‘The Kabul Markhor’ first appeared in the quarterly rock music fanzine Animal Review (1993–1997, circulation c.80), founded and edited by Nell Zink. ‘Anaconda Story’, published by Fourth Estate, also appeared in the zine.
The Kabul markhor looked out of his window and saw that it was snowing. It was a windy spring day. The wet flakes swirled and clung to the tree branches. He felt very lonely after spending the winter holed up in his cabin eating Doritos. He decided it was time to go to the store for some salsa and maybe go visit Bob. Three beers aren’t too many to drive on when you weigh three hundred pounds. It took him a while to get the jeep started, but just when he thought he’d flooded it for sure, it lurched into gear. There was almost a mile of steep, sandy ruts before the main road. It seemed like there’d been a lot of erosion over the winter. His horns clattered against the roof as he bounced down the driveway. That was the last thing he remembered.
He woke up in a bright hospital ward. There were blinding lights everywhere and green curtains around him. Nothing hurt. He wasn’t bandaged, and he could move his legs just fine. His head felt heavy, though, and everything seemed distant, as if it didn’t really concern him. He wondered if he’d been drugged. He thought absently about the car. He heard footsteps and called out.
A nurse came through the curtain. She asked what he wanted. He asked where he was. She said, ‘Washington.’
‘And what hospital is this?’
She looked surprised and said she’d get the doctor.
The doctor came in. He had a double-breasted suit with pinstripes, and a tie tack with a panda on it. The Kabul markhor felt a sudden tightness in his throat at the sight of the pin, and realized with a horrible shock where he was. He sat upright. The doctor extended his hand to pat his nose.
‘Don’t pat me,’ said the Kabul markhor.
‘Excuse me?’ the doctor said, offended.
The Kabul markhor, whom we’ll call Fritz because his actual name is kind of a snorting sound, jumped to his feet right on the bed. He swung his head around, enjoying the way his heavy spiraling horns cut the air. The doctor jumped back and jabbed at a little buzzer by the bed. Fritz bounded from the bed right over a curtain rod and started for the door. It said exit in big red letters, but it was locked. He turned to face the doctor, who was walking toward him and rubbing his hands together greedily.
‘It’s okay, it’s okay,’ the doctor said, ‘you’re in good physical health, and that’s what matters.’
‘Where’s my car?’ Fritz asked. As his head cleared he was realizing that there were lots more questions he needed answered, and added, ‘What am I doing here? What’s going on?’
The doctor suggested that he get back in bed.
Fritz said, ‘I’m not tired.’
‘But there are other guests here who need their rest,’ the doctor said. ‘Perhaps we can go to my office.’
He opened a side door and led Fritz down a long, quiet hallway. It was lined with dozens of tiny doors through which Fritz could make out the agonized moans of weasels, skunks and badgers trapped forever in the last stages of depression. He felt nervous. By the door was a little manger stuffed with hay. Fritz paused for a nibble but the doctor motioned for him to take a seat.
‘I know you must have a lot of questions,’ the doctor began.
The doctor munched from a bag of chips on his desk. He explained that the jeep had turned over and been totaled, and Fritz had been taken by helicopter in a sling to the zoo. They’d spent $45,000 nursing him through a two-month coma, and as they knew he didn’t have much money, they proposed to employ him in the exhibition area for four and a half years. Furthermore, $10,000 a year was a good salary for a Kabul markhor.
Fritz was calm at first. ‘You know, I doubt I was at fault – I mean, I’m a good driver. Was there an investigation?’
The doctor took another handful of chips and said nothing.
‘You can’t just keep me here.’
‘Sure,’ the doctor said. ‘Try to leave. You owe us $45,000 and you’re broke. I’m not writing off $45,000. I have a zoo to run here. In addition, I hear there was an open bottle of Metaxa in the car.’
Fritz started, vaguely remembering a drive-in movie with a certain Persian lamb. He was sure they’d finished the Metaxa. ‘I want a lawyer, right now,’ he said, lowering his head.
The doctor pulled a cattle prod from his desk drawer. ‘My friend,’ he said, ‘I assume you know your rights.’
This was a standard phrase people used before giving animals the shaft. Fritz had heard it from loan officers when he bought the cabin and from that hotel clerk in Aspen before he spent the night on the roof. He looked gloomily up at the cattle prod, thinking it would be good to know if there were batteries in it before he came any closer. The doctor’s look darkened and he pulled an old revolver out of his coat and aimed it at Fritz’s forehead.
‘Kneel down,’ the doctor said.
Shit, Fritz thought.
