The Fancy Dress Shop at Dunderdoon Zoo

 

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Chapter 1. Inside the zoo

Whoever’s idea it was to put a fancy-dress shop in a zoo was a genius – at least that’s what the animals thought.

Perhaps one was already there and the other was built around it; perhaps it was an inspired decision by forward thinking zoo-owners; or perhaps it was a fuddle-up with the paperwork, leading to two shops being put in incorrect places – and that’s why there’s no gift shop at Dunderdoon Zoo – only a fully-stocked fancy-dress shop containing costumes of every animal in every shape and size.

The visitors to the zoo took little interest in the fancy-dress shop – occasionally a reluctant father would hire a little monkey suit for their noisy boy on the way in; even more occasionally spoilt parents would hire bear or panda costumes to wear and be their child’s favorite animal for the afternoon; and even even more occasionally a family from somewhere else would all dress up as penguins to walk around the zoo (being especially careful when walking past the lion enclosure).

But the animals loved it.

At Dunderdoon Zoo the animals were extremely happy. Many people didn’t like the idea of animals being locked-up in cages, but at Dunderdoon Zoo the animals weren’t exactly locked-up. Some years ago Old Dangleoffalou – the very first zoo-keeper – had dropped his keys and lost them in a drain. The elephants had used their trunks to retrieve them, shared the keys around all the other creatures, and ever since then, every night, after closing, when the zoo was empty, each animal would unlock their enclosure – the ones with hands helping those without hands, and the ones with beaks helping those without beaks – and wander about the zoo’s landscaped grounds and facilities that during the day were exclusively filled with the people visitors to Dunderdoon Zoo.

The animals liked to pretend to read the signs; they liked to ride the hire boats on the lake; they liked to play in the games room or on the playground swings and roundabouts (all shaped like animals from the jungle); they liked to have picnics and play with balls and toys from lost property; but most of all they liked to visit the fancy-dress shop.

The little marsupials found it hard to wear the big animal costumes. Willinudge the young wallaby couldn’t properly reach the ends of the front legs in the elephant costume on her own so would let her brothers and sisters come into the same costume to fill it. Ricardi-Ramos the rhinoceros found it hard to squeeze into the wombat costume (even an extra-extra-large) but would always manage eventually. Simon the snake really liked to dress in the koala costume. He found the other animals were generally much nicer to him. He worked really hard to make it work too – he filled it out by stuffing screwed-up newspapers around him, and he could reach the claws by joining up icy-pole-sticks with chewing gum he found in the litter bins. To be brutally honest he did look a bit baggy when he tried to climb trees, but on the up-side he could slide along the ground on his belly faster than the koala themselves could waddle. Simon the snake in the koala suit would often help Nellie the elephant in the giraffe suit see where she was going. With her trunk up the neck of the giraffe she could easily reach whatever she wanted, but often what she got wasn’t exactly what she had reached for. Even with a few eyeholes cut in the right places of the suit, Nellie couldn’t see exactly what her giraffe mouth was up to and so she often ended up with a mouthful of leaves and twigs rather than the mango she had been aiming for.

Of course, like everything, it wasn’t all smiles. The bandicoots would often freeze in the polar bear enclosure even if they were in big white furry costumes. The pride of lions didn’t like it when the only costume’s left were zebras as it made them feel vulnerable. And there were always arguments between the big cats about who was better looking; the big cats, or the pumas in the big cat costumes.

Every night the zoo was filled with the squawks, screeches, rumbles and roars, and general chatter of animals in highly unusual and unlikely scenes. Moose – who were really antelope – could be seen chatting over a bite to eat in the cafeteria with tigers (who were really dingo’s on the inside). A hippo could be seen playing chess with an echidna (the hippo always won because he was really a very smart baboon in a suit and the echidna was a goose). Gazelles would go for long walks with cheetahs but dressed as gorillas and camels – the gazelles weren’t inclined to dash away and the cheetahs didn’t feel the urge to leap on their companions, only offer rides for the smaller animals.

Everyone was really friendly. Except Hazodang the hyena who refused to leave his cage and never joined in the game or dressed-up. “You look stupid.” he would hiss to Willinudge and her brothers and sisters in the elephant suit, which caused great offence to Nellie the real elephant who would blush inside the giraffe suit. But apart from him, the others had all decided a long time ago it was better to get along and all have fun together rather than chasing, screaming, and eating each other. Besides, they were all well fed and watered during the day – this was a chance to get to know each other, make friends and run free.

