The Zoo: an everyday tale of life within a Demon Zoo

his story was written for the Steem five minute freewrite challenge. It was first published in fourteen parts on the steem blockchain (here is the link to part 14). There will be more to come. I welcome your feedback as to if it flows ok (given it is written in five minute chunks)

The Zoo

“So is this there natural habitat, Uncle?” Joe looked up at Pete his eyes wide with excitement and interest.

“Well, no,” Pete shook his head smiling. “They wouldn’t normally be living above ground like this. And they wouldn’t be this close to humans, not in this state.” Joe nodded, as if he had know that all along, but just wanted to check that his uncle Pete knew too. “The habitat is as close to their natural one as we can make it. Although, as none of us have actually seen it, we can’t really be sure. Are you ready?” Joe nodded, a big grin on his face. “You sure? You ain’t scared are you?” Joe shook his head, his facial features morphing into what Pete assumed as a tough guy look. “Come on then,” he pushed open the heavy metal door that led into the enclosed space. Joe looked startled as the hot air hit him in the face.

“Where are they?” he said, trying to peer round Pete. “Where are the demons?”

Pete smiled. “Hold on my friend,” he said. “Let’s not rush things. You know that old proverb?” Joe shook his head, “The devil takes a hand in what is done in haste. Now, what that means is when people are in too much of a hurry, mistakes can be made. And believe you me, my boy, when your dealing with demons you don’t want to make mistakes. You remember your aunt Jenny, don’t you boy?” Joe screwed up his face, an expression Pete recognised straight away as his thinking face.

“Kinda. I think.”

Pete nodded. Joe was… what nine now? So he would have only been five when Jenny died. Back in the day when keeping demons wasn’t strictly legal.

“Well, one day she was in a bit of a hurry, and her mind wasn’t on the job. She rushed it, and made mistakes and do you know what happened?” Joe shook his head, his mouth open.

“The demon took advantage of her lack of attention. She died, Joe. And let me tell you, boy, it wasn’t a pretty death,” Joe’s face paled. Pete didn’t like scaring the child, but he needed to know the risks involved. “And it took us a long time to catch that demon. He caused us a lot of problems.” Including a full investigation into his zoo.

“Is he in there?” Joe said.

“Well,” Pete said. “Yes, he is. But he is in the restricted area. You can’t see him.”

“Okay,” Joe said, chewing his lip. Pete wasn’t sure if Joe was relieved or disappointed. “And what about Aunt Jenny. Is she in there?”

“How do you… what makes you say that?” Pete asked.

“My friend, Henry, said that when a demon kills someone, they turn into their slave,” Joe said, his young face very earnest. “Henry said unless you kill the demon the bond can’t be broken. And he said that if you do kill the demon you kill the soul of the person they killed to. Is that why you’ve kept the demon alive.”

Pete paused, considering his answer carefully. “I’m not sure where your friend got that from,” he said, wondering if Joe would notice he hadn’t answered the question. He felt his mind was at a standstill. As if there was a roadblock in his thought processes.

Pete wondered why he had agreed to take the boy on this tour. The government regulations were quite strict regarding underage visits of zoos such as his. They were strictly prohibited. If he was caught he could lose his licence.

Joe was staring at him. Pete realised he’d missed something the boy had said. “Sorry,” he said. “Could you repeat that, Joe? I didn’t catch it.”

“Can we go in now?” Joe said, his brow furrowed deep.

The demon zoo had been set up almost by mistake. Pete had captured his first demon – the same one that had escaped, killing Jenny, his wife, and almost destroying the entire world in the process – one summer evening.

Before he met Rungis, Pete had been skeptical about the existence of demons. There had been increased speculation in the media about the creatures, after more sightings and encounters with more credible witnesses had been reported. But Pete was a show me, don’t tell me kinda guy: if he didn’t see something for himself he didn’t put much faith in it being real.

That evening, he was walking alone along the beach, lost in his thoughts, offering his face to the salt laden wind, in the hope it would bring some sense of order to his confusion. He and Jenny had been arguing again, and he was thinking dark thoughts when all of a sudden he felt something in the air shimmer and shift and then, standing before him, were there was nothing before was a man.

No. Not a man.

Pete realised straight away that this was no ordinary human. No human at all. He wasn’t sure what it was but he had the sense that it was a creature of absolute convictions. That phrase popped into his head, and he wasn’t sure where it came from – or what it meant. But he knew it to be true.

“Good evening,” the creature said, bowing low. “You called, and I answered.” Pete stared at the man, his mouth open, uncertain of what he was talking about.

“Er,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

The man – creature, Pete still thought of him – looked at his wrist, at a small device that looked a little like a watch but a lot not like one.

“How odd,” he said. “I could have sworn you called,” he flicked the device and it made a noise like Pete imagined a cat would make if you stuffed a firework up it’s arse and lit it.

