Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 6
Stories
Night of Falling Stars
by Steven Savile
Great Mother, Great Father
by William Saxton
The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
A Spear Through the Heart
by Cherith Baldry
From the Ender Saga
Ender's Stocking
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Lost and Found
by David Lubar
This is Only a Test
by David Lubar
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race
    by Cat Rambo
The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race
Artwork by Adam Hunter Peck

It was a peanut butter jar, not even a brand name but generic, the two and a half pound size, as big as a lantern. Oily dust roiled inside.

The woman dressed in gray picked the jar up and held it between her large flat hands. There was something reflexive about the gesture, as though her mind were very far away.

A boy said, "Those are Jumbo's ashes."

Her eyes returned to regard him dispassionately. It was an old look, a look that had been weighing the universe for many years now and found it lacking.

"Jumbo," she said in a leaden voice.

The boy pushed on, fighting his way against her indifference, wanting to see her thrill and liven, if only he found the right fact.

"There was a fire in 1975, here in Barnum Hall, and Jumbo, who was the Tufts university mascot by then, burned up. They saved his ashes in that jar."

She turned it over, watching the flakes stir.

"Of course, he was stuffed then," the boy added. "The bones are in the Smithsonian. His keeper, Matthew Scott, donated them."

For the first time her gaze sharpened, though not to the degree he wanted. "Is Scott still alive?"

"No," he said. "He died in 1914. In an almshouse. How could he still be alive?"

She turned the jar with slow deliberation, letting the contents tumble once, twice, three times. "Stranger things have happened."

The only thing Jumbo was afraid of was the big cats, even years and years later, when he was much too big for them to terrorize him. The wind would shift and bring him the tigers' musty reek and his eyes would roll while Matthew laughed and thumped him on the side, calling him a big baby.

But that wasn't true. He hadn't been afraid of any number of things that were worse than lions. Even the swaying of the netting holding him hadn't frightened him as it hoisted him aboard the ship among the gulls' harsh screams, in a dazzle of blinding light that left his eyes red and weeping and unable to see until much later in the hold's darkness, smelling like hay and saltwater.

The thing he remembered best from those first captive days was the hunger. They had lowered him into a pit, too deep for him to free himself. He searched the ground over and over again, ravenous. He had been used to constant grazing, being able to snatch a trunkful of grass or leaves as he wanted. But here they did not feed him, and his bulk, even at less than a year old, demanded fuel.

A narrow ledge spiraled down along the side, too narrow for him to climb. He trumpeted his anger, his fear as a face peered down at him from one side before saying something to another face. He had been here two days now, and starvation weakened him. When the man came down the ledge, he could not rise, despite the grain smell. The man came nearer and he tried to stand, but could not. The hands ran over him, an unthinkable touch that gradually became no more bothersome than a tick-bird picking parasites from his skin. Reluctantly at first, he let the man feed him handfuls of mash from the bucket, tasting of dust and metal, becoming more eager as the strength returned.

For a while the man lived with him, slept by his side, and he became used to him. Even acquired a fondness for him. But no matter how much food the man brought him, it was never enough, and the hunger ate at him during the nights, making him fretful and weak.

Later Matthew had found him in the Paris Zoo, huddled with Alice. Puniest elephant I've ever seen, Matthew said, tipping his head back to consider him, think he can make it to London? The Frenchman shook his head, Mais non.

P.T. Barnum liked things big. Say that, he told the reporters in his mind, rehearsing the spiel mentally, "P.T. Barnum likes things big. Why, right now, he's chasing after the world's largest elephant, Jumbo, seven tons and eleven and a half feet tall!"

Right now he stood in the offices of the London Zoological Society. He'd been in these sorts of places, smelling of formaldehyde and dusty feathers. He'd bought the Fiji mermaid from such a place, knowing when he saw the nappy black hair, the scaly lower half, that here he had a moneymaker.

"You want to buy him as a sideshow," Abraham Bartlett said politely. He was a wispy, fine-haired man with a heavily waxed mustache and tendrils of hair protruding from his ears, which Barnum stared at in fascination.

"A sideshow? No -- for the circus, my circus!" Barnum said. "I'm willing to pay you $10,000 for him!"

The silence in the room changed to a new and waiting quality as the two Englishmen exchanged glances.

