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Asher Ellis
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zoo.jpg
Art by Gordon Purkis 2010

The Zoo

 

Asher Ellis

 

 

Had Robbie not been there with him, Bobby would’ve been much more nervous. But watching Robbie calmly gaze over the quivering crowd soothed Bobby’s nerves and reminded him that everything was in control.  That’s always how it was. Robbie never lost his cool and Bobby followed suit.

 

          “How we feeling, Bobby boy?” Robbie spoke over the dead silence of the crowd. Even though he was standing all the way on the other side of the lobby, Bobby could hear him perfectly as his voice echoed off the marble floor and pillars.

 

          “Doing just fine.” Bobby tried to equal the amount of serenity in Robbie’s voice. He must have done a halfway decent job as Robbie returned his answer with a confident smile. Bobby supposed it was an honest response, though he couldn’t deny the few butterflies fluttering in his stomach. Indeed, this was a thrilling and exciting situation to find one’s self in, but also a tense and anxious one. Dr. Marvin had assured all of them, time after time, that everything would go smoothly and quickly, and so far it seemed the doctor had been correct. But staring out over a room full of frightened faces brought the reminder that the other shoe could drop at any time.

 

          But Bobby wasn’t supposed to think like that. He had been given the job of what Dr. Marvin called “crowd control,” because his doctor believed Bobby was capable of keeping his act together. And as long as Robbie kept that infallible cool of his, Bobby wouldn’t let the doctor down. All he had to do was follow his doctor’s orders, an act he had made a habit his entire life.

 

          Keep everyone quiet. Keep everyone still. Keep eye contact to a minimum. And don’t lose your head.

 

          Bobby went through the list in his mind for the thousandth time and mentally checked off each item. All the people were behaving as they should. In fact, from where Bobby stood, it seemed like everyone was afraid of him. As if he were crazy.

 

Robbie gave him a wink.

 

 

 

          Vick heard Bobby say something to no one. Usually the kid’s rambling got on his nerves to no end, especially when he went on and on during “Double Jeopardy.” But now Vick was actually happy to hear his voice. It only meant the crowd was witnessing how loony their captor really was. Every conversation with himself cancelled any thought of heroism that may have crossed the minds of the people lying on the floor. You don’t mess with instability. You don’t test troubled waters. Vick had to muffle a chuckle when he heard Bobby ask, “How we feeling, Bobby boy?” and give his own answer.

 

          As the lookout, Vick watched business go on as usual just outside the building’s front door. He could see their vehicle parked across the street and could just make out the silhouette of Demitri sitting behind the wheel.  Although he couldn’t see him too clearly, Vick knew their driver was staring at his own reflection in the rearview mirror. He always was.

 

          Unless there was something out there that Vick was failing to notice, it appeared no one had a clue as to what was transpiring inside the granite walls of the main street structure. Vick severely doubted that anyone was aware of the events occurring at the present moment, as Vick saw everything that went on at all times. He had heard Dr. Marvin refer to his state of mind as “severe paranoia,” but he knew that the good doctor was only playing along with the textbook procedure he was expected to obey. In truth, Dr. Marvin believed in Vick’s knowledge of the world, of how things really were, are, and will be. If not, then why had the doctor chosen Vick to warn their group of any incoming danger? The doctor was smart enough to recognize ability when he saw it, and Vick had it in spades. He could always see what was happening, and right now it was nothing out of the ordinary.  They could carry out the operation as planned.

 

However, despite how well everything was going, Vick still had one complaint. The doctor hadn’t made good on his promise that Vick would get his lighter back today. But it was too soon; Vick knew this. He’d only get what he wanted if he did his job well.

 

Keep alert. Keep your eyes open. Keep anyone back who approaches the door.  And don’t lose your head.

 

Vick wanted his lighter. He needed it. Or a book of matches, that would do. Anything that would give him the burning glow of flame, the only thing that lit the darkness of his black void. So he did his job and did it well.  Everyone outside thought everything was normal. They believed Vick was normal.

 

 

 

         Demitri stared into the eyes of the most beautiful person he’d ever seen.  Joggers ran by the van. Traffic honked at itself in a one-word language. Children shrieked in excitement when the ice cream man arrived. But none of these distractions came anywhere close to stealing his attention from the man in the mirror. Nothing outside the driver’s side window could offer more beauty or perfection than what Demitri stared at right now.

They had been separated for a long time. So long that Demitri couldn’t say the exact length for sure. It was more than days, more than weeks even. All because of Dr. Marvin and his rules. It was a hard thing to understand, really. Why Dr. Marvin would forbid Demitri the absolute pleasure and serenity he received just by looking into the eyes he stared into now. But just when Demitri believed he truly hated the doctor who denied him his one true love day after day, he found himself here.

