Prose, Grades 10-12: Third Place

The Rule of the Jungle — Miriam Devora Kutoff

Fear seized the animals of the jungle. The awesome lion strode aristocratically to his unchallenged place on the large rock in the center. Raising his voice, the lion roared, sending a shiver down the spine of every living creature. The animals waited in trepidation for what was to come. It arrived swiftly, and brought with it sorrow. Sorrow for the family of the hapless victim, an innocent mouse with a wife and ten children, who had been devoured by the voracious beast. Sorrow for themselves, realizing that one day they might share his fate. Oblivious to their discomfort and having satiated his well-fed stomach, the lion turned to other matters.

“To the pond!” the lion bellowed. “Send the criminals to their deaths! How dare they scurry across the floor, carrying out their mundane acts, while their mighty ruler rests from his urgent pressures!” With that, the poor weasels were dragged away to their execution. Hundreds of others were to join them within the next few hours on their journey to heaven.

Realizing that the situation was deteriorating from day to day, the animal leaders gathered in a discreet cave to determine a solution to the growing menace.

“We cannot allow this to continue!” hollered a young, hotheaded baboon.

“Who knows if we won’t be that horrible beast’s dinner tomorrow?” worried an elderly grizzly bear.

“That’s it!” thundered a large cheetah. “We must overthrow this wicked tyrant!”

“But think about what his noble father did for us,” countered the wise owl. “We owe him enough to serve his son faithfully, even if he himself is not deserving of our loyalty.”

“I disagree. We must stand up to create a better life and brighter future for ourselves! We mustn’t allow this greedy savage to dominate our existence! Who is with me?”

Most of the animals eagerly offered their approval to the baboon’s suggestion, but the owl shook his venerable head from side to side in disapproval.

“I think you are making a big mistake. True, there is much to be desired from King Lion’s conduct, but I suggest we peacefully petition for reform. Rebellion and violence will only earn us a new enemy.”

The animals scoffed at the old owl’s words. “How foolish!” they exclaimed. Together the outraged creatures battled their ruler, ousting him with much bloodshed and instituting the baboon in his place. But only a few months later, the animals once again gathered in frustration.

“The baboon is no better than that horrible lion!” wailed a field mouse.

“Just a while ago he was subjugated like the rest of us. Now he acts all high and mighty!” a tiger spat out in disgust.

“I won’t say I told you so. Just make sure not to make the same mistake a second time,” said the owl.

“Oh, we won’t!” an elephant replied. “This time we’ll appoint a council, a representative group of animals who will rule us together. This way, we’ll avoid the tyranny of the lion and the treachery of the baboon.”

The elephant’s proposal was greeted with cheers. The owl looked thoughtful as he watched them scurry off to implement their plan. Within days and amid much bloodshed, the baboon was deposed and a newly elected council was organized to govern the jungle. Although offered a place on the council, the owl refused, preferring to send his blessings instead.

The council system worked admirably for several years, but soon enough, the mobs of displeased animals were knocking at the owl’s door.

“We are at a loss.” A timid squirrel explained their visit, “The council is worse than the baboon and the lion put together! They don’t listen to any of our concerns!”

“Yeah. All they care about is being reelected,” stated an old snake cynically.

“The council is the worst institution ever put in place in this jungle!” was the unanimous outcry.

“I don’t understand. Aren’t they your elected officials? Don’t they have an obligation to honor your requests?” asked the owl gently.

“That’s what we thought,” said a young tortoise. “But these ‘elected officials’ are power hungry beasts who shove their way into office with empty promises. Once in office, they just party and do whatever they want. All they want is our tax money. They could not care less if we lived or died!”

“And the ones who do care are shouted out by the others. They have no authority to help us!”

“You know, I’d rather the lion to what we have now. At least he kept us in shape. What we have now is a morally decadent society with gluttonous leaders.”

“I agree! With King Lion we had a strong central authority!”

“Yeah! We want our King Lion back!” the animals unanimously chorused.

“Are you sure?” cautioned the owl.

“What could be better than a noble, mighty lion as our ruler!” exclaimed a giraffe. “Sure we’re sure!”

“All right, if that’s what you really want,” the owl acquiesced with a knowing smile.