Professor Elvin Gadd was not of this world. His students certainly believed that. The quirky 57 year old, standing tall at just under 5 feet, with a tuft of reddish brown hair, was in the middle of a discourse on Griffith’s Many Interacting Worlds theory with his Quantum Physics students at NYU, when he noticed he no longer held their attention.
“I see,” he said. “I see that you are not interested in the quantum phenomena that arise when there is a universal force of repulsion between nearby worlds.” He climbed up on top of his desk, an especially awkward task due to his prosthetic leg. Now he had their attention. “How is that not interesting to you? How is the idea of multiple worlds influencing each other for better or worse not interesting? I just...I can’t understand it. Unless this is all just numbers and textbook jargon to you - information to be memorized just so you can pass exams.”
He bent over, picked up his venti sized Starbucks cup, took a sip, and spilled a dribble of coffee on his chin and ‘I Heart Math and Coffee’ shirt. “Oh, for crying out loud!” he mumbled under his breath as he patted his shirt dry. “How come you only pay attention when I stand on tables or take out my glass eye?” he asked before continuing his original train of thought.
“Now, before we go on with Griffith’s theory,” he said, “I think it’s important that we take a moment to stop and ask ourselves why we are in this class. What drew us here in the first place? Are you like me and just love math? Or was it a show or a science fiction book that first birthed an interest in the possibilities of quantum physics? Let’s talk about that. Let’s re-awaken that old love. Because if the love of physics dies, physics dies! Go on now. Somebody raise your hand.”
One student lifted her hand. “Yes, Daisy?”
“For me,” said Daisy, “it wasn’t a show or a book or anything like that. I had no choice.”
A couple students chuckled. One said, “Same here!”
Professor Gadd sighed. “Daisy, of all the students here, I cannot believe your parents coaxed you into taking this class.” He was referring to her age. Daisy was in her mid-thirties.
“No,” said Daisy, “my parents did not coax me. I have no choice because I cannot believe that this is all there is. This world. This life. My conscience won’t let me believe it. I am constantly bothered by the question of what is the purpose of the sense of wonder if nothing ultimately satisfies?
“But the stuff we’re talking about today,” Daisy continued, “MIW theory, the idea of a multiverse, and so on - hints at the idea that there just might be something more. Maybe Wonder has been pointing us towards that otherness all our lives.”
Gadd studied her, thoughtfully.
“Sheesh, chica! Why so intense?” asked a student. “You’ll never get a guy like that - no matter how hot your body is.”
Daisy gave him a death stare.
“Aaah!” exclaimed the student. “Case in point! I feel like you’re gonna burn holes in my head with that look.” Her stare only intensified. “You’re scaring me to death! Seriously. Stop looking at me. Professor, help!”
“Can you stay after class for a minute, Daisy? Do you mind?” asked the professor.
Snickering on the opposite side of the room distracted Gadd. A student obviously found something on his phone amusing.
“What’s so funny, Julio?” asked the professor.
“Nothing. It’s stupid.” replied the student.
“No, please. Share it with the class. What’s so stupid?”
“It’s just Donkey Kong. They got him to say, ‘it’s Wednesday my dudes.’”
“What’s Donkey Kong?”
“You know,” said Julio. “Kong. The ape that was loose in Manhattan a few months ago? I guess they call him Donkey Kong now for some reason.”
“What do you mean they got him to say that?”
“I don’t know. The people at the zoo taught him, I guess. All morning people have been sharing videos of him talking. Wanna see?”
This actually did sound interesting to Gadd, but for reasons the class could not guess. The professor climbed down from the desk. Julio met him halfway to show him the video. A couple other students came behind to look at the phone. The video showed an ape surrounded by trees. A female voice, probably the one filming, said, “go ahead, say it.” The ape hit its chest once and grunted out slowly, “It’s Wednesday, my dudes.” The ape contorted it’s face in an effort to pronounce each foreign syllable. The woman filming laughed and tossed a banana to the ape. That was the end of the video.
