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Our Giraffe

Clark Nielsen

"I think he's going to speak!" someone shouted.

"Are you sure?"

"Shhhh! Quiet! He's about to say something!"

"What's he doing?"

"He's meditating!"

"He's always meditating!"

"Yes, but I saw his mouth move earlier! That must mean he's going to talk!"

The entire village was gathered at the base of the hill, straining their necks eagerly upwards to see the zenith of the tall, steep, lush green mount. On top the hill was a single tree sprouting from the middle, a tree with a sturdy, almond trunk that branched out to form a large, oval mass of jade leaves. Nestled in the tip of the tree branches was a winged giraffe. The giraffe sat idly, motionless, calm, still. Its massive, ivory wings were tucked neatly against its spotted, yellow, smooth body. Its legs were folded gently under its belly. Its neck remained fixed as it waved slightly in the wind, holding the animal's head tall.

The people below grew restless. They were a small people, dressed in brown, modest clothing. Their camp covered the base of the hill within a circular clearing of a large forest. They lived in grass huts scattered numerously across the ground. The unexplainable atmosphere allowed several different kinds of fruits and vegetables to be brought up at once, making these people varied gardeners in profession. Rows upon rows of radishes, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, pumpkins, beets, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cucumbers covered the area. These people had lived comfortably for the past 100 years, and most of them had forgotten their origins. Their lives were solely dedicated to the sitting giraffe upon the hill.

An hour passed by without a word among the people nor from the giraffe.

"He's not speaking to us!" someone cried in anguish.

"What have we done?!"

"We're going to die!"

"He's angry with us!"

The village's respected leader stepped forward. He wore a brown, leather cape over his ordinarily brown clothing and held a cane tightly his hands. He waved the crowd to be still.

"My fellow beings," he began, "I realize we are all disturbed by the silence of our master above. I wish I had the strength to say I knew the cause of his stillness. However, I do not. The great giraffe has always been our overseer, always bestowing comfort amongst us. Today, our village suffers. We've been struck down by this drought which consumes the great majority of our crops. It is time we seek support from our master above. This will require the support from us all. I feel perhaps the entire village is not cooperating in our prayers. I ask you, fellow beings, that we fast another day in honor of our master. May we make the appropriate burnt offerings after the fast has been broken. Until then, let us carry on, our thoughts forever to the master above."

The crowd agreed and gradually sank back to their homes and gardens. Only two little boys remained where the crowd once was. The giraffe stayed in the tree, never moving, never speaking. The giraffe had sat upon the hill since anyone could ever remember and had always brought comfort to the villagers. Yet these past few weeks, the village had been fairly uneasy in its prosperity. Their fearless leader thought that perhaps the village had forgotten to pay the proper homage to the giraffe. Maybe they have taken the giraffe's blessings for granted.

One of the boys, Mason, a tough-faced young man with shaggy blonde hair, turned to his friend and said, "That's too bad."

His friend, Nedak, a skinny, pale boy, remarked, "I think he's really angry with us."

"Are you going to fast?" Mason asked quietly.

"Yes, I'm going to fast!" Nedak retorted.

"I was just wondering."

"Hey Mason, do you want to play Sticks?"

"You know I hate playing Sticks, Nedak. We've played Sticks for the past eight years."

"If you don't play Sticks, your parents will make you work in the garden."

"I'm just going to go lie down, Nedak. I need to think."

"If you get tired of thinking, you can always come play Sticks with me and Doff."

"What is it with you and that stupid Sticks game?!"

"It's the game of the great giraffe. It shows respect by playing it. Hey... you aren't trying to disrespect the giraffe, are you?"

"Don't worry about it, Nedak. I'm just going to go think. You go play your Sticks with Doff."

Mason waved goodbye to Nedak and headed the opposite direction. Sticks was such a simple game. It drove Mason crazy. It especially disturbed him since it was the only "fun" thing to do in the entire village. If children weren't playing Sticks, they were helping their parents in the garden, or worshiping the giraffe, or sleeping.

