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The Jaguar and the Sloth

An Unlikely Pair

By Matthew PerrinoPublished about a year ago 13 min read

On a tropical island, deep within a lush, green jungle, lived a cunning jaguar. The beast was lying in the shade of a tree to shield itself from the blistering heat. He was in the midst of giving himself a bath, licking his black-spotted coat with a pink tongue, as he debated what to eat for dinner.

I don't think I'll have monkey today, reasoned the jaguar. Monkeys are such a nuisance to catch. And I already had fish for lunch. So what then? A deer perhaps? An armadillo? The jaguar opened his jaws wide, displaying sharp fangs, and released a lazy yawn. He was tired of rotating between the same food options everyday. The jaguar wanted something new, something different. But what? the feline asked himself.

The answer fell from the sky and landed with a thud somewhere nearby. The jaguar's pointy ears immediately perked up. His amber eyes followed the sound and spotted a yellow mango lying innocently on the jungle floor. Curious, the oversized cat glanced up. The jungle's trees towered above him, creating a green canopy. And hanging from one of its many boughs, along with a great number of mangoes, was a three-toed sloth.

Most animals would've missed the sloth, as his brown fur blended perfectly into the bark of the tree. But not the jaguar, oh no. His eyesight was much too good for that. The sloth was large and overweight. His long arms clung lazily to the tree, his swollen stomach pressed against the branch.

The jaguar's tongue passed hungrily over his lips as he stared at the plump and juicy animal. It had been a long time since he'd feasted on sloth. The lazy creatures tended to stay in the treetops, far from the reach of jaguars. Sloths were a rare delicacy to be sure. And the perfect choice for dinner, the jaguar decided. But how am I supposed to get it out of that tree? The feline contemplated this question, one paw resting over the other, tapping a long, black claw against the dirt. It didn't take him long though to conjure a plan, for the jaguar was a clever beast.

With a sharp-toothed smirk, the jaguar ambled toward the sloth's tree. He sat down on his hind legs beside the fallen mango. He looked up at the sloth, who was snoozing peacefully overhead.

"Excuse me!" the jaguar called out. "You up there!"

The sloth opened two heavily-lidded eyes. He looked around in sleepy confusion, moving so slowly that it pained the jaguar physically to watch.

"Down here!" the jaguar called again, trying to remain patient. "Below you!"

The sloth turned his head slowly toward the jungle floor. "Oh, there you are. Hello down there!” A dim-witted smile spread across the animal's face. One of his long arms detached from the branch and gave a small, three-claw wave.

The jaguar was surprised to see that the sloth was greeting him, a predator, with such warmth. It must be a stupid beast, thought the cat. Good. That'll make it easier to fool. "So sorry for disturbing your slumber," said the jaguar, "but I was hoping you might be able to help me."

"I've been asleep for twelve hours, friend. You haven't disturbed me at all," laughed the sloth. "How can I help you?"

"I'm afraid I've gotten myself lost," lied the jaguar, trying to sound scared and desperate. "I've never visited this part of the island before, and now I have no idea where I am. I'm trying to reach the cliffs. I live near them, you see. If only I could find my way to the cliffs, then I'd be able to get myself back home. Could you provide me with directions by any chance?"

"The cliffs, eh? Well--"

"I'm sorry, but my hearing isn't very good, and you're awfully far away," the jaguar interrupted. "I'm afraid that I'll mishear your directions and wind up getting even more lost than I am now. Would you be so kind as to descend that tree and provide the directions down here, so that I may hear them better?"

"I would if only I knew the way," the sloth lamented, loud enough for every animal nearby to hear. "As a sloth, I rarely leave this little area. In fact, I rarely even leave this tree. I've never been to the cliffs, so I have no idea where they are or how to find them. Sorry I can't be of more help. I hear they give such a beautiful view of the island though!”

The jaguar couldn't believe it. The cliffs were the most well-known landmark on the island. Everyone knew how to reach them. This sloth is even stupider than I thought, the jaguar realized.

"You know who can probably help you?" the sloth continued obliviously. "The yellow parrot. She lives just a few trees away. She knows how to get everywhere on the island. You should try her!"

The feline gawked at the sloth, its mouth agape, unsure of what to say. He hadn't expected such an outcome. Beaten at his own game, the jaguar mumbled his thanks and slunk off into the jungle to find another meal, his hunger rumbling like an earthquake through his stomach. I'll try again tomorrow, he told himself. I'll come up with a new plan, a more clever and enticing plan. And then that sloth will be mine.