“You said he was loose in the city? When? Where did he come from? Where is he now?” asked Professor Gadd.
“How have you not heard of it?” asked a student. “It had to have made world news a few months ago.”
“I don’t have a TV or a smart phone. Where did it come from?”
“I don't think anyone knows.” answered another student. “They say they’re not even sure what species of gorilla it is.”
“The people at the Bronx Zoo. That’s where they keep him.” said Julio.
“Daisy,” said the Professor, “take over leading the discussion on what first interested everyone in quantum physics. I have to go.” He handed the phone back over to Julio, retrieved his leather bag from behind the desk, and left in a hurry.
“You’ve got to let me in! It’s a matter of utmost scientific importance!” Elvin Gadd was disputing with the lady at the ticket booth at the Bronx Zoo.
“I’m sorry but if you do not have a special invitation, you’re going to have to pay for admission,” said the lady.
“But I don’t need a full day pass! I just need to see the Kong exhibit!”
“Sir, do you see the long line behind you? Just about all of them are here just to see Kong.”
“Oh, for crying out loud! How much is admission?”
“Fine. Fine. Whatever.” Gadd fumbled for his wallet and handed the whole thing to the ticket woman. “Take all my money.”
“I don’t need all your money, sir.” She said, not even touching the wallet. “I just need $22.95.”
“Ok. Here. Here. Here. Will you run the card already!?”
Ten minutes later, Gadd was in the glass enclosure of the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit. There was such a crowd of people that he could hardly push through. As soon as he reached the plexiglass, he could see Donkey Kong. There was no mistaking him. Unlike the other gorillas who were dark in color, Kong had a light brown coat - similar to an orangutan. Donkey Kong was laying on his back with his feet above his head, resting against a large log.
People in the crowd were asking a zookeeper more questions than he could answer.
“How come he’s not moving?” “Can you make him talk?” “Where those videos real or just a publicity stunt for Dr. Keye’s campaign?” “Why is he called Donkey Kong now?” “Did you ever find out where he came from?”
The zookeeper did his best to answer. “Yes, those videos were real. And yes, Donkey Kong can say words. However, he seems to have a special liking to Dr. Keyes and cooperates much better with her. None of us have been able to get him to talk. And Dr. Keyes is not here today. As far as why he’s not moving, well, he is a gorilla and gorillas rest for about a third of the day. What were your other questions?”
Gadd could hardly unfix his eyes. How did that thing get here? Oh, but he knew, alright. “The king is going to kill me.” Gadd said under his breath. He reached into his leather bag and retrieved a sandwich baggy containing a mushroom. Just then Kong’s eyes shifted to the professor. They made eye contact. Gadd froze. Kong rolled over onto his arms and legs and charged the glass, stopping just inches before hitting it. The people inside all jumped back in surprise. Donkey Kong put his face up to the glass. It was now obvious to everyone that it was staring into Gadd’s eyes.
The gorilla roared the unmistakable sound of the word NO and hit the plexiglass hard enough to make everyone jump again. Kong turned abruptly and ran off, out of view of those in the chamber. Some pressed their faces to the glass to see where the ape was going. Others bombarded the zookeeper with questions about what just happened. Some tried to ask Gadd what he did that upset Kong but he was already pushing his way out of the observatory in too much of a rush to answer questions.
As soon as the professor exited the building he scanned the surrounding woods, knowing this ape could have escaped any time it wanted to, and assuming it wanted to now. That ape knew the professor. But not from this world. And it apparently didn’t appreciate being recognized.
Unfortunately, foliage blocked any site of the gorilla exhibit so Gadd would not be able to see the intelligent creature’s means of escape. Was there a ravine blocking the guest area from the Congo Gorilla Forest? If so, Kong could easily drag a fallen tree across the chasm and use it as a bridge. That ape was smarter than most humans. But not smarter than Gadd.
