Petting Zoo

Petting Zoo

by Robert Walton

“Cindy, drop the zucchini and run!”

“Dad, this bird doesn’t even want the zucchini. It just wants a pat.”

“Don’t touch it, dear. It’s wild.”

“But, Mom!”

“Cindy, it might have pathogens!”

“Pathogens?”

“Mom!”

The bird extended its meter-long neck and rested its melon-sized head in Cindy’s cupped hands. Large, golden eyes stared up into hers. Her hand stroked silky feathers—orange, scarlet, yellow and black.

“Its fur is so soft!”

Eleanor sniffed, “It’s down, dear, not fur.”

“It feels like fur.”

Herb shrugged. “If it quacks like a duck . . . “

“Daddy! It’s too big to be a duck!”

“Cindy, that’s enough! It might be poisonous.”

“Nonsense, my dear.” Herb gestured toward the green savannah sloping gently to a surf-kissed beach beneath a golden sun and its sapphire companion. “This habitat is for kids to walk through. They wouldn’t put anything poisonous in here, or dangerous, for that matter.”

Eleanor retreated slightly. “But it’s so big.”

“Yeah, like—what’s that ancient vid character for kids? Dumb Bird? Fat Bird?”

“Big Bird, daddy.”

“Yeah, Big Bird! It’s like Big Bird.”

The bird again turned its lambent eyes upon Cindy as she stroked its velvety head. Suddenly it reared.

“Watch out!” Eleanor leapt to her daughter’s aid.

“Stop, Mom! It didn’t hurt me.”

The bird paced away from Cindy, turned and looked back at her. Cindy and her parents stood still and watched. The bird paced back to Cindy, nuzzled her shoulder with its orange beak and again paced away.

“It wants us to follow.” Cindy walked toward the bird.

“This is not wise.”

“Eleanor, relax. Nothing can hurt us out here. It’s flat grassland. Let’s see what it wants.”

The bird, with Cindy following, was already twenty meters away. Eleanor and Herb trotted to catch up.

The bird walked another fifty meters and stopped. Cindy stopped beside it, looked down, clasped her hands and squealed with delight. Eleanor and Herb joined her.

“They’re so pretty!”

Two aquamarine eggs as round and wide as dinner plates lay in a grass nest at their feet. The bird leaned down and stroked each egg in turn. Then she rose and stroked Cindy’s shoulder.

Cindy looked at her in puzzlement.

Again the bird stroked both eggs, stroked Cindy’s shoulder and looked at her expectantly.

Cindy knelt and stroked both eggs. The big bird looked at her fondly.

“She’s giving her eggs to me!”

“I think it’s time to go.”

Herb nodded. “I think I agree.”

The bird turned and walked solemnly toward the sea. She didn’t look back.

Cindy rose. “She gave me her eggs. I’ve got to take care of them.”

“That’s ridiculous, honey. We can’t walk out of here with eggs from an exhibit. These are endangered animals.

“I don’t care what the rules are. I’m the mother of these eggs now. I know it!”

Eleanor gripped Cindy’s right hand and pulled. “You come with me this instant!”

Cindy squealed. A sudden cracking noise turned all of their eyes toward the eggs.

Holes had appeared in their bottoms and thrusting from the holes were legs ending in three-clawed feet.

“Eggs with legs!” Herb exclaimed.

The eggs rose on their clawed feet and staggered to Cindy’s side. One rubbed her right knee and the other her left. “See? They want to come with me.”

Suddenly there was a great crack followed by a deep groan. All three humans and both eggs tumbled to the grass. The ground beneath them rolled like a dog shaking off water.  It was at least a minute before both the rumbling and the shaking abated. All three humans stood, as did the eggs.

“Look!” Eleanor pointed toward the beach. Where gentle surf had purled onto white sands was now a vast expanse of mud where strange fish flopped. Far out, almost to the horizon, a great, green wave climbed into the sky.

“I’m somewhat alarmed here.”

“Herb, do something!”

“I’m thinking.”

Cindy shouted, “Run! Run for the shuttle!”

They ran. Herb loped slightly ahead. Legs churning, Eleanor was two steps behind him. Cindy was a few yards back. She was initially worried about her eggs’ ability to keep up, but their blurring legs kept them close by her side.  Like an opening mouth, the Tsunami rose behind them.

Herb and Eleanor thundered up the shuttle’s ramp. Cindy and her eggs scrambled close behind.

A crewman at the ramp controls shouted, “You’re the last! We’re out of here. Hold on to something!”

Ramp hanging open, the shuttle lurched into the sky. Roaring winds and water buffeted its heat shield. Tsunami froth flooded into the cargo bay. The stubby machine staggered, shook itself, ramp wagging like a boxer’s tail, and climbed into clear air.

Dazed, Herb peered around. “Everybody okay?” Something flopped in his lap.

Cindy squealed, “Daddy, you caught a fish!”

Herb flung the scaly creature away. It bounced once on the ramp and then began to learn how to fly.

“Herb, dear, that’s the first one I’ve ever seen you catch. You should have kept it.” Eleanor patted his hand.

The crewman leaned toward them. “It’s a little late, but everybody strap in. Then I’ll get this ramp closed and we can head for the station.”

“Crewman?”

“Dobbs, sir, Loadmaster Dobbs.”

“Loadmaster Dobbs, what happened back there? I thought Samantha was a benign world—no threats to visitors.”

“Well, sir, I just heard a snatch of the station’s warning, but apparently old Samantha went through a once in ten thousand years event.”

“I should hope so. What was it?”

“Aphelion, sir.”

“Aphelion?”

“Samantha orbits Albiero, but this is a double star system, S-type.”

“So?”

“So Samantha got the farthest away from Albiero that it ever gets and the closest to the companion star Cygnii. Planets sometimes have a tough time when they have to deal with the pull from two stars. Stellar gravitational tides that occur only once every ten thousand years caused the planet quake and the tsunami.”

“And no one figured this out before?”

“I guess so, but it’s okay now.”

“Okay?”

“Sure, we can take you back tomorrow and everything will be fine. Of course, the animals are gone, but you could still go to the beach.”

“Ah, no thanks.”

Eleanor looked out the port at Samantha’s glowing golden globe. “She knew. The mother bird knew.”

The two aquamarine eggs stood on their orange chicken feet and lovingly nuzzled Cindy’s knees.

“Of course, she knew. She was a mom.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Robert Walton
Robert Walton’s  Dawn Drums was awarded first place in the 2014 Arizona Authors Association’s literary contest and also won the 2014 Tony Hillerman Best Fiction Award.  Barry Malzburg and he wrote The Man Who Murdered Mozart, published by Fantasy & SF in 2011. His La Loca was published this year in Principia Ponderosa (Third Flatiron Anthologies) (Volume 18). http://chaosgatebook.wordpress.com/

8 thoughts on “Petting Zoo

  1. Weird showcasing of protective maternal instinct, exhibited as less attractive in adult females than in an avian counterpart. There is also a contrast with paternal distaste for adoptions when Herb casts off the flying fish, When I read “Cindy and her eggs scrambled close behind.” I wondered if the humor was intended or not. AGB

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