My name is Tonya Grenza, from Miersdale, New York. My mother was Dr. Bianca Grenza. I graduated from North Fork High School. I played Dr. Cass on a couple episodes of the TV show “The Devil’s Double.” If you’re from Newark, I’m that girl who got busted posing as a surgeon at the hospital right after the outbreak began.
If you’ve found this boat and found these papers, please believe me this is not made up. I am not lying. I will not lie anymore. I’m done lying. Do not go to Monick Island. There’s no infection there, but everybody’s dead. I’m the only one that got off the island. The place is a research facility, but do not try to dock there.
This is not my boat. It belonged to Justine Reniker, from the port called Majors Station. She and everybody else was killed on Monick Island. If this boat drifts back to Monick Island, I swear I will jump in the water and swim away. Better to drown than return there.
I have been running since before the outbreak began. It’s my fault. There’s always been something wrong with me. My parents really loved me but I think I never made it the way they’d hoped. I’ve been into acting since high school. It was the only thing I was good at.
That TV show could have been my big break if I hadn’t blown it the way I did. Anyways, that doesn’t matter any more. The outbreak would’ve ended any sort of career I had, regardless. The fiasco at the show is kind of what led me to do the thing where I posed as a doctor at the hospital down in Newark. I almost got caught a couple of times, but then the outbreak started. I was able to ride the chaos for a few more weeks before they finally arrested me.
If it wasn’t for the outbreak, I would probably still be in a jail cell right now. But they needed the jail cell for a morgue when things started to get really bad. Me and all the other “non-violent” offenders got let out.
My parents took me in after getting out of jail, despite everything they had to go through because of me. And I took care of them when they got sick. I want everybody to know that. I did my duty as a daughter and took care of both of them while they died. When they died, I couldn’t bury them because of the lock-downs. Also, we were in the middle of a neighborhood so there was no good place to dig graves.
I took their car and drove as far south as I could until the gas ran out. After that I just walked. By then of course everything was crazy with the outbreak. The internet was dead. There was no gas or food or anything. Sick people were camped out on all the road sides. There were military checkpoints everywhere. Everything was really dark at night.
The reason I was able to get as far as I did was that I took with me a bunch of my mom’s medical supplies and uniform. Nobody got through the checkpoints except military, cops, and doctors. I’d just show my mom’s hospital ID. Our faces look similar enough, so nobody ever bothered checking very hard to notice. That’s how I got all the way to the coast despite the whole country being in lockdown.
I made it to a port called Majors Station. They were still letting boats out when I got there. I pulled the doctor trick to get past the last checkpoint. Reniker was there that day and somehow heard a ‘physician’ had just arrived, so she found me. I went ahead and told Reniker ‘yes’ I was a doctor. I figured there was going to be food if I could get to the facility that Reniker was telling me about bringing me to. That is how I got on this boat the first time, and that is how I got to Monick Island.
It is wrong to take advantage of other people’s desperation. I was wrong. I lied one last time to get off the infected mainland and out onto an island where there was safety and there was food.
It was a long boat ride. We motored across the water all day, heading due south from the port. Monick Island is way out in the middle of nowhere. When I first saw it I could tell it was mostly covered in trees. On the north end is a miniature faux lighthouse, which at first I thought was a church steeple. You can’t see the buildings of the research facility from the water. They are up at a higher elevation and mostly hidden by the trees. The island has one dock all the way around on the south side of the island. Reniker motored the boat to it and I could see there were no other boats.
There were two guys standing on the dock. One was Jorge. The taller one was Dr. Sledge.
What can I say about them? Reniker, Jorge, and Dr. Sledge were the only ones on island when I got there. Dr. Sledge ran the research facility. I guess he owned the island or leased it from the Coast Guard. That part was never made clear. Jorge was a primatologist originally from Massachusetts, but had spent a long time at a research facility in Texas before getting hired to work for Dr. Sledge. I am still not sure what kind of doctor Dr. Sledge was.
I knew right away Dr. Sledge could tell I was no physician. Reniker started telling Dr. Sledge how she’d found a doctor on the mainland, but I cut her off mid-sentence.