 

Sitting in a van on the nicest of summer days, completely and utterly alone with his favorite person on Earth. Despite himself, Demitri couldn’t help but feel gratitude for Dr. Marvin’s gift.

 

But perhaps “gift” was not the right word to use in this instance. It was more of a reward, as Dr. Marvin had attached certain conditions before leaving Demitri and his love alone. He said they could have some time together as long as Demitri followed some simple orders.

 

Keep the engine running. Keep the sliding door open. Keep looking straight ahead. And don’t lose your head.

 

Demitri didn’t comprehend that last part. How could he lose his head when he was with the one person in the whole world who made him feel completely at peace?

 

But Demitri nodded his head yes and said he understood because he knew that response would make Dr. Marvin and the others go away quicker. Demitri did what he was told and was now happier than he’d been in months.  Except for the beautiful man in the mirror, not a single soul seemed to notice he was there. And to Demitri, the rest of the world didn’t exist either.

 

 

 

 

Patrick knew he had done a good job. He knew this because the door had opened. He knew this because Dr. Marvin smiled the way he always did when he was pleased with Patrick’s work. Because of his condition, Patrick couldn’t explain to Dr. Marvin how easy it had been to get the giant door unlocked. He had simply followed the advice his doctor always gave him when they played the game.

 

Keep focused. Keep focused. Keep focused. And don’t lose your head.

 

  They had played this game many times in Patrick’s room, Dr. Marvin and he, but the lock had never been attached to such a massive door.  Dr. Marvin had only given him small boxes to unlock up until now. But the giant door still had the same rotating knob with all the numbers on it so it had been just as easy.

 

Now Patrick was being led by Dr. Marvin back down the same hall they had walked before to reach the locked room with all the green paper in it. Though this time they were walking much slower since Dr. Marvin was carrying back with him a huge, heavy sack. When they reached the lobby, Dr. Marvin whistled for Bobby to follow. Bobby waved to somebody else to come along, though Patrick didn’t see who he was motioning at. Vick met them at the door and they all exited the Madison Center Bank.

 

When they got to the van, Dr. Marvin gave Bobby the bag and told everyone to get in the back. He went around to the passenger side, and after he got in and closed the door, he immediately grabbed the rearview mirror and ripped it from the ceiling.

 

Demitri’s eyes went wide and it appeared as though he were about to scream.  But before he could say anything, Dr. Marvin said, “He’s waiting for you back at Shady View.” Demitri turned the key and away they went. 

 

Demitri drove swiftly, eager to return. He weaved around the heavy traffic and their speed continued to increase.

 

Then Patrick heard ringing behind him and turned to see cars with red and blue lights following them. Patrick thought the lights were pretty until Dr. Marvin gave Vick his lighter and told him to light the bottles that were lined all along the floor of the van. When Vick threw them at the cars like Dr. Marvin had asked, gigantic flowers of red and orange erupted on the road. Now that was pretty. So pretty it made Patrick do something he hardly ever did: smile. Patrick still smiled after the burning cars had become distant specks as they sped further away.

 

And he still smiled when they pulled into the parking lot of Shady View where Dr. Marvin told an orderly to get rid of the van.   

 

 

         

It seemed to be very late when the field trip group finally returned.  Michael watched from his seventh floor window as they all exited the hospital van and saw each patient wearing a great big smile. Even Patrick, the autistic kid, got to go today and he, too, was grinning. The image made Michael want to cry.

 

          Nurse Pollard assured him many times over the last several hours that one day soon he’d be allowed to leave the asylum. But for now, the doctors just didn’t think he was healthy enough to travel outside the courtyard walls. Until then, she was here to keep him company. That consolation prize had not improved Michael’s mood at all.

 

          Although Michael was supposed to be in bed, he had summoned enough strength to fight the sleep-inducing medication coursing through his system in order to hear the group enter the building. Pressing his ear to his room door, Michael could hear Dr. Marvin speaking to Nurse Pollard at the front desk.

 

          “How was the trip to the zoo?”  

 

“Oh, it was wonderful. Everyone had a great time.” 

 

          Michael shuffled back to his mattress and collapsed onto the pillows.  Just as he was about to declare it impossible to fight the tears any longer, he remembered Dr. Marvin’s mantra as it echoed through his mind.

 

Keep believing you’ll get better. Keep dreaming of a better tomorrow. Keep faith in your ability to change. And never lose your hope. 

 

Right before the drugs brought the darkness, Michael forced himself to smile. One day he would join the fun.

 

 

 

Asher’s fiction has previously appeared in Verbicide Magazine, MicroHorror, and The Monsters Next Door. His stage play, Stupid Cupids, was accepted by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in 2005. He is a 2006 graduate of Colby-Sawyer College, where he earned a degree in English Literature, and is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the Stonecoast Program at The University of Southern Maine.

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