Sanctuary: Seven

Morning brought calm again, though it came at the expense of a night. Emmett had done his best to make sure the bones in Blossom’s paw were set correctly and the wound bandaged appropriately. He knew she’d have it off within hours of waking, but he had nothing but time to keep on her and ensure the injured healed nicely. The more he thought on Blossom, her situation, background, and the circumstances of this new injury, Emmett concluded she would end up in human care permanently. He almost chuckled at the prospect of keeping the old girl around as some form of guard cat, but he hardly had the time or mind for a pet. A pet, even a fish, was a dedication that lasted years, not weeks or months, like the rescues. Even the frogs and salamanders in the tank were more of an obligation than he was used to. Watching them, he felt himself slipping slowly into slumber as the sun pressed on its course through the sky. He couldn’t be a worse pet owner.
However, just as his lids closed completely and his mind entered the blank space of pre-dreaming, Emmett was jolted awake by his phone. The number wasn’t one he recognized, but a telemarketer or prank caller was unlikely to call him. Clicking on to receive the call, he held a moment and let the other party speak, “Hello? Is this Emmett Mausberg of the Mausberg Animal Sanctuary?”
“This is. Who may I ask is calling?”
“Gene Chambers, principal. I believe one of my teachers, Robert Hitchfield, contacted you about your organization.”
“Yes. Just the other day, he was out here asking if I could give a presentation to one of his classes,” Emmett half muttered as he began looking for a sheet of paper and pen.
Gene carried on, “That’s right. He came to us with his request. I’m not going to bore you with details and millions of questions. My secretary has some paperwork drawn up, and anything that I need to know, she’ll ask you directly. My only question, as it stands now, is how safe are you with these animals? Are they going to claw up some punk kid who sticks his fingers in their cage, or will someone need an anti-venom from a state and a half away?”
“No. Robert had asked if I could bring in an animal or two if you approved it. I wouldn’t bring in anything harmful. I have quite a few rescues here that are completely docile, but I think if the children were to visit the sanctuary, it might work a bit better.”
“Alright, Mausberg. I have to answer to the superintendent about something like that, and I’d need permission from parents. I think you see where this runs into a problem. Chuck won’t bat an eye, but it’s the parents. I don’t get involved in their gossip, I hear, but I don’t weigh in. I think you’d best start with a presentation. We’ll see how it goes, maybe in the spring or by next fall, we can do a trial field trip and maybe regular ones from there. My secretary, Debra, she’ll be calling you later today or maybe this week. She’ll want you to come in and go over some paperwork. We’ll see you then.”
The line went dead before Emmett could ask a single follow-up question. He could only be thankful that the principal was possibly a neutral party and, therefore, another helping hand in anchoring the sanctuary into the community. There wasn’t time for much else to cross Emmett’s mind as his phone lit to life again in his hand with another unknown number. Instinct said lightning didn’t strike twice, nor did his luck hold that long, but he would let it ride. As far as he knew, it was the secretary that was supposed to call him.
Clicking on the phone, Emmett was not terribly shocked to hear another voice on the line, “Is this the Mausberg Animal Sanctuary?”
“This is. Who’s calling?”
“I’m calling about some of your animals. I was wondering if I could buy, we could actually, buy a few from you for our zoo,” the boy sounded as young as the intruders from the night prior, only far more nervous.
Emmett cleared his throat, ignoring suspicion, “What’s the name of the zoo you work with? I have paperwork that I can give you. It’ll make the purchases a bit easier when it comes tax time for both of us.”
“Okay, I don’t work for a zoo. I’m calling on behalf of a private collector. Could I maybe buy one or two of them off you?”
“I don’t sell to collectors, sorry. You’ll have to tell your boss it’s a no-go,” Emmett was about to hang up the phone before the boy started pleading.
Frantic, as though his life depended on making the purchase, the boy blurted, “How about rentals? Like could we rent one or two of the animals for a few hours? We wouldn’t be traveling with them, just in one place. You could even name where.”
“Okay, kid, level with me. Are you trying to impress a girl? Because I get that, but there are better ways.”
“Does it matter? Fuck, you won’t do it. I could have guessed.”
Emmett didn’t need to bother with hanging up on the boy. The line went dead after the last annoyed breath from him. Still bleary-eyed as he had been all morning, Emmett sat staring dully at the wall, his mind trying to figure out what the boy wanted to rent an animal for. Obviously, he was young and likely not too bright considering the request, but Emmett couldn’t shake the feeling it was for some nefarious purpose. It could have just as well been one of the kids from the night before trying to see if he was on the level or was like the Green kid, thinking he could sneak an exotic pet by without issue. The third option was no better and not one Emmett would even consider as he concluded his next move. Pushing himself off the couch, Emmett went to work.
