Saturday Short: In the Zoo by @SethDClarke

Title: In the Zoo

Author: Seth D. Clarke
Twitter: @SethDClarke
Website: My Adventures as a Stay-at-Home Dad:
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They’d taken me on a bright, cloudless day. It had been hot, and still. They came down from the sky in a whirring, humming, sleek silver craft, descending in a sudden rush and flare, flattening the grass. I hadn’t hidden, or run.

They were clothed in material that shimmered with a translucent energy, a silvery glow like moonlit mercury obscuring their features entirely.

Looking back, now, I wish I had run. I was afraid, of course, paralyzed with fear.

They subdued me with laughable ease, three of them. The one in the center lifted a hand—four fingers, and a thumb—flicked a wrist, a pushing gesture, a contemptuous motion. I was gripped by an invisible fist, a crushing force that bound my arms against my sides, slammed me to the ground. I could neither move nor speak, and the fist was slowly squeezing me, pressing in on my lungs, cutting off my breath, forcing my vision into a shrinking tunnel. Then the pressure eased and I could breathe. I was on the verge of passing out, holding myself on this side of consciousness by dint of helpless rage and morbid curiosity. One of the figures bent over me, placed a circular disk on my chest; I felt weightless, as if I was perpetually falling. If I could have moved, I would have flailed and kicked; if I could have made a sound, I would have screamed. As it was, I could do nothing but let them push me, guiding me to their ship like a shopper pushing a cart.

One of them leaned over me, touched a finger to my forehead, and I was swallowed by sleep.

When I awoke, I was in a cell, about eight feet high, ten feet wide, and twenty feet long. The four walls were made of the same shimmering mercury as my captors’ suits, except these walls were translucent. I was laying on a cot, thin and hard, covered by a rough woolen blanket. In one corner were two large metal bowls, water in one and one with a cold gruel.

I stood and approached one of the walls, reached out a hand, tentatively touched the substance, felt a burst of cold followed by a shock that tossed me across the cell and into the other wall, which absorbed and held me, turned rock hard, dumped me to the floor, moaning and cursing.

It was dark beyond the walls. I could make out a few shapes, all large rectangles about the same size of my own cell. The shapes were arranged around me in a wide circle, mine in the very center.

I sat on the cot and waited, as there was nothing else to do. I thought of my dog Marlow, a German Shepherd, and my girlfriend Julie, who was dumping me and moving out. I had been walking in Central Park when they took me, clearing my head after an argument, working through what to say to get Julie to stay.

The park had been eerily empty. It was just past noon, on a Tuesday in March. I had $300 on the Tarheels to win the Big Ten.

My skin had crawled at the silence in the park, but I had ignored it to focus on the problem of Julie. I was trying to figure out whether I loved her or just didn’t want things to change.

Now I would never know.

Day broke, slowly.

Eventually, a figure approached my cell. A man about six and a half feet tall, heavyset, old, with a jowly face and the build of a man who had once been powerfully strong, now sagging muscles and wrinkled flesh. His eyes were a vivid violet, and they fixed me with a cold, disinterested gaze.

He touched a button and the color of the wall shifted slightly. He reached through the material, grabbed the food and water bowls, replaced them, touched the button once more. The whole process took less than thirty seconds, and it wasn’t until he had finished that I realized I could have gone through the deactivated wall and escaped.

He turned on a heel and walked away, whistling a cheery tune, one hand resting on the handle of a gun holstered at his hip.

Perhaps staying in the cell had been the better choice after all.

I paced the cell, tried sleeping and failed, fell back to pacing restlessly, anger building.

Finally, I heard voices approaching, children laughing and squealing, parents scolding. I understood the tones of voice and rhythm and volume, but the words were unintelligible. A child stopped in front of me. He pointed at me, jabbered excitedly, leaned forward and spoke slowly, each word enunciated; he was reading, I realized. He met my eyes for a long moment, as if hypnotized.

“What do you want?” I asked.

The boy stumbled backward, his face crumpling into tears. He turned and ran, buried his face in his mother’s belly, looked up at her, pointing at me. The boy’s father approached my enclosure, read the words.

The father peered at me, squinting his eyes and leaning forward. He reached a hand up, touched his jawbone where it met the bottom of his ear; there was a soft electronic beep. “Hallo? Verstehst du mich?” He said. I just stared at him, shook my head. He touched his jaw again. “Hello? How about now?” English, with a bit of a British twang.

“Where the hell am I?” I demanded.

He laughed, as if the answer was obvious. “Why, you’re in the zoo! This is the Megapolis City Zoo, don’t you know. You’re the newest exhibit: Old Earth Male.”

It was at this moment, as I stumbled backward and fell against the cot, swearing and choking back a sob, that the second sun rose, huge and red, bathing the world outside my cell an alien crimson.