If any of you are seeking a reason to slack off at work today and would like some reading material, I’ve posted a short story below. I’m in a writing club (Aka, the Write Club) and we have been working on a compilation of short stories called DC Je T’aime, a take on Paris Je T’aime, the movie collection of short films. We have the following parameters to write within, or include in the story:
- Must take place in a DC neighborhood
- A snow leopard must appear
- Incorporate a heart-shaped pin
- Use the line “I know you’re in there”
- Borrow a character from someone else’s story
- 7,000 word limit (mine is 5,000)
My story is about a skinny ass dweeb named Linus Bolt. It was a name I had originally wanted to use as my pen name, but my mother was (understandably so) horrified, so I came up with TL Zalecki instead. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It was quite a change of topic and style from SIRENS.
LINUS BOLT by T.L. Zalecki
“God dammit, Linus!” Karen muttered under her breath, shoving the trowel into the flower bed harder than necessary. She stabbed the dirt again, even harder this time. Half of an earthworm squiggled from the freshly turned earth.
“Oh shit. Sorry dude.”
A year ago, she wouldn’t have thought twice about severing a live worm. They were disgusting. It was Linus. His insistence to let live – fruit fly, fire ant or fool. A fine philosophy. It was just that she’d never been the soft-hearted type. But it was part of the whole Linus package – endearingly passionate and gentle to a fault, yet he still had an edge. His searing wit was dark, charming. Even cynical. Karen found his odd ability to love and hate in the same breath alluring. She considered him the most dynamic person she’d ever met.
And now his skinny ass was screwing someone else. She knew it. Why was she gardening for him anyway? Just because her toothbrush lay on his sink and her slippers and robe had a permanent place in his closet? None of that meant she was Mrs. Linus Bolt. Bastard. She’d actually thought one day she would be. Stupid name anyway. He moved like molasses.
Karen tossed the trowel into the creeping jenny that lined the stone wall and stood up. Sweat dripped from her forehead and upper lip. She felt hot inside and out. This was hell. Her boyfriend was cheating on her, and she was planting gerber daisies in his front yard during the hottest day of the year. Or century? She thought she’d heard that on the radio. Damn, DC could bake like an oven.
“I need a drink.” She said aloud, surprised no one was around to hear her. Linus’ neighbors were usually relentless, always present, always greeting you with smiles, walking their dogs, sitting on their plushly furnished porches drinking lemonade. So damn pleasant all the time. The aptly named Mount Pleasant. Okay, so maybe you’d be on cloud nine if your boyfriend actually asked you to move in with him. Maybe then you’d be the one bopping down Ingleside Terrace with a perma-smile.
Just as she was about to go inside for a beer, a streak of color caught Karen’s eye. Pink. In some sort of prescient notion, a chilling wave coursed through her veins, raising the hair on her arms. An uncharacteristically cool breeze swirled her hair, peeling it from her sweaty shoulders. She turned around.
A cotton candy colored flamingo stood on one leg in the center of the french lady’s yard across the street. Karen rubbed her eyes, then wiped a fresh layer of sweat from her face. The neurons in her brain were trying to tell her that the bird before her was plastic. After all, the neighborhood was quirky. People painted their houses peach with purple trim, decorated their yards with tin cans and tricycles. Plus, it was the kooky french lady. Of course there was a kitschy pink plastic flamingo in her yard.
So why did it just flap a wing?
Feeling a little silly, Karen dashed up to the porch and slung open the front door, then slammed it shut. Cool air-conditioned air washed over her. Its a hallucination, she told herself. You’re hot. You’re pissed. She needed to chill out or she was going to lose it.
“God dammit, Linus!” She yelled into the empty house.
Startled, Linus’ two siamese cats darted into a cluster of house plants by the window. Karen grabbed a Port City Ale from the fridge and rubbed the cold bottle against her chest, her cheeks, her neck, trying to cool off and restore sanity. She took a huge gulp and then grabbed Linus’ laptop from the kitchen table.
Funny how he said he was going to work today. Saturday. And here was his laptop. Asshole. His computer had to hold a clue. Who was she? Where was he meeting her? He’d been gone late into the night with lame excuses. On Tuesday he said he was at the Raven, but Karen had gone the next day to fish around and, nope, it was a lie.
