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art by Jonathan Westbrook

The Trap

Steven Kahn is a psychiatrist living in Connecticut with his wife, two children, and one very old rabbit (uncaged). He’s also an aspiring writer vicariously traveling the universe and meeting up with whatever beings might be born of a fertile imagination. Possessing a biology degree from Harvard, he tries to keep his fiction credible. He has written a four book series on Mars and a single book on the ice moon Europa. This is his first publication.
Beneath the oldest rainforest in the world, Bakti walked quiet as a jungle cat. Three more hours to check his traps before nightfall. Ndari, equally stealthy, accompanied him. Bakti had warned her it was too dangerous, but her green eyes sparkled at the challenge.
"Why?" she had asked. "Why more dangerous for me than you? I'm just as swift as you. My eyes and ears just as good, and I'm better with a rifle at fifty meters."
He'd hesitated to explain, for it meant admitting the unsavory nature of his trade. Also, he would welcome her company, and the caged beasts that fetched the highest prices were often too heavy for one person to carry.
"You know what I do is illegal," he'd reminded her.
She'd shrugged. "When you first had me, I was only fifteen. That was illegal, but we did it anyway. You seem to prefer my continued presence for that activity. Why not keep me around while you collect your exotic creatures."
"You do understand who I sell the animals to?" he'd asked.
"Smugglers I assume, in boats, after dark."
"Those smugglers sell on the black market, often to men who grow wealthy from cocaine, opium, or Middle Eastern oil."
"So? Isn't one coin as good as another? Once it's in your pocket, who cares what journey it's traveled? It doesn't pick up diseases like a bee picks up pollen. Doesn't pick up karma either, though some might have us believe so."
"It's not a matter of karma. You know I'm not superstitious."
"What then?"
"The men they send pay well for orangutans, pygmy elephants, clouded leopards. But there is one creature for which some would pay far more."
Her smooth brow had furrowed with puzzlement. "What walks these jungles of Borneo and is worth more than an orangutan?"
"You. A beautiful young woman, half Asian with green eyes. You would fetch more than ten orangutans, sold into some harem and never heard from again."
She'd paused mid-step. They each had a rifle in hand. Her jaw tightened. She hefted her rifle into both hands, forearm sinews tightening like ropes. "First smuggler that tries that, I'll shoot his balls off. How much do you think they're worth to him? More than I'd fetch, I'll wager."
"And don't some creepy men like boys?" she'd added. "Wouldn't you fetch some coin as well?"
"Not so much, no." But he had heard rumors of men and women in his trade mysteriously vanishing.
Her stubbornness and discomforting lines of argument caused him to eventually give in. From then on they set and checked the traps together.
They now approached his largest, a five-foot-high cage, the entire front face a spring-loaded door. Concealed against a tree, it blended in with the branches that embraced it. Vines entwined its bars, bars of the same wood as the tree and just as sinuous. Inside, just past the trigger pedal, he'd placed a pile of the orangutan's favorite fruits.
"Rifles ready," he reminded her, trap almost in sight. Once he'd caught a female orangutan, only to have an angry male jump down from above when he came to claim his prize. He squeezed off a shot just in time, the wounded male limping away, probably to die. Smugglers helped him carry the caged female to their vessel. They paid less when they had to do that, preferring to stay in their boats. So unless he now caught a huge male, Ndari, strong for a woman, would come in handy.
As they neared the trap he saw it had been sprung. They glanced at each other and smiled. He scanned the leafy canopy overhead--no sign of danger.
He heard no thrashing at the bars, but approached with caution. An orangutan female, juvenile, small enough for easy handling, yet old enough to have weaned, sat contentedly inside, stuffing her face with kayas and kusis, juices dribbling down rust colored fur.
"Perfect," said Bakti. "She'll fetch a better price than an adult and won't give us trouble." He rattled off the different places that valued such creatures as they began to disentangle the cage. He kept a wary eye and ear out for trouble. But judging from the amount of fruit already eaten, the youngster may have been in there for over a day. The distressed parents might have finally wandered off or been chased off by a clouded leopard.
As they grabbed the front of the cage to pull it forward and free it from the tree's clutches, vine-like projections shot out, snaked around their wrists and pulled them in through bars that flickered and vanished. The young orangutan disappeared as well. They tumbled in together. The door sprang shut with a loud squeal and a resounding crash.
Two creatures flickered into view just outside the cage. Dressed in what looked like spacesuits, they stood four feet tall, only their heads visible through clear helmets. Orange eyes peered out from dark furry faces. Thoughts Bakti could hear, not with his ears but in his mind, emanated from one to the other.
He will fetch a good price on planet Tekto.
Perhaps, but she will fetch a better one on Zalgor Three.
Look how they clutch each other in fear. Perhaps they are a breeding pair.
Qualgon Five! They exclaimed in enthusiastic unison.
Skohotti, said one, projecting his thoughts high above. Four to transport aboard. Creatures into the cargo bay.
Seconds later they were in a clear plastic enclosure. Stacked above and below them and to each side, alien beasts, similarly caged, paced mindlessly, glared angrily, or sat with vacant stares. Ndari's trembling hand found his. With a terrible sinking feeling, he recalled one of the few subjects they'd always agreed upon. Both had been dismissive of karma.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 15th, 2012


I like unusual settings. While researching orangutans for a novel (set in Greenland where a huge primate awakens) I learned they are native only to Borneo and Sumatra. Borneo struck me as an interesting and exotic locale for a short story. I threw in some plucky characters, wove in some social issues dear to my heart (animal rights and equality for women), and wanted a surprise ending with irony and justice for all. Hopefully, “The Trap” highlights the plight of endangered species and of all wild animals captured and caged. I want my fiction to not only entertain, but also enlighten.

- Steven Kahn

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