The Drabblecast brings you an original tale of interspecies aid.
We present “Trunk to Trunk,” by P.B. Yeary.
Art by Bo Kaier
Trunk to Trunk
by P. B. Yeary
The seed that fell from the heavens did not belong where it was planted. It was carried in a pebble from some distant star. Its cosmic shell burned away to reveal a crimson bauble like none seen on this world. A curious wind toyed with it, carried it over fire, ocean, and stone, only to drop it in its new home. By chance where it landed, under the shade of trees as tall as mountains, the soil was soaked in blood.
In the darkness a baby bull elephant struggled to be born. His impatience did not give his mother the chance to seek the comfort of her herd. She was forced to pause here, alone, in this wild thicket under the cover of a canopy of branches that blocked out the moonless sky. He fell into this world in utter darkness, knowing only her touch and the sweet fragrance of the mud where he landed.
By morning he could stand to his feet to reach his mother’s breast. When they were able to move the mother guided her calf away from the thicket and on to meet his herd.
The little seed had been pushed into the blood rich soil by the struggle of life.
Where mother and baby met, the ground now formed a catch pool for the rain. Where the mother had braced for support, now a single beam of sun was able to cut through the gloom to reach the ground. It was not much, but it was enough to bring forth a second life. The small plant suckled on sunlight; its roots fanned, feathered, and spread.
In time the sapling rose from the mud and breathed deep the humid air. She awakened surrounded by strangers. The native trees did not welcome her. They tried to curtained the sun from her. Their big thick roots soaked up the water. Beneath the soil they cursed her.
“Little weed. Unwelcome spawn. Soon you will feed us!” The little plant wept for fear of the growing shadows.
The little plant wept certain that she would die from this slow suffering and that her body would become food for this mean jungle.
A little way off the baby bull elephant grew stronger among his herd. His mothers and aunts had shown him how to forage for safe food, and clean water. His sisters and cousins marveled at his long and impressive trunk.
One day his grandmother, the Matron, announced to the herd that they would be moving on soon. The young calf had not heard her. He was distracted by a sweet smell coming from the bush. He followed his long impressive trunk into the tight thicket, seeking the sweet lovely smell. There he found vines covering the ground like a cage of serpents. Without fear he ripped and tore at the vines. He trampled and tossed them about. He crowned himself with their roots and threw their leaves around. He almost missed the little plant underneath it all until he caught the scent of her sweet, deep purple, leaves.
“Oh, spare me friend.” The little plant whispered. “Spare me and one day I will return the favor.”
The baby elephant did not understand her. He was only having fun ripping and tearing with his impressive trunk. Beneath the vines he’d uncovered big piles of fruit. The monkeys in the trees above had dropped a feast. With delight the baby bull ate his secret discovery and relished in the hearty sweet smell of this lovely place until his mother called for him. He left carrying the seeds of the bigger trees away in his belly and wearing his crown of vines over his head.
The little plant could breathe again. Her light and water fell were restored. Though she’d always be crooked now, she stretched her branches wide and sang thanks to the little creature that had saved her.
Ten years passed and the little plant grew into a small twisted tree with a silver trunk and deep purple leaves. The vines tried again to drown her out at the behest of the taller, stronger trees. After the eleventh year, they succeeded. They choked her branches and blocked out the sun. They covered the ground so she could not drink the rain.
For the first time in eleven years the little tree wept her sweet tears. Bright red flowers perfumed the air as she cried for her life. Her flowers attracted birds and insects but none of them could help her see the sun.
In the spring, a herd of elephants traveled through the bush. A young bull lumbered restlessly beside his mother, the new Matron of their herd. He said
“I smell something. Its sweet and familiar. How is that?”
“This is the forest in which you were born, my son. You might just be remembering your happy youth.” He breathed in the sweet smell with his big impressive trunk. He followed the scent as he’d done as a baby, pushing into the thicket of vines to the place where he’d once been happy – unburdened by the knowledge of age and hunger and death.
“I do remember this place,” He said. “I remember finding food here.”
“Careful son, the jungle is full of plants that would trick us with a sweet but deadly lore.” He fanned his ears at this. He was growing into a strong impressive male. He had no fear of his own mortality. He went into the thicket and ripped away the vines. There he found a tree with deep purple leaves and crimson flowers that glowed in the sun.
“That one looks dangerous!” Said his aunt. She pointed out a monkey who lay dead under the tree. Its mouth was as red as the flowers it had eaten.
However, underneath the unfortunate animal there was fruit which had fallen from the trees above. The bull remembered and assured his family that the fruit on the ground was safe. His sisters, mothers, aunts, and cousins joined him in ripping away the vines that blocked the fruit as they ate their fill. When they left they carried the competitor’s seeds away.
“Thank you, friend.” The little tree whispered. The elephant looked up having at last understood her. But he did not know what he understood. He felt warmed and welcomed here in this strange, sweet smelling, place. The tree wept her gladness. The elephant rested his head on her trunk. Together they were at peace.
The vines were dead. What few remained did not attempt to grow around her again. In their absence she grew to her full height. The little tree with the silver trunk knew now that she would never be as big as her bullies, she’d always be trapped under the cage of their branches.
