Birth at the Pleasure Beach
A short story by Henry Wingate

It is early evening and it’s my turn. I’m the last of many, no one here to see. I consider letting go; howling or collapsing to the floor. Instead I control the brimming behind my ribs and catch my breath. It’s almost here now. Almost here. Something is coming.

When the three-pronged silver claw dropped down last night, Arthur was the first to panic. Crouching and paralysed with fear, his convulsions racked his body, shaking the tips of his ears where they laid across his skull. He had every reason to be terrified. The claw clamped down around his cheeks, nestled securely on his head, started to drag his spasmed form upward.
My companions and I shrank back as he was lifted into the air; pressing ourselves against the steel walls. It was Randall who first registered the problem, shaking his mane in consternation.
“’Dis ain’t goan be pretty,” he moaned, turning away.
Despite its short length Arthur’s tail had managed to hook itself around a loose rivet on the enclosure floor.
At the height he had reached it started to stretch him out, so he no longer raised straight up but slanted a little, like an arrow angled for flight. There would be no flight. The drag on Arthur’s anchor point was starting to tension his body, and when he realised the situation he began to shriek; agonised, terrified screams pushed out through grinding teeth. Beneath this there came the sounds of ripping. This equilibrium was held for a beat; a balletic moment of poise, before his neck was torn in half.
I watched as the claw bore away its cargo of rabbit head, while his body dropped back to the floor. On impact it bounced, unhooked itself from the rivet and came to rest on its back. A little white stuffing rolled from the neck cavity. Arthur was dead.

The rest of the night was passed in silence. I’m sure my cohabitants slept as intermittently as I did, disturbed by the presence of a decapitated rabbit corpse reclining in their midst.
The upper half of the tank we slept in was plastic, the lower half steel; riveted plates stretching up beyond reach that kept out the light far past dawn. In the early hours we existed in a half gloom lifted only by the glow of the Perspex sheets of the upper half of the tank. The rays that made their way down to us were weakened and sickly, a flat grey light. Before the daylight was full the artificial suns above us would burst into life. This also heralded blurry outlines the other side of the glare; and the claw would move.

By mid-morning the body was gone, and with its absence the mood lifted slightly. It was mid-morning before the subject was broached. Liam had completed his amble around the enclosure when he brought it up, settling down into a corner and scratching his hindquarters with long brown claws.
“Maybe they fixed him, you know? Like, fixed up or somethin’. Put back together.”
“Yeah Liam, I bet they did. I bet they fixed him up good. Just took him off to the vets and sorted him right out.” Fitzroy lounged back into his fleece as he replied, crossing his hooves and staring along his snout at the Bear. “How is it you lot remember to wake up from hibernation, with that kind of intellect?”
“Cuhm on now, doan’t be so hard on de bear. He only tryin’ te look at it in a positif wey.”
“Fuck off Randall, I didn’t ask you. Besides, I don’t recall your overwhelming positivity in the moment of truth last night.”
“Don’ tempt me, I gutta hunger in mah belly dat cho’d fill right up.”
He was pacing in semi-circles, on each turn his movements becoming more aggressive. We had seen him like this many times, to the same result. We knew Randall was still guilt-ridden from having attacked the seal-pup, Anthony.

In the first days there had been more than twenty-five creatures, crammed in on each other. Randall, the dominant carnivore, had eventually snapped when Anthony had asked for the sixty-eighth time whether anyone could see the sea. The Lion bared his teeth then sank them into the rolls of fur around Anthony’s neck, shaking the seal before placing a paw on his head and tearing out a chunk of his back.
Some hours later Randall began to demonstrate signs of remorse. It was dark by then, the Pleasure Beach having closed for the night, and I was the only one awake, watching Randall in the half-light. He had tried to collect what was left of Anthony’s carcass, much of which was strewn across the floor in drifts of fluffy white cotton, collected in gaps between the other animals. Piling it up with his muzzle, he attempted to push it back inside the skin. The result was bizarre. A macabre, deflated version of a seal, like a week old balloon that has collapsed. He curled himself around this and finally fell asleep, as did I.
In the early morning I was woken up by movements. Opening my eyes, I saw Randall’s back as he hoisted himself to his feet. Then I saw overhead what had awakened him. Anthony was being carried away by the three silver prongs, flapping limp and releasing small tufts of stuffing as he went that drifted to the floor like snow. There was nothing Randall could do. I watched him slump to the ground, folding up till he looked no more than a large house cat. As he scanned the floor in empty desperation we had made eye contact.
“Dat was me, responsible now an’ gutta blood of dat pup on my pads. You know what dat feel like?” He shook his mane. “Course you don’ know, why would you?”
I had opened my lips to reply and he started in shock. His spine raised, the fur along it bristling. I shut my mouth and looked to my feet, twisting ginger tufts of hair between my fingers to hide from the moment. Randall slumped back to the floor. Since then he had never done anything more than threaten.

