It was 10pm and long past the bedtime of the guinea pig kids. Cutie the guinea pig Alpha had been scrubbing a pellet bowl – why was it that some of his grandchildren couldn’t remember to keep their butts OUTSIDE the bowl while doing the final stages of the digestive business? Unfortunately this was one of his jobs as a responsible leader of the family.
“Spotty, can you remind Chocolate again that his bottom must be pointed to the SOUTH when he does the Number 1 inside his hutch?” said Cutie with a sigh. There was a persistent patch of brown, gluey stuff that he was trying to scrape off with a bit of pine mulch. It was stuck to uneaten pellets and had gone rock hard.
“Sure dear… I can try!” His wife Spotty was packing some meadow hay and carrot sandwiches for the little ones’ lunches tomorrow; Mr Keeper had promised to take them all on a boat trip down the river. They had never been on the water before, so everyone was really excited.
As Cutie finally managed to remove the last bit of yucky goo off the pellet bowl, he suddenly remembered the drinks coupon for the local bar, The Waterhole, that his good friend Bob had sent him for his 4th birthday a few months ago. He could hand it in for a nice cup of any drink he wanted.
Ahhh! Nothing like a nice cup of rodent mead (mead that was safe and delicious for rodents… obviously) in the middle of the night, when your fellows were all curled up in their straw beds and you had the whole night to yourself. And after you’d just spent 30 minutes scraping poo out of pellet bowls.
The Waterhole was a well-hidden, underground bar that the local animals could easily access when they wanted a drink or needed a place to rest (it was also operating as a hotel). It was the perfect place for a guinea pig Alpha who never had his mornings or afternoons to himself, and needed to wind down after a long day of heavy duties such as trimming the lawns, gazing at passing birds for predator warnings, chewing off overhanging fruit tree branches (if he could reach them)… and of course scraping poo off pellet bowls.
Cutie informed Spotty of where he was headed, promised to bring a Cherry Slipty back for her (a popular drink and Spotty’s favourite), before slipping on his coat, grabbing his shoes and taking an underbus (buses that move around in the great network of tunnels between tree roots under most parts of Australia, with entrances cleverly disguised as very large wombat burrows) straight to the door of The Waterhole.
Shivering in the frostiness of the dark tunnel, Cutie hustled towards the great, heavy wooden door ahead of him, clutching his coat like a lifeline. The Waterhole looked like an imposing, olden-day style hotel. It was made of redwood and stone; the windows were slightly dusty but shone with a pleasant warm yellow light. (To humans it just looked like an ancient bottle tree. Some local developer had submitted an application to the council wanting to redevelop the land nearby, but the animals got wind of it and sent a family of rats over to deal with the problem. The developer was still waiting to hear back from the council. The rats family had indigestion for a few days – it was a very thick file – but agreed the sacrifice was worth it.)
Inside the bar, spider webs hung from the rafters and the air smelt pleasantly of intoxicating mead. Candles and torches were lit everywhere, and right in the centre of the enormous room was a U-shaped counter made of redwood, with shelves filled with bottles of meads, wines, fermented fruit juices, Cherry Sliptys and Buffalo Grass drinks. Towards the left side of the counter was a large, old-fashioned brick fireplace that held a lively, crackling fire. To the right was a narrow, spiral staircase that led all the way up the bottle tree to the various accommodation options available at the hotel.
“Ahoy there, good sir!” now called the bartender as Cutie picked his way around the tables of chatting animals towards the counter. It was a packed night. “What might I do you for, eh?”
The platypus manning the bar had short, wiry gray fur. He had small, rectangular spectacles sitting atop his long, black bill, which had small gray braces around the edges (no one knew why). He was also wearing a very odd assortment of clothing and Cutie stared, flabbergasted: “Ah yes hello Tom, may I ask… why you’re wearing….. those things?”
Tom the platypus followed Cutie’s line of vision and realised Cutie was talking about his unusual attire. His baggy T-shirt was covered in purple polka dots and read: “Bad Guyz Rulez”. A wide, lime-green tie was strapped around his neck. He was also wearing a pair of bright, scarlet boxers that were much too big for him and probably should have been held up with suspenders to save him and others from potential embarrassment.
Tom beamed and blushed with pride: “Celebration! The great anniversary of the day we successfully converted the human mead recipe for animal consumption! That’s why we barkeepers don human clothing on this special day! Do you like ‘em? I had three lovely young scorpions bring ‘em in for me. Oi! Stinger, Scuttles, Treacle, c’mere!”
For a moment Cutie saw nothing but what he thought were moving dust balls. Soon it became clear that there were three good-looking, bright-eyed little scorpions standing on the counter. The largest one with a sort of transparent, yellowy-orange colour stepped forward and shook Cutie’s finger with his rather sharp claw. “Good night sir!” He squeaked in a small, high-pitched voice. “Name’s Scuttles. These two are my good pals, Treacle and Stinger.” Treacle was a much smaller scorpion – clearly of a different species – with a dumpy-cream coloured stomach but the rest of him was pitch black. Stinger was even smaller than Treacle and was completely enveloped in black.
“This lot came to me from two different stations,” said Tom the bartender, serving Cutie’s drinks. “Treacle ‘n’ Stinger came from the Mahaouri regions. The trouble there is risin’ house prices, shootin’ up the sky they are. Can’t buy a home, gotta get a job and all the good hunting spots have been dominated. They were hanging on a thread when they came here!”
Cutie squinted down sympathetically at the two little scorpions that were nodding and looking sad and forlorn. “Tommy gave us a job, he’s a nice fella!” said Treacle, smiling gratefully at Tom. “I like this place, but Stinger and me need our own home!”
Cutie felt his heart ache, these poor little things! If only he could offer them a home. Then they could eat well, live a nice life and never need to worry again!
“… Trendula region was Scuttles’ life,” the platypus was saying. “Same problem. No home cave, no food, no job and no money. Came here desperate to at least get a decent funeral. He’s only a baby! Shocked me evil to see such a given up little warrior!”
Scuttles looked mildly embarrassed and smiled shyly. Cutie took his two bottles of drinks and sighed, “I’m sorry buddy! If only I could help….. Wait a moment, I can!!”
Five minutes later Cutie flung out of the bar in excitement, with a bandage on his right front paw. He had got so enthusiastic about his sudden brainwave that he had seized the scorpions and almost snapped Treacle in half. So Treacle had stung him.
“Andwewillbehavingsomuchfuntogetherandyoucangetajoblivehappyandbeabletoeatasmuchasyouwant!” Cutie had babbled excitedly at top speed as he streaked out of the bar, into the tree tunnel, and hopped onto the waiting underbus with the three absolutely bewildered scorpions on his back. He had forgotten to take away his rodent mead and Spotty’s Cherry Slipty.