Suddenly there was a sound of crunching foliage and Donkey Kong burst over the railing onto the guest walking area, terrifying the nearby guests. Kong panicked again at the sight of Gadd and ran the opposite direction. Again, the professor pulled the mushroom from his bag but before he could open the baggie, a running guest (who must have been looking behind her at Kong) slammed into him, causing both of them to tumble over each other to the ground.
Gadd scrambled to get up and find the mushroom. The woman was apologizing as she got up. She was exceptionally attractive with platinum blonde hair and wearing a pale aqua-colored dress. But never mind that. Where was the mushroom? Convinced it could not immediately be found, he chose instead to run toward the sounds of screaming. He mustn’t lose that ape!
I called Mario this morning. But only to tell him I slipped in the shower and had to get staples put in my head - and therefore wouldn't be coming to work. I figured that since he’s down half a crew without me there, I’d better not distract him with the other details. If I told him about the temporary fire power, he’d want to check out my burnt bathroom and maybe even go back into the sewers, looking for that creature. And if I told him that I went to see Pauline - well, I don’t know how he’d react to that. I hadn’t yet decided if I even wanted to bring it up at dinner. Speaking of dinner, he asked if I had a date. When he heard I did not, he said he’d cancel will Melinda - a client we met a couple years ago. I swore it wouldn't be a big deal. Go ahead and bring her, I insisted. But his insistence always trumped mine.
Amazingly, Mario finished the day’s work and was able to meet me at Delvecio’s in time to make our 5 o’clock reservation. I guess Delvecio didn’t want his non-paying guests taking up space during busy hours. I admit it was a little awkward walking into such a romantic restaurant with only my brother. To make matters worse, there were candles on the table and the waiter who took our drink order sang opera over us.
“Luigi?” asked Mario.
“Will you marry me?”
“I know, right? Isn’t there a tax credit for something like that?”
“I don’t know. I think so.”
“Why are we still single, Mario? Half the people we went to highschool with have kids of their own in highschool now. It’s kinda depressing.”
“Hey now,” said Mario, “I’m only recently and temporarily single. And besides, I’m giving Scarlett Johannson time to discover all of this…” He circled his hand over his face and chest as if indicating he was the total package. “As soon as she does, my single days will be over. You, on the other hand never let me set you up with anyone. Remember when I tried to set you up with Daisy Dayflower? She was super cute, don’t you think?”
“She was cute.” I admitted.
“So why didn’t you go for it?”
“I’m my own man, Mario. I don’t need other people setting me up. And to be honest, I had feelings for someone else at the time.”
“You did? Who?”
“It doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t have worked out anyhow.” I had to change the subject quickly. “So you know how people tend to go through a midlife crisis when they’re….”
“In the middle of their life?” Mario offered.
“Yeah. Well, I never thought it would happen to me. And I certainly didn’t expect it to hit like a ton of bricks the day I became middle-aged. What’s up with that!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Mario. “You want a Corvette?”
“No, I don’t want a Corvette. Well, I do want a Corvette. But that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“What are you talking about?”
“If I die today,” I said, “who’s it going to matter to?”
“It’s going to matter the world to me! Why are you talking like that?”
“Sure, a couple people will mourn my passing. But they’ll get over it and life will go on. Well, mine won’t obviously.”
“What happened that brought those feelings on?” asked Mario.
“40 years of life happened. And then I added up those 40 years to see what they amounted to and….”. I puffed my cheeks and slowly breathed out.
“I don’t know how else I can put it,” said Mario, “but you matter a great deal to a great number of people. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying your feelings. We get emotional sometimes. And I know the emotions are real. And they can be painful. But you do matter. For whatever it’s worth, tell me how I can do better at making you feel appreciated.”
“I know you appreciate me,” I said. “Too much most of the time. Actually a little space would be nice once in a while.”
Mario looked a little hurt by that. So I corrected. “Not right now though.” I said. “Because there is something I’d like your help with.” That was the key word. Mario couldn’t resist an opportunity to help. “We need to find that turtle from the sewers. Or at least where it came from.”
Mario looked at me with a question in his eyes.
“Something happened to me yesterday that I need to tell you about.”
