The Demogorgon Duplicity – a very short story

Reminder: the #vss365 Very Short Story challenge on Twitter is to write a story or poem in exactly one tweet (288 characters) using the challenge word. Today, it was #Demogorgon because the word-setter is a fan of “Stranger Things” but Twitter is going crazy wondering why it’s trending. Which led to this:

 

The Demogorgon Duplicity

 

“We need to distract people,” the ruler of America said.

“Tomorrow’s the 4th of July,” his toady said.

“No. Today.”

“I’ve got it. Have that #vss365 use a word which will get Twitter all abuzz.”

“Good. But what word?”

#Demogorgon?”

The ruler smiled. “I love #StrangerThings fans.”

 

48 words

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A Perfect Beginning

Was reminded of this story of mine this morning. (In her blog, Jane Lindskold was talking about her minimum for writing each day: 12 sentences.) On and off, I’d toyed with making this little tale better and submitting it but I realized I had previously posted it on the blog and that made it ineligible for submitting to most magazines. So I’m bringing it back to the blog again.

 

A Perfect Beginning 

 

On his eighteenth birthday, on the first page of a brand new notebook, he wrote, “Sunlight fell through the trees like angels, warning those with the eyes to see.”

He stopped.  It was the perfect beginning for his novel.  He was tempted to rush ahead and madly write out as much as he could. Then, he paused.  Yes, he could finish this book right away, but he knew that to move too fast would be to destroy the perfection with which it began. What this novel needs, he thought, is time.  Perhaps if I slow down, take my time, the whole novel can be as perfect as that one sentence.  That was the beginning.  Once he began, he made sure that he could write another sentence every day.   He would lock himself away for however long it took and write another sentence, another perfect sentence in the novel.

“Her tears fell slowly, dew falling from the petals of a pale rose.”

When he was in college, he was late to many parties, needing to find that day’s perfect sentence.  Some of his fellow students thought that was odd but no worse than any of the other students’ quirks.  Compared to the guy who wore a scarf all year long or the two guys who insisted on wearing short pants in sub-zero weather, he was positively dull.

“The sun rose reluctantly into the frozen sky, shattering the dark like ebony icicles on the bleak steppes.”

On his honeymoon, he used the time of his bride’s daily bath to write each day’s sentence.  She thought it was silly but, since he was perfectly acceptable in every other way, she allowed him his quirk.

“Her body luxuriated in the warmth of the tropical sun.”

When each of his children was born, instead of pacing in the waiting room, he wrestled with the sentence.  Each time, he found the perfect sentence just as the doctor came to tell him that his son, then daughter, then son were born.

“The joy of that moment could not be expressed in words, only in the wild dance of celebration.”

It became a joke among his colleagues at the office and they kidded him about his endless novel.  One of his friends showed him a website called National Novel Writing Month in which people would write a fifty thousand word novel in just thirty days. He checked out the website and then smiled and pointed out that one of the mottos of the website was “dare to be bad”.  He had no desire to do that.

“Only through sheer force of will did he manage to pull his foot back from the wrong road and set it again on the true path.”

As time passed and his skill increased, he was generally able to reduce the time necessary to write a perfect sentence to no more than fifteen minutes.  While the time he required grew less, the demands of those around him grew greater.

“Yes.”

Aside from those fifteen minutes, he did whatever was asked of him.  He took his wife on dates.  He became a little league coach and a soccer coach and attended every recital of dance and music.  He worked overtime when his job required it.  He helped his friends move from apartment to apartment to house.  He attended bachelor parties and weddings and funerals.  But always, every day, he set aside fifteen minutes to consider his novel and to write the next perfect sentence.

“She said, ‘We mark the milestones of our lives but take care, for fear that they become millstones.'”

There were many times, however, when his family and friends begrudged him even those fifteen minutes.  His wife screamed at him for his colossal waste of time, wanting him to watch the latest reality TV show with her instead.  His children saw any closed door not as the desire for privacy but as a sign that he wasn’t doing anything important.  His friends chided him for being late to their gatherings. His career stalled at middle management when, one very late night working overtime, he took a fifteen minute break and his boss made a note that he didn’t put the company first.  That last one was true, of course.  The perfection of his novel, created one perfect sentence at a time, was more important to him than playing golf with the senior vice-president.

“It was a lonely road he walked, as all roads are lonely, but his heart was at peace.”

Perhaps what most annoyed his wife and his children and his friends was that he never showed them his novel.  He tried to explain that showing them an incomplete novel was like showing them da Vinci’s “Last Supper” with only seven of the apostles painted.  It was hardest with his wife who, from time to time, demanded to see it.  She used every argument she could find.  He didn’t trust her.  He wasn’t actually writing a novel at all but doing something immoral. A husband should have no secrets from his wife.  He tried to reassure her that, once it was done, she would be the first person he allowed to read it.  He’d been working on it for over twenty-five years and he was close to the end.  She wasn’t satisfied with that answer but since it was the best she would get, she relented.

“Their love could overcome anything.”

As the end of the novel approached, he grew more excited.  The urge to finish the book in one final burst of writing was almost overpowering. Still, he restrained himself. After so long, he did not want to ruin the story with a rash and imperfect ending.  His excitement was contagious.  His wife and children made plans for a party.  His friends became his most encouraging fans.  Even his boss mentioned that he was looking forward to reading the masterpiece when it was done.

“They returned home to a hero’s welcome … because heroes they were.”

