Everyone loves the new members to our family, the little finches. They are such a cute mouthful… I mean, handful! (Pardonnez moi, I’m working hard on overcoming certain instincts… Mr Keeper, I think my next meal needs to be a bigger rat please) I only talk to them briefly at around dusk each day, when I wake up to stretch my scales, and they get ready for bed. But I know Ellie is happier and chats to them a lot, because she doesn’t keep waking me up with her complaining squawks during the day any more.
Knobby said that Cappuccino and Mocha spent most of their time gathering materials for their new nest. The guinea pigs have a whole bale of meadow hay in the garage, and Cutie generously said that the finches could take as much hay as they needed. This nesting business seemed to settle Mocha down quite a bit, and she said she felt much less fidgety now, having something to do. She and Cappuccino would sort through all the stalks of hay, pick out the skinniest ones, and chew on the thicker ones constantly to bend them into suitable flexibility for lining the nest.
And then on Monday morning a week after they arrived, I was woken up by the excited cries of Baby Kid: “An egg! Mocha has laid an egg!”
Suddenly the whole house was in uproar, everyone ran/crawled/slithered over to look. Even the guinea pigs had appeared from nowhere, accompanied by the inevitable muddy footprints. “Wow, it’s beautiful Mocha! Congratulations you two!” exclaimed Spotty, grabbing Mocha in a rodent-hug.
I have to say it was the loveliest little thing I’ve ever seen, this pearly white, glistening egg no bigger than the very tip of my tail. It lay calmly in the lovingly hay-lined nest, and I fancied I saw a tiny translucent heart beating behind the pale shell (all right, I admit I was probably hallucinating… Mr Keeper, I need a bigger rat NOW please). Even my serpentine heart swelled with pride at having such a gorgeous little baby in our family.
Puffy took her turn hugging Mocha and Cappuccino: “That must be why you were feeling strange all this time, Mocha! You were pregnant!” Mocha blushed and fluttered to hide behind her husband.
While we animals queued up again to gaze at the egg baby, Mr and Mrs Keeper got ready to drive the kids to school, and then they had to attend the funeral of a friend’s husband. It was very sad, the man had been troubled by many things all his life, but he was whole and free now, Mrs Keeper said. I hoped he would have many rats and bats in his Heaven, amen.
“My goodness, what’s that????” came the shocked voice of Mrs Keeper from the driveway.
Hmm, was it just me, or there had simply been too many surprises lately? We only just managed to see off the NASA scientists (Mr Keeper was very sorry for ruining Blacky’s moment of fame, and had since allowed Blacky official use of his computer to continue corresponding with NASA), see off Mr Keeper’s parents (still talking on Skype about electrocuting me with a fly-zapper, bless their souls), welcome the darling finches, and now welcome their baby egg. What ELSE could there be???
So we all hurried out into the garden again to see what Mrs Keeper was shouting about. And even I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was a turtle! Yes, a real-life, long-necked, hard-shelled, algae-covered REAL turtle! Its limbs and long neck were all curled up, and its eyes were closed. All right, maybe it was not alive after all; maybe it was dead?
“Where did it come from?” Little Kid asked the question that was uppermost on all our minds. Our Sunny Zoo is hidden in a perfectly ordinary suburban house, down a long battle-axe driveway about 150 metres long. We were far from any creeks or rivers, and certainly from any other zoos. Judging by the thick layer of algae growing on its shell, it did not look like an escaped pet either.
“Well, we’re running late,” said Mr Keeper decisively. “Let’s put it in some water while we’re out. You guys look after it and see if it wakes up.
So that was what we did. The turtle was gently placed into a storage container filled with de-chlorinated water, and we all sunbathed in the garden while waiting to see if the poor turtle would make it. It was a 30-degree day; I would not be surprised if it had succumbed to sunstroke and dehydration. Hmm, maybe Mr and Mrs Keeper would have to attend another funeral?
Just as my mind began to wander down that unhappy path, there was a slight movement from the storage container. “It’s awake!” cried Knobby, who was lying on his favourite rock right next to the container and therefore had the best view. “Hello there, friend!”
Our guest slowly twitched each of its legs, probably testing to make sure they were still intact and it hadn’t grown wings, and then cautiously opened its eyes. Upon seeing 14 pairs of eyes staring at it, it promptly shrank back into its shell again and belatedly played dead. Well, that settled the question of its life points.
Cutie gestured for us to step back a bit, and then he smiled down at the turtle from Knobby’s rock, “Hiya there, we’re all friendly, no worries! And don’t mind the snake, she’s friendly too! Can you talk, or you want some more time to yourself?”
Cutie must have hit the right note, because the turtle finally raised its head up and looked at us. We all did our best to grin, some succeeding better than others. “Hello…. Where am I?”
“Ah, this is the Sunny Zoo…” began Cutie.
“Otherwise known as the Federation of Liberated Ingenious Pets,” piped up the guinea pig triplets together, “FLIP for short!” They gave each other high fives.
Cutie glared at them with annoyance. “As I was saying, this is the Sunny Zoo, and we’re all pets that are no longer owned by humans! You’ve come to friendly territory, so you can relax and recover from your trip. Err, where did you actually come from, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Obviously feeling much better, the turtle started paddling around in the water and looked at us with curious eyes, “Wow, that’s very cool, you have your own house? I never knew you were here! Well, I’ve been living by myself in one of the dams across the road… on the big Korean chili pepper farm. Then when I got up this morning, something went funny in my head… and I said to myself, now what a nice bright day, I’ll go look for a girlfriend!”
Ah, the mystery unravels! Guess it’s not just the finches then, must be breeding season for turtles too! That’s the thing with us animals – some instincts are so inbuilt that there’s not much we can do about them. And sometimes, as in this case of our bachelor turtle friend, the instinct came at a most inopportune time, such as on a scorching hot day.
“So off I walked,” said the turtle, “And walked… and walked. I could smell a body of water, so I just followed that. I crossed the road, nearly got hit by a few cars…”
“Ewww…” we all gasped.
“BUT I soldiered on!” continued the turtle, now thoroughly enjoying the attention of a relatively large audience, “I gotta say, my legs were getting sore, I was really thirsty, and my eyes were so dry I could hardly keep them open. But I followed the smell of water… came down your loooooong driveway…….” His voice trailed off, clearly still traumatised by the memory of his near-death experience.
“And discovered this is a dead-end street,” I finished for him. “Mr Keeper says there’s a storm drain under our driveway. That must’ve been the water you were smelling.”
He nodded and took a deep breath, probably to reassure himself he was still in this world and not the next, “I stood there for some time, wondering what to do. But it was so hot! I considered walking back… but realised I didn’t have the strength… I knew then that was it for me… I was going to die… in the middle of nowhere… without ever having a girlfriend!” He began sobbing.
“Err…” said Cutie the Alpha, alarmed by the guest’s sudden outburst, “There there, lots of animals don’t have girlfriends, that’s not the end of the world!”
Knobby agreed, “I don’t have a girlfriend. That’s fine with me.”
“Waaaaaaah!!” the turtle sobbed louder.
“Err… Spotty?” Cutie rapidly stepped off the rock and gestured for his wife to take over.
“Must be that weird breeding call thing with turtles,” Spotty concluded, patting the turtle on the shell, or rather, on the algae. “Messes with their minds. All right, all right sweetheart, don’t worry! Look, when our human employees come back, we’ll see if they can find out where to find you a girlfriend, okay? They’re experts at this sort of thing!”
Oh really? I laughed to myself. Mr and Mrs Keeper would be really thrilled to find out they now have to be expert matchmakers – for a long-necked turtle!
There was a solemn meeting in the garden, to deal with the matter of the stowaway finches.
Mr Keeper excused himself and went off to read a no-brainer novel, as he felt his nerves would not stand up to further disturbance today. Anyway, Cutie the Alpha would certainly inform him of any decisions, and he crossed his fingers - and toes - that no one else had been using his email in secret! It seemed he would have to change his password again.
After two long weeks of almost constant rain, both animal and human alike were delighted to have an excuse to enjoy the beautiful bright weather outdoors. All the reptiles and amphibians, even the nocturnal ones, found their favourite spots to bask in the sun. The grass had grown extra long with the drenching, and the ever-helpful guinea pigs got right on the task of saving Mr Keeper some lawn-mowing. Only the grass mind you; they didn't like too much of the clover weeds, so eventually the human employees would still have to pull most of those out by hand.
