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The Woodcutter & The Snake

A fable on selfish folly.

By Alvin AngPublished 9 months ago Updated 7 months ago 33 min read
Original pencil drawing

In a lonely cabin by the woods, there lived a woodcutter.

His cabin was not a grand vacation home the nobles retreated to in the summer. Nor was it a decrepit shack, a hideout for outlaws and brigands. It was humble and homely: a simple home for a simple woodcutter. The cabin was spartan, carved out of hand-cut wood, unadorned save for a rough stone chimney perched on its roof. The floor was made out of the same pinewood as the walls, polished smooth by the passage of feet and the passing of time. And of course, there was the woodcutter himself.

The dying light of the hearth illuminated him, revealing a boy on the cusp of manhood. His hair was black and tousled, his skin tanned a deep and golden brown. He was lean and wiry from a lifetime of chopping wood, and his face was plain but kind. Laugh lines danced playfully across his cheeks.

“A simple life for a simple woodcutter,” was a phrase he often repeated to himself. And this simple philosophy stayed true every day of his uneventful life. Every morning without fail, the woodcutter would wake, rising with the morning sun and pulling on his sturdy work boots. “Right foot first, always right foot first!” was the advice the woodcutter’s kind but naggy mother gave him long ago. “It’s a dangerous business, stepping out your door. There’s no telling what lies in the wild woods beyond!” His mum would chide. And no matter how many times the woodcutter laughed off the advice as foolish superstition, her rebuttal was firm and unchanging. “It’s better to be foolish and alive than headstrong and dead,” she would declare, deadpan. “Heed your mum now!”

The old woman was five years dead, yet to this day the woodcutter always puts on his right boot first.

This morning was no different. By the time dawn broke, the woodcutter was already up. He got dressed and pulled on his right boot first, pausing for a moment to grab his trusty axe before stepping out the door. As always, he glanced up at the sky, judging the weather. “Sky is bright and clear, clouds few and far between,” he murmured to himself. “Seems like it’s shaping up to be a sweltering summer day.” The woodcutter smiled. He was glad for the weather. He did not mind working in the heat, but more to the point, he could not afford rain. Business was bad enough as it is, and if the wood got wet, they would never sell.

It was with these ordinary thoughts that the woodcutter made his way from his cabin to the woods, whistling as he walked. But he was wrong about one point.

It was going to be a hot summer day alright, but the day would be anything but ordinary. The day would be decisive and fateful in the deadliest way possible. For today, after entering the woods he has known all his life, the young man’s life as a simple woodcutter was at an end.


The woodcutter’s basket bounced as he walked.

It had been a pretty good day. He had arrived at his favorite spot in the forest, early as usual, and had spent the morning chopping wood. When the sun grew too hot to work, the woodcutter bundled up the freshly-hewn timbre onto his back before making the long trek to the market.

The birds were singing madly above his head, the leaves were crunching noisily under his feet. To break up the monotony of his journey, the woodcutter often whistled as he walked. He was, at the moment, whistling a cheery tune from his childhood, lost in dreams of wist and reverie. When he whistled, his parents were alive. His father was still a woodcutter, stern-faced and stoic, and his mother was still nagging him, kind and shrewish in equal measure.

A leaf crunched loudly underfoot, and the woodcutter realized with a start that something under his boot had moved. There was something struggling underneath a pile of dead leaves. Carefully, using the toes of his booted feet, he nudged the pile of leaves aside, leaned in, and got the shock of his life.

There was a snake hidden underneath the pile of leaves, and even as the woodcutter recoiled, it began to undulate, to writhe. The woodcutter backed off instinctively, then paused. What prompted his pause was not fear, nor the potential for self-gain, but pity. The snake looked so…so helpless down there, buried under a mound of dying leaves, that the woodcutter, despite himself, decided to inspect it more closely. Gently, the woodcutter brushed off the remaining leaves covering the snake, exposing a thin black band shimmering in the sun.

