Got an email from a woman who claimed to be my ex-wife. Said her name was Claudette and she wanted to meet up in Hot House C. It was unpleasantly warm in the Chinchilla Room, yet she shows up wearing a winter coat, scarf and dark glasses. The security guard eyed us suspiciously. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.

I started to speak, but she shushed me into silence. She dragged me into a group of German tourists, where she pretended to take pictures of the Kangaroo Rat Enclosure until the guard lost interest and wondered off.
She removed her glasses, but I still didn’t recognise her. Auburn hair, green eyes: she was attractive, I guess, but not really my type. I told her I thought she’d mixed me up with somebody else, but then she comes out with all this personal stuff that no one else could possibly know.

When the place had emptied out she hopped over the barrier into the Mojave Desert Exhibit and signalled for me to follow. From outside, the enclosure seemed quite small, but we walked for an hour across barren scrub-lands and pink-tinged dunes into a trick cinematic perspective. I couldn’t figure it out: there was no sky, just acres of glaring arc-lamps suspended on a seemingly endless gantry overhead. The horizon was a badly-painted backdrop that we never quite seemed to reach. Ruby-coloured scorpions scuttled past my feet. Plump-looking rodents emerged from behind cacti or plastic cattle skulls, sniffing the air as they blinked into the shimmering heat.

She led me to a ramshackle wooden shack in the foot-hills where she served up lemonade and showed me our wedding album. “You really don’t remember, do you? We were on the run in Switzerland and assassins sabotaged the ski-lift. There was a terrible accident, we fell and you – you fractured your skull. Even now, the thought of cold weather or snow makes me... me...” Her eyes moistened and she started to shiver uncontrollably, despite her heavy coat.

I tried to comfort her, but the security-guard arrived and kicked open the door. He cried out in anguish at the sight of us sat there together. “Damn it, girl – I took good care of you and now you pay me back by running off with that amnesiac ex-husband of yours!” He shot her and blood blossomed unexpectedly on her forehead, like some terrible devil-cactus that only flowers once every century.

I killed him quickly with my bare hands, cracking bones with some arcane self-defence system I never even knew I knew. Murder’s like riding a bike, I guess. Afterwards, I studied his face, finally recognising my dull brown hair and pale, tight-skinned features in his own. He looked like some long lost cousin you might meet at a family reunion. Seems like my ex had a pretty narrow taste in men.

I buried them together round the back of the shack. It felt right. The situation had some terrible symmetry that made sense at the time: he loved her, she loved me and I didn’t have a clue who the pair of them were.

It seemed logical to take his clothes and his identity – which is how I ended up working as a guard in Hot House C. At night, I explore the tangled arboreal depths of the Nocturnal Rain-Forest Exhibit, hunting for lost tribes and documentary film-crews. It’s cloyingly warm and creepy in there, but I find the sullen red lighting and the pre-recorded bird-song strangely comforting. My days are spent studying the monotone grain of CCTV monitors, patiently searching for someone that I might recognise or even know.

Kek-w writes FALL OF DEADWORLD (featuring Judge Death and the Dark Judges), THE ORDER, INDIGO PRIME and BLACK MAX for 2000AD and Rebellion Publishing in the UK. He has written numerous short stories and comic-strips for Ahoy Comics of Syracuse, New York. Past credits include CAP'N DINOSAUR for Image Comics and Commando for DC Thompson. His work has appeared in New Scientist, Wire, Dazed & Confused, Bizarre and Tattoo, among others.
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