The Exclusion Zone: #3

Norm Gibbons

I was the first of my kind to enter the zone. You might say, I had the place to myself. Humans hadn’t put up fences yet, as if that might stop us. The rodents were already here. A few birds too. In the early days, I definitely got a snout full of mice. The taste was off compared to what I was used to. At any rate, life seemed interesting for a time.

Acclimation took it’s toll though. Instinct said to spook at each noise and smell, to expect every step to land in a leg-hold and every morsel to taste of poison. Perhaps, the stress of the unknown, more than my limited diet, led to skin rashes and weight loss. When I finally learned that there was no need for panic, the ease of settling into the humdrum of life came as a surprise. I missed the old exciting highs of the chase though, the beying from their stupid dogs, bullets whizzing over my head, and the hunters screaming god knows what.

The humans left clutter everywhere in the zone. I wandered in and out of their buildings. The paint peeled and the roofs leaked and the weeds grew through the cracks in the floors. Most rooms sprouted molds and mushrooms that I’d never smelled or seen before. For want of something to do, I tore stuffing from mattresses, chewed off doll’s heads, rolled in smelly stuff and licked knobs and switches that tasted salty and human. On quiet, idle days, curiousity would get the better of me, and I’d sit for hours in front of some rusted metal hulk trying to imagine what the thing did. I strolled down their hard straight roads, drank from their puddles and ate their stale packages of food. The doors of their homes were unlocked or smashed open, so I had shelter whether I needed it or not. Often I’d climb the stairs of taller buildings just to get the big view.

My routine turned into an obsession, heading off in a new direction each night, until I had an accurate idea of the zone’s shape and size. It took me a week to saunter from one end to the other. At the perimeters, beyond the fence line, I caught glimpses of life, vehicles roaring by, men running in packs, and shouting and arguing like humans always do. I shielded my eyes from their bright lights and covered my ears from the clang of their incessant machines.

As the years wore on, the vegetation flourished. Trees grew through the roofs and weeds busted up the paved roads. Others arrived: squirrels, rabbits, badger, weasel, beaver, cats, wild boars, roe deer, red deer, the great egret, the whooper swan, the short-eared owls, and my kind too. My diet improved substantially, but I never got back the robust energy levels of pre-zone times. I still don’t understand why they left the zone, and whether they wanted to lock people out, or lock in some dreaded thing I hadn’t yet discovered. The fact that they did leave however, seemed like an opportunity for all of us.

When the wolves came, they followed me around just to get the lay of the land, but once they had the maps in their brains, which didn’t take long, I became the one who followed them. Breaking into a clan wasn’t easy. As wolves do, each pack staked out their territory, pissing and shitting their own exclusion zones. On rare days they’d let me hang out on the fringes, but more often than naught, the aspiring alphas would chase me away. Even when they set up their chorus of howls through the long nights, none would answer my call.

===========================================================================

Author’s note: Many times an anonymous, unidentified black and white photograph suggests a story. I’m working on a B & W series.