Ignoring the lion’s pacing, Fitzroy lit a cigarette and inhaled, holding the smoke in for several seconds before releasing it upwards to the clear ceiling high above.
“Don’t know about you three, but I can’t wait to get out of this shithole.”
He brushed ash from his curls and turned to face them. “Another week or so of this and I’ll lose it.”
“If you so eager to go, den why ain’t you jumpin’ under dat claw each time him drop down?”
“You want me to shove others out the way? It wasn’t my place to help them out of their deer-in-headlights moment, just as I won’t be helping you. I reckon I’ll get my turn soon enough, and when I do it’ll be with more style than any of you lot did.”
“Sure you ain’t scared? Ah’m thinkin’ I can smell fear on you.”
Randall’s eyes glistened as he watched the sheep, unblinking.
“Think what you want fuzzball, I’m ready for it.”
“You sheep callin’ me fuzzball? Huh huh ha, man, you funny little farm boi. But dat don’t change nothin’. You scared.”
“Alright Randall, whatever you like, yeah?”
Till now Liam had been tracing circles in the dust on the floor, but the discussion of the outside attracted his attention.
“You fellas, you shouldn’t talk like that.” He inspected the pads of his feet whilst he spoke. “Couple times the others, they were talkin’ like that. Talkin’ about what they wus gonna do on gettin’ out. Figured that it wus good to get out. Didn’t look s’though they thought it wus so good as they went, not how I watched ‘em.”
His voice was getting quieter as he continued. “Don’t know who watchin’, don’t know who listenin’. Might be what makes it come down to….”
He appeared to lose concentration and tailed off, abandoning what he was saying in favour of scanning his surroundings through screwed up eyes. Satisfied that he was safe, he rolled onto all fours and the rose up onto hind legs, shuffling his feet as he crossed the container to join Fitzroy and Randall. His process was halted by an audible clunk from overhead.

