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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1727463
A disastrous day at the zoo where things keep going badly.
The sun was shining brightly.  A gentle breeze stirred the vivid green leaves.  The only cloud in sight was a happy, fluffy, white one off in the distance.  The morning was just about perfect.
         Cheerful neighbors greeted each other as they retrieved their morning papers.  A playful dog barked happily as it’s owner walked slowly behind, heading for a relaxing day at the park.
         Everyone was happy today.  Everyone, that is, except for Mr. Theodore “Teddy” Brown.  For whatever reason, on this day, Teddy woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  Teddy had a job many of the neighborhood children were envious of, and Teddy was regarded as a pleasant enough young man.
         You see, Teddy is the chief zookeeper.  He spends all day with the various animals and teaches lessons for the tour groups.  The animals took the place of Teddy’s family.  He lives a life of solitude.  In his modest house, furnished with the bare essentials, Teddy treated every day the same.  A quick breakfast at home, read the front pages of each section of the newspaper, leave the house at 7:00 am, return home at 6:00 pm, watch the local news, small dinner for one, and then off to bed promptly at 11:00 pm to get ready for the next day.
         Honestly, Teddy was not unhappy with his lifestyle.  He was content living alone.  Ever since his days at the Children’s Home Orphanage, he felt more connected to animals than to people.  Animals didn’t judge him, they taught Teddy lessons without even realizing it, and (most importantly) animals don’t leave you, unwanted, at some orphanage.
         “Teddy, focus!” he told himself.
         Dwelling on his feelings from the past, Teddy realized he was running behind his daily schedule.  6:57 am and he hadn’t gotten the paper.  Breakfast would have to be missed today.
         He climbed into his old Jeep and drove to work, driving exactly the speed limit the entire way.  He entered the parking lot at the zoo and pulled into his assigned spot.  7:36 am and most of the employee spots were vacant.
         “Wonderful,” Teddy muttered to himself, feeling agitated.  “Bad enough that I’m 6 minutes late.”
         Teddy entered through the gate, showing his ID to the guard but refused to engage in any sort of small talk.
         “Nobody cares talking about the weather when we can plainly see that it’s nice outside today when they haven’t eaten breakfast,” Teddy fumed.
         He was letting the morning get the best of him.  Every day the same, right?  Wrong.  This was a bad day for Teddy, and he couldn’t see it getting any better.
         “7:45, time to stop by Charlie,” Teddy said to himself without looking at his watch.
         Teddy approached his destination.  He opened a door and walked inside the building.  Charlie was sitting in the corner, eating something, and ignoring the sound of the closing door and Teddy’s footsteps on the concrete floor.  Teddy, being the authority figure here, needed to make the first move.  Still, he had to be careful because Charlie was known for being a little moody.
         “Charlie,” Teddy started, while moving to the middle of the room.  “Why is it that whenever I see you, you’re either eating or sleeping?”
         Charlie replied with a grunt.
         “Charlie!” Teddy asserted himself.
         Charlie turned, walked across the room and sat on a nearby log.  He offered his arms toward Teddy.  Teddy took one of his friend’s arms in his own and looked Charlie in the big, brown eyes.
         “I’m serious, pal.  Your eating habits are getting a bit on the unhealthy side.  What are you now, 2, 300 pounds?”
         The young gorilla responded with a happy sounding grunt and climbed the nearby tree.  Teddy picked up the basketball at his feet and threw it into the branches for the gorilla.  Charlie caught the ball with one large hand, studied it a moment, then let it drop back at Teddy’s feet.  He was making a sound that seemed very similar to a laugh as the ball bounced loudly.
         Whenever he was playing with Charlie like this, Teddy was reminded of the “real” Charlie back at the orphanage.  Little Charlie was a year and a half old when he arrived at the Home.  He didn’t talk, but all the children could tell that he wanted to and that he was very intelligent.  Little Charlie would point and grunt at a toy he wanted or a person he was trying to communicate with, and if that failed, he resorted to head butting.  Teddy was very glad that Gorilla Charlie didn’t have that particular habit.
         “Alright,” Teddy said, returning to the present.  “Enjoy your day,” he continued as he left the pen.
