Tarzana sat up in the highest branch of the tree, staring out at the jungle that had been her home for so many years. She could never imagine a life any different. Clinging to the vine, she heard the soft rustling of her mother, Kala, behind her.
"Why didn't you tell me there were creatures who look like me?"
It had happened like this.
Years and years ago, a ship carrying several passengers was set ablaze by lightening in the midst of a storm. Many of those aborad had been killed, except for one man, his wife and their baby daughter. They had been able to get to one of the lifeboats in time and that had brought them straight to the shores of Africa. Determined to survive, the man and woman had constructed a treehouse from the wood of the boat and whatever else they could lay their hands on. However, unknown to them, the wicked leopard Sabor, who had a taste for humans and apes alike, set her sights on the unsuspecting family. The pair of them had fought bravely, but had been killed. The baby had survived, hidden away in her make-shift cradle. That same night, Sabor had killed a tiny baby ape, belonging to Kala and her mate, the silverback Kerchak. Kala had been so deeply cut by their child's passing that when she had heard the baby girl crying in the treehouse, she had followed it and found the child. But Sabor had also heard the baby crying and returned to kill it. It had taken all of Kala's strength to save both herself and the child from Sabor. She had taken the baby back to the family and raised her under the name Tarzana. But one person was reluctant to accept her into the group; Kerchak. He had a distrust for anything different and, to him, Tarzana was just too different. The fact that, at a young age, she had almost killed the family by upsetting a herd of elephants and causing them to stampede had done little to get her into his good books. In time, she had learned the ways of the jungle, with help from her friends Terk and Tantor. But it wasn't until Sabor had tried to attack the family that she had finally been accepted by Kerchak. How brave she had been then, with a spear as her only weapon whilst sabor tried to slash her and bite her until at last Tarzana had killed the leopard, much to Kerchak's amazement.
And now, something else was happening in the jungle. There were people who looked like her there. She had happened upon a group of three of them and been able to observe them from afar. The first she had seen was a woman, tall, strapping, more like a man than a woman; dressed in funny long clothing that separated both her legs like a loincloth and weilding a strange stick that was grey in colour and made a terrific bang noise. Her hair was black and her eyes were somewhat noble but frightening. The second was a small man, older with white hair and a somewhat bumbling attitude. But his eyes had been wise and friendly and she had felt trust in him. The last had been a man unlike any she had ever seen; not that there had been many. But he seemed pleasant and kind, although a little scatterbrained and very interested in the jungle, well, he and his father (for that was who she now knew the other man to be) had come to "study" the gorillas, apparently. She didn't know what the word "study" meant but she felt that it must be something good. Unlike the woman with the gun, who seemed more intent on banging her stick at any noise that she heard. The younger man had stayed behind to sketch Manu, the baby baboon, who had then run off with his papers and brought some of the more vicious members of his family running. They had attacked the young man but Tarzana had rescued him in a thrilling chase through the trees that ended with the baboons all falling to the forest floor and Tarzana and the man up in the safety of a nearby tree.
She could remember even now how he had babbled in some srange language that she didn't recognise. In her curiousty, she had examined him, physically, touching his limbs, his face, his chest, his...well, for some reason he had never let her hands get that far! And then she had noticed how alike his hand was to hers; she had pressed hers to his and they had both stared at the almost perfect symmetry of their hands. And then he had looked into her eyes with his deep blue ones and she had felt a sense of mutual understanding with him, even though his next lot of speech had sounded like gibberish. She had leaned against his chest, heard his heartbeat, tried to get him to hear hers but he had pulled away at once, looking startled and flustered.
"No, no, really! This is most unorthodox! My word, look at the state of me! What must you think?"
He had started to wipe the rain from his face and tidy his clothing. She tried to copy his words; although they had felt strange on her tongue.
"What must you think."
"I don't know, really, I mean I almost-" he broke off and looked at her. "You...you do speak? I thought...that is...so you're clearly not some savage wild woman, well, not savage, I mean-"
She had placed her hand on his mouth, silencing him. "Tarzana," she had said, pointing to herself. He stared at her in confusion. She tried to make him understand again. "Tarzana!"
"Oh, I see!"
"Oh I see?" She indicated herself. "Tarzana." She pointed to him. "Oh I see!"
He understood at last. "No, no, no; I'm John."
"No, no, no; I'm John."
"No, look," he pointed to himself. "John."
"Exactly." He nodded and she understood.
A terrific bang had brought him back to his senses and she was able to understand that he wanted to go in the direction of the sound. So she had taken him; and he had caught a glimpse of her communicating with Terk and Tantor and she had caught a glimpse of his father and the woman with the stick again before the other gorillas and Tantor had ushered her away...
