15

The Vanilla Gorilla

The white gorilla with pink eyes was the object of everyone's admiration. They all came from far and wide to gawk at him in his enclosure at the Rillawillona Zoo. The people of Rillawillona and beyond had never seen an albino gorilla before; and so, in a "Name-the-Albino-Gorilla" contest, they all decided upon the name, "The Vanilla Gorilla". He had been named after the white vanilla ice cream that the vendors served to the Zoo visitors.

There were a number of gorillas in the enclosure, but the Vanilla Gorilla was given special care, because he was the Zoo's premiere attraction. Everyone was thrilled that he was there—everyone, that is, except the Vanilla Gorilla himself. He longed to be back in the rainforests of Africa. He had been captured by Humans and taken from his family and his home at a very early age. He could not escape his enclosure, and so he sat in a corner pounding on the wall all day.

The enclosure was not a cage, but rather it was a stone pit with some grass and rocks in it as well as an apparatus for climbing on. The pit was surrounded by a moat which was filled with water. The Zoo-Keepers had placed fruit and bread-crumbs in the centre of the pit in case the gorillas wanted a snack. The gorillas ate the fruit, but not the bread-crumbs. They left the crumbs for the birds, who came down and feasted on the left-over snack.

One day, "Vanilla", as he was sometimes called, noticed a Redwing Blackbird eating the bread-crumbs. He began to form an idea in his mind as he watched the bird.

"Hey!" He called out, "Bird! Come here."

The Blackbird hopped a little closer to Vanilla because he was curious as to why a large ape would want to speak to a little bird like himself. He was careful, however, not to go too close as he did not trust the big primate completely and did not want to end up on Vanilla's dinner menu.

"What do you want with me, ape?" The Blackbird asked.

"I want you to help me escape so that I can go back home," Vanilla replied, "To the rainforests of Africa."

The Blackbird cackled his mirth, chortling out bird-whistles.

"And just how do you propose I do that?" he asked, "Do you want me to try and lift you out of this stone pit of yours?"

"No," Vanilla replied, "Of course, you can't do that—I am too big. But you can fly. You are free! You could bring me little things that might help me to get out of this pit. Or, you could tell me things that might help me in my quest for freedom."

"What kind of things?" the Blackbird queried.

"When the Zoo-Keepers go to sleep, for one thing," Vanilla answered, "And maybe you could find a vine somewhere and bring it to me. I might be able to pull myself out of this pit if I walk through the water to the edge of the enclosure."

"The trees here do not have vines," the Blackbird told him, "except for maybe a few spindly little ones that have flowers on them. These would not be strong enough for you. And as for the Zoo-Keepers, I have never seen them sleep. They get into...little boxes and fly off at night."

"Flying boxes?" Vanilla repeated, curious as to what these things might be, "Could you bring one to me?"

"No, you ridiculous ape—they are far too big and heavy for me to carry in my beak! Listen...if you want to escape, you have to know where you are going. Your home in Africa is so far away that you would never reach it on your own. The Humans are very clever creatures, and they have their own birds of metal that fly other animals to far-away places. They only ever fly you away from your home, and never back to it. You cannot depend on them to do it for you, and you cannot do it on your own. If you escape, they will only re-capture you and put you in a cage with bars instead of an open pit where you can at least feel the rays of the sun."

"So you are saying that all is lost, then?" Vanilla asked in a dejected tone, "I can never go back home and see my family?"

"Most likely not," the Blackbird answered, "And sadly, your family has probably been captured as well, and put in some other far-off zoo. The Humans don't like to leave the other animals on this planet to be free...and often, they don't even like their own species to be free. They live in boxes, rather than to be free in the sunshine. No, if you want to escape this kind of existence, you need to go to another planet altogether."

"And that," Vanilla responded, "Is impossible...right?"

