A cold eye surveyed the jungle, sweeping slowly back and forth, searching for anything amiss. Birds edged away down swooping branches, and meeker animals stayed huddled in the shadows. He was there, and he was watching.
Satisfied that everything was in its place, he turned away and sprang on. His ears twitched to hear the collective sigh of relief from behind him, but he chose not to respond.
Ever since his mother had passed on, it had fallen to him to make every law and enforce every rule. He stood proud, jutting his chest out and "Humph"ing at anything that displeased him. Or any one.
A loud thud and a thundering scramble sounded in his ears. He pinched the bridge of his long, pointed nose and sighed. Sure enough, a familiar voice drifted on the breeze, stammering apologies. He fixed himself in place under the shade of a willowy tree, watching as the giant mammal trudged into view.
He shut his eyes tightly. This lumbering dolt of an elephant was a constant reminder of that day. That day which had haunted his nightmares for years. The day his mother held an innocuous clover over a pot of boiling beezlenut oil and released it to fall to its doom.
The day Horton's sanity left him.
He could still picture the elephant's face, frozen in horror and disbelief at the sight of his precious speck being vaporized. Horton had drawn his ears over his eyes and wept like a child, long after his cage had been opened and everyone had left. Only the Kangaroo and Rudy had remained. Kangaroo had turned her head down to Rudy, sneering, "This is what happens to liars and dreamers. This is why we protect the jungle."
Rudy had turned his head up, his eyes round and frightened. "But Mom," he whispered, "I heard them… right before they fell, I heard them…"
His mother's face hardened. "Not another word, Rudy. You heard nothing of the sort. Do you hear me? You heard nothing."
Opening his eyes, he fixed them on Horton, coldly assessing the pachyderm. A stupid grin spread across the elephant's face, and a small orange clover was clutched in his curled trunk. Rudy stepped out from the shade of the tree he'd taken shelter under and hopped forward. The elephant turned, warily. His eyes widened a little, and his trunk curled protectively behind his head, but his smile stayed put.
Rudy folded his arms. "You can't keep doing this." His voice was quiet, but he knew he'd be heard. Those ears could pick up the sound of an ant grumbling a mile away. "You have to get over this. It isn't right."
The trunk relaxed a little, bringing the flower back into view. "You know I can't. A person's a person, no matter how small, and there are small people on this speck."
Tersely, Rudy grated, "There isn't a speck. There's a flower, but no speck. The speck is gone."
"You shouldn't talk about the speck like it isn't there," the elephant grinned. "After all, there's a whole world of people on it. That's a lot of feelings you're hurting."
Flinching at this, the kangaroo turned his face away for a moment. Then he looked back at Horton, anger rising in his eyes. "Get rid of it. We're all tired of watching you walk in circles around the jungle carrying that thing."
The curl tightened, and the elephant murmured, "But I promised. An elephant's faithful one hundred percent. I promised I'd find them a home. They're my friends."
Faster than the elephant could blink, the kangaroo snatched the orange clover and crushed it in his grip. His eyes glinted harshly as he growled, "My mother boiled your stupid flower years ago, Horton. It isn't coming back." Hurling the remains in Horton's face, he bounded off, smaller animals scrambling to get out of the way.
Why couldn't Horton let it go? Why couldn't he accept what had happened? Rudy had accepted it a long time ago, every sickening detail. His nightmares constantly flashed images of little people screaming for their lives as they were swept away by a boiling flood of oil, along with the knowledge that he could have saved them.
As he thumped away, he heard again the wail that he heard as a child. The wail he had chosen to ignore.
"We are here."