The laptop hummed to life and she typed his password into the screen – cougar123. It was always a different wild animal. But now she stared at the letters. Cougar. Maybe it was an older woman.
Before she could type gmail into the browser, a headline caught her eye.
DC Residents ALERT! Animals Escaped From National Zoo.
Holy shit. Are you kidding?
Authorities Report All Exhibits Compromised.
Mount Pleasant was a stones throw from the zoo. Only a quick jaunt through Rock Creek Park. She could hear the lions’ roars from Linus’ bedroom window at night. Holy shit.
Karen darted to the window to look again at the neighbor’s yard. The flamingo still stood there. It was digging its beak around in the french lady’s pansies. It looked majestic, standing there calm and serene on the small pad of green grass. It didn’t seem to realize how far from home it was.
Suddenly the knockout rose bush in the neighboring yard began to rustle and sway. The flamingo lifted its long neck and looked around. Before Karen could comprehend what was happening, a tiger leapt from the bush and pounced on the flamingo. A deafening roar rang through the street as pink feathers exploded in the air. The tiger began circling his head with the bird’s body clutched in its mouth like a rag doll, faster and faster. Blood sprayed out turning the poor avian creature from pale pink to crimson. Its long neck went limp, dangling like a snake from the cat’s enormous jaws.
The sweaty beer bottle slipped from Karen’s hand and she began to shake.
The sound of sirens outside jolted her from the trance, and she glanced at her phone. Had an hour passed already? In a flight or fight response Karen had chosen flight, running to the narrow galley kitchen where there were no windows. After calling her mother in Ohio, every close friend since college, and Linus at least ten times, she gave up. No one was answering during the most bizarre event of her life. If only she had more friends in town. But all her friends were acquaintances through Linus. And right now, considering the affair, it felt weird and stalkerish to call them. Like they were all in on it. She sat on the counter as still as the granite beneath her, drinking another beer, breathing quietly. What to do…
The sounds outside were muffled by the AC, but she could still hear sirens, and strange noises that made her hair stand on end. It was a cacophony of people yelling, horns honking and animals screeching – exotic bird calls along with high pitched mammal screams. She couldn’t bring herself to look outside. And where was her man, her chivalrous protector, when she needed him? Oh. Out banging that slut. He probably had no idea she was cordoned in his house surrounded by Africa’s Big Five among other freak animals. Her anger at Linus was coalescing with the fear in her gut. What should she do with herself? All alone, trapped in Linus’ house. She felt like Dorothy waking from a crazy dream, only the house had dropped into a jungle rather than Oz.
She finally slid off the counter and started muffling around in Linus’ cabinets. It felt like ages since she’d scarfed down the rubbery breakfast sandwich and watered down coffee at Heller’s Bakery this morning. Her hand charged with adrenaline as it swept through the dark cabinet above the sink feeling for the peanut butter and Ritz box. While she and Linus were cooking stir-fry last week, they’d seen a rat the size of a small cat scurry across the wooden floor and slither beneath the toe kick. Karen had gone to Old School Hardware to purchase a trap, but Linus nixed it immediately.
“Its humane, see?” She’d pointed out to him.
He looked at the box. “It says here, ‘poison may take one to two days to work’, or murder, the rat.” He furrowed his brows in that annoying but sexy look of disapproval, then encircled her waist and drew her close.
“Oh come on, Linus! Its not strychnine. They don’t use that anymore. Its painless, I swear!”
“Come on baby, be a nice girl.”
“But I’m not a nice girl. That’s really why you like me. Remember last night?” She squeezed his butt cheek. There wasn’t much of one.
He was so fun to flirt with. A pang of sadness mixed with anger coursed through her. It would all be easier if she didn’t love him so much.
She located the crackers and peanut butter and began munching, then broke out the laptop again remembering her original goal. She needed to get to the bottom of the tryste Linus was having. And forget about the chaos outside. If I can’t see it, then its…
Before finishing her thought, the unmistakable roar of an elephant sounded somewhere in the woods behind the house, too close. She jumped in surprise, banging the table and causing her empty beer bottle to wobble … then its not happening.
