by R.D. Harris
Every time I clean this giant box, I can't help but think of what led
me to this point.
Legentus, my home world, provided many opportunities
to enjoy wildlife as a child. Days of chasing Crested Lagoon Terns and
Lazy Palm Leatherbacks on the equator fed a desire to study Zoology.
Long days in school on Prona eventually led me to the Prona Plains Zoo.
I spoke softly to myself as I crept around the litter box. "Six years
of school to scoop shit." Bitter wasn't a strong enough word to
describe my feelings.
The bellowing purr of Renault made my heart jump into my throat. He, a
male Specter Lion, paced back and forth in his temporary quarters while
I cleaned the box. His natural cloaking processes were active so only
his shifting translucence was visible. The low grass of Prona's
sub-arctic plains had forced his species to adapt. I knew he was
stalking me when I couldn't hear him.
Renault grew agitated every time the half-track motored along. When I
would stop to shovel litter, a calm settled as he stalked me. It was
impossible for him to scale the wall of reinforced Optum glass, but I
rarely broke eye contact with what I could see of the large feline.
Before my career started, the zookeeper prior to me had suffered a grim
fate. According to my boss, she'd been half-eaten by Renault. He leapt
over the original wall of his auxiliary enclosure during a box
cleaning. The wall was subsequently heightened by ten feet.
As I neared the end of the litter box, ten feet did nothing to comfort
me. Almost forgetting to get a stool sample for analyses, I pulled out
my culturing cup. The smell was foul even with litter coating it.
Shoveling of the litter was done. My half-track scurried across the
small field of Prona Plains' replica environment. I felt momentary
relief when I closed the doors to the half-track's garage. Still within
the main enclosure, all that was left was to walk the thirty meters to
the exit door.
I sprinted, as I usually did, across the browned grass. Meanwhile,
clattering of glass had caught my attention. I thought it was other
zookeepers. With dread, I realized it was Renault scaling the auxiliary
Renault landed with a thud in the main yard as I opened the exit door
and slid out. Coworkers looked on, eyes wide, as Renault slammed into
the glass behind me.
The impact shook my gums. Over a ton of lion, uncloaked, snarled at me
through a mere two inches of glass.
"That'll be eighty credits please," I said to the couple from my safe,
cozy booth. I'd taken a major pay cut to work the ticket booths. It had
been weeks since the day Renault almost ate me.
My break came and I paid the big cat a visit. The new, higher ceiling
in the auxiliary holding area almost beckoned me back to my former
position. Almost was not enough. Renault would find a way out. His instincts, the killer inside of him, would find a way.
© 2017 R.D. Harris
Bio: Ryan is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina
but currently resides in Arizona. He is a graduate of Stanly Community
College and enjoys time with his son.
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