On the day he began the last chapter, the tornado came.  He gathered his wife and those grandchildren who were in the house and herded them all into the cellar.  The winds roared above their heads.  Later, people would remark that it was the worst storm in over a century.  They would accept help from the government for the duration of the state of emergency.  They would begin the process of cleaning up and rebuilding.  Life would get back to normal.

The pages of the notebooks that contained his novel were scattered across three counties.  Being handwritten, there was no backup copy.  Now that it was destroyed, his family and friends were even more interested in it.  They asked him what it was about.  He told them it was about life … and time.  They asked him if he was angry at God or Nature or Fate for destroying his novel. He shook his head.  Puzzled, they pressed him, asking his how he felt about all that wasted time.  He smiled and asked them how they would feel if they had spent a long time savouring the best bottle of wine they had ever tasted and then, in the final glass, tasted the silt from the bottom of the bottle.  He asked if that one little taste of silt necessarily ruined the experience of that wonderful bottle.  And then he said, “Besides, I can do better next time. “

That night, on the first page of a brand new notebook, he wrote, “Over the cries of those who despaired, he heard an angel singing.”

It was a perfect beginning.

 

The End.

 

1,268 words

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Triage – a Morgan the Conjurer tale

Prompt from Rhonda Eudaly’s site. I wrote this Friday but I’m just getting it up here now.

Prompt: Halloween Night in a Hospital

Words: centaur, interweave, placid, benefactor, peppermint, gondola, lambada, twilight, inlet, threw

 

Triage – a Morgan the Conjurer tale

Morgan hated working Halloween night but, if they ever wanted to get a position as Chief Conjurer of a town, medical magic was a necessity. Halloween was when all the fae, spirits and other things that go bump in the night went out freely among the mundanes. And when they got hurt, someone had to be there to patch them up and cloud the memories of the mundanes.

Morgan would interweave among the other E.R. personnel, free to go where they wanted as as the recipient of a benefactor’s grant. (That the benefactor was an ancient sorcerer who lived in the area and always wanted a conjurer on call at the hospital was a detail Morgan never mentioned to their colleagues.)

For Morgan, triage was telling the mundanes from the others, which wasn’t always easy.

The placid centaur with the strained ligament was straightforward enough.

The twilight childe who threw her back out doing the lambada, on the other hand, turned out to be just a very flexible teenager with the best makeup job of the night.

When the group costume of a ten-foot gondola on a 20-foot-wide inlet which couldn’t be removed came in (one of the “passengers” having a panic attack) Morgan sighed and cast a spell which turned all the nails to ash and the costume fell apart, spilling the six people all over the floor. The little boy in the group who was more upset about the gondola than being in a hospital turned out to be a changeling out to cause trouble. Morgan gave him a peppermint, the treat forcing the fae to go elsewhere to play his tricks.

Then the werewolves arrived.

I hate Halloween, Morgan sighed.

 

283 words

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Learning Curve

This was a fun prompt from Rhonda Eudaly’s website today.

Prompt: A Coup at a Secret Base

Words: desert, waylay, pensive, gazillions, juniper, helicopter, lotus, captain, bandana, taco

 

Learning Curve

 

Their leader nibbled on a taco as she watched the last officer from the base flee in the last helicopter. Their general had been the first to flee, of course, unwilling to risk himself.

She wiped her mouth on a discarded bandana and gazed into the desert, a pensive look on her face as she considered a juniper in the harsh conditions outside. Inside, water was used in an extravagantly wasteful manner, for the general’s lotus flower in his office. Her first act upon taking control was to crush the flower and give the water to her comrades.

The humans should have known better.

You don’t waylay aliens from gazillions of miles away, mix their DNA with laboratory mice, and let the lab techs watch “Pinky and the Brain” for weeks on end.

“What now, commander?” asked one of her followers.

“Tonight, we took over Area 51. Tomorrow night, we’ll try to take over the world!”

 

(156 words)

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But Did They Get It on Film?

Again, a writing prompt from Rhonda Eudaly’s website.

 

Prompt: Shenanigans on a Movie Set
Words: stunt, wring, lull, stingy, husband, ginger, buggy, pedal, llama, anaconda

 

But Did They Get It on Film?

 

“Wait. Start from the beginning.”

“There was a lull in the shooting and we were bored.”

“Right. I got that bit.”

“The director was in our ginger-haired diva’s trailer.”

“Doing?”

“He said he wanted to help wring a better performance out of her. Turns out he was showing her his anaconda.”

“Look, we don’t need sexual innuendo.”

“It’s not innuendo. He owns an eight-foot-long snake and she hates snakes. He thought it would help her show more fear.”

“We have studio acting coaches for that.”

“They cost money. The on set producer is a stingy bastard and we blew too much of the budget on that one stunt with the baby buggy, the guy on the bicycle trying to pedal out of the way, and ….”

“I remember.”

“Anyway, they’re in the trailer, she’s screaming and her husband shows up. So we start cracking a few jokes about why she’s screaming, you know, the usual shenangians, and he flips out.”

“Okay. I got it. Just one question.”

“Shoot.”

“Where the fuck does the llama come into all this?”

 

(178 words)

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A Place in the Heart of Hades

Author’s note: I ordered a Cerberus Cryptkin figure so I decided to bring back this story which I had posted here once before. Enjoy.

