a colorful sculpture of an elephant
Fiction

Grandpa’s Dying Gift

Country of Origin: Malaysia

By the time she was nine, Chloe was well on her way to becoming a really, really spoiled brat.

As an only child, she got her way with almost everything. Her parents doted on her like crazy and indulged her every whim, being firm subscribers to the belief that she would eventually grow out of her selfish streak. They railroaded over well-meaning objections from her cousins, uncles, aunts and other relatives and persisted in allowing Chloe to live out her childhood unfettered in every way. There was time enough, they felt strongly, for her to face up to the inherent meanness of the real world.

So, her tenth birthday came as quite a shock. The bearer of bad tidings was her father, who, in a few words, shattered forever all her cherished childhood faith in her parents’ god-like powers.

“We can’t go to Disneyland, not just yet,” he told her somberly.

He then patiently fended off her whiny protests about missing this promised and much-anticipated childhood dream theme park visit. After some time, in between sobs, Chloe finally learned why. Grandpa had cancer, her dad explained. As the only child, he was forced to shoulder much of the medical expenses because Grandpa didn’t have enough to pay for himself. Thus, there would need to be cutbacks on some luxuries in their household, and he hoped that Chloe would understand.

Outwardly, Chloe expressed her dismay and concern at Grandpa’s plight. She even shed tears when her dad gave her a wooden carved elephant, which he told her was one of Grandpa’s most treasured possessions. Grandpa had insisted it be given to her now — in case he couldn’t be around to do it personally on her next birthday.

Once back in the privacy of her room, with the door closed, however, she let loose the rage that had risen within her. Chloe had really, really wanted to go to Disneyland — it was a trip that had been promised to her since she was four years old. Why did Grandpa have to spoil it all for her now!

She flung the elephant onto the floor in anger. Disappointed that the impact didn’t even chip it, she stomped on it several times, but nary a mark appeared. Only her feet hurt from all that stomping, stoking her anger even further. Blinded by fury, Chloe picked up the elephant and angrily stalked to her window, intending to throw it out.

But before she could take more than two steps, a teeny voice rang out, stopping her dead in her tracks. “That’s enough, young lady!” the voice scolded.

Taken by surprise, Chloe looked around her. “Who’s that?” she asked, alarmed.

“I’m the spirit in the elephant. Now put me down and tell me why you’re being such an idiot.”

Her temper temporarily shunted aside by shock and curiosity, Chloe brought the elephant closer and peered at its face. “You’re not really talking to me, are you? You, you can’t be. You’re…you’re a wooden carving,” she stammered.

“Of course I’m talking to you. Do you see anyone else in the room?” Chloe heard the strange voice ask. “Are you really that stupid? And do you have a name?”

Chastened, she replied quickly. “Oh, I’m Chloe. What’s yours?”

“No one’s ever bothered to give me one before,” came the reply. “Now, what in the world possessed you to stomp on me like that? It’s given me such a headache!”

“I’m sorry,” Chloe said apologetically. “I didn’t mean to give you a headache. I’m just angry with Grandpa.”

“Why?” asked the teeny voice. “From what I’ve seen, he adores you, silly; not that it’s any of my business.”

“Because,” wailed Chloe, glad to have someone she could finally vent her frustrations to, “he’s sick. And Daddy says we can’t go to Disneyland even though he had promised. He says we need the money to pay for Grandpa’s medicines.”

“That’s too bad. But given the circumstances, I guess I should find it in myself somewhere to forgive you for that temper tantrum. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

“I don’t know,” Chloe said thoughtfully. “Could you maybe take me to Disneyland?” Chloe asked, a bit wistful.

“If you had cared to notice, you little horror, I’m just a tiny wooden elephant. Besides, I don’t think your parents would let you go with me,” the teeny voice said..

At her budding hopes being dashed again, tears glistened at the corners of Chloe’s eyes, and her mouth quivered slightly.

“All right, all right, I see you’re having a worse day than I am,” the spirit said, with a heavy sigh. “Tell you what, how does an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland sound to you?”

“Wow!” Chloe exclaimed, her eyes now bigger than bowling balls and growing. “Can you really do that?”