But it was impossible to delude herself of the reality outside. It was happening. She pulled her knees to her chest at the old farm table and refocused on the laptop, the stalking.
Linus’ gmail. What was the password again? What stupid animal 123 had he used last?
The metal taste of blood seeped into her mouth as she realized she’d been chewing her lip.
“Just chill, Karen.” She whispered as the screen illuminated.
The news alert was still flashing on his homepage. Her Twitter feed had been her only connection to whatever was going on out there, until her iPhone died. Reluctantly seeking an update, she logged into her Twitter account before proceeding to Linus’ email.
According to local tweets, the “most compromised” neighborhood of Mount Pleasant had been cordoned off in a square of sorts, from 16th Street to the Park running east to west, and from Columbia to Newton from north to south. The perimeter was lined with city cops, in vans, squad cars, on foot, on Segways.
Karen laughed aloud imagining a fat cop bumping down the sidewalk in pursuit of a pack of meerkats. She scanned more tweets.
Every K-9 unit the municipality owned was out. Great, so let’s add dogs to the mix of wild animals for some real fun. Don’t miss the German Shepherd and the Grey Wolf going head to head. Tonight at 9. She rolled her eyes.
It appeared the rest of DC was safe from the wild animals but for a Snow Leopard. Some bums in the Farragut North Park had been seen running wildly into the traffic on K Street followed by what one eyewitness reported as a “fucking tabby cat on ‘roids”. A quick search of the trending #wasthatafuckingsnowleopard revealed similar stories that had unfolded in the past half hour. Karen Google Imaged the Snow Leopard to see an enormous tiger-like cat baring its fangs. Her brows shot up.
“Okay. This shit is ridic.”
Wily, one of the Siamese cats, slinked out from the pantry, as if to see what she was talking about.
“Look kitty-cat, you focus on that rat. Find it and rip the bastard to shreds.” Her patience for uninvited creatures was waning. “I won’t tell Linus, I promise. I’m going to quit being a coward and check out the scene.” The cat looked at her like she was crazy.
She tiptoed across Linus’ threadbare oriental rug to the bay of windows that looked out onto the street. Her fingers shook as she twisted the blind wand, then her eyes widened in disbelief.
People and animals were out helter skelter, all over Ingleside. There was also action up on 18th by Bancroft Elementary. Why were these people even out there? Death wish? Regardless, she grabbed her beer and stepped outside to join them. At least Linus’ porch was set back a little, raised up from the street. With her back pressed against the front door, she downed the beer in seconds.
The ever cheery, lemonade drinking Mount Pleasant residents had transformed. Two ladies across the street were screaming at each other, flailing arms in anger, while a giraffe tramped through the blooming hydrangea bushes in the yard behind them, snacking on some lofty elm leaves. In front of the turquoise brick Victorian with yellow trim, a group of long haired twenty-somethings milled around. They wore ratty jeans and graphic tees and the guys had thick beards, something Karen thought looked ridiculous in the summer. They were circling a cluster of terrified zebras. The zebras neighed loudly criss-crossing each other in a swarm of black and white. The hipsters were carrying hastily made signs, picketing – Stun’em, don’t Gun’em.
An old man and woman, one of those couples that had begun to look alike in old age, were arguing with a redheaded, and red bearded, guy in tiny tennis shorts. They kept gesturing to a cop who was crouched behind an elm tree, aiming upwards, sniper style, at something Karen couldn’t see. The young girl was shaking her picket sign at them.
Of course, animal rights. Karen shook her head. Everything was always politically charged here. People ran to the CVS to make protest signs for just about anything. DC.
Just as the argument outside started to get nasty, a gunshot rang out and one of the zebras fell to the ground. Then two more. Karen’s heart lurched. She’d seen those same zebras just last week when they’d taken Linus’ nephew to the Zoo. Now the black and white carcasses lay bleeding out on the black pavement next to a line of CarToGo cars, which were about the same size as the dead animals.
