The Human Zoo is my baby. My brain child, and the love of my life. It's my first completed novel, being edited professionally. I am pursuing publication for it. Most people don't realize how much time, money, and effort need to go into writing, and publishing a book. It's been worth every bout of anxiety though.
Below is the first chapter to The Human Zoo. It has a sister chapter (Chapter 2), and they go hand in hand. I'll be posting both here.
Enjoy! Or don't.
Chapter One - Priya
13 Years Earlier
I sit in a corner. My knees touch my chin, and I pick at my fingernails. When they start to cry red, I stop. Benjy, my only friend, sits cross-legged next to me, staring at the floor. His fingers draw pictures against the rough cement.
Today I'm five, I think. That is what the people in the blue clothes say when they come in and do tests on us. One at a time, we are being taken by the tall lady who has with a dark circle on her left cheek, short black hair, and green eyes. They call her Aerion. No one has come back, but they all go through the metal door that makes a whooshing sound like sucking in air. I watch as each kid grins at her, but I'm not smiling. I know she is bad.
The soft yellow of the room I call home makes my tummy flip. I breathe in through my nose, and out through my mouth. My tongue licks my lips. The metal door opens again and cold air rushes in. Aerion locks eyes with me.
She doesn't come for me though. She reaches for Benjy, grabbing his arm,
pulling him up to his feet.
Clinging to him, I pull him down by grabbing his arm. "3- 5- 6- 8- 5- 3, let go," Aerion says.
"Where are you taking him?" I ask. For a second, she looks confused.
"It's okay, Priya," Benjy says, patting my hand.
My head shakes "no" as he nods "yes."
He pulls me off his arm, and I look into his brown eyes.
"Come back?" I whisper.
"I promise," he says smiling.
He holds his hand up, his five fingers wide, and I place my hand against his.
"Bye, Priya!" he says walking away with Aerion. His brown, curly hair bounces as he giggles and jumps through the metal door. I rub my thumb over the number on my calf, 3- 5- 6- 8- 5- 3, thinking, my name is Priya. I sit for what feels like hours as those who remain are taken.
One hour. Two hours. Ten hours. No one comes for me.
"They don't want me." I start crying as wet tears slide down my face and into my mouth. Then she comes in.
"3- 5- 6- 8- 5- 3, it's time," Aerion says soft and sweet. My body freezes.
"Where are we going?" I ask as her green eyes squint at me.
"Somewhere better." She says looking at me, then slightly turning her gaze toward the black panel in the ceiling. She reaches for me, and I bite her with my teeth. She screams with her mouth open wide and eyebrows touching one another.
"You will mind," she yells slapping me across the face.
My fingers claw at her.
She kicks me in the stomach and grabs me by the hair, dragging me toward the door. My tiny hands can't reach hers as I scream wildly, pain shooting across my head. I kick out, twisting my body toward her. My foot hits her shin and she lets go. Scooting away, I huff out of my nose. My eyes dart around, looking for a way out. My heart beats against my chest so hard I look down to make sure it's not going to pop out.
"ANIMAL!" Aerion screams at me.
"I'm not an animal!" I scream back.
She presses behind her ear and says, "Guardians, do your job and get in here. Now!" A few seconds later two men dressed in all black enter.
Both of their faces have shiny black masks over them, showing only the straight lines of their mouths. The taller one stands by the door as the other guardian walks toward me, his short frame identical to his dark uniform. I keep scooting until my back touches the wall behind me. As the man gets closer to me, he stops and turns around, waving his hand at the other guardian. Then the man at the door comes and rests by him. Slowly, I stand, then run, hoping to squeeze into the space between their legs, but strong arms pick me up and toss me on the ground. The world looks upside down as
I'm thrown over a shoulder. The metal door reaches out for me. I thrash and fling myself against the guardian's clothes.
Reaching out, I grip the edges of the door, straining to dig into the metal door.
Effortlessly, my fingers are plucked off. I bite down, and my teeth clash with metal. The world is dark for a moment, and then I see the light. My eyes squeeze shut. We enter a long, glass hallway.
People stand on the other side of the glass with their teeth showing. I can hear them laughing. Bright flashes of light bounce off the glass and tiny faces like mine press up to it. I'm still—confused, scared—wondering why these people are on the other side. Why they are free?
"Help me! Please! They are taking me!" I try to shout, but it comes out as a whisper. I keep squirming, reaching my hands out, waiting for someone to help. No one comes. Warm tears fall down my face.
