The Red Panda

By on Jul 19, 2017 in Fiction

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Red panda and raccoon

Sidney slept alone at the far end of the cage, nowhere near the other mandrills. I felt bad waking him up, but I didn’t know what else to do and hoped he would understand the uniqueness of situation. “Hey Sidney,” I called to him in a shout-whisper. He didn’t move. “Hey,” I called again. I didn’t want to get any louder, because I didn’t want to wake up everyone else and have a pack of angry mandrills coming at me. Caged or not, that seemed terrifying. So, I found a pebble on the ground and threw it into the cage. It hit Sidney in his big red ass. He awoke immediately.

“Hey Sidney, I’m sorry for throwing that pebble at you, but look, I escaped!”

“I can see that,” he replied groggily. “What are you doing here?”

“I wasn’t sure what to do next. Since you knew so much about escaping, I was hoping you could give me some advice.”

“You need to get out of the zoo right away. Security comes through a few hours before the place opens to the public.  The best way to escape is near the koala cage…”

“The koala cage? Are you serious? That’s where I came from, I need to go all the way back?”

“Yes, of course. The fence is lowest there, and Rock Creek Park is just on the other side.  You can evade the humans as long as you want there. You’d better get going.”

I thanked Sidney and went scurrying off as quickly as I could. As I got to the koala cage, I did take a quick glance back at the neighboring red pandas. There they were there, all asleep. I saw the pale glow of a flashlight on the edge of my field of vision. I jumped the fence.


As I reflect on that night, I am still in disbelief that I actually did this. I didn’t have any idea of what I would do in the wild – how I would get food, what predators I might have to avoid, etc. Although I never consciously expressed it, I think my assumption was that I was born in the wild and, once I was back in the wild, things would somehow work out. Yes, in the wild – the place where, by definition, there are no rules, everything is trying to eat or avoid being eaten – I assumed things would just take care of themselves. I can’t imagine how I was able to convince myself of this, but there I was, running through the woods, listening in terror for predators but barely being able to hear anything over the bugs. Those of us in zoos picture the wild as full of a variety of animals – sort of an idealized zoo, the same population, just without cages – but it struck me how few animals there really were in the wild. It was almost entirely insects, spiders and other assorted vermin. And bats – every few minutes one of them would swoop down out of nowhere and gulp down thousands of bugs.

As I watched a bat dive in to a cloud of mosquitoes, I suddenly became aware of how hungry I was. I hadn’t eaten for hours as I planned my escape. I had forgotten about this while I was on the run but now my empty stomach asserted itself. It occurred to me that I hadn’t passed one bamboo shoot since leaving the zoo. Was it possible that not all forests were full of bamboo? That was a terrifying thought.  In retrospect I should have slowed my pace to conserve energy, but I kept running faster through the woods, not towards any particular destination but just hoping I would eventually happen upon somewhere with food. Eventually I noticed some artificial lighting in the distance and raced towards the source.

It looked like a strip had been cut right through the woods – there was a narrow clearing, with a sidewalk winding through it, and a bench and a garbage can. I’m ashamed of the great relief I felt at seeing these familiar signs of human protection. As I came closer, I heard someone rummaging through the trashcan, and then noticed the end of a tail sticking out. The shape was similar to mine, although from the light by the bench I could see that the color was gray, not red. She continued her frantic work in the trashcan for a few minutes, while I watched silently. Finally, she emerged. She was the most striking creature I had ever seen. Her dark eyes, peering out from a masklike face, reflected the moonlight. She surveyed her surroundings with the alertness of a wild animal, and yet there was a gracefulness in it. I was terrified to approach her, but why had I jumped over the fence, if not for this?

“You can’t have any of this garbage,” she hissed at me.

“I’m not trying to take your garbage.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about. All raccoons want garbage.”

I stepped into the clearing where my red-orange coat become visible.  She held her position and did not speak.

“I’m not a raccoon. I’m a red panda. I escaped from the zoo tonight. I eat bamboo.”

“I don’t know what you are, but you’re not a panda. I’ve heard about pandas, and you don’t look like one of them.”

“You’re thinking of what’s commonly called the ‘great panda.’ We’re called pandas, too, but we’re only distantly related to the so-called great pandas. Our closest living relative is the weasel.”

“I hear that pandas are going extinct. Are you going extinct?”

“I think so. There aren’t many of us left in the wild. I was born in the wild, but I’ve grown up in zoos.”

“If you don’t want to go extinct, you’re going to need to eat something other than bamboo.” She tentatively tore off a piece of a half-eaten sandwich she had pried from the trashcan and threw it towards me. It smelled rancid, but I was hungrier than I could ever remember being and ate it greedily. I was immediately nauseous but tried not to show it.

“Thanks. My name is Rusty, by the way.”

“My name’s Sonya.” I detected the faint smell of her pheromones. I was both highly aroused and nauseous, two feelings I barely ever experienced in the zoo individually, let alone simultaneously. I approached the trashcan. The stench was overpowering but I kept going. She now looked at me with expectation. The smell of the pheromones became stronger – she was clearly in heat. I jumped into the trashcan and mounted her in the darkness.

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Aaron Sokoloff is an attorney in San Diego. His short story "The Red Panda" was published in Wild Violet in July 2017. He was the editor of The Brown Jug humor magazine, and his ranking of the entire Pink Floyd discography was published in under his pen name, "Aaron Sokolof." He wasn't just trying to be controversial by listing Atom Heart Mother at #3; that is actually his opinion. He is currently working on a biography of his brother entitled Other Peoples' Cars: The Life and Times of G-ron Sokoloff.


  1. Congrats, Aar!!! Fabulous story showing great talent and creativity!

  2. Nice story. You are talented!

  3. I liked this much more than Catch-22!

  4. loved this!