The DC cop shoved his weapon back in the holster, looking a bit too excited at having used it. He stood, feet askance, facing the picketers, and held up one hand palm outward. “Officer safety, folks.” With that, he skidded off in his squad car, siren blaring.
Karen’s mouth hung open. She could smell the hoppy beer mix with fear on her breath. But she couldn’t turn away from the madness. Her neck was rubber. Her whole body was rubber.
She tried Linus again on her phone. In a way, she was glad he was missing this. He would have totally freaked if he’d seen those animals killed. His bleeding heart and fiery temper would have caused him to do something… wild. She could see it now. He’d run his fingers through his surfer boy hair a few times, pace – he loved to pace – and then bolt out the door to join the picketers, maybe even fight a cop. He was the slow moving cool guy until he was a crazy ass hot head on a mission. The phone went to voicemail again.
Are you kidding me, Linus? Could he really not have heard yet? No texts, no emails, no calls from him. Nothing.
Should she be worried? No. He’s just an ass. Even if he was trying to get home from “work”, the neighborhood was inaccessible, according to Twitter. She checked her feed again.
DC Police: Zoo animals contained in Mount Pleasant. Personnel are opening fire on all species. Residents, stay inside to avoid gunfire .
Then a flurry of other tweets from residents.
Save the Snow Leopard!
Stop the cops! Save the residents of the National Zoo!
Animals have rights too!
Use tranquilizers, not bullets!
If you see a cop point a gun at an animal, tackle the pig!
All had the same hashtag, #Stun’emDon’tGun’em.
Karen suddenly felt as though she should be joining a team. There was obviously a grassroots movement going on out here. A war of sorts. Tigers killing flamingoes. The cops killing the animals. The residents trying to stop the cops, on the brink of killing each other. And amidst all of this, wild animals gallivanted down the streets, climbing the linden trees and frolicking among the rowhouses’ quaint yards. The ones still standing – which seemed to be a lot – were enjoying their new found freedom. At least temporarily.
“Screw it. Linus isn’t here to guilt me into joining the picketers.” She went back inside to grab another beer. Her third. She paused. Today called for something more potent. She peered across the dining room. Linus’ liqueur cabinet was stocked. Mixing new drinks was one thing they loved to do together. She used to be a bartender in Ohio and could make up the craziest drinks. She’d even concocted a special one – whiskey, vanilla, almond oil, and a macadamia liquor – and called it the Linus Bolt.
“Tastes nutty, don’t you think?” She’d sneered.
“I take that personally.” He downed it, then licked his lips in satisfaction. “Damn good though.”
“Would I make it up to you if I added some hot sauce, you hot, crazy son of a bitch?”
And the Linus Bolt was history. One of their favorite drinks.
Karen shifted around the bottles of vodka, grenadine, rum searching for the Wild Turkey whiskey she’d bought Linus last week for his thirty-fifth birthday. Where was it? She stood for a second, eyes to the ceiling to ignore the tears brimming at her bottom lid. If he even dared drink that shit with her, I’ll kill him.
Hurt swelled in her chest. Okay, stop getting emotional. Its just a hellish kind a day. She suppressed it, grabbed Linus’ best Jack Daniels gold label, and made herself a stiff Linus Bolt. Within minutes her glass was empty. She stared down at it in awe, as though it hadn’t been her that had devoured the drink so quickly. The only thing to do was start over. The next one she would enjoy slowly.
She sipped the cool liquid that had begun numbing her lips. But it tasted so good. She checked her feed again to see if things were clearing up outside. It appeared not.
After a few more minutes of obsessively searching Twitter and sipping her Linus Bolt, she began to laugh. It was absurd. The animals were still running the show. A few monkeys and some aquatic mammals had been downed, but for the most part, Mount Pleasant had turned into a zoo. She swished the fiery drink around in her mouth, then downed it, forgetting her resolution to drink slow. A burn flushed through her throat, then belly like a surge of energy. Suddenly she didn’t feel like standing on the sidelines anymore.
“That’s it. I’m going out there, off the porch.” She set down her tumbler with a clank on Linus’ radiator, then ran to the the coat closet where Linus kept his camping supplies. Tucked beneath some folded sweaters and blankets on the top shelf was his knife. He loved to whittle things in the woods, but the blade was sharp. It would be the perfect weapon, just in case. She snapped the sheath into her belt loop, and patted it. Liquid courage propelled her towards the door.