“Guys!! Guys, guys, guys!” gasped Cutie, racing into Sunny Zoo and waking up half the animals in the house (the other half were nocturnal and were already awake, engaged in a game of cards). “Please welcome Treacle, Stinger and Scuttles to our home!”
"Push Banana, push!" coaxed Spotty the guinea pig. "You can do it!"
Banana the python pushed....
"Go Banana go! Go Banana go!!" cried the guinea pig triplets.
Banana grimaced and pushed harder.....
"You can do it, Banana! Just push a little harder now...." said Mrs Keeper, craning her neck around the huddle of animals and trying to get a better vantage point. "Yup I see the head now.... It's coming out! It's coming out!"
Banana gave one final push............... OUT popped the head!
"YAY!!! You've done it Banana!!!" Everyone clapped and breathed in relief.
With her nose and rest of the head safely out of the dry skin now, Banana continued to rub the rest of her body against one of the rougher branches in her enclosure, while Big Kid helpfully sprayed more warm water on her. Slowly but surely, the rest of her old layer of scales peeled off, turning itself inside out like a worn sock, and a shiny new Banana emerged from the white, shed skin. In the morning sunshine, her melanistic spots glowed and sparkled like diamond-studded rainbows.
"Whew, that was great!" said Banana, glancing at her refreshed body and tail with satisfaction. "Just in time for the beauty pageant the day after tomorrow!"
Banana was of course referring to the Frogs and Reptiles Competition in the annual Royal Easter Show, in which she had been selected as a finalist this year (after pirating Mr Keeper's email to secretly submit her application form). There was a bit of alarm a few days ago when she suddenly turned milky in readiness for a shed - which of course would have zilched her chances of winning any place in the show. But now she was in fact in BEST condition for the show - or as good as her natural genes would have allowed - so a little anxiety paid off in the end!
Knobby the bearded dragon gave her a friendly nudge, "There you go. You don't have to worry any more. I'm sure you will win!"
"Yes you will! Yes you will!" chorused the frogs in comradely support.
By mid-afternoon they were all back again.
"Push little one, push!" coaxed Spotty the guinea pig. "You can do it!"
"Go little one, go! Go little one, go!!" cried the guinea pig triplets.
"You can do it, kid! Just push a little harder now...." said Mrs Keeper, trying to shove her three children AND her husband out of the way without success. "Hey you guys, I can't see anything! If you make me miss it, you won't get any dinner tonight!!"
Marbles the gecko turned around and cocked his head questioningly at Banana next to him, "Do you get this weird sense of deja-vu? Why did all of that sound kind of familiar?"
"Really?" asked Banana. "I don't know. I don't remember anything?"
Suddenly everyone yelled, "YAY!!! You've done it kid!!! There's the first one!!" They all clapped, cheered, and madly shook Mocha and Cappuccino on the wings. Mocha began sobbing loudly, overwhelmed by joy and pride at the hatching of her very first baby.
"Isn't that just the darlingest little baby finch!" exclaimed Ellie the parrot, her eyes shining with god-motherly excitement. She was naturally forgiven for her bias. To almost everyone else, the little thing looked like.... errr... pink naked skin over fragile bones and spindly legs, black dots concealing still closed eyes, and when it opened its beak, no squeak came out.
"Hmm....." Banana thought it reminded her of the pinky mice she used to eat when SHE was a baby, but decided - quite correctly - it was probably not an appropriate time to mention that to her friends. "Just lovely, Mocha and Cap, just lovely! Oh look, there's another one with a cracked shell!!"
"OUCH!" shrieked Baby Kid, as he was shoved out of the way by his sister trying to see better. He fell over one of the guinea pigs, who angrily spat at him, and there was a sudden mad jostle as everyone else tried to take advantage and grab a better spot for the hatching show.
By the end of the day four baby finches had reported to this brand new world, safely tucked under the loving wings of mamma and papa finch. Two more eggs to go, but Mocha and Cap were not worried. It was apparently not uncommon for some eggs to hatch a few days later.
"Mr Keeper!" called Banana, as all the animals gradually dispersed. "Can I have my weekly dinner now please! Thank you very much!"
Sob sob sob, went my python friend Banana.
We knew how much she looked forward to the Royal Easter Show.
She went to all the trouble of stealing Mr Keeper's email and applying for the Frog and Reptile Show.
Which is the reptile equivalent of a beauty pageant, she said.
Now with just 5 days to go, she suddenly turned blue.
She's going into shed!
No chance of winning if I'm all covered in whitey skin and half-blind! she cried.
Big Kid told her not to worry, just concentrate on relaxing.
She would be in time, he assured her.
"And if not??????" she was still sobbing. And I could tell she was itchy too.
"Umm.... We'll cross that bridge when we come to it!" said Big Kid.
Well, with 5 days to go, that bridge sure is coming fast!
"Banana! You have bird mail!" Cutie called from the garden.
How exciting, I loved bird mail! You never knew which of your many friends, relatives and acquaintances might send you a message! Last week we were visited by a rosella, passing on a message from Algae the long-necked turtle living in a dam nearby, telling us he had found not only one but FIVE wives, and the happy couples (or would that be a "pentaple"???) were expecting to lay a hundred or so eggs all up by next month. Then he told us so far he had already collected twenty-three more species of algae from his new home, and gave us each of their scientific names; but since the rosella couldn't remember more than a couple of syllables, the names were so extremely garbled not even Mrs Keeper could make them out.
The rosella was going back to the dam later in the day, and was happy to take our reply back to Algae. We told him about the finches' own eggs, and asked how long it would take for HIS little bubs to hatch? Then he sent an answer back via a mynah, and so on and so forth, so that was pretty fun. But the bird mail today couldn't have been from Algae, because Algae usually directed his mail to everyone at the Sunny Zoo, not just to me.
I glided out the backdoor into the yard, and saw that Cutie was chatting to a peregrine falcon. Wow, a falcon! Must have been a long-distance message - we didn't get these often! Normally falcons and guinea pigs - or snakes for that matter - didn't get on too well, seeing as they were quite a bit higher than us in the food pyramid. But the Natural Kingdom Rules dictated that all this predator-and-prey business was postponed for the purposes of bird mail, as predator birds, generally more powerful and capable of travelling longer distances, had such an important role to play. The predator birds themselves were more than happy to comply with this rule; most of them were very honourable creatures, and took their part in the bird mail system very seriously, so even helpless little rodents like the guinea pigs could receive their messages from faraway friends with a complete peace of mind.
