Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost

“C’mon Eddie, just hop on my back. We don’t have a moment to spare.” Mufasa roared.

Eddie didn’t budge. He was in a quandary. Mufasa caught him by the neck and took flight at a lightning speed. 

The flares, by then, were dancing fiercely; as if it was some kind of therapy for their soul. A smoky dance of lurid flames, that entrapped and incensed the onlookers. Their energy was contagious and unmatched; sans empathy for the inhabitants. Each animate being was in a mad rush. They ran hither-thither to escape from the clutches of the malicious flames.  

The vicinity reverberated with chirps and shrieks; trills and croaks. The cacophony was maddening. Dense black smoke mingled with the passing air as if to deride the sufferers. The flames went on with their frantic dance to express their fury and valour. Mufasa felt the adrenaline course through his veins. I can survive only if I outpace the flames. He doubled his velocity. 

Gradually, everything around him started to get blurry; wavy. As the fierce war-dance continued, the glare of the distant fires, reddened. The array of hues created a shimmering reflection. The embers were gliding through the sky, like amber snowflakes. Mufasa felt as if he was flying through a prism. He could hear death’s spies whisper welcome notes into his ears. Before he blacked out, he felt as if his spirit was striding like a mammoth, through a labyrinth of silent dysphoria.

***

“Fneosan…fnese…fnese… Mufasa felt something around him. He rubbed his paws against the whiskers. When he opened his eyes, the wet ground rushed towards his face. The previous day’s horrific incident left him bruised and battered. He somehow pulled himself up and cast his eye over the vicinage. Mufasa’s heart sank for a moment when he saw Eddie, lying flat on his back; motionless. He drew closer to check. Ah! This slimy sloth is breathing. 

“Ed…wake up, you slug. This isn’t the time to rest.” Mufasa grunted, but Eddie didn’t stir. He then roared, and it worked. 

“Aahh-eeeee…aahh-eeeee…” Eddie sprang up, scared. “Puff! Puff! You’re such a bully. For Loroco’s sake, show some pity to this wretched soul.”  

Mufasa was sitting stone-faced, gazing at the forest. Eddie peeped at him and muttered, “I was just basking in the bright summer sun.

They were hard-core enemies till the day before the incident. Eddie has been keeping a safe distance, for he was well aware of Mufasa’s cruel intentions. He vouched never to let the brute get his prized head. But times have changed. He crawled beside his saviour. “Thanks for saving my life, Mufasa. If not for you, I would be a pile of ash by now.”  

“I wonder what happened to the rest. The raging blaze was destroying everything on its way; such a huge chaos it caused. The lofting embers are still igniting spot fires. Even the early morning shower wasn’t of much help. The debris and ashes, will now flow into the river and contaminate it. We will die eventually; either by drinking that polluted water or out of thirst.” Mufasa sighed.

Such a snob this beast is. Didn’t even acknowledge my words of gratitude. Eddie glanced at the surroundings. “It’s kinda eerie. The evil spirits cast a spell on our home; on this forest. They want us gone so they can have the entire area to themselves. Nasty spirits, I must say.”

“Have you lost it, you bovine sloth?” Mufasa growled. “This isn’t the work of any spirit. It’s those half-witted humans who are to be blamed for this disaster. Their greed, their never-ending greed is killing us. Sooner or later, their want for more will destroy them too.” There was an intense fire in his eyes; a furious fire at the core of his heart.

“The humans? You mean the ones who come to chop trees? Or the ones who lurk after dark?” Eddie was shocked.  

Mufasa retorted. “All of them. The entire human breed is responsible for this mess. They are causing harm to our habitat; damaging the earth and adopting destructive measures without care. They are foolish and refuse to consider the grave consequences. They don’t realize that such acts are affecting their lives adversely. Morons.”

Eddie heard every word attentively, but he couldn’t concur. “Well, I can’t agree with you. Why will they harm us when they need us? They need the trees for air and logs; they need us for meat and hide. I’m sure it’s not them. It’s the work of those spirits. They cast a spell; so the forest was spitting flames like a barmy dragon.”

