© 2018 by Strega


Azuza Zoo was small, privately owned, and in a part of the city that wasn't as nice as it had been when the place was built. Sprawled out over a hundred acres the animal enclosures were sizable and well maintained, which was where most of the money went. There wasn't a lot left over for staff and so the zoo had only thirty employees, ranging from the lady who ran the gift shop to a couple of handymen who changed lights and worked on whatever broke. In between were the men and women who fed the animals and cleaned the pens and swept the paths. It was a tight-knit little family business and the newest employee had been there for ten years. Everyone knew everyone and little changed. That was, until the weekly Monday staff meeting.

"Good morning, everyone," said Don, the head docent and staff supervisor. "Some of you may have heard we're getting a new employee." There was a buzz of conversation as those who had not chattered with their friends. "Well, here he is. Meet Zuberi."

ZuberiThere was a collective gasp as the new employee walked in on four legs instead of two. Softly padded paws carried a tawny leonine frame into the room, and atop the oversized feral half was a lion-man's upper body. Sleek golden fur covered him from muzzle to toes, with a luxurious mane around his face and shoulders and padded feral paws sporting neatly sheathed claws. He wore a belt around his humanoid waist that supported a flashlight and various pouches, while his lower half sported a dark blue padded harness with slide-in SECURITY labels on each side. Thick leather bracelets covered his forearms with buckles on the inside.

Other than that he wore nothing at all and even if the mane hadn't given it away this was unquestionably a male lion. He weighed close to a thousand pounds, stood four feet tall at the feral shoulder and if you happened to stand behind him you could see he had all the equipment you'd expect a healthy lion to have.

Zuberi sat, causing the assorted eyes that had gravitated involuntarily (or voluntarily) to his balls to turn upward again as Don continued.

"Zuberi will join Randy's team on the security detail, plus do whatever else is needed. It's the usual thing here people, so welcome him to the family."

With that the meeting broke up into groups of people either chattering about the lion (liontaur?) or with him. Sean, the zoo's vet, was one of the latter.

"Don't take this wrong," he said, "But what the heck are you? I've met animal people of course, but I've never heard of a 'taur', much less a lion-taur."

"Ah!", Zuberi said, his thin black lips curving in a smile. "You see, when a circus lion trainer loves a lioness very much-"

"Seriously," broke in Jim, one of the handymen. "Were you made by the Project?" Project Delta was the force behind the Run pay-per-view show, where criminals tried to survive various predators and earn a pardon. They were also responsible for the animal humanoids, which while rare were no longer as surprising a sight as they'd once been.

Before the lion could answer Sean followed with another question. "Are you still wholly carnivorous?" The vet said. "You must spend a lot on food."

This was the question the lion answered and no amount of later prying could drag out an answer on the others. "Well, there you have one of the reasons I took this job," the 'taur growled. "I can eat some fruits and curtain vegetables mixed with my diet but it must still be mostly meat. The zoo has a deal with local ranchers, most of your carnivores are fed horsemeat and other meats not up to supermarket standards, and I get in on that deal by working here. I still have to pay for it but horsemeat is a lot less expensive than beef."

The docent let the meeting go on for another half hour, enough for everyone to decide that they really should be afraid of the liontaur, who could probably make a meal of any one of them and leave nothing but bones and clothes after one sitting, but that he was just too darn likable to fear. He was polite, his growly voice sounded like something from a fantasy Movie, he had the majestic good looks of a lion and his mane was magnificent. He was young and strong and best of all, a change from the faces they'd worked with for years.

And popular with the public, it turned out. On his very first day at work Zuberi was giving kids rides on his back (one of the handymen soon modified his harness with a thicker, saddle-shaped pad) and within a week the turnout of visitors to the zoo doubled, the new visitors largely being people who were just plain curious about the liontaur. Money poured in, everyone got a raise, and there were bonuses if they had to work overtime.

They'd had new exhibits before and everyone knew the excitement would pass. The difference this time was that Zuberi wasn't behind a fence, he was out where people could see and touch him.

And did they ever want to touch him. You only had to watch the powerful musculature shift smoothly under his short-furred pelt to remember that many a woman had fantasized taking the place of a lioness. Add a rumbling growly voice and it was obvious from the start that the big, handsome talking lion would interest the ladies. Even the female zoo employees were curious what it'd be like to be alone with the taur.

He was a lion. A young, healthy male lion with perfectly natural urges and no talking lionesses. Of course he would respond to approaches from females who could. At first he was indiscreet about it, but after a dressing-down from the staff head when they caught him on break with a sorority girl who was eager to find what liontaur semen tasted like he kept it private. Still, at the end of any given day there'd be at least one and usually half a dozen slips of paper peeking from a belt pouch, slips carrying names and numbers of ladies who wanted to satisfy their curiosity. Age eighteen or age 80 they still passed him the slips or sent him texts.