         The next stop on Teddy’s morning ritual was the small primates enclosure.  This was going to be interesting.  Even early in the morning, the little monkeys had too much energy.  Too bad Teddy’s colleagues didn’t have the same morning routines as these guys.  Teddy entered the enclosure quietly, checked the food and water levels, ensured that there were no emergencies and left without incident.
         The 8:00 daily meeting was next.  The night keeper, Ben, met with Teddy each morning to discuss any issues that came up over-night.  From the research teams that came to study nocturnal habits of the animals, to any strange behavior monitored by the night staff of the zoo.  There were benefits to Ben’s job, such as being able to work without the zoo being crowded by the public, but Teddy wouldn’t give up working in the daylight for Ben’s late hours.
         “It was really a boring night,” Ben started.  “Dr. Reed’s team did some observing in the reptile house, but other than that, there wasn’t anyone around.”  Ben continued running down his checklist from the previous night, but nothing really stood out in Teddy’s mind to pay special attention to.
         “Alright, thanks,” Teddy replied quickly.
         Ben looked exhausted as he usually did after working all night and didn’t seem interested in talking anything but shop this morning.  That was fine with Teddy, as he was thinking about his rumbling stomach more than talking.
          Ben and Teddy parted ways, Ben heading for the parking lot, Teddy heading towards the main hall to meet up with the on-time employees working the day shift.
         “We have two school field trips coming through today.  Big groups that will need two guides each.  On top of that, we have folks from the retirement home coming today.  Not a big group and they’re easily managed.  Rick, I’m going to put you with that group.”
         “Oh, come on!” Rick exclaimed, clearly unhappy about leading old folks around the zoo that morning.
         That was one job nobody liked.  The old folks were easy to manage in that most of them were carted around in wheel chairs, but they were usually a grumpy group and wanted to things at their own pace: slow.  Very slow.  The school groups were easier in that the kids were always excited to be at the zoo instead of in school.  However, the kids were more likely to cause trouble when bored, so Teddy always assigned an extra pair of eyes to monitor them.  Plus, field trips were so set on their schedules with little regard for Teddy’s own personal schedule.  And Teddy, being the chief zookeeper, was usually set up for a lecture or two about some of the more exotic animals.  Looking at his chart, he grew annoyed when he saw he would be giving a lecture on the elephants and the hippos today.  Teddy loved all the animals, but on a hot day, the last thing he wanted to do was walk around the biggest, smelliest animals at the zoo.
         “Why couldn’t it be pandas?” Teddy thought to himself.
         “Anyway,” he said aloud, trying to not let the morning claim victory over his patience, “Tina and John will lead one field trip and Amy and Connor will take the other.”
         The four assigned group leaders merely shrugged.  After all, leading tour groups got them out of cleaning enclosures and feeding the animals today in exchange for dealing with the young students.  Teddy ran through the daily agenda of the special events at the zoo.  There were special events scheduled every day and today was the Penguin March and Feed the Giraffes Lunch.  After the daily events, Teddy sent the unassigned trainers and employees to their usual stations to prepare for the 9:00 am opening.  Everyone went to their assignments, while Teddy walked with the five group leaders to the zoo entrance to greet everyone to another day.
         The first school group was early.  That was good.  It would give Teddy time to get them organized, run through the usual introduction and get them on their way before confronting the other school group and hoping for cooperation from the chaperones while the children waited.
         “Greetings!” Teddy said loudly, hoping his loud voice would get the children to quiet down.  “Welcome!  I’m glad you’re here today and I hope you enjoy your time at the zoo and learn a lot.  You guys will be with Tina and John, who will answer any questions you have throughout the day.”  Teddy paused while Tina and John stepped forward and waved to the children.  “Let’s remember that this is the animals’ home and we need to treat them with respect.  Alright, I’ll leave you guys with your group leaders and you can get started.”
         Teddy waited with Rick, Amy and Connor for the other groups to arrive.  The introduction would be the same and Teddy could hear his stomach rumbling.
         “Rough morning?” Connor asked.
         “Missed breakfast, running late…” Teddy started as he saw another group approaching.  “Just trying to put on a good show so you guys and the public don’t suffer a similar tough day.”