“Just try me,” the teensy voice replied. “Give me till dinnertime, and I’m sure I’ll have a solution.’

At the dinner table that evening, Chloe nearly jumped out of her skin when her mum screeched out loud for her dad. Somehow, in all the excitement, Chloe finally learned the family had just won an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland!

Chloe rushed back to her room, picked up the elephant and hugged it tightly. “Thank you!” she whispered gently to it. “Thank you so much! I’m sorry I stomped on you earlier.”

“So,” drawled that now familiar voice, “I see you can have fleeting moments of pleasantness after all. I take it you’ll be bringing me?”

“For sure,” Chloe promised. At this point, she would have promised it anything within the heavens and on earth; she was so over the moon with joy.

And so she did, carrying the wooden elephant in her favorite haversack as she walked with mum and dad into the airport terminal. But when they got onto the plane, Chloe saw they were seated in the coach section, where everything looked so cramped. “Where am I going to play with my toys?” she wailed softly to the wooden elephant.

“Sigh!” came the tired voice. “I guess you’ll want me to do something about that next.”

“Oh, please, please!” pleaded Chloe. “Will you do this for me?”

“As long as you promise to keep quiet for the rest of the trip,” the voice relented. “I’ve yet to see the movies they’re showing on this flight.”

So, lo and behold, Chloe shortly saw a stewardess walking towards her mum and dad, then whispering to them that they had overbooked passengers on the flight. In two shakes of a bunny’s tail, the family was seated in first class and Chloe had ample room to play with her toys.

Upon arrival, Chloe didn’t like the look of the hotel they were heading to. A whisper into her haversack resulted in a booking error being discovered, and everyone was directed to a much nicer hotel across the street.

The room they were initially allocated turned out to be too small for Chloe. Another pleading whisper, and the family was swiftly upgraded to a suite due to a sudden plumbing problem. These little strokes of good fortune continued to shower on the family over the next few hours, delighting mum and dad while Chloe stayed smugly happy.

After breakfast, Chloe decided the bus wasn’t fun enough to qualify as an adventure and asked for a hot-air balloon ride instead.

At this outlandish request, the voice barked, “Hey kid, I’m only a spirit in a little wooden elephant! There are some things even I can’t do, okay?”

Chloe snapped back. “What kind of spirit are you? I’m sure I could do a better job.”

“Look here, you ungrateful little monster. I’ve had just about all I can take of your whining. Spending time with you is worse than an afternoon at the dentist’s getting a root canal! I’d much rather watch grass grow than spend any more time pandering to your whims and fancies.”

“If you think you’re better at this job than I am, you can have it. Let’s see how you cope with overly demanding and ridiculous requests,” the voice from the elephant said.

“Done!” Chloe readily replied.

And so the little spirit took Chloe’s place, rather pleased that it had an actual body to move around with now. 

Mum and dad were none the wiser for the switch when the bus arrived at Disneyland. But ‘Chloe’ urgently needed to go to the toilet, where she threw up from motion sickness. Things progressively went downhill after that and when the family returned to the hotel later, ‘Chloe’ insisted she was just very tired and wanted to sleep, waving away mum’s suggestion they see a doctor.

“Maybe it’s just the jet lag,” Dad speculated aloud and after some hushed whispers between him and mum, ‘Chloe’ was left in bed while her parents followed the afternoon tour schedule. “If you’re still sick when we get back, we’ll take you to the doctor then,” Dad said before leaving her alone in the hotel suite.

Meanwhile, the real Chloe was having the best time ever. After the initial shock at exchanging places and looking on helplessly while her parents took the spirit away to Disneyland, things started looking up.

Chloe soon discovered she had access to a play paradise within the wooden elephant. Every toy she could think of and more, plus books galore, kept her occupied for a while. Then she discovered that the stories and characters in these books could come alive! Soon she was having adventures she could never have imagined, with friends she never knew could exist.

Elephant on book mystery concept.
(Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto)

All in all, she reckoned it was far more fun than Disneyland could have ever been, and she secretly gloated at the poor sods who had made the wasted trip there. This was where all the adventure was.

So it was to her great annoyance when midway through one of her adventures – she was wading silently through a swamp to steal a dragon’s egg, which was really an enchanted diamond — she found herself looking out through the wooden elephant’s eyes back at herself. Or rather, what had been her face, animated by the spirit within.

