"So. Do you reckon he knows about the problem?" The tall, grey feathered bird with a long beak asked of another bird, who was perched on a low branch close by. "’Cause I think he does and he’ll sort it."
"Howwww, should I knowwww?" answered the round, grey, large eyed, tufted eared owl, with a touch of irritation in his voice.
"Well. You seem to know everything else around here. At least that’s the impression I get from having talked to you so far", the secretary bird replied. "In fact, you’re a right know it all and no mistake".
"Hark whooo’s talking! Aren’t yoooou the one with all the secrets? What with yoouur name and all."
"Just because I call myself a secretary bird is no reason for you to get sarcastic, even if I do keep secrets to myself. And that‘s not the only reason I‘m called what I am. I‘m said to look like an old fashioned secretary and so I‘m called one. You’re just called what you are from your silly way of talking."
Seeing the hurt look on the owl’s face made the long bird ashamed of himself. "Sorry," he said, "I shouldn‘t be so nasty, I know, but it‘s the way I feel, what with our problem and all."
"Apology accepted," said the owl, preening himself. "What was yooouuur question again?"
"Do you think he knows what he’s done?" queried the long legged bird with what looked like a dinner jacket on his back.
"I dooouuubt it. He seems to be a bit stand ooooffish to my way of thinking and I don’t think he would care if he did knoooww," replied the owl.
"Not care!" cried the secretary bird. " When he’s taken all this time to do what he’s done. And most of it looks OK to me. When he gets round to finish it, everything will be fine. Just you wait and see. Maybe there are a few things er.... er.. not quite right..."
"NOT.... QUITE.... RIGHT!" exclaimed the owl. "You’ve got to be joking. I don’t believe yooouuu said that. After all. It’s not as if it’s a very tinsy-winsy, small thing or three. Is it? It - is - basic. Abso-bloody-lutely basic".
This is but a small part of one of a great many conversations going on, at this moment in history.
It’s said that this particular God created the world in seven days, as a sort of test given by the more mighty gods in the Pantheon, which was a sort of Gods club. The Pantheon, of which this God was a mere strippling; a youth of no mean talent but still a starter without experience, had given him the task and he’d tried his hardest so far. It's Saturday afternoon and the work was going, sort-of. to God's satisfaction Anyway. He didn’t ‘switch the light on’ straight away, if you know what I mean. Was it because he wasn’t quite sure that the job was really finished and didn’t want anybody to see that he may have made a mess? Possibly he wanted to run a check on the work before those who had given him the task checked on his handiwork.
Anyway there was a sort of darkness. Well..... God had to have some light to work by, but it was the sort of half-light that comes just before dawn, as we know it now.
So there was no need for bright colours. "But grey! I ask you? GREY! It’s Grotty Grey and it shouldn’t be allowed." said a large warthog. "Even if it is my colour."Everything was greu
All the plants, flowers, trees, insects, birds and animals, even the sea and sky were grey. There were varying shades but everything was still, well... grey-ish. As you can imagine, confusion was the name of the game. At lunch-time or dinnertime, how can you decide who is friend or foe? More importantly, who is going to eat whom or what? Instinct did come into it, it had to, or everyone was going to get very hungry. All you’d see would be a definite shape of a certain size, in grey of course, and a decision would have to be made, on that information, as to whether it was food for you, or would feed on you. A sort of feed or flight affair!
So, as you can imagine, there was a time of bedlam.
Animals had lumps bitten out of them that didn’t taste quite right to the eater. Stomach-aches were the order of the day for some short-sighted animals.
A great number of beasts objected, in no uncertain terms, to being attacked for no other reason than that they looked "something like" the eaters’ legitimate prey.
God, who had laid down for a short sleep, after a fairly hefty snack of his favourite ambrosia, woke to a great deal of noise.
"All right. Quieten down now! What’s all this noise about?" asked God.
The sound dropped by a very small amount.
"SILENCE!" roared the Lord, making teeth rattle and clearing the wax out of quite a few ears.
The noise plummeted to a low mutter, and the sound of a quite a few hefty, thumping noises, as several scores were settled at the back of a large crowd of angry animals.
Gods’ eyes settled on a figure in front of him.