“Shut your mouth and don’t blabber rubbish. Anyway, what more can I expect from a sluggish sloth like you!” Mufasa growled. “I’m going to the other side of the river to search for the others. You can join me if you wish, but first, clean up your scruffy self.”  Mufasa headed towards the river. Eddie meekly followed like a loyal comrade. 

“Holy Hibiscus! What happened to the river? Those spirits of devilry…they tainted the water too. What will we drink and how will I clean myself now?” Eddie felt disheartened. 

“Thup!” Mufasa gave a strong slap on Eddie’s head. “Stop talking about the spirits or else I’ll rip your head off. Your idiocy is irritating me. No wonder we’ve been enemies for so long. You better fill some sense in your tiny head. Didn’t I tell you, that post-fire flash floods are a threat? These are garbage from the wreckage. It will gradually kill the marine animals and drive them to relocate if they survive. The wildfire destroyed our natural habitat and adversely effected aquatic and arboreal life. And all this happened ‘cause of the greed that the sapiens breed within them.”

No matter how obliged Eddie was, he didn’t accept the theory stated by the melanistic jaguar. Should I worry about my head or should I stand firm on my belief? By buds, I’m in a crucial crisis. Anyway, it’s better to die like a brave Bradypus than be called a gutless sloth. I’ll never agree with this hard-headed beast. 

“ kla.ku.ka.ku…kla.ku.ka.ku…”  

The familiar raspy, throaty call brought Eddie back from his snooze. Mufasa recognized the sound and roared to invite the Spix’s macaw, Cleo. She perched on a broken twig as they acknowledged each other’s presence through auditory communication. 

Sulfur, the butterfly, who was clinging on to Cleo, flapped her orange wings in glee. The presence of those recognizable beings eased her mind. 

“Good to see you two,” grunted Mufasa. “Cleo, have you seen anyone around? Someone from my breed…the other survivors. The fire moved so quickly, that it trapped the jungle’s most vulnerable inhabitants; especially the ones with limited mobility. Many lost their lives; many must’ve been badly injured. Those humans tried their best to eradicate our existence. And now, we’ve to bear the brunt of their ill-doings.”

“Yes, I saw some apes and aves; a few reptiles and mammals, on my way. But why are you blaming the humans?” asked Cleo. “You think humans are responsible for this? Ofcourse not. They aren’t powerful enough to cause such havoc. It’s natures’ fury that fell upon us. Didn’t you notice the streaks of light that dropped on the trees? Those hot lightning bolts are the culprits who kindled the furious fire. But I believe, they just followed Mother Nature’s instructions. Perhaps the Supreme Nature had a fair motive behind this.” 

“Another daft tale! I didn’t expect this from you, Cleo.” Mufasa snarled. “You are quite wise and explore the forest more than us. Did you not see, not detect the main culprits? Humans are the prime cause for such forest fires around the world. Most of these wildfires are caused by cigarette butts being left on the land; campfires that have been left unmonitored, as well as intentional acts of arson.”

“Yes, I agree, but not completely,” replied Cleo. “This absolute mayhem isn’t the result of their actions. Mother Nature made Zeus to strike and that caused the fire. Moreover, the humans were not around when the fire started. The chimpanzees, finches, and juncos raised the distress call, but it was too late. This is the upshot of divine wrath.” 

While the others argued over their own versions, about the cause of the fire, Sulfur listened like a mute spectator. She was deeply saddened by the incident. Her beloved wildflowers were gobbled by the wildfire. She escaped from the clutches of the maniacal fire, yet, she felt miserable. With the plants and trees gone, she, and her entire Lepidoptera family was in grave danger. 

Eddie spoke up, “I’m not intelligent like you’ll, but I’m smart in my own way. And I believe this is the work of those spirits that lurk after dusk. I’m one of the victims of their abuse. Once, I almost fell from a high branch ‘cause a naughty spirit tickled my legs. Others would agree with my version ‘cause they tortured many of us. They laugh like hyenas; they scorn and mock us. Someone said they were hatching a plan to confiscate our domain.”