“What do you want?” scolded Chloe. “I was just about to become the most powerful wizardess before you disturbed me.”

“Sheesh, I didn’t think she could get more pompous, but I guess I was wrong,” the spirit muttered. “Chloe can we change back? I don’t like being a little girl. It’s not much fun.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?” Chloe replied sharply.

“I can’t,” admitted the spirit. “The magic works only if you’re inside the elephant.”

“Hmm,” Chloe thought deviously. “So, you’re stuck being me until I decide to change back.”

Her head nodded, and it was a disconcerting sight – like looking into a mirror and seeing yourself moving while yet not moving. It almost made her feel giddy just thinking about it, but Chloe quickly shoved the thought aside.

“So, if I don’t want to change back, there’s nothing you can do about it, right?” she taunted.

Her head nodded again dumbly.

“Well,” Chloe said then. “I don’t want to change back. That’ll teach you for being so mean to me.”

At which, her head started shaking vigorously in negation. “You can’t do that. We’ve got to change now, or we’ll never be able to change back,” the spirit yelled out in terror.

“Good then.” Smugly, Chloe added, “I don’t want to change back. I like being in here.”

“You don’t understand,” the spirit protested desperately. “I can’t stay in this body for too long. Soon, it will die, and so will I. And once I’m dead, you’ll be stuck in the elephant forever.”

“Forever?” Chloe exclaimed in panic. “But, but, I don’t want to be stuck in here forever. What will my mummy and daddy say?”

“That’s why we must change back now,” said the spirit. “Before it’s too late.”

“Wait a minute,” Chloe stared back at herself. “You’re not trying to trick me again, are you?”

“No!” wailed the spirit. “No tricks. I don’t want to die!”

Chloe quietly stared at herself, her mind working furiously.

Finally, she said, “Okay, I’ll change us back. But here’s what I want you to promise me …”

And so, the exchange was made again. Just to make sure the spirit would stick to its pledges, Chloe asked it for some fried chicken; she suddenly realised she was ravenous.

“Go get it yourself,” the spirit spat at her, sounding rather annoyed. “Look at the mess you’ve made of my place! It’s going to take me weeks to clean it all up.”

“Hellooo,” piped Chloe, surprised at this insolence. “Did you forget something? You just promised to do anything I ask. And you crossed your heart and hoped to die if you ever broke your promise.”

“Did I?” came the smug reply. “Oh my gosh, how could I have been so silly – I can’t die. My promise means nothing, you stupid creature. Now, get lost and leave me alone.”

Chloe was absolutely stunned by this treachery! How dare this spirit trick her again? Burning with rage, she screamed at the wooden elephant, “Get me some fried chicken NOW!”

“Did you just say something?” the tiny voice asked. “I could have sworn I heard someone calling me, but I couldn’t hear clearly over the noise of the vacuum cleaner.”

“If you don’t get my fried chicken now,” threatened Chloe loudly, “I’ll tell my Daddy all about you.”

“Oh bother, must you? I guess I’ll have to tell him then that this trip to Disneyland was all your idea. I wonder what he’ll think about that. Or maybe I could turn all of this into a mistake and make your Daddy pay everything back. Think of how angry he will be when he finds out he won’t have enough money for your grandpa’s medicines.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Of course I would! And I’ll make you so miserable that you’d wish you’d never been born, you awful beast. My, this is going to be so much fun.”

Chloe went ballistic at this insult. “I’ll call you by your real name. Then, you’ll have no choice but to do whatever I say.”

“What real name?” the spirit laughed. “That may work on other spirits, but I’ve never had a name.”

“Liar! I looked into that purple chest hidden under the bed,” Chloe said coldly. “I know all your secrets.”

Shocked silence met this statement. Then, with a loud booming voice, the spirit shouted back at her, “YOU WHAT!? How dare you touch my things with your grubby hands?”

“I’ve also been reading your little notebook in that chest. Since you hate the sound of cymbals so much, I’m going to play my tambourine until you do what I say,” she threatened.

The spirit was aghast. “You’re worse than a gargoyle. You’re a bigger devil than my former master, the magician.”