The Warthog stood with four feet firmly planted on the ground. With his head held high, he had a pair of wicked, curling tusks either side of his snout, above which a pair of very beady eyes saw everything.
"It’s your fault!" said the warty one. "Nobody knows who is to be eaten by whom, or what is to eat what, or anything at all.
Looking down from his great height, God recognised the ugly porky. "Warthog. I remember now. I thought I’d made some mistakes and maybe you’re one of them. I’ll remake you I think."
"Go ahead then. See if I care." Said the warthog, his indignation high. "Blame me, when you should be blaming yourself. I didn’t leave the job unfinished!" He shouted with an indignant voice.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN! NOT FINISHED!" Roared God.
And there was a large round wart, rolling about on the ground, with a very small hog attached.
"I knew you would, you big bully!" Squeaked the wart. "You should be ashamed of yourself. Picking on a..a..wart of this size and quality. Just because you made a gihugious mistake."
"ME! MAKE A MISTAKE? Screamed God. By now he was beside himself with fury. And the two of him didn’t make a pretty sight at all.
"And you can’t take criticism!" Continued the Wart.
"Wh…Wh…What!" God stuttered in rage.
"CALM DOWN!" trumpeted the elephant.
"Who said that?" asked God in a suddenly small voice, as he shimmered back to being one and looked around in the gloom.
"He did" replied the small grey shape of the mouse, pointing upwards at the large lumpy pachyderm, "and if you have to shout to make your point, you’ve lost the argument already."
"Humph", said God going all huffy.
While everyone agreed with the mouse and said so, the small rodent whispered into the elephants’ ear and smiled as the pachyderm lifted his trunk high into the air, trumpeted, and dashed into the distance.
Realising just how silly he must look; that the other animals were right and he, God, looked a proper twit, he gathered himself together.
"Point taken. Apologies all round. Now...where’s the elephant?" queried God, noticing the absence of a certain lumpiness around him.
"Took off," said the mouse, with a smug look on his face, "Something about my getting right up his nose." sniggered the small rodent.
"I made him very sensitive about his trunk and you took advantage of that, you bully."
"Me?" The mouse looked as innocent as he could, which wasn’t much.
"Yes. You. So you can get lost as well!" retorted His Highness and the mouse wasn’t there any more.
"Aren’t you going to ask what the mistake is?" demanded the hog/wart, in as large a voice as he could manage for a wart of his size and condition, and trying to ignore the fact that animals were disappearing all around him.
"All right then. Smarty pants! What’s the big mistake?" challenged God.
"If you’ll put the lights on, I’ll show you." squeaked the hog/wart.
God went bang again.
"LIGHTS!" exclaimed the deity. "LIGHTS?" After a struggle he brought himself under control once more. "There aren’t supposed to be any lights yet. There’s to be a great, grand opening with a big, bold, gold, brassy sun! On Sunday. Tomorrow! Get it? Sunday? Oh, please yourself!" said God. "And I’m not ready for it. So there!"
"Well, pardon me for being....I think we could do with some now. Don’t you?" asked the hog/wart in his best, squeakiest sarcastic tone. "By the way. How about bringing me back to normal? It’s difficult enough talking to you in a proper voice, never mind this small one."
The warthog returned to his ugly normality. "Thank you. If we had some light, then we wouldn’t have the trouble of not knowing who or what to eat," the warthog continued, "You’ve now idea how hungry we get...." his voice tailed off as he saw the look God was giving him. But, looking round, he was encouraged by the nod of his ‘lovely’ wife and all the other animals around him. "It’s not much to ask for. Is it? I think… No! We think that it’s reasonable and easy-peasy for someone as all powerful as you are. Or can’t you manage that? Just a little light on your subjects?" "You - are - pushing - your - luck!" God answered. Controlling himself He proclaimed, in his best theatrical voice. "Let there be light!" and there was. A great big, very, very bright, golden sun shone above.
A large collective blink came from all around. A blink you could almost hear. Coming from almost nothing to such an amount was more than some could bear. A great many said it was too bright.
The bats disappeared into any cave or tunnel they could find. Most of the whales took to the sea floor and stayed there. The hippopotamuses, crocodiles and alligators all dove for the bottom of the rivers and lakes. Slugs hurried to darkened, damp places as fast as they could.
