Today’s Fiction Fursday story was prompted by my wonderful blogger friend, Kate. Kate gave me a flurry of excellent prompts during my A-Z Challenge in April, so I knew that she’d suggest something brilliant for my new weekly project! Her suggestion was for me to write a story where a bloke who is down on his luck sneaks into a zoo and tells the animals about his problems. I loved the idea from the start and was excited to get writing! Here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.
Also, if any of your would like to suggest a prompt for me for my Ficiton Fursday posts, feel free to do so in the comments. It could be a single word, a first/final line or even a theme. Use your imagination and to kick-start mine!
The Animals’ Advice
By Adam Dixon
“She just wouldn’t listen to reason,” Bob sighed, taking a slow swig from his beer can. “She wouldn’t listen, then she left me…just walked out the door…haven’t seen her in four weeks now…” Bob lowered his head as a tear forced its way through his closed eyes. “Oh, Xena, what am I going to do?” Bob looked pleadingly at the sleek lioness in her enclosure. She sat as still as a statue, watching him with amber eyes and flicking her tail to and fro as he spoke.
“You come here at this hour, disturbing my rest, in order to spout this drivel?” she replied. The noise came from within Bob’s head rather than issuing from her mouth and her voice was cold and calculated. Bob fidgeted on his perch on the wall above her.
“Erm, yes…” he replied, feeling sheepish. “I was hoping you might have some advice for me. You know how to deal with your mate and his pride so I figured that you might have an insight I could use.”
“I care less about your trivial relationship problems than I do about tasting your warm flesh, human,” Xena growled, licking her lips. Bob shuffled further away, for once grateful for the iron bars ringing the enclosure.
“It is merely an instinct, human, take no offence,” Xena said with a lazy swish of her tail. “Nothing personal, although I must insist that you take your problems elsewhere. I require sleep or else I shall be cantankerous in the morning; the cubs will not enjoy that. Good evening to you.” With a regal bowing of her head, the lioness turned and gracefully walked away. Bob sat watching her, marvelling at the strong muscles and beautiful fur whilst at the same time feeling quite put-out.
“Yeah, whatever then, princess,” he muttered as he shuffled further into the zoo. He gulped at his beer as he wandered, enjoying the cool breeze and shade offered at night. He had been working there during the sweltering heat of the daytime, guiding packs of sweating tourists around to gawk at the basking animals, making him grateful for the drop in temperature. Gravel crunched under his boots as Bob approached another cage, this one filled with trees and wooden climbing frames. He sat on a wooden bench next to it, cracking open another beer.
“Hello? Anyone home?” he called. There was a rustling of movement within the trees and a dark human-like face ringed with white fur peered out at him. Bob waved.
“Evening, Scamp,” he said. “Aren’t you up a bit late?”
“Could say the same to you! Heehee!” The gibbon replied playfully. Bob raised his can.
“Touché!” He said, and took a long swallow. Sighing, he watched as Scamp swung up to a stronger branch in order to converse with him comfortably.
“Scamp, where’s Ursula?” Bob asked. “I thought you two were always together?”
“Not tonight, she’s resting with our young,” Scamp grinned, his throat-sack enlarging and shrinking as he laughed. “They gave her a good run-around today and now they’re all exhausted! Works for me! Heehee!” Bob smiled and shook his head. Scamp’s voice echoed in his head more resonantly than the other animals, and Bob assumed it was due to their evolutionary closeness. Scamp leaned closer from his high perch, gazing down at Bob. He lifted a horned finger and pointed.
“Say, Bob…could I have one of those?” Scamp asked hopefully. Bemused, Bob pulled a beer can from his pack and tossed it up into the tree. Scamp leaned backwards and caught it deftly, whooping in delight. He snapped open the ring-pull and cackled as foam erupted over his hand. Leaning further backwards he splashed beer down his face and chest as he gulped noisily. He balanced precariously on the edge of the branch for a few seconds before sitting upright once more. Scamp barked a quick laugh and belched.
“Ahhh, thanks! Heehee!” Scamp imitated Bob’s salute, tilting his raised can and nodding. Bob shook his head again.
“That’s alright, I suppose,” he replied, chuckling. “I just hope the guys at security aren’t watching! They didn’t mind letting me in at this hour but they’d have something to say if they saw me giving alcohol to the attractions! Technically you’re a minor, too, so I’d be in loads of trouble!”
“Our little secret then! Heehee! Why are you here, anyway?” Scamp asked, hanging from a branch one-handed as he sipped more beer. “Don’t we get enough of your ugly mug during the day? Heehee!”
“Woman troubles,” Bob admitted. “You’re always happy with Ursula, Scamp. What d’you reckon I should be doing?”
“You could try singing for her, that’s what I do,” Scamp replied, leaping back on to the branch and rubbing his throat-sack with pride. “My Ursula has always enjoyed my singing. Or if that doesn’t work, find another male to fight and prove your worth that way! Rip his fur out and toss him in the bushes with his bottom smacked! Heehee!”
“Hmm…well I can’t sing and I doubt there’s anyone relevant I could beat up,” Bob frowned. “It doesn’t really work like that with humans, anyway.”
“Can’t help you then, sorry!” Scamp laughed and crushed the empty can in his hand. He raised his arm and threw it, whooping with glee when it bounced off the side of Bob’s head.
“Heehee! Gotcha! Can I have another one?”
“No, that’s enough for you,” Bob said flatly, standing up to leave. “I’ll see if anyone else can help me.” He trudged off down the winding path, feeling more and more like he was wasting his time. Why should the animals have any kind of helpful advice to give me? Bob thought, cross with himself. They don’t know how humans behave! After a few minutes, however, Bob found himself leaning over the edge of another enclosure, chatting with a beautiful male peacock.
