Part Two: Open Season
It was just after five in the morning. Curtis, one of the junior animal handlers, was wheeling the cart of bear food to the den behind the artificial caves. The Andeans were first on the route. His food cart, filled with pails of dog biscuits, apples and sweet potato. Alfred and Nora, the park’s two Andean bears, could be heard rustling behind the wall panels near the food drop. Their bellies were finely tuned instruments, so the bears were fully aware of the incoming meal.
Curtis pulled back the large hatch that fed the food drop. From the open hatch, the animal caretaker could dump the contents of the food pails down a slide that fed into the food troughs. Metal grating, fastened over the enclosure to separate the caretakers, not that these bears were known for violence, but mainly to protect the bears from nosing into work areas that could cause accident or injury.
Curtis had a direct view into the bear den from this vantage point. As he began dumping sweet potatoes into the drop, Curtis took notice that the bears, while shuffling around, were not nosing at the grate at the incoming food like they usually did. Instead, Alfred’s back could be seen as the animal, hunched over, picking away at some object while he was vigorously lapping his jowls. Nora could be heard as well, but sounded like her location was further out near the entrance of the cave.
Without a second thought, Curtis assumed the bears probably found some pumpkins from the night feed and were finishing their left-overs. The discovery of any left-over food wasn’t welcoming because it meant the night crew probably overfed the animals again. Cynthia, the head keeper, would be enraged when she caught wind of this news. The bears, now on a strict diet because their weight had increased to a point that was borderline obese. Rather than suffer the ilks related to weight induced diabetes, Cynthia had requested to cut back the food portions. Whoever pulled shift the night before was due for a hide tanning. No one messed around with Cynthia’s babies.
As soon as Curtis dumped the contents of the first pail into the drop, he closed the hatch and skirted around the food prep area to the rear access door of the den. Curtis keyed in the access code on the pad next to the knob and a green LED illuminated, acknowledging that the door could be opened. Curtis pulled the knob, opening the door when his mouth immediately dropped agape. Before him sat Alfred. Instead of the sweet pulp of the pumpkin dripping from his mouth, sinew and gore strung from the bear’s jaw to the top of his chest and his blood drenched paws. Between his legs and pressed down on the floor, was not a ripe pumpkin, anchored for ease of access. Alfred had the remnants of a hollowed out chest cavity with bits of detached bone and entrails swathed around his feeding area. It was a nightmarish mess.
Doubled over with nausea, Curtis vomited outside of the rear entrance to the den. All Curtis heard, were the gentle lapping sounds made by Alfred as he continued to enjoy his meal. Nora was still unaccounted for, but he could hear another animal making similar sounds beyond Alfred. It was shortly after this point that panic set in and Curtis quickly scrambled. Slipping on his vomit, Curtis attempted to overcome his “fight or flight” response and rose from his hunched pose to get back to his feet. The horrific scene was too much to process for the young keeper and just as he reach standing height, he immediately buckled, folding over again as blackness flashed over his perception and Curtis fell to the ground, unconscious.
Alice, received a phone call as she was riding in to her shift at work. She’s was only a few blocks away when the phone started vibrating, signaling an incoming call. “Hello?”, Alice asked. “Alice, it’s Delia”, the recognizable voice announced from the other side of the line. “Hey, lady!”, Alice returned. “What’s up? I’m almost to the zoo.” She paused, looked at the phone’s clock and continued, “I should be there in about five minutes”. “Don’t get off the bus”, followed Delia. “It’s crazy here, the park is closed and cops are everywhere”. Delia continued to explain,”I was instructed to call all the staff and tell them they had the day off. No other information was given.”
“What the fuck?!?!”, Alice shouted in her mind. She was on time for once and was ready to gloat at Raul when their paths crossed. “Wow, Delia. What’s going on?”, inquired Alice. “Not a clue,” Delia replied. “There are a bunch of police cars and firetrucks up by the Northern Trek. I saw the commotion as I was coming in from the employee lot, but couldn’t make anything out. Just a bunch of people milling about and lights flashing”, she said to further elaborate on the situation. “Well this is dumb. Lame and dumb.” Delia expressed. “Are we, at least, getting paid?”, she inquired. Alice responded, “No clue. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, I’ll catch you later, Alice.” “Ok”, she replied. “Take care”, Alice ended and she hung up the line.
Alice remained on the bus and made the return trip back to her apartment. She had eaten before she left for work, so she wasn’t hungry. Alice decided to make a stop at the video store next to her place as she got off the bus at her stop. She had a DVD to return, and nothing else planned for the day. As Alice approached the entrance to RST Video, she was quickly thrown back as a mother, dragging her child behind, rampaged out of the store, muttering obscenities under her breath. “Guess it’s going to be one of those days”, Alice thought to herself. She recovered from the near collision and made her way into the video store.
RST Video was a modest storefront. Only slightly larger than a hallway, videos lined the wall to the left with the checkout area on the right. Standing behind the counter with his back to Alice, the store clerk was finishing up a conversation on the phone. “Yeah, that’ll be all”, the clerk mentioned in his nasally voice. “The old broad took her kid out of the store in a hurry, so I guess we won’t need that copy of Happy Scrappy Hero Pup.” “I’ll just take the skin films this time around”, the clerk continued. “Yeah, that was RST Video, customer number 4352.” “Thanks”, he closed and hung the phone on the receiver.
Alice put the rental copy of “Whispers in the Wind” on top of the counter and said,”I’d like to return this and I’ll probably check something out too.” The clerk quickly spun around and looked Alice in the eye. His name tag read, Randal. “Look, miss thinks she owns the place and does what she wants”, the clerk proclaimed in his nasal pitched, whiny voice. “Can’t you see I was on the phone? Do I go into your house and drop things on your counter, demanding service?” “Bunch of savages in this town,” he followed.
The clerk looked down at the DVD and immediately twinged. His eyes bulged open and shot back in Alice’s direction. “Whispers in the Wind?!?!” “Damn it, I just ordered a copy of this because it was out for so long!” Alice was notorious for hanging on to DVDs for much longer than she needed. The video store was convenient and she just couldn’t bring herself to use one of those online services. “Sorry, man”, she reflexively riposte Randal’s announcement. “Sorry?” “Sorry?!” “SORRY?!?!”, he repeated over and over and over again. Shuddering with the last apologetic mockery. “I’ll show you what SORRY means, lady”, he said, only to immediately turn around and go through a doorway located behind the counter.
It was at that moment Alice, made a similar movement and quickly made for the door, leaving the video store before she find out what the clerk meant by his definition of the apology. She continued down the street and rounded the corner before her apartment complex. Hurrying up the stairs, Alice entered her building through the turnstile and continued up to her apartment. Just as she entered the building, Randal turned the corner and stopped where he stood, spying at Alice as she disappeared. “Don’t worry, lady”, Randal spoke under his breath. “We’ll talk again, real soon, now that I know where you live.” And with that the clerk returned to his shop, grimacing under his breath as he walked through the door to RST Video.