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Prompt:

A breeder of exotic animals

Goes back in time

Silver quill

A Couple of Dodos

Zak Crider did not want to go back to work. Not without a plan. It was an impossible decision – close the Zoo on Sundays or lay off a zookeeper. And no matter how he tried to explain to the city council that both would reduce income, they remained firm. The mayor, normally a huge proponent of the city zoo, was silent the whole meeting, letting the City Manager make a case for cutting the zoo’s already tight budget. And while Zak was all for the 1909-2009 “To the 9’s” city centennial celebration, cutting his funding to pay for it didn’t seem fair. 

He arrived at the Hallerin Zoo and stood at the entrance for a moment. It wasn’t the San Diego Zoo by any stretch of the imagination, and yet Zak was proud of it. Only last month, the zoo was recognized for its part in repopulating a bird known as Gambel’s Quail. 

 A young woman pushed past him with a stroller, struggling to keep up with a small boy running full speed while yelling “Monkeys!” He seemed to know exactly where he was heading and tore down the sidewalk to the monkey enclosure. 

Zak watched the little boy and smiled. This was what he wanted. A place where kids could be as inspired as he once was. Where the animals he once read about in books could be seen, heard, and,  honestly, smelled. His office was at the back of the property, so he had a few minutes to think before he had to face anyone. 

Or that was the plan. Like many things today, it was not a plan that came to fruition. Marci, one of the zookeepers, waved her arms, then trotted over to Zak. “Good news! Elizabeth Swan is pregnant.”

“The character or the actress that played her?” Marci and her celebrity gossip could be a bit annoying. 

Marci huffed. “Hello? Elizabeth Swan, the otter? Wasn’t it your idea to name them after pirates?” She swatted him on the arm, “Did the City Council approve the new habitat for them?”

“Uh, no.” He took a deep breath. “The mayor likes the pirate ship.”

“That’s great, but the otters are bored. Do you know how bad it has to be before the otters are bored?”

At least they are getting fed. “It wasn’t the best council meeting.” Zak started walking to his office again. 

Marci followed him, her short legs going twice as fast.  “We can make a big deal out of the otter birth, bring in a crowd. That will show them.”

“There are otters in every river in a ten-mile radius. No one comes to the zoo for the otters.” It was sad but true.

Marci patted him on the arm. “But we need to get more people here, don’t we?”

“Yes, but I’m afraid the otters won’t do the job.” He looked out over the monkey enclosure. The little boy was trying to get the attention of a spider monkey, who was more interested in a bug in his companion’s fur. “Even the monkeys are a bit stale to this town.”

“I know a guy,” Marci said. She looked around, then leaned closer, whispering, “He leads time travel trips.” 

Zak had heard about this time tourism, but he never knew anyone who actually did it. Everyone “knew” a guy who could arrange it, but it sounded like trying to get some good whiskey during prohibition. His brother had tried once and said that he got to the meeting then couldn’t remember the signal word, so the person wouldn’t even meet. Time travel had never interested Zak. Who wants to live in the past? “What, go back and get some ancient creature and bring it back for the zoo?”

“Shhh, someone may hear,” Marci said. She pulled on his arm. “Let’s talk in your office.”

Once in Zak’s office, Marci closed the blinds and checked the supply closet. “Just making sure we’re alone.”  She squatted a bit, looking under Zak’s desk.

“Enough, we are alone. Now, what are you talking about?”

“What you said. Go back in time and rescue some extinct species, bring them back, and everyone will come see. It will be like the Gambel Quails, only bigger and better.” Marci flipped some papers on Zak’s desk. “I know a guy. I can give Turk your contact information.”

“Wait, who, what?”  Zak started to open the blinds, then closed them again. “How do you know anything about this?”

“My sister gave me a birthday present. It as a time trip. We went to 1963 and saw the Beatles in concert. It was amazing.” Marci sighed. “Turk was the guy who took us. He’s real nice, I’m sure he can help.”

“You traveled to 1963–”

“And lived to tell about it.” Marci crossed her arms. 

Zak stared at her, then closed his mouth. “What was it like?”

“The travel part was a bit bumpy, like turbulence on a small airplane. But once you get there and put on the correct clothing – Turk is mad into details – it’s fun seeing what life was like back then.” Marci smiled. “I would do it again in a heartbeat, but maybe a bit further back. Like the 1870s or something.”

“It’s one thing to go see a concert, but you’re talking about changing the history of evolution. Who know’s what it would affect?”  Zak paced a bit. His office was small, but a few steps in each direction calmed him. 

“Turk knows all that; he’s very well trained. But it has to be very secret, or he won’t do it. He can’t be caught.”

“Caught? What, nabbed by the Time Cops?”

“He calls them Time Wardens, but yeah, he could get in trouble, as could anyone with him.”

“See? It’s a bad idea all around. Much too risky.” Zak walked to the door. Maybe Marci would get the hint and leave.

“I would think if we are talking about the future of this zoo that you have put so much of your life into, any risk would be worth saving it.” Marci bit her lip. “So should I call him?”

Zak looked over at the monkeys again. The family was gone, and no one was there to see them. Maybe she was right. He was an exotic animal breeder. What would be more exotic than breeding an extinct species? 

***

They arranged to meet at a park a mile from the zoo. Turk insisted on privacy, and Thomas Park was all but empty on hot spring afternoons. There was a duck pond with ducks, geese, and the requisite otter. 

