The earth shook and the trees shivered. A moment later, we could see a large, shadowy form making its way toward us. Then its great, long face pressed into the clearing.
As elephants go, it wasn’t particularly big. Still, neither of us had ever been so close to one. We shuffled backward—terrified, awed and curious—until we found a good sized tree to press ourselves against.
It eyed us from some mysterious and regal plane of elephant thought, its trunk curled tightly around a wilting frond of bracken. After long consideration, it ambled over to the other side of the clearing and carefully placed the frond on a stone outcrop about as big around as its foot and as high as its knee. Then it turned its attention back to us.
My companion, the strange young woman who had brought me to this place, seemed to suddenly overcome her fear. She pushed away from the tree and took two vigorous strides forward. That must have been the limit of her fearlessness, because the next two steps were hesitant.
The elephant regarded her, its great ears just slightly forward. She took one more careful step and stretched a hand toward the creature, opening her palm to offer something she held. It looked at her a moment longer, then down at her hand, and reached with its trunk for the thing she offered.
It was a gold colored disk, vaguely familiar. The elephant took it and the touch of its trunk made her faintly gasp. Now I could see what it was. I put my hand to the front of my police helmet, where my emblem should have been, and there was only a sticky spot. I was outraged and sickened. I wanted to rush forward and grab it back, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the tree.
The elephant continued to examine the emblem, which shone brightly in the sun. It lifted it higher, as if to compare the two yellow disks, side by side.
And the sun seemed to respond: a great pulse of light silenced the birds and nearly blinded us.
Unstirred, the elephant extended its trunk back toward the woman, returning the disk. She smiled, took it and stuck it on the elephant’s forehead. I’m sure there was a little adhesive on it from its time on my helmet, because it stayed.
She leaned over to pick it up and I felt a terrible panic.
“Leave it!” I shouted. I ran toward her.
“It’s not time yet. Don’t touch it.”
I had no idea what I was talking about. She gazed at me with distracted eyes, as if she was struggling to remember who I was. But she obeyed.
She straightened, turned her back to me, and the two continued on.