Mason trudged past several of the grass huts where many of the villagers were out working in their gardens. The gardens were beautiful pieces of artwork, the things which the village relied on. Mason's parents were assigned to cultivate potatoes and tomatoes. As much as possible, Mason tried to avoid helping them in the garden. Today, he quietly slipped into their home while his parents were busy watering and harvesting the crops.

The inside of the house was bare, enclosed by the tightly-drawn grass walls. A rock sat in the middle of the room for them to eat on, and a pile of grass lied in the back for sleep. Mason collapsed in the grass and tucked his hands behind his head, observing the dull ceiling of his humble home. He recalled the legend of the village and of its overseer, the great giraffe. The legend read that a group of people had been traveling through the dark forest for many days until they came upon a quiet clearing in the woods. Set in the middle of the clearing was a tall, steep, green hill. Upon the hill was a single tree with a winged giraffe perched on top. The leader of the group at that time knew this was to be their new settling, and the giraffe upon the hill was to be their great overseer. They camped for several days, waiting to see if the giraffe would acknowledge their presence. Finally, the leader hiked up the hill to speak to the giraffe up close. Later, he said the giraffe had given him special instructions on how to live. They were to construct and live in grass huts, wear the same clothing, harvest fruits and vegetables from the land, and worship the giraffe with all eagerness in every thought and deed. Those were their directions, and that is how they lived for many years after.

Presently, Mason began questioning the legend. It was a tale passed down from generation to generation, but Mason was beginning to lose faith in the giraffe. The village sacrificed vegetables to it. They fasted for it. They dedicated every thought to it. Yet it did them no good. Mason could not remember a time when he saw the giraffe move or heard its voice. Nobody could. It simply sat there while the village fussed and stewed about it all day long.

"Hmmmm," Mason muttered aloud, "I'm kind of hungry."

Mason got up and went to the table. Next to the table was a small, wooden box with stored food inside. He reached in and grabbed a cucumber from it. As he was about to take a bite from it, his mother walked into the house.

"Mason!" she barked. "Drop that right now! How can you eat at a time like this?"

"I'm hungry, Mother."

"That's no excuse. The leader has asked us to fast today. Besides, in this time of drought, you cannot eat whenever you please. You will just have to wait. Now come out here and help your father with his work."

Two days later, all were outside around the base of the hill again. The giraffe had not moved an inch since the last time Mason looked at it, and here he was again. The entire village was circled around the official altar, a large slab of rock at the base of the hill. Today, the leader had laid out grass and several tree branches on the rock. This vegetation was already smoldering with fire. The leader stood in front of the villagers, holding a knife in his hand. Next to him was one of the village men with a large basket of assorted vegetables and fruits.

"We gather here today," the leader began, "to offer to our master above our hard work and labor. We have fasted as a village for two consecutive days in hopes our efforts will pay off. We seek the great giraffe for advice during these troubled times. We begin the burnt offerings."

The man holding the basket withdrew a large carrot. He handed it to the leader, who took it and began to slice it into thin pieces. Each piece was laid carefully among the flames on the altar until the entire carrot was consumed. The congregation began to chant to themselves to the giraffe way above. Every five minutes, the leader took another vegetable, cut it up, and burnt it on the altar. This continued until over sixty vegetables had been offered. The giraffe remained fixed; nothing happened.

The dismayed leader addressed the group again, "We must be approaching our master above inappropriately. Perhaps he is not pleased with us. May we carry on in our lives and always remember the master above. Let us feast for now, but we shall offer more every five hours, even through the night. We must find peace from our master above."

The crowd dissipated-- except for Mason and Nedak. They were always the last to depart. Nedak rubbed his chin in wonderment while Mason shook his head.

"I don't understand," Nedak thought aloud. "When we need the giraffe the most, he will not aid us. I don't know what we've done to displease him so."