When tomorrow came, the jaguar found the same fat sloth dangling from the same tree branch. Naturally, the creature was asleep. The jaguar approached the sloth's tree with a new lie and a new scheme. Once again, the jaguar called out to the sloth and woke him up.

"Oh, it's you again," said the sloth pleasantly. "Did you ever find those cliffs and your way back home? I hope you haven't been lost this whole time."

"I did find my way home, thank you," said the jaguar. "Your advice was most helpful. To express my gratitude, I'd like to take you to the most delicious mango tree I found nearby. As a vegetarian myself, I can assure you--these are the juiciest, plumpest mangoes I've ever had. You simply must come down and try them."

The sloth's response once again shocked the jaguar: "Hmmm, that does sound nice, but climbing down from here seems like an awful lot of work. I'm nice and comfortable at the moment, and I'm already surrounded by tons of delicious mangoes, all within my reach. I think I'll have to pass on your offer. Thank you though!"

This beast is as lazy as he is stupid, thought the jaguar hotly. "Are you sure? These mangoes are really, really tasty. The best on the island!"

"Yes, I'm alright. But wait, since you like mangoes so, try some of mine. They may not be as tasty as the mangoes from your tree, but they're very, very good." Moving as slow as molasses, the sloth reached out, plucked a mango from his bough, and tossed it down to the jaguar. The yellow fruit fell to the ground and rolled toward the jaguar's paws. The sloth did this once, twice, three times. By the fourth time, the jaguar couldn't bear to watch the animal’s slow pace any longer.

"I don't think I need any more," the feline called out hurriedly. "Thank you, though. Three is plenty enough for me."

"Sure, no problem. Enjoy!" the sloth called out happily.

Grumbling angrily to himself, the jaguar ate the three mangoes. They actually were quite delicious, but the jaguar was unable to enjoy them. The sweet fruit tasted like defeat and certainly did not taste like sloth. Tomorrow, the jaguar assured himself as he wandered back into the jungle. Tomorrow, I will have that sloth for dinner.

Tomorrow brought with it a terrible storm. An onslaught of rain poured down upon the island. Thunder boomed, while lightning flashed and streaked across the sky. Many of the jungle’s animals sought shelter from the storm. But there was one stubborn and hungry jaguar that refused to take cover. The drenched feline traversed the jungle, enduring sheets of rain. The jaguar was determined to eat that sloth. It was no longer about feeding his appetite (though he was still craving the taste of sloth). At this point, it was a matter of pride. He, a clever and cunning jaguar, refused to be beaten by a dim-witted and lazy sloth. It simply could not be tolerated.

When the jaguar reached the sloth’s tree, he glanced up at the branches. He had expected to see the chubby fool hanging there, snoozing peacefully, oblivious to this horrid weather. But to his surprise, the sloth was nowhere to be found.

The jaguar’s amber eyes searched the jungle floor. Has that mindless creature finally moved? he wondered. Is he down here somewhere?

The jaguar was so busy looking about that he became oblivious to his surroundings. Thunder cracked the sky like a whip. Lightning shot down and struck the sloth’s tree. Rain and mangoes fell from above. Wood and flames crackled and burst into the air.

Alarmed, the jaguar glanced up but not quickly enough. A large tree branch, the sloth’s branch, had snapped off and was now hurtling toward the earth. It landed on the jaguar’s back. The feline collapsed onto his stomach, his legs splayed out. The jaguar grunted in pain, his back aching. His amber eyes widened at the sight of red, hot flames on the jungle floor. Gritting his fangs, the jaguar tried hauling himself up to his feet. The branch rose an inch or so off the ground—but then the jaguar collapsed, overcome by pain and exhaustion.

He couldn’t do it. The branch was too heavy. It had pinned him in place.

A hopeless terror filled the jaguar. He glanced back at the fire. It was dancing toward him, creeping closer. I can’t believe this, he fretted. I’m about to die for a stupid, lazy sloth that I never even got to eat!

It was during this fit of despair that the branch on the jaguar’s back suddenly moved. He turned his head—and there was the stupid and lazy sloth. The fool’s brown fur was drenched from the rain. His long arms were extended in front of him, and the three claws at the end of each one had grasped the fallen bough.

The sloth was lifting the tree branch. Very, very slowly. Despite the situation, he gave the jaguar a dim-witted smile. “Don’t worry friend,” he said. “I’ll help you.”

