Written by Samantha Loveland
Lightning sliced through the night sky like claws cutting through skin, bright and burning, hot as an open wound, while thunder rumbled heavily throughout the darkness, shaking the earth.
One would have thought the giants had come down from the hills, and were playing a game of tag. The Monkey sat perched inside the bell tower of the old cathedral, peering into the night as the rain continued to pelt the earth, with no visible end in sight. His shadow was cast long and fierce against the stone floor,
as the lightning broke through the stained glass windows and illuminated the abandoned room and all of its contents.
He had been keeping watch nearly three hours now, waiting for the storm to end and the arrival of the girl and the others that were with her. He had seen them go into the Dark Forest on his way to the city, but the storm hit soon after and they had not immerged since. A raven who had flown in to get out of the rain, not long after he had come to the tower, said he had seen the crew inside the Forest with a lion, wading out the tempest. He did not believe the folly, for ravens, as many knew, were not the most trusting of creatures, and though it swore by the truth of its statement, the Monkey had scoffed it with an impatient flap of his wings, and advised it to be on its way.
A lion. Humph. What a ridiculous notion; raven scum.
A girl, a dog, a man of straw and another of silver tin - it all seemed unbelievable enough without another added implausible. The monkey smiled a grim smile, thinking to himself, as an image of the raven being struck down by lightning mid-flight flashed through his mind. Just as suddenly the smile dropped from his lips, like a schoolboy who had just been caught doing something naughty by his instructor, and the Monkey’s eyes furrowed together, troubled.
These sort of twisted thoughts were reoccurring more and more frequently as of late, and sometimes the Monkey began to worry. But he knew where such images were coming from, and his hatred for their source made him forget about what concerns he did have; it blinded him.
Animal study and experimentation.
Both were one in the same where he came from. The study of animal’s brains and bodies, complex tests and trials to test immunity and strength, as well as resistance to excruciating pain; this and more is what he had gone through, along with countless other animals - monkeys, horses, rabbits, swine; this is what had happened inside the Witch’s castle.
The Witch had used innumerable instruments to carry out the work, from dissecting tables and wrought iron tools, to her own hands and the wickedness that came from them.
Oh, how stimulating the idea had been when he had first been introduced to it; how grand and proud had he been when he volunteered to be apart of the experiments that would “better the world and all its inhabitants - animal and human alike”, as she had then put it.
She had saved them - all of the animals, from the ensnarement of cages too small and too foul, and brought them to her castle. Though now looking back, the Monkey often wondered whether or not they truly had been saved that day, as what they endured after and now made the cages a far better trade, at least in his mind. Some did not mind the pain they all suffered, believing it to be the price that had to be paid for the greater good. These were the ones who today still served the Witch relentlessly. It was with abhorrence the Monkey looked at these creatures; they did anything she wanted - anything - without so much as a regard to the people or animals they were doing it too. Never once did they stop to use the brain she had so chemically enhanced, nor questioned the savage practices they performed under her bidding. That was where he was different from them.
Same species or not, he was not one of them.
Yes, at first he was eager to join forces with the Witch, who preached to her newly rescued brood of the evil and tyranny the people of the City had shown against all animals. She told them of her plans to defeat all who wronged them - by that time,
she had included herself in the victims of the people of the City -and urged the animals to join her in the effort. He was enthusiastic and willing, inspired by her seemingly fervent spirit to make things right for them again.
Things were great in the beginning; assemblies full of lively speeches and zealous cheers, conferences held to brainstorm ideas on how to restore peace and happiness to the animal community, and how to take the humans of the City out of power. These sort of routines went on for nearly a year, until the Witch decided it wasn’t enough. She told the animals, one day at one of her rallying speeches, that it was time to move in a new direction, a better one, according to her. Thinking about all this now, the Monkey realized that, during all their planning and promoting, the recruited animals never actually did anything. All the preparations they had so eagerly planned, all continuously went into nothing but empty space and unknown destinations.
