For the record: Tarzan is now 11 years old, Kaphi is 5 years old.
Kaphi bared her teeth and snarled before pouncing on her friend, Asha, who was the same age as she was. The two five-year-old apes wrestled and rolled around in the grass under their parents' watchful eyes, flashing their canines and nipping at each other's fur. Finally, they pulled apart and sized each other up, standing on two and circling each other.
"Huh?" Kaphi muttered, looking past Asha and toward the edge of the family grounds, where she spotted Tarzan slowly slinking forward in a manner that said he was up to something. Her brother disappeared under some shrubs.
"What's wrong, Kaphi?" Asha asked, dropping down to all fours again.
"Oh, nothing," Kaphi said, dropping to all fours as well. She smirked at her friend and said, "I need a distraction."
"I got your back," Asha said with a wink. The little ape fell backward and started bawling loudly, sticking her foot up and pointing at it as if she had gravely injured it.
"What's the matter, honey?" Asha's mother asked her, fawning over her instantly while Kala also assisted in checking the ape child over.
Kaphi carefully slipped away from her supervised playdate and headed in the direction she had seen Tarzan disappear in, moving carefully through the family. It wasn't that she wasn't allowed to roam the grounds freely, her parents just preferred if she was with someone at all times, like her mother or Tarzan for instance. They were so overprotective of her, it annoyed her sometimes, but Tarzan helped her feel like she had a little more freedom and could actually be an ape for a change. She didn't mind running around the grounds with her brother, especially with his penchant for trouble.
She managed to make it over to the shrubs undisturbed and carefully maneuvered through them, spotting Tarzan hiding just within the shrubs at the other end, and she pushed her way forward, so she sat next to him and scanned the area, seeing more of the family grounds ahead of them. Tarzan did not seem surprised that she had found him.
"So," Kaphi began, her eyes taking in who was sitting in the open grass in front of their hiding place, "what trouble are we looking to cause today?"
"What?" Tarzan asked, giving his sister a confused look. He shook his head. "We're not trying to cause any trouble."
"Right." Kaphi nodded her head while giving Tarzan a disbelieving look. "So what's it going to be, big brother?"
"Wait, what makes you think we're going to cause trouble anyway?"
"I learned from the best."
Tarzan laughed at that, shouldering his sister playfully.
"Okay," he said at last, looking ahead once more. "Look straight ahead. See the target?"
Kaphi peered ahead and spotted the target in question.
"Target sighted," she said, smiling gleefully.
"Initiate plan," Tarzan commanded, "Capture the Monkey!"
With that, Tarzan and Kaphi advanced from the shrubs and ran as fast as they could toward their victim, then pounced on his back simultaneously while Kaphi moved to sit on his shoulders and cover his eyes with her hands while Tarzan took to tickling the ape's sides.
"Hey," Kerchak scolded lightly as he was blinded by Kaphi's paws. "Come on, I'm trying to make rounds."
"We got him!" Kaphi cried in victory.
"You are under our control now," Tarzan said as he tickled his father's right ribs, and the ape shuffled to the left to escape the ticklish feeling, but then Tarzan tickled his left ribs and he danced toward the right, trying to fight back the laughs sneaking through his lips as he tried to gently shake his kids off him.
"Is this Capture the Monkey?" Kerchak asked. "Why am I always the monkey?"
"Cause you look like a monkey," Tarzan answered as he tickled his father again, making Kerchak stumble in a new direction.
"And you smell like one, too," Kaphi added, lifting her hands briefly to see her father's eyes before covering them again. She kicked her feet against her father's shoulders. "Forward, Monkey!"
Kerchak stood on two and swung himself a little to try and dislodge the two miscreants from his back, but Tarzan jumped up and held on to his shoulders to keep from falling off while Kaphi merely held on with her ape grip, her hands still covering his eyes. Both kids squealed in delight.
Dropping back down to all fours, Kerchak shook his head again, but Kaphi did not release him, and Tarzan sat behind her, and they both began demanding, "Forward! Forward!"