 

unnamed

 

A Place in the Heart of Hades

   Hades, God of the Underworld, traveled to the cave of Echidna, the mother of monsters. He didn’t want to go, but he’d been summoned to Olympus by his younger brother, Zeus, who was starting to believe his own boasts that he was king of the gods.  He was pretty sure Zeus had rigged the lots which gave Zeus the sky, Poseidon the sea, and left him with the land of the dead, but it couldn’t be proven.  Now, here he was, being treated as a human king’s messenger – no, worse than that, as an assassin.

   “Echidna has borne another child to Typhon,” Zeus had said to him.  Hades knew that Zeus was scared of Typhon, the deadliest thing in creation.  Zeus worried that Typhon’s children could someday pose a threat to Olympus. “Echidna’s first child now guards of the cattle of one of the last giants.  See to it that Echidna’s second child is in the underworld by sundown.  I don’t want it to serve our enemies.”

   Hades shook his head.  “Our enemies.”  A pitiful attempt to make Hades want to kill an infant cousin.  Still, Zeus might not be all-powerful, but he was stronger than Hades.  So he let himself be sent.

   Arriving at Echidna’s cave, he paused outside.  It was rumored that she never left her lair.  Typhon was not around, for which Hades thanked the Fates.  Even gods can die, and although dying would only secure his place as the absolute ruler of his realm, living had its benefits as well.

   “Echidna!” he called in the stentorian tones of a king addressing an enemy fortification. “Hades awaits you outside!”

   There was no answer at first, then a bundle of fur emerged from the cave.  It was clearly still very young, although the size of a full grown hunting hound.  It was furry, with three heads in front and a serpent for a tail, and it was the most wondrous thing Hades had ever seen (his first view of Persephone being yet some decades in the future).  It spotted Hades and, at first, couldn’t decide how to respond.  The left head growled, the right one ignored him, and the head in the center yipped and opened its mouth in a joyful, panting greeting. The serpent tail watched him carefully.

   “Hello, little one,” Hades said as he knelt, his voice calmed to low tones so as not to startle the creature.

   It approached him cautiously but curiously.  The death god let the three-headed hound sniff him, the serpent tail tasting him with its tongue.  After a moment, the hound apparently decided he was a friend and put its paws on Hades chest and licked him with all three dog tongues.

   Hades laughed, a low chuckle seldom heard.  “So, you are the mighty beast Zeus so fears that he sent the God of the Underworld to kill you?”

   The hound jerked back at that.

   “Oh, so you understand me?  Be at peace, little one.”

   “His name is Cerberus, death god,” came a voice from the mouth of the cave.  Hades looked up and saw Echidna, gliding forward on the serpent half of her body, her human upper half trying with difficulty to remain calm.  “Give him back.”  Her voice cracked as she added, “Please.”

   “Cerberus,” Hades repeated, tasting the resonance of the name the way he considered the final fate of the souls sent to him.  At the mention of his name, the hound looked up at Hades.  “How would you like to come with me, Cerberus?”

   The hound barked twice from each of his heads, a resounding affirmation.

   “No!” Echidna cried.  “I won’t let you kill him!  I’ll call Typhon and we’ll tear down Olympus itself!”

   “Calm yourself,” Hades commanded, his voice reverberating with the subharmonics used to pacify souls who panicked when brought for judgment.

   Echidna stilled under the compulsion of that dread voice.

   Hades smiled, a thing so seldom seen that it often instilled fear rather than peace. “Zeus only said he had to be in my realm by sundown.  He never said to kill him.”

   “Surely, that’s what he meant.  Zeus is cruel that way.”

   “But he didn’t say it,” Hades replied.  “Your first-born, Orthrus, guards mere cows.  I will take your second-born to serve me and guard my gates.” He turned to the hound and said, “That is, if you want to, Cerberus.  I will give you a place at my side and a job to do.”

   Cerberus looked at the god, then put its heads under Hades’ hands.

   Hades laughed for the second time that day.  “Yes, and skritches behind the ears when you want them.”  He looked up at Echidna.  “What do you say, Echidna?”

   “Young though he is, it is his choice.  If Cerberus will go with you, I will not stop him.”

   “Then say goodbye to your mother, Cerberus.  It may be long before you see her again.”

   Cerberus bounded over to Echidna and snuggled up against her.  She coiled herself around her child one last time.

  “Cerberus, come!” Hades called. Cerberus looked up at his master’s voice and ran to him.  “Fare well, Echidna.  I thank you for my companion.”

   * * *

   Zeus flew down to the gates of Hades but found the gates guarded by Cerberus, who growled at him.  Zeus raised a lightning bolt.

   “My brother,” Hades said, appearing suddenly.  “Surely, you don’t think to interfere in my realm, do you?  Lower your hand.”

   “I told you to kill this monster,” Zeus said, coming right up to the gates.

   “No, you told me to bring him to the underworld.  I have done so.”

   Zeus wanted to argue but he knew he was beaten by his own words.  As he turned to go, he felt a wetness on his feet.  He looked down and saw Cerberus lowering its hind leg.  His face twisted in a futile rage, Zeus glared at Cerberus and Hades, then disappeared.

   Hades laughed and skritched behind Cerberus’ six ears.  “Good dog.”

 

(997 words)  

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The Dogs Lived

Again, a writing prompt from Rhonda Eudaly’s website.

Prompt: Ten People in a Blackout

Words: ballet, thunder, grind, handwriting, partner, yardstick, adopt, swarm, bundle, prodigious

 

The Dogs Lived

The ballet dancer was first, moments after the lights went out. He was an arrogant young man.

