The Elephant Gate Part 1 – Ch 41 to 45
His telephone woke him up the next morning. “Mmm…hello?” he mumbled after fumbling for it on the night stand. The low chuckle caused instant wakefulness. “Rose?”
“I didn’t mean to wake you up. It’s 10am, and I wanted to see if you were up for a little adventure.”
He rolled over until he was sitting up. “What kind of adventure?’
“I have to head out to my stables and check on my horses, and I didn’t know if you wanted to join me. If the trails are decent, we could even go riding. That is, if you know how.”
Kevin had a vague memory of riding horse as a child, but it was wispy at best. “It’s too cold, and I just flew in last night. Some other day, perhaps.”
“Well, okay, then.” Disappointment was clearly in her voice. “I’ll chat with you later.”
“Wait!” he called, changing his mind even as he refused. “Give me a half hour and a cup of coffee. I’ll tag along.”
“Great!” She said happily. “I’ll be by your place in a bit!”
* * *
He was finishing his second cup when his doorbell rang. He eagerly headed for the door, but schooled his features into friendly neutrality before opening it.
“Hi.” He was rendered momentarily speechless at her simple greeting. She wore well-worn jeans on her generous curves, scuffed brown English-style riding boots, and a blue and black checked flannel shirt. Her cheeks were slightly reddened from the cold air, and her eyes sparkled. She held up another drink holder. “I thought you would like the good stuff.”
For her part, it was all she could do to swallow a feminine hum of appreciation. His outfit was similar to hers: jeans, cowboy boots, grey hoodie, fleece jacket over one arm. And it sparked her hormones right up. She opted for casual, though.
“Are you ready to go? It’s about an hour from here.” He nodded and turned to locked the door, and she took the moment to eye his perfect butt and have an illicit thought or two.
* * *
The drive was nice, as the busy streets around the metro area gave way to the rolling hills of Virginia.
“They are near Manassas and just outside the battlefields,” Rose explained. She had explained her parent’s farm; enough acreage for some horses, farming, and anything else her father like to do. “Be warned; my father is someone of an eccentric, and he likes to dabble in different things. Right now he is interested in olallieberries.” At his puzzled look, she continued. “It’s a hybrid of different berries and primarily grown in California. Dad wants to see if it can be a sustainable crop on the East Coast.”
A brief time later, and they turned onto a crush-and-run road, past two massive brick gateposts. A bronze plaque read “Su Ka Tee”.
“What does that say?” He asked.
She replied, “It’s the name of their ranch. It’s Thai for “Gateway To Heaven.”
The ranch buildings were small and neat, clustered near a Colonial Revival-style home. She pulled the big truck around the circular driveway, and parked just past the front door. The door opened, and two completely different people stepped out to the portico.
The man was tall and broad shouldered, with red hair liberally sprinkled with grey. The woman next to him was small and slim, almost boyish, with inky black hair twisted into a messy bun.
“Ma, Da!” Rose called out before hurrying up the steps into the man’s outstretched arms. The woman stroked her daughter’s hair before turning her attention to Kevin, walking slowly up the stairs.
She greeted him in the same matter as the restaurant owner the night before. He returned the gesture.
“Welcome to our ranch, Mr. Hunter. Rose has already spoken of you.” Her foreign accent was strong, but he could easily understand her.
“Thank you, ma’am. Mr. McEwen.” He reached out and his hand was enveloped in what seemed like a bear paw.
Rose still under his other arm, the older man welcomed him. “It’s not often our Rose brings anyone out this way. Soo, are you two….?” Rose lightly fake-punched her father in the stomach.
“He’s a colleague and the writer of my next production, Da. Don’t read any more into it.” He smiled at his daughter, but his eyes were more speculative when he met Kevin’s eyes.
“Now, Thad, don’t frighten him.” She laid her hand on Kevin’s arm. “Come on inside and we can have a nice long chat over tea, and you can tell me what you think of our daughter.”
“Ma, we’re going to go check on Sundial and Mouse first. I promise you both will have time to grill him, but later, ‘K?” With that she gently extricated him from her parents, and led him back down to the truck. Once there, she waved gaily at them. “See you in a couple of hours!”
