Tuesday, February 06, 2007

At the Zoo

Disclaimer: I am NOT an animal rights activist. You can take this story as you will; it came unbidden.


“Do not feed the people,” a large sign proclaims. Animals stroll about, nonchalantly observing the humans in their artificial habitats. They are divided up by ethnicity, race and religious observance. A large directory explains that the African-Americans are to the right, the Chinese to the left, for the Vietnamese one should walk straight and turn right, and so on and so forth.

A cheetah laughs delicately into her hand as her husband continues telling an amusing story; her son is engaged in tapping on the glass divider. Behind the glass a young child sits, absorbed in his computer game. He is wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. His fingers tap over the keyboard, his eyes glued to his game. The habitat, as promised, looks quite similar to his natural habitat. Clothes are scattered on the floor; the desk is messy, pencils and papers scattered all over it. A bed, obviously unmade, sits in the corner. The young cheetah is enthralled, continuously tapping at the glass. “Mama,” he begs, “make him do something.”

She turns to her son. “There, there, now,” she says. “He’s a bit boring, isn’t he?” To her husband: “Come on, Arthur, surely you can finish that story later.” The three of them move onward to the Trapeze section. There, humans are cavorting about, swinging on ropes and twisting chaotically. A young monkey scratches at his head, absent-mindedly eating a flea. “Mother, they look like us,” he asserts. “I think we came from them.”

“Hush!” his mother answers quickly. “Don’t even think that. How could we possibly have come from humans? They are not as advanced as us; they cannot even move like we can.” The young monkey remains glued to the glass, however, watching the humans in their odd getup swinging from ropes and landing on platforms.

Two scholarly mules are speaking about their respective scientific experiments outside of a cage, the interior of which is meant to mimic a house of worship. “It’s quite ingenious, really,” the first says, “I’ve managed to find a homosapien who was not born with a human immune system. I’ve been able to implant him with avian tendencies, am even starting on birdlike DNA. I’ve injected him with a certain kind of virus that is plaguing the cormorants; I’m quite certain the results will be fascinating.”

“Indeed,” the other mule replies, nodding his head decisively. “I, in the meantime, have noticed that by mimicking a certain archaic gene they have, I can produce something like the platypus- a mammal that lays eggs. I’m trying to hatch humans from eggs; I’m curious as to whether it can be done. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to inject the egg with a duck or raven or kangaroo’s DNA, allowing the fetus to develop organs that would suit. Then we’d be able to perform heart and liver transplants, helping the animal population to survive longer.”

“But what about the ethics of that?” the grey-haired mule retorts quickly. He’s absent-mindedly cleaning his glasses.

“Well, I think it is quite clear that if we are saving an animal’s life, that takes precedence over any human.”

“Of course,” the mule nods, glancing at the adorable baby-pen. “Look, the Petting Zoo has opened. I want to go pet the babies.”

The two of them stroll off together, musing over their achievements.

A lioness is relating her tour of a new exhibit to her lady friend, a white elephant. “It’s quite new and controversial,” she says. “The exhibit is called BODIES. What they’ve done is taken the bodies of those of us who have been moved to contribute our bodies to science. They’ve reconstructed a fellow lioness, for instance, out of bones, and then attached the muscles. They’ve captured us hunting prey, or mid-roar for instance. I don’t know if I entirely approve.”

The elephant waves her trunk loosely. “Well, I find that quite disconcerting. I don’t want to be an exhibit in the likes of a museum. I mean, that’s where they have the bones of aged homosapiens, discovered years and years ago. Why in the world would we want to inter ourselves there?”

“A fine point, I am sure,” the lioness replies, grinning wickedly. She stretches and roars. “Even so, I do find it interesting.”

A mouse is tugging at her mother’s skirt. “Mother, mother!” she squeaks desperately. “My school took us on a tour of the laboratories today. It was terrible, mother; they have humans hooked up to machines, babies that they are cutting open and dissecting! I can’t even do it at school, mother, the smell of formaldehyde really disturbs me. How can we do it, mother? How can we possibly think it’s all right to hook them up to all those machines?”

Her mother sighs tiredly. “Beatrice, darling, you know that it’s for the advance of science. We need to propogate our species, to make sure that us animals exist in the future. Research on humans may kill a few humans, but think of the advances we are making! It is worth it. If they had any choice, I am sure they would volunteer.”