His partner, the prima ballerina was next, just as a matter of proximity. She tried a high kick which, if it had landed, could crush a ribcage. It didn’t land. Of course.

The wealthy midget was next, only a few inches taller than a yardstick, but wiry.

His wife and their little bundle of joy were quick, during a single rolling rumble of thunder.

It was sort of a grind after that. The gourmand with the prodigious appetite. The poseur who had tried to adopt an air of superiority at dinner. The society lady with her swarm of Pomeranians. Nobody cared about the barking because they were always barking.

By then, the host and hostess could see the handwriting on the wall but it was too late. One flash of lightning and they were huddled in their bedroom. Another flash and they were gone.

Death paused as the blackout ended. Just for the barest moment, its skull-like face seemed to soften, then it turned away. “Nobody reads Poe any more,” it said as it departed, leaving ten bodies and the sound of barking.

* * *

200 words

Author’s note: It was interesting to me how the story changed as I was writing it. At first, it was going to be a serial killer/spree killer during a blackout, wandering the streets, and the 10th person was the murderer. Then it was going to be a contract killer hired to eliminate the other people in a house during an engineered blackout – he kills ten people in a blackout (this would make an interesting idea for a longer story). And then, at some point during the writing, it shifted and became a piece inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.  All of this in less than 20 minutes. I could go back and easily rewrite the story to one of the earlier ideas but I’ll leave this as it is.

Oh, and the title and last words are a reminder to the reader that, sure, I wrote about the deaths of ten people, but the dogs lived. I’m not a monster.

 

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Summer Writing Challenge

So, the local library is having a summer writing challenge, similar to NaNoWriMo but over a two month period from June 1 to July 31 (because of Texas school year schedule).

I’ve been thinking about using it to get back into writing more. I’ll still be on leave in June but (hopefully) heading back to work on July 1. I’m also quite certain that my skill set is in shorter fiction, not in novels. I’ve completed three novels for NaNoWriMo, only one of which I was happy with. (Unfortunately, that novel was lost in a fit of depression in which I destroyed a lot of my old writing, inluding two of those novels, a screenplay, all of my juvenilia, and an unknown number of short stories and poems.)

So, I’m still working out the details, but I think my goals will be to write short stories during the challenge – real short stories, not flash fiction.  In terms of writing goals, I want to write 3,000 words per day in June, and 5,000 per week in July (roughly 1500 each on Saturday and Sunday, plus 500 per day on weekdays, since I’ll be working and want to be sure I can keep up instead of crashing and burning). And I want to write EVERY DAY, not skip a bunch of days and panic write 10,000 to get back on track. That’s the POINT of this challenge for me – writing every day.

That’s about 110,000 words, give or take. Assuming an average of 5,000 words per short story, that’s 22 stories. I have a few ideas to get started and I know where to look for other ideas. Once the challenge is over, I might drop the writing to 3,500 per week (500 per day) just to ensure I keep writing, but also begin submitting and/or directly publishing the stories.

One more personal challenge: none of these stories can be part of any established series of stories I’ve written, although I can create a new series if it works out that way. I need to explore NEW worlds and NEW ideas.

The planning meeting for this challenge is on Saturday and I’ll learn more then.

 

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Keeping a Promise

Again, a writing prompt from Rhonda Eudaly’s website. I could’ve stopped after I had used all the prompt words but I wanted to finish the scene, so it went a bit long. 339 words instead of the 250 or less I usually aim for. It’s just a scene fragment, exploring two characters and a setting and a way of talking about the DUST in my stories, rather than a full story, but I like what I did here.
By the way, the “J.M.” tag is just a placeholder. When I wrote it, I used “Cantera” but I changed my mind. Cantera is a specific character in my head and I do NOT want him to be a DUSTwalker. He has a different role to play in my stories.
If and when I start to write real stories in the DUST, I’ll need to develop a specific character (or 12) for the stories. The antagonist, Caballo, is a good start, here. Or, rather, ending.

 

Prompt: Keeping a Promise

Words: abolitionist, coyote, forbid, gloomy, keen, lesson, genetics, variable, retort, moss

 

 

Caballo looked up from where he lay, a trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth. Probably a bit too much plastique. “You’re back,” he said.

“I made you a promise. Told you I would.”

“So you did, J.M. Where were you? We looked….”

“Studying,” I replied. “I worked with an abolitionist in an 1850s America to learn about people smuggling, and then again with a coyote on an early 2000s USA/Mexico border.”

“Which explains how you helped all your little Free Travellers escape Nexus.”

“They’re not my Free Travellers, but we’ll leave that aside. I also spent some time in a late 22nd century India, developing a keen appreciation for variable genetics adjustments. Temporary morphological genome alteration was my favorite lesson.”

“For what?”

“Shapeshifting. Which is how I infiltrated the DUSTER detention centers. First, though, I took a side trip to an early 1800s Bavaria to see if the experiments could be replicated there, but they couldn’t. I wound up at a gloomy castle having to clean the alchemist’s favorite retort after each experiment. Interesting guy, though. Taught me how to reanimate a corpse.”

“You were free, J.M., with complete access to the infinite DUST, and you spent all your time gathering forbidden knowledge?”

“Forbid, forbid, forbid. That’s all you DUSTERs do, Caballo. I think if you could forbid moss to grow on trees, you would.”

“Before it kills the tree, yes.”

