Lola watched as the lights of the police cars outside changed colors, accompanied by the deafening sound of the siren. Six in total sat idle in front of the station. She gripped her teddy bear’s arm and sighed.
Stomps littered the hallway as people walked back and forth. Police. Suited men. Just regular people.
She rubbed at the tight shackles on her tiny wrists, careful not to drop the stuffed animal.
“Lola? Let’s go.”
A burly policeman tugged her shoulder, leading her to a small closed-off room. She had no choice but to walk and sit in the big seat she was shoved in. The police left and the lights turned off. The only thing she could see was one woman, sitting right in front of her with a cold stare.
“Lola, is it?”
Lola smiled, her one front tooth shining.
“Did you know that ten crows mean gold?” Lola’s voice was high-pitched like any girl under twelve. She giggled.
“You have eyes like a hawk. The hawks say mean things.”
The woman clicked her pen.
“What do the hawks say, Lola?”
“They are your kind, so you should know.” She giggled again. The woman clicked her pen twice more.
“Do you know what you did?”
“I’m not sure why everyone is blaming me. It wasn’t my fault.” She would’ve been twirling her hair around her fingers if her wrists weren’t chained.
Then again, she would’ve also maybe been cute if she hadn’t been a murderer.
"Who was it then?" Another click of the pen.
"The lions." Lola giggled.
The teddy bear fell to the ground and Lola gasped. She tried to reach down and get it, but it was too far for her short little arms to reach. The woman put her pen to paper and let it sit.
"What do the lions say, Lola?"
"The lions speak of kingdom matters. They are the kings of the jungle, as you know."
"Oh?" The pen made a dot of blue ink, leaking into multiple pages.
"Yes. They are sorry they caused so much trouble, truly."
"And are you saying this as a form of apology, because you're afraid? Because you know you did something wrong?"
"There is nothing to fear but fear itself."
"And you're ten?"
"And a half." Lola winked.
The woman stood, her chair's legs scraping against the metal flooring. She knocked twice on the walls and a door was opened. A short man grabbed her shoulder and pulled her out.
“You have muscles like the gorillas. The gorillas speak gently.”
“What do the gorillas say, Lola?”
Lola dreamt of the sun and the moon her first night. They argued because the moon was stealing the sun’s light in the nighttime and taking all the credit. People saw the moon as mysterious and preferred her to the sun, when the only mystery was how the sun put up with her.
She woke up with a start in the small cell and stretched her small arms.
“Small,” she whispered into the darkness. She didn’t expect someone to reply.
She gasped and started giggling.
The ticking of a clock from somewhere. Someone moving. A sniffle.
Lola crawled to the front of her cell to look through the bars and to her sides. She could see someone leaning against the bars in the cell next to hers from the right. To her left, just a wall.
“How old are you?”
The person tapped against the bars slowly, nail against metal.
“What’s your name?” Lola tried to lean further out of her cell, but she felt a snap at her wrist.
More chains, chaining her to the back wall.
Lola ran her soft fingers over the rusted metal of her chains.
“Did you sleep well, Eli?”
“They have us caged like animals. How could I?”
“But do you really think the animals deserve it either?”
“The wild ones, yeah.”
“Then you say we deserve it too, for they think us the wild ones.”
“Do you think the animals in the zoo are wild or tamed?”
“Some are wild. Some are tamed. The lions are wild. The horses are tamed.”
Lola pressed her eyes shut.
“You talk like the lizards, calm and calculated.”
“Go back to sleep Eli, if you ask me what the lizards say, I will tell you, and you don’t want to know.”
“I NEED ANSWERS!” Fists slammed down onto a table.
“DAMMIT MARK, WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO? SHE’S TEN!”
“Will you two shut your mouths and act like humans for a second?” The woman with the eyes like the hawk glared daggers at the fist slammer. “Good. She is ten. That doesn’t change what she did. We do need answers. And since she’s ten, she’ll give them to us. We just need the right questions.”
“What do you propose, if you’re so smart?”
She side-eyed him.
“She says the animals did it.”
“So we can ask her why.”
“Don’t you think we’ve tried?” Fist slammer piped up.
“Where are her parents?”
Hawk Eyes shook her head slowly.
“We couldn’t find any traces.”