"All right, all right, order please!" called Cutie, the only guinea pig not eating, since someone had to chair the meeting and actually pay attention. "Ellie, stop chatting to the finches, we're ready to hear their story now."
Ellie the parrot and the tiny finches were perched on one of the low branches of a bush, and were talking rapidly in Bird. Being the lone bird in the household and having difficulty mastering human language, Ellie often felt like she was the odd one out. It wasn't that she didn’t get on with the others, but... there was just the nagging sense of not quite being on the same wavelength. So she was really pleased to meet some fellow avians today. Now she gave the two finches one last friendly pat with her wing, before flying over to perch next to the kids. Big Kid had brought out their afternoon tea of biscuits, fruit and milkshake, and had set the plates out on the terracotta tiles. Ellie helped herself to a green grape and began to thoughtfully peck it to pieces.
"Dear finches, we welcome you to our home," said Cutie formally, nodding at the visitors. The miniature finches fluffed their feathers politely and bowed back. When they fluttered their wings, the movements were so fast and delicate that the naked eye could barely see them. Those nearby just felt a gentle breeze. "As Ellie has already explained to you, you have come to the Sunny Zoo, the only place in the world run by ex-pets."
"Otherwise known as the Federation of Liberated Ingenious Pets, FLIP for short!" interrupted Marbles the gecko. He had found his usual patch under the waratah shrub still too soggy, and was jostling Knobby for some space on a rock. Unfortunately the rays of the sun landed only on half the rock, so Knobby was not happy about having to share it.
"Cheep! Nice to meet you all!" chirped the finches together, then the darker, mottled one said, "My name is Cappuccino, and this is my wife, Mocha. We are manniken finches." The other lighter, tan-coloured one ruffled her feathers again and smiled.
"And I am Cutie, the alpha of this household." Cutie gave Marbles and Knobby an exasperated look, before turning back to the guests. "Are you ready to tell us what brought you to us today? Are you just running away, and need us to give you a lift somewhere? Our human employees will be perfectly happy to drive you to your destination if necessary."
"Ah-hem!" coughed Mrs Keeper, strolling by with a pot of limp-looking echeveria. Not all of her beloved succulent plants had coped well with the unusually long period of rain, and many of the leaves on this one had either fallen off or were going gooey on the stem. It would probably take Mrs Keeper the rest of this afternoon to inspect all the pots and move them into the sun to dry out the soil.
"Cheep cheep, thank you!" said Cappuccino in his charming, singsong voice. "No, we were not going anywhere, we just wanted to get away! Away!"
Puffy the guinea pig asked, with her mouth full: "What happened?"
Cappuccino sat down comfortably on the branch and said, "Cheep! Mocha and I came from two different breeders, and met in the pet shop. There were ten of us living in the small cage, it was really crowded. Cheep! We bonded right away..." he smiled lovingly at his wife, "But the others were always bickering. There were three that were always arguing and gave us no peace. Then a couple that kept shoving at us, trying to get more room for themselves, cheep cheep cheep! Then there was a hyper one who kept flying about and kicking out all the seeds, so sometimes we all ran out of food!"
"Oh you poor things!" Banana the python exclaimed sympathetically. "I hate being hungry too!"
Cappuccino looked a little alarmed at this, but carried on bravely, "Mocha and I were always huddled in the corner, trying to avoid getting kicked or hit in the head, and there was just no getting away from the constant noise! Cheep cheep cheep, we were going mad! And then Mocha started feeling unwell..."
"Don't blame her," remarked Spotty the guinea pig, "I feel the same after half an hour with the triplets! That's my three children over there.... yes, the ones trying to bite each other's behinds. Sorry, you go on!"
"Ah, your children are lovely!" said Cappuccino generously. "Cheep! I was really worried about Mocha, she said she was feeling more and more giddy everyday, she couldn't sit still, she was feeling weak, I didn't know what to do, cheep cheep cheep!"
"Awwww......" Baby Kid took off his glasses and wiped his eyes on the hem of his T-shirt.
"And then today, that dog knocked over our cage!" cried Cappuccino, getting to the exciting part of the story. "Cheeeeep! I told Mocha, here's our chance! Let's take a risk, cheep cheep cheep cheep!! So we flew out of the cage and hid ourselves near the exit of the pet shop. We waited until no one was looking, then we flew out of the shop and hid again under the nearest car. Cheep cheep, that happened to be your car. We ducked in as soon as you opened the door! Cheep cheep cheep!!"
"Yay! Well done!" almost everyone clapped. By now the guinea pig triplets were hissing and biting and scratching each other in earnest. Marbles was on top of Knobby's head, holding on to Knobby's eye ridges (and blocking Knobby's third eye with his butt) as the angry bearded dragon tried to shake him off.
While the gentle Mocha gazed in amazement at the various fights already breaking out on the lawn, her husband continued with great courage and persistence, "So we don't have anywhere else to go, CHEEP! Please, you must not send us back, I'm afraid Mocha would not survive it! Cheep cheep!!"
"Awwwwww!" Now even Little Kid was wiping her eyes on a T-shirt sleeve. "Please Cutie, say they can stay! Please please please!!"
Cutie looked around. Ellie had already flown back to the finches and was talking to Mocha again. Spotty, Puffy and Curlsy were also there, trying to figure out why Mocha was sick, and Spotty was muttering the names of several herbs she thought might help. Blacky had predictably disappeared; Banana was trying to break up the fight between Marbles and Knobby, while the four frogs were cheering both on. Clearly the finches' story had stretched most of the animals' attentions spans to the limit.
Mrs Keeper sat down next to Cutie, picked up a biscuit and bit into it, "So what's the decision here? Do we need to call a vote?"
Cutie sighed, "Nah, I'll make an executive decision." He pulled off a blade of grass and downed it in two seconds, suddenly realising he was hungry too. "Please let Mr Keeper know there'll be two more to the family, thank you!"
After all the anxiety before the arrival of Mr Keeper's parents, and the unexpected gatecrashing by the NASA scientists, the actual visit turned out to be somewhat anti-climatic, other than a couple of minor incidents.
To start with, Mr Keeper's parents were of course alarmed by the scream coming from inside the house while they were waiting at the front door. Fortunately it never occurred to them they had anything to do with it, but thinking their son or even one of the grandchildren might have suffered some debilitating accident, they immediately started banging harder at the front door.
The ruckus attracted the attention of all the animals, and by the time Mrs Keeper had run to the door and thrown it open (before the nervous neighbour might call the police), all the drowsy reptiles had been woken up. There was also a line of curious guinea pigs in the living room again. Cutie the Alpha must have brought them in through that secret trapdoor Mr Keeper still hasn't been able to find, which was usually not a problem, but they had just been snacking in the rain-soaked veggie patch, and had not taken the trouble to wipe their paws before running in.
So Grandpa and Grandma Keeper's first impressions of the household were..... lots of muddy paw-prints all over the floor, a group of muddy (and a bit stinky) rats in the living room, and a serpent slithering out of its enclosure (the half-asleep Banana had forgotten she wasn't supposed to lift up the enclosure lid and come out by herself).
At which point Grandma Keeper had let out an involuntary scream. That was probably understandable in the circumstances. She had never really been an animals person, and rodents and snakes were definitely high on her list of animals to avoid, and indeed decimate. (Mr Keeper had always wondered where he got his zoological genes from.) Mrs Keeper hurriedly made her a cup of camomile tea to calm her nerves, and then took the visitors out in the garden to look at the plants. At least the plants did not have teeth. Or fur. And Grandpa Keeper particularly liked plants, often lamenting that he never had the opportunity to have a big garden.
Everyone secretly felt that it was a good thing Grandma Keeper had already arranged to meet up with some old friends for afternoon tea. They borrowed Mrs Keeper's car and went out, returning just after the kids came home from school. The kids were absolutely excited that their grandparents had finally arrived, and they simply had to show the grandparents everything - from all their recent drawings, some pebbles collection, sharks' teeth, a new lava lamp, and even a full bag of snake skins (mostly shed by Banana). The final item was not terribly well-received, but Grandma Keeper had managed not to scream this time.