Kala sighed. "I'm sorry, Tarzana, but I didn't think I would ever need to. There were no others around when...when you were born."
Tarzana pondered it all night. Something about that John had touched her inside and she longed to see him again. It was just after the sun had come up that she made up her mind. Kerchak had told her to stay away from the humans but she didn't care.
She found her way easily back to their camp. Professor Porter and John alike seemed pleased and astonished to see her. But the woman, whose name was Clayta, seemed frosty and hostile and kept showing her pictures of gorillas, which she couldn't understand her reason for. The Professor, on the other hand, with help from his son, showed her the wonders of the world, all of his studies (the word he explained to her later when she began to speak English was a term for oberving a species closely and finding out all about that species from the observations) and all sorts of things about countried and places and things that she never knew existed. John began to teach her how to readna dn to speak their language until she was almost completely fluent. The days flew by and with each one, she discovered something new and exciting. In return, she showed John so many beautiful things in Africa; views and birds and animals that he could sketch and she taught him to swing properly on a vine. It wasn't long before she realised just how much she wanted John, and the Professor too, to stay with her in the jungle.
One day, when she came to the camp, some other men were packing up the camp. John and the Professor were arguing with a man in a flat hat and as Tarzana approached, she overheard their conversation.
"The boat leaves now; we can't afford any delays!"
"But we haven't seen a single gorilla yet!"
"All this way for nothing..!"
"Look!" The man in that hat snapped. "I don't make the rules. The boat's going to leave whether you lot are on it or not!"
"What's going on?" Tarzana asked as the man strode away. John turned to her and breathed a sigh of relief. "Tarzana, I was worried you weren't going to show up. The boat's arrived to take us back to England and, well, Father and I were wondering, well, I was wondering, we both were wondering if you'd come with us?"
"And return tomorrow?"
"Oh. No, no, Tarzana, it'll be very hard to come back, well, ever."
"But-!" Tarzana grabbed his hands. "Please stay here! With Tarzana!"
"I-" John got unsteadily to his feet. "I can't. I'm sorry."
He walked very quickly away from her. Tarzana sat back on her heels, watching him go. Her heart began to beat faster; no! No, she had to stop him from leaving! She was getting to her feet when she bumped into Clayta.
"Wait, wait, Tarzana; dear, dear, you look anxious abotu something. Here, take this." She handed Tarzana a glass of wine and took a glass herself. "So, what is it? Are you sad because we're leaving?"
She nodded. "Because John can't stay with Tarzana."
"Only one thing could make him stay. If he could only see the gorillas."
Tarzana, in the past, whenever they had asked her to take them to the gorillas, had always declined because she knew that Kerchak would be angy. But if this was the only way to make John stay...
"No! No! No!" Terk shook her head. "It's a bad idea!"
"Please, Terk!" Tarzana begged. "All you have to do is distract Kerchak and lead him away from the family."
"And for what? Those hairless creeps?"
"They are not hairless creeps, Terk; they're not that different to us!"
"Aw! Isn't it romantic?" Tantor sighed. "Our Tarzana's in love!"
Tarzana flushed but she didn't deny it. "Come on, Terk, I trust you."
Terk sighed. "Oh, fine, fine!"
So it was arranged that Terk and Tantor would borrow a few bits and bobs from the camp to give themselves the appearence of humans. The second Kerchak saw them, he let out a roar and gave chase. Tarzana, meanwhile, led her friends to the gorilla teritory. Kala, and some of the others at first, were terrifyed of the humans, but slowly they came up, curiously and interacted with them in their own ways.
"Most interesting!" the Professor declared as a gorilla began to groom him. "John, look, they're initiating me into their daily grooming ritual! Clayta, look!"
"Very interesting, Professor," said Clayta, who was busy making a map of the layout on a piece of paper.
John watched Tarzana playing with some baby gorillas and spekaing to them in their language. "Can you teach me?" he asked, presently.
"To speak gorilla?"
At once the baby gorillas began to chatter and jump all around John excitedly. He looked at Tarzana. "What on earth did I say?"
"You stay. With Tarzana."
"What? No, look, Tarzana, I thought we'd been through this. I can't-"
But suddenly Kerchak came crashing through the undergrowth, chasing Terk and Tantor. Tarzana leapt to her feet as the gorillas began to scatter. Kerchak turned to John, who was nearest, but Tarzana leapt on him and held him back. "Go!" she shouted. "Go, John, Professor, go!"
They ran for it. John looked back only once. His eyes met hers...
Kerchack, breathing heavily, shook Tarzana off with an angry growl. "I told you to stay away from them and you brought them here! You betrayed us all!"
Kerchak gave a mighty roar that silenced her and caused everyone else to cower in fear, even Tantor. "You have a choice to make, Tarzana! Either stay with us or go with them; decide it by tonight!"
