By Chef SeasideConflux
“Damned, dirty apes,” Ronnie cursed into the radio.
“What’s going on out there?” I asked, giving his quote a chuckle. I could hear the shrieking of the baboons in the background.
The storm came down worse than the pretty weather girl said on the television earlier that night. In fact, it was the complete opposite. The wind gusts blew through the zoo accompanied by torrents of cold, thick rain. She said it was supposed to become a drizzle in the next couples hours yet it was intensifying.
“They’re really agitated tonight. I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with them,” Ronnie answered back.
“Must be the storm. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Animals have a sixth sense about them, you know? They know when the shit is about to hit the fan,” I said back to him and lowered the radio volume.
“Oh come on, you know that’s some pseudo-science bullshit!” Ronnie shouted as I expected he would. It was easy getting under his skin when it came to stuff like that. He had no tolerance for bullshit and that’s part of the reason why we got along so well. We had plenty of time to get to know each other while working the day shift and often walked around the zoo shooting the shit while telling the visitors not to feed the animals and occasionally dealing with an obnoxious or drunken patron.
Everything changed the day after the first incident at the zoo. Several animals were found eviscerated in their enclosures and some were missing altogether. Security was ramped up in response forcing us to man the night shift until the police could figure out what had happened. Neither of us minded being re-assigned since our pay was slightly increased and we wouldn’t be dealing with the nasty heat in the daytime. Best of all, there weren’t any visitors in the zoo.
“I’m kidding, buddy. Relax,” I said adding fuel to the fire.
“Fuck you, Al!” Ronnie shouted and cut out. I walked underneath the awning near a row of snack stands staying out of the rain. I felt bad for Ronnie since there was nothing on his side of the zoo besides restrooms that would offer shelter from the rain.
“Hey Ron, why don’t you hide out in the bathroom for a while until this shit blows over? Give’em a good cleaning while you’re at it,” I suggested.
“Shut up,” Ronnie replied in a whisper.
“Oh come on, I’m just trying to help,” I replied back laughing that I’d gotten under his skin again.
“No seriously, be quiet a sec,” Ronnie commanded in a serious tone. In the time we’d worked together, I’d never heard Ronnie be serious about anything. I waited for what felt like hours for him to radio back. I was about to squeeze the Call button when the crackle of radio static startled me.
“Get the fuck over here now!” Ronnie shouted frantically.
“What is it?” I answered back.
“Seriously man, whatever you’re doing just drop it and get the fuck over here now. You gotta see this.” Ronnie’s voice wavered in the static of the radio. Though I was cold and soaked to the skin, I felt colder still when I heard him speak those last words. I’d never heard his voice waver like that. I’d never heard that undercurrent in it that couldn’t be disguised: fear.
“Be over there ASAP. Sit tight.” The radio crackled and I headed from the shelter of the snack stands back to the parked golf cart. The plastic roof of the vehicle did little to shelter the console from the pouring rain, everything was soaked and dripping. I hopped in and turned the key, my hand shaking from the cold.
I buzzed away in the silent vehicle, along the black pavement of the zoo paths toward the primate enclosures where Ronnie awaited. The grounds were empty and quiet. Much too quiet. Why in God’s name did we have to work on a night like tonight? Why couldn’t we just stay in the office until this shit blew over? And now this nonsense with the apes. The thoughts buzzed in my head and more and more I began to weigh how much I actually needed this job.
When I arrived at the baboon enclosure, Ronnie stood by the edge of the cage, his plastic poncho flapping in the wind behind him like some kind of comic book superhero. I slammed the brakes hard and brought it to a dead stop behind him, but he didn’t turn around.
The shrieking of the primates was frenzied, high-pitched and perpetual, and set my teeth on edge. They couldn’t have been too happy about being stuck out in this god-awful weather, but I got the feeling from what my partner had said it was something more than that. I hopped from the seat of the cart and lightning flashed in the sky, followed by a boom of thunder, low, loud, and close. The baboons’ shrieking intensified and I felt like I was walking into that scene from 2001. I expected to see a giant black obelisk rising from the center of their cage. I came up beside my co-worker.
“Ronnie, what the hell’s going on, man? What’s got into them?”