“But mother—“

But her impassioned speech is cut off by the arrival of a cat. The cat comes over to the mouse, stares at her for a moment, then extends his claws, grabs her, and eats her.

“MURDER!” the mother screams, running away. “What about tolerance? What about democracy? He killed my daughter! That’s in violation of every single code we have! Arrest him, arrest him!”

The rhinoceros on patrol stops by the shrieking mouse. “What’s all this?” she asks tiredly. “He killed my daughter!” the mouse replies. “Oh. One of them,” the rhinoceros mutters, pulling out her yellow legal pad. “A dissenter, someone unwilling to live by our strict code of tolerance and live and let live. Someone who wants to follow his instincts, who wants to take without giving back to society. Anarchist!”

The mouse, who has fainted from the shock, is ushered away by two kindly leopards. “We rule over ourselves and our instincts,” they say to each other. “That cat is a disgrace to our species!”

A cheerful parrot wanders about selling balloons and cotton-candy. “Balloons, balloons!” he cries, his colorful plumage attracting attention. “Cotton-candy! Balloons!”

A seal, inside of his Tank-Cart (a new invention designed so that he is always within water, but nevertheless able to go outside and see the world) wheels by. He sneers at the lone rabbit picketing just outside the entrance to the zoo, “Free the Humans.”

“That idiotic AETP (Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People),” he remarks. “Their extremist views disgust me. They put up signs everywhere claiming that we are human-killers, that it is a crime to use humans for scientific advancement, that human bones shouldn’t even be in our museums. They seem uninterested in studying the customs and attitudes of humans- I mean, this is fascinating-“

He points to a cage behind which a man and woman are making love.

“The miracle of creation right here. In fact, we even breed them together! It’s most interesting to cross humans from different religions, as one wonders what the child will believe. But I have had some interesting experiences merely by combining the different ethnicities. Humans,” he continues, “they’re always good for a laugh.” This as he walks by a woman who is eagerly applying nail-polish to the highly-buffed nails of the other inhabitant of her cell.

“Sometimes I do feel a twinge of conscience,” the seal admits. “I cannot always believe that they are happy.”

A polar-bear passes by. “What do you mean, they are not happy?” he asks, coming to a slow stop. “Look at what we have done for them! We’ve created habitats so like their own that they hardly know the difference! Look at him-“ he points to a praying man, garbed in black- “does it matter whether he prays behind a cage or walking about freely? He doesn’t care!”

The seal nods. “I’m sure you’re right,” he says, and pushing a button, seals himself inside his plastic Tank-Cart, submerging himself underwater.

“What do you think of this war we’re having?” a brown bear asks a cockroach interestedly. “Is it justified? The Dissenters who want to live by the old ways, who want to exist based on their instincts and eat others- we can’t possibly agree with that approach, now can we? But I feel as though we have not made much progress.”

The cockroach smiles. “With God’s help,” she replies, “all will work out well.”

“God? Which God?” the brown bear asks curiously.

“Why, the termite, of course,” the cockroach answers. “The termite is a wonderful God.”

The brown bear bursts into booming fits of laughter. “The termite?! How ridiculous! My God is the Leviathan, creature that rules the whole world. No one can describe him because nobody has ever seen him. I have heard it said that he is part-man, part-fish, and imbued with a tremendous appetite.”

The cockroach, miffed, doesn’t respond.

The brown bear comes upon a hare. “Do you believe in God?” he asks the hare.

“Of course not,” the hare says, sniffing vainly. “That’s an utterly archaic concept. God? What God? Why? I believe in reason, reason and science. Our world today has only been advanced by scientists.” He pauses for a moment to throw some popcorn to a little white boy who eagerly gobbles it up. “Why, scientists were the ones who conceived of temperature control, allowing us to populate the world rather than staying within our original continents or climates.”

The bear is at a loss for words. Turning, he beholds an ostrich, folded up awkwardly and holding a cardboard sign. “Help me,” the sign pleads. “Dissenters tore off my leg. Out of work.” The bear passes on by.

