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Reason why the Clarion workshop actually rejected it: Characters are modelled after the other students.




When the Zebra talked to David, it told him to do terrible things.

It wasn't a real zebra, of course. It was just a fluffy, black and white stuffed zebra. David's ex-girlfriend Caroline had brought it over to his dorm room one day for obscure reasons of her own. That was during fall term when they were still dating, but she'd never bothered to bring it back.

He noticed it in January, when he came back to Clarwest College from Winter Break. Snow was billowing outside the windows of David's dorm room, and he was smoking a joint rolled by his roommate Ben.

David was waiting for Ben to get back from the bathroom. He moved some books and magazines off a chair to find a place to sit. That's when he found the Zebra.

At first, David was considering bringing the Zebra back to Caroline's dorm room across campus, but the Zebra was against it.

That was the first time it spoke to him. Its lips didn't move, but the sound seemed to come from the Zebra's mouth. It's voice was deep and resonant. It reminded David of James Earl Jones.

"Don't give me back to Caroline," the Zebra said.

David dropped the Zebra in surprise and coughed the pot out of his lungs. He almost dropped the joint, but he managed to catch it. That was good, since the carpet was still singed from one that Ben had dropped in September.

Very gingerly, David picked up the Zebra. He laid it on the table where he kept his computer and his textbooks.

"Did you hear what I said?" The Zebra sounded irritated now.

"Um . . . yes?" David gestured for the Zebra to go on with one hand. With the other hand, he took another puff. He held it in his mouth for a couple of seconds longer than usual and slowly exhaled.

That helped a little bit but not much. When he spoke, his voice was shaky. "Why not? I mean, if you don't mind my asking."

"Not at all," the Zebra said. "Caroline doesn't deserve me. She's a vindictive bitch. She broke your heart. Anyway, she lives in Yakely. That's all the way across campus, and it's really cold outside."

That made sense to David, so he agreed to keep the Zebra in his room.



At first, the Zebra didn't tell David to do terrible things. It was actually a helpful Zebra.

It told David to smoke less pot, and to study more. That was good, because David was double-majoring in Physics and Pre-Law, so he had to study a lot.

Sometimes the Zebra even gave David advice about girls. It told him not to call Meghan again, and that Julie was bad news. The Zebra thought that Nicole was OK, but it wouldn't let David call her the night before his Calculus mid-term.

"Why not?" David let out his mouthful of pot and reached for his cell phone.

"I said no," the Zebra repeated. "You can get in at least three more hours of studying tonight."

"I will," David promised. "We'll hang out for an hour, max, then I'll come back and study."

"Bullshit." The Zebra didn't move or anything, since he was a stuffed zebra and he never moved. Still, his expression seemed angrier to David than it had been before. "You were going to watch that Batman movie that's showing at Welles Hall."

David winced. The Zebra was right. He really did want to see that movie.

"Put the phone away," the Zebra commanded. "You can smoke one last joint after you're done with this one. After that, you have to study." It paused for a long beat. "Or else."

David gulped and put his cell phone back on his desk.



After that, David stopped trying to disobey the Zebra. The Zebra was smarter than him, and there was no fooling it.

The Zebra guided David through straight A's for all of his midterms. It warned him that Nicole had turned into a vindictive bitch just like Caroline. On the Zebra's orders, David dumped her and started seeing Tina.

"Tina is much more cooler than Nicole," the Zebra reminded him. "If Nicole hadn't been such a pain in the ass, you would never have slept with Tina that time."

That made good sense, and David was glad to have the Zebra's guidance on these matters.

By April, David never made any decisions without permission from the Zebra.

That was when it started telling him to do terrible things.



"I won't do it," David insisted. It was the first time he'd refused an order from the Zebra since mid-terms. Ben was in the bathroom again. The Zebra never talked to David when Ben was in the room.

"You have to." The Zebra's voice was calm and reassuring. "Ben always wants to get baked and watch those Matrix DVDs. He's a bad influence on you."

"Yeah," David agreed, "but he doesn't deserve to die."

"Yes, he does." The Zebra's eyes looked sterner somehow, although they didn't change in any obvious way. "If he'd let you study, you wouldn't have bombed that pop quiz on Tuesday."

The toilet flushed. David could hear the sounds of Ben washing his hands.

"Can we talk about it later?" David bit his lip. "I just don't want to do it now, OK?"

"No." The Zebra's voice now included a note of irritation. "You have to do it now."

"OK," David said. What else could he say? He had to do what the Zebra commanded.

When Ben came out of the bathroom, he had a quizzical expression on his face. "Did someone else come in? I thought I heard voices."

David didn't respond.

"Yeah, OK." Ben ran a hand through his thick, messy brown hair and fiddled with his glasses. "I'm probably just getting paranoid again. Maybe we shouldn't smoke so much . . ."

David picked up his laptop computer. He bashed Ben across the face with it. Ben tripped on a pile of books and fell to the floor.

"What the hell?" Ben tried to push David off of him.

David grabbed Ben's neck with both hands. He squeezed as hard as he could. He'd never done this before. When the Zebra decided that Tina had to die, he'd explained how David could do it with an electrical cord and a bathtub.

This was different. It was really hard to strangle someone to death.

Beads of sweat rolled down David's forehead. Ben was still trying to talk, but it came out as an incoherent gurgle.

David could hear their R.A., a heavy-set guy named Gord, banging on the door. "Are you guys OK in there?"

"Yeah," David said. He was short of breath, but he tried to make his voice sound as normal as possible. "We're fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah."

Ben had finally stopped struggling. His arms hung limply to each side. He wasn't breathing.

"Finally," David muttered.

He could still hear people talking and rustling around outside the door.

He dragged Ben's corpse to the closet. The closet was littered with stray books and clothes. It took a while for David to clear out enough room to stuff Ben in there and close the door.

"You'd better answer the door," the Zebra told him. "I think they're starting to get suspicious out there. Oh, and you'd better wipe off your hands."

"OK." David looked down at his hands. There was some blood smeared on them. He must have cut Ben when he hit him. "Shit."

David walked into the bathroom and washed his hands. It took him a while to scrub it all off. Gord knocked on the door again while he was doing it.

"I'll be right there," David called out.

David walked out of the bathroom and opened up the door. Gord was standing there with Tristan, a willowy guy from down the hall. Gord looked really concerned. "You OK in there, man?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

Tristan peered behind David to look into the room. "Oh my God. Is that blood?"

David turned around. There was a huge trail of blood leading from the middle of the floor to the closet.

"Fuck."



By the time Lt. McHugh arrived at the crime scene, the suspect had already confessed. He was being held in the squad car outside, and the new guy, Scarber, was fencing off the entrance to the dorm room with yellow police tape.

Scarber nodded hello to him as he ducked under. A forensics team from Des Moines was coming down in the morning, but Lt. McHugh wanted to get a quick look around before too much time had elapsed.

Scarber asked if he could cut out for a minute to smoke. Lt. McHugh nodded without paying much attention. After that, he pretty much had the place to himself.

That's why he was so surprised to hear a voice. It was deep and booming, almost like Darth Vader's voice in Star Wars.

Lt. McHugh swiveled around, but no one was there.

"Down here," the voice said.

Lt. McHugh rubbed his eyes. It was coming from a stuffed animal.

"Don't take me back to the evidence locker," the Zebra said. "I want to come home with you."

 

"David and His Zebra" © 2006 Ben Burgis

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