A group of heavy black howler monkeys clustered on the roof of the opera house. Their growling and grunting had suddenly stopped, and an eerie silence seeped into the air. In the plaza below, a lone human stood among the bursting saplings and greenery, its exuberant jungle energy straining against paving stones and inexorably buckling concrete and asphalt.
The facade of the once-great cultural monument inaugurated to great fanfare in 1897 with money from wealthy rubber barons in what was then to be the most important urban center in the region, and for many decades afterward, the gateway to the Brazilian Amazon, was now a scene reminiscent of one of the darker chapters of Edgar H. Sullivan’s literary masterpiece The Lost Civilizations. Bright green vines snaked wildly across tiled floors and reached up to strangle pillars and columns, filling in arches. Here and there, the stained glass had broken where a branch had poked through a window and at night, fruit bats swarmed out into the cool, moist air, to hunt for insects in the abandoned mass of glass and concrete that was once Manaus.
Back in the plaza, the man – the human the apes had noticed, was a man – stood marveling at the steaming mass of plants that were obviously thriving thanks to a lengthy absence of human feet. Of the famous Abertura dos Portos monument placed in the middle of this space, only the outstretched arm of a bronze woman holding a torch – upon which now perched an indifferent black vulture – could be seen through the tangle of green. The undulating, epilepsy-inducing black and white tile plaza floor was buried under decomposing leaves and marching ants. The scene was peaceful yet somehow menacing at the same time.
The man wiped his forehead and, swinging the machete, began to hack his way towards what used to be the grand staircase leading up to the entrance of the grand building.
He had always wanted to go to the theater and this seemed a good a time as any, he thought with a smile.
The machete rang as it hit rock. Or was it concrete? Hard to tell. He was at the stairs now and what his machete had struck was the railing. Behind it, he could make out a pink-colored stone wall, now barely visible under a fuzzy green layer of moss.
The howlers began growling, their grunts and groans turning into one long roar that echoed off the San Sebastian church and the other buildings around the theater. The man, continuing his struggle up the stairs and swinging his machete back and forth, was not at all put off by their vocal expression of territorial indignation. He, just as the monkeys had seen men before, had been around howlers before, back in the day, in the jungle, but never had he been part of one of those organ-harvesting expeditions so popular in the decades following the pandemic.
As he forced his way upwards with some difficulty, the monkeys overhead again fell silent and focused their attention on this unwelcome intruder. They had seen men before of course, in the jungle; heard the boom of their weapons and had seen their companions drop out of the trees like ripe fruit, lying motionless on the jungle floor. Those men would sometimes cut them then, the fresh red blood pooling on the jungle floor as they removed some still-warm vital organ and placed it in a rectangular box with a lid, a white cross painted on its side.
At that time, extracting organs from certain apes was western medicine’s last gasp in its attempt to find a potential cure for the latest virus attack upon humanity. In Brazil – the last country on earth that had any great amount of the ape’s natural habitat thanks to an ambitious conservation program implemented in 2021 by the Instituto Jair Bolsonaro de Pesquisas Médicas – organ harvesting became a frenzy, and from the southern forests of Rio Grande do Sul to the northern jungles of Pará and Amazonas, government medical brigades spread out in all directions to collect the freshest possible organs to bring back to their labs. Brasilia assured the world that a cure was imminent and the world waited; watching, expectant, and increasingly desperate.
And so, Brazil – through it’s unwitting and quickly shrinking ape population – had been humanity’s last hope.
Tragically, in spite of the unwilling sacrifices forced upon thousands of howlers, capuchins and even marmosets; no viable cure was obtained and the world of humans – the much-celebrated species homo sapiens – began to crumble.