Seeing my approach, the elegant peregrine falcon straightened and fixed his eagle eyes on me (a bit unnerving actually). His voice was higher in pitch than I expected, a little scratchy, but very self-assured: "Greetings, I am here as a bird mail messenger, so you need have no fear. Are you Banana the Spotted Python of Sunny Zoo?"
"Yes, I am," I replied, keeping my respectful distance. That was instinct. Just in case, you know. Not that anyone had ever been eaten or even attacked in the history of bird mail, as far as I was aware.
"I am pleased to convey a message from Miss Monster the Reticulated Python, from Room 21 of the Australian Reptile Park," said the peregrine falcon.
Ah, my lovely friend Monster from the Central Coast! We met once last year, when I went with our human employees to the Reptile Park for a family day trip, and we really hit it off, even though she came from the family of the world's largest pythons, while I came from one of the smallest. She lived in an enclosure - not terribly big, compared to my own comfortable house at the Sunny Zoo - but she was quite satisfied with her lot, and enjoyed soaking in her private pond and watching all the visitors.
"Miss Monster would like to invite you to see her at the Reptile Park today, as she would be out and about on her inaugural weighing ceremony," continued the falcon.
"Err, just out of curiosity..." interrupted Cutie, who was blatantly eavesdropping. "I thought Monster lives in an enclosure? How did she manage to meet you and give you the message?"
The falcon turned his head regally in Cutie's direction, and to his credit Cutie only took an almost imperceptible step backwards. "Cockroach mail," replied the falcon simply.
"Ah, okay!" said Cutie, his curiosity satisfied.
I would certainly love to catch up with Monster again, but it was quite a journey to the Reptile Park, and I wouldn't be able to make it without one of the human employees giving me a lift by car. "Are you going back to the Park, sir?" I asked.
"Not in time for the weighing," said the falcon, shaking out his shoulders and getting ready to leave. "Miss Monster does not expect an affirmative reply. She says she will see you when she sees you."
I nodded, "Thank you, sir. Please give her my love when you return, and let her know if I don't manage to see her today, I will certainly go visit soon. Have a safe flight, sir!"
The falcon inclined his head towards me one last time, and with an enormous sweep of his amazing wings he was off. Cutie and I watched silently as he soared into the blue sky, seeming to hang suspended for a few seconds, and then the tiny dot of his figure disappeared. Phew! I didn't even realise I had been holding my breath all the time while he was here!
"Scary guy," remarked Cutie, before wandering off with a blade of grass in his mouth.
As it turned out Mr Keeper was not busy today, and was able to drive me to the Reptile Park. Big Kid wanted to come with us too, as he was a big fan of all snakes, but he had an assessment at school and Mr Keeper would not let him skip class. Mr Keeper promised to take good photos and video on the camera for him. I also promised to give his love to Monster.
During the hour-long car ride I had a quick nap, and Mr Keeper woke me up when we arrived. Since it was a Tuesday there were not as many visitors, but there were some camera crews and reporters. Looked like Monster would be on TV! Mr Keeper's family had annual passes to the Reptile Park and knew many of the staff members, and he now approached one of them to ask what was happening. After a brief discussion, she suggested that he take up a good photographing position next to the camera crew and just follow those people around, but make sure to stay behind the camera line for safety.
Before long we (well, I in Mr Keeper's backpack) and the reporters were all called in to the section of the Park called the Lost World, so that we could see Monster being carried out of her enclosure by five zookeeping staff. While she was still inside she couldn't hear me, but as soon as she came out into the open grounds, I called to her from Mr Keeper's backpack in our special serpentine language, "Monster! Monster, it's me, Banana!"
She heard me and swung her head around to give me a joyous grin - click, click, went a few of the cameras, and afterwards this moment became a photo in one of the local newspapers with the headline: "Nightmare Monster that Can Swallow You Whole!" Humans were not very good at interpreting animal expressions, I found, and tended to become quite illogical at the sight of some sharp teeth.
As her five minions struggled under her weight, Monster relaxed over their shoulders and asked how I and everyone else at the Sunny Zoo were. She loved hearing about our life at the Sunny Zoo, but said she wouldn't really want to leave the Reptile Park and live alone - after all, bi-monthly goats were a bit difficult to come by if you didn't have the right connections. I gave her updates about our family - the finches and their eggs, for example, and Algae the turtle, and oh yes, greetings from Big Kid.
The five minions huffed and puffed their way down the winding path, where five scales had been set up outside the Tasmanian Devil enclosure. "I'll be just a minute!" called Monster, as she continued to lounge over the humans' shoulders, turning her neck this way and that for the cameras. She was weighed by the five zookeepers standing on a scale each, then calling out the numbers on the scale - minus their own individual weights, I guessed. Someone added the numbers up on a calculator.
"Wow, you're 53 kilograms!" I remarked to Monster, very impressed.
"Not bad for my age," she said modestly. "I think I'll do some more climbing exercises when I get home, muscle would help me weigh heavier you know. Don't want to be all fat!"
I thought she looked fantastic already, and doubted she had an ounce of fat on her long, glistening body. Now someone else had brought out a length of string, and the humans were trying to hold it out along Monster's length to try measure it. After some struggles - keeping hold of a heavy portion of serpent while grabbing a piece of string apparently took more coordination than one might have expected - the humans eventually managed to stretch out the string from (close to) Monster's mouth to the tip of her tail. Then the length of the string itself had to be measured with a measuring tape.
"5.28 metres!" exclaimed one of the zookeepers, sounding pleased.
"Is that long for reticulated pythons?" I asked Monster. "I'm only about 80 centimetres!"
"Not bad for my age," she said again, very modestly, but she looked quite pleased. "Actually I feel a skin shedding coming on. I'll probably be a bit longer by next month. Tim says I'm still young and have a good chance of becoming the longest snake in Australia, if not the world one day!"
Wow, imagine that! She would be an international celebrity and might even be in the human Guiness World of Records! I told her she must eat more; she assured me that she had a professional dietician in charge of calculating her calories, making sure she gained length without too much unnecessary girth. And an outdoor excursion like this gave her some entertainment (as well as a chance to catch up with friends, although the humans didn't know this) so that she wouldn't be too bored in the enclosure.
All too soon the measuring process was over, all the camera crew had taken proper photographs with Monster, and sadly it was already time for Monster to head home. "Come visit again soon, Banana!" said Monster as her human minions got into comfortable lifting positions again. "You know where to find me!" she grinned.
I loved Monster, she had such a cheerful and positive personality, and was so easy to talk to. Well, the Reptile Park was one of the Keeper family's favourite places, since there were so many animals to visit, hilarious presentations from Mick the Head Ranger (I enjoyed his talks last time, although the guinea pig triplets didn't appreciate his guinea pig jokes), and lots of playground equipment for Little Kid and Baby Kid. Big Kid was bound to want to visit again soon, and I would just hitch a ride with them!