The family went out to a nice restaurant for dinner, and then it was time for bed. Grandma Keeper read a special bedtime story for the kids, and the day ended with no further trouble.
Until the animals all got up again secretly at midnight to watch the Australian Quidditch team's match against Japan, their last chance to make it into the semi-finals. To their credit the animals had turned down the volume of the TV, and had kept shouting and cheering to a minimum. But Grandpa Keeper had suddenly gotten up to visit the bathroom, and had noticed sleepily that someone had left the TV on. Luckily he had simply gone over, turned off the TV and gone back to bed - without noticing all the surprised animals sitting absolutely frozen on the sofa!
Grandpa and Grandma Keeper had to leave for the airport with their pick-up taxi around 9 o'clock the next morning, and many tearful goodbyes were exchanged between the humans (and urgings that the rats should be drowned, and the snake should be electrocuted with a fly-zapper, for the safety of the kids; the Sunny Zoo animals very kindly overlooked these comments, and later agreed that perhaps playing dumb had been the best option).
All in all it was a pretty smooth visit, and had gone much better than Mr Keeper had imagined. He did discover that his dad had dug up all seven of the rose bushes in the front garden, and moved them into the backyard for some unfathomable reason - Grandpa Keeper had obviously woken up early. However, he had known his dad for many decades and frankly, something like this was not entirely unexpected.
They all clapped themselves on the back metaphorically for a job well-done, and decided that to celebrate, they would go on an outing themselves - to the local pet shop! It was the Greyhound Adoption Day at the pet shop, organised to help find new homes for retired greyhounds that were no longer required by the dog racing industry.
The Sunny Zoo had no intention whatsoever of inviting a greyhound to join them - they were not fans of dogs or cats, for obvious reasons. But Big Kid loves greyhounds - he is allergic to all dogs, although strangely enough NOT greyhounds, so he always wants to go to the adoption days if he can, just to pat and hug the gentle greyhounds there.
And while Big Kid patted and hugged the greyhounds to his heart's content out in a cordoned-off section of the carpark, his younger sister and brother (as well as the guinea pigs triplets, Caramel, Brownie and Chocolate, who had insisted on coming along, and were peeping out from three pockets of Little Kid's backpack) wandered around the shop. They chatted to the fish, chatted to the birds, chatted to the hatchling pythons, and chatted to the two new octopi, staying well away from the puppies and kittens.
Suddenly there was a commotion. A greyhound had been frightened by a sports car that screeched recklessly into the carpark, and had run away from his handler and dashed into the pet shop! The horrified dog streaked in between the fish tanks, flashed down the dog accessories aisle, and found the birds area - forbidden to dogs, but of course he didn't take the time to read the sign. All the "Get him!" and "Grab him!" and "Oops there goes a cage!" didn't help either, and it was a good 10 minutes before his handler managed to calm him down and lead him out the shop again.
"Well, that was interesting!" said Big Kid as they all got back in the car, buckled up, and Mr Keeper swung out of the carpark.
"Poor greyhound," remarked Little Kid. "He looked so scared! Do you think he would get adopted?"
"I hope so!" said Caramel the guinea pig. "I wouldn't want to see HIM again! My heart is still racing!"
"Cheep cheep!" said a little voice.
Everyone was silent for a moment, and then Baby Kid asked, "What was that?"
"Cheep cheep!" said the little voice again.
Caramel turned and looked at Chocolate sternly, "Don't think you'll get away with letting off gas by making that weird noise!"
"Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheeeeeep!" went the little voice, and this time everyone heard the distinctive, singsong lilt that was most definitely beyond Chocolate's abilities. And found the culprit standing on one of the head rests in the last row of seats.
"My God it's a FINCH!" cried Mr Keeper, gazing wide-eyed into the back view mirror, narrowly missing a telephone pole.
To be exact, there were TWO finches. And they were both gazing innocently back at him.
Clearly Mr Keeper had celebrated too early.
They never let me at the keyboard! Never, never, NEVER! So I begged and begged, and now I finally get a turn. I know I can do it, I can I can I CAN! I can write Sunny Zoo Diaries too, I can I can I CAN!!
So what was I going to say? AH yes, okay okay, apparently there was a strange phone call a couple of nights ago. I was asleep of course, only heard Mr Keeper and the nocturnals mumbling for a while. Then Cutie (the guinea pig Alpha and our leader) called an emergency meeting first thing the next morning, and we found out Mr Keeper's parents are visiting us. To save Mr and Mrs Keeper's dignity in the human world (as Banana put it), we animals must play deaf and dumb while the surprise visitors were around.
Actually I was the only exception to the deaf and dumb part, haha haha HAHAHA! Mr Keeper said I was welcome to talk human - as much as possible - while the visitors were around. All right, I admit I haven't got much further than "APPLE" and "WHAT'S A DUCK QUACK QUACK", but I am trying okay okay OKAY??? Poor Marbles (the gecko) is very upset about playing deaf and dumb, and is no longer speaking to Mr and Mrs Keeper.
So here we were, practising being deaf and dumb pets all day, while waiting for Mr Keeper's parents to turn up. I saw Chocolate the guinea pig trying to chew the other two wheels off our bus, Star Ferry, but Mr Keeper was on guard this time and chased him away. Turned out Blacky had nothing to do with the bus collapse after all, which was a surprise to most of us. He said he has been too busy "penning informational briefs and scribing letters", so we asked him what letters, but he wouldn't tell us. What's so mysterious, I ask you I ASK YOU???
Anyway we waited and waited and WAITED and the stress got to some tempers (I'm not naming names, but you know who YOU are, guinea pigs!). Finally around 3pm Mr Keeper got another phone call from his parents. They were delayed in Singapore and expected to arrive TOMORROW morning instead. Urk urk urk URRRRK all that stress wasted! The sudden relief got to some tempers too (again I'm not naming names, but you know who you are, GUINEA PIGS!).
It was good timing actually, because there was a Quidditch match on Magicalica TV that night. Australia vs Brazil YAY YAY YAY Go Billabongs!! I just LOOOOOOOOVE Daniel Zapsworth, our Australian captain, he has this REEEEEEALLY cool mohawk hairstyle that has every self-respecting parrot swooning! If Mr Keeper's parents had arrived on time, we wouldn't have been able to watch it, so we were happy they were delayed.
As usual the match started at 11pm, which was annoying but we were used to it. Unfortunately after a REALLY long and extended game, the Billabongs lost to the Brazilian Jaguars 3010:2990, which was BAD BAD BAD BAD BAAAAAAAAD and everyone went to bed really upset! That put us in a lousy mood the next day, since half of us (the diurnals) only had 4 hours sleep.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! None of us were prepared for the knocking on the door at 10 o'clock in the morning. "Quick quick, everyone back to your battle station!" yelled Mr Keeper, and he leapt out of his computer chair, chased the sleeping guinea pigs out of the house, and hurried Banana back to her enclosure (she was lounging on the sofa by the sunny French windows, bet the guests would've liked to see THAT!). Knobby was already in a dark corner of his enclosure, completely out for the count after the long night before the TV.
Mrs Keeper was about to open the door, and gave us one last warning glance: "Remember, no talking, thanks guys!" She pulled opened the front door. "Hi Mum..... oh, sorry, I was expecting my in-laws! Err... you are.....?"
"The postman! The postman!" said Bubbles the goldfish.
"Shhh, be quiet!" Croissant the other goldfish nudged him.
Since I was the only one not pretend-locked up, I flew over behind Mr Keeper to take a closer look. There were two men dressed in white lab coats with the same blue, white and red emblem embroidered over their breast pockets. It said "NASA". They both had big smiles on their faces (over-excited I thought; if they were postmen, they would be the axe-murderer in disguise of postmen type), and one of them had a briefcase in one hand (possibly hiding the axe?).
"Good day ma'am, sir!" said the blonde man in a funny curly accent, holding out his hand, which Mr and Mrs Keeper both shook uncertainly. "We are from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Washington. You may have known us as NASA."
“Err, yes, I've heard of NASA," said Mr Keeper, now looking utterly bewildered. "How may we help you?"
