Monday, June 27, 2011

Chapter 2: Nora

Nora stormed forward, clenching her fists at her sides. Her day had been going very well, but everything was suddenly going very wrong.

The day had started normally. She woke up, had a bowl of cereal, got ready for work, and was out the door in an hour. The drive to work had been fairly easy, considering it was summer and the tourists were never very collected when they were behind the wheel. Today, however, Nora had not swerved for anyone, nor did she have to stomp hard on the breaks because a careless driver pulled out in front of her.

Once Nora had gotten to work, all of her coworkers had been very cordial and nice. She smiled and greeted all of the people she passed, and her smiles and greetings were returned. She had noticed that not all of her coworkers were “morning people,” so it was nice to see them opening up at an earlier hour.

She couldn’t blame them for being in a good mood, though. The sun was out, the breeze was cool, and the air smelled of freshly cut grass and saltwater (a strange combination, but one that Nora liked very much). It was the perfect day… Until about eight o’clock.

The gates to the park opened at eight each morning and closed at eight each night. It was a popular attraction year round, but in the summer, people flocked in. Today had been no different. As soon as the gates swung open, people swarmed in. They were organized into lines then let into the park once they had shown (or, in some cases, bought) their ticket. Then, they spread out in little packs, traveling this way and that through the park, looking at all of the attractions and animals. At that time in the morning, the most popular attraction was the zoo. And that was exactly where Nora’s problems began.

Nora’s job at the park was to give tours through the zoo. Her first tour started at 8:15 in the morning, and she always started exactly on time. She looked down at her watch and saw that there were minutes remaining before she had to begin her tour. She glanced up at the people waiting at the zoo entrance and noticed that there weren’t many people there. She had a list that contained almost twenty names… Nora frowned but shrugged the matter aside. If the others didn’t show up, that was their loss.

She walked forward towards the group of tourists and smiled. She had been giving tours for a year and she was well informed about all of the different creatures in the zoo. There had been only a handful of questions that she couldn’t answer, and those had all been in her first few weeks of giving tours. She was confident and outgoing by this point, but something seemed off today… She glanced down at her watch again and took a deep breath. Time to begin.

“Good morning, everyone!” Nora said over the noise. She had a headset with a microphone on it, but she never turned it on until the entire group was inside the zoo. “My name is Nora and I’ll be your tour guide this morning.” She smiled and began counting heads. “Is this all that we have for the tour today?” Nora asked, not expecting a response. The tourists looked around, trying to figure out how many of them were there for the tour. “Hm…” Nora mused to herself. She only had about half of the people that were on her list… “Well, I guess we’d better get started.” Nora said with a shrug. It was 8:15, and Nora was never late.

She began leading the group through the zoo, showing them the fish first. She loved to look at the fish in the aquariums and watch them dart around, looking for another fish to chase. After the fish came the aquatic mammals. There were manittees, dolphins, and a few small whales, as well as seals. The dolphins were a favorite among the crowds, and people especially liked it when divers went into the dolphin tank and swam around with the animals. Next, Nora led the group through a glass tunnel that was surrounded by water. There were sharks and stingrays on all sides. Nora always had a smirk on her face as she led people through this hallway, because someone always screamed. Sometimes, it was because a shark would pound against the glass, thinking it could get to a small child’s colorful hat. There were other instances where a stingray or two would follow the group all the way down the tunnel and watch them for a moment before swimming back in the other direction, and that always seemed to intrigue tourists. Nora then led the group through the section of the zoo that housed the penguins and two polar bears. Nora knew that the penguins were a crowd favorite because of their cuteness. She always had to stop for a couple of extra minutes so that the group could just watch the penguins swim and play. Finally, Nora would lead the group to the last exhibit…

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Nora said, her voice carrying through the large chamber. “The blanket octopus.” Nora beamed as she stared at a sheet of glass that spanned the entire wall. There was water on the other side of the glass, but it was clear and blue and empty. The tourists stared at it, puzzled.

“Must be a pretty tiny octopus…” One man muttered, walking closer to the glass. The tourists walked forward, peering into the water-filled chamber. Nora’s smile became more and more mischievous. They were all in for a surprise, just like any other group Nora had ever led.

Suddenly, the crowd gasped and recoiled. A brick red mass, looking much like a sheet being pulled through the water, shot up in front of the glass. The creature swam gracefully about, its long coattails rippling behind it.

“That’s an octopus?” one child asked incredulously. Nora walked forward and bent down next to him.

“Yep. It has tentacles like an octopus, but some of them are connected together by that red skin. That skin looks like a blanket being dragged through the water, so it’s called a blanket octopus.” Nora explained, trying to keep it simple enough for the child to understand.

“Oooh…” The boy said, nodding his head. He stared at the creature in silence for a moment. “It’s really pretty…” he breathed. Nora smiled.

“Yeah, it is…” Nora watched the octopus for a moment then straightened up. “Believe it or not, this is a female blanket octopus.”

“Whoa! The males must be huge!” a teenager exclaimed. Nora laughed.

“Actually, the male blanket octopi are much smaller than the females. They’re usually only a few centimeters in length, whereas the females can grow to be over two meters in length. Because this female was raised in captivity, she’s larger than most blanket octopi in the wild would become.” Nora explained. The teenager stared at her with his mouth hanging open.

“I thought that the guys were always bigger…” he said softly. Nora smiled kindly.

“That’s what most people think. The blanket octopus is an exception to that belief, though.” the teenager turned back to the glass and stared at the octopus. Nora let the entire group watch in awe as the octopus showed off its beautiful coat. Finally, though, it was time to move on. Nora led the group out to the gift shop, ending her first tour of the day.

And that’s where things went horribly wrong.

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