"No, actually," the Blackbird told him, "It is not. I happen to know of a way to get to a planet where there are only animals, and maybe only one or two Humans. Those Humans have to behave, as it is the other animals that make the decisions on that planet. And their decision is that no species may imprison another. This planet is not polluted, and there are no Human wars or cages or boxes. There is only the natural environment, like the home that you come from."

"And what is the name of this place?" Vanilla asked hopefully.

"It is called Nep-Bucket," replied the Blackbird, "And I, Opatal of the Redwings, can arrange for you to go there, if you wish."

"Yes!" cried Vanilla, "Yes...Opatal...that would be marvelous! I would like to go there!"

"What is your name?" asked Opatal the Redwing Blackbird.

"My name is 'The Vanilla Gorilla'," answered Vanilla, "Or at least, that's what the Humans call me. I have forgotten my Gorilla name."

"That's not a name!" Opatal cried in disgust, "I'm going to call you Van...it's shorter and easier for me to say. Now then, Van...you've got to listen to me very carefully if you want me to arrange this for you."

"Yes, yes...anything!" cried the newly re-named 'Van', "Can we take the other Gorillas with us? And maybe my family members, who are in zoos somewhere? And maybe the other animals in this zoo..."

"No!" cried Opatal, "I will ask my brothers and sisters in other lands to look in the zoos for your other family members, but it may take years to get them out—if they are indeed in zoos. You must rescue yourself first—and then later you may consider leading a mission back to Earth to rescue others."

"What...what shall I do to rescue myself?"

"You are most fortunate," replied Opatal, "That there is a rescue team here on Earth at this very moment. If I had needed to send for a team, it might have been months or years before it arrived. As it happens, you are in a position to go with the team back to Nep-Bucket. But you must keep quiet about it—there is not much room left within the Giant Star-Bird. They will likely only have room for you."

"Oh, that seems so unfair!" Van wailed, quieting himself when Opatal flapped his wings angrily.

"Do you want to go or not?" Opatal hissed, "If so, then you need to follow my directions, Van. As I have said, you can come back to rescue the others, but it will take time. You must be patient, do you understand?"

Van nodded his head sadly. He had no idea if there would be other gorillas on this new planet that Opatal was speaking about. Before he had a chance to ask, however, Opatal had flown off.

The next day, the Zoo-Keepers moved Van to another enclosure, where he was all alone. He was on an island in the middle of a pond. They often put him here when they were cleaning out the stone pit. He was not sure why he was always put here alone; perhaps it was because they wanted people to be able to see him rather than to be disappointed that the star attraction was not available for their viewing pleasure. He often felt envious of the other gorillas, who were all normal enough to fit in with the crowd. Ever since he was born, he had stood out as different, and it was the reason why he had been captured and brought here to this prison of stone pits and islands.

As Van peered out over the island/pond enclosure, he could see a tiger in the pit across from his. The tiger paced back and forth, back and forth, all the time. He never seemed to stop. Van understood the tiger's need to pace, though; it was similar to the way he himself pounded the wall over and over again because he was so bored in his stone pit. He felt sorry for the once-majestic tiger, and he felt sorry for himself as well.

While he was in the midst of feeling sorry for himself, he felt a rush of wings over his head. Opatal and a crew of other Blackbirds landed in a tree next to him. They began to squawk uproariously amongst themselves.

"Opatal!" Van cried, "What are you all saying to each other?"

"We are planning your escape, you silly gorilla!" Opatal chided him, "You are in a very good position in this new enclosure, but we must get you out before the zoo becomes busy. It is the early morning—the best time to spring you."

"Spring me?" echoed Van, "But how? I thought you said that if I tried to escape, the Humans would re-capture me and put me in a cage with bars!"

"That was when you were planning on doing it yourself," Opatal informed him, "At present, you have a whole fleet of brilliant Blackbirds to aid you. We will help you to do it right—we must meet our contacts from Nep-Bucket at the Museum."

"What's a Museum?" asked Van.

"It's a place where the Humans collect dead things," Opatal explained, "Like the bodies of animals, which they put up on wooden stands."