“Sorry to bother you, sir, but we are looking for a certain Mr. Blacky?” replied the blonde man, taking a folded piece of paper from his pocket and handing it to Mr Keeper. “Maybe you’ll recognise this?”
Mr. Keeper unfolded the piece of paper, and I also shuffled over along the bookcase to look at it. It appeared to be a printout of an email addressed to "To Whom It May Concern at NASA", sent from Mr Keeper's customary email address, and signed off by.... Blacky! “No, I didn’t write that...” Mr. Keeper said slowly.
“Maybe we’ve got the wrong address?” asked the other black-haired man helpfully. He had a charming mohawk hairstyle. "Mr Blacky gave us an address here..." He pointed to a paragraph in the email, and I didn't even need to look to know there would be dread on Mr Keeper's face. Yuppers, it was definitely our address!!
"What's happening? What's happening with Blacky?" called Bubbles from his aquarium.
"Shhh, be quiet!!" Croissant apparently slammed a fin over his big mouth.
“It's the right address...” admitted Mr. Keeper very VERY reluctantly, passing the piece of paper to Mrs Keeper. We were all remembering the recent fiasco with Banana and the Royal Easter Show. “I'm sorry, but it must be a prank by one of my kids. My son HAD once written to NASA when he was about 8 or 9. I remember him sending in his design for a trampoline rocket or something. But this must be a prank... You see, I DO know who Blacky is, but he couldn’t POSSIBLY have sent you that email...”
"Well, it's not just one email, he's been corresponding with my supervisor for a couple of weeks!" smiled the blonde guy. "Can we meet Mr Blacky, if it's not too inconvenient? I know it's short notice and we haven't had time to make an official appointment with Mr Blacky. But the two of us happen to be in town for a conference, and we really wanted to meet the man who came up with the new Blackian Spatial Theory! That's what we're calling it for now, by the way."
"But it could well become a Law someday!" exclaimed the black-haired guy, now barely able to conceal his excitement. "Imagine, we're right here for the birth of a new quantum astronomical law!!"
"Quantum astro..... astro.....?" Mr Keeper was flabbergasted, and I couldn't blame him. I couldn't have pronounced the bleeping word either, not in this life anyway!
"Could you please take us to him?” insisted the mohawk NASA dude, still smiling, probably thinking Mr and Mrs Keeper were too overjoyed to speak. Little did they know haha haha HAHA! "You can't imagine just what its potential is – the Blackian Spatial Theory will enable us not just to discover stars, but whole galaxies, earth-like exoplanets, and maybe even unlock the mysteries of Black Holes!"
"Blacky... and Black Holes?" Mrs Keeper's eyes were as large as lemons, and I nearly fell off the bookshelf myself.
“Um… well, the thing is…” Mr. Keeper was looking more and more flustered, and he glanced over at Mrs Keeper for help.
"Um... errr...." Mrs Keeper was not particularly helpful either, so desperate that she even looked at ME. "The thing is..."
"GUINEA PIG! GUINEA PIG!" I squawked helpfully. Truth is always the best policy in any situation!
Both NASA men looked mildly surprised and glanced down at the ground, "Guinea pig? Where?" asked the blonde dude. "Beautiful parrot there by the way, sir. I used to have a Princess Parrot myself when I was younger."
"GUINEA PIG! GUINEA PIG!" Very pleased at his compliment (and at myself for mastering the new words in human), I nodded at him emphatically and flapped my wings. "GUINEA PIIIIIIIG! GUINEA PIIIIIIIG!"
Mrs Keeper put out her hand and I stepped up without thinking, and before I could say anything more, she had pressed both fingers over my beak and kept them there despite my mad struggling. "Umm, yes, our very clever parrot! Mr Blacky has gone away on a... guinea pig study expedition! To Peru! Just yesterday as a matter of fact! Won't be back for... for...."
"Three years!" announced Mr Keeper. "And we don't know where he is either! Very mysterious man, you know, this astro.... astro.... scientist!"
The NASA men looked as if a thunderbolt had zapped them, and the black-haired dude even had a tear in his eye. "Oh...... I suppose since we didn't have an appointment....."
"Yes, better make an appointment with him next time!" said Mr Keeper firmly, secretly much relieved.
"GUIIIIIIIIII.......!" I was about to remind them all of the matter at hand, but Mrs Keeper very rudely tightened her grip on my beak again!
After a few more pleasantries, the mohawk dude wiped his eyes, the Princess-parrot dude patted him on the back, and the two of them went on their way. Mr Keeper closed the front door, stumbled back into the living room, and collapsed into the sofa. Mrs Keeper made him a cup of tea.
Bubbles asked, "Can we talk now? Can we talk now?"
Croissant said, "Shh! Not a good time! Not a good time!"
Just as Mrs Keeper was about to speak, there was another interruption.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
"Arrrrrrrrrrrrh!!" screamed Mr Keeper.
It was about midnight when the house phone rang. All of the humans were asleep; Banana the python, Marbles the gecko, and two of the frogs were still up playing poker. Banana was their best poker player, since she had no eyelids to blink and no limbs with which to fidget. So long as she made sure her body was wrapped up comfortably tight at the start of the game, no one could tell whether she was bluffing. The frogs always lost - they couldn't help doing mini-hops whenever they had a good hand, or ribbiting loudly at a bad hand. It was a wonder why they still played, but they loved the game, and the others needed them to make up the numbers.
The poker-players ignored the ringing phone. They didn't like talking to strangers over the telephone, and in any case a midnight call was bound to be a wrong number. Humans were diurnal and considered it rude to make phone calls after 9 o'clock.
The ringing stopped. "Your turn, Marbles," said Banana, with all her cards propped up neatly on top of her coil. They were playing at the dining table, watched by the goldfish (whose names were Bubbles and Croissant). The fish had never been able to figure out what the game was about, since they tended to blurt out everything on top of their heads, and the concept of NOT saying something was beyond them.
"Raise you two large crickets," said Marbles, and hustled two crickets across the table. The crickets rolled their eyes and trotted over in resignation to sit next to the other large and small crickets next to Banana. They all knew that Banana wouldn't ever eat crickets, so they were only participating as tokens and would be going back to their holding tank after the game. One of the crickets had even brought along a carrot slice as a snack, just in case the poker game went for longer than expected. The cricket species generally had a pretty philosophical view of things - life was short on the bottom rung of the ladder, so........ whatever!
Before Rocket Frog could take his turn, the telephone began to ring again. "Oh geeze, lost my thought, lost my thought!" exclaimed Rocket Frog and threw down his cards in annoyance. This time the telephone didn't stop; it rang and rang and rang and rang. "I don't think they're going to give up! We better get Mr Keeper to answer that."
They decided to call it a night. Marbles and the frogs went home for refreshments, the crickets went back to bed, happy to see another sun rising, and Banana was charged with the job of slithering all the way over to Mr and Mrs Keeper's bedroom. She had to slap Mr Keeper on the face several times with her tail before he finally mumbled, "Whaaaaat?"
"Phone!" said Banana, and waved her tail in the general direction of the kitchen.
Whoever it was certainly seemed very determined, and Mr Keeper had to struggle out of bed, bleary-eyed. He had had a particularly trying day. One of the guinea pigs, very likely Blacky, had chewed through TWO tyres of the double-decker bus they recently bought, and the whole vehicle had tilted dangerously to one side. It had taken Mr Keeper all afternoon of calling around to find suitable tyres and replace the broken ones, fortunately before the bus could collapse into the garage.
"Hello?" said Mr Keeper into the phone, his tone understandably irritated. But then he suddenly stood up straight and came completely awake in a split second, "Oh hi Mum! How's things?"
Banana and all the residents of the fish tanks on the kitchen bench listened in with interest; eavesdropping was one of their favourite pastimes. "Weren't you just in Iceland or something last week? Yes I know, we haven't seen you and Dad for two years... No we're all good.... Yes I changed jobs..." Mr Keeper winked at the animals and they smiled back conspiratorially. "Ah-huh... You're at the airport now? Where are you going this time?" His eyes became wider and wider. "Sorry Mum, which airport did you say, I'm sure I heard you wrong......... WHAT?? You're joking right??? You're arriving here TOMORROW??? Oh no, that's not what I mean, of course we'd love to see you!"
