. A divorce would be too expensive, the writer said bitterly.
Then, I have a proposal to benefit us both. The monkey edged nearer. Listen carefully. I can only offer this opportunity once to you. If you say no, Im back to being a block of brass. My future is in your hands.
Go ahead, said the writer cautiously.
This whole spell comes from a Ye woman I met in Burma. Its a way to prolong life, but it depends on cooperation between two people. Im offering eternal life to you, in exchange for the life of another. You promise me that life, and we both live forever.
The writer frowned. I have to kill someone?
No, just agree to it. I will do the killing. In this case, your wife: you hate her, and she hates you. She is a boulder around your neck. Let me take away the burden. Ill make sure no suspicion falls on you.
The writer gently rubbed his wounded hand. The perfect murder?
Yes, the perfect murder. The monkeys eyes glowed with excitement. An eternal life free from that woman, and all you have to do is agree to it.
Staring with suspicion at him, the writer asked, What do you get out of it? Why would you want to remain a monkey for eternity?
His uncle gave a short, unpleasant laugh. I wont stay in this form. That is the beauty of the spell. It is sort of a scratch my back and Ill scratch yours kind of deal. You get rid of your wife, and I start a new life in human form. How could it go wrong for either of us?
Okay, said the writer. What do I have to do?
Then, you are promising me the life of your wife? Do you agree to it?
Yes, yes! I agree and promise the life of my wife. Now what happens?
The monkey quivered with excitement, jumping up and down on the desktop. It is done, he cried out. It is done.
The writer frowned. That is it?
The monkey stopped hopping and slyly winked at him. No, he said. There is one small detail.
What? As soon as he asked, he knew what it was, because now he remembered his uncles story from when the writer was a child. No, you cant, he cried out.
It was too late; darkness washed over him. When he regained consciousness, he was no longer sitting in the chair. From a prone position, he found himself staring up at his own face!
It beamed at him. Nephew.
The writer gasped, and with difficulty, shifted his head to view his surroundings. As impossible as it was to believe, he was resting on top of the desk. He lifted his hands to examine them. They were furry and sharp-nailed.
Thats right, nephew. I am you, and you are me, for eternity. The face loomed closer, and the monkey smelled the onions from lunch. Phineas, who was now in the writers body, laughed, and said, I could tell you had recalled the tale of the Bhahmo monkey just before the transfer was made. Remember, as long as the man agreed to an evil act, the brass monkey could take over his body. Murdering another human is as evil as it gets, isnt it, dear boy?
The monkey gurgled his frustration. The stiffness was more pronounced. His arms and legs felt like lead, his neck frozen into an uncomfortable position.
The Uncle Phineas - writer nodded with understanding. You are turning into brass. Having gone through it myself, I know how uncomfortable it can be. If it makes you feel any better, I must keep up my end of the bargain and murder that miserable wife of yours. He pointed a finger at his monkey-nephew. They certainly wont suspect you, not in your present condition! Who cares of they suspect me in your body, I have money hidden away and plans for a new identity.
He turned to the computer, scanning the unfinished page on the screen. Im look forward to my new life. I might take up writing. You wrote horror stories. The writer turned to the golden haired monkey and said, That was certainly an easy theme.
The monkey said nothing.
I see the transformation is complete, said the writer. He picked up the statuette and ran a finger across a single brass tear under one eye. I know you can hear every word Im saying to you. I just wanted to say thank you for keeping this body in good shape. That is another reason I chose you instead of either of my children.
I know you thought I disliked you, but its not true. It is small comfort, but you were always my favorite nephew. He chuckled and patted the statues head. Dont worry, I will find a safe place for you to spend eternity.
Carefully, he returned the brass monkey to the mini crate, and re-sealed the lid. Thwàme naw, nephew! Thats Burmese for good-bye.