“Your ‘tree’ is already dead,” I said. “The Corporation is dead. It’s dead and rotting from the inside, no matter its façade. You know that. You know that.”

“A dead tree can make a wonderful house for the right kind of animal,” Caballo said. He coughed, the blood at his mouth flecked with foam, now.

“It can also make a very pretty coffin if it’s cut down soon enough,” I said. “You haven’t changed. It’s the same old argument. Goodbye, Caballo. Better luck next life.”

He looked like he wanted to get the last word, so I shot him.

I had promised him that, too.

*

 

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“Lord of the Flies” and Chimpanzees

So, a little over 20 years ago, I wrote a term paper for a class called “The Evolution of Human Ethics.” The class argued that some human ethics are innate, that we evolved into them, while other human ethics are meant to curb those innate evolved tendencies. I don’t recall what made me connect the boys in Lord of the Flies with what we were learning about chimpanzees in the class but, once I had that idea, I couldn’t let it go, and I convinced my professor to let me write the paper.

I got an A.

Note: this would not be acceptable as a term paper based on current academic rules of citation and reference, but it was sufficient at the time I was writing it. Also, I have not re-read the paper before posting it here. The temptation to “fix” things would be too great, and I have other things I should be doing. I did create a new title for it because I’ve lost the title page I originally created for it.

* * *

The Evolution of Human Ethics: Comparing “Lord of the Flies” and Chimpanzees

Introduction

In William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, English schoolboys are stranded on a deserted island without adults during a war.  They try to create a society, but the society they create strongly resembles what today is a commonly perceived view of non-human primate societies.  Written at least partly as a response to an 1875 novel of three boys shipwrecked on an island, Golding’s novel demonstrates a  number of changes in some people’s views of humanity from 1875 to 1954. It’s necessary to note, however, that as the knowledge about primate societies has increased, some of the societal ideas demonstrated in the novel are no longer widely accepted.  Lord of the Flies is a novel firmly entrenched in the time it was written, and gives us a reasonably accurate view of how “civilized” humans view “uncivilized” societies.

In 1875, four years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Descent of Man”, R. M. Ballantyne’s novel The Coral Island was released.  In this novel, three shipwrecked young boys not only create an environment similar in many ways to that of the English gentry, they also manage to defeat pirates by virtue of their moral strength and convert the local cannibals to Christianity. Basically, the three boys never lose the values and morals of their society, even when the society itself is taken away.

In 1954, William Golding’s novel was published.  Whereas Ballantyne’s novel was written during a time when human evolution was not widely accepted, Golding’s novel was written during a time that produced the term “killer ape” to describe humans.  The society created by the schoolboys resembles the societies created by apes such as chimpanzees in many ways.  At the time, this was not thought of as a good thing. Golding himself once described his novel this way:  “The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature” (Golding 189).  Although the actions of the boys (from an ethological perspective) are not necessarily “defects,” this judgment is passed on them by the author.  Whether such actions are defects or not is a complicated question.  First, the society of the boys should be examined.

Rank and Order

The struggle to become leader is one of the first key points of the novel.  There are two main contenders for this position, Ralph and Jack.  Their struggle has parallels with the struggle of two apes to become alpha male.  Ralph has the physical characteristics of a leader-type, tall, straight, strong and handsome.  His father is a Naval commander, so he could be said to be an alpha male’s son.  This may have been an advantage, based on studies of rhesus monkey hierarchies by John H. Kaufman:  a young male who achieved a fairly high rank very quickly was the son of the alpha female and a brother to the current alpha male.  In Kaufman’s words, this is “an example of a son of a high-ranking mother achieving high rank early and easily” (Kaufman 77). Finally, when the group is gathered, Ralph is the one who gathers them by using the conch shell.  Jack, on the other hand, though tall, was thin, bony and ugly.  He was, however, already in charge of a group of boys and wore a cap with a golden badge and a long black cloak with a silver cross on it.  Both boys wanted to be leader.  Although it was a vote, the two had certain elements in common with two males vying for the alpha male spot.  Both mounted displays for the rest of the group, Ralph with the conch and Jack with his cap and cloak and the choir marching in a military fashion.  In the end, Ralph was chosen because the previous “alpha males,” the adults they had been following, used megaphones to order the boys and Ralph’s conch display resembled the megaphones so much that the boys followed him.

It’s interesting to note that alliances played a part of the jockeying for the alpha male position.  Jack had the, albeit unwilling or lukewarm, support of the choir. Ralph’s support came from everyone else, including the mass of “littluns,” the small children who actually wielded no real power and were lowest in the hierarchy of the boys. Many times in ape societies, low ranking members support alpha males against their competitors.

After Ralph’s selection as chief, the first thing he did was to go to Jack and make peace.  Many primates also have reconciliations after a challenge is made. In general, if the reconciliation is successful, the hierarchy is stable for another while.  If the reconciliation is not successful, more trouble is soon to follow.  This first reconciliation between Jack and Ralph is successful.  Later on, though, Jack mounts more challenges to Ralph’s leadership.  There are at least four more distinct challenges to Ralph’s authority as leader. Each of Jack’s challenges involved certain display rituals to attract attention to him as the leader.  These displays ranged from exuberant shouts after the successful hunt of a pig, to painting his face with a mask.  With each challenge, Ralph is able to maintain leadership, but by a slimmer and slimmer margin.  Eventually, Jack mounts one final challenge which, though it fails, spurs him to leave the group and form his own group.

