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The jungle is a single, garganguantan shadow. Chiming voices fill the air, neither animal nor human, whispering, waiting.
A baby’s bawl tears through the humid anticipation: a siren, harsher than a human child’s. The wail of an alien who somehow senses that he has been deposited unceremoniously onto the shore of an island on a world of fools.
Eat. Sleep. Roar. Run, just for the sheer joy of feeling four feet pelt across blistering volcanic cliffs. Repeat through oscillations of light and dark, shadow and warm golden sand.
One day It hears a roar not its own, tinny and high- pitched, with an indefinable quality that somehow draws it towards the source. Presently it comes upon a rather ugly pink monkey, wrapped in peculiar leaves that manage to wrinkle and fold without crumbling. It reaches for the creature, intending to stroke its strange bare face, touch its glowing blue eyes-- so dartingly quick, so sentient--
“DADDY!” the monkey screams.
“Gabadabamee?” It asks.
“DADDY! COME QUICK COME QUICK!”
“Gabajanabalabeemoo,” It is hurt, bewildered.
“Miranda, my sweet, what’s wrong?” Another monkey bounds across the sand, glossy fur rippling in his stead in long, thin streams.
When It sees him he says, as if something is lodged in the back of his throat, “Oh.”
This is ‘water.’
This is where the clear streams flow.
When we eat things, we have to cook them lest we fall ill.
The freshest herbs grow in the middle of the forest next to the pine split apart by lightning.
Read letters from left to right.
Rats live on no evil star.
This is how to do sums.
This is how to catch fish with your feet.
Miranda and I are human.
What am I, Prospero?
He stumbles across me skinning a bat with my teeth in the middle of one afternoon, peeling away the wings and gulping down the flesh raw and delicious. Something ominous flashes across his face. I have learned to read most of his emotions: When he speaks to Miranda his eyes twinkle and his mouth turns up at the corners; as he casts a spell his eyebrows furrow in concentration. But this, this I have never seen before.
No, I have. Once, when he spoke of his brother Antonio, who betrayed him to “seize the dukedom of Milan.” A place more dream to me than reality, though to Prospero it seems to be the rest of the world.
“You are sad,” I speculate , touching his hand when he finishes his tale. “Upset, gloomy, depressed, yes?” Miranda looks on wide eyes. It has not been six cycles of the moon since I mistook her for a monkey, and I don’t think she understands.
“I’m not sad,” Prospero explains, “simply repulsed. Mark his condition and the event; then tell me: do you think Antonio might be a brother?”
My answer is immediate. “No true brother would be so cruel to his kin.” There is something unnatural, almost alien about Antonio, but I do not say this to Prospero.
Now the concept of revulsion is ingrained in my mind. What am I to him, really? A beast, a monster? A cruel fiend, worse than even his brother? What if, when he sees what I truly am, acting the way I always have, he begins to treat me as he treats the fairies-- commanding, scheming, pitiless?
What if he decides I am no longer as good as a human?
"What’s that?" I ask, pointing at the brilliant shape in the sky.
"That's the sun," Miranda says, giggling as I squint directly at it. Her tiny hand shields my eyes. "Don't do that, silly, you'll go blind."
The sun “sets”-- I still do not understand why, as it doesn’t settle, it simply slips beneath the shimmering edge of the ocean-- and a meeker sphere rises to take its place. “What’s that?”
"The orb casting an angel wreath upon surrounding clouds."
Miranda sighs, doesn't answer for a moment. I glance sidelong at her. In the silver glow of the night her face is whiter, shapelier, more beautiful than the nameless lady of the heavens.
"I am so glad my father taught you our language," she says finally, her voice barely above a whisper. A tremor looses itself down the curvature of my back, I'm not sure why-- fear? pleasure? and my voice is buried so deeply in my throat I can’t dredge up the words to reply. I wait for her to continue, silently glorying in the contour of her cheek, the jeweled flecks that are her eyes. But she simply looks up at the extraterrestrial glow.
"Miranda!" Prospero's voice calls from inside his study. Miranda starts, the night's hold on her shattering in an instant.
"Yes, father," she says.
"It's time for bed.” As usual, I follow Miranda into the house. But tonight Prospero stands at the front door, arms folded. The [warmth] beginning to spread from my head down to my toes evaporates instantly.
“Good evening, Father,” happily. She is always so happy. I cannot understand this about her.
“Good evening, Prospero,” I echo, turning automatically to accompany Miranda to her room to wish her good night before I bed myself.
His face is unreadable. “Not tonight, Caliban, I’m sorry.”
“I beg your pardon?”
He looks at me searchingly. “I’d like it if you went straight to your own room from now on.”