“I’m not a doctor,” I remember saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not a doctor.”
Dr. Sledge showed no surprise at all, though the others were obviously shocked at my deception. Reniker looked like she was going to shove me into the water. She started to say something to me, but Dr. Sledge gently raised a hand and Reniker was quiet.
“I understand,” Dr. Sledge said. Then he walked up the slope without another word.
Reniker trudged up the slope after him. It sounded like she was trying to apologize for being fooled into bringing home some lying miscreant to the island. Sledge ignored her.
Jorge said nothing. He just brushed past me and walked to the end of the dock. He lit a cigarette and just stood there, staring out over the water. I could do nothing but stand and wait at the other end of the dock while it got dark on the island.
Finally, Jorge turned and walked past me towards the trail that led into the trees.
“Come with me,” he said, “I’ll make you a cheeseburger in the kitchen. Then you can come back down with me in the truck and help me unload.”
I slept on a cot next to the stove in the kitchen that night. When Dr. Sledge and the others came down for breakfast in the morning, I hid in a bathroom until they had all left. There were enough shreds of biscuits in the trash to make a decent breakfast. I spent that day avoiding the others. I mostly stayed outside, exploring and getting my bearings.
The facility comprised five windowless buildings plus the enclosure, which at first looked like a giant circus tent. Getting closer to the enclosure, I saw it was indeed an enormous tent and it was made out of steel mesh. It contained large climbing structures that mimicked trees. There were dark shapes moving around noiselessly inside of it. Scared of just about everything on the island, I didn’t get closer.
The whole island was maybe the size of a small college campus and was mostly wooded with a steep, rocky shoreline. There was only one real beach on the whole island by the dock.
All that grew on the island were hardy, stunted trees. I saw some starlings, some seagulls, and one osprey. All around the island there was nothing but the sea. The whole time I was there not a single boat went by.
Jorge woke me up the following morning, kicking the leg of my cot. This made me jolt up. I was expecting some sort of retribution for my lies about being a doctor. But I could tell by his demeanor Jorge was attempting to be friendly.
“Congratulations, you’re gainfully employed,” he said.
Apparently, there had been a discussion the previous day regarding my status on the island. It had been decided not to throw my lying carcass to the sharks. Jorge would assign me tasks to do around the research facility for the next week. When Reniker returned to the mainland for more supplies at the end of the week, she’d take me back then.
Jorge fixed us both breakfast, and then took me to the enclosure. Just outside the enclosure, a stairwell led down to a pair of steel doors. Jorge swung them open to let me in. We walked into a wide, cool space that smelled of cigarette smoke and ammonia. The place was full of empty cages, tools, cardboard boxes, and pallets loaded with bags of various materials.
“Come here,” Jorge said to me, “I gotta show you something.”
He walked over to a shelf and took up a lanyard at the end of a long white rope.
“Put this around your arm,” Jorge said. Or maybe he said “bicep.” Either way, I protested.
“You don’t have to put it on all that tight,” Jorge assured me, “But you need to have this on whenever you’re around the chimpanzees.”.
I loosely draped the lanyard around my arm, and Jorge held the other end of the rope.
“When we go in there,” Jorge said, “Do not make eye contact with me or anything in there. Got that? Do not look at me. Speak nothing. If I say something to you, just do it. OK?”
I just nodded. This was all scaring me pretty bad.
I remember him saying “This could save your life if anything goes wrong.”
Jorge opened a set of double doors. A wall of heat and the smell of animals swept in. Jorge led me into what was called the indoor enclosure. That’s when I first saw the chimpanzees up close.
They were all clustered together in one of the corners, in the shade of a high cement wall. I couldn’t make out too many details, especially since I wasn’t supposed to be looking right at them. I trundled along behind Jorge, led by the lanyard around my arm. I’ve seen chimpanzees before, but they were smaller than what I was now seeing. These ones were larger, and their heads came to a crest at the top. They looked more like small gorillas. They were sedate and quiet when we came in. Jorge led me over to a smashed jungle gym set. He had me lift from one end and Jorge got the other, still holding onto my rope.