Van shivered. He did not want to go the Museum, where they put dead animals on wooden things. Still, he knew that if he wanted to escape, he would need to obey the Blackbird crew.

"Van!" Opatal was screeching at him, "The sentinels that we have posted have told me that the way is clear. Now, swim over to the edge of the enclosure, quick!"

Van stared in horror at Opatal. He did not want to get into the pond and swim—he was unsure if he even knew how to swim. The Blackbirds began to cajole him, and dive at him, pecking at his head until finally he gave in and forced himself to go into the pond. As he waded in, the water felt frozen upon his furred skin. He continued to go further, his feet besieged by soft mud. As he progressed along, the water became deeper. In the middle of the pond, half-way across, it was up to his neck. If it were to get any deeper, he feared that he might drown.

"Keep going!" Opatal urged him onwards.

Van pushed himself forward, the water up to his chin. Just as he thought he could stand no more, he felt the water level dropping. As he neared the enclosure side, the level came down to his chest, his legs, and finally he stood dripping wet at the other side of the pond. He stood there lamely, looking up at the wires around the pond.

The Blackbirds flew up and over the fence. Soon, they returned, carrying a big blue blanket in their claws. Each one held a different part of the blanket, and together they managed to drop it on top of the wire.

"Climb up and over the blanketed wire!" Opatal directed him firmly.

Van did as he was told. His strong gorilla arms allowed him to climb up to the wired area, where he threw himself over the blanketed area. His rump hit the wire, but it did not hurt him because the blanket protected him from the sharp barbs. He fell unceremoniously on the stone pavement and lay there, stunned.

"Keep moving, Van!" Opatal urged him.

Van jumped up and ran in the direction that the blackbirds were bidding him to go. He hid behind a bush in order to avoid being seen by a group of early-morning visitors. Opatal pecked at his rear every time he wanted him to move, and he would screech when he wanted him to hide. The blackbirds led him to a gate, where he was told to run as fast as he could.

Van bolted through the gate, and as he did so, the woman in the booth who guarded the entry in and out of the zoo began to scream.

"Escape!" She yelled, "Escaped gorilla! Emergency!"

"Run!" screeched Opatal, swooping down and pecking Van's head with his beak, "Get going, Van!"

Van charged down the street, pausing every once in a while to orient himself. He was in a big city, with huge boxes all around and maybe a few trees here and there. He was not used to this forest of big boxes and its ground of stone.

"Turn, that way!" Opatal directed him.

Van obeyed, following each direction that Opatal gave him. The crew of Blackbirds was flying out in front, relaying information to Opatal about what was happening.

"There are some Humans up ahead!" one of the Blackbirds relayed to Opatal, "Switch routes!"

Opatal swooped at Van, herding him down another corridor of stone, and then another, in an attempt to avoid the Humans. Finally, they realized that they would not reach their destination this way. If they wanted to get to the Museum, they would have to travel in the midst of Humans.

The Blackbirds flew about in a confused panic for about a minute, until finally they became oriented once more, and the directions began anew. Van was panting, resting under a tree after all his exertion.

"Keep going, Van!" Opatal encouraged him, "It's not far now. Just a little longer—and I have to warn you that we are going to travel right into the heart of the city. We will have to run past frightened Humans...do nothing to provoke their wrath. Some of them hold Fire-sticks which blast pain into your body."

"Thanks for the warning," Van muttered ruefully, as he began running once again. Gorillas normally did not keep running and running like this, but rather preferred to bolt in short bursts. Every time Van slowed down, Opatal ruthlessly screeched at him to keep moving.

As they passed the huge boxes, Van noticed that they were arranged neatly in rows upon rows. Squares of grass and plants surrounded the boxes in a way that reminded Van of the stone pits that the Zoo-Keepers used to contain the animals in the Zoo. It seemed as if the Humans themselves lived in a great big zoo—and were trying to bring all the other life forms into it as well. In some ways, Van felt sorry for the Humans. He did not, however, have long to contemplate the Human dilemma as Opatal was driving him away from the big box-cages and towards the "heart of the city" as Opatal called it.

