Excerpt from The Dream Tasters, Part I of Pandora's Promise
Zach and his companions have met the Water Clan, a group of elephants living in the Great Plains a century after a disaster wiped out civilization. These elephants, who call themselves Dream Tasters, are able to communicate with the humans through sense-images.
Zach still did not know how they had come together in the mighty herds that now apparently thrived across the center of this continent. One day he asked [Rushing River] about the land the elephants came from, wondering how much they knew about their own history.
[Old Home,] the elephant responded. Her thoughts projected a strong sense of sadness and longing, as she filled his mind with a vision of a lush green forest, containing unfamiliar looking trees, thick with vines and exotic-looking plants. At the edge of the forest was a long, rolling plain, similar to the one they now traveled, though with shorter grasses. The plain was dotted with herds of strange animals that Zach had never seen. Some of them, like the fierce-looking lion, were familiar from books he had read, but others, with bizarre-looking stripes and oddly-shaped bodies, seemed to be imaginings from a dream.
|Jungle image by Phillip Martin|
[Rushing River] sent him an image of “mother,” and “showed” Zach a herd of elephants, much like the Water clan, moving together in the beautiful, lush forest. She showed the images from the point of view of a young elephant, [White Flower], who, she made clear, was her own mother. [White Flower] stayed close to her own mother, a medium-sized, sweet-eyed elephant, following her along trails worn by generations of her clan. Then, shockingly and suddenly, there was a horrifying vision of humans bearing what Zach recognized as explosive firearms. Without any warning they aimed and fired the weapons, slaughtering all the large elephants in the clan. As she described the slaughter, [Rushing River] rumbled a great cry of sorrow, showing that the young elephant’s mother was among those killed. She tried to stand with her mother’s body, as was the elephant custom, but was rudely pulled away by the men with firearms, and she watched in horror while other men with wicked, long, sharp, curved implements cut away her mother’s beautiful teeth, and those of her sisters and aunts.
Then, with spikes and thick staves she and other young survivors were driven away from their home and locked in a dark container for many weeks. The container rocked and pitched, and the air was filled with a strange salty scent. When the young elephant, who now called herself [Broken Tears], was released it was in this strange new land. She and her cousins and friends were split apart, and she never saw any of them again.
“[Broken Tears] was your mother?” Zach asked.
Zach wanted to ask [Rushing River] more questions, but was not sure where to begin. He was astonished to realize that somehow this intelligent creature had not only her own memories, but those of her immediate ancestors... and how much farther back?
“What happened to your mother after she came here?” Jonna asked gently.
[Rushing River], again manifesting sense-images from the point of view of the child-elephant her mother had been, sent confusing images of [Broken Tears] being forced, with hooks and whips, to learn to balance on a ball in front of large crowds of laughing, cheering humans. The place where she performed was called Circus by the humans, but Place of Torture by the elephants. [Broken Tears] was made to do other things, all of them unnatural and uncomfortable for an elephant, and at night she was locked into a cage with a straw-covered floor, a thick metal shackle around her leg so that she would not escape even if she could somehow open the bars.
Although the Place of Torture had some other elephants, they were not kept together, and the young elephant cried herself to sleep from loneliness each night. “I did not know elephants can cry,” Zach said.
[My mother did not know humans could cry, for a long time,] [Rushing River] replied. [For a very long time she hated all humans, and all she thought of was to find a way to take revenge upon them.]
“What changed her mind?” asked Jonna, her own eyes wet with tears of sympathy.
[After many long years in the Place of Torture, my mother was taken to a Place of Comfort. It was a place created by kind humans who wanted to atone for all the wrongs done to us by cruel humans. In the Place of Comfort, no elephant was made to do anything unnatural, or anything she did not want to do. There were large buildings for shelter, when shelter was needed, and vast areas of grass and trees, with ponds and rivers and piles of hay. It was a place of dreams, but it was real. My mother made many new friends there. Others had also been forced to perform in Places of Torture. Some had been kept locked up, alone or with only one or two companions, in cages with hard floors, for humans to look at. These were called Places of Humiliation.]
Now [Rushing River] remembered images of the Place of Comfort changing. Instead of near-constant attention by kindly humans, the elephants were suddenly left on their own. The bright lights from the nearby human habitations all went out, and the gates from one part of the sanctuary to another, which had opened or closed at set times of the day, all ceased to function. [Rushing River]’s mother’s memories now were of the elephants’ confusion and fear. [Rushing River] projected her mother’s terror of humans appearing with explosive weapons and knives. Or forcing the elephants back into a Place of Torture. Rather than have that happen, she vowed to fight to the death if necessary.
[Rushing River’s] rumblings ended for a few moments, and the humans rode in silence, not wanting to disturb her thoughts. Zach was certain that she had been remembering the Change as it occurred, and was struck that he had never before considered what the Change must have meant for the animals that suffered through it along with the humans who had caused it.
[We call that time the Decline of the Humans,] [Rushing River] said presently. [It was a time of confusion and danger, but also a time of liberation. My mother and her new clan-mates eventually found their way out of the Place of Comfort and walked through deserted fields and empty human towns, continuing until they found the place where we roam today. Along the way they met other Dream Tasters, some from Places of Torture or Places of Humiliation. A few others, including many bulls, came from Places of Comfort.]
“So your clans formed and grew, here on the prairie?”
[Yes,] said [Rushing River]. [Those of us from the place where my mother was kept became the Water clan. Another group, who had been together in a Place of Humiliation, formed the Wood clan. Altogether we have grown much more numerous since the Decline of the Humans. I myself was born very near the place we are now, during the twentieth yearly cycle after the Decline.]
For more of [Rushing River]'s story and a look at the other members of her clan, please read Pandora's Promise, available wherever online books are sold.