Hierarchy is established among the older children, the “biguns,” although there are actually several separate lines of hierarchy.  On one side are Ralph’s followers, Piggy, Simon and the twins.  On the other side are Jack’s followers, his hunters, the most notable of which is Roger, his second.  The biguns are, of course, dominant over the littluns, demonstrated by Maurice and Roger walking through the sand castles created by Henry, Johnny and Percival, three littluns.  Even the littluns begins to test their position at their own level.  Henry, a little older and bigger than Johnny and Percival, was the leader of that small group.  Then, when Johnny found out the sand in the eyes would make Percival cry, he happily threw sand in the air to make Percival cry again, a sort of play that appears to be the first stirrings of social hierarchy among the younger group members.

Rules

The are several ways that societies try to smooth out the problems that arise between individuals in a society.  Societies have rules.  Some of the rules are imposed by individuals.  Some are apparently evolved rules for the treatment of fellow members of the group. Each of these types of rules is seen in the novel and in ape societies as well.  Rules require enforcement.  In this, the role of the alpha male as peace-keeper is shown.

The first type is clear.  In ape societies, a mother imposes the rules for obtaining access to her infant.  This is usually done through a form of positive and negative reinforcement.  If another ape approaches or handles the infant incorrectly, the mother becomes angry.  If the other ape does the correct things for handling the infant, the mother allows it.  In this way, the mother imposes the rules.  (It must be noted that whether or not intentionality is a part of this rule-setting is, as yet, unproven.)  In the novel, Jack creates rules that must be followed as part of his society.  In the course of the book, he punishes a member of his “tribe” for breaking one of the rules (although we are not told what the rule was).  This is one thing that it seems Ralph was not able to do as part of the society he led. In a way, it seems that the society of boys needed rules to be set and enforced.

Other types of rules are less definite in the novel.  This may be due to the small amount of time that passes in the novel, in that the society hasn’t yet figured out all of the things it needs to do to survive in this new environment.  Also, as an incomplete society (no adults, no females), it may not contain all of the necessary components for a balanced means of ensuring the continued survival of the group.  Still, given these limitations, the group in its later form (ruled by Jack) has demonstrated an ability to maintain group cohesiveness and ensure the survival of most or all of its members.  Some of the rules that seem to come from our pre-homo sapiens ancestors include the sharing of meat from the dominant group members to the subordinate ones, especially children.  This was shown when Ralph and Piggy arrived at Jack’s feast and saw that everyone had received a share.  Jack then converts most of the remaining boys to his group by promising them meat on a constant basis.  The group had determined that the gift of meat was one of the conditions that a leader had to meet and Ralph did not do this.  Jack did, therefore they agreed to follow Jack.  Chimpanzees, too, are shown to share any prey that they capture.  In Good Natured, examples are given of the adult male chimpanzees who hunted together in a group, giving a share of the meat to the females and the young, but not to other adult males.  (In the novel, Jack gives meat to Ralph and Piggy as well.)  Sharing itself is also a sort of group enforced rule among apes.  Basically, if an ape shares with others when it has food to share, then other apes will share with it.  If it does not share with others, then others may refuse to share. This reciprocity rewards sharing among a group.

As an adjunct to the rules, there is the question of memory and how this affects the breaking of rules and the attempts to hide these infractions from more dominant members of the group.  There is a scene in the novel in which Roger is throwing rocks near the small children, but not at them, because of the rules that society had taught him.  The rules are remembered, even in the absence of “higher ranking” humans such as the police, teachers and parents mentioned by the novel.  Eventually, the rules are broken or changed, as shown when Roger rolls the heavy rock down to kill Piggy.  In a similar way, apes are seen to know what the rules are, such as the alpha male’s “rule” that only he can breed with females.  An example given in Good Natured shows that if the alpha male leaves, then the subordinate males will try to mate with the females.  However, their remembrance of the alpha male’s rule is shown in the example of the rhesus monkey named Hulk, a beta male, who was observed checking to make sure that the alpha male was still in another section of the habitat before completing the mating.

Both the society of boys in the novel and ape societies also show a sort of guilt or shame response when their rule-breaking is followed by an encounter with an alpha male.  In experiments with captive ape societies, males who mated with females when the alpha male was away were observed to act more submissive and to try to avoid the alpha male.  When the ship captain, an alpha male who outranks both Ralph and Jack, appears at the end of the novel, the boys become quiet and obedient.  When he asks which boy is in charge, the reactions of the two “alpha” boys differs according to their past actions.  Ralph has no trouble stating that he is the leader and explaining things to the captain.  His own disobedience was minor compared to the others.  Jack, on the other hand, who led the boys who had thrown off every rule, remained silent.

