Crocodile Tears

Sometimes, things happen and you know, in an instant that you will remember exactly where you were and what you were doing as the world changed. 9/11, Princess Diana’s death, and for me, it is the day that they took over. This town is a wasteland now, brimming with ghosts and lonely echoes, and soon, the borders will be breached, and they will go for the next town. After that, there will be another town, and another. Villages and valleys, cities and hidden hideaways in the country. They will sweep through it all, until there is nothing left. Nothing but the stillness, the ghosts and the lonely echoes. That is just how they like it, and so that is how it will be.

It’s all our fault. Maybe I’m more to blame. Maybe you are. I suppose it doesn’t matter now.

I can’t say that I blame them. It’s hard not to look at what happened and blame myself, or the others around me that took the first steps. We all walked together eventually. We all walked towards this future. You were walking with us. You don’t remember it, but you took those steps, just like we did. The whole world walked to a place that we can never return from, and the truth of what is to come is still unfolding, so we keep walking, but it can only really ever lead to one place. I know that now.

Locking up such power, forcing it to entertain bored, weak, greedy humans was always a mistake. The trouble with us is that we think that the ability to stand up straight and talk gives you the right to do as you please, but there are forces so much stronger than us, so much more powerful. They just have the good grace to let us live peacefully. That’s over now.

For me, it began with good intentions. I think that most paths in life do, but every decision you make is only ever a few minutes away from ageing badly, because life goes on, to wild and unpredictable things, and before you know it, you are standing still, watching the world change around you, and realising that you are in one of those moments that will be remembered forever.

I have loved crocodiles since I was six years old. Thanks to Steve Irwin, I was obsessed with them, so I spent most of my childhood down at the zoo, with my nose pressed up against the glass, and as I got older, I began helping out during the school holidays. I knew the three crocs at the zoo by name.

Big Mama, the matriarch of the group, and a sweetie, if you treated her right. Nina, the smallest, but with jaws of steel. She was the star attraction for the zoo, and had even made the papers for an adorable video of her “lip syncing” (read snapping her jaws relatively on time) to a Nicki Minaj song. Then there was Green Inferno. He was big, mean and best left alone. He kept to himself, and I tried not to bother him, but there was always a respect there. He got his name because there was a rumour that the day he was captured, he was found devouring another croc, and by his bad attitude, I honestly believed it.

When I was fourteen, I started working at the zoo after school, and as time went on, and life went by, I thought I was living the dream. What kid wouldn’t? I had a good job, a good life and every spare moment of my life was spent with my best friends in the world, a family of crocodiles.

That was my first mistake. They were not my friends, and they were not a family. They were three powerful predators, trapped together by humans. There was so much we didn’t really understand, but as humans always do, we just waded in, right up to our necks, but the beasts were intelligent, acutely aware, and after years of boredom and poor treatment, they were furious with humans. It was the perfect storm. We imprisoned apex predators and forced them to entertain us. There was no way that it could end any other way.

It was the handbag. It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes a woman is pushed again and again and again, until she snaps.

Big Mama snapped.

She had always been the most docile, and that day was like any other. Nina and Inferno were frollocking in the water, waiting for feeding time, while Mama lounged in the sun by the glass barrier. She stared up at the guests as they wandered the zoo and didn’t seem too worried about doing anything but relaxing. That was, until, of course, she saw the handbag.

While it is frowned upon for the most part now, there are still a great number of people that take great pride in dressing and accessorising themselves in the skins of animals, and crocodiles are in great demand for handbags.

There was a luxury party that evening, so the zoo was almost empty, with the only visitors being a bunch of rich people who had hired out the place and wandered around with snooty attitudes and a seemingly endless stream of prosecco. It was just me and a girl called Lisa working that shift, and we didn’t mind. The luxury parties were always quiet. As long as you pampered them and let them do what they felt like, the rich and famous are almost as well behaved as the animals.

At the centre of the group was a woman, proudly balancing a handbag on her arm, made almost entirely of crocodile skin. It was hideous, but she seemed so thrilled with it, stroking it with a huge grin as she approached the crocodile enclosure. She leaned over the glass, tapping the bag against the barrier and peering down at Mama.

“Relative of yours?” She smirked. In the moment, I wasn’t sure why, but I had a very bad feeling. There was something deep inside that made me nervous, something I couldn’t quite shake, but I tried to just focus on helping them have the best day they could, as instructed. I watched carefully from the door of the enclosure, grabbing a feeding bucket, just in case a distraction was needed.

I should have listened to my instincts. Situations like that are exactly what instincts exist for.

Mama began tapping her tail against the ground softly, and the other fell still, listening to her rhythm and then slowly heading towards the shore.

The woman dangled the bag over the glass barrier, swinging it to and fro above Mama’s head with a chuckle, as the rest of her friends gathered around to watch. The glass was high enough to keep Mama at bay, which probably contributed to her arrogant stupidity. Crocs rarely jump on land, and so as cruel as the woman was, she was safe enough for us not to get sued, so I wasn’t worried enough to jump in just yet. We’d never had much trouble with the guests getting hurt. We would normally only have to intervene when a child got scared, and as there were no children present, I tried to calm my nerves a little.

“Jump up and get it, silly Croc.” The woman cooed, dangling the bag and laughing with her friends. Mama’s eyes followed the bag as Nina and Inferno padded closer, their jaws slowly snapping open and closed as their eyes trailed after Mama’s, up to the bag. “Got your nose…” One by one, the crocs slowly stepped towards the glass, their eyes fixed on the bag as it swung above them like a pendulum. “Or maybe the nose of your Mum.” She howled with laughter, the bag smacking loudly against the glass as the crowd around her joined the chorus of cackling.

