We went to the Olmec exhibit at the DeYoung Museum tonight by way of research for the novelization of my short story FIXATION, which appeared in Ravenous Romance’s anthology FANGBANGERS. Ended up buying a copy of the book about the exhibition and a CD of MesoAmerican music for inspiration. I thought I’d post a few paragraphs of the short story here for a tantalizing preview of the book to come!
My fellow docent Beth held forth to the group of first graders crowded in front of Dandy’s enclosure. Tall and gangly in a droopy Olive Oyl way, Beth wore her frizzy red curls clipped in a poof that bubbled out of the back of her baseball cap. While she droned on in front, I covered the rear to insure none of the kids wandered off where they shouldn’t.
Dandy, a melanistic jaguar sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as a black panther, sprawled at the edge of his cage and watched the kids. They were all small enough to count as prospective prey to a jaguar, although toddlers would be even better. At the Feline Preservation Center (henceforth referred to as FPC), the docents and keepers referr to babies in strollers as ‘meals on wheels.’ Dandy, although raised by hand instead of mother-raised, had all the instincts of his wild brethren and was no doubt sizing up which rug rat to cull from the pack, should the opportunity arise.
“Endowed with a spotted coat and well adapted for the jungle, hunting either in the trees or water, making it one of the few felines tolerant of water, the jaguar was, and remains, revered among the indigenous Americans who reside closely with the jaguar.”
The kids weren’t quite slack-jawed with boredom, but Beth’s auto-spiel, delivered in her nasal drone, was so far over their heads, she might as well be flying above in a jet plane. Beth is very knowledgeable when it comes to all things exotic feline, but not exactly a people person, especially when said people are under eighteen.
Mind you, I’m not a huge fan of school tours. If I wanted kids, I’d find a guy and spawn a few. I love animals, especially cats large and small, and would rather spend my time doing cat rescue and volunteering FPC than dealing with either children or men. Unfortunately working with the exotic felines wasn’t all picking up leopard shit, chopping up frozen horsemeat, and scouring sinks free of congealed chicken fat. It also meant patrolling the ‘zoo’ portion of the compound during the hours we were open to the public, making sure none of the visitors ran, screamed, tossed things into the cage, tried to pet the animals or otherwise harassed our feline residents. And it also included docent duties, i.e. answering questions and giving tours to groups ranging from geriatric motorcycle clubs to Scout troops to classroom tours of all ages. Usually one docent was enough to handle any one tour, but when there were twenty plus hyperactive first graders on the loose we worked in pairs.
Speaking of tours, the little natives were getting restless. Beth was focused on Dandy and spouting off dry statistics about the jaguar populations in South and Central America, while the teacher was too busy talking on her iPhone to notice one curly-haired blond, blue-eyed tot in the rear trying to climb the iron safety fence so she could “pet the kitty.” I scooped her up just as she reached the top of the fence and plunked her back down on the sidewalk. Her face began that inevitable ‘just bit into a lemon’ collapse that all kids get when they’re about to let loose the mother of all tantrums. And me without my earplugs.
I squatted down in front of Miss Curly Locks just as her mouth opened to begin squalling. “Can I show you something really neat?” Without waiting for an answer (which would probably be an ear-piercing screech anyway), I reached out and pulled a battered, chipped and scarred blue sphere from what was originally a cement ashtray. “Do you know what this is? ” I held the ball up in front of her.
Shirley Temple circa 2010 shook her head so I rolled the ball over in my hand to expose three holes in the other side.
“Well, it was a bowling ball. Then it became a toy for baby jaguars. Feel how hard this is.” The other kids in the back crowded around, anxious to not be left out of the fun. I held the ball out so they could touch it, feel the cracks and gouges in the hard resin with their little pudgy fingers. “Baby jaguars did this with their claws and teeth. So if a baby jaguar can do this to something as hard as a bowling ball … imagine what a grown up jaguar could do to your skin.” I looked Miss Curly Locks straight in the eye. “This is why you don’t pet the kitties here, okay?” She nodded, eyes round.
“Well, I could … I could beat up the jaguar before it bit me!” This came from a pugnacious little ginger-haired boy who’d been reprimanded more than once for running, yelling at the cats, and wandering off. I also happen to know he had a rock in his back jeans pocket and had been waiting for the chance to throw it at one of the cats without getting caught.
“Really?” I turned my attention his way and locked gazes with him. I have a great hypno-stare.
“Jaguars fixate,” I said. “Do you know what fixate means?”
I looked at the kids gathered around me and got mostly silence punctuated by a few shy giggles. One little boy picked his nose with a single-mindedness that rivaled a jaguar’s.
“When a jaguar fixates, it means if it decides it wants something – anything –, it will go through whatever is in its way to get what it wants. If it wants your shoe, you’d better take it off ’cause a jaguar will take your foot off so it can play with the shoelaces. The jaguar is the only cat in the world known to fight to its own death before admitting defeat. Its jaws are strong enough to crush your head in one bite—” I gripped the little brat across his skull with my free hand to emphasize my point. “Trying to beat up a jaguar would be a very bad thing.”
He gave me a sullen stare. “You’re stupid.”
I dropped my voice so no one else but the kid could hear me. “I’m sure your parents would miss you when the jaguar ate you up, starting with your head. Crunch! Just like a piece of popcorn. Except with blood sauce instead of butter.”
Just for added oomph – and because I could –, I sent an image into his head of just that.
His eyes went wide and he took two staggering steps backwards before falling on his butt on the grass next to the walkway. He was quiet the rest of the tour.