After a while, they sort of forgot that he was supposed to be extinct.
On the Care and Feeding of Mammoths
by Brat Farrar
by Sandy Connally
We got Fred sort of accidentally, last year. From what we can figure out, my younger brother George found him in the woods on the edge of our land, but we have no idea how he got there in the first place. Which is rather difficult to believe, all things considered.
Fred is conspicuous. His size alone would do this, but the complete combination of size, hair, and tusks makes him very nearly the definition of the word.
George found him, but that alone would not have been enough to turn him into our pet. For that to happen, one of our parents had to allow George to keep him. Being the good, obedient child that he is, George asked Mum for permission. She said yes, although she says now that at the time she did not realize what she was getting into.
You couldn’t really blame George for wanting to keep him. The farm he lived on had many large and fascinating animals, from the huge and friendly draft horses Salt and Pepper to the three hundred and forty-two pound sow Kumquat. But none of them were nearly as large or fascinating as the creature he found while playing ‘special operations agent O’Connor’ with the wooden gun his older brother had carved for him. Under the circumstances, it was inevitable that he would want to take it home with him.
You also couldn’t really blame his mum for not paying more attention to his request. He was the kind of boy who was always bringing home some new creature to keep as a pet, and if he was a little more excited than usual . . . well, she was in the middle of measuring out twenty-seven half-cups of flour, so it’s no surprise she said yes and continued counting. And while George may have been young and mostly innocent, he was also no fool. So although it would have been more polite to have let his mum know what she had just agreed to, he simply said thank you and went to see how Fred was settling in. The rest of his family didn’t find out about it until after dinner.
All of us were rather shocked to discover a mammoth in with the sheep, but once they recovered, Mum and Da decided that we would try keeping him for a little while, and see how it went.
George’s da was the first one to recover, although it was a while before he said anything printable. He wasn’t really angry, just shocked and a little worried about his sheep.( Which was only reasonable, all things considered. Fred’s feet were almost as big as the sheep, and mammoths have never been known for their keen eyesight.) However, once he finally got that out of his system, he turned to his wife and asked, “But what does it eat?”
She looked at him as if he were mad. “Dear, it’s a mammoth,” she pointed out, as though that answered the question.
“I’m sure it would be good for scaring away those stray dogs that keep going after the sheep,” he said, as though having a mammoth as a guard dog was the most natural thing in the world. Hand out as if approaching a skittish horse, he went over to the mammoth’s side. “Hey there, boy. Do you like sugar cubes?” He pulled a couple out of his pocket and offered them for inspection.
The mammoth considered them for a moment, then delicately picked one up. It appeared that it did like sugar cubes. It also appeared that it liked George’s da, as it quite happily let him stroke its hairy side.
George’s mum watched her husband with more than a smidgeon of exasperation. However, she couldn’t claim that this turn of events was entirely unexpected, as he had been bringing home strays for as long as she could remember. “Dear–”
“Mum,” said George, tugging at her sleeve, “Do you like him? I’ve named him Fred.”
“You’ve named him Fred?” his mum said a bit blankly. “George dear, we haven’t even decided what to do with him. Besides, ‘he’ might be a girl.”
“Oh no,” said George with certainty. “I’ve checked. He’s definitely a boy.” He regarded his mammoth with an owner’s pride. “Isn’t he marvelous? I was thinking he could stay out with the sheep. He’s got a thick enough coat.”
“I see,” his mum said with a look on her face that said she didn’t. “But George, you do realize that we don’t even know where it came from. Someone might have lost him and want him back. We couldn’t possibly keep him if he belongs to someone else.”
“Well, it’s not like he’s got a collar on,” her husband pointed out cheerfully. “And I don’t think it would be very wise to put out posters saying ‘Found: one mammoth, male. Likes sugar cubes. Call this number for more information.’ It would bring in the wrong sort of attention.”
“Besides,” George added before his mum could come up with a reply to that, “Finders keepers. I found him, and you said I could keep him.”
“Did I?” his mum sounding more amused than upset, which he took as a good sign, George decided to press his advantage.
“Yes. This afternoon, remember? I think you were baking or something.”
“Oh. Yes. I remember now.” She looked like she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or drag George off to his room by the ear. “Well, I suppose you’re right. But,” and here she glared at him, although the effect was spoiled by the way the corners of her mouth kept twitching, “Next time you had better tell me what I’m agreeing to. Do this again and you’ll be in big trouble, young man.”
With a whoop of delight, George hugged her and ran over to inform Fred of the grand news. His da gave him a sugar cube and winked at George’s mum, who smiled ruefully. Fred ignored all the excitement and continued placidly eating sugar cubes.
“Does this mean I can get a boa constrictor?” asked George’s sister Sandy, who had been a silent spectator up to that point.
And that settled the matter.
The main problem with having a mammoth for a pet is the lack of information available on the subject. Most books that mention mammoths are actually about dinosaurs, or are works about extinct animals in general, and are of no help.
They looked up mammoths in the tattered and thoroughly out-of-date encyclopedia George’s grandda had rescued from a dumpster (which was missing the Dr-Ej and Un-Vi volumes), but the only information in there was about size and possible times of extinction. Which, considering the situation, was about as unhelpful as possible.
“Well,” said George’s mum, the glint in her eye belying her casual tone, “We could go to the library. According to the schedule, they’re open until nine tonight. If we’re quick we can make it.” The piece of paper she was referring to was crumpled, with most of the print obliterated by creases, but no one pointed that out.
“Okay.” George’s da clapped shut volume Li-Mu and pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. “Who wants to ride shotgun?”