A week after he started work Colleen from the gift shop showed up to work limping and eventually the other employees pried a bit of information out of her. A few drinks after work led her to a visit to the liontaur's apartment and the discovery that he had barbs 'down there' like a real lion, not to mention rather more endowment than you'd expect from a cat and a scratchy tongue to boot.

He was handsome and exotic and from what little the other employees saw of his exploits they sometimes wondered when he found time to sleep with all his apparent conquests. But on duty he quickly became respectful and polite and well-liked by the staff as well as the public.

A second dressing-down happened one night when the lionesses in the big cat display, bored with their rather tired old male, yowled at him. Zuberi leapt across a twenty-foot moat and serviced all three of them in short order before leaping back. Fortunately for his urges there were enough zoologists curious about his ability to impregnate various species that from time to time he was permitted to do his best to accomplish just that. He even got to travel to other zoos from time to time to try it.

He certainly wasn't rich but he was happy enough. Colleen said his little apartment included an entire room floored with cheap mattresses. He had a European-style floor toilet, and one had been installed in one of the zoo bathrooms as well to accommodate his half-feral needs. Soon enough the novelty of his presence waned, at least with the employees, and other than the continued increase in zoo visitors everything went back to normal.

The only drawback to his presence was that the increase in visitors was accompanied by an increase in crime as well. More than once he showed up from his security rounds (for security was still his primary role, however much time he spent as the public face of the zoo) with a ne'er-do-well tucked under an arm or just dangling from a clawed hand. He'd turn them over to the police for a warning and maybe some community service and that'd be the end of it.

It was vandals, mostly. The zoo sprouted some racist graffiti it'd never had trouble with before. Or rather speciesist graffiti, since unlike the uncommon but well know animal-people he was half feral and somehow his love life equated to bestiality as far as the graffiti artists were concerned. A certain amount of gang tags sprouted as well, since the zoo got more news coverage these days and it was free advertising.

The other employees knew about him turning the vandals over to the cops. They didn't know what happened when one of them did something the liontaur considered genuinely threatening.

He was on night shift, the sole security guard prowling the grounds when it happened. Softly padded feet carried him silently down a concrete walkway and his whiskers twitched at the smell of spray paint. The first indication the vandal had that he'd been spotted was the thump of a thousand pounds of liontaur landing next to him after leaping effortlessly over a six foot high wall.

"Hi, Alex," Zuberi growled, and his hand snapped out and took the spray paint can away before the weasel could blink. "Here for some more community service?"

Alex had spent twenty hours of that at the zoo scrubbing off graffiti, much of it his own. He had a couple of drinks in him and no patience for the lion.

"Fuck you, fleabag," he snarled, and his hand darted into the backpack for something besides paint. He'd come prepared this time and -

As a carnivore himself he should have known better than to make quick moves around one, especially one who knew what might be lurking in a backpack. Zuberi's padded forepaw shot out and slammed into Alex's long weaselly torso, picking him completely off the ground and driving the air out of his lungs. With an agonized grunt he landed on his back, blinking through tears to see the liontaur looming over him. His backpack was in Zuberi's hands and a forepaw the size of a dinner plate pinned him to the grass as the lion opened the pack and looked in.

"You know," growled the liontaur as he poked around inside, "I should find a pawn shop that takes guns and asks no questions. Throwing them in the river works but I get nothing out of it."

"That's mine," grunted Alex, and kicked weakly at the lion's breastbone. His claws might have made an impression but as a city-dwelling animal man he had shoes on and if Zuberi noticed, he gave no indication. Instead the lion set the pack on the wall and bent down. Padded hands gave Alex a rough going-over, plucking away his wallet and phone before the curved claws unsheathed and tore his clothes away in strips. In moments the weasel was naked except for fur and the heavy forepaw at last left Alex's chest only for powerful hands to lift him from the ground. For a moment all he could see was the lion's mane then he was staring past a black nosepad at Zuberi's amber eyes. The lion's lips curved in a smile as Alex once again tried to kick.

"Sure it is," growled the lion. "But you won't need it where you're going."

"Put me down," the tagger swore. "Put me down, dammit."

"Down is where you're going," the lion smirked, and Alex's eyes went wide as Zuberi yawned. There was a creak and pop as a pink tongue lolled out past three-inch fangs and suddenly it all got a lot closer as the lion pulled him in. For an instant Alex was staring down a purple tunnel of gullet then with a wet squelch his muzzle was sliding past the rough tongue and the lion's throat expanded slickly to take in his whole head. There was a scrape of fang as his neck followed his head into the cat's maw and then another as the liontaur began to work its jaws over his sloped, weaselly shoulders.

