That Saturday morning after over a year of planning the barricades were put up sectioning off the downtown area of Ashewood Falls. Merchants arrived, booths were put up and merchandise displayed. The floats arrived along with the high school band right at the designated time in the parking lot behind the old Woolworth's building. The barbecue that had been cooking since two that morning was checked one final time. Ronald Simmons stood in the middle of the intersection at Welbourne and Depot, watched the activity going on around him, cracked open a brand new bottle of Malox and toasted the crowd.
My nephew and I were riding bikes that morning and ran into George's assistant Spider. That would be the one with the web tattoo on his face. He asked us if we had seen the elephant or any other signs that she might be around. Trash can lid size footprints, dung, anything of the sort. We said that we hadn't and he kind of grunted, got into an old van with a midget and headed north towards Forsyth county. We did see her as we rode into town with my parents. She was on the opposite side of the road, but headed in our direction. The first payphone that we got to Daddy phoned the sheriff's office and got the dispatcher. She said that everybody was at the festival but that she would try and reach Sheriff Dorsey on the radio.
As we finally got into town and were walking from our parking space about a mile to the downtown area Slobber McAllister was sitting on top of the trash can in the storeroom at Howard's Hardware watching Gene Pickard sweep up.
"How long you got till you get off?" He asked. His mouth was full of stale french fries that he had picked up at the Dog and Shake earlier.
"I get the storeroom swept and Mike says I can go."
Slobber didn't reply right off but finished his fries, his burger and his drink.
"You hear that Daniel McDaniel saw something out on the Old Mocksville Road Tuesday. Something big that ran his car off the road."
"Mike says he was drunk."
"Don't matter none something tore up his car."
"Mike says he tore it up when he crashed through Old Lady Boumont's chicken house."
"Oh Mike Mike was he there?"
"No but I can tell you that it was the same thing that came after us last night."
"It was the elephant that everybody's looking for?"
Slobber was starting to get ticked off at how Gene just went about his business and shot monotone comebacks at him over his shoulder. Times like this always made him think that maybe Gene thought he was stupid just like everybody else did. Of course he didn't, and Slobber knew that.
"It wasn't no elephant."
"That's what the Sheriff told me last night."
"He was just trying to keep from scaring you. It was some kind of creature like the blob."
"It didn't look like no blob. This thing had legs and a big long trunk-nose thing. I even heard his footsteps when he was chasing me. The blob don't even have feet."
"I said that it was like the blob," Slobber jumped up from the trash can took the lid off and slammed his garbage into it. He was about to slam the lid back down but Gene motioned for him to stop so that he could shovel the dust that he had swept up into it with the dust-pan.
"Not just like the blob. This thing has a shape. You know like King Kong or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Gorgo something like that. Don't matter what it looks like. I'm scared it's gonna attack the festival today."
"Why would it do that?"
"That's what always happens. In every movie, every time there's some kind of get together the monster's gonna attack right then."
"So I guess we shouldn't go then?"
"No man we got to go," Slobber took Gene's coat from the nail on the wall and threw it to him. "In all them movies the people who is supposed to know what to do don't. You know the police, the army. They just get killed. It's the people like you and me who's not supposed to know what their doing that got to save everybody." He dragged Stanley toward the exit, hardly giving him time to lean his broom up against the wall.
They didn't talk as they made their way down the alley behind the store, they were both deep in thought. Slobber was wondering what they would do if they did see the monster and Gene was wondering if Slobber really knew what he was talking about or if he did engage his mouth before his brain was in gear, like Mike said he did. It was because they were quiet that they heard the first footstep, a footstep identical in sound to the footsteps that they heard coming at them through the woods. This time it was coming up the adjoining alley that was separated by the one in which they stood by a high slat fence. At once both their stomachs seemed to do flips inside them and the same astonished thought ran through their heads: I'll be dog Slobber's right! They froze as they listened to the other footsteps growing louder as the thing got closer. Gene looked at Slobber and silently mouthed the words: What do we do? Slobber thought for a few seconds and decided to try the only thing that he could think of.
"Get me a rag." He whispered.
"A rag. Make sure it's dry." Gene took a few steps toward the rear door of the store and turned back towards his friend. "Should I get Mike?"
"Don't tell Mike anything! You want him to get killed?" Gene ran inside, grabbed a rag from the bin at the sink and ran back out. His boss, Mike Howard, saw him pass by the door to the stock room and after he had helped Forrest Little load a case of roofing nails into the back of his truck he headed out back to see what was up.
By the time that Mike had gotten through with Forrest, Slobber had rolled his scooter through a gate in the fence. He shoved the rag into the gas tank and was desperately trying to light it with the old butane lighter that he always carried with him. The one that never would light on the first fifteen tries.
