Several hours too late, I realized that being poor and unemployed was better than this job. Anything was better than this.
The flier tacked to the job board had made the job sound easy. “Looking for help caretaking animals––work for ten days, get paid $4,000. Call this number for more information.”
The guy at the other end of the telephone had made it sound easy. “You’re qualified if you’ve ever dealt with animals.” They must’ve been desperate for help, because the job description and qualifications were sorely understated.
I arrived at Warehouse 36B at 9:00 precisely, wearing the recommended canvas pants and overcoat. Leather gloves were in my pocket, and, forgive me for being stupid, but I rather thought I’d be helping the people move dogs or horses. Perhaps the occasional pig or cow. Desperation for an “easy” $4,000 made the rational part of my brain go into hibernation. Heck, if the pay had been $500 for ten days, I’d still have walked up to the warehouse, iffy job description or no.
I was greeted at the warehouse door by a guy with a large band aid stuck on his cheek. He also had bandages on his hands. I didn’t think to ask, “Hey, did you get those from some sort of weird cat-chicken cross inside that warehouse?” Instead I just thought, Huh, it looks like he had a bad day. I gave my name, signed some sort of contract I most definitely should have read (but didn't), he waved me inside, and warned me to watch for the spotted cat. They’d lost it again.
Inside was a semi-truck, faced toward the garage door, its tail end toward what appeared to be ten cages holding house cats. Well, they were cages, but they weren’t house cats. They’d been nicknamed gryphons, but they weren’t lions crossed with eagles. Instead, they were house cats crossed with chickens. They had two front paws and two back chicken feet. They had small chicken wings, cat faces, and laid eggs.
I was there with four other people. Our job was simple enough: move the cat-chickens (which we called cackens) from their cages to the semi-trucks. The cages couldn’t be moved, so the only way to get the cats into the semi-truck was to catch them, sedate them, then put them into different cages that were portable.
Why couldn’t the cackens go straight into the transferable cages? Who knows. I just know that chasing chickens is difficult and catching cats is near impossible, even when they're in a cage, especially when they have wings. Those bastards fluttered around my head yowling until either I caught them or they scratched my face, at which point I’d be the one yowling. There were twenty of them and by the end of it I had been scratched at least once by all of them, and at least four times by the cacken that escaped.
That was day 1.
Day 2 was not easier.
I went inside expecting to see more cackens. I feared that my appearance would be akin to a mummy by tomorrow. However, what I had ahead of me wouldn’t draw blood.
The goal was simple: keep the dogs quiet, which meant keeping them happy. Except, these weren’t dogs, in neither demeanor nor appearance. For one, they screeched like fire alarms and were bipedal. The only resemblance between these creatures and a dog was that they both had fur and expressive eyes. They had four eyes, and most of their expressions said, “I hate you.”
Keeping them quiet by muzzling was impossible due to their surprisingly dexterous heads and sharp teeth (one coworker got sent to the hospital, who could only call this creature a dog). We fed them raw meat, but that kept them silent for only ten minutes. It was by accident we discovered their secret: singing.
So, for about six hours, we all took turns singing, often off-key and without a tune. The “dogs” listened intently, and the second one of us went silent, they started screeching again.
I couldn’t speak or hear properly for three days after that.
My coworkers and I quickly came up with a custom sign language for our lack of ears and voices. Fortunately, there was very little to learn. Fist over fist meant pull, two quick head jerks meant switch, and two middle fingers meant we were fed up with our new animal.
Although the pegasus (yes, an actual pegasus) had started off easy enough, it quickly became yet another pain when she broke the chain which held her down and also broke her cage door. So, for five hours we took turns hanging from the rope still attached to her harness, keeping her from escaping the large window she had also broken. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have a giant-ass, pegasus-sized window in here anyway?
I wanted to quit. I had rope burn, my cacken scratches still stung, and my throat hurt too much to complain. My coworkers agreed. Although we couldn’t shout, we did do a lot of expletive gesticulating. We were all in the same boat of being too poor to quit. Besides, only six days left. We could survive, right?
Our newest animal originally appeared to be rather average. They were monkeys; twelve of them in the same large cage. We just had to feed them, water them, and keep them quiet.
The problems began with lunch. I settled down for lunch near the door––close enough to see my coworkers’ signing, but far away enough to be unable to smell the monkeys. I took one bite out of my sandwich. The second bite never came, for my sandwich vanished from my hands. I didn’t understand what had happened until the monkeys started cackling. One of them held my sandwich, which the monkey waved at me before eating it.
Everyone else ate outside in the cold winter rain. But that was only the beginning. Soon, we had to deal with shovels, wrenches, and once my car keys teleporting into the monkeys’ cage.
The brawl for my car keys didn’t go well. Monkeys can kick pretty well and they also have the annoying ability to hang upside down.
I went home, without my car keys, and covered in bruises.
I had no idea what to expect. Still, I was pretty surprised to see the talking skeletons. They were human, and managed to emit sounds without any sort of physical contraption to logically do so. On one hand, they were the easiest bunch so far, and even comparatively enjoyable on occasion, if they didn’t remind me of my parents so much.
There were two of them in the same cage. They were Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield, and they died a couple centuries ago. During the entire time they were in the cages, they had exactly two topics, and neither were particularly pleasant to listen to, particularly with a sore throat that prevented me from butting in. The old couple argued rather viciously, insulting each other so vehemently I wondered if they’d killed each other. They would only agree to insult us for caging them, then the discussion would turn to slavery (on which point Mrs. and Mr. Fairfield had vastly different opinions), and it would soon go back to insulting each other.
Like I said, too much like my parents.