Mr Keeper didn't look as if love was exactly on his mind right now. In fact, his hand was visibly shaking as he eventually hung up the phone, and he glanced around the living room with a stunned expression.
"Err... are you all right, Mr Keeper?" asked Banana worriedly. "Sit down before you fall down!"
Mr Keeper sat, and dropped his head into his hands.
"What's wrong? What's wrong?" asked Bubbles the goldfish.
"Heart attack! Must be heart attack!" remarked Croissant the other goldfish.
"No, I'm fine, don't worry!" interjected Mr Keeper, taking a big breath. "Really I'm fine, Mum took me by surprise, that's all. They're coming to visit tomorrow!"
"Coming where?" asked Marbles, having returned with the frogs to check out all the fuss. "Here? Your parents are coming to visit us? That would be fun, we'd love to meet them!"
"Yeah right! Yeah right!" chirped all four of the frogs excitedly.
Mr Keeper exclaimed, "Fun?? How do I explain to them that I'm hired by a group of ANIMALS, and that you guys actually own the house, and that you TALK?"
"What wrong with that?" asked Marbles, highly offended.
Banana explained to him, "Humans think animals can only be pets. They own us. And they think we can't communicate."
Marbles scoffed, "We just don't want to communicate with THEM most of the time! And anyway, have you ever seen Mrs Keeper talk to her plants? Now THAT'S weird, who's ever heard of plants talking??"
"That's beside the point, we're not talking about Mrs Keeper and her plants, though that IS weird," said Banana, ever practical. "Let's deal with Mr Keeper's problem for now, yes? Well, his problem is our problem, isn't it? He's a part of Sunny Zoo too."
"Yeah right! Yeah right!" agreed the frogs.
"Actually, I don't see that it needs to be a problem at all," said Banana thoughtfully. "We have a couple of humans visiting, they probably won't stay long, so we can just pretend we're normal pets for a day or two right? Like not talking in their presence.... and not order Mr Keeper around for a while.... "
"Yeah right! Yeah right!" agreed the frogs, thinking it sounded like a fun adventure.
Mr Keeper exclaimed gratefully, "It would be great if you could help out! My mother said they'll only be here overnight, they're actually on their way to New Zealand to attend a friend's wedding. Third husband or something."
"Ah..." all the animals nodded knowingly. They were very familiar with polygamy.
Marbles was still disgruntled about having to stay in the closet so to speak: "Are you sure you wouldn't like to just own up to your parents and tell them the truth? That you're working for the Federation of Liberated Ingenious Pets, the most marvellous organisation on the planet? It's something to be proud of, you should stand up tall and...."
"Err... maybe not just yet?" said Mr Keeper hurriedly. "I'll tell them next time, if that's all right with you! Thank you guys for helping me out!"
The animals were always happy to help Mr Keeper out. Although as it turned out, not all of the animals were terribly good at helping, even if they tried. Or especially when they tried!
I got to say, Caramel is one of the most creative animals here at the Sunny Zoo, and by that I mean she is always coming up with crazy ideas that get her (and sometimes the rest of us too) in trouble, especially when she gets her other two triplets involved, and then we all get scolded by the human employees, who are very kind about wiping our butts and all, and who took me in when I was captured by some other human child and fed watermelons instead of insects as geckos like me prefer to eat, so I would really rather not stress them out if I didn't have to.
But this time Caramel's idea of buying a double-decker bus is fantastic, and even I love it, because it's so much fun to crawl up and down all the seat legs and check out every single one of the pockets, not all of which have been cleaned out and Knobby found a nest of cockroaches in them that he ate all by himself without sharing a single one with me OR the frogs, so we have sworn not to share anything with him next time either, so he left in a huff to go upstairs of the bus, which is just fine because the frogs and I don't want him down here either!
So everyone has been exploring both levels of the bus, and taking turns turning the wheel as far as it would go and pressing the horn and shifting the gears here and there until one of the neighbours appeared and complained to Mr Keeper that we were making too much noise and could we keep it down because the constant honking was killing her nerves, which I reckon must be particularly fragile in the first place because she also complained last time when we had a fun yelling match with a visiting cockatoo (Chocolate's friend) that lasted two hours, and would have gone on longer if she hadn't come and made Mrs Keeper send the cockatoo away.
While we are enjoying ourselves running up and down and over and under our new double-decker bus, which we are calling Tsim Sa Tsui because apparently that's what it's always been called and we don't want to confuse the old chap, Mr Keeper comes out holding a sheet of paper and waving it around and calls to us, "What's this E-mail from the Royal Easter Show about? It's addressed to me, and seems to be in answer to some application I sent, but I don't know anything about it!"
I know immediately what must have happened, but I'm not going to say anything because firstly it's none of my business and secondly it's always fun to see the human employees a little flustered so long as I'm not the one in trouble, and anyway it's up to Banana to own up to what she has done, since I'm 99 percent sure she would be the one who has done it, and the other 1 percent I think could be Cutie because he knows a secret way into the house, but then Cutie is the guinea pig Alpha and probably doesn't have to resort to using Mr Keeper's E-mail without permission because he would have just asked.
And I am right because here's Banana coming up to look at the sheet of paper Mr Keeper is waving around, and she is reading it, and if a snake could smile I reckon her invisible lips must be turning up because her whole body is twitching in excitement, and yes now she's jumping about in that way she has of curling up her whole body and then throwing herself outwards, which is actually kind of scary to watch because you wonder if she might accidentally slap you in the face with her tail, as she just did in poor Brownie's face.
"Err, that was me, Mr Keeper," Banana is confessing to her crime and we are all curious to hear exactly what she has done this time, "As you know, the Royal Easter Show is coming up, and I just thought... I wondered.... if maybe I could enter the beauty pageant section. So I borrowed your E-mail to send in my application form and a couple of photos."
"Beauty pageant??" I feel kind of sorry for Mr Keeper, who is always the last to know when we animals get the whim to do something but since he's our human employee, he has to cover our backs and come to think of it, that's why Cutie said we must hire some human to manage our house, because we get into so much trouble by ourselves, and now he has to deal with this Easter Show business right after Caramel just got him to buy a bus, "There's no beauty pageant in the Easter Show, it says the Frogs and Reptiles Show here, Banana!"
Banana is nodding her head madly and still dancing about in a slithery sort of way, "That's it! Didn't you know that the Frogs and Reptiles Show is the reptiles beauty pageant of the Easter Show? I got in! I got into the finals! I'm going to the Easter Show!"
It seems that Banana has always wanted to enter the Easter Show beauty pageant, but last year she wasn't old enough and anyway her old owner would never have bothered to enter her, so this year she's lucky to be living with us and Mr Keeper's family, so she's able to use Mr Keeper's computer and E-mail account at night when he goes to bed to enter herself into the Frogs and Reptiles Show, and we're all very excited for her and promise her that we will cover the $35 entry fee she needs to pay through our zoo account, because if she wins we can receive all sorts of goodies like a large new enclosure (which I would really love) and various accessories like new hides and decorative plants (which I would really love) and heat lamps and UV lamps (which I don't need but Knobby does so I would really love them so he can't have them), and all in all it will be so cool to say our python friend is a beauty queen!
Mr Keeper goes off to deal with the business side of the E-mail, but warns Banana that if she needs to use his account again she really must ask him first, because he would like to know about these things before they happen instead of being the last to know!
AAAAARRRRRRRRH!!! It has been raining non-stop for TWO weeks!
I don't like wet days, because getting rain on my fur always makes me smell like stinky soil for ages, and Blacky (my hutch-mate) smells twice as bad, because he has twice as much fur! It also means we can't go to the front lawn to eat the fine kikuyu grass, and are stuck with the fat, tough buffalo variety planted by the veranda. Mrs Keeper gives us extra meadow hay, and I love the yummy fragrance of it, but there's only so much hay you want to eat.
Speak of the devil, there's Blacky heading this way now. "Greetings Caramel! Would you be partial to ingesting some of the crassula ovata in proximity to the motor vehicle storage shelter in my company?"