Out of the mass of people, a little boy appears and steps up to the glass. He has brown hair and bright blue eyes that stand out against his skin. His lips curl down into a frown. I watch as he raises his hand and places it against the glass, five fingers spread wide. Reaching my hand out, I copy him. He smiles at me and I stare at him until the guard takes me through another door. Then he's gone, and I am lost.
Chapter Two - Jax
Seated in the back of the class, I sit surrounded by clean, uniform, off-white walls. It feels like a quarantine room in a hospital. In front of me, words scroll endlessly across the screen on my small, transparent desk as the professor lectures. Schooling doesn't interest me, especially history. Why do people insist on reliving things they can't change? Our whole future needs guidance.
My attention is diverted as a message scrolls across the screen.
"Oculus tonight? -Deice"
I grin at the message from my best friend. Most nine-year-old boys like to go to Oculus. It's full of junk food, candy, and video games.
I reply, "Uh yeah, duh. Time? -Jax"
"You have to ask? After school, DUH -Deice."
Class suddenly becomes exciting, and I begin to count down the minutes until the day is over. As the professor switches textbooks, I look back down at the screen. A new title pops up: The Era of Eugenics.
"Eugenics," I whisper out loud, the word leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
The professor's voice becomes more powerful as he begins his lecture. "The Era of Eugenics, an outstanding time in our history. In fact, it is the pinnacle of the evolution of human beings."
My ears perk up. The concept is familiar, but I can't place it. Pictures flood the screen in front of me: fires, human skeletons, some green, square machinery
I have never seen before, and a cloud that looks like a mushroom.
"This is what the world used to be like," the professor adds, "a time when our animal instincts controlled our human ones. These pictures show a time when destruction, starvation, and war ruled our everyday lives."
Involuntarily, my hand shoots up. "What's the green thing?"
"Jax, it's good to know that you're paying attention for once." My eyes roll. "To answer your question, that's what an Original would call a tank. It was a staple in their military as a weapon to destroy everything in its path. The mushroom cloud next to it was even worse. A bomb that could destroy entire cities."
Many of my classmate's gasp in shock. I sit mesmerized as the professor continues talking about the Originals.
"People finally realized that we couldn't go on like this; then an amazing man by the name of Dr. Emerson started the purification process, otherwise known as the Pure Beginning." An image popped up of a man in a white coat holding a small vial of purple liquid. "The Emergers, as they were known, were the first pure, genetically modified humans. There were thousands of them.
These people were smarter, more athletic, and more beautiful than their predecessors. They were gods." My body stiffens at the word "god."
"We tried to live happily with the Originals, but they were animals, vile beasts, murdering our people. Relying more on raw instinct than logic to dictate their world. Eventually, The Emergers decided it was time to ratify the situation. It was during this time, The Final Hunt, that the people of Eugenics hunted Originals until they were almost extinct."
An image of two men came on the screen. Underneath it, the caption read: THE WINSTON BROTHERS. Both men had brown hair and brown eyes. The one on the left had dark skin like coffee and the other, on the right, had light skin resembling my professor. My gaze moved from their eyes to their smiles until it reached lifeless bodies draped over their legs. The image disappeared.
"The remainder we keep to forever remind us of what we do not wish to be.
The animals now reside in safe havens in zoos across the world, where they can live as the happy animals that they are." The screen goes blank. I sit back in my chair as questions whirl through my mind. My stomach churns with nausea. Classmates ask questions but their voices are drowned out by a ringing in my ear.
The screen to my desk flashes brightly. I look down. A new textbook pops up, Mathematics. Grumbling, I put my head down as the professor begins a new lecture.
About an hour later, he stops, and the class looks around, confused. The school day is only halfway through.
"Today we're cutting class short due to a surprise. A field trip to the zoo!" The professor says grinning.
It takes a minute but finally, it registers, and all my classmates start to whoop and holler with excitement.
A message scrolls across my screen.
"Oculus after the zoo? -Deice"
"Sure," I reply, feeling a wave of sickness.
* * *
Deice and I sit on the transit, examining a map given to us outlining the zoo.
The first electronic page makes the zoo seem like it's an oasis amongst the tall buildings creating the city. As I flip to the next page, there is an aerial view of the layout. Three circles placed together to form a triangle with another smaller circle set on top. I look at the map key. There are four labeled.
The first, marked A, is the main entrance. The other gates are labeled gate C, Caucasian Sector, Gate D, Mongoloid Sector, and Gate E, Negroid Sector. A giant tower labeled B sits in the center for recreational activities, restaurants, additional entertainment, and more.
