Image by Hendrik Cornelissen

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, by Alexandra David (619  words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus looked back at me in the mirror of the changing room. It had its big mouth open, ready to swallow anything. Its big eyes were ogling me in a most voracious way, batting its eyelashes in happy anticipation, the memory of previous meals still fresh in its mind. I stared back at it and noticed its wrinkled skin and beads of fat on its stomach, the way its dry skin was folding in places as if its had been ironed that way, its triple chin, and goiter.  Its eyes wide apart, its flaring nostrils, and the two small ears looking even smaller in contrast with the massive head framed by a healthy mane of healthy-looking blond hair.  

Enough! I thought to myself and turned away from the mirror in disgust, phone in hand, looking up Hippopotamus with the intention of printing a picture of the monster and stick it on the fridge door to remind me of myself each time I thought of opening it. I had read in some magazine that some top model had lost her appetite using that simple trick only. I had not seen the other article published a year later about how the same model had died in hospital of anorexia. Instead of hippopotamus, I pressed the next option on the google list by mistake, my fingers too big to handle the small letters on the phone, This is getting worse by the minute, I really should consider buying an i-pad. The next word was ‘Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia’. Apparently, the longest word in the dictionary, and does not mean pedophile hippopotamus monster, but fear of long words, but who gives a fuck about that? I am not afraid of words. I am afraid of my own reflection, and I am afraid of fat! There must be a word for that too.

I took a deep breath and turned my attention back to the mirror. I had to finish the job, no matter how hard and painful it was. I had a contract and had to honour it. The horror that greeted me back was enough to suffocate anyone. I looked at my phone again. 15 minutes left. 

That is enough time, I got up and ran down the stairs to the toilet and stuck my fingers deep in my throat for the third time today. The result was rather disappointing, only water came out, and even that. I had not had anything but water and cigarettes for the last 48 hours, so what else could have come out? With the taste of bile in my throat I ran back to my chair and tried to finish applying my make-up without looking at myself in the mirror. Impossible task. 

5 minutes left now. Some more rouge.

3 minutes, the assistant is calling my name, another assistant is putting high heels on my feet and chatting to me. I vaguely hear what she says, something about looking too thin now and needing to eat a little more, and off she sends me to the catwalk. Is she blind? How can she not see the fat, how can she not see the size, the monstrosity that has become of me? Is she mad or blind or both? Does she not understand?  

And off I go strutting on the catwalk. And for a minute or two, give them all what they came for, the smiles, the attitude, the arrogance, the kindness, I play whichever part they have given me and delight myself feeling the envy, the admiration, and the outward jealousy of the woman in the public eye. For that minute or two, I forget about the hippopotamus in the mirror.

A longtime resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, Alexandra David now lives and writes from Brussels where she works as a political consultant and learns coding. She is a prolific author and has written and published a novel, children stories, and a collection of Flash Fiction stories, written between 2011 and 2014 in Tel Aviv. Some of the stories have been published individually on different outlets. The entire collection appears on Ephemerides.

She is now working on her second novel.

Kiboko, by Florin Deleanu (750  words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus  first acknowledged me. Just like today. You’d think ghosts don’t feel heat, but they do. At least I do. I’m not sure I’m an authentic ghost, but I did kick the bucket, right here in the hippopotamus enclosure. 

I slipped, or rather… wanted to slip. What was the point of going on? Nobody at home, nobody at work, nothing to dream about. The only people acknowledging me were the shop assistants – hasty, impersonal. The only dreams were during sleep – messy, meaningless. 

Had no idea why I started visiting the Zoo, but the third time I came the hippopotamus – Kiboko’s her name – acknowledged me. She slowly dragged her massive body out of the pool and trudged along under the scorching sun to look up at me. I never thought hippopotamuses have such warm eyes. She kept on staring. And she did it, again and again, every time I came. If I was going to do it, Kiboko’s enclosure would be the best place. All it took was to bend over the fence, more and more… until bang! My skull crushed against the hard concrete. 

Did it hurt? Hmm…. Next thing I remember is standing on the enclosure lawn gazing at the paramedics squatted by my body. There was no pain, but feelings and thoughts were heavy. I wished to wipe them off, but that was another thought, too heavy to handle. 

It was again Kiboko who came to my rescue. She walked by rubbing her snout against my body like a gigantic Sphynx cat. It felt warm, reassuring. Wait a tick. Body? Do ghosts have bodies? I’ve been wondering, too, but yeah, I got a “body.” At least, it feels like one. 