"All right, that's enough," Kerchak said as he slowly lowered himself to the ground, then, just as slow, began to roll over, giving Kaphi and Tarzan plenty of time and warning to jump off his back. Kerchak stood back up, and now free of his captors, he turned and snarled at his kids.
"Now you've unleashed the tickle beast," he said.
He roared playfully before chasing the two ape children, who took off screaming, but he caught them quickly. Pinning them to the ground, he tickled Kaphi and Tarzan, and they shrieked with laughter and squirmed in his hold.
"Mercy, mercy!" Kaphi and Tarzan pleaded.
"That's what I thought," Kerchak huffed as he released the kids. "Now go make someone else the monkey. I must make sure everyone is accounted for. Stay close to each other and to the family. We will be leaving the grounds soon."
"Yes, Dad," the two chorused before turning challenging eyes on each other.
Kerchak snorted at them as he walked away.
Tarzan lunged for Kaphi, but she rolled away and tried to counter with a swipe at his legs, but Tarzan jumped back in time, then pounced and tagged Kaphi's shoulder before darting off, weaving through members of the family as Kaphi pursued him. They laughed as they jumped over roots and old logs, Kaphi trying her best to keep up with her brother's more experienced evasive tactics. They passed Kala, briefly running a couple circles around her.
"There you are, my loves," Kala said, then chuckled at their antics. "Slow down a little before you trample each other."
"Yes, mom," they said in unison, but Tarzan knew if he slowed down, Kaphi would catch him as easily as all the other ape children could do, so he didn't bother heeding his mother's warning. Nor did Kaphi. They ran through the grounds, then just on the edge of the grounds, circling the perimeter as Kaphi followed Tarzan with a determination to tag him. As they ran near a patch of thicker jungle, a familiar sight caught Tarzan's eyes, and he drew to a sudden halt.
"Hey, wait a minute," he started to say, his eyes distracted by the movement in the trees.
"Gotcha!" Kaphi said as she collided into her brother, her arms wounding around his neck and pulling him into a tumble.
Laughing, Tarzan wrestles out of Kaphi's strong grasp, and before she could jump on him again, he put a hand to her chest and says, "Hold up, sis."
Tarzan looked into the trees again in time to see the patchy, silver fur of an old ape disappear into the trees.
"Zugor!" he called, running after the ape, Kaphi following. "Wait up!"
Tarzan caught up to Zugor quickly and trotted at his side.
"Where are you going?" Tarzan asked, smiling up at Zugor. "Dad wants to leave to some new fruit groves, soon, you know."
"It's coming," Zugor whispered in a hoarse voice as he slowly, stiffly, kept going forward. "I can feel it in my bones."
Suddenly, Zugor collapsed against a tree, his head propped up against an exposed root.
"Zugor!" Tarzan cried. He looked at Kaphi. "Go get Dad. Hurry."
Kaphi scurried through the trees as fast as she could.
"There's nothing he can do, Tarzan," Zugor said, his eyes blinking blearily. Tarzan looked down at his friend, worry creasing the corners of his eyes as he tried to help Zugor stand back up, but the ape resisted his efforts. "This is all apart of life—it's okay, you know. The beginning always has an end."
Zugor took in a deep shaky breath before continuing.
"Because of you, I got to have a good last few years with a big family, warm nests—oh, does your mother know how to make a nest—and plenty of food I didn't have to work hard for. And I got to know you. That was the greatest treasure. They were good years. Good memories."
Zugor smiled softly as he closed his eyes.
"Zugor!" Tarzan shook Zugor's shoulder. "I don't understand. You can't go. I don't want to lose you—where are you going?"
Zugor's eyes fluttered open. It took a minute for those eyes to focus on Tarzan.
"This isn't goodbye, Tarzan, don't worry so. We'll see each other again. It's all apart of the circle of life, you'll see. Until then, I'll miss you, Tarzan. I'll miss you."
Zugor's eyes closed once more.
"I'll miss you, too, but I don't want to miss you. Come on, you just have to get up." Tarzan tried to help Zugor stand back up once more, but the great ape was very limp now. Tarzan called his name frantically. "Zugor!"
