Contest #181 shortlist ⭐️

29 comments

Fiction

As the sun sets on the extinct volcano of Mount Elgon and the red light of the African evening fades, a female dung beetle scrambles over a pile of elephant droppings, forming her find into a ball. Once completed, it will be at least three times larger than the shiny, black-armored insect. She will roll her prize away backwards, a single egg enclosed within, to be buried in soft ground.


Though the deed of the lady dung beetle is both fascinating and commendableβ€”for it is she, and all her kindred, who help prevent the putrefaction of the landβ€”there are other creatures whose doings we will attend to tonight.Β 


Darkness descends, and the silent tread of the elephants is directed through the thick groves of bamboo to a fall of water and the stream running from it. Beside the waterfall and its stream, nearly hidden by brush and trees, a muddy path leads into a cavern. A stone stands like a single gray fang beside it. This way the matriarch leads. The heavy, round feet press squelching craters in the soft ground, and the miniature calderas slowly fill with swirling, murky liquid after the elephants pass. But they are not the only creatures in this hollow of the hills…


Frugivorous bats sleep here when the sun is in the sky, and all manner of small animals scurry and creep and flutter about. Lone leopards or clans of spotted hyenas sometimes lie in wait here to ambush duiker, antelope, and bushbuck, but they find the elephants too formidable a target to tackle, aside from the occasional unguarded calf.Β 


Leaving the slippery mud and gurgling water behind, the matriarch’s extended family of sisters, daughters, and their young ones journey deeper into the earth. The elephants grope their way forward in utter darkness; no light of moon or star pierces here, and they never come in daylight. Why they come at this time is known only to them, but what they come for has been discovered by others.Β 


Balancing precariously over uneven stones, squeezing through narrow places in single file, they continue until the darkness opens wide around them. Here they disperse, calves pressing against the legs of their mothers, or trailing just behind.Β 


The grown ones begin to scrape the walls and roof of pyroclastic rock with their tusks. Ivory scimitars catch and grate in grooves which fit them the way a rusty lock welcomes its long-lost key. For elephants first began to shape this grotto generations ago, and the granddaughters of the granddaughters of the great-granddaughters continue their mining to this day.


Sand is ground from the roof, falling into the open mouth of an elephant whose head is tilted far back. Another chips at the wall, dislodging chunks for her calf to pick up with his trunk. This coarse geological matter is rich in sodium, and the vegetation outside is lacking in this key ingredient of a healthy elephant's diet.Β 


Wide, ridged teeth grind, and the broken fragments of the cavern disappear from the bowels of the earth into the bowels of the great beasts. In the barrel-like stomachs, the salt-rocks mix with mashed bamboo and maize raided from cultivated crop fields.Β 


A curious and rambunctious male calf, tired of standing close by his mother, wanders a few paces away, still chewing. He has neither heard nor smelled nor seen anything to chase (a favorite game of his), but there may still be something with which to entertain himself.Β 


He trips and falls, and hurries back to his mother to be soothed. It is well, for had he gone much farther, he could have fallen into a deep rift in the floor, where, unreachable, he would have starved to death, if the very fall did not kill him.Β 


She comforts him, stroking his back and face with her trunk, and rumbling at sub-sonic levels, before returning to the matter at hand. The elephants visit their salt mine only once every few weeks, and spend only a few hours in this large chamber before reversing their journey in the dark, to leave the caves before the sun rises. Time presses.Β 


Finally, the matriarch, one of the oldest in this family, trusted by the others to lead them in safety, prepares to leave. Slowly they congregate, waiting until all are ready before beginning their trek. Despite his mother’s guiding touch, the male calf slips often. He is young and unfamiliar with the way.


As the cherished treasure of the entire group, he has no need yet to pay close attention to his world, for attention is payed to him by his watchful grandmother and aunts. He is the firstborn of his mother, and she readily accepts the knowledge of those more experienced than her in child rearing. Now, however, the attention of each individual is focused upon herself as all struggle over the treacherous footing.Β 


Everyone in the family is preoccupied, and the young mother makes a mistake.


Nearing the entrance, her little one’s eyes catch the moonlight shining on a curtain of water. He charges ahead, eager to fling droplets toward the sky, glimmering like dim stars of his own making.


