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Roland Goity

The Secret of Sparkling Valley

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We consider ourselves lucky. There's no other place in the world like Sparkling Valley. It's truly unique. Most think the groundwater has something to do with it. Others claim it's something in the air, miniscule debris floating around from the boarded-up quicksilver mines. These may be contributing factors, but there's one particular distinction that makes Sparkling Valley undeniably special.

You see, a half-century ago a wild animal park opened here and lured tourists from the highway. For many years it pumped the lion's share of dollars into our local economy. Then something strange happened. Something really strange. The animals slowly—and seemingly without notice—migrated beyond the gates of their confines and quickly adapted to their new surroundings.

Soon it wasn't just deer that made their way onto the fairways and putting greens of neighboring golf courses; there came sightings of noshing zebras and pandas. Initially they were explained away as tricks of shadows and light or a wee too many drinks before tee time, but now we know better. On our courses today you'll find primates of every kind—chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans—not just hanging from the pines and eucalyptus, but screeching and grunting their own calls of "fore!" as they swing clubs with abandon and drive carts like participants in a demolition derby.

At first people here were terrified to find Bengal tigers and grizzly bears lurking around our homes when we took out the garbage at night, but now we're happy to have their skills put to use at the butcher shops where they work for leftover scraps, or at the town's bank and nightclubs where they provide a security detail you can't get elsewhere.

We've grown accustomed to carrying new forms of currency. If you need ferrying across the river just grab some reeds or ferns in exchange for a hippo ride or some store-bought chicken if you'd prefer having an alligator do the job. They're as reliable as any boat that's cruised these waters. Property owners are hiring giraffes to do their tree trimming; businesses are using snakes to licks envelopes in their mail rooms. And the cockatoos are proving to be the best outbound telemarketers anyone can remember, although they're not always able to handle the inevitable pushback.

Live and let live is the motto in Sparkling Valley. The animals aren't going back to the wildlife park and people here welcome that fact. Hal and Emily Johnson, the eclectic couple who opened the place, left these parts years ago, vanished in the night once the animals began embracing their freedom. The highway billboard is long gone so we rarely get unwanted guests. Nevertheless lost souls do find their way here and need convincing from time to time to keep things hushed. We tell them how the media, law enforcement, and even zookeepers, biologists, and animal rights activists have agreed the best thing for all concerned is to maintain our not-so-little secret. If someone still doesn't seem trustworthy after a special "consultation," we give them a lie-detector test. If they fail that they become snacks for our butcher shop workers and security teams. Such is our way.

We live and work alongside the animals, we celebrate and commiserate together. There's only one important fact of life yet to be breached, but one senses it's only a matter of time. Whether we call it making love or mating, crossbreeding among species is well underway. The inclusion of humans in that mix is bound to happen, and most think it'll occur sooner rather than later. So consider that a warning—or possibly, an enticement. Come to Sparkling Valley a generation from now and who knows what you might find.

Just promise to keep our secret.

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