Ask me: the coming marmoset invasion

>> Sunday, March 07, 2010

Michelle wrote:

How can we prepare for the coming marmoset invasion?


It was, as best as I can recall, in the year 18-- that I met Colonel Leftenant Brigadier Patton-Smythe Alistair MacAllister D-----, formerly of Her Royal Majesty's Seventeenth Bullmoose Fusiliers but subsequently retired after his notable performance in India during one of our military things there. I'd been sent by my paper to a spa in H-----, ostensibly to write an article on the salutary health benefits of water impregnated with mineral salts but mostly because my editor, Mr. F-----, of the Whittington Courier-Gadfly Tattler (for which I am a writer-at-large), felt I'd gotten a bit too high-strung, which was no doubt true insofar as I'd had to be reprimanded after biting a Member of The House Of Lords who I'd been sent to interview on his nose when I was, in point of fact, supposed to be asking him about a farm bill.

I needed, to be sure, a rest-cure.

I met the good Colonel Leftenant Brigadier on my third day there, which was a good thing for both of us as it had been a full twenty-eight hours since I'd wanted to bite the nose off of anybody (though I must confess I'd been eying the fellow who'd given me a dirty towel that morning). He was a remarkable man in appearance, with his tin eye and enormous red moustache (in which he'd allowed a family of hummingbirds to make a nest), nearly seven feet in height and carrying his right arm ("lost" in Burma but returned to him by a kindly old innkeeper in French Indochina) in his left hand and using it to swat at the flies that kept trying to fly into his ears to get at the sweet, sweet nectar inside.

"Gor! Errrumph harr rumphr arrumph hrrar!" said the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier.

I looked quizzically at the gentleman, when his servant, a Bolivian circus midget named Quintain (who'd escaped from the Bolivian circus inside an elephant, or so I have been told by a reputable madman) coughed lightly into his peach-coloured handkerchief and proceeded to translate for his master. It seemed, or so Quintain claimed, the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier had recognized me as a gentleman of discretion and above-average intellect, and wished to know if I had a few moments to discuss a matter of, Quintain suggested, utmost importance.

I readily assented. "Sir," I said, grabbing his hand and then giving the arm back to him, "I may, of course, absolutely be trusted with any confidences you may need to divulge!" Of course I must admit I was, in my head, secretly thinking that if any of these confidences were especially salacious in nature, the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier might be confident they'd appear on the front page of the Whittington Courier-Gadfly Tattler in no short order.

"Arrumph! Giddy, giddy, tora, diddley-rumph-harrumph, arrrrr!" the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier said, or words much to that effect.

Whereupon he proceeded without further interruption by your correspondent, to unleash the following terrifying tale as translated by his erstwhile servant, Quintain, and recorded by myself:




It was shortly after I was assigned to Her Majesty's Royal Nineteenth Bombardiers in the year 18-- that I encountered the peril. This was, naturally, near the Afghan border, where the Royal Nineteenth Bombardiers had set up a camp to guard the pass at Vishka-Lampur, which had been claimed by a fearsome warlord named Dol Camparh, who attempted to seize goods and demand a ransom from anyone using the frigid, stony, almost impenetrable pass, which, actually, now that I think about it, may not have been an actual pass so much as a split in the rocks caused by a melting glacier and barely navigable by a pony trained to tiptoe on his hind legs by a cruel and hideous gypsy. It seems that nobody actually used the alleged pass, however, and thus Dol Camparh had taken to sending his own men up and down the pass carrying various items he'd assigned them to transport, so that he'd have somebody to shanghai. Naturally, when it came to the attention of the Crown that these matters were ongoing, the British Army was sent to protect the convoys of Dol Camparh's men from Dol Camparh's depredations, and to collect whatever tariffs, excises and fees might seem appropriate if Dol Camparh's men accidentally stumbled into India while crawling back and forth through the nearly-unnavigable and bethicked with stinging nettles gap.

Anyhoo, I was, in those days, merely a cannonball, and had not been promoted to sabot, much less achieved the heights of fame and rank I was to achieve after I was re-deployed to serve with the legendary and perhaps completely fictitious Bullmoose Fusiliers. I fondly remember sitting around the campfires with B-----, X----- and Lawrence Villiers of 103 Aberdeen Rd., Hallingham, Essex, the famous sodomite, and listening to the lads tell tales of their service. Although I came to learn that war is slightly unpleasant and leads to soiled underthings, in those days I looked at the world as a vision, boundless horizons of glory et cetera and all that rubbish.

One night, as we sat around the campfire, we heard a horrible scraping noise in the bushes and we all jumped to our feet and drew our weapons, except Villiers, who sheathed his, and scanned the black, hopeless darkness which not even a candle could penetrate. It was deathly silent except for the scraping--scrape, scrape, scrape--of something being dragged across the scree. The stars twinkled balefully down at us from heavenly spheres black as oil poured into a coal chute to make the briquettes slippery for some obscure reason.

