The Zoo at the Edge of the World

BOOK: The Zoo at the Edge of the World
8.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Contents

Map

First Day

    
Chapter 1

    
Chapter 2

    
Chapter 3

    
Chapter 4

    
Chapter 5

    
Chapter 6

First Night

    
Chapter 7

    
Chapter 8

    
Chapter 9

    
Chapter 10

Second Day

    
Chapter 11

    
Chapter 12

Second Night

    
Chapter 13

    
Chapter 14

    
Chapter 15

Third Day

    
Chapter 16

    
Chapter 17

Third Night

    
Chapter 18

    
Chapter 19

Fourth Day

    
Chapter 20

    
Chapter 21

Fourth Night

    
Chapter 22

    
Chapter 23

    
Chapter 24

Final Day

    
Chapter 25

    
Chapter 26

    
Chapter 27

Final Night

    
Chapter 28

    
Chapter 29

    
Chapter 30

    
Chapter 31

    
Chapter 32

    
Chapter 33

    
Chapter 34

    
Chapter 35

    
Chapter 36

Acknowledgments

 

About the Author

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

First Day

Happiest greetings and most vigorous welcomes to the Zoo at the Edge of the World. The most deliciously exotic, delightfully luxurious, and ravishingly beautiful resort on earth.

Your five-day, five-night, all-inclusive excursion starts this morning, the minute you step off the riverboat
Saint of the Animals
. We hope you're well rested.

You will be met at the dock by the resort's proprietor, Ronan Rackham. You will recognize him as the famous adventurer known the world over for his thrilling exploits in South America, but here the Conqueror of the Jungle is only your humble host.

Our courteous and experienced staff will spirit away your luggage, and all the stresses and strains of your travel will melt away. Take in a leisurely lunch or freshen up in your luxury accommodations. A Grand Tour of the grounds, gardens, and of course the zoo itself will take guests to the dining hour.

After dinner, the real fun begins. Don your finest dress and join your fellow guests at the Welcoming Gala.

As the happy natives say here in British Guiana: Join friends, and be honored!

 

1.

I
woke up with a knot in my stomach that I couldn't pin on anything I'd eaten. For starters, no trumpet had sounded announcing Father's return from his hunt. And today was Greeting Day.

He'd never missed a Greeting Day before. I decided what I was feeling might be dread.

Father had warned us days ago that if he wasn't back in time, Tim and I were to run the festivities without him, but he assured us it wouldn't come to that. I wondered what was keeping him and whether he was safe.

I was useless on Greeting Day for reasons I'll soon get to, and with Tim as the older brother and all, that placed him in charge of my life.

Yes, it was definitely dread.

“Monkey Talker, you awake in there?” Tim shouted through the door, rattling the knob. Thank God for bedroom-door locks, or else big brothers might take over the world.

“You better not be sleeping, you little peeve!”

I wiped the night gunk from my eyes and tried to tell him to go away. My lips puckered together in spasm, and the air thickened up in my throat.

I winced, and “Guh—guh—ggg—gh!” is all that came out.

In the mornings, it sometimes takes a moment to remember I can't speak. I can always do it so easily in my dreams.

I gave up and instead rapped my knuckles against my bed frame to let him know I was awake.

“I expect you downstairs in five minutes. If you're late, I'll have you scooping up guano from the Bat House with a teaspoon.”

Unmistakably dread.

Fortunately for me (though not for anyone within smelling distance), I'd slept in my work clothes. Yesterday's chores were written on my pants legs in dirt and dung, though I found a Brazil nut in my pant cuff and saved it for Kenji.

Tim was disappointed when I was down in under five minutes, and he told me I'd haul guano anyway.

“Demerits for dirty clothes. What kind of place do you think this is?”

“Ah zuh—zz-zuh . . .”

A zoo,
I tried to say, but got stuck on the
z
.

I'm not a mute, and I'm not stupid like most people think. What I am is a stutterer, and a bad one. I trip on the starts of words, my vowels get stuck, and
um
s wedge into everything. The only sound I can reliably get out is a sneeze.

I can manage a few words, sometimes, if the person I'm talking to is patient. Feeling rushed makes the stutter worse. I don't think Tim has ever stood still long enough for me to say hello, unless Father forced him.

“Sorry, no time for sound-it-out.” He sneered. “We're needed at the boat. You'd be kept out of sight of the guests if it were up to me, but Father pities you. Come on.”

As we marched down the hill from our house to the Golden Path, Tim kept stepping on the back of my shoe. If I tried to get away, he'd push me over and say it was an accident. So I let him have his fun.

