Flash Fiction: A Day at the Zoo

Last week, my family flew up for a visit. We dragged them all around Seattle, took them to our favorite restaurants, and taught them the real meaning of the phrase “fuck this hill…in the EAR.” They flew out early in the afternoon, and while I’m sorry to see them leave I was happy for a bit of time to sit and write. Did I work on the edits of Petri? Oh no of course not! Instead, I dug up another old flash piece that’s been languishing on my computer. The original is from 2013, and after a read-through I felt it needed a makeover. So, I added about 500 words, altered the tone a bit, changed the protagonist’s name (as I’d since used it elsewhere), and made him into a bit of an unapologetic asshole. I hope you enjoy him. I did!

A Day at the Zoo

Xavier grumbled, a rumbling growl of sound that raised the small hairs on the arms and napes of the clueless humans. He’d spent three weeks in this shit-hole so far with one more looming before him. The punishment definitely did not fit the crime.

A hoard of teens shuffled past his cage. His cage! He showed his teeth. All he’d wanted was a bit of fun—a few drinks, maybe some dancing, and a pretty girl or two to ease the boredom of a long, dry summer. He managed the first two. It was the last one that proved…problematic.

The ladies had been more than receptive. One had perched on his lap with a promising wiggle while he explored the silken secrets beneath the other’s tank top. They had been having a grand old time. Their dates? Not so much. As the old saying goes, “and that’s how the fight started.”

$6,000 to replace the furniture, windows, tables, and various other doo-dads from the bar. Two assault charges that had to be swept under the rug by the clan’s lawyers. And one ass-chewing summons from the clan’s alpha which resulted in this. He, Xavier Marcone, languished in a fucking zoo, ogled by every snot-nosed brat and testosterone-fueled teen. The little kids weren’t so bad. They oohed and aahed at his sleek and sexy ebony coat, screeched appropriately when he growled or roared, and then took off looking for the next ooh moment or “I want an ice cream” or begging to ride the damn train. Of course, they weren’t all sunshine and roses. Some of the little curtain-climbers could whine like it was an Olympic sport or scream at such a godforsaken volume that it made his ears ring for hours and dogs howl four blocks over. Fuckers.

The teens, though, loved playing at being a bad ass. They talked shit, especially when there was a girl nearby. They threw stuff into the cage. But his favorite was when they poked their hands through the bars. Yeah, big man feeling all safe with thick iron between us. What would you do without that protection, hmm? He licked his lips, running his tongue along his fangs. Step into my parlor, motherfucker, and talk shit to my face.

Today’s torment, courtesy of Metro High, centered on a handful of guys who came straight from their Sons of Anarchy Fanclub meeting. Leather vest frayed at the sleeves? Check. Tattoos that may or may not be drawn on with a Sharpie? Check. A laughable attempt at facial hair? Check, check, and…oh yes, check. One guy even wore mirrored shades!

Hate to break it to you, tough guy. You’re trying too hard.

Xavier washed his paw and studied the baby bikers. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. A few adventurous lads had climbed onto the railings, leaning over the safety fence to stick their fingers through the bars. He considered wandering over and nibbling a few. He wouldn’t bite them off entirely, but pain is a wonderful teaching tool. The little assholes could think of it as a learning experience.

He tilted his head and considered the consequences, and then he huffed. Son of a bitch. That wouldn’t work. The outcry would far outweigh the amusement value. Humans were too fragile and didn’t heal as fast as his kind. Plus, his alpha would force him to make restitution to the little shit-stain. He gagged. Fuck no. He’d rather hack up a hairball.

So, nibbling on the tiny terrors wasn’t an option. He didn’t need more trouble. But fun? Yeah, fun was totally different. With his half-assed and ill-advised plan in place, Xavier rose and stretched. His sharp claws dug into an artfully-placed log, sending bark flying into the air. He pictured the holier-than-thou expression on the enforcer’s face and scratched with a bit more gusto. When that failed to impress, he turned towards the bleating bags of humanity and yawned wide. Each and every one of his thirty-two teeth were on display, especially his razor sharp fangs.

One guy possessed a few brain cells and withdrew his hand. Hmm. Miracle of miracles! They can be taught. Two others followed more slowly, hiding their nervous chuckles and racing hearts behind boasts and bravado that fooled no one. The last one, though? Oh, he thought he was hard core. He sneezed, the closest thing to a laugh he could produce in this form.

This was gonna be fun.

With a slow, lissome gait, Xavier prowled the perimeter of his thrice-be-damned prison. He growled and snarled beneath his breath, a deep rumble that vibrated the teens’ chests and caused them to titter like a flock of damned peahens.

Hmm, tasty, tasty peahens. He eyed the buffalo enclosure where a pair of peahens watched a peacock strut by in all his splendor. Yes, a snack would definitely hit the spot right about now.

A bottle cap bounced off his forehead, followed by male laughter and goading. He swished his tail in annoyance and bared his teeth, searching for the perpetrator.

A burly lad of eighteen going on ten-to-life lounged against the safety rail with a smirk. The kid twirled an empty soda bottle in his hands, sunlight reflecting off the obligatory skull ring and black fingernail polish. Letters on each finger spelled out “ROCK” on his right hand and “ROLL” on his left. Oh for fucks sake.

Stalking back and forth in front of the teen, Xavier watched the other visitors fade away. Even humans felt the charge in the air, the crackle of a challenge acknowledged and accepted. They’d laugh it off, saying they just got bored or had to take a piss. They’d never admit they felt it or that it triggered that old “fight or flight” reflex that kept them from becoming dinner. If he wasn’t certain his alpha wouldn’t skin him for a rug, he’d shift and really make them shit their britches.

Ah, well. He may be foolish, but he wasn’t a complete idiot.

Once everyone but the future ex-con had wandered to a safe enough distance, he let out his best roar. The prey animals three exhibits over either fell silent or bolted toward safety. Birds took to the sky in flocks. And every single human within earshot turned toward his cage. Xavier grinned. If he was going to extend his time in the cage, and he most certainly was, he demanded an audience!

With a wink at the suddenly-uncertain teen, the large panther shifter raised his tail and doused his challenger with a pungent spray of territorial urine. The reaction was instantaneous and priceless.

He pranced over to the bottle cap and swatted it out of his cage. It landed at the wannabe badass’s feet with a hollow thud. Xavier settled in his shady spot beneath the trees and laid his head on his paws. He probably just earned another week in this hell-hole, but he’d do it all again just for the look of utter disbelief on that dude’s face.