One of the animals broke off from the group. Walking on all fours, it ambled around to be nearer to us. This thing was pitch black and easily the size of a small man, only its arms were freakishly long. It squatted about twenty feet from us and wrapped those gigantic arms around its knees. Silent and aloof, it watched us. I dared not look at this thing directly. Instead, I did the best I could to make out its features from the corner of my eye. It sat there, dark as an abyss, at the edge of my vision. I could tell it had a large brow line and it was focused straight forward at us. Its demeanor was calm interest. Jorge said nothing. We carried the crushed jungle gym back to the double doors and out of the indoor enclosure.
“What were those things?” I asked when the doors were safely closed and locked.
We had left the ruined jungle gym in a corner of the work room. I was leaning against a stack of crates full of what looked like plastic beach balls that had holes cut into them. Jorge sat upon a pile of ropes and webbing.
Jorge lit a cigarette. I asked if those were apes. At first, he did not answer me. Instead, he told me I could take the lanyard off but I had to have it on every time we went in there.
“Those,” he then said, “are chimpanzees.”
“They’re too big. There’s no way they’re chimpanzees,” I said, immediately realizing how stupid I sounded trying to tell Jorge what kind of creatures these were.
“I know, often those ones are mistaken for apes,” Jorge said, gesturing towards the door to the enclosure with his cigarette, causing ash to spill on the floor, “Most chimpanzees are smaller than what you just saw in there. These chimpanzees, they are called Lion Killers. They’re very large compared to typical chimps. And they do exhibit ape-like features. But believe me when I say to you that they are definitely chimpanzees.”
“Are they a different species?” I asked.
Jorge laughed a bit at this question.
“We’re still trying to determine that,” he said.
“Although,” he went on, “they are not like your normal chimpanzee. Obviously, they’re a lot bigger. These ones, for example, make nests in trees just like other chimps, but these type of chimps just kind of do it for fun. Unlike other chimpanzees, they only ever sleep on the ground. Also, these ones don’t mind water. A lot of chimpanzees hate water. You can control them with a garden hose of cold water. These? These ones probably even could swim. If I was ever given the chance to test that.”
“Why are they here? What’s Dr. Sledge doing with them?” I asked.
“Sledge is not a primatologist,” Jorge barked in reply.
“Sledge studies people,” Jorge continued, “He has ideas about people. He is on this island testing his ideas about people on the chimpanzees.”
“Why is he way out here on an island?” I asked, “I mean, obviously this place has been operating since before the outbreak started. So, he’s not out here because of that, right?”
“No, you are right,” Jorge replied, “This place sits outside the reach of certain laws. That is why Sledge is out here instead of somewhere on the mainland.”
Jorge took a drag on his cigarette.
“You know what?” he said, “You wanna know about Sledge, what he’s trying to do here?”
“Sure,” I said.
“OK,” said Jorge, “Tonight, you ought to try reading his book. His great masterpiece. There’s a copy in the dining room.”
“Yeah, what’s it called?”
“It’s called The Psychobiology of Infrahuman Organisms.”
I paused. “That doesn’t sound like anything I’d be able to understand,” I said.
“Hell,” snorted Jorge, “I am a primatologist and I don’t understand half the crap that guy writes.”
I said “You’re a primatologist?”
“Indeed, I am,” Jorge replied.
“What are you studying, here, with these chimps?” I asked.
“I am studying,” Jorge replied, stubbing out his cigarette, “how to keep everybody alive on this damned island.”
Jorge had me put the lanyard back on and follow him out to what he called the day room. It was big, like the indoor enclosure, and it had the same faux trees. But there was less shade and the dirt floor had grasses growing out of it, and there was a small pond. We collected all the faded and chipped balls with the holes in them that lay scattered about, and hauled them back into the workroom. I could take the lanyard off while we cleaned all the food scraps out of the holes in the balls, then cleaned the balls in a utility sink. We spent an hour chopping fruits and vegetables in a kitchen adjacent to the workroom. We stuffed the balls full of the food along with big leafy plants that Jorge told me was a type of kale. Then it was back on with the lanyard and we hauled the freshly filled balls back out to the day room.