The snake was tiny, the woodcutter realized, barely an infant. It was as long as his arm but sickly thin. Its black scales were beautiful but marred with welts and bumps that looked suspiciously like hoof marks. The snake's eyes were closed, and its thin body was coiled multiple times around itself. Stranger still was this: the snake, perhaps in a small act of comfort, was biting its own tail. It seemed to be nuzzling it, sucking on it in a vain attempt to obtain some nourishment that will never come. Seeing this, the woodcutter’s heart was once again beset with pity.

It was at that moment that the snake opened its eyes.

They were large and green and very luminous. The snake’s eyes seemed to glitter, to give off a light of their own. They were not all green, as the woodcutter originally thought, but deep pools of emerald flecked with gold. Such was their beauty that they reminded him of the jade pendants only the very rich wore. The longer the woodcutter looked, the more the world around him seemed to shimmer, to fade away, leaving only the snake and its mesmerizing eyes…

Then the snake scrunched up its eyes again, and the spell was broken. The woodcutter stood there, dumbfounded for a moment, before pulling away for the second time, this time in disgust. There were ants all over the snake, he saw, fire-red ants scurrying up and down the length of the snake. Some of them were as big as copper pennies. They were eating the small snake, the woodcutter thought in horror. They would eat it alive if someone did not stop to help.

The woodcutter looked left and right, then realized that there was no one else around. More than that, he realized that if he wanted the small snake to survive the day, he was the someone who had to help. That decided the matter.

The woodcutter rooted around the forest floor and found two small twigs. Using them as makeshift chopsticks, he picked the snake up gingerly. It did not move. The woodcutter sighed in resignation, then deposited the small snake in his basket, together with the rest of the day’s stock. He closed the lid, making sure to leave a small opening on the top so the snake could breathe.

Then he made his way to the marketplace. The sounds of his whistling picked up as he walked.


The woodcutter’s body swayed with the gentle undulations of the wagon.

Save for the discovery of the snake, it had been an uneventful day. The woodcutter arrived at the market as usual, and had made his usual rounds. First, he went to the butcher’s stall. There, he sold three bundles of firewood, and better yet, received the news that he could hitch a ride home. Next, he visited the innkeeper’s inn. The innkeeper was, as usual, rude and niggardly to him, but he was one of the woodcutter’s best customers, and so the woodcutter put up with him and his brusque bartering, eventually coming to terms with him for the price of five bundles of freshly-cut wood.

Lastly, the woodcutter visited the palace. The woodcutter dreaded his visits to the palace, because its surroundings were such a different world than what he was used to. The palace was located on the prosperous side of town, right at the top of a smattering of rolling hills. The narrow streets fell away as the woodcutter walked, giving way to broad and well-paved boulevards. Prostitutes were replaced by courtesans, thieves by lawyers, and marketplace gangsters by high-nosed bureaucrats bearing the mark of the imperial seal.

The higher the woodcutter climbed, the more he became aware of just how much he did not fit in. He became ashamed of the state of his clothing, of the threadbare homespun he always wore, of the homemade basket on his back. The worst moments came when he passed by groups of silk-wearing ladies, elegant swans with braided hair and made-up faces. They would avert their eyes as he passed. One or two would even laugh when they thought he was out of earshot, covering their rouged lips with the back of their hands, and the sound of their tinkling laughter was like a knife in the young woodcutter’s heart.

That day, fortunately, there were no laughing ladies, and the woodcutter reached the palace doors without incident. There, a low-ranking eunuch was waiting for him, flanked by two bored-looking guards. The eunuch asked to inspect the woodcutters’ wares, and the woodcutter immediately obliged, making sure, throughout it all, that the small snake he took from the forest was carefully concealed.

“We’ll take one,” said the eunuch, after giving a cursory glance at the wood on the ground.

“One bundle?” The woodcutter asked.

“Yes, one.” Replied the eunuch.

The woodcutter handed the eunuch the one lucky bundle of firewood, lucky because it was destined to be burned in the halls of the palace, and the eunuch paid him. Without so much as a second glance, the eunuch entered the palace, and the guards turned on their heels and followed. The heavy doors closed with a boom behind them.

