Zoo Haunting …
The old silverback watched closely as the man approached. It was darker than usual on this moonless night, but the 40 year old gorilla still had good vision and could see the dark figure emerging from the stand of trees, he waited patiently.
“Well, Maxim,” Carl the security guard spoke through the speaker to the huge gorilla. “So far all is quiet tonight and you look relaxed. Moon is obscured by those heavy clouds,” he looked up at the ominous sky. “Hope it remains quiet, I ain’t up to no spooks tonight, I have had enough of zoo haunting. What do you think it is that scares the animals?” Maxim just stared at Carl, not moving a muscle. He hated humans. He had been locked up in this cage since he was barely a year old because humans killed his mother and captured him. The memories still lingered in his mind even though he was so young when taken from his wild habitat. He was extremely intelligent and had a remarkable memory.
“You know, Maxim,” Carl removed his hat and scratched his head. “One of these nights it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to answer, but, you just sit there looking like you are deep in thought. I would love to know what’s on your mind. If ever you want to talk, I’m here for ya, big guy. Wish I could take you back to where you were born. It’s a shame you spend your life here in a compound. ” He put his hat back on, saluted Maxim and continued on his patrol. Maxim watched Carl leave then saluted him, which he had never done before.
Carl used to love working the night shift at the zoo. It was always so quiet and the grounds were beautiful. It was not a large zoo, but it drew in a lot of visitors because of Maxim and the big cats. The sheer size and strength of the silverback fascinated people and they loved the thrill of fear when Maxim had enough of people staring at him, mocking him and trying to get a reaction. That’s when Maxim would lose his temper and start throwing things around and rushing at the bars to try and pull them apart, swaying his huge body back and forth and screaming. Carl had worked a few day shifts when extra guards were needed and it saddened him to see people taunting Maxim to get him riled up. Carl liked it much better when he could stop and talk to Maxim in the quiet of the night.
But, lately things were not always quiet and peaceful at night. Something weird was going on. Several times over the last few months there were disturbances that startled all the animals and sent them into rage. On those nights Carl had to call backup security or the police to find out what caused the disturbances. They were always surprised to find that the only calm animal was Maxim, just sitting there listening to the cacophony. The other guards thought Maxim must have done something to cause the animals to go wild. Carl knew better, though, and argued with the other guards when they accused the gorilla. Carl knew it was not Maxim. It was a real zoo haunting. The first time a disturbance happened he had seen a large dark figure standing near the big cats compound. Carl pulled his gun and shouted . “Freeze! Hands up!” The figure turned quickly towards Carl then vanished then a little mouse ran across the area. Carl felt the hair on his arms rise as he searched with gun and flashlight, but there was no sign of the figure. He didn’t tell the other guards because he knew they would think him crazy. He had not seen the man or apparition, whatever it was, since, but the disturbances still occurred. No one ever found any sign of an intruder.
Carl had a feeling this night was not going to go so well. After he left Maxim’s area he checked his gun, holster, two-way radio, flashlight and baton just for assurance he had all he needed, even though he knew he did. He had been working at the zoo for almost ten years and had never been this wary. He felt the need to be ready for danger.
At 2:00 AM Carl had just sat down outside the security office to have a sandwich and coffee when a huge bird swooped down from a tree and flew right over his head. He felt the wind from the large wings. It startled the heck out of him, but did not slow his response timing. He stood up, drew his gun and kept an aim on the bird in case it came back, but he lost sight of it as it flew over a compound and swooped down behind it. “Lot of owls around here, but I never seen one that big,” he whispered to himself, “and never been threatened by one either!”
With gun and flashlight ready, Carl ran around to the other side where he saw the bird swoop down. He searched the entire area and up in the trees and found nothing but a small mouse as it scampered under a bush. “Better stay in there little guy or that bird might swallow you whole.” He was jumpy yet very alert the rest of his shift.
Maxim was not in the mood to be watched or taunted by visitors the next day. He stayed behind the trees at the back of his compound. When one of the zoo keepers tried to entice him out by calling through the speaker Maxim flipped him off and turned his back to the crowd.
When Carl came on duty he was told Maxim was “unsociable today and ignored everyone”. When Carl made his visit he saw Maxim standing up and holding onto the bars, looking like he was waiting for Carl. “What’s up, Maxim? I was told you were not sociable today. Something bothering you?”
Maxim sat down and stretched out his long massive arms, waving them up and down. Carl was surprised, for usually Maxim just sat and stared at him. Maxim stood up again and looked up to the sky, then started waving his arms again. “You’re trying to tell me something, aren’t you?” Maxim stopped and grabbed the bars, swaying, then stretched his arms out again. “Big? You saw something big?” Maxim again grabbed the bars and swayed back and forth. “Yes? That means yes?” Maxim sat down and nodded his head. Carl waved his arms like Maxim did. “Bird? You saw that big bird last night?” Maxim jumped up and down then knuckle walked over to his toys in a large box. He took out a puzzle game of shapes, then sat in front of Carl, picking up different shapes and laying them down. Carl watched, amazed that Maxim was trying to communicate. Carl watched as Maxim kept moving the shapes to different positions.
Carl was thinking deeply, trying to figure out what Maxim was doing and why. Maxim pounded on the floor and moved the shapes again. “Moving?” Maxim shook his head no. “Changing?” Maxim nodded yes. For some reason he could not fathom yet, Carl clearly understood what Maxim was trying to say. “Shapes? Changing? Changing shapes?” Maxim stood up and repeated the swaying at the bars.
Carl crossed his arms and mumbled, “Big bird … changing shapes … changing … shapes.” Suddenly it dawned on him. He remembered that dark figure that vanished and the bird last night vanished, then a little mouse appeared both times. “Shape changer, shape shifter!” Maxim started running around on all fours and acted like a kid who was happy to be understood. “A shape shifter? You think that figure, the bird, the mouse are all the same? It is a shape shifter? That’s what this zoo haunting is all about?” Maxim almost went berserk when he knew Carl got it. Both of them felt a strong bond and Carl stayed long after his normal visit time, conversing with Maxim. “Well, I have to finish my rounds, but I will stop back by often tonight in case you need to talk more.” Maxim stood up and patted his hip. “Yes, I’ll keep my gun ready. Damn zoo haunting scares the hell outta me.”
About an hour later Carl was heading back to see Maxim when all hell broke loose. Every animal and bird in the place went berserk. This time Carl did not hesitate to call for backup then he drew his gun. He could see Maxim trying to break the bars down. Looking all around Carl saw the motion-detector lights in the darkest parts of the zoo go off and on. Something was out there prowling back and forth.
Sensing a need for protection Carl ran over to stand close to Maxim, with his back to the cage, his gun and stance ready for whatever was coming. When the lights stopped flashing he knew whatever was out there was now closer. He heard a low growl and turned to his left just as a black panther leaped at him, knocking him down. His head hit the pavement hard and he knew his time had come. He felt the heavy weight of the animal on his chest, heard Maxim screaming in rage, then passed out.
When Carl came to he was surrounded by paramedics, police officers and four security guards. “Maxim, hey buddy, you okay? He has a mild concussion, we’ll take him in to ER and they’ll get him fixed up in no time, he’ll have to be monitored for 24 hours. That dead guy will be taken to the coroner. Good thing you guys got here in time and shot that man. His knife left a few long scratches on Carl’s neck.”
Carl managed to turn towards Maxim and salute. Maxim saluted back.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns