Visions

The Virginia Exhibit
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The Virginia Exhibit
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Invisible The Morning After
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Try to Keep Up
A Series of Moments Between Clocks
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The Lesser of Evils
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The World In Your Pocket
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A Promising Look at Genesis
Not For The Ladies
Fooling Around and Falling In Love
The Tediousness of Tragic Love
Poetic Analysis for "The Trees"
Creation On Dub
Creating the Universe
Fast Acting In Small Doses
As Crazy As They
We Can Always Use More Utopia
A Little Church in Corinth
The Theory of Carl Rogers
Historically Speaking
Different Shades, Same Color
A Rose for a Funeral
Reflection
Obsessed With Race

Horizontal Divider 1

     "How do you avoid a shark?" he asked with a knowing smirk. I took that splendid opportunity to stare back blankly. Any answer I would have given wouldn't have been the one he was looking for.

     He continued snapping together the straps and latches holding the strange machine on his back, and when they had all found their proper place, he smiled at me in a way that only the wholly faithful and very insane do. "Stay out of the water."

--
1

     This day had started normally enough. I had come with my husband and daughter to the Wells Orchard City Zoo...which was unique in that it was the only fully indoor zoo in the country. We had come mid-afternoon on a Saturday with the intention to stay only for a few hours, but it was now Sunday evening and everyone who had been inside when we were about to leave had stayed inside...well, at least mostly everyone.

     As we were leaving on that rainy Saturday afternoon, I pointed out the unusually large, beautiful Tigers in the main lobby to my daughter. She smiled and said they were the prettiest thing she'd ever seen, and that she wished she could have a kitten that looked just like them. I told her we would try, and meant it then, but I don't think any of us could handle something like that now. She seemed bummed out that we were leaving, but my husband and I had both had early work appointments in the morning, and Wells Orchard wasn't exactly our back yard. We split off from my husband for a moment on the way out so I could take Brieanna to the bathroom, and seeing this as a great opportunity to avoid lengthening our trip any more, he followed in our lead.

     I think it was some point when I was noticing how many paper towel dispensers they had in the restroom and how environmentally unprofessional it was when I heard a woman start screaming. My very first instinct was to glance over at Brie's stall to make sure I could still see her little feet below the door, and they were there. Next, my fear overcorrected itself and I began to think I had just heard an animal squealing outside, and whatever it was...it had friends that were equally as loud and piercing. The voices started to multiply and thicken, and it was then that I knew there was something horrible going on outside, and those were people screaming. Males and females, old and young, screaming like the Devil had made strawberry milkshakes out of their very souls. I zoned out all other sounds as I tried to hear what they were screaming about. Brie started the water running next to me. "What's everybody yelling about?" she asked, too annoyed and haughty already for her own age. I had to stop myself. If anyone else had asked me that question, my dry humor would have kicked in before I even had a chance to feel it coming, and I would have replied with something insensitive like "Someone just got eaten by a lion." That's just not something you tell a six-year-old girl in a zoo bathroom.

     We emerged from the safety of the bathroom carefully, and for a moment it seemed I had imagined the whole thing. People were still lined up at the big windows at the front of the lobby, staring out into the pouring rain as if it was the earth's greatest curse. How any person who had spent more than a day in the Northwest could be shocked by rain was beyond me. This notion came and went quickly as that still shock materialized into more screams and frantic movement. A frizzy-haired woman in a pistacchio green tunic and what looked like prayer beads was crouched on her haunches near the glass exit doors, sobbing in disbelief. "What the hell is going on out here?" I asked loudly, regretting a moment later swearing in front of my daughter. A hand immediately gripped my arm and pulled me backwards, where I collapsed into my husband's chest with Brie's hand still clutched in mine. His eyes were wide and he seemed to be holding me for dear life. "Regina," he spoke quietly but with such force I almost jerked back. "That big Tiger from the exhibit just tore a little boy to shreds right out on the sidewalk. No one saw it get out." I remembered my mental comment about people being eaten by lions, and how humorous it had seemed in my own head.

     My idle eyes began to immediately scan the sidewalk outside the windows, which was being beaten on by the rain in sheets and buckets. "Where?" I asked, searching for any indication that this frightening story was true. "The tiger dragged him away...over to the North side of the building.. you know, back where we parked." He glanced down at Brieana, who had her face buried in the leg of my cotton pants, lost in terrified tears. "Probably eating him," he whispered.

     Zoo personnel armed with various tools of collection and recapture started to push their way to the front of the crowd and exit the building into the pouring rain. One of the unarmed men taking up the rear locked the glass doors shut behind them, turning with a set of calming eyes and stating very simply, "This is being taken care of. We'll let you know when it is safe to proceed." He brushed at his red uniform as if this was common procedure and began to make his way toward us..well, toward the staff doors behind us, near the restrooms. Paul grabbed his arm on the way by, much as he had grabbed mine. "What exactly happened, sir?" he asked in an equally quiet, stern tone. The zoo worker began explaining the situation with as little emotion as possible, reiterating what we already knew..that a small child was attacked by an escaped tiger and it was likely that he had perished. Paul watched the man's face as he spoke, all the while shaking his head in disbelief. He began to ask "How did it get out?" but the man was already rudely walking away.

     "Excuse me?" Paul called after him, but he didn't turn around. He used his heavy ring of keys to unlock the staff door and disappeared behind it. Paul approached the doors and tugged, but they had been locked. He knocked quietly, and then with increasing vigor. His knocks began to blend with other knocks.. glass knocks, and I looked at my daughter. The look of terror had still not left her face, and she was staring at a whole troupe of zoo employees who were running back and forth on the sidewalk, and thats when the screams began again. The uniformed men were beating on the glass every chance they had, begging to be let back in. People in the lobby were tugging furiously at the front glass doors to admit them, but they would not budge. Then the great beast appeared, moving like a vermillion wave of copper and as fast as lightning. I had to turn my daughter towards me and hug her tightly as I watched what was unfolding outside. The men couldn't get in, and we couldn't get out. There was a tiger out there mauling them.

     Paul pulled the both of us away from the window and into the shadowy side area by the staff doors. "Don't look at it." He spoke, almost in tears. "Please just don't look." I couldn't help it. Like a trainwreck, I went on and on watching the red uniforms split and torn, then men inside them suffering the same fate. This tiger was beyond rampant. It would leap at one man and bite at his throat, only to bounce onto another and tear into his gut with teeth like switchblades. There was blood flying everywhere in the rain, and the cracks in the sidewalk were beginning to collect streams of red water like decorative pools. The men were dropping their weapons. A tranquilizer dart flew past and stuck in the side of the building like tornado debrit, missing its target. Brieanna was shaking. Paul was clutching at my hair and whispering calming phrases into my ear. I was watching men die on the other side of a pane of glass.

------
2

     For the moment, the screaming taking place inside the zoo had risen to a harmonic wave of vowels, hardly words at all. No one could believe what was happening, when all they had wanted was a peaceful day of knocking rudely on the display glass to get the gorilla to look at them. There were men, women, and children strewn about the lobby, some close to the glass and others as far away from it as possible, desperately covering their ears and shaking. The room was starting to look more and more like a sanctuary for refugees of war than a pleasant public attraction- a place where bombs should be going off outside and small containers of food and water should be being served to the quivering, blanketed masses.

     The bodies outside were dragged away one by one, and the rain was coming down so hard now that we could barely make out where they were disappearing to. The sky had dulled to a deeper gray that seemed to have a yellow, sickly lining, and there was a small ocean forming in the parkinglot to the East. Dots and scraps of red were randomly placed; likely most of the zoo staff. Could it really be all of them? I didn't think so. I had seen only a dozen or so exit the building, the one with the keys staying behind to make sure the doors were locked properly. That one had gone back into the winding back hallways of the place, abruptly leaving the conversation my husband had started. Perhaps he was going for help and couldn't waste another moment. In that case, his rudeness would be a welcomed help.