There was a rustle in the trees as Kerchak came quickly with Kaphi at his side and many members of the family behind him. Kerchak slowed to a halt at the sight of Tarzan and Zugor, and his face saddened as he realized what happened. Zugor had become a beloved family member of his family in the few years everyone knew him. Zugor had enjoyed entertaining the kids with wild tales from his youth, and he offered wisdom to some of the rebellious youth. His loss would be felt throughout the whole family. Especially by Tarzan.
"Zugor!" Tarzan cried again, shaking the ape's shoulder.
"Tarzan," Kerchak said softly, stepping closer to his son.
"Dad, please help me. We have to get him up. We have to help him; he's not well."
"There's nothing to be done," Kerchak explained, but Tarzan wasn't hearing him.
"No, no, there has to be something. He's just sick. Sleeping. We have to . . . we have to . . .."
"Tarzan!" Kerchak yanked Tarzan away from Zugor and held his son close. Tarzan looked up at him with startled, tear-filled eyes. Kerchak sighed, then said, "He's gone. His spirit has moved on to a better place while his body rests here. He'll be okay. We'll be okay, too."
Tarzan buried his face into Kerchak's chest and cried, clinging to his father tightly. Kerchak hugged his son close, resting his head against Tarzan's. The rest of the family lowered their heads in mourning, giving their respects to their lost friend, many shedding tears themselves. Kala stepped forward, her eyes widening at Zugor, and she closed her eyes and butted her head against Kerchak's shoulder, leaning into him comfortingly. Kaphi hugged her mother's arm, and buried her face into Kala's fur, not making a sound, but sad at her brother's loss. She had not known Zugor very well, save for a couple stories he had shared with her and her brother, but she knew he was a very respected member of the family.
Several minutes passed, and the family spent a few moments grooming Zugor and adjusting him against the tree he had fallen against. As everyone walked away, waiting for Kerchak to lead the way to the new grounds, Kerchak watched Tarzan hug Zugor one last time.
"Why did he have to go?" Tarzan asked.
"Everything that lives, one day dies," Kerchak said, honestly. "Death is the end of Life, naturally. He had to go. We all will do the same when our times come as well, but that won't be for a long time, when we are all gray and old as he was. Come, Tarzan. We must get going. We are running behind."
Tarzan reluctantly followed his father, leaving Zugor's resting place with one last glance back over his shoulder.
The journey to the new grounds were long and quiet. Tarzan stayed close to Kerchak, walking at his father's heels with his eyes downcast and his spirits low. He couldn't believe he had lost such a close friend. What was all that talk about the "circle of life" and "our times" all about? Death: what a horrifying concept. It was too much to process all at once, and Tarzan tried to push all the thoughts away.
"Tag!" Kaphi said suddenly, startling Tarzan. She jumped around Tarzan playfully. "You're it. Come and get me."
"Not now, Kaphi," Tarzan said. "I'm not in the mood."
"Oh, come on," Kaphi pleaded. "It's a long walk. I'm bored."
"Then go find someone else to tag," Tarzan said before jumping up onto Kerchak's back, glad he was still light enough for his father to carry even if he was getting bigger. He glanced down to see Kaphi pout, but at least she went off to find someone else to play with it. How could anyone be happy anymore after what had just happened? Tarzan laid down against his father's back, watching trees pass by as he allowed his mind to blank out.
Kerchak had watched Tarzan and Kaphi, and he was concerned for his son. Tarzan was quiet now, and he knew how unlike Tarzan that was. He allowed his son to rest on his back for the trip however, sure that maybe he just needed a few more minutes to grieve. However, as they arrived to their new grounds and quickly gathered dinner as night crept up on them, Tarzan hardly ate, and he still refused to join Kaphi in any of her games, or even Terk when she stopped by to see how Tarzan was holding up. Kerchak had to set his boundaries around the new grounds, so unfortunately, he had to leave Tarzan with Kala to do so. His mate was sure to talk to Tarzan more about loss in the family. Maybe Tarzan would feel better after that.
