Long, long ago, hares had beautiful, long, fluffy white tails which they wagged whenever they felt happy or excited. At that time, all the hares lived on an island, separated from the mainland by a wide, foaming river. Though the hares knew how to swim, they could never reach the mainland, because in this river lived dozens and dozens of big, green, hungry crocodiles. These crocodiles loved nothing more than delicious hare for breakfast, lunch and supper. So every day all the mother hares told their little ones, ‘KEEP AWAYfrom the sandy banks! KEEP AWAY from the water!KEEP AWAY from those terrifying, hungry crocodiles!’
As long as the little hares listened to their mothers, they led perfectly happy lives, hopping about under the trees and gobbling the grasses and flowers that grew all around them. But when the hares grew bigger, some of them longed for a life of adventure. ‘It must be so exciting on the mainland!’ they said to each other. ‘There must be wonderful things to eat there, and lots and lots of interesting animals to play with. It’s not fair that we can’t go there!’
One day, an especially frisky young hare called Haruki suddenly had a brilliant idea. ‘Guess what?’ he boasted to his friends. ‘Today I’m going to escape to the mainland!’ None of his friends believed him, but Haruki didn’t care. ‘Watch me!’ he said, bounding over to the sandy bank of the river.
When Haruki reached the edge of the water, he shouted boldly, ‘Hey, King of the Crocodiles! Come out of the water! The King of the Hares wants to talk to you!’ Haruki’s friends shivered and gasped as a huge grinning crocodile pulled its powerful body out onto the sand. They had never seen anything so terrifying. The crocodile rolled its eyes slowly, then said in a deep, rumbling voice, ‘Yes, what can I do for you, you cheeky little creature?’
‘Well,’ said Haruki boldly, not looking at all frightened, ‘I think it’s time for us kings to compare our kingdoms. First I will count all the crocodiles, and then you can count all the hares. Then we will be able to see which of us has the mightiest kingdom.’
The crocodile king could hardly believe his luck. He imagined the delicious feast he would have as soon as it was his turn to do the counting. ‘Good idea,’ he said softly, running his tongue slowly over his yellow, pointed teeth. Then he turned and waddled back into the river. Soon the water was churning, as a long row of crocodiles began lining up behind him in the river.
‘Here I go!’ said Haruki, grinning at his friends. He bounded onto the back of the first crocodile, wagging his tail as he began to count. His friends gasped in amazement as they saw what he was doing. ‘One! Two! Three!’ he counted loudly, leaping from one spiny crocodile back to the next. ‘Four! Five! Six! Seven!’ he carried on, wagging his long, white tail wildly as he jumped closer and closer to the mainland. After ten minutes, his friends could only see a little speck, shouting and jumping in the distance.
‘Ninety eight! Ninety nine! One hundred!’ Now there were no more crocodiles in front of Haruki − only the sandy bank of the mainland. As he leapt off the back of the final crocodile, he let out a whoop of joy. ‘HA, HA! I TRICKED YOU!’ he bragged as he flew through the air and landed on the sand. ‘You nasty crocodiles have just made a bridge for me to reach the mainland!’ When the last crocodile heard these words, he whipped his huge head around and bit off Haruki’s wagging tail with a loud SNAP! Haruki squeaked with fright, but carried on bouncing all the way up the bank. He didn’t really care that he had lost his tail because he had gained his freedom. And to this day, hares have short, stubby tails, just like Haruki!