The doctor rang a bell and two flunkeys came to put a halter on him, struggling to fit it over his tremendous horns. They led him through back alleys to the exhibition area and put him in with two gerenuks. He tried to protest but the flunkeys just kept saying, ‘Shhh.’ Then they slammed the iron door in his face.
He started to address the gerenuks, but they seemed retarded or something. They just kept running over and over back and forth in the pen. He heard the low, familiar bellowing of Ankole cattle, but they were speaking Kinyarwanda. ‘Anybody?’ he called out, but as far as he could tell there was no one within hearing who could talk to him. He lay down on a pile of straw and watched the cretinous gerenuks scamper in endless circles.
The next morning the zoo opened for business. He wandered out to the railing and scanned the crowd. His sole hope was to see someone he knew. Every day was the same. He kept watching the crowd. He was afraid to leave the area near the fence in case one of his friends happened by. He must have asked 10,000 people, ‘Please, for the love of God, just call Bob for me –’ but they all ignored him. He began to think he was losing his mind. ‘Why don’t they pay attention to me?’ he thought. He didn’t know there was a sign on the railing that said, please do not feed or listen to the animals. coins and other refuse can kill them, and their requests are selfish and ill-advised. Once someone threw him a Cheeto. He yelled back, ‘Hey! Call Bob for me! Write down this number –’ but the person looked guilty and ran away hurriedly.
A year went by and his bitter scowl became permanent. He habitually butted the side of the shed until his horns had latex paint chips stuck in them all down their fronts.
In the spring of the second year, a young woman came to the zoo. She stood at the railing, looking furtively from left to right, and Fritz watched her absent-mindedly, grinding his teeth. When everyone else had moved on, she suddenly leaned over the railing and said, ‘Hey.’ Fritz snorted. ‘Talk to me,’ she said. ‘Do you know English?’ Fritz snorted again. He’d long since made up his mind that humans were a waste of time. She said, ‘I believe in your civil rights. Just let me know if you can understand what I’m saying.’
He said, ‘Just please call my friend Bob for me.’
She smiled and began hurriedly. ‘Have you thought of civil disobedience? Break out. They can’t keep you a prisoner here – what are they gonna do? Shoot you in front of hundreds of people? The ACLU takes cases like yours. There are things you can do.’
‘Listen, sweetheart, these people can buy and sell me –’ he cut himself off mid-sentence as a couple with a baby in a stroller wandered up.
He snorted loudly and coughed a few times. The family laughed. When they wandered on, he continued, ‘I’m out of here in three years. I don’t want to die here. I’m into them for $45,000. I’d get about two blocks. What you can do for me is call my friend Bob in West Virginia. Do you have something to write with?’
‘I’ll be right back,’ she said, and walked away.
He heard a little popping noise and saw her fall to the pavement. The doctor’s flunkeys ran up, dressed as medics, and put her on a stretcher. Then they started off toward the Great Cat house, but not without first giving Fritz some very meaningful looks.
Just then his friend Bob strolled up. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. ‘Bob, man, what the hell took you so long!’
Bob rolled his eyes. ‘They’ve got you down as a mouflon, man, what was I supposed to do? They got your name wrong, they had you in with gerenuks. I’ve been to zoos in fucking Taiwan looking for you, so don’t tell me –’
The doctor’s flunkeys were coming back with the dart gun.
‘What the fuck?’ A dart hit Bob in the neck and dangled there.
Bob was an African elephant. He socked them in the head with his trunk and then knocked down the wall of Fritz’s enclosure. They ran to the parking lot, jumped in Bob’s Land Rover and drove away. They stopped at the first 7-Eleven they saw and got Big Gulps and Doritos and took off for Bob’s huge underground complex from which he controlled the Federal Reserve.
Fritz discovered he’d lost weight in the zoo and no longer suffered from hypertension. His fleece was much thicker from all the time outdoors, and really he’d never looked better in his life. Bob lent him his VW Thing, which he never drove anymore because he thought convertibles were too dangerous, and at the next 7-Eleven Fritz exchanged phone numbers with a cute chamois in a VW Beetle, who obviously thought they had a lot in common. He was on cloud nine.
The authorities, of course, were looking for a mouflon. He got right past the roadblock on the way to his house. When he arrived, he found that a group of owls had moved in and made a lot of improvements, including grading the driveway. They left in such a hurry they didn’t even take their cases of beer, which filled the basement. ‘You know,’ he said to Bob one day about two weeks later as they lay in hammocks on the porch drinking Pabst, ‘I really thought my life was ruined. I thought I’d never get over that zoo thing.’
‘Yeah, it’s funny,’ Bob replied. ‘I thought the same thing when I lost the Soviet Union.’
Fritz sighed and drifted off into a peaceful, drunken sleep.
Artwork © Alan Baker