Well, not completely free, but outside their cages at least.

And so it had been at Dunderdoon Zoo for as long as the elephants could remember. During the days, the animals would lay around, bored and catch-up on sleep. Then, once the people who worked at the zoo had left, they would retrieve their keys from where they had buried them or hidden them under rocks, unlock their cages and head for the fancy dress shop. Then, before first light they would clear up any mess, put everything back as it had been, return costumes to the fancy-dress shop and slip secretly back into their enclosures before the people who worked at the zoo came in. During the day they were wild animals for the visitors and during the night they weren’t wild at all, but properly behaved sharing the wide open space and freedom of the zoo grounds.

But for some of the animals, soon the zoo wasn’t big enough.

Nellie the elephant agreed with Willinudge the wallaby (possibly because she and her brothers and sisters were in an elephant suit) that they should open the gates and see what was outside of the zoo. Ricardi-Ramos, the rhinoceros in the wombat suit said they really shouldn’t – it was probably dangerous as they’d be many people there and he remembered that not all people were as nice as the many boys and girls who came to see the animals during the days. Simon the snake, sitting in a eucalyptus tree eating gum leaves with his icy-pole-stick claws, could see over the boundary fence and said there were lots of cars, and lots of noise and lots of trouble in the world outside their walls.

So they had a big meeting under the big fig tree in the centre of the zoo and had a vote. Each animal took a stone from the rockery and put it into either the yellow recycling bin for ‘yes – let’s all go and see what’s on the outside of the zoo’, or into the red non-recycling bin for ‘no – let’s just stay here, I’m a bit frightened’. It was a bit confusing and chaotic for everyone to understand how this worked but the smarter animals explained to the others that this was fair and everyone agreed to abide by the final decision. Eventually, once the rocks were counted, they had decided, by a vote of 34 rocks to 10 rocks – and a baby turtle someone put in by mistake – to venture outside the gates of Dunderdoon Zoo.

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Chapter 2. Outside the zoo

The night the animals had chosen to adventure outside the gates of the Zoo was a full moon, so everyone could see a bit, but the possums, who could see best at night – in lion cub costumes – would show the way. Everyone had decided to wear something from the fancy-dress shop - they didn’t feel as exposed that way, and considered that if they were captured on camera they wouldn’t be recognizable (they’d all been in many pictures before, as themselves, at the zoo). Simon, in his koala suit, who was the quickest, went first; with Willinudge and her brothers and sisters, who were the biggest in their elephant suit, alongside with the possums/lion cubs. They led the others, a motley procession of stuffed, floppy, bloated, saggy and baggy-looking animals, including, a little reluctantly, a massive wombat who was really the rhinoceros Ricardi-Ramos and Nellie in the giraffe suit with an elephant’s trunk for a neck. With the other animals they waddled, wobbled, scurried, shuffled and scampered as quietly as they could from the fig tree, past the cafeteria, past the games room, past the fancy-dress shop and gingerly out through the main gate – which was a huge archway sculptured like the mouth of a tiger – out into another world. From the boundary fence some of the shyer animals who didn’t want to go looked on with scared faces – even Hazodang the hyena couldn’t resist peeking, and secretly wished them luck.

They quietly (apart from the noise of baggy costumes dragging on the pavement and the grunts of smaller animals bumping into each other inside larger costumes) padded up the hill and shuffled down the dimly lit main street of Dunderdoon. It wasn’t a very big town, it wasn’t a very busy town – some people joked it had more animals in than people and there was no one about on this particular night, just the empty pavements under the street lamps and a far-off dog beginning to bark because he could smell something different.

The procession of animals went past the bakery, past the pub, past the post office and past the laundromat, looking curiously into the windows of each as they passed – it must have been a bit like walking around the zoo and looking into each of the different enclosures, Willinudge said to his brothers and sisters inside the elephant suit. They went past the toy shop and Ricardi-Ramos the wombat-shaped Rhinoceros was curious to see little soft kangaroos, pandas and bears which didn’t move or seemed the least bit scared even when he banged in the glass with his horny wombat noise.

