Tagging
by Ken Brady

37 votes, average score = 6.54

Near Three Gorges, deep in the heart of central China's Wushan County, Quinn Timmons spotted his quarry, a young male Reese's Peanut Butter Monkey™. The little monkey poked his red face out of a canopy of vines, peeked around warily, and when it seemed to think its surroundings were safe, made its move, bounding out across a clearing. Creeping down from his perch in a McDonald's Tallow Tree™, Quinn paused briefly to adjust the Sony Ferncam™ hidden in the wood so it would capture the full scene. When he reached the forest floor, he readied his tranquilizer gun, took careful aim, and fired. The Reese's Peanut Butter Monkey™, who was in mid-jump when the dart connected, fell like a stone to the ground below, rolled, took a few staggering steps, then finally collapsed again and stopped moving. Quinn made his way over exposed tree roots and around dangling vines to approach the unmoving monkey. Its blond-haired chest moved in and out.

Alive. Quinn breathed a sigh of relief.

Of all the animals Quinn had tagged for various advertising campaigns, the monkey formerly known as rhesus had proven to be the hardest to catch. He'd tagged fifty-six of the little bastards, and this last one made fifty-seven, which would complete his contract. Reese's™, the newest official member of the Endangered Species Sponsorship Association, had picked up the contract for the rhesus monkeys, and the only survivors of that species lived in this forest near the Yangtze River. Like hundreds of other corporations, Reese's™ now sponsored an entire species, making sure all the members of that species had food, health care, clean air, and clean water; in exchange, the company got the knowledge of having done a good deed, of saving creatures who, without monetary support, would not likely survive.

And, of course, they got advertising rights.

Quinn laid the monkey on its side and removed a stencil from his pack, which he spread over the sleeping creature. He then used an airbrush kit to carefully apply the Reese's™ corporate logo and trademark orange and brown colors to the monkey's coat. Turning the monkey over, he repeated the procedure on its other side. When he was finished, he stenciled on the monkey's stomach, "Hello, my name is..." Quinn paused. Naming was always the hard part for him, and he often chose behavioral traits exhibited by the animal to inform its name. He thought for a moment. The monkey was clearly male, and a little tentative in its movements, as it had peeked out into the clearing with some trepidation. Trepidation Quinn could understand; in this day and age it was a necessary survival instinct for every species. He smiled, and stenciled the name "PEEKY."

After taking a blood sample from Peeky for a lab test back home, Quinn administered a few shots. Then he patted the monkey on the head.

He pulled a few Reese's Peanut Butter Cups™ out of his bag, and one Hershey™ milk chocolate bar with almonds. Then he went to work, chowing on one of the Reese's™.

Quinn wished that he worked for Hershey™, as they had been advertising through the E.S.S.A. for several years, and were one of the big guns that constantly fought to get more animals onto the Endangered Species List – even when those animals were not even remotely endangered – and, therefore, had been sponsoring millions of domestic American cows, all sporting big Hershey's Milk Chocolate™ stencils. That aside, Quinn preferred milk chocolate with almonds to peanut butter and chocolate, and companies always gave freebies. But a job was a job, and he seemed to need more and more money to survive in an ever-quickening society. Didn't everyone? He ate another peanut butter cup. At least he wasn't the guy who had to tag all the Tallow Trees™ for McDonald's™; Quinn truly felt sorry for that poor schmuck.

As he rearranged supplies in his pack for the long hike back to the main road where his Lincoln Navigator™ was parked, Quinn heard rustling in the jungle surrounding him. He glanced around, noted that Peeky was still conked out in the clearing – and certainly would be for at least another fifteen minutes – then dropped the candy bars. He crouched down and dug into his pack. He wasn't armed, other than with the tranquilizer gun, so he pulled that out, readied a dart, and waited. He had seen more than a few endangered Ford Jaguars™ and Colt Pythons™ during this hunt, and those were only the sponsored animals, those moved to China for protection. And those were the ones he knew about; who could tell what other nasty creatures roamed this jungle, looking for their next meal.

Then there was more rustling, and when the foliage parted and a figure ran into the clearing, Quinn fired a dart into its midsection, realizing, a second later, that he had just tranquilized a skinny long-haired white dude in a loincloth and a New York Yankees™ baseball cap. The white dude stopped, picked the dart out of his chest, looked at it quizzically, and said, "Hey, man, you shot me," then fell to the ground. A second later, a black woman with short dreadlocks and dressed like an intrepid British explorer walked from the jungle, saw the fallen white dude and Quinn, assessed the situation, and ran toward Quinn, screaming the whole way.

"Whoa, whoa," said Quinn, backing up. He got to his feet and tried to get another dart into the chamber, but fumbled with the mechanism. Luckily for him, the woman tripped and fell, whacking her head on the ground. She immediately tried to stand up, held her head, and fell again. It appeared she was out cold.

