by Kobina Wright
They were growing distressed and irritable. They hadn’t been fed in four days. The one called Ledford managed to climb the wire fence on the cage door and get to the single light bulb on the ceiling. He had unscrewed it after it had been turned off and cooled, then crunched down on it between his large teeth, slicing his tongue and gums, leaving a spatter of blood on the cement floor. It was an act of protest; however, they all had to sit in the dark now.
Ledford ate a lightbulb. To Trung this meant the quilpry were impervious to pain – categorically dangerous. He was arriving at this conclusion even without Ledford’s stunt. The binder didn’t mention glass… or light bulbs. He wouldn’t go back in the cage to replace it. They were out of tranquilizers.
Trung hadn’t seen them in four days and felt responsible to check on them and when he peeked around the corner into the cage, he trembled and leaned heavily on his crutch, inhaling through his nose… exhaling through his mouth. He could smell that their cage had not been cleaned in a while. Their silver bodies were slumped like snow heaps on the floor. The door surely alerted them to his presence but he tried to stay quiet, not wanting to get caught watching them openly.
They had real thoughts. Not like dogs. Like dolphins. He knew it. Their pale teal, cat-like eyes bore through him like screws, reaching the molten colors of his insecurities, despite the brave front. Their shimmering ape-like arms folded across their chests in his presence, and he knew from recent experience that if close enough, one would impale him with the short horn that protruded from its head.
It wasn’t the violence that kept Trung hidden. He was afraid of their eyes. In the beginning, he and his brother used to talk to them regularly, like pets. They gave the quilpry names that the creatures never responded to. Their eyes were flat, but intelligent. When they stared at the brothers, Trung felt… judged. He sensed their arrogance and analytics, right there in those teal cat eyes.
The quilpry showed no excitement at the attention they were given and often outright ignored Trung and his brother – unless there was food. When food was involved, three adult males came to the door of the cage – methodically, their height reaching the brothers’ waists when the creatures’ hands and feet were on the ground. When the three stood upright, they stared the brothers squarely in the eyes, looking neither friendly nor unfriendly. The three always stood. The females, slightly smaller, rarely stood as far as the brothers could tell but did stare. The babies, twin males, never left their mother and even they stared.
“Sleep tight.” Trung’s brother would say before walking away from the cage. After the tranquilizers wore off and the quilpry had eaten their dinner, his brother would flip the light switch with a hard click, leaving them all in darkness. Sleep tight.
Once, Trung had lingered around the corner of the cage near the door, out of sight of the creatures, wallowing in self-pity about being there at home, friendless and lonely while his brother and a group of his brother’s friends made plans to run wild in the city. They were at the brothers’ house at that moment, drinking and laughing about things that were only funny to them, preparing to head out. Trung had only been invited two awkward times into the city with them and later pretended not to care that he was never invited again. He alone served the creatures then and was about to open the door leading outside the enclosure when he halted. He heard one of the quilpry nasally parrot his brother. Sleep tight. This was followed by a soft cackling sound from the cage. That could not have been the hushed sounds of laughter. Giggling. These creatures, always silent and unresponsive, were mocking them. Talking! Trung hurriedly ran back around the corner to peer into the cage but they had stopped and were as stoic as when he’d left them.
Trung excitedly relayed the incident back at the house. His brother, grimacing and sucking his teeth, threatened to lock him up with the creatures, then drunkenly cursed him, calling him an idiot in front of everyone. Trung knew better. His brother didn’t really think he was an idiot. It was a show for his friends.
“No dude. Let’s go see. What if your brother’s telling the truth? Then who’d be the idiot?”
Trung’s brother’s friend Glen wanted to witness Trung’s wild claim for himself. He stared at Trung a moment, then back at Trung’s brother. Three other guys in the room laughed at Trung’s brother and voiced their versions of excuses Trung’s brother would make if what Trung said was true.
Sorry I didn’t believe you Trung, I’m actually dumber than these monkey-catacorns.
Sorry Trung, for calling you an idiot, I’m just an asshole crackhead.
“We gotta see this! Are you kidding me?” A girl, whose name Trung had a hard time remembering (Kimpia or Kimminie or… something) was usually quiet but obviously curious enough to back up Glen.
The group of of six stumbled loudly into the pink graffittied kennel, shushing each other and giggling. Trung’s brother turned on the light with a loud thick click and the group of humans stared at the quilpry. Trung’s brother’s friends who had all seen the creatures, but only once before, were still awed and quite afraid of their strangeness. The quilpry stared back at them.
“What did you say they said? Sleep tight?” Glen asked Trung.
One of Trung’s brother’s friends shouted, “SLEEP TIGHT?”
Trung’s brother hissed a warning about yelling at the creatures. He had been terrified of the idea of bringing the group into the pink graffittied kennel again but gave into the surmounting pressure. If Trung would have thought it through, he wouldn’t have told his brother about what had happened while his brother’s friends were around. He should’ve waited.
