My hands clenched with the hair-prickling feeling that silent eyes followed my steps.
Worn sneakers crunched in the gravel as I set them one in front of the other. I refused to look over my shoulder. Wailing noises broke through the darkness, slicing through the night like my solitary flashlight beam. Gnarled limbs leaned over the path, pressing inward and blocking any light the night may have surrendered.
A screech sounded abruptly to my right. My flashlight instinctively followed it, then dropped sharply at the sight of eerie illuminated eyes. A keening noise, tearing up and down and up and down taunted me as I paced more quickly down the path.
Dense hedges stood dark and silent to my right and a low chain link fence to the left. A second fence, tall and sloping inward, towered a few feet beyond the first. The disembodied crunch of my feet on gravel masked the whisper of a second, much larger set of feet pacing through the night. Felt, but not seen. I kept my beam on the ground.
Ahead, the path bent right, cutting through the dense row of bushes and my footsteps quickened, turning the corner.
A figure leaped in my path and I screamed, my flashlight tumbling wildly to the ground as the beam twisted through the night.
"YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" shouted the figure, barely finishing his sentence as deep, resonating booms of laughter choked his thin frame. His laughs melded into a deep, hacking cough. Heart pounding and breath ragged, I weakly laughed with him, the adrenaline making me light-headed. Frank either took this job way too seriously or about as seriously as a ten year old boy.
"Come on kid, we're burning daylight!" Bent with age and an emancipated frame, the old man's exuberant voice belayed his body's appearance. Striding purposefully down the path, Frank chuckled at his own joke. As night watchmen, daylight was hard to come by.
The crook in the path led us to a squat but sturdy building. Inside the dim lights were clogged with insects. I exhaled deeply, rubbing my eyes. The perimeter rounds at midnight were always the worst, especially on moonless night when you walked alone. I took this job green as a new leaf, straight out of college, hoping it might open some doors. Frank seemed like he'd been here his whole life.
A long, musty corridor greeted me. The hall was lined with sturdy coffee-brown doors each containing a single glass window to peer through like a microscope examining the life within. The hall ended abruptly in an oddly placed office, a thin layer of dust settling on the pencils, paper, binders, and other strange tools. Bins labeled "monkey biscuits" and "dogfood" squatted about, and a long wooden crate lay against one of the walls. On the sad desk lay a huge calendar labeled "Enrichment and Medicine Schedule". Under each day was the name of one or several animals with listed medicine requirements or enrichment activities.
Not pausing to sit in the patched abomination that served as a chair, Frank bent awkwardly, holding his hand to his mouth to hide another coughing spasm. His whole body shook regardless. He checked the calendar, studying it while I drew lazy pictures in the dust. He tossed me what seemed to be a shriveled black ball.
What the hell, Frank?
(Don't forget to comment or vote!, and keep reading to find out what Frank is up to:)
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The Other Side of the CageShort Story
The story of two night guardsmen who work at a Zoo, and come to understand what it means to be on the other side of the cage. It is inspired from my own experiences working at a Zoo, and actual events that occurred at that Zoo. _____________________...