The Decree

Eric Howerton

Because we’d lost our sense of value, the day came when the animals voted us out of our cities and towns and homesteads. Their spokesman—a giraffe in a cashmere suit—stood before a horned and winged mob. He made a case we couldn’t contest without looking like undignified jerks. And what, if not for our dignity, separated us from the beasts? From fauna who eviscerated their young and creatures wallowing in filth?

“If you truly embrace the spirit of democracy,” the giraffe said eloquently, hoofs pressed against one another in quiet majesty. “If you truly believe that the vote of every sentient creature is equal in respect to the vote of every other sentient creature, then we ask that you vacate your residences at once.”

“What about our votes?” our president objected, scrambling so that we might remain in the ranch-style houses and luxury condos we delighted in filling with catalogs and circulars and baubles containing trace poisons and food gone sour. “We haven’t even had a chance to run a campaign.”

“Irrelevant!” the giraffe said with unequivocal force. The mob behind him rose and stirred. “We outnumber you by a wide margin. And everyone, with the exception of the badgers, who are old and tiresome and would rather stay rooted in their dens, wants you to leave.”

It was hard not to take the giraffe seriously. With such a neck, his tie was the longest we’d ever seen.

“I see,” our president said, biting his lip. He conferred with his delegation. “Can we at least come back and visit?”

“Do you not understand the meaning of exile?” the giraffe asked in consternation. 

“But we’ve grown accustomed to a certain standard of living,” one of the pillars of business grumbled. 

“Too bad,” the giraffe said. A brigade of pachyderms stepped forward. Vultures and pigeons circled menacingly overhead. “You’ve grown accustomed to television and clean clothes and Snickers bars.” The giraffe licked his lips: “They’re our Snickers bars now.”


The following day we packed our bags and left city life behind. From the rolling hills we watched in despair as the animals moved into our former homes, assuming the roles we’d abandoned. We found flat patches of arable land and sowed seed and built lean-tos from thatch and twig. Some expired from eating noxious weeds, which was sad, but no sadder than the many who expired each day from electrical failures and plummeting elevators and the reckless behaviors guiding the wheel.

Thankfully, nobody has tried to construct a new city or resurrect the old ways. Once habituated to the chill of the public bath—a small pool fed by a breathtaking cataract—there isn’t much to be missed. Each day begins with the sun and ends with the stars. I no longer dread the workweek or fantasize of hurling my boss out the window because there is no workweek and there are no bosses. In the wild, everyone is equal. Some days our former leader—who I call Nate now instead of President Rutherford—brings me a handful of berries. Some days I bring Nate a blistered potato hot from the coals. Together we sit on the bluffs and crack jokes about an impatient turtle cursing the creeping drive-thru, a coyote howling at the indifferent customer service rep, a confused bat being asked, “Which is clearer—A? Or B?” We laugh and laugh. We die in different and occasionally gruesome ways out here, but we laugh all the same.

Eric Howerton is a graduate in Fiction from the University of Houston’s PhD in Creative Writing and Literature and from the Pennsylvania State University’s now-defunct MFA program. He lives and teaches in Ogden, UT where he spends his days skiing, hiking, writing, gardening, and seeking out native mushrooms. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Revolver, The Masters Review, Driftwood Press, Foliate Oak, and others. 

See Eric’s list of 5 Things tomorrow.