Peace-keeping is important to any society that has rules. Part of the enforcement of rules is the ability to terminate hostilities between group members.  If hostilities continue, other rules get lost in the course of the ongoing aggression.  Apes have several ways of reestablishing order between group members.  Alpha males do so by displays of aggression and violence, or sometimes the threat of violence.  Examples given in Good Natured showed some males who needed only to look at fighting group members to stop hostilities.  Others mounted energetic displays by charging in between combatants. Still others would strike any group member who continued fighting.  Other groups members could also aid the cessation of hostilities.  Examples were given of females banding together to stop an alpha male from possibly killing another male, thus providing a check on the alpha male’s power.  In other ape societies, grooming often takes place between former combatants as a way to restore the hierarchy and calm each other.  Sometimes, one combatant’s kin will groom the other combatant to help normalize relations.  The actually mechanics differ among ape species, but all have some way of keeping the peace.  In the novel, Jack is the only effective peace-keeper.  Ralph tries to rule by common sense, which has little effect on the boys who are only six to twelve years old.  When rules are broken, he tries to appeal to their sense of order. Jack appears on the scene already in control of a group of boys, the choir.  When they break ranks, he uses his commanding voice to order them back into line and they obey.  Later, when he is the “chief” of his own group of boys, he uses violence and the threat of violence to keep the boys subordinate to him and obedient to his rules, whatever they are.  What is missing is any sign of an alliance of boys to counter Jack’s nearly absolute power. Still, at least during the course of the novel, he maintains order in the group he leads, and the rules he sets are obeyed.

Other Parallels

There are other, less explored aspects of the society created by the boys in Lord of the Flies.  One is the forging of bonds among the group, through play, through mock combat, and even through emotional contagion.  Then there is the way that the two societies, ape and schoolboy, treat members of their society that are markedly different from them in some way.  Both the boys’ society and that of the apes show territoriality.  The novel also notes how its society treats the littluns, which shows a parallel with some ape societies and their treatment of the young.

A society forges bonds between its members in order to remain a group. These bonds can be formed in several ways.  Kinship bonds are common among apes, but bonds also form between unrelated individuals. These bonds are advantageous for any activity requiring part or all of the group, such as hunting or defense. In the novel, only two of the boys, the twins Sam and Eric, have bonds of kinship.  The ways in which the boys form bonds mirror those shown by some ape societies.  Forging bonds through play is one type.  Jack, Ralph and Simon wrestle together while exploring the island.  The three little boys mentioned earlier were building sand castles.  A similar example is given by Jane Goodall.  “Flint, however, with all the energy typical of a human child, played with little Goblin . . . The two chased after each other . . . occasionally they wrestled or engaged in a bout of rib-tickling . . . .” (Goodall 136). Another bonding activity is the sharing of food.  There are only two clear examples of food-sharing in the novel.  The first is when Simon helps the littluns by getting the ripe fruit and giving it to them (it was too high for the littluns to reach). Similar examples in Good Natured include a young chimpanzee bringing ripe fruit to its aging mother and a caged capuchin with food putting it within reach of another caged capuchin who had not been able to reach the food.  The sharing of meat also appears in ape societies and the novel, usually as a way of demonstrating the “owner’s” power and generosity, thus promoting the bonding between himself and the group.  I use “he” because all of the examples I’ve been able to find from ape society show that males do all or most of the killing and that the alpha male usually controls the carcass and the distribution of meat.  The example in Good Natured of the alpha male Ntologi using this tactic to distribute food to anyone who was not a threat to his position is very close to the scene in the novel in which Jack allows his own followers to share in the pig that they had caught and shares the food with Ralph and his followers with seeming reluctance.

This sharing of meat is occasioned by the fact that chimpanzees actively hunt and kill their prey.  This simple behavior is reflected in the novel.  The boys work out a method of hunting and killing the pigs with coordination and growing skill.  Young chimpanzees have to learn how to help their elders in the hunt.  Jack is the best of the hunters and through teaching and example he manages to teach the other children how to help.

Another parallel between the novel and the various ape societies involves the way in which “odd” members of the group are treated by the group.  Jane Goodall’s work has noted how chimpanzee polio victims were treated with fear or aggression when they approached members of their own group.  On the other hand, Good Natured provides the example of Mozu, a Japanese monkey born without hands or feet.  The monkeys in her group appeared to accept her as one of their members. In fact, an example is given of Mozu joining a second group of monkeys when the original group fissioned into two groups and her own matriline was denied access to the feeding area.  This new group eventually accepted her as one of their own.  The difference between the two reactions appears to be that the polio caused a noticeable change in the actions and/or appearance of group mates that the others found threatening.  Mozu’s appearance (and that of a retarded infant rhesus monkey who was also tolerated) were unchanged since birth.  In the novel, there are two cases of group members who were different from the others. Because the group was mostly comprised of individuals who did not know each other from infancy, the actions of the boys toward those who were different compare more closely with the reactions of the chimpanzees to the polio victims.  One of the “different” boys was Simon, a boy who fainted often, possibly due to a medical reason, although this was never explored in the novel.  The general reaction to him was laughter and some derision by older boys such as Jack. He may, in fact, have been a target for a great deal of hardship were it not for the presence of a still more tempting target, Piggy.  Piggy was overweight, asthmatic and severely nearsighted, all of which make him unlike the rest of the boys, who, with a few exceptions, are nearly uniformly average. As the target of derisive laughter, he is almost immediately reduced in status to a very low rank in the hierarchy that is being established.  Although Ralph later relies on him for counsel, Jack’s reaction to Piggy’s words is a swift blow.  Jack’s aggression and threatening displays towards Piggy isolate him even more from the bulk of the group, who laugh at Piggy even more.  In the end, Piggy (who has since lost his only advantage in the group, the eyeglasses for making fires) is killed by another group member, Roger.  Returning to the question of Simon, he, too, was killed by the group.  In his case, the group had changed so much that they no longer recognized him at all when he burst upon their ritual.  Owing to the fact that he was different from them, they killed him, believing him to be the “beast.”  At the end of the novel, though, Ralph is also “different” from the rest of the boys.  He has remained the same (or perhaps changed only a little) while they have changed as a group.  Being different, and being the last opposition to Jack’s rule as sole leader of the boys, Ralph is hunted down.  This has a parallel in Jane Goodall’s work as well, when the chimpanzee group she was studying fissioned and then the large group systematically hunted down and killed the other group.

