Zoophobia

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“Honey, I was pulled over by a zookeeper this morning,” Mary sobbed.

Her husband Simon carefully put down his bottle of soy soda and gave her his attention. “What?”

“Yes, I was speeding,” she explained. “N-not fast! Just a little.”

“There is no excuse for this.” He took a gulp from the pop and sighed. “Did they keep the car?”

“Yes, Simon. I had to walk home.”

“I’ll get a lawyer.” Simon scrolled down phone numbers on the refrigerator. “Sometimes you can get the car back with a fine.”

Mary whispered, “I-I’m supposed to report to the zoo tomorrow.”
“Good!” He tapped on a number savagely. “It’ll teach you a lesson.”
Mary stared at him sorrowfully as he pleaded with a friend of the family for assistance with getting back the car. He asked nothing about getting her back.

Next morning, the neighbors mustered to shake their heads in disgust as men in khaki shorts came for her. She meekly squeezed into a cage in their dog catcher truck. It was tight and uncomfortable and she cut her finger on a burr in the wire. She had to lie down with her legs under her belly to fit when they closed and locked the door behind her.

Mary could peer out the cage as the truck drove around making other pickups. She could see other people, and worse, other people could see her. Most pickups were as submissive as she was, but a few struggled and were shot with a tranquilizer gun.

One man was particularly upset, screaming about something called a Constitution. Mary struggled to see beyond her angle of vision, but couldn’t quite make it out. The man bolted past her cage and she could hear him slam against the truck, rocking all the cages. She heard nothing for a while except for murmuring from the cage next to her.

The man screamed, running back in front of her cage. Mary saw a gash across his forehead.

Khaki men surrounded him in a semicircle, their tranq guns drawn. He backed up toward Mary’s cage, giving her a terrified glance. She reached a finger through her cage to give him the barest touch. They fired. One of the darts struck Mary, putting her to sleep.

Mary woke with a blurry nose up in her face. It was . . . yes . . . a woman, obviously displeased with her. As her head cleared, she saw a sign around the woman’s neck that said “Vulture.”

“She’s awake,” Vulture woman squawked. “About time.”

A dozen people clutched close to Mary. All of them had signs around their necks, each with a type of animal on it. Mary looked down and saw that she bore a “pigeon” sign.

“Welcome to the zoo,” said Marmoset, the chased man. The wound on his head had been dressed.

Mary stood up, but she was still a little woozy. “Is this . . . is this it?”

Marmoset shook his head. “No, not really. It’s just the holding area before we get . . . the procedure.”

“Before you all get the procedure,” explained Vulture. “My lawyer will have this all straightened out for me.”

“Maybe.” Marmoset snorted.
“You can count on it,” she insisted.
Mary took a stumbling step forward and propped her-

self up against the wall.
Aardvark put a hand on Mary’s shoulder. “You better

sit down, Pigeon.” He helped her to the floor. “The show is about to start.”

“The show?” Mary asked. “We get a show?”
“You are the show, honey.” Vulture goaded.
“That’s a false wall over there,” Marmoset explained.

“The public comes by for several hours to stare.” He looked at his vacant watch tan out of habit. “And it’s about that time.”

“Oh, no,” she said small.

Vulture leaped. “It’s for the good of society. It’ll teach malcontents that they better not practice antisocial behavior!”

“You’re for it?” Mary asked, fondling her pigeon sign. “What they’ll do to us?”

“Yes, turn you all into animals.” Vulture said with satisfaction. “It’s how you behaved, and what you will be.”

“Miss Vulture has a little cognitive dissonance problem,” Marmoset observed.

A motor cranked against aging gears, slowly lifting up the front wall. Sunlight spilled into the cell as Marmoset planted himself in front of the others with an obscene gesture at the ready. With the false wall gone, bars were revealed. Children squealed with delight as they caught the first glimpses of the prisoners within.

“Simon!” cried Mary. “Simon, is that you?”

Simon was in the crowd with his new companion. He pointed, and began throwing peanuts into the cell. It took Mary a while to sort out why he wasn’t answering. To him, she was an animal.

Marmoset did his best to pique spectator attention with an onslaught of kinetic insolence. Even the vilest of his curses eventually wore off on their short attention spans, but new arrivals kept the audience full. Marmoset was nearly exhausted by the time the false wall closed for the night. He collapsed on the floor.

“Now what did that prove?” mocked Vulture.
“That I am,” he panted.
“That you are what?” she pecked.
Mary knelt over him. “I think you were marvelous,” she smiled.

No one noticed how two zookeepers entered the pen, but they shoved Mary out of the way. Roughly wrapping a tether around Marmoset’s neck, they quickly dragged him towards a corner and dropped down through the floor with him. Mary followed them through the opening before it sealed behind her. The fall knocked her unconscious.

Awaking with a terrible headache, Mary sighed, rub- bing the large welt on her crown. A little dried blood matted her hair. “Twice? This can’t be good for me,” she said to herself.

The clinical white corridor seemed to throb as she staggered around the corner. She passed a gurney and thought about taking a little rest. So sweet, the foam board seemed.

Staggering further, she found a door stenciled “H+ LAB.” She hesitated. She knew what she would find, or at least she had a general idea, but to see it, see it alone, see what they had in mind for her ached more than her head.

She opened the door and screamed. Behind, Zookeepers darted her multiple times. The room receded as she gasped, “Three times is not fair.”

Mary awoke on the wing, remembering. She fluttered her beautiful blue wings up through the branches of taller and taller trees, hoping for cover.

“The net, the net Stephano!” she heard a zookeeper cry down below.

Stephano swept a long net pole through the air in vain, trying to catch Mary. She made it to the highest branch of a tall eucalyptus tree. A tiny Pygmy Marmoset was waiting. He climbed aboard the huge Crowned Pigeon’s back, hold- ing on to her crest plumage for stability.

She maneuvered along the branch until she reached a part of the aviary mesh that Marmoset had partially chewed through, imperceptibly. She pecked at it. The size of a turkey, she set all of her weight to pushing through the mesh. It gave way with effort.

One last look below through a blood-red iris, then off. The couple flew to freedom.

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