The Christmas Tale of Zeke the Donkey – A Short Story by Josh Burt
Here is a donkey…
Okay, so after the resounding success of my last short story, Beachballing, here’s another one. I hope you like it….
The Christmas Tale of Zeke the Donkey
“Yeah yeah it’s fine we’ll just stay in here!” bellowed Joseph, barging through the stable door and gathering bits of hay to line a manger that was on the floor. It wasn’t even really a manger as such, the donkey that lived there, Ezekiel (aka Zeke), had been using it as a bed pan for months when he couldn’t be bothered to wander into the field behind the inn to relieve himself. Mary followed behind, clutching in her arms their latest addition to the Christ family, Jesus (it was going to be Eli, but apparently Joseph had a bad association with the name Eli). So Mary placed the small messiah into the manger, while outside there was a din of clumsy hooves staggering through the narrow cobbled streets of ancient Bethlehem. It was Zeke, and he was singing loudly beneath the bright evening sky that had been illuminated by a resplendent star that was giving him a headache. Before he could stumble headfirst into his bed, the inn keeper leapt from behind the wooden door of the house and accosted his trusty steed (well, not exactly steed, but you know).
“Oh hey Mike, what’s up?”
He was swaying from too much partying, what with it being the feast of Saturnalia. He’d had a LOT of red wine from clay jugs, and since he’d broken up with Anne he’d been struggling to find his OFF button.
“Bad news Zeke, I gotta let you go…”
“Heh heh, good one!”
“What the… dude?… what are you even.. ?… is this about the manger?”
Zeke could feel his brain swimming while the inn keeper made some roundabout excuse about the son of God taking over his lease on the stables, at least for the next couple of weeks. Probably no more than that. Perhaps Zeke could crash at Anne’s place for a bit, then come back?
“THAT’S OVER MIKE, WE’RE THROUGH, SHE DUMPED ME!” yelled Ezekiel, before barfing down the sandy-coloured wall on the side of the inn.
Enraged, confused, upset and, for some reason, slightly horny, Zeke needed to get away. He felt his legs scurrying beneath him as lights zipped past in his peripheral vision like wobbly lazers on a black background, he could hear his own weeping and spluttering and his eey-oring was much much louder and more heartfelt and dramatic than usual as he careered through Bethlehem for what felt like hours.
Meanwhile the inn keeper mopped up the donkey sick using an old rag and a wooden bucket full of river water mixed with oils and berries to make things clean again. He went around the building closing the rickety wooden shutters on the windows, and crept up to the flat roof of the inn to peer over the new family living in his stables. They’d been really busy tidying the place up (as was HIS want) and they’d turned the stable into a lovely little annex, there was even a warm golden light that appeared to be emanating from the baby.
“I’m so sorry Zeke,” he whispered to himself, before going down to bed. “But that is one magic baby.”
In line with what you’d probably expect, downtown Bethlehem looked like a beige and dusty reimagining of Victorian London, as Zeke clipped and clopped in an off-beat drunken staccato through putrid streets full of unbelievably grotesque tramps and beggars with no arms or legs and aggressive prostitutes with magnificent boobs spilling from their cheap togas. Along the way he had somehow managed to acquire a nosebag full of old vegetables and wine.
He was drunk and unhappy. He just wanted to find Anne, to win her back, to tell her that he’d changed and that if she gave him a second chance he’d give her more money and pay her loads of compliments. He wanted to feel her soft breath on his long donkey-face, to smell her aroma of old stale sweat and fresh rose petals. He fell to his knees and puked into his nosebag, he knew deep down that it was time to stop drinking.
He also needed somewhere to crash.
He looked everywhere he could think of, but all of the temples were full of tramps, and he didn’t fancy sleeping in a tomb. He’d heard stories about evil spirits infecting people’s minds and turning them into serpents. There was only one place he could go, one true friend he could turn to. Zeke clambered awkwardly to his feet with the grace of a fat man pulling himself out of a beanbag, and he made his way. He attempted to knock on the door with a hoof but his brain was still doing backstroke from the wine, so he gently head-butted it and eey-ored a couple of times. It opened, there was a warm light inside and a concerned face to greet him.