 

And it felt so even as I was watching the paramedics carrying away my other body. I did it without a speck of sorrow. I was in a better place though I couldn’t figure out what that was. Still can’t. Maybe it’s a gate to a world hereafter. Or maybe a slow petering out into nothingness. I’d hate it, though. Or perhaps I’m just a wave of conscious energy stuck in a perpetual self-play mode. That’s my pet scenario but there’s one big downside: the moment I’ll lose Kiboko. And that’s about to happen. 

They’ve decided to put her to sleep. She isn’t that old or ill. Her kidneys are weakening, her bowels are loose, but at 50, which is quite old for hippopotamuses, that shouldn’t be unusual. The real reason lies somewhere else: Tom hates her. He’s borne a grudge ever since Kiboko sprayed poop on his face. Tom was pestering her, trying to draw blood, so Kiboko turned her butt to him and emptied her bowels while fanning the tail. Hippopotamuses do that often – something Tom, a vet, should know better. But all he’s ever felt is hatred. 

His official report is, of course, objective. It recommends euthanasia on grounds of decrepitude and suffering. What suffering? Kiboko’s still fine, maybe hurting a little here and there, but she could go on for a few more years. And when she’ll go away? Maybe, she, too, will become a ghost and stay together forever. Who knows? Even if she doesn’t, she will have lived her natural life. 

I did struggle to stop the crime: trying to change Tom’s thoughts, whispering in the Director’s ears, haunting their places. Nothing’s worked. Maybe I’m just a rookie ghost who’s hasn’t got the hang of it. The only thing I could do was push Tom’s report into the trash bin, but he immediately found it. 

And now here he is, grinning with a big syringe in his hand. One assistant’s holding a flashlight connected to a long extension cord. It’s already dusk. Kiboko’s dozing off in the pool, not minding Tom’s approaching her... 

Eureka! That’s it: the cord’s rubber’s worn off in the middle, wires bared. All I got to do is drag this part of the cord into the water. Tom’s waist-deep in the pool – perfect for electrocution. 

But what about if I also get electrocuted? Can this happen to ghosts? Cut the crap, no time, I’ll do anything to save Kiboko. I just have to focus on the cord moving, … and yes, it does. Shit! It got stuck. I need to get into the water and focus on pulling it toward me. Great, it’s in the water now, and here’s the spark, and.…

Florin Deleanu, Ph.D., is a professor of Buddhist studies and writer based in Japan. Apart from his scholarly work (which can be found on Academia and ResearchGate), he also pursues creative writing. Recently he has completed the script How to Kill a Black Dragon, a Chinese Don Quixote story set in the world of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

Zoo, by Marlene Goldberg  (746 words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus  opened its mouth with a deep yawn, spurting trickles of water on the human spectators standing too near the cage. Fatima’s boys’ cries of astonishment mingling with the similar sounds of the other children were soon stifled as Mahmud pulled them away sharply, admonishing them  “How many times do I need to tell you not to stand so close!”, coupled with a sound whack on the side of their heads to bring the message home. While his attention was drawn to the older boys who needed discipline, no one noticed that 3-year-old Ama had wandered off. 

Now with the boys crying and the heat getting more and more oppressive, Fatima saw that her plans for a family outing on this holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when Mahmud got a rare day off work, was not panning out so well. Besides most of the animals were sleeping inside in the shade, except for those lucky ones splashing in cool water. 

Fatima announced, "Let's go have lunch at the cafeteria." She meant that the family would bring their picnic lunches and sit at the outside table ordering ice cream for everyone thereby winning the privilege of sitting by the table. Her cooler had enough to feed an army, stocked with bourekas, some kubbeh, aruk, and sombrosak, foods that travel well. But cutting a fresh salad to go with that was a must. 

The kids got their ice cream and settled down, when Fatima shouted, "Where's Ama?" "Salima, didn't I tell you to watch her?"

"Yes, Mama, but when we got ice cream...  she said sobbing softly, not used to the presence of Baba in the family milieu and afraid of his unpredictable reactions. 

Fatima knew it wasn't Salima's fault but needed to protect her from Mahmud's potentially angry reaction. 

'Let's go see the park authorities. We'll finish eating later."

 The soothing ice cream seemed to calm tempers a bit. Moreover, no one was really interested in eating a full meal that hot summer day.   Salima helped Mama pack up the food in the cooler, quietly whispering to her, "Mama, we'll find her. She couldn't have gone far."

