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Story by James Greer (Read author interview) March 29, 2015

art by David Ohlerking

The elephants were buried in sand up to their necks. From a certain distance, all you could see were dozens of trunks, waving like sea grass in the desert air, and enormous floppy ears. The elephants repeatedly slapped their ears on the ground, sending vibrations through the sand that would return, with news, upon encountering solid objects. A rock, for instance. Or a truck carrying boxes of protesting chickens. Or a Bradley Light Armor vehicle. In this way the elephants could gauge proximity of danger.

You dream of a thing like this. You don’t ask for it but you dream. Also you eat, you sleep, you walk in a seeming trance through the maze of daily tasks that make up a life. Then you notice there are elephants buried up to their necks in the sand half a mile off the interstate. Maybe the elephants have always been there. Maybe they didn’t exist until you noticed them. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe you don’t. The elephants make you wonder where before you didn’t wonder.

These are not stupid elephants. They are smart, well-trained, and have constructed, mostly with their trunks—which are more flexible than any human arm, and which can cradle a baby or rip a tree from the ground by its roots—a series of deep trenches in the shifty earth to protect them from our wrath.

Elephants won a war for Hannibal. He crossed the Alps at winter, when the best military thinking declared the Alps impassable due to drifting snow and mistral wind. The elephants, though at times buried to their necks in snowdrift, were able to lumber unstoppably both up and down the treacherous alpine passes, carrying troops armed with spears. Not a few elephants, you’d imagine, tumbled into icy chasms and died. Hannibal didn’t stop.

Maybe he didn’t notice.

About the Author

James Greer is the author of the novels Artificial Light (LHotB/Akashic 2006) and The Failure (Akashic 2010), and the non-fiction book Guided By Voices: A Brief History (Grove 2005), a biography of a band for which he once played bass. He is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

About the Artist

David Ohlerking is an artist living in Philadelphia. Find out more about him at davidohlerking.com.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Two

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From sentence-level craft concerns to questions of overall approach, this 90-minute webinar will explore strategies for adding shape, intensity, and depth to your flash creative nonfiction.

Steve Edwards is author of the memoir BREAKING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY, the story of his seven months as caretaker of a 95-acre backcountry homestead along federally protected Wild and Scenic Rogue River in Oregon. His work has appeared in Orion MagazineThe Sun MagazineLiterary HubElectric LiteratureThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives outside Boston with his wife and son.