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