by Antonio Urias
At precisely 11:32 AM on October 24th 1893 an elephant appeared on the moon. Her name was Flossy. No explanation has ever been offered for this wholly unexpected phenomenon, largely because it occurred so completely outside human observation that no explanation was ever requested. Flossy was exactly six years, nine months, and twenty-eight days old, when she made moonfall. She weighed 6,943 pounds, and was, all things considered, in excellent health. She was also, it must be said, remarkably perplexed. In fact, at that moment Flossy may have been the single most perplexed elephant in all of history. More perplexed than the first elephant to encounter peanuts. More baffled than the young elephant who was first expected to tap dance. More confused even than the middle-aged elephant who had inexplicably found herself leading an army across the Alps.
Elephants are, generally speaking, quite intelligent creatures, and Flossy was a reasonably clever example of her species. Her present circumstances were, however, quite outside the realm of normal elephantine experience. Flossy’s memory, which, as one would expect, was prodigious, encompassed an early childhood in the wild, the heartbreak of being captured and separated from her mother, a long, uncomfortable sea voyage, and a subsequent life spent being taken from place to place and gawked at by strange bipedal creatures. Nowhere in that store of experience was there anything that might begin to compare with the sensation of having been inside a tent on the outskirts of Carlisle, IN one moment and on the surface of the moon the next. Not that Flossy had any particular conception of where she was now, except that it was more open and considerably colder. All of this goes to explain why it took Flossy a few moments to realize one of the most prominent effects of her relocation, namely that she now weighed approximately 5,790 pounds less than she had mere moments before.
Weight, the remorseless consequence of gravity, was an unending fact of elephantine existence. Flossy hadn’t weighed so little, since she was a baby. It was a sudden, freeing, and joyful feeling. She began slowly, cautiously to skip and jump. It was so simple, so easy. Tentatively at first then with unrestrained glee, Flossy began to prance about, hopping around on the surface of the moon. She was the happiest elephant that ever there was. For a time.
Then, inevitably, the problem of air began to present itself.
* * *
Back on terra firma, Flossy’s sudden disappearance did not pass without comment. Indeed, it caused a great deal of alarm and consternation at the Gerhardt Brother’s Traveling Menagerie. Owned and operated by two brothers, Hans and Linus, the Traveling Menagerie was a small time operation, certainly not worthy of even being mentioned in the same breath as the P.T. Barnum’s of the world. The Traveling Menagerie contained, in its entirety, a leopard, an ostrich, an orangutan, a camel, a lion, and, of course, Flossy. It was a moderately successful and modestly lucrative enterprise. Which is to say that the brothers were perennially short on cash, and often unable to pay the wages of their hawkers and lion tamers or indeed, their own. The disappearance of their star attraction was, therefore, the greatest possible calamity. Flossy had been painstakingly trained in the art of tap dancing, and had apparently taught herself the art of opening customer’s beer bottles. Her drunken elephant act was particularly popular with a certain class of clientele. Her absence was a crippling blow. It was also something of a mystery.
The Case of the Missing Elephant would enter into local lore and be passed down for generations to come. Flossy’s disappearance was not discovered for nearly half an hour. It was not until 11:52 that Charlie Low, the young elephant tamer, entered the tent to discover it empty. There was an immediate outcry. Hans and Linus came running, their lunch half-eaten. At first, they could not believe their eyes. Elephants, especially those weighing 6,943 pounds do not, as a rule, simply vanish. No one had seen, or heard anything. For a time, suspicion fell on the hapless Charlie, who had not received his wages in almost four months and therefore had an excellent motive. Further examination of the scene revealed that something altogether stranger was afoot. There were no footprints. No tracks of any kind. Flossy had literally disappeared without a trace. This was beyond the capacity of a hired hand with a grudge, even one considerably smarter than Charlie Low. The local sheriff, J.P. Harrah, once he was convinced that this wasn’t some strange kind of publicity stunt, led the townsfolk in a search of the surrounding area for three days and three nights to no avail. Flossy was gone, and she wasn’t coming back.
The Gerhardt Brothers tried to keep the Menagerie going for several months after the elephant fiasco. The disappearance caused a brief surge of publicity and attendance, but given that the lack of an elephant was now their biggest draw, the brothers were living on borrowed time. The moment of crisis arrived on the Lincoln Highway, 20 miles outside Artesia, CO. The brothers were forced to sell their menagerie. The leopard and the lion were immediately bought up by a rival and more financially stable circus for $1500 each. A remarkably eccentric bearded gentleman purchased the ostrich for $250. The camel was too surly and had a habit of spitting in prospective buyers’ eyes. As a result, the brothers had no choice but to shoot the camel and bury it by the side of the road. Linus, as it happens, was particularly fond of the orangutan, and resolved to keep him for sentimental reasons. Hans did not object too strenuously to this arrangement, as he was rather busy at the time, absconding with all their remaining money. And that was the end of the Gerhardt Brother’s Traveling Menagerie.
Hans Gerhardt gambled away all his money and spent the next ten years in a series of get rich schemes that took him from San Francisco to New York and back again, but somehow never managed to earn him a nickel. He was shot and killed during a failed, remarkably inept bank robbery. His brother, Linus, eventually settled down with his orangutan in a little town by the highway, and owned and operated the Gerhardt Hotel, which became a popular way station for circus folk. He never grew tired of telling the story of Flossy the Missing Elephant, although eventually everyone got tired of listening, and the story faded into a quaint curiosity and was finally forgotten.
