Fast Fiction: Let’s Talk About Super-Intelligent Chimps. No, Not Those Ones.

Hello again everyone,

Well, I’m behind schedule on my fifth novel, and while forcing myself to at least sit down behind a keyboard for a few hours one day I ended up typing up twenty of those writing exercises I explained earlier here. Today I’ve hit another ‘just sit at the computer and see what comes of it’ moment, and so I’m going to queue up all of them to auto-publish every couple of weeks. This blog post is the first of those auto-posts.

Here’s a quick recap of the rules:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random during one of my monthly writers’ group meetings. I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am on a Sunday. I reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Here we go.

Prompt:

This is good. We’re like people talking. Isn’t this how they talk?

People like to make jokes about the chimps that were shot into space. They say they came back super-intelligent. They say they took up smoking cigars and cruising around on rollerskates. They say you could look them in the eye and see a human mind at work.

I have a real secret for you, friends. “They” whoever “They” are, never saw any of the chimps who went into space. They came back, were put into quarantine, and then while under careful observation all their damned hair fell out.

Oh! It was a nightmare of a clusterfuck for the scientists involved! Did that mean space travel was not safe for human astronauts and cosmonauts? Wasn’t that the point of sending up the chimps in the first place? To see if it was safe?

Meanwhile, the chimps were not in poor health. All their vitals were normal. They were just bald, all over bald. They were healthy, happy bald apes.

That’s when the scientists in charge were told by the PR guys to replace the real space chimps with show business chimps. That’ where all the cigars and rollerskates and knowing looks came from: Anyone who saw a hairy space chimp really saw some retired performing chimp bought on the cheap and smuggled into the quarantine lab under cover of darkness.

This is not a story about those fake chimps, though.

This is a story about the naked apes, and what I really observed as the only NASA scientist still drawing a pay cheque to watch the real –but totally secret and unacceptable– apes doing their thing.

And with that preamble out of the way, let me say the chimps did come back super-intelligent, or at least super-intelligent for chimpanzees.

Maybe it happened to the Astronauts too, to a lesser extent? How many of those rocket jockeys went bald after coming back? And if one of those geniuses gained 10 IQ points, would anyone really notice?

Well, I noticed it with the Chimps. I tell you that!

Sometime around the Ford Administration they’d learned enough sign language to basically have whole conversations with me. They asked me for clothes to hide their nakedness.

Well, all my old jackets were falling out of fashion in the 70s, so I gave them a box of old stuff.

Then they asked for hats. They told me the glare of the lights hurt their old eyes. Again, JFK killed my hat collection’s cachet, so I gave them my old trillbys and bowlers and fedoras.

They never knew I was recording them when I wasn’t in the room. I reviewed the footage. I saw the costume parties.

They’d dress up in overcoats and broad-brimmed hats, and they’d try to convince each other that they were as human as you or I.

“This is good. We’re like people talking. Isn’t this how they talk?”

You get the idea.

It was adorable until one day they weren’t in the lab.

“Where did they go?” I demanded.

“Who?” The janitor asked.

“The chimps?”

“The chimps?”

“The hairless Chimpanzees!”

“I never saw no chimps around here, Doc,” the Janitor muttered, returning to his broom.

To this day I have no idea where they went, but I attend every convention of the American Sign Language Association, just in case they turn up.

Note: I’ll start off by saying when I finished reading this one, a member of my writers group exclaimed, “Goddammit, Geoff!”

I’m rather proud of that, and of this exercise. That’s why I chose it to go first in this new series of auto-publishing blog posts.

So what do I like about it? Well, it covers a lot of ground very quickly. It sets up a premise, subverts expectations, sets up another premise, builds through a pregnant pause, and then delivers something leaving the reader/listener wanting more. My writers group all agreed it was a very strong and original piece to have been produced in fifteen minutes. If I can break down how I used my time, I’ll confess I wrote everything after ‘Ford Administration’ in five frantic minutes, and the last sentence was finished after the timer went off. I knew where I wanted my punchline to go, and it was a mad dash to get there after moseying around the front half of the set up for two thirds of my time.

This is one of the few exercises where I really do think I could expand this out into a proper short story with some editing and some flesh on the bones. I would want to do more about monitoring the chimps in the middle section so the reader wouldn’t see the forest for the trees as the chimps work towards an escape. I also think the janitor can and should be a much larger part of the story. Finally, I think the idea that the whole thing is swept under the rug because NASA never really cared anyway could be a motivator for why the narrator is talking about it in the first place. It would also be interesting to leave the reader wondering if it’s all true, or if they’re listening to the words of a crazy person.

Anyway, this was a fun one. Thanks for reading!

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