“I do have to admit that this is somewhat exciting,” Alicia whispers as she walks arm in arm with her husband. They move to the side to let a group of kids run by, all of the children exciting to be at the Bronx Zoo. “Dawn was very nice about the change of plans too. I hope she isn’t forced to close Heaven’s Nest because of this. Did you know she is turning one of the lesser used floors into an on-site hospital?”
“If you ask me, the woman is overambitious on that regard,” Demarcus replies while watching the bears. Two of the large beasts stare at him, their heads cocking to the side in unison. “Guess I’m not one to talk, but at least I’m staying in the food industry. Maybe she’s simply a different breed of entrepreneur than me. Not that I’m jealous, but I’ve never met anyone like her.”
“Should I be getting jealous, dear?” his wife teases with a playful smirk. She yelps when a peacock jumps out from behind some bushes, the bird spreading its wings to block their way. “It doesn’t look friendly, so let’s go around. Perhaps it’s mating season and we came too close to a nest.”
Moving around the bushes, they find that more peacocks are strutting around the wider path and screech at people trying to get through. The birds refuse to move even when the workers try to get through in a cart. Forced to get out and push the vehicle, the two women are mercilessly pecked around their calves and ankles. With an echoing call, one of the peacocks jumps onto a young girl’s head and bends down to eat her ice cream. Amused at first, the child begins crying when the animal refuses to leave and sends her snack to the ground. Having already taken a picture, the parents attempt to shoo the bird away without hurting it. Fed up with the stubborn peacock, the father punches it in the head and immediately finds himself swarmed by the entire flock. It takes a minute for the workers and several helpful visitors to get the man out of the aggressive mob, his head covered in bleeding cuts.
Unnerved by the scene, the Langs take the only open path and stay far away from any peacocks that they see. Wanting to get somewhere safe, they duck into the Reptile House and take immediate comfort from the silence. Voices can be heard from the far side of the exhibit, but the first hallway is empty of visitors. The couple takes their time to see the babies and move on to a display of tortoises. Once their hearts stop pounding to the point of aching, they relax and take more enjoyment from their outing.
“I never knew peacocks could be so aggressive,” Alicia says, moving on to a tank with a large turtle inside. She runs a finger along the glass and is surprised by how her hand comes away with a thin layer of frost. “They should do something about those birds. If you ask me, it isn’t safe having them wander around unsupervised. You wouldn’t do that with a polar bear or a tiger.”
“To be fair, peacocks don’t eat people,” Demarcus replies, moving ahead to look at the various snakes. A lump grows in his throat when he glances ahead to see the crocodiles are more active than he has ever seen them. “Besides, how would you keep them in one place? Seems a shame to put them inside since they need a lot of space. Cutting their flight feathers would be cruel too. I’m sure the people in charge will figure something out.”
“True. It is so cold in here.”
“Strange considering this for the reptiles.”
“They seem comfortable though.”
“Maybe it’s only something on this side of the glass.”
“Such a strange day.”
Coming to a large reticulated python, Alicia leans forward to get a closer look at the sleeping animal. It takes her a second to realize that her head is actually inside the tank, the glass that was there a moment ago having disappeared. Moving back, she turns toward her husband to find that he is nowhere to be seen. A loud crunch draws her toward the main area, her attention locked on the grunting crocodiles in their enclosure. Tails can be seen thrashing and one of the animals occasionally jumps out of the water to slam into the glass. A chorus of frogs joins in the symphony while a distant hissing sends a chill up the woman’s spine.
Hoping to find Demarcus and leave, Alicia is passing a bench when the sound repeats itself to her right. She screams when she spots a gigantic crocodile sitting next to an educational display. The creature has golden eyes and its scales are white, the ones around its mouth covered in blood. With a quick lift of its head, the predator swallows the last part of Demarcus and licks its lips in an oddly human display. Taking a step towards Alicia, the animal opens its mouth to show her husband’s head is stuck in its throat. Hacking and coughing, the crocodile stops its advance to swallow the last of its meal. The animal makes a quick charge at the woman and snaps at her legs, but she moves away at the last moment.
With another scream, Alicia smacks the crocodile in the head with her purse and drives it back. Green blood is ebbing from its punctured eye and it becomes more cautious since it cannot catch its next meal by surprise. The terrified woman slips out of her heels and turns to run back to the entrance, but stops at the sight of the pythons slithering toward her. As the reptiles approach, the biggest one begins swallowing the others until it is the only one alive to devour Alicia. She is surprised to see the serpent rear up, its head touching the ceiling. Checking the crocodile, the cornered woman sees that it is inching closer while deciding if she or the python is the better meal.
Retreating against the wall, Alicia feels a damp mist and wet plants against her neck. She reaches back to find that there is no glass for the tank she is touching. Looking down, she frowns at how the information display is blank, except for the picture of a frog. One of the colorful animals hops onto her shoulder, its golden color beautiful and slick. The amphibian stares at the nervous woman, its eyes tiny pools of black curiosity. When the crocodile grunts only a few feet away, Alicia screams and the poison dart frog leaps into her open mouth. As the paralyzed woman collapses against the wall, the python returns to its cage and regurgitates the other snakes along the way. Turning to the crocodile, she sees no sign of the animal or her husband, except for Demarcus’s blood-covered watch.