Chapter 1 by Joy Wilkinson
“Look, Daddy, look!” A girl, dressed in blue embroidered jeans and a bright red T-shirt, pointed at the image of a lion plastered across a poster hoarding just outside the entrance. “Are we going to see lions today? Will we, will we?” She jumped up and down in excitement. “And monkeys? And giraffes? And zebras? And horses? And rabbits? And..”
She burbled happily along, skipping to the ticket booth, white trainers flashing in the sunlight.
“Welcome to Africa Alive!” proclaimed the sign high above. The man beside her patiently queued and paid for tickets, holding his daughter’s hand, not wishing to let go.
“There they are!” and the girl rushed off, map in hand. “Stacy! Wait for me!” cried her dad as she was swallowed by the crowd surging towards the high metal fence with its promise of scary beasts.
On the other side of the fence, a stoical calmness lay over the large grassy paddock. Emma, a young lioness, flicked her tail lazily and looked across at her sister, Amelia.
“I bet those two toddlers at the front are going to start growling any minute.”
“What kind of bet is that? They always growl. Badly. But growl they do.”
And sure enough, as if on cue, the small humans behind the fence started growling and dancing around, including a small girl in a bright red T-shirt.
“It’s nice of them to put on a show for us. Better than Netflix.”
They watched as the small humans danced around even more frantically as they tried to get the lions to react. Eventually, they got bored and ran off to see the giraffes.
“Well, that’s enough for me.” Amelia got up slowly, stretched her back, turned gracefully, and padded off towards the trees at the far end of the paddock.
She disappeared into the shadows and laid down, pushing her nose into a small grassy mound at the base of the old elm tree. Within seconds, the head of a meerkat appeared.
“Good morning, Brian, what have you got for me today?”
Brian pushed his head out of the hole and stood, stretching his body up and twisting his head to check all was clear.
“Well and good morning to you Amelia! George sends his regards, says his Mum is much better, that willow bark you suggested really did the trick.”
“Ah, good. But don’t keep me guessing, what have you got for me?”
“Ok, ok, keep your hair on!” Brian reached into the burrow and pulled out a Samsung 8 smart phone. It looked like a large book in his tiny hands but he nimbly manipulated the keys and switched it on, turning the screen so that Amelia could see.
The image showed a mature male lion, a thick, dark mane framing a wise face.
“Bit old, isn’t he?”
Brian swiped left and the image was replaced.
“Too skinny.” Swipe.
“Too muscly.” Swipe
“Too arrogant.” Swipe
This time the image showed a young male, mane not yet darkened with age, his eyes twinkling.
“That’s more like it!”
It was all fine and good for the zoo to have a breeding programme, I mean she was all up for saving the planet and all that, but it did help to fancy the guy, right?
Brian swiped right this time and checked the details. “I’ll talk to Pablo over at Zoo de Madrid and we’ll get it sorted, don’t you worry.” He had a bit of a soft spot for Amelia. Life had been a bit rough when Dave had been around.
“Sorry, got to go, I’m on duty in about five minutes,” and he scampered back into the earth.
“Stacy, don’t go running off like that!” Philip grabbed his daughter’s hand as she dragged him forwards.
“Look, Daddy, that meerkat is using binoculars!”
“Don’t be silly, animals don’t..” but his words failed as he stared where Stacy pointed. And sure enough it really did look like the meerkat on the top of the colony mound was using binoculars. It must be the dark markings around its eyes, or a trick of the light. Yes, that must be it.
“Shit,” said Brian.
Chapter 2 by Rosemary Ostley
“Brian, language,” remonstrated Avril as she emerged from the burrow, closely followed by their teenage daughter Betty. Brian dropped the bins and held them in one paw, turning to face the ladies. “Sorry. Betty, what on earth have you got on your eyes – go and wash it off - NOW.” “But Dad…” “No buts, just go before anyone sees you.” Avril winked at her and gently pushed her back down into the burrow. “So what was ‘shit’ all about, then?” she asked. “Someone’s pest of a kid was windmilling at me; I think she noticed the binoculars. “Ah, so what else is new?”