Wordlessly, the woodcutter placed the remaining wood back in his basket. He hauled the basket onto his back, then made the long trek back to the market.


“We’re here!” Came the voice of the butcher, jolting the woodcutter awake.

The woodcutter hopped off with his basket of remaining firewood, making sure to thank the butcher on the way down. The butcher nodded, then began to ride away. The wagon’s wheels left a fine trail of dust in his wake.

The butcher was a good sort, the woodcutter thought, but even he did not like to tarry this close to the woods. The people in the market thought the forest was haunted. There were whispers of dark things in the woods—and to be fair, the woodcutter had seen evidence of dangerous creatures there himself. When he was out in the woods, he often heard the rustling of wild boars, and sometimes saw the antlers of passing deer. Once, he even heard the faraway roars of what might have been a tiger. The woodcutter did not stop to find out. That day, he took an early day off, gripping his axe fearfully all the way back to the cabin.

But supernatural shadows? Nameless things too strange to be seen? That the woodcutter did not see, even though he had been living by the forest for most of his young life, and as he walked the mile or so back to his place his thoughts were about the pride and superstitious folly of man. Why, there was nothing strange about the woods, nothing strange at all. The only exception was the snake he had rescued today, the small snake with the jet-black scales and the startling green eyes, and all of a sudden, all the woodcutter could think about was the snake, and the way it had coiled so piteously around itself as the ants sought to savage it to death.

Back in the cabin, the woodcutter put his basket down on a rough kitchen table. Carefully, he used a tong to extract the snake from its nest. The snake was awake now, and its green eyes were open and alive. It slithered slowly around the woodcutter’s table, forked tongue out and darting about, exploring the air.

The snake was smaller than he remembered. There, on his table and in the fading light of the evening, it looked positively harmless. Then the snake hissed, and the woodcutter somehow knew that its hiss was not one of annoyance but hunger. “Don’t worry, little fella, I’ve got something for you,” the woodcutter said, surprising himself with the paternal tone in his voice. Then he laughed, and laughing he went to his larder and retrieved six eggs. He cracked the first of these eggs on the table.

Orange yolk flowed out of the egg, life-giving and viscous, and the snake, hesitant at first, then with increasing sureness, slithered towards the egg. Slowly but steadily, it began to feed…


Months passed in this manner.

Summer boiled over, then gave way to autumn. The malnourished snake required only one egg a day, which the woodcutter was happy to provide. He had set up the snake permanently on the kitchen table, piling up scraps of wood to form for it a makeshift nest.

The woodcutter had christened the snake Small Snake, but the name quickly became a misnomer. Small Snake grew up fast, enrichened by its daily diet of eggs. One egg soon became insufficient for Small Snake, and the woodcutter gave it two. Two eggs became three, and three soon crossed the line into four and five and six. The woodcutter realized, one day, that caring for Small Snake had become expensive.

But he was loath to let it go. The woodcutter had been alone for so long that the addition of Small Snake into his life had become a profound and exquisite pleasure. Every night without fail, the woodcutter would feed Small Snake, and Small Snake would slither out of its nest and lick the yolk straight out of his hands like a spoiled and very tame thing. Sometimes, Small Snake even deigned to climb on top of the woodcutter, and the woodcutter would laugh and carry it coiled around his shoulders, like it was not a snake but a scarf, waltzing around the kitchen, talking loudly to it and himself.

The woodcutter told Small Snake everything, and Small Snake listened. The woodcutter was a simple man, but simple men have longings, too. He longed to live not out here in the woods but high up in the city, the prosperous place where women like goddesses dwelt and a man could make his fortune. Every time the woodcutter spoke, Small Snake would look at him, and those bright eyes would glow green and gold with understanding.

But the day soon came when the woodcutter could no longer ignore the harsh realities of the present. Small Snake was not sated now even after consuming half a dozen eggs a day—and besides, it had grown too big for the kitchen table. Small Snake was now as long as the woodcutter himself was tall, and was as thick around the middle as a small dog. Small Snake, the woodcutter realized with a pang in his heart, was no longer small anymore.