"Get against the wall and put your head down!" He yelled. If Gene would have kept his head up and if Slobber would have thought to look in the direction of the footsteps, he could have seen Blossom the elephant, not a monster from outer space on the other side of the fence. She had been attracted by the sound of the crowd and the music that was blaring even though the parade had not started yet. Blossom had gotten tired with freedom and missed the circus, missed George, missed the little man who cleaned up after her, missed everything so since that morning she had been looking for anyone that she was familiar with. The woodpecker, having no such ties, went where ever she went and as Slobber laid down his trap the bird was on the elephant's face between her eyes, pecking mites.
The downfall of Slobber McAllister's hastily devised trap was that by the time he got the lighter lit, the rag was saturated with gasoline and the air around it thick with fumes. When the butane lighter finally sparked it set Slobber's scooter on fire with a pop and a loud Whoosh! as he had envisioned, but it engulfed him along with it.
It's debatable as to what Slobber sought to do to the supposed monster by setting fire to his little scooter, but it did stop her in her tracks. That is until Mike walked out into the alley and saw Slobber's scooter as well as Slobber on fire. He reached just inside the door and got the CO2 fire extinguisher off of the wall. He then saturated man, machine and unbeknownst to him elephant with very cold carbon dioxide. The combination of the cold gas and the loud hiss put Blossom into motion better than William the cat could ever hope to. Slobber's monster stepped over the still smoking scooter and headed downtown where the parade was just getting under way.
We were standing at the corner of Welbourne and Depot streets about four rows back from the street, due to our tardiness, and the Ashewood Falls High School marching band, who were leading the parade, had just grown even with us. Mama was trying to help my nephew get onto my shoulders so at least he could see when shouts started coming up from the crowd farther back on the parade route. I thought that one of the cub scouts had fallen off their float or one of the Shriners had wrecked one of their little cars, so I stepped forward, pulling my nephew along with me. As I got to the curb and stepped onto the street the crowd around us rushed back and we found ourselves in the path of, believe it or not, a charging elephant.
I wish that I could tell you something that could make the scene a little more dramatic. When you're reading something like this in a newspaper or book you always hear: "Oh it happened so fast," or "time seemed to stand still," something like that, but I can't help you there. The only thing that I can say, and I'm not bragging here, was that I wasn't really afraid. "Oh my God I'm going to die" didn't run through my mind, it was more like: "Oh look a charging elephant with a bird on its face, how interesting." I can's speak for my nephew who was just as much in the thick of it as I was, but I wasn't really that concerned. No I'm not that brave it's just that I had seen George, the elephant trainer, I had recognized him front the circus, standing just a few feet from me. For some reason I knew that George had it all taken care of and I wasn't disappointed.
I saw him step out of the crowd as the elephant passed by him and bring something to his lips. I would have thought that it was something like one of those high pitched dog whistles, but it wasn't. It was a turkey call. He blew that thing and Blossom stopped on a dime not a foot from where we stood. Everybody just stood there quiet for a second or two, then George yelled: "Blossum, hup!" and the elephant put its trunk under my nephew's legs and lifted him up sort of like he was sitting in a swing or something. Then she stands up on her rear legs and posed like they all do in the circus. The woodpecker took one last poke at the elephant's head and then flew up onto my nephew's crown where it stood up strait and sort of struck a profile like the elephant was doing. The crowd started cheering except for my mother who had fainted flat out on the asphalt and had to be fanned awake again.
I guess that you could say that all of those people who crossed paths with Blossom the elephant and her little redheaded friend were never quite the same again.
Both Daniel McDaniel and Liddy Boumont gave up drinking and Liddy taped the Carson show from then on and went to bed at a decent hour. She figured that nothing good could happen after eleven o'clock.
Duncan and Mandy Reid gave up cooking and eating barbecue, reconciled their differences, and have been happily married with six kids even since. Buddy and Mabel Powell found religion sold their house and bought a Winnebego so that they could travel throughout the United States and preach the word of the Lord. Slobber McAllister swore off of horror movies, except for those Japanese monster movies that he like so good— they weren't that scary anyway. He also started sleeping fully clothed complete with boots, leather jacket and a .44 Magnum that he lays across his chest every night. Gene Pickard sworn off of horror movies of any kind and convinced Slobber to let him do the thinking from then on.
Blossom and the woodpecker did me, as well as my nephew, a great service as well. We came away from it all with a great story to tell. This coming Harvest Festival will be the fifteenth and we all have been to each and every one, but they'll never be another one like the first when Blossom the elephant, with the woodpecker in tow, lead that first parade through downtown Ashewood Falls.
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