     Even after things outside died down, and the frightened crowd on the inside had gone back to their worried peering, the woman in the green dress was still clutching at the gray carpet with her face buried in her own lap. Paul must have seen me looking her way, and clarified for me. "She is the mother of the boy who was..", he trailed off. I turned and looked at him with solemn eyes and he knew I didn't need him to continue explaining. I hugged Brie between both of us, and Paul and I shared a quick, comforting kiss. It must be terrible to lose a child so young; especially on a day that was meant to give him such joy and bring the two of you together in a blissful moment. I wouldn't know what to do with myself if it had been Brieana.

     In the midst of the family hug I took a glance past Paul's shoulder to the staff access door Mr. Keys had disappeared behind. The tiny window at the center of door was at eye level, and even from my point on the floor I could see that the hallway beyond turned sharply to the right and continued along the south side of the building. I started to rise and my husband released his protective hold on me, rising himself. Brie held up her arms, pleading silently with Paul to lift her up. He did so immediately and held her as she buried her face into his neck. "I want to take a look around this lobby." I said as calmly as possible. It was apparent that he didn't understand why I would desire such a thing, but he nodded in a way that only your lover will ever do. "Alright," he said quietly. "We'll come too. The walk might help."

     The three of us took our time tracing the inside edge of the lobby, which was basically a big casino-style carpeted floor with a few randomly placed glass exhibits of tropical birds and a big windowed front counter in the shape of a horseshoe. The carefully dressed women who were behind the counter earlier had vanished, probably to the same place the key man had gone. Perhaps they were having an employee meeting to figure out what must be done. The counter was set up neatly with computerized cash registers and large displays of pamphlets and coupons for visitors, and behind it was some neat little swivel chairs with low backs and built-in footstools. Everything had been locked up tight, and the lights inside the windowed capsule had been shut off. Wherever this meeting was, I was hoping I could find it. Something in me wanted to scream at a whole crowd of people for what had happened today, and scream some more for what had happened in response to it. I would scream out of rage and fear, and quite possibly out of a lack of other options.

     As we neared the North wall of the lobby, I stole a glance through the windows at the front for any sign of the Tiger. I doubted my potential success, for if it was to be seen, someone would probably already be screaming. Still, I suspected like many of the others that he was setting up camp in that North parking area, under the slanted overhang which would provide him shelter from the rain. If Tigers were anything like ordinary cats, they wouldn't like getting wet.

     At this point, I realized that Paul and Brieanna had stopped following three feet behind me and had instead sat on a soft-looking couch near the North wall, away from the windows. Paul was motioning for me to join them, but as my gaze met his, it passed over a familliar sight. There was another door like the one we had been cowering near earlier, but this one had a larger window and seemed to be made of metal. The window was uncovered and the door plainly lead to a hallway to the left, making it a mirror image of the South door. I found myself looking back and forth between the door and my family, even as I walked over to them and took my place next to Paul on the couch. Brieanna flopped down in the tiny space between us and looked up at me with wet, red eyes. "At least we got the only couch," she said, not realizing how comedic her priorities were to we grown-ups. I tossed a secretive smile to Paul, who missed it for his adoring eyes being set on her. I took both of Brie's hands in my own larger ones and made eye contact with her as I explained what I wanted to do. "Brie, honey.. I need you to stay here and make sure Daddy isn't scared." With that comment, Daddy DID glance up and catch the secretive smile, returning it. "I'm going to go back and find some workers to help calm everybody down. I'll be back soon."

     I rose, receiving a slightly worried straight face from Paul, and moved toward the metal door marked "Staff." I knew it was probably locked, and when I turned the knob and nothing happened, I would move to the back of the lobby and try one of the other several doors we saw on our exploration. It turns out, I didn't have to. This one slid open with barely a grip on the knob and I made sure to close it softly behind me. I didn't want to be followed by a crowd of hysterical zoo guests just yet.

--

3

     I didn't find what I was looking for, or any of the things that would have been a pleasant surprise either. What I found was a series of locked-up store rooms and an endless hallway that eventually turned into concrete as the store rooms became smaller and darker. It reminded me much more of an urban warehouse during off-hours than a suburban tourist attraction, and I found myself touching the walls to make sure the chill I felt wasn't my imagination. It was growing a little colder as the hallway stretched on, almost enough to make me grateful that I had thought to wear long sleeves. Every twenty feet or so there was a florescent strip light bolted to the ceiling that provided a gently flickering but adequate lighting for the space, which was empty save for a few boxes...probably on their way to one of the storage rooms. The doors to these rooms, though locked and dark behind their windows, were carefully marked with numbers. Some even had a cartoon drawing of a particular animal on them. The one the boxes were set next to happened to have a picture of a grinning alligator on it, and I immediately wondered what sort of supplies or accessories an alligator would need in a place like this. Toys? Dried meat? I couldn't have told anyone the first thing about an alligator's needs. I took the lonely opportunity to pull open the top flaps on the largest box and take a look for myself, finding nothing terribly exciting- several dated bottles (all empty) and a binder loaded with spreadsheets organizing a vaccination schedule.

     Leaving the box open, I followed the hallway for what I hoped would be the end stretch. I did soon come to another metal door, but not before I noticed a softer, fuller light spreading on the floor outside one of the rooms. The light inside was on, and the door was propped open slightly, spilling not only light but also the faint sound of a radio playing cheery chamber music. I was in the room before I could even plan what I meant to say to anyone inside, but it ended up not mattering. This room- a type of animal infirmary, from the looks of it- was also vacant. That also explained the utilitarian cement hallway outside... no one in their right mind would expect to transport live animals through a long corridor like that and expect sheer cleanliness.

     "Do you have a hall pass?" an amused voice cackled from behind a tall pillar of cages. From between narrow bars, I could make out an elderly face with a congenial smile, moving up and down in silent, wheezing laughter that only old men can seem to pull off. "I'm sorry," I immediately apologized, not knowing why. "I was just looking for an employee." The old man with carefully parted blonde-white hair emerged from behind the cages dressed in a long lab coat. As he approached, my eyes fell to his name tag: Dr. J. R. Morgan. "You've found one!" He piped up cheerfully, "Although I don't know what I could do for you at this point in time. The tours ended at four and..you know us old folks... dinner and bedtime by five."

     I checked my watch. It was nearly a quarter after four, which meant we had been cowering in the lobby for over two hours. The time had simply slipped away inside our fear. It must have shown in my face.

     "I know there's some real havoc happening out derr." He continued, having the conversation whether I was going to participate or not. "Did you come to the zoo alone today, Ma'am?" I shook my head, still looking at my watch. When I looked up again, he was moving to the other side of the room again, this time with a set of strappy red leashes looped around his right arm. "Old Virginia has never been too fond of kids,
y' know."

     "Old Virginia?" I asked, watching him dilligently hanging each leash on its own tiny hook. "Is that the name you have given that Tiger?" Of course it was. It seemed I only asked to stall myself time to think. I had immediately assumed the Tiger to be a male, and I had to fight the urge to identify with the beast simply out of gender. Dr. Morgan hadn't replied but was nodding. "Old Ginny, we sometimes call 'er. She's been here longer than the others. She has what we would call a social disease."

     I had to laugh aloud at the remark. Yes, it would appear she did have a social disease. One that made her tear up little children and uniformed men who had probably fed her, watered her, and taken care of her for years. "What kind of social disease are we talking about, Doctor?"

     "Call me Jonas," he verbally winked as he hung up the last of the leashes and began to move things around in a refridgerator near the North wall of the room. "Ginny's been here since she was a kitten, y'know. Didn't have the necessary skills to exist in the wild. She was so passive, see? Like an abused house pet. We've been giving her "aggression therapy" for years." He took my baffled silence as encouragement to continue.

     "I don't know how much yer familliar with biology, ma'am, but there's a part of your brain that makes you lash out at people when you think its necessary.. and nomatter how much you may think your rage is a highly complicated process, it isn't. It all takes place in what we animal lovers call the 'reptilian brain'....the real basic life function part...the thought-less part...."

     I held up my hand and he stopped speaking, so I lowered it immediately, embarassed. "I'm a music teacher," I clarified. "So I really haven't had any...."

