We come from Komodo Island. Our people lived there with the dragons long ago, before time, beneath dreams. In a cave at the southernmost tip of the island, Najo's daughter Epa, later known as the Dragon Princess, began her painful labor. Epa screamed and it was as if the cave itself was a giant mouth wailing into the deaf midnight. Recognizing a breach, the midwife prepared for a surgical birth to save the mother. Water was set boiling on a fire, a bamboo knife was ritually cleaned and sharpened. Epa was terrified and traveled outside her body as the old woman cut into her belly. She watched from above as a tiny boy was pulled from inside her, followed by a baby lizard. Distressed by the emergence of these strange twins, Epa called out for her husband, Wake, to come at once.
Holding the boy and the lizard, one in each arm, he said, “They are both beautiful beings.”
They named the boy Geroang and the lizard Orah, which meant "lizard" in the old island language. Raised as brother and sister, Geroang and Orah spent long days together in the forest, roaming and exploring, even hunting together. But as Orah got older, she became aggressive and unpredictable, suffering unusual cravings and dark moods. After some of the their pets went missing, the villagers worried for their children's safety. Orah was exiled from the village and went to live in the forest.
One day, Geroang, now a teenager, set out to hunt deer in the forest. He spent all day tracking a large buck, finally taking it down with a single well-placed lunge of his spear. Orah emerged from some tall grasses behind him--she had been tracking her brother as he hunted, and now rudely demanded a share of the freshly killed deer. Geroang was infuriated by this and was about to attack Orah when The Dragon Princess appeared before them and reminded them they were brother and sister. Her voice had a magical quality that inhabited the wind and trees, soothed Geroang's anger and softened Orah's aggression. The siblings vowed to remain friends and live in peace with one another from that day forward.
Geroang's kindness toward Orah took root in the villagers’ hearts, and Orah become a welcome guest when she passed through the village from time to time. When Orah was of age, she mystified the people with her ability to reproduce without a mate. The villagers' courtesy turned to awe and wonder, which was extended to Orah's offspring. So it was that generations of islanders nurtured a long-lasting tradition of harmony and generosity with the descendants of Orah, whom they considered their ancestral kin. When you dream of dragons, the elders told us, do not be afraid. When you dream of dragons, you are remembering yourself.
For thousands of years, our people lived in peace with the giant lizards, whose numbers had swelled as they prospered and spread over the entire island. All the while, the village thinned as family after family took to the water in search of better prospects on nearby islands.
When Dutch traders arrived in Komodo in the mid 1800s, the few remaining people of Komodo, having inferior weapons and numbers, hatched a visionary plan of resistance. They told tales of cold-hearted monsters with beady black eyes and forked tongues, who might take down a water buffalo one day, a full grown man the next.
The superstitious sailors told and re-told these stories, their eyes shining with dark glee, and soon a mythology of terrifying dragons took hold in the minds of the colonizers. A few of the larger, more aggressive lizards played their part, ambushing and devouring any outsider who dared stray into the forest. These attacks troubled some of the islanders, but, they reasoned, every myth must have a grain of truth after all.
My people came here on the Mayflower, from an island empire, from hardship and persecution. Having married a Vanderbilt, railroads are where I come from now. Or rather the wealth of that enterprise, as my husband wouldn’t know a rail from a tie. Nor I. He is an explorer, a naturalist, and I am an explorer’s wife, and we have journeyed to Malaya to track a mythical dragon.
It is great to be the wife of a naturalist. Every woman should try it once to prove her love for her husband. It is the best test I can think of, especially as it essential to keep in the spirit of the thing, and to learn to love every goddamn one of God’s creatures! What courage, merely to laugh shrilly when a centipede emerges from one’s trousers, when roaches build their nests in one’s boots, and the tickling of thousands of legs denotes the presence of ants, spiders, beetles, ticks and fleas--by day and by night!
Even the food, cold cream and tooth paste are filled with the former of these pests. So far, we have discovered only three scorpions in our bedding, but, of course, in my dreams they are always there. In my dreams, we are always here, in the wild that is not the wild of New York society. In my dreams, I am always there, slightly outside of my body, inhabiting landscape and wind and reptilian dispositions.