“Yes, the magician. He put you in this carved elephant, didn’t he? And he made you do all kinds of things you disliked.”

The wooden carving actually shuddered in Chloe’s hands. “Why? Why? Why me?” shouted the spirit. “Ow, ow! Why do I still punch the wall when I should know better by now? I never learn.” But the elephant continued to shake, and the sound of stomping could still be heard.

Chloe was pleased with this reaction. There was more that she had learned from that little notebook. “I also know your mummy gave you away when you were a baby,” Chloe taunted.

Suddenly, there was complete silence from the carved object. The hushed minutes stretched into awkwardness, and still, there was no sound from the spirit.

Regretting it from the moment the spiteful words had left her mouth, Chloe knew that she had pushed her luck too far. No one deserved that final bit of insult, no matter how wicked they may be. She felt queasy inside her, wondering just how badly she had hurt the spirit’s feelings and wishing there was some way to take back those hateful words.

Finally, she couldn’t take the silence any longer. “I’m so sorry,” she apologised softly. “I didn’t mean to be so rude.”

“Yes, you did!” came back the icy response. “You’re a selfish, self-centered spoiled brat who doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything.”

“I’m so sorry,” Chloe apologised again. “Please don’t be mad at me. I want to be your friend.”

“Is this how you treat your friends?” snapped the spirit.

“Err, no,” she stammered.

“Then why should I even bother to give you the time of day, much less be your friend?”

“Because I like you,” Chloe admitted. “I know you may not want to believe me, but I’ve never had so much fun with anyone else, even though you are quite mean sometimes.”

“I am, ain’t I?” There was a momentary silence. “Did you just say you liked little old me?”

Chloe clapped her hands in delight. “Yes! I promise to be your best friend forever!”

“How do I know you’ll keep your promise? Maybe you’re just lying to me.”

“You lied first.”

Chuckles greeted this assertion. “That’s right, little girl. My, it’s going to be fun being friends with you.”

“Does this mean I’m getting my fried chicken?”

The spirit sighed.

~+~+~+~+~

Fortunately, the rest of the vacation went by pleasantly without any further ruckus.

Finding Chloe up and about again upon their return, her parents were so relieved they asked no questions when she seemed unimpressed by what else Disneyland had to offer. They blamed her disinterest on the aftereffects of her short illness; little did they know that the manufactured entertainment just couldn’t match up to the fantasies she’d already enjoyed.

There was also something else bugging Chloe — she didn’t like that the spirit had begun ignoring her, always pleading that it was busy cleaning up her mess. Missing her friends terribly, she had tried several times but failed to get the spirit to pay any attention to her. And so, she was stuck with the dull company of her parents and other adults.

Still, one significant interaction did take place between them later that night. When Chloe gave it the name “Imp”, short for “important person”, the spirit seemed happy enough with her heartfelt gesture — so Imp it graciously became. Then, Imp went back to being busy again. It was only very much later that Chloe learnt why Imp had been so busy.

The bad news arrived when the family reached home. They were shocked to hear Grandpa had died while they were on their flight back. Chloe was so wracked with guilt at the news; if she had not insisted on going to Disneyland, they would have been with Grandpa otherwise.

With the necessary rituals needing to be attended to, her parents were too busy to pay her much attention over the next three days, and Chloe was left to stew in her juices alone in her room. Imp had been mostly absent as well, and when it did deign to answer her calls after much delay and rather infrequently at that, it was only to tell her it was too busy before going away again. So she had finally curled up teary-eyed in bed while cuddling the rather uncomfortably hard-carved elephant.

To her surprise, where all else had failed, this last act of self-pity got an instant response from the spirit. “Hey, why are you flooding my place?” Imp mock scolded.

Trying to hold back sobs, Chloe apologised, “I’m sorry. I just feel so sad.”

“Please stop. I see no reason why you should be doing any crying.”

“Grandpa’s dead,” Chloe wailed.

“I know, I know,” muttered Imp. “He’s gone on to a much better place and the last I heard, he’s quite happy there. So, get over it and stop all this blubbering.”

“But you don’t understand. It’s all my fault,” she wailed louder.

