Short Story: “The Cobra”

A stupid story I wrote in 2015. Animal Farm? Never heard of it, mate.

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Once upon a time there was a cobra named John. John lived in a sunny part of the jungle, an easy distance from both the watering hole and the fruit trees that dropped gorgeous ripe mangos. He didn’t have to slither very far to eat or drink, and so he was able to spend much of his time sunning himself on his favourite rock. Every day at dusk he would hang down from a tree branch, and stretch himself out as long as he could from head to tail, and he felt great. The rats and mice on the jungle floor would squeak at him to be careful, because his pointy white fangs swinging back and forth from the trees would scare their babies, but John never listened. He just hissed with his forked tongue and stared with his unblinking eyes, and the rats and mice would run away. John would laugh, because he was lucky to be born with such great teeth.

John didn’t have many friends, but the animals that did still talk to him were always happy to do whatever he asked. If John decided he didn’t like the way the monkeys were chattering noisily when he was trying to relax, he would talk to his friend Steven, the biggest stoat anybody had ever seen. Steven would suddenly become very nasty, and chase the monkeys away. None of the monkeys could ever chatter about John’s likes and dislikes being unfair on other animals for very long, because Steven the stoat was always lurking nearby.

John had just one other friend, Bill, who was a beautiful blue parrot. Bill had been living in the jungle for a very long time indeed, and while he had never been very popular himself, he had spent a lot of time flapping along close behind other great animals. He knew how to count numbers, and so he knew a lot about how many mangoes each of the animals on the jungle floor should be allowed to eat each day. He would repeat over and over whatever advice about rationing that he could offer, so that nobody would forget how things were meant to be. Bill also often flew a long way to other jungles, and learned what he could from other snakes about how they kept everything in its natural order. When he returned from these trips, Bill would perch on a branch next to John, and tell him everything he needed to know about how to keep his lovely sunny rock to himself, and make sure the rodents didn’t start getting too much of the fruit. John always loved to hear the same stories from Bill again and again, because they made him feel like a giant and cunning anaconda that had marvelous red, white, and blue stripes down its back.

Despite having his two good friends, Steven the stoat and Bill the blue parrot, John was sometimes very frustrated. He felt annoyed that many of the other animals were too stupid to climb trees to share the view with him, except of course the chattering monkeys who seemed to always be nearby. When sunning himself down on his rock he would also be woken up over and over again by the long string of worker ants that would pass by on their way to and from their colony, who occasionally squeaked very loudly, but only ever about some kind of gibberish that nobody understood. John felt like he deserved his rest on his quiet sunny spot, because many seasons ago, a big bear with red-tinged fur had threatened to eat all of the fruit and drink all of the water, and a lot of the smaller animals that normally were scared of him had needed his help. He bared his fangs and hissed at the bear, slithering quickly around her without once getting swiped by her big, sharp claws. The red bear was chased away to another jungle, and for a time at least, most of the animals seemed to agree John had done something good on behalf of all of them. These days, though, John couldn’t see why those same animals were starting to ask why he had still got the whole rock to himself. It was very frustrating, in particular, when the gang of green lizards would try to tell him every other day that the sunniest rocks should be available to everybody who needed warming up. John knew that the green lizards were just loopy from munching too much on the strange green leafy plant down in the valley. If the green lizards wanted to share out the rock with many other animals, John thought, they should have been born big and scary and with the right friends, like he was. It seemed very clear to John that any other animal that truly needed warming up would have tried harder to squeeze onto it by now. 

The seasons had passed in this way for John for some time. John still had all the same amount of space on his rock, and the big share of the fruit and water he had always had, but recently he had noticed that it didn’t make him as happy as it used to. What was John to do?

One day, John was slithering along thinking about his unhappiness instead of watching where he was going, and nearly slid right into an elephant who was standing in the tall grass. “Look out!” shouted John as he slithered to a halt.

“Now then,” began the elephant, “who is this slippery little fellow? I don’t believe we have met! My name is Merrill, and I happen to be the biggest creature in the jungle!” John indeed was a little bit scared by how big the elephant was. He was low down on the ground while the elephant stood tall and majestic, casting a great shadow upon the earth. John wasn’t scared for long, however. Something inside him make him feel he could trust this big animal, and so he coiled himself around the hind leg of Merrill the elephant, and slithered all the way up her back. When he was sitting atop her head, he introduced himself formally, and started to chat. Merrill and John very quickly became great friends, and over the next few days John met some other elephants, Shell, Exxon, Monsanto, and of course the sweetest elephant of the herd, Nestle. The elephants were part of a herd that was wandering from jungle to jungle to try and find somewhere new to fit in and make a home for themselves. Many jungles had made them walk on somewhere else, because such gigantic animals ate a lot of food and drank a lot of water, and there simply wasn’t enough to go around. John mentioned this to Bill the blue parrot one day, but Bill squawked loudly that those stories must be wrong. He had heard other stories about far away jungles that had welcomed herds of elephants before, and it had only made everybody happier. When an elephant comes to stay, you see, there are all sorts of great benefits. Small animals can perch on their backs and take a delightful tour of the jungle with a great new view. On hot days, the elephants can provide a great deal of shade. And of course the greatest benefit of all is that an elephant has a long powerful trunk, that can pick fruit from the highest trees and squeeze it tight, so the juice trickles down onto all the thirsty animals below. Bill the blue parrot talked about this “trickle down” story so much that very soon John began to think it was a very good idea. He thought he would never be unhappy again if there was a herd of great elephants romping around and making each day lively and fun, with delicious fruit juice trickling all over the place. Not only would he be happier, but every other animal would be happier too, and would probably like him a lot more.

