During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.
Faces of Change*
by Jean Harkin
This is a short but fascinating tale that addresses much in its brevity: how to find the strength within, the joy in solitude, and the connection between humans and animals. I particularly enjoy the parallel between poachers and attackers, and the joint lack of respect for life that's represented there. Harkin has written a truly beautiful little story here. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
A girl at a Midwest university and a lion on the grasslands of Africa changed places. No one knows how this happened—or why. After the switch, the red-haired girl looked as she always had, but her empowered soul was the lion’s. She kept to herself, rarely speaking to people on campus; when she did, they found her difficult to understand. She often wandered to the prairie south of campus to walk barefoot, breathe the perfume of the prairie flowers, listen to whispers of the tall grass as the wind gushed through, and hear the calls of red-winged blackbirds.
The lion, with his kingly mane, appeared as usual but behaved oddly, according to the occasional lion who encountered him. With the soul of a girl, he had no wish to engage in battle with other lions. And he sought after his own prey, not wanting to depend on females of a pride to bring him food. The lion loved rolling in the tall grasses of the African savanna and gazing up at the deepest blue sky on the planet.
One hot day during the dry season, the lion lay down on a mattress of grass like fresh straw—still soft but firm. Eyes closed, the lion dreamed of playing on the veldt, chasing antelopes, and sniffing breezes to catch stories of fellow creatures.
Abruptly, he was kicked on his rump and awakened. Ready to fight on his feet, the instinct faded quickly when he saw the trouble surrounding him. A ring of men armed with guns targeted him. The tender soul within the lion looked up at the poachers. Why must you hurt me? Do you not realize the great beauty of creation that I am? Please spare me. As the men tightened their circle, the lion closed his eyes and mourned others of his tribe, fellow creatures suffering the misdeeds of heartless thugs, and wildlife in great numbers disappearing. The lion, realizing his hopeless position against a squadron of guns, aimed one more pleading look at the men and hoped for mercy.
The earth began to shake and vibrate. Blaring, trumpeting noises blasted the silent air of the savanna. The poachers turned their attention away from the lion and began hollering, tumbling over each other to escape the tumult of stampeding elephants rushing toward them. The poachers sprinted off in four directions.
With the danger suddenly past, the lion inhaled delicious earth scents once again. I’m alive! He stood up to welcome and thank the elephants for saving him. At the same time, he regretted his vulnerability and helplessness to save himself.
That same day, the red-haired girl named Savanna walked away from the stately trees and college buildings at Iowa State and continued past campus town. Although it was February, with darkness falling fast on the afternoon, a deep urge to visit the prairie possessed her. As she left the campus farther and farther behind, and clouds accelerated the arrival of nighttime, a chill formed around her shoulders. She shrugged it off and began to run, knowing her beloved prairie was near.
A mottled gray car spewing exhaust fumes pulled up alongside the roadway, blocking Savanna’s path. The windows rolled down and out came hoots and whistles. “Hey girlie!”
Savanna loped around the car, slowed to a majestic walk, and kept her nose pointed straight ahead, down the country road toward her destination. No other cars or people were in sight. Her neck bristled and her senses sharpened, alert for trouble.
Car doors opened and slammed shut. Four young men in dark jackets—two tall, two shorter and heftier—exited the car, rushed toward the lone girl, and surrounded her. This group was not from campus. Danger! One of the men grabbed her arm and began pulling her toward the ground.
Uh oh. They don’t know who they’ve caught! Savanna called up the powers of her body, the strength of her lungs, and let go a tremendous roar, intense enough to frighten a herd of elephants. She flung off the weak arm that held hers, tossing the man into a ditch.
“My arm—it’s broken!” he screamed. The others fell back in alarm as Savanna bared her pointy teeth and charged at them, her red hair like a fiery war bonnet, and yellow eyes aflame. Her tour de force scattered the men and sent them scrambling back to the car, one of them still bellowing in pain. Savanna kept roaring to ensure their departure. The car’s motor roared in return as it sped away.
Now for some peace and quiet. She watched the car’s tail lights grow faint in the distance and then continued toward her rendezvous with the prairie.
* (An earlier version of this story was published in "The Writers Mill Journal", vol. 5, 2016.)
Jean Harkin, of Washington County, Oregon, is the author of "Night in Alcatraz: And Other Uncanny Tales," an anthology of short stories honed by magic realism and humor, published in 2016.
Jean belongs to two writers' groups: Writers' Mill in Portland and Northwest Independent Writers Association. She is revising her novel, "Promise Full of Thorns" that was selected as a finalist in Maple Lane Books publishing contest, 2016.