One day, at the end of autumn and at night, the woodcutter came home to find Small Snake in its nest. He had proceeded to feed it the usual six eggs, and when Small Snake clamored with its eyes for more the woodcutter gave in with a smile and gave it three more. Then the woodcutter, finding no more eggs left in his larder, found his smile slipping away.

He sat for a long time, holding his face in his hands, finding the familiar despair he had not felt since the death of his parents. Many hours later, when the woodcutter finally left his seat, he knew what he had to do.

“Small Snake, Small Snake,” called the woodcutter in a plaintive voice.

Small Snake answered, slithering from her nest into the woodcutter’s arms. The woodcutter smiled to feel the familiar heft of the snake, then told it sadly, “Small Snake, O’ Small Snake, my gift from the forest. I have raised and fed you the best I can, and you have repaid me in no small way with your company. But I am but a poor young woodcutter, and you have grown far too big for my meager means.” He choked the words out, continuing, “I have to let you go now, Small Snake. From here, it is but a close crawl to the woods, where there are deer and wild game aplenty. You will be able to feed on them, and grow big and beautiful and strong, out there wild in the woods, the way you were meant to be.”

Small Snake blinked at him, and the woodcutter cried to open his front door to the woods beyond. There, at the edge of his doorstep, the woodcutter squatted down, and the small snake who was not so small anymore slithered from the woodcutter’s arms, feeling the ground outside for the first time in months, tasting the dying of the season with many flicks of her forked tongue. Then she looked back at the woodcutter with eyes bright with love and understanding.

“Goodbye, Small Snake.” The woodcutter said softly. “You take care of yourself, now.”

The last thing the woodcutter saw before he closed the door was Small Snake nodding and slithering away. Outside, a cold wind began to blow, and the first flakes of snow fell from the bleak and windswept sky.

Autumn was over, and winter had come at last.


Sleet fell in an endless sheet, blanketing everything in snow-white death. The temperature plunged, then dropped lower still. Despite the cold weather and the never-ending blizzards, the woodcutter was stubborn. He still made his daily trek, going first to the forest to chop wood, then to the market to sell his wares.

Perhaps this is why he fell sick. One day, the woodcutter woke to find that he simply could not get out of bed. He was shivering uncontrollably, and when he brought a hand up to feel his forehead, he snatched it away in shock and horror. He was burning up, he realized, burning up the same way his Ma and Pa did when they were sick and did not survive.

For days, the woodcutter drifted in and out of consciousness. Fever dreams visited him as he slept, each one stranger than the last. The woodcutter saw in his mind’s eye the faces of his parents, they who loved him and were so long gone, and he wept to see them in his dreams. When he reached out to touch their faces, they dissolved, only to be replaced by other half-formed images: the kindly butcher who gave him halfway rides home, the palace ladies, silken and snickering, and the Small Snake he had rescued from the forest, she of the large and flaming eyes. All around him as he slept was a dark and cavernous void, yawning, yawning, yawning…

Then one day, the woodcutter woke. He was delirious now, and his temperature had reached a fever-high pitch. The woodcutter thought, in his delirious state, that if he must die, he would rather do his dying out in the woods, in the forest he had loved all his life. He summoned the last of his strength, then struggled out of bed to the door. He opened it to a surprise.

There was a hare at his doorstep. It was lying there, stiff and unmarked, as if it had simply dropped dead right in front of his door.

The woodcutter was on his last legs, yes, but he was a woodsman through and through, and woodsmen do not waste. With the remainder of his strength, the woodcutter skinned and gutted the hare, placing the carcass in a pot to boil. When the stew was cooked, he spooned it hungrily into his mouth, feeling his strength returning to him with every swallow.

Every day, the woodcutter would wake to a different animal on his doorstep. These animals were small and easily cooked, such as hare and rabbit and junglefowl, and the woodcutter received them with words of thanks on his lips. The woodcutter, in his feverish state, thanked the gods, not noticing the deep grooves on the snow outside his cabin, and the marks around the animal that showed that it had been deposited there not by godly hands but dragged by something very real and large that did not walk but crawl.

