Monster, 1959

David Maine

St. Martin's Press

Chapter One

Establishing Shot

In his dream, K. flies.

Below him is the island: verdant and vertiginous, lunatic with creation, lush like a scrap of Eden discarded and forgotten in the ocean's endless tundra. Trees flash by, rainforest-dense, tropical growth shrouding the hills in overstuffed quilted folds. Flocks of birds glitter like refracting jewels, like op art on the wing, Vs and swarms and grand unruly mobs weaving from scarp to treetop to lakeside and up again into open sky. Toward K.

K. has no words for this. In fact K. has no words at all. The language center in his brain looks like a Jackson Pollack painting dropped from a great height. K. is preliterate, prelingual; in fact, pre-just about anything you can think of. His thoughts are the pictures he sees and the feelings they create. Sensation is his vocabulary: flavor, touch, sound, intuition, image. And smell most of all. In his dream, the heels-over-head feelings of floating, swooping, soaring are bereft of words to name them. The closest he can come is to grunt in his sleep, whimper and purr and coo and bleat. Slumbering high in his treetop nest, K. does just this. But in his dream, he flies.

Not all dreams are such. Sometimes he sees faces, figures of others like himself: huge, shambolic forms lurching across the primeval landscape. In ordinary life—though "ordinary" is a precarious word to use around here—in ordinary life, K. wanders as solitary as John the Baptist, so the feelings stirred up by these misty figures elide into a whirlpool of difficult-to-understand emotions. In his waking life, K. has never seen anything even remotely resembling himself: an oversized, black-furred, butterfly-winged, fish-scaled, hawk-taloned, insect-antennaed primate. Sometimes he wonders, as best he can, why this is so. Such wondering is difficult without words. Ideas like species or even family lie far outside his ken; he is possessed of a rudimentary sense of me and a slightly clearer sense of them, but abstractions of any greater complexity elude him. He cannot know that he is a species of one, the first, last and only of his race: a race that is over before it starts. The merciless demands of natural selection have declared his impossibly overgrown, jumbled-up self to be simply too huge, too ungainly and demanding —of nourishment, of physical space—to evolve further. The other preposterous species of the island, the fish-finned insect-rats and miniature, eight-eyed mole people, are similarly marked, but possessing as they do even less self-awareness than K., they don't know it either.

In his dream, K. circles high in the air, flirts with the clouds, brushes the firmament, pirouettes like a deformed Nureyev before flipping head-down and plummeting toward a lake. The water approaches with gut-clenching speed, and K.'s heart jolts into double time. Waves glitter and smear across his vision. At the moment of impact, K. jerks himself awake. The tree he is lounging in shudders as if struck, and a multitude of storks takes noisily to the air.

Around K. the island hunkers, observing him. Low morning sun wrestles heavy clouds. Tropical forest, wet-earth smells, plenty of bugs.

K. peers about groggily. His heart beats fast as if he is in danger, but he smells none, hears none. What dangers are there, anyway, for a creature such as himself? The insect-rats are too small to mention, the dens of the mole people lie deep underground. K. flicks his tongue and smells the peaceful air. Already his heart is slowing, the dream is fading, then faded, then gone: river mist that flees the sun. His blood pressure drops. He reaches for a nearby cluster of leaves and stuffs them in his mouth, chewing meditatively. An observer might be forgiven for thinking that K. is lost in thought. He is not. He is simply lost. Or more properly, he is waiting for a stimulus, internal or external, to prod him into motion. Perhaps hunger, or the approach of the flying lizard who occasionally torments him, or the need to relieve his bowels, or a thunderstorm.

K. sits patiently, chewing without thinking. Waiting, like one of Pavlov's now-famous slobbering dogs, for something to happen.

Later that day, something does.

Excerpted from MONSTER 1959 by DAVID MAINE
Copyright © 2008 by David Maine
Published in January 2009 by St. Martin's Press

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