The Earthling Zoo is starting to branch away from the typical organic amusements of a zoo.
|Christie held her ashen hair up in a braid. On good days, there was an unnatural shine to it; on bad days, the strands looked to be blonde with an ashtray dumped on it. Today was one of the latter.
It was a public discount day and people stood packed, shoulder to shoulder. Humidity was so thick that the windows that might have given some reprieve from the claustrophobia were fogged up. Christie’s skin clung to her gray tank top as putrid smells of unwashed glory hovered freely.
The space taxi floated nonchalantly through the endless darkness, lit only by a blanket of stars–though their shine was dimmer than usual. The shuttle docked at the dome-shaped structure and Christie let out a sigh of relief when she heard the electronic doors open and the crowd moved away from her.
“Penguins, Mummy!” a little girl squealed, pointing at a sign with a tuxedo-colored bird. “From Extinction to Resurrection!” the sign boasted.
“One adult ticket, please,” Christie said at the kiosk. She held her chrome bracelet out and the automated device shined a bright, red light over its barcode. Three seconds later and a receipt spat out of the side, Christie ignored it and walked towards the Earthling Zoo entrance.
Humidity smacked her face as she stepped inside the biodome, but this time it was welcomed. Fresh earth tickled her nose and she pondered if this scent of grass and mud was what her ancestors called normal.
Bright lights lit the corridors as her sneakers struck bits of gravel on the dirt flooring. Over to the right, separated by a wall glass was a family of kangaroos lazily sunning themselves under the fluorescent lights, the background was a painted mural of a savanna. A joey hopped by on his hind legs and stopped to sip from a man-made water hole.
Further down and two dog-sized Komodo dragons moped around. A white tongue slithered in and out of one’s mouth as he matched gazes with Christie. If only there wasn’t a thick sheet of glass that divided the two, he would have taken a nasty chunk out of her thigh by now.
“You like it here?”
The lizard’s silence was all the answer she needed.
“Komodo dragons were natives to five islands in Ancient southeastern Indonesia,” a stereo speaker said.
“Must be a pain the ass that you gotta hear four or five little factoids about yourselves all day,” Christie said. “I bet they don’t have the cool one about how your bite has so much bacteria that it kills your dinner.”
The speaker crackled and said, “That is a misconception. The Komodo dragon has venom glands that prevent blood clotting and induces shock to its prey.”
“I didn’t ask.”
Past the roar of golden lions and the stink of giraffe manure was a lime-green door. A sign to the left of it read: “Earthling Zoo 2.0! Witness the secrets of bending the rules! Only 45 Credits, please stop by today!*
*Please advise that some animals may disturb young children.”
Christie shrugged, the zoo wasn’t bad, but perhaps a tad anti-climactic for her first day off in two weeks. Perhaps the 2.0 critters might be a tad more lively. She stopped by a ticket kiosk and had her bracelet scanned once more.
She proceeded towards the green door and the latch unlocked the moment her hand touched the steel-cold handle.
It took her a moment to see as darkness clouded her vision. The earthy smell had been replaced by a sharp, metallic scent. The only lights in the long hallway hung over the exhibit’s specimens.
A husky man peered into the final exhibit and stood back, shaken. He cleared his throat and briskly walked to the exit.
Christie stopped in her tracks by the first settlement of oddities. A foot-tall tribe of humanoid creatures danced around a hut of mud and straw. Their dark, scaly green mouths were long with sharp teeth poking out. They stood upright on clawed feet and brandished spears made of sticks.
“Be mortified by the Gator Tribe! The early candidates of this experiment were cannibalistic! They ate their own brothers and sisters!” the stereo speaker brimmed with pride.
“I know what cannibalism is,” Christie managed despite the shock that wavered her voice.
The next exhibit had buffalo-sized guinea pigs that grazed peacefully on bails of hay. If the overgrown children’s pets could be engineered easily, perhaps the meat shortages could be averted. Their black, oval-shaped eyes didn’t pay much mind to Christie. She mused at the thought of riding the spiky orange one into battle.
“Come clossser. I know you’re there,” a dry voice crackled from the last exhibit. “I can ssssmell yoooouuuuu!”
Hair pricked the back of Christie’s neck, but she followed. This was a zoo after all, why should she feel so uncomfortable? She couldn’t help but tiptoe to the glass cage.
Black and blue stripes covered the body of a human-sized serpent. There were no limbs to speak of, but its torso was that of a human’s, a bizarre mesh of scales and mammalian skin. Its tail curled under the body except for its chest that rose and fell as if it found breathing difficult. The face stole Christie’s breath as her heart pounded. The face was human. It grinned at her. Its bald head shined under the light.
“That’s better,” it whispered. “Do you like the zoo’ssssss freak ssshow?”
She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
Its frame shivered in cackles as two long fangs poked from its cheeks.
“You know what they feed me, little girl?”
Christie went for the exit, petrified her back was to the abomination.
“Human, just like you!”
She didn’t stop at the gift shop or fulfill her bucket wish of trying an authentic hotdog. Safety wasn’t assured until she got aboard the next taxi and got the hell away from Earthling Zoo 2.0.