     "But even a music teacher can see the puzzling conflict an overly passive animal jumps from its exhibit and attacks innocent people," he interrupted right back. I nodded, feeling my cheeks flushing.

    "Old Ginny." He spoke to no one in particular. "She'd be getting into the age now."
     "What age?" I felt that rush of sympathy again, like looking into eyes full of crocodile tears.
     "The age where her memory starts to slip away... a little at a time.. like one of those fuzzy white dandelions. She is forgetting whatever traumatic event made her so docile, and is instead remembering more recent acquisitions...like the aggression therapy. What we have now is basically an already aggressive animal whom we've taught to be ten times as aggressive through training. See the problem, derr? We've made ourselves a monster. Unfortunately we never took the time to give her some outdoors therapy, or she might have just run away into the hills this afternoon instead of sticking around, y'know?"

     I was opening my mouth to speak when someone else came in the room behind me. Before I could even turn, I knew who it was by the jingle of keys. A flash of rage...coming from my reptilian brain, I now knew... jumped up behind my eyes and I had an immediate mental image of those poor men beating on the glass doors, begging to be let in. Who was going to tell them that one of their own had locked them out? Who could, now that they had all been snacked upon.

     "Dr. Morgan." The red-uniformed key man greeted Jonas formally. " I have a favor to ask."
"Sure thing derr, son. What can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if we could set up a temporary hospital in this room...for the capture team."
I turned around and caught his attention.
     "Some of them made it inside?" I asked, not wanting to get my hopes up. He looked not at me, but at Dr. Morgan, completely ignoring my presence since that initial moment of recognition.
     Jonas shrugged and gave both of us a passing friendly smile. "What's mine is yours. Bring em' on in, and I'll see what I can do. How many are there?"
     "Just three, Doctor. Three of the ten. What's left of the others can be seen from...." He stopped, casting me a sidelong glance, and ended his sentence there.

     As they organized the logistics of the temporary hospital, I found myself waiting desperately for the moment when Jonas would call the other man by name. For some reason, I was seeking a title for this person who was obviously dishonest, and apparently causing more trouble than he was solving. I didn't know what to make of it yet, but I wasn't about to go back out to the lobby and stare at the windows with the other frightened zombies. I already knew more than they about the situation, and I had barely touched the surface of what I was hoping to find, even if it meant handing a little of my own sympathy to the other side.

     Old Ginny was getting to that age.

---

4

     Jonas offered to walk me back to the lobby, and very kindly changed the subject when I began to ask about what plan the employees had. It seemed he was trying, in the nicest way possible, to tell me to mind my own business. I allowed him to suade me for the simple reason that I wanted to check on my husband and daughter to make sure... well, to make sure they weren't scared.

     The other man had left the room as brisky as he had entered, and slipped through the unlocked metal door that I had been heading for when I found the infirmary. As Jonas and I walked leisurely back through the shadowy hallway, I thought it strange that the infirmary would be hidden back in this hallway, which seemed a little out of the way in regards to transporting animals. I wondered what was through that metal door, and if it maybe led straight back into the zoo area. I wanted to see, even if all I found was more storage space. Whatever it was, it was somewhere the key-man had been in a hurry to get to.

     "I saw that man earlier," I began randomly. Jonas smiled as if to point out just how random it was.  "I mean... he was out in the lobby right before all those men were attacked outside." I continued, hoping to redeem myself. "He locked the doors behind them."
     "It's procedure." Jonas clarified. "It is done so that none of our zoo guests are harmed during the recapture process, which..in this case didn't go so well, y'know?"
     "Right." I agreed. We were passing the door with the grinning alligator and the boxes piled up outside. "So who is he?"

     Taking my curiosity as innocent, Jonas began to tell me about the man with the keys, who I then began to think of correctly as Anthony Scheer. He was fairly new to the staff...had only been here for two years at the very most...and had a big soft spot for endangered species. "All of us do," Jonas stressed, "but that Tony...he would shoot a hunter between the eyes if it meant sparing a panda bear the bullet. Needless to say, he's concerned for Old Ginny. She's endangered too, y'know..and not just endanger of being tranquilized!" He chuckled a little at that, and laughed alone. I wasn't sure if what I felt was the welling up of tears in my eyes or an oncoming sneeze...or both. Whatever it was, I fought it down and continued my questioning.

     By the time Jonas had opened the door leading to the lobby for me, I had found out more than I expected the old Doctor to tell me. He held the door in a debonaire pose, winking and telling me I'd best go find my lad, as he assumed I was here with one. I wanted to talk to Paul. He and I had always had a special ability to get on the same page when it came to the piling up of information in a chaotic situation. Call it one of the many reasons I married him. He and Brie were examining a pair of parakeets in a glass cyllinder about twelve feet tall in the center of the room. I could see Brie's yellow sneakers and Paul's ridiculous coral polo. Jonas wished me luck and suggested that I call if I ever had a question about the Blue-Ringed Octopus OR what to feed one.

     Paul seemed to brighten up quite a bit when I joined them, his gray-green eyes opening a little wider and sparkling like they do. Brie was completely enthralled in the colorful birds, who she was asking very politely...and then not so politely...to do her bidding of speaking to her. I kneeled and put an arm around her, which turned into a hug when she felt my apprehension. The three of us all plopped down on the floor right there by the parrot feature, and I did my best to relay all I had found, heard, and seen.

     "There are a lot of crazy things brewing out here," Paul said with a worried furrowing of the eyebrows.
     "These parrots don't talk." Brie added, getting an amused glance from Paul, who went on to name some of the "crazy things" he was referring to. The most interesting to me was that a small group of people, including the mother of the child victim, had been gathered over by the restrooms for the last twenty minutes discussing the possible religious meanings behind this experience. One West-Asian looking woman had even been preaching about the Muslim god-figure Dockson-something-or-other.....who was said to come to a sinful people on the back of a Tiger. Another foreigner had corrected her, saying that it was the Hindu goddess Banobibi who was involved in this. "We should set up an offering shrine!" He had shouted so loud that others in the room had cast off-putting glances his way.

     Another group had gathered at first, then dissipated later, Paul said. They were formed in opposition to the religious group, supposedly to come up with a scientific theory as to why all of this was happening. He and Brie had sit in on this group for a few minutes, before Brie had asked to see the Parrots. She was bored from the large words and talk of "water salinity." This group had been convinced there was a large amount of salt in the Tiger's water supply which gave it temporary craziness. Craziness... such a technical term put to great use by a group of amateur scientists!

     Doctor Morgan probably would have chuckled in his elderly way and told them all they should really think about taking a biology course or two, had he decided to be social with this lobby full of what I was starting to think of as "survivors."

     "Oh! I almost forgot...three of the men in the red uniforms made it safely back inside." After hearing myself say it aloud, I realized that might not be entirely accurate. "Well...made it back inside alive. They are being taken to the infirmary for help. And Mr. Scheer also mentioned that there was a window where the tiger could be seen somewhere in that back hallway area."

     This had seemed like good news, but now that it was out, it did nothing but nag at me. Brieana shook her head slowly. "I don't want to see it," she stated clearly, and went back to poking at the curved glass. I nearly jumped when one of the carefully dressed women from the ticket counter walked up next to her and asked her to please not tap on the glass. "Its very loud inside," she spoke with the soft gentleness of a kindergarten teacher explaining why we should share. "It will hurt their little ears."

     Brie waited until the woman had gone on to speak with another group, and then she spoke softly, under her breath. "Birds don't HAVE ears."

     The woman made a few small rounds to make conversation with random folks, then walked to the center of the room and asked loudly if she could please have our attention. Everyone became immediately silent, including the Hindu man who was in the middle of a story about Sundarban villagers and their Tiger-warding drum choruses. The woman's false, lipsticked smile (the kind I was by then used to calling a "paid smile") was making me uneasy, and I found myself laying a hand on the top of Brie's head, mussing her curly brown hair gently to distract myself.

