about the author

J Eric Miller’s short story collection, Animal Rights and Pornography, was published by Soft Skull Press in 2004 and has since been translated and published in France, Russia, and Turkey. Human Beast Productions has also purchased an option on the book with the aim of developing several of the short stories into a film. His novel, Decomposition (Ephemera Bound, 2006), has been translated and published in France, Spain, and Italy; a cinematic version is in pre-production with Gedeon Productions. A number of his short stories have appeared in various journals, including Semaphore, Starry Night Review, eFiction, Pindeldyboz, Clean Sheets, Manera, Burning Word, Ink Pot, and Outsider Ink. One of them, “Invisible Fish,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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Dying Boy Kills Zebra as Last Wish

J Eric Miller

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They would drag the boy out at dawn. The zebra would be waiting. Its life, perhaps like the boy’s, might be seen as that only. He’d gotten the idea from a classmate and would never really understand what drew him to the act of killing, or to this particular victim aside from that he could remember a lost picturebook from his similarly lost childhood in which the main character was a zebra.

The boy’s mother had already fucked the game specialist without the Texas drawl, Jackson. In three years, she’d be accidentally dead. Jackson would be in West Virginia working as a rafting guide. He’d have other jobs. Then he would die a smoker’s death. The boy would die when he was supposed to: soon. Only the death of the zebra was more clearly written.

It was a false savannah. The huge house, the corrals, the four wheelers and the Jeeps. A group of guides and hunters sat around the fire pit talking about animals. Some waxed sentimental. Others argued against anthropomorphism. Nobody noted that the idea of human characteristics completely alien to the rest of the animal kingdom was an illusion. Somewhere along the evolutionary trail, their species had discovered the usefulness of certain levels of empathy. The resultant behavior might be observed in songbirds and squirrels. All that was heroic in them, all that had the appearance of intimacy—these were just complicated developments of primal desire. At the fire, Jackson said it this way: “You think you are sacred because you think your feelings are infected with spirit, but they’re not.” He’d dropped out of college years ago, a young man who knew that something essential was missing in the experience, though he didn’t know how to put a finger on what, and, along with it, he’d kind of dropped out of heavy thinking in general, but, still, he sometimes got caught up.

The mother smiled thinly. Maybe the mother had fucked him because she knew he could think and talk like that or perhaps it was that he still had a young man’s physique and job. The father was muted. He had come to believe in his own way that almost all things were frivolous. The boy was already sound asleep. He would barely dream. Other of the specialists smoked cigarettes that were their own little clocks and other of the customers swatted insects into oblivion.

In the morning, the lions paced. The zebra’s father was long dead. The zebra’s mother was pregnant. The zebra herself stood with her nose pressed against a rail at the far side of the corral. She called softly to her mother, or other of the zebras. The boy’s chair was stuck in the door, just as it been coming in. They’d push him through it, and then they’d push him through the dust. Jackson tossed down his cigarette. He hefted the rifle from where it leaned. The mother watched him, but he wasn’t aware of her. The boy squinted toward the sun. He’d been taught to say certain things about death—that at least he’d lived at all, that every day was a gift, and so on—but he didn’t really know what he thought about any of it.

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