Rikki Tikki Tavi only if it was written as a YA novel.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book
I don’t remember my parents that well. Just their faces and a few words. I was very young when the flood happened. They put me in a basket sealed with mud, and by the time that lid was opened to a crying baby, my village was gone. I wasn’t taken by the horrors of the jungle though as Darwin would have been fine with but saved by the kindness of humans. Oh sure, they did their research and prodding about my non-human features like my tail and furry ears but the people at the Kipling estate research center have actually been quite sympathetic to me when I explained what happened to me. Which was difficult because my English wasn’t that good at that age but then again, how would you ask even a six-year-old human to describe how their parents died?
My life, for the most part, was actually pretty great. The Kipling researchers gave me an education and a home. I wasn’t just a laboratory subject or a pet to them, but a part of the family. Which came in handy when they made contact with the Bandar-log.
Apparently, their king wanted what humans had but didn’t specify exactly how he wanted to be like humans or that he only wanted that gift for himself. Hence why you had creatures like my people and I. Not quite animals but not quite human. With me sort of acting as that friend you have to prove you’re not racist, the Kipling estate and the Bandar-log established the “Law of the Jungle.” Which amounted to a “you won’t bother us, we won’t bother you” agreement.
That’s all in the past though, why don’t I skip ahead a bit to a really interesting part of my story? In order to defeat my nemesis, the vengeful snake Nagaina, I had to look for someone far more dangerous.
“Hey watch it!”
“Stop wiggling so much!”
“I almost hit a tree!”
“I would fly straight if you stopped moving.”
“You know what? Sod it!”
I let go of Darcee and plummeted below the tree line. Flipping and scurrying, I reached the jungle floor. Darcee circled around and perched himself on a branch above me.
“Well I apologize it wasn’t the first class flight you were looking for but I’m only one bird,” Darcee said. He bowed mockingly like an apologizing servant.
“Sorry, sorry. I had to get here quicker than I could have walked.” I started on the trail, the trees and brush getting thicker. Darcee was half flying, half walking close behind me, more of the ladder as we went further along.
“Are you sure you even want to do this Rikki? He is so feared for a reason.” He said.
“I know what I’m doing,” I said.
“No, you don’t.” Darcee grabbed me by the shoulder to spin me around. Without thinking, I put him in a wrist lock. “See this?” He said through a gritted beak. “You think this speed, these reflexes make you powerful, but you’ve grown up soft under the coddling of man. You have no idea who or what it is you are walking in on.” I released him, he shook his arm off.
“Says the bird I met hiding in his nest.”
“To stay alive, to keep me and my offspring safe.”
“I killed Nag, I saw Nagaina kill Dr. Benson and Dr. Evers. I think I got my reality check, Darcee.” I turned back around. The jungle was getting darker even though it was not even noon yet. Over the roots and down the hill, we were stepping deeper and deeper.
“You didn’t grow up in the jungle Rikki Tikki. Nag and Nagaina are earthworms compared to who you are seeking now.” That did give me pause. Darcee was a bit of a cynic but he was not one for hyperbole.
“He’s the oldest living creature in the jungle Rikki Tikki. His power is unmatched. Even the Ape King and the Tiger Khan fear him.” We both now stood outside his lair, a slope leading into an earthen ravine with vines and roots growing into the abyss. I could hear water flowing down there.
“You can leave Darcee,” I said.
“Go, be with your family. They need you.”
“Rikki, I was hoping I could impress upon you how mad this all is. Forget Nagaina and the humans. You can come live with us. There’s no way to stop her and even if he does have a way, why would he share it with you? Face it, my friend. There is nothing down there for you but death.”
“I don’t fear death. At least not my own. Darcee, you want to protect your wife and your eggs. You can fly. You protect them by building a nest up high.” I raised my wrapped hands in front to show him. “I have these instead of wings, and those humans are my family.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “Go on. I’ll find my way back.” He took a few steps back, turned around, but paid me one last look before taking wing.
“I’ll compose a song for you Rikki Tikki Tavi,” He said. Like that he was gone. Steeling myself, I started the walk down into the den of death.
It was not an easy trek. The massive roots and vines made a dangerous game of stepping stones in between the muddy slope. My eyes were well adjusted to the dark but even that had its limits. I was certainly better off than my human friends would be but that seemed a small comfort now when all I could see was more way down. By the time I finally came in sight of the deep river, I was winded. I sat upon the root I had landed on just to catch my breath for a moment.
I fanned myself with my tail. The air down here was hot, humid, and stung my nose with its bitter scent. That’s when my quarry made himself known to me.
“It would seem I have a guesssst.” I bounded to my feet and assumed a fighting stance. “The mongoossse. The fighter. The champion of man. Ssssslayer of Nag. The last of his people. Makessss for quite a song. Now here in my presence, I am honored.” His voice echoed through the shadows.
“So honored that you won’t show yourself, serpent?!” I said, my eyes and ears darting everywhere.