She stepped outside once again, assessing the chaos. Had the heat intensified? She tried to breathe but the air was so heavy and thick it felt like she was underwater. A frantic scream sounded somewhere in the near distance. Several houses up, a giant panda bear scampered down the street. It clutched a baby in its furry arms. A young woman wearing yoga attire chased after it, throwing contents of her diaper bag at the panda as she ran, tripping over her purple Crock shoes. Why would anyone wear those, Karen wondered. She shook her head as the milk bottles and pacifiers bounced off the bear’s head like ping pong balls.
Karen clenched her bare feet against the polished concrete porch, then glanced down at her strappy leather sandals. Not the best for running either, but at least they were stylish. She slid them on, tipping sideways as she tried to balance. The iron rail caught her just in time, but her head spun.
“Pthhhooy,” She exclaimed sloppily, emitting a loud belch, then regained balance. “Whoops.” Her head spun lightly, but she felt good. She dashed down the stairs and into the street.
It was like some crazy animal planet reality TV show surrounded her. Monkeys, apes and gorillas were using the trees as a jungle gym. A seal flapped in place on the sidewalk at the intersection of 18th and Ingleside. From the looks of its tattered tail and scratched skin, some animal had dragged it all the way through the park, then left it to flounder on the pavement. Karen squeezed her eyes shut as a sloth bear approached and began slashing at it with furry taloned claws.
“Oh man,” she cried in disgust.
A piercing scream erupted from the blubbery mammal as it flailed in the gutter, no defense against the six foot bear that towered over it.
Karen took a deep breath and shook her head. Three cop cars whizzed by with uniforms leaning out the window like Dukes of Hazard. One guy drove as the other showered bullets on a group of Alpacas.
“Yo, yo, yo!!!” Yelled a young guy, tossing a clay flower pot after the cruiser.
Had she really just witnessed a drive by shooting? Of furry animals that looked slightly like Elmo?
A cackling laugh erupted from Karen’s belly and she turned to see the neighbor two doors down, standing in his terrycloth bathrobe, give her a look of daggers. She stifled the rest of her laughter and looked away.
“You think this is funny, young lady?” He gestured to the street with the hand that wasn’t holding the cigar. His face was red as a tomato. It matched the heart-shaped pin fastened to the pocket of his robe.
The smoke wafted over to Karen’s nostrils, hot as steam. It cut through a cloud of mosquitoes that hovered between her and the robed man. Was it Mr. Goldblatt? He’d always annoyed her, always in her business. Linus couldn’t stand him.
“No Sireeee.” She sauntered further down the street, clutching the knife in her pocket.
“Hey, don’t go out there. It’s dangerous!” He called after her in the paternal i-know-best-little-girl voice.
Karen looked back to see an enormous snake dangle its head down from his porch roof and coil its tail a few inches from his ear. The color drained from his face.
“See ya, Mr. Blatt.” Or whatever his name was.
She felt brave walking through the throng of people, cops, zoo animals, alley cats, pets. Deep down, she knew it was stupidity and not courage, but some force was propelling her forward. It felt like an outerbody experience. Then she had an epiphany. None of this was even real. It couldn’t be. Her mind mulled over the sight, seeking a logical explanation. Had she dropped acid this morning? Maybe it was just a flashback from that time in college…
A buzz in her pocket sent a surge through her. Linus. She pulled out the phone. A text. It was from him.
She stared at the words. What the hell? Yeah, I’m in a god damn ape house. Thanks. Where are you? She replied by holding down the question mark until she had five lines of them, then pressed send. What the hell? Then it dawned on her. Yes. Of course.
She stopped in place, stared up at the sky, and a smile spread across her face. How could she not have guessed?
“Hey watch out,” someone yelled from behind her. A trio of orangutans shuffled by on their knuckles, screeching. Karen stumbled backwards against a wrought iron fence.