She lets him go.Β 


A black leopard, crouching in shadow, sees the solitary calf. The leopard, in his youth, believes himself capable of this kill. He arrived after the elephants entered, and has determined this one is alone, strayed far from help. The calf blunders past. The leopard springs.Β 


At the first squealing trumpet of terror, the matriarch surges from the mouth of the void, ears flared, trunk lifted high in readiness to strike. The leopard cannot see her as he swings from the calf’s neck, struggling to fix the living clamp of his jaws on the baby's soft throat.


In a single sinuous movement, the matriarch’s trunk grasps the tail of the foolish leopard, tears him from her grandson’s neck, and flings him away. His yowling snarl is cut off by a thud, and the predator tears a frantic escape through the thick brush. He has acquired a wariness of elephants which will be with him to the end of his days.


Loving trunks run protectively over the body of the wide-eyed calf as all assure themselves that he is safe. The morning approaches, and for reasons known only to the elephants, they quit the cave before dawn, carrying the mountain within themselves as they travel across it.

January 21, 2023 04:41

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29 comments

Graham Kinross
12:30 Mar 26, 2023

This is cool, the details you have about the animals are really good. I had to look up Frugivorous. I could imagine this as a dramatic animated short. There’s a lot of mystery and drama packed into this. I’ve seen lots of things about animals doing weird stuff to get salt in their diet.

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Dhwani Jain
16:48 Mar 15, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist, Guadalupe! I didn't see this earlier. Will read it when I am back in April.

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Thanks, Dhwani! I pray your are well, and that your schooling is going well.

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:15 Jan 30, 2023

Congrats. Your descriptive ability is your strength.

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Thank you for reading and commenting, Philip! I enjoy writing description, and I’m grateful for your compliment.

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Philip Ebuluofor
09:25 Feb 04, 2023

Welcome.

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09:02 Jan 29, 2023

Was so happy to see your name finally make it onto the winner page! Your story give me the feeling of the vastness of nature and its never ending cycles.

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Thanks, Scott! I think I’m still in shock! I had such a fun time telling this story, and I thought it was good, but I wasn’t expecting it to get shortlisted. I’m so happy it did!

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I just saw that the story got approved. You don't have to respond to this right away, but I would still appreciate feedback for future reference. Hi, Scott. I don’t want to bother you, but if you have time, I have a question. In the opening lines of my new story, β€œBeat You with a Shovel,” I am unsure what to write. Here is the current passage: [No matter where we are, Uncle Julio always ends up the center of attention. He’s not trying to be the center of attention, yet it happens all the same.] I am unsure of using the phrase [the cent...

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00:56 Feb 01, 2023

Its much better to repeat β€œcenter of attention”. Its an interesting thing to think about and the theme of the story. Openings and closings are more poetic and read closer and the usual make everything fast and not repetivie rules dont apply perhaps.

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Thanks for the quick feedback, Scott! I really appreciate your thoughts on the repetition and rule-waiving in openings and closings. You’re right, they are read more carefully, and repetition and other unusual word usage can be permitted. Thanks for the reminder. ;)

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Wendy Kaminski
18:52 Jan 28, 2023

This was so lovely, a lyrical and mesmerizing look at something few ever witness. It was beautiful and so rich in setting that I genuinely felt like I was there. Well-deserved, Guadalupe! Thank you for this story. :)

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Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and for giving me your additional comment, Wendy! I had a lot of fun writing this, and it makes me happy that you were able to see everything so clearly. :)

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20:22 Jan 27, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist, Guadalupe!

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Thank you Deidra! I can hardly believe this! When I saw it, I called a friend who has been reading my stories for some time, and as I was telling her, one of my sisters came into the room, heard me say, β€œShortlist,” and started freaking out, waving her hands around and talking at me as I tried to talk to my friend. She looked even more excited than me!

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18:25 Jan 28, 2023

Well deserved. It's a great day !!

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Hello, Deidra. I don’t want to bother you, but if you have time, I have a question. In the opening lines of my new story, β€œBeat You with a Shovel,” I am unsure what to write. Here is the current passage: [No matter where we are, Uncle Julio always ends up the center of attention. He’s not trying to be the center of attention, yet it happens all the same.] I am unsure of using the phrase [the center of attention] twice in a row like this. I am contemplating changing it to {No matter where we are, Uncle Julio always ends up the center of ...

