At Our Hen House, we do our best to bring you the latest from the world of animal rights. That said, when it comes to telling you about books, there are just so many amazing new ones covering all kinds of animal issues, and we simply don’t have time to review them all (but don’t miss the ones we have reviewed). That’s why we thought long and hard and decided to start an exciting new program for you. From time to time, we’ll publish excerpts of the author’s choice — highlighting the best in new animal rights books (both fiction and non) — right here on our online magazine. We hope you dig this new service!
One general note about OHH’s new intention to publish excerpts: We do our best to choose excerpts from books that reflect our values to change the world for animals, and to end their exploitation altogether. However, we are not able to read all of these books in their entirety. Please note that the books we choose do indeed intrigue us, but might not fully be in line with our ethos — though we hope they are. In other words, vet these for yourselves, and feel free to share your thoughts with us at by emailing info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.
Today we bring you an excerpt from a novel (we love fiction!), Threatened, by Eliot Schrefer — author of Endangered. (And — flock members — be sure to read on past the excerpt for your chance to win a copy of this book! Not a member of the flock yet? Why not?!)
Threatened is a gripping journey into the world of chimpanzees and the life of an African boy whose fate becomes entwined with them when he finds himself alone in the forest. An African boy living on the streets escapes his jailer by heading into the forest with a scientist who is not entirely what he seems. They’ve come to study chimpanzees, but when the scientist disappears, the boy must fend for himself — and then join forces with the chimps to save their habitat from unwelcome intruders.
Chapter One of Threatened, by Eliot Schrefer
I’d never seen a mock man until the Professor showed me one. I’d heard them, of course — many evenings the chimpanzees would scream within the dark trees surrounding my village, their cries too strange for a person and too intimate for an animal. I still hear those shrieks, these years later. Whenever they got too loud, my mother and I would huddle on the f loor of our hut, her arms wrapped tight around me. “This is why you must promise always to be home before dark, Luc,” she would whisper. “If you’re not, you’ll become one of the kivili–chimpenze.” The mock men.
I’d lean into the scratchy fabric of her boubou and wait for a hairy hand to come through the window. I’d imagine a lumpy head sniffing the air, black eyes staring into mine, lips pulling back from sharp teeth as the mock man lunged. I’d see us carried off into the jungle, one under each of the beast’s arms.
My mother’s warning worked; I was always home and at her side before dark.
Even when I was a little older and my village and my mother felt long in my past, I turned quiet and watchful at dusk. I would have loved to be safe in a home before the sky turned black. I just didn’t have one to go to.
I worked long into the nights at the paillotte across from Franceville’s best hotel, where the foreigners with their American dollars piled in after the day’s train arrived. No one knew quite when that would be — the trains were always hours or days late. If one appeared to be arriving on time, it was probably from last week.
When I heard the whistle of a locomotive, I’d dash through Franceville’s dusty streets to the Café de la Gare. There, beneath a string of naked lightbulbs, I would clean glasses, rubbing each with an old wet rag until the spit on the rim and the line of dried beer foam had merged and it could be filled again. I didn’t get paid, but sometimes foreigners would leave me coins on the table and the lime twists at the bottoms of their drinks. Between coins and peels and the occasional snack swiped from the center market, I survived. At least I didn’t have to rummage my food from the dump.
The city was loud at my back, but when I faced the trees all I could see were plastic tables tilting into the mud against the sil- houette of the jungle. The streets were gone, the hospital was gone. Sometimes, when there were no more glasses for me to wipe, I’d stand at the forest line and listen under the music for the calls of the kivili–chimpenze, straining to hear the angry screams that said they’d once been men and now were not. I hadn’t heard them since my mother had died, and I’d begun to wonder if the mock men had ever been out there, or if they’d been an illusion she’d conjured and the spell had died with her.
The night I met the Professor, a f leet of logging trucks had arrived at the same hour as the train, so I was very busy. It was all I could do to get the glasses wiped before they had to be filled and back out onto the tables. I worked hard and kept grinning, wiping sweat from my forehead with the ragged hem of my shirt. I’d smiled through all the bad moments of the past year: surfacing memories of my mother or sister; the times hunger’s blade went from flat against my belly to jabbing its tip; the diarrhea I kept clenched inside my body until the bar closed and I could f lee into the trees. I kept smiling because the bar owner could replace me at any time with one of Franceville’s other street boys. I kept smiling because if I didn’t have an occasional coin to bring home to Monsieur Tatagani to put toward my mother’s debt, he would throw me out in the street. Or worse.
I didn’t notice the Professor at first, not until he said the word chimpanzee. I thought right away of my mother’s warnings about the mock men, and gaped at the man. He looked to be an Arab, at least forty years old, and was seated all by himself. I decided to clear the table next to him as an excuse to draw near. I expanded time by scrubbing hard, as if hoping to find a new and better plastic table beneath the surface.
The man was a foreigner, but not too much so. He spoke good French like a normal person, and was darker than the Chinese bosses who ignored us and the American missionaries who didn’t ignore us enough. He definitely wasn’t Christian: He wore a tight woven cap, a taqiyah.
Unlike the other bar customers, this foreigner wasn’t taking the fastest path to drunkenness — he’d ordered a mint tea. He was here for the company, I guessed, since he let his drink cool while he leaned far over the back of his chair to talk to a man at a nearby table.
“There have been other researchers who have come to these forests,” the Arab was saying, “but none so famous as me. This conversation we are having might not seem like much now, my friend, but one day you will brag about it.”
Maybe if the Arab had said he was a rich businessman, the man would have been impressed. But a researcher? What did that even mean?
“You have heard of janegoodall?” the Arab continued. “No? Well. Many important people came together to make a vote. And do you know what they concluded? They have decided that Africa should have its own native janegoodall. And that person is to be me!”
It was clear that the man did not know what the Arab was talking about any more than I did. I figured, though, that if a janegoodall was something all of Africa could have only one of, it had to be important. I edged closer, deciding this was the time to give the nearby chairs a good rubdown, shining them like lamps. It brought me even nearer to this strange man who had said my mother’s word. I smiled for real as I worked, without knowing why I did.
Eliot Schrefer is the author of Endangered, a 2012 National Book Award Finalist in Young People’s Literature. He is also the author of The Deadly Sister, The School for Dangerous Girls, Glamorous Disasters, and The New Kid. Schrefer is a contributor to The Huffington Post and has been profiled in Newsweek and New York Magazine, among other publications. He lives in New York City. Visit him online at www.eliotschrefer.com and on Twitter @EliotSchrefer.
IF YOU’RE A FLOCK MEMBER, PLEASE READ ON FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK! (IF YOU’RE NOT A FLOCK MEMBER, LET’S RECTIFY THAT!)
Hey Flock —
(It’s just us now…)
It always warms my heart to see good literature for children and young people (of all ages)! Let me know that you’d like a chance to win a copy of Threatened by Eliot Schrefer, by sending me an email (anne [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org) with a creative subject line, by January 23, 2015 at Midnight EST. Include your postal address. You know how much I love to update data.
You’re the flock of ages!