          The organized groups got underway and Teddy was finally able to go to his office and grab a bite to eat.
         “Hey, Teddy!  There you are!” a voice called.
         Teddy turned around to see Scott, an eager, but very loud, very annoying new employee running his way.  “I need some help.  I think I may have lost my keys in the reptile house.”
         Teddy groaned.  Food would have to wait.  Teddy led the way to the reptile house and let Scott go in ahead so he could lead the way to where he thought his keys could be.
         “In there,” Scott said, pointing.
         Teddy groaned again.  Scott was pointing into the crocodile enclosure.  He rounded on Scott, fire in his eyes.
         “You mean to tell me that you dropped your keys among the crocodiles?”
         “Yeah, sorry,” Scott replied, looking at the ground.
         “And you left the door OPEN to come get me?”
         “Yeah, sorry,” Scott repeated.
         “Count the crocodiles,” Teddy ordered.
         “You heard me.  Count them.  Make sure none of them are roaming the halls, since you left the door ajar.”
         Scott entered the enclosure and began counting the crocs, while Teddy entered, looking for the missing keys.  It didn’t take very long to find them.  Herbert had them.  Herbert was the largest of the crocodiles and most of the reptile house attendants tried to avoid him as much as possible.
         “Just my luck.  Scott, any missing?”
         “No, that’s nine.  They’re all here.”
         “Scott, we have ten crocodiles now.  We just got the new one from San Diego last week.”
         “Oh!  Right.  Umm, I’ll be right back.”
         Scott left to go track down the missing crocodile.  It wouldn’t be too hard.  The reptile house was basically a curved, narrow hallway.  That, and all Scott would need to do was follow the screams.  Teddy turned to deal with Herbert.  How did a crocodile end up with a name like Herbert, anyway?  Well that’s what happens when you ask someone to throw out a random name without telling them what they’re naming.  Teddy picked up a stick and started moving very slowly towards the large reptile and tried to position himself away from his tail.
         One of the school tour groups approached the habitat and pressed up against the glass wall for a better look.  Tina and John tried their best to maintain order and back the children away.  But trying to get a group of kids to listen when you’re facing a 12-foot-long crocodile in order to get a set of keys back is nearly impossible.  That is, until Scott came back carrying Lester, a young, 3-foot-long crocodile.  John took the opportunity to distract the kids by letting them approach and pet the scales.  Teddy was able to turn his attention back to Herbert.  Moving the stick towards his mouth made the large crocodile turn his head away from Teddy.  He took the opportunity to quickly get behind, reach just inside the crocodile’s mouth and snatch the keys away mere seconds before Herbert could chomp down on his wrist.  Teddy left quickly, almost jumping towards the door, slammed it shut and used the rescued keys to lock the door.  While Tina took hold of Lester, Teddy thrust the keys at Scott without saying a word.  He’d hear about this when Teddy had time to calm down and think about what should be done.
         “Instead of eating breakfast,” Teddy reflected, “I almost became breakfast.  This day just keeps getting better and better.  If I make it back home alive, I’ll consider today a success.”
         10:00 am, time to head towards the penguins.  Teddy left the reptile house and walked quickly across the zoo, heading for the arctic habitats.  Nothing could possibly go wrong with something as simple as the Penguin March.  Little children were all over the place as Teddy got closer to his destination.  The parents were excited for their children to have the opportunity to get so close to an animal they would most likely never see in the wild.  A cheer went up from the gathered crowd as the leading penguin expert at the zoo, Hannah, came into sight.  Using a clicker, she was able to round up five penguins and get them into a single file line behind her.  Leading the way, she opened up the gate that separated the animals from the crowd and marched ahead, the penguins following behind, swiveling their heads around as they waddled.  Children shrieked with delight as they pointed and looked to their parents who were busy taking pictures with their cameras, most of which, Teddy observed had been purchased at the gift shop at the zoo’s entrance.  Hannah waved to the crowd and the penguins seemed to mimic her, raising one of their flippers in a wave as they paused.  Everything was going perfectly.  Hannah always did a great job with her shows and the Penguin March was always a crowd pleaser.  That is, until a toddler got too close, fell over, and landed on the foot of one of the penguins.  The poor animal gave out a loud SQUAK! and pecked quickly at the child.  The child screamed, probably more from surprise than from actual pain, but it was enough for the parents.  The mother scooped up her child and held him close, wiping away the tears.  Parents started yelling at Hannah as she led the penguins back behind the gate.  She tried her best to reason with the suddenly angry crowd, but highly emotional parents and animals they haven’t been around before are never a good mix.  This would probably end the Penguin March and be bad publicity for the zoo.  And bad publicity for the zoo was bad news for Teddy.
