When Joel woke up he felt a rope tied tight around his neck. The other end, he realised with a surprise, was attached to the back leg of an elephant. It appeared it was just going to be one of those days, or rather, one of those nights.
Defiantly he returned his head back into the hay beneath him, hoping that should he wake up again it would be in less of a predicament. The ringing headache that materialised as the ground kissed an aggressively sore bump at the back of his head betrayed the scenario of what most likely had taken place just before he was rendered unconscious. What lowlifes, hitting a small guy like me in the back of the head. Didn’t even have the decency to face me! he thought as he admitted defeat and concluded that this was simply the only reality he was going to be offered.
Still lying on his back Joel took a quick look around the place. There was the elephant, blatantly unavoidable with its butt facing him.And… Oh lovely, an enormous elephant poop bigger than my head. Gotta remember not to step in that one, Joel noted to the floor. Then there was randomly distributed patches of hay, a big bucket of dirty-looking water and an assortment of what almost could be described as elephant food. But none of this really mattered. What mattered was the iron bars stretching from a concrete floor to a wooden roof enveloping the tiny area. Through a quick operation of deduction Joel concluded that he must be in jail. Granted that the elephant was an unusual addition, but everything else was undoubtedly a prison cell.
As a young orphan in 1876, Joel was not a stranger to stealing a coin or two. Maybe a pocket watch. A necklace, a bracelet, a pair of earrings. Or really, whatever the closest person had in their pockets. His companion Mr. Tobajenki had taught him how to do it and encouraged it whenever he had the chance. In exchange for the treasures Mr. Tobajenki gave Joel food or, if he got caught, a beating.
They had been hanging around the travelling circus for as long as Joel could remember. It was easy money stealing from the mesmerised visitors and then simply leave both town and blame behind. Joel didn’t think much about the blame. He was happy as long as he was allowed to run around playing and if he once in a while got a caramelised apple or a bag of popcorn.
To his dismay, he had no popcorn and was in a bit of a pinch. Ignoring his headache, he got to his feet and started fiddling with the big knot on the rope around his neck. If he could just get loose he could easily escape through the gaps between the bars. The prison had been designed for a much larger creature than him after all. He tugged at the rope and picked at the knot but to no avail. It was difficult to try to untangle oneself at one’s own neck as it was mostly out of sight. Frustrated he started yanking at it with such ferocity that he almost strangled himself. He didn’t. He did, however, get the attention of his fellow inmate.
The massive elephant turned around and tiptoed closer to Joel who was gasping for breath.
“Oh good. You’re awake!” the elephant wispered surveiling the area as to ensure that no one had overheard him.
“Yeeeeahh…” Joel said thinking he must have hit his head harder than he originally thought. Ah well, nothing to do about it now. “How did I get here?” it was a stupid question, he obviously must have been caught stealing from someone and they must have thrown him in here.
“They caught you stealing and threw you in here.” Obviously. “Then they realised that you could probably just leave as you please and went and got this rope here.” The elephant shook his back leg a bit causing the rope to draw back and Joel to fall to the floor. “Oh, I’m sorry!”
Joel got to his feet, brushed off his clothes and realising he would need the elephant’s help to get the rope off stretched out a hand and introduced himself “Joel.”
“Boris,” answered the massive beast cheerfully and as both awkwardly realised a handshake was a bit optimistic, they ended up doing a half-engaged high-five, hand against trunk style.
“So, Boris, can you help me get these ropes off?”
It should be stated, that Boris the elephant did his best with his trunk to unravel the knot, but what Joel couldn’t see, Boris couldn’t do. They sat quiet for a moment bathed in despondency.
“If only I could have released you… then you could have gone up to the shed, gotten the key… and we could both leave this place before dawn…” said Boris with a sad sigh.
“But don’t you live here?” Joel blurted out before he could stop himself. Boris the elephant clearly got offended by this.
“Live here?! It’s a cage!” He snorted and turned around. “I used to be free. I lived in the wild jungle. Walked freely amongst green trees, water streams, and mud banks. There were a whole bunch of us, friends, family, lady elephants, mind you. And birds would take rest on my tusks sometimes, you know. An annoying bunch, I tell you, but what wouldn’t I give to have them pester me again with their chattering. It would be… ”
Finally catching on, Joel interrupted him: “Shush… what did you say? A key? A key in a shed?”
While offended, Boris got distracted and nodded. “Yeah, that shed right there,” he pointed his trunk at a little wooden ramshackle a few yards away.
“Excellent! I go get the keys to the lock. In that shed, right?” Joel pointed and Boris nodded. Then Joel squeezed out from between two bars and snuck up to the shed in front. Just as he was about to reach it a heavy thud took his breath away. He quickly spun around preparing to defend himself, only to see Boris looking at him encouragingly while pressed against the bars.
“…turn around…” he scream-whispered while gesticulating wildly for the massive elephant to spin around. “… not enough rope… you gotta turn around… oh, for God’s sake…” he said and moved closer.