     "I would like to thank you all for remaining calm and being patient with this cumbersome matter."
     Cumbersome was a vast understatement, and all of the eyes and mouths in the room reflected that very thought. "In a few moments the staff will be offering everyone a complimentary meal and drinks, courtesy of the Wells Orchard City Zoo. Unfortunately, we are unable to allow anyone to leave. The storm has put down phone lines all over town and many of the roads are flooded, including the main exit streets from this facility." There was an audible groan as people began to discuss what they would be missing, what they would be late for, etc. Personally, I was looking forward to a drink. My mouth was dry and my lips were developing that slightly itchy chapped feeling.

     "Please form a single file line starting where I am standing, and we will serve you as quickly as possible. Boxed meals will be stacked on the banquet table in front of the ticket counter, and all we ask is that you properly dispose of your trash in the many trash recepticals in this lobby area."

     I fought the urge to shout something back at her about recycling. It was obvious that, although the zoo had one sure-fire activist in its staff, there wasn't a concerned majority. Brie took a hold of my hand and began to pull me toward where the line would begin. "I'm REALLY hungry." She stated with almost comical emphasis. Paul followed and walked next to me, his hand on the small of my back. "She takes trauma very well," he whispered against my small, gold hoop earring, and we shared one of those silent, smiling moments where all the laughing is done in our eyes, but somehow it feels loud and clear.

     Even with Brie's intent on hurrying to the front of the line, we were at least a quarter of the way back from the beginning when we finally got into it. I was pleased that the staff was finally getting involved with the two-hundred or so of us stuck in this building for the time being. Until now, we had been completely ignored, save for being locked in like our own human exhibit. Watch them cry and shiver, kids, watch them fight to be first for food. It was sad, but surprisingly accurate. Right now, all we were was another part of the zoo, and for a moment I had this ugly, dark gray feeling of being watched by the animals. Not just watched, but laughed at. Look at what you people got yourselves into, they would say. An army of you hiding inside when your enemy is only one. The enemy that you caged and gawked at for years is now caging you. How is that treating you? I stole a look at the nearest exhibit, where a whole mess of canaries were twitching on a long, narrow stretch of bamboo. Could that really be what we looked like right now? A line of twitching, confused creatures who could fly around all we wanted, but we were always going to be contained. As long as there was someone...something else making the rules for us.

     With that thought, the line moved forward slightly. The first few canaries had been served their seeds. I knew then that I was going to go back to that metal door, and that even Doctor J. R. Morgan wasn't going to talk me out of it. I would not make an oppressive enemy out of Old Virginia.
 
--
 
5
  The meals they served came in styrofoam boxes- yet another tally on the "look at how environmentally conscious we are" tab. Inside were a small sub sandwich made with dry bread, a bag of chips that was mostly air to give it the illusion of being full, a fruit roll-up, and two packets labeled in simple, plain-colored text: Mayo. I wondered for the moment how the turkeys over in the west wing felt when they saw that their impending fate involved such dry bread.

     At the end of the counter was a large cooler full of generic-brand bottled water. As we neared it, I took a glance down at Brie, who had her styrofoam box clutched to her chest and her eyes finally drying of their nearly constant tears. I leaned in to carefully draw the attention of one of the employees.

     "Ma'am?" I asked, as politely as I could manage. "Is there anything other than water? My daughter has a borderline blood-sugar and I think something with a little but more value would suit her well."

     The woman acted as if she had been slapped. "I'll go track down something that satisfies you. Maybe you'd like a cocktail? Perhaps your husband would have a double latte with a tiny marshmallow and a candy cane in it?" She had turned and stomped off before I could decide whether or not she was joking, which answered the question for me.

     "Oh Mommy," Brieanna sighed. "Don't worry."

     We took a seat on the floor near our favorite (its easy to have a favorite when your viewing choices are limited to four bird displays) parakeet capsule. In no time at all, I felt a cold, damp juice-box dropped into my lap, and looked up just in time to see Ms. Double Latte stomping away again. "Highly Unprofessional," Paul muttered, watching her over the top of his sandwich. Brieanna was eyeing the juice box, and I was very glad I had asked for it. I popped the straw in for her and handed it over, relishing the look of contentment which passed over her pretty face when the straw was in her mouth.

     Across the room, the "higher purpose" congregation had gathered in their same spot by the restrooms. The rain was coming down harder than ever outside, and the lights in the lobby that had earlier seemed dull and shadowy now seemed bright and inviting against the darkening outdoors behind the glass. The group seemed to be continuing their discussion from earlier, only this time, when one of them would stand up and start preaching a story, it was dinner theater. I watched them for a while, but soon lost interest. I was thinking about Doctor Morgan and the fact that he had never asked my name. I wondered what they were all doing back there. I watched the rainy sidewalk outside, hoping the Tiger would show herself.

     "Paul?" I spoke, my eyes never leaving the glass. "Did you know that the Tiger is actually a Tigress?"

     He stopped chewing and favored me with a puzzled expression- one that seemed to ask why it mattered.

     "Her name is Virginia." I continued. Brieana shook her head, straw still in-mouth. "Why would they name something so terrible?" she asked, some of her syllables muddled against the plastic.

     "They didn't know she was terrible until today," I answered. It was the best I could come up with.

     "That's right," Paul chimed in, swallowing a piece of sandwich. "Remember that time you put that furry little plastic mouse in your grandmother's sewing basket?" Brie's face flushed with guilt at the very mention of it. Paul took her silence as encouragement to finish his point. "Your grandmother called you terrible that day, remember? But everyone does bad things once in a while, and we all learn lessons, right 'Gina?"

     "Right, Paul." I was still watching the window, begging her mentally to show herself. I had a feeling she wouldn't. I was sure that in her situation I wouldn't want to go wander around in the rainstorm.

     I began to get very apprehensive about the weather situation. At home in my own warm living room, I could be completely apathetic about a storm. Here, trapped in a zoo lobby, eating packaged dollar-meals, I wanted to know all there was to know. I rose, tucking the trash and half of the meal back into the box.

     "I'm going to go see if anyone has a TV on. I'm curious about the weather." Paul and Brie nodded, munching away at their make-shift dinner and striking up a new conversation about the parrots.

     I made sure to give a wide berth to the cranky lady behind the counter. Instead, I walked along the wall to some of the other doors I had not yet tried. They were all locked, and I received a distrusting look from an elderly woman who was furiously knitting in the corner. "Don't you think I tried that?" she asked in a scowling, wavery voice as I passed back into the bright center of the room.

     The congregation was still in their corner, stacking their unwrapped foods on a little table and decorating it with random pieces of finery from their clothing and jewelry. "Wow," I whispered to no one in particular. "They're really doing it." They were preparing an offering for Banobibi after all. My attention was drawn away by an irritated yell of "What the hell do you think you're doing!?" I hoped Brie hadn't heard yet another inappropriate speech.

     Near the double doors, a ruckus was brewing. I could see angry faces, and hear raised voices, but there were so many in argument of one another that any single line just disappeared into the swell of noise. Some of the red-uniformed employees had emerged from the "staff" areas and gathered near the doors. Some hopeful citizens had taken this as a sign that the threat was gone and the doors were being unlocked. This was not the case. The men standing at the head of the room were blocking the doors- a pointless effort on their part. The doors were locked and heavily padlocked as it was, but the expressions on their faces was very puzzling. They seemed to be unsure what it was they were doing, and why. The room's attention seemed to be fixed on either them, or the discussions of their own small area. I took this opportunity to slip once again through the door marked "Staff," which Doctor Jonas R. Morgan had not taken the time to lock.

     The hallway was darker than before. The florescent track-lighting that criss-crossed the gray ceiling had been turned off, leaving the bulbs just as gray and opaque as all the concrete surrounding them. There were three or four small windows along the stretch of hallway I could see, but these were only letting in small patches of dim, cloudy dusklight from outside. I turned back to the staff door, knowing that doing so was hurting me more than helping me. Looking at the light from the small lobby window would only mean waiting longer for my eyes to adjust to the dark. In that light, though, there was a shadow. Someone was leaning into the far corner of the hallway, their sharp facial features silhouetted against the moonlit window.

     I froze, expected a scolding of some kind. None came. I could tell from the outline that the person's face had turned towards me and was looking straight at me.

     "How was your dinner?" his deep voice asked, amiably enough. There was a clank of keys and he took one unthreatening step forward.

