Fiction · 11/11/2009

Herman and the Elephant

Herman played with his G.I. Joes in the backyard. Technically, he played with his Cobras in the backyard because he only had the bad guys, the bad guy base, the bad guy vehicles. He liked the bad guys best. The good ones were so normal looking, Duke the blonde-headed leader so like Chad Simpson, who had nicknamed Herman the “Weekly Bastard” because he wore the same outfit on the same day every week. When Chad Simpson raised his hand after the new Weekly Reader had been given out and announced Herman’s new nickname, Mr. Roland, who resembled another boring Joe — Hawk — snickered with the rest until he finally said “class, quiet down.” Herman’s dad asked him if he were “retarded” for only asking for the bad guys and told him “all I know is you best not shoot up your school because I ain’t paying for that shit.” Herman didn’t care much about hunting and had never shot a gun. But he had to admit the idea of killing some of his classmates was attractive.

His dad drank Milwaukee’s Best in his reclining lawn chair beside the fence for the shade. The aluminum foot of the chair sat in the middle of what used to be Herman’s kiddie pool. His dad would occasionally let his feet dip into the water from the sides. He was in his boxers, and his bare chest was covered by the Sumerville Gazette. He read the paper every day. He said he had to look for a better job to support Herman’s “ass.” He mainly yelled at the articles.

“Says here that they lost an elephant out at the carnival.”

“Can we go to the carnival?”

“How you going to lose an elephant? Sumerville sheriff says they’ve had sightings, but it got away and is still believed to be in the area. Can you believe that? Cops find my ass every time I have a little drink, and they can’t find a pachyderm?”

“Can we go looking for it?” Herman asked.

“Why? You remember when we took you to that zoo and all you would do is hide behind me and peek at the animals.”

Herman had the Baroness kiss Cobra Commander to make Destro jealous. That’s the way the bad guys were—they did what they wanted. With the good guys knowing is half the battle, but the other half is no, you can’t do that.

“They should offer a reward. I’d find that elephant then. Shoot it myself.”

“Don’t shoot it,” Herman said.

“Did you play hooky today, boy?” His dad raised himself up in his lawn chair. “You don’t sound sick no more.”

Herman went into a coughing fit.

“I don’t need to be playing nursemaid to you all day when I have to work nights.”

“Can I go back with Mom?” Herman asked.

“Your mom? She’s off in her cult.”

His mom was a Seventh Day Adventist, and Herman had once gone to the little cinderblock building where they held Saturday service. The people did act strange, looking but not looking at him and talking to his mom like maybe someone had died. Herman knew it was him, the grave things they said.

“Why don’t you belong?” Herman asked.

“Do you know what she believes, boy? She believes in zombies.”

“Zombies? Can I go see her?”

“Yeah, zombies. When the big-gee-whiz-Jesus comes back, all the dead people are going to dig their way out of the ground and stumble around like The Night of the Living Dead. Remember that time we watched that and you wet yourself and wouldn’t sleep?”

“I like it now.” His dad once told his mom he was going to cremate her so that “Jesus would have one more mess crawling at him when he got back.”

“You tell her that next time you see her. You tell her there ain’t no zombies. Dead is dead.”

“I will.” Herman had Destro beat up Cobra Commander.

“Yeah, she ain’t coming back.”

“Can I go to her?”

“No. That cult don’t want you.”

“Why?”

“Cause you’re a bastard.”

It was about then that the elephant crashed through the weathered privacy fence and crushed his dad dead. The elephant broke through and some of the boards felled his dad and then the elephant put his stamp on it as if to be real sure the sonofabitch was dead. There was a gush as the water burst out of the kiddie pool, colored red and purple by the blood and guts, Herman supposed. There wouldn’t be much of a Dad zombie when Jesus showed up. The elephant must have liked killing his dad, the give when the body just collapsed, forcing the juices and stuff out, like when Herman popped bubble wrap with his toes. The animal paused. It lifted its trunk to the sky, trumpeting as if in triumph. As big as the ones in the filmstrips at school that said elephants were dying out, this one seemed fine. It ignored Herman and tramped over to the eucalyptus tree his mom had planted and ripped some leaves off and shoved them into its mouth.

Herman had seen those filmstrip people shooing elephants by raising their arms and yelling at the beasts. Herman stood tiptoe, arms over his head, shaking, and shouted, “Git!”

The animal, trained to do so, Herman suspected, knelt, one mammoth knee to the ground, crushing some of his action figures. It stayed like that, turned its head to Herman and bowed lower. He knew what he should do, what he should be concerned with. He didn’t know how to call animal control, but he could go in and get 911 on the phone and maybe they would put his dad back together again. That was the good thing to do. He knew the right thing, but he was more interested in the elephant. He figured what the hell. When he got closer, the elephant’s trunk took him by surprise, practically pushing Herman up onto its back. He straddled the thing’s neck and hugged its rough head.

The sirens wailed their way toward them as the elephant rose. From that height, Herman could see the neighbor from next door outside staring through the torn down fence. Mrs. Beckinbeck must have been sunbathing and forgotten all modesty, what with the elephant. She held onto a pair of oversized sunglasses, as if afraid they might get crushed. Herman stared at her browned breasts until the elephant went through another part of the fence and out into the back road, breaking into a trot away from the siren sounds.

More people came to their windows. Cars stopped, streets at an eerie standstill, drivers frozen in expressions of confused wonder. He held on tight as he could. Herman went down the lane bouncing on top of the elephant. Herman and the elephant headed toward the school. He imagined busting through the wall of his third period class, Chad Simpson incidentally crushed like his dad. Seats scattered by the students rushing away like the water from the kiddie pool. Mr. Roland just standing there, wetting himself. Those not killed or struck dumb would cheer, shout Herman’s name as he urged the elephant on, tearing through cafeteria, gym, and off into the woods beyond.

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S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. is the author of the short story collection You Should Get That Looked At. His story “Stick” was a Million Writers Award Notable Story of 2008. Currently he teaches at Queens University of Charlotte. Also, his work has appeared in Flatmancrooked, Night Train, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, storySouth, LITnIMAGE, 3:AM Magazine, and others. He blogs at craigrenfroe.blogspot.com.