"No, I'm afraid not," Bartlett said with genuine regret in his tone. "Jumbo is one of the greatest attractions here. Hundreds of thousands of children have ridden on him over the last fifteen years."

On the way out of the Zoo, Barnum ducked through the East Tunnel and made his way to the Elephant and Rhino Pavilion. Inside, he stopped and stared at Jumbo. "There's got to be a way," he thought.

Clusters of children were lined up to ride the elephant, who stood beside his keeper. Three little girls stood in graduated height with their nanny, each dressed in blue with red bows riding their hips and matching bows perched like butterflies on their hats. One held up her hands to Jumbo and the elephant's trunk explored them for the peanuts she held. Her face shone with joy.

"I will have you," Barnum mused. "P.T. Barnum doesn't take no for an answer." He imagined his friend Charles, the world's smallest man, in the place of the child the keeper was lifting up. The biggest and the smallest together in one ring and himself in the background proclaiming "General Tom Thumb and Jumbo!"

"Mr. Barnum," a voice said beside him. It spoke in English, but the accent was indefinable, a rumble beneath the words like a distant echo of thunder.

"You have the advantage of me, madam," he said, turning.

"You seem entranced by the elephant." She was a small woman, dressed all in gray, the lustrous, colorless cloth giving her a pigeon's drab appearance. "Surely you have seen one before?"

He laughed. "Hundreds!" he said. "I used one to plow my farm in Bridgeport."

"As advertisement, I know," she said.

"Every agricultural society in the States wrote to me, asking if the elephant was a profitable agricultural animal."

"And was it?"

He chuckled. "No. One eats up the value of his head, trunk, and body each year, not to mention that he can't work at all in cold weather. Tell me, why are you so interested in elephants?"

She looked at Jumbo. "In Africa, the elephant hunters leave piles of corpses, only the tusks removed," she said. "It is a savage, barbaric sight. Have you ever witnessed elephants mourning? They speak their sorrow in sounds too low for the human ear to comprehend, but you can feel it vibrating in the ground beneath your feet. They gather around the corpses, walking in circles. They throw handfuls of straw and grass upon the corpse as though trying to shield themselves from the sight."

"A pity," Barnum said.

"More than that. An atrocity. If more people knew elephants as something other than distant monsters, perhaps the public outcry would make the trade cease."

"So you are their advocate."

"After a fashion."

He sighed, following her gaze. "Jumbo here is no ordinary elephant. The largest of his kind. What a draw he would be!"

"And yet you speak as though you cannot have him, Mr. Barnum."

"I will have my way. It's only a matter of time."

"The curators will be reluctant to part with him. So vast a creature and yet so gentle."

Her voice gave the last word a lingering caress.

"Gentle, yes," Barnum said. An idea flickered in his mind.

After Lord Corcoran's death, Matthew Scott had come to the London Zoological Society along with the animal collection the Lord had left to that Institution, elands to cheetahs, Amazonian parrots, and a lone pink-headed duck.

"I'm just a jumped-up ostler," he'd say when drinking. "My fellas just look a lil' more unusual than most." At first he'd balked - the animals he cared for ate better than any member of his family, which seemed obscene. But with time, he'd become proud of the variety of animals he'd nursed through illnesses or helped birth their scaled or spotted offspring. When the directors sent him to Paris to scour the zoos there for possible additions, he'd been pleased.

He wouldn't have found the elephant without the woman, though. He'd been in the Champs Elysees when she approached him. At first he'd reckoned her for a whore, but her dress was muted unlike that of the tarts who seemed to vie with each to see who could more closely resemble the brightly-plumaged macaw that he'd found in one zoo. Surely no decent woman would accost a man in order to speak to him.

"You might be interested in the Jardin des Plantes," she said. Her English was perfect.

"Eh, Miss?" he said.

"The Jardin des Plantes," she repeated. Her eyes were brown and fluid as a gazelle's, but he could not determine her age. She turned away but he caught at her shoulder.

"Miss, how did you know?" he began.

"I saw you at the Parc Floral and overheard your conversation with the curator about their peacocks," she said.

"What will I find at the Jardin des Plantes?" he said.

"Two elephants," she said. "Young ones. They're very ill."

He frowned. "Ill from what?"