“Oh,” the man-creature said. “I see what has happened there. The sequence is all wrong. It wasn’t you. Well, it was. Just not yet.”

Pete looked at the man-creature as if he were insane – which he had not ruled out as a distinct possibility – and shrugged.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” he said.

The man-creature bowed again. “I should have come later,” he said. He flicked the screaming not watch on his wrist again and said, “Next year, actually. I was supposed to visit a woman in New England today. As I say, all out of sequence.”

Pete didn’t know what to say to that and began to walk away.

“Wait!” the man-creature shouted. And Pete found himself doing as the voice commanded, his feet sticking to the sand like metal to magnets. “This is the perfect day,” the man-creature said. “For me to introduce myself, to explain my services to you. So that when you docall upon me, you know precisely what it is you are asking.”

Pete looked at the man-creature – he had no choice, he was cemented to the spot.

“Okay,” he said, relieved that at least his voice appeared to work.

“My name,” the man-creature said. “Is Rungis and I am a demon.”

Pete laughed, or rather he tried to, but the noise that came out was, “Okay, that sounds reasonable.”

“You are not a believer,” Rungis said, and his smile made the ends of Pete’s toes curl so much so that he thought his toenails might cut into the base of his feet. “I will teach you to believe, and when you have benefited from this great gift you can go forth and share it with the world.”

Pete managed to laugh, but it sounded empty and hollow. He didn’t really believe in very much, and frankly thought this Rungis character was some kind of madman, or a trickster of some sort. Rungis smiled and the air around Pete’s head chilled almost to freezing, his eyes stung with the cold.

“See that man,” Rungis said, pointing to a figure far away on the beach. Pete recognised Mr Broom, a miserable old fellow with a happy bouncing dog. He always thought the man and dog were very ill suited, but perhaps the opposite natures kept them both grounded in some way. He nodded. Rungis’ smile disappeared and he clicked his fingers. Mr Broom fell into the sand and the bouncing dog began to bounce further.

“Is he dead?” Pete asked, a stupid question, he realised even as it left his lips. Rungis nodded.

“Oh yes,” he said. “He will come and join us.”

“Join us?” Pete asked, feeling lightheaded as though drunk or high, was this Rungis creature doing something to his mind? Perhaps the man was not dead after all, but would rise from the beach and run towards them. Perhaps this whole thing was just one big joke.

“He will become one of us,” Rungis said.

“A demon.” Pete croaked. His mouth was dry and he needed water. Rungis smiled and handed him a water bottle. Pete took it, reluctantly – how did he know what he wanted – but desperate for water he took a sip. It was warm, unpleasant tasting. Pete swilled it around his mouth, and spat it out.

Rungis laughed. “It’s not poisoned,” he said. “If I wanted to kill you I could just wish it to happen.”

Pete handed the bottle back to the demon – he thought of him as such now – and nodded.

Rungis clicked his fingers again, and Pete flinched, closing his eyes, scrunching them tight against the expected pain, wondering if his heart would stop like Mr Broom’s. But nothing happened, he was still breathing, his heart was still beating. He opened his eyes and beside the demon, Mr Broom stood, smiling. Except it wasn’t really Mr Broom, Pete realised. And he wasn’t really smiling. Pete could tell the man was not as he was.

“He is neither dead, nor alive,” Rungis said, answering Pete’s unasked question. “The laws of physics do not apply to us. We have new laws.”

Pete didn’t care about the laws that governed the demon realm, he wanted to get as far away from the demon as possible. But he didn’t think it was wise to upset him. He didn’t want to end up like Mr Broom, whatever that was. Was he a demon too? Pete thought perhaps he was, but not quite. Mr Broom’s smile stretched so far across his face Pete thought the top of his head might fall off.

“What do you want?” Pete asked Rungis, trying not to look at Mr Broom, because he was looking less and less human, and Pete was becoming frightened.

Rungis pulled out a piece of paper from a pocket in his jacket. The paper seemed to be a very long list. Pete was not near enough to see what was written on it, but he thought they were names.

“My shopping list,” Rungis explained. Pete shook his head, trying to dislodge the cloud of confusion that seemed to be suffocating him. “It is a list of souls I intend to have.” He scrolled the paper until he came to a section he was looking for and pointed at it. “Here it is,” he said, and gestured for Pete to come and look.

Pete did not want to come and look.

But his feet had other ideas and he began to walk steadily towards the demon.

“Look,” Rungis said, and despite himself, Pete found that he was peering at his name.

His name stared back at him on the page. Although, Pete noticed, it did not stay still. It swirled and moved and sometimes letters jumped from one place to another. It was as if, Pete thought, the name hadn’t decided whether it belonged on the list or not. As he watched it did a little dance.

No. Not a dance: it was unravelling.

Pete was reminded of a game he used to play with his sister when he was a child. They would each have an apple and try to peel the fruit in one piece so the skin was as long and as thin as possible, without it snapping. The one who had the longest unbroken piece of apple peel was the winner and would take both apples. His name seemed to be unpeeling before his eyes.