Mahmud shouted, "Hurry up, woman!" - as he addressed her when angry - and led the way to the office building of the park rangers. Fatima lugged the cooler. Salima pushed the baby carriage. And the twins, always hyper, teased each other with animal nicknames as they made their way to the office. 

Mahmud barged into the office without knocking, despite the secretary’s best efforts to stop him. 

“My child lost. Only three. Please to help us!”

“Okay, calm down, Sir. Please have a seat. What seems to be the problem?”

“You say lost?” “How long since you last saw her?”

“We’ll need a description.”

Mahmud’s English wasn’t that good. He went to get Fatima to speak to the Americans.

“Yes, she have long black hair but wearing hijab. White. She had flowers dress on. Many colors. She is little girl all alone.” And her voice broke up crying. “Please to find her!”

“We’ll do our best, Ma’am. Could you give me a piece of her clothing? We have dogs who could pick up her scent.”

Fatima found a pair of the child’s soiled panties and gave it to the officers. The family left the office and began to look for the girl, calling her name out frantically. Soon other people joined the search.

Then, near the duck pond, with her thumb in her mouth and sound asleep on the grass under a tree, they found her. Fatima put down the cooler and packages and rushed to scoop her up in her arms. Even Mahmud couldn’t get angry at the sleeping little angel. He picked up the cooler.

“Let’s go home, Mama, we can have our picnic in the garden. Or put the air conditioner on,” advised wise Salima.

“The animals are all sleeping anyways”, said Hussein.

“But can we see the monkeys before we go?” asked Amir, receiving a cuff to his head for his impertinence.

“Okay, but only five minutes,” Fatima replied, glancing at Mahmud who was busy with the packages.

Fatima sat down with Ama on a bench in the shade nearest to the monkey cage. Mahmud proceeded with the kids to the monkey cage.

But then they heard an announcement on the loudspeaker: “All visitors are asked to vacate the park immediately! A puma has escaped its cage!”  

Based in Israel, Marlene Goldberg has published 100-word stories on Word Press through LinkedIn Friday flash fiction. A former high school/college English teacher, Marlene is a certified translator and librarian with a BA (major in English literature/ minor in political science) and MA in English Literature. 

Thirsty, by Robert Loewen  (696  words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus lumbered down Main Street in Springdale, a mid-western town of three hundred residents. The heat was normal; the hippopotamus not so much.

“How did you get here, big fella?” said Zeke, a balding man of forty-nine. 

“Have you ever seen a hippopotamus before, Zeke?” asked Otis, joining Zeke on the broken sidewalk. At sixteen, Otis was Springdale’s youngest resident—a redhead with freckles. 

“Nope,” said Zeke, his shirt soaked with sweat. “From what I’ve read, they’re supposed to be extinct—especially around here.”

The giant beast stopped in the middle of the street and sniffed before moving on slowly.

“Where’s the sheriff?” asked Otis, removing his broad-brimmed hat and using his sleeve to wipe the sweat from the back of his forehead. “She needs to see this.”

“She’s in the cooling shed,” said Zeke. “She won’t want to be disturbed.”

Otis ran three blocks to a rundown building constructed from old boards, sealed between the cracks with tar. The constant hum of an air conditioner filled the air. Decaying plywood had been nailed to the windows with tar smeared around the edges. Otis opened the door, enjoying the blast of cold air that greeted him.

Fourteen people were jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle, seated on wooden benches with their backs pressed against the wall. All briefly raised their eyes toward Otis before retreating to their personal reveries. 

“Close the damn door!” shouted Nate, a man in his sixties. 

Otis quickly pulled the heavy door shut behind him. 

“You shouldn’t be here, Otis,” said Mildred, an eighty-year-old woman with soft features. She glanced at a list stapled to the wall. “Your turn starts in thirty minutes.”

“I know,” said Otis. “But I’ve got to see the sheriff.”

Sheriff Amy Robbins, at seventy-three one of the younger residents of Springdale, slowly stood up and brushed a hand through her short-cropped hair. “This better be important.”

Otis slowed his pace so that he could walk beside the limping sheriff as they sauntered toward Main Street. “Why don’t we build another cooling shed? Everyone would get twice as much time to cool off every day.”

The sheriff, known to Springdale folks as Sheriff Amy, shook her head. “Our shed uses more than half the town’s energy allocation as it is.” She peered up the street. “What the hell is that?”

“That’s why I came for you,” said Otis, eying the hippo. “Someone needs to decide what to do about it.”

“Do you want me to shoot it?” asked Sheriff Amy, touching the pistol holstered at her side.

“No. No,” said Otis, putting his hand on hers. “I want to follow it.”

