Friday, 6 March 2020

The Zookeeper and the Jinn



by Mason Bushell

Um Bongo  (wild fruit juice)

The City Zoo, a place full of wonderful creatures. A square mile of fun and natural entertainment. Despite that, zookeeper Billy Flanders was not happy. He sighed while walking along the yellow gravel park between the primate exhibits. Walking through throngs of animal ogling people carrying cameras and ice-creams, he looked all about him. A stampede of screaming kids had him diving aside and scowling at their apologetic parents. With a hand on his heart, he shook his greying head of hair and scanned the tree line. He’d lost a young koala and knew he’d be fired if he didn’t find it alive. Without warning a helium tiger balloon on a string struck him square in the face. He batted it aside and followed the string to a baby boy giggling in his pushchair.
“Good shot, young man.” The zookeeper smiled at him.  
“Sorry about that. Petey didn’t mean it.” said his mother, a woman with a bun of rose-red hair.   
“Oh, of course he didn’t. Enjoy your day.” The zookeeper gave a wave, the lady smiled and walked on never noticing a large coin tinkling to the floor due to a flurry of screaming children. Billy scooped the silver object into his hand and opened his mouth to call and return it. His eyes took in the horned creature surrounded by flames and his mouth closed again. “This is no ordinary coin.”
“Ah, Bill. Can I borrow you?”
The zookeeper looked to see a young blonde lady wearing the zoo’s uniform. She was stood waving from an enclosure entrance. He smiled and walked her way. “Hallo, Emily. Haven’t seen a koala wandering about, have you?” he asked.
“Sorry, no. I have a swine of a jar I can’t open, can you try for me?”
“Sure, let me have it. You should have given it to George. With his strength he’d have it open in a heartbeat.” Billy entered the enclosures workroom. He put the coin on the stainless-steel work bench, then took the jar of jam from Emily. “Argh- this is a tough one,” he groaned through gritted teeth as he twisted the lid off.
“Yay, well done.” Emily grinned having caught the lid as it shot off the jar. “Thanks, for that. What’s with the coin, you have there?”
“Not sure it is a coin. I just found it out there.” Billy read the incantation encircling the demon on the coin. “What do you think it means?”
“Looks like a talisman from the witchy TV shows, if you ask me.” Emily shrugged. Picking up her basket of fruit, she put the jam inside and headed toward the door for the animal living space. “Thanks again, Bill.”
“My pleasure, I better go and find this koala.” Bill sighed and set off again.

Inside the enclosure, Emily laid out the fruit on the tree trunks and bamboo climbing apparatus. She created pools of jam in log holes to add fun for the animals under her care. Reaching into her basket for more fruit, she furrowed her eyebrows with growing perplexity. The fruit had come from the fridge, yet it was pretty warm to the touch. A creature covered in orange ambled up to her.
Emily smiled at him. “Go on, George. Help yourself.”
“Ooh Oo,” he said while putting a long arm and hand into the basket. He withdrew a banana and someone else. He raised the banana to his thick lips and the five-inch tall figure yelled at him.
“No, don’t eat me, you, hairy git!”
“Ahhh ahh!” George scratched his backside with his free hand and looked mystified.
“I don’t believe it, last time I got used as a rattle by a baby. Now I get summoned to a bloody orangutan.”
George the orangutan allowed the Jinn to stand on his open palm and moved his head close to peer at him. The Jinn stood wearing khaki safari shorts and leaf-green sunglasses. His topless torso of red skin was ripped with muscle and as if chiselled from granite.
“What have you got there, George?” Emily moved closer. The Jinn saw her and stretched himself as tall as he could.
“I assume you summoned me. I don’t appreciate being forced to deal with manner-less creatures, you know.”
Emily just screamed. Several of the Orangutans began screeching and bouncing about in a frenzy. George panicked and hurled the Jinn as if he was a bomb. The little man shut his eyes and began praying as he flew out of the enclosure, over a wall and splashed into a small lake.
Surfacing he gasped for breath while treading water. “One of these days, I might actually get summoned by someone with a little damned respect. I’ve —”
“These animals are partial to eating children. Please do not lean on or climb over the wall. We feed Goliath, Solomon and Athena enough protein and have noticed that kids give them indigestion.” The voice was from a man reading the sign for the enclosure the Jinn was wallowing in. “That’s charming,” he said before walking away.