They went their ways to eat with their families, but the idea still troubled Mason. After dinner, he decided to pay Old Weather Son a visit. Old Weather Son was the oldest member of the tribe. He seemed to remember great things about the village, even though he wasn't among the first to settle here. In fact, nobody understood the origins of the giraffe. It just was, but Mason thought maybe he could get some information from the old man. He walked through the village until he came to the mature, haggard hut of Old Weather Son. Mason rattled the grass door and cautiously entered. Inside, the walls were smeared with berry juice in strange designs. A carpet made of grass was laid upon the floor. At the end of the hut sat Old Weather Son. Weather Son had his legs tucked under his body and his arms calmly behind his back. He wore nothing but a cloth around his waste, showing all his tanned, wrinkled skin. His crisp white hair hung down to his chest, and his eyes were sunk deep into his face. His mouth flapped open and shut like that of a fish as he lacked most of his teeth.

"Old Weather Son?" Mason asked shakily as he neared the man.

"Sit down, boy," Weather Son said in a cracked, dry voice.

Mason sat down on the grass carpet in front of Weather Son.

"Have you come to ask for advice on worshiping the great giraffe?" Weather Son asked.

Mason scratched his head. "No, no, I..."

"Oh? Is that so? The great giraffe is the overseer of our village. Without his divine presence, we would not exist as we are. Our lives are dedicated to his memory. We must dedicate our time and energy in promoting his happiness. When the great giraffe is happy, the village is happy. That is the way."

There was an awkward silence.

"What can I help you with?" the old man finally inquired through bitter lips.

"All I want is a little history."

"History, you say. I have lived here many years. I have seen much in my time."

"Have you seen the giraffe move?" Mason blurted out excitedly.

Weather Son was taken back. "Why, no I haven't. I have not been blessed with the opportunity to see the great giraffe move from his perch."

"Has he spoken to you?"

"He has not spoken to me directly, but..."

"But have you heard him speak?"

"I have not. When I was a young man as yourself, our village leader had a conference with him, however. I remember it well. He had called a village meeting to tell us his findings. He woke up late at night with the inspiration to sacrifice vegetables to the great giraffe at the base of the hill. He prayed earnestly to seek support. Finally, the great giraffe beckoned him to come up the hill. Our leader obeyed, and there he talked with the great giraffe until morning. We found him asleep at the bottom of the hill. When he awoke, he was ecstatic with the new news. He told us, 'The great giraffe has just spoken to me! I know now what to do.' Yes, I remember it well."

"Did anybody see him talking to the giraffe?" Mason asked without hesitation.

"They did not."

"Then how do we know they really did talk? What if it was just a dream? What if he just made it up?"

"The leader always knew reality from dreams. Besides, he never led us astray."

"So what did the giraffe tell him to do?"

"To grow all vegetables in columns and rows."

Mason blinked several times. "That's it?"

"Before then, we did not grow vegetables in such orderly fashion. The great giraffe gave us much insight on the matter. We have prospered ever since."

"He told you how to grow food," Mason said bluntly.

"Correct."

Mason rolled his eyes.

"Of course," Old Weather Son started, "years later, that same, great leader of ours received another important revelation. The great giraffe had told him specifically to keep the villagers from eating the forbidden berries in the woods. It is a rule we still abide by today, as you must be well aware of. Two great pillars of council were we permitted during that leader's command. We have not been as blessed since. It is a terrible omen."

"Does anyone else remember that time?" Mason asked without regard.

"No, young man. I am the only living remnant of that particular period. It was quite an exciting time to be alive. Much happened in those years."

"I'm sure..." Mason trailed off. "Well, thank you for your time, Old Weather Son. I appreciate your answers."

"I've been studying you, young man," Weather Son said abruptly as Mason was about to leave the room.

Mason turned around in awe. "I beg your pardon?"

"I've been watching you. You seem uneasy at the group sacrifices. These are troublesome times. Our land is running dry, but I hope you take faith in our great giraffe. It is through him alone that we find true happiness. True happiness is the great giraffe's greatest gift to us. 'Tis great of him."

"Great..." muttered Mason as he left the old man in a hurry.

Mason had not been satisfied with his conversation with Old Weather Son. In fact, he grew to detest the innocence of his fellow villagers. He longed to tell his troubles to someone... anyone... but they were all too caught up in worshiping that great winged giraffe upon the hill. It still had not moved, but only Mason took notice. As the leader had commanded, they set vegetables out for burnt offerings every five hours. Even into the night did this ritual carry on, but the giraffe never heeded to the smoke curling past its glazy eyes. Several weeks later, after another unsuccessful sacrifice, Mason and Nedak again remained near the altar as the rest of the village tended to their gardens.