     My auto-personality prevented me from being careful with my words. "Four stars," I replied, hoping that my joke would soften the part of him I was apprehensive about. I was still unsure what part that was, but it probably had something to do with my first impression of the man. He frightened me the same way that any child is frightened of an adult who simply ignores them. I certainly did not feel ignored, and this man could not have out-aged me by much, if anything. It was difficult to call.

     He came all the way into the light, replacing his key ring to a clasp on his belt. I felt foolish as the light revealed what had formerly appeared as dark patches of blood on his uniform as simply shadows. His red uniform was crisp and clean as it had been each time I'd seen him.

     "What were you hoping to locate back here?" he asked, stating his business clearly. He was sent to make sure I didn't get in the way, as Doctor Morgan had probably suspected I would. I felt even more like a child.

     "Actually..." I smiled as I felt the easy lie seep into my saliva. "I was hoping to find a television set. Many of us are concerned about the weather and our loved ones."

     His eyebrows raised and he smiled, humored. For a moment, I almost started to like the man. Then I remembered his rude exit from the conversation and the way he had brushed Paul off like a house fly. With that, flooded in the momories of the men in uniforms like his who had been killed right in front of me, and in front of my six-year-old daughter.

     "There's a television in the publicity office," he offered. "Rather than having you wander around looking for it, I hope you don't mind if I save you the trouble." He had passed me and was already heading down the hall towards the infirmary. "It's this way."

     I had to take on a quick pace to catch up, and even then I felt as if I were in a casual jog. I thought back to my first trek down this hallway, trying to remember if I had seen any door symbols that would have suggested a publicity office. I didn't think I had.

     "I hope you don't mind kind of a long walk," Anthony spoke into the silence. His final vowel echoed into the concrete hallway, and I was immediately overcome with a vision of the large door at the end of the hallway- the one I had so desperately wanted to enter. "Publicity office is back in the wing where you and your family might have seen the information hut on your zoo tour."

     I didn't remember any information hut, but most zoos had such a thing. It would make sense to have the publicity office somewhere near by, when it came time to reload the displays full of brochures and free bookmarks. My shoulder sunk momentarily, realizing that the area behind that metal door might just be the rear-end of the information hut and nothing more...a dead end. I guess it was the locked door that held the secrets, after all. I was struck with a conquering idea.

     "Mr. Scheer," I began. He stopped suddenly, turning to me with a look of distrust. I then remembered that he had not told me his name, and quickly continued. "I'm finding it really...VERY interesting... to see the inner workings of the zoo. As long as it isn't any trouble.." I searched for the resolve to ask what I meant to ask. I didn't have to.

     "You'd like a tour," he mused and smirked unexpectantly. "I suppose that's harmless."

     I returned his less-than-meant smile. He had much better things to be doing than giving some restless, nosy outsider a walk-around the back hallways and offices which were mostly deserted. Then again, hadn't he been previously spending his time waiting for me in the dark staff hallway, gazing out the window at the rain?

     "Thank you." I replied honestly. "I'm sure it's better than sitting around and worrying. Wouldn't you say?"

     "Absolutely," he answered, the smile fading from his face and taking on its previous, hard expression. I shivered without notice at the decreasing temperature of the hallway, and wondered if it actually got colder than this the further back we walked. I would soon find out it didn't. It actually got much warmer.

 

----

6

     "Let's not bother Doctor Morgan," Anthony whispered as we neared the infirmary. "He has a lot to take care of, and knowing him, he'll want to tell you more stories." He let go of a humored smile, almost unwillingly. As we passed the infirmary I stole a glance into the brightly lit room. Two men were leaning on tables, and one was sitting. None appeared to be in too much pain- just bandaged. Jonas Morgan was no where to be seen, but that meant little. I hadn't seen him when I went in the first time, either.

     As we passed the open doorway and approached the metal door- the object of my recent obsession, Anthony began speaking again, quietly. "What do you think of him?"

     I didn't know what to say, right off. Why would my opinion on such matters count?

     "I think he's charming... in that chipper old fool kind of way..." Anthony responded to that with a puzzled look as he held open the door, encouraging me to finish my thought. "I don't think he's a fool at all, though.. he just has that kind of charisma."

     "He's certainly no fool," he answered, seeming to grow serious. He was careful to shut the door slowly, as to keep it quiet. The simple gesture made me uneasy, and I let my eyes fall on his face, hoping he would see the suspicion when he looked up. He didn't look up, but instead cast his glances out the large windows on the right side of the room. We had entered what appeared to be a storage room, but this one had a high ceiling and plenty of open space, like a warehouse. The boxes and supplies were blocked off from the main path with a line of short chain-link fences- probably to keep the animals from wandering off-course when being taken to the doctor.

     "You sure have a lot of supplies here," I commented, hoping to move into some kind of conversation that would get him to smile again. He was much less intimidating with that laughing smile on his shadowed features, and the further we walked into the deserted dark storeroom, the more I got to thinking this might be a mistake.

     "It takes a lot to take care of several hundred animals on a daily basis," he answered plainly. His glance kept shifting back and forth from the windows to the floor in front of him, sometimes stealing looks in my direction that were so quick I wouldn't notice them if I weren't already suspicious. His pace quickened momentarily before he stopped in his tracks, turning back to face the way we came.

     "This is our main storage area," he began, as if he really was giving a formal tour. "The garage doors you see to your left are for loading and unloading from trucks. We usually have a shipment of supplies three times a week.. sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on the season and whether or not we are running any special exhibits."

     As interesting as it all could have been, I couldn't take it anymore. The feeling of unrest was finding its way into my respiration and heartbeat, and I couldn't keep up this tourist act for very long. I cut him off in his grand speech.

     "Anthony, I'm not really back here for a tour... or a television for that matter." His mouth snapped closed in response, but his eyes didn't change. He had known as much.

     "What I want is information. I really just want to know what the hell is going on back here, and why all of this is happening."

     "So Doctor Morgan didn't tell you anything?" he asked, his eyebrow raising in question. For the first time, I noticed a scar that split that eyebrow in two. I knew I had to be careful how I answered such a question.

     "He told me some things..." I trailed off, searching the room for possible exits. I was preparing for the very unnecessary worst, and I knew my search was obvious to Anthony. He was watching my eyes and scratching his neck, waiting for the rest. "...but I'd like to know the rest...if you don't mind. I don't see how it can hurt anything."

     As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew how true they really were. What harm could it possibly cause for one concerned citizen to know what was going on back here? I wasn't going to go running back to the lobby, screaming out details like a crazy person, stirring up pandemonium. Why were they all being so secretive?

     Anthony smiled the most genuine smile I had yet seen from him. His eyes softened, and that vampirous look vacated his sharp features. Then he laughed, just as I had earlier hoped for, but never expected. His thumbs slipped casually into the belt of his uniform, and he turned to continue the way we were headed, gesturing with a lean of the head for me to follow. Not knowing what to make of it, I did. No words were spoken for perhaps five more full minutes. The only sounds were our footsteps, the jingle of his keys, and the soft pattering of the rain against the windows and roof.

     We left the storage area- Anthony in a light-hearted walk, me in a dazed one. His reaction and lack of speech was confusing, but somehow pleasant. I tried to push every impression I had of this man out of my mind, for the sake of clarity. I had been suspicious at his quiet secrecy when we first came back here... for all I know he was planning to stick me in a closet somewhere where I would stay out of the way! If he was planning that, he certainly wouldn't have wanted anyone else to know he had brought me back here, hence the finger would be eminently pointed his way. My eyes searched frantically everywhere for any small room that could be used for such a purpose. I stiffened at how paranoid I was actually being, but could do nothing about it. I tried to concentrate on my mental image of his carefree smile and how safe it felt. I shivered again at the cold. I began to have second thoughts about my curiosity.

     As we entered what I assumed was the publicity office, he spoke again. This time, he let his voice be louder than was probably necessary- likely an attempt to settle my suspicion.

     "Have a seat. I'll tell you anything you want to know." He had left the door open- another courtesy.

