The journey to Bali in a stolen Indonesian ‘feral’ boat from Broome, Western Australia, took two days. It was quickened toward the end of day one, when an Australian Navy ship under the guise of Operation Sovereign Borders towed me to the maritime border, unhooked my vessel and steamed back south. Once the cries of “Tony Abbott says stay out!” subsided, I called back, from my slowly sinking boat: “Thank you!” Little did they know I’d been tasked by their very own government, albeit confidentially through ASIO, to reach the tourist island off East Java and execute a mission which “had, did and would never exist”. The mission was simple: an Australian national had set himself up in the Ubud Sacred Monkey Sanctuary as the leader, and in fact king, of a group of monkeys, one white tiger, a kidnapped drop bear and the attractive female host, known only as “Gina”, of failed reality TV show Big Monkey. It was alleged by ASIO that the aforementioned were all serving as his bodyguards, while he set about recruiting as terrorist foot-soldiers Bali natives disenfranchised by drunken and drug-addled Australian tourists. Well, I guess that part wasn’t simple. But my mission was: to kill, with extreme prejudice, the Monkey King of Ubud – otherwise known as King Chewbacca.
While the sun set over the South Kuta peninsula and my all-but-submerged boat disrupted angry surfers riding swell pounding the beach off Nusa Dua, I realised I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d do when confronted with the strange man who had put himself in such an unlikely position. To be sure, I wasn’t sure what he’d do, either. I’d been briefed in Broome that a group of Aussie surfers would be waiting the morning after my arrival outside a Nusa Dua hovel of a hotel. All six of them, tired but wired from earlier salt-water endeavours, were preparing for a day trip of monkey-business in Ubud courtesy of a north-bound bus. Five of them went along with my cover story of being a fellow wave-rider keen to innocently tag along to the island’s interior. Their leader, paid both to ensure the others’ cooperation and ask no questions, did just that. I asked them about a rumoured Balinese monkey king. A couple spoke in sweaty whispers of surfing primates in the line-up, who would drop in on foreign surfers and scratch or chuck shit at any who dared challenge them. The leader simply sat with me up the front of the bus, throwing knowing glances to the driver and me while silently sipping his Bintang beer. “Someone needs to take care of that guy,” said another of their number, who had thus far remained silent. And whose face was covered in still bleeding and yellowing scratches and smelled of monkey faeces.
Their leader upended the dregs from the can into his mouth just before the JI. Raya Tebongkang Ubud Road became the JI. Raya Kangetan, and we turned right. Minutes later and in the mid-afternoon, we arrived at the sanctuary’s entrance. The surfers were unnerved by the screaming monkeys and lone, occasional tiger’s roar audible from outside the forest. So they left me alone at its gates. Their leader threw me a Bintang, which I swilled greedily before walking calmly under the leafy, cool canopy. Almost immediately I could hear unnaturally wind-like sounds then heavy impacts of something moving from tree-to-tree above me. “But he’s a great man,” the trees muttered. And I knew it was Garrett, the displaced drop bear.
“He stole you from your family, your home, your country, Garrett,” I whispered to the leaves.
“But he has good taste in music.”
“He caused you to miss Australia Day 2014, Garrett.”
“But there are so many Australians in Bali, not least himself. So I need not leave.”
“He made a mockery of the drop bear myth. Garrett.”
Whoosh, thud. The snap of a branch. I whipped the knife from my waist and lingered it in his furry neck just as he landed, fangs bared, on mine.
“Dare you mock this!?” he rasped, drooling on my shirt. The smell of imported eucalyptus leaves and stale beer almost had me reeling.
“And you, this?” I calmly pressed the knife further into his coat, drawing both blood and a stifled wince. “Help me, Garrett, and I will remove you from this equatorial nightmare and back to your sub-tropical home.”
The pacified koala muttered Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and even a little Ball Park Music (Rich People Are Stupid), while the forest sucked us further toward its heart. And my designated, mysterious foe. I had to brandish the knife again when he began a Killing Heidi number. Which silenced him. He was less startled when intermittent growls and flashes of white started coming from and appearing around us. “Calm,” he urged as we loped through the undergrowth. I kept the knife handy. It seemed Garrett was already midflight, fangs bared, not to mention screaming “Thunderstruck!” (an AC/DC number) when ferns to our left suddenly disgorged an enormous white tiger. I was still running while the vision of a snarling gray ball of fur attached in combat to a growling white behemoth stuck stubbornly in my mind like a heavy footprint in mud. Distant dog-like howls and pained roars shook the jungle to my rear. Sensing my prey was near (a heinous smell was growing stronger), I pressed on.
A steaming pile of monkey shit landed beside me as I began my final approach to the promised royal tree house, adjacent the 14th century-built Holy Monkey Temples. I glanced upward, only to see an angry cousin of my evolutionary family sitting in a tree, stroking a spear. A baboon, which surely meant Rafiki the king’s head priest and part-time evil wizard. Presently I saw the first of the surfers I’d accompanied on the journey from Nusa Dua, beside Rafiki. Head removed from his body. Attached to a spike. Face contorted in a strange mixture of terror and humour. Sploosh: more shit. Another monkey: sitting spear stroking in a tree. Mojo, the thief, royal footrest and, reportedly, dunce. Horror: another head on a grisly spike. Another three times this happened, much to my regret (as much due to the smell of the shit, as to the fear of the monkeys, as to the revulsion of the severed heads). Jo-Jo, the King’s Paw; Timmy, the escaped mental patient; and Simeon, the stuffed monkey. Until I came face-to face, albeit from ground to tree house-top, with the Monkey King – the severed head of the surfer group’s leader sitting prominently on a final bloody spike at his side. “Word Journeyer,” he giggled, confident in his elevated position and surrounding of me by his minions. “What took you so long?” A rope ladder unfurled from above and landed at my feet.
The Monkey King lay sighing, much less commanding than at the moment I’d first sighted him, upon a hammock after I’d finally scaled the 50-foot ladder. A woman, brunette, green-eyed and captivating, was sitting on a stool and stroking his head. Meanwhile, a positively ugly monkey so disfigured by some kind of past attack that she had an extra nostril (whom I took to be Scar Face – the king’s obstinate suitor) jumped madly around the room while throwing her shit at Gina – who calmly ducked each acrimonious attack and maintained her attentions on the king’s throbbing forehead vein. I was unprepared for such a scene. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Oh, y’know, Word Journeyer,” he started. “Too much power. And too many crazy, beautiful, and crazy and not so beautiful, and completely insane and hideous women after me, as a result.”
Gina silently nodded, Scar Face threw another clumsily-aimed crap and I insincerely nodded empathetically. It was then I noticed in a cobwebbed corner the computer he’d been using to organise his kingdom, recruit his anti-atavistic-Aussie-tourist terrorists, and blog about it.
“You’re a lucky man, Monkey King,” I said, which he responded to by looking wistfully up at Gina, then glancing warily at Scar Face, but ignoring me as I inched toward his outdated Compaq laptop.
“Yeah,” I moved closer. “People either fear you, or want to be you.”
“But they don’t want to smell like you, sorry.” Within striking distance.
“Ah, that’s ok. The plumbing in this tree house isn’t. . . .
I plunged the knife repeatedly, viciously into the laptop’s screen and keyboard. Damaging it beyond repair. Chewbacca screamed and struggled in vain out of the hammock, Gina silently held her right hand over her mouth; Scar Face threw what was surely her last shit for a while at me. I ducked, grabbed a vine hooked inside the window, and swung out of it into a blood-red tropical sunset barely penetrating the sacred forest.