“Why won’t you tell me why you’re here? Why you’re no longer a man?” Ekaterina whispered from her perch on the wall of the elephant enclosure, her matted, blond hair occasionally getting tangled in her emphatic gestures.
What does it matter now? There is only this. I am an elephant. That is all. Clive communicated this with his trunk and ears in a sign language that had taken the two of them months to develop.
“You still can’t remember?” she asked.
Clive shook his head.
Ekaterina rose and left to clean the other enclosures.
Clive trembled as another wave of memory hit him from deep within his being. MaryAnn, lying on the floor shrieking, “What are you doing? No, no!” as she held up bloody hands to deflect the blows he continued to deliver with a butcher knife.
He loved MaryAnn. He was haunted by that memory morning, noon and night.
Clive tried again to remember happy times with MaryAnn. They had been together for three glorious months. He remembered walking hand in hand in the arboretum after finishing his veterinary rounds at the zoo, watching passersby together in a sidewalk café, horseback riding on the beach. His last memory before the murder was waking in MaryAnn’s arms, blissfully content. Then his memory skipped forward to that horrifying scene: his arm, bundled in a heavy jacket, coming down again and again, finding sickening resistance each time he made a new wound with the dull knife. Blood spurting everywhere.
He flicked his ears and began to pace. His heart beat faster. What he wouldn’t give to erase what he had done. If only he could remember what happened in between. He didn’t even know how much time that gap represented. Was it hours? A year? Why would he do such a thing? Had he gone crazy?
Only Ekaterina knew he was once a man. She could see he was more intelligent than an elephant ought to be — perhaps because he gave himself away in some small way. Now he wished he’d never told her. With her constantly reminding him of being neither man nor just elephant, he couldn’t embrace his new existence. He, of course, deserved his fate, for brutally killing MaryAnn. But he didn’t want to relive that memory.
He knew he had been transformed by a master witch for only a master witch could turn a man into a creature with more mass. What he couldn’t understand was who and why. Ekaterina promised to investigate, but wouldn’t tell anyone of his true fate. It would be too cruel for those who love you, she had said. And she never brought him any news. Only promises.
How could he be certain she wasn’t the master witch who transformed him? Maybe she was hired to do it by someone else? Or a spy for the master witch?
When Ekaterina came again, Clive claimed to have something bothering one of his feet. Ekaterina jumped down off her perch into his enclosure, bracing her fall with her small, strong legs. She came closer and he lifted his foot for her inspection, but not far enough. She leaned over to look on its under side.
Then he pinned her down before she knew what was coming. She struggled, her face contorted in horror. Holding her there, he signed to her. You did this to me! That’s why you keep coming to visit, but won’t help me find who did this!
“No!” yelled Ekaterina. “Please! Stop!”
Why did you do this?
“My master did this.”
And who is your master? Are you a witch as well?
When she didn’t answer, Clive pressed down harder on Ekaterina’s frail form. He did not know what accoutrements, if any, one needed to cast a spell or undo one. He could end up as a toad with a flick of her hand for all he knew.
“Yes. But my magic is limited.”
Who is she?
“It doesn’t matter. Your enemy hired her. She only did what she was paid for.”
Clive pressed down harder. Tell me who hired her!
“I don’t know. She doesn’t tell me who her clients are.”
You’re a witch. Divine it or I’ll kill you.
“Better to be crushed than tortured. You think being an elephant is your only curse? There’s a reason the witch chose to transform you into an elephant. They have long memories and mourn their dead.”
What are you saying?
“You didn’t kill MaryAnn. She lives. That memory is implanted.”
This news shocked Clive to his core and caused him to step back, inadvertently releasing Ekaterina. He stood there crying with relief, then trembling with rage.
She ran for the wall.
When he trumpeted mournfully after her, she looked back at him with pity in her eyes.
The next day, MaryAnn stood in front of his enclosure. She wore a sexy red skirt with a slit up the side and high heels. She hated high heels. Almost as much as fussing with her hair and wearing make-up. Her vacant eye looked up at him from an overdone face under a modern spiral bun. Her ringed hand reached up in slow motion to flick off a fly that landed on her face, her expression never changing. Clive heart raced and his breath caught in his massive lungs. He let out such a piercing noise with his trunk that MaryAnn staggered back, her face still wooden.
Ekaterina came running as MaryAnn walked on to the next exhibit. “Did you see her?” she asked. Clive flicked an ear yes.
Thank you. You couldn’t have known this would be worse, he indicated in signs.
“What do you mean?’
I know who did this to me.
The man who resented my very existence, because his wife died saving me from our burning house. My father, he signed.
“How do you know?”
MaryAnn wore my mother’s ring.
Ann Wilkes’ fiction comes in two flavors, though she sometimes likes to swirl them together: funny and tragic. Many of her short stories read like Twilight Zone episodes. She’s been into science fiction since she was a kid and now loves telling people she builds worlds. She lives in Northern California’s Wine Country and loves being near the beach, the redwoods and San Francisco. Her published stories are in magazines and anthologies both in print and online.