A.N. I've had some comments that this story is too repetitious and patterned. This story is as close as I can make it to the myth sets that I draw from for this background without actually copying an existing myth or grounding it too firmly in any one culture group. But feel free to form your own opinions, that is what learning myths are for.
The New Animal
Long ago, when Mother Earth and Father Sky were still young, the animals gathered together to talk about a strange new sight they had seen. A new creature, unknown to any of them, had been seen by many of the animals, and so they called a council of the leaders of every species to decide what this new animal was.
"I have seen this new animal," said the old Tortoise, the oldest animal there. "I have seen that this animal walks on two legs, so it must be a Bird." This caused a great outbreak of squawking and cawing from the many Birds at the meeting. "No!" they cried, "It cannot be one of us! We know what all the other Birds look like."
"Well," said the crafty Raven, "I, too, have seen this creature, and though it walks like we Birds, it has fur. No Bird has fur." "Yes, yes," cried the other Birds, which greatly pleased the Raven. "I have also seen that this animal eats with its front legs," continued the Raven. "It must be an Ape." "No, no," cried the Apes, "we have none missing from our numbers, so it cannot be one of us."
The great silver-backed Gorilla stood up and called to the other animals, "It could not be an Ape, but I have seen its young. They squall and are helpless and blind, they are not like ours. They are like the Cats' litters. The new animal must be a Cat." "Yes, yes," cried the Birds and Apes. "No," hissed the Cats, large and small, offended by the Apes' presumptions.
"Friends, please," purred the littlest Cat, a small queen tabby no larger than the greatest lion's paw. "I have seen this animal as well, my friends, and I can say it is neither Bird nor Ape nor Cat nor indeed any animal I know well. But as I was stalking it, I heard it let out a great sound. It sounded, my friends, like the Horse, and therefore that is what it must be." "Yes, yes," said the animals, while "No, no," cried the horses. The Donkeys and Zebras were angered, as well, on their cousins' behalves.
"Foolishness!" whinnied the great grey Stallion, the most graceful creature of the gathering. "This thing is no Horse, how could you even compare us. No, I, too, have seen this thing and while I was there it made no sound like a Horse. Instead, once it saw me, it pulled something in its hands then I heard a sound like I have only heard once and felt a pain like one I know well. The thing struck from a distance and hissed and stung like a Snake. Therefore, it must be a Snake." "Oh, yes, a Snake!" cried the others. "Not a Sssnake!" cried the Snakes.
"Sssso," hissed the King Cobra, coiling around himself and raising his head, "you believe thissss new animal to be a Ssssnake. I ssssay it isss an Elephant. It isss a sssmart animal, I have ssseen it being ssssmart. I have not sssseen it acting like a Sssnake, sssso it isss not a Sssnake." "Yes, yes, an elephant," chorused the animals together. There was only one Elephant at the gathering, however, an old and wise matriarch. She did not stop to protest the snake's words, instead posing her own.
"Hmm," muttered the wise Elephant, "I have seen this creature as well, and though it walks on two legs, makes many noises, and eats with its front paws, I have also seen that it lives in packs, like the Wolves." Now, none of the animals quite trusted the Wolves, which always seemed to be smiling at them, even as they stalked their prey. The thought of another kind of Wolf in their home did not make them happy. The Wolves, however, just grinned their grins, lolled their tongues, and said, "Well, well, so you say, good Elephant, so you say. Because you are all so confused, perhaps one of you should go to the animal's home and see what it is."
This statement, of course, sent a roar through the gathered animals. They told each other how very brave they all were and how, if they only had the time, they themselves would be the one to go look for the new animal. But, of course, they were just too busy. So the Wolves grinned their grins, lolled their tongues, and said, "Well, well, so you all say, wise friends, so you say. Very well, we will seek out this new animal ourselves, to save you the trouble on your time." So the Wolves grinned their grins, lolled their tongues, turned and loped out of the gathering place, leaving the other animals behind to await their findings.