With a renewed sense of purpose, she regained her composure and made for the nearest break in the rowhouses which led to the alley behind Linus’ house. It backed up to Rock Creek Park, and the multiple wooded paths. Catching sight of something that looked like an alligator near the gutter, she quickened her pace until she was running. She stumbled across the brick alley and up to the edge of the woods. It was only about a mile from here, she thought, no more than twenty minutes. She grabbed the nearest branch to steady herself then began hiking down into the ravine. It was rough going and the alcohol was putting a damper on her physical fitness, but she was determined to cover ground.
The temperature seemed to drop with her descent and suddenly Karen felt very alone. The sounds of the animals screeches, police sirens and people yelling had dampened to white noise. Light streamed in through the tree canopy creating beautiful patches of yellow before her. Off in the distance the gurgling sound of the creek could be heard. Despite the heat wave and dry spell, the creek sounded full and strong.
When she had finally reached level ground, a loud rumble sounded a few feet away. Karen whipped her head around. Was it an animal? Or maybe just a nearby water fall? Then her eyes landed on a cat. It was as black as the night with green eyes, and standing as still as stone, crouched on hind quarters.
Her heart lurched. For a moment she was sure it was staring at her, its green eyes boring into her soul. But it wasn’t. She followed its line of sight to a deer. It was a majestic buck munching on some leaves a few yards ahead by the water. Karen breathed a sigh of relief. She backed up against a nearby tree and tried to catch her breath as silently as possible. The cat, which she felt sure was a panther, slinked around a beech tree then slid through a blooming rhododendron making its way towards the buck.
Stupidly, Karen followed. It was going the same direction she was anyway. Her leather sandals padded on the dirt path, smoothly, quietly. Her mind began to wander to strange places. As she trailed the cat from what she considered to be a safe distance, she began to feel a connection with it. It’s feline movement was smooth, seductive, the way she envisioned herself.
Suddenly, this was her chase. The cat was her victim. The cat was her.
That’s right bitch. I’ve found you. You think you’ve hooked my man, but you’ve got another thing coming.
A voice inside her was yelling, saying stop, as sharp as your nails are, you can’t win against this one. But she couldn’t stop. She was having fun.
She paused by a large beech tree with a heart and the name John and Julie carved into it, then pulled the knife from its holster. Just in case, she thought, knowing very well a knife would not be enough if she had to enter combat with the panther. She continued on. The cat was about ten feet from the buck now. It crouched down again, and Karen could see the potential energy emanating from its body like a silver halo. Afternoon light streamed in, spotlighting the buck. Just as the cat was about to pounce, Karen felt a hand on her shoulder.
Startled, Karen turned to see a man with a grimy face looking at her with concern. He was out of place, wearing a suit in the middle of the woods. His ponytail, long and scraggly, looked more like it belonged on a squirrel. “Come on lady, let’s get out of here.”
He grabbed her hand and began pulling her away from the wild animals before them. His stench was nauseating. Before Karen could protest, a loud screech sounded from the buck. Karen looked to see it plunge into the water as the cat began its kill. Without resistance, Karen let the man pull her away.
After a few minutes of stumbling behind the man, the shock of the kill she’d just witnessed wore off and she came to her senses. They were approaching a makeshift campsite. He was a bum.
Karen yanked her arm away. “Hey, where are you taking me?” Maybe she sounded a little harsh. “I mean, thanks for saving me from that cat, but I need to be on my way. I’m in a big hurry to get somewhere actually.” She was trying not to slur her words.
“You think you’re following your destiny, lady, but you’re just chasing someone else’s. Linus has gotta do what he’s gotta do.”
Karen looked at him. “Who are you?”
“I’m Rabbit.” He pulled a fifth of vodka out of his pocket. “Here, you could use a swig.”
Karen stared at him, unsure what to do other than accept. Maybe a little break would help clear her mind before she continued on her way. Plus, there was something eerily peaceful about the woods, like they were holding her there for safekeeping.
“Thanks,” she stammered, taking the bottle.
An hour later, she was sitting in front of a tiny campfire on an old bucket. Next to them was a tattered tent with shreds of clothes and a grocery cart of dirty belongings. The fifth was empty and a few squashed cans of PBR lay strewn among the leaves.