“There’s not enough rope,” said a disappointed Boris as Joel came closer.
“Yeah, I know,” Joel said sarcastically. “Turn around, the rope is tied to your back leg, it will make it longer,” he said matter-of-factly and started stomping back towards the shed.
“Oh, hehe. Right,” said Boris and did a little pirouette. Idiot, thought Joel, I should just leave him here. Serves him right, the big buffoon.
This time Joel could just barely reach up to the shed. As he reached it, he found, much to Boris the elephant’s description, a box with the key to the cage. What Boris had failed to mentioned was that it also housed a small knife. Peeping over his shoulder he could see the voluptuous bottom of Boris the elephant pressed against the bars, cheeks protruding between the gaps. I guess I could cut the rope… it would be faster… and leaving him here would make for an easier escape… I could find Mr. Tobajenki and we could leave immediately…
Joel took a hold of the knife and started working at the rope in front of him. It was the marriage of a nasty thick rope and a rusty knife. Like most marriages, it was significantly harder than what Joel had anticipated.
“… did you find the key…?” Boris scream-whispered.
“… quiet… I hear someone coming…” Joel whispered back in an attempt to get Boris of his back. Problem was, that as he said it, he did hear someone coming. He grabbed the knife and ran back to the cage. Unable to enter the same gap as he exited, due to Boris’ butt being in the way, he got the rope tangled in the bars.
“…pretend like nothing…” he whispered to Boris. “… people are coming…”
Boris and Joel did their best impression of innocence, which wasn’t very good. But then again, most humans wouldn’t know what a guilty looking elephant looks like in the first place, so no real harm was made. Then Joel saw him. Mr. Tobajenki came around the corner with one of the acrobats from the circus.
“Oh, thank God! Mr. Tobajenki! Mr. Tobajenki, I’m here!” Joel started screaming without any attention from the man approaching. Boris turned around to face his companion.
“… what are you doing?Why are you drawing their attention?! And where is the key?” Boris asked looking at his cellmate. Joel took out the knife from behind his back and started working on the rope again. “What is that?!” Boris said accusingly.
“Oh, come on…” he said to both the rope and Boris the elephant. “There was no way we both could escape… Mr. Tobajenki! Mr. Tobajenki!”
The two men kept passing along the path now, getting further away from the cage.
“The monkey is screaming” said the acrobat to Mr. Tobajenki.
“He does that quite a lot. The nasty little monster,” said Mr. Tobajenki and waved him away. “ Ha! Would you look at that! He must have tangled the rope in the bars trying to get free.” Both men laughed. “Anyway, he’s of no more use to me.” The two men kept walking away from the scene, leaving Joel alone in the cage together with the elephant.
For a moment, both inmates stood there quiet. Both in shock, but for different reasons.
“I can’t believe it… he… he left me,” Joel said breaking the silence and dropping the knife in anger. Despite being disappointed at the little traitor next to him, Boris the elephant was a kind soul and the heartbreak in Joel’s voice gave him a shiver of compassion for the little creature.
“There, there,” he said and patted the monkey’s little shoulder with his trunk. Joel looked at Boris the elephant with fierce determination.
“We are gonna get them,” he said riled up. “We are gonna level the circus with the ground! Set it on fire! Fire! The bastards won’t know what hit them! Tying decent people like us up! And leaving us here!? No, I won’t have it!”
Filled with motivation Joel circled around the bars, ran towards the shed. As he was almost strangled once more, he turned around to point out how the rope was not quite long enough, and signalled to Boris the elephant to turn around, again. With an apologetic smile he backed his butt up to the bars once again and gave Joel that extra meter he needed to reach the box.
Two minutes later as Joel had unlocked the cage, he climbed up on the back of Boris. “Shall we?” he said eyes burning.
“We shall!” said Boris who immediately set off in a rampage to run out of the circus.
Within minutes the scene was filled with the chaos of screaming people running from collapsing tents. Flames were ablaze and smoke provided the escape artists cover despite their size. And the war cries of a mad monkey and an finally freed elephant running amok on top of their former masters would have left shiver down the spines of anyone who heard.
The chaos was their exit-ticket. In addition to providing a sense of retribution, it also ensured them safe passage out of the circus.
Asdawn started to colour the sky in a orangey-red, the two fugitives had made their way to the edge of a nearby forest. Having agreed it was their most strategic move, Boris headed straight into it. Once they were covered by the sanctuary of the trees, Boris said once again:
“I can’t believe that you planned to leave me.”
“Yes, but I didn’t now, did I?” said Joel again frustrated by the repeated conversation, yet happy to be on the road with his massive companion. “We gotta figure out how to get this rope of us somehow,” he continued completely untroubled by the rope that bound their lives together.
Sitting on top of Boris the elephant’s massive head, Joel knew that this was a new chapter in his life. And like all his previous lives, he already started to forget the mischief he had been up.