He still didn’t turn his head. The pouring rain ran down his cheeks as he stared into the center of the cage. I followed his gaze and saw a swarm of the shrieking monkeys encircling something. They were feeding, tearing pieces of flesh and blood and ligament from an animal torso lying between them. Ronnie just kept staring his thousand yard stare.
“It’s human,” he said slowly. “There’s a human body in there.”
I felt ill as I glanced around the top of the enclosure. I figured that whoever’s body was being torn asunder by a frenzied troop of baboons had gotten in from up there. There was an altogether too-short railing at the top that opened up into the main level of the park. During the day people could come and watch the baboons play from above instead of below. A few times in the past there had been a few idiots who decided that they wanted to climb the railing to play with the baboons. There was only one time someone had successfully made it into the enclosure but the guards were able to rescue them before the baboons got to them.
This person hadn’t been so lucky.
“What the hell are we going to do?” Ronnie said blankly, staring at a rather large baboon leisurely chewing on a handful of flesh. I stood unblinking and uncertain of the best course of action. Obviously we couldn’t go in, getting between a wild animal and its meal is . . . inadvisable. And really, there was no point. The person in there was deader than disco. Risking our lives for a corpse wasn’t a reasonable course of action, especially because we didn’t get paid enough for that.
“We better call the boss,” I said turning toward the exit of the exhibit.
“I think we should just call the cops right away,” Ronnie said to me as we made our way back to the small office where our phones were protected from the rain.
The boss had told us clearly after the first couple of incidences that we should contact him first, he’d take care of it. Something about us not getting paid enough to deal with this shit. He was right. Reminding Ronnie of this, he didn’t seem pleased. He started quietly grumbling under his breath, spitting the rain water from his mouth with every movement of his lips.
Grabbing my phone, I sifted through to find George. After several rings his wife answered the phone, her quiet hello sounded groggy from being awoken. “Hi, Mrs. S. Is George around? There’s been another incident.” My voice cracked, “It’s pretty serious.”
She yawned, “Hi Al, George said he was going into work tonight. Something about a problem with the security system. You haven’t seen him?”
Placing my hand over the receiver so she couldn’t hear me, I spun around to Ronnie who was looking a little pale. “You seen George tonight?” He simply shook his head.
“We haven’t. I’ll keep an eye out.”
She yawned again, “Alright dear, you two be careful in that storm.”
The only option now was to notify the cops. I didn’t like it, but damned if we were going to go searching for George in the storm. Ronnie seemed relieved, more color flooding to his face.
“I’ll call them,” he said.
“Alright. I don’t want to, but I’ll head back to the enclosure to make sure everything is secure.” I said as Ronnie started dialing.
The office was close by and I could still hear the monkeys shrieking. I made my way to the top of the enclosure to double check the locks on the doors. Realizing they were secure, I sighed and put my weight on the rail, tilting my head to the left in an attempt to not look down. My focus fixated on one of the trees, and that’s when I noticed the piece of clothing that had been left behind.
A few years back George had gone on a trip with his wife. He came back with a red cap which seemed to be superglued to his head ever since.
My stomach dropped and I sprinted back to the office, Flinging open the door, I yelled out to Ronnie. “I think it was George. Fuck, Ron. His hat was in the enclosure.”
Ronnie froze with his thumb hovering over the call button, staring into the space I occupied. He blinked, “No fucking way.”
I sighed, “Yeah, way. I can hardly believe it myself.”
“No. I mean, no fucking way. George never went near those things. You know, ‘Those damn dirty apes’? He hates them.”
His hat was hooked on one of the branches with smears of brown and deep red. Apart from that, there was no way to identify the mess of viscera lying in the bottom of the enclosure now. “His hat was in there, Ron.”
He shook his head with a little too much conviction, “That don’t mean a thing. Coulda fallen off. Then maybe the wind blew it in there.” Ron hit “Call” and put the phone to his ear.
I slumped in the chair next to him, barely listening to his requests for police and an ambulance. I shut my eyes for just a minute when the sound of the rain became cracks against the window. Hail stones fell and littered the ground with pale icy beads. By the time Ron explained for the third time that we were on Fifth and Eighth, not Sixth and Seventh, the hail stones were as big as golf balls, and slammed against the window, threatening to come straight through.