Though smaller than one expects, and slower, these giant lizards are fearsome indeed. Yesterday, on the hunt with DeFosse, I mistakenly placed myself between a dragon and the freshly killed deer we use as bait! As he approached step by step, the great bulk of his body held clear of the ground, and the black beady eyes flashing in their deep sockets, I thought of the incredible beasts that moved through the shades of long ago. He seemed hardly to belong to this world--more fitting I thought that he should have crawled up from unthinkable solitudes of some bottomless gulch of the Inferno. A hoary customer, black as dead lava, whose very aspect spoke of indefinite existence, I wondered wither his ancestors had wandered on their endless journey to this enchanted isle.
His subtle reptilian smell in my nostrils, I wondered whether my journey would be that of my ancestors, their society marriages, so much stitch and glue.
Nearer he came and nearer, as I knelt stock still in my fortress of tall grasses. Too late now to leap from hiding, I stayed put. His grim head, swaying side to side, I remembered all the fantastic stories we had heard of these monsters attacking men and horses, and was in no wise reassured.
The report from DeFosse’s rifle seemed to crack open the very sky, sending a bullet into the great monster’s neck. With surprising speed he spun round, made for the forest, but the bullet had done its job and the dragon lay lifeless some ten yards away.
Later, as the sun cooled and dripped in shadows from leaves, voices drifted back into the camp. I told my tale of the day’s adventure, hamming up the terror and suspense of being cornered by the beast. I told my tale, but left out my wonderings, my doubts, my particular familiarity with corners and how they press in, gently at first, but then, like the clamping jaws of reptiles, relentless.
My husband clapped DeFosse on the back, poured him another gin. We raised our glasses to his valiant rescue and DeFosse, the great white hunter of Indo-China, merely shrugged. My husband, ever alert for a dramatic void into which he might insert himself, proclaimed that a fiery dragon in itself is a fascinating idea--so also is the thought of a beautiful white-skinned maiden--link these two together and you have a story which by its very nature would survive through untold ages. Indeed.
I am from Skull Island, an empire of the air, a fictional setting invented for a movie, which makes perfect sense as I am also a figment of imagination, a suspension of disbelief, a citizen of the human psyche.
When the men came that day and set up camp, we beasts thought it was Cirque d’Soleil. Civilization had arrived, praise be, and we hoped that Girl Scout cookies would be next. Dare to dream. But it was me they had come for. Giant dragon lizards were not scary enough, so they sent that great white hunter Denham, with his skinny white girl as bait.
But what would I want with her?
I am a gorilla. Three hundred times her size. And queer as a three dollar bill.
Ann was desirable enough I suppose, like a vanilla milkshake topped with platinum whipped cream, her mouth a pouty maraschino. And I do feel for her, alone and desperate on the hardass streets of NYC, then snatched up like a lucky penny to pay for some other kid’s gum ball. My life on Skull Island was hard too, feeling often that I hardly belonged to this world. I was lonely and misunderstood by all the other outsized prehistoric heteronormative beasts. A triceratops told me once that I needed to embrace vulnerability, lean in a little. I ate that bitch for lunch.
The truth is I let Denham capture me, figured I could make a new start in the big city. You will forgive my naivete at this point. Of course I was aware of my role in the tired old trope of man versus nature, but scholars assure me that I also stood in for deeper, darker fears. I was brought to America chained and sedated below decks. I am a large, black, male gorilla (never mind that the extent of my ferocity is being a fierce queen), I am the blackest of black and my blackness reifies Ann’s utter whiteness. So the scholars say.
New York was a disappointment. The was glamour but no camp, it was fancy but not fabulous. Where were my people? All those Mr. and Mrs. Richie Riches tipping back the champagne, leering at me with their dark glee, their subtle humanoid smell in my nostrils. It gave me pause. I played along though, played my part as the savage beast aka uppity slave aka hypersexual black male--while the magic of wardrobe, makeup and lighting elevated Ann from white to White.
Looking back, I see our role as a titillating taboo, miscegenation made manifest. I see how her indigence intensified that: slutty white trash gets what she deserves. What delicious tension for all who watched, secretly wanting Ann to descend further into depravity, while simultaneously yearning for her salvation by any means necessary.
That’s when I knew if anyone was going to save her, it should be me. Talk about poor decision making. I broke free, went on a rampage, scooped up Ann, climbed the tallest building in the city, got myself into a real pickle. You know how it ends. The video went viral.
What a spectacular view though! All those twinkling lights, in rows of lemony spangles below, the night sky cracking open above, Skull Island shimmering in the gauzy distance, before time, beneath dreams.