“Hey Karen,” he said.
“Zeke,” she said. “You look awful.”
“Thanks. Can I come in?”
She ushered him into her home, past the room full of nerdy scrolls that she insisted on reading, past the boring musical instruments that she was learning to play, past her wardrobe full of unflattering clothes, past her dull pencil drawings of apples on tables or naked men holding swords. And then they came to a small open plan kitchen and lounge area, where Zeke gently collapsed onto a small pile of old linen.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. Zeke nodded.
Karen went to the kitchen and assembled a small plate of grapes, her hair was up in its usual bun and her massive glasses made her eyes look the size of Jupiter. She sliced a couple of wedges from an apple she’d been drawing and took it over to her old donkey friend. Of course, by now she’d been gone for at least five seconds so he was fast asleep, such was the power of the booze. Karen searched the closet for a length of sheep’s wool and put it over Zeke like you would a normal duvet, she looked at him adoringly, smiled with just a fraction of sadness creeping into her enormously magnified eyes, and took a bite of the apple.
“… stable…. no Mike! …. why?… why MIKE?…. ANNE!”
Zeke bolted upright, which, being a donkey, caused an ungodly amount of chaos in Karen’s lounge. The sheep wool went all over the place, bits of clay rattled, the wooden shutters clattered together like they were giving him a round of applause. He took a moment to figure out where he was, his mouth was dry, he had a headache from the wine, he lurched towards the window to relieve himself.
He turned around startled, the sleep in his eyes caused his vision to blur, and for a second Karen looked like the goddess Minerva. Her hair was down and she didn’t have her glasses on, he was about to say something complimentary when he very suddenly and unexpectedly threw up out of the open window.
“I’m so sorry Karen.”
“Big night huh?” she said, putting her hair back into a bun and taking her massive glasses out of a cupboard.
“You could say that… pretty big… anyway how are… um… how are… sorry… oh god Karen, I don’t know what to do… Anne broke up with me AND NOW MIKE KICKED ME OUT OF THE STABLE!”
And with that, Zeke felt a tidal wave of emotion squeeze through his body like toothpaste being hurriedly forced from a tube, only less oozy and not as minty. He wept heartily, the tears erupting from his eyeballs, the yearning eey-ores were almost too painful to bear, and Karen started to sob with him, her soft hands stroking his mane – if she hadn’t put her glasses on, Zeke might have gone in for a kiss, but he was heartbroken and she wasn’t Anne. And anyway, she looked pretty gross in her cheap, badly-designed toga.
After a few days rest, the festivities from the previous few week had calmed down, and there was a stillness to Bethlehem, as the silhouette of a hungover donkey and a relatively short chick with glasses like milk bottles appeared through the dust. The sun beamed behind them because they were on an incline, nearing the top of a small hill. It was a gentle meandering pilgrimage, they’d struggled past a sea of shepherds earlier in the stroll, but now it was just them. Them and their memories and a couple of cans of cold river water mixed with honey.
“God I remember this place,” said Zeke, looking out over the old stables, taking a swig of his sugary drink.
“It’s where I first met you Zeke, remember? I used to come down here to draw you, and you were always so kind to me.”
“You were the first human being who made me believe in Zeus, Karen. I’ll never forget that.”
“What’s going on in there Zeke?” she whispered, pointing first to his head and tapping it with her finger, and then to the area where his heart might be (roughly). “Where are you?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered back dramatically, before looking down at the dusty road that they were standing on.
For a moment they stood in a comfortable reflective silence, enjoying the stillness and warmth of their great friendship.
“OH PLEASE, GREAT ZEUS, RULER OF THE WORLD, HELP ME! I JUST WANT TO GET HER BACK!” howled Zeke suddenly to the sky.
It pained Karen’s delicate human heart to see an animal in such distress – especially as Zeke had always been such a confident donkey. She looked at him wailing on the dusty ground in the hot mid-afternoon sun, and she knew she had to put her own emotions to one side, to quash her love-feelings for the precious mule.