“How long are we going to pretend that our local mobsters are legitimate business men?”
Dr. Pauline Keyes, appropriately clad in a red power suit, stood behind a lectern in front of several hundred of the city’s politically curios, with enough confidence to put fear into her opposition. Her passion reverberated through the crowd who responded with equal emotion, whooping, hollering, cheering, demanding justice.
“Is it because we don’t have enough evidence of illegal activity? If so, why not? Why hasn’t a serious investigation into these crime syndicates been a priority of our administration? I promise you, it is a priority of mine! And I’m not afraid to name names. If I am elected mayor, Delvecio is going down. Cho is going down. The Scaramouche family is going down.”
The crowd went wild.
Amanda Roth, Pauline’s personal assistant, approached the podium and spoke a few urgent words to her. Pauline immediately exited the stage, joining a waiting police officer. Mrs. Roth approached the podium and addressed the crowd.
“While Dr. Keyes is not mayor yet, the city of New York needs her and requires her immediate assistance.” Roth said. “You’ll have to excuse her as she will not be able to continue todays speech. But don’t forget, your can learn about her policies and find her speaking schedule at votekeyes.com. And come voting time, do the right thing. Thank you. Good night.”
“I don’t get it.” said Mario. “What’s the punchline?”
“What’s the punchline?! I’m serious!” I said.
“I don’t know.”
“You saw the fire in the sewer.”
“Can you shoot fire now?”
“No. Like I said, it wore off in less than an hour. If you really don’t believe me, check out my bathroom. Check out the burnt garbage cans behind my apartment.”
“This is pretty amazing.”
“So you do believe me?”
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s kinda hard to swallow. But I know that if you’re telling me it’s true, then it’s true. So, you think that somewhere in the sewers we might find clues as to where that turtle and the fire flowers came from?”
“That’s my hope.” I said.
“Well, count me in, brother. I wanna try one!”
Just then the waitress came with our food. It was not the same person who took our order. This was a young woman with platinum blonde hair. She handed me a plate of lasagna while Mario got the strangozzi al tartufo nero - some sort of pasta with truffle - something neither of us would be able to afford if we were paying. Neither of us had ever even seen truffles before but we certainly didn’t think they’d look like this. Sitting on top of the mountain of pasta was a single white mushroom about as large as an apple with red spots. Both dishes smelled amazing.
“So that’s a truffle, huh?” I said after the pretty waitress left.
“I guess so.” Mario cut the mushroom and rolled it with the pasta, eager to try the pricey dish.
The police car escorting Pauline pulled passed the barricades onto Southern Blvd, one of the roads that ran alongside the zoo. Donkey Kong was reportedly still on zoo property. They said he was in the woods near the intersection of Southern Blvd. and East Fordham, close to the fence that separated the zoo property from the city. Because of this, both large roads had to be shut down until Kong could be recaptured.
Pauline exited the car at the intersection and approached her associate Dr. Charles Irvine who was standing with two police officers, staring past the fence into the woods. Irvine was carrying a tranquilizer gun.
“Talk to me Charlie.” said Pauline. “How’d he escape?”
“We’re still looking into the how,” said Irvine, “but we know the why. A guest severely agitated him. And after he escaped, he continued to agitate him. Security has the guest locked down in the clinic until the cops can question him.”
“What do we know about this guy?” asked Pauline.
“He claims to be a physics professor at NYU and says he has experience with this species of gorilla. But what in the world does a physics professor in New York have to do with a rare gorilla species?”
“Sounds fishy. How are the guests?
“All accounted for. Safely locked down in all the buildings.”
“So Kong is in there?” Pauline pointed to the woods.
“Yeah,” replied Irvine, “Mike and William are following him with tranqs. But he’s smart. He keeps his distance, stays on the move, and keeps trees between him and the guys. The plan is: the guys corner him here at the fence. If you can talk to him when he gets here, maybe he’ll be still long enough to tranq him.”