The animals waited and waited. They waited all night and the next day for the Wolves to return. They waited a moon-time, then a season, and finally, when they could wait no longer and the sun had made many a full course through the sky, they decided they must send someone else to discover what had happened to the Wolves and to investigate this new creature. "Now," said the Elephant, "we have waited long enough. It is obvious the Wolves will not return." As it was known that the Wolves listened to no one but themselves and owed no loyalty to any outside their pack, the animals were not too worried about the Wolves. They had, the animals all thought, probably just run off, grinning all the time. "Who will go, then?" asked the Elephant.
"Hmm," purred the littlest Cat, who had spoken before, "I suppose it would not impose on my time too much if I were to go and see this new creature. Very well, I shall be off." With that, the littlest Cat licked her paws, flicked her tail, and slunk off into the brush. Yes, the animals thought, the Cat will find something out. Again, the animals waited and waited. They again waited all night and the next day. They waited a moon-time, then a season, and finally decided the littlest Cat wasn't coming back, either. "Well," said the great Elephant, "it is my belief that the Cat is not coming back." "Yes, yes," said the animals, "she is not coming back. We should not have trusted one so finicky." The animals all knew, after all, that the Cat was as likely as not to sit down to wash her tail and forget about looking for the new animal. So they were not especially worried. "Who will go now?" asked the Elephant.
The great grey Stallion tossed his head, stomped his hoof, and said "Very well, as you are all afraid, I shall go. We shall see what this new animal is." Almost before he had finished speaking, he tossed his head, stomped his hooves, gathered his herd together and galloped off into the forest to search for the creature. The animals waited and waited. They waited all night and the next day. Still the Stallion and his herd did not return. They waited a moon-time, then a season, and finally decided the Stallion, like the Wolves and Cat, was not coming back. This did not overly bother the animals for, as the grumpy, old Badger said, "The thing was so vain he might have starved to death staring into a pool of water." They were all sure the Stallion had just wandered off in search of green grass, taking his herd with him. This went on for some time, with the animals sending out one seeker after another to learn about this new animal. They sent the great hunter Hawk and the curious Ferret, the brave little Donkey and the sturdy Ox, and many others, even the timid Rabbit and Sheep. They waited and waited for each to return, but none did.
Finally, the animals had had enough. They looked around at their dwindling numbers, muttering to themselves and each other. "Fine," said the Giraffe, who had not yet spoken at the animal meeting. "Let me go. I will go in darkness and look over the treetops at the animal. It will not see me." The remaining animals decided this was as good an idea as any they had had, so they let the Giraffe go. They waited and waited. They waited all night, but, half-way through the next day, the Giraffe came running back, telling the animals to come quickly and see what he had seen. The animals followed the Giraffe quickly. They followed him for the rest of the day until, just before moonrise, they came to the spot where the Giraffe said he had seen the animal. "Look," said the Giraffe. "See how dangerous this animal is." And the other animals looked and indeed they saw. There was the Cat lying by the fire and the Wolves lying by the entrance to the creature's nest. There were the Horses with strange vines around their legs, and the Donkey and Ox a little way off with what looked like a vine going from their necks to the ground. The Sheep and the Ferret and even the timid Rabbit were there as well, trapped in something like pieces of logs. The Hawk was also attached to a piece of wood and looked like it had been blinded.
After seeing this, the animals ran quickly away. They were very afraid. After running through the night, they came to the place where they had held the animal meeting. "He has killed them, he has killed little Cat and the Wolves!" cried the silver-backed Gorilla. "And he has trapped our other friends to kill them later!" cried the Zebra. "Yes, yes, he will kill us, too!" cried all the animals together. But the wise old Elephant, who had kept her head throughout, said, "Now, friends, don't be hasty. We now know that this new animal is very dangerous. We shall be able to avoid him now. We know he is wise like I am, quick as the Snake, and cunning like the Wolves. We know he has many strengths that we must be wary of. This new animal is also a very dangerous hunter, as we have seen. We must be cautious, friends." "Yes, yes," said the animals. They knew the Elephant was the wisest of them all. "Avoid this new animal, friends, unless you follow the littlest Cat into his fire." The animals were quick to agree, they did not want to be in anyone's fire. So the animals resolved to stay far away from this animal-that-was-not-like-any-other-animal, and to this day, the animals stay far away from it for fear it will catch them as well.
And that is the story of how Man became the greatest and most feared animal of all.