I rested in the workroom while Jorge went to open a gate and herd all the chimpanzees into the day room. He came back and said it was time to clean the indoor enclosure while the chimps were foraging in the day room.
“Don’t touch or move any of their toys,” he warned me.
When we finally got back in from doing the cleaning, I was exhausted. Jorge told me we could head back to the main building.
We were in the dining room about to have our evening meal. Jorge had cooked us grilled sandwiches. Dr. Sledge came in.
“I need you in the office,” he said to Jorge. Jorge wordlessly put down his sandwich and left out of the room. Dr. Sledge remained behind.
“Well, I guess you are part of this now,” he said to me, smiling a frozen, diplomatic smile.
“Yeah,” I said, “I guess so.”
“Lotta work, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yeah, it’s OK,” I said.
“You met Ursula?” he asked.
“Which one was that?” I asked.
“I bet she came right up to you while the others hung back?” Dr. Sledge asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “One of them did. The biggest one did. Is that Ursula?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure it would’ve been,” Dr. Sledge replied.
“Is she, like, in charge or something?” I asked.
“Something like that,” Dr. Sledge said, picking up Jorge’s sandwich and taking a bite.
“These chimpanzees are different than most other chimps,” Dr. Sledge said, munching on the sandwich, “I have never seen a female be dominant in a band of chimps. It’s almost always the males. But Ursula is definitely the boss, the alpha. None of the others ever challenges her. They eat when she eats. They sleep when she sleeps.”
“Is she really strong or something?” I asked.
Dr. Sledge grunted and nodded as he swallowed his food.
Then he said, “You know, Jorge says all the time nobody really knows exactly how strong chimpanzees actually are. But from what I can tell, Ursula is exceptionally strong, even for a chimp.”
“And,” Dr. Sledge added, looking me directly in the eyes as he said this, “She is entirely neurotic.”
“What,” I said, “Like, she’s crazy?”
“Immensely so,” said Dr. Sledge, “Dangerously crazy. Doesn’t act like most chimps. No warning ever given. She stays very calm, very calm. I guess she was calm today. And then she just attacks. No warning. She’ll tear another chimp to pieces. Jorge is in the business of predicting animal behavior. But I don’t even think the other chimpanzees can predict Ursula’s behavior. Also, yes, she is as strong as most male chimps. As I said, Ursula is very dangerous. I think the rest of the band is placating her, waiting to see what she does next.”
“Wait, you don’t know how to control this chimp?”
Dr. Sledge scrunched up his face a bit.
“Well, no, it’s not really like that,” he said, taking another bite “This is a raw band of chimps. Most laboratory chimps these days were born in a lab, and their parents were born in a lab, and their parent’s parents, going back to the 1920’s. That’s when chimp research really took off. But Ursula and all her band were living wild when I had them captured.”
“Are you running some kind of tests on them?” I asked Dr. Sledge.
“Indeed, I am” replied Dr. Sledge, “Right now, however, since we are so short staffed, I am limited to the, uh, blood tests.”
“Where?” I asked, “Is there a medical lab here?”
“Hematology lab is in the next building over,” he replied.
“Do you ever go into the enclosure?” I asked.
Dr. Sledge gave a quick little convulsion at my suggestion. I guess, maybe, it was a laugh?
“No,” he said, “Typically, I do not do that.”
He finished Jorge’s sandwich. Then Dr Sledge cleaned off his hands on a paper towel, folded it neatly, and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
Standing up, he said to me, “What we do here will truly benefit all mankind. Once the outbreak is over.”
He walked over to a large, low credenza that ran the length of one wall, and drew something from out of it.
“Read this,” Dr. Sledge said to me and plopped a book down next to my plate.
”Seriously, give this a serious read. This is the future,” he said, “You’re part of it now.”
The Psychobiology of Infrahuman Organisms Dr. Hubert R. Sledge, MD PHD RPSDM
I honestly did try to read the book after Dr. Sledge left, but the writing style was opaque to me. To my relief, Jorge came back in and I closed the book. Jorge sat down, let out a long huff of air, put his elbows up on the table, and held his head in his hands. He ignored me. He did not even notice his empty dinner plate.