They made it to the library in twenty-four minutes and approximately twenty-nine seconds, but only by pretending that there wasn’t a speed limit and the truck was actually a roller coaster. George’s mum swore she wasn’t going to let George’s da drive ever again.
The librarian at the front desk looked at them a little strangely when they burst into the building, seventeen minutes before the place was supposed to close. It took them thirteen minutes to strip the shelves of anything even remotely related to mammoths, leaving gaping holes in the rows of book spines.
When they deposited their books at the front desk, the librarian eyed first the piles and then them. “What’s all this, then?” She looked irritated at having to process so many books only minutes before closing time.
George opened his mouth to explain, but his mother silenced him with a well-placed hand. “School project,” his da said easily, like it was the truth.
“In July?” the librarian asked dubiously, although she stamped the books without hesitation. George’s da shrugged, like there was no accounting for homework, and they made their exit without resorting to further lies.
The trip home was longer and less life-threatening, and George was asleep in his da’s lap by the time they got back. It was well past his bedtime, and the day had been very full of excitement.
It turned out that none of the books they’d found had any actually useful information, but George had fun looking at the dinosaurs.
We ended up basically treating Fred as an elephant with fur, which seems to have worked out all right so far.
Elephants are supposed to be fed vast quantities of food every day, but Da refuses to spend that much money on what he calls “a giant sheepdog”. He says that since Fred managed to stay alive long enough for George to find him, he can probably feed himself better than we could. Fred’s still alive, so I suppose Da is right.
Although Fred technically belongs to George, I have to help take care of him. Mostly this consists of making sure he has enough water, although sometimes we put out hay for him, if the weather is really bad. If he gets too dirty we have to wash him, which takes all day and actually makes him smell worse.
“A bath?” Sandy demanded incredulously. “You want me to help George give his smelly mammoth a bath?”
“His name’s Fred,” George muttered sulkily.
“Yes,” George’s mum said firmly, a warning look in her eye. “He’s too large for George to take care of all by himself, and your father and I have other things to do.” She pursed her lips. “Didn’t you tell me you wanted a boa constrictor?”
“Well, yes,” Sandy admitted, clearly confused by the apparent non sequitur. “But what does that have to do with the stupid mammoth?”
“He’s not stupid,” George growled, spine stiff, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. His mother placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and frowned at his sister.
“Just think of Fred as a trial run.” And with that, George’s mother handed them each a bucket, a bar of soap, and propelled them out the door. She didn’t lock it behind them, but it was quite clear that she didn’t want to see either of them again until they either finished their task or ran out of soap.
“This is your fault.” Sandy declared, pointing an accusing finger at her brother, and stormed off, an incensed George trailing behind her. “You and that dumb mammoth of yours. I don’t see why you get–”
At that point George took her out from behind, having finally reached the limits of his patience. They rolled around for a bit, yelling abuse at each other and thrashing about and incurring grass stains. As they approached the point of actually harming each other, someone pried them apart.
“Is there are reason why you’re trying to kill each other?” The speaker sounded unduly amused at the situation.
“Connor!” George wrapped himself around his older brother, face lit up like Christmas had decided to come five months early. “You’re back!”
“You’re early,” Sandy said rather sullenly, as she picked herself up and begin scrubbing futilely at grass stains. “Mum said you were going to go hang out with your girlfriend.” The amount of scorn she managed to put into the word was rather unremarkable, all things considered.
“Yes, well–” Connor shrugged. “What’s up with you two, anyway?”
“Sandy’s mad at me because Mum said she had to help me wash Fred,” George explained, still clutching Connor’s legs.
“Fred?” Connor asked, disentangling himself from George, and eying with mild curiosity the abandoned buckets and accompanying equipment. “Did Da produce another stray dog from somewhere? I thought Mum told him to stop doing that.”
“She tried,” Sandy mumbled under her breath. “Didn’t do any good.”
“Nah–” George shook his head, grinning. “Fred is mine. You’re going to love him!” He dragged his brother off in the direction of the field they’d stuck Fred in. “You can help us scrub his back, because Sandy and me are too short to reach it.” Sandy collected the scattered equipment, and followed the two of them slowly, still grumbling, catching up with them in time to hear Connor’s shout of incredulity.
But despite the absurdity of the situation, he was a good big brother and did most of the work. It turned out that washing a mammoth was rather akin to washing a car, but a car with fur that didn’t particularly want to be washed. When confronted with a hose, Fred tended to leave. Quietly, and without any fuss, but as quickly as possible. It took them nearly two hours to do anything like a thorough job, and even then there wasn’t any visible difference from when they’d started.
“Mum’s going to have to be satisfied with that,” Connor said eventually. All three of them were soaked, exhausted, and covered in mammoth hair.
“She can’t say we didn’t try,” Sandy moaned from where she’d collapsed against the barn wall. “If he’d just stand still!” George sniffed, too tired to actually take offense, and then frowned.
“Do you guys smell something?”
Having a mammoth is cool, but not as fun as you might think. For one thing, Fred belongs to George, so George is the one who gets to play with him most of the time. For another, he’s simply too big for most games. If you try to play fetch with him, he’ll bring back a branch that’s too big for a human to pick up. Or he’ll almost step on you. He’s too clumsy for tag, and is absolutely terrible at blind man’s bluff–he smells so much that you can easily find him using your nose.
But his size also makes him the perfect place to sit a read a book or look at clouds, especially on a nice sunny day. He’s our “walking tree house,” only with more hair and fewer leaves, and we wouldn’t trade him for anything.
Sandy never did get that boa constrictor.
In other news, I need an icon for silly stuff like this thing.