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19:52 Jan 31, 2023

No matter where we are, Uncle Julio always ends up the center of attention whether he likes it or not.

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Thank you very much for the quick feedback, Deidra! I only saw your reply after the story was approved, so I can't make any changes. Oh, well!

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Hello, Deidra. I have a question. I entered my most recent story, β€œThe Blood of the Wood Cries Out” (thank you for liking it!) in Contest #191. As you know, that contest ended today. My story was never approved. I do know that stories can be disqualified. I’ve been over my story multiple times, and can’t see what would have disqualified it, except for one thing: I’m wondering if the poem from the anonymous WW1 soldier being used in the story is what got it disqualified. I did make sure that there were 1k+ words in the story without the ...

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07:28 Apr 08, 2023

I would definitely contact Reedsy and get an explanation. If you can’t find a contact, email me (address in my bio.)

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Wendy Kaminski
18:14 Jan 27, 2023

What a great start to Friday, Guadalupe! Congratulations on short-listing this week! I haven't yet read this story, but I am definitely going to take some time and give it a look when I get some time tonight. Way to go!

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Thanks, Wendy! I was flabbergasted when I saw the little badge! I’d love to hear your thoughts once you read it.

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21:52 Jan 25, 2023

The big feeling I had was: nature documentary. I could actually hear the narrator talking, and see as the camera cut to different shots of the animals and the cave. But there were other feelings too. "She lets him go." - suspense, dread. Eventually relief (for the elephant, anyway; the leopard goes hungry). And there was a sense of wonder. First, naturally, I wondered why elephants were going into a dark cave, and then the mining operation was really cool. Is this real? Do they actually do this? If so, nature really is incredible :) Cr...

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I have such a huge smile on my face! Nature-focused documentaries are some of my favorite things to watch, but I hadn’t even considered that this story came out like one. Reading over it again, I guess it did! I’m very happy that’s how it came across, and that you pointed it out. Yes, Mount Elgon is a real place, and the elephants really do mine for salt! Here’s a link to the elephants: https://mountelgonfoundation.org.uk/the-elephants/ And this is the project devoted to tracking and monitoring the elephants, from which I got some inspi...

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I just saw that the story got approved. You don't have to respond to this right away, but I would still appreciate feedback for future reference. Hello, MichaΕ‚, I don’t want to bother you, but if you have time, I have a question. In the opening lines of my new story, β€œBeat You with a Shovel,” I am unsure what to write. Here is the current passage: [No matter where we are, Uncle Julio always ends up the center of attention. He’s not trying to be the center of attention, yet it happens all the same.] I am unsure of using the phrase [the ...

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21:41 Jan 31, 2023

I prefer the second, because of the repetition. Although, I could see the first work if you stressed/italicized "trying". So, basically the repetition isn't necessarily bad. "He's not trying to *be*" doesn't sound quite right to my ear, because we are talking about "ending up" and here we switch to "being". I could see this be changed to something like, "He doesn't try to (end up…)" I'd prefer that, because "he's not trying" sounds like present tense, but "always ends up" sounds like past, where we're talking about a habitual thing. Ar...

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Thank you so much for your quick feedback, MichaΕ‚! Yes, that definitely helped! You are very right about the tenses. I got a bit muddled, thank you for pointing that out. All those suggestions are good, I’m happy that you picked up on his personality so well :) The story got approved before I could make any changes, but I will be editing my personal copy. In my new story β€œWho Would Dare Suppose?” I watched my tenses very carefully while editing.

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Critiques are much appreciated. For more about Mount Elgon: https://mountelgonfoundation.org.uk/ For more about the elephants of Mount Elgon: https://mountelgonfoundation.org.uk/the-elephants/ This link is where I found the fang rock: https://mountelgonfoundation.org.uk/mt-elgon-elephant-project-meep/ The leopard attack is inspired by two different true stories: A leopard did chase an elephant calf once, but was killed by the older elephants before it could hurt the calf. A lion once panicked and jumped on an adult elephant, hanging fr...

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