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Rated: E · Short Story · Animal · #1970527
Justin and Natalin are going to the zoo, to live. WC2902
WC 2902

Justin frowned as the car they rode in took them to a town neither had ever seen. He zoned into Natalin’s mind. I wonder why they picked us. Did anyone ask to see you?

No. Maybe they watched us in the play yard. She thought back.

I don't think so. I read Miss Wurther's mind and she was thinking about the letter she got.

Natalin's brows matched Justin's. ’What letter?

The letter with the money for us. She wondered the same thing. What sucks is, she hasn’t met them either.

Miss Wurther' voice interrupted their silent communication. "We're arriving, children. Be on your best behavior. You’ll be living with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, at the Zonderville Zoo. I hope you like animals. Too bad if you don’t, my guess is they'll have you mucking the stalls.” She looked in the mirror and stared directly at Justin. “Comprehendo?” Justin shifted uncomfortably, but nodded. Miss Wurther turned the wheel and the car bumped over the driveway. Justin read the words Zonderville Zoo, as they passed through the wrought iron arch.

I wonder if they'll like us? Natalina thought.

It doesn't matter. We're going to be good to them as long as they're good to us. Justin thought back to her.

The house sat apart from the concrete wall that housed the zoo animals. Justin looked at the house in front of them and tried to sort the minds of the people inside, but his ability was blocked. He glared at the house, Did you get anything? He thought to his sister.

Nope, not a thing. It’s like there’s something not letting me in the house. She reached for Justin's hand as they followed Miss Wurther up the steps to the porch.

The social worker pressed the bell and waited.

A figure appeared on the other side of the screen door. "Hello, I'm Miss Wurther, I've brought the children as you requested." She smiled. Then she pulled Justin and Natalin from behind her to stand where the person could see them, her fingers gripped their collars as if they might run away.

Justin couldn't see through the screen, but he sensed the person on the other side and took a step backward. His heel came down on the toe of Miss Wurther's high heeled shoe.

"Watch where you step!" She snapped and tightened her grip on his collar. The screen door opened and a young man stepped out.

"Thank you for bringing them. If you'll just bring in their suitcases, we can get to the introductions." Miss Wurther paused at the order but turned and marched to the car.

Justin and Natalin exchanged relieved glances. The man held out a hand to Justin and motioned for him to come inside. He wore overalls and a plaid shirt. His hair hung over his ears and stuck out where his hat stopped. Justin wanted to laugh as he pushed Natalin to the doorway. Inside, the man pointed to the room off the entry hall.

"Come in. This is Georgia Phillips, my wife and I'm Ray Phillips." The woman smiled at Natalin.

"I'm glad to meet you. We've waited a long time for two children like you. I hope you’ll come to think of us as your parents. We won't push that. You can call us Georgia and Ray for now. Are you hungry?" the woman wore gray slacks, a pink blouse with an unusual stone necklace. Justin narrowed his eyes. It looked familiar. Where did he see those stones before?

The screen door banged open and Miss Wurther stumbled in with the two suitcases. "I don't know what they have in these cases. They're a lot heavier than when Pete put them in the trunk." She gasped, dragging air into her lungs, like a fish out of water.

"Thank you for bringing them. Would you like to stay for something to eat? We have zebra milk and toad cookies." Georgia smiled. Miss Wurther's eyes narrowed as if the woman tried to trick her. Georgia continued to smile.

"No,thanks. I have to get back." She frowned at Justin and Natalin. "You’d better mind this nice couple, or they'll bring you right back to the home."

Ray stepped between her and the children. "I don't think you'll have to worry about them. They'll be just fine." Miss Wurther knew she was no longer wanted, whirled on her heel and marched out the door, letting it slam behind her.

"Now that we’ve met, let's have a snack." Georgia turned to the kitchen doorway. "Do you like zebra milk?" she repeated.

"Can't say I've ever had it," Justin answered for both of them.

"We have it all the time. Sit here and watch how Georgia makes it." Ray pointed to two high backed chairs at a round table. Georgia picked up the bottle of chocolate syrup and squirted it in stripes inside the tall glass. Then Ray poured milk in the glass. "There we are; Zebra milk!"

Natalin clapped her hands and laughed. "I want this every day. Justin, I bet Miss Wurther never thought of this when she heard zebra milk."

"I didn't either." He looked at his own glass and smiled. He still couldn't figure out the couple. Ray stood tall and thin, Georgia a little on the plump side and shorter. She wore her hair pulled back from her face. What bothered Justin even more was he couldn't read their minds. When he tried, it was like a wall stopped him. He looked at Natalin but she was eating green sugar cookies cut out like frogs feet. He took a bite “yummy” he smiled to Natalin as he ate three.

