Sally watched Heddy coloring on the wall with a sort of exhausted disapproval. To her left several of her daughters were studying, and behind her she heard Holly and Hildy arguing over nail polishes. To her right several of the girls were playing Ring Around the Rosie, and many more were playing London Bridge, while rest seemed to be running up and down the front stairs screaming. If she went into the bedroom, she knew she'd find Hesper moodily sketching away while her twin Harper experimented with her chemistry set nearby.
Watching as a large green bubble floated out of the girls room, she sighed heavily.
She looked at the clock; Ned should have been home nearly two hours ago. With no extra help, she'd decided to order pizza to feed her family, resulting in many more arguments over which Who-girl was entitled to more of each kind, though Sally had ordered thirty-three. Clean up was relatively easy, since the pizzeria had sent paper plates as a courtesy. Now two fresh bags of trash were in the garage, and Sally didn't know where her husband had gotten to. She had tried to call his Who-phone, but found it vibrating deep in the couch, forgotten yesterday morning. Two days of looking after the girls herself was wearing on her.
A few more bubbles floated by the girls door, and Sally got up from couch and looked down the street. Something was coming up the road, but it couldn't be her husband. It was enormous, and Ned always walked to work, and she had seen his car just a few hours ago. It was to dark to see what it was coming to the house, but she still squinted, trying to make it out.
Movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she turned to see clouds of bubbles in varying shades of green pouring out of the girl's bedroom. She raced to the door and found Hesper and Harper frantically trying to cover a flask, from which the the floating spheres were copiously spewing. She covered her eyes briefly, and breathed, "Oh, Harper. Again?"
She looked anxious. "Mom, I'm sorry! I didn't-"
"It's not her fault, Mom!" Hesper interjected loudly.
"Just give it to me," Sally said wearily. "I'll take it outside."
A chorus of protest followed her pronouncement, from the twins and the other girls, who had gathered around the doorway.
"Harper, give it to me," Sally said sternly.
Harper began to hand it over but Hesper grabbed it out of her mother's reach. "Mom, please, it's not hurting anything!"
She sighed and looked at nearly all of her daughters surrounding her, plainly hoping she wouldn't destroy it. "Fine. You can all come outside with me, and that way the carpet won't get stained, but you can still see them." Sally smiled as a cheer broke out, and a small corridor formed in the sea of daughters surrounding her.
She flipped the switch to the outdoor lights and stepped outside, placing the flask in the middle of the driveway. Squealing in delight, the smallest girls began jumping in the air, trying to pop the bubbles or grab them, Sally wasn't sure which. Hildy and Holly were holding a couple of the smaller girls in the air, allowing them to get the bubbles above their heads. Even the older girls were having a fun time blowing the bubbles around in spirals. Smiling, she turned to see Hesper with her arm around Harper, who seemed inordinately distraught.
She walked over and sat nearby on the stoop. "The other girls are having a fun time with your experiment, Harper. Tell me there's nothing toxic in there...?"
"No." Harper sighed and leaned her head on her twins shoulder. "I was trying to make my own environmentally friendly Who-Fur Dye."
"Well, no need to worry, dear," she said, placing a consoling hand on her daughter's knee. "You're very intelligent, I'm sure you'll figure out."
"Not now, Hesper, I'm talking to your sister." She ruffled Harper's hair affectionately.
Hesper stood up and pointed. "Mom, seriously, look."
"What?" Sally looked around to where Hesper was pointing, then stood up, shocked, to walk forward. "What the... ?"
She stared, disbelieving, at the huge elephant walking up the street. Just before she yelled for the girls to get back inside, a familiar face popped out from behind the elephants head. "Hi, sweetie!"
"Ned!?" Behind her cheers went up, and floods of girls came pouring around her, clamoring to pet the large animal. "What- what are you- Who is-?!"
"Hi, there!", the elephant said, "I'm Horton! You must be Sally! Nice to meet ya!"
Sally stared in shock as he stuck his trunk out as though to shake her hand, and then promptly fainted.
"Honey, can you hear me?"
Ned hovered over Sally's unconscious body, after carrying her to the bed, drumming his fingers on his lips in worry. Then he went to her, holding her hand and brushing her hair out of her face. "Sally, come on, wake up!"
She moaned and turned her face toward him. "Ned?"
"I'm here, I'm right here," he answered. "Are you okay? What do you remember?"