The cries from the park changed from excited gibbering to panicked shrieks. The lemurs in the enclosure next to the office ran around trying in vain to hide under the trees. Hail stones crashed down against the bars, exploding into fragments. Some got through the gaps and hit the ground inside like grenades.
The unlucky animals took direct hits, some reeling from broken ribs, some slumped to the ground with a bloody mess on their skull. The ones that found hiding places fought for the space, pushing smaller, weaker ones into the fray.
“Shit.” Ron hung up, “I could barely hear them on the line. The dispatcher didn’t hear a word of what I said. This storm is seriously fucking with us.”
“I think we’re in here for the night, Ron.”
As the words came out of my mouth, there was a crash above us. It thudded heavily like it would break through the roof. The office shook with the impact. Then there was another one and another afterward. Ron and I both jumped out of our seats and stared up at the ceiling expecting it to come crashing down on us at any moment.
“Those pieces of hail must be the size of freakin’ basketballs to make that noise,” I said to Ron as we both went to the office door and into the administrative area. As we approached the window for a look outside, there several more crashes on the roof. Neither of us said a word at what we saw when we looked out the window.
Dozens of animal corpses littered the pavement outside the office as far as we could see. We couldn’t tell what any of them were. Each corpse was a tangled mess of flesh and viscera. Broken bones ripped through skin and fur. They looked just like George’s body in the baboon enclosure. Ron put his head down and puked. I was too in shock to do anything else but stare ahead and watch as animals continued to fall from the sky.
“It’s fuckin’ raining all creatures great and small of God’s green earth.”
Ron looked up at me, his face pale, and wiped the vomit from the edge of his mouth with his hand. He stared at me incredulously. The pounding on the roof continued above us, a continual thump thump thump. I stared out the window and watched the rain of animal corpses hitting the pavement. Body after body rained from the sky with the hail. Giant fleshy sacks of muscle and blood and grizzled guts exploding against the hard wet surface of the zoo asphalt and splattered everywhere.
“I’m worried the roof is gonna come in,” Ronnie said. His eyes were wild. “This is some end times shit we’re dealing with right now, man. I –”
His proclamations were cut short by a sound coming from outside. It was a viscous, bone-rattling monstrous squawk that was deeper and louder than any boom of thunder I’d ever head.
“What the fuck was that?” I said. “We need to get outta here!”
“No!” Ronnie yelled. “What the fuck’s got into you, man? It’s fucking raining animals outside!”
I didn’t care. I ran for the door and burst out into the cold insanity that was the storm. It was a wasteland of carnage, animal bodies strewn everywhere, and the unrelenting hail and wind pounded me. Then I heard it again, that animal sound, that scream – shaking me to the core and making a chill run up my spine.
“Al!” Ronnie yelled from behind and tackled me. We fell to the tarmac, and I looked just in time to see a giant hulking gorilla drop like a stone and explode into a puddle of gore right where we had been standing.
“Holy shit!” I yelled over the thump thump thump of bodies hitting the pavement everywhere around us.
Ronnie was frozen above me, staring up into the sky. “Ronnie?”
I followed Ronnie’s gaze. At first I thought he was staring at the storm, then lightning flashed and I saw what he was looking at. It was only for a moment but whatever I saw was huge, flying on massive wings. Now that I knew it was there I could see it, turning round and round in the sky. It was circling the mess of meat that had just splattered behind us. I glanced down at myself and realized that Ronnie and I were covered in the gore too.
“Ronnie,” I choked out, trying to remain calm “Ronnie, we have to get back inside.” Ronnie still had his eyes glued to the sky. He was whimpering prayers to whatever deity he worshiped.
“Ronnie, dammit!” I stood up and grabbed his arm and began yanking him towards the building. “We need to get back inside now!”
I heard the creature getting closer. The wings shaking the air warning that death was only a few yard away. I could feel the beating of the wings in the shifting of the air. It squawked again and I dropped Ronnie’s arm to cover my ears.