“Fecking hyenas over there by the oak trees, rolling about and laughing. Everyone knows it was them laced the penguins’ fish with blow yesterday. No morals, that lot. I’ll have a word with Amelia, see if she and the others can put the wind up ‘em. Where’s Benny? Tell him to look lively and take a turn as lookout. I’ve got a call to make.’ When Benny crawled out of the burrow, rubbing sleep from his teenage eyes, Brian disappeared round the other side of the tree with his mobile.
‘Harry? Brian here. Yeah, long time no talk. Look, I may need your help. We’ve got a potential here. What? Problem, mate, of the human kind. Someone’s kid may have spotted me using my bins. No, you plonker, not the rubbish ones, my binoculars. Yeah, right, dodgy. Any ideas?’
‘Leave it with me, replied Harry, I’ll talk to the brothers and see what we can arrange.’
‘OK, but don’t take too long, right. And don’t be a dick – the old “flashing the bum” trick is old hat. You baboons should have come up with something a bit more sophisticated by now. We just want to encourage her to forget what she saw. Nothing too heavy. Most of the visitors want to get the last drop for their money, so she should be here for a while. I can see her over by the giraffes – she’s wearing a red T-shirt and she’s got some stupid star thing on her head – it keeps jiggling about.’
‘Understood’, said Harry. ‘We’ll go take a look. Gotta be a bit careful. Edwin – you remember Edwin? – got banished to the rock on Gib for what was termed ‘an obscene act’. Bet the visitors there love him, though!’ he cackled.
Brian put his phone away and retrieved his binoculars, taking care to conceal himself behind low-hanging tree branches this time. He focussed on the child as she stared up at Frankie, the largest of the giraffes. ‘Daddy, why have giraffes got such long necks?’ Dad was about to reply when he noticed a commotion in the next section where the baboons lived. Some of the crowd were laughing at their antics as they put on a play-fight display. He hoisted Stacy onto his shoulders so she could see them. One baboon socked another one who fell down and played dead, crushed berry juice ‘blood’ all over him. ‘No,’ screamed Stacy. ‘Daddy, daddy, he’s killed him.’ ‘Job done’, Brian said to himself. ‘She’ll be catatonic for a while now.’
Stacy was led gently away by her furious father so didn’t see the ‘dead’ baboon stand up and take a bow. ‘Watch out brothers,’ warned Harry. Look busy, the keepers are coming.’
Chapter 3 by Ray Mayhew
Head keeper Charles grumbled as he walked quickly with his baboon keeper John. “Flipping Baboons, they give me more problems and visitor complaints than the rest.” It felt like a personal slight, after all John was their keeper and didn’t see them as a problem but he had to admit “There’s definitely something up, otherwise why the crying children?”
“Yes, don’t forget then the laughter and applause,” added Charles.
Arriving at the baboon enclosure all looked pretty normal. Between the two of them they were literally clueless. Peering through the mesh fence Charles asked, “What’s this? as he pointed to the ground on the other side.
“Could be blood, I’ll have to check there are no injuries when I get them into their night quarters” responded John.
‘It’s strange the things the visitors discard’ thought Avril as she rummaged in the items she had stored underground. 'You never know when they will come in handy for us meerkats, was her motto. ‘Hmm, these two objects will be ideal for dealing with those awful hyenas’ was the thought that sent her scurrying along the burrows, later returning with two of the strongest males. "You know the plan and there is your weapon and ammunition. You’ll have to be quick about it as keepers’ break time will be over in 10 minutes.”
“OK” was their collective response.
Tracy took a long time calming down after the Baboon upset so Philip was composing his ‘It’s your turn for the next zoo visit’ talk in his head ready for arriving home. "Do you want to go and see the penguins?” he tentatively asked.
“Ooo yes, yes please. Do they have to wear goggles when they swim under water? was her excited response.
“Let’s go and see if they do.”