Zoo security frisked Elvin Gadd and rummaged through his satchel before locking him in the clinic. Not seeing anything suspicious, they let him keep his belongings. Sure, they questioned him about the strange, encapsulated luminescent flower - but only on account of its uniqueness and not because they thought it could be weaponized. Gadd made up a Latin-sounding name for the flower and said he grew it from seed at his work and was just taking it home today to plant in his garden.
Now that he was alone, It was that very flower he was about to weaponize. He removed the plastic, blue capsule from his bag. It was actually a children's portable toothbrush carrier with small holes in the top. He unscrewed the upper half of the capsule, revealing the glowing flower that was planted into the dirt in the lower half of the capsule. He crushed the flower in his hand and then tossed the whole thing in a waste basket. These biological enhancers did not have nearly the same effect on him as they would on a full-blooded Earthborn.
He took a piece of paper from the counter, crumpled it up in his fist, and shook it repeatedly.
“Come on!” he said impatiently.
Finally, a trail of smoke rose from the ball of paper. He shook it some more. Now a small flame ignited the paper. Honestly, a lighter would have worked better. Gadd dropped the burning paper ball into the waste paper basket which ignited the other contents. He then placed the basket against the wall. As soon as the fire spread onto the wall, he started to scream, “Help! Fire!” over and over until security opened to the door. The security guard, seeing for himself that the emergency was real, made extinguishing the fire his priority. As he searched the room for a fire extinguisher, Gadd ran out the door.
“Kong! Over here! It’s me. Doctor Keyes.” Donkey Kong had just become visible in the distance beyond the fence. Hearing Pauline’s voice, the ape looked torn - almost as if he knew that it was a trap. He approached the fence but hesitantly and cautiously, frequently looking over his shoulder.
“Silly ol’ Kong,” Pauline spoke in a tender voice, “you’ve gotten out of your safe place. How am I going to take care of you if you’re not in your safe place?”
“Doh Kee?” Donkey Kong wrapped his fingers around the chain links of the fence and looked into Pauline’s eyes as if pleading that she not betray him.
“Mama mia!” said Mario as he pushed aside his empty bowl of pasta and reached for the bread plate. “I feel great! I feel like I could run a marathon right now!”
“Are you serious?” I asked. “You just ate a whole bowl of pasta.”
Suddenly there was a loud crash. Somehow, as Mario was cutting into the bread, the bread knife split the ceramic plate in half and lodged itself into the wooden table. I looked at Mario like What the heck, man! He looked around to see if any staff noticed he just stabbed the table. Customers had already turned their heads our way but there was no staff around. He quickly pulled on the bread knife but instead of dislodging immediately, the entire table lifted off the ground an inch before the knife gave way. The table crashed to the ground as our drink glasses tipped and smashed and our silverware and plates clanked loud enough to get the attention of a couple waitresses that were now coming our way.
“What are you doing, Mario!” I demanded of him. “You better hope Delvecio isn’t really a gangster!”
As the serving staff approached, Mario gave his sincerest apologies, admitting it was his fault. He offered to pay for any of the damage. Though they declined his offer, they didn’t seem too happy about the mess and broken dishes. Regardless, they set us up at another table and offered us dessert while they cleaned the table Mario made a mess of.
Just as we were sitting down again, my phone buzzed. I was getting a Facetime call from Chuck, which I found kind of odd. He’d never Facetimed me before. I answered.
“Hey Luigi,” he said, “I’m over here at the job on Southern, across from the zoo. There’s something big going on with Pauline. The roads are all shut down. There’s a ton of cops. I can’t tell what’s going on but I can see everything from here.”
At the mention of Pauline’s name, Mario came across the table to face the phone.
“What’s going on with Pauline?” He asked.
The job Chuck was referring to was a tall high school that was being built. His crew was doing all the steel framing. It was apparent from the view on the phone that Chuck was calling from several stories up the unfinished construction. Chuck was a black man with a shaved head and bulky muscles developed from lugging heavy metal around for years.
