Keeping busy was the best way to survive the lesson. Ellie sharpened all her pencils, rearranged her braid into a ponytail, and scratched the pink varnish off her nails. Still, the lesson went on. The teacher spoke monotonously, the students looked out of the windows or played with their phones under their desks. By Ellie’s side, Rona was scribbling something in her notepad. Ellie wondered if any of those looking at the teacher were actually listening, but it was hard to tell, not with those damn elephants.
The word popped up in her mind so abruptly it made her flinch. Why would she think about elephants? Those were the largest land animals and they had nothing to do with physics lessons.
“Weird,” she muttered.
“Hm?” Rona looked up, her blue eyes dazed and distracted.
“I’m thinking strange thoughts.”
“Oh,” Rona said. “That can’t be healthy.”
“Talking again?” The teacher turned away from the blackboard, and Ellie quickly lowered her gaze. On her desk a small, neat elephant was drawn with a blue ink pen. She didn’t remember seeing it there at the beginning of the lesson.
“So?” the teacher said walking up to them. “What’s the topic of your discussion?”
“Ours?” Rona stared at him. “We didn’t talk.”
“You did, distracting your classmates who were actually trying to study physics.”
A few students looked up from their phones as if to see who wants to study physics here.
“And what about you?” the teacher turned to Ellie. “What are you looking at?”
“Someone drew an elephant,” she said. “On the desk.”
“Where?” He glanced down. “I don’t see anything.”
“Right here. Look closer.”
He pulled a pair of reading glasses out of his pocket, put them on his nose, and bent over the desk. Something cold and smooth touched Ellie’s cheek. She looked up and froze.
“Nothing,” the teacher said. “Are you joking with me?”
She stared at him. His ears were big, very big, just like real elephant’s ears. They were long enough to brush his shoulders.
“What are you looking at?” he said. “Have I grown horns or something?”
“No,” she muttered. “Not horns – ears…”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on! The stuff I get to hear from you guys, it’s just insane…”
The bell rang for the end of the lesson.
“Dismissed.” The teacher moved away.
“Did you see it?” Ellie grabbed Rona by the shoulder. “What happened to him?”
“Absolutely,” Rona said, pushing her books into her bag. “I thought we’ll get a detention or something, but he wasn’t so pissed after all.”
“Not that,” Ellie hissed. “His ears! He’s got elephant ears!”
Rona looked at her suspiciously. “What?”
“You don’t see it? Seriously?”
At that moment the teacher had his ear caught on one of the decorative plants hanging from the wall and was carefully trying to set it free.
“I don’t see anything special.” Rona shrugged, picked up her bag, took a few steps and turned to Ellie, who was still standing by the desk. “Now what?”
“You’ve got a trunk,” Ellie said.
The trunk was about twenty inches long. Its pink tip rested upon Rona’s considerable chest, and her voice sounded muffled, as if she had a cold, when she said, “You’re scaring me.”
“But I’m serious!”
“Yeah, right. Your jokes really suck today, you know? Let’s go.”
Ellie followed her meekly. As they walked past the teacher’s desk, he handed her a journal and said, “Take it to the chemistry.”
His voice didn’t sound quite right, and when she looked at him she saw that he, too, had acquired a trunk. It was tossed carelessly over his shoulder—probably was getting in the way when he was writing.
The first floor was as noisy and crowded as usual. In fact, today it was even more crowded, since the pupils had grown larger, and noisier, because the usual chatter was now accompanied by ears flopping and trunks sniffing.
Ellie sat on the bench, pinching her hand mercilessly, still hoping to wake up any moment. The big mirror across the hall reflected people walking by—not quite people anymore, in fact, more like elephants, and the changes were becoming more apparent with every minute. But Ellie’s reflection didn’t change. It was all too insane to comprehend. At one moment she felt scared, as if she somehow got transferred to another planet inhabited by monsters, and then she thought she was going crazy, which was even scarier.
Seems like the whole world had decided to switch rails, she thought, and I’m the only one they’d forgotten to notify.
“Hey!” Someone stopped by her side, and with some effort she recognized Ben, her classmate. “Just got the results of that math exam from last week. I passed! Can you believe it?” He blew a victorious tune with his trunk. “What’s up with you? You look stressed.”
“Listen,” she said, “look at the mirror. Do you see the two of us? Don’t you think we look different?”
They looked at the mirror—a young girl, and a middle-sized elephant still wearing some scraps of human clothing.
“Each of us is unique,” he said after a pause.
“But you are an elephant!”
“You are an elephant, too,” he said, and added generously: “And a very good one. Everybody thinks so.”
“Really?” She sniffled. “I think I’d better go home now. Sorry.”
She slipped past him and hurried to the exit. Slowed down, went through the door, and stopped on the school porch, unable to take another step.
Because there was a jungle outside.
Not that she had ever been to a jungle, but she could recognize it nevertheless—the tropical trees, the lianas, the ferns, the colourful flowers hanging from the school’s fence like a carpet. The principal’s car parked by the entrance was almost completely covered by bindweeds of some kind that kept growing even as she was looking at them. The sun could barely get through the leafage of the giant trees, and everything around was filled with unfamiliar noises and smells.
“What’s up?” Ben said from behind her back.
She opened her mouth and shut it again. Then she closed her eyes, shook her head, and finally said: “I thought elephants live in savannahs.”
“You’re really strange today,” Ben said. “Are you okay?”
“Me? Am I okay?” She glared at him. “If I’m okay, it means the rest of the world is not! What if that’s what happened to dinosaurs? Maybe one day they just turned into humans without even noticing? You don’t even know what’s going on, but trust me, it’s one big crazy hallucination!”
“Ellie, what are you talking about?” he said softly.
She stood silent for a while.
“I don’t know.” She picked a flower with her trunk, put it in her mouth and chewed. “Nothing, I guess. Let’s go?”
They went inside.
The bell rang.
The new era began.
BIO: Born and raised in Russia, Jackie Bee lives in Israel, with her husband and two children. Her fiction has appeared in Weirdbook, Phobos, Sanitarium, Kzine, NewMyths and Literary Hatchet, among other publications. She can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/jackie.bee.3785.