Quinn put the tranquilizer gun down, and, for a moment, just stared at the two people and one Reese's Peanut Butter Monkey™ lying on the ground in front of him. This job just kept getting weirder.

He scanned their wounds. A knot on the woman's forehead said she would have one hell of a headache when she woke, and the man would be groggy for a while from the tranq, but they were all still breathing.

"This has got to be a joke," he said aloud.

Then he got busy tying the man and woman to a McDonald's Tallow Tree™.




The white dude woke, groggily tried to stand, then sat down hard. "What'd you shoot me for?" he said.

Quinn shrugged. "Look at you. You're half-naked and covered with mud. With you running out of the jungle, how was I supposed to know you weren't some sort of wild animal?"

"I'm not."

"What's your name?" Quinn said.

"Uh, Ringo," said the dude. Before Quinn could speak, Ringo continued, "Yeah, I know, so Mom was a big Beatles fan. Look, um...can I go now?"

Quinn ignored the question. "Who's your friend?"

"That's Jessika. She's a babe, huh? Don't get any ideas, 'cause, y'know, she's mine."

"Right," Quinn said. "OK, so who the fuck are you people and where do you come from?"

"Uh, well, I'm from Minneapolis, and Jess, she's from Portland, I think. The one in Oregon. Where are you from – "

Jessika opened her eyes. "We're People Who Hate Animal Advertising and Exploitation, Seattle branch," she said. She moved, then winced, putting her hand to her forehead. "That's P.W.H.A.A.E. We think what you're doing is wrong. And, Ringo, you pasty-faced weasel, I'm not yours."

"Sorry," Ringo said.

"Come off it," Quinn said. "Tagging doesn't hurt the animals. It helps them. Companies feed and take care of them, and they – "

"We've heard this shit before," Jessika said.

"Yeah, we've heard this shit before," Ringo said.

"That's right. Same old story."

"Look," Quinn said, and pointed to Peeky, who was lying flat and seemingly lifeless on the ground. "Does it look like there's anything wrong with him?"

"You mean other than that he's not moving?" Jessika said. "At all?"

"He's fine," Quinn said, and got up, then went to Peeky and shook him. The little monkey, tagged almost from head to tail in orange and brown, shook his head and got slowly to his feet.

"No, no," Jessika said. "Nothing wrong with him."

Quinn scratched Peeky under the chin, and the monkey looked up at him, shook his head again and sneezed. Then he lay back down and went to sleep.

"Dude," Ringo said, "how about all that paint and shit on him? It would suck to go around with ads all over your body. Quinn pointed at the big N.Y. logo on Ringo's hat, and Ringo took it off, looked at it, then shrugged and put it back on. "OK, so what, but it's my choice to wear this, right?"

"As long as all of them have the logos," Quinn said, "then I'm sure none of them care."

"Sounds like an argument for school uniforms," Ringo said.

"So," Jessika said, "what you're saying is that if, say, Microsoft™ made everyone in Seattle look the same and dress the same, and covered them with Microsoft™ logos, nothing would be different and no one would care?"

"You think anyone would care?"

"Hell yes," she said.

"How about if Microsoft™ also gave everyone food, shelter, high-speed web access and a new Mercedes™?"

Jessika opened her mouth to say something, but Ringo cut her off.

"Who's giving away a new Mercedes™? Sign me up, yo."

"See?" Quinn said.

"Look," Jessika said. "We just think it's wrong to do this to the animals when they don't even have a choice. Besides, you do it only to get something out of it."

"Me?" Quinn said.

"You. And everyone else like you."

"And you were going to do what about it?"

"Stop you," Jessika said. "Remove the logos, whatever we have to do."

"How many of you are there?" Quinn asked.

"How many of who?"

"People Who Hate Animal Advertising and Exploitation," Quinn said. Then he added, trying not to laugh, "Pwhaae."

"Oh," she said. She looked to Ringo, who shrugged. "Well, for now...two."

"You two."

"Right."

"I see."

Quinn nodded, watched them for a few moments, then said, "If I untie you and let you go, are you going to try to stop me? Or are you going to go home and leave me alone?"

"What choice do we have?" Ringo said.

"I can't promise anything," Jessika said.

"Great," Quinn said, and untied both of them. "As much as I'd like to leave you tied up, I can't be responsible for you getting eaten by a Jaguar™, because I do get tagging work from Ford™ from time to time, and they don't deal well with bad publicity."

"Ford owns Jag?" Ringo said. "See? I mean, that's fucked up."

"Glad you know what's important," Quinn said. He shook his head. What was any of this going to prove?

Ringo stood, stretched, and then waited for Jessika to do the same. Quinn tossed them both a Reese's™, then turned to give one to Peeky.