"Nedak, I need to talk to you... now."

"Okay."

"No, not here. Walk with me to the woods."

They turned around and walked past the little houses as their fellow villagers scurried to and fro, caring to the gardens. The two boys walked a great distance until they reached the foot of the forest. The trees lumbered overhead, and the village behind began to grow out of sight as they journeyed deeper into the wilderness. When the village was completely out of sight, Mason turned to his friend.

"The leader has asked us to fast again. Are you planning on fasting?" he asked.

"You always ask me that! For the last time, yes! Yes, I'm fasting! You dragged me clear out here to ask me that?"

"Why are you fasting?"

"Because the leader told us to."

"But do you believe what he says?"

"Yes, I do." Nedak was growing suspicious. "You're starting to speak blasphemy. You could get into a lot of trouble talking like this, Mason."

"Can we sit down?"

They sat upon a large rock and rested their hands in their laps.

Mason cleared his throat. "You have to promise you won't tell anyone."

"Tell anyone what?"

"What I'm about to tell you."

"Maybe you shouldn't tell me."

"I have to."

Nedak ran his hand through his hair nervously. "Okay, Mason. What is it?"

"I'm not going to fast."

"You have to."

"Why?"

"Because the leader said to."

"And why does he tell us to fast?"

"So the giraffe will speak to us."

Mason buried his hands in his face. "Nedak, has the giraffe ever spoken to us?"

Nedak thought for a minute. "I don't believe he has."

"Has he ever come down from that tree?"

"Now that you mention it..."

"How long have we lived?"

"This will be my 16th year."

"And the giraffe has never spoken nor moved from that spot your entire life. Correct?"

"Yes, but where are you getting with this, Mason? The giraffe doesn't talk to us, because we are not worthy to hear his words. He must be waiting for us to do something great."

"I don't believe it."

"What?"

"I said, 'I don't believe it.'"

"You have to."

"I don't have to believe what everyone else believes. Who says I have to?"

"You'll be kicked out of the village! Your parents will disown you!"

"That's better than worshiping a giraffe that isn't going to do anything for us."

"How do you know?"

"It's never done anything, Nedak. I talked to Old Weather Son the other day, and he's never even seen the giraffe move. It doesn't move, Nedak! It doesn't move!"

"Shhh! Not so loud!"

"What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that somebody will hear me talking, and they'll kick you out of the village? Is that what you're afraid of?!"

Nedak began to form tears. "This is what I believe, Mason. You believe in him, too."

"I'll speak for myself! I thought I believed in him, Nedak, but how can I believe in this... this... thing... if all it does is sits there? Everyone says the giraffe brings happiness, but the village just seems overly-troubled by it. That giraffe hasn't done anything for us!"

"Mason!" Nedak stood up. "I don't believe what I'm hearing. I think you've gone mad. This is not like you. The giraffe is our overseer, and you know it. End of discussion."

And Nedak marched off, leaving Mason alone in the woods.

The sacrifices, the burnt offerings, continued on throughout several weeks. The village was growing desperate. They were troubled, troubled beyond recompense. Despite all their efforts of dedicating every sole thought to the great winged giraffe, nothing came of it. The giraffe never moved; it never said a word. Mason broke his friendship with Nedak. Mason did not converse with his parents, either. He shut himself off from the village entirely, never speaking to any of them. The village was so caught up in their mess over the giraffe, they didn't seem to notice Mason's renouncement.

Mason came across another problem. He was hungry. Between the enormous amount of food sacrificed and the already scarce produce, the village barely had enough to keep themselves alive. Mason couldn't even sneak food from his parents' garden anymore, because there wasn't anything to take. He needed food. One day, he slipped into the forest while no one was watching and began a desperate search for the forbidden berries. He found the tiny, red berries glistening from bundles of bushes. The berries tasted delightful, and Mason was able to keep healthy by trailing off into the forest every day to feast upon them. His secret didn't last long.