His moment of frozen paralysis was replaced with adrenalin-fueled struggle and Alex's kicks against the lion's chest were not halfhearted any more. His shoes were off but the lion blocked his claws with a leather-armored forearm and with that protection the thousand pounds of lion was no more hurt than last time. Alex's weaselly muzzle was already held shut by the the elastic gullet and wet flesh slipped and slid over and around his face as the cat swallowed his shoulders. With a toss of its head he was gone to the elbows and Alex was surrounded by the creak and pop of a ribcage expanding to let an entire man-sized weasel through. It was to his misfortune that his long flexible body was perfectly shaped for easy swallowing but it didn't matter. Humans could, had had, fit down the lion's throat too.

It had never occurred to him to wonder where the taur's internal organs were but the pulse thrumming through his skull came from close by and there was the rustle of respiration as the lion somehow breathed with a throat packed full of weasel. With a lurch he slipped deeper and the lion gulped for the first time, its throat squeezing him deeper into its body. There was a perceptible loosening as his face slid past the humanoid half's ribs and for a moment he felt himself bulging out of the lion's muscular belly, or the first one of those at least. Then another gulp and he began to squeeze into the second, lower ribcage and suddenly all too close was a gurgling noise that could only be a big cat's stomach readying itself for a meal.

He was stretched out in a liontaur's gullet with just his kicking legs still outside but Alex found new motivation to squirm and struggle as his face squeezed past a muscular valve into exactly the horror he'd anticipated. Wet folds of slimy flesh parted around the crown of his head and hot fluid sloshed against his chin, stinging everywhere it touched. The lion tensed and swallowed and half his torso was in the stomach too, his arms free at last to push and punch as he dragged them from the clinging grip of the throat. Alex elbowed the stomach wall with all his might and droplets of acid burned his nose and pawpads as the impact sent them flying. It even made the lion grunt but it didn't make it stop.

With all his might he pushed against the slippery walls to try to keep himself from sliding in any further but the wet belly skin was almost frictionless and his claws just slid along, leaving grooves that slowly filled back in. Despite his best efforts the lion got its jaws around his feet and with one last contraction of its swallowing muscles he was sliding helplessly down its throat, squeezed out of the gullet and emerging whole into the tight pocket of liontaur stomach. With nothing but quickly saturated fur for protection the acid stung him everywhere and Alex kicked and squirmed with all his might until a forepaw wrapped across the bulge and squeezed him into helplessness. All the air left in a rush, inward-pressing muscle squeezed him into helplessness and Alex could only groan and twitch as the acid rose higher and higher.

Zuberi belched contentedly and stretched, feeling the last kicks as his dinner settled in his belly. He'd been peckish and though he normally turned people like Alex over to the cops without the least reluctance, there could be only one response when someone turned up with a gun and a plan to use it on him. It helped a great deal that his meal had picked a spot to tag that was not covered by the zoo security cameras. Presumably that had been intentional, an effort to get away with a minor crime, but the end result was a too-clever crook curled up in his belly. Alex wasn't the first and most likely wouldn't be the last to end up there.

A man-sized weasel made quite a belly-droop even given Zuberi's size but a lion can eat nearly a quarter of its own weight in meat in one sitting so one slender tagger was no strain. As he checked for anything his meal might have dropped his belly began to gurgle and churn, treating Alex no differently than it might the horsemeat he most often ate. The gun he put in a pouch for later disposal while the torn clothing and backpack went into a dumpster. He considered the cell phone before popping the battery out and putting it in the pouch as well. Best not to be greedy and try to sell the thing. "I digested him in self defense" might not fly in court so the gun and phone would be in the river as soon as his shift ended.

Zuberi after dinnerTen minutes after he jumped over the wall to confront Alex he resumed his rounds, making a circuit of the zoo paths, checking in at the security monitors and repeating the process. All the while his belly gurgled as it processed his meal and a lion's digestive tract is short and simple, good at processing meat quickly. Soon enough he made use of the floor toilet, then again perhaps once an hour. By the time his replacement arrived six hours later much of the meaty parts of his dinner were converted to nutrients, waste and fat and Zuberi would not need to buy horsemeat for a week.

A little before six Carlos showed up to relieve him. By then Alex was little more than fur and a partly dissolved skeleton and Zuberi's trim feral belly barely showed a bulge. He stopped by the office to brief his replacement before leaving.

"Hey Z. Anything happen last night?"

"Morning Carlos. I smelled spray paint and there's what may have been the start of some graffiti over on the north wall but I didn't see anyone. Maybe they heard me coming and bolted."

"So no one to turn over to the cops?"

"Not this time," Zuberi growled. They had a little unisex bathroom they locked ne'er-do-wells in until the police showed. It worked well enough but sometimes, if the liontaur thought you were a genuine threat, he locked you up somewhere hotter and wetter. No one knew about that; Zuberi wasn't talking and it was hard to register a complaint with the police when the most recognisable part of you that's left is a few pounds of weasel fur making its way through a liontaur's large intestine.