Welcome To The Zoo

Welcome To The Zoo


This book is not out in print yet. What follows is a small excerpt.

I am a pet.
I was once called Miles. Now, names mean little. Nothing does, except what they deem important.
            A pet, living in a cage. Expected to perform on a whim like a monkey on a grinder.
            Trained to behave, or taste punishment. Some friends didn’t survive their misbehavior.
            All of us, on display in a human zoo.
            They had stolen us from our homes, our families, our world. They ripped from us more than just the physical. They milked us dry of our imaginations, our songs, our art. Or so they thought. From a race which seemingly had no innate talents of their own, they drank from our songs.
            They expected us to roll over, heel, submit, when shown their power.
            They expected wrong.
            It’s time to rattle the cages.
            I am a pet. I am also human and this is my story.
The breeze of f the Atlantic Ocean washed over me as the solo to “All Along The Watchtower” blared out of my little amp. The boardwalk at Point Pleasant had just been picking up when it happened. A Friday night down the shore was always considered a minor holiday for anyone under 30, whether it was there, Belmar, or Seaside Heights.
            The sun had just begun to fall across the horizon as the beach spilled dozens of sun worshippers from the sand. Deep into the west the sun set, throwing a bloody violet spray .
            I hummed along with the melody as passer s by nodded their heads, tapping their feet.  Everything had fallen from grace in my life but the music would always find a way to save me.
            If I had stopped singing and playing long enough to think about what my family was doing that evening, the tears might flow again. I blocked them out, just like I did every other day. They would be better off without me, at least until things turned around. Almost 17, I should be on my own anyway. School would be out soon and my days would be spent at the beach.
            Mom and dad had lost their jobs, so I did what any idiot would do. Took off and hoped they’d realize I helped the situation.
            With one less mouth to feed, maybe my parents and little brother would be able to find an apartment. That’s how I rationalized it anyway. Things would change. As my fingers played the final notes of the solo, the lyrics nearly couldn’t find a voice. The lump in my throat choked on the words but I knew that the few dollars tourists might toss in the open guitar case might could pay for a day’s worth of food.
            I missed them constantly and sent emails to my sis daily from the library. They thought I slept at the club where I had a part-time job. I’d let them think that until either I could send cash or the parents landed a decent job.
            The salty breeze took the place of my tears I refused to shed, cool against my eyes. The taste would sometimes choke me when I sang, but hell, rocking out at the Jersey Shore made it all worthwhile. If I kept telling myself that, maybe it would become real.
            I just needed a home again. Somehow.
I prayed the gang that visited me the previous night found somewhere else to act like white trash on this Friday. It seems that the homeless, or those who just appear to be , wer e easy prey for the sociopaths, like the quartet of older teens, who had no business being allowed to roam the boardwalk. They likely slummed out the summer in their parents’ rental house with nothing better to do than be jackwads and get drunk on their dads’ liquor. All looked like they were off to Princeton in the fall, preppy and cocky, but with enough attitude to kick someone’s ass. They had found me under the boards and likely would’ve killed me if I hadn’t bolted into the surf on the boogie board I found last week. When the torrents of threats and curses died down, I eventually returned at high tide under the height of moonlight, hoping a knife blade or slab of driftwood wouldn’t end my breathing before my time had come.
            The other night, I managed to knock out a tooth of the leader with an uppercut he never saw coming. The leaders of these gangs never expect the first punch to be aimed at them. Surprise. I’ve never been one to follow the rules.
            He would be looking for payback.
            Rebel musician. Good student, when it suited me. And dirty fighter, but only when given no other option.
            Good living at the Jersey Shore.
            When I did open up, it was to Mr. Vai at the Crossroads Club. He’d been through much of the same stuff when he was a kid. Poverty sucked, but he convinced me that all things changed, eventually. I didn’t mind talking to him, because it’s always easier to talk to someone who didn’t get inside your feelings. I couldn’t afford feeling right then. Maybe soon.