“Zeke,” she said selflessly without so much as a quiver in her voice, “I think I know how you can get Anne back.”
His shrieking stopped. He looked up at her with bits of the path in his fur making it look like he’d just eaten a whole packet of biscuits without taking the wrapper off. He looked at her with the well of tears slowly drying in his eyes to be replaced by a glimmer of hope. He looked at her and he saw Diana, goddess of rebirth and hunting, but in a pair of outrageously huge spectacles.
“How is that even possible?” he whispered urgently. “Tell me what to do.”
“Well for a start, we need to clean you up, you look awful!” honked Karen, and with that the pair erupted with the sound of laughter, and those joyous noises echoed all through the surrounding streets, past the inn where a small crowd was beginning to swell, through the temples and taverns, and through the upstairs bedroom window above Solomon’s Wine Bar, where the self-proclaimed Don Juan of biblical times was busy getting biblical with his new girlfriend. He grunted loudly as he approached an almighty crescendo of sexual fulfillment before collapsing on the bed. He took a half-smoked cigarette from his I Heart Nazareth ashtray.
“Anne, I don’t know who or WHAT trained you to do that, but whatever it was, keep on doing it. You have my permission as a man.”
“Why thank you kind Solomon,” replied Anne, giggling like a schoolgirl, unaware of all the hurt she was causing to a lonesome donkey less than a mile away. She looked out of the window smiling contentedly to herself. Solomon was one of the wealthiest men in Bethlehem. If there was a jar of red wine nearby, chances are he’d sold it to you. If you had a loaf of bread or a woven basket of vegetables, his fingerprints were on all of them. He had it all, and now he had Anne.
Back in the centre of town, dusk had descended and the streets were filling up with the usual bustle. The old myrrh seller on the corner of the main square was shouting at the top of his lungs, desperate to flog some of his old stock to tourists and gullible passers-by. The taverns and street cafes were brimming with activity. Zeke sat next to Karen on an old bench studying the crowds. They were talking about relationships.
“I’m FINE at the seducing bit Karen, that’s never been a problem for me,” said Zeke. “It’s the KEEPING HOLD. How do I do that?”
“Think about who you are Zeke, what you have to offer. There’s the novelty factor – because you’re a donkey. You’re also great fun and you have an unbelievable sense of humour…”
“It’s just, I suppose, that once the dust has settled and all things are even, YOU’RE A DONKEY. Someone like Anne needs more than that.”
“You’re right,” said Zeke, puffing out his cheeks, “I was never good enough for her…”
“Hey, hang on just a minute Mister, I didn’t say that! You’re AMAZING Zeke, any girl would be lucky to have you!”
She had grabbed his face and looked deep into his eyes. They were so grey, so donkey-like, for a few stolen seconds the passers-by warped into slow-motion, their jibber-jabbering became a low hum as the pair shared what can only be described as “a moment”. An unexpected one to boot. Zeke had never noticed how flawless Karen’s skin was until now. Nor how good her boobs were. Whatever skincare regime she was on it was working. It looked amazing, really really shiny, but not too shiny. Karen became self-conscious, worried that she’d said too much, she let go of his long furry face and looked away. Zeke looked on, confused. His loins were pulsating in a way he’d never known. There was an aching silence.
“You need to be more like that guy,” said Karen after what felt like an hour. She was pointing through the crowds at Solomon who was on his way to work after his afternoon shag – he was greeting pretty much everyone with confidence and cheer as he passed them by. His charisma was off the scale.
Zeke and Karen watched as Solomon worked the crowds, they examined his behaviour, studied his fitted but flowing robes made from finest silks and cottons, they saw how great he made people feel, particularly local prostitutes who would coo gleefully when he patted their bottoms or honked their tits. Everyone seemed utterly transfixed by his deep chin dimple that had a strange vaginal quality. Zeke made frantic mental notes. He prodded his chin with his hoof, wondering how he, a donkey, might look with a big dimple on his face. Perhaps he could get a bespoke toga.
“So that’s LESSON ONE right there – Be Like THAT GUY,” said Karen. “Now we need to move onto LESSON TWO.”
The next night Zeke poured half a clay jar of red wine into a nosebag, while Karen put a handful of berries away for safe keeping and went to fetch some of her most recent sketches. Zeke looked out of Karen’s kitchen/lounge window through the shutters, surveying the town from a comfortable vantage point, and for the first time in days he could feel his muscles relaxing. Then Karen came in holding a bunch of drawings of nude soldiers fighting.
“Oh no… come on Karen! Can’t we just have a drink…?”
“Zeke, this is your problem, this is ALL MEN’S problem. You’ve got to learn to show an interest in women, to listen to them. Like that guy Solomon probably does. And YES, to look at their latest sketch drawings and at least pretend to enjoy them,” she pointed at one. “Look at this guy…”
“The one with the massive penis?”
Karen blushed, it was an astute observation, and she couldn’t pretend that she hadn’t spent an unusual amount of time focusing on getting every pubic hair and fleshy vein just so. Such was her attention to genital precision that the rest of the body looked a bit wonky scale-wise in comparison to the lovingly portrayed cock.
“Thing is, who even fights nude anymore anyway? It’s SO… I don’t even know what the word is. It’s so SOMETHING.”
“The naked body is a beautiful thing Zeke,” said Karen, coyly, before gesturing to the clay jug that Zeke was nursing. “Aren’t you going to pour me one of those?”
The two drank red wine and discussed Lesson Two in great detail. The Art of Listening to Other People had long been neglected by Bethlehem’s menfolk, and while Zeke was pleading desperately in his mind for Karen to stop twittering at first, once he’d calmed down he actually found himself enjoying her stories about drawing naked men and going to the local markets to buy things and the seemingly endless, directionless monologues about her likes and dislikes and other interests. He was using “eye contact” (part of the opening module) to prove that he really was listening. The wine flowed like water running into the Sea of Galilee. Only in this case the water was really alcoholic and the sea was actually the combined mouths of Karen and Zeke. That’s just how metaphors work. There was a silence.
“Draw me like one of your soldiers,” whispered Zeke.
The night continued onwards, with the sounds of sketching pencils soundtracking one of the most erotic non-sexual encounters ever to have taken place between a person and a donkey. And then eventually the sun rose over Bethlehem, either on account of the world spinning scientifically on its axis, or because some local prophets and hundreds of their disciples had spent eight hours chanting for the bonfire in the sky to reignite. Zeke surveyed the drawing as Karen slept on a pile of old cloth in the corner of the room, her face fixed with a dreamy smile, her hands grey from charcoal. Zeke’s penis had been sketched to perfection, it looked majestic. The rest of him remained very much unfinished. In some cases completely unstarted.
He stroked her hair with his hoof before leaving her apartment. It was time to put Phase Three of his romantic plan into action. He headed to a bar in the fashionable part of town.
Downstairs was deserted, save for a few overturned jars of wine, the unmistakable stench of frankincense hung in the air, and rats were munching on discarded chunks of unleavened bread. Upstairs Solomon peaked under the covers at his naked bed partner and smiled to himself. He’d had a great time, the sex had been absolutely smashing as usual. He’d expected the normal solid eight or nine, but this chick had moves that took him to the peak of Mount Olympus – she’d become a ten out of ten, her hairy armpits didn’t even smell of dung. Anne stirred and started dreamily stroking Solomon’s deep vaginal chin dimple.
“Woman, can I just say that you were absolutely ON POINT last night. And yet you say you’ve never been in a relationship. Level with me, who trained you?”
“No one. Honestly,” replied Anne. “I think we’re just a good match. We’ve got chemistry.”
“A MATCH? CHEMISTRY?” said Solomon, treating the words like foreign countries he’d never heard of. His index finger disappeared into his chin dimple. “I’ll be honest, I have no idea what you’re on about half the time. It’s lucky you’re beautiful!”
And with that he got out of bed. He rubbed a miniature juniper bush on his penis to make it completely clean and free from infection, then rinsed his insanely hairy chest with various berries that had been crushed into a rancid pulp. His fragrance was an unusual one.
