April 10, 2010

The Elephant and the Mammoth

Brief children's story inspired by Chris Samnee's topic suggestion:

The shade of the massive tree overlooking the watering hole felt cool and refreshing to Maratma's gray, wrinkled skin. Still, the two-year-old elephant soon grew restless. Peering up at her mother, she tried on her most innocent expression and pleaded, "Mom, can I go out into the water?"

Nembula, Maratma's mother, let out an exacerbated sigh. "You can't sit still, can you, Mara?" A sly smile crept onto the little elephant's face as she shook her head. Nembula did her best to giver her daughter a disapproving look, but she quickly gave up the fight. "Okay, fine, but stay close!"

Maratma ("Mara" for short) nearly jumped for joy. Thanking her mother, she sauntered out into the watering hole and began to explore the long shoreline of the massive pond. She walked, played, and sang to herself as she dipped her trunk into the water and tossed it over her back to cool off her skin. Soon, she was lost in her imaginary world. That's when things started to go wrong.

First, Mara lost track of time. Next, she lost track of her mother and her tribe. Then, she realized that she was just plain lost. She had no idea where she was. Her eyes widened and her heartbeat began to race. She'd never been lost before, and it was downright scary. She grew very quiet and listened. The thick forest surrounding the watering hole produced the strangest noises. She'd never noticed them before, and they sounded so foreign and frightening. Even the trees in this part of the forest seemed to lean farther over into the watering hole, making for long, creepy shadows that stretched out across the water.

Mara looked back the way she'd come. Nothing about the shoreline looked familiar. She called out, "Momma! Momma!" But no one answered. This part of the watering hole felt different. She backed a little farther out into the water and sat down. The water no longer felt cool and refreshing. Now it felt cold and unfriendly. Sinking lower and lower into the water, she suddenly felt very alone. And that's when she started to cry.

As the first tear slid down her cheek she heard something. Her giant ears twitched. Her heart beat even faster. Had she heard something walking through the forest close by or was it just her imagination?

"Hello? Is someone there?"

Suddenly, the foliage burst open to reveal a creature not much different than Mara. Startled, she jumped to her feet and watched as a small boy elephant with long, reddish-brown hair and short, developing tusks splashed into the watering hole. He stopped when he finally noticed that someone else was there. His eyes were almost as wide as Mara's.

"Are you crying?" he asked.

"No," Mara said. "I--You just splashed water in my eyes, that's all!"

"No I didn't!" He said indignantly.

When he shook his head the strands of hair covering his body swayed back and forth. For some reason it made Mara giggle. She didn't have any hair, but his body was covered with it!

"What are you laughing about?"

"You!" she said. "You're all hairy!"

"Of course I am! I'm a wooly mammoth!"

"I've never seen a mammoth before," said Mara.

"Well, it's your lucky day," he said. "We don't normally come this far south, but Papa says we have to so we can eat. We've been pretty hungry lately."

"Oh, well, I'm sure you could have some of our food."

"Really? Where is it?"

Mara shrugged, and for a split second the fear of being lost returned. "Actually, I--I'm not sure. I'm lost."

"You're lost? Well... where did you come from?"

Mara glanced back over her shoulder. "That way, I think."

"I have a pretty good sense of direction," said the boy elephant. "If I help you find your way back could you give me something to eat?"

Overjoyed at the prospect of finding her mother again, Mara quickly agreed.

"My name's Pompulu," the little mammoth said. "But most people call me Pomp."

"My name's Maratma," she said. "But you can call me Mara."

So, off the two elephants went, splashing and playing in the watering hole on their way back to where Mara's tribe had been staying. It didn't take long for them to come upon the first sign of Mara's camp. Three boy elephants, all slightly older than Mara, roughhoused in the shallows of the watering hole. Mara lifted her trunk in a greeting, but when they saw her, all three boys froze.

"What's this all about?" asked Grudel, the oldest of the boys. They gathered into a tight group and glared at Pomp. "Who's he? What's he doing here?"

"He's hungry," said Mara. "His tribe is here looking for food."

"All the food around here is ours, hair ball," snarled Grudel. The other two boys raised their trunks in agreement and honked rudely. Grudel shook his head, "Go home, freak!"

"I was lost!" Mara said. "He helped me find my way back!"

"He's not welcome here," said Grudel.

"Why not?"

Pomp interrupted. "It's okay, Mara. I'll just go back-"

"Yeah he will!" said Grudel's friend, Dargan. "Back to the rest of his hairy, ape-like friends!"

Pomp's face flushed. He honked loudly, lifted his left leg, and then slapped the water with it. That made the three elephants recoil and prepare for a scuffle. Mara intervened.

"Wait! He helped me!" said Mara. "Leave him alone! Come on, Pomp, let's leave these three to their stupid games."