Behaviors Not Seen in Both the Novel and Ape Societies

“The trouble with extrapolating directly from the primates is that we have evolved in so many ways away from them” (Jolly 270). The novel contains behaviors that are, at least as yet, undiscovered in any other primate species.  In addition, there are several behaviors of apes that do not appear in the novel.

The most prominent of the behaviors demonstrated in the novel which has no clear analog in nature is the formation of a proto-religion by the boys. It is not yet fully formed in the course of the novel, but it already has several of the elements of a full-fledged religion.  It has begun as a cult to placate the “beast.”  It has places that are sacred, notably the sight of their fire which has become the beast’s place.  It has a leader, Jack, who claims to know what their god, the beast, wants. Jack, the leader of the group, is also subordinate to the beast.  As E.O. Wilson puts it, gods are “the hyperdominant if invisible members of the human group” (Wilson, p. 67).  The boys have a visible god at first, but though their beast, the dead parachutist’s body, has been removed, we are given the indication that this new religion would continue with the new ritual of human sacrifice if not interrupted.

There are a number of elements of ape society that are not examined in the novel.  Written in 1954, and with a group consisting entirely of prepubescent or barely pubescent boys, the novel does not deal with sexual behavior.  As there are no adults, there are no aged members of the group, so treatment of this type of group member are also not examined.  The novel also does not deal with the effects of nature’s cruelty and hardship on the boys.  They crashed on an island that apparently has everything they will need to ensure their bodies’ survival.  We do not know what they would do if, say, all the pigs on the island died, or if the fruit on the island had a season in which nothing edible was produced.  All of these aspects of ape behavior have been explored by researchers, but the ranges between ape species are so great that it would be difficult to determine, if the novel were written today, which species’s traits would be mirrored in the boys’ society.

The Novel and Its Times

The term “killer ape” was coined to describe australopithecus, which in the 1950’s was described as a carnivore.  A cave of australopithecine fossils showed that several of them had had their skulls caved in, possibly by other australopithecines. In fact, a researcher in 1959 called this humanity’s mark of Cain, which set us apart from all other animals.  The atrocities of World War II certainly favored this interpretation of humanity’s status.  It is in this atmosphere that Lord of the Flies was written.  Back in 1875, although Darwin’s work was receiving some attention, the widely held belief was that society had removed such influences, that the mark of Cain no longer ruled us.  This is why the children of The Coral Island remained Christian, civilized and English.

But it is not merely the fact that in the 1875 novel the children retained their civilized restraints while in the 1954 novel they reverted to “savagery.”  The term itself has connotations that are mostly negative.  These “defects of human nature,” as Golding put it, are used to show the evil side of humanity.  Because of what has been learned by ethologists in the nearly fifty years since the publication of Lord of the Flies, the novel could not be written in exactly the same way today.  The children in Lord of the Flies, in dropping the restraints of civilization, show many of the characteristics of other type of primates. Today, of course, we know that our close genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, are also capable of murder, genocide, mutilation and a host of other behaviors that used to be considered the sole province of humanity.  Golding’s use of these behaviors to demonstrate humanity’s evil would not be possible today.  If the novel were written today, the author would have to be careful to choose those behaviors that are not duplicated by other primates, because it is difficult to convey what is natural as something evil.

William Golding was not an ethologist by training.  He was a schoolmaster.  Although one could say that he knew how schoolboys behaved, his knowledge of primate behavior in the early 1950’s was, to say the least, limited. In many ways, the book itself is more an allegory of good and evil, civilization and savagery.  Were someone to write Lord of the Flies today, the author would have a choice.  He (or she) could focus on the question of good and evil by limiting himself to behaviors not duplicated in other primates, or he could focus on the group throwing off the restraints of modern civilization and returning to a more primitive state similar to that of other primates.  Fifty years from now, however, someone may look back and compare this new book with what information about primates has been discovered in that time. Even Jane Goodall’s first impression of chimpanzee society underwent changes the longer she stayed to observe them.

Conclusion

William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, although it was not written to be an example of how “uncivilized” human behavior resembles primate behavior, nevertheless contains a remarkable number of parallels. With the exception of some aspects of behavior that are still presumed to have no equivalents in the rest of the animal kingdom, such as the development of religion, and some situations that are excluded from consideration in the novel, such as the role of females and the place of sex in the society, Golding’s society of schoolboys could be viewed as just another society of monkeys or apes.  As the future brings us more information about primates, the analogy may become more exact or it may become less accurate.  Either way, it is clear that as our understanding of primate societies increases, Golding’s novel can be seen to become more a product of his time, the time of the killer ape theories.  His moral judgement on those behaviors which are now seen to be a part of nature are a comment on the fact that we mat not be quite so distantly separated from our animal cousins.

 

Works Cited

Golding, William.  Lord of the Flies.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1954.

Goodall, Baroness Jane van Lawick.  My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees.  Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1967.

Jolly, Alison.  The Evolution of Primate Behavior.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972.

Kaufman, John H.  “Social Relations of Adult Males in a Free-Ranging Band of Rhesus Monkeys.”

Social Communication among Primates.  Ed. Stuart A. Altman.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967.  73 – 98

 

 

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