Hey all. I decided to take a break from Max (although I’m by no means giving him a rest) and try to see the world of Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo from a new perspective. Hope you enjoy!
For anyone counting (hah! only me), this piece came in at 2,249 out of 2,250. Pretty close!
Dance of the Apdna
Cara’s face blanched as she scrubbed the inside of the Apdna trough.
The amount of grime and muck which had built up over the course of the last year was enough to make her breakfast demand freedom from her stomach. She did not let it go. She wasn’t sure what kind of game she was playing, but somehow that felt like losing.
Why does it smell? she thought as she dipped her scrub brush back into a bucket of soap and water. It was starting to look about as green as the trough.
She’d managed to make one small tile shimmer in the afternoon sun, but most of the trough was still dull and disgusting. She still had a long way to go. Cara took in a deep breath, tried not to gag, and continued to scrub.
She’d nearly finished shining a second panel when she heard Max’s eager voice call from the other side of the enclosure.
“Cara? You gotta get this. Just look how cute these little nuggets are! This one’s hugging my leg. And look another is on my arm! They love me! If this doesn’t get us likes, I don’t know what will.”
Cara looked up from the trough and, as she expected, found Max standing among a small swarm of Apdnas. The little bears were about the size of a raccoon, with pointy ears, and a kind of yellowish fur. The one hugging Max’s leg looked almost green, and Cara could tell that it had already had a small adventure in the trough she was cleaning.
“You know that behavior is actually a kind of hunting method,” she said. “Enough of those pile up on you, and you won’t be able to move to save your life.”
“Ah. Looks like someone read the brochure,” he laughed. “I can’t imagine these little guys causing all that trouble. They’re too precious.”
Cara shrugged and went back to scrubbing the trough. “We’ll see how precious they are when they’ve got you pinned to the floor,” she said under her breath.
Max seemed not to hear, but that didn’t mean he was done with her. “Cara seriously. Come take the pic. Let someone else clean that muck.”
“But Mr. Quixotic said it needed to be done before the shift change. A donor is coming, and everything needs to at least look like it’s in working order, even if it isn’t.”
He gave her a flat stare. Another of the bears was attempting to wrap itself around his head, and tuffs of Max’s black hair were sticking out between its limbs.
“And one of the new kids will be by soon to clean the trough, but you were hired to run our social media accounts. Don’t you think you should be doing that? The post about Apdnas on the account last week was great! Everyone loved it.”
“Which means I should snap some photos of the Sand Seal this week. Showcase something different.”
“Cara think! That post nearly doubled our follower count. That’s the kind of results Jerry’s expecting. You need to take this seriously.”
“If I post about the Apdnas again so soon, people will get bored of them. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Another post will saturate the market. Is that serious enough for you?”
“Look, Cara, I’m just trying to help. It isn’t fair to your brother to be responsible for paying the bills for your mom’s medicine on his own. I just thought –”
He was interrupted by the loud clang of Cara’s brush hitting the metal of the trough where she’d thrown it.
How dare he!
Before she really knew what she was doing, Cara was on her feet, trembling. “You know what Max, I think your right. I shouldn’t be cleaning this trough after all. I’m taking my fifteen.”
The new kid Max had referenced earlier, Peter, nearly dropped the expensive looking speaker he was carrying as he scrambled to move out of Cara’s way. As she stormed out of the Apdna enclosure she felt like an animal herself, stalking the asphalt pathways leading around the other enclosures.
She wanted to kill Max for hurting her – for implying that she wasn’t doing her part to help her brother. She decided to kill an order of fries instead.
Her outrage only seemed to increase as she waited in line for the meal. It was because of her mother that she was cleaning this trough to begin with, so she could show Jerry that she was capable of doing more than taking photos and writing witty captions.
Perhaps if he saw her doing work that the other employees did, he would allow her to work a couple regular shifts. He didn’t have much extra money for ‘advertising’ and was only able to pay for a few hours a week for her to work on the social media accounts.
But of course, Max didn’t understand this. His assimilation into the team at Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo had been nearly painless. A reference from Ms. Pine had got him in the door, and then a fluke accident in the Sand Seal hut had put him in everyone’s good graces right away. Sure he’d endured some minor hazing by the other employees with the Savage Penguins, but they’d all had his back at the end of the day.
Cara’s acceptance into the ‘herd’, as Jerry would say, had been less smooth. Working so few hours had meant that she hardly got to spend any time with the other employees, and the nature of her position meant that whenever she did see them, she was prying into their lives for a ‘Staff of the Week’ post or trying to get them not to pose during a supposedly candid photo.
She pulled out her phone and began swiping through a random app, trying to distract herself. But it wasn’t the same. Image after image swiped by, and nothing seemed to lift her spirits. Eventually, she’d gone through all the new content and found herself looking at the most recent post from Port Monster. It showed one of the other employees holding a bottle up to a baby Apdna’s mouth.
Maybe Max was right and she should have just used another Apdna photo for today’s post. She had enough of them saved up on her phone. The little bears were incredibly cute and so she’d spent quite a few of her first shifts in their enclosure trying to get just the right shot.