I gave him a minute, then I asked, “Is this place safe? Are we safe here?”
“No, not at all,” he said.
In the morning, Jorge and I stopped at the hematology lab before going to the enclosure. Dr. Sledge met us at the door. He didn’t go with us. He just handed Jorge a bag full of syringes and disinfectant swabs, then went back to whatever he was doing in the lab. Jorge muttered something about “when we had more staff” as we approached the enclosure.
When we got in, before doing anything else, Jorge showed me where he kept an over-under hunting rifle in one of the metal cabinets in the workroom.
“Both chambers are loaded,” he said, “That’s one for me and one for you.”
He must have seen the expression on my face and said, “Trust me, if it comes to it, you don’t want these things getting their hands on you. If the situation turns bad, these kind of chimps will pull you apart like warm bread. I seen it happen to a couple of hunters in Burkina Faso. They got caught by a band of these same creatures.”
After that, Jorge had me sit in an observation booth while he went into the veterinary area, which was basically just a bleachers on one side of the indoor enclosure. The veterinary area was walled off from the chimpanzees by a heavy, steel grate separating us and the chimpanzees.
Jorge called Ursula’s name from his side of the grate. The abyssal black shape sauntered over on her knuckles, then squatted by the grate. What looked like large gray hot dogs with pointed ends looped through the bars of the grate. I saw two eyes gleaming straight forward at Jorge from a face of creased, black leather. Jorge patted a part of the bars to his upper left. Ursula compliantly placed a paw the size of a dinner plate in the same spot. Jorge patted another part of the bars to his lower right and Ursula placed her other paw there. Jorge pulled his lips back in a ridiculous grin and pointed to his mouth. Ursula pulled her mouth open into a shockingly enormous and fiendish grin, revealing large teeth and a set of prominent, savage canines.
“Good, good,” Jorge said as he took a minute to examine Ursula’s bright pink gums through the bars of the grate with a penlight.
“OK,” he then said, “Jackpot!”
The bottom of the grate had a steel tube through it, about five feet long and sixteen inches in diameter. A large hole was cut out of the top on Jorge’s side of the grate. Ursula inserted one of her arms into this tube until the sinuous, pointed fingers appeared out the end near to where Jorge was standing. Jorge said “jackpot” again, more gently this time, and plunged the needle of one of the syringes into Ursula’s arm through the opening in the top of the tube.
He worked fast, got the syringe full, pulled out the needle, and deftly placed a large ball of peanut butter cookie dough among the gray, outstretched fingers. In a flash Ursula whipped her arm out of the tube and devoured the treat. Only after she’d ambled away did the next chimpanzee answer to its name and approach Jorge at the grate. Jorge repeated the same routine for all the remaining chimps, then had me walk the syringes over to Dr. Sledge.
Dr. Sledge let me into the lab. He took the syringes and placed them on a lab bench. He started making notes on a laptop. I thought of asking Dr. Sledge what he was testing the blood for but thought it might reveal I had not read his book. So, I said nothing and headed back to the enclosure.
That’s pretty much how the rest of the week went. I fed the chimps, avoided Dr. Sledge, cleaned the enclosure, watched Jorge slump even deeper into a gloomy mood, and tried to get enough to eat. I remember praying my luck wouldn’t run out before the end of the week.
Saturday finally came. There was no send off. I was just told to be at the dock at a certain time to meet Reniker. She said nothing to me as we untied the boat and headed out into open water. It was a hot, glum morning. Reniker stayed in the cabin the whole time, steering and talking on the radio. I stayed on the stern deck.
We got to Majors Station more quickly since the boat was not loaded down. However, once we were within sight of land, Reniker killed the engine. She was on the radio, cursing and demanding to speak to someone. All I could do was watch the thin, dark coast line start to fade from view as we drifted.
Finally, Reniker came out of the cabin.
“Well, Doctor, you wanna swim?” she asked gruffly, “How’bout it, Doc?”