Chuck switched to the outward facing camera and showed us the scene across the street. There was Pauline. She was flanked by two cops and a man with a rifle. They were all looking into the woods beyond the fence. And there was something else. What was that? Just on the other side of the fence? They weren’t looking into the woods! They were looking at an escaped gorilla! Donkey Kong.
“It’s time to go home big guy!” a voice shouted from somewhere behind Kong and the tranq-toting zookeepers who were trying to sneak up on Kong. Zookeepers, Mike and William turned in surprise. It was that professor that caused all this mess! So much for the element of surprise!
“Nooooo!” Kong shouted. The large gorilla launched himself over the tall fence, a feat no ordinary gorilla could ever manage. Neither Dr. Irvine nor the cops could react fast enough. As soon as Kong landed on the other side, he swooped up Pauline into his arms and turned so that no one could risk a shot at him without possibly hitting Pauline. As confident as Pauline usually was with the familiar animal, she was terrified now. Donkey Kong, still holding her, ran off towards the construction site across the street.
Mario exploded from his seat and ran towards the door. No reason to ask where he was going. No reason to tell him to stop. But there was no way he was going without me. I slapped a hefty tip on the table (no time to ask for change) and ran after my ambitious brother.
It took what seemed like an eternity for the cab to get to the Bronx. All throughout that eternity, Chuck kept us up to date on what was happening. Donkey Kong actually climbed a couple floors up the structure that Chuck’s team was building, all the while carrying Pauline. The police used their megaphones to make sure Chuck and his crew got down off the structure and to safety. Nobody dared climb up after Pauline for fear that the ape would drop her. Instead, a zoo worker, using the police megaphone, encouraged Pauline to stay calm and to try to speak gently to Kong in hopes that he would set her down.
As we were warned, we could not get anywhere close to the scene. The roads were blocked and there were cops everywhere. We got out of the car at Cambreleng Avenue, a block from the construction site, and removed the nearest manhole cover. This would normally be a very difficult task without the right tools but Mario seemed to have no problem fitting his finger into the slot and flipping the lid up. We were able to take the sewers to Crotana Avenue and pop up inside the barricaded area, just in front of the new construction.
The setting sun was in our eyes as we tried to scan the skeletal building for signs of Pauline and Donkey Kong.
“Luigi, Mario. Hey! How did you get past the cops?” This was Chuck. He and his boys were on the ground here, this side of the building.
“Where’s Pauline?” asked Mario as Chuck came running up.
“On the other side. About 5 stories up.”
Mario took off in that direction.
“What does he think he’s gonna do?” Chuck asked me.
“I don’t know. But it’s Pauline. I’m gonna help him.” I said, running off after Mario.
We ran through the center of the structure. Before we were halfway through the building we saw Pauline and the ape perched precariously atop a steel beam. The police spotted us just then. I recognized Dr. Irvine with them. All of them were yelling at us to stop and leave the scene. I reflexively stopped at their command. But not Mario. He’d hardly taken his eyes off of Pauline. When he was about 15 feet from the skeletal structure that would soon be an outer wall, he jumped. And when I say he jumped, I mean he jumped! It was like watching a Jedi Knight, Michael Jordan, or Thor the Avenger. I could hardly believe my eyes. His fingers grabbed the lip of the steel crossbeam of the second floor and, using his forward momentum, swung himself up onto the scaffolding. From there, he climbed and jumped and rolled like a parkour pro up towards Pauline. Several of Chuck’s crew had their phones out, filming the surreal scene.
Donkey Kong grew especially agitated as Mario made his way up. The ape was grunting and pacing. He set Pauline down on the railing (which she hugged for dear life) and began chucking items at Mario. Anything he could get his hairy hands on. Drills, welders, plywood. Somehow, Mario was able to dodge all of it. The frustrated gorilla shook the scaffolding, causing it to tilt and half-collapse. Mario tumbled onto another steel beam off the scaffolding. Donkey Kong grabbed up his prize once more and climbed a ladder to a higher floor.