And so, the next day, John asked the elephants if they would like to stay with him in his jungle. The monkeys, as usual, had been chattering for some time that this was a bad idea, but John didn’t need to listen, because he knew the monkeys would change their minds once he had shown them all the good things that would come afterwards. Just to be sure, though, he still let Steven the stoat chase them away whenever he saw them swinging by.

And so the elephants came stomping into the jungle in a long line, creating a loud rumbling noise. At first, the smaller animals of the jungle didn’t know what was happening. The crashing and booming of the elephants’ heavy feet stomping this way and that was very confusing, especially for the mice and rats, since the loud vibrations made their whiskers rattle around on their noses. The bellowing, trumpeting noises the elephants made was so loud that even the chatter of the monkeys could no longer be heard. John was riding into the jungle on Merrill’s back and having a lot of fun, when suddenly the big elephant stopped. A mouse was standing in Merrill’s path, squeaking furiously about the other mice that had just been crushed by the feet of all these huge animals. The mouse saw John and began squeaking at him, too. Steven the stoat, lurking nearby as always, snarled and was about to jump onto the mouse and savage it, but John stopped him. He slithered down and for a long time listened to the complaints of the small mouse. He even managed to put a kindly smile on his snakey face. When the mouse said the elephants were too big and scary and destructive to have around, John realised he had a chance to make the other animals like him again. So, he announced in a loud snakey voice that he would not let the small animals be trampled on by elephants any more. He should be trusted to keep all the elephants in order. He sternly told Merrill, Shell, Exxon, Monsanto, and Nestle, that they had to be very careful when romping around, and to treat the small animals with respect. The elephants agreed to share the jungle peacefully, and when the word spread throughout the jungle, the rest of the smaller animals living there were very relieved that the elephants would be better behaved.

John once again began to feel happy. The small animals liked him because he had stopped the elephants from causing too many problems. The only ones who still complained were the worker ants, who said that yesterday one elephant drank enough water to last their entire colony four whole summers, and that everybody would be better off without them. Nobody really minded though, because as promised, the elephants provided fun tours of the jungle from their backs and a great deal of shade on very hot days.

As for the trickle-down fruit juice idea, though, the elephants only seemed to do this when they were thirsty themselves. They would amble up to a very tall fruit tree, and take a long, long time eating fruit that no other animal could reach, while the smaller animals gathered around their feet, waiting. When the elephants were full up and refreshed, they would finally pick one over-ripe mango and squeeze it tight so that a delightful rain of juice would trickle down onto the happy animals below. And then later that day, the elephants would carry a few pieces of over to John on his sunny rock, that he could enjoy all by himself, after a great chat with his elephant friends. Yes, John was a very happy cobra, now that he had brought the elephants into the jungle.

During the next winter though, some problems soon began. The jungle was very cold. The elephants needed to jump around and make a lot of commotion again, so that they could keep warm on cold days. The smaller animals complained about the noise and the rumbling, of course, but Steven the stoat snarled at them, and Bill the blue parrot repeated back to them that they couldn’t do without the elephants. The green lizards would try to reply that everybody had already had everything they needed before the elephants were here, but they were scaly and slimy and not as popular as John. John the cobra was happy and well fed, and everybody liked him now. All the small animals listened to him when he said that elephants are not bad creatures, they just need to run around loudly and stomp on things once in awhile. It seemed to be forgotten that John was the one who invited the elephants to stay in the first place.

Finally, the next summer, the jungle was a colourful and fun place again. The elephants ate and drank all the fruit and water they wanted, and occasionally would squeeze a rotten mango all over the smaller animals gathered. The elephants left great big gaping footprints in the mud, that made scurrying around a lot more difficult, especially for those born with shorter legs. The mice and rats complained as usual that their babies were in greater danger than ever of being stuck in a huge muddy elephant footprint, but John had learned a long time ago that nobody would be angry with him if he just told them it was the elephants fault  but that he would ensure it stopped happening. Then he would go and tell the elephants not to worry about the mice and rats because they all thought he was fixing things. This way, John didn’t have to really fix anything. He was happy as long as everybody liked him, and he kept getting lots of mangoes from the elephants to enjoy on his own sunny rock.

The elephants kept giving John the best pieces of fruit, and Nestle in particular was drinking a lot more than her share of water. Many monkeys soon became sick from not having enough water, and their chattering was much quieter. That meant Steven the stoat didn’t have to snarl too much anymore to keep things in order, and Bill the blue parrot only had to continue telling everybody the same stories over and over again until all worries were forgotten. The green lizards were left out of most of the fun of jungle life, since they were so scaley and slimy from eating their green leafy plants all the time that nobody liked to be near them, even though they often said wise things with their darting lizard tongues. The mice and rat babies often became stuck or lost with so many deep elephant footprints all over the landscape, but despite being reassured that this would cease, nothing really had to be done about it, as the mice and rats were not vital to jungle life like the elephants. The worker ants often had their colonies crushed by lumbering elephants stomping around on their own business, but continued to rebuild them straight away without any complaint. The worker ants, like their name says, were meant mainly to work and not be heard, and they had no voices that could be heard by John.

And all summer John the cobra sat on his sunny rock, ate the juiciest fruit and threw away what he could not manage, and laughed with his great elephant friends. He had helped everybody else, and found that he had helped himself feel happy again, too. And he lived happily ever after.

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