As he left his flat-roofed palace he was immediately met by an animal with a very long face (and, according to Karen’s picture, a very long something else).
“Hey Solomon,” said Zeke. “You don’t know me, I’m Ezekiel…”
“Yeah yeah, I know you! You live over at Mike’s place, you’re his donkey.”
“Right, yeah. Well, no. I WAS Mike’s donkey. It’s a long story. This kid moved in with his family…”
“THE BABY! Oh that baby sounds out of sight!… anyway, what can I do for you man?”
“I actually need a bit of advice if you can spare a couple of minutes?” said Zeke.
“Sure thing, let’s walk and talk.”
The pair zipped through the streets of Bethlehem, Solomon was a fast elegant mover, which wasn’t a problem because Zeke was a fairly swift donkey too. Having four legs gave him great balance, but he was definitely coming off second in the elegance stakes. The next phase of his “Winning Anne Back” strategy was to BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN BUSINESS and therefore irresistible to women. Few people were more successful than Solomon, and Zeke wanted to pick his brains. But then Solomon stopped abruptly in the middle of the street. Something had struck him.
“Can I just say that you SMELL very familiar, what is that?”
“Um… red wine? Oh and I do have a kind of donkey-ness. It could be that…”
“Yes yes, it IS a donkey-ness, you’re right. But it really reminds me of something…”
The pair froze in an unusually intense silence while Solomon stared at Zeke with the look of a man who was filing through every thought and memory in his brain. At first it was fine, but by the third or fourth minute Zeke was starting to get a little bit uncomfortable and self-conscious. How should he react to this bizarre behaviour from the man he hoped would be his mentor? Time froze, the giant burning circle in the sky inched around the planet, uninvented clocks ticked and tocked. Every time Zeke tried to speak, Solomon’s finger would dart out of his chin vagina and up to his lips, where he’d shush him. He wasn’t a man to rush a deduction, he walked fast with long confident strides, but he liked to figure out what was puzzling him in his own time, no matter how long it took or how awkward it made other people feel.
History will tell you that Zeke was precisely two minutes away from being punched in the face. And then in the ear. And then in the face again. A battle erupted.
The fists and hooves started flying, and it wasn’t long before Solomon and Zeke were basically a giant dust cloud spattering blood all over the light beige buildings of downtown Bethlehem. A whirling dervish of eye-oring and manly shouting. A cacophony of skin and bone connecting with donkey and bone. A crowd had gathered around to watch, Zeke didn’t know why he was being attacked, but when Solomon had started rabbit punching his throat over-and-over he knew it was time to throw polite chit chat out of the window and to get stuck in. At one point he was literally on his hind legs with his front legs windmilling onto any bit of Solomon he could catch. Solomon’s toga was open revealing a gorilla-like hairiness that was the very height of sophistication at the time. He was bringing the pain, they were both bringing the pain. Bethlehem was loving it.
The fight seemed to go on forever, with neither man nor donkey willing to throw in the towel or play dead. When Solomon jabbed his finger into Zeke’s eye, Zeke head-butted down into his chin vagina with an almighty thud, when Zeke plonked a weighty hoof down onto Solomon’s chest, the grocery king did an uppercut into the donkey’s balls. They were crashing into stalls, knocking over enthralled gaggles of prostitutes and lepers like they were pins in a game of ten-pin bowling, at one point Zeke smashed into a wall with such force that he went right through it. It would have seemed unbelievable and hilarious were the fighting not so vivid and intense. This was no laughing matter. The energy levels were sapping, Solomon resorted to spitting in Zeke’s direction, while Zeke wheezed and threw weak punches at the space in front of his foe. Both were quite clearly crying.
“I know the smell, where it’s from, you trained her. It was YOU!”
“What are you even talking about?” spluttered Zeke, “and why did you hit me in the throat? That’s so WEIRD!”
Solomon spat at him, but he had no force left in his body, so it just drooled wimpishly down onto his chin. “No one touches my Anne but me!” he panted. “NO ONE!”