"You shouldn't play with him, Mara," said Grudel. "You'll grow hair all over, just like him."

Mara ignored the comment and led Pomp back into the forest and out of sight of the other boys. Pomp still seemed upset, but Mara hoped he would soon forget Grudel and his friends. "Look, you wait here and I'll go get some food for you, okay?"

"I don't know. Maybe I should just go-"

"No! You helped me and I said I'd bring you food! I'll be right back."

Pomp reluctantly agreed and Mara trotted back to her camp. There, her mother and some of the others were talking in hushed tones. Mara caught only bits and pieces of their conversation, but she knew they must be talking about the mammoths.

"...this far south?"

"...can't be good. We'd better be careful..."

"...and keep our children within sight!"

When Nembula say her daughter trot into camp she quickly broke away from the gossiping elephants and scolded Mara. "Where have you been? I was getting worried!"

"I was just-"

"It doesn't matter. Go get ready for dinner!"

"But I have to-"

"No 'buts,' Mara!" said Nembula. "Get along, now!"

Nembula moved back into her circle of friends. Mara frowned and pretended to get ready for dinner while she gathered food to take back to Pomp. When she had nestled enough vegetables in her trunk to feed Pomp, she waited until her mother wasn't looking, and then snuck off into the forest.

When she reached the area where she had left Pomp he was nowhere to be found. That's when she heard a commotion coming from somewhere deeper into the forest. Hurrying through the brush, she came upon a circular clearing and stopped.

The three boys, Grudel, Dargan, and Tribulun, had surrounded Pomp in the center of the clearing. They were taunting him and kicking dust into his thick coat of hair. Pomp looked angry and scared. Mara dropped the vegetables and was about to rush to Pomp's aid when the tree line on the other side of the clearing parted. Two massive trees toppled over as a giant wooly mammoth crashed into the clearing and announced his arrival with a loud, angry honk.

The three elephant boys quickly retreated as the mammoth lumbered over to Pomp's side. The hulking mammoth had long, intimidating tusks and its body was covered in layers of long brown hair. It raised its trunk into the air and barked at the elephant boys again.

Another deafening honk sounded to Mara's right. Humanaram the Elder and two other adult male elephants from her tribe rushing into the clearing. The three boys hid behind them as they sauntered into the clearing to face the mammoth.

"What are you doing here?" asked Humanaram. "This is our watering hole. You are not welcome here!"

The mammoth snorted. "Food grows scarce in the north."

"The food here is ours. The watering hole is ours," said Humanaram. "Go away. Do not return here again."

Mara felt sorry for the mammoths, and she felt betrayed by her own tribe. Pomp had been so helpful, and the elders were ignoring the needs of the mammoths. Frustrated, she jogged into the clearing.

"But he helped me!" she called out. All eyes turned to her, which made her feel very small. But, having already made up her mind, she continued, "I was lost and Pomp helped me find my way home!"

"Quiet young one," chided Humanaram. "You know not what you say."

"But, it's true, he-"

"Enough! They are not like us, Maratma! They do not belong here. This is our land. They must go."

The older mammoth nudged Pomp. The two put their heads down in shame and walked back to the edge of the forest. Grudel and his friends sneered, but Mara ignored them. Rushing back to where she had dropped the vegetables, she gathered them into her trunk and then raced back to where the two mammoths had disappeared. She caught up with them a short while later. The older mammoth was scolding Pomp.

"You cannot wander off like that, my son," he said. "These lands are not ours. These creatures are not like us."

"But they are like us!" said Pomp. "They just don't have any hair!"

"It is more complicated than that."

Mara honked gently to get their attention. They turned in unison. Mara didn't have anything good to say, so she just held the vegetables out. Pomp glanced up at the older mammoth, who nodded his permission. Pomp hurried forward to Mara while the older mammoth continued walking. At first, neither of them knew what to say.

Finally, Mara sighed, "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay."

"I don't understand."

"Neither do I."

"But, they should not have treated you like that, even if you are hairy," she said. Pomp just shrugged. Mara continued, "Well, I'll never treat you that way. None of you. As far as I'm concerned we're in the same tribe."

Pomp seemed to brighten up a bit. "I like that."

"So, we can still be friends?" asked Mara. "Even if we never see each other again?"

Pomp looked back at where the older mammoth had vanished, and then looked back at Mara. He smiled broadly and nodded. "I'd like that."

"Then it's settled. We're friends. Thanks for helping me get back home."

The two talked for another minute before the older mammoth barked for Pomp to catch up. Rolling his eyes, Pomp said goodbye and trotted back into the forest. Mara hesitated before heading back to her tribe. The way they had treated Pomp had upset her. Snorting in disgust, she made a promise to herself that no matter how different another creature was, she would still respect them and help them however she could.

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