Illustration and flash fiction by Alina Yuan, 17, California.
This season, it is unusually hot. The heat of the African savanna radiates off the parched land and burns my feet with each step while the sun glares down upon us, sneering at our misfortunes. I slowly drag my feet through the dirt, feeling not soreness but numbness. Small fissures have appeared across the arid landscape. I flick my tail to shoo away pesky flies. A slight breeze blows through the landscape, flinging dust into my eyes and nostrils. But I am too tired to shake off the dust. I have gone days without food or water. My eyelids droop as a hazy feeling overpowers my senses and a dull buzzing noise echoes in my head. One of our pack buddies collapses ahead of me, breathing heavily and closing his eyes. Immediately, mosquitos start to swarm him until he takes his shaky, final breath. At this rate, I will die soon, too.
Our pack shuffles sluggishly towards a large puddle left over from the rainy season. Everyone gulps the water greedily. It is the dry season and we must keep ourselves hydrated during the drought. After drinking water, I use my trunk to pull off the leaves and twigs of an uprooted tree, and I eat with Mother and my cousins. The rest of my family stays close by, eating and keeping watch for predators. We continue our journey and trudge towards a patch of trees. After a while, I look up. The sun is starting to set, and I can sense the temperature dropping quickly.
I hear a slight rustle behind the bushes. I see a head, a human. It is carrying a long stick in its hands. It points it at our pack slowly and waits. We immediately become silent, and I turn to Mother.
“What is it doing?”
“Hush,” she says quietly, her voice trembling.
She pushes me roughly into the middle of the pack and blocks me from the human’s sight with her body.
“Is this what killed Father before I was born?” I whisper. “I’m scared.”
Mother turns to me. Her eyes soften, but I can still see her pupils shaking. She caresses my face with her trunk.
“It’s going to be alright.”
The human stands up slowly, making sure to barely make a sound. I see a piece of tusk hanging from a strand around its neck. Sheer fright envelopes me. It moves its finger.
A deafening noise startles me, and I freeze in terror. My pack scatters, frantically trying to escape. One of them falls, but I don’t know who. The human puts something back into the stick and aims again. Another blast. I turn around and run as fast as I can. More fall. My vision blurs, and I search frantically for Mother, turning in circles, bugling in panic. The screams of my brethren are muffled and drowned out by my violent heartbeat. The human appears in front of me, shooting at my relatives beside me. I scream and turn around to face the body of my dead Mother.
By Alina Yuan, 17, California. She adds: “I enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories, as well as drawing comics. At home, I love playing with my dog, a Shiba Inu, and collecting an eclectic array of stickers.
I am of Chinese cultural background, but I always enjoy learning about other cultures and issues around the world. One day, while scrolling through social media, I stumbled upon a picture of poachers hunting elephants for the illegal ivory trade. I was so appalled by that image that it stuck with me and prompted me to create art and writing revolving around this topic. Learning about cultures requires you to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and the same can be said for learning about world issues. Remove yourself from the perspective of a human being and put yourself in the shoes of the oppressed in order to learn more and practice empathy. That is how the world can progress and rid itself of evil.”