In this manner, winter passed. The woodcutter slowly regained his strength, and as he did the animals outside his doorstep grew larger. Gone were the rabbits and the fowls. Taking their place were deer, badgers, and even wild boar. They were left outside in the same manner as the hare, stone-dead but otherwise untouched.

But it was not until a tiger appeared dead outside his door that the woodcutter finally allowed himself to face the truth.

That night, after dragging the dead tiger into his cabin, the woodcutter left for the woods for the first time in weeks. He did not carry his axe with him, for his purpose tonight was not to chop wood. Besides, he had a good idea of the creature that was out there, and he knew that it did not mean to harm him.

The woodcutter soon arrived at the edge of the woods, and there he stopped and called out, “Small Snake, O’ Small Snake, my gift from the forest, you who have been taking care of me all these wintry months: come out, come out, wherever you are!” The woodcutter waited for a reply, but the only sound he heard was the wind among the rustling trees. And then the rustling grew louder.

Small Snake appeared, and she was the largest snake the woodcutter had ever seen. She was as long as a pine-tree and as thick around the middle as century-old oak. Her glowing eyes, as large as two teacups, gleamed at him from the dark. Any ordinary man would’ve fled, but as Small Snake slithered towards the woodcutter, he found himself rooted on the spot—not with fear, but with a feeling of tremendous happiness mixed with awe.

Small Snake stopped a meter or so away from the woodcutter, giant head bowed, forked tongue longer than the woodcutter’s axe flicking in and out of her mouth. There they stood, snake and woodcutter, bathed in moonlight at the edge of the world.


The woodcutter decided to bring the tiger to the market.

There was nothing else to do with it, he thought. He could not eat a tiger, and he thought its pelt would fetch a good price. So off he went, dragging the dead tiger behind him. By the time he reached the butcher’s stall, a small crowd had formed up behind him to gawk and follow.

The butcher greeted him with a start. “Where the hell did you get this?” He asked.

“I found it dead outside my door one morning,” replied the woodcutter truthfully. “How much would it fetch?”

The butcher’s eyes furrowed. Then he came up with a price. He told it to the woodcutter, and when he heard it, the woodcutter could not stop his jaw from dropping. “One gold piece?!” The woodcutter asked, astonished. “One entire gold piece?!”

“Yes,” the butcher said. “The officials in the palace would make a fine coat out of it, seeing how its skin is untouched. Say, why are you looking at me like that? Is one gold piece enough? Because if not…” “No, no, it’s plenty sufficient, thank you,” the woodcutter interrupted quickly before the butcher could change his mind. Thus, the transaction was completed, and that day for the first time the woodcutter went home with the weight of gold in his pockets, whistling all the way.

Back in the cabin, the gold piece clattered as the woodcutter dropped it on the table. The woodcutter smiled to hear the sound of its music, so golden and cheerful, and his heart soared to see the color of the coin, so bright and glittery like Small Snake’s eyes. But this was better than Small Snake’s eyes, the woodcutter thought headily. This pretty piece of metal could buy him food, wood, shelter, anything and everything he had ever desired, and at this thought the woodcutter threw his head back and laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed…and as he did, a clever thought came to his mind.

The woodcutter stashed the coin safely away, then opened the door. He put his boots on, not caring whether it was his right or left boot he put on first. He was beyond such folly now; he was beyond it all now. Oh, his mother and his father, how they would rejoice to see him now!

The woodcutter left his cabin, making his way deep into the forest and into the night.


Spring came, covering the land in green grass.

Everywhere the woodcutter looked, the world was full of life; and indeed, the woodcutter felt Life within him, too, for he was no longer a poor young woodcutter. He was a wealthy man now, and he dressed the part. Gone were the homespun rags he used to wear, gone were the tattered boots his dead father passed down to him. In their place were fine silk shirts and expensive leather sandals, as befitting the woodcutter’s lofty rank.

