Haunted Harambe: A Millennial Ghost Story


 

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“I have a friend who saw his ghost.”

“Whose ghost?”

“Harambe’s.”

“You have a friend who saw the ghost of a dead gorilla?”

“Well, felt his ghost anyway. Felt it, and heard it, and smelled it.”

“This sounds like the start of some 4chan creepypasta bullshit to me.”

“You don’t want to hear the story?”

“Of course I want to hear it.”

“OK, so my friend is a long haul trucker. He’s in livestock transport. Mostly he drives cattle from ranches out west to slaughterhouses in St. Paul and Chicago. Boring, smelly work, but, you know, he has student loans to pay off like anyone else. Every once in awhile a zoo somewhere will get shut down because they get caught using tasers on the orangutans or grilling Bengal tiger meat in the food court or whatever and they’ll have like a herd of gazelle or something that need to be relocated to a new zoo or an animal sanctuary or Mike Tyson’s backyard like eight hundred miles away, and when that happens sometimes my friend will get the job.”

“So he’s like DSS for abused rhinos?”

“No, I guess they have special cops or, I don’t know, park rangers or something that investigate the claims and order the zoos to close. He’s more like the guy who drives the van that takes the traumatized kids to their foster homes. Except he’s not just moving them across town. He’s driving hundreds of miles with them. And instead of being 80 pounds, they’re 800 pounds. But they’re just as fucked up. He says they yell and kick and scream and shit everywhere. Especially the apes, because they’re not that different from people, so they develop complexes and shit after they’ve had traumatic experiences, just like we do.”

“And someone hired him to transport Harambe’s ghost?”

“No, no, no. Come on, that’s silly. It just happened he had to deliver a partial herd of zebra from a salmonella-ridden Six Flags in Kansas City to the Cincinnati Zoo on the same day that they shot Harambe. Well, it was that night, technically. Whenever they can, they try to move zoo animals at night, because they’re less rowdy then. It’s that same reason why your dad always wanted to leave at 4 am for family vacations when he knew he was going to have three or four of his life’s biggest mistakes in the back seat. If you’re lucky, they might even sleep for most of the trip. Unless they’re nocturnal of course. They just drug the big carnivores up on tranquilizers and hope for the best.”

“Hey, for the record, my parents never had a kid they didn’t want. I know that for a fact. My mom sat us down one morning and told us about her abortions.”

“What, really?”

“Of course not. But as long as we’re just saying ludicrous shit to hear ourselves talk …”

“I can stop if you want. How about I give you tips about how to fine tune your resume instead? We can start with your professional experience. How would you describe the skills you’ve acquired at your current place of employment, and how might they transfer over to your dream job?”

“Alright, alright. Go on.”

“So he leaves Kansas City in the late afternoon, maybe around 5 or so, and he spends the next eight-ish hours driving east on Interstate 90, watching the sun go down over the prairie, amber waves of grain and all that shit, with seven zebra in the back who are probably looking at the Great Plains through the cracks in the livestock trailer, fantasizing about the African savannah, trying not to get car sick, and wondering how the hell things could have gone so wrong.

“Anyway, it’s exactly midnight, to the minute, when he pulls into a big empty lot behind the lion enclosure and a couple of tired, shaken-up looking zookeepers help him get the zebras unloaded.  He told me he remembers this part vividly: he looked at the clock on the dashboard as he was climbing back into the truck and it said 12 o’clock. One-two-zero-zero. He thought it was weird, because he was expecting to get in closer to one. He must have been driving faster than he realized, or maybe traffic on the I-90 was supernaturally light. Or he could have just left earlier than he thought. He told me he was already a little disoriented by that point, not because he had been driving so long, but because he got a weird vibe from the zookeepers. He hadn’t heard anything about what happened, because he’d been driving for hours and he hadn’t checked the news. He hadn’t even listened to the radio. He has a playlist on his iphone that he listens to on runs like this. It’s all roots rock bands from the 90s. Counting Crows. The Wallflowers. Train. He says it soothes the animals.”

“Yes, listen, I like ‘One Headlight’ too, but what about Harambe?”