“So, what, she came from the sky?!”
“Like she’s going to tell us! She creeps me out, she’s always giggling and comparing people to animals.”
“Someone kills over five people before puberty, do you really expect them to be sane?”
“I guess not.”
“We’ll try your suggestion.”
“Good. You’re dismissed, both of you.” Fist slammer waved his hands at the two deputies and they filed out, Hawk eyes staring longingly at the window.
Lola’s second night was dreamless. She awoke with her eyes already adjusted to the darkness.
“Like an owl,” she whispered, clenching her fist in front of her eyes.
“Guess you’re awake. Morning, crazy.”
Lola smiled at her new friend’s voice. She dragged herself to the front of her cell and peeked through the bars to see Eli holding his hand out. She reached her fingers out and just barely grazed his pinky before the chains pulled her wrists painfully back.
“Is that farther than yesterday?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you sleep well last night?”
Eli brought his hand back into his cell and leaned his head against the cement wall.
“I had a dream.”
“Yeah. Fire. Lots of fire.” He clenched and unclenched his fists and sweat ran down his forehead in a neat line, dripping to his dirty grey shirt.
“I knew a bird once. She was afraid of fire.”
Lola pressed her fingers down on her thighs, imagining feathers. She closed her eyes and leaned back into the wall, almost mimicking Eli, though she couldn’t see him.
“Are you afraid of fire, Eli?”
Eli’s black eyes glittered in the light filtering through the bars from the far windows. He dug his nails into his palms and sighed.
“I don’t know. Are you scared of...animals?”
Flashes of red and white blinked in and out of Lola’s mind. She frowned.
“Then that’s your answer.”
Lola thought for a moment, pressing her thin lips together.
“Does the fire speak?”
“No. The fire screams.”
Lola smiled into the emptiness as she gripped the cold bar. Hawk eyes turned the corner and inhaled sharply.
“Lola. You’re gonna come with me, okay?”
“I was waiting for you.”
Keys clinked against rusted metal and her doors were opened.
She stayed put, watching Hawk Eyes' hands carefully.
“Okay. I’m going to unhook the chains but you will still be cuffed.”
More keys and fumbling.
A resounding click and the chains fell to the floor in heap, narrowly missing Lola’s small feet.
Hawk eyes grabbed Lola by the cuff and dragged her out of the cell. Lola hurried along. They walked in echoing silence, with only the fans of the heaters groaning as company.
They turned a corner and Hawk Eyes swiftly opened a door and pushed Lola in. She fell and caught herself with her hands, barely. She squeaked in pain as the metal cuffs etched themselves into her skin a little more.
“Sorry. Sit.” Hawk Eyes pointed to a small seat at the back of the room and Lola struggled to stand and make herself over there. She collapsed in the chair, pulling her wrists closer together so that they almost didn’t touch the cuffs.
Lola stared at her fingernails, coal-black underneath.
The heavy door was slammed and she jumped a little in her chair. Hawk eyes pulled a small notepad from her pocket and opened it. She licked her finger and flipped a few pages before clicking that pen of hers.
“Alright, Lola. I have some questions for you.”
Lola counted to ten in her head before Hawk Eyes took a step forward and sat down on her knees, looking Lola straight in the eye.
“And you are going to give me answers. First. Do you know how many people you- were killed?”
“One blink, huh? Let’s see. We don’t even know exactly, for starters. Do you remember where you were when everything happened?”
“The zoo, Lola.”
She tensed, tapping her little nails at the cuffs on her wrists.
“You injured almost everyone there. Killed maybe half. You know, I think an animal or two was injured too.”
She stayed staring this time, no blinks. Hawk Eyes wrote something down and clicked her pen twice in a row.
“Which animals?” Lola didn’t really mean to speak. But it was a question on her mind.
Hawk Eyes narrowed those hawk eyes of hers and pursed her lips.
“The tiger is the only one I know for sure. Got into a brawl with the lion.”
“The lion and the tiger are brothers. They would not fight.” Lola blurted.
Two more clicks of the pen. More scribbling.
“Yeah? What do they say, Lola?”
Eli woke up with a light sheen of sweat on his forehead on Lola’s seventh night. He shivered and pushed his hair from his eyes.
Lola hadn’t slept.
“I miss them,” she said, rubbing her nails together.
