In an open field, two little kittens with bright eyes jumped over a length of rope. They tumbled and growled and bit and scrambled and they played in the dry, yellow grass.
One of the kittens, Bun, pounced on his brother Mango and hissed.
“Ha! I’m not scared of you,” said Mango.
“Your hiss isn’t scary at all!”
“Scarier than yours!” replied Bun and opened his mouth to hiss again, when “Ksksksksksksks” came an odd sound.
Suddenly, the rope came alive, looping around them soundlessly. It was a snake! And they hadn’t stumbled across any ordinary snake—this was a king cobra. The kittens huddled together in terror.
“You don’t need to be so afraid,” said the snake, “I won’t eat you.”
But she had a rather strange sense of humour, because she immediately squeezed the kittens very gently in her coils. Frightened, Bun puffed his fur out and hissed.
The snake laughed.
“What an adorable little hiss. You’d win awards for the cutest hiss of us all!” she said.
Bun was a bit put out, but Mango was curious.
“There are other animals that hiss?” he asked.
“Of course, they do! Why, your ancestors learned how to hiss from mine,” the snake replied. “Could you show us how you hiss please, Miss…um. What is your name?” asked Bun.
“You can call me Hannah,” said the snake. “But are you very sure you want to hear me hiss?” she asked.
Mango and Bun nodded eagerly. They’d never heard anyone else hiss before!
Hannah the king cobra looked at them, then began uncoiling. Slowly she rose, swaying gracefully, then she spread her hood, reared back, and hissed.
What a tremendous sound! A deep, loud growl built up and up from Hannah’s throat and swelled into a frightening hiss, like a steam engine rumbling along the train tracks. And those teeth!
Mango and Bun squawked and puffed up again in their fright. Hannah looked down at them, and immediately lost her hood as she collapsed into laughter. When she was done, Hannah bumped the kittens gently with her great head.
“Would you like to meet some more animals that hiss?” she asked.
Now, the kittens may have had a fright, but they had more curiosity than sense! They immediately nodded.
“We should head to the lake!” said Hannah as she uncoiled and slithered ahead. The kittens bounded after her.
Hannah made her way to a patch of shade and arranged her coils into the ground. The kittens ran up to her just as she disappeared into the grass.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked as soon as the kittens reached her.
She had rested her head on a coil, and her eyes were barely open. The kittens titled their heads quizzically, and if Hannah could have smiled, she would have.
“You don’t need me to take you around to the swans, do you? Go on. Introduce yourselves. I’m going to rest here,” she said, and closed her eyes.
But she was listening intently!
As soon as the kittens turned away and walked towards the water, her eyes flew open.
“Gross,” said Bun as he squelched along the banks of the lake.
Mango didn’t reply. He hated getting his paws wet. Hated it! But he shook his paws after every step and grumbled low in his throat, and kept moving.
The swans looked on with beady eyes as the kittens walked up to them. They were quite displeased. They had eggs to protect! This was certainly not the time for guests to drop by unannounced!
The male swan spread his wings out wide and flapped them.
“OUT!” he trumpeted.
The kittens froze in place.
“OUT!” he trumpeted again, flapping his wings. Then he opened his mouth, and hissed! The swan hissed like a pressure cooker on the stove, growing louder and scarier as he ran to the kittens.
Mango and Bun scrambled and fell and kicked at the wet ground, trying to get away. Mud flew everywhere, and it was quite a messy, breathless pair that finally tripped over Hannah’s tail.
“Had a good time?” she asked, laughing a little.
She had been watching the whole time! The filthy little kittens looked up at her balefully. They were too wet to be properly frightened of her anymore!
Hannah hadn’t been so entertained in years.
Suddenly, she darted out her tongue and lifted herself up, sensing something in the sky.
A spotted owl was flying above them, with something in its mouth. It circled slowly, before swooping down again. It was going to grab the kittens!
Hannah really did like the kittens, and she certainly wasn’t going to let an owl snap them up. She looped her coils around them protectively, and flared her hood out in warning. Abruptly the owl twisted and landed on a branch nearby, with a rat in its beak.
The owl stared them down, tossed the rat into its claws and bent its head. Then, it hissed.
If a sound was a hiss and a scream all at once, filled with all the hate in the world, it would be this hiss.
Mango and Bun clutched at each other inside Hannah’s coils. That didn’t sound like any hiss they had ever heard before!
They needn’t have worried. Hannah was a king cobra, and there are very few things that scare a king cobra. She lifted herself up and up and up, until she was face to face with the owl on its branch, and hissed her growly hiss right into its face.
Immediately the owl dropped the rat and flew away.
The rat fell near the kittens and scuttled around in place. It was quite confused and rather terrified.
Mango pounced before the rat even touched the ground. He batted it over to Bun, and they sent the shocked rat back and forth between them like a little ball. Mango cornered the rat into Hannah’s coils and was just about to send it over to Bun when he heard—
HISS! HISS! HISS!
Mango and Bun jumped right up, their fur on end. What a sound! Where did it come from?
It was the rat! High-pitched and surprisingly loud, the rat hissed and hissed some more, then scrambled away before any other animal could consider making it a snack.
The kittens tried not to be bothered by Hannah, who was laughing so hard that she wasn’t even making any sounds. Her coils shook in her mirth but the kittens were quite done. They weren’t leaving the safety of Hannah’s coils for anything!
Later, Hannah escorted them home, slipping away before their humans could see her. They were fussed over and bathed, and finally, they were tucked into bed.
“Imagine that Mango,” mumbled Bun. “A little rat. Hissiest of us all.”
But Mango didn’t reply. He was asleep! And somewhere outside, or perhaps in his dream, the deep golden eyes of a king cobra glinted in the light of the moon.