All of us on the ground gasped as Kong leaped across a corner from one beam to another. Amazingly, he did not fall or drop Pauline. I pulled at my hair with both hands in overwhelming fear for her.
As Mario shortened the distance between him and Kong, the great ape set Pauline down a second time and resumed his assault with with the surrounding construction supplies. This time he had access to a 55 gallon steel drum, which he currently made ballistic. Again, Mario’s reflexes astonished me. He picked up a sledgehammer and deflected the barrel without so much as slowing his pace. The strike of hammer against barrel made an enormous racket and seemed to put fear in the eyes of the beast.
What was happening? What was I looking at? How the heck was any of this happening? It was like a dream. Mario let the hammer fall from his grip as he now used both hands to catch the next beam he was jumping for. Donkey Kong gave up attacking and resorted to escape. He tore Pauline off of the beam she was grasping onto for dear life and started ascending even higher up the structure.
“Mario, stop!” Pauline screamed from within the tight grip of the ape who was climbing higher and higher up the soon-to-be building. She knew Donkey Kong. She could tell by the tension in his muscles and his jerky eye movements that he was scared. He was scared when she first saw him on the other side of the fence. But now he was terrified. Pauline could hardly calm him down when she herself feared for her life. And now there was no hope with Mario aggressively pursuing.
“Mario!” Pauline yelled again. “Seriously! Stop! You’re only making it worse!”
“Don’t worry, Pauline,” answered Mario. “I’ve got you. Trust me. It’s me. I’m Mario.” He smiled at her with a twinkle in his eye, even as he climbed heights he couldn’t possibly survive a fall from.
Donkey Kong reached what was at the time, the top of the structure. A moment later Mario shared the topmost beam with them. Here, there was nothing to throw and therefore nothing to dodge. Neither Mario nor Donkey Kong seemed to know exactly what to do next.
“Mario, please,” cried Pauline, “just climb back down. You’ve put me at more risk by scaring him up these beams.”
“Pauline, I need you to trust me,” Mario said. “When I get close enough, I need you to grab on to me as tight as you can.”
“Mario, stop! You’re out of your mind. The only way I have a chance of surviving this is if you get down!”
Mario looked off to the side. Then back at Pauline. “You’re cute when your mad,” he said. Then he jumped. About 10 feet from the side of the building was a steel beam suspended by a V strap at the end of a crane. His feet landed on the beam while his hands gripped the strap. The momentum caused the whole beam to swing out and then swing back in. As the beam came in, it broadsided the beam Kong was on, knocking him off balance. It also brought Mario close enough to grab Pauline just the ape released his grip on her. Mario and Pauline swung back on the suspended beam while Donkey Kong flailed his giant arms, trying to catch his balance. The gorilla overcompensated and fell forward. He fell several stories before hitting the scaffolding, breaking through board after board on his violent descent. The whole section of scaffolding now collapsed completely, obscuring any view of the poor animal’s likely demise.
Elvin Gadd was the first to the pile of steel and wood that once made up the scaffolding. He pulled away as much debris as was needed to climb into the tangled mess. He found Kong, breathing but unconscious.
“Come on, big guy,” he encouraged. Gadd shook his shoulders. “Come on.”
The gorilla’s eyes flickered open.
“I know you don’t want to see me. I know you don’t want to go. I know you like it here,” Gadd said, knowing full well he was understood. “I do too. It was fun while it lasted. But those days are over. After all of this, they’re not going to let you be free. They might not even let you live. You’re a danger to them now. We have to go home.”
“Doh Kee…” Donkey Kong weezed.
“Doh Kee? Dr. Keyes? Is that what you are trying to say? No. She’s afraid of you now. She will always be afraid of you now.”
Donkey Kong shut his eyes in defeat. “Home?” he grunted.
“Yes. It’s time to go home.”