When Zak arrived, there was one other person there, a skinny kid with shaggy red hair and ripped jeans sitting on a bench. The kid kept looking at his cell phone, then putting it back in his pocket.  There was nothing that suggested his name would be Turk. 

Zak looked at his watch, 2:33. They were supposed to meet at 2:30. He walked over to the kid on the bench. “Excuse me, but—“

“Hey there, you must be Zak the ZooMan!” He stood up and held out his hand. “I’m Turk.”

Zak shook hands. “Thanks for meeting me. This is a stupid idea, the more I think about it, it’s all wrong.” He looked around to see if anyone was witnessing this meeting. They were alone.

“Marci said you were worried about interfering with evolution. Gotta say, I like how you think. Not everyone looks at all the consequences.” Turk bobbed his head as he spoke. 

“Exactly, and there ARE consequences, aren’t there? You can’t just bring a species back without affecting the entire ecosystem.” Zak ran his hand through his hair. Why was he so nervous talking to this kid? He had to be 18, 19 at the most. What would he know about time travel?

“Sure, there are consequences. That’s why time travel is so tightly regulated. Not just anyone can take you on a trip like this. Some guys just find a timepiece and poof, gone. No plan, no research, nothing. They just show up and cause all kinds of problems. Once a guy brought a Glock with him, you know one of those fancy guns? Well, they went to see Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral. It took three time rangers to fix that mess.” He sighed. 

Zak stared at Turk. Maybe he should just forget the whole thing. If he walked back to his car, would Turk follow him? 

“Zoo- man, this is a great idea. I did some research after you and I  talked. We could go to Mauritius in 1660 and grab a couple of dodo birds easy peasy. ”  Turk swayed as he talked. “It really helps that there wouldn’t be any people around, so we could just grab and go. Unless you want to take the scenic route.”

“The scenic route?” Zak was almost afraid to ask.

“Yeah, we time travel to 1660 Netherlands and get on one of their merchant ships. They always stopped at Mauritius for a break. Eventually built a settlement.” Turk looked at the inside of his wrist. “But it would be a six-month voyage and you would have to commit to being a Dutch sailor for at least that time.”

This was a bad idea on so many levels now. “I would rather not be gone six months, if it all the same to you.” Zak said. 

“See, I knew you were a smart guy. I do my research. You got a PhD in Zoos from –”

“It’s Zoology, the study of the behavior, structure, physiology, classification, and distribution of animals.”

“Just because I said you were smart, you don’t have to prove it.” Turk rolled his eyes. “We are in and out, home with the birds in as long as it takes to catch them. No one sees us, except the birds.”

Zak couldn’t believe he was even considering this. “Stop a minute. How do I know this is for real? Marci said she went to hear the Beatles, but how do I know you didn’t drug her?”

“Yeah, I get it, man.” Turk pulled out his wallet. He held out a ten-dollar bill. “Check the date.” 

Zak took the bill. It was fairly worn, but there was the date, 2016. “This could be fake.”

“It could be. But I actually live in 2020 right now.”

“Really? And how is 2020?” Zak handed the ten-dollar bill back.

“Pretty bad, actually. Donald Trump is the President and there is a global pandemic killing people.” Turk shook his head. “That’s why I came back to 2009. That and Sam, my girlfriend. She is too old for me in 2020.”

Zak started to turn around. This was a giant waste of time. That, or Marci was pulling the mother of all pranks on him. 

“What about a little practice trip, so you can see this is for real?” Turk grabbed his arm. 

Zak thought about the City Council cutting the Zoo budget. “Can you go forward? Can I see the Zoo in five years?”

“Excellent idea!” Turk smiled. “Let’s go.”

“Right now? Don’t we have to do something special?”

“I have everything I need, over there in my trunk.” He pointed to an old Subaru.

Zak followed Turk. They went to the car, and Turk took two jars from the trunk. He removed something from each jar, put it in his pocket, then locked the jars in the trunk. 

Zak tried to see what was in the jars before the trunk was shut. It had to be the drugs, mind-altering drugs to think he time traveled. 

Turk went to the back door of the car and got a backpack. He pulled out a shiny silver cylinder and slung the pack on his shoulder. “Ready?”

Zak nodded, keeping his mouth tightly shut. 

“Okay, you need to put your hand on my arm here and hold on. If you let go, who knows when you will end up.” Turk took the cylinder and twisted it

Zak grabbed his upper arm. “You mean where I will end up, right?”

“Zoo-man, we are time-traveling. We will stay right here in space. This device is only one-dimensional. We will use something else to go to Marititius.”

“You’re sure we’ll end up here?”

“I research everything. You are safe with me Zoo-man.”  Turk then put the end of the cylinder to the inside of his wrist. 

Zak felt a vibration, like a small tremor. He clung to Turk’s arm.

Turk smiled. “Okay, here were are. Welcome to 2014.” He started walking. 

“Wait, prove it’s 2014.” Zak jogged to catch up.

“I am. We are going to the Zoo, it’s just over there.” He pointed to some brick walls at the edge of the park.

“No,” Zak said. “The zoo isn’t alongside the park.”

“Sure it is. You had to expand. They needed more room.” Turk led him around the wall and to what seemed to be a new entrance to the zoo. 

It resembled a Disney property, with turnstiles and lines of families waiting to go in. A gift shop had a poster for small silver quills. Zak stared at the poster. No, they couldn’t be…

Giant video boards lined the sides of the plaza. As crowds waited in the long lines, they could watch live feeds of the exhibits they were coming to see. On one board there was a family of dodo birds. And Zak saw someone feeding them. Someone who looked just like him.