“You and your crappy version. Use that contented smile, and beady little sleepy eyes to impress others, not me.” Mufasa growled in anger. “Yesterday, while I was strolling on the outskirts of the jungle, I saw some humans drive past our area. A negligent smoker amongst them must’ve thrown a butt that wasn’t extinguished. And that ignited the fire. I’m as sure as that I can kill Eddie in one bite. Since this is a fire-prone season, the hot, dry winds helped the fire to spread more rapidly. Did you guys get my point now?”

“You seem to be quite upset with the humans. All I can suggest is, don’t let bitterness take root. Anyway, you haven’t seen them lighting the fire.” Cleo tried to reason out. “They are no friend of ours, I know. Yet this is nothing more than a calamity caused by Nature. And my version is as good as a pecan. The lightning strikes occurred away from our vicinity. Hence we didn’t realise it early. Mufasa and Eddie… I think you’ll need to think things over. Try to evaluate my point.”

“There’s nothing to assess, Cleo. Mother Nature would never do something like this to harm her brood. If she wanted to teach a lesson, she would’ve caused a storm or something. She would never send Zeus to cause such massive destruction.” Mufasa grunted.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I think we should move now.” Eddie felt restless. “We can continue the discussion later.”

Sulfur heaved a sigh of relief. Yes, we better go ‘cause I need to find some nectar before I collapse. I hope all the milkweeds aren’t destroyed by the fire. 

***

It happened much after sunset. Mufasa was roaming in search of a catch when he heard the shrill scream of a few chimpanzees. Shortly after, he spotted a pall of smoke and caught sight of the rising flames. Gradually, the distress calls echoed from every corner of the forest. As the flames coiled and flickered into the exposed nests., the aves flew off, abandoning their chicks. He witnessed his peaceful haven turn into a frenzied arena within moments. 

Mufasa took a shufti of the surrounding area. The firestorm was spinning violently, spewing embers out of the fiery twister. And extreme winds were dispersing those embers like dandelion seeds, flung into the breeze. He chose flight over fight; for, there was no option to retaliate. As he was about to flee, he noticed Eddie walking at a snail’s pace. On a different day, Mufasa would’ve pounced on him, but in a situation so grave, his temptation subdued. I cannot help all, but I can try to save one for now. 

With Eddie on his back, he headed straight towards the river. This is deep with fast currents, but we need to cross it anyhow. These pesky creatures are good swimmers, I know. It shouldn’t be hard for us to get to the other side. This is our only chance to save ourselves from this human-caused crisis.

Together, they defied the odds with their extraordinary willpower. They were unbeaten survivors. Their resilience and determination was an inspiring tale of perseverance. The calamity brought two enemies together and thereon began a new chapter. A tale, full of theories and self-proclaimed versions, of the entire incident.

***

All four stood gazing at the charred remnants of the burned foliage. The entire stretch looked bare and brown. The songbirds were silent. The Quaking Aspen trees stood tall like victorious survivors of some gory war. The gaunt frame of the towering trees gave the vicinity an eerie look. Several Ocelots, Sloths, insects and reptiles were lying dead by the riverbed. The pain of seeing the corpses of their fellow beings was agonizing. 

Sadly, the fire left many with searing injuries. As escape became impossible, many failed to overcome the choking fumes and collapsed on the ground. It turned out to be a fatal detour for those who got confused and ran abaft, towards the forest. Numerous animals managed to escape, but they got scattered elsewhere.   

There was hullabaloo on the other side. They saw the firefighters aim water cannons at the encroaching flames; like soldiers retaliating from an attack. Mufasa and his gang retraced their steps. 

“Isn’t it funny that while some humans destroy our habitat, a few others fight to restore it?” growled Mufasa. “Look, the flames aren’t extinguished yet. I’m afraid it’ll escape into the adjacent areas. See those tinder-dry oaks and pines; all ready to get burnt. Those doltish humans can’t understand that the consequences of this destruction will be dire. We better wait here, orelse they might catch and cage us in the name of Animal Rescue.”