"The climate. Lack of care. Improper diet."

"What makes you think I can save them?"

"You know elephants," she said.

The two young elephants, Jumbo and Alice, were indeed ill. Matthew looked into the long-lashed eye as big as his clenched fist and saw despair there. He laid his palm flat across the warm grey hide.

"Hang on," he said. "I'll get you out." The zoo tried to bargain with him, but he pointed out that the two might not even survive the journey and that in that light his offer of a full-grown Indian rhinoceros in trade was quite generous. He suspected the curators had miscalculated how much an elephant could consume. Going to the market, he paid for a cart of hay and brought it back to the Jardin to feed the pair. He bought a bushel of peaches as well and fed them to Alice and Jumbo in alternating handfuls, smelling the sweet pulp as the elephants plucked the fruit from his fingers.

He wouldn't have done it, but when the man offered him the handful of peanuts, he didn't realize the trick until he felt the terrible burning in his trunk. He cried out and the children ran, screaming as shrill as gulls, as he reared back on his legs, trying to find the source of the red pepper. Matthew was there between him and the tormentor and he could not find him with all the burning, as though the world of smells had gone away and he was forced to rely on his own weak eyes. He turned to the water tun, drinking with frantic need, but the burning barely ceased, and he trumpeted angrily again.

It was hard for Barnum to keep from grinning when he signed the papers in the Zoo's office. Sunlight slanted across the page as he finished the bold loops of his signature and blotted it. He'd celebrate at the Madagascar Hotel tonight, drink champagne with the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, who'd come to see him. As he'd suspected, the directors were worried at Jumbo's temper tantrums, which Barnum had paid two sub-zookeepers to provoke by every method they knew. The pepper had been the most effective.

"You will be taking him back to America as soon as possible?" Bartlett asked.

"Oh, I reckon not," Barnum said. "Figured I'd leave him here long enough to say goodbye to you Brits." He smiled and tipped his hat to Bartlett.

Within the week the journalists he'd paid off had done their work. "England to Lose National Treasure!" one said. Another demanded, "Are We Shipping Our Largest Asset to America?" More newspapermen, who'd missed the original story, were waiting for him as he exited the Regent's Park Hotel, and he stopped despite the rain's fine drizzle to address them, standing back on his heels with his thumbs in his suspenders, surveying the crowd craning to hear him against the hubbub of passing carriages and foot traffic. The English didn't have a chance against good old American scheming.

"Is it true the Prince of Wales himself asked you to reconsider taking Jumbo?" a tall man in a porkpie hat asked, pen poised over his notebook.

"Well," he drawled. "His Majesty and I are old friends from my other tours. He did bring it up, but I said nosir, a deal's a deal."

"Visitors to the London Zoo have tripled," another said. "All saying goodbye to Jumbo. Do you have any message for the children pleading with you to leave Jumbo here in England?"

"They're welcome to come to the U.S. of A. and see their pal there. He's not a born British citizen, so maybe the fellow will like a little travel," Barnum said.

"When are you returning to America?"

"I'm setting sail tomorrow, actually."

"With Jumbo?"

"No," Barnum said. He refrained from adding "with all this publicity he's generating I'd be crazy to" but the thought had crossed his mind.

He would have stayed to talk to them longer, but he wanted to pick up presents for his wife Nancy at Harrod's. He strolled the aisles, finding Jumbo dolls, mugs, tin banks, booklets, everything he could have thought up himself and more, and it brought a constant smile to his lips, even when the salesclerk recognized him as the man taking Jumbo away and charged him twice what he should have for a stuffed elephant waving the Union Jack in its trunk.

He knew what the crate was as they rolled it into his yard. It smelled of oak and iron and the canvas padding that lined it. Big enough to hold him, the largest elephant in the world. He'd smelled that smell before on his trip to Paris, and then later to England. He remembered the water's feel underneath him, and the nausea that came as unwelcome accompaniment to the hunger, as though they were alternating, angry monkeys on either side refusing to let him rest.

He flapped his ears, warning them, but they continued to urge him towards the crate. He lay down, flopping onto his side with a grunt. Let them try to get him up. He wouldn't go.