"Cutie! Can I speak to you for a second?"
Oops, that's Mrs Keeper again. And she's holding up a succulent pot and waving it at me, which is not a good sign. I pretend I haven't heard, and contemplate various possible escape routes: into Middle Island? Under the flower steps? Behind the succulent bush? Oh wait, better not remind her about more succulents.... oops, too late!
"Cutie!" she's already in front of me, bending down to stare me in the eyes, "Look at THIS! I thought we've already talked about this last week?"
Obediently I look into the pot. And don't see anything, which is a relief. "I don't see anything here, Mrs Keeper. What am I supposed to look at?"
"That's precisely the point!" exclaims Mrs Keeper, in a tone that somehow has my fur stand on end, "There was a pot full of sedum jelly beans in here YESTERDAY! Now there's NONE! How do you explain that?"
So that's what the triplets were doing in that corner this morning! Oh dear....
Mrs Keeper points to another pot on the ground, too heavy to hold up: "And this one? All these huernias nicely chewed in half? Whoever did it must have got a stomachache!"
Err, that was me, but she would have to pull out all my teeth before I would admit that. The huernias were actually quite nice. And I didn't get a stomachache either.
Mrs Keeper glares at me in exasperation: "Come on Cutie, do you guys know how much these plants are worth?? Some of them are collectors' succulents, and actually cost a lot of money! You can't just keep eating them like that!"
A lot of money? My brain suddenly kicks into gear, and in a split second I go from Cutie the laid-back guinea pig to Cutie the Guinea Pig Alpha, the carer of all animals at Sunny Zoo. Since I was the one who suggested everyone escape with me, I would always feel responsible for their welfare. Making sure we earn enough to make our freedom sustainable is one of my top priorities, and will always remain so. Therefore, anything that involves "a lot of money" deserves my attention and requires further investigation.
"How much money are we talking about?" I inquire cautiously. Mrs Keeper shows me a receipt, and very deliberately points to the item named "huernia aspera". "Oh... I see..."
The numbers quickly turn themselves over in my head. We have a yard... we have Mrs Keeper who clearly knows about succulents, and who already spends so much time growing them... and we have a website with a store function...
I make a decision. "Okay Mrs Keeper, I have an idea, and I think you'll like it. We're going to grow more succulents at Sunny Zoo!"
"Huh?" her eyes become really round. "What do you mean? I'm not going to grow more succulents if you guys are just going to eat them for dinner! And morning tea and afternoon snack! Probably supper too, if you weren't already in bed by that time!"
I grin guiltily; she certainly knows us! "No, I mean we'll grow more succulents and sell them! To earn money for Sunny Zoo! So of course we won't eat them any more... or at least we'll try to remember not to eat them."
Mrs Keeper still looks sceptical, so we manage to find Mr Keeper, who is in the process of cleaning our bus, the Star Ferry (he usually takes Knobby the bearded dragon with him, who is very useful for cleaning up any cockroaches and other unwanted insects that may have turned up). I run the idea past Mr Keeper, we discuss the possible set-up for a succulent nursery, and look back over the budgets to see how we can fund it.
So in the end, Mrs Keeper is given the go-ahead to obtain more succulent plants, and I warn the other guinea pigs against eating our inventory. I don't have much hope of their listening to me though, especially on the subject of food. I wouldn't even trust myself!
So I've told Mr Keeper to make sure he gets raised beds and raised shelves!
"Good morning you little cuties..... how are we today? You are looking bright and smiley, aren't you! Yes it's going to be a lovely sunny day, you would love that! Oh hello didn't see you there, little one, you must have arrived last night! Anyone want a drink?"
That's Mrs Keeper, our human employee. And no, she's not talking to her three kids, if that's what you're thinking. She's actually talking to her succulent PLANTS! Since we guinea pigs are out on the lawn so much, we see her talk to her succulents all the time. Frankly, it's a bit freaky. She wasn't like this when we hired her a few years ago!
Plants are for eating, yes? For us guinea pigs it's pretty straight forward. Maple leaves taste sweet, lemon tree leaves smell yummy, meadow hay helps grind down our teeth, and carrots are crunchy. And succulent plants? Well, they are juicy AND crunchy, that's why they're called succulents!
So it's really weird that Mrs Keeper collects so many different types of succulent plants - and I mean HUNDREDS - and refuses to let us eat them. It's not as if SHE ate them either, so from our perspective that's a total waste of valuable resources. She puts them on top of garden steps, wooden trolleys, even hangs them off the fence, just so we can't get at them.
Well, we're not going to be foiled by a little bit of height! As I always tell my children and grandchildren: "If you can't reach a leaf, stand up on your hind legs. If you still can't get it, come back tomorrow!" Never give up, that's my motto!
"Oh there you are, Cutie, do you have a moment?" Mrs Keeper suddenly notices me. She picks up a pot containing some flowery-looking plants and has a solemn look on her face.
"Yes sure, Mrs Keeper!" I say, "Pardon me for talking with my mouth full of grass. What's up?"
"Look at this, Cutie!" She thrusts the flower pot towards me.
"Oh gee thanks, Mrs Keeper, that's very kind of you!" I grin, sniffing the pointy green leaves, opening my mouth and preparing to take a bite, always happy to receive free food.
"NO!!!!!" The pot is suddenly whisked away from my teeth, and I stare at the empty space before me with some confusion. "It's not for you to EAT, Cutie! Actually that's what I want to talk to you about. Look at my poor aeonium, SIX of her leaves have already been chewed off! And look at the bite marks on this other echeveria baby next to it! I only left this pot on the ground for TWO minutes!"
I take a closer look - she is right. Half of the flowery looking thing is missing, and I'm afraid I know who the culprit is. I must make a point to talk to Chocolate later; he is a true connoisseur of all garden plants and will be able to tell us whether that flowery thing is worth eating. Yesterday he even took a bite out of the new cactus Mrs Keeper has just bought (a prickly pear cactus, Big Kid tells us), and unfortunately Spotty is still helping to pull out tons of its little prickly pin-like hairs from his lips. Thanks to Chocolate, I'm giving THAT one a miss.
"Err I didn't do it, Mrs Keeper!" Which is true on this occasion, luckily.
"Well, whoever DID do it...." She stares at me suspiciously, "Can you tell them NOT to do it again?"
I nod helpfully. Knowing full well that any food-related instructions I give my kids and grandkids will fall on deaf ears.
