Friday, September 12, 2008

Burke’s Creek Zoo

Burke’s Creek Zoo
By Scott Wilson
Word Count:3,780
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” Sarah, the nocturnal tour guide of Burke’s Creek Wildlife sanctuary said. “We will begin the tour in a couple of minutes.”

“Just a few ground rules first. We must stay together as a group at all times. The sanctuary has security guards patrolling at night and the park is safe, but with limited lighting it is easy to become lost.”

The group of thirty men, women, and children were keen to start the tour and were noticeably restless.

“The tour will last for two hours and cover all areas of the sanctuary. We will stop for regular breaks at the nocturnal animal enclosures, giving you plenty of time to take photos and enjoy your surroundings. Does anyone have any questions?”
“Yeh, can we get going.” A loud mouth larrikin at the back of the group yelled out mockingly.

“Yes, sir,” Sarah said politely, “We will head off now. Please follow me.”

* * * *

Tim pried open the entrance to the cassowary pen. The stainless steel and mesh groaned against his efforts, resisting from giving him enough space to let out the caged birds.

“Bugger” he grunted.

Tim opened his backpack and rummaged through the various tools of the trade until he located the bolt cutters. Although they were compact, they would easily snap this padlock as though it were nothing more than a dry twig.

The padlock dropped to the ground with a loud clang. Tim heard a loud primeval groan from within the pen. There was no way that was a cassowary, he knew that for sure.

Tim decided it was time to meet up with his two partners in crime, Jess and Martin, both members of the Freedom for Native Wildlife Association of Australia, FNWAA.
Jess and Martin were both close by, opening other enclosures to let out all non-dangerous wildlife, such as wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, and birds. There was not much they could do about the crocs or snakes at the moment. Letting them out in Brisbane would be dangerous to the native wildlife and that was not what the FNWAA were about. Just imagine the chaos that would cause, letting a creature like a crocodile into an unnatural environment.

“Hey, Jess.” Tim said over his walkie-talkie, “How are you guys going?”

“Hi, Tim. Martin and I have just met up outside the rock wallaby enclosure. We have let out the wombats, Kangaroos, and lizards. What about you, big fella.”

“I just opened the cassowary pen and heard the strangest noise, hey. Sounded like a dinosaur.”

“You sure you opened the right cage, Timmy?” Martin said mockingly as he joined to conversation.

“Very funny, dude. I think I know what a picture of a cassowary looks like. That’s why I got this pen. You know how dangerous they can be with those big talons of theirs.”

“Ok, boys. Let’s leave the banter until all the poor little creatures are out of earshot.”

Tim heard a noise behind in the pen and turned around. He realised that he shouldn’t have taken his attention off the pen. Cassowaries could be dangerous if angry or scared.

“I’ll meet you guys in a se…..” Tim finished his sentence with a scream.

* * * *

Alex McLeod had been a security guard at the wildlife sanctuary for fifteen years. He was sixty-five and looking forward to retiring at the end of the year. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his job; he loved working the night shifts at the zoo. It was quiet, and you could imagine you were out in God’s country all by yourself with the soothing sounds of the wildlife. Alex had a bad case of arthritis in his joints and it ached like a bastard during the winter months, especially on the night shifts.

“Aaaargh!” a scream shattered the ambiences of the night, making Alex spill his cup of tea.

“What in blazes was that?” Alex’s offsider, Simon said.

“Trouble, by the sounds of it, mate.”

“With the nocturnal tour?”

“Most likely. No one else in the sanctuary at this time of night.”

Alex looked at the security monitors. CCTV covered most of the sanctuary, but he couldn’t see who made the horrific noise. He did see the nocturnal tour, safely standing outside the sugar glider enclosure and all accounted for. They did not seem to have heard the scream, so it must be close to the security office.

“I’ll go for a peek-a-boo, boss.”

“No, Simon it’s okay. My arthritis is giving me grief, so the walk would do me some good. Stretch the old joints out. You just keep an eye on the CCTV for me.”

“You sure old timer?”

Alex tossed one of the radios at his young partner, “You’d better get hold of Sarah and make sure all her group are present and accounted for.”

Clipping on his utility belt, Alex headed towards the old cassowary enclosure, and where the he thought the scream came from. He hoped that it wasn’t, as that would mean there was a big problem to fix. The cassowaries had not been in that enclosure for two months now, and the new resident was even less friendly.