            Just then an attractive girl stopped in front of me and smiled while I sang, it happened. She stopped by the bench where I had perched with another girl in tow and listened.
Actually listened.
            I broke out into my version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” which epitomized how I felt right then and there. As the first lyrics fell from my lips, both girls stepped closer and appeared to tune out the bustle of the crowd. My smile couldn’t be helped as I my fingers played the beautiful chords under the vocal s .
            What was her name? Would I get a chance to ask her? Girls usually smiled and watched when I played and sang, sometimes even hung out with me at parties and clubs. Until the music was over. Nobody had ever wanted to date the homeless guy.
            But maybe, just maybe things would change.
            Yet just as I launched into the chorus, I saw them. All four of them. Walking from the north, likely hammered and looking for a second chance at me. The gang strode up the boards and carried water bottles likely filled with powerful stuff. My mind raced but I didn’t lose the beat.
            They wouldn’t have the stones to try a beating in broad daylight, would they?
            Screw it. I was never one to retreat from a romantic moment, few as they had been.           As the brunette with soft brown eyes smiled back at me, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the guys drew closer. They knew I played on the boards daily but probably didn’t think I’d be ballsy enough to return so fast for another beating.
            They’d reach my bench in less than a minute, well before the song ended. I didn’t want to lose this girl’s attention. I realized I couldn’t ditch my stuff, either. Use it? One good swing of the guitar and Mr. Princeton himself would be visiting the dentist until his senior year of college. Hopefully, it wouldn’t break the Strat. Keep her attention and hope the group of four held a bit of common sense or ready myself for self-defense. ?
            The leader’s face broke into a sick grin when he got within thirty feet of me, realizing he’d seen me see him. His lips didn’t part, likely due to the missing tooth I knocked from his jaw. From the look on his face, he wanted to do more than even the score.
            And still, she stood there. Oblivious to the imminent fight that I kept wishing would hold off until later. I scanned left and right. No cops on bikes in sight. They didn’t care, either, not unless a good deal of blood stained the old wood.
            I met her eyes. Smiled at her and received one back.
            A flash of light shone behind the cloud above the beach. Sunshine lightning? Maybe I’d be struck down before I had to face my fate.
            I gripped the neck of the guitar tighter as I played the second verse.
            Twenty feet. All four would be in my face within seconds. Sweat rolled down my neck and my eye twitched with stress. Two of them began to clap, mocking my performance, but their expressions echoed the rage on the leader’s face. I couldn’t run. More than just the guitar would be lost forever. Why the hell did I ever leave home?
            The light above faded to a dull blue as the cloud expanded to the length of the shoreline
            My mind flashed back to a time when my family was happy and we all played music together. A family, with a home and future. I blocked out the present and the dark tunnel of the future ahead of me.
            The gang slowed their approach, just like a pack of wolves would to a wounded deer. They turned their eyes to the clouds, as did most of the tourists on the boardwalk.
            Without a sound, bursts of green and crimson spread in spiderweb fashion from the sky as if Doctor Frankenstein had been experimenting from the heavens at Christmas time.
            My heart skipped a few beats while my voice and fingers still held firm. What the hell?
            And yet, she still stood there, listening and watching. I wished I could take her back with me to a better time. Did she not see the lights?
            The leader of the gang opened his mouth to say something to me, likely how he was going to beat the crap out of me but even he looked distracted.
            Before they reached us, my life, and everybody else’s on this planet’s, changed in the blink of an eye.
 Her smile turned to confusion before I could sing the next line to her. In the split moment I wondered if she would ever date a guy on the cusp of homelessness, the world turned on its ear.
            The blast of light blinded everyone on the Jersey coast as it illuminated the boardwalk and beach.
            Somehow, I knew right then and there that the colorful explosion could have ended the existence of millions of people. Yet no sound followed the white lightning that fell to the earth. For the longest moment, the boardwalk stood still as the event unfurled. The light swirled in Crayola-like confusion, before my vision turned to black. The world disappeared for several seconds until my eyes adjusted to the change in light.
