There are a number of very good reasons to participate in writing challenges. It hones your skills, it showcases your writing, and it forges connections with other writers here in blogland.
They make a welcome break from my WIPs… and they are a lot of fun too. This is Diana Wallace Peach’s February Speculative Fiction Prompt and here is my response.
Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala
The ‘1812 Overture’
‘Monsieur Henri, Oh drat, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to sneeze so hard and blow you into the tree with your troupe.’
The little elephant pressed her trunk up against the lopsided house with its trembling occupants clinging to its roof.
Monsieur Henri, the patriarch of the world famous mouse circus act known as ‘Les acrobates de la famille mouskateer’ shuddered in the cold wind that whistled through the woods, and wondered how une éléphant even one as petite as this one, could sneeze harder than the current almost hurricane.
He was about to give this pesky and overlarge teenager a piece of his mind, when he saw tears rolling down her wrinkled face, freezing in mid-air before hitting the ground. He felt the rest of his troupe huddling even closer as they tried to get warm, almost pushing him off the roof of their living quarters, and decided that he needed to remedy the situation rapidement.
‘It is alright Tiffany; I know that it was un accident and that you did not intend to blow us into the next county. But I need to get ma famille somewhere warm before they freeze their derrieres off, and you will need to help us’
Tiffany blinked her eyes a couple of times to clear the tear related icicles from her long lashes; nodding her head enthusiastically and swinging her trunk from side to side; nearly knocking Henri off his teetering perch.
‘Tiffany, Tiffany mon cherie, you must calm yourself, and please if you are to sneeze again, point that cannon in another direction.’
The elephant looked pleadingly at the shivering mouse, stretching out her trunk tentatively towards him. Immediately all the mice pressed backwards towards the trunk of the tree, terrified they were going to be blown to kingdom come.
‘It is okay monsieur Henri, please climb onto my trunk with your family, climb up to the top of my head and then tuck yourselves behind one of my ears. I will keep them pinned back, and curled up at the bottom, so that you are safe and warm inside’. I will then pick up your house in my trunk and return us to the circus as quickly as possible.
Henri turned his head and looked at his family and fellow acrobats as they regarded him with suspicion and terror.
‘My petit choux, I have seen your family in the circus ring, and your speciality act of flapping your ears to the music of the great Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.’ Henri looked up at the little elephant and smiled wryly. ‘Are you sure you can keep those ears of yours still for that length of time?’
‘Monsieur Henri,’ the elephant looked fiercely determined. ‘I promise you that I will not sneeze or flap my ears until you and your family are safe.’
Commandingly the mouse turned to his shivering family. ‘We have no choice mes amours; we will surely die in minutes if we remain in this exposed position, courage and viva la France.’
With that Henri leapt onto the bottom of Tiffany’s trunk and began the scramble up the wrinkled snout, passed the large brown eyes, over the smooth round forehead and down into the pocket formed by one of her massive ears. Within seconds he was squashed at the bottom of a mound of white fur and scrabbling paws as his family jumped into the envelope with him; shrieking in terror and excitement.
Henri managed to fight his way to the top of the pile and peeped out over the top of Tiffany’s ear. Sure enough their house was in the grip of her strong little trunk, and she was now lumbering into the wind and snow, trying to retrace her steps in the tracks she had made earlier. He shivered and tucked himself back down again, curling up with his sons and their wives as they stared wide-eyed at him for reassurance.
It seemed like hours before he felt their mammoth transport stop moving. Despite his reluctance to leave the pocket of warmth created by his furry if fragrant family, he poked his head up over the top of the ear, and saw that they were now in the middle of a clearing in the forest where Tiffany had come to a halt. She was carefully moving her head to one side and then the other as she looked for the right path to take.
‘Oh caca,’ whispered the mouse, so as not to alarm his already hysterical family.’
He was just about to inquire if they were lost, when Tiffany jerked into a run, nearly throwing him out from behind her ear.
In the distance he could hear the sound of trumpeting, and as they smashed through the snow covered undergrowth, he could feel Tiffany’s great heart thumping thunderously against his own rib cage. With a last push they broke out of the forest undergrowth, and the little elephant stopped, breathing heavily, and putting down the mouse house. She lifted her trunk and gave a trumpet of her own, resulting in petrified shrieks and much scrabbling around from the ensemble tucked behind her ear.
Henri, who had been tossed unceremoniously on top of his eldest son’s head, dared to raise himself up to look out at the cause of such a cacophony, and saw massive grey shapes emerging from the snow storm. He watched in wonder as the beasts drew closer and surrounded Tiffany, touching her with their trunks and rumbling gently as they gathered her into their protective midst.
He had heard, and partially understood, the comforting language of these huge animals as they conversed at night when the circus was quiet, and he gathered that their little friend was advising her family of the traumatic events. Her mother who led the herd, and was the star of the circus, nodded her noble head from time to time and eyed up her daughter’s ear, still firmly plastered to the side of her head. She then picked up the discarded mouse house in her massive trunk, leading the way back through the clearing to a wide path the herd had created, followed by Tiffany and a parade of her sisters and aunts.
Within minutes there were shouts and cries as the circus folk raced towards them from the shelter of the big top and the surrounding caravans. The ring master arrived and took charge, leading the herd into the warmth of the colourful tent, placing a small net beneath Tiffany’s ear which seemed to have gone into a spasm.
‘Someone put on the ‘1812’,’ the ring master bellowed at the assembled circus family, and one of the clowns dashed off through to the back of the tent.
As the sound crashed out of the speakers, the herd of elephants began flapping their ears in time to the music, and with a sigh Tiffany finally relaxed her ear, releasing a white cascade of mice into the safety net. The acrobatic troupe were handed over to their keepers to be rubbed gently with hot towels and given a reviving brandy.
The ring master, who was particularly fond of Henri, held up the mouse in cupped hands and looked him the eye. ‘Well old friend, it seems that you have survived to perform another day, and it has given me an idea for a new act.’
And dear reader, this is how the world famous and most daring mouse act in circus history came to be.
‘Les acrobates de la famille mouskateer’ thrilled the crowds with their tumbling and acts of daring on the backs of the elephants as they paraded around the ring, flapping their ears to the ‘1812 Overture.’
Many years later an old elephant, matriarch of the herd now enjoying their life in a sanctuary, turned to her great-granddaughter who had been listening to her favourite story for the millionth time.
‘Do you miss the circus grandmamma?’ She looked up at the rheumy eyes of the storyteller.
‘I miss some things Lily, including friends like dear monsieur Henri.’ Tiffany gently touched the little face in front of her. ‘But, we never knew what it was like to roam freely until we were brought to this sanctuary many years ago, when I was still a young elephant. You are lucky that nearly all animal circuses are now gone, and no more of our kind will be taken from our wild homes. But even that has its dangers from humans, and I am not sure what will become of us in the future.’
Lily leaned into the side of her grandmamma and felt reassured by the gentle rumblings.
The herd began to move towards the buildings on the edge of the sanctuary, quickening their pace and nudging the little ones ahead of them. This was their favourite time of the day when their head keeper, once a young apprentice at their circus, would crank up the old record player attached to two speakers on poles.
The elephants formed a ring with much excited trumpeting and with the little ones running in and out of their legs; they began to flap their ears as the much loved music filled the air.
©Sally Cronin 2019
I hope you have enjoyed this little bit of fantasy prompted by Diana Wallace Peach’s lovely image… Why not have a go at the challenge: https://mythsofthemirror.com/2019/02/01/februarys-speculative-fiction-prompt/
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