Their route passed the meerkat enclosure where two larger than average males emerged at the top of a mound. The first had a catapult, which he firmly held up and braced himself in position with the elastic band trailing behind. His partner in crime tensioned the band with an out of date pot of yogurt. When it got to the point of pulling his comrade over he let go. “Daddy, daddy the meerkats are playing with a catapult.” Tracy’s voice floated over Philip’s head as he gazed intently at his mobile screen. "That’s nice dear” was his distracted response. The meerkats could not believe their luck. Not only had they hit a hyena but it was Growler, the leader of the pack.
All the other Hyenas exploded with laughter at great volume as the discoloured goo exploded from the pot and dribbled down the victim’s face. That was until a very loud scary growl drowned them out. Although silenced, they could not avoid stifled giggles. The outburst caused Philip to look up. The weapon had already been whisked underground. So everything seemed normal. “What was that you said Tracy”
“The meerkats are playing with a catapult. You’ll never guess what they did next.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“They put a pot of yogurt in it and twanged it over the fence.”
“Well that’s……... surprising” Philip responded thinking ‘what an imagination she has. Better keep a check it doesn’t take over from reality.’
The meerkats were summoned to a meeting in the biggest underground chamber. When Avril told everyone what had happened there was uproar of whoops and cheers. “That’s the good news,” she added.
“What’s the bad news then Avril?” one of the crowd shouted.
“We will now have to really be on our guard. The hyenas will not take this lying down.” Brian added “However, Growler was lying down when he was hit but yes, stay vigilant whether you’re on lookout duty or off duty. Even you young uns need to keep your eyes open and tell Mum or Dad if you see anything odd happening.”
Philip’s long strides had his diminutive daughter almost running to keep up “Let’s keep going to see what the penguins are up to Tracy”, he encouraged her, to avoid her latest meerkat fantasy being developed further. As they approached where the penguin pool should be all they could see was a large crowd and above the hubbub was the sound of splashing water.
THE ZOO, CHAPTER 4
The penguins were reaching the end of a raucous union meeting as Stacy and her increasingly exasperated father headed towards the compound. From Africa Alive, the giraffes could see agitated flapping of flippers. The penguins were already furious with the hyenas for lacing their fish yesterday. Now they’d heard that the flamingos had flounced, danced and curtsied their way into the next publicity leaflet. Again!
“What a bunch of big girls’ blouses!”, grumbled Rosa. “Always showing off. It’s just so unfair. We’re the ones that attract the crowds with our ‘comical walk’ and ‘underwater antics’. They wouldn’t know what had hit them if we stopped being so … so … endearing”. To be honest, she was getting a bit whiny now, and Louis heaved a sigh, “Yes dear!”.
So, a work to rule was proposed. When the keepers threw fish into the water, the penguins would refuse to chase them. Instead, they would form an orderly queue, taking the fish only from the keepers’ hands. It would take ages, and give them lots of opportunity to air their grievances.
Stacy dashed up to the wall surrounding the penguins’ beach. She was hoping to get a good view of feeding time as the keepers were arriving armed with buckets of fish. She loved the penguins more than anything and had actually been given an adopted one for her birthday. “Daddy, where’s Rosa? She’s my penguin!”. “Erm, I don’t know sweetie”, he said, just a bit distracted. On the telly, he’d seen penguins crossing the Arctic – or was it the Antarctic? – in great long lines. But this seemed very odd. The penguins appeared to be forming a queue. One of them tripped over another one. “Ouch!”, cried Rosa, as her cousin Cuba sniggered.
The keepers were puzzled too. They started throwing anchovies into the pool, expecting the penguins to shoot into the water. But there was not a splash, just a noisy stand-off before the leader of the penguins, Krill, shuffled up to them and squawked imperiously. “Come on then, mate. Feed me!”, he said. Not that this was exactly what the keeper heard. “Well, he obviously wants to be fed”, she said, and pulled a fish from the bucket. Krill swallowed the fish whole, secretly quite relieved as he’d been getting ever so hungry. Then he quietly tottered to the back of the queue.