     Before sitting himself, he picked up a remote from a cluttered desk and switched on a corner-mounted television, which he muted. The silent screen showed a weather anchor pointing all over a bright-colored map with a lot of ominous red and orange patches on it. The weather had not improved, nor did it look to have that in its plan.

     Anthony sat a goodly distance away, in a desk chair, and dusting off the monitor of the dead computer in front of him. He turned back to me, his eyebrows raised, urging me to go ahead and inquire.

     "Virginia," I spoke lowly, as if the very word itself was a question. He nodded, but remained silent.

     "Doctor Morgan said something happened to her that made her pacific. What was it?"

     Anthony sighed, pushing his chair back on its hind legs, his feet keeping the balance.

     "Doctor Morgan thinks something traumatic happened to her when she was very young- right before she was brought here. He thinks it was something that happened in the wild."

     I nodded my head slowly, confirming, but signalling that I didn't quite understand.

     "Well," he continued, staring into the blank computer screen, "I disagree with him. I'm no doctor, but I have done my share of work when it comes to animal psychology. Whatever happened to her happened after she was taken into captivity. Probably before she was even brought to this country."

     "But you have no idea what that something is? None of you?"

     "Nope. She was captured by poachers. God knows what those people do to animals. Although, I can see how it would be in their best interest, being the ignorant saps that they are, to mute her aggression."

     "And how did you come to have Virginia as a..." I didn't know quite what to call her, not wanting to refer to a living creature as an 'exhibit.' "...as a guest here?"

     "The Central Park zoo didn't want her," he replied, a sullen sag invading his face. "They did at first, but a week or two after they purchased her... and a dirty purchase it was, mind you... they came to realize she wasn't entirely herself. She was so scared of everyone and everything that they had to keep her isolated, hidden from sight. What good is a zoo exhibit that you can't see?"

     Anthony was growing frustrated at the details of the story, and stopped to wipe a hand across his brow, which was beading with sweat. His other hand had balled to a fist. I was almost afraid to ask another question, but I did. Now I desperately wanted to know more.

     "What do you think happened?... I mean, I know you don't know for sure... but you know a lot about how an animal's mind works. Can you make a guess?"

     "No. Whatever it was, it was probably so awful you wouldn't want to hear it anyway." His voice was wavering with his unhappiness, but it was still unsettlingly deep. His eyes had that sharp look again, but this time they seemed to be aimed at an invisible threat- one inside his own mind. After what seemed like several minutes of uncomfortable, churning silence, he continued.

     "She's terrified of the color red. I think it makes her think of blood."

     "What?" I didn't think I had heard him correctly. I had seen her lunge fearlessly at several men in bright red uniforms only hours ago, and their blood had seemed to only fuel her aggression. I opened my mouth again to tell him this, and was cut off.

     "I think those poachers might have bled her nearly to death. I don't know how they did it, but I know why. In some Asian mythologies, the blood of a tiger can be used to cure almost any ailment. Even if the poachers didn't believe it, that wouldn't stop them from making money off of it. My guess is they kept her locked up for months, bleeding her a little bit every day."

     I thought of the people in the lobby, gathering together to worship such mythologies. The thought of them was much better than the thought that I was trying to push from my mind- the one of a tiger cub being bled for a profit. I felt tears well up, and knew this time it was not an oncoming sneeze. Anthony had them, too.

     "I wish it would have been those poachers," he said sadly, his eyes falling closed against their dampness, "instead of our men. They should have got what was coming to them."

     "Instead of a check," I responded, realizing that the poachers had probably been paid dearly for their capture, even after they sucked the other profits out of her. I tried to distract myself with the weather map on the television, but couldn't stop looking at Anthony, who was visibly, shamelessly letting his tears go against his open palm.

     "Instead of a check," he repeated, with a voice hardly his own.
 
--
7

     A dull click came from above as the heating system was turned on. I looked up into the ceiling vent, not wanting to look at Anthony. It seemed disrespectful, somehow, to watch a man cry over something I knew almost nothing about. I could offer sympathy, but it would be only that. I was upset by the idea of what Virginia must have gone through, but not nearly as upset as he. How could I be? My concern with the environment had usually fallen short, and I could admit that only to myself. I was mostly just about pointing out the lack of concern in others. Anthony's genuine, sorrowful empathy for the animal was humbling.

     "Maybe I should get going. I don't mean to upset you." I rose from my chair, not expecting an answer. Instead, he looked up immediately and caught my eyes, and I was amazed at the speed his focus changed.

     "You haven't upset me. It's nice to know someone is interested.. Ginny, I mean." I was almost at odds with myself whether or not this was the same man who rudely blew my husband off in the lobby only hours before. In many ways, it probably wasn't. Anthony's tears were gone now, leaving only their traces. His face grew hard, as it had been before, when I didn't know of the heart underneath it. I was less afraid of that face now that I felt it was only a mask. It was possible that face could read minds.

     "I'm also sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to be an ass," he clarified. "I was concerned for her when everyone else, including all of the screaming people in the lobby, were just afraid for themselves."

     "And the other employees," I added, hoping not to anger him. I figured it would be beneficial for him to know why I had marked him with such contempt early on. "Those people merely saw you as the man who locked everyone else out. I came to know that its procedure and you were following orders. They have no idea. You could have just explained that."

     I realized I was beginning to sound like a scolding shrew. My eyes tilted down to the floor, and I looked closely at my own feet. Anthony was walking past me, but without any kind of determined air.

     "Not explaining is also procedure," he answered simply. "We could have made an announcement to everyone in that room that we were going to lock the doors for their own safety, and that the men outside were on their own, for better or worse. Then when this disaster happened, I wouldn't be the one faulted. The whole organization and everyone involved would look wreckless. When you operate a service..."

     "A business," I cut him off. "I understand that a service needs money to keep itself operating."

     "Yes," he agreed. "I wouldn't say we've got a surplus of it just recently. This was bound to happen."

     I was struck sideways by his choice of words, and after several moments of contemplation, I still could not quite make them sound right in my mind. "What do you mean 'bound to happen'?"

     "I don't know," he admitted. "I guess that is a bit dramatic. Anything can happen to anyone."

     I wasn't satisfied. I still had the uneasy feeling that something was being left out... some key part of his justification to himself. I had to ask.

     "So what are you doing back here, then? While everyone is huddled together in the lobby eating out of styrofoam boxes, and the injured men who got back in are being taken care of by the doctor, what is everyone else doing. What are you doing? It really can't be this difficult to take down a loose Tiger."

     He flinched at my last words, and I flushed with realization. "Recapture, I mean."

     It was a mistake. The hard look of distrust was stronger than ever, and aimed right at me, now.. rather than all around the room as it had been before. "What would you have me do?" he snapped, dropping into a chair near the door. "Go out there and get her myself? I'm following protocol. I'm back here keeping an eye on her...knowing her moves. It's not entirely possible in this rain storm, but I think I'm doing the best I can. No one could do this job better than I."

     "And why is that?"

     "Because I have worked closely with Virginia every single day since she was brought here; since I was just a snotty intern. We have a connection, and I am better able to know what she is thinking and feeling because of it. I guess everyone else here would consider it part of 'know thy enemy,' but I think of it more the way a little girl knows what her favorite doll wants and needs. Virginia wants what I want."

     He slumped further down into his chair and sighed. In that sigh was empty frustration far beyond the man's years- the kind that only people who throw themselves fully into a doomed effort can manage. I had done it myself many times in music lessons, but in my case I had to learn to mask it. Besides, this was about saving a life- possibly many lives. He had a right to be frustrated.

     "I'm going to head back out to the lobby," I said, still only half-meaning it. "This isn't my place."

     I turned to go, half-expecting another argument from Anthony. I heard nothing but the steady throbbing sound of the heater disappearing behind me as I turned back into the hall. I must have been listening very carefully for the sound of his chair scooting away from him as he stood, because I realized after many steps that I had turned the wrong way into the hallway. I stopped in my tracks and cast a tense glance back to the door to the publicity office before continuing on, wanting to take a look at whatever lay beyond, undiscovered. I wasn't being followed.

