Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. Here’s the third excerpt from The People of Brandwell Zoo. It’s part of the first meeting in the Chimpanzees’ enclosure. All feedback is welcome. All text copyright Quinn Sermon 2013.
‘And now,’ Regulus continued, ‘I must introduce to you all the Animal who has made this meeting possible: an old but courageous and resourceful individual who has very kindly agreed to stand by us until we are all free, however long that may take. Armadillos, Aardvark, Beavers, Porcupines and Meerkats, I have the very great pleasure of presenting to you our good friend Vulsutus.’
From behind Homino stepped an Animal the size of a Beaver with a long face, a bushy tail and reddish-orange fur.
‘Fox!’ Castor cried in fury, and before he knew it he was charging at Vulsutus, teeth bared.
‘Castor!’ Regulus shouted, grabbing him with his strong hands. ‘If we are going to work together to get out of this place, we must all agree to co-operate with each other without resorting to violence, regardless of size, intelligence and species. Whatever experiences you have had with Foxes in the past are irrelevant here, because the only real enemy to any captive Animal is the human.’
Castor thought for a moment, still glowering at Vulsutus, and then remembered a scene from over a year ago: a beautiful reservoir of still water that he and Muru had created by building a magnificent dam across the river. They were busy collecting wood for their lodge, when suddenly a blast from a human tool shattered the peace; next moment, he heard Muru crying out in distress, but as he rushed to help her another blast sounded and he was knocked onto his side, trapped in a thick net too tough to chew through. Excited shouts of humans in the distance came closer …
Castor closed his eyes and relaxed his muscles.
‘I agree,’ he said quietly.
Regulus let go of him and stood up, addressing everyone again:
‘Vulsutus lives freely in the wild, but has chosen to come into the zoo to help everyone in any way he can. It was I who stole the key to this enclosure from a lazy human, but Vulsutus procured several small pieces of metal that were used and will continue to be used to pick the locks of other cages. We deliberately didn’t pick many locks tonight, because we are just learning how to do it effectively and without detection; we chose to get all of you out of your cages because we could simply carry you over the walls without opening any doors, and only had to pick a few locks to get into your night-time cages.’
‘Why do you keep saying “we”?’ asked Simi, glaring at Regulus again. ‘You didn’t bring anyone here – you just sat here while we did all the work.’
‘Simi!’ Homino shouted, making her flinch again. ‘I won’t tell you again.’
‘However, I’m sure that we will quickly get better at lock picking,’ Regulus carried on, as if Simi hadn’t said anything. ‘We are intending to bring more Animals to tomorrow night’s meeting, possibly including the Elephants. Naturally, we will have to meet outside once Animals their size start coming. This enclosure has an outside section, which is where I first managed to contact Vulsutus, but Elephants will not be able to get through the tunnel, so we will meet in the clearing next to the door you came in through.’
Elephants, Castor thought warily, picturing an enormous Animal with a long nose writhing like a colossal Snake and huge, horny ears staring down at him with piercing yellow eyes. He didn’t know what tusks were, but they sounded painful, so he imagined them as hundreds of gnarled spikes all over the Animal’s body. It made him wonder just how many Animals lived in the zoo and how many were dangerous …
As if in answer to his thought, an adult female Chimpanzee came rushing into the enclosure, holding what looked like a thin tube of metal and gasping for breath.
‘Prima!’ said Homino, looking concerned but not getting up.
‘Are you alright, Auntie?’ said Regulus, but Prima looked away, grabbed a piece of fruit from the floor and stuffed it into her mouth.
Panja hopped down from her nest to where Prima was crouching, gently stroked her head and shoulders and started to groom her fur. Prima’s breathing gradually became calmer, and she started to speak once she had swallowed the fruit:
‘I’ve looked around the rest of the zoo,’ she said slowly, still looking down. ‘Even with the torch,’ (she raised the piece of metal in her hand) ‘I couldn’t quite see into all the enclosures. My guess is that there are over a hundred Animals here; mostly Mammals and Birds. There is a section near here with many cages full of Birds, including Vultures, Parrots and Flamingos.
‘Quite a distance from here is a building I couldn’t see inside, but judging by the faint smell coming from it, I would say it houses a group of assorted Reptiles; indeed, just outside that building is a wooden pen containing two enormous Tortoises.
‘Some of the Animals are very large and dangerous: there are five Elephants, five Ostriches, one Giraffe and a pair of Antelopes I didn’t recognise. The last Animal I saw … frightened me.’
Beginning to shake again, Prima raised her head and looked Regulus in the eye.
‘It was huge – easily as large as at least three of us. It had deep orange fur, a long, swishing tail, four large paws with sharp claws and a mouth full of long, sharp teeth. When it saw me shining the light it roared and started attacking the things in its cage; if it got out, I’m sure it would tear us all apart within minutes. Regulus, more than anything else, it looked like a Lion – a giant Lion with black stripes.’
Someone gasped; Castor looked round to see Hysti stepping forward timidly.
‘Stripes?’ she said, sounding terrified. ‘I think I know what that is – it’s a Tiger.’
‘I think you’re right,’ said Pumil, trembling with fear.
‘Tell us more, Hysti,’ said Regulus, looking perfectly calm.
‘They don’t live in the Philippines,’ Hysti said, ‘but we’ve heard rumours about them from mainland Asia. They will attack anything, even enormous Animals such as Buffalo, hunting mostly at night with insatiable hunger and a constant desire to kill. They are the most dangerous things we know of … except humans, perhaps.’
The Porcupines looked expectantly at Regulus. So did Prima and the other Chimpanzees. So did everyone else.
‘Interesting,’ was all he said.