The Witch assured them that what they so avidly worked on contributed to the cause, though she never said how. It was all a distraction, he though bitterly. Something to keep us occupied and shadowed from what she was really planning...
On the day she told them her intentions of moving in ‘a new direction’, the animals were quite shocked. Things were going so well, why change them? It was what she thought best, though, and if it was her will they would follow.
“Creatures of Oz, the time has come to take our ambitions to the next level. We cannot win so long as we are below our enemies. The only way we can win, is if we exceed them, in every way possible.” Her voice was like the piercing whistle of an arrow as it soars through wind, into flesh, and it stabbed the Monkey’s heart to remember it.
In the Witch’s mind, in order to beat the enemy, they had to be better than the enemy - in all ways imaginable.
To be more powerful than the enemy was not enough - they had to be smarter, stronger, fiercer. They had to be more agile, and cunning. They began going through classes to better improve their language and thought. They trained their bodies and became stronger. But it still wasn’t enough.
The Witch decided that instructing their minds and bodies through books and equipment was not good enough; the only way to truly enhance themselves was through magic. The thought was intimidating at first, yet strangely exhilarating, and soon enough most if not all were convinced it had to be done. Those that didn’t were sent to what the Witch told them were Insightful Remedies camps, which were supposed to help the animal see why the things they were doubting were really the right thing to do. Animals sent to these ‘camps’ returned a week later, though were drastically changed, not outwardly, but inwardly, and their once identifiable characteristics were gone, and replaced by what appeared as programmed answers and thoughts. Why the animals, including him, didn’t see then that something was wrong baffled him. Another lie, he thought, disgusted with himself at how ignorant he was.
Once the doubtful animals had returned from these camps,
and all were ready to do whatever it was the Witch required,
the experiments began, and from that day on everything had changed. Strict schedules were enforced, and the animals’ day consisted of reporting early in the morning to the tower chambers of the castle to undergo the tests they were listed for.
Once their tests for the day were completed, the animals were to immediately report back to their dormitories, where their meals would be delivered through a narrow metal window placed by the Witch on each door. There they would stay until the next morning, when their days would again start; a perpetual cycle full of ignorant pain, sadly unbeknownst to its victims.
No one knew exactly what was being operated on when they entered the room, and nearly every time they didn’t know when they came out, either. Similar to the animals that returned from the camps, the animals, once operated on, had a distinct difference in their overall aura when their operation was completed. The rest of course thought of this as just one of the side effects of the operation, until it didn’t wear off; that was when suspicion was aroused, and questions began.
The creatures began to become concerned with how the newly operated beings returned, and their abnormal behavior beyond -unusual habits stirred between animals, and a most ardent yet strange obedience to the Witch was sparked in each of them. Many as a result became quite angry, as some of their closest friends would return as someone they hardly recognized, even if they’d know them for the longest time. Monkeys would return with spiked clubs grafted to their tails, and boars would immerge with tusks as long as arms and thick as rope.
A cold wind swept in through the open archways of the deteriorating structure, rustling the Monkey’s wings and reminding him of when they’d been put there.
Shortly before the clubbed tails immerged, wings were attached to every monkey’s back, and lessons in flying were commenced.
At first the wings were mechanical, and sown into the fur in a mesh of circuits and wires. Soon, however, the Witch advanced the magic that fueled them, and was able to physically grow wings of flesh and blood into each monkey. The pain that followed these experiments was indescribable, and lasted months, as all the potions and elixirs in the Witch’s supply were being used towards further surgeries and experiments, and none could be spared.
And though much vehement talk of these outlandish events circulated, none were so bold as to take these confrontations to the Witch. Even those most passionate about the situation would shrink when the prospect of facing the Witch with such accusations came up. And so the operations continued, with the same results, and the same reactions from the animals, who each day grew more and more nervous-suddenly fearful of tomorrow, yet ready to shun the past, and ever so wary of the present.
It was near three weeks after the first surgery was done that the first animal died.