     I wove myself quietly between some randomly stacked boxes that were blocking the path, being sure not to knock anything over or draw attention to my location. A thick layer of dust was sitting on the boxes in places, but in others there were tracks streaked through the dust as if a hand had been brushed over. One of the boxes sat open, some of its contents spilled over onto the floor. It seemed to be nothing more than a bunch of zoo pamphlets and environmental charity information. Of course such a thing would be left in dusty boxes in a place like this. I wondered idly if Anthony knew this information was here, and not being distributed. He had probably dealt with a lot of this sort of thing.

     Ahead was another storeroom beyond a set of glass doors with newspaper clippings and flyers taped all over them. Some showed articles about catastrophes at other zoos around the country- those were usually placed next to a follow-up article that explained how the matter was taken care of. A few of the flyers advertized company get-togethers, baby-sitting services, etc. Only one was out of the ordinary- a square piece of tagboard with a picture of Doctor Morgan posing for a photograph with a class of elementary school students, all in school uniforms. The tagboard was covered with the nearly illegible signatures of children. Some had even chosen to sign their name on top of their own face in the picture. Large block letters at the bottom read "Future Veterinarians of Wells Orchard and the World- 2005."

     Musing to myself, I pushed through the doors and into the storeroom, which was alive with sounds and smells. The rain was much louder, beating down on the tin roof overhead, and the air was thick with the damp atmosphere of a storm. The concrete floor was broken in a few places, leaving jagged cracks to criss-cross on the surface. It was just before I reached the door on the other side that I stopped, feeling a cold, dead weight settle into my gut. A few of the largest cracks had rogue grass growing out of them, and there was a taller, more prominent variety growing near the door I had come out of. The rain continued to beat down on the roof...which was not a roof, per se, but more of a makeshift shelter for delivery trucks the made their way through the long corridor in which I was now standing. I wasn't in a store room. I was between store rooms, in the place Anthony had mentioned earlier. I was outside, standing smack dab in the middle of the loading dock.

     My first thought was to go back the way I came. I had been wrong to venture this far against the wishes of the staff anyway, and this little escapade outside had been the straw that broke my stubborn camel's back. In my small bubble of fear, I couldn't see myself doing any more exploring. A scraping sound made me jump, almost expecting to see Miss Virginia herself standing there, watching me. A crunched up wad of styrofoam rolled by, instead, catching on its white surface the momentary flash of lightning that came from the end of the corridor. That was it. I grabbed the nearest door handle- the one I had moments before told myself I wouldn't go through, and pulled. It came free of the jamb, but stopped an inch from its origin, bolted. A keyhole glared up at me from below the handle, and my sarcastic mind quickly conjectured that I should have stolen Anthony's keys while I had the chance.

     Before I even tried the door I had come through, I knew I would find the same result. Before my hand even touched the handle, I was trying to come up with an alternative way back in the building, but it was not until my guess was confirmed that I really started to lose it. My knees were shaking while the rest of me was frozen in a solid state of panic. I was afraid to knock- afraid to make any noise. Curiousity had killed this cat...or at least, the cat was bound to kill the curiosity.

     I finally got up the nerve to knock softly, hoping that by some stretch of chance, Anthony had just entered the hallway and would hear it echoing. Not likely, I thought, over the droning clicks from the heaters. That idea came and went, and I began pawing at the walls, hoping to trick myself into a solution. I felt like my eyes were flicking back and forth faster than my mind could take in the images they sought. I could smell every tiny hint of a scent, from the vegetation lining the wall, to the concrete, to the soil lodged between the cracks. Most of all I could smell the rain, and something else... a strangely unnatural metallic smell, like the rust in an old drain. Every detail stood out as I ran my hands along the outer walls, seeming to feel for what I would, a few seconds later, see. The only way out of this tunnel was through one of the openings at each end, and I had no idea what could lie at either one of them. I did know one thing, and that was that the rain was getting worse, not better, and the night was getting very dark. I was fairly confident that neither of those two things would be of any assistance to me in my present state.

     There wasn't even anything in the alley I could use to defend myself, should I see the Tigress. It was just me, the ground, the grass, and the locked doors. The only other shapes in the alley were the two big, blocky heat generators that reached all the way up to the roof, covered with labels and symbols and vaguely worded instructions.

     I approached one of them, wishing I knew how the thing worked. If I could somehow safely find a way, I might try to shut it off. Eventually, someone would come out and fix it, right? Someone brave? There would be someone who would feel responsible for maintaining adequate heat in a building that was sheltering hundreds of citizens from both weather and satient danger.

     I groped for anything that I could break off or pull apart. The thing was like a tank- square and unbreakable. The controls were likely hidden under a panel somewhere that could only be opened with a key. I saw several things that could have been keyholes- none of them seemed cooperative to my efforts. I squirmed into the three-foot space between the two big block generators, searching for a delicate piece. I fell to my knees, feeling the slightly damp dirt of an open crack seeping through the knees of my light cotton pants. The rain was getting louder, when I thought it could not possibly do so. Water was dripping and running through the tiny gap between the tin roof and the main building, landing on the back of my head as I searched the ground beneath the generator. I was filthy and cold, cursing everyone and everything I could think of for my situation. The truth was the worst, though. I had gotten myself into this.

     So therefore, I would have to get myself out.


----
8

     The heating systems inside were knocking away at full power, giving the animals and people in the building one less thing to worry about. As the animals in the exhibits began to grow restless and noisy from the storm, the people did the same. Individuals drifted from group to group in the lobby, sharing their expertise on the situation and trading his or her fears with anyone who would have them. Time ticked away unnoticed while many eyes watched the dark windows, vacant of the light glare that would have decorated them had the power still been on. Some people had given up on caring completely, and were just lounging about on less-than-comfortable furniture, doing their best to talk of other subjects. Others still had not given up on the effort to get outside, for better or worse, and were pushing fruitlessly at the handles and metal framework under the annoyed gaze of an employee guard.

     Anthony Scheer had paused at the infirmary just long enough to check on his three injured colleagues and ask them in jest if they wanted him to bring them back some of those boxed meals. They had wrinkled their noses automatically, but little humor had met the joke in response. One shook his head while the others simply ignored the question. Their experience had taken the hunger clean out of them, probably for a good long time. Watching a Tigress enjoying a quick, violent dinner of her own had saved them the trouble of having any appetite.

     He hadn't thought to feel bad about joking with them- it was what they always did. He had always been a pretty laid back employee on a day to day basis, and kept most of his disagreements in the shadows. To the other men and women in red, he was someone they could joke with at will, on any given subject. They knew if he had any personal issues, they would likely stay personal, and he would deal with them in those same shadows. Dr. Morgan was the only person on staff who had seen Anthony truly explode, and unfortunately, the Doctor had been the prime target.

     He was frowning thoughtfully when he pushed through the door into the lobby, taking special care to lock it behind him. He didn't think that Jonas's pretty little friend would bother coming back into the employee area again, but then again, it was always best to be safe. Back there was a place where she certainly could stir up some unneeded trouble, purposefully or not. Knowing the other employees, if she would have gotten to them before him the first time, she'd have them all eating out of her hand. She could have been walking anywhere she wished and poking into every reachable room unchecked. He had prevented that as planned. Now, at least, she would be locked in this room with everyone else, and could do her part by keeping everyone from staging a revolt against the employees.

     He had told her the truth- most of it, anyway. He had given her a real piece of his heart for a fleeting moment, and had given her information no one else in this big carpeted room had. She had understood his concerns. He saw in her eyes that she wanted to help him, and wouldn't do anything to stir up opposition when the time came for her to stay neutral. He had become so involved with his own true passion that he had cried in front of her. That, he had not meant to do. Something about the way she was sitting there with her hands clasped in her lap, watching his face as he told the story, and breathing slowly and deeply with the weight of it, made him unable to hold back those tears. Why was she so insistent on knowing everything? The other people hadn't so much as peeked through the hallway windows, let alone barged into the infirmary.