“Ah to be young again,” said Sheriff Amy with a laugh. “I told your mother it was a mistake to get pregnant when we knew the planet was dying. But she wouldn’t listen, and now we have to listen to your childish ideas.”

“But hippos can’t live without water,” said Otis, trying to sound reasonable. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Springdale found its own water supply?” 

“We already have enough water from the De-Sal allocation,” said Sheriff Amy, sauntering back toward the cooling shed. 

“Enough to drink maybe,” Otis called after her. “But not enough to grow vegetables.”

The hippopotamus reached the end of Main Street and turned left. Otis followed, knowing he would miss his turn with the air conditioner.  

Three hours later, the hippo ascended into the hills. Otis pulled the brim of his hat down against the blazing sun and followed. He wished he had brought some water with him.

Another hour passed. Otis felt faint, wondering whether he could still make it back to town. 

After Otis lost visual contact, the sounds of the hippo bulldozing its way through the underbrush remained loud and clear. Splush! Otis had never heard a sound like it. Coming around a group of dead trees, Otis saw something he’d not seen before—a large pond, almost a lake, fed by a babbling brook. The hippopotamus submerged itself under the water, then emerged with a loud blurp.  

Otis put his face in the water and drank deeply while the hippopotamus watched. 

Speaking Hippo, by Cyn Lubow  (669 words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus gave birth for the first time, and she was not happy. Though she thrashed and moaned in the “birthing pool” the zoo provided for her, comments from the spectators included the possibility that she wasn’t in fact giving birth, but rather sick from the heat, or maybe just having “a big poo.” Fortunately, the zoo’s Hippopotamus Whisperer, Mary Catherine Davies, arrived to translate the otherwise incomprehensible noises expressed by Ms. Harriet, the zoo’s designation for the hippo. 

People smiled as Mary Catherine explained into her microphone that Ms. Harriet was happy to be having her baby, though it was getting increasingly uncomfortable and then painful until Ms. Harriet seemed to enter an untenable phase. Listening carefully, Mary Catherine called out her verbatim translation of the guttural sounds coming from Ms. Harriet.

         “Oh God, this hurts like a b*^$%!” Mary Catherine translated for the audience. As Mary Catherine was visibly pregnant herself, the audience met her translation with suppressed giggles and skeptical heads turning to confirm what they’d heard. Within the half-hour, Ms. Harriet escalated even further, and Mary Catherine continued translating. 

“You M&%$#@er! You did this! Don’t touch me ever again!” Mary Catherine interpreted after a long and particularly loud screech from Ms. Harriet, apparently directed at the male hippo. The crowd fell silent, except for some awkward shuffling, and the sound of a great many zoo brochures flapping hard in an attempt to stem the overwhelming heat.

Focused on her job of giving voice to the hippo, a red-faced and sweaty Mary Catherine offered her next translation. “Somebody get me a f@#$%& fan!” Titters spread through the crowd, along with some alarmed expressions, and several people bowed their heads and tapped their phones rapidly with their thumbs. Finally, one man began chanting, “Bring her a fan! Bring her a fan,” inspiring the entire audience to join him. Startled by the rhythmic shouting, spectators from nearby cages walked toward the hippo crowd and took up the chant, just to fit in, since they didn’t know exactly what was going on. Soon, the resounding chant invoked a half dozen zoo workers to rush out with several industrial fans, extension cords, and generators and set up a wall of wind pointed toward Ms. Harriet. Having been shoved out of the way to make room for the fans, Mary Catherine now stepped in front of one of them, hair whipping around her face, and resumed her translations. While the crowd’s chant faded away, Mary Catherine still had to yell into the microphone to be heard over the enormous fans.

Ms. Harriet let out a baritone wail that lasted an eternity, and a tiny (as tiny as a hippo baby head can be), dark dome poked out of Ms. Harriet’s nether regions. 

“Get this M#@*&%ing piece of s#&* out of my M#@*&%ing arse!” The whisperer screamed, startling everyone anew, as they had no idea the hippo was from the UK. A few in the crowd glanced at the signage for the hippo cage, looking for some reference to her origin.

With each growl and wail the hippo belted out, Mary Catherine filled in the English translation, while the male hippo seemed to be napping with one eye cracking open each time he heard a terrible noise. Following a final crescendo, a tiny 100-pound newborn baby hippo swam out into the pool and Ms. Harriet dragged it to dry land and began licking and nuzzling it. 