"You each have your own room." Georgia announced, as she led the way up the stairs. Ray came behind them carrying the two cases. He wasn't huffing or puffing.

Natalin looked at Justin How come they were so heavy for Miss Wurther?.

We don't have a lot of things except a few books but they aren't that heavy. Justin thought back to her.

"Here are your rooms. I'll let you put your own things away so you'll know where they are."

The two adults stood shoulder to shoulder and Ray spoke firmly. "We have a few rules here. If you take it out, you put it back. Don't eat unless you ask first and we eat three times a day like everyone else.” Both children nodded.

"We'll give you a tour of the zoo in a half an hour. Come to the kitchen when you have your things put away."

Natalin's room was painted pink and purple, with her favorite fairies painted on the walls. She saw the exact bed and dresser she'd always dreamed about.

How did they know?

Justin was just as amazed. His room had been painted like a forest. Creatures from Lord of the Rings hid behind trees and rocks. His bed made from real tree branches and his dresser carved from a stump. He felt almost like a Hobbit. Cool.He smiled.

Later, Ray and Georgia led the way to the large wooden gate in the concrete wall. Ray unlocked it and they went inside. Justin stopped. He held out his hand to Natalin.

"What is this?" None of the animals were in cages! Tigers and lions prowled along the hills. An elephant with her calf bathed in a stream. Natalin looked beyond the animals, "This isn't the same as on the outside." Her eyes took in the different planes and forests the animals wandered through.

”The cages do seem a lot bigger inside the walls than outside.” Justin looked up at Ray who grinned ear to ear.

"Smart kids we have Georgia. You're right. "Things aren't always as they seem."

"You told us to keep our hands out of the cages. There are no cages." Justin accused the couple.

"Yes, there are. Do you see the edge of the path where there’s a light beam?" Justin squatted down to look at the strange looking light all along the path. He reached out his hand to the light only to have Ray grab it and pull it back. "I said don't put your hand in the cage. Keep away from the edge of the path, always stay in the middle. The laser lights keep them in their cages. You just can't see it."

Georgia took Natalin's hand as Justin and Ray followed. "I'm sorry to grab you like that but you could have been hurt," Ray apologized to Justin. "There weren't any animals nearby. Just because you don't see them right away, doesn't mean they don't know you're here and they might attack you." Justin thought about that as they toured the Zoo and watched the animals feed.

How would the animals know he was there when they were far away from the laser fence? He thought. They stood in a room and looked through a window where smaller cages held the animals for public viewing. The public couldn't see them, but they could see the people watching the animals. "Why are there regular fences out there but not back here?' Justin asked still confused about the whole animal cage thing.

“There's a laser fence just like this inside the fenced area. Like you, humans are very curious and will put their hand through the fence, which could get it cut off. Then we'd be sued." Ray gave a little chuckle. Justin pulled a face at the ugly image and wondered why Ray called the people humans. Did he know they were different?

"I have some things to do. If you promise not to touch anything, you can stay in this room until I get back." Justin nodded.

“I’m taking Natalin to see the babies.” The two went out a door at the back of the room.

Justin wandered over to the bench near one of the cages and sat down. After a bit he was bored and walked to a work station to look at some of the tools. He saw a pack of cigarettes and he had a thought. 'If I blow smoke at the laser fence, it would show the lights.' He'd seen a show where smoke machines and the smoke from the fireworks reflected the laser lights. He shook out a couple of the cigarettes and found a matchbook in a drawer. He put them in his pants pocket and went back to the bench just as Ray came through the door. "You ready to go?" Justin nodded.

The next day, Justin asked if he could go to the Zoo and hang out in the main work area he'd been the day before. Georgia nodded and Natalin stayed to make cookies.

Justin opened the big gate and made sure it shut and locked behind him, as Ray showed him. He walked down one of the pathways and stood in a dim light.

The gardeners at the Home let him sneak smokes of their cigarettes and he lit one. He puffed a few smoke streams, then stepped closer to the invisible fence. He took a long pull from the cigarette and blew it at the laser. He could barely make out the crisscross pattern of the green lights. He stared real hard, something seemed to move behind the lights, but the smoke disappeared too fast. He tried again and this time blew two big puffs close together. The smoke revealed the green lights but also something very large, it was almost see-through. A skinny arm shot out and grabbed his leg. Justin screamed and tried to crawl away, but as the smoke vanished, he was released. There was a horrible cry and on the ground lay a skinny gray arm attached to his leg still. Squirming, he shook his leg until it fell off. He looked at the fence. He didn't see anything. The arm disappeared from where it landed near the laser grid. For a minute he sat there in shock and horror This was way too freaky, he thought. His heart pounded hard and he had trouble breathing.

