Tag Archives: Excerpt

The People of Brandwell Zoo – Excerpt 4

This is the first of the excerpts I’m including from Brandwell Zoo that is from the humans’ point of view. Several human characters have already been introduced, and the Warden has previously been mentioned, but this is the first time she and Tristan appear.

With five o’clock only a few minutes away, a tall, ginger-haired woman in her mid forties prepared to leave her office. Her features generally resembled those of a statue rather than a person: her sharp, angular nose, high, prominent cheek bones, thin, pale lips and uniformly straight hands ending in long, claw-like nails made her look as if she had been carved out of a block of wood. The only hint of any life within the shell was a pair of small, deep blue eyes.

With great speed and accuracy that showed the twenty-three years she had been working in this office, the woman slotted all her pens into the black pencil cup in the far-right corner of her desk, placed her stapler next to it and cleared all the files and loose pieces of paper off the desk, putting them away in the drawers next to her right leg and the filing cabinet behind her; by now, she could have done it with her eyes closed.

Finally, with only a cursory glance at a glass dome containing a stuffed owl, she plucked a yellow duster off a hook on the wall and carefully ran it over the triangular nameplate standing at the front of her desk, throwing its engraved letters into sharp relief:

WARDEN J. H. RAMSBOTTOM

Just as the Warden was reaching for her coat, a series of three hard, heavy knocks on the glass of her door made her hand clench into a fist: she knew who was knocking, and would rather talk to anyone else at this time.

‘Come in,’ she said impatiently, still looking away from the door as she took her coat.

The door banged open and a tall, muscular man in a tight-fitting green polo shirt marched in: he had short, dark hair, a thin carpet of rough bristles on his face and strong hands with nine thick, sausage-like fingers; his right index finger was missing.

‘Tristan, it’s five o’clock,’ said the Warden. ‘This had better be important.’

‘Of course it’s important,’ Tristan said dismissively. ‘Any issue I bring up with you is always important.’

‘What is it this time?’ the Warden groaned, inspecting her fingernails. ‘I’m supposed to be meeting Max for dinner.’

‘Well, your boyfriend will just have to wait, won’t he? It won’t kill him if you’re a few minutes late.’

‘Don’t talk about Max like that,’ the Warden said through clenched teeth.

‘I need to talk to you about the conditions of the animals’ enclosures,’ Tristan pressed on. ‘And your decision to hire that lazy nephew of yours, Howard.’

‘Tristan, we’ve been through this before –’

‘No we haven’t. I’ve tried to talk about it several times, but you always think of some excuse to avoid it – usually something to do with your bloody boyfriend.’

‘Tristan, it’s five past five, Max is waiting and I’m going. Come back tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow is Monday.’

‘So it is,’ said the Warden, putting on a falsely sympathetic smile as she picked up her handbag; she hadn’t forgotten that Monday was Tristan’s day off. ‘Well, you’ll just have to wait until Tuesday, won’t you? I’m sure that won’t kill you.’

She opened the door, still smiling at Tristan, and watched his brown eyes roll upwards before he strode out of the office. She waited until his footsteps became distant, then stepped out and locked the door. She was used to Tristan trying to complain about petty things that he exaggerated to make them sound more serious, but this time she thought he might actually have a point: Howard’s work ethic did indeed appear to be poor.

Checking that the door was locked, the Warden put the key in her handbag and set off to meet Max, deciding to talk to Howard tomorrow.

The People of Brandwell Zoo – Excerpt 3

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.

The People of Brandwell Zoo – Excerpt 2

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:

‘Hello.’

‘Good evening.’

‘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:’

‘Suricatta –’

‘– 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:

‘No, no!’

‘Not all Suricatta –’

‘– only six of us are Suricatta.’

‘The other six are Suricata.’

‘There’s a distinct difference:’

‘Suri-cat-ta,’

‘Suri-cah-ta.’

‘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.