That's Blacky for you. He has been talking weird recently, we don't know why. I've known him since I was born, and he's always been the good old eat-sleep-snack-nap chappy type, but now... I think it must be some sort of middle-age dyslexia. Or a virus he caught from eating a strange plant somewhere.
We're getting better at understanding him now, thank goodness, and I get the gist of what he just said. "Sure, let's go eat some succulent plants."
So we start at the jade plant by the garage, as Blacky suggests, and then we notice that Mr and Mrs Keeper are about to head out the door. "Hi Mr and Mrs Keeper!" I call, "Where are you going?"
They look around and see us close at their feet. "Oh hi, Blacky and Caramel," says Mrs Keeper. "I'm just about to go check out a new cactus and succulent nursery. Should be back in time to pick up the kids from school."
Mrs Keeper is big on succulents... I mean HUGE. COLOSSAL. She has all types everywhere in the garden - mostly above our reach, unfortunately - and probably spends all the salary we pay her on buying new ones for her collection. "Oh, can we go with you?" I blurt out. "We're bored here! Can't do much when it keeps raining!"
They usually don't mind taking us along to places, if we promise to keep quiet in the backpack and not run about teasing other people. So off we go in the car, down a winding country road lined with straggly gum trees, passing large acreages populated by horses and cows and alpacas. Since Blacky and I don't have to be in seatbelt like the kids, we get to sit up by the back windscreen and enjoy the view. We wave at the cars following us, and a couple of times successfully make them swerve dangerously off the road.
The cactus and succulent nursery is not very fascinating. Mrs Keeper won't let us out of the backpack - she knows us too well. Seeing all this food and not being able to eat it makes Blacky even hungrier and very grumpy, and he keeps mumbling things I don't understand which makes me grumpy too.
However, on the way back home I notice something interesting, "Stop!!" I yell.
Surprised, Mr Keeper pulls off to the side and stops the car. "What's wrong, Caramel?"
"Back up a bit!" I say in excitement, my face glued to the windscreen. "Look at that!"
It is a wreck yard...... but no ordinary wreck yard. It's filled with old buses!! City buses, school buses, tour buses, even a few double-decker buses! On one of the double-decker buses (whose route plate says 'Tsim Sa Tsui Star Ferry' - isn't that in Hong Kong??), a phone number and the words "for sale" are written across the windows. "Wow, that is soooooo cool! Can we buy one, Mr Keeper?"
"Buy a bus??" exclaims Mr Keeper and groans, "Oh no, not another one of your hare-brained ideas, Caramel!"
"Hare-brained? Why, I'm a guinea pig, not a bunny," I scratch my head in bafflement. "Anyway, I think it's a brilliant idea! Imagine how much fun it'll be in our backyard, we can all play hide-and-seek in it! And it makes it easier to go out on group excursions, because then Knobby and the fish can come in their tanks!"
"In my humble opinion it is a marvellous and imaginative scheme that we most certainly must implement," says Blacky, and that's why I really like him, because he's always up for an adventure. So long as it doesn't take up too much of his napping or snacking time. Which is fair enough.
"No way, "says Mr Keeper.
"Yes way! Let's call Cutie and ask," I insist.
Mr Keeper groans again. Cutie is our Alpha, the one who got us all out of pet-servitude in the first place, and together with Banana they are our best decision-makers. Cutie is also the one who hired the human employees, so whatever he says, goes.
Mr Keeper has a conversation with Cutie on the phone; then he passes the phone to Mrs Keeper, who frowns and talks some numbers and mentions budgets; then she passes the phone back to Mr Keeper, who says we can't possibly fit a bus in the yard etc etc. Finally Mr Keeper hangs up and calls the phone number on the big double-decker bus.
Ten minutes later an old man in a red cap and dirty overalls appears. While Blacky and I watch from the backseat of the car, the human employees go out and talk to him. I can barely stay still: imagine, a big bus, a real bus, at Sunny Zoo! Mr and Mrs Keeper go into the wreck yard with the old man, and are shown all the different buses.
"They have such good fortune!" says Blacky enviously, "I have a yearning to closely scrutinise these travelling contraptions too!"
Thirty minutes later we are driving away with Mrs Keeper at the wheel of the car, and Mr Keeper following behind us on the Star Ferry double-decker. Mrs Keeper continues to bemoan all the instalments we will have to make, but I think I glimpse a secret smile on her face when she thinks I'm not looking.
Wait till all the other guys at home see this!!!
“Tell us a story, Little Kid!” begged the guinea pigs. It was Friday night, and on the weekends the piggies were allowed to stay up a bit later than usual. They liked to come inside the house to play with their nocturnal friends, and to chat with Mr and Mrs Keeper’s kids until the kids had to go to bed at 8.30pm.
Little Kid was well known for her stories. When she was not at school, she could be found ambling about in the garden, making up fantastical stories as she went. She would typically be followed closely by Big Kid and Baby Kid – her faithful audience – as well as at least a couple of guinea pigs.
“All right, what sort of story do you want to hear?” asked Little Kid. She was actually in the process of making chocolate brownies. All that was left to do was to add some walnuts, which Mr Keeper was chopping up for her.
Puffy suggested, “Can we have a princess story?”
“No!” Cutie exclaimed, “We had that last week!”
“What about a space travel story?” asked Blacky. “I am presently fascinated by the vacuumic void existing beyond Earth that contains a low density of particles including chemical elements as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, neutrinos and cosmic rays." (For why Blacky currently talked like this, see “Blacky and the Storm (Part 1)”).
After a moment of complete silence, during which everyone felt rather dizzy for some reason, Little Kid coughed and said, “Um, I have a story in my head right now. Kind of like a thriller. You guys want to hear it?”
“Yes please!” chirped all the guinea pigs, Banana the python and Marbles the gecko. Knobby the bearded dragon was long asleep, and the frogs as usual were more interested in hopping around the enclosure, chasing out all the crickets hiding behind the plants.
“Okay, here we go!” said Little Kid, sliding the chocolate brownie mixture into the oven and setting the timer. “In the dark of the night, a shadow lurked within a grove of ancient oak trees. The tall vegetation provided perfect cover, and the shadow slowly crept forward. It was a werewolf with pitch-black fur and eyes the colour of an intense, yellow sunflower.”
Most of the guinea pigs were already huddled together, and Curlsy hid behind a leg of the wooden table. Big Kid, who had just gotten a rat out of the fridge for Banana’s weekly meal, now quickly popped the rat in hot water to defrost, and sat down to listen.
“The werewolf was hungry,” continued Little Kid. “It didn’t eat deer, it wouldn’t hunt rabbits, and it detested farm animals. It certainly wouldn’t touch vegetables.”
Marbles asked fearfully, “What did it like to eat then?”
Little Kid turned towards him with a terrible grin, “It wanted to eat…. guinea pigs!”
“Vreeeeeeet!” screeched all the guinea pigs, and Curlsy sank her teeth uncontrollably into the wooden leg of the table.
“Guinea pigs with their furry flesh and blood of red, that was what it wanted to eat!“ cried Little Kid in dramatic tones. “In that dark oak grove was a guinea pig village. The tall yellow grass hid the guinea pigs, but now also hid the werewolf. Little piggies were playing in the dry grasses. They had eaten well, and were waiting for the adult piggies to tell them they were to lie down for the Dark Time...”
“Excuse me!” interrupted Banana the python. “All this talk about eating is making me hungry! Can you check if my dinner’s ready please?”
The guinea pigs looked at her resentfully. Big Kid stood up to get Banana’s rat ready and said to his sister, “Can you bring Banana over here?”
“Sure. Come, Banana!” Little Kid picked Banana up and carried on with her story, “The werewolf really wanted to eat a little piggy tonight, they were looking so delicious! He wanted to eat their flesh and drink their blood! He wanted to feel their screams and taste their fear! He wanted to sink his giant teeth into their fleshy skin… OWWWWWWWWW!!!”
“VREEEEEEET!!!!” screamed the guinea pigs, running off madly in all directions.
“OWWWWWWW!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING BANANA???” screamed Little Kid, “Let go of my hand!”
Everyone stared: Banana had sunken her teeth into three of Little Kid’s fingers!!
“LET GO BANANA!” screamed Big Kid.