“I’m getting there. So he gets back into his truck and sees that the dashboard clock says it’s midnight, and the only thing he can think is that he still has two more hours of driving to go before he can drop the truck off at the depot in Columbus and after that four hours of sleep in a Super 8, thinking all night about bed bugs in the mattress and whether zebras have the kind of ticks that can give you lyme disease, and then three more hours on the road, traffic permitting, to get back to Cleveland in time to have brunch with his fiancé and the grandparents who raised her while her mother was inhaling nitrous oxide out of a plastic bag and watching Johnny Carson’s face undulate and dissolve into a pixel map of the universe. And so he’s sitting there, already dead tired, kind of in a daze, half-imagining his future mother-in-law huffing laughing gas and watching The Tonight Show when he suddenly realizes that he can hear this deep, heavy breathing behind him. It must have taken him a few seconds for it to sink in, because his sleep-deprived brain took it as a natural part of the fantasy. It went right along with that mental image of the CVS bag inflating and deflating. But then it sinks in, like, ‘Oh shit, no, I’m not imagining this. I’m hearing it.’”

“So Harambe’s ghost was sitting beside him in the passenger seat? Was he there the whole time? Did he have a big metal meat hook where one of his front paws should have been?”

“No, like I said, the breathing was coming from behind him, inside the livestock trailer. So he thinks, ‘Jesus, I forgot to close the door after we unloaded those fucking zebras and now some animal is trying to hitch a ride to freedom.’ He forces himself to climb out of the cab and walk all the way to the back of the trailer, all the time wondering how he’s going to have to pry this three-toed sloth or koala bear off the inside wall of the truck and drag its ass back to its pen while all the time it’s howling or making whatever god-awful frightful utterance made man decide to hunt its species to the cusp of extinction, and he’s really working himself up, getting ready for a truly miserable ordeal―but then he reaches the back of the truck, and, what do you know, the door is closed and locked up tight. There’s no way anything could have gotten in.”

“Except a ghost.”

“Yes, right, except a ghost. But he’s not thinking about ghosts at this point. He’s just thinking, ‘Thank Christ I didn’t just asphyxiate a mother panda and her six cubs with the carbon monoxide fumes from my idling eighteen wheeler.’ So he walks all the way back around to the front of the truck and climbs back into the cab and waits just a second or two with the key already in the ignition, straining to hear the breathing again, but he hears nothing, so, boom, he turns the key and takes off out of the zoo and guns it for the highway.”

“That’s it? All the buildup for some deep breathing?”

“That’s what Eve said to Adam on their marriage bed and what Adam said to God on his deathbed. But, no, no, I’m not done yet. Like I said, he’s booking down the highway on his way to Columbus, trying to keep his eyes open without popping an adderall, because he doesn’t want to risk those four hours of sleep. They’re the only thing he wants at this point, and if it means there’s a slightly increased chance that he’ll drift into oncoming traffic and cream the model American family in their mid-size sedan, two-and-a-half kids and golden retriever included, so be it. It’s going on 1 am and that’s his state of mind. His thoughts start to unfocus and he has just arrived at that point in the later stages of sleep deprivation where you can’t tell whether you’re fantasizing about sleeping or about dying when he smells this absolutely foul, disgusting odor. He’s spent the last four years carting neglected livestock across state lines, so he recognizes it immediately: dead animal smell. At first he thinks it must be roadkill, but he drives one mile, two, three, four, and the odor doesn’t get any fainter. If anything, it gets worse. It’s just hanging there in the air around him, and, yeah, he’s awake now, but he wants to vomit too and there’s no rest stop in sight. He rolls the window down and that does nothing, turns the AC to max and it’s just pumping more of this god awful putrid stench out through the vents. The air isn’t even getting any cooler. That’s when he realizes where the smell is coming from.”

“Let me guess: it’s coming from inside the truck.”

“Close. It’s coming from the trailer. It’s floating out of the trailer and through the window in the back of the cab, which is closed tight, by the way, and it’s gathering around him, lingering there in his nose, on his shirt, his arms, his lips. He doesn’t even want to open his mouth, because he knows he’d taste the stink. At this point, all he wants to do is pull over and open up the trailer and just let that motherfucker air out, but he’s driving through one quaint Midwestern town after another. All these corn fields and farm houses and old style main streets with barber poles and hardware stores. This is Middle America we’re talking about: the Heartland. He doesn’t dare stop there at night. He may be on 100 milligrams of Zoloft daily, but he’s not suicidal.”

“So he just keeps driving like that?”