Into the yellow--well, no, I guess it was orange--or sort of red--well, it went back and forth, yellow-orange-red but not always in that order--into the flickering light of the fire crawled old Gammy C-----, a private first class who'd never been promoted past cannonball in seventy years of service with the Nineteenth Bombardiers. We'd fired him at Dol Camparh's men earlier that morning and assumed he was stuck in a tree or hadn't survived bouncing off that one really big rock Dol Camparh himself had been hiding behind, and hadn't really expected him to return at all. Let it be said that Her Royal Majesty's men are a brave and hardy lot, and that the perseverance of men like old Gammy C-----, G-d rest his soul, should be an example to us all. He stopped at the edge of the firelight, his body half in the circle of varicoloured light and the other half of his body remaining somewhere in the darkness. His eyes were shadowed and his face bruised and battered and clothes torn--even moreso than you'd expect of a man who'd been shot out of a cannon and then ricocheted off a rock into a tree, that is--and he was covered in curious crescent-shaped wounds.

"The horror," he said, "the horror."

B----- immediately pointed out that Nostromo is a far more sophisticated and deeper piece of work, to which I objected that, yes, while Nostromo shows off the depth and breadth of Conrad's gifts, more easily-accessible novels like The Secret Agent and, yes, Heart Of Darkness are more immediately rewarding and easier to get through, and then we were both interrupted by a bloody cough; I do not mean "bloody" as an epithet, I mean that Gammy C----- coughed and spattered blood several feet into the flickering circle of firelight and covering the sodomite's boots with it. We assumed, naturally enough, that the blood was Gammy's own, until we observed a clump of chewed and matted fur was stuck to the sodomite's boots along with the blood.

"My G-d, Gammy, we saved you some beans just in case you made it back!" X----- exclaimed.

"They're out there, lads," Gammy wheezed at us. "Hunnerts of 'em, with fierce eyes like th' hot points of a blacksmith's tongs left in th' fire. They were in th' tree wot I landed in, clingin' to th' branches wit' their little clawt hands, an' when they got ken of me bein' in th' tree wit' 'em they 'gan to screech like monkeys an' raint down on me from th' upper branches. I bit one of 'em in 'alf and his rear half kept lashin' at me wit' its tail--that's th' one I got, right there on that prevert's boot, like--an' they came at me an' at me. I managet t' get outter th' tree an' still they came at me, still they're comin', lads, though I lef' 'em somethin' to distract 'em, like, for a few minnits. Run lads! Run!"

Gammy coughed up a lungful of blood, or it might have been a bloody lung, and then he died, brave soul that he was.

"That doesn't look like half an Afghan warrior, Gammy," B----- observed, poking at the lump of fur on Lawrence's boot with a stick.

"It innit an Afghan, y'idiot," Gammy choked. "It's--them!"

I stepped delicately over to Gammy, stepping over the upchucked clot of blood or possible vital internal organ, and raised Gammy's cold body to my lap, I think to close his wide, staring, ghastly eyes. When I did so, I discovered to my utter horror--that Gammy C-----'s body was missing its lower extremities from just above the waistline!

"Ugh!" I said, and dropped the half I was holding.

"Who's 'them,' I wonder," X----- said, and as if to answer furred clumps flew from the darkness, clinging and crawling over X-----, biting and clawing and squeaking as they buried him, devouring him as he screamed and shrieked in an entirely womanly way, as women do, because it's the 19th Century and that's how all our women are except for Queen Victoria, G-d Bless Her Vengeful, Fanged, Eighty-Foot Tall Gargantuan Majesty!

They were marmosets. And not just a meagre few, but hunnerts, as Gammy said, by which he must have meant well over ten thousand, the G-d damned moron. Reminds me of the time we asked him how many pieces of apple cake were left in the commissary and he said "hunnerts" and so we kept playing gin rummy for another round or two and when we got there there were only three left and I didn't get one because I was the youngest, which I think was really just an excuse and total bulls--t.

If there had only been a few hundred, we might have stomped all over them. We were proud wearers of Her Majesty's Royal Standard-Issue Boots, with iron nails and thick heels on which to trod on the rabble we oppressed in the lands too primitive to appreciate what a burden we white men had to undertake delivering Christianity and establishing a negative trade balance wherein we left them with a deficit of raw materials while shipping them our surplus raw goods at inflated prices, not to mention the damage introducing them to the drug trade surely did our Christian souls. They were good boots; not very comfortable, but if you kicked one of those pacifist heathens in the groin with them, they really stayed down. But there were more than hundreds, there were thousands or tens of thousands, all pouring out of the darkness and eating every square inch of flesh they could latch their tiny teeth upon.

The horde rolled over what was left of Gammy, a few tucking in but most of them ignoring his cooling body in favor of the fresher meat standing there, stunned and in awe of the demonic terror falling upon us. X----- was devoured almost instantly, getting nary a shot off. I heard Villiers discharging his pistol again and again and again, brave for a poofter, firing it more than a dozen times before the marmosets crawled up his legs and went for his eyes, eating them with the alacrity of an overweight child being given a confectionary snack. B----- fired his musket repeatedly and was brought down, dragged under the furred tide screaming, using his bayonet at the very last until so many of the horrifying vermin were impaled upon it he could only use it as a soft, stuffed club, and then at last he, too, succumbed.

