Michael Fowler is primarily a writer of short humor, and has pieces archived at The Big Jewel, The Morning News, Defenestration, and McSweeney’s Internet. Recent short shave appeared at Rejection Letters and Piker Press.

In 2021, Mike stopped laughing for a few minutes and turned to speculative stories. He has science fiction tales (soft, not hard, if you please) up at Savage Planets, Underside Stories, Dark Horses, and Teleport. He has a mystery-crime story published over at Mystery Tribune.

Mike is currently at work on his first-ever outright horror story, and is paying great attention to The Horror Zine to see how it’s done. Doesn’t seem hard at all, right?

by Michael Fowler


Early on a rainy evening I decide to execute Knox in accordance with my self-imposed moral imperative.

It’s my first attempt, and the night feels full of dark promise. Leaving my temporary treehouse dwelling that is located within a friend and fellow animal-lover’s suburban yard on a secluded lane, I make my way to Knox’s bohemian digs near the inner-city zoo.

The same friend whose property I share, appalled as I am by Knox’s past dealings with my family and me, has given me the address. Without knowing it, I once glimpsed the place from the back of a truck that at the time held me prisoner.

I walk effortlessly for miles, taking advantage of tree-filled parks and woods. The rain becomes driving when I arrive at a main thoroughfare, and I hop aboard the C bus to ride the remaining six blocks to his apartment.

I keep curiosity to a minimum by wearing an oversize raincoat and hat, but some of my sopping fur is still exposed. The few other riders, if they notice me at all, must assume I am on my way to some sort of costume event. A small boy points me out in amazement to his mother, but she only tells him to hush. I am undisturbed by anyone else.

I disembark from the warm, comfortable bus, and avoid street lamps as I lope along the pitch-black sidewalk. The icy rain slaps against my hat and coat, at war with the fever heating my flesh.

When I approach his house, I encounter Knox in the garage near the spot where his Prius is parked, evidently on his way to a late date. I don’t know who is surprised more, him or me. This is my chance, I frantically think. I have to move fast, so fast that even the neighbors won’t notice my actions until it’s too late.

Yet all ends in fiasco. Gripped clumsily in my large, dark palm, I fire my gun, but the shot goes wide. I am reduced to a huddled mass of chagrin and I stare after Knox as he escapes in a squeal of skidding tires. I need to leave in case he calls the authorities. On the other hand, someone like Knox rarely wants the police involved in anything he does.

I blame my gun for the mishap, thinking that my used .38—stolen from a pawnshop—may not be working right. Worried that my plans are coming apart, I run away through trees and brush.

I keep going until I reach the countryside, where I skirt past the cows and horses on an expansive farm. The beasts either ignore me or give me a wide berth. I am one with these animals, I think. They recognize me.

As night falls, I trudge to the bus line, as anonymous as a scarecrow under my wide-brimmed hat and overcoat. On the route back to the suburbs I read a crime novel and, growing drowsy, consider my options.

For next time.


He’s moved again.

At my treehouse hideaway, where I continue to lay low, I wait for my friend and de facto landlord to give me Knox’s new address. In the meantime I read mystery stories, searching for the perfect murder.

A week later I have the new street and number. 

Hatted and cloaked in a dark poncho, my gun holstered underneath, I proceed by bus and foot to Knox’s present residence, again close to the zoo, but on the opposite side. It’s a hot summer night, and I smell the elephant pen not far off, an abode never thoroughly cleansed, I think.

I know that Knox is on the second floor, in No. 236 of his new apartment complex. Here a former associate of mine, and friend to my landlord, lives on the third floor, a man once grievously swindled by Knox. This victim remembers, as I do, the abandoned warehouse where Knox used to break the spirits and bodies of animals new to captivity, and where I first swore a vendetta against the animal procurer and torturer. It is thanks to him I have information on that vile life form.

I climb straight up the fire escape in a gliding motion, then amble over to stare in his front window. My vision is excellent, but I brought small binoculars just in case. The interior gives evidence of a complete immoralist making himself at home, with no sign of company.

Inches away from me, decked out in a smoking jacket of hallucinatory colors, Knox sits in his living room, his profile watching a wall-mounted TV from a soft perch on an ornate sofa. Pornographic and martial arts videos line the floor stand beside the set, and countless empty beer cans and a couple of overflowing ashtrays clutter a small table between him and the glowing screen. 

As a surprise to me, that same crowded table also holds a chess set, the pieces in furious combat, along with a stack of unused postcards and a pen. That someone in this day and age would still be playing postal chess, writing each move on a postcard and mailing if off to a waiting opponent, rather than clicking on a shared board online, almost defies belief. But it shows patience and resolve on Knox’s part, and I take that into account.

Knox doesn’t see me at his window, and I train my binoculars deeper into his digs. Past a likely bedroom with a closed door, I view the remote rear wall of the kitchen. There stands his fridge with a list affixed to the front by a magnet depicting a lion’s head. It is a to-do list of sorts, as I easily make out, headlined by beer, cigarettes, and salami, all distasteful to the sober vegetarian I am.

I focus my binoculars on three male names that appear farther down on the list, mine and two others. The two others are crossed out, and I recognize them as men, former partners of Knox, whom I have already removed from Earth as my moral obligation. They perished, tied together by a rope, in a blaze that consumed in its entirety the warehouse where they and Knox practiced their brutish form of animal taming. It is a great pity that Knox was not present to join them. My name alone on the list is not crossed out.  