“Yeah, he just keeps going. Doesn’t matter that he’s nearly suffocating. He’s ruled out stopping, so there’s nothing else to do. He turns his music up, hoping to drown out one sense by overstimulating another. And it starts to work. It starts to work because that’s how our brains are; we like to think that we take everything in and, like, synthesize it, throw all of these different stimuli together, weigh them carefully, piece them together, and then reality rolls off the assembly line on the other end, all clean and cohesive and ready to purr. And, sure, that happens when all of the details, the parts, when they actually fit together. When you’re watching a Christopher Nolan movie and that Hans Zimmer score kicks in, and you’re feeling the music reverberate and watching the whirligigs in the great plot machine revolve and it all becomes one big, beautiful acrobatics routine, spinning plates on top of spinning plates, and for a moment that smirking secular humanist in your brain starts to contemplate the possibility of intelligent design—yes, sure, then your mind is a marvel. But most of the time it’s just straight out ignoring as many conflicting sources of stimuli as it can get away with in order to convince you that shit makes sense, that shit even can make sense, that it’s possible to input shit and output sense. Anyway, it turns out that it’s really hard for our brains to square the sound of ‘Hanginaround’ by Counting Crows and the smell of a rotting gorilla carcass, and Counting Crows won the day. It was a blowout victory too. Soon he’s singing along with these melancholic songs about the receding American Dream, all of them carefully calibrated to chart on the Billboard 200, and his nose might as well have been left behind on that increasingly blurry double yellow line that’s disappearing into the horizon behind him.”

“But then he feels a big hairy hand on his shoulder and he turns and he’s face to face with Harambe himself, and before he can even process what’s going on, the great ape turns away and shows him the gaping bullet wound in the back of its head and suddenly he’s driving into the darkness at the center of that hole, driving the whole semi through it like it’s the mouth of a tunnel, like it’s the mouth of madness, and then he’s inside that infinite, endless blackness and he realizes that this is everything, that the universe is Harambe, and that Harambe is the universe?”

“No, come on, think about this: if my friend was swallowed up by an unending void that exists inside the fractured skull of a dead gorilla, how would he have told me this story, so I could tell it to you? How are you supposed to believe that?”

“Well, you could totally abandon the pretense that you are telling me a true story about how your friend had an encounter with the disembodied soul of an internet meme.”

“Not a chance. It’s like Biggie said: ‘There’s rules to this shit.’”

“Wasn’t he talking about selling crack cocaine?”

“He was. So, anyway, he’s about halfway through This Desert Life, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, maybe driving a little faster now, when he realizes he’s hearing an instrument he’s never heard in this particular song before. He takes it in for a minute, trying to figure out exactly what it is. He was a music composition major for two semesters before he switched to business, so he knows this shit. He determines it’s definitely percussion. The sound is hollow, kind of bongo-esque, but there’s a little too much rattle for it to be a drum. For a few seconds he’s sure it’s a mouth harp, but there’s not enough twang. There’s something about it that he can’t quite wrap his head around. It sounds empty. Like knocking on the door of an abandoned house. You know, one of those rotting Florida McMansions after the subprime mortgage bubble burst where the owner cleared all their possessions out and just left it for the bank to repossess, and then some meth head came in after them and stripped out all the copper wire from the walls and even took the faucet and the knobs off the island in the kitchen: just totally vacant, bare.  He’s stumped, so he turns the music up, but the instrument doesn’t get any louder. It just lingers in the background of the track at exactly the same volume. So he turns the knob on the dashboard stereo in the opposite direction and, sure enough, the music gets softer but that one particular instrument doesn’t. So he grabs his phone off its stand and hits the pause button: the music stops, but our percussionist keeps playing.”

“It’s the sound of a gorilla pounding on his chest, isn’t it?”

“It is. But you guessed that because I told you this was a Harambe ghost story. He only figured it out like a week later when he was going through youtube videos of zoo animal noises, hoping to match one of them to what he heard. At the time he was absolutely clueless. He just knew it wasn’t him, and it wasn’t the music, because it was off, and it wasn’t the sound of the night wind blowing through the soybean fields. In the moment maybe it didn’t even matter to him what the sound was. When you have a phantom musician riding shotgun, playing the bones (playing his bones), you probably don’t want to know exactly what you’re hearing. You could argue that understanding is the end of horror, and, hell, that’s probably true, but between those two points there’s a pit and if you try to clear that pit in one jump and you don’t stick the landing on the other side, if leave the relative safety of dumbfounded fear and it turns out that the distance to relieved comprehension was a little farther than you anticipated, or maybe there was no other side at all, that this is actually the edge of the world and not, as you were told in school, the curvature of the definitely round Earth, not just the horizon, and you fall … Well, he hit the gas. That’s what I’m trying to say. Pedal, metal. And—”

