“Ok, no chit-chat today Jean, I have a test for you.”
“Yawwwwwwn, what is it? I just woke up.”
“You always just wake up. This is important!”
“Go on and say it…”
“Are ghosts real?”
“Are what, what?”
“You heard me.”
“Why don’t you wish to figure that out?”
“Last week you gave me some very…intense news. That’s the only way I can describe it. I haven’t been able to get much sleep since then, and with no sleep comes endless thought. I have gone over a million questions to ask and I think this one encompasses a great deal. If ghosts are real than it answers a lot about things that keep humans awake at night. I thought if it was just one question you wouldn’t mind answering. So will you?”
“Well, if you’re not going to use your wish, than I don’t see why I should answer…for free at least.”
“What could you possibly need from me?”
“I may be all powerful and have control over the cosmos, but what I can’t control is how boooored I feel today,” Jean spoke in his normal drawn out sloth-like manner, but when he said bored, he dragged it out much longer than Tyler cared for.
“Well, get un-bored. Can’t you do that on your own Mr. All-Powerful?”
“Don’t get snappy with me. It’s a Friday, you should be in a much more chipper mood, no?”
“I would be a lot happier if you resolved some of the existential crises you’ve awoken in me.”
“I think solving my boredom takes priority,”
Tyler closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He intended to count to ten but stopped at four. Time was of the essence.
“Fine, what do you want?” he asked the sloth.
“If I knew that I wouldn’t be bored…fine fine, I can tell you’re feeling particularly impatient today. Why not tell me a story?”
“A…story?” Tyler was expecting a much more extreme request like letting the lions out of their cages or something even more sinister.
“Yes, telling stories is the perfect human invention for time killing.”
“I always thought most humans did something else to kill time…”
“What else could they-oh. Well, yes, I suppose that’s more prominent, but let’s stick to storytelling.”
“Fine, just give me a minute…” Tyler sat down in his usual spot on the bench across from the small sloth exhibit. What could possibly be entertaining enough for Jean? Hasn’t he heard and doesn’t he know everything? What kind of a story could surprise an all-knowing being?
“Alright, I think I have something maybe even you don’t know,” Tyler said
“I’m on the edge of my seat…”
“Once upon a time-“
“What’s wrong? I just started!”
“Can’t you come up with a more original beginning? Every fairy tale starts with that.”
“Well, I figured because everyone thinks that, that would mean it is almost never used anymore. If no one uses it because they think everyone uses it, doesn’t that mean it’s never used?”
“I’m just saying it isn’t a promising start. Go on,” Jean said, his eyes looking sleepier than usual.
“Right. So, once upon a time, there was a great lost city. Sailors called it-“
“Atlantis. And it isn’t a lost city, it was just a metaphor Plato created that people took too seriously. What else you got?”
“Ok, well…in London there was once a man, some say he was more of a demon-“
“Jack the Ripper. And he wasn’t a demon; he was just a confused alien I lost track of. Third time’s the charm.”
Tyler stayed silent, racking his brain as hard as he could. What could Jean be shocked by if he knew everything? Unless…
“Ok Jean, I guarantee this will surprise even you.”
“Can’t wait,” if Jean could roll his eyes he would have.
“This is a story that, while frightening to many, I know you will see the real horror in it. I’m certain you’ve never heard of it because this is a story that has never been told,” Tyler, still sitting on the bench, leaned in closer and his voice fell into a whisper. “This is the story of the origins of the sloth.”
Jean raised one of his eyebrows slowly, wanting immediately to interrupt and say he was well aware of the history of sloths. He thought better of it, and stayed quiet. He was never one to dismiss a story about sloths.
“Innumerable lifetimes ago…” Tyler continued, “When life crawled out of the primordial ooze, an act built on instinct alone many would say, saw rise to the first and most powerful emotional reaction in the history of this world. Whatever creature took that initial step on land felt the first semblance of the emotion of “shock” for when it blinked its eyes to adjust to sight above the water it saw that it was not alone. Its first clear image was of another set of eyes looking back at it. Whatever this being was, it was there to witness the beginning of life on this planet.”
Wasn’t that Fred? He’s bragged about that plenty. Jean thought to himself but continued to listen.
“This elder being that watched over life on our planet when it first came about, stayed with our world for millions of years. It saw the rise and fall of every species that existed before us. One particular species however, was the only one he ever helped rise. This creature’s single action taken on Earth led to the creation of the sloth.”
That doesn’t sound like Fred…
“As I know you know, sloths didn’t first begin in the trees, but lived on the land. Have you ever wondered what drove the sloths into the trees?”
Well…I thought I knew…
“Sloths did not rise to live amongst branches and leaves of their own decision. They didn’t climb into the trees. They fled there. This elder creature that lived and watched before even bacteria existed unintentionally forced them to flee.”
“W-What did it do?” None of this fit with anything Jean had heard about sloths, and it worried him.
“When the creature first met the sloths, he loved them. In his love, he felt an even stronger pity. The creature had watched over the earth for so long and had seen the birth of every animal, plant and living thing there was. He looked about the sloths and felt immeasurable grief. He knew that at their speed, they would never see even the tiniest fraction of all the Earth had to show. Because he loved them, more than any other thing he had seen, he felt overcome with the need to take action. The only gift he ever gave to anything on Earth was given to the sloths. He had been a pure, perfect bystander to Earth prior to this, never altering any development. For the sloths he broke this rule. I don’t know how he did it, and I don’t think I ever will, but to the sloths he gifted the ability to see all the world had to offer.”
“What’s so scary about that? That’s a good thing,” Jean exclaimed.
“Are you sure? You, who revere the way of the sloth above all else, truly believe that?” Tyler’s voice rose far above a whisper as he proclaimed, “For what he did was make, no force, all the sloths to move faster than any other animal in the entire universe!”
“No! That’s not true!”
“Yes! At blinding speeds the sloths could move. From one continent to another they ran, soaking up all they could see. The creature had turned the sloth into the perfect tourist, able to travel endlessly. With this gift came the curse: no matter how badly they wanted it, the sloths could never rest. Could never nap. Could never chill.”
“Stop! Stop this Tyler, how dare you speak such blasphemy? I could never have imagined such-“ and Jean’s face that was plastered with as horrified a look a sloth could make, sweat beading along the entirety of his unkempt brown fur, his claws clinging for dear life on the branch he hung from, shifted. He narrowed his eyes and stared at Tyler’s face which had an annoyingly wide smile on it.
“See, I said I could shock even you,” Tyler smiled and couldn’t hold back his laughter as he looked at his friend’s exasperated expression.
“I never imagined you would speak such…horrors.”
“That’s why it worked.”
Jean sighed deeply and turned his head to look away from Tyler.
“Well…” Tyler said, “Are ghosts real?”
A minute passed, but to Jean it felt like hours. He gathered all his mental forces and calmed himself, which normally was easy for a sloth to do, and turned his head back to look at the boy. Before he represented youth and innocence, but with a story like that, he could never look at him the same way again.
“Tyler, I…I’ve never been shocked before.”
“Happy to be the first to see it than,” and he smiled.
Jean smirked and turned his head back away from the front of his cage.
“I can still come back right? After all, I still haven’t made my wish.”
“You must come back. To be the first person to shock me, I wouldn’t give up the chance to hear your wish for anything.”
Tyler couldn’t help but smile, though he didn’t let it go to his head. He picked up his bag and made for the exit.
“See you later Jean.”
He could ask about ghosts another time. The sloth now had his own existential crisis to think about.