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The Zoo

A Misguided Doctor with a Twisted Dream to Make the World a Better Place

Doctor Joseph Gardner walks the linoleum halls with a smile on his face most days. He likes to remember how he used to play with animals on the street as a kid in his Virginian suburban neighborhood. He likes to remember how they comforted him when the children at school would turn away, when his parents would get loud, his toddler sister would cry, and the whole house seemed like it was screeching. He remembers fondly his interest in science during his middle school years, when he discovered he's a genius, when he discovered the frogs, the smell of formaldehyde that lingered in the classroom and on the students’ clothes (and how in high school it was a small pig). It was in high school that he decided to go into animal medicine and graduated two years early, and it was in college that his sister Abigail was paralyzed in a car accident that was caused by another one of his parents’ ugly fights.

It was while he was getting his Ph. D. that Joseph would spend whole days at the zoo among the animals, thinking about how if only his sister was as strong as the lions that sat menacingly behind the glass. He would take her sometimes and the lions were her favorite. His favorite, though, is still the large shark tank in the back, by the reptile house and behind the polar bear enclosure. He liked to buy a pretzel and a lemonade for lunch and would sit on a bench under its large ominous glow to think about things like what the world would be like if human beings were more like the powerful creatures in the zoo.

When Doctor Gardner gets the call, he’s sat at his desk staring into the rain that blurs the dense forest outside his window.

“Doctor Gardner?” a soft voice asks through the receiver.

“What is it?”

“The patient is waiting in room 33L for you.” 

He smiles to himself and hangs up the phone without another word.

He brushes his hair out of his dark, tired eyes as he makes his way to the elevator at the end of the hall, showing more excitement than he would be comfortable showing if any one else were around. In the elevator, he presses the button for the third floor and it blinks on. He’s taken back to the shark tank at the zoo to the day he discovered the electric eel that comes out to eat at 2 PM every day. Its piercing eyes and pointy grin have haunted his dreams since then. The elevator dings and the doors slide open letting in the cacophony of pain and desperation that emanates from the hall walls. Joseph Gardner’s smile widens at the reminder of his hard work, the quickly growing number of successful Life Modifications, until this one. This patient has proven to be especially tricky to perfect and the doctor’s health has been steadily spiraling alongside his confidence.  Until today.

Room 33L greets the Joseph with a plaque on the door that reads “Electrophorus electricus.” When he opens the door, on a metal examining table sits a young man, nineteen years old, his hair white and his skin even whiter. His black veins barely visible, but with a close enough look, are really a darker shade of the slim rings of deep electric indigo that surround the boys unnaturally large pupils. All the years of hiding and burying animal corpses and stealing scalpels from the biology classroom have lead to this moment. One broken soul, one weak body at a time. All the people that sneered off his vision as a grotesque dream, a product from living his life in a nightmare, have been proven wrong, one species after another. Dr. Joseph Gardner’s favorite animal in the zoo, it had taken him just a little bit longer, he tried just a little bit harder and now, his electric eel sits in front of him, pointed teeth bared and piercing eyes wide, reflecting the doctor's own face back at him.

The eel boy reminds Joseph of the zoo back home. Getting lost in those beady black eyes is like a high, because every time, he falls into a swirling pool of flashback. Many of his earliest memories are drenched in loneliness and helplessness, confusion and anxiety. It wasn’t 'til after the accident that injured Abigail that Joseph found a light to shine on him. He became her savior and in turn her condition became his purpose.

***

It takes weeks to get it just right and by the time he’s finished, the weather is screaming yet again. This time he doesn’t get a call; he’s been there, day after day, since the moment he made the decision to put a scalpel to his paraplegic sister.

Abigail becomes as bright as ever and wastes no time developing an even stronger, unwavering loyalty to her brother. He’s always been the savior to coax her out of the darkness, telling her all the things she could be and giving those dreams to her. He’s her god. He’s her survival, her evolution, he is all her primal instincts. And her identity. It’s a gift that he bestows upon her every day when he entrusts her to dictate the rules of natural selection within his zoo. The facility has been getting full and The Lion is Doctor Joseph Gardner’s solution for his overpopulation issue, an idea he’s been toying with for months, and what better way to reward his sister’s loyalty than with a seat at the top of the food chain?

Dr. Gardner wakes up from his nap to the second hailstorm of the day clawing against his office window. He checks his watch, 1:30 PM.  He can catch the end of lunch if he leaves right now. Dr. Gardner’s floor is always quiet, it’s for this reason that he never minds the wailing behind the walls when he travels from floor to floor. Regardless, it’s become significantly less quiet since The Lion was let loose to roam the halls as she likes, less of his mistakes, his failures, are left to draw attention to themselves.

The elevator sighs the whole descent to floor B2. The rooms on the second basement level have found most of their purpose after having been transformed into gruesome dining rooms for the doctor’s sister. The sound his well dressed steps make bounces off the walls and the couple minutes it takes to reach his destination seem longer with nothing but the sound of his expensive shoes echoing against the inside of his skull.  

He passes through the two double doors tucked away in the north-west corner of floor B2 quietly, and nonchalantly approaches the couple of doctors that are sat in front of a large window.  The iron door bolted and secured just to the left of them makes a muted thud that chimes in with a sound similar to that of water pelting a window. Joseph Gardner takes a place behind the two doctors, leaning forward, a hand on each of their chairs, watching the behavior in front of him intently. The blood on the two way mirror obscures some of the scene but its expanse far from compares to the pieces and clumps of anatomy sliding down the walls and swept across the floor.   In a marinade of bodily fluids lays what is left of what seems to be just another one of Dr. Joseph Gardner’s unfortunate experiments. He nods and his pleased expression is met by a toothy sneer. She softens at the sight of him and lets flesh fall to the floor, the body quivers in response and the fluorescent lights catch a familiar flash of silver hair amongst the gore.

Something inside the doctor hitches, snags, and begins to unravel.

“Who put her in there with him?” His tone of voice mirrors the violent storm raging outside. 

Dr. Joseph Gardner frantically demands that the door be opened and as the doctors oblige they stutter a defense directing blame at the hungry lion who crouches over the pale, blue-veined boy with a grin. Joseph Gardner scans the floor for the eyes he’s looked into every day since they returned to his life, they peek out blankly from under the eel’s stained hair. He stares into his own figure reflected in the giant black pupils. Nothing. There. Was. Nothing... No flashback, no high. And when he looked at Abigail... no light.