Telegram from George Couro, agent for Phineas T. Barnum, March 1st, 1882:

JUMBO IS LYING IN THE GARDEN STOP WILL NOT GET IN CRATE STOP PLEASE ADVISE STOP

Telegram from Phineas T. Barnum to George Couro, March 1st:

LET HIM LIE THERE A WEEK IF HE WANTS STOP BEST ADVERTISEMENT IN THE WORLD STOP

Couro crumpled the telegram in his hand and threw it to the ground. All very well for Barnum to say such things, but he didn't have Parliament and the Queen ragging on him, nor had he been threatened with imprisonment if any force was used to remove Jumbo. He went to the window to look out across Regent's Park towards the Zoo's distant blur. Overhead, clouds like mottled lead filled the gray sky.

Telegram from Phillip Harbottle, editor of the London Daily Telegraph, March 3rd, 1882:

BRITISH PUBLIC DEMANDS JUMBO STOP WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO REQUEST YOU NAME YOUR PRICE STOP

Telegram from Phineas T. Barnum to Phillip Harbottle, March 4th, 1882:

HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS WOULD BE NO INDUCEMENT TO CANCEL PURCHASE STOP SINCERELY PHINEAS TAYLOR BARNUM.

Matthew didn't trust this Barnum fellow. Slick American, and by all accounts a flim-flam man. There was a story circulating about an earlier visit to Europe when Barnum had gone to see the antiquities at Warwick Castle. He'd had the gall to ask the curator how much he'd sell the antiquities for. When the man declined, Barnum said "I'll have them duplicated for My Museum, so that Americans can see them without coming here, and bust up your show that way." Was this the right person for Matthew Scott, a man of good character even if he was just a jumped-up ostler, to associate with?

He went out into the Pavilion. The transportation crate loomed in the middle and off to one side was Jumbo's bulk. The elephant stirred as he approached, and the trunk caressed his face as he stooped.

"Look, old man, this won't do," he said. He sat down beside the vast head, the straw crinkling below him. Overhead through the skylight, the night stars were bright as diamonds. He leaned back against the knobbed plane of the top of Jumbo's head, and the elephant gave a low soft rumble of pleasure at the contact.

"You can't lie here forever," he said. The elephant rumbled again. Matthew sighed.

"Barnum's offering me five times my wages here to travel with you," he said. "America. It's a frightening thought, but an alluring one. I'd have to leave the other elephants here. Alice, for one."

He could hear the elephant's breathing in the darkness, a great rush of straw-scented air, regular and rhythmic.

"You're my success story, you know," he went on. "The largest elephant in the world. Who would have imagined a sickly little thing like you turning into that?"

He laid his arm along the elephant's side, exploring the deeply grooved skin. To the south, a hyena's whiny warble sounded from their enclosure.

"I'll do it," he said. And sighed.

He didn't want to, but with Matthew urging him on Jumbo entered the crate, trumpeting once to show his indignation before he went in. Sixteen matched Percheons pulled the cage through the streets towards the docks. Word of Jumbo's departure had spread, and thousands lined the streets, following the team. Matthew stared forward, ignoring the crying children.

The thirteen ton crate was swung aboard their freighter, the Assyrian Monarch. Crowds filled the docks. From his vantage point, Matthew could see a blond five year old whose father had lifted her onto his shoulders to see. Tears glinted on her face but she waved a small flag in her hand, imprinted with the elephant's outline. Gulls circled overhead, watching for stray food, and two artists stood where they could see it all, trying to catch the scene on sketchpads.

Barnum, standing beside Matthew as they watched the crate's progress onto the ship, rubbed his hands together.

"Worth every penny," he said. "You know they charged me for the freight they can't ship because of Jumbo? And steerage passage for 200 emigrants. I'm in the wrong business. But it's all advertising. There's a banquet on board tonight and I expect you there."

"I want to settle him down," Matthew said.

"Sure, sure, see him settled. I sent up fruit for him. And a bushel of candies. I hear he has quite the sweet tooth. But come to the banquet. All sorts of lords and ladies there, all to say goodbye to him. I sent a tux along to your quarters."

"I won't know how to act," Matthew said in a sullen tone.

Barnum clapped him on the shoulder. "You'll do fine."

Despite his fears, Matthew was able to take to the sidelines during the banquet. At the head table with the Captain and the scowling Prince of Wales, Barnum led toast after toast, drunk in the best French champagne. "To Jumbo," he cried, ignoring the English nobility's dark looks.