For the third time, the sloth had left the jaguar speechless. His eyes darted between the sloth and the approaching flames, watching the branch rise slowly, slowly off his back. The cat could feel the fire’s heat now, racing to consume them both. Desperate, he tried wriggling himself free. And as soon as the branch was high enough, the jaguar shot out from underneath it. He couldn’t move as quickly as usual; his back was in far too much pain. But for now, that didn’t matter. The jaguar was free, he had escaped.

The feline was ready to go bounding off into the jungle, seeking out the shelter that he should have found hours ago. But his conscience halted him in his tracks. The jaguar turned to look behind him. The sloth had let go of the fallen tree branch. Now he was crawling, literally crawling, on the jungle floor. The flames were still heading in his direction, moving faster than the sloth ever could. But the animal was either too stupid or too oblivious to notice. That dim-witted smile was still sitting pleasantly on his face.

Snarling at his own conscience, the jaguar scampered back to the sloth. “Quick, grab hold of me!” he cried.

“Oh wow, thank you! Much obliged!” the sloth replied gratefully. He wrapped his arms around the cat’s neck (slowly, of course). And as soon as he was secured, the jaguar carried them away from the splintered mango tree and the flames dancing around it.

The jaguar couldn’t go far; his back was throbbing, and the sloth was plump and heavy. Fortunately, he found a hollow tree unoccupied by other animals, the perfect shelter from the storm. Exhausted and wet, the jaguar crawled into the massive hole in the tree and collapsed.

The sloth went sliding off his back and onto the ground. “Wow, what a ride!” he cried excitedly. “You’re fast!”

The jaguar stared at the sloth. The fool was grinning from ear to ear, oblivious to the danger that his life was still in. This was the moment that the jaguar had been waiting for; he had finally gotten the sloth out of that tree. He should pounce on the fool now and eat him. And yet, the jaguar remained still.

“You saved me,” he muttered in a dumbfounded voice. “Why?”

“Because you needed help,” said the sloth casually. “Also, your voice sounds so familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”

The jaguar’s brow furrowed. “Don’t you recognize me? I’m the jaguar who asked you for directions to the cliffs two days ago, who invited you to the mango tree just yesterday.”

The sloth’s eyes widened. “Oh, that was you? Wow, I had no idea you were a jaguar.”

“What? Couldn’t you tell from up in your tree branch?”

“Not at all. Sloths don’t have very good eyesight, I’m afraid.”

Ah, so that’s why he was always so kind to me. The jaguar had to laugh. “I was surprised to see you out of your tree. What were you doing on the jungle floor during the storm?”

“Oh, just relieving myself. As a sloth, I only do so once a week, and unfortunately, nature called at a most inopportune time.”

“Actually, I think it was a very opportune time. If you had stayed in that tree, the lightning would’ve struck you.”

“Wow, that’s a good point. I suppose I am lucky.”

The two animals lied there peacefully, listening to the pitter-patter of rain in the jungle, and soon fell asleep.

By the next day, the storm had cleared, and the sun was out shining. The jaguar’s back was still achey but felt much better. Resisting the urge to feast on the sloth (the creature still looked delicious), he bent down and invited the sloth to climb upon his back. The sloth did so very, very slowly, though the jaguar was surprised to find that it no longer bothered him.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” began the sloth, “maybe you can take me to the cliffs? I would love to see them. I’ve heard such beautiful things.”

“Sure, we can do that. Everyone should see the cliffs at least once in their lives.”

“Splendid! Oh, and maybe you can take me to that mango tree you mentioned, too? The one with the plumpest, juiciest, tastiest mangoes on the island? I would very much like to try them. Only if it’s not too much trouble, of course.”

The jaguar laughed as he took them out of the hollow tree. Of course, he had fabricated that tree with the plumpest, juiciest, tastiest mangoes on the island, so he was forced to tell one last lie. “I’m afraid that tree branch knocked the memory out of my head. I’m no longer sure where the mango tree is located. But I am sure we can find it. Together.”

“Yes,” said the sloth, and the jaguar could hear the smile on his face. “Together.”

And so, the two new friends wandered through the jungle, the jaguar and the sloth, in search of tasty mango trees, and cliffs with breath-taking views, and whatever adventure might await them on their little island.

Short StoryFable

About the Creator

Matthew Perrino

A dreamer and wannabe-author, who flops back and forth between loving and hating his work. Imagination extraordinaire, who spends far too much time thinking about words.

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Comments (2)

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  • Christiane Winterabout a year ago

    Excellent pacing on a very sweet story. I enjoyed this, i'd love to read more about their adventures!

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