My quick wits were to save me many times over the next decades of service to the Crown. Recalling that the marmoset is natively afraid of the smell of its own burning fur, I leapt from my sitting position cradling Gammy's marmoset-riddled body and jumped--directly into the middle of our campfire!

I began to burn almost immediately, the flames igniting my clothes and then my hair, my flesh a bubbling, blistering torment. Yet I remained inside the flames, knowing that if I allowed even a single stray toe the blissful relief of not being on fire for even a few seconds, it might mean my very death. How I longed for the feeling of cool air on my skin, for the sweet caress of a breeze that did not carry the infernal flickering flame, to be standing on the chill ground instead of a pile of hot coals and crackling, firey wood. I tried to close my eyes only to discover my eyelids had burned off shortly after my eyebrows had gone up, then decided, by G-d, to be a man like Queen Victoria and suffer the torture of the fire as a man would, with very little screaming and only a modicum of wishing for my immediate demise.

The marmosets gathered around the fire and I, their cold, murderous eyes glittering redly in the darkness. One chittered to his neighbor, a terrible nightmarish sound, and then they watched the rest in silence.

Oh! How I wondered what they were looking at! They dared not the flames, knowing that to stretch a limb into the crackling pillar of hot reddish, or orangey, or maybe sort of yellow, smoking, infernal heat, would surely raise the horrific reek of burned marmoset fur, their one horror!

And then, as the night grew long and chill, it happened. The sound of a bird raising plaintive, mournful song. The rustle of the cold mountain wind. The greying light in the east as the sun began to rise over the mountains. And I could not enjoy for a moment these tender pleasures of G-d's Glory, for my attention was centered on one thing and one thing alone--the fact that, beneath what little remained of the charred leather fused permanently to the roasted skin of my feet, the campfire was dying!

I tried to kick life into the smouldering coals! I looked about me for a branch or some piece of wood that I might throw upon myself to keep the fires of life lit! But to no avail! The fire would die, and I, with it!

The marmosets edged closer.

The last crumbling black log collapsed into ash at my feet as the sun cleared the lowest peak of the great range surrounding us. I found myself eye-to-eye with the chief of the beasts, a fat marmoset with black eyes like the pits of Hades and a necklace made of lion, tiger and bear teeth. It gazed in my eyes, and I gazed in its, waiting for the last blow to fall. I realized now that I had played into the brutal creatures' paws, for now I was not merely vulnerable, but cooked to a well-done degree, if that was how they preferred their victuals. Still we waited.

Then, at last, the chief of the marmosets clucked under its tongue, speaking that arcane marmoset language--to know their tongue, I have been told by one who studied it and spoke it well, is to die of madness--and the entire horde of tiny, furry beasts turned as one and vanished into the mountains.

I must have fainted at once, but good it is that I waited to pass out until they were gone, for to this day I believe it was my bravery and resolution which impressed them most, and saved my life. When I awoke, it was to find that the entire British encampment as well as the fortress of Dol Camparh, and all the life that resided therein, from the soldiers of the respective forces to the mice that trailed after and ate their scraps, were gone, devoured, nothing left but silent bones gleaming in the thin air. Only I survived, the charred remnants of a boy grown to be a man who screamed every time something brushed against his raw, skinless man's flesh.




I shuddered as the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier finished his terrible tale.

"Thank G-d," I said, "the marmoset is not indigenous to these English shores!"

"Rorrrumph harrah diddley-wombat marumph huzzah!" the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier exclaimed.

"He says," Quintain said in reply to my questioning eyes, which flicked from Colonel Leftenant Brigadier to midget to Colonel Leftenant Brigadier and back again, "that the marmosets are on their way! He says the marmosets are already here! He says the marmosets are among us, waiting for their chance to strike!

I confess I screamed like a little girl and passed out. When I awakened, the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier and his servant were gone, and the spa had been shut down and reopened as a Seattle-based American chain purveyor of coffee-themed beverages.

What do we learn from this horrifying tale, told not merely to horrify, but to educate? For I feel that the Colonel Leftenant Brigadier surely told me this story not merely to frighten, but to warn. The clue, of course, is in his own survival: the marmoset fears but one thing, the hideous smell of his own burning fur. And so I have prepared, dear reader, and suggest you do the same; I am surrounded now, even as I write this, with old newspapers and rags soaked in kerosene, and piles of high, dry wood. Close at hand I have a box of reliable matches. And should I see their eyes in the darkness--their terrible, lifeless eyes that hunger to ravage human flesh with their miniscule teeth evolved not merely to devour "fruit, leaves, insects, and sometimes even small reptiles," but also, even, human flesh--then shall I light the match and set it to old newspaper, to kerosene-soaked rag, to dry wood, and wreathe myself in windings of living, cleansing flame.

Pray for me; as shall I, for you.


3 comments:

Random Michelle K Monday, March 8, 2010 at 9:28:00 AM EST  

Eric, have I told you lately that I adore you?

vince Monday, March 8, 2010 at 8:16:00 PM EST  

Eric, there has got to be some humor place that would publish these things like this you write for free. And PAY you.

If I published a humor magazine, I would totally publish you in a heartbeat.

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