Before she was a girl, she’d been an elephant. She wasn’t supposed to remember that, but somewhere in the reincarnation system, there’d been a glitch. Her memory had come with her. Now nothing in this life could satisfy, as she had a whole other one to forever measure it against. When she was an elephant, she remembered longing to be a girl, as they seemed to have things better overall. Now after an excruciating stretch in this human body, she wasn’t so sure. The past held a promise of a better future, but this present seemed eternal and fixed.
It had been a hunter and his hunger for ivory that ended her life as an elephant. Now it was a man and his greed for her body that made her life as a girl just as precarious and intolerable. What she’d done to deserve male lust stalking her as prey across two lifetimes, she was sure she didn’t know. She was determined now that the ending would not remain the same.
She wouldn’t be conquered, she wouldn’t be owned, and sold in parts—not when given a second chance. Her soul had stayed intact for a purpose. Freedom lingered just beyond the barred windows of her current cage, a shed in the man’s backyard, so like the one her elephant body had inhabited after it shuddered its last breaths and collapsed with seeming finality upon the dusty earth.
Her skin, a cracked and rough grey, was now a smooth and soft brown. Yielding yet resilient like tightly coiled springs.
The hunter had not allowed for a fair fight. He’d followed her first in his jeep, built for the terrain, and then on foot. He stalked her for some time from a distance before positioning his rifle just so and aiming for her wide, unprotected back as she bathed herself. She remembered the quiet. She remembered the peace. She wondered how long he watched her before firing the shot that brought a life full of beautiful possibilities to an abrupt end. If he’d contemplated what all came before that moment for her and what all could have come after had he changed his mind; if he spared even a sliver of thought for how she deserved to live and flourish for herself rather than die and be used for his pleasure. The feeling of the bullet penetrating her, the burning and tearing sensations, the slow agony, the merciless pressure, the shock building into horror, the pain, the fear—it had come coursing back through her every nerve ending the first night in the man’s shed. His ugly face looming in the darkness, the weight of his knees, his hot breath so close, the terror of today’s brutal reality and the fear of tomorrows with no hope.
She’d been on a bus with her high school debate team when the man began following them, first in his car and then on foot at the gas station rest stop. She’d never forget the music that played that day now, echoing for eternity—the explicit lyrics, the pounding bass, the cacophony of her classmates’ voices singing along—imprinted upon her soul as the last moments of her freedom and innocence. Just like the man’s fingerprints were tattooed into her flesh now as the enduring bruises of her imprisonment and all he’d taken from her since.
But today, as he stumbled into her shed, he was intoxicated and she could smell weakness on him. Vulnerability emanated from his pores intermingled with bourbon. His foot caught on a crooked plank that he usually knew to sidestep, and he tripped. It was now or never.
She reared back and charged at his fallen figure with terrifying speed, the hardest part of her skull focused on the point between his eyes and her nails outstretched and curled, ready to pierce his flesh. She’d been attacked from behind last time, so her curved sharp tusks had been useless as weapons and were preserved instead as the hunter's prize. This time, the man would know defeat. She felt a drunken rush of power surge through her when his face contorted in fear at her fast approach. There was nothing very intimidating about her slight frame. She was slender with a doughy tummy, all pointy knees and elbows, where her skin was the darkest brown and dry like puckered raisins. But there was no time to concern herself with how he could be afraid of a girl like her. She rammed her head into his and his eyes rolled back. She reversed and stampeded him again. Her strength swelled as he lay crumpled flat on the ground. She could feel ribs and bones cracking beneath her tremendous feet as she trampled and stomped with a delight she hadn’t felt in years.
It was only then that she caught her reflection in the small, dirt splattered mirror above him. She was enormous and grey, her ears billowing around her head like sails in a warm breeze.
She coiled him up in her trunk, lifting and slamming his near lifeless body to the ground. Over and over she did it, to be certain. She released him more out of curiosity than anything and waited. As he staggered up to meet her, the look in his eyes as wild and frenzied as it was afraid and hopeless, she allowed her tusks the victory they’d been denied before. Dark red, almost purple, flecks of him freckled her grey shell, but she plowed on. She watched the man shudder his last breaths as his body collapsed to the earth below him. A translucent, dark puddle of his blood formed around him, sparkling with his sweat like diamonds.
She trotted out into the sunlight, letting it bathe and bake her tired armor. As she settled herself in a position comfortable enough for rest, she raised her majestic head and looked all around her for any potential predators. Reborn, she closed her eyes and slept.
This story was originally published in Jellyfish Review and is an excerpt from TURMERIC & SUGAR: STORIES © 2021 by Anna Vangala Jones. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Thirty West. All rights reserved.
Anna Vangala Jones
Anna Vangala Jones is the author of the short story collection TURMERIC & SUGAR (Thirty West Publishing, 2021). Her stories have been selected for Longform Fiction’s Best of 2018 list and appeared in Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, and Berkeley Fiction Review, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.com.