The workers were out early today, sweeping the Golden Path and cleaning out cages. Everyone's up before dawn on Greeting Day, because everything has to be shined and lined up just right.

Tim, my father, and I spend so much time in the sun that you can barely tell the difference between us and the dark-skinned Arawaks and Caribs who are natives of this land and who we employ in the zoo. Guess the only thing is that my family all has wavy brown hair, while the natives' is thick, straight, and black. Or if you see us with our shirts off. We have monstrous tan lines.

Father puts the workers through their paces on Greeting Day, forbidding even a drop of dung in the animal cages. As though pooping isn't the main thing these creatures do.

“Spiff up that brick!” Tim shouted at a group of workers sweeping between the cages. “You're leaving it all spotty.”

As much as Tim wanted to get to the boat quickly, he never passed up an opportunity to bark orders at someone. He jogged ahead a few yards and made the group double back up the path to sweep and mop as he supervised.

There was a tug at my pants leg, and I looked down to see a little mustachioed monkey scaling my thigh. She chirped and thrust her hand into my pocket.

“Kenji!” I knocked my knees together and grabbed her. “You sneaky thief! I saved this nut to give to you, not to have it swiped!”

Maybe I ought to explain. Up until now, I've cast myself as unable to speak. Well, I'll just say again, I am not a mute nor am I stupid. What I am is a stutterer. When I was small it was really bad. Tutors rejected me, saying I was hopeless. Father thought so too, and Tim still seems to think that way. But something changed when I turned five. Father heard of a Portuguese doctor passing through Georgetown, the capital city downriver from our zoo, who'd done studies on speech disorders. He arranged for an examination.

When you're a little kid and everyone's telling you you're dumb, it's hard not to believe them. And so that's what I thought, until I spoke to Dr. Vincente.

First, he said there was nothing wrong with my mind. I wasn't stupid. It was the way my mind worked with my lips, tongue, and lungs that caused the problem.

Second, he told me I was a stutterer and I'd always be a stutterer. But he taught me tricks I could use to improve my speech, how to improve my airflow and force my mouth into specific shapes.

As he was leaving, he told me one final thing. He said sometimes, a stutterer finds he may not stutter when he is alone and speaking to animals.

It sounds odd, I know, but it's true. The doctor suggested to my father that I be given a pet.

My father's name is Ronan Rackham, and he is an adventurer. He came to Guiana from England when he was just fourteen years old and never went back. He was the first Englishman to map the inland jungle, and he became famous for discovering new species of animals.

Heeding the doctor's advice, Father went into the jungle to fetch me a gift. He captured a white-and-gray tamarin monkey. She was the size of a small cat and had a red tail, beady eyes, and an enormous white mustache that grew wider than her face. She was a cute little girl, and while the zoo where I lived was filled with monkeys, I'd never had one as a pet before.

Remembering what Dr. Vincente said, I took her to my room and closed the door. There was a tiny corner I liked to hide in, between the wall and the bed, and we sat there together. I held the monkey under her arms. She blinked at me, curiously.

“I think I'll call you Kenji,” I said.

My mouth snapped shut. I was five years old and I'd never said three words together before.

“Am I talking to you?” I asked. “I am!”

I hugged the little creature to my chest. She looked up at me pleasantly.

“I am talking to you,” I said. “I can speak.”

When the doctor told me I'd be able to speak, I'd allowed myself only a tiny bit of hope that it would be true. I told her the story of my entire life. Everything I thought of my brother and father, and everyone I'd ever met. I told her the plots of books Father read to me, and when I couldn't think of anything more to say, I told her my life story all over again.

At some point, Kenji and I fell asleep. The next day, Father found us in the corner behind the bed and woke me up.

I wanted to tell him the doctor was right. I could speak!

“Huh-hh-h—hhhh,” is all that came out.

I was a stutterer and would always be a stutterer. The doctor never promised I could talk with another person.

But I could speak when I was alone with animals. And I've done so with the animals at the zoo for the last seven years.

The dawn sun was creeping over the treetops, giving everything a golden glow. I placed Kenji on my shoulder and gave her the Brazil nut.

“More where that came from,” I said. “Greeting Day's today—we'll have a lot of new guests in. Show them your tricks and maybe you'll get an honest treat, instead of having to steal one.”

But Kenji already had her hand in my shirt pocket, tickling me and fishing around for more.

BOOK: The Zoo at the Edge of the World
8.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Firehills by Steve Alten
By My Side by Alice Peterson
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Thin Ice by Laverentz, Liana
The JOKE by Milan Kundera