At around that moment, most of the beasts that we see as grey today, took themselves out of the sun, into the darkest places and missed what followed, although a few did stay.
God surveyed the scene and asked the question. "What is the problem then?"
"You’ve got to be joking. Right." exclaimed Warthog, "There’s something missing," continued the warty one in his best sarcastic tone. "It can’t have escaped your Royal Highnesses sharp, beady little eyes that everything, and we mean everything, is shall we say, a delicate and in some cases, not so, delicate shade of grey."
"So?" replied God, who was resplendent in his Sunday best of red, yellow and, of course royal blue.
"So!" the warthog became a little agitated now. "So... how about some colour." He took a deep breath and continued. " Not for me you understand. I’m looking good enough without it. But a lot of the others could do with a splash here and there"
"Nobody give him a mirror." was His only comment on that remark.
"It’ll not go amiss," pleaded the Warthog. "It would certainly be an aid to digestion, or indigestion really. How about it?"
The animals in the back all said that they would like a little colour in their lives.
God gave the idea some thought and made his decision.
"Very well. Who’s first?" he asked and nearly got crushed in the rush.
Finally he managed to pull himself out from under the bodies and stood tall, then climbed off the pile of animals to stand on a small mound in front of the beasts.
"All right. Form a queue." demanded the Lord.
"Me first," said the Lion, pushing to the front, as all the beasts jostled for position. "I’m king of the jungle. My roar is as mighty as my main of hair. I don’t need more than a royal and very exclusive, Tan."
God moved his a finger and it was so. Everyone "Ooh"ed and "Ah"ed and said that God had done a most wonderful job and off went the Lion, happy.
"Next?" asked God.
Up trotted the Gnu.
"Everyone is allowed an off minute when they‘re busy making a world," said God.
"Any relation to the Warthog?"
The Gnu looked at God with a vacant expression.
"No? Well. You look just fine as you are. Any colour but grey on you would frighten the trees."
Off trotted the Gnu.
"Next?" asked the Deity. "Ah. The noble Zebra. And what would you prefer as a colour scheme?"
"Well," said the Zebra. "I’d like some stripes." He asked, in a lofty and slow drawl. "I think stripes can look really arctic." he continued, "I've thought about them for… ooh 20 minutes now and I think they'll really look good. Don't you?"
He aimed the question at God but didn't wait for an answer. "Yes, stripes, quite long ones I think. But I don't quite know what shape or anything. What do you think?"
God cut across the last words. "I think that will be just fine. Whatever you say. What colour?"
"Oh. I don’t know, what do you have?" the haughty Zebra asked.
"Anything your heart desires."
"Black and yellow?"
The Deities’ hand moved in mysterious ways.
The Zebra became black and yellow, in broad horizontal stripes.
"That’ll look quite fetching out on the plains," said God. "See you for miles."
The Zebra nodded feeling very pleased with himself and his choice.
"Yep. All the meat eaters will see you for miles and miles."
"Gulp." replied the Zebra. "Any chance of a change God? I mean to say Lord. I didn't think."
"Change! You want to change your beautiful stripes for something else? Well. I don’t know about change."
"Please." pleaded the Zebra.
"Black and white?" asked His Majesty.
"Yes please, and can they be up and down, a little squiggly in places?"
"I suppose so." was the reply.
"And maybe a few pink and blue dots in patches?"
"No pink and blue dots in patches?"
The Lord nodded.
The Zebra moved off into the plains, quite well camouflaged.
The cheetah dashed forward for her colour job.
"Goodness." said God. "You look pretty good in grey. What’s your pleasure?"
"I thought some spots would be cool. Reddish rings around blackish spots on a brownish, reddish, tannish background?" requested the cheetah.
"Lots of ‘ish’s there. But quite precise in your idea. OK." A wave of a small finger was enough to satisfy the slim feline and she disappeared into the distance.
Leopard sauntered up for her painting.
"Are you a cousin of the cheetah?" asked the Lord. "You're very much alike although you are the larger."
"Close-ish," related the pussycat.
God smiled a little. "Would something similar do you?"
"Cool." commented the leopard.
And it was so.
The bears started to gather.
Polar bear wanted white and got it. After all, who would argue with him?