“The animal’s voices. They kept me company.”
Lola’s heartbeat pulsed lightly in her wrists, and her veins tingled. She wanted to move her hands. She wanted to pet something. Her pupils, ever so large in the darkness, searched the cell for peace. She’d memorized every corner by then. The rocky edge, the flimsy bed, even the little etchings in the cement she couldn’t quite make out.
She wore the same thing she’d been wearing since Day 1- a faded yellow sundress with shorts underneath.
“If ten crows mean gold, and six crows mean poor, then what does that make you?” Lola asked, crawling a little closer to the bars.
Eli stared at something on his floor.
“I’m almost seventeen. Almost or already. What’s seven mean?”
“Seven...is for a witch.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
He swirled his fingers on his pants, imagining flames and smoke swirling in the sky.
“Do I still remind you of a lizard?”
Lola pressed her hands on the cold cement.
“No. Today you are a fox, sly and calculating.”
“What...do the foxes speak to you?”
“All the animals speak to me, Eli. Some more than others. They speak to you too, you only must listen.”
“Well, what do they say?”
“The foxes speak nonsense,” she grinned, “like me.”
“I need a report.” Fist slammers had his hands so tightly held together, his knuckles were whiter than the frost that had started to lightly sheen the grass outside.
Hawk Eyes slammed the office door behind her and sat in the small chair in front of the desk. She slammed down the little notebook and her pen, clicking it for good measure.
“And I’m going to give you one. Where did you say the most bodies were found?”
“By the lion and tiger pens, why?”
“She said they spoke to her.”
“She said they’re brothers.”
“I don’t care. And? This better have a meaningful ending.”
“She told me they talked to her about how the zoo visitors taunted them. About the animal’s families. Whatever, the main point is- the ‘why’ we were so intent on finding is just a mish-mash mess of morals that a ten-year-old happens to have. Cares about animals. That’s it.”
Fist slammer tapped his fingers fast on his desk. He was close to slamming his hands, but he refrained.
“How come she says she speaks to them?”
“She’s delusional, Mark. Scared. Maybe it has something to do with her parents being nowhere.” “
“That’s not an answer. That’s a guess. I want answers.”
“I SAID I WANT ANSWERS!” And the hands slammed down.
“MARK, ANSWERS WON’T BRING BACK ANYONE WHO DIED!” Hawk Eye’s eyes were rimmed with red like she’d been crying. “I know you’re upset. I know. I am too. That was a lot of people, and it was one small kid who’s responsible. And you feel like it’s your fault. A lot of people were at the zoo that day. Get some rest.” She pushed herself off the seat and walked with lead-filled legs outside of the door and into the hall. She waited until the door clicked closed before she kicked the other side with her boot.
A lot of people had been at the zoo that day.
It was more than likely Hawk Eyes and Fist Slammer knew at least one of them.
On her sixteenth night, Lola woke up from a hazy dream to see it was darker than usual. She’d awoken in the middle of the night. She held her cuffed hands close to her chest and breathed, appreciating the silence.
Something tickled the back of her hand and she brought it to her face, examining it.
A small spider sat still, examining the cuts that were caused by the chains. Lola smiled.
She brought the hand as close to her face as possible.
“Hello,” she whispered, looking at each of the spider’s eyes in turn. The spider whispered to her and she whispered back. Tears of joy trickled down her face in small handfuls and she refrained from wiping them away.
With a final nod, the spider hopped off Lola’s hand and skittered away, through the bars and far away. Morning came fast and Eli stretched against his own chains, longer than Lola’s but holding him back nonetheless.
“Have you ever heard of the nursery rhyme with the spiders?”
“The...incy wincy spider?”
“That’s the one. Since the spiders are on my side since I can speak with them, I think the sun is on your side since you speak with the fire. We will not be held here for much longer.”
“Well...what did the spider say?”
Lola kissed the spider on her palm and whispered words of thanks to the animals gathered. Eli stared at his hands, unblinking and unmoving.
Hawk Eyes and Fist Slammer laid dead in the office, their blood dribbling down the chins of a lion and his tiger brother.
On her seventeenth night and Eli’s seventeenth birthday, Lola escaped, and she lived happily ever after.
The end of her story will be the animal’s beginning.