Kala was crying as she sat outside the treehouse that Tarzana's human parents had once built. Tarzana explored it in silence, touching things here and there that she must have touched once but couldn't remember. Finally, she took one of the dresses from the floor and put it on. Her decision was made. She bade a tearful goodbye to Kala, with the reassurance that they would never forget one another and left, hiding her own tears...
"You'll like England," John reassured her. "People from all walks of life will want to meet you."
"Yes, yes," the Professor agreed, cheerily. "Why, I daresay even the Queen will want to meet you."
Tarzana looked back at the jungle for what she felt would be the last time before she scaled the ladder. A ghastly sight met her eyes. The deck was filled with cages; the crew had been tied up and some men were wrestling the Professor and John down into the hold of the boat. "Tarzana!" John cried.
"John!" Tarzana ran forwards, fighting off men, left and right but they were too strong for her and outnumbered her. As they caught her, a voice said "What's going on here? Ah, Tarzana!"
"Clayta! Help us!"
Clayta smiled grimly. "These cages are for your furry friends. They'll be worth a fortune once we get them back to England!"
Her shout was so loud that Tantor and Terk heard it back on the shore. They came charging through the water to the rescue. With an elephant and a gorilla on their side, fighting off Clayta's men was easy; but some of them still got away, Clayta included. "Hurry!" Tarzana cried, running to the side of the deck. "They'll hurt the family!"
Kerchak was the first to detect their arrival. He stood strong but a cage landed on him, trapping him. The gorilla teritory was in uproar when Tarzana suddenly leapt into view and freed Kerchak. "You came back," he said, in amazement.
"I came home," she replied.
It was the most terrific battle the jungle had ever seen, with the Professor riding Tantor and shouting "Charge!" at every oppertunity, Terk scaring some of the ment into a cage by pretending to be rabid and John freeing Kala from her cage after knocking out her captors, with Tarzana's help. Clayta growled. "I've had just about enough of you, wretch!" she said aiming her gun.
Kerchack ran forwards
There was a BANG!
With a howl of rage, Tarzan threw herself at Clayta, knocking the gune from her hands and smashing it into pieces. Angrily, Clayta drew her knife and slashed at Tarzana, catching her arm. They battled it out through the trees; Tarzana threw vines at Clayta to hold her back. Clayta began to slash through the vines with her knife, not realising that one was around her neck. Tarzana saw it. "Clayta, don't!"
But her cry came too late
On the ground, the gorillas gathered around Kerchak's body. Tarzana ran to his side. "Forgive me," she wept.
"No, forgive me," he murmured. "I should have realised all along that you are a part of this family. They will look to you now."
"No, Kerchak, no..."
"Take care of them, my daughter."
So saying, Kerchak slipped away in her arms...
On the shoreline, a small rowboat awaited the Professor and John. The Professor admitted that he was sorry to have to leave such a fascanating country and especially Terk and Tantor, whom he had grown rather fond of. John hesitated on the sand, facing Tarzana. "I'll miss you," he admitted. "So much."
"I'll miss you too." Tarzana took his hand and pressed her palm to his, in the same way she had done when they first met. John hesitated and then walked away from her. Tarzana watched him go, knowing that nothing she could say or do would stop from from leaving her.
"Goodbye, Tarzana!" called the Professor from the boat. "You know, son, I'm going to miss that girl."
"So am I." John took a deep breath and began to put on his travelling gloves, just for want of something to do. His father watched him. "You know, son, I can't help feeling that you should stay."
"Father, I can't. I belong in England with you and people and..."
The wind caught his glove before he could even put it on. It floated back to Tarzana on the beach. She picked it up. Their eyes met. John sighed.
"But you love her," his father reminded him.
That was all the encouragement that John needed. He hugged his father goodbye and then jumped from the boat, striding through the water as fast as he could. Tarzana waited until he was right in front of her and then leapt on him, knocking him down, John laughed, grabbed her to kiss her and then realised what he was doing and let go of her. "Um...yes...sorry..."
Tarzana kissed him back.
"What am I doing?" the Professor asked himself, suddenly. "Captain, tell them you never found us. After all, people get lost in the jungle every day, don't they?"
And he swam back to join his son.
The family were ready to accept John and the Professor into the family without a second thought, just as they had been ready to accept Tarzana as the new leader of the family. Alright, so it was unorthodox for a female to lead a group of gorillas, but no one ever challenged otherwise. The humans moved into the treehouse that Tarzana's parents had built. Terk and Tantor became assistants to the Professor, who always found plenty of things to study in the jungle. And most of all, Tarzana, alongside her husband John Porter, became known throughout the animal kingdom as the Queen of the Jungle.
Picture by xavierhaven