“Cheers,” she thrust her beer can against Rabbit’s, then chugged the rest. The strong buzz from earlier had begun to wear off, and she wasn’t dealing with this day sober. Drinking with a bum in the woods was as good as anything today, she thought.
“So where did you say you had to go?,” the man asked.
“Did I say I was going somewhere?” Karen must have passed out, or blacked out. She didn’t recall telling him anything. But it was true, she was on a mission. She remembered Linus’ text.
“Yeah lady, you did.” He rolled his eyes, then got up and took a pee against a nearby oak tree.
Hadn’t he said something to her about… what was it? Destiny or some shit. Like he knew everything about her already. Karen crushed her beer can, then tossed in what looked like a trash can, or maybe the man’s clothing bin. Whatever.
“Thanks for reminding me. And thanks for the beer. Its been real, dude,” she said.
Without waiting for a reply, she took off. Behind her she could feel Rabbit’s eyes boring into hers. She didn’t look back for fear he may call after her. It seemed like he had something more to say. The guy was creepy. She picked up her pace. At the crest of the next wooded hill, she could see the sign for the tall tower with animal statues on top and the stone ZOO sign embedded in the grassy hill beyond it. She was almost there.
Huffing from the trek, she bent over with her hands on her knees to catch her breath. She’d made it to the back entrance of the zoo. Just beneath the archway, an abandoned zebra printed mini-van was parked, still running. Karen jumped in and zoomed up the paved pathway of the Zoo. Dusk had arrived and in the dimming light, she could hear crickets, birds, but no animals. No moos or roars like she was used to. It was eerily empty and quiet.
The Ape house. She knew the zoo layout like the back of her hand having visited with Linus so often, half listening to his rants while she soaked up the view of exotic animals and overfed tourists. She passed the Big Cats exhibit, then the bamboo forest of the pandas lair. Now that she was so close, a clarity washed over her.
Linus was here, all along. The other woman wasn’t a woman at all. It was a bunch of caged wild beasts that needed setting free. That bitch wasn’t real, anymore than the panther in the woods. She rubbed her eyes. Sweat had drenched her shirt but the young night air was refreshing. The chaos in Mount Pleasant seemed miles away now, and her passage through Rock Creek Park had taken her into another world. Rabbit, her escort.
That had been a hallucination, right? There wasn’t really a bum in the woods there to save her from a wild panther and serve her vodka and PBR. Of course not.
She slammed on the brakes just outside the Ape House and jumped out of the zebra van. The sky was now dark and a full moon shone above casting a silvery light on the bronze chimpanzee standing guard at the entrance of the Great Ape House. Karen ran inside.
A wave of nausea passed over her at the smell of ape waste. She stood with her feet planted firmly on the ground and glanced around at the walls of glass. Beyond them were leafless trees with rope hammocks. Straw covered the ground. But they were empty. Could she have been wrong? Had his text been more figurative than she’d thought?
No. He was here.
“I know you’re in there!” she yelled. Her voice echoed eerily.
Suddenly she heard a shuffling sound. In the far corner of the biggest cage she saw movement beneath a pile of yellow hay. She ran up and pressed her palms to the glass wall. Her breath fogged it up and she could smell the culmination of all the drinks she’d consumed from the day. She leaned sloppily in and her lips pressed against the cool surface.
“Baby,” she whispered.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she watched her man stand up from the pile of hay. He was naked and his white skin almost glowed. His already wild hair looked wilder, standing every which way and caked with dirt. The skin of his face looked grimy, smeared with whatever was on the ground of the cage. A few stray pieces of hay stuck to his cheeks and hair. He walked slowly toward her, then pressed his palm against the glass meeting hers.
“You found me.”
“I thought you were cheating on me. You could have told me. I could have helped you.”
He looked at her with bloodshot eyes. “They’re free. I set ‘em free.”
“You’re a hero, baby. A god damn hero.” Karen lowered her lids, stared at him in the cage. Suddenly the glass melted away in her mind. She puckered her lips and leaned in. Her mind dismissed the cool of the glass and instead she felt Linus Bolt’s lips, warm against her own. She had her man back.