Bemused, all Kevin could do was climb back into the still-warm truck and wait as Rose clambered into the driver’s side. “My parents are always embarrassing,” she muttered.
“Parents are parents the world over.”
The horse barn was small and held about eight stalls. On one side was a strange area of chicken wire about 60 meters square. He spotted movement within the bushes inside the corral, and saw a strange ostrich-like dark bird stare at him for a moment before disappearing.
“Those are emus,” Rose said matter-of-factly, “Dad raises them for eggs and drumsticks. In a good quarter he breaks even. I personally think he just finds them amusing.” She walked up to the big barn doors and pushed one of the open. Kevin pushed the other, and together they walked inside.
The smells of hay and horses, manure and mud, called to something inside Kevin, and he drew in a deep breath appreciatively. Rose glanced at him. “Are you okay?”
“It’s just been a long time,” he admitted honestly, “I think I rode when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much. This all seems familiar, though.”
“Well, let me introduce you to our gang.” In a small stall near the emu pen was a sturdy silver dapple pony. At the sound of their footfalls, he poked his head over the top of the stall. She stopped to stroke his nose.
“This is Frederick.” At Kevin’s sidelong glance she went on the defensive. “Hey, I didn’t name him. The girl who originally owned him was adamant that his name was Frederick – not Fred or Freddy or anything else. And truth to tell, he only responds to his full name, right boy?” She gave him a final pat and stepped back.
Kevin smiled and leaned over to scratch a particularly itchy spot on its back, and the animal arched almost like a cat. “Frederick hasn’t been able to find something to scratch it before, and it’s been bothering him.” Kevin said, still engrossed in the animal.
Rose laughed. “I think you may have made a friend. How did you know he was itchy?” Kevin shrugged. It had always been like that as far back as he could remember. He could just sense things about animals. When the pony was finally happy, he gave it another rub.
There were two other horses in the barn. Sundial was a palomino mare with a calm demeanor. Mouse was a smaller gelding who appeared slightly nervous.
“Mouse is a rescue horse. He sometimes has problems with strangers.” Kevin could sense the anxiety flitting through the animal.
“They locked him in a small dark stall for days on end,” Kevin said, “He would like the outside door grill opened if it’s possible. And his right rear shank sometimes hurts him in cold weather.” He turned to Rose. “If we are taking him out, you might want to wrap that leg.” He turned back to the horse. “Mouse, how do you feel about some riding today?”
The horse shook out his mane and shoved his nose towards the man. He laughed, and stroked it under the jaw. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Rose stood there in wonder. What had seemed an everyday, albeit sexy man, had been transformed into something else, someone beyond ordinary. How in the hell did he know Mouse’s fears. Or injuries. Or anything?
When he didn’t hear anything behind him, he turned. Rose looked like a statue, frozen in place. But why? He whispered to Mouse, “Should I kiss her?” The horse nosed him in agreement. He stepped in front of her as her eyes stayed glued on his face. He slowly leaned down, looking for any sort of rebuff. Finding none, he finally closed the gap between them.
Her lips were warm and soft, with the faintest bite of coffee. He gently lifted her chin to gain better access to her mouth, sliding his hand to the nape of her neck as he deepened the kiss. Almost of its own volition, his hand continued down her back until it rested at her waist. After a playful nibble of full bottom lip, he withdrew. And still she stood there.
“Rose? Rose?” She closed her eyes as a shudder ran through her. When she opened them, she was back from wherever she had disappeared. She gave him a lopsided grin.
“Phew, big guy, let me catch my breath.” She acted nonchalant, but inside was nothing but chaos.
The amazement she felt watching him interact with her horses was nothing to the maelstrom when he kissed her. Feelings, impressions, a sense of familiarity, a feeling of home all swirling around inside her.
In a vision, or a memory, or some forgotten past life, she had loved this man.
Kevin sat atop Sundial and looked around at the distant mountains of the Blue Ridge. Rose was remarkably quiet throughout the trip, answering in short sentences. Had he offended her with his kiss? She seemed okay with, at least at first, but now, an hour later, her uncharacteristic silence was unnerving.
He dismounted with ease, barely registering that this was his first ride in at least 15 years. He flipped the reins over the horse’s head, and led him a short distance to his riding partner.