Woodcutter? Did I say woodcutter? Pah, this was an untruth, for the woodcutter was no longer a woodcutter now; he was a merchant, a procurer of fine skins and furs. Not just any old merchant, too, no sir; he was a merchant who traded directly with the palace. He was able to do so because the furs he obtained came from tigers and leopards and panthers so carefully slain their deaths left not a mark on their skins, and also because he found out early on that he could go directly to the palace and therefore cut out the butcher as the middleman, thus ensuring for himself the lion’s share of the profits.

He was on the way to the palace now, this woodcutter-who-was-not-a-woodcutter, and he went there not on foot but by horse. The horse he rode was a pure white stallion, as slim as a sword and fast as the wind. As he thundered along, the ladies of the palace swooned to see him pass…

But when he reached the gates of the palace, something was wrong. A retinue of guards were there to receive him, and they were not just any old guards, either. These guards were tall and dark and swarthy; they wore the black-and-purple armor of the Royal Guard, the elite crack troops of the Imperial Army. The guards told the woodcutter in steely tones to follow them, and the woodcutter had no choice but to obey.

In the throne room, the woodcutter came face-to-face with the Emperor himself. He knelt, thinking, “My God! An audience with the Son of Heaven!” The woodcutter’s heart was pounding out of his chest, and when the Emperor asked him in a soft yet commanding voice whether he was the procurer of fine skins he had heard so much about, all he could do was nod and say, “Yes.”

“Good,” said the Emperor, and then the edict was given. The merchant was to come to the Emperor—and only the Emperor—once a week to present to him the choicest skins he had on hand. These the Emperor would buy. “I am a collector of sorts,” confided the Emperor, “and the quality of your wares are outstanding. Pray tell, how are your skins so fine and unmarred? Even my best hunters inflict a puncture wound or two on their quarry.”


“No matter,” the Emperor said, with a wave of his hand. “Every merchant has his secrets. You can keep them, for I don’t much care for them. What I do care for, however, are the wares you bring me.” At this, the Emperor gestured. Two guards came towards him, carrying between them a heavy-looking chest. With a flourish, the guards threw the chest in front of the woodcutter. It exploded to spill a river of gold upon the floor. “And you’ll find that I pay extremely well…” said the Emperor, before dismissing him with a final wave of his hand.

The woodcutter bowed, before gathering up the gold and strapping the heavy chest onto his back. Back outside the palace, the woodcutter mounted his horse, then rode swiftly back home, laughing all the way.


It was the most lucrative summer of the young woodcutter’s life.

Every week he would visit the Emperor, offering him the finest wares he had, and every week the Emperor was true to his word. He paid the woodcutter handsomely and often, and soon, the merchant-who-was-no-longer-a-woodcutter became one of the wealthiest men in the land.

The woodcutter used his newfound wealth to purchase a villa close to the palace, filling it with servants and concubines and guards. The villa was his home now, the place he felt the most comfortable in, and he returned to his old cabin infrequently, only once a week to pick up new wares for the Emperor.

Yes, the woodcutter’s life was good now. Every night his concubines entertained him in his bed, and every week he made more money than most citizens of the empire made in a year.

But one day, on one of his weekly visits to the palace, the woodcutter noticed that the Emperor was not his usual commanding self. His brows were furrowed, and his hand was up and stroking his chin. Something was obviously bothering him, and the woodcutter, seeing an opportunity to advance his position, bowed low before the Emperor and asked, “Pardon me, Your Majesty, but you seem troubled. What’s wrong, my patron, my prince? Just say the word. Your humble subject will do all that is within his power to help.”

The Emperor smiled to hear such supplication, then told the woodcutter of his troubles. The Maharajah of neighboring India was a collector too, you see, and recently he had come into a most rare and precious gem. The gem was known as the Dragon Stone, and it was a bright green gem imbued with a most unique property: it glowed, not with the help of artificial light, but all by itself in the dark.

The Emperor had long sought this gem for his own collection, but try as he might, the Dragon Stone could not be found. “For this stone comes not from the ground, but from the head of the dreaded Naga, a giant snake long extinct,” bemoaned the Emperor, downcast. “Alas, I will never find it!”