A mosquito buzzes past and nips the bear. “I drink your blood,” it hisses. “You all grow fat on your ideas, your equality and democracy and tolerance, but I? I am simple. I drink your blood.”

A tortoise pauses before a Native American, traditionally garbed and painted. He looks into the woman’s eyes, brown pools of misery and discontent. A tear rolls down his cheek as he snaps a picture; this will be on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. Humans are being treated abominably, to his mind, but what can he do? He is a lowly tortoise, slow and ungainly.

“Did you see the latest movie?” a killer whale is eagerly chatting with a dolphin, having drawn up alongside it within his respective Tank-Cart. “It was pretty frightening, all about humans who break out of the zoo and live in the wild and destroy us- taking over the world. But of course I don’t take it seriously. I mean, the potential for that happening is nonexistent; it’s laughable.”

The dolphin sighs. “I actually saw a different movie. It was disturbing. I found it deeply meaningful, deeply philosophical. It was called ‘The Matrix.’ It’s all about animals waking up one day to find out that humans have actually enslaved them, not vice versa. Oh, and we’re living within a computer program- all this,” he motions, “is actually a disc uploaded to our brains.”

“Sometimes I think the penguins are rather crazy.” Of course the penguins were the most successful in the movie industry. Their brilliant suits and impeccable manners impressed everyone. “Crazy but brilliant, of course. I look up to them, certainly.”

The dolphin nodded his head once again.

“My favorite movie, of course, is Beauty and the Beast. It’s all about this girl who was unfortunately turned into a human- and the problem is, who could ever love a human? The Beast, of course, has to love her. It’s a long and arduous process, but in the end, he falls in love with her, and she turns into a Beast as well. It makes me cry.”

The dolphin seemed unmoved. “I have to say, I’m rather appalled by all the violence on television nowadays,” he answered. “All these animals shooting humans- killing other animals- mutilating babies- it’s pretty terrible. I, for one, do not allow my children to watch it.”

“Oh, definitely,” the killer whale murmured, then sharply turned off the road to go view the demonic rites of Satanists.

A fish was trying to woo a fox. “Come join me in my tank, fox,” the fish said sweetly. The fox was well-aware that this was impossible, a kind of forbidden love. But having just passed by two fruit-bats, lying intoxicated on the ground alongside a sign declaring, “WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, GET USED TO IT,” he wondered whether one day it would be possible. He knew that some, in a rather disgusting and unlawful way, to his mind, did cohabit with humans…but for the moment, he was going to stave off the advances of the fish. “No, thank you,” he said politely, wandering away.

The rabbit, the solitary rabbit, remained, exhausted, outside the zoo, holding his sign. “Free the Humans,” he begged, asking everyone who went in to support him in his efforts. But he was mocked and derided. The kangaroo laughed, while the sheep just made a derogatory noise, “Baa-aaa-aa.” The rabbit had tears in his eyes. What use was this? It was futile. It was certain that someone would kill him for his beliefs before the year was out. And yet, he was driven, he was determined- he had to do something. He had heard rumors of someone trying to free the humans and create some kind of escape for them. He didn’t know if he could trust to those rumors. He was philosophically opposed, and he remained standing, exhausted, his sign at the ready. Useless, he knew. He was a coward, unwilling to take any decisive action. But he was nevertheless there- trying.


The Rashblog said...

Very cute and imaginative. I thought the cat-mouse part was a little awkward (sorry), but otherwise, it was very good.

If someone had given me the story and not told me the author, I would have been able to figure it out. It's so... you.

And it does have the feel of being written by an animal activist.

Chana said...

"Cute" is not exactly what I was going for...*wry self-mocking smile*

I actually found it disturbing.

e-kvetcher said...

Sort of like 'Planet of the Apes', but with more diverse fauna.

Chana said...

I've never read/ seen Planet of the Apes, so I wouldn't know.

Diet Dr. Pepper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diet Dr. Pepper said...



Hey. Very cool story. It kind of reminds me of an exhibit at the Art Institute (of Chicago, of course) that I saw 4 years or so ago, in which 100 or so human sculptures stand around laughing at the visitors to the museum

The Rashblog said...

Cute is a GOOD thing. I don't mean cute as in fluffy and pink, I mean cute as in imaginative. I guess I have a warped definition of the word. No matter.