“But it’s a bit spooky around here.” Eddie felt a bit of unease. “Look at those ghostly flashes dancing between the trees. They are bigger but similar to the glint that darts through the canopy every night. It happens when the spirits invade our territory. And this whooshing sound…it’s like the long wailing notes they sing. I’m very sure that this evil act is a part of their plot. They conspired to scare us; chase us away.”

There they start again! Sulfur thought to herself. We are in the middle of a calamity, but these ugly beasts are busy arguing; trying to prove their versions right. And here I am, worried and thirsty. I better take a stroll, or else their puzzling debate will drain the colour out of my wings. 

Mufasa didn’t react to Eddie’s words. “You know what worries me, Cleo? That these humans keep repeating their mistakes over and over again. Due to this incident, the world now will see an increase in global warming. Years of drought, intensified by global warming, have left our forests dry and littered with dead trees. Yet, they won’t mend their ways. And this isn’t the last place lost. There will be more in the upcoming years. Future tragedies are already inscribed on the world map. Going forth, there’ll be climate-change inflected wildfires.” 

“Well, we all are victims of this mishap. Yet, I do not agree with your outlook.” Cleo was clear on his stand. “I believe Mother Nature wants us to have a new home; a new mix of trees as our shelter. Maybe she has a better purpose. Like a short-term loss, for a healthier future. Once the fire is contained, there’ll be a drastic change within the forest. The oaks might replace the pines, and the drought-tolerant shrubs might replace the moisture-loving trees. Despite my dreary assumptions, I think Nature did it for a greater good.” 

Eddie didn’t like being left out. He stepped in and said, “Look at those blackened juniper stumps. They are sticking up like twisted hands. Only the curse of a spirit can cause such a distort. See, the pines are coated in ash, ‘cause they induced a ghostly blizzard. All the trees are as black as soot. But you two are simply adamant and keep putting forth your strange versions. You are blaming others and turning a blind eye to the real fact.” 

***

An eerie twilight was falling at midday. There was an unsettling red glow in the sky. The poisonous orange atmosphere was so thick with smoke, that they failed to see the sun. The winds were blowing plumes of smoke, forming a choking, swirling shroud. The remaining trees went up like torches. A fire tornado rose, and created a wall of fire, not far away from them.

The foursome looked at each other in perplexity. They were still in pain ‘cause of the turmoil they lived through. Suddenly, to each, their argument to prove their versions right seemed meaningless. That moment, they needed the willpower to escape their comfort zone that was in ruins. It was challenging, but they decided to take consistent steps in the right direction. For, survival was only the beginning…

***

Glossary:

Mufasa: The jaguar
Eddie: The sloth
Sulfur: The butterfly 
Cleo: The Spix’s macaw 
Loroco: A vine with edible flowers / Sloths love to eat the buds.
Holy Hibiscus! : Hibiscus flowers – a favourite of the Sloths.
Bradypus: Sloths are members of the genus Bradypus.
Zeus: The god of the sky.
Lepidoptera: An order of insects that includes butterflies.
As good as a pecan: In reference that Macaw’s love to eat pecans.
Shufti: A quick look (originally military slang): from Arabic šāfa ‘try to see’)
Abaft: in the sense ‘Backwards’

Authors note: Triggered by the forest fires, its adverse effect on climate and the forest habitants, I penned this piece. The three versions, Natural, Man-made and Supernatural are based on a bit of facts, folklores and the rest is imaginary. Google helped me to extract the necessary information. 

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2 thoughts on “Paradise Lost

  1. At the beginning, I was like “Oh! This is the usual humans-degrading-the-environment thing.” But when you presented Cleo’s and Eddie’s versions, I was amazed. That’s so cool. You wrote beyond the obvious. And every time Sulfur thought about the others’ argument, I could feel her because I was almost as annoyed of their constant arguments as Sulfur. Well done!

  2. The best part in your story is the character development of Mufasa, Eddie and Cleo. It felt so real as in the human world. The vocabulary is captivating , typical of your every story. Loved reading every last bit.

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