“Jeepers, this is going to take for ever”. The keepers were getting worried. They’d lost track of which penguins had been fed and the crowd assembled for feeding time had melted away, grumbling. They’d be in trouble if there were any complaints. Only two people remained – a girl in a red tee-shirt, firing questions at an exhausted looking man.
Over in the meerkat enclosure, Brian was getting tense too. It was no fun being next to the lions when they got hungry, and feeding time seemed to have stalled completely. A low, irritable growl gave him the shakes. “What the snout is going on?”, he asked, although nobody was there to hear him. The others had given up waiting and were digging around in the grass for any worms or other titbits they could grub up. He knew he’d have to be careful but maybe he could do a quick bit of reconnaissance. He glanced carefully around the enclosure, then dashed quickly behind a tree, pinning his back close to the bark., like the policeman he’d watched on the Samsung. Satisfied all was clear, he whistled nonchalantly and strolled back to the burrow for his binoculars.
Round Robin, Chapter 5. Zoo Capers
by John Broadhouse
Brian the Meerkat retrieved his mobile phone and dialled the Animals Union Representative and explained the situation regarding the Penguins disrupting the animal's feeding times.
“Don’t worry, I will sort this out”, exclaimed Jeff, the Mara from Patagonia; to look at he was a cross between a Rabbit (front half & a Deer back half) and had complete access to all the zoo grounds, it was a privilege the humans bestowed on his breed as they delighted the visitors with their antics and gentle nature.
On the way to the Penguins enclosure with his trainee sidekick Brutus they were spotted by a family of humans who instinctively pointed their mobiles at them for a cute photo, the small human decided to give chase and slipped away from the family in the hopes of catching a Mara.
“What shall we do”, asked Brutus.
“Let’s give him and his family a bit of exercise”, laughed Jeff, “they don’t know that we can reach speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour so they will never catch us, we will let the little human get very close, then when he thinks he’s got us, we move slightly further away and we keep doing it until he gets tired out, the family of course will have to chase after him, you could say we are doing our bit to keep them fit”.
Eventually the two Mara’s reached the penguin’s enclosure and organised a union meeting behind the living quarters while four large penguin’s stood sentry duty at the front to entertain the visitors.
“Ok, I will tell the Hyenas that if they lace your fish again you will go on hunger strike and disrupt the entire feeding programme, I nearly forgot to mention that the sealions have offered a few of their fish as a token of goodwill if you keep to your allotted feeding times, as their performance was ruined by your behaviour, as most of the humans lost interest having to wait”, said Jeff finalising the deal.
“I always get results when it comes to food”, smirked Jeff looking at his Rolex, “it’s time we got to the bird flying display, it starts in five minutes, don’t want to miss the flight formation of the macaws but we will have to hide when the big birds of prey come out”.
Four macaws flew in formation above the heads of a throng of people seated on the concrete seats of the amphitheatre, the vivid red, blue, and yellow feathers of their outstretched wings and sleek bodies looked amazing.
“Let’s show these humans what we can do”, squawked Group Captain Polly, “dive to the centre of the arena and then up just above their heads, maybe knock a hat off”.
The Macaws did another circuit and then disappeared behind the amphitheatre; the crowd showed their appreciation by clapping.
Next to be announced was a troupe of small vultures who were lively and very inquisitive and wandered amongst the spectators looking for food.
“This is where we help the vultures”, explained Jeff, “that family, third row in, have their food bag open, so I will wave to the vultures and point to the family, and then we watch the fun begin”.
Four vultures converged on the family and dived into the food bag pulling out sandwiches, crisps and sausage rolls, which they immediately started to eat, some of the crowd gasped while others laughed, but it was all staged and the unfortunate family were zoo employees who were compensated.
“That little caper always draws the crowds in”, remarked Jeff, “the next is also good, it’s Richard the Secretary Bird”.
“He’s a scrawny looking bird”, replied Brutus “doesn’t look if he could do much apart from taking notes and writing letters as he’s a secretary”.
“Very funny, they got called Secretary due to the long protruding feathers behind their ears which look like pencils, secretaries many years ago used to keep a pencil there, anyway Richard kills and eats snakes”.