As coworkers went, they were quite accommodating. She’d found them easy to pose as part of their natural instinct was to try to mimic what they saw. She’d read online that because the creatures needed to be so close to their prey in order to overpower them, they thought mimicking the prey’s movements would allow them to pass as part of the prey animal’s herd.
It was really wild. She’d managed to get the little bears to do all sorts of poses and even some small movements like waving.
But she wasn’t taking care of the animals. Not like the girl in the picture she’d captured. It was just as Max had said. She was hired to run the accounts.
But she wanted more
At last, Cara’s small box of fries was empty. She still had a few minutes left before she needed to return from her break, so she put her arm out and lined up a selfie. After a few unsatisfactory attempts – her curly black hair looked too frizzy in that one; the light wasn’t good for her dark skin in this other one – she dropped her phone on the table in disgust.
Normally she loved posting pictures of her day, even if it was just her lunch. But now that she’d started doing it for work, it had lost all its luster. She wondered briefly if that was the real reason she had wanted to take up the tasks she saw the other employees carrying out. She wanted a distraction.
Cara’s phone lit up and buzzed slightly, showing the alarm she’d set earlier had counted down to zero. Her break was over.
Her walk back to the Apdna enclosure was a slow trudge. She couldn’t help but feel like she should apologize to Max, but she still felt he owed her an apology as well. She knew from fighting with her half-brother Trevor, that this was never a good way to finish an argument, but she couldn’t see any other option.
Cara entered the enclosure with her phone out, ready to snap a photo of Max and the Apdnas if he was still willing. She looked cautiously around the enclosure for him, trying to anticipate the mocking sigh of relief or the cool reprimand he’d no doubt have waiting. But she didn’t see him at all.
She did catch sight of Peter who came rushing over from the other end of the enclosure.
“What do we do?” Peter asked.
“What do you m—”
But then she saw it. Max lay in the trough on his back, covered it Apdnas. He appeared to be trying to say something, but one of the yellow bears had completely covered his mouth with its little body.
Cara did not waste any time thinking of what to do. She stuffed her phone into the new kid’s chest and raced into the enclosure.
The first thing she would need to do was get the Apdna’s attention. If she could get them to focus on her, she might be able coax them away from Max.
She clapped loudly several times and yelled “Hey!”, as she had done a few times when taking pictures of the bears on earlier shifts, but as it had been then, the move was of little use. Only a single bear looked her way, giving her a little wave of its paw, miming Cara’s own frantic movements.
Ughhh! I need to get all of their attention!
She looked around frantically for something – anything! – that might make more noise and noticed the new kid’s speaker lying close to the trough, crooning k-pop softly. She rushed over to it, jabbing and then holding her finger on the little plus sign that controlled the volume. Suddenly, the room got loud.
All of the Apdnas turned to look towards the unexpected sound.
I have their attention now. But what do I do with it?
Without a clue as to why, Cara started dancing. She moved to her left in a kind of galloping motion, then back towards her right. Reflexively, some of the bears which were not already attached to Max began to mimic her. A few others even let go of him to copy her.
She kept going, adding a kind of lasso-type motion with her hands, and then cantering her legs before turning and starting the whole thing again. She kept the dance up, allowing another three rotations to pass before she was rightly facing Max again. About a dozen bears had released him from their grip . . .
It was enough that he could move again, and he began pulling them off of himself. Before long, each Apdna in the enclosure was focused on her. Before starting a second rotation, Cara saw Max flee from the trough and begin picking his way toward the exit.
Cara did not wait to finish the dance completely, but instead began sprinting towards the exit, hoping the bear’s reflexes were slow enough that she could reach it before they gave chase. Max saw her bolt and did the same, both of them reaching the gate of the enclosure at the same time.
Cara slammed the gate shut. The clang echoed, startling a few nearby patrons. She looked at Max.
“Cara. I’m – “ Max ran his hand through the back of his hair, and looked away. “Listen I – Thank you.”
She didn’t know what she had expected him to say, but this seemed too simple. Too small, after what she’d just done for him.
She should call him a fool. A pompous idiot, who would have deserved to be smothered under the bear’s cuddly bodies. She was about to do so when she caught herself.
What good would it serve? His apology seemed genuine enough if crudely formed. Peter saved her from having to say anything by rushing up and blurting “Look! You’ve got to see this.”
He had Cara’s phone in his hand and basically shoved it at her and Max. The two leaned together so they could both see the screen. It showed her doing her weird dance, and seeing the Apdnas dancing alongside her was about the cutest thing she’d ever seen. Max crept comically back towards the exit and Peter’s hand waved him on.
The whole thing was hilarious.
But more importantly, people were loving it. Likes were flooding in and reposts too. The video could not have been posted for more than a few minutes, and their follower count had nearly doubled, many leaving comments wondering what caused the bears to behave like that, or where had Cara learned to dance like that. Someone from Channel 8, the town’s biggest news station, had messaged them about a feature on the Apdnas and asked if Cara would interview.
She looked up at Max. “Do you think Jerry will let me?”
He grinned like a fool. “After this, he’ll let you do whatever you want . . .”
Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Dance of the Apdna. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!
See you next time!