Having belted out her final translation, Mary Catherine’s body made a popping sound and flooded her feet with baby-water. “Well at least she’s cool now,” a woman in the crowd observed. Staring wide-eyed at her wet sandals, with her arms out to her sides as if to avoid touching anything icky, Mary Catherine turned and sloshed toward the zoo gate punching her phone with her fingertip. She paused to bend over and let rip an ear-pinning scream before continuing her slosh, while cooing excitedly into the phone, “Hey Sweetie! Guess what!”

Cyn Lubow is a psychotherapist, filmmaker, and writer. She has won awards for her poetry and films, published a chapter in an anthology called Goddess Shift, written content for various websites and for Google, and most recently wrote her first novel, Dying of Curiosity.

The Half-Back in the Hippo, by Emily Mesch  (729  words) 

The heat was unbearable the day that the hippopotamus was discovered on the fifty-yard line of Mitchellbrook High School’s football field.  Made of wood, set on wheels, and ten feet in height, the hippo was first discovered by Ethan Levi, defensive tackle of the Mitchellbrook Trojans.

Ethan, who held a C average in World Literature, dropped his helmet and began pushing the wooden semiaquatic ungulate towards the locker rooms.  “We can’t hold practice with this thing in the middle of the field,” he thought to himself even as he strained against both the heat of the sun and the weight of the wooden structure.

Running back Marcus Stephenson was the next to arrive and took a moment to marvel at the sight before him.  It was distinctly impressive to watch the hulking Ethan push against this gigantic structure and to actually see it move against his efforts, if slowly.  But after a few moments, curiosity won out over awe.

“Hey Ethan, what are you doing?”

The other teen stopped just as he reached the thirty-yard line, wiping the sweat from his brow as he turned and explained the situation he’d arrived in.

 

Marcus, who had an A in World Literature, squinted his eyes at Ethan, then at the hippopotamus, and beckoned the larger boy to follow him.

 

Inside the arborous beast, another conversation was being had.

“Why did we stop?” Jeff Ankler, halfback of the Harrison Heights Hippos, hissed in a whisper.

“Shut up,” came the reply from Brody McGrue, wide receiver on the same team.  “If they hear us, this is all for nothing.”

Jeff, Brody, and two of their teammates were huddled inside the body of the hippopotamus, each wearing nothing but their gym shorts and a thick layer of sweat.

Jeff looked up and eyed the hatch that opened to the hippo’s back.

“Don’t think about it,” hissed Brody.

“I thought you said to shut up,” replied Jeff.

Neither needed to worry, as their structure had been abandoned and left to sit on the thirty-yard line unperturbed.  After a brief discussion, in light of the heat and the hippo, it had been decided that the Trojans would run drills in the indoor gymnasium that afternoon.

 

Eventually, night fell.  But the temperature inside of the hippopotamus did not.  Sweat had begun to pool along the inside of the hippo’s belly, and Jeff had had enough.

“That’s it, I’m out,” he declared as he reached for the hatch and pushed it open.

Brody, at this point, did not have the will to argue as the opened door invited a less warm, if not entirely cool, breeze onto his face.

 

Brody followed Jeff onto the hippo’s back, followed by the other two boys.  All of them took a moment to breathe in the fresh air before they noticed their surroundings.

They were still on the Mitchellbrook football field.  Still on the thirty-yard line.  But they were now surrounded by a chain-link fence.  Outside the fence was a sandwich board, upon which was written “Mitchellbrook Nature Preserve.” 

Jeff looked to the ground and immediately jumped off the back of the animal which had been his home for most of the day.  Brody looked towards where he was going: some five-gallon buckets had been set up in a corner of the fencing, each full of water.  Thirst suddenly overcame Brody, and he followed Jeff’s actions.  Their teammates were a step behind, and very quickly all four boys’ heads were submerged in their own bucket.


When morning came, Marcus found the four rival players passed out on the grass.

“Door was open, my friends,” he clanged the gate loudly even as he shouted his greeting to ensure that it woke them up.

The boys, disoriented, looked between each other, Marcus, and the open gate for just a moment before Brody, wordlessly, stumbled past Marcus, tripped through the gate, and ran all the way to his own house.  The other three boys quickly took a similar action.

Nothing else was ever said of the incident.  That weekend, Mitchelbrook had a parent with a truck come and tow the hippo off the field and behind the bleachers, where it remained for quite some time.  And when the Harrison Heights football team met the Mitchellbrook Trojans on the field the following week, for some reason there were four players missing from the visiting team.

Emily Mesch is a writer based in Juneau, Alaska.  Her writing can be found on Medium.com