The Jinn gulped and drew a deep breath. Something enormous was moving right behind him. He turned to see an enormous gaping mouth, full of menacingly large teeth, dripping with saliva. “Bloody marvellous! Okay, Gator, before you give yourself some Jinn-tergestion, listen up.” The little man levitated on to the armoured creature’s long snout and stood between his bulbous nostrils. “Here’s the deal. You don’t eat me, then in return I get you some breath mints - and boy do you need a sack full of those!”
The alligator snapped its jaws loudly.
“That’s a no croco-deal then.” The Jinn jumped away from the alligator’s fearsome maw as the alligator lunged for him. Sensing his summoner, the Jinn vanished in a puff of smoke.  

Billy had made it into the avian section of the zoo. He knew a eucalyptus tree grew amid all the cages of squawking and screeching birds. If that pesky Koala was going anywhere, hopefully it would there, to feed; after all, koalas eat nothing but eucalyptus. Making a left turn at the owl aviaries, he came into the picnic area. Many families and a school group sat eating among the trees and climbing over the dinosaur playground. Taking out a small pair of binoculars, Billy scanned the branches for his little grey quarry.
“What are you looking for?”
Billy stiffened in fright. The voice hadn’t come from anyone close to him - it had come from his right shoulder. He lowered the binoculars and rolled his eyes to the left. He caught sight of the Jinn stood looking at the trees with a smile on his face.
 It was too much for the zookeeper. He screwed his eyes tight shut. “Nope, no… There is not a red man on my shoulder!”
“Erm, yes there is.”
“No there’s not.” Billy shoved the binoculars back over his eyes and recommenced his search in the hope that the little man might disappear.
The Jinn took hold of his ear lobe and whispered. “Yes, there is. You summoned me.”
“No - I - bloody well - did not.” Billy brushed him off and walked to the other side of the Eucalyptus.
“Have it your way. However, if you tell me what you’re looking for - I might be able to help,” said the Jinn opening his arms in a friendly gesture. Billy was aware that nobody else seemed to be noticing the Jinn. Even the family that waved at him as they left the area, hadn’t noticed him. Feeling he was dreaming, he reached up and poked the little man in the stomach. A gasp left his lips as he felt skin and muscle.
The Jinn scowled. “That’s it go on, poke bruises all over me. See if I care.”  
“Sorry. I … er — I can’t believe what I’m seeing and feeling.” Billy managed.
“Well, I knew I was handsome, but I don’t deserve such a shocked reaction, do I.” The Jinn flexed his biceps and posed for a moment.
“You’re a five-inch tall man. That’s the shocking bit.”
“Well spotted.” The Jinn rolled his eyes. “In fact, I’m a Jinn and you summoned me. So, you apparently lost something. How can I help?”
“Yeah.” Billy let out a sigh. “I lost a koala. If it gets hurt or remains lost, I’ll get fired.”
“Ouch!” Well, I’m good with fire. So, I can handle the punishment.”
“Yeah that’ll help, thanks Jinn.” Billy set off out of the area. At once a person in hippopotamus suit ran past, scaring some children. It cannoned into Billy, he slammed his shoulder into a cage before he could right himself. The Jinn fell into the cage, landing on a perch inside. He looked up at a large bird with lots of blue and yellow feathers. It turned its black beak and looked at him with a beady eye.
“You’re a pretty boy,” said the Jinn.
The bird squawked, then swore violently.
The Jinn’s jaw fell open as he vanished and returned to Billy looking disgusted. “What sort of zoo is this. Your parrots swear at everybody!”
“Well, that one does, anyway,” Billy said his eyes scanning the trees again.
“I noticed. Oh, look- criminal horses.” The Jinn pointed into a paddock, where several equine creatures stood grazing.
“Pardon?”
“They have black and white prison stripes on.” The Jinn clarified.
“Those are zebra and they are supposed to look like that.” Now it was Billy’s turn to roll his eyes.
“Oh, yeah, my bad. Anyway… lost koala.” The Jinn raised a hand and conjured a small flaming arrow. It spun about for a moment before falling still, pointing to a direction forward and left of them.  “He’s that way.”
“Wow, where does a man get a flaming finding arrow, like that?” Billy stood mesmerised by the magic he was seeing.
“When I divorced from my fairy wife, I had to find all my belongings. Rotten woman scattered them over several dimensions, you know. Got this spell from a witch out west. It’s kind of neat isn’t it?” the Jinn looked proud.
“It’s awesome.”
“So, koala?”
“Oh, yeah. Come on.” Billy started running.  The two passed the reptile house. The python with a keeper there made the Jinn glad he wasn’t going in that building. The arrow directed them further into the African section. Beyond the elephant and giraffe house, they came to a stop.
“Of course, where else would a koala be.” Billy groaned as he picked out the little Australian marsupial high in a beech tree. A tree that just happened to be growing in the middle of a glass-walled enclosure. Prowling – circling below it were three very interested lions.
The Jinn took in the majestic big cats, felt their low rumbling roars in his chest, and grew wide-eyed. “Right, my job’s done, then. There's your koala, I’ll be going now. Bye.” He raised a hand to vanish. Billy caught him about the legs and held him before his face.