The same for the attitude ridden grizzly: brown on brown.
And most of the other bears chose brown. Not very imaginative, bears.
For the butterflies and a great many beatles and bugs God used his 'assortment of colours hand' as they flew, crawled, hopped and ran past him. Individually painting them all would take much too long.
The snakes arrived. Nearly every animal, except the mongoose licking its’ lips on the outer fringes, decided they had prior engagements elsewhere and disappeared into the forest.
"So?" Queried God.
"So what!" Spat the snakes spokesperson.
"So what would you like for a colour scheme?" Asked God, all sweetness and light.
"A COLOUR SCHEME! YOU ASK WHAT COLOUR SCHEME WHEN YOU TREAT US SO ABOMINABLY!" The snake, who had a large flat spot in the centre of his normally round body, was a little upset as anyone could see. "You make us so low on the ground we get trampled on by stampeding elephants and rhinos. We’re always eating dust. Everyone has a low opinion of us. We can’t see what’s coming till it’s too late… AND YOU OFFER US A COLOUR SCHEME!"
God became a little peevish at this point. "Look." Said his lordship, "Everyone is having a choice of his or her colour. AND IF YOU DON"T LIKE IT, THEN TAKE THE CONSEQUENCES."
"OH YEH. AND WHO SAYS SO?" Came the very silly question.
"I SAY SO!"
God’s hand moved.
"Tho WHO,…Tho WH….What’th the thcore with thith? What’th happened to my tongue? Oy! You can’t do thith to me. I demand you remove thith fork in my tongue."
"I didn’t do it juth’t to you. Yuk yuk.(God did have a funny peculiar laugh) All the other snakes are now the thame. Tee Hee. As for colour? You’ll have what you’re given and lump it." And that was the thnakes thorted, in more ways than one. Off they went, with much muttering and mumbling, but no esses.
The birds flew all around their Creator. The males all wanted something different, translated as sometimes garish, bright and multicoloured, which, after all, is what is required for them to be noticed by their mates; those sensible birds, who all asked for ‘something similar, but plainer’, so they could all tell which was what.
The fish sent a representative in the shape of an air-breathing grey mudfish with a block booking of different shades of greys and blues. The small fish wanted a multitude of colours and got them. Every so often God would notice something that might look better changed. Like big white clouds, as well as the small fluffy ones instead of the old standard grey ones. Blue water sometimes, instead of black and/or grey. As time went by, everything was given a colour, except one.
The large black head moved from side to side, the mouth snarling but ever so quietly, no more sound than a low rumble coming from the chest of the feline, but the eyes, fixed on the small figure, were tormented, with a look of madness in them. The stalking was over. The panther wriggled its’ body into the correct position and launched itself at its’ quarry, striking it down with one blow of its’ great paw. It knew it hadn’t killed its’ prey. It hadn’t wanted to. Now it started to do what no other animal in the kingdom had done.
The panther waited, eyes glistening with insanity, for the springbok to come round. With one paw on the small animals trembling body; holding it as still as it could, the panther sprang its razor sharp claws from their sheaths.
Lifting it’s paw up high, the demon struck, high, into the springboks’ back leg, bringing a scream of pain from the mouth of the small form and a desperate struggle to escape, but in vain.
As the panther looked into its’ victims eyes, the big cat drew those four bone knives down the leg of the terrified fawn, bringing a cry of abject terror.
This excited the cat so much that it lost control. Biting into the animals’ neck it killed the small antelope instantly.
As if this action was like a switch, the panther looked at the animal as if for the first time and then simply walked away. The witness, silent among the trees that surrounded the scene, shook its head, as if not really believing what it had seen, wondered what to do and moaned quietly to itself. The warthog and his mate were about to go when a great shout went up in the distance and it wasn’t long before news started coming in that a certain large animal wasn’t killing for food, but just for the pleasure of the kill. All the beasts knew that death was a necessary part of living, after all everyone needs to eat. But this was something so wrong that all the beasts became very scared.
The witness, a distressed orang utang, hurried up to God. His eyes showed the hurt he was feeling and his hands were shaking as he rubbed them over his face. He was hunched up as he told God what he had seen.
