Acetone

by Pierce Nahigyan

When the monkey was let out of its cage, it didn’t escape into the forest. Pine trees surrounded Miskatonic University, and gave it its signature aroma, wet needles, the perfect camouflage for the sour stench of the primate. Even in summertime the university was cloaked in that pungency, due to the campus’ high elevation in the misty Appalachian Hills. Mornings and evenings were gray, dripping, creeping into the halls under rain boots where the soil was trod and tracked. The black earth soaked up the roots of the forest like thick fudge. The monkey could have disappeared.

When the environmental club freed the animals in the research building, the guinea pigs were heard squeaking in the walls for months. The rats and the mice were also fond of scrabbling behind the wainscot and wires. The reptiles died or were trampled on. But there was only the one monkey.

What had they done to him? Down in the laboratory’s observation tanks, there are tiny handprints in dried paint, and tail prints, and claw marks in oil. When the monkey escaped, it scampered to the studios. It found its way inside the building from a rooftop window cracked to receive the wet air. It clambered down to the conservatory. It found bottles of acetone and a scraping tool. And it destroyed every painting, every artistic endeavor in the building. When it had melted the students’ canvasses, it moved on to the portraits and the landscapes and the still lifes in the corridor. It ripped apart the contemporary piece in the professors’ lounge. It defecated on the bust of Cicero.

It was as if the laboratory had communicated to the monkey the relationship of man and his art in sign language and fingerpaints, and, released for the first time in his captive life, he spent that freedom on communicating how fragile were man’s enterprises, how soluble. The green and blue puddles beneath the graduates’ landscapes, released from their forms, emptied from their artists’ minds, no longer belonged to them, were vulnerable, vandalized, and congealing on the cold concrete, refuted man’s skill at wielding color and nature as he willed.

They lost the monkey. They usually do, at Miskatonic.

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