Excerpt from Night of the Animals by Bill Broun, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Night of the Animals

by Bill Broun

Night of the Animals by Bill Broun X
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 560 pages

    Apr 2017, 592 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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Print Excerpt

The animals, wisely, wanted Cuthbert to help them escape before it was too late.

CUTHBERT WAS BIG, big, big—twice the size of most Britons and half as dainty. Despite his semihomeless state, he always, somehow, managed to find food, especially his favorite—cold kidney pies and kippers. His love of England was outsize, too, nearly as great as his respect for its ruthless king, Henry IX. His fingers were as thick and dirty as parsnips, and his feet as long and narrow and slippery as eels. An old set of EverConnector™ muscle-sleeves bound his old body together, but he heaved around a fat tummy on the lankiest of frames, and his enlarged heart, thick-walled with cardiomyopathy after decades of high blood pressure, struggled to siphon his gallons of blood around a porpoise-shaped body. And yet this most unlikely of recipients, Cuthbert Handley, a lowly Indigent born long ago in the Black Country, the son of a machinist, was the most recent, and perhaps final, recipient of a gift given only to a few people through human history—the Wonderments.

Earlier that day, he had bided time until the right moment came with the long sleeving shadows of evening and the zoo visitors beginning to disperse for the day. When the nearby Broad Walk and the adjacent playground emptied of people, he had made his appalling gambit, unbandaging caution from his long limbs in one rip of movement. He could not scramble fast enough now. A branch jabbed his neck. Another struck his thigh. He scrunched his eyes shut. He kicked his filthy way forward, a man powering an immense spinning fan of rags and anguish. The hedge's branches felt far stiffer than he remembered, and much sharper. He flung his ancient forearm at them. He ducked. He sidestepped. He puffed his chest out. He threw another chunky forearm out. It was as if he were trying to taunt a mob of thin men all threatening to stab him with a yew stick.

And there was a kind of horde about him, after all. Cuthbert, who had lived much of his life on the dole* and, later, "the Sick" (disability benefit), and who could not stop drinking Flot, was not simply disturbed. He heard things—loads of things. For half of the past year, his mind had inhabited, like a terrified moth in a candle lantern, a phantasmagoria of mental tiger-shadows and ghost-smokes. It was far worse than even the renowned horrors of a typical first Flot withdrawal. Every time he saw an animal, whether a stray moggy or the rats running along the New Tube rails before trains burst into the station, he felt sure the creatures were preparing to do or say things to him, or both—until they finally did just that. He could hear the language of animals—or so he believed—and he was doing this.

And here he was, attempting to break into the old London Zoo.

"Almost there," he said, panting. "Break a leg, mon!"

Cuthbert had no money, no friends, and no possessions, but he had learned through the Wonderments to listen to England's animals. It was something even the powerful king he so revered couldn't comprehend, and through this skill, he was going to save Britain and its creatures.

Unfortunately, Flot addict and madman that he was, not a living human soul on earth believed him.

And on Flot, as everyone knew, one could believe that microscopic violet-quiffed visitors from Planet Flotica kept castles on the tips of every blade of grass. One could believe that the last Tasmanian tiger didn't actually freeze to death in 1936 because of an incompetent zookeeper. When Flot was good, it was hands down the best legal hallucinogenic and sedative on earth. It offered more than intoxication, more than a release: it took you rippling across whole new planets of purple-white euphoria. Like the old rave drug ketamine, or "Special K," from the 1990s, it offered a sense of being utterly, and sometimes pleasantly, alone; but uniquely, it also gave the proprioceptive illusion of having extremely long, lissome, and powerful legs. To "get up" or "spire" on Flot, as it was often called, was all about total self-possessed elevation. On Flot, the world stood miles below you alone, a distant purple and white field of violets you could only feel tickling your ankles, and you needed nothing or no one else—not God, not a lover, not your pet cat.

From Night of the Animals by Bill Broun. 2016 by William Douglas Broun. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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