“Anne?” said Zeke, suddenly stopping and becoming instantly calm. “Which Anne?”
“The one I LOVE!” boomed Solomon. He then started whimpering on the ground. “Her hair yellow like the ball in the sky, her bosoms bouncy like Herod’s stomach, her armpits, so gorgeous, her anus…”
Solomon continued his bizarre freestyle poem while Zeke looked on, watching the great man confused and broken by rage and jealousy. It was like he’d been slapped awake by the giant open hand of reality – in that very moment he realised that he felt nothing, no envy, no anger, no bitterness. Whatever pain he’d felt, it wasn’t about Anne – it may have been his pride, it could have been his loins crying out. But it wasn’t his heart as he’d thought. His heart wasn’t broken, it was still pounding away joyously as it always did. Anne appeared through the dust, and ran over to the whimpering Solomon and fell to her knees next to him. Zeke looked onwards, almost-contentedly (but in quite a bit of pain), and when she looked over and smiled, he felt nothing but amicable warmth for his ex-girlfriend. She wasn’t even as hot as he remembered. Her tits looked smaller.
“Hey, how have you been?” she shouted over the howls of her weeping manchild.
“Yeah, pretty cool!” replied Zeke. “You?”
“Not bad….” There was a pause as the dust settled and the crowds began to disperse. “I’ve got a new boyfriend Zeke!” she shouted, pointing down at Solomon. “I hope that’s okay!”
“HEY I’M JUST GLAD YOU’RE HAPPY!” he yelled back, a little too loudly so it sounded like he really wasn’t happy but he was pretending to be happy. But seriously, he actually was happy. Even while the words hung awkwardly in the air.
He watched as she stroked Solomon’s face while he sobbed on the floor clutching his knee. No, it wasn’t Anne his heart yearned for and his loins pulsated for anymore. That ship had sailed and it was only now, in the warm glare of the sun, that he really knew it. He could see clearly. Another boat had since come in and it had been staring directly at his groin the whole time.
He galloped through town, screaming at the top of his voice. The crowds lined the streets cheering for the brave donkey who went toe-to-toe with Solomon. Some of them didn’t know exactly why they were cheering, but cheering in ancient Bethlehem had always been very infectious. Many of them had been cheering the previous evening when the famous newborn from Mike’s stables had left with a procession of kings and shepherds while Zeke was having his genitals drawn in forensic detail in a nearby apartment.
Zeke couldn’t find her anywhere, she wasn’t at the apartment, she wasn’t in any of the taverns or markets, she wouldn’t be in the public baths because she had a great little ditch full of rainwater just behind her home that was perfect for keeping yourself clean and free from infection. Zeke made loud and unusual donkey noises as he stumbled around Bethlehem. He careered around a familiar old corner that used to be his home and there she was. In an embrace. With MIKE. But it was cool because they were just hugging.
“KAREN!” he shouted. “and MIKE!… what the hell guys?”
They turned to him smiling, unaware that he was seriously close to being a donkey with a panic attack. Karen ran to Zeke and threw her arms around him.
“Mike’s agreed to let you move back in,” she beamed. “The baby’s gone home to Nazareth or whatever… I mean it was great having you at mine and everything… but I was sure that part of the reason you were so unhappy was because you need your own space like everyone needs their own space… and… what happened to your face? Oh my god Zeke have you been fighting? Who did this to you?… wha… ”
She was twittering, and though Zeke had become a great listener in the last few days, he had something to say that he couldn’t hold in anymore. He reached up with his hoof and pulled Karen’s hair out of its bun so that it fell down over her shoulders, he took her glasses off her face to reveal a pair of amazing piercing eyes, he unbuttoned her toga to emphasize her magnificent cleavage.
“It’s you Karen, it’s always been you.”
She put a finger to his lips. “Me too,” she whispered.
“HEY WELCOME BACK ZEKE!” shouted Mike from over in the stables totally killing the moment. “I guess I should probably make it a double bed in here, huh?”
And lo, everyone started laughing and freeze frame high fiving, as they bathed in the beauty and wonderment of a time that came to be known as Christmas.