“What venomous snakes”,
“He’s not fussy, just watch him in action and you will see what that scrawny bird can do”, Replied Jeff.
The keeper introduced Richard and placed a rubber snake on the ground a metre away from him, he instinctively went into hunting mode and gingerly approached the snake, his long featherless legs with their sharp claws and his sharp beak where no match, as Richard grabbed the snake with his feet and bit its neck in lightning speed, tossing it in the air he repeated the process until he thought it was dead.
“Remind me not to get in a fight with him”, exclaimed Brutus.
“The next one out is Arnie the Bald Eagle, so we better make a move as he’s been cautioned a few times for taking the fish from the lake while doing his demonstrations plus killing a Mara that got in his way”.
“Yes, I'm out of here”’, replied Brutus feeling a bit scared, “where to next, I can race you and hopefully reach my top speed”.
“The Sealion house, just to let them know that the Penguins have agreed to the deal”.
The Zoo - Chapter 6: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
by Matthew Goodwin
Audience or not - the Sealions were oddly...flat.
"Good news," said Jeff. "It's a 'Yes' from the Penguins." He felt a bit awkward.
"You're forgetting the Hyenas," said Brutus. "You know what Hyenas are like..."
Jeff paused, checked his watch. "We'll do the Hyenas next."
"They're a hard sell -"
"I'll talk them round..."
Drew - Sealion spokesman - wasn't listening. His whiskers twitched as he spoke.
"It's that Canary -"
"Vogel?" said Brutus.
"What is it this time?" said Jeff.
"The key," said Drew, "the key to our hatch. He's stolen it..."
"So you're locked in -"
"Worse - before Vogel escaped, he left the hatch unlocked. So now...It's every Sealion for himself. Anything could step out of that hatch.
"If I was a Mara, I'd have the run of the place. We'd be stir crazy if the hatch was locked for good. But now we can't close it..." Drew trailed off. "Don't tell the Lions."
Where was she? The Penguins had mostly disappeared. Other than four remaining Penguins outside the enclosure, there was none to be seen.
Half hidden by the bushes, Gracie was lifting what looked like the door to a storm shelter wide open.
"It's Rosa!" said Gracie, "and that other Penguin - the tall one with the bright yellow crest - they're in here."
Gracie disappeared through the hatch.
Steps led down to a platform - Gracie took a seat on the bench along the wall - noticed the empty rails waiting for their train to come in. On the opposite wall, amongst the posters, were the large words 'Platform 23'.
Gracie could hear Philip catching up.
Rosa was sitting just inches from Gracie - Krill was trying his luck with a slightly down-at-heel vending machine.
He looked a little downcast as the Humans wandered in. "This means trouble..."
"It's your fault," said Rosa, "I told you to lock the hatch behind you."
Philip took one look around him, turned to Gracie, briefly took in the Penguins, and looked back at his daughter.
"Gracie..." Philip trailed off, confused. "This wasn't in the brochures..."
"Dad - it's Rosa. She's mine, remember?"
"That's no excuse - I really don't think we're supposed to be here..."
The two conversations continued - both gibberish to each other.
"It's that Canary," said Krill.
"Again?" said Rosa.
"He's stolen the key to our hatch. I would have said something, but...I didn't exactly want to advertise the fact we're wide open and defenceless..."
"Gracie - Penguins can't talk."
Gracie crossed her arms, scowled.
The train pulled up.
A synthesized voice poured out of an overhead speaker: Mind. The. Gap.
Rosa rolled her eyes.
Philip looked at the almost empty carriage, then back at the stairs to the hatch.
The two Penguins and the girl boarded.
Philip shrugged, then followed.
Growler looked up from his knitting. There was something in that look - a challenge.
"That ugly Dog is knitting. He's not even a girl!"
Richard lowered the comic he was reading. "Afternoon," he nodded at the two Penguins. He didn't seem too bothered by the Humans.
"Gift Shop?" said Krill.
"I get peckish," said Richard, "thought I might pick up a few snacks. You too?"
The Penguins nodded.
The speaker again.