Banana blinked in confusion, stared at the fingers she had in her jaws, stared back at Little Kid. But did not let go.
“What happened? What happened?” alarmed by all the screaming and shrieking, Mr and Mrs Keeper ran into the room.
“Beeeeeep! Beeeeeeeep! Beeeeeeep!” went the oven, putting in its two-cents worth.
Mr and Mrs Keeper were unable to talk reason into Banana, so they were forced to put her head under a running tap until she opened her mouth to take a breath, letting go of poor Little Kid’s fingers. Then she was relocated to her dining tank and given the defrosted rat instead of human digits.
Afterwards Banana was profusely apologetic: she wasn’t sure what happened!! It seemed when she heard about the werewolf sinking its teeth into flesh, her brain suddenly got really confused and thought she was already eating her rat! And being a snake, once she was in food mode and had a prey in her mouth, somehow she couldn’t snap out of it.
Little Kid forgave her, and had a great time telling her teacher and classmates all about her exciting snake-bite weekend. And that night many of the poor guinea pigs had nightmares about a werewolf with scary yellow eyes chasing them around the garden.
So that was the unfortunate end to Little Kid’s werewolf story. No one wanted to find out if the werewolf actually got to eat anything.
Mrs Keeper says I'm a very spoiled bearded dragon.
I don't see why.
It's not as if I can spoil myself.
I get a spa almost every night. I think I mentioned this before.
That's because the human employees think I need more humidity.
Scaleless skin under UV rays and all.
I don't know. I just like UV rays and hot sun.
They help me digest. And they make me happy.
I'm not happy about living in a glass enclosure though.
It's so boring. I want to get out! Out! Out! Out!
So I complain and scratch on the glass doors.
Until they hear me and help me to come out for a while.
The human employees want me to stay in the enclosure.
Because there's a heat lamp and UV lamp in there.
So I wouldn't get cold and stiff and sick.
I understand that. But it's still so boring.
I want to get out! Out! Out! Out!
Sometimes it makes me so depressed, I don't want to eat any more.
What's the point of eating when you can't leave a heat lamp?
Once I didn't eat for 4 days. Mrs Keeper got really worried.
So we had a talk.
She promised to let me do REAL sun-baking in the garden whenever she could.
That makes me happy.
When I'm outside and happy, I can eat 50 crickets!
It's been raining for days and days though.
Mrs Keeper promised I could go out as soon as the sun came out.
Today the sun finally came out!
She kept her promise.
I lay in the sun for an hour. I was happy.
Mrs Keeper brought out the crickets. My, was I hungry!
Then it started to drizzle. Halfway though my meal.
Mrs Keeper leaned over me, so I could keep eating.
It rained harder.
I looked up at Mrs Keeper. She got the point and leaned closer.
I kept eating.
The rain got heavier and heavier.
Mrs Keeper yelled at Mr Keeper: "Bring me an umbrella! NOW!!!!"
Mr Keeper ran out of the house with an umbrella.
I ate 35 crickets. Didn't want any more.
I looked up at Mrs Keeper. She got the point and carried me inside.
I lay under the heat lamp with my full belly.
Mrs Keeper had to go and change her wet clothes.
Thunder boomed in the dark grey sky and rain started to pour. The guinea pigs of Sunny Zoo quickly rushed for cover and snuggled into their hutches.
All except Blacky. He had been fast asleep under a tree in the garden when the storm clouds arrived and hadn’t noticed; once Blacky fell asleep, you could fire a cannon next to his ear and not wake him up.
The rapidly darkening sky was suddenly lit up by a jagged, twisted bolt of lightning. Then came the ominous rumble of thunder again. CRACK-BANG! A massive bolt of lightning erupted from the heavens and struck the very tree Blacky was sleeping under, electrifying the rainwater dripping from its branches. The whole tree was lit up with a glowing, electric blue colour.
Blacky easily slept through all of this. High up, directly above Blacky’s head, was a leaf. The leaf was heavy with rainwater. That would have been all right, except the rainwater was threatening to tip all over Blacky’s head. And it was glowing blue and sparkling.
Slowly the leaf started to tilt…. A single droplet, no more than a few millilitres, pulsing with an unnatural luminance, fell from the very tip of the leaf. By some horrible twist of fate, no branch or leaf happened to be in its way and that droplet fell like destiny towards Blacky’s forehead.
It hit him.
The result was instantaneous! Blacky vaulted into the air, wriggling with all claws stretched out. His hairs were standing on end, and miniature bolts of electricity were erupting from his fur and defusing into the ground. “R-r-reeet! R-REEET!” he stuttered, still hovering about a foot in the air and glowing blue.
Then suddenly the light faded. As if he had been hit in the head with an invisible mallet, Blacky dropped back on the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The storm was over, and the sun had come out when Blacky finally awoke. He had a queer sensation in his head, like the feeling he got whenever he actually tried to think (a very rare occurrence). He got up unsteadily and automatically plodded over to a fallen leaf on the ground to eat it.
But when he opened his mouth to take a bite, mysterious words spilled out! “This leaf is a member of the scientific genus Acer, better known to common individuals as the maple. Leaves, like the one I am about to subject to my digestive system’s food-processing acids, are extensions of the tree that help the tree gain nutrients via photosynthesis, a procedure that turns the ultraviolet rays of sunlight into sugar using specialised light-sensitive cells.”
As if nothing had happened, Blacky gulped down the leaf, then walked over to Cutie the guinea pig Alpha to ask whether any succulent leaves might have snapped off during the storm, so that he could eat it. “Greetings, fellow member of the kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Rodentia, family Cavidae, genus Cavia and species Porcellius. I would like to raise a query with regards to whether any leaves of the plant type Crassulaceae have become detached from their meristem points due to the recent violent weather patterns. I am in need of additional nourishment for my digestive system.”
“Umm, Blacky?” Cutie sounded confused. “Are you all right?”
“Do you propose the question to me as an inquiry about my physical health or mental status?” responded Blacky.
“Go and lie down under the succulent bush and you’ll feel better when you wake up,” suggested Cutie.
“I am in prime condition medically and I have no wish to enter a state of relaxed muscle condition and lessened reactions to environmental stimuli.” said Blacky.
“Um, sure, what you said,” said Cutie, feeling in need of a lie-down himself.
Blacky plodded off to play with the triplets, Brownie, Chocolate and Caramel. When he found them digging in a corner of the lawn he asked, “I wish to join you three fellow members of the species Cavius Porcellius in a state of frolicking in which all immature animals engage in.”
“Bless you!” exclaimed the triplets together.
“I did not sneeze,” Blacky said in surprise. “The definition of sternutation, to use the proper terminology, is a semi-autonomous contraction of the muscles in the nasal cavity which releases air in an explosive burst. I am certain I did not do this.”
“Poor Blacky, your cold sounds really bad!” said Brownie sympathetically. “Go see Spotty for some medicine.”
Blacky was affronted, “I do not require medication that will lessen my mental activity by dampening my brain’s connection with its neurons.”
“Oh, bless you again,” said Caramel.
Blacky tottered off. For a while he was content with reciting various trigonometric equations to himself at top speed, but then he got bored. He looked up at the sky. “Hmmm, I wonder exactly how many spheres of self-combusting hydrogen there are out there…” he thought, and started to manipulate rapid quantum astronomy calculations in his head.
By nightfall he had derived a complex multi-tiered equation requiring not only Greek but also Arabic symbols that Blacky carefully tested by arranging probability sets using pebbles and sticks. Only then did he allow himself to be hustled off into his hutch by the “hominid members of the genus Homo and of the species Sapien closely related to chimpanzees which share nearly 95% of their deoxyribonucleic acid codes”.
To be continued~~~
At the dining table, Mr Keeper and Mrs Keeper are looking over the zoo accounts, while the kids are doing their homework. The guinea pigs and Knobby the bearded dragon have gone to sleep; Ellie the parrot has been covered up (and therefore SILENT, for the first time today). But Marbles the gecko, Banana the python, and the frogs are all lazing about and watching their human employees with great interest. The fish take micro-second naps, so they are probably still awake.
Mrs Keeper groans, "Oh dear, we have to buy more crickets again!"
Marbles is immediately defensive, "It's not me, I hardly eat any! It's Knobby, he eats like 30, 40 crickets all the time!"