"Because if I see these bite marks on my babies again....." Mrs Keeper stares harder, in a more threatening manner.
"If you see these bite marks again....?" I take a step back.
"I will plant a row of prickly pears all around your hutches!!!"
Monday: One egg.
Tuesday: Two eggs.
Wednesday: Three eggs.
Thursday: Four eggs.
Friday: Five eggs.
Saturday: Six eggs.
Sunday: No more carefree life for Mocha and Cappuccino! Now taking turns sitting on eggs!
"Oh sure, I once did a TAFE Diploma on turtle matchmaking," said Mrs Keeper.
Mr Keeper was mildly surprised, "Really?" You never knew with Mrs Keeper, she was a serial learning addict and did courses on all sorts of odd things. Like Russian. And tatting.
"NOT!" Mrs Keeper sighed, and took a closer look at the long-necked turtle, whose name turned out to be... Algae. He said he liked the stuff and enjoyed collecting different types. Not that anyone else could tell. But this struck a chord with Mrs Keeper, who also collected succulent plants and could therefore appreciate the mentality of a fellow madcap collector. So she was determined to help him find what he was looking for: a girlfriend!
They were still in the garden enjoying the sunshine, but most of the guinea pigs had lost interest and wandered off to play or nap or eat. The finches carried on nest building with Ellie's assistance; she was very good at chewing uncooperative stalks of hay into compliance. Banana, Marbles and the frogs all went back to bed, so only Knobby the bearded dragon and Spotty the guinea pig were left for the brain-storming session.
Mr Keeper suggested, "What about St Ferris Park nearby? They have lots of ponds, and I remember Big Kid saw turtles there."
They all thought it was a great idea, but just in case, Mrs Keeper brought out her tablet and searched the St Ferris Park website for information about the ponds. "Habitat of many Macquarie river turtles? Would that work?"
Algae drew back his long neck rapidly in alarm, "Oh no! They are vicious creatures, those short-necked river turtles with pointy beaks! Great big bullies, we don't get on with them."
Well, that was that. They went back to the drawing board but sadly didn't get anywhere. They simply couldn't think of anywhere that might be a long-necked turtle hangout. After some time - quite some time actually, enough to fit lunch into it, and Algae had a piece of the classy barramundi fish that Mrs Keeper happened to be defrosting for dinner - Mrs Keeper had a brainwave! (The full stomach must have helped.)
"I know!" said Mrs Keeper excitedly, "I'll write a post on our local Facebook group, and see if anyone else knows about long-necked turtles! If it's breeding season, someone's bound to have seen lots of your buddies somewhere!" Indeed, when they logged onto the page and scrolled down, there was a post reminding people to slow down because someone already saw five turtles crossing a busy road - in one morning! And three squashed ones.... which Mrs Keeper refrained from reading out to Algae. "Goodness, looks like you have a lot of competition for your gal, Algae! All right, let's see..."
Mrs Keeper thought for a moment and then typed: "Hi people! We found an exhausted long-necked turtle outside our garage door. Would like to help it along to its breeding ground. Anyone know where the local long-necker bachelors hang out? Thanks!" She pressed SEND. "Now we wait!"
They didn't have to wait long. Within an hour a lady named Inga responded with a comment: "We have a dam and long neck turtles living in it. If you can't find anywhere else, you can bring it here." When Mrs Keeper sent her a private message, she clarified: "We have lots of turtles and see them wandering around the garden, looking to lay eggs!"
That sounded like Turtle Heaven!!! The one that Algae didn't have to die first to get into, that is. "Yippee, I think we've found your new home!" Mrs Keeper grinned at the turtle next to her, who was excitedly shaking Knobby and Spotty's paws. The ladies exchanged a few more private messages, Mrs Keeper wrote down the address, and arranged to drop Algae off at 6pm after Little Kid finished her jazz dance lesson.
Everyone wanted to go and say goodbye, so Mr Keeper had to drive their double-decker bus, Star Ferry. Inga and her two little boys were flabbergasted to see such a large send-off delegation, but soon recovered and led the way down to the dam. Ther guinea pigs had to be called back from the tempting long grasses: "There are red-bellied black snakes around! Sorry, my husband hasn't finished the mowing yet!"
It was the most enormous private dam they had ever seen, beautifully landscaped and as Inga described earlier, surrounded by flowing lawns where turtles would undoubtedly find plenty of nesting spots. The property actually backed onto a corner of the national park, which was probably why there were so many turtles here in the first place.
Big Kid carried Algae, and everyone climbed down the rocks to the edge of the dam. "Bye bye Algae, we'll miss you!" sniffed Spotty.
"Yes, we'll be thinking of you, Algae!" said Mrs Keeper, giving the back of his shell a gentle pat. "I'll be surprised if you didn't have a girlfriend by the weekend!"
"Thank you so much, everyone!" Algae blinked off the tears in his eyes, "I can't believe that I almost died this morning, and now I'm here, in this amazing place! I will never forget you all at the Sunny Zoo! Waaaaaaaaah!!"
"There now, there now..." said Spotty soothingly. All the animals shook paws with the turtle again, until Chocolate the guinea pig slipped (or was pushed by one of his siblings) and fell into the water and had to be fished out with a swimming pool net.
Finally Algae was ready to go. After one last wave to his friends, he tested the water with a webbed foot, then paddled down into the dark green depths of the dam. A minute later he came back up again: "Wow you won't believe it, I just saw this group of nice ladies down by the most stunning patch of Cladophora algae! Do you think I should talk to the ladies first or get the algae?"
They all laughed. "Go talk to the ladies first!" said Mrs Keeper firmly. "The algae will still be there tomorrow!"
Eventually they said their (really) final goodbyes, thanked Inga profusely for her generosity, and Algae sank down into his new home, promising to keep in touch by bird mail.
"Well, that was a great job!" said Mr Keeper, as they drove away in the Star Ferry bus. "Are you sure you didn't do a turtle matchmaking course, dear?"
"Maybe I should run one," Mrs Keeper rolled her eyes. "There's probably a market for it every March!"
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!"
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.
Scene 1: Close-up of the goldfish tank
Goldfish 1 and Goldfish 2 are swimming around the tank~~~
Goldfish 1: I'm bored.... and hungry....
Goldfish 2: Me too..... We just ate though....
Goldfish 1: Let's see if there's anything left..... under the fake plant....
Goldfish 2: What? What? Anything?
Goldfish 1: What did you say? What? Is there food left?
Goldfish 2: Oh.... food.... let's see.... is there anything?
Goldfish 1: Nope.... nothing..... so boring.....
Goldfish 2: I'm hungry.... Where's Mr Keeper?
Goldfish 1: Where's Mr Keeper? Where?