"I remember you were late home from work... And I had the craziest dream..." Her voice sounded tired, but after a moment her expression changed. "That was a dream, right?"
"Where are the kids?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Ned? Where are they?"
He waffled for few, than admitted in a small, timid voice, "Outside... with Horton."
"WHAT?" Sally jumped out of bed. "But how? And more importantly, does he have any experience taking care of children? Oh, Ned!"
"It's fine, it's fi-"
He was cut off as she shoved past him and raced downstairs, flinging open the back door. Instead of finding the nightmare scenario her brain had concocted, she found the elephant treating her girls to a slide down his trunk; they were clambering onto his back using a ladder from the garage, and zooming down his nose after he asked their name. Unbelievably, all the girls were laughing and present. Even Jojo, who hadn't been present before, was holding the ladder steady for his sisters. As some apparently came by for a second go, Horton tried to remember their names, and if he was wrong, the girls simply laughed and corrected him.
Sally stared disbelieving, vaguely registering Ned beside her, smiling widely. "He's good with kids, it turns out."
Horton heard Ned's voice and turned. "Oh! Hello, again, Sally!" He smiled brightly. After Hannah slid down, he approached her. "Sorry for the shock. How are you?"
"Uh... Fine, just fine." Laughing, she began to relax. "Ned was just late home, and it's been a stressful day." Ned put his arm around her. "Ned?"
"Come inside, dear." He guided her back through the door. "We need to talk."
Horton pushed his ear against the wall and listened intently, eyebrows crinkling in concentration. Sally was asking all the same questions he himself had, of course; How did he get her?, How will he get home?
A few quiet giggles broke out, and Horton shushed them quickly.
"But Ned," came Sally's muffled voice, "where will he stay?"
"He'll stay here, of course," Ned answered, as though it was obvious and she was silly for even asking.
"Here? Oh, Ned, where are we gonna keep an elephant?"
Horton backed away. "I hope your mom isn't angry with me," he announced to the children at large.
"Don't worry," a Who-girl of about fifteen said, smiling. She had two little purple pigtails on either side of her head and huge glasses, and when she smiled there was a glint of braces. She continued, her voice precise with every syllable, "She's just upset with Dad for being late home. He can get stuck in his own world sometimes, and ignore what other peoples needs are."
Next to her, another girl who was hunched over and drawing snorted derisively, never looking up from her sketch pad. "It has a tendency to make us all feel a little...overlooked. Mom does it, too, so I don't know why she so holier-than-thou about it. Disgusting."
The first Who, Harper was her name he thought, scowled.
"Sorry." The other girl, who looked similar to Harper, except with no glasses and letting her hair fall in her face, said it in a decidedly unapologetic tone.
"Calls 'em like she sees 'em?" Horton chortled. "I like you, kid."
She raised her eyebrow. "You do? Huh. Weird."
A small laugh came from Jojo, who quickly covered his mouth.
Horton huffed and sat down, ears drooping, and several of the girls rushed over to comfort him. "I guess I hadn't thought about where I'd stay..."
Just then Ned walked out into the back yard. Seeing Horton looking hurt, he walked over, wringing his hands. "Yes, those ears, I had forgotten. How much did you hear?"
"Well, girls, go get the tent!", he announced.
In what seemed like a few seconds, the cheering girls had erected a huge pavilion and Ned was ushering him under it. "But I don't understand..."
"Sally was worried about logistics, that's all," the mayor explained, smiling. "This should work out perfectly."
Horton settled in the soft grass beneath the canvas, looking gratefully at his friend as he ordered his plethora of children to go inside and prepare for bed. As the Who returned to him, he felt the overwhelming feeling again, like his heart would explode.
"How are you doing?" He asked, eyes wide with concern.
Horton grabbed him again and pulled Ned to him with his trunk. "Thanks for being there for me, buddy," Horton said.
Just as he was about Let Ned go, the Who patted his trunk and kissed his cheek. "Of course, Horton. I'd do anything for you."
The elephant felt color flood his face, and dug a toe into the grass to hide his nervousness. "Um..." How should he respond to that?
Ned coughed in an exaggerated way. "Good night. See you in the morning."
"Good night," Hortonechoed back. He curled up into a confused ball as Ned walked back into the house. Neither saw the shadow moving back from a window on the top floor.