This time, it was a sky octopus. We decided to call it a sky octopus because a) its purplish skin and tentacles made it resemble an octopus and b) it floated in its cage like a balloon. It seemed easy enough, until it drifted through the walls of the cage and floated outside the warehouse. Do you know how hard it is to catch a floating octopus? Well, it’s damn hard. Imagine trying to catch a balloon that resides exactly twelve feet above the ground and can fly through walls. The only way to catch it was with our bare hands, which it apparently couldn’t fly through. Now imagine being feet away from the octopus, but the octopus was feet away from escaping into a different building. In one last attempt, you lunge for the octopus––and miss. You slam your face into the wall as the octopus sails on.
But it wasn’t me who got beat up this time, so I was happy. I successfully caught the octopus soon after that. Me and the others then played a game of toss-the-octopus until the truck arrived to pick it up, at which point we cheerfully informed him that he’d likely lose the octopus forever.
After two relatively easy (if draining) days, I was somewhat rejuvenated. All the juju from the rejuving sapped out in the first hour of work. Why? Let me give you one word: dragon.
This dragon was about a dozen feet long and about 470 lumens bright. Its scales glowed like an LED light bulb and wasn’t afraid of annoying us by becoming brighter. It was also fond of trying to roast us every minute or so. Once, it managed to gout flame all the way to the other side of the room.
I desperately wished for an Eddie Murphy disguised as a donkey to seduce the dragon into not killing us. We tried the singing trick again to no avail. We ended up outside in the cold rain, complaining about how on earth our boss expected us to deal with a mother-freaking-dragon. That thing was born to eat us.
Eventually, somebody came by to give us a bunch of flying syringes (aka blow darts) to toss at the dragon. The goal was to sedate the dragon. Would it work? Unclear. Could we succeed? Also unclear.
We made a plan that involved one of us blowing darts at the dragon, while the others distracted it. Our distraction methods included waving a red coat around, playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond at a volume so loud I thought I lost my hearing again, dancing like our favorite teleporting monkeys, and insulting the dragon as creatively as possible.
In the end, a few darts got into the dragon’s neck, and it lay down to merely puff smoke and sparks, rather than light bonfires.
I decided I needed to have a word with whoever wrote Puff the Magic Dragon.
Soon I would be free of the Warehouse of Hell and have $4,000 in my pocket. I was pretty sure at this point that if this was a scam, my coworkers and I could handle wrangling money from our employer. After all, humans seem pretty pathetic once you’ve faced down a dragon and survived. (Although, I was wary of lightbulbs after that.)
Our next animal was invisible. We weren’t even sure if it was there until we fed it the recommended grains and carrots. That was when we discovered that yes, there was something there, and it was extremely fond of grabbing the hands which fed it with sticky tentacles. When it grabbed me, its tentacle stretched up my arm, poking and feeling at me as if testing for food. It nudged my neck and my cheek, then patted me on the head and retracted its grip.
Whatever it was, it was peaceful, and for that, I was grateful.
A turtle doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, at first it wasn’t. It became a bit problematic when it suddenly grew from being palm-sized to the size of a small dog, which broke its cage. The ex-turtle took off its shell like it was some sort of shield and faced us, a scaly biped four feet tall. It became an extremely big problem when it grew and stretched into a replica of me, clothes and all. It strapped the shell to its back, and strode through the room with nothing more than a wave.
Why couldn’t the guys who brought these creatures here at least have the courtesy to leave warnings? Or a set of instructions?
The rest of the day was spent searching for “me” in trees surrounding the warehouse. It was nearly sunset when we found a suspicious-looking rabbit, which then turned into a fox, and then a dog, at which point a coworker caught it and dragged it back to the warehouse.
The final day. After this, there would be no more dragons, or shape-shifting turtles, or floating octopi.
Our final job for the day was to take care of floating lights. These lights were like the Christmas lights that decorated my neighbor’s door, all yellow and glittery. The lights floated like a flock of mini stars trapped in a glass prison. After a few hours of nothing (we didn’t even have to feed it), I thought we were in the clear. Alas, the lights had other plans. Namely, it wanted to escape, like every other creature that had entered this warehouse (including me).
The glass rippled every time the lights hit it, until finally, the glass cracked and the lights zipped out like lightning, flashing in the corners and windows. It found the window the pegasus had broken and was out in the blink of an eye.
Given that our contract said we’d only be paid if we successfully took care of all animals, we all hit the road to find the lights.
As it turns out, looking for animated lights in a city of Christmas lights is near impossible. It was pure luck we managed to keep on the trail of the lights. They stopped by every flickering Christmas light as if to see if they, too, were sentient. Night soon fell, which worked in our favor. We scattered, not sure how we could catch lights. Glass had failed to hold it. We couldn’t hold it with our bare hands like we’d done with the sky octopus.
That was when I thought of the Christmas lights flashing on my neighbor’s door.
The five of us split in search blinking Christmas lights, colored orange or white. I stole my neighbor’s lights, with a short note saying the lights would be back by midnight. Between the five of us, we found enough to light the warehouse. Then we decorated ourselves in flashing lights.
That caught the creature’s attention. We lured it back to the warehouse, where its delivery truck had been waiting for several hours.
The job ended a few hours later than intended, but it was done. We’d get paid the next morning, and if not, we were more than willing to blackmail our employer. After all, we had Christmas gifts to buy and bellies to feed.
I fell into bed that night thinking a few things. First, I would at least ask for more details before accepting a job that promised "easy" money. Second, I must've looked crazy running through town covered in flashing Christmas lights and shouting, "Come on, I need you to pay my rent!" at the sky. Third, how could I put "dragon caretaker" on my resume?