"Hello, Mason," a voice said while he was plucking berries again.

Mason recognized this voice. He turned around to find himself face-to-face with the leader himself. The leader stood calm, propped against his wooden cane, looking monotonously at the berries Mason held in his hand. Mason did not bother to hide them.

"Hello, gracious leader," Mason said understatedly.

"Mason, my boy, I have caught you at a bad time, have I not?"

"You sure did."

The leader advanced towards Mason and put his arm around the boy. "Look here, Mason. These are troublesome times. You and I both know the village is undergoing a lot. I seriously thought that the entire village was earnestly seeking out to the giraffe for help. Then I find you here. You are indulging yourself on forbidden berries. Today was a day of fast, even. Mason, I am very disappointed in you. I feel you are one step closer to being kicked out of the village. We cannot prosper if everyone is not participating, can we... What would your parents think? What is it you want, Mason?"

"I don't know," Mason gave a quick, safe answer.

"Pray about it, Mason. Seek advice from the master above. I hope that you will find comfort in our master above. That is why he is here. Come back to the village with me. Let us forget this event. The giraffe is forgiving, too, you know."

He led Mason back through the woods to the village. All the while, Mason felt very uncomfortable. Now the leader knew. Now he had to act.

The next day, they were out at the altar again. The leader was in front, explaining to the village that the giraffe was not pleased with their last offering. Mason, in the back of the crowd, couldn't take it any longer. He had to stop this silliness once and for all. He pushed his way through the mass of people and marched directly up to the leader. The leader did not seem very happy to see him here.

"Mason, dear boy, what do you think you're doing? We must carry on with the sacrifice."

Mason stood his ground. "Sacrifice what? There's nothing left to sacrifice! I'm going to prove to you once and for all that your giraffe is a fake. He's not our overseer. If he was our overseer, he would have done something by now!"

"Mason, this is uncalled for."

The leader grabbed Mason by the neck, but Mason shoved the leader off and started running up the hill. The village gasped in unison. Mason paid no attention to their pleas but clambered on up the mound.

"Nobody has touched the hill for years!"

"What is he doing?"

"He's not going up there, is he?"

"Who is this wicked, little boy?!"

"That's not our son!"

"Get him down!"

"The giraffe will not be happy with you, young man!"

"Stop it, boy! Stop that!"

"Mason, come down here!"

"Mason, dear boy, this is highly disrespectful!"

Mason dug his hands and feet into the grassy hill and pulled himself closer and closer to the giraffe in the tree. He ignored the villagers' cries below as he scaled higher and higher into the sky. As he neared the summit, the village grew more and more restless. Mason pulled himself onto the top of the hill and wiped his brow. He looked at the sturdy, healthy tree and at the massive, winged giraffe nestled calmly on top.

"Giraffe!" Mason shouted. "Giraffe! Listen to me! I think you're false, but now's your chance to prove me wrong! Go ahead, prove me wrong! Do something! Say something!"

The giraffe did not answer; it did not budge. Exasperated, Mason began climbing the tree. He shimmied up the rough trunk and into the dense mass of leaves. From the village's point of view, they saw Mason stick his head out the top of the tree right next to the giraffe's backside. The villagers held their breath as Mason continued to shout something at the giraffe.

Then Mason did something extraordinary. He reached out his scrawny hand and slapped the giraffe lightly on the end. The same instant the touch was initiated, the giraffe forcefully blew straight off the tree. It flipped into the air, performed loops and corkscrews, shot upwards and downwards, zipped across the sky. The giraffe's body flapped carelessly through the air as it began to shrivel up, propelled by a great gust of wind expelling from the giraffe's underside. This continued on as the village stood aghast until the giraffe's mangled body ran out of air and disappeared over the horizon.

The village was utterly stunned. The leader dropped his staff soundly to the ground in bewilderment. Old Weather Son swallowed his tongue. Nobody said a word. Up on the hill, one could see the lone figure of Mason poking out from the top of the tree, motionless with surprise.




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Published:
  2005-09-26

Categories:
  General Fiction

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