No Peeky.

"Guess your little friend bailed," Ringo said through a mouthful of chocolate and peanut butter.

Quinn looked around the entire clearing and saw that, indeed, Peeky was gone. Which sucked, because he had developed an affinity for the little guy, orange and brown fur and all. He opened the Reese's™ package and set the peanut butter cups down on the ground. Maybe Peeky would come back to get them.

Quinn heard a rushing sound and turned just in time to see Ringo swinging his own backpack full of tagging supplies at his head. He threw up his arms to block, but the pack whacked him in the forehead, and he saw stars. He dropped to his knees and saw Jessika approaching with ropes.

As Jessika tied Quinn to the same tree he had tied her to earlier, she said, "Maybe your monkey ran off to hotwire and jack your S.U.V. Ever think of that possibility? Teaching all the inhabitants of Earth to take handouts, to beg for help. I mean, why shouldn't a cute little monkey get his share? Maybe he's becoming human."

Or maybe, Quinn thought, the monkey had no interest in S.U.V.s, peanut butter, chocolate, advertising, people, or anything outside of its daily life, here in the lush forest valley. No thoughts but the day-to-day of real life, right in front of him, with all its faults. Being tied to a tree, Quinn wondered if it would ever be possible for him to live that way. But he could never say anything like that to these two. And definitely not now. How had he allowed this situation to come about?

"You're not going to just leave me here," Quinn said. He struggled against the ropes, but they held fast.

"Yeah, dude," Ringo said. "We are. Thanks for the chocolate, OK?"

"There are cameras. All over the place. You've already been seen."

"Yeah," Ringo said. "Right, there were cameras. Sorry, Sony™ can bill me or whatever."

Great, Quinn thought. So he was stuck here. Until he could get loose. And then get back in his S.U.V. and drive to the airport. To go back home.

"How am I going to get home? This is China," Quinn said. "We're not in Seattle, or Minneapolis. This is the wilderness."

Ringo looked at him, seemingly confused. "There's not much wilderness left, dude. Someone's got to do something about that, too, don't you think?"

"You?" Quinn said. Then he laughed, hard at first, but he let it trail off.

"Someone," Ringo said. "Maybe there are lots of us. You'd be amazed what people can accomplish when they believe in things strongly enough, you know? Even without corporate sponsorship. Sorry, dude, but we have to do this."

Ringo unfolded a stencil from his pocket and held it up in front of Quinn. It was covered with logos, symbols, product names and numbers. Dozens of them. Ringo pressed it close to Quinn's body. Then Jessika walked up, shaking a can of fluorescent hunter orange spray paint.

"Where did you get that stuff?" Quinn said. "You didn't have that with you. Do you have some sort of base out here? Who's paying you to – "

"Hey," Jessika said, cutting him off. "It's never too late to change your worldview." She unbuttoned Quinn's shirt, put her palm flat against his chest. "Never. You are who you choose to be. If you've got a heart. Feels like you do. There are always people who'll help you if you want to change the way things are. Just remember that. OK?"

Quinn nodded, unnerved by the way she seemed to know what he was thinking. But, then again, maybe that's what everyone was thinking. Or maybe people were just really easy to read nowadays. And who was to blame for that?

Quinn stood nearly naked, but for his pants. Jessika and Ringo began to tag him.

A few minutes later, through the haze of paint particles floating in the jungle air, the two disappeared back the way they had come, leaving Quinn alone, tied to his thoughts and a body of proof that he was no more than a tool for enforcing other people's ways of life on the rest of the world, and all for their own personal gain. The paint itched on his skin. He had never realized how uncomfortable it all should have made him.

If the monkeys had a choice, would they still go for corporate sponsorship? Would they want the handout, strings and all? Or would they find another way? Steal or even die first? Quinn, looked at his body, covered with bright orange logos, and thought the answer to that question was paramount. Humiliation and outrage, pent up frustration and stress pounded in his head. Then he began to cry.

All at once, the paint fumes rising off his body made Quinn's head swim. His vision faded until the jungle swirled around him into darkness.




When Quinn woke, it was dark. He looked around, saw that his gear was still there. He made a mental checklist of all his things: the pack, his tagging equipment, even the tranq gun. Everything, in fact, except the Hershey™ bar. He strained at his bindings only to find that he had none. Someone had untied him. He stood, shakily, and walked around, checking, but the Hershey™ bar was nowhere to be found. For some reason, that Hershey™ bar became the thing Quinn wanted the most, his tie to some semblance of normalcy. But, no, it was gone now. Normalcy was gone now. Ringo had probably nabbed it. But then he smiled. Maybe not Ringo. If he ever saw the little monkey again, maybe he would rename Peeky to Sneaky.