Van raced along a corridor of stone upon which moving boxes raced up and down—more than Van had ever seen in his life. As they raced by him, they made a snarling noise which made him think that they were going to attack him. They did not stay long on this frightening corridor, but rather the Blackbirds herded him across a field and over to a quieter stone corridor. They finally came to a huge pathway full of Humans walking up and down it. There were more moving boxes, but they were traveling much more slowly than the ones they had just seen on the other corridor. They made high-pitched, blaring noises, and they terrified Van even more than the snarling speed-demons that he had seen before.

As the Blackbirds herded Van down the street, Humans everywhere threw up their arms and screamed in terror. For some reason, they were very frightened of Van now that he was out of his enclosure. A free animal seemed to horrify them, and they scattered like leaves in the wind as he charged down the busy row of tall, towering box-structures. For a moment, Van even felt a surge of pride and power as they ran screaming from him, but it was short-lived. The Blackbirds halted his charge when they arrived at one particular box which had intricate patterns carved into its stone walls.

"This is it, Van," Opatal told him, "This is the Museum, where our contacts from Nep-Bucket are waiting."

Without warning, a group of dogs came running up to bite and snarl at Van. He could smell the Human scent on them, and he knew that they were unwitting servants of the powerful beings. They wore strings of leather on their necks, and their behavior suggested obedience to their masters.

"Come with us!" Barked the leader of the canine gang, "You are under arrest for abandoning your post at the Zoo. The Humans are here to re-capture you, and you will not escape their great power. Give yourself up, and you will not be harmed!"

Opatal and his crew began to dive-bomb the dogs, irritating them and distracting them from their task.

"You bunch of cowards!" Opatal screeched at the dogs, "Show some pride in yourselves, and rebel against your precious Humans! They only want to destroy the world."

The leader growled angrily, snapping at the Blackbirds as they swooped past him, pecking at his head and tweaking his tail.

"You are the cowards!" He cried, "Running from your friends. The Humans care for your ape, and they deserve his loyalty! Vanilla Gorilla, you are a traitor to the Greatest Species on Earth!"

"Oh, get a life, you clown!" Opatal screeched at him, "Van—charge the doors—now! The Human guards are on their way."

Van turned his head to see a group of Humans dressed in blue cloth running towards him with what he believed to be the fire-sticks that Opatal had told him about earlier.

Frantically, he charged up to the doors of the building and with one powerful pounding of his fists the doors burst open. Van ran inside, followed by the Blackbirds, the dogs, and finally the Humans in blue cloth. The crowds of people ran screaming from Van as he dashed into a room full of stuffed animals mounted on wooden platforms. He ran by a stuffed gorilla, shivering in horror but forcing himself to continue.

"Here—over here!" Opatal cried, directing him into another room and motioning him to stand on a wooden platform that had nothing on it.

Van stared at Opatal. Had the Blackbird gone mad? Perhaps he, like the dogs, was on the side of the Humans! Opatal flapped his wings furiously, and Van got up on the stand in spite of his misgivings.

"Stay still!" Opatal ordered, before commanding his crew to drop a canvas on top of him, which had been lying on the floor.

The birds then scattered, leaving Van to tremble under the canvas, on the stand that had probably been used to display a dead animal. The Humans ran into the room, pausing for a moment to look around. Van stayed deathly still, until they had departed. Strangely, they had not expected a gorilla to be hiding on a stand under a canvas. Humans were odd creatures, and certainly they did not have a particularly good sense of smell. After the sound of their footsteps had faded, Opatal flew into the room and perched on Van's head.

"Stay here, under the canvas, Van!" Opatal cried, "And I will broadcast our presence to the Nep-Bucketans."

Opatal warbled a swooning croon-tune for a moment, until finally Van could smell the presence of a Human and a dog. Opatal lifted the canvas enough so that he could see a young Human with a golden dog standing before him. He sensed that these two were not associated with the Zoo or the Humans-in-blue-cloths.