“So honored that I would allow you to rest your weary head upon my coils.” He said. Confused, I looked around and down, noticing the strange pattern on the root I was laying upon almost like . . . scales. Dread began to slither down my spine as several “roots” from around me moved and flexed. Rocks fell into the river from high above. I scrambled off from my perch, several times tumbling and the coils cushioning my fall until I fell to the bank of the river. I tried to run but a slender body thicker than a tree flowed in front of me like a mudslide. I turned and tried the opposite way and the same thing happened. My eyes widened and I shouted in terror as I saw a shovel-shaped head bigger than a car hovering over me. “So, I know you, but I have to wonder if you truly know me.” His lashing tongue that shot out as he spoke was thick as my arm.
“You’re . . . Kaa. The oldest creature in the jungle, the one who Kings and Khans fear.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere with me, Rikki Tikki Tavi,” He chuckled. Kaa’s voice was nothing like Nag’s. Nag had a scratching, hissing, high pitched voice. Kaa’s was far deeper, booming, yet smooth. “Ssssso, what is it that brings you into my humble abode, Rikki Tikki Tavi?” He asked. I tried to pick myself up and compose myself a little but it was clear I was shaking where I stood. Mongooses are brave but we still get scared.
“I’ve, I’ve come because Nagaina has killed people I care about, and she will kill more. I need to know how to stop her.” I said, standing up proud and tall or at least trying to.
“And if I neglected to share this information with you. What was your next plan for obtaining it?” He asked. My heroic stature crumpled as I struggled to pull a convincing lie from my brain. “Were you planning on beating the answers out of me?” He asked. The coils to both my sides drew closer. I scrambled for a bluff, an escape. Maybe the river. Kaa chuckled again. “Calm yourself Rikki Tikki Tavi. I’m not offended at all. In fact, I find it amusing. Sssso indicative of who you are. Your mind is a straight line. Ssssimple, pure. You remind me of a certain man-cub I once taught. You two make interesting foilssss to one another. The mongoose raised by man, the man-cub raised by wolvessss.”
“So, others have come to you for aid and not died?” I asked.
“You are not ssssafe Rikki Tikki Tavi. I was driven from the Garden at Creation’s dawn, it was my coils that bore Vishnu, I endured where the Terrible Lizardsss were damned to ash. That reputation of mine isss well deserved . . . but I do not kill without meaning and I do plan to assist you in this quest.”
“Really? Thank you mighty one.” I fell to my knees in deference to the serpent. Oh, how my parents were probably weeping in Heaven at the sight of a mongoose bowing to a snake. Speaking of them though, mongooses were also curious. “Why?” I blurted out. Then I covered my mouth and cursed myself.
“What was that?” Kaa asked. His head lowered to be almost directly over me.
“I just, asked why you would help me,” I said.
“Why I, a python, would assist in the death of the Cobra Queen?” He asked. I nodded. “Nagaina is filled with wrath, bitterness, and vengeance. She will not stop killing humans so consumed by madness she has become. On principle, such issss not fitting for my kind. Sssserpents are not creaturesss of passion. Our blood runs cold, our minds pierce like our fangs. So on the one side, I am simply letting nature take its course. If not you, someone elsssse would eventually kill her. On the other half, let’s just sssay the Ape King and Tiger Khan are not the only onessss with designs.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Kaa turned his head.
“Sorry, it’s in my nature.” I shrugged.
“Than you are a better mongoose than Nagaina is a serpent. As to answer your question, be grateful that your song ends soon Rikki Tikki Tavi, and that you make your nest behind the walls of man. There are powersss soon to be set in motion in the jungle. A sssstorm is coming and many who sit high now will be swept away in its wake. I give you this information at a price Rikki Tikki Tavi.”
“That you kill Nagaina ssswiftly! If she kills all the humans, more will come and they will come with force. I cannot afford the ssscrutiny of man at this juncture.”
“Why not? What are you planning to do?”
“My willingness to entertain your curiosity has sadly come to an end. One must choose their battles carefully Rikki Tikki Tavi and I am not your fight . . . fortunately for you.” Kaa piled his coils high around me, trapping me at the center of a pyramid made of keratin and raw muscle just to prove his point.
“I understand, my lord.”
“Good. Now come closer Rikki Tikki Tavi, and I will share with you the knowledge of how to kill the Cobra Queen.” He said. I got as close to his head as I dared and he shared the secret with me.
“Good.” Kaa scooped me up on top of his head, rising out of the abyss and into the sun like a rocket. I was dropped off at the top of the entrance with surprising gentleness. “Go Rikki Tikki Tavi. Fulfill your destiny . . . and leave me to mind.” Kaa slinked back into the ground, chuckling all the way.
Armed with this knowledge, I knew I could now take on Nagaina, but I left that grove with the distinct feeling that I had just had a chat with the villain of someone else’s song.