A riot of emotions fluttered in the young woodcutter’s heart. Trying not to let his feelings show, the woodcutter asked the Emperor in an even voice, “And if I do find this…this Dragon Stone for you, Your Majesty, what will be my prize?”

The Emperor’s only answer was an arch of a sardonic eyebrow. “If you manage to acquire this gem for me, my dear procurer, I will make you the Marquis of the Capital.”

The woodcutter bowed shakily, promising he would do his best. Then he exited the palace, mounted his pale horse, and rode fast and hard to the woods.


The leaves were falling when the woodcutter reached the forest, and it was already night.

The woodcutter dismounted, making his way deep into the woods. On his belt was a knife, its blade gleaming like bleached bone in the moonlight. The woodcutter fingered it nervously, wishing he had brought something more substantial to defend himself against the denizens of the dark. For there were dark things in the woods, that he had no doubt. He could hear them, even now, rustling and moving and slithering about…

When he reached the center of the woods, the sounds suddenly stopped, and the woodcutter knew, deep in his heart of hearts, that something was watching him. Summoning his courage, the woodcutter called out, “Small Snake, O’ Small Snake, you who I rescued from the forest: come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Small Snake appeared in front of him.

There was nothing but darkness one moment, the next Small Snake was simply there, black scales glittering, eyes as big as dinner plates gleaming in the dark. The woodcutter suddenly knew, with a sense of horror, how Small Snake had snuck up on all those unwary cats. She had simply closed her eyes and slithered close, opening them—and her jaws—at the very last second, when all was already too late.

Then Small Snake hissed. “I’ve missed you,” her hiss seemed to say. “Where have you been?”

The fear left the woodcutter’s heart then, and he laughed and made his way to Small Snake. Putting one hand on top of her snout, he told her all about his adventures: of how he had sold the animals she hunted, of his new home near the capital, of how he had met and befriended the Emperor himself. Just like old times, Small Snake listened, and all was well in the world.

But when he arrived at the topic he had come for, the woodcutter faltered. Sensing his indecision, Small Snake blinked at him, beseeching him with her eyes to continue.

The woodcutter did.

For one long, heart-breaking moment, Small Snake was still. Then, slow as a melting statue, Small Snake lowered her head down to the woodcutter’s lap, presenting to him the right side of her green and very sad eye.

The woodcutter hesitated for a moment. Then he drew his knife. Slowly, then with increasing sureness, the woodcutter began to cut.


Autumn came and went, and winter was once again upon the land.

The woodcutter did not suffer the ravages of winter as he once did, for he was the Marquis of the Capital now, and the Marquis did not want for anything. The woodcutter-who-was-now-a-marquis resided in the palace now, the palace where lucky bundles of firewood burned hot in every hall, enjoying the privileges that came with his office.

By day, the woodcutter helped with the governance of the land, smiling imperiously at the eunuchs and the guards he once sold firewood to. At night, he was greeted in his chambers by the ladies who once laughed to see him. They still laughed to see him now, but their laughter was of a very different nature.

The other benefit to living in the Palace was that he got to see the Emperor every day. The Emperor was his usual cool self. Beside the Emperor's throne were two new armrests. They were both made out of gold, and on one of them was a bright and very green gem. It glowed with a light of its own.

Months passed in this manner, and all was well.

Then one day, the Emperor came to the woodcutter with a most unusual request. Pulling the woodcutter to one side, the Emperor told him in a low voice, “My dear Marquis, you have served me well. You have a knack for governance and an even better knack for finding things that cannot be found. It is for this resourcefulness I come to you now.” Gesturing at his throne, the Emperor continued. “The Dragon Stone you have obtained for me is the jewel of my realm. Daily I sit before it, delighting at its innermost light. See the way it glitters, my Marquis? That is your future…if you can do but one last thing for me.”

Intrigued, the woodcutter asked, “And what might that be, Your Majesty?”