The tube train began to move. Gracie took a seat. Philip held a railing.
Richard scanned the train - the only sound now was the tap-tap-tap of Growler's knitting. "Where's Vogel?"
"That Canary?" said Krill. "Where?"
Vogel settled on Philip's shoulder. "Hello?"
"He speaks English!" said Gracie.
"You've got our key!" said Krill.
Vogel ignored him, turned to the girl in the red top.
"I'm a Canary," said Vogel, "I speak everything."
He paused, as if mentally extending a hand. Introducing himself.
"Vogel," said Vogel.
Philip hesitated. "Philip," he said.
Vogel looked at Gracie. "You're Stacy, aren't you - we Canaries know these things..."
"Dad calls me Gracie, sometimes Stacy... Sometimes he calls me Tracy. But actually my name's Casey," said Gracie.
"Nice to meet you Casey," said Vogel. "You do realise the trouble you've caused?"
"What trouble?" said Casey.
"You're not supposed to be down here. They'll be Hell to pay."
Krill was losing patience - now the Canary was speaking gibberish too.
"You're forgetting our key," said Krill.
Rosa turned to Krill - the expression on her face unmistakable.
This can wait.
"Rosa!" said Casey, "it's me!"
Rosa looked at Vogel. "What's she saying?"
Growler stopped knitting, sighed. Richard went back to his comic.
Vogel shook his head, as if to dismiss the whole thing.
"You're adopted," he said.
“Where do you think you’re going”, snarled a cantankerous Emma. Her stomach rumbled and Brian squeaked in alarm. “He wouldn’t make a bad snack”, thought Emma, although she secretly rather liked Brian. And his nimble fingers were certainly useful sometimes. “Er … er … I was just going to get the binoculars … you know, to see what’s going on. You … you must be starving …”. He trailed off.
“It's those bloody penguins. Kicking up a fuss again. It’s taken ages to feed them and nobody else gets fed until they’ve finished. I’d go and p-p-pick up a penguin and t-t-teach it a lesson if I could”, said Emma, sarcastically.
Brian listened carefully, his mind racing. After a minute, he sat up straight. “I know, he said”, and disappeared into the tunnel.
“Adopted?” Said Casey confused and feeling slightly travel sick as she was facing backwards as the tube train rocked violently along. “I’m not adopted am I Dad?” Philip shook his head absently, fascinated by the sight of an animal knitting.
“No, No you are not adopted.” He said finally wiping a hand over his tired eyes. “Stace tell me honestly.” He continued. “Have I suddenly gone mad, are my tablets no longer working, is this it the fast train to the funny farm?” Casey placed a small hand on her fathers arm and smiled warmly.
“Oh Daddy you are funny. No you are not going mad. This really is happening.”
“We are on a tube train with talking animals?” Casey giggled
“Yes. Isn’t it brilliant “And Mum said that your tablets are working really well and we must never be frightened to speak about depression. I am proud of you.” She quickly stood up and pressed a small kiss on Philips cheek before facing the animals who had all fallen silent watching the scene unfold before them. “Daddy has depression but he is getting better. Sometimes he forgets things, it’s a side effect of his tablets that is why he gets confused sometimes with my name. We come to the Zoo to see you all because it helps him relax, Or at least it did help him relax.” She said holding Philips hand tightly. “Where are we going?” She asked suddenly as though the thought had only just occurred to her.
“Gift shop.” Said growler
“Chocolate crunch bars and strawberry laces.” Said Vogel “They had a new delivery in last night. We have to get to them before they have all been put out on the shelves.”
“Yes don’t want to miss out.” Said Rosa waddling towards Casey “If the shop people put them all out on the shelves we can’t get to them. This train only stops at the store room.”
“Oh?” Said Casey as though it were the most normal of things to hear.
“Yes when the rabbits dug the tunnel they stopped just short of the delivery area.”
“Bad measuring by the Moles.” Said Growler gruffly.
“Not their fault.” Chirped Vogel “After all they are great underground but their eyesight is rubbish in the light. I said that that Barnabas the Owl should have measured anything above ground. I mean with eyes like his how could he get it wrong?”