I said nothing. There was very little effective law and order on the mainland anymore, and I was stuck way out on a boat with someone who hated me. Reniker returned to the cabin and spent a long time yelling and cursing, some of it into the radio, some of it into the air of the cabin.
“Well, neither of us are going to shore,” she finally said to me, “Outbreak’s gotten worse. Port’s closed.”
“How could it have possibly gotten worse?” I asked.
“I dunno,” Reniker said, “I’m not the doctor here.”
My heart sank at the thought of going back to Monick Island. I even asked Renker to get me within a hundred feet of shore so I could swim for it. She refused to risk the boat or the gas for me.
We motored back to Monick Island through the night. Despite the day’s heat, it got so cold at night out on the water. Reniker kept the cabin door locked and ignored me. I tried to sleep on the deck huddled in my thin jacket, but it was impossible. Desperate for warmth, I piled a bunch of life jackets and mooring rope on top of me.
By about midnight, the faux lighthouse came into view. We rounded the island and pulled up at the dock. Jorge was there. He was surprised to see me and see no supplies.
“What’s she doing here?” he asked Reniker, “Where’s the stuff?”
“Sledge didn’t tell you?” Reniker asked. “I radioed him.”.
“No,” Jorge said, then muttered, “Typical.”
Reniker took the radio and headed up the slope back to the research facility.
Jorge watched me step off the boat.
“You should not have come back here,” I remember him saying to me.
That night I started having nightmares and not getting much sleep as a result. I’d fall asleep and dream of Ursula, gigantic and ferocious and implacable, bursting into the kitchen where I lay on my cot, screaming and baring her gigantic fangs.
I was back the next day working with Jorge in the enclosure’s kitchen, prepping food for the chimps. Instead of the usual fruits and plants, we were stuffing the balls with hard boiled eggs wrapped in bundles of what looked like palm fronds.
Jorge finally broke his stony silence.
“I am here keeping a bomb defused,” he said, “I am to keep a bomb from going off, every day in this place and today all I got are these damned eggs.”
After putting out the food in the day area then doing some maintenance around the enclosure, Jorge and I headed back for the evening meal. In the kitchen, Reniker was cooking something in four oversized pots. Jorge stood there for a second, gaping, then spoke to Reniker.
“Please, please tell me this is not what I think this is.”
“Dr. Sledge says pasta is perfectly fine,” Reniker replied over her shoulder as she stirred.
“No, I am telling you this will not be fine,” Jorge retorted.
“What do you want me to do?” Reniker snapped at him.
“Go back. I gave you and Sledge a whole range of options,” Jorge said, “Go back.”
“Dammit,” Reniker said, “Even if they did let me dock, the mainland’s picked clean. We’re getting to the point you’re gonna have to go plant your own fruit trees.”
Jorge cursed and stormed out of the kitchen.
Reniker snickered, “He thinks Sledge’s apes are gonna rise up if we feed them pasta.”
I looked around the kitchen, baffled.
“We’re out of food?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” Reniker said, “I mean, we got enough for us for now. Usually, we feed the monkeys roots and shoots to keep’em happy. But, with the outbreak…”
There was the sound of footsteps, and Dr. Sledge came into the dining area.
“We will stick to the protocol. Period,” he was saying to Jorge, “Now, are we going to sit down for dinner, or do we need to continue this in my office?”
We ate in silence. Jorge did not join us.
There was one last bucket of fruit. The next day in the enclosure, Jorge had me give it to Ursula. I watched her hand the food out to the other chimps in her band. After that, Jorge told me to have as little contact with the chimps as possible.
“Do chimpanzees eat people?” I remember asking Jorge.
“Oh, indeed, these ones will eat humans,” Jorge replied, “They will hunt us if they get loose. It will be very sporting for them. Especially after eating eggs and pasta all damned day, I’ll tell you that.”
“Can’t we catch fish and feed’em that?”
“Hah. I have thought about that,” Jorge replied, “Good luck catching anywhere near enough fish without a trawler and a proper net.”
That was the day noise started coming from the enclosure. Before that day, the enclosure had always been eerily silent. The noises were the first sign of real trouble. The shrieking the chimps now made sounded piercingly alien to the quiet of the island. It sent the starlings scattering from the treetops.
