Illustrated by the author
Once, there was a tiny elephant named Pepe. He was born with a deformed left hind foot, and was the target of merciless taunts from some of the more insensitive and brutish tiny non-club-footed elephants in his jungle school.
One day the woodworking teacher, a kindly water buffalo of less than wonderful appearance herself, called Pepe into a private conference. She had noticed the tears after the tauntings, and suggested Pepe see a specialist -- the pachyderm podiatrist, Dr. Kornen Bunion.
So, in hopes of cure, Pepe set off to see Dr. Bunion. When he came to the Hut of Podiatry, Pepe knocked on the bamboo door with his trunk.
"Who's there?" asked a voice from the darkened hut.
"Pepe, the club-footed elephant," came the sad elephant's weak reply.
"Oh, goodness, come in, young boy. Let's have a look at that."
Pepe entered the murky hut, and was surprised to see two red, beady eyes glowing in the darkness. There were loud sniffing and snuffling noises around Pepe's feet, and a particularly long amount of time on the clubfoot. Pepe was unsure whether to be frightened, embarrassed, or amused.
"Well...that's going to have to come off, then" announced the gruff voice.
Aghast, Pepe exclaimed," but it has been part of me for as long as I can remember! Oh, woe is me...isn't there some other treatment?"
Silence...then a rattling around in the dark room of things metal, or glass, or rock.
"Well, there is something else you can do...but it is only for the most desperate."
Pepe wondered to himself how much more desperate of a treatment it could be, since amputation seemed drastic enough.
"Er...what do you mean, exactly?"
"Here, take this," a vial was shoved into Pepe's long snout, "and go to the hut at the end of the path. Once there, talk to the small frog sitting on a rock outside the entrance. He'll tell you what to do."
Doubtful, Pepe swallowed the contents of the vial, which tasted very bitter. Afterwards, he started to feel light-headed.
"What do I owe you?" asked Pepe on his way out of the podiatrist's hut.
"Oh, just after you're done, if you could stomp on that frog, and squish him good."
"Heavens! Whatever for? Won't he be helping me?"
"Believe me, when he's done, you'll want to stomp him."
Well, Pepe liked this less and less, and was even considering living with a clubfoot, it wasn't so bad, really, except for the cruelty of others...but something begun should be finished, Pepe always said. However. even so, he was beginning to feel very woozy indeed.
Stumbling, he started walking down to the end of the path. Thoughts jumbled in his head, and it took quite a bit of hard thinking to remember drinking a vial of something, somewhere. Perhaps that was why he felt so strange.
Before he knew it, the path ended. Pepe looked around, and that was a BIG mistake because the forest spun wildly and he found himself on the ground, waving his trunk feebly. It was hard to focus on anything but dappled colors that took him a moment to realize were leaves. He was looking straight up.
"Well, look what the leopard dragged in……" piped a wee high- pitched voice so soft, Pepe scarcely believed he had heard it. Moving his head, slowly, Pepe saw a green splotch of color that was eyeing him suspiciously.
"You're a frog on a rock!" Pepe exclaimed.
"You're a master of the obvious!" wryly noted the frog.
"Oh, sorry, no offense" wilted Pepe, suddenly now beginning to feel a bit nauseous.
"Who sent you? Gruenelda the Hyena Heart surgeon? Wally the Ostrich OB-GYN? Er..no, you're the wrong plumbing."
"Um, someone, um...Dr. Bunion I think"
"Oh, that quack! Oh very well, what is the matter?"
"Um, can you not see? I have a clubfoot that is not like the other feet. I want that fixed, if it is at all possible."
"Oh, everything is possible, but only some things are believable. Lie still. This wont hurt a bit," assured the frog. But of course, it hurt a great deal, regardless of the assurances. Pepe was not happy, but in a short while he drifted off to sleep, try though he might to keep his eyes open.
Some time later, he awoke looking up at the canopy of forest trees. Pretty, he thought to himself. He felt better. It was just a bad dream, he supposed, and tried to get up. He found that difficult and strange.
When Pepe finally got to his feet, he looked down and the breath left him immediately. Instead of a clubfoot on his left hind leg, now ALL of his feet were clubfeet! And not just run of the mill clubfeet, but immensely HUGE clubfeet!
"Oh, woe is me!" cried Pepe.
"What? Not happy? Don't pay. Next..." spouted the little frog on the rock.
"How...how could you! How could you do this to me!" demanded Pepe.
"I thought you wanted all your feet to match. This work isn't easy, you know. If Dr. Bunion hadn't anesthetized you properly, the 36-hour operation would have been a lot more dangerous!"
"But, but...I don't want this!" Pepe punctuated the complaint by waving one immense foot at the frog.
"Hey, you came to me, hapless elephant. Now, if you'll just run along..."
Pepe saw red. And green. And red and green and red and green and then a loud squishing noise and before he knew it, the frog was spread over the rock like a goopy half-cooked pancake.
"Oh dear!" shouted the horrified Pepe. "This will never, never do. Now I'm a heartless killer! They'll come after me! Oh dear! Oh dear!"
"Calm down, little elephant. No one will come after you, " said a kindly voice.
Startled, Pepe looked around him and was surprised to see dozens of creatures standing around. Slowly, Pepe noticed that many were misshapen or deformed, some had three legs where there should have been four or two.
"No need to worry," said a large sloth whose left cheek seemed to have melted into his chin, "We've been wanting to do that very thing for some time now. That was a very, very nasty frog indeed. And, he was practicing animal surgery without a license or even a how-do-you-do."
Relieved, Pepe sighed and smiled. Then, it occurred to him to ask a very sad question.
"So, I guess I'm stuck with four club feet?"
From somewhere back in the group came a light sweet voice.
"Oh, I think they're beautiful!" Pepe strained to see the owner of that voice, but just then a very large wolf with glowing red eyes and two necks came up to him.
"The entire misbegotten village is forever in your debt, Pepe" the wolf said, and Pepe recognized the voice of Dr. Bunion.
And so, after befriending the deformed village of victims of unethical surgery, Pepe and the other animals went back to Pepe's hometown, found the other elephants that taunted him, and tore them limb from bloody limb in a snarling frenzy that frightened even themselves. After a few hours, and a lunch break, they decided that was probably not the right thing to do. But by then it was too late and no one was quite sure how to piece together the ravaged elephant bodies, so they went back to their village and practiced safe surgery and everyone lived happily ever after.
Until, of course, the Bloodhound tracked the trail of gore back to their village and the remaining elephant pack torched their homes and extracted large sums of punitive damages and legal fees.
THEN everyone lived happily ever after.
Or, wait, maybe they didn't. I just assume they're happy. It's probably not the case, but it helps me sleep at night.
Copyright © 2002 by John Gregory Hancock