“Because he is asleep all bloody day that’s how!” barked Growler mostly annoyed because he had dropped a stitch and would have to undo three complete rows. “He only seems to wake up at night what good was that when we were working during the day?” Before anyone could answer the train came to a shuddering stop and a tinny voice echoed over the intercom.
“Last stop storeroom all exit here for… well the storeroom. Make sure you have all tickets and passports ready for passport control. If anyone needs wheelchair access make yourself known to our staff and we will totally ignore you.” The voice broke into a peel of manic laughter before the lights in the carriage glared brightly.
“Passports? Oh dear I do not have mine with me. What shall I do?” Casey looked at Growler nervously.
“Oh don’t worry Casey. Its only Marjory the Minor bird building her role. She seems to copy everything she hears. Last week she announced that president Kennedy had been assassinated on this very train. The Llamas were in mourning for days. Come on everyone chocolate awaits.” In a regular order they all left the train heading towards a set of iron steps that were heading towards a large wooden trapdoor. Casey pulled excitedly on her fathers hand.
“Isn’t this fun?” She whispered before being stopped in mid sentence by a voice that boomed from the light that suddenly emerged from the light of the now open trapdoor.
“Ok who’s down there? Don’t move I have a gun!”
by Veronica Sims
Casey froze and gripped her dad’s hand even tighter. He said, Ouch!
Did you hear that? There’s someone up there with a gun,’ she whispered
‘Really?’ said Dad, still in a world of his own.
The animals were squeaking and groaning their alarms calls.
‘I am asking, Who’s down there? No funny business I have a gun,’ the voice boomed out a second time.
The animals were now silent with fear.
Then Casey heard a sigh of relief from Rosa.
‘Oh, for Heaven’s Sake! Percy! you know it is us. We’ve come to steal some crunch bars and laces before you put them all out on the shelves.’
Rosa then pushed past Casey and started to hop up the stairs. The others surged after her.
Casey followed, with Dad trailing behind. She found herself in a wooden storeroom; she looked about her while the animals made a rush for their favourite sweets. On one of the beams above her head she saw a Yellow Nape Amazon parrot who appeared to be muttering to himself. Beside him on the beam was a toy pistol. He looked down on them: ‘Only, kidding, only kidding,’ he croaked.
‘Bloody hilarious!’ remarked Rosa, while tucking as many sweets as possible under her wings and shaking her head with irritation at being fooled by the cheeky bird.
Meanwhile, Casey and her dad just stood staring around, witnessing the daylight robbery that was taking place on all sides. Casey suddenly felt that as she was supposed to be the adopted parent of Rosa, she should comment on the outrageous criminal activity that was taking place.
‘Rosa, should you all be stealing like this? To say nothing of the bad effect all this sugary stuff might have on your health.’
Rosa tucked one more packet of strawberry strings under her wing and turned to look at Casey. Somehow Casey knew she was angry.
‘Look,’ said the penguin, ruffling her feathers, ‘You might have signed some paper to say you have adopted me, but that is pure fiction and a sneaky way the zoo has devised to raise cash to keep this prison going. We animals are nothing but slaves; even the snobby lions and those two mangey tigers, who hardly ever show their noses outside of their dens, are slaves. So, like any reasonable slave, we have our ways of coping; stealing sweets is one of those ways. Do you think for one moment that I would rather be here in a zoo, in the middle of a dirty, noisy, city where I must compete with the sneaky wild herons for my fish at feeding time, or be out on the ice in Antarctica, with my young, my family, my flock?' What amounted to an angry sob emanated from the penguin’s beak as she finished her rant.
Rosa didn’t know what to say. She had to think about this. She had always loved her visits to the zoo. She was devoted to the programs about wildlife on television. (She had always secretly wished Sir David Attenborough had been her grandpa instead of the one she’d got). She had never thought of the animals as prisoners.
Just then Dad seemed to emerge from his daze. He must have actually been listening.