“Enraged primates will seek dominance,” Jorge told me as we listened to the shrieking and howling of Ursula’s band, “There’s going to be an altercation, a shifting of power to counterbalance the changes we people have wrought. First, it will happen among the chimps. That is our last buffer of safety. After that, they turn their dissatisfaction outward, towards us.”
The next morning, after we let the chimps into the day area, we found in a corner of the enclosure the mangled body of one of the older males. Its head, face, and ribcage were completely crushed from repeated blows. The flesh on its thighs and forearms had been chewed away mostly to the bone.
“Ursula did this,” I remember Jorge saying.
I started thinking about the rifle Jorge had shown me. The suggestion of having to use it was galling. But the thought of an enraged Ursula holding me down and pulling me apart was equally unsettling.
The next day, we were in the veterinarian area for more blood draws. Jorge called to Ursula. First, all I heard was a low, guttural rumbling somewhere in the back of the enclosure. Suddenly there was a tremendous bang as Ursula came flying through the air and struck her entire body against the barrier. The whole room shook with the impact. Ursula gave a tremendous shriek and a wall of enraged chimps appeared. Dozens of dark clawing fingers appeared through the grate. All at once, the chimpanzees released a primal and piercing cacophony while savagely tearing at the barrier. I remember thinking that the grate was only designed to stop one chimpanzee.
“Run,” is all Jorge said.
We had made it to the workroom when the chimps tore the grate loose and came flooding after us. Jorge had time to get out the rifle before Ursula and her band burst in after us.
I am pretty sure Jorge shot himself. There was a bang, and the gun clattered to the floor, too far out of reach.
I was curled up in a tight ball and had peed my pants. The chimps closed in all around me, howling and screaming. Then there was a loud, commanding chirp, and they all went silent. A shadow fell over me. Cold fingers, hard as concrete, caressed the hair on the back of my head. Then, they encircled my arm where the lanyard had been. Ursula’s grip was not tight but held me as solid as an iron ring. She sat me up. I saw Jorge lying motionless in the middle of a swiftly spreading pool of blood.
I heard the creaking of brakes outside. I heard Dr. Sledge calling to Jorge from outside the enclosure. The chimpanzees were all completely quiet, waiting. A few crept up to the door that led outside.
The sounds of Dr. Sledge’s cautious footsteps could be heard on the concrete steps.
“Jorge?” he called out, “What is going on in there. We brought the truck. I have a revolver. Do you need it?”
I could hear Reniker say something to Dr. Sledge. She was still in the truck. I wanted to scream, to tell Dr. Sledge to get back in the truck and get away. But terror kept me frozen, and there was no way I was getting out of Ursula’s grip. So, I just sat there, mute and complacent, as the handle turned on the door.
The door opened just far enough for me to see half of Dr. Sledge’s face. One sight of me was all it took for him to realize what was happening. I heard him cry out in terror. All at once, several of the chimps were screaming and attacking him. The others rushed up the stairs to go after Reniker and the truck. Dr. Sledge only got off one shot from the pistol he had brought with him.
A few minutes later, Ursula gently led me by the arm out of the enclosure, past Dr. Sledge’s crumpled body and up the steps. The rest of the band was galloping through the dirt towards the facility buildings. We squatted in the sand, Ursula and me. She still held my arm. I dared not look at her directly, but it seemed she was taking in the freedom of the open air, her face turned to the sun.
I could hear the screams and the yelps of the rampaging chimps, and the revving and roaring of the truck engine in the distance on the other side of the enclosure. Reniker had begun leaning on the truck’s horn. Then there was the smashing and busting of glass. There were more gunshots. Six in quick succession, then nothing.
Ursula sidled towards the commotion, pulling me along with her. We got near the main building. And I could hear Reniker started screaming somewhere near the tree line. I could tell she was being struck and tossed about. Ursula pulled me towards the noise.
Reniker was on the ground when we got there, facedown, in the middle of a circle of chimps. I’m no doctor but I could tell she was dead. The truck, now with all its windows missing, had collided with a stump and was undriveable.
