Previous Story: 15. The Runaway Train
Swinging, swinging, jumping, swinging.
Food. Need food. Taste good. Need more. Taste good.
Playing, playing, swinging, jumping.
Tired. Tired. Rest.
I wake. Something’s different. Very different. Me.
The chimpanzee awoke and found he was alone. He walked to the outside of the ape house and discovered that all the others had gone. All except … he’d never given her a name before but now it seemed like she needed one. Everything was different. He could hear his own voice in his head.
Whitey. He decided to call the female Whitey because of the patch of white fur on her head. She hadn’t been in the ape house all that long and he’d never spent much time with her.
When he’d gone to sleep there’d been many of them. Now there were just two. Whitey was sitting near the main gate, which was open. Yet she didn’t seem to want to leave. They greeted each other but then something amazing happened.
Where are the others?
It wasn’t only his voice he could hear but hers too. He was so surprised that it took him a while to reply.
I don’t know. What happened?
I wish I knew, said Whitey. The gate was left open. The humans never do that.
Humans. The chimp hadn’t given them a name before. They were just the different ones; the ones who stood up and talked with their mouths and looked after the apes. Humans.
He gazed beyond the gate, at the path that was usually full of humans coming and going. Usually, they stopped to look inside the ape house, especially the young ones.
Whitey scratched her head. I want to leave while I have the chance. What if the humans come back and lock us in again? Are you coming?
The chimp had been at the ape house for a long time; longer than any of the others. He couldn’t remember living anywhere else. He’d never seen what lay beyond this place. He was frightened.
No. Not now.
She put her hand on his shoulder. You might never get another chance.
Whitey smiled at him then went on her way. He watched her for a while then returned to the ape house. There wasn’t much food around but he did find a couple of apples. He sat in his favorite corner on a comfortable pile of straw and munched away. He was alone. But at least he felt safe.
I need to know. I need to see what it’s like out there.
So the chimp put his fear aside and forced himself to walk out of the ape house and onto the path. Everything seemed quiet. He kept walking until he reached a fence. He peered through it and saw two huge black bears, both asleep. He didn’t dare disturb them so he kept walking.
He came to a large display mounted on a fence. It contained lots of pictures and words. The more he looked at it, the more it made sense, even the words. One word featured a lot. Zoo. He reckoned that was what this place was called. A zoo.
The chimp heard a noise he recognized. A human child, crying. They often cried, the young ones – just like apes. He followed the noise until he reached a bush beside the path. A young boy was hiding in the undergrowth, looking out at him with wide eyes.
Hello. What’s your name?
It didn’t work. The boy didn’t understand. The chimp put out his hand but the boy turned away and looked along the path. Only now did he realize what the child was so scared of.
A wolf was loping towards them. The chimp somehow knew that this was a dangerous animal. Perhaps they could hide?
But the terrified boy broke cover and ran for a nearby building. He dropped his pack and almost tripped over but he kept running. The wolf sped up, now bounding towards them.
The chimp knew he had to help. The boy had just reached a door. He shook it but it wouldn’t open. The wolf was getting close now, mouth hanging open to reveal big, sharp teeth. The chimp took the boy’s hand and dragged him towards a nearby tree. He scrambled up it, locked his legs around a branch then reached down for the boy. The boy took his hands and the chimp hauled him upwards. They climbed further up and looked down at the wolf. It gazed at them for a while but then turned and ran away.
The chimp soon realized why. A man ran along the path from the opposite direction, something shiny in his hand.
The boy slid down the tree and ran over to the man. They hugged each other and the boy pointed back at the tree. The chimp didn’t like the look of that shiny object and he remembered what Whitey had said about the humans. So, he climbed up to one of the higher branches, from where he was able to leap onto the building. He watched the boy and the man run off, then crossed to the other side of the roof. He sat at the corner and looked around. He could see many structures and open areas and fences and pools; he’d never realized the zoo was so big. The chimp wanted to see everything, learn more about not only this place but the world outside.
He was about to climb down when the wolf appeared again. It walked up to the building and looked up at him.
The chimp was amazed to discover he could also communicate with other animals.
Why did you run away earlier? I promise I won’t hurt you.
Despite its big teeth and gleaming eyes, there was something about the wolf’s gentle voice that made the chimp believe it was telling the truth.
I promise. I just want to talk.
The chimp climbed slowly down the building and dropped warily to the ground.
The wolf aimed its snout along the path. If you come with me, I’ll take you to some other animals. We’re free but there are many dangers. We’re stronger together. Will you come?
The pair set off and walked past the young boy’s bag. The chimp opened it and pulled out a piece of clothing. Upon the label were some letters. He was stunned to realize he could read them and understand the sound. W-A-L-T-E-R.
I’m Howl, said the wolf. What’s your name?
Call me Walter.
Next Story: 17. Cocktail Hour