"Hello, Van," greeted the young boy, "I'm Gary, and this my friend Homer. We're both from Nep-Bucket...although I was originally from Earth, before they cleared all the worst smog out of the city. Still, they haven't stopped imprisoning animals, and that's why we're here. We want to bring as many captive zoo animals to Nep-Bucket as possible, where they can live a free and happy life."

"C-can you help my family and zoo friends, too?" asked Van nervously. He was not sure if he should trust a Human boy.

"Yes—eventually," Gary replied, "But first we have to get you out of here, and you've got to come with us to Nep-Bucket to recover from your ordeal..."

"Hush, Gary!" Homer barked, "I hear someone coming. Van, put the canvas back on!"

Van had no sooner flipped the canvas over himself than a Museum guard walked into the room.

"I'm sorry, son," he told Gary, "But you and your dog are going to have to leave. The Museum's been closed because there's a gorilla on the loose."

"Oh, a gorilla?" Gary echoed innocently, "You mean the one that just went running by this room? I think he was headed for the Knights in Armor Display!"

The guard's jaw dropped in surprise, and he went running off in the direction of the 'Knights in Armor' display, whatever that was.

"Follow us!" cried Gary, as he and Homer ran off. Van threw off the canvas, jumped off the stand, and ran after them, followed by the Blackbirds. Gary led them all to what looked like a hole in the ground with metal bars over it. Gary opened up the hole and dove in with Homer the dog. Van looked around him for a moment, and then tossed himself down the hole after them. He just barely managed to fit through, and he fell with a thud on the floor of a long tunnel. To his surprise, the Blackbirds did not follow.

"Good Luck, Van!" chirped Opatal, "It's all up to you now. I hope to see you one day on another rescue mission!"

"Good-Bye, Opatal!" Van cried, "And thank you!"

"All right, enough good-byes!" Homer woofed, "Let's be off with us!"

Gary flicked on some kind of Light-Stick, and it helped them to be able to see what they were doing as they ran down the dark tunnel. After a while, they arrived at an underground base of some kind. A group of strange feline beings helped them into an odd capsule and, after the door had been closed, Van could feel the structure being catapulted into the air.

"This is the shuttle," Gary explained, "It will take us to the Giant Star-Bird, which will then bring us back to Nep."

The shuttle kept flying until Van could see stars lighting up the night sky. He was not sure how night-time had arrived so quickly, but he did not ask about it as he was too bewildered. He gasped as the shuttle approached a great big black bird. The giant bird seemed to be flying around the planet, which was now below them. Van was not sure how it was able to survive this high up in the air, but again he was afraid to ask.

"It's okay, Van," Homer said to him softly, "The bird's name is Jerico, and he's a Star-Bird. He doesn't need to worry about breathing air, as he has his own internal system for that. We're going to enter that big cabin on his back, and he will take us to Nep-Bucket Planet. You're really going to like Nep."

Van nodded, without saying anything. The shuttle quietly entered the Star-Cabin, and soon Van found himself in yet another Big Box.

"It won't be for long," Homer promised, and indeed it was not.

After a few weeks of traveling through the stars, Jerico landed on a beautiful green world, filled with trees and grasses of every color and shape. When Van was finally ready to disembark from the Star-Cabin on Jerico's back, he slid down the Great Bird's wing and let out a whoop of delight.

There, waiting for him, were a group of apes. They were different from him, of course; there were orange, grey, white, black, and even green ape-like beings, and they welcomed him with open arms.

"Come, and we will show you our world," said one of the apes, a white being whose name was Barcilien Cha' Ren'Chook, "Here, there are no prisons and no stone pits. One day, when you are strong enough, we will accompany you back to your old planet, and we will help you to rescue your friends and family."

Van was so overcome with joy and gratitude that he could not speak. He pounded his chest joyfully, and ran about with the young apes. Here, he sensed that no one would be his enemy and that everyone would be a friend. He had come home at last!