The Stone Hippopotamus
by Jeff Baker
I was in my third year of service to the Sultan of Aldabad, and so my duties mainly involved tending to the grounds adjacent to the Royal Palace and making certain the local urchins did not use the pool which was mainly for decoration. The pool for the Sultan’s exclusive use was toward the back of the palace and heavily guarded.
The decorative pool was not very deep, and it’s most extraordinary feature was a hippopotamus, carved of stone and set in the center of the bottom of the pool. Children liked to get into the pool and “ride” the hippopotamus, thus I was assigned to watch the pool. Usually, I was bored.
That morning, I arrived at dawn. The lawn was a mix of deep orange and green and black. I saw a shadowy lump laying at the edge of the pool beside one of the many fruit trees the Sultan liked to snack from. As I approached cautiously, I glanced into the pool and saw that the stone hippopotamus was gone! That was when I recognized the shape next to the tree, now glinting orange in the light; the unmistakable white stone of the hippopotamus statue from the bottom of the pool. I wondered how anyone could have moved such a heavy object in the night, especially one I always assumed had been carved out of the stone of the pool floor.
In another moment, the stone hippopotamus moved!
I froze. I had never seen a real hippopotamus before but I knew they were dangerous. The hippopotamus stood up and shook itself and I realized, to my amazement, that it was made of carved white stone! I considered creeping over to touch the beast and at the same time I remembered a legend whispered about the palace that the Sultan’s great-Grandfather, the Old Sultan had the hippopotamus set down in the pool to guard the palace and it was supposed to be able to come to life. I had never believed any of that. I considered rushing into the palace to bring someone to witness this wonder, for surely nobody would believe me when the hippopotamus stood up and let out a huge yawn, cast a casual backward glance at me and trotted around to the other side of the pool. I suddenly realized there was nothing I could do, should the hippopotamus decide to leave and nobody would believe me if I told them it had run away. But the hippopotamus slid back into the water as graceful as a fish and resumed its position at the bottom of the pool.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I examined the ground; the deep tracks of the hippopotamus could be seen. I ran for the palace and in the inner hallway I passed a hanging tapestry I had barely glanced at before; it depicted the Old Sultan standing beside the pool, arms outstretched as a white hippopotamus rose out of the pool surrounded by a golden glow.
Author’s Note: Unintentionally borrowing some Kipling-esque settings and themes. Maybe Northern Africa instead of India. The first Friday Flash Fics story of 2021.