The frogs chirp up: "That's right! That's right! That's right!"
"I wasn't blaming you, Marbles." Mrs Keeper rolls her eyes. "But crickets ARE pretty expensive."
Mr Keeper sighs, "Especially since we aren't terribly efficient at breeding them."
Mrs Keeper does more calculations on paper, "We need to work on our budgeting, guys."
Marbles sniffs, "If I'm such a burden to all of you, I can always go back to Port Nelson where I came from. It's a long walk.... but I'm sure I could do it! I'll think of you all.... and I'll miss you..... You won't miss me I know...." He sniffs again for good effect.
Mr Keeper laughs and tickles him under the chin, "Don't be silly Marbles! How can we live without you? Anyway, what we need is that legendary golden goose! You know, the one that lays golden eggs."
Mrs Keeper laughs too, "Well, we have so many animals living here, we'd hardly notice an extra goose! We could do with some golden eggs!"
Banana the python, who has been quiet and contemplative all this time, suddenly remarks, "You know, I don't get why humans always want a goose that lays golden eggs. What's the point? It's not very cost-effective. You should be breeding more snakes instead!"
Mr Keeper is quite taken aback, "Breeding more snakes???? Why????"
Banana ever patiently explains, "Well, one goose egg is about 5oz. To work out how much a 5oz golden egg is worth, you find out how much 5oz of gold is worth. I think it's around AU$2,500. So a golden goose egg is worth $2,500. Are you with me so far?"
Everyone else nods, except the frogs, who have lost interest and gone off to search for crickets.
Banana goes on, "Say a goose lays 5 eggs in one clutch, so a clutch of golden eggs is worth AU$12,500. But a green tree python lays 20 eggs in a clutch, and each baby python fetches around AU$900 each! So a clutch of green python eggs would be worth AU$18,000! So ultimately, keeping snakes is more profitable than keeping geese that lay golden eggs."
There is silence around the table as everyone struggles to work it out. The thought of 20 baby green tree pythons streaking around the house and hanging off backs of chairs is simply mind-boggling.
Mrs Keeper looks at Banana sternly, "Banana, remember you're not allowed to date until you are 21. In the mean time, bedtime for you kids! Good night everyone!"
As Little Kid packs up her books, she asks Big Kid, "How does Banana know all this stuff about gold prices and goose eggs?"
Big Kid replies, "I think she uses Dad's computer at night to surf the Net when we're all asleep. I wish I could do that!"
Postscript: Banana's figures are a bit out-of-date. The price of 5oz of gold is currently about AU$8,150, and a clutch of 5 eggs would be worth AU$40,750, so it would definitely be more worthwhile to keep a golden goose (if there were one)! Banana's gold price has not been seen since her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents' time. The human employees suspect she's just trying to trick them into letting her get a boyfriend.
Mr Keeper's youngest, known to the animals as Baby Kid, is a budding reader. He has only recently discovered the "Harry Potter" series, and can be found with his head deeply buried in Book 4 every night.
The Sunny Zoo animals are only slightly acquainted with Harry Potter. He is quite middle-aged after all, and by all reports is a pretty boring Ministry of Magic employee nowadays. They are more familiar with his son Albus, or rather Albus' owl, who happens to be a nephew of the mother-in-law of the best friend of Mrs. Frederika Owl in the next suburb who knows one of Zach the Possum's cousins.
The Sunny Zoo animals are not particularly interested in the shenanigans of Harry Potter and his rascally friends in their youth. However, they do watch every single Quidditch match on the sports channel of Magicalica TV when they remember it's on (the guinea pigs complain that most of the matches seem to take place in the middle of the night, on the other side of the world, which makes them drowsy and grumpy the next day). Ellie the parrot has even memorised the names of all the players on the Australian national team, an incredible feat taking up so much space in her brain that it is probably a contributing factor to her lagging linguistic development (her twin brother Pete can apparently already sing the Australian national anthem).
So while Baby Kid is reading "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", the animals are poring over the latest issue of "The Broomstick Companion: Transport of Choice for All Walks of Life", which is delivered to their letterbox by a messenger owl every month.
"Hey, look at this one!" Marbles the gecko points to an illustration in the magazine, "Nimbus 2000. Isn't that the one Albus' dad had when he was little?"
"Think so!" says Knobby the bearded dragon. Indeed it is. They read a passage underneath which describes when Harry Potter got the broomstick, and what he was able to do with it as a talented eleven-year-old. Then they turn over the page and find more historical information:
"This must be a special historical issue!" remarks Banana the python. "Where's the catalogue page? I want to see the newest models!"
They flip over some more pages and find only more classical broomsticks:
"What was with Nimbus 1500?" asks Marbles. "The front bit is missing!" They all look at the description and discover that the Nimbus 1500 had an interchangeable bristles mechanism, an innovation for its time. There follows half a page's worth of the various ingenious bristles mechanisms compatible with that particular model.
"Urk!" exclaims Banana in disgust. "All right, I'm done with all this historical stuff! You can have it now Ellie!"
So the magazine goes to Ellie, who hoards all the old issues behind her cage and lovingly begins to memorise all the historical broomstick names as well as their specifications. It looks like her communication difficulties with the human employees will not be improving any time soon.
(Gold Award winner for Stage 2 in the BOSTES NSW 2015 WriteOn Competition! The official anthology of winners - including this story - is available from the BOSTES NSW Shop.
Background to the WriteOn Competition: NSW primary school students are invited to write a 500-word narrative of any type, inspired by the photo on the right.)
Hi there! Look at me! Most people can’t get their eyes off me, nor can they stop saying things like “awwwww!” or “it’s so cute!”
I’m a seal. The staff here at Tamarama Wonderland calls me Flippers (though mum really named me Iceberg), and I live in a large pond with mum, dad, auntie, uncle and my two brothers. I can do many marvelous things with my big glossy flippers, but there are just a few things I can’t do.
I can't fly. That's why I’m jealous of Airem Scarem, a weird wobbly creature also living in Tamarama that the humans call an airship. Even though he can’t fly all that well either, the humans he carries and those watching from the beach still wave their ridiculous arms in bird-imitation excitement. Except for Airem Scarem, everything seems great until we get neighbors one day…
“Maaarrpphhh!” I complain as the large fat Eskimo squishes against me, snoring louder than an avalanche.
Life in the seal pond is a breeze until the three Eskimos decide to take up residency with us. YES, here in the seal pond! With an igloo and sharpened icicle spears and everything. Apparently it’s the new park attraction for the school holidays – as if I were not attractive enough already!
“Zzzzzzz…..” he goes again. I heave myself and give the annoying human ten sharp slaps with my flippers. Ha, take that! Finding another place to sleep, slowly I drift off into a deep sleep….
The wind raked my clothes and a fierce storm was brewing and it was chucking giant waves this way and that. Clothes?? I stared at my flippers but saw that they had turned into human hands. I was floating above the frenzied sea with its inky black waters rising up and down below me. If I hadn’t felt so scared I would have felt glorious. I was flying!
I felt a jolt and realized I wasn’t soaring alone. I was riding in Airem Scarem! “Maaaaaaarrpphhh!” I shrieked with mixed emotions: I was scared, I was nervous, I was exhilarated!
From behind came the sound of soft frightened breathing. Whirling around, I saw a big plump Eskimo crouching behind me, holding on to the airship for dear life, still clutching an icicle spear.
Before I could reassure him, the airship suddenly began to sink towards the ocean, whose waves were waiting to swallow me into a whirlpool of darkness. Cold water raced up my ankles, my hips, and soon I was fully submerged and struggling for air.
Surprisingly, in the next blink my vision began to strengthen underwater. I was a seal again! I paddled easily for shore, seizing my Eskimo pond-mate as I passed. Then a dark shape descended upon us and I could only think “KILLER WHALE!” and I screamed and tried to swim but then…
“Marrpphh marrph maaarph!” I wake up panting, flippers still flipping frantically. Wow, am I glad it’s just a nightmare!
The Sunny Zoo
The animals at the Sunny Zoo enjoy their many freedoms, including having access to the Internet and a blog.
(C) The Sunny Zoo 陽光動物園 2017