On the back of a receipt, he had scrawled a winding list of items he needed from town. Mostly it was medical supplies for the animals, having burnt through quite a bit in a short time, but also new measures for security. The note with the dimensions for new glass was scratched out and replaced with motion sensor cameras, alarms, and extra sets of floodlights. It all seemed overkill and unnecessary and would be once the community finally allowed him to take root and forgot about the additional solar panel farm. However, Emmett could understand the difficulties of right now, and though winter was barking at the door, he needed to ensure the safety of the animals until then. Taking a money clip flush with twenties from under the toaster, well aware his emergency funds were for when the worst came, Emmett headed into town.
The day dragged on slowly, not because of the errands but due to Emmett’s mental state. He was running on fumes, and the few stops he made were overcast by the shadow of rumor, and gossip whispered in the least hushed voices as he entered any given establishment. Though Emmett expected as much at the grocery store, which was always somewhat busy, and too often filled with gossips stopped mid-isle to chat, the farm supply store was another story. To make matters worse, the young man tasked with helping him find the supplies he requested gave a constant glare of suspicion and disgust. The employee may as well have been the teen from the night prior who Emmett had knocked down and held down with the barrel of his revolver. Worse still, there was little in the way of the equipment Emmett actually needed.
When it was all said and done, the purchases loaded into the back of his vehicle, Emmett was walking away with four trail cameras with twice as many memory cards. Floodlights were easier to find and not something he was made to settle on like the cameras; however, the brand he bought, the only ones in stock, had a weak motion detector at best. As for security alarms, he ended up with a system that seemed less than helpful for his situation. The unit would wail and chirp directly from its own speaker, but if that were enough to wake Emmett, let alone reach inside the house, needed to be determined. He wasn’t looking forward to installing the devices, annoying the animals as he tested them, and likely having to reposition and try them again just to see if they would do the job. All would have been well as Emmett made to leave town until Sheriff Kerry caught sight of him.
“Emmett, a word if you please.”
Seeing no need for concern, he followed Kerry into a blind spot behind a trailer in the lot, “What can I do for you today, Kerry.”
His head thumped against the trailer, and for a moment, there was no breath to give life to his lungs. The sheriff had been so quick despite his age. He had planted a firm right in Emmett’s guts before pinning him, but it felt to be reversed for that second of confusion. Kerry’s gun didn’t come out, but the baton was pressed against Emmett’s throat and used to keep him from moving. Struggle was the first thing to come to mind, but Emmett overruled the natural instinct as Kerry removed his sunglasses.
He set his jaw like a rabid dog, “I’d ask you to explain where the claw marks on my niece’s arm came from, but I don’t think I care which of your pests did it. You caught yourself damn lucky nothing worse happened or I’d have run you in, probable cause or nothing. Yeah, damn lucky you are today. If she had said where she was last night, doesn’t matter what she was doing, I’d bust your ass down and never have to think of you or that waste heap of land you got there. Maybe you take this as a warning. Time to pack it up and move along before you wind up on the wrong side of the law with a victim that actually wants to press charges.”
The one-sided conversation ended with the baton finding Emmett’s solar plexus with more force than he thought the old man was capable of. He sunk beneath the trailer as Kerry strutted away, making one more remark about leaving town that was as casual as though he regarded the weather. Emmett found his feet after a few minutes, long enough for the sheriff to pull away and leave him alone in the lot.
That old, weak thought came again as Emmett stood astride the cab of the semi-truck he had just been pressed against.

He could take the money, not that he needed the whole sum, and run. There were untold amounts of lots for sale, undeveloped land that would make for a good sanctuary where the animals could be released much more easily. Those places might still be home to proper rural grasslands and forests where animals could thrive. However, to surrender here was a loss that Emmett couldn’t bare to have mark his soul. It wasn’t home or the loss of the first sanctuary but the notion that he stood in the way of the broader part of an ecosystem collapsing. He could walk away, but knowing what he allowed to fall in doing so was not something easily done. Emmett closed his eyes, swallowed a hard breath as his lungs began to easily take in and release air, and started for home.

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