Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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From the author:
And here is one of the rarities. I sent this to be published in an ERB-APA Special, and apparently it was. I do not have a copy of the issue in which it appeared. It is actually my first pastiche effort written in 1996?
My old internet buddy, Flem, liked this piece a lot. I suppose it reminded him of our hero, ELMO. My long poem, Tarzanís Last Adventures came from this little prose wonder.
The Death of Tarzan
Copyright © 1996, 2000
Tarzan of the Apes pauses in a forest glade to look at the signs in the sky. He does not have to be a jungle genius to tell that winter is coming. Leaves that once covered his world with green, Sylvan glory now pile around his bare ankles in drifts of brown and gold. And the sky that his grey eyes peer upon is equally grey with fast moving clouds that scud across the heavens like space ships from Mars.
Tarzan does not dwell upon his misery or the misery of the world. He falls to his knees in the rustling decay of the forest and proceeds to throw handfuls of leaves into the air, laughing like the child he is. Usha, the wind swirls around his aging body, an old man rolling in the leaves, laughing like a madman. If anyone was present in this forest, they would think the white-haired geezer was indeed crazy, but he is as happy as a man can be who never knew his father and was raised by a band of illiterate apes.
A closer look at this man reveals a face torn by a cruel scar that almost divides his visage into two parts. It gives him the appearance of a man pasted together by the shaky hand of a kindergarten child. He is a ragged collage of man and beast—neither fish nor foul. If there were men with nets about, they would not even bother to capture him. He is not worth the prize.
The Lord of the Jungle's body is quite naked and covered with innumerable scars that appear to have been made by bullets, spears, knives, and the teeth and claws of many varieties of savage animals. His skin is a map of anguish and woe. He looks as though he had been scourged and crucified a thousand times in ten thousand days. His bronze body has turned as green as a Martian. He is as Tars Tarkas as a frog.
As the man rolls into the autumn of his life, he rolls alone. Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion, is gone, gone—dead for a hundred years or more. There was not enough magic elixir for him, nor for Nkima, the monkey muse on his shoulder. He gave up the House of Lords for this moment alone, and he does not regret a thing.
Tarzan rolls and rolls in the leaves of the forest, and he laughs like a child at play. Winter does not matter to him, nor does the white mane about his bony shoulders, thin as a lattice, the lattice of heaven. The Ape-Man rolls and laughs and gibers his language. It is the language of the great apes understood by all the animals of the jungle. He thinks it still has a meaning somehow even though they are all gone—every one he ever knew. Tantor is gone. Buto is gone. Numa is gone. Kala is gone. Jane is gone. Korak the Killer is gone. So he rolls and rolls in the leaves of the forest, gibbering like an ape. He hasn't a clue.
If he would have stayed in England, he would be in a rest home now. They would be feeding him from tubes. There would be nurses in white flitting around his bed like angels of mercy, but Tarzan of the Apes knows no mercy.
Do not pity the man, for he rolls and laughs. He is not angry at himself or at the world. He drools and gibbers like an ape. He is a happy man.
The Ape-Man draws his great blade of Sheffield steel, worn thin as a letter-opener. He looks about warily, testing the great pollution of Usha. Is there something there—some danger still lurking in the forest glade? He rises to his feet as quickly as his old bones will allow and goes over to a tree. Can he still swing into its branches and sail quickly hand-over-hand through the falling leaves?
Tarzan touches the bark of the tree standing before him like a tower of ebony and gold. He digs his fingernails into the flaking stem of it, trying to pull himself up like a cat, but he cannot rise beyond his toes. Finally, he hangs on a lower branch of the tree and sways slowly like the pendulum of a clock. He hangs but a moment, then his tired arms give way, and he falls into the leaves again like a sack of mush. He lies on the ground breathing heavily, and the litter of the forest blows over his body like the loose gravel of a grave diggers shovel.
The Lord of the Jungle will not rise again until he sees a need to rise, so many hours pass with beetles and ants. He is bound to his own flesh with bonds he cannot break. But as the Ape-Man pants, laughter coughs in his chest like a lion. The growl is in his throat, in and out like a machine winding down.
No one comes to see his final hour, so the Ape-Man passes away in the forest leaves growling like a wounded lion. He pants and growls painfully in and out until a smile touches his lips, and he reaches out to touch the mane of Jad-bal-ja, the golden one—bal-ja, the golden one—ja, the golden ... His hand falls into a shower of golden leaves.