Not Forgotten – C. Hunley

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Brisk pastoral fog slept calmly over the clear savanna dawnscape, sunrise rays accenting the low, dewy clouds, blanketing the waking grassland with their gentle mist. Stillness blessed the air, crisp chill quelling cricket song. Peaceful daybreak—circle of life’s timeless morning.

The elephant graveyard lay at rest, for watchful was their guard.

Since youth, Xavi had carefully tended the ancient guardian bones—a practice passed down through countless generations of wise plainsdwellers. And Xavi’s honorable post was more than mere sentry duty. The Bone Warden was keeper of many ritualistic practices. From ensuring the full assembly of skeletal remains to polishing the tusks on long-deceased bull skulls, Xavi’s immaculately maintained graveyard represented the penultimate shrine to the giant, gentle elephant elders.

All for one day—the Day of Skeletons’ Rise.

The day began as others did, with Xavi’s thorough dusting and cleaning of the elephantine remains. Even though this morning was especially unique, to say that Xavi was any more meticulous than usual would be untrue. Xavi never failed to exercise the utmost diligence in carrying out Warden duties.

This is not to say that Xavi’s watch was perfect, nor even ideal, a reality that became clear as the sun broke the horizon and the elephant remains began their slow, ghostly crawl toward each other. A broken rib here, a missing metatarsal there. Xavi could hardly fight the wear of Mother Nature. And in the end, it hardly mattered. What minor incompleteness did exist scarcely diminished the haunting grandeur emanating from the dozens of slowly assembling elephant skeletons, their ivory, alabaster bones shimmering in the rising sun.

The bones drifted slowly into form, piecing themselves together like an eerie puzzle. Before long, they were complete. Standing fully reconstructed, the elephant skeletons turned towering towards Xavi, their empty, phantom eyes leering patiently from above.

Xavi turned to lead, and the skeletons followed.

The brilliant, rising sun threw long shadows on the eerie, supernatural migration. Though the plains were now robustly waking—birds chirping, antelope grazing about—Xavi’s trek was largely uninterrupted. Occasionally, local wildlife would lumber unconcerned out of the herd’s path, but none disturbed it, as if the other creatures somehow understood the significance of the elephants’ ethereal journey.

It was three hours’ walk to the lake under the heavy savanna sun. Xavi’s feet became dusty and sore, but there was great reward in this journey. Upon reaching the watering hole, Xavi beamed with both pride and humility.

The living elephants trumpeted Xavi’s approach, excited to reunite with their herd of lost loved ones. If skeletons could be said to be lively, then they certainly were. They bumbled along as quickly as their cobbled, spectral bones would allow.

Xavi sat on the oasis bank, contently amused to watch the elephants play. The skeletal old ones loved the water, and the grey, stocky young elephants humored their ancestors—who lacked trunks—by spraying water on their glittering bones. Calves nestled against their lost grandparents, un-bothered by their skeletal appearance. Love transcended death. They say elephants never forget, and if ever there was any proof, the herds’ remembrance of each other was it.

But all days must end, and as warm auburn cast celestial fire over the savanna, Xavi sensed that this day’s end was near. The air began to cool, and the setting sun cast shadows back away from the oasis—back to the elephant graveyard. It was time to return.

The trek toward the graveyard was, as always, tinged with melancholy, though Xavi knew the old ones felt naught but profound gratitude. As they arrived, the pale moon began peaking into the deep blue sky. The elephants circled around Xavi and bowed with respect.

Kneeling in reverence, the life once again faded from the skulls’ empty hollows. With the magic gone, the skeletons fell. Tomorrow, Xavi would thoroughly dust and clean the bones, exercising utmost diligence in carrying out the Warden’s duties. The sun would rise, the savanna would wake, and the elephant graveyard would rest.

 

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