Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2004
High School Winners

Third Place

Our third place High School winner is Daniel Steinbrook of Marblehead, MA. Mr. Steinbrook is the webmaster of Headlight, the Marblehead High School newspaper. His sister Hillary will undoubtably be known to followers of this contest as a past repeat winner.

The Monkey Bites Back

Daniel Steinbrook

As a colleague, Harris, Lord Tweed, never ceased to amaze me.  His research on the violent behaviors of Central American toucans was sheer genius, superior to that of any of my other colleagues at the tropical Smithsonian Research Center.  A prolific, world-renowned English researcher in the field of evolutionary biology, Lord Tweed conducted many experiments on species native to Panama.  Yet, I could tell something wasn't right, even before his charred remains were recovered in the middle of the jungle…

"Lord Tweed, how impressive your research facilities are!" I complimented him during an annual international conference.  "I can understand the well-deserved reputation for your discoveries, and I look forward to joining your team at the laboratory this summer." "When you are privileged enough to share your office with a set of Panamanian howler monkeys, Sir Heimlich Steadman, perhaps you can truly enjoy the joys of biology," replied Lord Tweed.  Despite his diminutive size, his confident gait gave him an important presence.

"Come and meet my diligent assistant, Sangria."

As he strode through his newly renovated research laboratory, past climate-controlled cages of sleeping tropical birds and small furry mammals, I noticed an interesting smell…not one that was typical of animal facilities, but more the scent of rotting charred flesh.  At the time, I was not too concerned, for I was very excited to be employed at this wonderful facility, but I could not shake the anxious feeling generated by this strange odor.

"¡Hola, señor!" Lord Tweed's energetic and sturdy-looking assistant greeted me.  "I am sure you will enjoy working among these fine animales.  I will have to show you some of the most curious creatures here, especially our douroucouli inteligente, the only indigenous species of nocturnal monkey…" Sangria, in her brightly colored lab coats and sandals, added a bit of flash to the cinderblock décor of the laboratory. One had the sense that she knew far more than she was willing to reveal about the day to day routines of her boss.

An internationally-designed collaborative project required that I try to teach some South American tree parrots to communicate in English.  Slow progress made me wonder whether these birds are truly intelligent creatures – not one shape or sign made any change in the birds' behavior.  However, a seemingly innocuous flash card displaying fire sent one bird crazy.

"TWEED'S A WACKO!! TWEED'S A WACKO!! SQUAWK!!  SQUAWK!!" the bird warned me in its terrified avian voice as it flew around the room.  Then, in a flutter of feathers, it dived for the open window and disappeared into the sky.

Later that day, I noticed the most fascinating behavior from the douroucouli in the second cage.  He appeared to be trying to send me a message – especially interesting because we had never trained him for conversation.  His small faced looked troubled, accentuated by the intense gaze of his large eyes that were specialized for night vision.  He was staring and pointing towards a cage located directly across the room from him, where a Panamanian spider monkey usually resided – but I noticed for the first time that he wasn't there.  I had assumed that Lord Tweed was experimenting on him, but I thought that he would have been finished for the day.

I ventured out of my research room, careful not to let any more birds escape to wreak havoc on the lab and undermine the project, and unobtrusively made my way down the hallway towards the office of my boss, Lord Tweed.  His door was left slightly ajar, and some strange sizzling noises were coming from within.  I peeked in surreptitiously, and I was horrified at the sight of the spider monkey suspended over the fire, with Lord Tweed setting silverware on his desk, a large pot of aromatic rice and beans boiling over a Bunsen burner on his lab bench.

Early the following day, sure that Lord Tweed had not caught a glimpse of my spying, I returned to the laboratory, hoping that the sight of his "dinner" the previous evening had only been a hallucination that I could attribute to the fact that I was still acclimating myself to the hot, humid Central American climate. Appalled and incredulous, I felt compelled to investigate for myself before contacting the appropriate authorities.

With my spare key, I quietly let myself into his spacious office, where the thick air held a strong noxious aroma.  I noticed that Lord Tweed had left his desktop computer turned on.  Sliding into his seat, I was struck by the folder left open on the desktop – "Recipes."  The filenames were even more horrifying: "Toucan Salad Sandwich," "Chewy Chocolate Chimp Cookies," and "Extra Crunchy Parrot Pancakes," among others too nauseating to mention.  Unnerved, I slipped out of the office to consider my course of action…

The next week, the smart douroucouli also mysteriously disappeared late one evening – Lord Tweed claimed he was "giving him his annual check-up," but I suspected otherwise.  I knew that I had no chance to save the primate myself, since Lord Tweed's power and position in the scientific community intimidated me.  As I was considering my capability for canceling the carnivorous capers of this unsettling colleague, I heard a blood-curdling screech from down the hallway.

As I lunged through my office door into the hallway, there was Lord Tweed, sprawled on the floor, the douroucouli with his teeth sunk into Lord Tweed's arm.  I watched amazed as the tiny but powerful monkey dragged the professor down the hallway and out of the building.  From the window, I witnessed an entire group of douroucoulis from the jungle nearby, already with Sangria wrapped in banana leaves and toasting over the open flames, screeching with laughter as they danced around the fire…

Continue to the 2nd place story

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