"It was horrible!" he continued through his tears and sobs. "He ripped the springbok fawn to pieces with his claws, broke the poor things’ neck and then calmly walked away, as if nothing had happened." While the ape was telling his story there were cries of horror from the surrounding animals.
"Who did?" asked the warthog, shuddering with horror.
"Big and black he was, with horrible, staring, shiny eyes. "The look on his face, as if he was enjoying what he was doing. He had a long tail flicking backwards and forwards."
"Hmm. It sounds as though that may be the panther," said the Lord. "Highly unusual. But", he shrugged, "There’s not a great deal I can do about it. He has the right to do what he wants, as long as he’s willing to pay the price."
"What," cried the warthog, "That’s all! And what do you mean. What price? When will he pay the price? You’ve messed up again. Haven’t you? What’s more, there’s no one to take the trouble too, but you. What are you going to do about it?"
God said, "It’s nothing to do with me. You’ll have to sort it out for yourselves."
"Typical!" exclaimed the warthog. "You make all this perfection. You even add colour but, as soon as a problem comes up, which may show that you’ve made another mistake, because the killer is obviously out of it’s mind, you wash your hands."
"I have things to do." replied God, " This world is not finished you know. Keep me informed when you see me again. Good bye." With these words God left.
The animals looked at each other, the noise level rose as they all started talking at once.
Fear was in every voice.
Once more the warthog took centre stage.
"All right," he shouted, "Quieten down. Don’t all talk at once." The animals all turned towards their spokesman, for that was what he had become, as he continued, "Has anyone got a plan?"
There were many shaking heads.
"OK. The killer has to be stopped. I don’t know how yet, but we must do something,"
All agreed that this was true.
"So how about this?" he turned to the witness. "Orang Utan. Which way did the panther go?" The primate pointed and the warty one continued, "Could I have two small birds to act as seekers?"
Quite a few put their wings up. The warthog chose a pair of blackbirds and gave them their orders. "Just find him. No heroics. One of you stay behind and circle overhead, to mark the spot. The other return here to lead us back." The birds flew off.
"Er,.. Who’s us?" queried the hyena with a slightly hysterical laugh.
"That’s a good point," said the warthog, "Look. Something needs to be done about the panther. Always remember, you or your little ones could be next. We will have to have volunteers."
The animals whistled, looked at their feet, into the distance, anywhere but at the warthog. An obvious rash of yellow streaks had run up and down the animals backs.
While this was going on, his lady mate, realising that their young were on their own, dashed off towards the place she had left them. In the same direction that the birds had flown.
Her mate didn’t notice her go.
"Do you realise what you all look like? I’m really disappointed in you. None of us will be safe in our beds. Not even your little ones elephant, or yours hippo, or yours leopard and, no, not even yours ‘King’ lion."
Ashamed at their cowardice, all the beasts offered to go with the warthog, even though none of them knew where o go or what to do.
"Good," said Warthog, "Now we wait for news."
Quietly, the hippo turned to the leopard and asked the cat in a whisper, "What do we do, if and when we catch him?"
The leopard couldn’t answer but shrugged its’ slim shoulders, lowered its’ narrow head and frowned in thought, as the animals waited uneasily for the blackbird to return.
God was getting on with his project. Strolling along he made minor adjustments. With a splash of colour here, a change of shape there. He was very pleased with the overall look of what he had created. Coming round a corner he found an animal that hadn’t been to see him about its’ colour change. It was in the shade, resting against a tree and looking at God with yellow, baleful eyes as if He may be prey, then recognised his Lord. It was the tiger. "You look pretty good as you are." said God, "But everyone else has had a change from the grey to whatever hue they would like. What’s your pleasure?" "A colour change? That’s a novelty. Colour? Oh I don’t know. What would you suggest?" Running through all the colours that he had given to the various animals God realised that one colour had not been taken. "What about burnt orange?" offered the Lord. "Sounds reasonable to me," the tiger answered, laconically. As he was transformed in colour, there was a piteous cry of help from a short distance away. A cry that made both God and the tiger exchange concerned looks. God didn’t say anything. The tiger bounded out of the clearing towards the cry for help. Warthog’s wife was in serious trouble. She had managed to find herself some safety in a cavity, behind a small opening at the base of a rotten tree, in the centre of a large circular clearing. Outside, trying to get in, the panther was almost purring with suppressed pleasure as it tore at the rotten wood, making the opening wider with each strike of its claws. The blackbird was circling overhead and making its feeling heard. The warthogs’ scream was becoming thin with fear, as if she had nearly lost her voice. She knew that it would not be long before the killer struck again.
