Thank you to everyone who’s read my first excerpt from The People of Brandwell Zoo so far, and thank you in advance to everyone who will read it in the future! Here’s the second excerpt, set on the evening of the same day. Panto and Panja, cousins of the main Chimpanzee Regulus, are taking some of the zoo’s Animals to the first of five meetings to plan how they can all escape. Copyright Quinn Sermon 2013.
‘You took your time, Beavers,’ said Panto, when the three of them emerged from the water.
Castor took no notice of him and addressed Panja:
‘My mate Muru is staying behind to look after the kits. This is my son Solum and my daughter Fibrica.’
‘Good,’ said Panja. ‘That’s everyone, then?’
‘Yes,’ said Castor, without hesitation. ‘We’re a family of ten.’
‘Right, let’s go then,’ said Panto, reaching across with a long arm and seizing Fibrica around the middle without warning.
‘Hey! What are you doing?’ she demanded.
‘Getting you out of the cage,’ said Panto, grabbing Solum with his other arm. ‘You can’t get over that wall by yourselves.’
With both young Beavers in his grasp, the Chimpanzee shuffled over to the wall on his bent hind legs and vaulted over it.
‘Panto!’ his sister called after him. ‘They might not have spines, but you still need to be careful with them!’
‘Spines?’ Castor asked, looking worriedly at the place where Panto had disappeared from his sight.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Panja, ‘he’s just showing off because he couldn’t do that with the Porcupines. Er – excuse me.’
Panja gently lifted Castor up in both of her hands, carried him the short distance to the glass wall and carefully placed him on the ground on the other side before climbing over herself.
Castor barely had time to take in the feel of the rough, sharp stones under his feet before he saw something that shocked him: two Animals who looked like Beavers – small Beavers with no tails and long spikes all over their backs.
‘What happened to you?’ was the first thing he found himself saying. ‘Were you attacked?’
‘Attacked?’ said one of the Beaverlike Animals, who had a gruff but friendly-sounding voice. ‘No, nothing’s attacked us since the humans, two years ago.’
‘Did they stick those spikes in you?’ Castor asked, appalled. ‘They look horribly painful.’
‘They are,’ said Panto heavily.
‘Spikes?’ said the Animal. ‘No, no, we’ve always had these; they’re growing out, not going in. We’re Philippine Porcupines, you see. The name’s Pumil; the mate’s Hysti.’
Hysti inclined her head to Castor, who was about to introduce himself when a group of at least ten long, skinny Animals came scampering into view; they ran to within a tail’s length of Castor, then suddenly stopped and raised their slender bodies up one by one, each saying a different greeting as they stood up:
‘How do you do?’
‘Pleased to meet you.’
‘Nice weather, isn’t it?’
‘Perfect night for a gathering.’
‘We are Meerkats –’
‘– from southern Africa.’
‘We all have one of two names:’
‘– and Suricata.’
‘May we ask your name and species?’
Castor was rather taken aback by the Meerkats’ volley of introductions, but after a second’s bewilderment he shook his head and said, ‘Uh, Castor. Eurasian Beaver.’
‘Pleasure,’ said the Meerkat who had asked him. ‘Suricatta at your service. And here we have Suricata, Suricata, Suricatta –’
‘Yes, we get it,’ said Panto. ‘You’re all Suricatta. Now let’s go.’
As Panto set off on his knuckles, Suricatta and the other Meerkats followed him, taking turns to correct him:
‘Not all Suricatta –’
‘– only six of us are Suricatta.’
‘The other six are Suricata.’
‘There’s a distinct difference:’
‘Oh, please shut up!’
Panja laughed at her brother’s annoyance and beckoned to the Beavers and Porcupines:
‘Come on then, I’ll show you our enclosure.’
They all set off, and Pumil fell into step beside Castor.
‘Don’t mind the Meerkats,’ he said warmly. ‘Their enclosure is right next to ours, so we hear them all the time. They may seem annoying at first, but after a couple of years you start to wonder how you ever used to get to sleep without their inane gabble ringing in your ears.’
‘I see …’ said Castor, hoping that he wouldn’t have to spend too much time with the Meerkats.