They had agreed to stick together, but because they couldn’t all see very well, walk very quickly – or for some, even have the memory or inclination to do as they’re told – a few animals soon began to wander apart and separate as they spent longer in their new surroundings. Simon the snake couldn’t help himself when he saw a chicken pen and the chickens were surprised, but not very scared when a koala tried, unsuccessfully to fit through the gaps in their wire cage.

The largest pack of animals included Nellie the elephant in the giraffe suit, Ricardi-Ramos the rhinocerios in the wombat suit, Willinudge and his brothers and sisters in the elephant suit and the possum lion cubs, a monkey mongoose, a penguin monkey, with about 10 other costumed beasts, all arrived at one place which fascinated them even more than the others. As they approached they saw a fantastic playground which reminded them of good nights out at the zoo, there was also a pond, a slippery dip and a sandpit – perfect for the animals to have a rest and each relax a bit after the walk up the hill.

After a while, an inquisitive baboon, in a gazelle suit, walked on her back legs around to the front of the building and saw a big glass window, a bit like the one in her enclosure at the zoo that she usually looked out of. She pressed her gazelle snout up against the glass and tried her best to see through. On the inside of the thick glass window were tiny cages containing cute little puppies, kittens, baby rabbits and guinea pigs. Above the window was a sign ‘Pet Shop’.

It could have been some unrest at the activity going on behind the shop in the playground, or it could have been the sight of a floppy gazelle with her snout pressed at the pet shop window but, anyway the little animals inside became very excited and agitated and started to make quite a noise.

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Chapter 3. Inside 16 Shackleton Street

Bobby heard a noise outside and quickly sat upright in bed – he sprung up so quickly, his little puppy Jingo, who was sleeping at his feet, shot into the air and knocked into the shelf above Bobby’s bed. A cascade of soft cuddly toys fell on and around him until he was surrounded by an assortment of pandas, bears, marsupials, monkeys and a cuddly crab he used to call Brains.

“Bindy!”, he whispered in his loudest screaming whisper.

“What?” mubbled Bindy from under her princess pink blanket.

“There’s something outside”, scream-whispered Bobby.

“Why have you got your cuddly toys out? You never play with them anymore” observed Bindy.

“I haven’t, they jumped out on me”.

 

Bobby and Bindy Bothlewaite were brother and sister. They didn’t much like each other – Bindy thought Bobby was bossy and had a big nose, Bobby thought his sister was weak and wore sissy dresses. They peered out of their bedroom window together in their pajamas, with Jingo nuzzling around their ankles wagging his tail.

“It’s dark outside how can you see something is there?” said Bindy.

“I heard it.”, scream-whispered Bobby.

Bindy turned off the bedroom light she had just turned on so that they could see outside better. They readjusted their peering and looked searchingly around their back garden, into their playground and at the little cubby-house at the rear of 16 Shackleton Street, the house behind the Dunderdoon pet shop that their mother and Aunty Ann owned.

What they saw both surprised and shocked them.

There was a duck climbing on the monkey bars, and a monkey swimming in the duck pond. There was a white wolf burying its head in the sand-pit, and an ostrich began howling at the moon. A small polar bear beahving more like a seal was sliding down the slippery dip on its tummy, honking happily as suddenly a flamingo came whizzing round clinging onto the hills hoist. A zebra poked his head out of the cubby window and roared like a lion. Then there was a giraffe with a bendy neck squirting water from the pond out if its mouth and all over its back; an elephant bouncing on the little trampoline like he’d lost proper use of his legs; and there was the biggest wombat they had ever seen rubbing his nose up against Aunty Ann’s shed.

There were in fact, wild animals all around their house and at the front of the pet shop. And they weren’t just wild, they were crazy. They seemed to be clomping and stumbling around in a very angry manner.

“What shall we do?”, scream-whispered Bobby.

Bindy jumped up from under her bed with a torch, beaming, “Mum and Aunty Ann have got their earplugs in. Let’s go see”.

Bobby was surprised at Bindy’s boldness and felt braver than he should because she was so confident, “It’s the middle of the night Bindy.”

‘I know, come on, everyone else is asleep.”

They slipped on their slippers, dressed in their dressing gowns and crept excitedly down the hallway behind the light of the beaming torch, past their Mum’s room, past Aunty Ann’s room, across the kitchen, and carefully ventured outside, down the back steps of 16 Shackleton Street –  with Jingo the puppy padding closely behind them wagging his tail.

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