|A Day at the Zoo
Author: anonymousse PM
Don't let the kidsy, benevolent title fool you--this short story about a zoo has a horrifying twist. The rating is due to the fact that there's nothing actually inappropriate or violentRated: Fiction K - English - Sci-Fi - Words: 1,406 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 2 - Published: 02-20-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2777619
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen," said the tour guide cheerily, beckoning the tourists to stand around him. "Welcome to the Imperial Menagerie. Please, no outside food or drink, and no flash photography; it frightens the animals."
The tour guide had a boisterous but knowledgeable, professional manner that suggested he had given this speech many times before. He stood with his hands behind his back, bouncing on the balls of his feet energetically as he addressed the small crowd of visitors circled around him: parents with small children in strollers, older children clutching balloons or their mothers' hands, elderly people who were bored enough to visit a zoo, and a few nature fanatics with khaki shorts and wearing socks with sandals. The group generally had a fixed ratio of representatives from all these categories, and today was no different.
"Now," he continued with a toothy grin, "let me tell you a little about the history of this zoo. It once belonged to the king, hundreds of years ago, when animals were imported from all over the world to entertain him, and for the naturalists to study. Of course, as this country has since advanced quite a lot, and we're a democracy now, it is no longer under a king's control—however, we kept the name for historical integrity."
Those tourists who were interested listened with rapt attention, though one woman was trying to console a fussy baby, and a few parents were shushing their whining children.
"Come this way," said the tour guide, walking through the intricately wrought golden gate. Metal curls and spirals formed an archway over the visitors as they walked through, who were taking pictures with cheap disposable cameras (without the flash, of course) and pointing at everything they saw. A souvenir shop stood to their left as they entered the park, the booth overflowing with stuffed monkeys, snow globes, animal print t-shirts, and key chains.
The tour guide came to a stop in front of the first barred cage, about the size of a living room, only filled with straw and a food trough—not to mention the fat, bovine-like creature with curly, ridged horns, chomping unconcernedly on grass.
"This is a newly discovered species—the red speckled ox," said the guide wisely. "Of course, it may not sound exciting, but notice the size of those horns. When angered, it will charge its enemies. We call this one Freddie," he added with a smile.
"This creature here is a little more exotic," he said, moving to the next cage. Inside, a jungle cat with purple and black lightning-bolt stripes and tufted ears shredded a gazelle carcass to pieces with its teeth. As bloody sinew was torn from bone, the creature devoured it. One of the tourists shrieked and clutched her heart.
"What is it?" someone asked faintly.
The creature leered at them with dagger like, bloodstained fangs.
"A black striped leopard," said the man proudly, waving a hand dramatically at the cat.
A few young boys gathered at the fence between the brick walkway and the bars of the cage, their eyes huge and gleaming with fascination.
"Now, now, boys, I wouldn't get too close," said the tour guide reprovingly, wagging a finger at them.
"Aren't the cages secure enough?" asked a mother worriedly.
The tour guide laughed comfortably. "Of course they are," he said, "these bars are made of the strongest steel and titanium alloy. And even if the beast escaped for a moment, our guards have instant-tranquilizer guns and are highly trained to use them. There is certainly no escape for any of these wild animals."
The sightseers looked reassured.
"Now if you'll come with me, I'll show you our latest attraction, a very exciting new addition to our zoo."
The new exhibit was a glass enclosure about the size of a small house. A few visitors gasped; the children leaned against the fence for a better look.
"What is it?" breathed a little girl.
"A very, very striking creature," said the tour guide in a hushed voice for dramatic effect, "taken from another planet, in fact."
It certainly was a strange creature. It walked on two lanky limbs, while the other two hung limply at its sides. It paced the floor like the caged beast it was, frustrated and bored. Two widely spaced, beady eyes were set in its face, and yarn-like thread covered the top of its head.
"Strange animal, isn't it, folks? We nicknamed this one Jack," said the guide, almost fondly.
Mr. Hawkins lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling blankly. His face was completely stony: glazed eyes, never blinking, and smooth forehead, expressionless. Hours went by as he lay there, watching a shadow on the ceiling.
The bedroom was fairly nondescript—a queen-sized bed with a plain beige comforter, a bedside table with a lamp and a stack of dry, dusty dime novels, a shaggy green rug, and a potted fern. Mr. Hawkins' eyes swept the room only momentarily—he had memorized it already.
A knock came on the door.
"Mr. Hawkins, would you like some lunch?"
He sighed, recognizing the thin, cool voice. "Alright," he called.
The moment the woman entered, he suppressed a shudder. He could not deny his revulsion when he studied her eight-foot-tall figure, stocky and sturdy like a tree trunk, with skin exactly like parchment: that yellow, that texture, and that apparent fragility. Worst of all was her face—she had no hair, a very long neck, a wide, squashed nose, and (more horrifying than any of it) a single enormous eye, right in the middle of her forehead. In his mind, he called her Miss Polyphemus, thought to her face he used her name, Isabel.
He knew these creatures were not Cyclopes, but called themselves Cambrians.
Isabel's big brown eye was open wide and friendly, and she smiled. "Chicken soup, your favorite," she said brightly, showing him the tray in her hands. She perched herself on the edge of his bed. "You should eat it while it's still hot."
Mr. Hawkins sat unmoving, but his eyes flitted to her face for an instant, and then away.
Isabel sighed, her eye drooping. "Please, Mr. Hawkins," she said, shaking her head, "don't look at me like that. I hate to see you so depressed."
He snorted quietly. "What would you prefer, then?" he muttered. "Perhaps I could do a few cartwheels for you all."
Isabel winced. "For heaven's sakes, you know I don't like this any more than you do," she protested.
"Then how about setting me free?"
"It's impossible. They'd catch you before you got to the gate—and then they'd 'discipline' you to make sure you didn't try again."
Frustrated, Mr. Hawkins pounded his pillow with his fist.
"I know," she suggested hopefully. "What you need is some new books. I'll bring you some tomorrow. That'll help take your mind off things."
Hawkins smiled sardonically. "Oh yes, that's bound to distract me from everyone pressing their faces against the glass to look at the freak."
The corners of Isabel's eye crinkled in sympathy. "I'm sorry, Jack," she murmured, standing up. "Truly, I am. Don't forget about your soup."
After she left, a scowl spread across Jack Hawkins' face.
The walls were made of glass. Through them, he could see many one-eyed Cambrian tourists watching him curiously, pointing and babbling excitedly.
"There he is, a full-grown, genuine human," said the tour guide proudly. "Imported straight from Earth, he was."
"It's so strange-looking!" marveled a woman.
"Are they intelligent?" one man asked.
"For an animal, yes, they have remarkably developed problem solving skills," explained the guide. "It's quite amazing, really—almost like they're really thinking, the way we do!"
The audience murmured among themselves, intrigued and impressed.
"We're getting another import soon," he added, "so this fellow here will have a female friend. We're not sure if we can breed these creatures, but we can sure try!" The others chuckled with him.
Inside the enclosure, the tormented prisoner paced his "bedroom," and if one had been paying attention, one could have sworn that he was surely feeling anguished, if he was able to feel at all.