I saw the ape fall. I saw the scaffold collapse. But my eyes were glued to the beam suspended way too high, precariously supporting the only two people in this world I would die for. Chuck was talking with the police and pointing at the crane. A second later, one of the cops used his megaphone to tell Mario and Pauline to hold on tight to the straps because Chuck was going to gently lower the beam. I watched the eternal descent with bated breath. If Chuck jolted the crane and caused them to fall, so help me…. Before they had reached the ground, I heard crashing over at the rubble pile. I turned to see Kong and a short man running out of the mess towards Crotana Avenue. Knowing now that Mario and Pauline were almost to safety, I chased after the escaping duo. That stupid ape meant alot to Pauline and I was not about to let it disappear on her when I had the power to at least follow it.
I lost sight of them as they ran through the middle of the construction site but I knew they couldn't have gotten too far. When I emerged on the other side of the site, I still saw no one. No one, that is, except for a young woman in an aqua colored dress who was standing on the street.
“Over here!” she yelled. “They went this way.” She was pointing down. Down at the manhole cover Mario and I came out of. “They went in the sewer.”
Having no reason not to believe the woman, I ran towards the street. As I got closer, I thought the girl looked oftly familiar but I couldn’t place it. I climbed down into the all too familiar sewer. Sure enough I could hear the sound of feet splashing some distance around the corner. I followed the sound with all the speed my legs could muster.
Turning the corner, I could see them. Both the man and the ape were about a hundred yards ahead of me and about to make another turn.
“Stop!” I cried out.
The short man turned my direction and ran even faster, pushing on the ape’s back. They did not make the turn as I suspected they would. Instead, they climbed into a rusty pipe, about 4 feet wide and disappeared into the shadows. Where the heck was this guy taking Kong?
Arriving now at the rusty green metal pipe, I was hesitant to crawl in after them. For one, I have never seen a pipe like this. Who knew what unsavory liquid might come crashing over me. Or how much. Or when. But it was either follow after them into the unknown or tell Pauline that I lost Kong because I was too much of a chicken to enter the pipe. That settled it. I jumped into the pipe.
A few steps in and my feet started to slip. It felt like I was sliding forward, almost as if the pipe was slanting downward. And then my feet gave way and I fell. Not down onto the pipe but down through the pipe. I saw no bends on the walls and yet I was now somehow falling straight down. It was like gravity shifted so that down was actually in front of me. I screamed bloody murder! You better believe I did! I’d be dead as soon as I hit whatever was at the bottom.
I saw light below me, at the bottom of the pipe. Did the pipe dump into a lit room deep underground? Suddenly my gut rolled. It was if gravity was now suddenly pulling at me from the direction I just fell. But the momentum kept me going against the fickle gravity. I was shooting upwards toward the light instead of falling into it. But my momentum was failing fast. Just when I thought I would be sucked back down the pipe, I exited into fresh air and was able to put my foot on the outer edge of the pipe, which somehow was sticking up from the ground. I fell hard forward, flipping over the edge and landing on my back on grass and roots some four feet below. Too dizzy to stand, I rolled onto my side and vomited.
That taken care of, I slowly stood and tried to take in the scene around me but my brain rejected the signals my eyes sent it. I was in a lush green paradise. On the side of a mountain or a volcano or something. There was a jungle not too far up the mountain from where I was. The sun was setting to my left (which I could swear was the east - although I did just get all turned around). I would have thought I was somehow in Hawaii if it wasn’t for the hundred foot mushrooms rising out of the valley to my right. Where the heck was I?
I turned to see the short man, who currently looked quite perturbed, standing by the rusty green pipe protruding from the mountainside. Kong was nowhere to be seen. He’d probably headed into the jungle.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said the man. “You need to leave.”
I noticed a familiar looking mushroom growing at my feet. It looked just like the mushroom Mario had on his pasta except with green spots instead of red. Suddenly pieces began to fall into place. The strange turtle, the flower that gave me an unnatural power, Kong appearing in the city a few months back, the mushroom that Mario ate - which looked just like this mushroom and which must have given him unnatural power - it all came from here! This was what I was looking for.
I bent down and plucked the shroom.
“No! Don’t!” yelled the short stranger.
I took a bite.