Goldfish 2: I asked you first! Where?
Goldfish 1: Where? Where? Oh there!
Goldfish 2: There where? Oh computer desk.... give us food!
Goldfish 1: Mr Keeper give us food! Wait.... he doesn't give us food....
Goldfish 2: No food... Not his job.... I'm hungry....
Goldfish 1: Let me check again..... anything left under the fake plant?
Goldfish 2: Anything? Anything?
Goldfish 1 and Goldfish 2 continue to circle the tank, until something outside attracts their attention~~
Scene 2: The camera pulls back, and from next to the goldfish tank, we can see Ellie the Parrot standing on top of her cage
Goldfish 1: Parrot.... parrot.... hop hop hop!
Goldfish 2: Hop hop hop! Where is she going?
Goldfish 1: Banana's cage! See Banana! Hahaha, parrot is bored too!
Goldfish 2: Hahaha, parrot is bored too!
Goldfish 1: Go where? Banana's cage!
Goldfish 2: Bite her Banana! Bite her!
Goldfish 1: Can't bite.... that snake is sleeping....
Goldfish 2: That's right.... snake is sleeping.... ate rat yesterday.....
Goldfish 1: Rat.... ate rat.... yucky yuck!
Goldfish 2: Yucky yuck! Don't want no rat! Gimme proper food!
Goldfish 1: Parrot bite Banana's cage! Haha, break her teeth!
Goldfish 2: Haha, break her teeth!
Goldfish 1: I'm hungry.... Where's food? Anything under fake plant?
Goldfish 2: Anything? Hey where's parrot?
Goldfish 1: Where's food? What, parrot? Where's parrot?
Goldfish 2: Oh... parrot hop hop hop! Hop hop hop! On Knobby's cage!
Goldfish 1: Knobby's cage..... Heat lamps there! Shock her! Shock her!
Goldfish 2: Hahaha, that would be funny!
Goldfish 1: Uh-oh.... parrot chewing wire.... uh-oh..... uh-oh.....
Goldfish 2: Uh-oh.... uh-oh.....
We start hearing a "beep----beep---- beep----beep" sound. Mr Keeper strolls out slowly and bends over Knobby's enclosure~~~
Goldfish 1: What's that? Beep beep beep? Why beep beep beep?
Goldfish 2: Beep beep..... beep beep.... beep beep beep beep beep beep......
Goldfish 1: Shush! You're not a thermostat!
Goldfish 2: Oh, Knobby's thermostat! Uh-oh..... uh-oh.....
Goldfish 1: Hahaha, parrot chewed it again! Thermostat wire.....
Goldfish 2: Chewed it again, hahaha! Bought it last month!
Goldfish 1: Parrot broke it last month! Hahaha! Mr Keeper doesn't know yet....
Goldfish 2: Doesn't know..... error code! Thinks it's error code! Hahaha!
Goldfish 1: Beep beep! Beep beep beep beep!
Mr Keeper looks puzzled and continues pressing the button on the thermostat. But the thermostat continues to respond with "beep... beep... beep... beep"~~~~
Goldfish 1: Oh.... Mr Keeper saw it! Wire! Wire!
Goldfish 2: Wire! Chewed off! Hahahaha!
Mr Keeper lets out a piercing scream: "Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Ellie you stupid bird!"
Goldfish 1: Stupid bird! Stupid bird!
Goldfish 2: I like stupid bird! Call her stupid bird from now on!
Goldfish 1: Stupid bird! Stupid bird!
Goldfish 2: Haha, stupid bird locked up! Locked up!
Goldfish 1: Locked up! Stupid bird chewed wire again!
Mr Keeper gives Ellie a big scolding.
Goldfish 1: Brainless nitwit bird! He said brainless nitwit bird!
Goldfish 2: I like nitwit bird! Call her nitwit bird from now on!
Goldfish 1: What did he just say? I missed it...
Goldfish 2: Sell her off! Sell her off!
Goldfish 1: Haha, sell off nitwit bird! Errr..... maybe not good idea....
Goldfish 2: Not good..... can't sell poor nitwit bird....
After standing there trembling for some time, Mr Keeper's face takes on a determined expression. He leaves the house.
Scene 3: Mr Keeper is sitting at the table by the fish tank. The table is covered with tools and a couple of thermostats, taken apart~~~
Goldfish 1: Food? Food? Where's our food?
Goldfish 2: Look, Mr Keeper's back!
Goldfish 1: He's back? What's he doing? What?
Goldfish 2: Fixing it.... fixing it.... broken wire....
Goldfish 1: Chewed off wire! Hahaha, stupid bird locked up!
Goldfish 2: What's that? Machine thingy.... hot pointy thing....
Goldfish 1: Dunno..... machine thingy with hot point thingy... gluing wire to board...
Goldfish 2: Oh, gluing board! Gluing wire to board!
Goldfish 1: Oh, gluing board! Gluing wire to board!
Mr Keeper gets up, walks over to Knobby's enclosure, and plugs the thermostat back into the powerpoint. Knobby's heat lamp comes back on again.
Goldfish 1: He fixed it! He fixed it!
Goldfish 2: He fixed it! No more beep beep beep! Beep beep beep!
Goldfish 1: Fixed it...... Boring..... I'm bored....
Goldfish 2: So boring..... I'm hungry...... let's check under fake plant....
Goldfish 1: Anything? Anything?
Goldfish 2: Where's Mrs Keeper? She gives us food..... Food.... Food....
Goldfish 1: So boring..... Where's food..... Where's food.....
Sometimes when the guinea pigs can't sleep, they chat to the nocturnal animals loitering about in the dark, and the three possums living on the maple tree next door are their special friends. The possums' names are Zoe, Zach and Phoebe. They are quite noisy and spend a lot of time either fighting in the canopies, or chucking branches and nuts down (which the guinea pigs welcome as snacks for the following day). Occasionally they lose their footing and knock over Mrs Keeper's beloved succulent plants.
However, the guinea pigs noticed that it's been a while since the possums turned up. It's a bit worrying. Days passed, and finally one of them - Zach - returned! He seemed out of breath, as if he had just run a 10-kilometre marathon, and he kept looking behind him as if someone was on his tail.
The rustling sounds of his return woke up the guinea pigs, and they were so pleased to see him! Spotty asked, "Where have you three been? We haven't seen you in so long!"
Zach settled down on one of the branches closest to the guinea pigs. He talked as he pulled off tender shoots from the branch and popped them into his mouth, "We decided to go exploring, to see if there might be yummier food somewhere else. But we almost couldn't make it back!"
Blacky asked in surprise, "How come?"