Rose heard the footfalls of man and horse behind her, but she continued to look out over mountains spotted with green flecks of pine and cedar trees. She crossed her arms as if to ward off a chill, although her fleece-lined suede coat was warm.
Mouse whickered a hello as they drew near. Kevin dropped the reins, knowing the horses would stay together even without human intervention. He stepped up to Rose and put his hand on her shoulder to slowly rotate her until they were face to face.
“I’m sorry if I offended you in the barn.” He said sincerely. She was touched by his apology and entranced by the frown lines bristling on his forehead. She inwardly sighed; clearly he didn’t feel the same lightning bolt that she did.
Put on the big girl panties, Rose m’dear, she admonished herself, and with an effort, finally pushed away those impressions. She smiled up at him.
“No apology is necessary. We are both consenting adults.” She steered away from her emotions, still so close to the surface, and decided to focus on the other extraordinary things she saw. “How did you know about Frederick’s itchy spot? And Mouse’s distress? I never told you.”
Kevin was at a loss to explain it. “I don’t know, really. I just sometimes can feel things from animals. My child psychiatrist says that I empathized with them, using clues I gather from my observations.” He stuck his hands deep into the pockets of his coat. “All I know is that we talk, but not with words. For instance,” He turned to look at the horses. “Sundial knows of a nearby stream, and wants to go there for a drink of water. Mouse is just happy to be outdoors in the sun.”
At their names, both animals sauntered over to Kevin and faced him expectantly. Rose was charmed and just a bit uneasy. She cleared her throat as two equine and one human face swung to look at her.
“Well, if he wants to go, let’s go.”
The stream was not far from there, the water running extra cold. After the horses were watered, they began the trek back to the buildings. This time it seemed a bit more easy between them, and Kevin was happy that the air was cleared.
If Rose was a bit more quiet than usually, Kevin didn’t notice.
* * *
After they brushed down the horses and put them back in their stalls, it was time to face the parents.
When they tromped up the front steps after parking the truck back on the driveway, they both looked at each other. “Here goes nothing.” Rose said before swinging the door opened. “Hi! We’re back!”
There was a fire crackling in a large hearth in the den. Kevin sat down in a leather chair just across from Rose’s father. “I’m going to help Ma in the kitchen.” And just like that, she disappeared, darting towards an open hallway and leaving him along with her dad.
Her father leaned back with studied relaxation. “How did the ride go?”
“Very well, sir. The horses were well behaved.”
“And what about my Rose. Was she well behaved too?”
Kevin went blank for a moment before settling on a safe topic. “I’m looking forward to working with her on the television script. She’s already completely the preliminary treatment, and I think she can bring my book characters to the screen.”
The big man gave a chuckle. “That’s the best non-answer I’ve gotten in a while. You’ll do. My Rose is a strong-willed woman, and doesn’t like in decisiveness. You’re the first bloke she’s brought over for a while. You know, my wife likes your books. She has always wanted to talk to you about your characters and your settings.”
“I’d be happy to talk to her, sir, whenever you wish.” Kevin wondered if their conversation would include any of the grilling techniques that parents have used since time immemorial. But Rose was old enough to make her own decisions.
“Dinner is ready!” Rose came into the den, wiping her hands on a white tea-towel. “It’s time for the menfolk to join us.” She gave a saucy curtsy before disappearing back into the kitchen.
The dining room was elegant with a a marble top table and white chairs. But the settings were bamboo mats and simple pale green dishes. A steaming soup tureen dominated the center, with a wooden bowl filled with thick slices of bread next to a plate of butter. The scent of the tureen was delicious and unusual.
The two women came out of the kitchen with water glasses. “It’s Thai Beef Stew, made with lemongrass and wide rice noodles. It’s a simple dish, but very filling. I hope you like it.” Rose’s mom explained.
From Kevin’s point of view, it was one of the best homecooked meals he had eaten in a long while. The flavors seem to wake something up inside, and it wasn’t long until he had polished off several plates.
“Thank you, Mrs. McEwen. That was delicious. I don’t think I’ve had anything like it before. Is it your own recipe?”
She nodded. “I adapted it from my native Thailand, to give it a more Western taste. I’m glad you like it though. I usually only serve my family.”