Big Mama snapped.

There was a loud crash, as she began ramming her head against the glass. A few of the crowd stepped back in shock, giggling as she hit it again and again with no effect, and they returned to the fence, leaning over it with smiles, all joining in the torment, pointing at the bag with wide smiles and wicked laughter.

I fiddled with the door of the enclosure, wondering if it was time to intervene. Mama was clearly distressed. I’d never seen her like that, and as I crept inside their bounds and got closer, I saw Inferno following her lead, pushing at the glass with his long, thick tail and a surprising amount of force.

I took a few steps closer to try and calm things down when Nina turned towards me, her eyes focused and, as crazy as it sounds, furious. Crocodiles don’t often run, but she ran at me, her little legs pushing dirt and grass behind her as her jaws snapped. Without stopping to consider my fate if I didn’t, I bolted from the enclosure, slamming the door shut.

My heart pounding, I fell against the wall beside the enclosure, closing my eyes and slinking down the wall in breathless despair. I pushed down on the radio, signalling to Lisa, and relief washed over me when she answered.

“What’s up Colin?” She responded, her voice cheery in a way that I deeply envied.

“The crocs are a bit lively, do you think you could come down and…”

It was then that I heard the glass crack.

For a moment, I sat in motionless horror, but then, I heard it again. I dropped the radio, leaping to my feet and running round the corner to the front of the enclosure where the crowd was gathered, teasing and tormenting the crocodiles. Nina had joined the two older crocs, bashing her body against the glass with all her might as more and more cracks formed in the glass.

The crowd seemed oblivious, howling and hooting as chunks of the glass fell away, and once again, I was frozen in motionless horror as Nina’s snout poked through the falling glass, and with one last push from the bigger crocs, she burst through the breaking glass and screams filled the air.

In an instant, Nina launched herself onto the woman’s leg, and blood spilled across the grass as the small but strong predator gripped the woman’s ankle between her jaws and began yanking her towards the shattered glass. Several of the group fled immediately, screaming in terror and running wildly towards the exit. The crowd that had remained did their best to pull the woman away from Nina’s grasp as she hollered and howled in pain, blood bursting from her leg, but Nina’s jaws were determined and she dug in tightly to the woman’s skin and shattering bones, dragging her through the shards of broken glass towards the two bigger crocodiles.

The bag was strewn on the floor, splattered in blood as Inferno shoved his way through the remaining glass, giving chase to the terrified onlookers who began running for their lives. His jaws snapped open and shut as he rounded on a helpless man, backed against the monkey enclosure. The monkeys hooted and screamed, jumping from branch to branch and watching through the glass as the man stared helplessly over at me.

I stood, still and silent, watching the horror unfold around me. I had seen these beautiful animals as my friends, and in that moment, I was floored by the realisation that I had not known them at all. Inferno turned to me, and for a moment, it felt as if he was trying to let me know that after so many years of subservience, he was finally taking control. He shot me a look that sent shivers through my body, and I ran towards him, unsure of what I’d do when I got there, but knowing that I couldn’t let the carnage continue.

“Inferno, no!” I cried, watching him clamp his jaws around the leg of the man as he tried to run. The man fell to the floor, shrieking in agony as his leg splintered and crimson spilled out onto the ground, and I fell to my knees, unable to get any closer, breathless and terrified. He crushed the man’s leg between his jaws, as the man shook and screamed, completely helpless. The monkeys behind the glass made such a racket, chuckling and screaming as they pounded against the glass with gleeful grins.

I saw Lisa running down the steps towards the enclosures and immediately jumped to my feet, shaking my head and pointing wildly at the chaos all around me.

“Run the other way!” I yelled, dashing past the distracted Inferno and bolting up the stairs, my chest heaving as I caught up to Lisa and we ran towards the front office.

“Colin, what the fuck did you do?” She cried, as I looked back and gasped in horror at the sight of the three crocodiles now trailing after us, their jaws seeming to snap in unison as they chased us through the park.

We made it into the office, and after five days, we are still here. The town is lifeless. Anyone who could has made it out, and anyone that couldn’t was devoured. It sounds impossible, so much chaos from three animals, but these are some of the smartest predators on the planet, who have just spent several years caged by the people they now consume. It was only a matter of time, really.

The door is holding, for now, but it won’t last much longer, and after munching their way through most of town, the crocs are running out of food.

They’ve taken to circling the office, all three of them. I can hear them, constantly, a low hissing rumble from their hungry mouths as their feet pad around the office, their tails whacking against the walls, a constant reminder that they know we are in here, and that we have to come out some time.

Lisa is losing it. She has barely slept for days, and she’s starving. I can’t blame her. I feel the same, and there’s no hope of anyone coming to save us.

The crocs got through most of the cops in town quite easily, because a baton and even a taser are no match for the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom. After that, everybody who could ran. I think everyone thinks that there will always be a plan in place to save them, and for a little while, locked in the office, we thought that, but as the hours turned into days, and the days got dangerously close to a week, Lisa lost it.

I watched the chaos unfold on the news, and now, I’m cursing myself for hiding away like a coward, because, now, I’m going to die like one. I had a chance to run, but I was too scared. I can’t save Lisa. I couldn’t save the guests, but I will try and save you.

When they are done here, and they’ve filled their stomachs with meat, and revenge, they will find you. There are so many towns, so many meals, and eventually, they’ll get to you, so, please, lock your doors, put up barricades, and… Oh God… Lisa is opening the door… Oh God, no! Just run! Run now! They’re…