“So what do you think I should do, Narcissus?” Bob asked after he had explained his situation. He was watching the blue bird strut around and flick his gorgeous feathers to and fro.
“Well, what I would suggest, darling, is that you flaunt your natural beauty to win her back!” the peacock said eagerly. “Flaunt it, darling! Flaunt it shamelessly! Show her what she is missing!”
“Erm…okay,” Bob was unconvinced. “The thing is, I don’t really have a lot of natural beauty to flaunt. The moles and the receding hairline hardly make women swoon, and I can’t say I had better luck when I was younger. My parents were a bit on the plain side, you see.”
“Oh, daaaarling! That is unfortunate!” Narcissis crowed with genuine sympathy. He fanned his own natural beauty for effect. “Then I simply don’t know what to suggest! That course of action always works for me! See how stunning I am! What female could possibly resist?” He spun his feathers with a flourish, sighing with delight as the radiant colours flashed in the night sky. Bob sighed too and thanked the peacock, leaving him to prance about as he walked on. He began to wonder if he should just go home and drink his remaining beers in solitude, but he knew that he wouldn’t. I don’t want to be alone anymore, Bob thought miserably.
Bob came to a wider cage near the end of the park and gazed at the impressive shapes moving around within it. Two elephants were sleeping peacefully in the centre of the cage, a great bull elephant and his calf. The baby, who was nearly as big as Bob, was snuggled up against her father with her small trunk draped over his neck. Bob felt a pang of regret as he stroked the cold, oppressive bars of the cage. The cruelty of their fate upset him profoundly.
“I’m sorry you’re in here…” he whispered.
“The fault is not yours, young man,” a kindly voice said in his head. “Do not assume the guilt for it.” Bob glanced towards another shape as it moved closer to him. The baby’s mother was massive and beautiful, her intelligent brown eyes meeting Bob’s without fear or hesitation.
“I know, Maggie” Bob replied, scratching the back of his head. “But it doesn’t make me feel any better about it, especially not since I’ve been moaning about my life all evening. I don’t have it this bad! Stupid, selfish bastard that I am! At least I’m free!”
“Oh, you needn’t feel too bad, Robert,” Maggie said, her eyes creasing with amusement. “You help us in your own way through your Gift. If you did not come and talk to us all during the day, I am sure we would all have gone beserk by now. Do not be too hard on yourself, my dear.”
“I suppose so,” Bob replied, feeling slightly better. He turned to look at the sleeping baby once again.
“She is growing so fast, Maggie!” He breathed, his eyes widening and a wondrous smile creeping across his face. “Soon she’ll be as big as you are!”
“Oh, hopefully not too soon!” Maggie chuckled. She looked at Bob seriously, her large ears flapping as she frowned.
“Now, Robert, tell me,” she began firmly. “What is all this about you moaning about your life? What is the matter?”
“Oh, that,” Bob scratched his head again nervously. “I…erm…my partner left me. She doesn’t…erm…She wants to get married.”
“Well, that sounds like wonderful news!” Maggie exclaimed. “Why has she abandoned you? Is this how you usually operate? I don’t understand human couplings, I’m afraid.”
“No, it’s not the usual way…” Bob replied, feeling ashamed. “I…erm…it’s my fault. I told her…that I don’t want to get married.”
“I see,” Maggie’s expression became stern as she moved closer to Bob. Her great head moved to within inches of his, separated by the iron bars of the cage. “Why ever not, Robert? Do you not care for her?”
“Yes! Of course I do!” Bob said, hurt by implication. “I love her dearly! I can’t imagine life without her! I don’t want a life without her!”
“Then why do you hesitate?” Maggie asked, holding Bob’s gaze. Bob was flustered as he found himself unable to answer the simple question.
“I…she…oh, I don’t know!” He cried, throwing his arms in the air. “It’s just not something that has ever meant much to me as a concept, that’s all!”
“But it seems to mean a great deal to your partner,” Maggie said, twisting her trunk as she spoke. It was almost like a shrug. “Perhaps you need to consider whether your indifference is more important than your mutual happiness. Take myself and Rameses for example.” She swung her trunk and gestured at her slumbering mate. “Rameses was a wild one, that’s for certain, and he never considered having children before I explained to him how important it would be to me. Putting his pride behind him was the best decision he has ever made; he adores our little one and he would give his tusks for her in a heartbeat.” Maggie turned her gaze back towards Bob. “You must think about what course of action will make you and your partner the happiest. Make your decision soon, whatever it may be, before you regret it.”
Bob rested his forehead against the cool bars of the cage and reached his arm through to stroke Maggie’s trunk. It was thick and strong but full of warmth. Just like Maggie, Bob thought.
“Thank you, Maggie,” he said, tears filling his eyes. “I’ll do that. You are very wise, you know that, right?”
“Oh, it has been implied!” Maggie chuckled and tenderly wiped an escaping tear from Bob’s cheek with the end of her trunk. “But you do not reach my age without learning a thing or two about life! Now off you go, Robert. The dawn will soon come and I daresay that you have a female to speak to.” Bob straightened and wiped his eyes.
“Yes, I suppose I do,” he replied, smiling. “Bye, Maggie. I’ll see you soon.” Maggie raised her trunk in farewell before moving back towards her family. Bob strode back the way he had come, feeling lighter than he had felt in days. Maggie’s words had lifted a great weight from his shoulders and her simple probing had unlocked answers he had kept barricaded deep in his heart. He glanced up at the lightening sky, breathing in the cool scent of the approaching morning and looking forward to the day ahead. He knew what he was going to do. As he passed the Ape Section, Bob whistled and tossed his final beer can into the trees. Scamp the gibbon caught it and his surprised laughter rang out across the zoo, and Bob laughed with him.