Though at one point I accidentally knock my field glasses against the window, Knox still appears not to notice me. I entertain the possibility that at this new address I am ineffective against him, existing as I do on a different moral plane in a parallel universe, and can’t touch him even with my gun. Perhaps my otherworldliness has always existed, and explains why my shot missed him the first time.

But no, the show he is watching on his overlarge TV is about the animal kingdom, his steady obsession and mine too. It is the flesh-and-blood Knox of old, I tell myself, and this time I am confident my gun is working. 

After pocketing my spy lenses, I make my way to the front door. I silently grip the door knob to find that he hadn’t troubled to lock it. Soundlessly I push the door open and slowly enter No. 236.

I catch Knox still glued to his TV, upon which koala bears are beaming. Yet as I finally make my presence known to him, I realize he had known I was there all along. He draws a bulky pistol, perhaps from between sofa cushions, and fires on me.

Blinded by a flash and deafening roar, I attempt to escape without returning fire. Or perhaps I do return fire, but once again my revolver proves unreliable, and my shot goes astray. There is confusion in my mind, amplified by a twinge of pain. I’m hit!

I stagger towards the door and feel drowsy, almost somnolent when I look down at my side and am surprised to not see the expected bullet entry wound. Instead a dart is sticking in my gut, of the sort used by animal keepers to subdue wildlife.

The mystery is explained when I see my enemy’s pistol is in reality a tranquilizer gun, now resting on the table beside the chess set.

Knox watches me sit down gently on his plush sofa, clearly satisfied that I am sedated and no longer able to move.

But the somnolence I felt is already subsiding. I suspect why. The tranquilzer was meant to subdue an animal. Did Knox forget that he had once altered my DNA?

The most important thing is to not let Knox know how quickly I am recovering.

With a growing sense of advantage, and feigning helplessness, I wonder why Knox, on his last posted to-do list, entered the names of the two men I killed weeks ago, and then crossed them off?

I suspect he wrote their names, quickly lining them out, as if to say good riddance to bad rubbish. After all, those two heathens, no kin to him, were both red-handedly involved in his cruel animal-handling practices.

But my love for animals is not the real reason why I have suddenly taken up the practice of murder. For me, those two men are as responsible as Knox for the premature death of my wife and young son, as well as many other atrocities.

Knox busies himself in the kitchen and I focus my thoughts, fuzzy no longer, on escape. Silently I palm a tiny black rook from the chess set. Strong once more and feeling ferocious, I get an idea. I’ll play a waiting game to win, then escape scot-free. I replace the rook just as Knox reenters the living room, unfolding a commodious plastic body bag.

Pausing, he picks up my gun from the floor and gives it a dubious look. How sanitary, I think, his need for a body bag, so as to conceal my identity from the thugs he will no doubt hire to lug the guts. Or perhaps, having learned not to depend on loons to do his bidding, he thinks he can stuff my large corpse in the bag himself, once he has finished me, and secretively manage the load later.

He holds the list from his refrigerator and places it on the little table before us, pushing objects aside to make room. I see that he’s enjoying himself, exulting over my renewed captivity. I am nothing more to him than an item to check off.

“Yours is the final name I cross off for now, Zantar,” he says, calling me by the detestable prisoner’s name he has given me. “And thank you for your help in eliminating those other two despicable traitors. That was you, wasn’t it?”

He reaches across my breast for the chess pen, no doubt to line out my name with a triumphant flick of his wrist. It’s a losing move.

In an instant, I unleash my pent-up ferocity and grab for him. His thin neck cracks like a pencil in my thick, hairy hands. Checkmate.

There is no time for preening. I bag his body and sling it over my shoulder. The load, including the two guns and the spent dart, plucked painlessly from my hide, rests almost weightlessly on my muscular back. Though I’m a novice as a driver, I use Knox’s Prius, tossing him into the back seat, and his passkey to enter the ape house at the zoo. I still recognize my former home, and need no light to find my way about.

Rex and his mate Queenie now occupy the straw-lined concrete and wire lair once claimed by my wife and me, and his son Hamlet sleeps in his mother’s long and hirsute arms, as my son used to sleep in his mother’s.

Rex, his face dim in moonlight, regards me lazily and without suspicion. Less intelligent than I, he may only dimly recall the days of our rivalry, when I ruled the roost and he was only a young challenger and imitator. He has suffered less, too, than my family and I from the assimilation forced on us by Knox and his hired thugs: his family still survives, while mine could not endure the inhumane experiments and perished. After they passed away, I lived only to escape, eventually succeeding. Meanwhile Rex licked his wounds and snored on.

I unceremoniously dump Knox’s body on the rocks out by the false cave and artificial pond. The others are all awake now, silent and watchful in the night. Do they remember this devil that once tormented them? I see no sign of it.

In Knox’s blood I write RACHE in broad strokes by the stone entrance to the zoo ape exhibit, using my forefinger as a brush. Though I can’t speak, I read and write with ease, and I know from that most inspiring of detective tales what the word means in German. The mystery fan in me hopes to create an intriguing puzzle, but the violated creature wants his revenge. I take up the plastic bag, the guns and dart inside it, and leave.