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In the Green Jungles of Envy

slipstream fantasy by Jay Lake

In the green jungles of envy the tiger stalks his prey.  Stripes flicker through shadows, the casual eye seeing nothing more than the flicker of sunlight on the trees.  Monkeys scream from their high perches, throwing mud and sticks and worse down like a solid rain, as if the earth had mistakenly risen to beat against the uncaring tropical sky.  There is always too much water or not enough.  The word “sufficiency” is not in nature’s vocabulary, not here.


“I don’t give a flying god-damn what the FAA says.”  The CEO, whose name was on the building, screamed into the telephone, pounding his teakwood desk with the butt of his letter opener — an antique Turkish dagger worth more than most of his employees’ homes.  “You’re the broker, straighten it out.  I’ve been waiting too god-damned long for this jet.  I’ll get it somewhere else if I have to.  Do you hear me?”  He shook the phone in his fist.  “Well?”

After a while, the CEO started picking teak splinters out of the palm of his hand.


In the green jungles of envy the ferns grow larger than a poor man’s house.  Tall hardwoods creak in the wind as pythons slither down their polished bark.  Small animals crash through the brush, chasing smaller ones to their furry, squealing death.  The beetles, ever patient, await their turn to polish the bones.


The marketing director, whose name was on his door, wandered into the copy writing team’s bullpen, coffee mug in hand.  He’d read that if you held a coffee mug, that made you more approachable.  That was part of the “screaming monkey” theory of management, something about primate dominance.  He felt like he should be picking lice off someone’s head, but the coffee mug and a good style with memos had seen him through three promotions in four years.

“Schmidt, could you step into my office, please?” he said.

Layoffs were never easy, but if he managed headcount tightly enough, he’d qualify for that year-end bonus.  Then he could pay for the Lexus he’d been promising his wife for months.  Malenkov and Popper would probably have to go too, but they’d find jobs somewhere else.  Sooner or later.

They’d be okay, he told himself, sipping at his coffee.


In the green jungles of envy ants march from time to time, clearing a path from which even tigers and elephants will flee.  Dragonflies with wings the width of dinner plates haunt the tree-lined swamps, while scaled monsters out of prehistory slide through the mud, leaving only bubbles and tail tracks impossibly broad.


“We’re out-sourcing all the custodial and grounds work.  Friday is you guys’s last day, and I don’t want any slacking off before then, you hear?  The contract service will bill us for shit you were too lazy to fix.”

Christ, thought Keller, there wasn’t enough money in the world to do his job.  Today he had to fire forty-two spics, every one of them with some stupid name like Angel or Jesus on his overalls.

“What about severance?” called a moon-faced man in the back of the crowd.

Keller shrugged.  “Two weeks, same as anybody else.”

“COO got two years’ pay when he was fired.”

“Then why don’t you go fucking apply for his job,” Keller snarled.


Many paths lead into the green jungles of envy, but none lead out.  Some ways can even be opened from afar, by a bruja with his chicken blood or an isangoma with his sacred fires.

A man whose name is on his building might find his jet crashed there, stumbling out of the wreckage only to be eaten by tigers.  A man whose name is on his office door might be swept off the rail of his cruise ship one storm-tossed night, washed up there to be eaten by a crocodile.  A man with a bad attitude and hard heart, he might have to settle for being beaten in the parking lot by six brown-skinned men in identical coveralls, the names on their patches covered with duct tape.

But the patient, egalitarian beetles polish all bones, and the tiger always finds more prey.


Reprinted with permission.  Copyright 2008 by Joseph E. Lake Jr.

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2011 books are Endurance from Tor Books and Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh from Prime Books, along with paperback releases of two of his other titles. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy awards.

[Return to the February 2011 main page]

2 Responses

  1. […] What do scavenger beetles and corporate executives have in common? To find out, visit Jay In the Green Jungles of Envy, a place that promises so much but offers no way […]

  2. I loved this story, a finely written and evocative meditation on the karmic consequences of envy and heartlessness.

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