It was a rabbit, not three years old, which in those days was still very young. The news was a shock, though among the stunned conversations and hushed talks in corners, nothing changed.
All went along the same as it always did, and no mention was made to the dead being. In fact many, except those immediately connected with the rabbit, would not have even known of its disappearance or passing if it weren’t for the day that his bunk and dorm were cleared out and emptied.
Finally, enough clamor had risen for the Witch to call a meeting to discuss what had happened.
She was able to convince them, through her reassuring persuasion, that it was not the operations which caused this beloved animal to die. Oh no, it was not that at all. This dear creature, as she so lovingly put it, sacrificed his own life, for the greater good of the animal world. Greater good. If the Monkey had one copper chence for every time the Witch used that phrase to describe what they were doing…
Apparently, this brave rabbit risked his life in a daring mission inside the walls of the City, trying to acquire from within the palace a heavily guarded potion that the people of the City were using to poison the not yet liberated animals.
“But, he did not die in vain, dear creatures. He died knowing what he stood for, and to not continue in his footsteps would be to dishonor his memory.”
This tale fooled many, though not as easily as it might have been once, and the Monkey was, for lack of a better word, proud in looking back to say he was not one of these fooled. As more deaths occurred, these stories became more unbelievable, and the Monkey began to question the validity of the other things the Witch told them, and caused him to wonder where in this eternal war he really stood.
The rain had stopped and the sun was fighting its way through the clouds, when he heard the first screech.
The Monkey flew to the edge of the window, his clawed nails digging into the sides of the crumbling walls, and watched as his kin circled overhead. Below he could see the girl with the Straw-man and the man made of silver, running out from the trees, followed by… a lion, running on its hind legs.
The group was near a valley just outside the forest, their things laid out to suggest they had been there for some time, and the Monkey could see a basket and blanket tumbling along the grass as the wind blew them away. The monkeys above had dove to the ground and were trailing the crew as they tried to lose their pursuers, frantically moving in and out trees and hiding behind bushes. Even from the distance he was at, the Monkey could see the desperate looks of terror painted on the faces of each, as hope of escape became despairingly slim.
Three of the Witch’s followers were sent, but the Monkey knew it was the girl they were after; the chase of all four was for their own amusement. They were on the faded yellow road that led from the forest and through the valley, when one swooped down and snatched the girl, while another grabbed the small dog in her arms. The third and fourth were tearing the limbs of the Straw-man and throwing them in various directions, ripping the stuffing from his body while the man with the hard silver skin tried hysterically to shoo them off.
The girl’s screams rang clear throughout the open but empty space, as two of her companions tried in vain to grab onto the girl’s legs as they kicked the air, but the monkeys were already ascending high into the sky.
As he watched the beasts fly into the graying skies, their screeches of victory he so detested to hear echoed back to him, while below the three misfits lay in miserable defeat. He knew alone they would not find her. Thoughts of the Witch flooded his mind, scenes of operated animals and wires and circuits played through his head like a moving picture, and he shut his eyes tight to block them all out. What he did now would ultimately decide his fate, and he knew the consequences should he follow his heart.
The one thing the Witch had not changed. Through countless experiments and scars of the mind, his heart had been the only thing that beat with truth and had not gone astray. The Monkey contemplated all the things the Witch had told them, and thought back to his own beliefs on what he felt was really the greater good; what he stood for in the first place.
He opened his eyes - they too had been touched by her magic - and let go of the stone he had been clutching, letting his wings carry him to where they still laid on the ground.
As he neared the party, the Monkey knew what he had to do;
they needed help, and he would give it. Subtle would his aid be - subtle and slight, so as not to be detected - but aid them he would.
He knew now what he truly believed in, and was determined to take the reigns of his life back, letting no one but him steer.
This act of assistance to the ones that opposed the Witch was just one step; one step towards bringing him closer to her downfall. He would help bring justice and equality once again to the realms of Oz, no matter the consequences for himself. Nothing could hurt him now, because he was free. This was his mission, and he would not fail.