     Just as he was glancing toward the front doors, curious about the nest of people gathered there, he collided hard with a small human form. Immediately apologizing, he looked down and recognized the little girl at his feet. She looked back up with a puzzled expression, but spoke clearly, "That's okay," before continuing to run off in whatever direction she had been headed. The girl wore bright yellow shoes and a lighter yellow denim jumper- her ribboned hair was the same dark, wavy quality of her nosy mother's. The little girl scurried away and pressed her nose up against a glass exhibit holding very active green parrots. He watched her for several moments, then scanned the room for her family. There were many people wearing black, but few were wearing the shade of peach he had earlier seen on the little girl's father. Once he found him, he was sure to find the mother. He would point her out to the "door guard" and ask him to make sure she didn't try anything funny. It was only precaution, and once again, procedure.

     He scratched his dark, stubbled neck as he scanned the crowd. Before long, the girl's father emerged from the bathroom door, wiping his hands deliberately on his carefully pressed khakis. He had an expression that was somehow half-annoyed and half-worried. This was not an uncommon expression in the room. As the father came closer to the parrot exhibit, where he no doubt had instructed his daughter to wait, he locked eyes with Anthony, who had forgotten to hide his scrutiny. He straightened the neck of his shirt and let his eyes trail elsewhere, mentally kicking himself for being caught staring with what probably looked like a shark's eyes. He hoped that the mother had taken time to tell her husband the story she had heard... it would make him a lot easier to deal with, he guessed.

     Despite his efforts to look away, he was approached. At some point, the father had collected the hand of his daughter, and so she also approached at his side. The two of them were both looking at him, and quite intently, when they closed the distance.

"Mr. Scheer."

     The direct use of his name had him momentarily stunned. He smiled his best zoo smile for the two of them.

     "Yes, sir... you've found him. What can I do for you two this evening?" He did his best to pretend that his name was widely known among guests, and that this sort of personalized approach was common. Even the little girl had picked up on something amiss. He hoped the mother would come out of the bathroom soon and break up this uncomfortable gathering. The father obviously remembered clearly their encounter earlier, and was obviously skilled in confrontation.

     "Mr. Scheer, my name is Paul Jans. I believe you have met my wife, Gina." Anthony continued to feign a lack of recognition, but it wasn't going through as easily as he had hoped, so he simply abandoned it.

     "Gina.. as in Regina? I believe Doctor Morgan mentioned her. She was back in the infirmary visiting with some of the employees earlier today."

     The man's gray eyes were cutting. He took a moment to glance down at the little girl, who was watching her father with keen interest. He tried to catch her eye with a smile, but to no avail.

     "Well, Mr. Scheer, I'd like for you to show us where the television is. She went to watch the weather quite a while ago and I'd like to know where she is. I wouldn't mind seeing the weather myself." He had the confidence of a supreme court lawyer in a mock trial, and even as he adjusted his own collar, his eyes never left Anthony's. His mind strayed for a moment, and he pictured what daily life for this family must be like.. what with such a coupling.

     His thoughts were refocused abruptly as he realized what Paul had just told him. Regina had not come back to them. Where would she go first, before rejoining her family? It had been almost an hour since she had left the publicity office, and that was far too long for her to be hidden in the bathroom. His heart seemed to stiffen in his gut. She had gone on. She had inveigled him and went poking around again.

     He met Paul's hard expression with a smile that couldn't possibly have appeared genuine.

     "Well, Mr. Jans, your wife finished watching the weather nearly an hour ago. I personally saw her out of the publicity office and sent her back here on her merry way." He thought he saw a flicker in those gray eyes at the mention of "personally seeing her out," and wondered which one of the many possibilities that flicker was alluding to. He knew it was now or never.

     He did a false double take of the area behind Paul and the little girl, gesturing toward the admissions counter at one of the receptionists who just happened to be looking their way. As Paul turned to see, the receptionist...Chloe, Anthony thought he remembered her name being, smiled and waved in a way that was just close enough to suit his purposes.

     "Excuse me," he offered, pushing past them gently and making his way over to the receptionist, who had rescued him without even knowing it. When he got there, he made small talk with her- asking a lot of questions about the status of the electricity and such. He assumed from the way Paul had been wiping his hands on his pants that the paper towels had all been used up and the one electric dryer was still out of commission. She assured him as much. She mentioned that no one had seen the Tiger for several hours and they were thinking about letting everyone go. That would be perfect.

     Still, there was this trouble with the Jans woman. She hadn't come back, and Paul was getting pushy. Even if they did let everyone go, he wouldn't leave without her. She would need to turn up. This was not the usual kind of problem he enjoyed dealing with... the kind that solved itself and went away in a tidy little fashion.

     When he was sure the two of them weren't looking, he quickly excused himself from Chloe's company and used his keys to unlock one of the main entrance doors to the zoo. As it locked closed behind him, he stood in the dim lighting of the huge, pillared room, hearing the rustling and voices of the animals and trying to collect his thoughts. Would she have been stupid enough to try to get to her vehicle? Was she cat food by now? The only other hallway leading away from the publicity office led into the loading area, and beyond that, the gift shop and animal museum storage facility. There would have been nothing to find- nothing to discover there. She would have simply turned back. Why had no one seen her?

     He left his keys dangle as he slipped one finger through the ring. Perhaps she had made it to her vehicle. Maybe she had taken the initiative to go get help for everyone. Though his insight into the mind of a woman was limited, he didn't think she would do something like that without telling her family.

     The truth of the matter was, it was probably fairly safe for one person to move from the building to their vehicle. Virginia could be miles away by now, and even if she wasn't, she'd likely be disinterested in a non-violent move by a single person, especially after she had eaten so much in such a short time.

     This was logic, but that still didn't put Regina Jans back in that lobby with her strong-minded family.

     Perhaps, he thought with renewed interest, the problem would solve itself after all. He could vouch for the fact that he watched Mrs. Jans leaving the publicity office. His responsibility could very well end there. She knew the way back. She had chosen an alternate route outside of his knowledge. Anything from that point on was purely her own fault.

     On the other hand, if she was outside, there was always a chance that there would be no one around later to challenge his version of that story. He might be able to take a few liberties with it if the situation was just right, and the Jans woman ended up meeting the wrath of her own curiosity.

     The sound of footsteps broke through his cruel thought, and made him shudder at the nature of what it had turned into. She was simply wandering around in the zoo, and he would steer her in the direction of the lobby and make sure she went there this time. Problem solved.

     The person that emerged from behind a cage of lemurs was not Regina Jans, but Jonas Morgan. He held a small plastic cage with one of the ducks from the far end of the zoo in it, sitting contentedly and looking around with pure duck wonder. The old man half-smiled, his eyebrows raising in question rather than senility. "You look a bit frazzled, der, Tony. Can I interest you in a duck errand?"

     "Regina Jans has disappeared," he blurted, wanting the responsibility to level out at least a bit.

     Doctor Morgan considered this for a short moment without any trace of panic, but set the duck down and stepped away from the plastic cage slowly. His eyes moved around the floor as he gathered his own thoughts.

     "I walked her back to the lobby earlier this evening..." he began.

     "And I saw her out of the publicity office only an hour ago," Anthony finished, filling in the oncoming question.

     "And her family?"

     "They haven't seen her since before she came back to talk to me."

     "Ah. Then I suppose this duck errand can be put off for the benefit of one of our own kind," the doctor joked, trying his best to lighten a mood he knew to be quite serious. "I'll have Andrew Forbes do it. He hates ducks, you know."

     "I know."

     Anthony couldn't help but agree with his colleague on that one. There were far too many ducks in the world and not enough of anything else. Much like there were far too many Paul Janses..and for that matter.. far too many Regina Janses. Right now there were not enough Anthony Scheer's trying to set things right.

     "Doctor Morgan..." he continued, hoping that what he was about to say wouldn't fall on suspicious ears. "If she went outside, do you think there's any chance at all that someone would go out there to find her?"

     Surprisingly, the old man laughed. When he had finished his characteristic chuckle, he picked up the duck again, cradling its cage affectionately. "I might get Anthony Scheer to do it," he mused, looking him in the eye and lowering his brow in preparation for his sarcastic irony. "He hates people, you know."

 

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Katherine Kennon (2005)