The Flight Before the Mammoth, Paul Jamin, 1885
They weren’t ready for a mammoth. They’d just brought ice spuds and hammers to check the fragility of the lake’s ice. It was deemed it too thin; they bored no holes, dropped no lines, caught no fish. They peered at the speed of the sky’s low, gray clouds and made predictions for when ice might be thick enough to fish on. The next snow, one said. At least a week, another said. None could agree. Then the shadow lumbered from the woods, tusks like moon slivers glowing against the night of its hide. It was a bull come to drink.
The men were no fools. “A mammoth mirrors a person’s peace,” the old phrase went, and they stepped away slowly, as one might before an incoming tide. There was, though, an addendum to the adage, often shouted by grandfathers inebriated on old berries: “Unless the bull’s in musth!”
The mammoth trumpeted and rushed the men. Had it gotten any closer, they’d have seen the ichor dripping behind its eyes, matting the reddish fur, proving it was hormonally irritable and aggressive. But none of the four had any desire to investigate. This was no time for small observations confirming a hypothesis. They ran, howling, stumbling, barely able to keep their feet in front of their tottering bodies. The bull growled and harumphed behind, bent its head to scoop up the men with its tusks, then sent a pealing trumpet through its nose with a cloud of smoky vapor. Even when the mammoth slowed, the men did not brake.
The following day, the four retraced their steps and noted whose footprints were the farthest spaced. The three teased the one for being the most afraid, but he tapped his thigh and claimed, no, he just had the longest legs.