“Why?” asked Imp. “He was old, and he had cancer. It was time for him to go. You didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“I should have been here. I shouldn’t have gone to Disneyland!”

“Feeling a little guilty, aren’t we?” The smirk was clear in Imp’s tone. “Well, if it’ll make you feel any better, your Grandpa wanted you to go.”

Huh?!” Surprise was painted on Chloe’s features. “How? How did Grandpa know?”

“I told him, of course,” Imp replied smugly. “Did you actually think I’d be doing you all those favours without your Grandpa’s consent?”

“But, but, …” Chloe was now really confused. “Aren’t you mine now?”

“You little twit, there’re a lot of things you’re not ready to know just yet. I belong to me, you don’t own me.”

“I don’t understand. Grandpa gave me this elephant. How …?”

“Okay, maybe you have a tiny claim on my time because of the elephant. But that doesn’t equal ownership, and even if it did, there’s enough of a gaping loophole for a whale, no, a whole school of whales, to swim through without sweating it.”

“What are you saying? Wait,” Chloe narrowed her eyes, “does this mean you won’t do whatever I say? Have I run out of wishes?”

Puh-lease! It’s pathetic how you dimwits have been suckered hook, line and sinker with that three-wishes nonsense. No genie worth his salt would have stooped to give you even one, much less three wishes unless you could offer it something it found to be worth its while. And I’ve yet to meet any human who was able to actually tempt a genie into that possibility, much less get it to grant any wishes.”

“But you will do anything I ask you to?”

“It’s a cross I have to bear.” Imp sighed. “In case you’re too woolly-headed to get that, the answer is yes.”

“Why?”

“Because your Grandpa asked me to. Why else do you think I’ve been so busy over the past few days?”

“You’re not making any sense,” said Chloe.

“Let me spell it out plainly for you. I’ve been busy taking care of things your Grandpa wanted done; he had drawn up a list before he died.”

“Imp, you’re still not making any sense,” Chloe growled. “Grandpa is dead. Why are you still busy?”

“What a dolt you are. Let me just say there are some things you won’t understand until you grow up. Your Grandpa gave me very specific instructions; one of them was to grant you your every whim, within reason, of course, until you turn 16. Oops! I’m not supposed to tell you that yet.”

“What are you not telling me, Imp?” Chloe peered suspiciously at the carving.

“Little girl, your Grandpa would swim to the stars to show just how much he adored you, not that it would do anyone much good. But, unfortunately for poor little me, he could be quite persuasive when he wanted to be. So, I’m stuck with showing you just how endlessly he loved you, at least until the very second you turn 16.”

More tears ran down Chloe’s cheeks, this time from gratitude and love for her dead Grandpa. “Is that all?” she finally asked softly.

Baby girl warm jacket and cap c grandfather hands in autumn Park
(Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto)

“There are many other things you’re not ready to know yet, and I’ll fill you in when I feel the time’s right. I’m forced to work on the premise that you’re really as smart as your Grandpa seems to believe you to be, so it’ll help if you stop asking too many stupid questions. And, by the way, could you turn off the waterworks — it’s flooding my basement.”


Thank you to Kacper Janusz for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Fiction team.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

As a journalist with over three decades of experience, Francis Nantha has been both editor and writer for various multinational and trade publications— with a focus on business trends and tech providing benefits to both corporates and consumers at large. Having recently retired— after a career that included the privilege to interview Vinton Cerf (in a speeding car!) plus top execs at BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and aviation giants Boeing and Airbus— he’s shifted back to his first love of writing fiction. While the world was engulfed in the Covid-19 pandemic, Francis was blessed to be entrusted with ghostwriting novels for five different individual clients and he continues to pursue this as a main sideline while working on his own books. He is currently crafting the final book in the “Afterlife” trilogy, aiming for publication by the end of 2023. This trilogy is meant to be both an introduction and an accompaniment to a planned 7-book “Babel” series—which Francis hopes to complete together with an open-ended “After-Babel” collection of short stories. When dragged away from the computer, Francis tries to complete the prescribed daily 10,000 steps and has so far managed to wear through sneakers at the rate of a pair annually. He is still waiting to tick off two key bucket-list targets of visiting Egypt’s Abu Simbel temple and basking below the Northern Lights.

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