The quilpry said nothing. Trung thought they looked hostile, like people looked when they were trying to control their anger. No amount of prompting or cage kicking or pleasantly spoken insults offered like sugar cubes, made them react to the humans. After a few minutes, the adult quilpry looked away dismissively and only the twin babies continued to stare. Trung half expected the mother to turn the twins’ heads away from them. She didn’t.
As the group of six left the pink graffittied kennel, Glen patted Trung on the shoulder. The unexpected physical contact made Trung flinch.
“They didn’t want to talk to us Trung. I guess they only trust you.”
He wanted to, but Trung didn’t tell his brother that when it was dark, before he reached the pink graffitted kennel door, he sometimes heard noises. Conversations… Sometimes arguing. Sometimes whispering. They were communicating with each other but not in a language he recognized.
The twins were babies, still on their mother’s swollen teats when Trung and his brother stole the crates off a rig. One day, while they waited in stillness together smoking under a patch of trees on the side of the road, hoping for day-labor work, they watched a truck driver drive up and abandon his rig in the sparsely occupied parking lot of a motel in search of entertainment by demure company. They looked at each other. The rig was full of crates but the brothers only stole the ones marked “chairs,” “table,” “living room,” and “electric oven.” Trung’s brother believed the unmarked rig was from a wholesale furniture store or maybe a moving truck for some wealthy family relocating. They went giddy when they found that all the crates could be moved with just a dolly, conveniently tucked inside by the rig’s cargo door and moved quickly to load the crates into their own truck. It took two trips.
They cracked open the plywood crates and stood stunned as they starred at a heap of breathing monkey-unicorn-cat creatures, clearly tranquilized. They moved the boxed creatures carefully, using only their lean muscles and the dolly, depositing them in the abandoned, pink graffitied kennel on their property. The building once housed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels when they stole four purebreds and decided to get into the short-lived business of dog breeding.
Water leaked throughout the pink graffitied kennel when it rained, which was often, but the open community space behind the fenced cage stayed dry. That’s where the quilpry went. Seven altogether. Their legs and arms were twisted and looped like silver pretzels while they slept.
The brothers took careful inventory of the rest of their stolen goods. Four hundred tranquilizer darts. One tranquilizer gun. Liquid vitamins in an clear acrylic box with amber vials, syringes, tiny spoons and a white powder Trung discovered, by accident, was confectioners’ sugar. There was also a five inch binder labeled “Quilpry” which held general instructions to their daily care, notes on their mating habits, diet, grooming and social behavior. After caring for them for about a month, Trung’s brother decided that most of the information in the binder was useless.
The brothers considered breeding and selling the creatures like they had the dogs, but the eldest realized the quilpry were far too unique to sell locally. The umbrella of commonplaceness, essential to pull such a thing off, was absent. They’d cook under the exposure, and whomever they stole the creatures from would easily march the authorities into the pink graffitied kennel and send the young men to prison. His brother wanted to, then, tranquilize the whole lot and dump them. The quilpry. Trung, however, quickly pointed out the danger in that, so took on the bulk of responsibility for the caring of them until… Until. He followed the directions in the binder and tranquilized them before setting out their food – cooked mice, rats or squirrels and served raw vegetables. Under Trung’s care it was usually rats and lettuce since rats were the easiest to find and trap and lettuce was cheap. He carefully folded the vitamins into their food and lightly dusted it with confectioners’ sugar, assuming it was for masking the strong vitamin taste that every living creature seemed to be repelled by.
Four days ago, low on supplies, Trung decided against tranquilizing them. They liked him better. He always thought they’d been passive with him until he was promptly impaled in the leg when he entered the cage. His brother, a short distance outside the pink graffitied kennel, heard his screams and pulled him out by the armpits. The wound throbbed and spiked; throbbed and spiked, on the ride to the hospital. He had vomited all over himself because the pain had been so intense. Trung told the attending doctor that he’d been stabbed in a fight over a girl.
His brother had said he’d take care of the quilpry while Trung convalesced, his fighting-over-a girl leg elevated with pillows, back at the house. His brother had slacked off though, and Trung knew it. Selfish fucker. Running around with his friends in the city. He hadn’t seen him in three days and Trung himself hadn’t been in a hurry to feed the quilpry, still pissed about his leg. They needed to be taught a lesson… and he was scared.
It was impossible to see all the quilpry from where he stood peeking around the corner near the door inside the pink graffitied kennel, especially since there was no longer a light in the cage. Trung could clearly see one of them. It was the one they called Ledford. He and Trung made eye contact and Ledford simultaneously put a foot (or hand) forward, inching a bone behind him in the darkness. Trung’s heart thudded in his chest and he wished to God his brother would drag his lazy ass back. It wasn’t fair and they were out of tranquilizers.
Kobina Wright created the Hodaoa-Anibo language – a language she views as a work of art, dedicated Africans who were forced to give up their native tongues when once they were enslaved in the New World.