He picked up the smoldering cigarette and his hand shook as put it to his lips. He sucked a big mouth full of smoke and blew it at the fence. This time the smoke hung in the air right around the fence then moved. Justin's eye grew big. The little puff got bigger and bigger until it filled a large area and moved toward the laser fence. It moved as if it were a ghost to reveal the laser. Justin’s heart dropped to his toes. A few feet away behind the laser lights, loomed a huge monster. It had brownish gray skin and one very large mouth; little beady eyes stared from the folds of fat. From the bottom lip hung four big chins, covered in warts and freckles. It was what hung from the chins that added to Justin's fright. He tried to swallow but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

Little flying pixies clung to the monster and made little squeaks when the chins wobbled back and forth. Justin tried to crawl away but something held him to the ground. The cloud stayed between fence and Justin. The little pixies flew between the laser grid and attacked him. They latched on to his legs and bit him. They pulled on his socks until they ripped then carried the pieces to the monster who sniffed them, with a huge bulb like nose. One big sniff and the piece of sock and the pixie disappeared up its nostril. The pixies began to drag Justin's body toward the laser fence. His mind screamed for Natalin. ’Help Me, I'm going to die!’

Where are you?

In the zoo. The first path to the left and then take a right at the second path.”

We're coming. Natalina replied.

Justin dug his heels into the dirt, as he continued to be pulled slowly toward the fence. "What was taking them so long?" he whimpered.

Natty, hurry it almost has me. I'm gonna die.

"You're not going to die." Ray's voice sounded above him.

Justin looked up at the man who had taken them in. "Save me!" he cried.

"You disobeyed the rules."

“I'm sorry." Justin pleaded as he tried to dig his fingers into the gravel. Justin looked at the monster. It's fat chins wobbled, strands of spit like mucus slowly dripped off the warts and pooled on the ground. He saw other small animals or creatures gather the fallen spit and run away. He cried as his body almost reached the fence. "Please don't let them get me.” He begged.

His body was yanked away and dropped to the ground. Justin looked up at Ray. There was none of the anger or emotion Justin usually saw in the eyes of adults when he disobeyed. "Now you've met our zoo inhabitants." Ray didn't smile but he wasn't mad.

Natalin and Georgia skidded to a stop next to Justin and Ray.

“Are you alright?" Georgia asked.

"He's fine. He found the inhumans." Ray's words made Georgia gasp.

"What are the inhumans?" Natalin asked as she knelt beside Justin. Are you ok? she asked mentally.

"Natalin, he's fine." Natalin and Justin's heads jerked up to look at Ray.Yes, we read minds too. That's why we adopted you.

"How did you find us?" Justin stood up then helped his sister to stand.

"At the grocery store in town, we heard the two of you talking. We found out who you were and contacted the Home to see about adopting you."

Georgia clasped her hands together. "We didn't have children and since you were just like us we knew no one would understand you like we do."

"What are those things?" Justin glanced at the cage. The cloud was gone and no monsters could be seen.

"Justin, we are the keepers of the creatures that somehow enter our world."

"Aliens?" Justin asked.

"Yes. They are found by our people or some are seen by humans. They hide in closets and small spaces or in attics. They are sometimes mistaken for ghosts. When they can't be seen, but the ghost hunters suspect they aren't ghosts and they call us."

"You're a ghost hunter?" Natalin's eyes were wide and she looked at Justin.

"Cool!" Justin gave a nervous laugh.

"Let's go back to the house. We need to talk, first about the fact you disobeyed us causing one of the creatures to die. You need to learn that when you disobey there are consequences to your actions. It sometime affects others in a bad way."

"I'm sorry." He tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

"I'm sure you are. You were almost killed. If I hadn't heard you calling Natalin you might have been dragged through the laser field. If they left you in the laser field it would have opened the passage for them to escape."

Natalin reached for Justin's hand. "What are you going to do to him?"

"He's going to have to learn the proper way to handle the inhumans. Feed and care for them. When you do it properly, I won't have to worry about them escaping or you getting hurt."

Ray squeezed Justin's shoulder. "You'll be just fine."

Justin smiled, this was the beginning of a new and better life for both of them.

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