            When I could see again, the images before me would make me wish I had been struck blind, or dead, right there along with the rest.
            Something above us opened up the sky and people looked to where the sun had been. What I saw didn’t make sense. None of it did. It wasn’t a ship, or anything like in the movies. It was simply a space where the clouds had been. A shimmering space. Something had parted invisible curtains in the Jersey sky. I assume the rest of the group, the girls, the gang, the crowd on the boardwalk, had halted in their steps and stood frozen, unable to process this event on a beautiful June summer night.
            We remained there for some time. Minutes, seconds, longer. I’ll never know. Standing there glued to the planks of wood in silence. I wanted to yell, to scream, but didn’t – or couldn’t.
            The space in the sky descended like a transparent curtain, slowly but surely to about fifty feet above the crowd. The air shimmered as if boiling from the event as the sound finally came. Not a hum or a blast or even a pleasant melody. From a perch high above, a discordant steel tone rained down on the people below as if some angry drummer pounded a mallet on broken pipes.
            It became known as the song of death to those who lived.
            The spell broke and I took in the view around me, knees losing their power, threatening to drop me to the ground. The gang of four bullies turned to me as if I had something to do with everything. Missing tooth Mr. Princeton connected with my gaze as I reached out for the brunette’s hand. Why I did it, I don’t know but since I couldn’t protect my family, I had to help someone.
            I needed to get home to them. Now.
            But the sound amplified and multiplied in tones all around us and the air shook with the music that didn’t have a song. I needed to move, but couldn’t. The others stood glued in their steps, too.
            In a moment that I’ll never forget, along with many more in the following months since the Collection, they launched the first phase of the attack. More like a choosing, a selection process.
            Mr. Princeton’s eyes lit up for a fraction of a second before he disappeared in flash of dark red. One moment he stood there, flesh and blood. The next, only a thin mark remained on the boards beneath his shoes. The others ceased to exist just as fast.
            The Fourth of July celebration hit early, splintering the shore with a fantastic light show, throwing explosions in all directions – yet these appeared to be aimed.
            I scanned the boardwalk as the threads of light rained down on the people in Point Pleasant and removed them from being as if they were in some otherworldly, macabre video game. Flashes of either red or green peppered the boardwalk and beach making the darkening scene appear to be a deadly rave in an outdoor club. One by one people disappeared before they could scream or even run. Why the colors, I wouldn’t know until later but the majority lit up the dusk in blood shades. But it didn’t hit everyone. Just some, maybe every tenth or twentieth person.
            Time stopped. Cold.
            I turned to pull the pretty girl close to me, not wishing to die alone. Yet as I gripped her hand tighter, she dissipated before me. She didn’t fall apart or burn or anything I could explain. She simply clicked out of existence like those above had turned off a TV. I simply saw red for the blink of an eye.
            One second, I stared into her blue eyes. The next, the frozen custard stand behind her now was in full view. Full view as nearly every beachgoer no longer stood on the boardwalk.
            My arms and legs became lead pipes; my head, an exploding cannonball as the lights blazed everywhere. I didn’t want to die alone but was going to do just that and I had no damn clue what the hell was happening. My family had either each other. I should’ve been with them but tried to do the right thing, or at least the right thing in my eyes , and now I’d never see them again.
            Run. Run home.
            The other tourists appeared to remain untouched by the rays of light that caused those next to them to disappear.
            Somehow, someway, I knew this event was only the beginning of a world of pain and change. I needed to run home to see them one more time, to tell my mom I’d never leave again. Screw being a man and leaving them while I took off on some selfish adventure. Being a man meant sticking it out and being there for Finn and her.
            But I took only two leaden steps before a different light struck me and scrambled every atom in my body.
            My world ended in that flash. My life as I knew ended that night.


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