Many years passed and the sprouts of her competitors began to take root and grow underneath her. The bigger trees hissed:
“Fall away you weed! Let our progeny grow! The light we leave is for them. You don’t belong here! Go!”
But she would not simply lie down and die. She blocked their sun as best she could, but they were adapted for such competition. In no time they were her height. Their roots were stealing her water from the soil. They taunted her day and night.
“Shhee-shee ugly weed. Feel our sting. See you bleed! We will haunt you. We will beat you! Soon enough we will eat you!”
The saplings grew quickly. They had help from their sires who used the fungus network that connected their roots to form a cage beneath the soil they. In this way they could pull the nutrients away from the strange little plant to feed their own. As the young trees grew stronger, the strange plant grew weaker. The little tree wept. Her crimson flowers filled the air with the sweet perfume of her tears.
In the rage of a stormy night a great beast came crashing through the jungle. His massive head knocked back branches. His impressive trunk cleared the path before him.
The great bull had left his family in search of a life of his own. He’d made friends with other bulls his age and together they’d traveled in search of mates.
This night though they’d run into a nest of humans – Face Hunters. The Face Hunters had gleamed his impressive trunk and the even more impressive tusks beneath it. He ran for miles, but the Face Hunters road a monster that roared without breath and did not tire even as the sunset brought a storm that pushed against them. He ran back to the jungle wishing for cover from their fire sticks. As he ran he created a path that was easy for the Face
Hunters to follow. He could not run forever. Soon his heart would give out.
Then his impressive trunk detected a familiar scent. In all his travels he had never found another place that smelled so sweet. If he was going to die tonight perhaps it was fitting to return to the place where he’d been born.
He dove into the bush. He came upon the twisted little tree, now as tall as himself, with her bright red flowers and deep purple berries. He pushed past the other plants to nestle beside her. Sheltered now from the rain beneath the trees silvery boughs he rested.
Her perfume lulled him to sleep. He dreamed sweet elephant dreams. Where water from the rain slipped from the dark purple leaves onto his skin, the injuries from the fire sticks cooled and stopped bleeding.
The Face Hunters entered the thicket. In the dark they did not see the bull they hunted. They did, however, see the strange glowing flowers of the tiny tree. They saw her glossy purple leaves, and her sweet-smelling berries.
Such fruit that smelled so sweet had to be tasted. The berries were good, sweeter than palm sugar, sweeter than honey. As they ate they felt lustful joy. They gorged themselves until their bodies were as purple as the berries.
They dreamed. They were taken to distant colorful places, far off lands where the trees were silvery white, with crimson leaves pressed against gray skies. They danced in sunlight that was cool and poured off their faces. They sang familiar songs with green hued apes that smiled at them, then pulled the stomachs from their bodies. Crimson seeds blossomed from their throats to pour onto the ground at their feet – how they shined, how they sparkled.
The men bathed in the rich colorful stones they’d created. They barely noticed the Great Golden God, with the head of an elephant, rising up behind them.
They reached for their guns but found only the branches of the silver trees in their hands. This filled them with laughter, though their green ape friends were gone now. The God fanned his great golden ears. He raised his purple tusks, and pressed his great weight into the first of them. Each man laughed as the God, one by one, popped their friends like delightful balloons. Each man exploded into a pool of color, as his friends watched on helpless from the humor of it.
When it was done, the great bull bowed his head to the tree and whispered “Thank you, friend.”
And the tree answered him “No. Thank you, my friend.”
He gave a deep guttural purr of understanding, for he had understood her.
However, he did not understand why she, whom had saved him, was also grateful. He did not know about the threat of the saplings which were now damaged from his battle; some of them were killed, others were merely pushed so that they would forever grow sideways against their mothers. He did not notice how the small tree’s seeds had been planted by the humans, whom had eaten her berries then retched the seeds onto the ground. He didn’t know how their blood enriched the soil to feed the seedlings’ roots.
All he knew was how she’d given him cover to take his enemies by surprise. But he did not think on it. The sweet aroma of home, and the reality of another day of life, had made the stars shine brighter in his mind.
In the years that passed the strange little tree cultivated a family around herself. When the bigger trees hissed at them, she sang songs of her impressive friend. When she became old her daughters all rose up around her, and sang to her with sweet smelling songs from their red flowers.
One night, an impressive old bull entered their clearing. He moved with care past the smaller trees to the old twisted trunk in the center. Her dull white bark shone in the moonlight, though it was knotted in places now.
“My old friend.” Said tree and elephant alike. “I see you have grown a forest` here.” Whispered the bull. “Your lovely smell has followed me around the world and has led me back here to my birthplace. I have sired a hundred bulls, and a thousand cows. They are all my kin so they are as impressive as I am. They have killed Hunters and been killed by Hunters.
They have mated and died and given birth. Many of my daughters are matrons of their own herds. Many of my sons hold vast territories. I am proud of them all. Now I am old, and wish to rest in the only place I’ve ever called Home.”
“My friend. We shall rest together – here where the sun warms gently, and the rain falls but never pours.” The great impressive beast leaned his head against the old tree, trunk to trunk. Where he lay no fruit could fall from the taller trees. His body fed the strange red saplings’.
The old tree wept for her friend and curled her roots around him so that when she too was a hollow shell, none could separate wood from bone. Her daughters sang his song sweetly for generations to those with the ears to listen.