It was only a five-minute walk to the enclosure and Alex walked briskly. If there was trouble, he wanted to get there as quickly as he could. Before he reached the enclosure, a young woman covered in blood ran onto the path in front of him, knocking both of them to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. The woman wriggled and squirmed, covering Alex in blood and dirt.

“It’s killed Tim and Martin.”

“Calm down miss.” Alex said soothingly as he untangled himself and helps the woman up. “Who are you and what are you talking about?”

“It’s killed them. Ate them and almost got me to.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It wasn’t a cassowary. Tim let something else out. It wasn’t a cassowary.”

“Cassowary, what are you talking about. The cassowaries were moved months ago. What are you doing around that enclosure? The tour doesn’t get to that part of the zoo for another twenty minutes.”

“We were only letting out the friendly wildlife. I didn’t want to let out the cassowaries, but the boys did. Now there both dead.”

“What do you mean let the wildlife out?” Alex took a good look at the woman’s blood soaked clothes and recognised the badge on her chest. Covered in a scarlet red mess, but he could see it now he was looking at it.

“You’re one of those bloody greenies, aren’t you?”

“They’re dead!” she screamed.

“What’s your name, miss? I can’t help you if I don’t know your name.”

“Jess, Jessica Lang.”

“Okay, Jess. I need you to come with me. We’ll go back to the security office and get you cleaned up a bit. Sit you down and then you can tell me what happened.”

Alex led Jess by the arm back to the security office. The sight of the blood soaked woman startled Simon and he dropped his cup of tea.

“What the...”

“Here, sit down Jess. Simon, clean up that mess and get this lady a wet towel.”

Jess sat down, facing the CCTV monitors and began crying. She could see the path leading up to the enclosure she had just run from and though she saw a leg on the ground.

Alex sat down next to Jess and handed her a tissue.

“Okay, Jess. I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Starting with what the hell you are doing in the sanctuary.”

“We were here during the day. Hide in the bushland near the wombats until it was dark. All we were going to do was to free the kangaroos and stuff. Nobody was supposed to get hurt.” She began to sob again. “Now they’re both dead.”

“Which enclosures have you broken in to? We need to contain this.”

Jess told Alex which areas that had been to, he became worried. Old Salty, the five-meter fresh water crocodile was in the area previously used for the cassowaries. If those other greenies had let Old Salty out there would be hell to pay. The front of the enclosure clearly identified the area as the home of the mother of all crocodiles. It must have been an oversight of the maintenance team to leave the old sign up at the rear of the pen. Not that it should have really mattered, only staff should ever be wondering around the back of any enclosures.

“Simon, get hold of Sarah and tell her to get those patrons out of here immediately!”

Simon immediately tossed the wet towel he was carrying to Jess, hitting her it the chest as she was in shock and didn’t realise it was being tossed to her. He slipped over on the tea and felt his right arm snap, as he hit the hard, cold linoleum floor.
Jess looked up and began screaming again, when she saw the end of broken bone jutting out of Simon’s arm just below his elbow.

“Stone the bloody crows.” Alex yelled, thinking to himself that he should have retired early. How was he going to deal with this by himself?

“You, Jess,” Alex yelled, “Phone triple zero right now.”

Alex scurried over to Simon and helped him into his chair. He grabbed a bandage from the first aid kit and gave it to Simon to hold on the open wound and ease the bleeding. No use putting a splint on it or a triangular bandage just yet. Had to stop the bleeding first.

“You’ll be right mate. Just keep the pressure on it.”

“I can’t it hurts too much.”

“You have to. If you don’t stop the bleeding you’ll pass out.”

Alex looked at Jess, who was still sitting down sobbing.

“I thought I told you to call triple zero!”

Jess did not make a move to comply with this, so Alex grabbed the phone and called the ambulance and police. It had been at least ten minutes since they arrived back at the security office. The nocturnal tour group would almost be at Old Salty’s enclosure. He grabbed the radio and began calling Sarah in between telling emergency services the situation.

“What are you talking about?” Sarah replied when Alex called.

“Get everyone out of there, now. Evacuate the zoo as fast as you can.”

Sarah watched helplessly as the tour group dispersed around the viewing platform and surround area near the old cassowary pen. There were now patrons at the top of the platform, overlooking the large pond in Old Salty’s pen, others down near the security fence, a few lingering around trying to hear what Sarah was talking about on the radio and even more heading towards the picnic tables close to the rear of the enclosure.
The nights around the viewing platform and walkway were bright and Sarah could count seventeen people safely off ground level.

“I need everyone to regroup on the viewing platform please.”

A small group of the tour group walked up the stairs to the platform, leaving only the group of six Japanese tourists heading to the picnic bench and the family of four near the toilets left to round up.

“What’s going on, miss?” One of the group asked.

“Security has asked that we evacuate the sanctuary immediately. I don’t have any further details at this time.”

Sarah moved to the edge of the viewing platform and yelled out to the family nears the toilets.

“You have to get up here right away.”

The father looked up and waved, but still headed into the toilet block with his two sons. The mother must already be in the toilets, as Sarah could not see her.

“Please sir, for your own safety bring your family up to the viewing platform.”

The father and his sons disappeared into the toilets.

“What’s that?” screamed one of the children.

All of the children and half of the adults on the viewing platform moved over to where the child was standing. In the shadows near the picnic table a gigantic black object lurched forward, grabbing one of the Japanese tourists seated to the rear of the table.

Panic spread among the group of petrified patrons and all hell broke loose. Men, woman, and children panicked. Those who were already on the viewing platform began to run down the stairs and ramp away from the direction of the picnic table. The oncoming rush of frantic tourists knocked Sarah over, and she bumped her head against the rails. She was unconscious when one of the heavyset women stood on her in a panic, breaking two ribs. The heavyset woman stumbled and crushed the radio as she fell over Sarah.

The husband of the Japanese tourist pulled his wife’s arms, trying with desperation to save her. As he tightened his grasp, the enormous jaws of the crocodile shook violently, tearing the woman’s legs from her body. It lunged forward, taking a bite out of the torso and knocking the husband to the ground. His wife’s upper body bled on him and he began to yell. He did not see the croc lunge forward and bite both his arms clean off.

“Somebody help us.” Screamed another Japanese tourist in broken English.

“What the hell is going on out here?” Yelled the father as he came out of the toilets. He quickly stepped back into the toilets and told his two boys to stay put before dashing to the female toilets and getting his wife. All four barricaded themselves in the male toilets. There were no heroes in the lavatories today.

Two Japanese tourists ran towards the viewing platform, while the remaining two struggled to pull what was left of the husband and wife away from the crocodile. As the croc was happily chewing on a meal of arms and legs this was easily achieved. The wife was already dead and the husband was bleeding profusely from the two stumps that had once been his arms. By the time they reached the ramp of the viewing platform, the husband was not sure if he was in shock or not when he saw two big red kangaroos hop passed him.

* * * *

Alex loaded the tranquilizer gun, put the box of spare cartridges into his utility belt, and opened the door.

“You keep an eye on his for me girlie. I don’t want him going into shock and passing out while I am gone. If he does and let go of that bandage he will bleed to death. If that happens, you will be responsible for his death as well as your friend’s deaths.”

This cold statement had the desired effect and snapped Jess out of shock, slightly but not fully. She nodded her head and moved over to Simon to help hold the bandage in place. Alex left the office, for what he thought was probably going to be the last time. So much for retiring next year but what, could he do? The zoo was half an hour from the nearest emergency service branch and Sarah was not answering her radio now. If he didn’t go to help, there might not be anyone left by the time the police got here. The chances of the tranquilizer darts piercing Old Salty’s thick leather hide were small, but it was the only weapon available. Wildlife sanctuaries do not make a habit of keeping firearms on site. They are about protecting wildlife, not harming it.

“Here goes nothing,” Alex said to himself as he cautiously walked up the path towards Old Salty’s enclosure.

He could hear screams in the distance and knew that it would look like a war zone if the temperamental old beast were amongst the group of tourists. The sound of the imminent battle spurred him forward, ignoring the pain of his arthritis shooting out from his knees and he jogged, and from his elbows as they supported the heavy rifle.

As Alex came around the corner near the old cassowary enclosure, a tourist bolted past him with blood running down his face. Alex did not have a chance to ask him anything before he disappeared into the night. At least he was heading the right direction for safety. Hopefully he would reach the security office and help Jess and Simon.

“Help,” A week voice, cried from just ahead.

Alex cautiously edged forward, raising the tranquilizer rifle to a comfortable firing position against his right shoulder. He moved out from the path and into the open area beneath the observation platform. Blood and limbs were scattered across the paved ground, in the gardens and on the stairs. Alex saw two of the group lying on the stairs with arms and legs missing. It almost looked like there was only one body there rather than two. From the looks of it, they were beyond help now.