When he returned later that evening, his mate and kids were asleep. He settled in next to everyone, glad to finally sleep for longer than a nap.
A small wail echoed in his ears, stirring him from a deep sleep a few hours later.
Kerchak lifted his head, listening.
It was Tarzan. He was softly crying a few branches above their nest, sniffling and wiping at his face with a swipe of his arm now and then. Kerchak sighed, then climbed up the tree after Tarzan. He sat down next to his son.
"Are you okay, son?" Kerchak asked.
"What if you and mom leave?" Tarzan asked, his throat choked up from crying. "What if your times come and then you guys go, too. I'll be all alone with Kaphi and . . . I'm scared."
"Tarzan, you have nothing to fear," Kerchak said, using a hand to tilt Tarzan's head towards his own so they were eye to eye. "I told you before that your mother and I will not be leaving you or your sister any time soon. Not if we can help it. Zugor . . . he lived a very long and a very good life. You know this from all those stories he told you. Your mother and I plan to live very long and good lives, too. We are not going anywhere."
"But what if something happens?" Tarzan asked, looking horrified at the very thought. "What if Sabor attacks and you get hurt or Kaphi gets lost again or Mom . . ."
"Tarzan, relax," Kerchak said, pulling his son into his lap. He rested back against the trunk of the tree with Tarzan against him, his head resting against his chest. "Relax. I cannot answer every what-if question you ask me. I do not have all the answers. But I know that I have no intention of leaving you or your sister or even your mother. And she plans to be around for a long time, too. We will be here for you, watch you grow into a fine young ape, and maybe even lead a family of your own."
"You think I could do that?" Tarzan asked curiously.
"I think so. Some things may be different for you, of course, but I would be proud to pass down my leadership of our family to you."
"Why would you pass it down though? So you can leave like Zugor?"
"No, Tarzan," Kerchak said. "When my time comes, it will come, and there will be nothing I can do about it. Or you. It's just how the world works. But that doesn't mean we worry every day over something we cannot control. We move on. We mourn for those we lose, then we keep living. You have to understand that I will die one day, and I have no plans of doing so anytime soon, but if something does happen to me, which is very unlikely, you will have Kala watching over you. And the whole family. They've all come around to you, you know. They will all be here for you. Just like I am now."
"You promise you're not going to die soon?"
Tarzan relaxed against him for a moment, seeming to think it over. Then, he looked up at Kerchak again.
"But, Dad, what if . . ."
"Shhh," Kerchak shushed Tarzan, trying a new tactic he had seen Kala use when Tarzan was upset. She would sing a lullaby. He sang in his deep baritone voice a lullaby he once heard his own father sing to him many years ago.
"Goodnight, my angel,
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say."
Tarzan had glanced up at Kerchak surprised, having only heard him hum now and then when he was trying to get Tarzan or Kaphi or both to fall asleep and Kala was not available to sing her usual lullaby. Tarzan leaned into Kerchak, listening to the steady beat of Kerchak's heart and feeling the gentle rumble as Kerchak's voice vibrated through his chest.
"I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away."
Kerchak looked down at Tarzan, glad to see he was starting to fade, his eyes closing some before jolting open again. He kept singing, knowing it wouldn't take long now.
"Goodnight, my angel,
Now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me."
Kerchak could feel Tarzan's weight shift against him as Tarzan drifted into dreamland, hopefully filled with vine swinging and wrestling with friends and playing with family. Kerchak smiled and gently carried Tarzan down the tree and back to their shared nest. Kala and Kaphi were sleeping curled up together, so he put his back against Kala's and allowed Tarzan to snuggle against him. Kerchak watched Tarzan sleep for a moment. He was sure it would take Tarzan time to really come to terms with Zugor's passing, but they would take it day by day, and Tarzan would see that the circle of life was a good thing, something that kept going even when others could no longer share in it. He sang in an almost whisper.
"Someday, we'll all be gone
But lullabies go on and on
They never die
That's how you
Kerchak nuzzled Tarzan before closing his own eyes and falling asleep himself.