* * *
It was not until July 28th, 2063 that Flossy’s peculiar and unfortunate fate was discovered. Dr. Oliver Ren and Dr. Rita Das were two of LunarCorp’s best and brightest astrogeologists. They had received a grant for a six-month expedition in the Tsiolkovskiy Crater, and after five weeks of examining dark basaltic lava, theorizing, and generally enjoying themselves tremendously, they came across something wholly unexpected—an elephant.
Rita stared at this perfectly preserved elephantine specimen for almost a minute without blinking, unable to process what she was seeing.
“Ren,” she said into her radio, “I need you to come here and tell me I’m not hallucinating.”
“What is it?” Came Dr. Ren’s reply. “I’m rather busy here.”
“Doesn’t matter. I need you to see this. Right. Now.” The tone in her voice brokered no argument.
So, with a sigh, Dr. Ren collected his equipment and climbed into the rover. Dr. Das was almost three klicks away. They only had so much air in their tanks. Every moment away from their assigned sectors was precious. He drove across the lunar landscape muttering to himself. He had been analyzing a particularly fascinating volcanic formation. If Das had discovered something important, they could share their findings when they got back to basecamp, like every night. Why did this have to be different?
Dr. Ren was still grumbling, when the elephant came into view. He slammed on the breaks suddenly. And just sat there staring. Absentmindedly he went to pinch himself, but the spacesuit prevented him. Slowly he climbed out of the rover and trudged over to where Das was circling the elephant. A pit began to form in his stomach. This couldn’t be real. A trick, perhaps. A hoax. But no, as he got closer, it was obvious that this was very real. That the collapsed perfectly preserved animal was, in truth, an elephant, an elephant on the moon.
“You can see it,” Dr. Das said. It was not a question.
“Yeah,” Dr. Ren admitted slowly, “I can see it.”
“I was kinda hoping it was a hallucination,” she said. “Space sickness would be easier to explain.”
“Easier to explain!” Dr. Ren stared at his compatriot incredulously. “There’s an elephant on the moon! How could anyone explain that?”
“An Asian elephant,” Das said. “At least, I think so.”
“I don’t think the species matters.”
“No. No I suppose not.”
They fell back into a disturbed silence. So far they had been remarkably calm, considering the impossibility in front of them, but there’s only so long you can stare at an elephant on the moon before the world starts to go a little fuzzy.
“Why hasn’t anyone seen this before?” Das asked suddenly. “There have been countless satellite flyovers. Our expedition was meticulously mapped. Someone must have seen this before us.”
“Maybe, but if you found an elephant on the moon, would you tell anyone? I mean…” Ren paused, as his own words registered, “…people would think you’re crazy,” he finished softly.
“Oh,” Das said turning away from the elephant, “I hadn’t thought of that.” She took a deep breath, pondering. Ren watched her intently. She was the more practical of the two. He was given to flashes of inspiration and tended to overlook the obvious. He was surprised he’d thought of something first, to be honest.
“We are serious scientists,” Dr. Das said at length. “We’ve been published in The Journal of Astrogeology and Carnets de Astrogéologie. Out of 7,000 applicants we alone were chosen for this expedition. If we play our cards right, we’ll be the most respected astrogeologists in history.” Dr. Ren nodded. He was well aware of the opportunities this expedition afforded. He had already arranged a position as Head of Astrogeology at MIT based solely on having been accepted for this lunar expedition.
“But,” Dr. Das continued, “if we start talking about elephants on the moon, we’ll be laughed right out of the sciences. No matter how many pictures we take.”
“Exactly,” Dr. Ren said. “It’s too ridiculous.”
“Far too ridiculous.”
“So…” he said.
“Yes,” Dr. Das said. “We tell no one.”
“They’d never believe us anyway.”
“And even if they did, we’d forever be remembered as the people who found an elephant on the moon.”
“A fate worse than death.”
“Exactly. Glad we’re agreed.”
And after one final look, the two scientists turned away from the elephant and headed back to the rover. It took all their willpower not to glance back. As they drove away, Dr. Ren turned to Dr. Das.
“Rita,” he said, “h-how do you think it got here?” It was the question they’d both been dreading.
“I have no idea Olly. Not a clue.”
* * *
Dr. Oliver Ren was the Head of Astrogeology at MIT for 33 years, before he retired and took up ice fishing. He never mentioned the elephant. Not even when he was drunk. Dr. Rita Das led the first astrogeological expedition on Mars. After the terraforming, a town was named after her. She only ever told one person about the elephant, and he thought she was joking. Even if they had reported their discovery, no one would ever have thought to connect the mysterious elephant on the moon with half-forgotten tall tales of a missing nineteenth century elephant. And so, Flossy remained, alone and forgotten, in a crater on the dark side of the moon.
Antonio Urias is a New Yorker born and bred. He was raised on a steady diet of grapes and books, often fantasy, and spent an inordinate amount of time telling stories, often involving cowboys. Not much has changed in the intervening years. He still loves grapes. He still loves fantasy. And he’s still telling stories, though these days there are less cowboys He can sometimes be found at his blog at http://antoniourias.wordpress.com.