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Rated: E · Fiction · Environment · #2296329
A short story that came from a contest prompt. What if we could talk to the animals?
Careful what you wish for, Mila.

I should have remembered that little warning. I think it was my grandmother on my mother’s side who said it most often.

I’ve been studying the animals around me, but in particular, the elephants. I absolutely know they have a language. The deep rumbles that travel across the ground? The ones I’m lucky enough to sense in my feet as I stand watching a herd of females? They have patterns. It has to mean something.

They tend their young as a group. I wish our world still allowed us the sense of community I grew up hearing about from my grandparents. Where children could run free in the neighborhood for hours and every parent knew when they whistled, their offspring would come running to clean up for supper.

Here, I see the community the elephants have, and I think they’re by far more intelligent that the hordes of humanity. And doing so, I wished I could talk to the animals, walk with the animals, like the old song that keeps running through my head.

Dr. Dolittle had it so good. I read the books, and watched the movies, all of them. I wished with all my heart I could talk to the animals. I’m sure they would have better things to say than the world and its news programs each out doing the other with the newest thing to scare us to death. It’s how governments control their populations.

Man, that sounds sour. Just let me talk to the animals, maybe they know how to solve Earth’s problems.

I made my way back to the tents inside the electric fence. The camp was well away from any trees, to keep the big cats out. Leopards had an uncanny ability to jump into places no one wanted them. And prides of lions watched us with intense interest everywhere we went.

Eating our ration of beans and rice, with some Moroccan spices thrown in, I kept ruminating on the animal language issue. The moon was full, and the night steamy, when I finally pulled the mosquito netting over my mostly naked body. Meditation didn’t work tonight. It seemed like endless hours passed before I dropped off into restless sleep.

The dreams were intense, but I couldn’t remember more than vague visions of a witch doctor shaking his feather decorated stick at me repeatedly every time I woke. I went back to sleep a dozen times, always to the same nightmare.

I woke with a hangover headache. I swear I wasn’t drinking. I leave the booze bottles alone because I can’t tolerate the effects of alcohol. It’s my genetics. I just don’t get along with the stuff. But I’ve got a hangover from what I’ve heard and seen in my companions on this zoological study.

Best thing? I’d better get water into me. Dehydration wasn’t impossible in the morning after sweating all night. It never cools off here in the savanna where it emerges from the jungles of Africa.

I complained to the cook, and he made me his morning after cure. Why did he look suspiciously like the witch doctor in my dreams?

He winked at me and said, “I hope you get your wish.”

I shivered. Actual, goosebumps. Was I talking in my sleep? My little section of the tent was closest to the kitchen, and he was always there well before dawn to fire up the stove and grill.

It was foggy outside. The sun came up as a deep red ball, burning through sticky wet. Like almost every other sunrise I remembered since I arrived after a long drive by Land Rover, it cleared my view as it climbed.

I made a face as I sprayed bug repellent over my legs and arms. And then as I sipped from the cup Cook gave me, my face twisted further with the acrid sharpness of it. The herbs weren’t complimentary, and I wondered if it was designed to make sure I emptied my stomach of any leftover drink from the night before.

Nibbling on one of the granola bars I had in my back pocket, I decided that was all I could tolerate. The ostrich egg frittata we usually shared for breakfast was not going to sit well with me today.

The rumbling vibrations were back, but for some reason they came through as words. I must be hallucinating. What was wrong with me?

Watch out for the humans. Don’t trust them Kahala, wise Queen. The message repeated. Why shouldn’t they trust us? We haven’t done anything to harm them. In fact, we chased away the poachers several times in the weeks since we arrived.

And why was I hearing words? Animal language had to be body language. They don’t have voices. At least that’s not what I’ve always observed.

I went inside, and since no one else was up yet, I stopped to ask Cook a question.

“Are you hearing any voices? I’m wondering if we have someone hanging around in the trees.”

“Nothing but the bugs and a few birds waking up.”

His grin disturbed me. It was like he knew, but he wasn’t going to let on. I wondered who he really was. Good guy, but too quiet. He never talked about his life outside of his job. Lots of stories about the people he met at other camps like ours.

“Whatever you’re hearing, it’s meant for you alone, girl.”

His voice deepened as he spoke, and I felt my skin crawl again. What did old Jabu know? He continued under his breath with the odd clicking and popping of a native African tongue. Why hadn’t I noticed the faint tattoo on his forehead?

“Go on out. Grab the camera and go to the elephants. You’ll feel better. I’ll let the rest of them know when they come out to eat.”

“You’re probably right, Jabu. I’ll to talk to the animals. At least they won’t tell me I’m crazy.”

“Ah, my dear Mila, you’re not crazy.”

When I spun around to look at him, he’d turned his back to begin cracking the egg he took out of the fridge. His hands moved around it competently cracking the top off the ten inch high shell.

Was I imagining things? I shook my head, went back to my little room and picked up the pack. Grabbing my phone off the charger, I decided that was all I wanted this morning.

Whispers came at me from the trees.

“Glory be to the sun which give us life. May it burn the thin hides off the two legged blight.”

The tone was snarky, annoyed and I searched the tangled growth for the speaker. Nothing there but the usual pygmy marmosets.

“Oh, sun be strong, burn them to a crisp.”

It was like the chant of a congregation reciting a Catholic catechism. I stared at the troupe of tiny monkeys. What the fuck was I hearing?

Shaking my head like I had something crawling in my ear, I kept walking toward the watering hole. More voices, all saying things I didn’t want to hear. Humans deserved the reputation, but really, give me some credit. I know I’m different. I want to make it better for them.

I found a bit of shade beside the termite hill. Sitting there, I watched as the elephants waded into the sluggish brown water. The matriarch stared at me, and I cringed, uncomfortable for the first time. Why did I have to hear those voices?

Inside my head, I heard Grandma’s warning. Careful what you wish for, Mila. You might not like what you get.

More derogatory comments.

How did those useless excuses for life ever become like a poisonous horde of disgusting filth?

They think they have brains. Our beautiful world is dying.

Each comment more hateful, and truthful than the last. My brain hurt, and my soul cried in sympathy. But even stuffing my fingers into my ears couldn’t stop the whispers and shouts coming at me.

The African grey parrot who landed at my feet looked up at me.


Did he say that in human language or his own? I wasn’t sure of what was what anymore.

“Your words.” His whistle was the same as he always made, but my brain translated effortlessly.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” I had no idea if he understood. This horrifying new ability might be a one way street.

“They are unhappy. They know they will die, and the baby elephant Kahala bore but three weeks ago, might never become the magnificent bull he should.”

“Did you understand my words?”

“No, but once in a hundred years, there is one who hears us. Your tears make me think it is you.”

The parrot flapped his wings, wafting a cooling breeze over my hot cheeks.

I nodded. A one way street. I was cursed to hear their millions of voices of accusation. I knew we deserved their scorn.
Could I figure out their linguistics? Was their language recognizable enough to use our symbols and analysis to make it known to the world? And would anyone believe in the gift I was about to give them?

Because deep in the bottom of my heart I knew the animals had the answers we did not want to hear.
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