One of the apes had pulled off Reniker’s left arm. Ursula let go of me and rushed over to take her place among the chimps. She gave a great howl, and the other chimp quickly dropped the severed arm. Ursula picked it up and sniffed it. Then she began to nibble it as the others watched. One chimp snarled in defiance and went to take it from her. Ursula struck with the back of her fist, and the chimp fell backwards and rolled in the dust. When it got back up, it sat on its haunches and didn’t move while Ursula continued to feast. Then, Ursula handed the remains of the arm to the closest chimp. At that signal, they all howled and hooted and started pulling Reniker’s corpse apart.
There was something shiny in the sand a few feet to my left. Keeping my eyes cast down and moving slowly, close to the ground like a supplicant, I inched toward it. All the apes were too busy gorging on Reniker to notice me. I reached down and grabbed the keys that Reniker must have dropped when she was attacked.
Slowly, praying the chimpanzees would be busy with their meal at least for a few more minutes, I duck-walked backwards towards and then a few feet down the trail. Finally, when I thought there was enough distance between me and the circle of chimps, I turned and moved in a low crouch down the trail through the trees to the dock.
I thought about every step I was making. My heart pounded in my chest. There was a loud buzzing sound in my ears. My hearing was on overdrive, straining to detect the first noise from a pack of pursuers. Ursula would be merciless if she found her pet fleeing. I knew how easily she could pin me to the sand and pull my face right off the front of my skull, and how completely helpless I’d be.
The morning heat was intense. A low cloud of thick haze swept in from out on the open water. Soon it would hide the dock from view of the shore.
I continued in a low crouch, stepping as lightly as I could. But I knew that there was no hiding even tiny sounds from chimps’ ears. The simians could hear my heart ticking in my chest a half mile away, if they were paying any attention. The only thing allowing my escape was the distraction Reniker had provided. Once they tired of it, at least one of them would sense the bipedal sounds I was making. My gut tightened. Ice shot up and down my spine in expectation of the first pounce, the unyielding, crushing grip from two iron hands and two iron feet, the first wrathful bite.
I was crossing the boards of the dock. The mist was rolling over my head. I prayed and unmoored Reniker’s boat.
I placed two hands on the bow of the now freed boat and shoved it, then scrambled up on the deck. Thankfully, there is nothing more silent than a boat drifting through water. I watched the dock recede. I wondered how far an enraged chimp could jump through the air?
The radio was gone but the tank was full. The boat’s drift was slowing. This was it. If anything went wrong, if the motor failed or if I crashed the boat, it was all over for me.
Suddenly the air was pierced by a single enraged snarl. I still could not see the beach through the mist but I could just make out the dock, twenty or so meters away at this point. There were two black forms, hunched over, rushing back and forth up and down the length of the dock in a quadrupedal gallop. I’d been discovered.
I fired up the engine and got the boat turned parallel to the shore. From the deck of the boat, I had a full view of the unbroken blue horizon. I looked back to the island. The fog had cleared and the beach was visible. Ursula’s group was assembled on the shoreline, watching me. I eased the boat into a course around to the north of the island, keeping away from the shore. I kept switching my gaze between the water ahead of me and the island’s edge. The group was there, moving along, trailing me from the shore, scattering in multiple routes when they encountered any obstacles along the way, then rejoining into a dark cluster. The sound of the boat’s engine was not quite enough to drown out the screeches and howls of my pursuers.
The faux lighthouse came into view. I turned the boat until the stern was pointed at the island and the bow was pointed north towards the open ocean. I was almost sick with relief at the sound of the engine and the sight of that island receding from view.
All I could think of was, did I have enough gas to make it back to Majors Station, and would anybody be alive when I got there?
Now, hours later, this thing’s run out of gas. I kept as straight a course north as possible since leaving Monick Island. But Majors Station never, ever appeared on the horizon. It took me a while to figure out what I did wrong. This is the ocean. There are currents. The currents probably pulled me sideways as I moved north. This boat went way off course without me even realizing it, and now I’m out of gas, have no radio, and have no idea what my location is.
I am adrift.