“There is a feeling in the air,” Prospero says slowly, and I can tell he is choosing his words with the utmost care. “The stars are... maligned tonight, and my prescience is dark.”
“The stars maligned?” I look up at the sky, the constellations tracing themselves in my mind’s eye. Andromeda, Pisces, the southern star, winking down on the island from the remotest heavens. “They look perfectly aligned to me.”
Miranda touches my hand. “It’s okay. Just for tonight, Caliban. I’ll be fine.”
Prospero’s expression darkens. “The wise restrain their hope,” he says.
I open my mouth to reply, but an invisible pain bites my toe and I wince.
"You are but a monster," a voice hisses in my ear. I attempt to swat its source and receive another pinch.
Miranda turns to me, concerned. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," replies a voice that is mine but not me. It comes from my left, but exactly where I cannot tell. I attempt to shout a protest, batter the spirits out of the air, but suddenly there is a clamp on my tongue made of solid vapor and a startling twinge in my gut.
Miranda climbs the moss- furred stairs up to her bedroom, her figure pale under Setebos’ winking eyes."See you tomorrow at lessons, Caliban."
After her bedroom door claps shut behind her, the cramps release. Prospero has vanished into his study. I crawl onto the unrelenting black rock that is my bed, stare up at the lady who lacks Miranda’s radiance until she blurs into a smear above the salty brine.
“Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty's treasure, ere it be self-kill'd.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That's for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one-- I forget what’s next--”
“Excellent anyway,” Prospero says. He and Miranda are perched on the rocks, their clapping drowned out by waves spraying across my back, “though ‘treasure’ is pronounced TREH-shur, not TREE-soor. Do you have any other questions?”
“What does ‘breed’ mean?” I ask.
“To fructify, generate, partuitate.”
Prospero raises his bushy eyebrows and a different kind of tremor courses down my spine. “I will tell you later.”
When I sleep, I dream.
I dream of the lemurs and gibbons, limbs interwoven under tender palm trees in the exquisite dance of life. Of miniature Calibans cavorting upon the sooty sand, babbling and kicking in the salty ocean spray, reveling in the pulsing hot sun. Miranda is alight with midnight splendor. The folds of her silk dress slip through my fingers, and she sighs with content. “I love you, Caliban...”
“And I you,” I murmur. The tingling heat spreads to my face, the tips of my fingers and toes--
And I am awakened by the thunder of feet against hard rock. “Out! Out of my house, you slave, you repulsive monster! I say, out!”
“You will not set foot over my threshold for the rest of your poor, nasty, brutish existence. Out, now!"
I come nearly halfway to my senses. “The night is still young...”
Something strikes me on the head and I open my eyes to darkness. Prospero towers above me, hooded in his blood red sorcerous cloak. Underneath the hood, his eyes burn holes into mine.
“Go away,” he says in a soft, deadly voice. “You will never touch Miranda again. You will not learn any more from me. Henceforth you are nothing but my slave. You demon--”
And then the cramps begin, one after another, a rolling tide striking the alien shore again, again, again with the force and rhythm of sobbing until, against my will, I roar with the pain. A horde of screeching bats flutters out of a nearby tree. I stumble out of the house. Every footfall is echoed by a fairy slap in the face.
Miranda watches from the window. Miranda, who weeps even when her father grinds up already- dead spiders for his potions, has the face of Luna: serene and impossibly distant.
I plunge down the rocky slope. When my foot slips in a tide pool I drop to all fours and crawl to the stone that was my bed, is now my prison. Only then, when I am out of Prospero's physical sight-- though he can be everywhere, see everything, I remind myself bitterly-- do roars subside to whimpers, fury to grief.
When I sleep, I dream.
I dream of succulent flowers, their petals gently drifting down onto my head as I lie on my beach of fine- grained volcanic sand. Of a coral moon peeking out of glass- blue waters east of shore. Friendly nut-brown monkeys the size of my hand, clambering along human arms as if they are crawling up vines. Delicate leaves grasping for sun despite their tininess.
The images spin faster, gain clarity. My mother shooting lightning at a cloven pine, her pearl- white molars showing in a feral grimace of joy. Prospero’s hand clasped around mine. A tiny girl wrapped in sackcloth. Little boy Calibans and girl Calibans with sapphire eyes, dancing and laughing and dancing again.
This is how to write your name.
You’re so intelligent.
Only because you’re my teacher.
Up there-- that line of stars is Andromeda’s arm--
I don’t care if your mother was a bad witch. I still like you.
I’m so proud of you.
I love you.
Miranda, Miranda. Her angelic countenance fades and the rest of the fantasy spirals back into the blissful abyss and When I waked I cried to dream again...