“Get me another Dragon Stone,” said the Emperor flatly. “In my family, we have a saying: ‘Good things come in pairs.’ Look at the stone on my throne, adorning but one single armrest. Would that I had two of them! I get lonely sometimes, stroking the stone with one hand while my other rests on nothing but gold. Good heavens, I think the stone gets lonely, too!” The Emperor said, laughing, but even the pearls of his feigned laughter could not hide the glint of Desire from his eyes.

Conflicted, but filled with an ever-increasing Need, the woodcutter asked the Emperor once more, “And what would my prize be, my most lofty Majesty, if I manage to procure this second stone for you?”

The Emperor’s answer was firm, well-rehearsed and deliberate. “If you procure this second stone for me, my dear Marquis, I will make you the Crown Prince of the Realm.”

The woodcutter was astonished, and all he could do was listen in stunned silence as the Emperor continued on, “Secure two Dragon Stones for me and you have secured my dynasty. Long will they rest on my throne as two priceless symbols of the empire's power. They will adorn it, long after I am gone and you rule upon it, with my daughter as Queen by your side.”

Tears filled the woodcutter’s eyes, and all he could do was bow low, kiss the Emperor’s feet, and say, “Thank you for this boon, Your Majesty. Consider it done!”


A blizzard was brewing when the woodcutter arrived.

The howling wind whipped the petrified trees, driving them into a frenzy. As the woodcutter advanced, they clawed at him, scratched at him, tugging at his clothes like so many bony fingers begging him to stay. Heedless, the woodcutter fought his way past the trees to reach the heart of the woods. There, he yelled, “Small Snake, O’ Small Snake: come out, come out, wherever you are!”

The woodcutter stood for a long time, waiting. Then, not bothering to disguise her presence anymore, Small Snake came.

Her size was beyond comprehension. Small Snake had grown so large the woodcutter could see her only in glimpses. He saw a smattering of scales, each of them as big as his head. He caught the flash of one long, spear-like fang. Then, rising like a black and impossibly tall wave, Small Snake was upon him. Her towering head crested the trees. Her one remaining eye was larger than a wagon wheel, brighter and colder than any star the woodcutter had ever seen.

Where the other eye should have been was nothing but an empty ruin.

The woodcutter fell to his knees and opened his mouth, telling Small Snake of the thing he had come for. He begged her, he beseeched her, and most of all he reminded Small Snake of everything she owed him and more. “For isn’t it true that, if it wasn’t for me, you would not be alive today? Isn’t it true that, had I not rescued you as an infant in the woods, you would not be here, a giant before me, but dead in the bellies of ants? An eye for a life, that seems like a small price to pay!” cajoled the woodcutter. His voice was greasy, and his hands were open in the universal gesture of friendship. The knife in his belt gleamed with a cold and business-like light.

All was still for a moment.

Then it was Small Snake’s turn to open her mouth.

Before the woodcutter yawned a dark and cavernous void. The last thing the woodcutter saw was Small Snake’s remaining eye, glistening wetly in the moonlight. You are no longer my woodcutter anymore, her sad eye seemed to say.

“I wish that I could go back,” the woodcutter had the time to think. “If I could re-live my life all over again, I would’ve stayed a humble woodcutter.” Then the time for thought was over, and all the woodcutter could feel was pain as Small Snake lunged at him, swallowing him whole—starting with his right foot first.

Sounds of shock and pain rang out in the forest. Then, blessedly, all was quiet, all was still. The only sounds came from the Small Snake’s stomach. They came from the woodcutter, being digested slowly, screaming alone in the dark.


About the Creator

Alvin Ang

👑 Writer of scandalous stories. Author of "National Service: Confessions of a Skiving Soldier" and "Confessions of a Singaporean Weed Smoker." Buy my books here!

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Comments (4)

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  • HandsomelouiiThePoet (Lonzo ward)9 months ago

    Great Storytelling 😉💯👍📝❗

  • Melissa Ingoldsby9 months ago

    If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate your feedback on this

  • Melissa Ingoldsby9 months ago

    I felt sad the Woodcutter and snake’s relationship was severed so deeply. He lost sight of who he was

  • Melissa Ingoldsby9 months ago

    So sad 😭 I loved it

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