A mighty roar from behind the panther made it spin round. The tiger padded, head low and snarling, into the clearing. Circling round the edge, the tiger lifted its head, kept its baleful yellow eyes on the killer and roared out another challenge, one that the black cat couldn’t evade.
Tiger started to spiral in towards the tree; the other roared in defiance.
They were of almost equal size, with the burnt orange tiger being slightly larger. The tree and the warthog were forgotten as the two big cats circled each other, both trying to see a possible weakness or advantage, concentrating on finding an opening in the others armour and all the while roaring out their challenges.
Closer and closer they circled until there was very little space between them and a fight to the death became inevitable.
The panther feinted for the tiger’s front left paw with a slash of its right and when the tiger defended, went to bite the tigers neck instead, but the tiger moved its shoulders a little and the teeth only grazed the tigers fur. The tiger lowered its head and went for the panther’s shoulder, drawing a roar of pain from the panther and the black fiend went berserk.
The dust on the floor of the clearing was being so churned up by the two cats’ fighting that they were practically invisible. There were snarls and roars and obvious pain in the sounds both beasts were making. As the battle raged, all the animals who had come to try to rescue the latest victim, peered silently through the bushes and round the boles of the trees that surrounded the clearing, gazing in wonder and some fear at the scene before them.
Finally the noise dropped in the centre of the clearing and the dust settled to reveal two figures lying on the ground. It was obvious, from the blood on the ground and on the figures, that they were both badly wounded. Warily, the animals came in from the edge of the clearing, with warthog leading the way. He approached the panther just as the killer lifting his head and fixed him to the spot with the madness in those eyes. Then, the light went out of those glittering orbs, the head dropped to the ground and the great chest exhaled for the last time.
Warthog’s lady raced over to her mate and chided him for taking a chance on going that close to the killer, but secretly she was pleased that he had shown such courage.
The animals then transferred their attention to the tiger. His fur and skin had been torn in a great many places.
There were long gashes down his shoulders and across his back even his tail, that still twitched, but his chest still rose and fell, which made them keep their distance somewhat.
God entered the clearing and surveyed the scene.
"I didn’t realise it would come to this Warthog! It looks as though I owe you an apology."
He turned to the tiger. "You are a very courageous animal and, for your bravery in removing a source of evil, I’m going to heal your wounds in such a way that everyone will know and remember your strength and character. All the marks the panther cut and bit into your skin and fur will remain as a reminder to all."
The Lord made a pass with his hand, the tiger stood up, looked along his flanks to see his stripes in all their glory, then put his head back and gave a great coughing roar of approval.
The owl, resplendent in his new colour scheme, was perched on his usual branch and
continued his conversation with the secretary bird, whose paint job hadn’t altered very much.
"Yoouu were right. He certainly did, as yoouu say, soort it. In the end. But, tell me. Why didn’t yoouu have a little more colour for yoouurself?"
"Decorum. A little more taste is what I aim for. In all things." Replied the long-legged bird with a lift of his long beaked head and eyes.
"Decorum! Decorum! You’re a scavenger!" Shouted the small round ‘Know-it-all’, forgetting his long vowels for once. "You pick clean the carcasses of dead animals with that beak of yours!"
"Quiet!" Demanded the bird, looking round to see who might be looking or, worse still, listening. "Don’t tell everyone or I’m likely to get blackballed for the Liberal Club!"
Stretching himself, he took off and started to fly into the reddening sunset, with the owl alongside him.
"The Liberal Club! You’re further right than Gengis Khan will be!"
"Hush! Will you keep your voice down?" Objected the secretary bird.
"Now if you want to get into the Conservatives" Continued the rotund one. "They may suit you and I might be able to help you there. I’ve a cousin, twice removed who knows a friend of a friend…. If you know what I mean. But, The Liberal Club!"
These last words were almost drowned by the sound of a hyena giggling rather loudly.