‘She’s right you know, Casey. We have stolen animals from the wild for centuries to amuse us humans. For what they call sport, some people go into the animals’ homelands and shoot them, for fun, some people believe nonsense, such as ground-up elephant’s horn is good for their sexual health, and only now are we just beginning to worry that it was all a mistake.’ Casey noticed with alarm that tears were beginning to roll down her father’s cheeks. Despite his depression, she had never seen him cry before. She was scared, sad, even terrified; all at the same time.
Tears started in her eyes as well: ‘But what can I do? she pleaded.
by Joan Lightning
“Rosa!” Vogel squawked. “Stop bullying the poor child. You wouldn’t know what to with an iceflow if you found yourself on one. You were born here, as were your parents and grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents!”
“But…but” Rosa spluttered, but Vogel spoke over her.
“As were most of us. And if we did suddenly, magically find ourselves in our ancestors’ original habitats, even if we knew how to hunt and what to eat, we’d be competing for food with everyone else. Constant hunger, constant work, no time to rest, and worse”—he bit a piece off the confectionary he was perched on—“no chocolate!”
“She’s not wrong, though.” Philip said. “We shouldn’t have imprisoned your ancestors in the first place.”
“Maybe not, but we all know what’s happening in the world. Ice melting, deserts growing, forests cut down.”
“By humans.” Dad said.
“Yes, but other humans are trying to reverse it and we” —he pointed around the room— “are in a safe place with hope that one day our distant chicks/cubs/ whatever will have a chance to repopulate. As for what you can do…” he hopped towards Casey, who was still sniffling. “This is what you can do: stop littering your own nest and ours with rubbish. Learn to live more simply. Don’t keep buying new stuff and throwing away the old, especially when the old just ends up floating in someone’s home. And even more important right now, you and your Dad can reach up and knock down more chocolate from the higher shelves. OK?”
“Okay,” Casey said, and wiping her face first, she scrambled up a stepladder and knocked a box of chocolate bars onto the floor.
“Rosa! Rosa! Vogel!” All heads turned at the shout.
Jeff the mara leapt in through the open window. “Woah! Humans!” He stared at Casey and Philip. “What are they doing…? Never mind, no time. The keepers did a spot check and realised that two penguins are missing. They’re turning the zoo inside out looking for you. Brian’s organising distractions. The meerkats are using those plastic penguins from the display, trying to fool the humans that you’re loose in the undergrowth by the river, but some keepers are coming here, because this is where they found you last time. They can’t be far behind me.”
Philip gasped. “If they find me and Casey here, they’ll call us thieves.”
“Right.” Vogel snapped. “Growler, grab this chocolate bar.” he tossed one to the dog, “Now get out front, and as soon as you see the keepers, be obvious, and lead them away from the tunnel.”
“Casey, Stacy, Tracy, whatever your name is, you and your Dad get behind those boxes by the door. No, wait, first grab a penguin each, both of you, and be ready to run when Jeff gives the word.”
“What? No one is grabbing me!” Rosa huffed.
“Vogel’s right. They can run a lot faster than you can. They’ll be on the train while you’re still halfway down the stairs,” Jeff said.
“I—oh all right! But the indignity of it. Don’t either of you take photos!”
“I promise.” Casey picked up Rosa, and her Dad grabbed Krill and they ducked behind the boxes.
Barking started up outside, followed by human shouts and running footsteps which moved away from the door.
“Now!” Jeff called.
Followed by sundry birds, Casey and Philip, both clutching a penguin, dashed out the door, down the stairs and across to the hidden tunnel entrance. Once safely inside, they lowered the penguins to the floor.
“Thank you,” Krill said.
“Hmph’nk-oo” Rosa muttered.
“You’re welcome,” Casey said. They jumped on the train and were soon back where they had started.
Casey peered cautiously out of the hatch.
“Looks clear,” she said.
They dashed out of the hatch, across the path and into a patch of trees.
“Right. Humans, you go that way, now!” Vogel said, pointing with his wing. “Everyone else, with me.”
He flew off, followed by the birds.
The two humans looked at each other and headed to the café for some much needed icecream.