I looked at Ronnie again, he’d finally come around and was standing. The squawk seemed to shake him loose from his paralysis. I took that chance to bolt for the door.
“Hurry up!” I shouted to Ronnie while he was still making his way back into the building. He slipped on the gore that covered the ground almost falling over but regained his balance as he bolted towards the door. A flash of lightning lit up the sky and then there was the crash of thunder a moment later. Ronnie’s eyes widened into pure terror. Another powerful squawk ripped across the air, making my ears drums feel as if they were going to burst. Whatever it was that he saw gave him a second wind and he quickly made it back inside.
I slammed the door shut behind him and twisted the lock into place. The door started to shake a second later, as if as group of people were hitting it with hammers. The sound of wood splintering ran out through the office and an ear-piercing squawk filled my soul with fear. I had no time to think as the window next to the door shattered and something flew into the administrative room. The impact must have dazed it as it fluttered around on the ground trying to regain its composure.
I felt a tug on my arm and Ronnie dragged me away into the security room.
“Did you see that shit?” I shouted knowing damned well that Ronnie had seen it. There were a million and one questions on my mind. My adrenaline rush wouldn’t allow me to formulate the words that I was trying to say. I was hoping he would have some sort of an answer that would put my mind to ease as to what that creature was.
“The sky…it’s…full of them,” Ronnie replied through chattering teeth. I couldn’t tell if it was from being cold or from fear.
“I only saw the huge one and the one in the office,” I said back confused.
“I saw them all when the lightning flashed. They’re circling above us. Hundreds of them,” Ronnie explained. A cold shiver went up my spine. Ronnie sat down on a chair and put his palms to his face. He wiped away the blood that was getting into his eyes. I did the same hoping to remove whatever I had on my face as well.
“Coco,” Ronnie said as if figuring out the answer to all our questions in life.
“What about Coco?” I replied.
“Dude, that was Coco that splattered in front of us on the pavement,” Ronnie answered with wide eyes, nodding his head in a daze.
“Yeah, there were a lot of animals out there. The whole fucking zoo is splattered outside,” I replied still not understanding where he was going with it.
“Coco is a 300 pound gorilla,” Ronnie said looking at me like I was an idiot.
“I really don’t know how that fun fact helps us right now,” I said feeling irritated.
“Whatever the fuck it was that dropped him from the sky has to be about the size of a god damned bus to have done that!” Ronnie shouted at me while tossing the chair to the side and pacing around the room. He opened the desk drawers and ransacked them until he found a can of mace and tossed it at me.
“So what do we do now?” I asked hoping to calm him down.
“We barricade the door, hunker down, and hope to God that they don’t break through,” Ronnie replied while turning over the desk and pushing it against the door. I started to search the room for something else to add to our makeshift barrier and found nothing. We took our chairs and placed them against the door too. We both sat there listening to the thump thump thump and muffled squawks between the rumbles of thunder.
“Al, wake up,” Ronnie said shaking me out of my slumber. I didn’t realize that I had fallen asleep. Between the sound of thunder and squawks, I didn’t think I’d ever get to sleep but my exhaustion must have won out at some point in the night.
“What’s going on?” I asked wiping the sleep away from my eyes. The whites of Ronnie’s eyes were blood-shot and there were bags under his eyes. He must have stayed awake the entire night.
“It’s morning. The storm is gone. There hasn’t been a thump on the roof in hours. I think it’s safe but I don’t want to chance going out there without backup,” Ronnie explained pointing at the mace on the floor next to me.
We made our way out of the security office remaining as quiet as we could. Ronnie led in front holding an improvised spear made from a broom handle we’d found in the closet. I stayed behind him with the mace ready to spray anything that came at us. As soon as we stepped out of the office door, the smell of rotting meat punched us in the face like we owed it money. I tried to hold back from vomiting but the smell was too wretched. I tossed up whatever I had in my stomach and then we continued onward with our hands over our noses and made sure to breathe through our mouths. It didn’t make it any better.
As we exited the hallway and entered the administrative office, we were met with the sound of squawking birds. That almost sent me running back into the security office but Ronnie held my arm and told me to listen. They were nothing like the squawking we heard the night before. We tiptoed to the shattered window, crunching over the broken glass, alerting the birds to our presence. A few turned their attention to us then immediately went right back to enjoying their scavenged meal. They paid no mind to us as we took in the grisly view that the darkness of the night had hidden away from our eyes.