Zack replied, "Well, you all know quite a few cats have moved into the area lately. You are lucky that your human employees lock up your hutch doors every evening, so you're pretty safe, but cats can get us up in the trees! Remember that black, stripy, fat cat?"
"Oh yes!" Puffy nodded. "He always likes to poo in our rose garden! Mrs Keeper is really upset about that. She complains that instead of smelling the perfume of the roses, she can only smell the stink of cat poo! Cat owners really shouldn't let their cats out at night, it's bad manners to do the dump in someone else's house."
"That's the one I mean!" said Zach, shivering at the memory. "He almost got me this time! I managed to jump away at the last second, but I had to keep hiding in the tree instead of coming down. He would've got me as soon as I left that tree hollow! Did you know that cats have already killed many of our friends?" The idea of their possum friends being killed by cats scared the guinea pigs into uncontrollable panicked squeaking, and it took a while before they could calm down sufficiently for Zach to continue. "So I hid in that tree hollow for many days, and I got so hungry! When daylight came I was too sleepy to come out, but when I tried to sneak out in the night, I always saw a pair of glowing eyes in the bushes, so I knew he was there waiting for me again! He even hissed at me, and my heart almost stopped!"
Curlsy was already so frightened that she began chewing her straw bedding. Cutie the Alpha asked, "Then what happened? How did you get out?"
Zach replied, "A mother owl in the next tree felt sorry for me, and helped me pass a message to one of my friends living in that suburb. My friend made noises from another tree, and drew the attention of that fat cat. And I ran away!"
Spotty asked anxiously, "What about your friend? Is he all right?"
"Yes, he's fine!" said Zach. "He knew there was a wall near the tree that joined up a couple of backyards. So he sneaked away on the wall and later circled back home. But guess what, something even scarier happened to me later!"
"What??" asked Spotty. By now Curlsy had finished her own bedding and was rapidly gnawing on the straw under Cutie's feet.
Zach went on, "I hadn't had anything to eat for days, so I really wanted to come home! But when I got to that intersection a few houses from here and was about to cross the road, I saw something shiny far away. Well, I was starving you know, so my eyes were a bit dazed. So I thought to myself: well, it's the moon and the stars, of course they are shiny! But then the shiny thing suddenly got really close to me, and my heart almost stopped again!!! It was a speeding truck and barely missed me by an inch!"
The guinea pigs began frantically squeaking again all at once, some trying to console their friend, some telling him to eat more to recover his strength. Zach was very touched, "It's so good to come back and be with you guys again! I used to think it's so boring always eating the shoots and nuts off this maple tree, and that's why I wanted to try somewhere else. But this turns out to be the safest place to be! Those spiky things your human employees installed on the fence are pretty useful for keeping the cats away from you, and they protect us too!"
Cutie the Alpha grinned, "We're really happy to have you back, Zach! It sure felt weird not to hear you and Zoe fighting up in the trees!"
Every morning the human employees open the gates to the guinea pig hutches, and then all the guinea pigs would rush out for breakfast, exercise and some digging (typically in places they shouldn't).
But this morning just before everyone disappeared, Cutie the Alpha pig insisted on calling a meeting: "I have something very unpleasant to discuss today. Have you guys noticed that all this week, someone has been messing up our hutches after we left? WHO IS IT??? This nasty character has been eating all our pellets, and even kicked over all the pellet dispensers! Not only that, his big butt even shoved all our straw bedding out the door!"
Who could it be? Cutie the Alpha stared at a certain prime suspect: "It must have been you, Blacky! You have the biggest butt and the most fur, practically like a broomstick!"
Blacky gazed back innocently: "It wasn't me! I got the furball on my butt combed off last month, when the human employees gave us the annual bath."
Cutie was not convinced: "But you're the laziest. You spend more time napping in the cages than all of us combined!"
"No no no, you're mistaken boss!" Blacky shook his head anxiously. "I've been working really hard on coming out to exercise with everyone. I even came when the human employees had that grass-eating party last time, remember?"
That was true. "It must be Chocolate, Caramel and Brownie then! You triplets are bickering all the time. You must have kicked the straw bedding out when you were fighting!"
The triplets, caught in the act of secretly turtle-pinching each other, quickly jumped apart and put their paws in their laps: "Nope it wasn't us! We've been busy lately. We even found that new veggie patch the human employees put in. Aren't you happy that we found you a new food source, so we didn't have to eat boring old grass all the time?" (That was true too. Everyone got scolded by the human employees for invading the new veggie patch.)
"It can only be you then, Curlsy!" Looking around, Cutie the Alpha located a new target. "You've been so anti-social recently. You stay out under the trees even when the rest of us went home in the evenings. And last time you went out with the human employees for TWO WEEKS, doing who knows what. You must be a spy!"
Poor Curlsy started crying, "I didn't do it! I can never go home in the afternoons because Caramel always hogs my igloo! And the human employees kidnapped me last time because there was a lump growing under my chin. I thought it was pretty convenient, coz then I could start storing extra food in it like the chipmunks. But they took me to some strange place, poked me with a sharp needle, and I fell asleep. When I woke up, my storage area was gone!!!! I overheard them mumbling something about having spent a thousand bucks. Hmpf, we're worth way more than a thousand bucks! Anyway, it wasn't me!"
Cutie raised a back leg to scratch his head, "Then who is it? We must find out! I hate sleeping in a messed up bed, and I hate not having pellets to eat when I get hungry at night!"
Everyone started head scratching, butt scraping and paw licking to encourage some brain neuron movement. In the end the guinea pigs decided that Puffy and Spotty would stay behind today, hide behind the bushes, and catch the thief in his act!
Cutie the Alpha gave them one final warning: "I'm gonna kick that thief's big fat behind when I catch him! So you better confess now if it was you!"
So off everyone went.
Before long Spotty noticed a small blackbird hop down from a nearby tree. At first it was hesitant, looking around cautiously, then it quickly ran into one of the guinea pig hutches. A few minutes later ANOTHER blackbird flew down, hopped into a different hutch, dug around all the straw bedding with its beak, ate a lot of the pellets, and even knocked over the pellet dispenser.
They're the thieves! Spotty and Puffy ran off to tell the Alpha, who was troubled by the news: "So it's those snivelly blackbirds! But what can we do? They can fly, we can't."
Spotty suggested: "Should we get the human employees to help?"
Just then the smallest human employee child happened to run out of the house. Cutie exclaimed happily, "Great, let's tell him now!"
All the guinea pigs ran to the human child and talked all at once, trying to tell him the situation. But the human child was not listening. In fact, he looked somewhat nervous. He had a bag of sweets in his hand, which he downed in a few hurried gulps, and then he quickly chucked the empty bag behind the bicycle parked by the wall before running off from the crime scene.