         Teddy stood up on a nearby bench and blew his whistle to quiet the crowd.  “People, please!  I know you’re upset at what just happened, but it was simply an accident.  Toddlers are prone to falling over and any animal, whether it’s the family dog or a penguin, is going to react to being trampled.  I am terribly sorry for what happened to that little boy, but I am sure he is just fine and I want to remind you all that there is nobody to blame for what just happened.”
         Teddy got off the bench and the crowd seemed to be content.  The Penguin March was done, though, and Hannah’s face was very red.
         “I’m so sorry, Teddy.”
         “It’s alright.  You couldn’t have seen this happening.  We’ve had dozens of Penguin Marches with no incidents.  It was just an accident.  Besides, the boy is fine.  He was just scared.”
         Hannah nodded, but otherwise gave no reply.  With the premature ending of the parade, Teddy realized, he could finally get something to eat.
         “Hey, you!” the mother of the boy-victim called, catching up with Teddy.  “You’re in charge, right?”
         “Yes, ma’am, I am.”
         “Don’t ma’am me.  I’m not that old.”
         “Sorry, miss.  I don’t mean to offend.”
         “Whatever.  I expect you’ll handle any consequences of what just happened here?” she questioned.
         “What are you talking about?  Your boy is fine and as I said, there’s really nobody to blame for what happened.”
         “Yeah, that’s all good for crowd control, but my boy is terribly upset and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”
         “Look, lady, I can see that you’re both very upset…”
         “Don’t!  Don’t try to be all rational here.  I want you to stop talking and DO something for my child.”
         “Alright.  How about a food voucher good for any kid’s meal at the zoo?” Teddy offered.
         “Oh sure, something goes wrong, so you throw food at the problem, hoping it will go away?”
         “I’m sorry.  What do you think would be an appropriate solution?”
         “A free zoo pass sounds reasonable.”
         “A free day at the zoo for two minutes of unhappiness is reasonable?”
         “You’ll also be showing that the zoo is willing to take responsibility for such accidents and avoid any bad news from getting out.”
         “Fine,” Teddy replied, more for the sake of getting rid of the crazy woman than letting her get way out of control with her demands.
         “So much for a problem-free Penguin March,” Teddy thought silently as he watched the woman leave with her voucher and child.
         Teddy finally found the time to sit down and eat something from the nearby vendor.  Hannah came over and sat down next to him.
         “How’s the boy?” she asked.
         “I feel bad for him.  That mother is going to drive that kid crazy.  And the schools that will have to deal with her…”
         “I meant is he hurt?”
         “Oh, that.  No, he’s just fine.  He was mostly surprised than actually hurt physically.”
         “Good,” Hannah replied.  “Frederick is fine, too.”
         “The penguin-victim.”
         Hannah left, feeling better than when she had sat down, now that she had time to catch her breath, and Teddy felt a little better now that he had had something to eat.  The next order of business was the elephant and hippo lecture for the school groups.  Teddy got up and, once again it seemed, hiked across another half of the zoo to get to another destination.
         “Maybe this zoo shouldn’t be organized by type of habitat,” Teddy thought.  “It should be organized around my schedule.”
         He chuckled to himself as he thought about Charlie the gorilla being next to the penguins.  “Maybe not,” he thought.  “Toddlers are bad enough.”
         The school group lectures were only going to take about 7 minutes.  But it was getting hot out and the elephant enclosure was starting to smell very bad.  The children cheered as Doug, the elephant handler, brought out Fiona, the zoo’s oldest female elephant.  Next, Doug’s assistant brought out Gary, the zoo’s oldest male.  Teddy went through explaining the differences between male and female elephants, but stopped when he thought the kids might get the wrong idea and stop taking the lesson seriously.  To end the lecture on the elephants, Doug brought out Dumbo, the zoo’s youngest elephant who was born in captivity a year ago at the zoo.