Beside him, a woman said, "Is he well? Are his quarters sufficient?"

He turned and recognized her, again in her gray dress. A pearl necklace rested around her throat, surprisingly opulent against her olive skin.

"You again," he said. He was a little tipsy from the unaccustomed drinking. "Are you traveling with us?"

"Yes," she said.

"Come tomorrow and I'll show him to you."

"I'd like that."

"Tell me your name this time."

"Miss Laxmi."

There was plenty of food, and a boy who shoveled his droppings as fast as they fell. Despite the swaying deck beneath his feet, he did not feel queasy this time. He ate the sugary candies delicately, one by one, so small he almost could not taste them.

When he smelled Matthew, he rumbled his greeting.

"Got a friend," Matthew said, producing a handful of peanuts. Jumbo began to alternate between them and candies.

The woman touched his side near his foreleg. "So big," she said. "A magnificent ambassador for his race." She smelled comforting, like grass and hay in the sun.

"Careful," Matthew said. "I'll get jealous."

"Of me or him?"

As she touched his skin, Jumbo raised his head, looking at her. His trunk touched the side of her face in return and she half-closed her eyes. An odd tension filled the hold, lingering in the air. As Matthew watched, the massive elephant slowly bent his legs, kneeling down as though bowing before her. Smiling, she whispered something.

"I'll be damned," Matthew said. "I never taught him that trick."

Her hand lingered on the wrinkled skin, each fold thick enough to swallow her slender finger. "Perhaps he is preparing for life as a performer," she said, her voice low and husky with a sorrow he did not understand.

Later, Matthew and the woman sat together on the freighter's rear deck, watching the trail from the ship, moonlight gleaming on the frothy waves.

"Twenty years I've been with that elephant," Matthew said. He'd liberated a bottle of Barnum's champagne. The cork came away with a pop and spray and he offered it to her. She took a sip and laughed.

"It's like drinking fizz," she said.

He chuckled at her. "You can't tell me you've never drunk champagne before."

"I haven't," she said. "Really."

He loved the way the light played on her dark hair. "Laxmi. That's not a European name."

"You may call me Gaja, if you like," she said. "And no, it's Indian."

He studied her. As though the words had evoked it, he saw the subtle but apparent exotic cast to her face, the almost slant of her eyes. He took another drink to give himself time to think.

"That bothers you," she said.

"No," he said. "No, it doesn't."

She shrugged. "No matter," she said. "This can only happen here, between worlds."

"What do you mean?"

"The Old World and the New. Right now we're in neither."

"I don't know what you mean," he said helplessly.

She looked out across the water, watching the moonlight drifting on the waves. "Imagine there was once a goddess," she said. "The world is changing, and no one believes in her anymore. Which is a relief, actually. No one asking to win at dice or father sons or find gold hidden beneath their doorstep.

"But the goddess found herself looking at the humans in another light. She found that they had taken one of her favored creatures and made it an animal like any other, to be slaughtered for goods to sell."

Her dark eyes regarded him. "For a god and a mortal to touch is perilous in any world. Do you understand now why we have so little time?"

She was pulling his leg, he figured. Flimflamming like Barnum. He drew her close and tilted her face to his. "Then we should make the most of it," he said and kissed her.

Thousands met the ship when they arrived on Easter Sunday. April in New York didn't seem that different from London. The sun shone in a watery blue sky, and danced on the water as the ponderous crate swung ashore. Cheers went up as Barnum ceremoniously swung open the massive door and Matthew led Jumbo out, a shout came from the crowd. Children waved pennants, each printed with Jumbo's likeness, or had stuffed elephants tucked under an arm. The air smelled like a circus - peanuts and popcorn vendors vied with men selling sausages or meat pies. He looked for Gaja, but saw her nowhere. As though she had vanished.

"We're taking him to my Hippodrome Building," Barnum shouted in his ear over the crowd's clamor. "The circus opens there tonight. See the team of ponies pulling the steam calliope? Fall in behind them."