“Not so fast, Jinn. I summoned you, right? Now I command you to go in there and rescue that koala.”
“Tell you what, I’ll magic the lions out here first. Then you can go and get him, how does that sound?” The Jinn looked hopeful.
That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I need to rescue the Koala – not have a pride of lions mass-murdering half the zoo’s visitors, you idiot!” Billy sighed and walked around to the large barn that was the lion’s internal enclosure. “Any chance you can get them in here.”
“Of course, I can. You open those hatches and be ready.” The Jinn vanished.
Billy entered the building and found the lion's keeper Josh. With a tattoo of a maned lion on his forearm and a matching hairstyle, you might say he loved those big cats.
“Hey, Bill. ‘Not often you come to my neck of the woods, ah?” he said his voice amiable yet deep.
“Hallo, Josh. I lost a koala and I think your lions are about to eat him. I need to get them in here and rescue him. Can you open the hatches?”
“Oh boy! I can open the hatches. I’m not sure we’ll be able to lure the cats in here with a living dinner in the enclosure, though.” Josh moved along the caging and pulled some levers throwing the doors for each holding cage open. To his astonishment as each one slid up, a terrified chicken raced in. Behind them came the drooling lions.
Billy watched one pounce on a chicken, go right through it and slam into the cage wall. “Nice one, Jinn.” he breathed as the lion shook off the blow with a quizzical look in its murderous eyes. 
“How the hell did you do that?” Josh asked while dropping the hatches again.
“No time. Come on.” Billy grinned as he followed the zookeeper into the enclosure. They approach the tree in time to see the Koala climbing down with the Jinn riding on its back.
Billy gratefully took the funny little marsupial bear into his arms. “Thanks. Josh,” he said before heading back into the zoo a relieved man.
“Well, how’d I do?” asked the Jinn looking smug on the zookeeper’s shoulder again.
“Thank you, Jinn. The chickens were genius. You saved this little guy and my backside in one go.”
“I’d be lion if I said that was an easy trick to pull.” The Jinn gave a cheeky grin.
“You’re a real bloody comedian, you know that?” Billy said with a shake of his head.
“I’ll be on stage all night.” The Jinn floated into the air. “Actually, no I won’t. I’ll be heading off now. Don’t summon me if you decide to get hugged by an anaconda, or lose your pants in the gorilla cage, will you?”
“I won’t, thanks Jinn.” Billy turned to smile at him, but the little red fellow in the khaki shorts had already returned from whence he came.




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