“Wait, wait. I got this: And soon he’s going 85 miles per hour, then 95, then he watches that plastic needle creep into triple digits. His CDL is on the line, and he does not give a fuck. He’s thinking, ‘Hey, maybe if I break the sound barrier I can outrun this noise, leave this musical motherfucker in the dust.’ But he doesn’t know that physical laws, by definition, do not apply to supernatural beings. So the faster he goes, the faster the beat gets. And the tempo just keeps increasing and increasing. He’s only making it worse, but he’s picked flight over fight and he’s fully committed, so he forces that gas pedal to the floor and for the first time in his life he finds out what 120 miles per hours feels like outside of the aisle seat on a commercial jet. And that’s when he sees it, a green blur in the distance, coming up fast, the gates of heaven in reflective aluminum: an exit sign, his exit sign. Columbus. He is so overwhelmed, so full of joy and relief, that it takes him a second before he sees it crossing the highway. That moment of confidence, that wonderful home-free feeling, costs him the second he needs to pull the emergency brake, the emergency brake that could have stopped the truck in time, could have prevented a certain collision with it: the massive, all-black figure that has lumbered into the street in front of him, the 6 foot tall shadow with an 8 foot arm span that would have weighed 450 pounds if it had had any weight at all, the knuckle-dragging nightmare that swallows all the light from his high beams, that has no eyes to mimic human understanding, the terrible, undoubtedly vengeful wraith of an adult male Western lowland gorilla. With this monster before him and no time to brake, he does the one thing he should not do, the thing that every defensive driving class teaches you not to do in a situation like this. (Not that they teach you about situations like this.) He swerves.

“He swerves and of course the tractor trailer immediately jackknifes and that’s it: he knows he’s dead. And the last thing he sees before he feels the steering column collapse his ribcage is the grill of the truck passing effortlessly through the gorilla, penetrating those 450 weightless pounds like nothing, and that big, black simian face with no eyes coming for the windshield.”

“Jesus, no. That’s not it at all. He drove a little faster, but he’s a trained professional, so he didn’t lose his head completely. He kept to safe speed, not that any speed is truly safe when you’ve been driving for twelve hours on the interstate, two of them in the company of a revenant ape, and made it to the depot in Columbus, which was only thirty or forty minutes away at this point, physically intact. No visions, no manifestations, no accidents. He pulls his truck up right alongside dozens of others in the big parking lot, safely behind that chain link fence topped with razor wire, and kills the ignition. He listens and he hears nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. He might have heard a distant car alarm or the rattle of deposit bottles at the bottom of a shopping cart or some other bit of urban ambient noise. But he did not hear anything otherworldly. He climbed out of the cab and the ground was still there, and still covered in asphalt and stained with grease and pooling oil that hadn’t been disposed of according to EPA regulations. The Earth was still firm, and still gross.”

“Is that all? I’m not going to lie; I’m feeling pretty cheated right now.”

“Did I say I was done? Because I’m not, not quite anyway. You see, it’s his responsibility to hose down the trailer. It’s right there in his job description, just like one of those passive-aggressive signs at national parks: leave it like you found it. So even though it’s nearly dawn now, and he’s been driving for hours and hours and is still recovering from a glimpse of what awaits all of us after death, he wants to remain employed, so he unwinds the hose that’s hanging from the fence at the edge of the parking lot and drags it back to the truck, then he realizes he didn’t turn it on, so he has to walk all the way back to the spigot and grapple with the rusty knob on the top of the faucet and then retrace his steps to the back of the truck, where the hose is draining into the blacktop, washing chemical runoff onto his shoes. He picks it up and lifts the latch on the trailer door and it opens and he’s about to turn the hose in there when he remembers all the weird shit that just happened to him and here he is looking in there, into the nexus of what-the-fuck-ever-it-was, and it might be worthwhile to poke around a little bit before he washes the whole awful night into the storm drain. He remembers that he downloaded a flashlight app for his phone, so he takes it out and turns it on and shines it around. And then he sees it, a little heap, in the far corner of the trailer, right on the other side of the wall from the driver’s seat. So he walks back there, a little cautiously I’m sure, and he gets down on his knees and shines his light on it to get a good look―”

“And? What was it? A gorilla skull with a single bullet rattling around inside?  The bloodied corpse of a toddler with a massive palm print on his neck? His fiancé’s still-beating heart, covered in black fur? What did he find?”

“Four banana peels and a pair of boy’s underpants.”

 

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