Kevin stood up. “Do you need any help with the dishes? I feel like I need to contribute to the meal.” She gave a tinkling laugh.
“Oh my no. This will only take me a few minutes. Thad, dear, come to the kitchen with me. Suri, take Mr. Hunter to the den, and we’ll join you in a few minutes.”
“Why does your mother call you Suri?” Kevin asked as they sat on the couch in front of the fireplace. Rose tucked her legs under her and leaned against his shoulder.
“It’s the word “red” in the Thai language. Dad calls me “Red” too. It’s just my nickname from my parents.”
Kevin toyed with a strand of her hair. “I like it. You know, there is red in your hair.” He rubbed his cheek against her before bringing his mouth near her ear. ”You have a fiery personality too” he whispered before giving her a quick kiss on her temple, a split second before she pushed him away.
It was dark when they finally arrived back at the townhouse. “Would you care to come in for a nightcap?” He asked. Rose smiled and cupped his cheek with her hand.’
“I’d better not. I still have to put in some work tonight, and I have a 9am meeting with my agent. Some other time.” With an unhurried movement she kissed him. “Take care, Kevin Hunter.”
He held her hand against his face for a moment before smiling. “You too, Suri.”
When he unlocked his front door, he turned and waved at her. She blinked her headlights before backing down the driveway.
When he got inside, he was too keyed up to sleep. Instead, he poured a glass of wine and went to the loft study.
Why was he drawn up here? He looked over at his desk, but there was nothing in his head to write down. He wandered around, looking at his collection of elephants, and the objects and books on the shelves. His eye fell on his childhood friend.
He set the half-empty glass down and picked up the stuffed animal, searching its eyes for some answer. “What is it that you want to tell me?” he mused.
With a tiny tearing sound, the object inside the elephant slipped out of a seam and landed on the thick carpet. Setting the animal aside, he bent down and picked up the object.
It was slightly horn-shaped and made of some cream-colored material. He rubbed his finger against it; he knew this object, and yet was unable to identify it.
He walked over to the desk and woke up the computer. Using the webcam, he snapped a picture and sent an email with the attachment to one of the researchers at the publishing house. Maybe they could determine what it was. Once sent, he carried it down to his bedroom and left it on one of the nightstands. After showering, he slipped under the covers but spent some time looking at it before sleep overcame him.
* * *
The next morning he was going through his emails. Near the end was a response from his email the night before. The intern must have been up early! He eagerly clicked it open.
“Mr Hunter: I’m not 100% sure, but it appears to be a tooth or tusk, some type of ivory. You might want to check with Professor Morton. He’s with the National Zoo and has knowledge of most of the larger animals. I’ve included his contact information in the bottom of his message. Good luck!”
He waited until 10am before making the phone calls. After going through a few layers of assistants, he was able to speak with the professor directly. Without going into the details, he described the tooth, and the man agreed to meet at the Zoo at noon.
Kevin puttered until he couldn’t wait any longer, and headed to his garage. In short order, he was a the zoo. He was over an hour early, so he decided to wander around the exhibits. Coming through the Connecticut Avenue entrance, he almost immediately was in the Asian exhibit.
On the few times he had been the the zoo, this was his favorite trail to walk. He wandered around past the sloth bears and the clouded leopards. He walked past the pandas and the other indoor exhibits, preferring to stay in the bracing air. Every one in a while, he would reach into his pocket, and touch his curious object.
Lost in thought, he followed the path to the right. A loud trumpet noise knocked him out of his reverie. He looked up and realized he was on the Elephant Trail. A female was walking the Elephant Trek portion of the exhibit, but had stopped to stare at him. He again felt that tickle in his mind, but it was so much more clear that when he was with the horses.
Why does that human have a tusk of one of our young? I can see it in his mind.
Kevin was astonished. The voice sounded strange, and not human. He wasn’t even sure he was hearing words. What was trying to communicate with him? His eyes went back to the elephant, who had walked the Trek until it had reached the closest point to his location.
“Are…are you talking to me?” he called out. There was still meters of space between where he was standing, and that elephant, and he thought she couldn’t hear him. She lifted her trunk and called again.
I can hear you. I have never spoken with a human this way.
