“They only come to see you because you’re a freak.”
At the sound of the whisper, Peace’s ears swiveled back and forth. She must be hearing things.
“You’re a freak. They come to laugh at you.”
Peace turned her head and found herself looking into the eyes of a zebra standing at the fence around her enclosure. She recognized him as the one called Streak, the leader of the herd at Safari Park. “What are you talking about?”
“You think you’re so perfect in your private pasture with your fancy white fence. But you’re just a freak.”
Peace was shocked to be treated so cruelly her own kind. “I beg your pardon. I’m a zebra just like you.”
Her statement was met with guffaws of laughter from the young herd. “Who told you that?”
“My mother. She’s a zebra, too.”
“What about your dad?”
“He’s a horse. A white stallion, just like in fairy tales.” Peace’s eyes twinkled with pride.
“So your mom is a zebra and your dad is a horse.” Streak’s lips twisted into a cruel smirk. “I guess that makes you… nothing.”
The herd reared up in a cloud of dust, snorting and hooting with laughter. Their hoofbeats echoed in Peace’s ears long after they retreated to their own pasture.
Alone in her pen, she looked at the reflection staring back at her in the watering hole. She saw her striped zebra face and the mane on her snow-white neck standing in a stiff row. She couldn’t see her rump in the reflection, but in her mind she saw where her white body met with a striped hind end. What she always thought of as unique now looked like a messy patchwork of different animal parts thrown together haphazardly.
Could they be right? Did the crowds come just to poke fun and call her names? She didn’t speak the same language as the park visitors. Maybe the words they spoke were nasty words like freak… or nothing.
These thoughts tormented Peace as she tried to sleep. When morning came, she hung her head despondently and hid behind the shade trees in her pen. People gathered at the fence and called her name, but she refused to look up. The herd had wounded her to the very core and all her confidence had completely vanished.
She remained there, her head hanging between her ivory knees, day after day and night after night.
“Why the long face?”
Peace’s ears pricked forward and the sound of the voice. It had been a long time since anyone had spoken to her. Even the park visitors barely took notice of her anymore.
“And miss my chance with a pretty thing like you?” The voice sounded friendly, but Peace couldn’t bring herself to look at its source.
“I’m not pretty. I’m not anything. I am nothing.” Although she thought she was accustomed to the words, tears slid down her bold striped face as she spoke them aloud.
“Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful in all my life.”
Peace lifted her head ever so slightly at the kind words. She peeked from behind her lashes at the creature standing at her fence. It was a horse. With very large ears. In fact, she’d never seen such large ears before.
“Are you a horse?”
“No, but my dad is.”
“What is your mom?”
“My mom is a gorgeous donkey.”
Peace lifted her head to its full, upright position. “Oh my! Your dad is a horse and your mom is a donkey. That makes you just like me. You’re nothing, too.”
“Actually that makes me a mule, sweetheart.”
Afraid she had insulted her new friend, the white stripes on her face turned crimson with embarrassment. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that my dad is a horse and my mom is a zebra. And I am nothing.”
“I think that makes you a zorse, or maybe a hebra.”
The two stood together under the milky twilight and for the first time in weeks, Peace laughed and felt like something again. The mule continued to visit Peace night after night, and gradually she became a happy animal once more. The mule had given her back her dignity.
The Safari Park staff noticed the special relationship between the two creatures and moved the mule into Peace’s enclosure. Now visitors come to see the park’s newest addition… one they are calling a zorbule. Or maybe it’s a mebrorse.
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