The buildings here seemed taller than London's, and there was a cold edge to the wind that blew through the scarlet coat Barnum had made him wear. Like London, the air was full of coal smoke and the smell of people living too close to one another. The parade moved along the street and the delighted faces made him feel better about the tears that had accompanied Jumbo's departure. He looked again for Gaja, but she was nowhere to be found. He didn't know that it would be years before he'd see her again.

Barnum stood in the center ring of the Hippodrome, in a dazzle of torch light. Next year, he thought, he'd bring in that new invention of Edison's and make the inside of the tent shine as though it were daylight. To his left a tiger's angry scream rent the air. It was a windy night, and the canvas tent roared like a windjammer under full sail.

"Ladies and gentleman!" he shouted as the other rings stilled. "I direct your attention to the center ring! It is Barnum and Bailey's greatest pleasure to present to you one of the wonders of the world! I give you the towering monarch of his race, whose like the world will never see again! I give you . . . Jumbo!"

The elephant was bedecked in spangled harness, stepping slowly, enjoying the roar of applause as Matthew led him around the ring. The other circus elephants were lined up around the ring and at a signal, they backed onto their hind legs, sitting with their front legs up, and let out a unified trumpet of acclamation. In their center, the smallest elephant, Tom Thumb, knelt to stand on its head. Jumbo glowed in the light like a fairy tale figure, so brilliant and bedazzling that he took the crowd's breath away.

"That elephant cost me $30,000 all together, and every penny well-spent," Barnum gloated in his trailer as he thumbed through the receipts. "Pulled in $3,000 a day in the first three weeks. They've even named a town in Hardin County after him."

"He's a champ, all right," the accountant said, totting up figures.

"Drinks a bottle of beer every night with his keeper. I'm thinking about having a special mug made in his shape. It'd sell, all right, but the Temperance folks would pitch a fit. I'm having a special train car made for him, with his picture painted on the sides so whenever the train pulls into the station, the people will know to come."

The best thing about the circus was getting a chance to sit around with the other elephant keepers. Some of them had been in the business longer than Matthew. He liked the easy camaraderie, the friendship of men who knew how to figure out whether or not a tiger would take to flaming hoops, the ways to keep fleas from spreading, or the best method for lancing a boil on a baboon's ass.

Every Thursday was poker night, and they sat around the table playing with dog-eared cards and drinking beer and swapping stories.

"Used to have a little elephant, dainty as could be, named Siri," Joe D'Angelo said. The cigar in his mouth puffed, sending up blue smoke around his dark face, mounted with a beaklike nose. "You know what she'd do? Give her an apple or an orange and she'd put it on the ground, tap it dainty as you please with her foot, then pick what was left and rub it all through her hay, like she was flavoring it. What a sweetie she was - real little lady. Hit me with two cards."

"I had an elephant used to cry like a baby if he made a mistake," George Arstingstall said.

"Go on, I never seen an elephant cry."

"He did," George insisted, throwing his cards on the table. "I'll pass. Yell at him and there he'd go, crying away. Tears as big as a china cup."

"They're strange critters," Joe said. "Gotta admit them Indians, the real ones, are onto something when they worship them. They got a god called Garnish, got six arms and an elephant trunk. Got a straight."

"Beats my hand," Matthew admitted.

"All sorts of elephant mysteries," Joe continued. "I had a friend who said he'd met the Queen of the Elephants in human form. Walking around like you or me. Said you always knew her because she dressed all in gray. Your deal."

Thoughts of Gaja flickered across Matthew's mind as he shuffled the cards.

"What's she doing walking around then?" he said.

Joe shrugged. "Hey, I seen elephants do all sorts of things. Who says they think like you or me?"

He didn't mind the circus, although he still didn't like the smell of the tigers. Matthew knew it, and he always took care to make sure the big cats were safely stowed away, twenty cars up the line, before they boarded Jumbo's car. It was custom-built for him, painted crimson and gold, with double doors in the middle to let him enter.

He didn't feel hungry anymore. Whenever he was hungry, food was there.

"Gotta keep up your strength, you're the star of the show," Matthew said. He brought him fruit and hay, and handfuls of peanuts.

It was a good life. The children came and petted him, and Matthew would help him lift the bravest ones to his back, clinging there like fleas. At night Matthew slept in his stall with him, and would talk into the night, the small voice washing over him as he swayed into sleep.

"You can't go to Toronto," Gaja said.

