How Snake Got His Hiss
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Centuries ago, in the time when animals could talk as fluently as you or I, a terrible drought occurred in the heart of Africa.
It had overcome the African grasslands for over a fortnight, sending panting lions to seek shade beneath the branches of trees and buck to nibble at the dry grass restlessly. Birds lazed in their nests of twigs, too warm under their feathers to even bother to fly out in search of food.
Every animal, big or small, had thirst greater than anyone could ever imagine; and that was when the desperate Hornbill called for Snake to help him.
"Snake! Snake! Snake, come here!"
At first, the dry grass remained still, and Hornbill sighed in exasperation. He felt as though he were drowning in his own thirst; if he didn't find water soon, he was sure he'd die! He had just taken a deep breath to call for Snake once again when the grass below him rustled. He cocked his head, listening intently, and sure enough the head of Snake appeared above the long blades of grass. His lengthy tongue rolled in and out of his mouth as he spoke.
"What do you want, my friend?" he glared up at Hornbill, his slits of eyes sly and somewhat nasty.
"Fetch me water, Snake. I will repay you someday, I promise. If you don't help me, I'm afraid I shall die." Hornbill's eyes reflected how desperately in need he was, and Snake nodded his scaly head.
"Of course, feathered friend; anything I can do to help in your time of need. I shall return within the hour with water to quench your thirst. Until then, stay well."
Snake's grass-green head disappeared under the grass, leaving Hornbill waiting in suspense. Would Snake return with water?
Hornbill waited and waited, all the time his throat grating with thirst. Eventually, he could bare it no more. He let out a weak call, and saw the sky open up before him. He shrilled, "Mother Nature... Snake has deceived me. It is not the first time he has done this; many animals have realised this horrible trait of his. He makes promises but never keeps them, and because of that I am slowly dying.
Please... help me, and punish him if that is your will."
He felt a large vibration flow across the earth, making the branches where his nest was laid shudder, and he knew Mother Nature was as angered as he was. He collapsed on his branch, breathless. All he could do now was wait and hope.
Meanwhile, Snake lay ever so peacefully in his burrow, sighing with satisfaction.
How wonderful he now felt, so cool and fresh, with a conscience as clear as glass.
The water, which he was supposed to have taken to Hornbill, had been even better for him in the end. He coiled himself into a ball, laid his head down in the soft dirt, and sighed once more. He needn't worry about others, even when he'd promised to do a favour for a friend. All he had to do in life was care for himself, and that was what he planned to do. Life was good indeed.
Suddenly Snake gave a start, and raised his scaled head from its sleeping position.
Something up above the ground had disturbed the silence that he had fallen asleep to. He listened intently, his eyes widening with horror. A fire! He realised he was trapped underground, with no way of escape. Even so, panic overcame him, and he slithered hurriedly from his burrow.
Indeed, a fire spread across the African grasslands, its red and orange flames flashing with deadly vigour. He turned this way and that, but could find no path to safety. Every scrap of grass, every tree around him, was engulfed in flames.
"Help! Help me, somebody!" he lashed about until exhaustion forced him to stop.
He looked up toward the sky and saw only smoke whirling in the air. He was trapped and surrounded, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Suddenly, without warning, the fire began to spit and churn, and roll into round balls of flames. Snake couldn't believe his eyes and stared, entranced, at the things happening around him. It was unreal.
Just then, a large ball of flame hurled itself into the air, rolling this way and that in the foggy smoke. It began to roll down toward him.
Just as he opened his fanged mouth to cry out for help, the ball hastened its speed.
It shot straight into him, and he felt his throat heat up as the fire made its way, slowly but steadily, through his long body.
The sky opened up above him, and the flames collapsed into piles of warm ashes on the grass.
"By golly!" Snake cried, and his eyes widened. The fire inside him had hissed as he talked, blocking his way of speech. He tried saying something else, and again the same thing happened.
"Yes, Snake," a deep voice from the clouds announced "You shall never speak again! By speaking you have hurt many animals and made promises that you knew you wouldn't keep! Now, no African creature can understand you, and you can hiss your way through life! Remember Snake; promises must be kept or vengeance can rule."
Snake shrank back, utterly humiliated. Mother Nature had defeated him, and all because of his ignorance and stupidity! Now he would never talk again; the hissing of the fire inside him would speak instead.
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