Since that night Kerchak had shared his lullaby with him, Tarzan really tried to convince himself that the end was not for his parents any time soon. Kerchak wouldn't lie to him about something like that. Honestly, Kerchak had never once lied to him in his life, even when he had yelled that Tarzan would never be one of them all those years ago. It was a truth then, just one Tarzan had not understood. So, Kerchak's words gave him confidence that everything was going to be okay, at least with his family.
The only problem now was moving on from Zugor's loss. Everyone was back to doing their usual things, wrestling, foraging, sleeping—no one seemed to remember Zugor at all. Tarzan frowned as he watched Kaphi and Asha wrestle each other a few feet away from their nest where Tarzan was sitting. How could everyone be so happy and carefree when Zugor was gone? It didn't make sense to Tarzan. Kaphi was always trying to get Tarzan to play with her, as was Terk, but Tarzan couldn't possibly forget his old friend and act like he never existed. It wasn't right.
While Tarzan watched his sibling play with her friend, Kala moved to sit next to him.
"You still don't want to play?" Kala asked her son. "You know, it's not healthy for young apes to sit around and do nothing all day."
"But how can I do anything when Zugor is gone? He's gone and it's like no one remembers him."
"We remember him, Tarzan," Kala said. "We remember his love for life, his stories that he shared with us, and his strength to keep going, even when he was tired. So we keep going for him: that's what he would want us to do."
Tarzan frowned, unsure what to make of that.
"It's okay to miss someone we've lost and still be happy and enjoy life," Kala said. "You know, Zugor never liked seeing you sad. You might not be able to see him, but he is still here with you in your heart." Kala touched her hand to Tarzan's chest. Tarzan slowly rested a hand over his heart, feeling it beat steady and strong.
"He's watching you." Kala brushed back loose strands of Tarzan's hair out of his face. "He would want you to be happy even as you miss him."
"It doesn't seem right, Mom." Tarzan lowered his hand and looked away, closing his eyes tightly.
"I know, sometimes, it doesn't feel right, but we must keep living for the ones we've lost." With that, Kala gently pushed Tarzan out of the nest.
Tarzan looked back at her with an unsure face, but at Kala's encouraging smile, he walked toward where his friends usually hung out near the boundary lines of the grounds. As he moved through the family, he was greeted with sounds of laughter from young apes playing, cries of newborn infants, and grunts of older apes all around him. It amazed him how much life was still happening, even after one life was no longer apart of it. Life really did go on after all. It reminded Tarzan of one of Zugor's stories, where the old ape had been the silverback leader of a tribe many years ago. Zugor explained how he loved making rounds through the family and playing with all the children. It was one of his favorite things to do back then.
A young toddling ape stumbled out of his nest and landed next to Tarzan, giggling all the while. Tarzan smiled down at him, a genuine smile. Zugor lived on in his memories, in the lives Zugor had touched, and in Tarzan's heart. He was not gone after all. Tarzan tickled the child before running off toward where he was sure his friends would be.
As quickly as he had started running, a hand grabbed one of his legs, effectively stopping him in his tracks before another hand covered his eyes.
"Who's the monkey now?" Kerchak asked, and Tarzan laughed as he tried to wriggle out of his father's hold, but then small fingers were tickling Tarzan, and he fell over laughing.
Kerchak let go of him while Kaphi continued to tickle Tarzan, who growled playfully at her.
"Why you little . . ." Tarzan rolled away from his sister's attack before charging her. Kaphi wisely turned and ran, screaming playfully, weaving through nests and family members as she tried to evade Tarzan's attacks. And the games were on once more.
Please don't hate me after this—I'm so sorry, I really do like Zugor's character. But he was also supposed to be an older ape who could no longer keep up with his old family and that generally means they are nearing their "time" in real life, so . . . I went with it and Tarzan got a great lesson on the circle of life. But hey, Zugor lived some great years with Kerchak's crew. On a side note, "Goodnight, My Angel" belongs to Billy Joel, such a sweet lullaby. Let me know what you thought of the chapter! There is so much more to come.