“That’s not right!” Rungis said, snatching the list from Pete’s grip. Pete saw that the demon looked as if he were worried. Pete had not thought much about demons before – not believing in them he had no reason to – but he had not thought that they would suffer from human emotions, and issues, like worry, anxiety and depression. But Rungis definitely looked worried.

Perhaps he was not as all knowing and all powerful as he had seemed when he killed Mr Broom.

Mr Broom’s smile was now so wide that his mouth met at the back of his head. Pete had an urge to push the man’s forehead to see if it would topple off. Whilst Rungis looked anxiously at the list and cursed – using words Pete had never heard of but somehow knew were very bad indeed – he reached his hand out and pushed.

At first nothing happened, apart from Mr Broom’s eyes widened in surprise, and perhaps happiness. And then the top of his head did indeed fall off revealing a rather shrunken looking grey brain inside. Pete stepped back, bringing his hand to his mouth in horror. Mr Broom did not fall down dead or react in any way a person should, who had just had his head fall into two pieces. He just stood their swaying in the sea breeze. The top of his head was on the floor, skull side down, rocking back and forth, his eyes staring at Pete.

And then, as Pete watched, his brain pulsated and changed. It morphed into the shape of a dog. No, not a dog. A large cat? It was a cougar, Pete realised, pleased he could identify it, but not sure why he had felt the need to do so, or why he felt so pleased he had. The cougar leaped from Mr Broom’s skull flying through the air straight at Pete’s face.

Pete ducked, in a pathetic attempt to avoid the claws of the tiny brain-cougar that were stretched open, about scratch his face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Rungis gesture and then something changed, everything froze. The cougar stayed in the air the tips of it’s sharp claws an inch from his face, a seagull was suspended in flight just above him. Rungis sighed and stepped over to Mr Broom and gave him a slap.

“I’ll tell you if I want you to go brain-cougar on anyone. I make the decisions around here, not you.”

Pete stepped back, away from the cougar-brain as Rungis grabbed it and began to shove it back into the open head of Mr Broom. At his movement Rungis stopped what he was doing and stared at him.

“How are you moving?” he said. Biting down on a sarcastic response Pete said nothing. “You should be effected by the Big Freeze,” Rungis said. “You don’t have the power to disobey my commands.”

“What is the Big Freeze?” Pete asked, genuinely curious.

He could have guessed of course. He wasn’t stupid, although he often asked stupid questions, sometimes because he hadn’t thought things through, sometimes just to annoy others.

Time was frozen. Pete could see that.

The demon did not answer, but became agitated. Presumably, Pete surmised, the demon was frustrated that his power to freeze time did not appear to stretch to him. How could this be? Did Pete have some special Demon Defying power that he had hitherto been unaware of (of course he would have been unaware of such a power for two main reasons: the first being he did not think he had ever met a demon before – he was wrong about that, of course – and; secondly that he didn’t believe in them – before meeting one today, of course).

He suddenly had a strange feeling of contentment sweep over him.

No, not contentment. Happiness.

He was happy he realised. And the happier Pete became the more agitated the demon became.

I can control him, Pete thought, his smile growing. I can control HIM!

And that’s how Pete discovered he could control demons.

Years later, when he was running the zoo, a reporter asked him how it was possible to go from a non believer of demons to a controler of demons in just a few short minutes. Pete considered the question carefully and then smiled.

“Perfume,” he said.

The reporter looked up from his notepad – he was an old fashioned type, although he used a voice recorder too, he liked the feel of pen on paper, it helped him think he said – his face startled.

“Perfume?” he asked.

“Yes,” Pete said, settling back in his chair and taking a sip of earl grey tea. “It was like inhaling a perfume. Standing there next to the demon I suddenly realised I knew more about him than he did about me.”

The reporter made a mark on his notepad and looked up again. “I don’t understand the connection to perfume,” he said.

“He had the same smell as my mother,” Pete said, his voice soft. The reporter paused waiting for Pete to continue.

“My mother was a demon,” Pete said, after a short pause. The reporter looked up, startled. Pete smiled. He had kept that piece of the puzzle to himself for so many years. He was surprised the reporter had not made the connection himself.

“Your mother was a demon?” the man said, his pen hovering above the page of the notepad. Was it quivering slightly, Pete wondered. Was the man scared of him. “Does that make you..?”

Pete nodded. “My father was human, he died before I was born. My mother was a demon. A risen demon.”

“Risen?”

“Kind of the opposite of a fallen angel, I guess,” Pete said.

“Okay,” the reporter said, his facial expression telling Pete he was far from okay with this. Then there was a shrill repeating sound. “What the hell..?” the reporter said, sitting up, clearly worried there was an escape from the demon zoo.

Pete smiled, checking his watch. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It is just the fire alarm.”

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