"You show up after three years and your first words are 'Don't go to Toronto?'" Matthew said. "Where have you been?"

She looked the same as ever. He'd swear it was the same dress.

"Walking up and down the earth," she said. "Does it matter?"

"I thought we had . . I mean I thought we were."

"It was nice," Gaja said. "It was very nice. But I can't get attached."

"Attached, is that what you call it? Simple human decency would have meant saying goodbye, at least!"

"I'm telling you not to go to Toronto."

"But why?"

"I can't tell you."

Matthew laughed. "And I should go to that prick Barnum and say we can't go because some woman's got her knickers in a twist?"

She looked down. "Can't you just trust me?"

"Are you the Queen of the Elephants, that I should trust you?"

"Not the Queen," she said. "Just a goddess who saw the plight of the animals she loved."

"Not even the right kind of elephant, is he? African rather than Indian. You're insane!"

"Please," she begged. "They're all my children. Please. I thought if you loved me you'd listen and we could prevent it. You can't let it happen."

He turned away. "Go away, Miss Laxmi. I have no reason to listen to you."

Barnum was there the next day with a long thin skeleton of a man. "Wanted to introduce the two of you," he said. Matthew started to hold out his hand but Barnum said "No, no! Him and Jumbo, I mean. This is Henry Ward. He's a taxidermist from Rochester. Stuffed all sorts of things for me. He wants to be the one to stuff Jumbo."

Ward was gazing up at the elephant, enraptured.

"Anything ever happens, we telegraph him immediately so he can save the skin and skeleton," Barnum said.

"That's macabre," Matthew said, appalled. A chill ran down his spine.

"It's good business practice, that's what it is," Barnum declared.

Matthew led Jumbo and the smallest elephant in the circus, Tom Thumb, along the tracks to the waiting cars, through the darkness lit by flickering torches. Overhead the incurious stars glimmered like a dancer's spangles across the sky. The trio were the last to board. The small elephant squealed and danced along, still happy from his performance. Jumbo rested his trunk for a moment on his companion, perhaps to calm him, or perhaps only to show affection. They paced along the tracks, steep embankments on either side, the blare and glare of the Big Top behind them and the sounds of the departing crowd, the last visitors leaving with the smell of cotton candy on their hands and glamour pervading their minds to haunt their dreams that night.

When he heard the chill whistle of the express train behind him, his first thought was "But there's none scheduled." The ground shook underneath his feet and he heard the roaring of the coal engine, the screech of the brake, applied too late, too fast. Then all was chaos. The train crashed into Tom Thumb, scooping him onto its cowcatcher -- elephant catcher was Matthew's next thought -- pushing him screaming along the track before he rolled down the embankment. "Run!" Matthew shouted but Jumbo shied away from the slope, trying to flee and unable to see the gap in the fence in his panic.

Train and elephant met. Jumbo was driven to his knees, a massive blow to the earth that Matthew felt to his bones. The train shuddered, its length crumpling, falling away from the tracks.

All thoughts vanished from Matthew's mind. He knelt beside the groaning, dying elephant, sobbing. The trunk crept around his waist and the two held onto each other until Jumbo's grip slackened. Matthew clung to his friend in desperation, but the light in the massive eyes died away.

"It's taken three years," Henry Ward announced to the Powers' Hotel banquet room, filled with journalists. "But at last Jumbo's remains are preserved. All of you have received a piece of the trunk, suitably inscribed for the occasion, but I have another surprise for you. You'll note the jelly before you. It is a most unusual dish. In the course of preparing the body, I accumulated a pound and a half of powdered ivory. The cook here used it to create the dish, allowing each of you to assimilate a little of the mighty creature."

He held up his champagne glass. "To Jumbo. Mightiest of his race, Loxodonta Africana."

"Did you hear that?" one newspaperman said to another.

"What, the toast?"

The man frowned, shaking his head. He was a slight, dapper man, his waistcoat figured with a print of green elephants. "Maybe not hear, but feel. Like a vibration shaking the floor, some sound too deep for the human ear. Maybe a train is passing outside."

In the corner of the room at an obscure table, Gaja Laxmi sat. She took a spoonful of the pale green jelly, sprinkled with flecks of white, and ate it deliberately, her tears falling to the white tablecloth like slow warm rain.


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