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Tusks, Trunks, and Time Travel

Zach is a self-proclaimed movie buff and history fanatic. He still thinks Lincoln should have accepted the War Elephants. You can find some of his movie musings on his blog at amouthfulofcelluloid.wordpress.com
Gaius Scatulus stood with the rest of his legion. The Roman soldiers waited calmly for the enemy to make himself known. This man, Pyrrhus, had come to take their homes, their freedoms, the very city of Rome from them. He had come to make himself their king.
Gaius was not a senator, nor were the men around him. They were not knights, and theirs was not the noble blood of the patricians. They were common men. In any other army these men would have been little more than blunt instruments to be sent charging into the spears of the enemy. In the Roman army they were something more. Common men they may be, but they were free in common with all the senators, knights, and patricians. Every man there had shed blood for the Republic, or had ancestors who had done the same.
So they waited as the Greeks lined up across the field, waited to defend Rome from its would-be king.
There was a pop and a fizzle behind Gaius as he scrutinized the enemy ranks. A prim and plaintive voice cried out, "Oh sugar."
It was a sufficiently unsoldierly comment to make Gaius turn his gaze away from the massing Greeks. Behind him stood a little man, wearing strange tan clothes in place of good Roman armor and an upside-down bowl of the same color in place of a helmet.
The stranger looked up, seeing Gaius's stare. "Never mind me, back to the war. Hop to it. Nothing to see here, citizen."
Gaius blinked at him. There was a length of cord extending from the man's mouth down to his collar, and his lips seemed to move in all the wrong ways for the stream of perfect Latin pouring from them.
"Who are you?" Gaius demanded, "And what do you think you're doing here?"
"Oh, what does it matter?" the man muttered, "You'll be dead soon enough, anyway." He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again the words came out slowly, as though meant for a simpleton. "I am a historian. Do you know what that is? A historian?"
A fearful whisper spread out through the Roman line, pulling Gaius's attention back to the Greek soldiers. Only, there were more than soldiers massing across the field now. A number of enormous shambling things were being led out into the front lines. Gaius squinted at the creatures, cold terror filling his stomach.
The strange little man went on, heedless of the new development. "A historian is someone who travels back in time to see what really happened. He writes that down, goes back to his own time, writes a book about the thing, and presto: instant fame and wealth. You see, from your perspective all of this is happening in the here and now, but from my perspective--"
The creatures across the field were grey, with legs the size of columns and long tentacle-like appendages where they should have had snouts. Tusks, sharp as spears, protruded from their mouths. Each creature was enormous, larger even than some cottages. And there were hundreds of the things. "They're monsters," Gaius whispered to himself, shuddering.
The little man perked up at that. "Here already?" He thrust himself forward until he could see around Gaius, and a slow grin spread over his face. "Beautiful aren't they?"
Gaius tore his gaze away from the monster to stare in horror at the stranger. "Beautiful?"
"They're war elephants," the historian said, tasting each syllable as though it were a fine wine. "That, my friend, is what's going to kill you."
"What?" Gaius growled at the little man, "How do you know those, those things are going to kill me?"
"I told you," the historian said, exaggerating every word, "I'm a historian. I'm here to observe while those things tear you men to shreds. I shouldn't even be talking to you, really, but seeing as you're going to die soon it won't make much of a difference. It's not like you can change much at this point. Too late to run, and too late to change your underwear, as my dad always said."
The man was rambling again, and Gaius could hardly hear the words. His death stared at him from across the field, lashing the ground with its monstrous tusks. As he watched, one of the creatures lifted its tentacle-like nose and let loose a blood chilling bellow.
So it would end like this? Torn to pieces by monsters? In all his years of soldiering he had never imagined a fate so ghastly. Stabbed, diseased, bludgeoned to death, or trampled beneath the hooves of angry horses: each of these possibilities had entered into his mind, but never this.
Yet, somehow, knowing the future took all his fear away. There stood his death, monstrous as it was, and he could not run. The tyrant Greeks had brought these demons to the very shores of Italy, brought them with the sole intention of destroying Rome. He could cower, or he could fight. A hard grin spread across his face.
"You're a messenger from the fates, then?" he asked.
The little man rolled his eyes. "No. I told you, I'm a historian. You know, a time traveler?"
"Get out of my way historian," Gaius growled.
He killed four elephants before the fifth beast made the historian an honest man.
Hours later, King Pyrrhus of Epirus stalked the battlefield, surveying the scene of butchery and death. An attendant approached, flush with victory, however inconclusive.
"Sir," the attendant cried out, "The Romans have retreated. We've won."
King Pyrrhus shook his head. Too many of his own men, and of his precious war elephants, had died bringing too few Romans to the grave. "Won? Look around you, boy. One more such victory and we are undone."
Behind him, unobserved, a little man in strange tan-colored clothing exclaimed, "Brilliant!" before scribbling furiously in his notebook.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

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