“Over here,” A voice from the toilets whispered.

Alex slowly moved over to the toilets, swinging his head from side to side to make sure the croc was not still around. He stepped on something soft that squished beneath his foot. Alex did not look down; he did not want to know what it was. The father opened the toilet door fully and Alex could see the two young boys, cowering on the floor with their mother.

“Do you know where it is?”

The father pointed past the viewing platform, towards the aviary.

“Go down that path, there is a security office about a hundred meters to the left. You will be safe there.”

Alex cautiously walked across the open paved area to the stairs. He checked the two tourists near the stairs for signs of life. As he suspected, it was too late for them. He paused to catch his breath and call the security office. Hopefully, he would get an answer and hear that help was on the way.
“Simon, are you there mate?”

After what seemed like an hour, but was only thirty seconds, Simon answered.

“I’m here, boss.”

“How are you holding up?”

“I think I must have passed out for a few minutes and...” Alex heard voices in the background. The family must have made it back there already. Simon was distracted and did not answer again.

“Aargh...” another scream in the distance brought Alex back to the task at hand.

He headed towards the aviary with increased haste, knowing that every second could mean someone losing their life. Alex reached the aviary in a matter of minutes, although it was another hundred meters away along the curving, paved path. At least he did not see any more bodies on the way, which he half expected. The aviary was thirty meters in diameter and twenty meters high. Suspended wooded walkways surrounded the diameter and zigzagged across the middle. If the tourists made it there then hopefully, most of them would still be alive. Alex did not think Old Salty would be able to fit through the two doors to get into the aviary, they both opened outwards.

Alex moved towards the doors and saw they were twisted and torn, pushed inward and impossible to open. He would have to crawl through if he went in this entrance. The other entrance was the opposite side of the aviary and would waste precious time to reach. If he was going to get Old Salty, he would have to crawl through on this hands and knees.

“Here goes nothing.”

Alex slung the rifle over his shoulder and knelt down slowly. His old companion arthritis reminded him that he was still there, yelling at him through each joint. Cautiously, he crawled through the first mangled steel door. He was now in the two meter by two-meter section between the outer and inner doors. This is the most vulnerable position he would be in and he knew it. Sweat dripped from his forehead and into his eyes.

Alex paused and sat upright, he needed to wipe the sweat from his eyes, he could not see clearly. He ran his hands across his khaki shirt to dry the sweat and dirt from them. The last thing he needed now was to get any grit and grim in his eyes while he was stuck in this small compartment.

With his eyes closed and his hand running across his face, he smelt the reptile before he saw it. The hot, putrid breath hit him and almost caused him to vomit. The rancid flesh from past meals, combined with the bacteria in the foul beast’s mouth was the worst stench Alex had ever had the misfortune of coming across. Alex stumbled back and quickly swung the rifle from his back. His vision was still blurred, but he could make out the huge jaws pocking through the warped steel gate in front of him. He fired the tranquilizer into the ancient reptile’s gaping mouth.
“Take that you bastard.”

Old Salty roared, swallowing the dart that was wedged in his rough rancid tongue. The crocodile slide back; catching it is head on the jagged mess of a metal door and tearing at the scaled neck. Blood gushed out of reptile’s neck and it twisted and turned in agony.

Alex reloaded the rifle and fired another dart into the crocodile’s exposed neck. The tranquilizer pierced the thick hide and joined the other serum in the reptile’s system. Old Salty began to roll, his instinct taking over and going into a death roll. The dart that hit the croc’s tongue was numbing it and it made him think it had something in its mouth. Old Salty might have thought he had grabbed one of Alex’s arms.
The aviary groaned as the giant beast pulled against the metal door stuck in its neck. More blood gushed from the wound and poured out like a geyser.

Alex wiped his eyes quickly then reloaded the rifle once more. The dart hit the open gaping wound the crocodile’s neck. Old Salty let out a primeval groan and then fell to the ground. The force of the beast’s weight against the gate tore a massive chunk from the scaly neck, almost decapitating the crocodile’s head.

“You poor bastard,” Alex said as he let himself fall onto his back, exhausted and aching.

Alex saw the spotlight from the police helicopter before he heard it. He laughed to himself when the spotlight shone on the remnants of one of the activist’s shirts in Old Salty’s mouth. Beneath the FNWAA, logo was the motto, saving our wildlife one creature at a time.


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