He backed away from the fence and turned to hurry away, all but running down the path and around the Elephant Center. The elephant thundered down her own path until she reached the main outdoor paddock. By this time several other elephants had stepped out.
As a group they wheeled and faced the corner of the building, agitated and swaying from side to side. The handlers came out of an entrance, surprised by the herd’s behavior.
There were now several voices ricocheting through his head, almost sounding like his mother’s Florida friends at the restaurant.
Who is it? Did the human talk to you, Shanthi?
Yes the human spoke and understood.
Can the human really hear us? Did he?
He covered his ears but the voices continued. Finally, in desperation, he yelled “Stop!”. The voices instantly stilled. He cautiously pulled his hands away and looked up. There, in the dusty yard, three elephants stared at him, perfectly still except for their ears.
By now the handlers had approached the huge animals, but they took no notice of them.
Kevin was a little calmer by now. In fact, in the faint recesses of his mind, he remembered doing this before. Somehow talking to elephants, but he could not bring up a location, only some hazy images of a baby elephant. He shook those memories away for now, wanting to focus on what was going on here.
Uh, Shanthi. Are you the elephant on the trail?
The largest elephant took a step forward from the other two and lifted her trunk.
I am, human. How is it that we can speak?
My name is Kevin, and I don’t know. I have never done this before.
My son Kandula told me he thought he heard a human talk to him. I did not know if he spoke truth.
Kevin didn’t know what to do, rooted to the spot by the eyes of these big gray animals. His watch chimed noon. He licked his lips nervously, then communicated again.
I must leave now, but I will come back and talk again soon.
The elephants called out once and then dispersed, allowing the handlers to move them back towards the Elephant Center. Shanthi stood there the longest before she, too, turned around to lumber away.
The administrative offices of the zoo were housed on the outskirts of the exhibits near the big cats. Kevin was careful to keep his mind blank walking past the Elephant Center again.
The professor turned to be a portly, friendly individual. “I understand that you have some questions about an object you found. Do you have it with you?”
Kevin was oddly reluctant to part with it, even just to give it to the man across the desk.
“I just discovered that it’s a milk tooth of a baby elephant. But I don’t know much more than that, except I’ve had it for many years.”
The man cradled it in his palm, turning it over and looking at the hollowed center. “It appears to be an Asian elephant milk tusk. The elephant would have dropped this at around two to three years of age, to allow the adult tusk to develop. This is in good condition, with no areas of thin enamel or damage, so the elephant at that time was a healthy individual.” He looked Kevin straight in the eye. “There are international bans on the importation of ivory, so it’s significant that you have this piece.” He settled back in his chair. “Can you tell me how you came by this tusk?”
Kevin kept to the truth as much as possible. “I have a vague memory that it was given to me when I was undergoing brain surgery at eight years old, but other than that, I don’t have any other information.”
The man steepled his fingers. “Baby tusks are sometimes available in the States, mostly through zoos such as ours. The birthrate among captive elephants is low, though, so most of these are kept within the scientific community. All of ours are documented and in-house. Would you be willing to allow me to make inquiries to see if any went missing fifteen years ago?”
Kevin ran the possibilities in his mind. If his hunch was correct, whether or not this particular elephant was still alive, they were never going to find its origin. He nodded to the professor. “Yes, sir. But the tusk stays with me.” He stood up and handed the man a business card. “Here is my information if you find out anything.”
Professor Morton stood and shook hands. “Here’s my card as well. Even if we can’t determine the animal that came from, it is an extremely valuable object. Please consider giving it to us for scientific study.”
Kevin gave a neutral nod and quickly left. Outside the offices, he decided to walk the long way through the park and avoid the elephant area for now.
* * *
He was almost home when the headache started. It crept up from the base of his skull; sweat broke out as he realized what might be happening. He accelerated down the road, hoping to get home as it steadily advanced and grew stronger. He turned onto Quebec just as the edges of his vision grew darker. Just…a…little…bit…more.
By sheer force of will, through the agony and darkness, he managed to pull his car into the driveway and turn off the ignition. He leaned over with a shaking hand and tried to unbuckle the seat-belt when there was an explosion of light and then…silence.
Posted on November 2, 2018, in (completed) The Elephant Gate Part 1 (NaNoWriMo 2014), My Fan-Fictions and Novels and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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