Hannibal's Barn

Submitted into Contest #156 in response to: Write a story about a pathological liar.... view prompt


Coming of Age Funny Urban Fantasy

My Uncle John was a pathological storyteller. He loved to tell tales, sing, entertain people, and just have fun. He played banjo and guitar, called for square dances, and in general did all he could to make people happy. He had a terrific sense of humor,too. The nameplate on his office door read "John Brown and body," which should give some clue as to his humor. His most severe critics would call him a pathological liar, which might be partially true. But he never told tales for monetary or political gain, to scare people or make them do anything, but rather to just have fun. Family and friends knew better than to fall for his imaginative tales, but strangers could and were taken in. And the best example I know to illustrate his prowess is the story of Hannibal's barn.

Uncle John worked in Philadelphia, and rode the commuter train from Philadelphia to Valley Forge every day. Commuters like that tend to sit in the same spots, read the papers or sleep. They tend to follow routines. They recognize fellow commuters even if tbey dont know each other. They get to know who fellow commuters are, or at least recognize them as such. When he decided that a ride was too quiet , John knew it was story time. Uncle John would pick his victim carefully, usually a lone person who looked a bit bored. gullible or tense, and then begin. First he would smile. offer part of his paper, introduce himself-- all the usual gallantries. Next, he started reading his paper,then would look up out the window at the same place each day. After a moment looking out the window,he went back to his paper or might sit staring into space for a moment before reading again. This pattern he would repeat for several days, maybe muttering "there" or "that's it " or a similar phrase, until the intended victim would ask "That's what?" John might say "look there quick" or "darn, you missed it." Soon other passengers became aware of the daily lookout, and joined in to look too.When he had a few people on the hook, John would then point out the interesting site.

What a disappointment! They were looking at an old, falling down, mammoth building near the tracks. A huge brick ruin, it was surrounded by briars, weeds, and the usual trash as well as covered in graffiti. In short there seemed to be little to interest anybody. Of course they all wondered why so much interest was there, and asked. Soon John obliged them, and they heard the story, the amazing, authentic tale of the marvellous barn. Hannibal's elephant barn. And what a take it was too!

"You see," John told them, " when Hannibal crossed the Alps with his army during his move to conquer Europe,he didn't get across the mountains as planned. Not yet. He got lost at one point. He actually crossed the ocean instead of the river and ended up here, near Valley Forge: men,elephants and all. Why they didn't turn back is a mystery. Perhaps they didn't realize until too late that this way was wrong. We will never know. But they landed safely and came inland, looking I suppose for a good campsite. See, it was coming on to winter, and like Washington centuries later, he knew he had to put his animals and men into shelters to survive. Everyone knows what the winters at Valley Forge were like, and those men and elephants had not been raised in that kind of climate. They were used to much warmer weather. Elephants could never survive that cold, so his men built this massive barn and filled it with hay for the winter. It took weeks of work, but they did it. If you look, you can still see the remains of the stalls for each elephant. They stayed there with the army all winter, munching hay and doing nothing. The men foraged for food and hunted for meat. Then during the winter the men built boats for their trip back in spring. There must have been workshops for that, but they are all gone now,and of course the men woukd not leave their tools behind. When tbe snows melted they left, using the elephants to pull the ships to water. After all, that's what elephants did--pulled things. They all crossed the ocean and landed safely in Europe to continue the fight to conquer the world.

Everybody knows what happened to Hannibal, but the story of his adventure in America was lost for centuries until it was revealed by an ancient scroll found buried in a cave in the Alps. No other record has ever been discovered.There are no elephant bones or written records this side of the ocean. But the ruins of the barns are still here as a testament to their adventures."

His listeners were amazed. How could such a fascinating story have been forgotten? For days after that, people would wait to see the ruined barns flash by the train windows, sometimes pointing them out to other,newer commuters. As for John, I believe he enjoyed watching people look for the barns as the train rolled by. He never confessed his duplicity to any of the other riders, but I think he did eventually start riding in another train car.

Now, would you tbink reasonable people would believe this highly unlikely story of Hannibal and his elephant barns in Valley Forge? Maybe not. Or maybe yes. These people did. After all, the historian who told them -- a chubby faced little minister with an angelic look, a winning smile, and a straight faced narrative would never tell a fib. Would he? And after all, he had the proof-- those ruined barns were there for all to see.

Uncle John is long gone, but his legacy of love and laughter is still around. He told lots of stories, sang lots of songs, preached lots of sermons. (Some day perhaps I will share the story of him setting the pulpit afire during one of his fiery sermons). But Hannibal's elephant barn is still the greatest example of people sharing a totally improbable belief in a totally inaccurate story. And who knows? The ruins are still around too. Perhaps on that commuter train from Philadelphia to Valley Forge some gullible person at this very moment is still telling another gullible person tbe amazing tale of Hannibal and his Pennsylvania elephant barns.

July 22, 2022 23:56

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