Quinn packed up his gear and then, exhausted from just that much exertion, slumped down next to the McDonald's Tallow Tree™ and closed his eyes. Why him? Of all the taggers that P.W.H.A.A.E. could harass, why him? But then, if it had happened to someone else and not to him, would he ever have questioned the way he felt about tagging? About anything? The thought was branded in his mind.

Things were rushing around in his head. Money, possessions, work, questions, decisions, insecurities. Could he live without all of that? Was it possible?

If you believed in it strongly enough, maybe.

His satellite phone rang. That sound, here in the jungle, seemed so out of place. Everything seemed somehow different now. All of a sudden. He looked at his phone. The caller I.D. said it was his manager, Bob Golly, the man who got him his tagging gigs. Quinn took a deep breath, then answered the phone.

"Quinn here."

"Quinn, got an excellent job in the works," Bob said. His voice, already high and squeaky, was amplified and distorted by the phone transmission. "How would you like to go to... Australia?"

"Not Koala Bears. Qantas Airlines™ has Koalas."

"Nah. Kangaroos, Quinn. Boeing™ is going to sponsor kangaroos. Isn't that great?"

"Boeing™?" Quinn said. "The, uh, jet manufacturer?"

"Right, but they like the kangaroos, cause when they jump they sort of go boing, boing, boing. Get it?"

"I get it," Quinn said. The world, he thought, was moving ever-further from reality, and at an ever-quickening pace. And no one ever saw how silly they looked from the outside. He looked down at his arms, covered in little car logos, his chest, covered in soda logos. How silly he would look to anyone anywhere.

"So what do you think?" Bob said.

Quinn felt something tugging at his arm and opened his eyes. Peeky sat nearby, no longer badged with a corporate logo, once again just a plain old blond rhesus monkey. Ringo and Jessika had obviously lied to him, one way or the other. Either they had gone out and removed all the logos from all the monkeys after they left him, or there were more than just the two of them, and the rest of P.W.H.A.A.E. had done the job. Maybe there are lots of us.

"Quinn, you there?" Bob said.

Peeky lifted a piece of rope in his hand, and Quinn wondered if the monkey had untied him. Anything was possible. Then the monkey dropped the rope and lifted its other hand toward Quinn, who opened his own hand to take the offered item. Peeky deposited a candy bar in Quinn's hand. Quinn looked at the candy bar, at first unbelieving, and then he smiled. The wrapper read Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds™.

"Thanks," Quinn said. "This is exactly what I needed."

"Great," Bob said. "There'll be tickets waiting for you at the airport."

Quinn opened the Hershey™ bar, broke it in half, and gave one half to Peeky, who began to nibble on it immediately.

"Companies," Quinn said into the phone, "have the same responsibility as individuals do, if not more. They should support causes that matter to them, not just causes that will give them something back, a return on their investment. You help others because you care, not because you want something in exchange for what you give."

"What?" Bob said. "What are you going on about? That's not how the world works."

"I know."

Quinn looked at the other half of the candy bar in his hand, then he gave that to Peeky as well.

"Look, it's what you do," Bob said. "That's what work is, what everything in society is about."

"Society is about taking care of each other."

"Quinn, what are you talking about?"

"It's my choice. It's everyone's choice," Quinn said.

Then he dug the keys to his S.U.V. out of his pack and tossed them to Peeky.

Peeky, mouth rimmed with chocolate, grinned widely, stood and jumped up and down a few times, and, with a rattle of keys and one ear-curdlingly loud screech, ran off.

Everyone's choice, Quinn thought. Ford™ and Colt™, Hershey™ and Reese's™, Microsoft™ and Boeing™, Jaguar™, Disney™, Nike™, DuPont™, even the good ol' U.S. of A.

"Quinn?" Bob said. "Are you there? Timmons?"

Quinn watched the little blond monkey bound away. Then he dropped his cell phone, put down his pack full of advertising accoutrements, candy bars, and tranquilizing devices, removed his pants, exposing the only part of him not yet branded, and followed Peeky into the jungle.

The voice of the Civilized World™ faded from his hearing almost immediately.


The End

Story Copyright © 2007 by Ken Brady. All rights reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2007 by Yury Zaporozhchenko. All rights reserved.



About the author

Ken Brady is a writer, actor, director, producer, and multiple kinds of geek. His stories have appeared in Analog, Writers of the Future, Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Fortean Bureau, Weird Tales, Modern Magic, Science Fiction World, Rosebud, The William and Mary Review, Frequency, Midnight Street, and many others. Additionally, his work has been reprinted in 8 languages, he's sold a screenplay to Miramax, has produced an award-winning feature film, and produced and sold several stage plays. He has a number of websites, among them www.notoneof.us.

In the photo, Ken is standing on the Yangtze River, very close to where the story is set.


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