With Liam gone, I find it harder to fade into the background. The other two are becoming increasingly agitated, bickering with each other as the stress levels build with the anticipation. Now and then they stare in my direction, maybe hoping that I will back them up in some discussion point, maybe just hoping that I will engage. It’s too late for that now. I was sidelined early on, something about my appearance I think Whatever it was I made the decision to keep to myself, try to maintain my distance. But as I sit and pick at my fur I feel their eyes on me.
“He gone man, only us tree left. I goan be happy when dis is finished.”
Randall is more eager to leave than ever. Fitzroy has been winding him up since Liam was taken, mocking his tendency of kindness toward the others who had been with us and his accent.
“How’d you come by that anyway? The lingo; that charming rhythm? We all come from Taiwan, all of us. What makes you think you talk like that?”
“What d’you tink?” Randall left it open, evidently tired of their bickering.
“I think it’s fake. I think it’s bullshit – a put on.” Fitzroy’s tone was getting harsher. “If we were made that way I’d sound like the valleys, Liam would have been wearing some Eastern European fez as he was hauled away crying and this one…” He glanced at me, eyes scanning my face. “You’d have sounded the same. Silent.” He turned toward the Lion to see his reaction. Randall laughed dryly, then rested his head on his paws.
“What’s so funny?” Fitzroy moved toward Randall, out into the open space in the middle of the cage where he was lying. “Eh, chuckles, what’s so funny?” Fitzroy repeated, this time his face up close to Randall’s.
The Lion kept his head on his paws as he replied. “You just don’t geddit, do ya. It s’all jus too much fo yo little sheep brain.”
“Get what, exactly?” Fitzroy’s tone had flattened. Randall looked up, their noses now almost touching.
“Get da fact dat you’s the same as me, same as Liam, same as she over there.”
“As you and her?” His eyes shot between the two of us, unbelieving. “Bollocks, I…” Randall cut him off.
“We all stuck in the same place. In de box and you head.” He rose from his prone position and stood facing Fitzroy. His voice grew bigger, expanding our enclosure.
“Whether you accept it or no, we all ben part of someone else’s game, every since dat bag split and we all fell in ‘ere.”
Fitzroy, excited now, bleated back at him.
“I’m NO part of your game, no part of this GAME. No part of ANY game.”
“Den why are you ‘ere?” Randall was baiting him now. “What is it you ‘ere to h’achieve?”
Fitzroy, visibly irritated, forced close eye contact.
“What is it to you, eh? What the FUCK difference does it make to you here? I don’t HAVE to tell you ANYTHING.” He snorted. “What you gonna do, MAKE me? How you shut ANTHONY up?”
Randall snarled and hunched his shoulders, dropping his head. He spat as he roared. “NEVER, DON’ YOU EVER MENTION DAT.”
They had been so absorbed that the noises above them had gone unnoticed. The claw was already moving, dropping down toward where they argued. As their fight grew louder its progress went unnoticed, stealthy in how it descended on them. They still hadn’t noticed it as it drew within a body length from where they fought, so I scrambled up and towards them. Both must have seen my unexpected movement and they stopped their argument. As they looked at me, and before I could speak, the claw dropped the final length and its prongs encased Randall.
He roared and lashed out in surprise. His claws connected with Fitzroy’s flank, entangling themselves in his dense fleece. As the prongs dragged Randall upwards so Fitzroy followed. The two animals fought their inexorable movement upward with each other, tearing fur as they struggled.
Then they stopped. As the bundle of fur and metal reached the Perspex sheets their movements ceased. Both animals stared out into their new surroundings. As they reached a peak I closed my eyes. Then they were gone.

The claw is moving again. I am the only one here so it is coming for me. I am too tired to be afraid anymore. Something in me breaks and slides away; down the tousled fur along my arms, over and through my bandy knees and legs, onwards and down it runs draining out of my toes.
I’m shambling to the centre of the box and holding out my forearms. The claw is catching the setting sun as it lowers; breaking the light and spinning its shards off into what has been our prison. My prison. It is more than that now. It is live and has chosen to deliver me last into the outside. The silver prongs are here and around me. They hold and raise me from the steel floor, up toward the luminous Perspex beyond me.
Now it is no longer above but around me. Lights are blinding, multicoloured, flashing. I peer out to one side and see a row of boxes; boxes like mine, like ours. These have bands of red and white colouring their walls. I am lifted higher and look out to the other side. The floor this side stops abruptly, changes level and colour and then slopes away into darkness. The darkness is moving gently back and forth. I remember what Anthony had said; is that the sea? I have stopped rising and am moving towards a side of the box. I have stopped at the wall, and now the claw opens. My body rushes to a hollow alcove that juts from the wall and I am scooped in. I am in a tiny box now, far smaller than before. The ceiling swings open and a smaller pink claw lowers in. It doesn’t grab like the first. It takes a moment, grasps around my middle and lifts me up.
I am outside. The air here is sharper, the space terrible and massive; seemingly infinite compared with the box I am accustomed to. But this barely registers as I look into the face I am held up to.
I am staring into my own eyes, into my own face but larger. It has less fur than me, but I know it is the same as mine. It is thinking the same. This ape is now crushing me to its chest; burying me in its blue fur so I can hear its massive heart pounding slowly. It is moving now, starting to pace away from the box that has been my womb. I feel born, new and weak and overwhelmed. As the box which held us all recedes into the distance a large ape moves over to it. I can just see he is carrying something. Opening the top of the box, he raises what he has in his grasp and tips the contents inside.

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