Thousands of birds from miles around had smelled the stench of festering zoo animals and came to enjoy the buffet of leftovers the creatures from last night left behind. Entire carcasses were left behind that looked like they had been torn apart but none of the meat was taken. Only the bones seemed to have been removed.
Birds of all shapes, colors, and sizes pecked away with blood smeared beaks at the carrion. Before leaving the safety of the office, we searched the skies for any sign of the creatures from last night. Aside from a few birds circling above, there was nothing threatening.
We made our way out to the parking lot carefully to avoid slipping on the gore that coated the ground. Once I got my phone on a charger, I called for the police and told the dispatcher about what happened. I couldn’t believe my ears when they told me that they would get to us in an hour or two. The storm had wrought havoc across the state causing traffic accidents and bringing down power lines making travel very difficult. All officers on duty were busy.
Ronnie took the phone from me and tried to berate some sense into the dispatcher but apparently even if every animal on Earth was killed, the police would still be more worried about taking care of human life first. Looking back on it now, I can see their reasoning but after spending the night in a security office worrying about being lifted into the air and then dropped to my death by some monster, there was no reason left in the world.
We waited an hour before an officer showed up at the zoo. As he stepped out his car, he placed his hand over his nose and coughed at the smell in the air. It was beginning to warm up too. The smell would get worse as the day went on. The officer asked us what happened and we had no choice but to tell him the truth. He didn’t believe us until we offered him a tour of our newly renovated zoo. Once he finished puking, he called for backup. I imagine that the rest of the day must have been like that for everyone else that showed up at that horrific scene.
It’s been almost twelve years since the events of that horrible night. The zoo never reopened and a month later, it was bulldozed and the land was sold off to a company that built a warehouse there. Ronnie and I heard through the grapevine that the zookeepers and everyone else that worked there were told that it was closed because the owners had a change in morality about keeping animals caged up for human amusement. They were told that the animals were released into the wild or transferred to other zoos around the world. Any further inquires led nowhere.
The company offered very generous severance packages to the employees that lost their jobs. Ronnie and I were offered a substantial amount to compensate us for our troubles that night and to buy our silence. Non-disclosure agreements were a stipulation to getting our payouts and keeping them. Unfortunately, money talks and its very loud in the ears of a couples of guys that used to work security in a zoo. Plus, who was going to believe our story anyway?
George’s wife was the only loose end that the company had to contend with. She filed a missing person’s report with the local police and there was an investigation into his disappearance. The last anyone had seen of him was a security camera video showing him getting a drink at a convenience store and leaving the store never to be seen again. George never turned up.
It pained me to have to keep my mouth shut about it knowing that she was suffering the entire time. Luckily for her, it was discovered later on that George had a life insurance policy through the zoo and Mrs. S got a pretty huge payout. She soon went silent on the matter as well. A few months after George “disappeared”, she moved out of town never to be seen or heard from again.
Just to be safe, I changed the names of the people involved and left out many of the specifics in case anyone from the company’s legal department happens to stumble upon this. After more than a decade, I doubt anyone even bothers thinking about that zoo anymore except for me and I’d guess that Ronnie may think about it often as well.
There are still scars from that night that will last me a lifetime. The sound of thunder sends a cold chill down my spine and sends me running for cover in a panic. I’ve imagined seeing the outline of the mammoth beast circling in the clouds waiting for me to come outside so that it can fly me into the air and drop me. The deafening squawk is the only that I can hear as I plummet to Earth. My bones snap on impact and everything goes dark but I’m not dead. The smell of rotting animals awakens me from death. I see the birds pecking away with bloody beaks at the remains of splattered animals. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. Nothing feels right anymore.
Once it passes, I’m fine again and I can continue to live my life as I have all along with only one lingering thought in the back of my head that continues to haunt me to this day:
They’re still out there. One day, those creatures will be hungry again. And the next time, they’ll be bigger and looking to eat animals more like Coco instead of baboons.