Disturbing is an interesting choice of word, though: The story reminded me slightly of Babycakes (where the human babies were eaten, as though they were animals, hence the similarity), and Neil Gaiman used the same word when describing his piece.

e-kvetcher said...

The original Planet of the Apes - Charlton Heston at his finest.

MUST Gum Addict said...

Actually, this is much closer to a famous episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled People Are Alike All Over.

Chana said...

E- Kvetcher,

Wow! "Caged in the prisons, stuffed into museums..." I have to see this movie!

Must Gum,

That's incredible! That's exactly the concept- interesting that he's an exhibit in a Martian zoo. Now, very oddly, I've never seen The Twilight Zone either.

I don't know whether to be enthused or distressed. Enthused that others have done this already with success, or distressed that my imagination appears to be mimicking others.

MUST Gum Addict said...

We often ask questions throughout our learning and find out that others have asked the same questions. Or maybe we develop an interesting solution to a seeming paradox to learn that a sage had come to the same conclusion hundreds of years prior. That doesn't discount the fact that you came up with the solution on your own.

Besides, while the concept of your story had been spun by others prior, your tale was unique in your own style and delivery.

Chana said...

Must Gum,


Also, I am now absolutely hooked on The Twilight Zone. I watched "People are Alike all Over" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and parts of "The Living Doll." How brilliant! This completely appeals to me. (I mean, the very introduction- "You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone." Are you kidding? Unlocking the door with imagination? How fantastic!) The whole series seems to be brilliant- I like Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and October Sky and pretty much all his books, except, oddly, Farenheit 451- plus I have these two books from an old series with titles I either can't remember or didn't see that were also science-fictionesque that I've always enjoyed. Oh, and a lot of Stephen King is quite reminiscent of this. I think R.L. Stine (ugh, I hated Goosebumps also stole some ideas...) But Stephen King's camera revealing a story, and a whole lot of other stuff is quite similar. It's excellent!

MUST Gum Addict said...

If you haven't yet read it, look for All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. It's a short story that is sheer brilliance.

And yes, the Twilight Zone is really something special. My favorite episode is Third from the Sun.

Moshe said...

AWESOME! Period.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! When will you be publishing your first book of short stories?

Chana said...

Must Gum,

I watched "Third from the Sun Today." But because I had already watched "People are Alike All Over" as soon as they said, "They're like us," I knew what the surprise ending would be...

I did read All Summer in a Day. It's good, but my favorites have to be There Will Come Soft Rains (because it's so beautifully written) and The Small Assassin- how brilliant!



Subway Sally,

:D Thanks as well.

e-kvetcher said...

I don't know whether to be enthused or distressed. Enthused that others have done this already with success, or distressed that my imagination appears to be mimicking others.

Krum As A Bagel commiserates

Anonymous said...

THAT'S awesome!

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's Musab. Your story's interesting. The humans retain some semblance of their previous lives on top of the food chain, but it seems that they have lost the ability to learn. I wonder what you meant with this story. Were you trying to get across some lesson or idea? I found the most potent aspect to be the way that the homosapiens have carried on their lives as though they were still free, in fact, they even seem to think they are free. Why else would they allow themselves to be caged? And also, this caging is done by ethnicity, race and religion which means that there HAS to be a way the humans can communicate with the animals. Well, maybe. I guess rituals can be observed.
Honestly, I'm impressed. This story is much deeper than it really seems at first. It's great how the whole story is told from a human's perspective ("making love" is hardly "mating"), but we can both understand and sympathize with the animals. That's a little disconcerting, seeing as how each animal has a highly developed intellect. I wonder where these animals live? Is there room for their big houses? Do they own property? Do they have airplanes and cars and bathtubs? Hmm...

Lela Harbinger said...

ha, i remember my brother putting on planet of the apes a couple years back ... made me stop watching it when the guy sees his friend after his operation type thingy, but i saw the last scene.
hey slurpeeaddict, was that the same exhibit where there was a huge empty stage with just the director in his little box? gray oriental-looking guys?

Anonymous said...

very interesting. I get feelings similar to this all the time when we have to dissect animals in bio lab(particularly when it involves cutting them open alive while they are in a sedated state). I much prefer watching the live lizards, newts, and frogs in the terreriums.