1st Place Category 3: An Elephant Never Forgets
Winner Category 3 (Ages 12 to 14)
by Holly O’Neil, Age 14, Canada
An Elephant Never Forgets
It was morning, and the swelling African sunrise was smearing deep yellows and reds across the horizon, igniting the tall grass and glinting off ripples in the river. The light caught between branches of trees and scattered, landing on the tusks of the wading elephants. The current tugged at the baby’s feet as she lurched upstream with her mother. The rest of the herd was splayed out across the shallow edges of the water, resting before another day’s trek across the savannah.
Baby listened to the familiar sounds of morning. Tiny birds flitted about the trees, chirping their lilting tune. The droning buzz of horseflies stung the baby’s ears. She scrambled up the riverbank to chase them. The little elephant turned and flew across the dusty ground as fast as her stumpy legs could carry her, trumpeting for all to hear as she went. She skirted around the riverbank, chasing nothings in the air and spraying flecks of mud onto her irritated companions.
Her mother watched and gave a hearty rumble from her trunk, almost laughing. The others emitted a chorus of grumblings and the little one scampered back to the safety of her mother, flapping her ears and looking pleased with herself. Mother grabbed her little scoundrel by the tail and pulled her close. The elephants settled back into the mud and resumed their rest. Baby finally relaxed under her mother’s grip and took instead to making bubbles with her trunk in the lazy current.
The little boy woke up to the thwacking sound of his mother beating a rug. This was a chore performed daily, for bare feet on the packed-dirt floor were constantly stirring up dust and grime that settled in their lungs and stung their eyes. The boy and his growing family lived in a small mud hut in the village that bordered the wildlife reserve. The boy opened one sleepy eye and clutched his prized possession tight against his hollow belly.
It was a glossy lump of ivory that might have once been carved into a shape, but was now unidentifiable, its edges rubbed smooth over years of washing and fondling. The boy carefully placed the talisman in his pocket and rolled out of bed, rushing outside to greet his father. Today, father had said, they were going on an adventure.
The worn rubber tires of the truck bounced over potholes in the dusty dirt road, rocks pinging off of the cracked windshield. The boy nudged his way over to his father, dodging bodies and backpacks piled on the seats. “Papa, where are we going?” he shouted over the noise of the laughing men.
“We’re going to see the place where I work!” he shouted back.
The boy nodded and turned his attention to his surroundings. The sun was high in the sky now, at its peak, and the wobbling truck was filled with the smell of sunbaked sweat and dust. They were getting closer to the river now and the boy could see shapes in the water. Large birds circled the sky overtop of the truck as if waiting for something.
The truck creaked to a stop and the men piled out, the seats dipping up and down with their weight. The group started walking towards the river. The boy trailed behind them with his father, excitedly swinging his arms back and forth.
Finally, they reached a tall fence. A large hole was ripped out, leaving space enough for someone to squeeze through. The men stepped through and the little boy followed suit, hopping into the gap. Once through, the group continued on foot until they reached a clump of scrubby brush near the river. The men crouched down behind it and whispered amongst themselves.
The boy crouched down beside his father. “Are we playing a game, Papa?”
His father hushed him. “We’re waiting to go see the elephants,” he replied.
The group squatted in silence, the air thick with heat and anticipation. Finally, their leader gave a command.
“It’s time!” hissed one of the crouching men.
They pulled out long guns and pointed them in the direction of the herd, clicking them into place and causing the elephants’ flapping ears to perk up.
The little boy tugged at his father’s sleeve. “Papa?” he questioned.
There was an explosion of sound as bullets were flung at the nearest elephants, peppering their massive legs as they tried to flee. The boy screamed and covered his ears as his father shielded him from the bitter scene. Gradually the shooting stopped and the hunters dragged their weary weapons away to finish off the elephants.
The little boy was released from his father’s arms, trembling. “Why are you hurting them, Papa?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“You must understand, we don’t hurt them for fun,” Father replied quietly. “We only take from the elephants because we need their tusks to survive.”
They walked back to the truck and waited while the hunters piled countless bloodstained tusks into it.
When the truck was full, the men climbed in and sat on top of the mountain of bone and helped lift the boy inside.
As the truck started, he could see a single baby elephant emerge from the passing brush and run to the pile of carcasses. Baby bent over her mother, stroking her bloodied face and nudging her as if pleading with her to get up. She knelt down beside her mother and let out a wail of agony that pierced the silence of the men.
“She’s crying, Papa,” the boy whispered.
His father didn’t look at him. “Don’t watch, boy. We never watch,” he replied.
The baby gave another desperate howl and shivers were sent down the boy’s arms as the heat dried his welling tears. The boy gripped the piece of ivory in his pocket and slowly turned away from the weeping animal, looking through his tears into the distance, towards the growing speck of his starving village.
My name is Holly O’Neil and I live in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada. This was my first writing contest, and I entered my story as part of a school project. I’ve always spent my free time with activities like reading and sports, and I thought of writing as more of a school subject than an interest. Working on this story made me realize how much I enjoy writing, and after this contest, I will definitely pursue it!
Holly made the news in her community. READ “Elephant Story Follows Two Paths” in the Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows News