(C) The Sunny Zoo 陽光動物園 2017
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!”
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