         “Does he fly?” a child asked.
         “Seriously?” Teddy thought to himself.  “It’s just a name, kid, and I really don’t have the patience for these types of questions after the morning I’ve had.”
         There were no real questions, so they moved on to the hippopotamus part of the children’s lecture.  The children didn’t seem that excited about the lecture, well go figure, it’s hard to get excited about hippos.
         At this point, it was Teddy’s favorite time of the day: his lunch break.  He found a nice, shaded spot by the flamingo and exotic bird enclosures.
         “Mom, can we go see the bears?” a little boy asked, pulling incessantly on the woman’s arm.
         “Yes, of course, dear.  Give me one second, I want a picture of you with the flamingos first.”
         Teddy watched and thought about family.  That was one reason why Teddy loved his job.  It wasn’t all about the animals.  It was also about watching families and friends interact with each other in a public place.  He watched the families and the friends run all over to the different animal habitats, learning from each other and having fun at the same time.  Watching them made Teddy wish for the kind of childhood these people must have.  A real family of loving people instead of a made up family of animals he saw every day.
         “Excuse me,” a woman asked, interrupting Teddy’s thoughts.
         “Yes?” Teddy said, trying to be polite.
         “I was wondering if you could help me out here?”
         “Finally,” Teddy thought.  “I’m being included and can really help someone learn something!”
         “Where’s the nearest washroom?” the woman asked.
         “Oh,” Teddy slumped.  “Back that way, towards the entrance.  It’s on the left side by the trees.”
         “Thanks so much!”
         “Yeah, whatever,” Teddy thought as he sat back down on his seat.  “Real help.”
         One of the school groups was walking by.  The group leaders must have let them go off to get lunch while they prepared for one last activity.  The teacher was leading her students and the chaperones towards the cafeteria, going on about the diet of the flamingos.  The teacher was giving her poor students wrong information, but they were moving quickly and the teacher seemed too interested in giving wrong information and preserving her status as a know-it-all to stop and ask for the correct information from Teddy as she waved in between sentences.
         “Hellooooo!” Teddy wanted to scream.  “You know I’m here!  I have the correct information for your unfortunate students.  Take the time to show them that it’s okay to ask questions when you don’t know!”
         Instead of speaking up, Teddy let her go, not wanting to contribute his knowledge to someone who wasn’t interested.
         “Come on, Teddy!” he thought to himself.  “Be more assertive, take action, and speak up!”
         Teddy knew these things, and he believed that people respected those who offered to share knowledge.  The trick there is to do so tactfully so you don’t end up offending anyone.
         “Excuse me, sir?” another woman’s voice spoke.  “I was wondering if you could help.”
         “Absolutely,” Teddy replied.
         “Where’s the bathroom?”
         Teddy sighed and pointed.  “Straight back that way and on your left.”
         “When would this day ever end?” Teddy thought.
         Another woman approached, leading a group of three kids.
         “Sir, I have a question for you…” she started.
         “Here we go again,” Teddy thought.
         He was about to point her in the direction of the washrooms when she said, “My kids are very excited to see the panda exhibit and wanted to learn as much as possible about them.”
         Teddy got excited.  The panda was his favorite animal.
         “Absolutely,” Teddy said with a genuine smile.  “The first thing you need to know is that pandas are NOT bears.”
         “Then why do people call them panda bears?” one child asked.
         “Because they base that assumption off of the panda’s appearance, what they look like.”
         “Momma says that’s called discrim….something.”
         “Discrimination,” the mother said.
         “Yeah!” the child replied.  “And that’s wrong!”
         “Yes it is,” Teddy said, still smiling.  “Your mother must be very smart.”
         Teddy reflected on how the one question from a child changed his mood.  It didn’t change all of the things that had gone wrong today; just the way Teddy saw it.  And if he had to live today all over again to get to this moment where he was having a conversation that they were all interested in, he would.  Happily.  After all, a child who is learning and has well-founded morals can brighten anyone’s day.  Even Teddy’s.

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