Hey, Wanna See an Elephant?

Markus Wessel

“Jesus, Mikey, nobody gives a fuck how big your dick is!”

To this day I have no idea why I let Mikey Webster talk me into going to the Summer Fair with him. He had an aura that would make strangers say, “What you lookin’ at?”, and the kind of mouth that would give two hundred pound farm-boys lip. But he could also be funny—or at least I thought so, when I was seventeen and lonely, mistaking crassness for charisma. I haven’t made that mistake since.

“I tell you, they love it. Linda? Remember Linda? She saw it and went all greedy right then and there. Would have sucked it off like a golf ball through a garden hose if we had been alone, ” Mikey said, as he side-stepped a half-eaten cheeseburger. His shit-eating grin would have scared off a vulture.

“Fuck off, it was her birthday party, dude.”

“And she got a nice big present, huh?” He slapped me on the back, yucking over his joke. The memory made him snort so hard, he had to wipe his nose with the back of his hand. Then he saw my look. “Hey, come on, Harl. I’m just messin’ with ya. You’re so serious all the time. Relax, will ya? Let’s check out that way!”

We had been cruising the fair ground for an hour already and made our way from the rides through the food market towards the far corner, where the little shops sat like dirty jewels. I liked it there. The palm readers, herb mixers, knife salesmen, and other curiosities fascinated me. In the dusk, it felt enchanted.

“How about that one?” I pointed at a tent the size of a double-wide telephone booth. It had the shape of a big-top and was half hidden behind the closed-up stall of someone who—it said so on the sign—could write your name on a piece of rice in magical runes. Only half of the tent’s garish orange-and-yellow side was visible, like the shoulder of an eccentric aunt pushed out of the frame of a funeral snapshot.

“Aw, come on, that’s just a clown or something.” Mikey frowned. “Let’s go back and get some mead from the place with the horns.”

“I want to look at it,” I said. “Maybe it’s cool.” In truth, the thought of listening to Mikey for even a minute longer made me want to chew the inside of my cheek off, and I hoped that whatever this was might distract him.

A carved oak sign was attached above the curtain that closed the tent. Meet the Miracles of Nature Up Close, it said in large, faux-medieval script. A Life-Changing Experience Not To Be Missed. And, below it, triple underlined, Seeing Is Believing. There was a smell of spices in the air, cinnamon maybe, but it was too faint to be sure.

“Miracles of nature, right.” Mikey rolled his eyes. “What the fuck’s that mean?”

“It means that entering my tent gives you the opportunity of a lifetime.” The girl had materialized next to us as if she had carved herself out of a shadow. She seemed our age, with loose, dust-gray clothes held together by a thick leather belt, and when she smiled, she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. “Once you step over the threshold, you will stare into the eyes of nature herself. Maybe you’ll visit the great bears of Canada. Maybe you’ll howl with the wolves in the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Or, who knows, maybe you’ll even come face to face with the striped death himself, the Bengal tiger. It all depends on you.”

I considered this. “How does it work?”

“Amazingly.” She grinned. “Pay a tenner and find out.” She made a bow and gestured towards the tent.

“Jeez, Harl, ten bucks? Come on! That’s bullshit, even if the patter’s good.” Mikey rolled his head back and mimed an exaggerated yawn. “And anyway, looks like the miracle of nature I’m interested in is out here with us anyway.”

“Leave her alone, Mikey, please.” I stepped between them. “Look, I apologize for my friend. He doesn’t know any better.”

“I think we both know that’s not true,” the girl said. Her stance shifted slightly, making her appear taller and suddenly much older. “Might be a good time for you to find new friends.”

Mikey stepped around me and threw his arms out to the side. “Aw, come on, I’m just being friendly, that’s all, no need to bust my balls. Why don’t you hang with us a bit, huh?”

“I don’t hang,” she said.

“Well, I do. Here, you like animals, right? Wanna see an elephant?” As Mikey said it, he pushed both hands into his trouser pockets and inverted them, so that the sacks flapped on the outside. “So, Dumbo’s got ears now, right? But he also needs a—“

He started to open his fly, but I forced him around before he managed it.

“You fucking asshole, Mikey,” I said, and to her, “I’m so sorry, please, I’ll get him out of here.”

“Wait.” The way she said it made me look at her. Her eyes had been green before, but I would still swear that then, just for an instant, they flashed silver like the inside of an oyster shell. “What did you say?”

Mikey shook my hands off. “I said, I have an elephant right here, if you wanna see it.”

The girl seemed to consider this. Then she nodded. “Tell you what. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” She pulled the curtain back. The inside of the tent was black and endless. It was like staring into the sky on a moonless night.

Mikey smirked at me. “Told you, they can’t help it. Don’t wait up, Harl.” He stepped inside and the girl followed him, closing the curtain behind them. I could hear their voices through the cloth, a far-away murmur, interspersed with Mikey’s laughter.

I felt shame and anger boil up like acid eating through my guts. Mikey, fucking Mikey. He had shown himself from his worst side and gotten away with it. No, not just away, he had gotten ahead. Gotten laid, probably. I balled my fists and bored my fingernails into the flesh of my palms. Tears stung in my eyes and I started to shiver.

Just as I turned to leave, I heard a soft hum. It grew louder and became a growl, then a deep yell, and finally a scream that washed into a cacophony of terrified shrieks and angry trumpeting. The ground trembled and the walls of the tent bulged outwards as if something much too large was throwing itself against them. There were more shrieks and this time I knew whose voice it was: Mikey’s.

I didn’t think. I tore the curtain open. As soon as I did, the sound and the movement stopped. And there he was, cowering in the corner of the tent, sobbing, his face full of tears and snot, his shirt torn, and the fly of his pants half open. A large stain spread down his thigh. I tried to help him up but he crawled away, in his eyes nothing but panic. I wanted to retch.

The girl was looking down at him.

“What did you do?” My voice sounded weird in my ears, as if spoken by somebody far away.

“Just what I promised,” she said with a smile that held no humor at all. ”I’ve shown him my elephant. But I think he’s changed his mind about showing me his.”

August 2021

Markus Wessel was born on a pirate ship on the wine-dark Adriatic Sea. He has traveled the world as a professional jewel thief and amateur lion-tamer–not at the same time–and is known on three continents for his skills in impromptu sonnet, dance, and bakery.

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