Zooming in, I realize all the sectors have the same layout broken into six sub-sectors: Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania; then further by direction. I zoom back out.
"So, it's like three big circles shaped like a triangle, divided into six little circles broken down into four smaller parts. Easy enough, right?" I say to Deice.
"Yeah, easy!" He chuckles. "Can you imagine if we didn't have a map?"
"Nope," I shrug.
"You don't even need a map, right? Doesn't your—"
The transit slows to a stop. I hear a soft voice sings through the intercom.
"Welcome to the zoo! Please enter on your left-hand side. Enjoy!"
Like a swarm, everyone files out in unison. Two tall marble gates open wide as we approach it. It's intimidating, yet mesmerizing. We scan our ID cards and walk up the extended, rectangular area until we enter a lush area full of vibrant flowers. My eyes soar up the looming, slender tower that sits in the middle of the flowers. A tall man with dark brown hair and sharp blue eyes greets us. We have similar physical features.
"Hi son," he says, bending down to shake my hand. My father, Matías, owns this place along with a few others. People see him as a businessman and a hero. His work is well known throughout the world, but I couldn't look at him now: the disgust growing stronger each second thanks to the knowledge shared with me today in history class. My father always told me that the zoo was a haven for animals. That our people are saving them by keeping them locked away. After the history lesson today, and learning animals lived like us until they lost a war, has my mind whirling with questions and my gut turning in on itself. It's too difficult accepting father's huge impact in this.
"I'd like to start by thanking every one of you for coming today. Here at the zoo, we encourage all people, especially children, to come and see the message we are trying to spread. Normally, we'd have a tour around the zoo and a meal at the end. Today, though, we have a special surprise for you all,"
Matías said, standing and addressing my class. "As tradition stands, when teachers start teaching the lesson of Eugenics, all children are sent to witness the atrocity that used to be the Originals. For many of you, this is not your first time at the zoo, but it is the first time you will understand its necessity. We are doing these animals a favor by saving them from extinction. Even wild beasts deserve sanctuary from the dangers of the world." He pauses. "Now as I mentioned, the surprise. Follow me."
My father leads us toward the Caucasian sector. Many of my classmates jump and skip with delight as we make our way forward. We walk straight until we come to a simple building with no labels. My father holds the door open as we all crowd in. After going through a few additional security measures, we stand before a brightly illuminated glass hallway. My eyes squint shut, adjusting to the brightness.
"The surprise today is the transition from the nursery to the outside. The permanent removal of the cubs from the inside to outside begins at age five.
This is the age that our scientists have deemed appropriate to release them into the enclosures with their kind. Feel free to capture as many moments as you wish. Enjoy," my father says beaming with joy.
As if on cue, one by one, cubs are led through the glass hallway in front of us to another door. With intrigue, I watch as a woman with sleek black hair and a mole on her left cheek holds the hand of, what looks like, the runt. She smiles at us as she goes, but the creature—err, boy—looks nervous. We continue to watch cub children walk down the hall until my stomach starts to growl from hunger. A few smile and wave but most keep their eyes downcast with tears staining their cheeks. When it seems like the last child has passed, everyone cheers. I look around and see bright eyes and flushed cheeks from lingering adrenaline.
"Don't you think they look just like us?" I say confused to Deice.
He looks at me from the corner of his eye and nods in nervous agreement.
"Oh, hold on, everyone. There's one more cub. It's a fighter," my father says excitedly, regaining everyone's attention in the room. "We had to call in The Guardians. Military personnel responsible for the safe transfer of all animals."
Two men come out carrying one more child. She's screaming, biting, and kicking at the space around her. People "ooh" and "ah" at her wild behavior, soaking it up, reveling in her fear. I can't see the girl's face as her hair whips from side to side. Then she comes to an abrupt stop. Her thin and tiny arms reach out to the glass. Her mouth moves void of sound.
She looks around with saucer-wide eyes that drip with tears. They long for comfort and compassion. Yet her face hardens. She knows there is no one to help her and her gaze turns to me, light brown eyes wide and wild. I feel the power of her stare.
For reasons unknown to me, my feet step closer to the glass and I press my face up to the transparent wall between us. I raise my right hand onto it as to give her an air high five. She copies my movement. My lips twitch into a smile. I never lose contact with her—not even for a second, until she disappears through the final door. Then, she's gone, and I am lost.