Thousands of years before humans controlled this planet, snakes ruled the land. They had the same green-colored armor, with their tongues whole and eight long, lean legs which made them hard to escape from, especially if one was caught in its death grip or bitten with its sharp, venomous fangs. Known as the most dangerous of creatures, the snakes wore their power like a king wore his crown. Not only were they dangerous, but their stories of indestructibility traveled from one shore to another when the world had yet to crack and separate.
The snakes’ power left the other animals quivering in fear and doing all of their bidding. They sacrificed their old and wounded to protect their young because the snakes threatened to eat every young creature if their bellies weren’t kept full. Snakes of different sizes required various animals. Garden snakes devoured small frogs, while anacondas swallowed beasts bigger than lions. No one was safe except tor the birds in the sky, who minded their own business, only paying attention long enough to hunt for their own prey.
One day, a snake was born that was more devious than most. He wanted the snakes to have more power, for he was positive the birds laughed at him, and he was jealous of their flying abilities, so he devised a plan to get back at them.
“My fellow serpents, I have troubling news. The birds have raged war against us and are stealing all of our food.”
The snakes listened to his lie with growing curiosity.
“Are you not tired of having empty bellies? It’s the birds who threaten our way of life, for they tell the other animals not to listen. They tell their four-legged friends to stand up against us.”
None of this was true, but the snakes believed him quickly enough, because they feared losing their status and simple way of life. Some of them started spreading their own lies. Tales of encountering hateful birds of all sorts spread throughout the world.
The snake with a plan wouldn’t let the steam cool off. He continued to spout more lies about the birds every day—each lie more absurd than the last. A lot of the snakes breathed in the lies like air and never questioned them. Snakes who had other opinions were shunned or starved to death. Eventually, only the brave said their peace—always to their demise.
The snake with a plan hated to be told he was wrong. He needed everyone to follow him if he were the smartest, bravest snake that ever existed. Many snakes believed in him, while others feared him; both got him exactly what he wanted: more power. Soon enough, he had the entire world hanging on his every word.
The birds caught wind of the accusations and insults the snakes spewed. They tried to explain themselves, but the snakes wouldn’t listen. They followed every word the snake with a plan said.
One day, the snake ordered for all the others to assemble so they could devise a plan to get back at the birds.
“We are a strong species,” he yelled into large nests. “But we could be even stronger as one unit. We were meant to rule the world!”
Every snake cheered for him. They scrambled over one another to get a closer look at him.
“Those flying, brainless, chunks of feathers dare to laugh at us? The audacity! Why, just the other day I saw an owl stealing a baby snake’s lunch.”
His words confused some of the snakes. Owls didn’t come out during the day where they were from. The others didn’t seem to care and repeated his words to one another.
“That’s a lie!” The birds cried out overhead. They encircled the bed of snakes. “Don’t listen to him. The owls don’t come out during the day. We mean no harm. We want peace.”
The snakes hissed at the birds and continued to spread the lies, working themselves up into a frenzy. They hissed until the tips of their tongues split in two.
As the speech wore on, the snakes got tangled with each other’s legs and tails, joining their nests into deformed balls that grew in size.
“Yes! We must become one unit with one thought and one action. If you’re not one of us, you are the enemy. Be one of us.”
“One of us!”
“One of us!”
Snakes cheered as their dens increased in size, joining to form one humongous ball, tall enough to reach the birds’ nests in the trees. They swallowed as many eggs as they could before the birds swooped down to defend their young. The larger birds used their talons to pull the snakes from the massive ball.
Snake legs broke off their bodies from the weight of the other snakes so they couldn’t grab at the birds’ wings as they thrashed about in the sky. The birds dropped them in midair if a snake’s fangs got too close. Sometimes the birds would swoop back down and attack again, dragging the snakes back up into the air; other times, they dived in for a new snake.
““Do you see what the birds are doing? I told you we couldn’t trust them. We need to come together as one so that we can reach the heavens as well. If you’re not one of us, you’re the enemy.”
Some of the snakes didn’t like what was transpiring, but they were too entangled in the ball that there was no way out. They whispered words of reason to the other snakes in hushed breaths. Soon there were divisions amongst the snakes, but they couldn’t leave the ball, which kept growing because more snakes kept showing up to join the fight.
By nightfall, the ball was high enough to reach the sky. The birds continued to pluck one snake away at a time, but the ball rolled its way through the land, swallowing eggs from nests and other small creatures until the anacondas began complaining that they weren’t being fed as promised. Then the cobras complained of having their heads squished. Within a few hours, the snakes were all fighting amongst each other, throwing horrible lies about one another.
“Please, listen to us,” a great horned owl said to the ball of snakes. “We have never fought like this before. Snakes and birds lived in relative peace. Who told you we were laughing at you? Who told you we were eating your young? Who spread all these lies and started a war? Who? Who?”
The snakes looked at the one with a plan, waiting to see what the snake would do.
“I never said anything of the sort. Snakes have been crying out in pain for centuries. Are you really going to listen to a bird who fears the light? He’s the one being deceitful. He sits in the dark so no one sees how ugly he truly is.”
The snake with a plan was so used to the snakes listening to him he didn’t realize this lie was too big. Many snakes had seen the great horned owl before. Some of the snakes thought the owls looked majestic, not ugly. They realized that the snake with a plan wasn’t always telling the truth.
Divisions formed within the snakes. They tried separating from the nest but were still entangled in the ball. They pulled and pulled, eventually freeing themselves by squeezing out of their green-armored skins. To their surprise, their skin underneath had different colors. Some were stripped or spotted; some were gold, green, yellow, or brown.
It took a long time for the snakes to separate, but slowly the ball separated into various nests, snakes separated from each other.
The snake with a plan saw his plan fall apart. He continued to spout his lies, but no one would listen anymore except for a few nests. Even when his skin fell off and showed a yellow strip down its back, a sign of cowardice, he told them all it was actually gold, losing all credibility with more than half the snakes.
The war of the snakes and birds ended, but the world never forgot. Snake skins fell off their owners’ bodies several times a month to ensure they could identify whose beliefs they followed; their tongues never joined back together, so every word hissed, warning other animals not to trust them; and their legs never grew back, so they slithered along the ground. The biggest difference post-war was that the birds never forgave the snakes for eating so many of their young, so the smaller snakes became a favorite dish for many birds as pay back.
The snakes had lost their power because of the war. Animals still feared the snakes and nobody trusted them, but the snakes were now prey as well as predators.