Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunjai's Silent Stranger

It was a sunny day, and Sunjai was taking a stroll down the road through the forest. When he got to a familiar bend, he caught something shiny out of the corner of his eye. As he turned to look over, another elephant suddenly appeared. Where had he come from? It's hard for an elephant to sneak up on another elephant, but Sunjai was completely taken by surprise.

Warily, he turned toward the newcomer, fanning his broad ears and letting a low rumble rise from his throat in greeting. The other man was tall, like Sunjai, and his tusks were similarly long and almost straight. He looked so much like the elephants in Sunjai's family that he thought they must be related, but was sure they'd never met before. Thought he was quite handsome overall, he had a strange marking on his forehead, a bright red line a few inches long and no wider than a human finger. It was the wrong hue to be a natural marking, and Sunjai wondered if he'd been cut.

The newcomer wasn't saying a word. His ears were still fanned out in greeting, and the nervous sweeping of his trunk suggested he felt the same growing awkwardness as Sunjai. Sunjai tried another "hello". Still no response.

Sunjai was really getting worried. This was not at all the standard protocol in any family he'd encountered before. He began to back up and bow his head submissively, in case he'd somehow offended this person--but as he did, the newcomer did the exact same!

Sunjai did not understand this game. He turned to leave before he could make any more mistakes. But after just a couple of steps, the newcomer had disappeared, just as suddenly and silently as he'd arrived to begin with. In his place was an oddly bright and shimmering patch of forest.

Curiosity got the best of him. Sunjai turned back, seeking the hidden path the man must have found, approaching from the side this time, nearer the bright patch--and there he was again, only inches away this time!

What?! Sunjai reared back and almost fell over, he was so startled. When he righted himself, the newcomer was also stumbling, looking equally startled. "How did you do that?" Sunjai asked. They stood still, just looking at each other, for several long moments, while Sunjai pondered the mystery of the surprise elephant.

I don't know how he turns invisible like that. But why doesn't he answer me? Perhaps that is blood on his forehead, thought Sunjai, and his injury has somehow interfered with his ability to speak. I've been so worried about me during this encounter, worried I might get hurt, that I haven't spared any empathy at all for this stranger who may be hurt and confused.

"Do you need help?" he asked, turning his head in questioning. The stranger simply turned his head at the same time, offering no reply. "I'm going to take a look at that wound on your forehead." Sunjai lifted his trunk, reaching up toward the apparent wound. But the stranger lifted up his own trunk at the same time, blocking the advance.

"No, I promise I won't hurt you. Just hold still." He reached out a little faster this time, and the the two elephants bumped trunks. Sunjai pulled back, startled again, for that hadn't felt like elephant flesh. It had been cold and hard, almost like ice. He reached out again, touched, thinking that perhaps he'd imagined it. No, not like ice. But not like flesh either. It was exactly like the glass through which humans observed back at the enclosure.

Sunjai reached over again, trying to touch the man's shoulder, to see if there was something wrong with his trunk, or if all of his skin was like glass. But every single move he made was perfectly blocked, exactly matched by the movements of the other man.

Sunjai put his trunk down. He moved it left, holding it out in a very unnatural, uncomfortable position. Maybe the behavioral similarities were a coincidence up 'til now, but nobody would just happen to reach their trunk stiffly out to the side and just hold it there.

The stranger followed suit. He tried the same thing to the right, and was matched again. He moved as if to reach his trunk up, but suddenly redirected at the last minute, reaching again out to the right. And the man was not tricked. He followed Sunjai exactly, impossibly quickly, as though he were behind Sunjai's eyes, watching him make decisions before he had time to act.

This can't be happening, Sunjai thought. Something is very wrong. And whatever it is is coming from the shimmering patch of forest.

Sunjai leaped sideways, then forward, approaching the bright patch from a new angle, around the other elephant, giving him no time to run away or hide--

And the stranger was gone. Just, vanished. Again.

Sunjai backed up very slowly, tentatively, peering around the front again, reaching his trunk toward the light patch--and another trunk emerged from nowhere, creeping forward at the same rate and angle as his.

I'm losing my mind, thought Sunjai.

Sunjai inched sideways, watching as another elephant emerged bit by bit from nowhere.

Then he retreated again, moving his whole body away from the light patch. He stepped around back, placing himself exactly where the other elephant must have been moments before.

And it wasn't light at all. The light patch was actually a dark patch, because there was a huge black rectangle blocking out the sunlight.

He reached out to touch it, and found that it was cold and hard, just like glass. Just like the touch of the stranger. Sunjai reached his trunk around the side, feeling for the front of the rectangle as he stood at the back of it. Again, he felt glass.

Leaving his trunk on the front of the glass rectangle, Sunjai began to slowly step back around to the front of the "light patch", maintaining contact the whole time. And he could see, as he passed around the side, that the rectangle was very thin and flat, almost nothing to it.

He stopped, positioning his head so that he could see the black glass if he moved a hair to the left, the light patch and the disembodied trunk if he moved a hair to the right. He waved his trunk around, knowing it would cause the other trunk to move just the same. If there really was a trunk behind the glass, he'd be able to see it from here.

Nothing. There was no trunk behind the glass. Somehow, the disembodied trunk was on the front of the glass itself.

Sunjai's head was spinning. He was frightened and confused, and his panic was starting to overcome his curiosity. There was another elephant trapped in the surface the glass, and he had direct access to Sunjai's own intentions.

Sunjai fled. Putting the glass rectangle far behind him, he ran and ran, panting in a one-man stampede all the way back to his tribe.

"Sunjai!" his mother exclaimed, "Are you all right? Did you get hurt? There's something on your forehead!"

"On my... there's something... there's..." Slowly, shakily, Sunjai reached up to touch his own face. "There's something on my forehead." he whispered.

"Yes," his mother responded.

"On MY forehead!" he shouted.

"Yes, and it's bright red, it looks like--"

"BLOOD!" Sunjay almost screamed, and turned back the way he had come. "Mother, everyone, follow me. Quickly. You have got to see this!"