Soon the other two human employee children came out, but they kept bouncing balls around, making it extremely hazardous to approach them. Cutie shook his head and said, "We better wait."
Finally they saw the human employee lady come out. She was about to change the straw beddings for them. Cutie demonstrated his leadership qualities: "Right, I'll go talk to her!"
But just as he got near her, she suddenly turned about and accidentally almost stepped on him! It gave him such a scare that Cutie jumped back in a hurry and ran for his life!
So blackbird thievery continued. The guinea pigs decided that it would be a problem for another day.
It's Knobby here.
I'm a silkback central bearded dragon. That means I have no scales.
Most of my brothers and sisters have scales.
My parents probably had scales, although I've never seen them.
Apparently that's just the way it is. Very strange.
I don't mind it really. But the human employees worry about it.
They worry I wouldn't shed properly. I'm flaky most days.
So I get special privileges. Like a hot bath every night.
Well, most nights. Sometimes they forget.
I wish they wouldn't forget. I like baths.
Anyway, I'm writing today.
Because Banana is busy.
And the guinea pigs aren't allowed indoors this afternoon.
They went running in the veggie patch in the rain and got very muddy.
There were footprints everywhere. The human employees were not happy.
Ellie's on time-out too. She pooed on Marbles. Marbles was not happy.
So I get to write today.
As I said, Banana is busy.
Digesting. She says she won't be out for a couple of days.
She ate her very first rat this morning.
We all watched. It was very interesting.
She always ate mice before, but now mice are too small for her.
After a mouse she gets hungry after only 3 days.
The human employees say her meal should last her at least a week.
Eating too often is not good for snakes apparently.
That's strange too. I eat crickets everyday.
Well, almost every day. Sometimes I feel depressed and don't want to eat.
But theoretically I can eat everyday. I eat veggies too.
Banana never eats veggies.
She should. Veggies help MY digestion.
Anyway, we all watched her eat her first rat.
She said it smelled funny, but she was really hungry so she ate it.
It took her a while to work out how to eat it, because it was bigger than a mouse.
She accidentally swallowed it from the back end.
She said she meant to eat from the head end, because then the legs of the rat would fold up right.
But with a meal 5 times larger than her head, it was difficult to see which end was where.
She did fine from the back end though. She sure has a big mouth!
She squeezed the rat halfway down her body. Very impressive stomach muscles.
Then she went home to sleep. And digest. And won't be out for a couple of days.
I'm happy she's not hungry any more.
Banana's my best friend.
On this bleary hot Thursday afternoon, the Sunny Zoo family is gathered in the backyard for a family meeting.
Almost everyone is here (except the fish and the mystery snails, whose life support system does not support out-of-aquarium excursions at this stage, which has been an item on the to-do list for the human employees in a while). Some are enjoying the sun (Knobby the bearded dragon and Banana the python), some are hating the sun (the frogs and Marbles the gecko, who have hidden themselves under the unmowed grass in the corner), and some are as always eating in the sun (all the guinea pigs, and Ellie the parrot who is decimating the new capsicums in the veggie patch, hoping the human employees would not notice).
It is an important day. They have taken time out of their respective busy schedules (mostly involving napping and snacking) to actually get together and talk about WHAT they want to say for the very very very first blog post on the Sunny Zoo website!
"Order! Order!" Banana raps a branch against Knobby's basking rock. "Are we ready? Who is doing messaging duty for the fish and snails today?"
There is suddenly a rare silence, broken only by the occasional surreptitious sound of hay-chewing by Chocolate the guinea pig. Sadly, messaging duty for their aquatic friends is not one of the more popular jobs around the house. It involves constant running back and forth between the outdoors and the indoors, telling the fish and the golden snails what has been said outside, and telling those outside what their aquarium mates think. Kind of like interpreting, except with a lot more physical exercise than what any of the animals consider personally healthy.
Banana sighs, slithers to a storage box by the lawn, and pulls out a glass jar. In the jar are several small pieces of paper, all neatly folded (she likes everything to be organised). "Since there are no volunteers, we're going to draw lots again!"
"Awwwww............." There are groans all round.
Banana ignores them and pulls out a piece of paper with her teeth. "Blacky! You're up today! Where are you?"
Blacky the guinea pig is nowhere to be found, and it takes the others quite some time before they locate him at the other end of the lawn behind a succulent bush. It seems he has already gone back to his scheduled nap. They have to wake him up, remind him of the important task at hand, and it is only with bribery of extra carrots that he agrees to do messaging duty today.
"Right, are we ready, can we get on with it now?" Banana asks with her usual serpentine patience, while the guinea pigs slowly totter back to sit in a circle around her. In the mean time, the frogs and Marbles the gecko have dozed off - being nocturnal, they find it extremely difficult to stay awake in the day time, and often miss big chunks of the others' conversations during family meetings. Frequently they are surprised they didn't know about something, and the others are also surprised they didn't know about something!
The others wait as Ellie the parrot gently pokes the frogs and Marbles awake with a pointy claw. "Ouch that hurts!" spits Marbles, not appreciating the wakeup call. "What did you do that for?"
"Yeah right! Yeah right! Yeah right!" chorus the frogs, all staring at Ellie accusingly.
"Wake up, wake up!" screeches Ellie. "Meeting time! Meeting time!"
"I know it's meeting time, you didn't have to poke me!" spits Marbles again, and wipes his sleepy eyes with his tongue. "How would you like it if I poked you with a sharp stick when you're asleep?"
"Yeah right! Yeah right! Yeah right!" chorus the frogs, always ready for some fracas.
Marbles continues to grumble. Ellie, whose language skills do not yet match her mental capabilities, resorts to childish screaming at the top of her voice. Before moving in with the others she had lived in a pet shop being caged next to a cockatoo, and apparently that cockatoo had won a few noise-making competitions! From that remarkable expert, Ellie had learned quite a few negotiation skills. Since then Ellie has perfected the scream to a certain high-frequency pitch that Knobby once described as "a skinny nail being constantly driven into one's brain".
Banana sighs again, feeling her patience wither away. She gazes around: the guinea pigs are chatting amongst themselves and chewing on grass, all except for Blacky who has fallen asleep (the fish would not be happy about THAT!); Knobby the beardie has gone into stiff-mode because the sun is setting and temperature has dropped significantly; Ellie, Marbles and the frogs are still busy trying to outdo each other in a screaming match.
Slowly Banana removes the hearing aid from her head (ah, blissful silence!), glides away from all the family hustle and bustle, and slips into the house. She carefully and elegantly coils herself at the computer keyboard.
They'll just have to live with whatever she types up then!!
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