Once there was a bird whose feathers were beautiful. He sang lovely songs and flew very fast. He was proud of all he could do, and he thought no one was better than he.
One day a flea heard the bird singing. “Oh, I’m the best, the very, very best, the very best creature in the forest.”
“Are you sure?” asked the flea.
“What?” questioned the bird.
“Are you sure that you’re the very best creature in the forest?” the flea asked again.
“Of course,” answered the bird, as he looked all around. “Who’s talking to me, anyway? I can’t even see you.”
“Down here,” replied the flea.
Then the bird saw the flea and laughed. “Why you’re no bigger than a flea!” he snorted.
“That’s because I am a flea!” shouted the flea.
“What do you want?” asked the bird.
“I know that you’re more beautiful than I am,” the flea responded. “And I know that you can sing better than I can. But I wonder if you’re really faster than I am. Let’s have a race.”
“A race?” repeated the bird, hardly believing what he had heard. “You must be addled! I’m sure I’ll win.”
“Maybe,” said the flea. “Let’s try it anyway.”
“All right,” agreed the bird. “Where will we race to?”
“The pond on the other side of the forest,” the flea suggested, for the flea knew that the bird often went there to admire himself.
“Fine,” said the bird. “But who will start us off?”
“I will,” croaked a toad that was sitting nearby. “I will count to three, then you can go.”
The bird and the flea got ready …
“One, two, three!” cried the toad.
Just an instant before the bird took flight, the flea hopped onto the bird’s back and snuggled down among its feathers. But because the flea weighed so little, the bird did not feel it as they flew high over the trees. The flea was enjoying the ride. It had never been up so high. The flea was pleased that it had been so easy to hop on the bird. Just then they saw a big tree loaded with fruit.
That flea is so slow, the bird thought, it will take it all day to get to the pond. I have time to stop for a few minutes. Down flew the bird to the tree and ate and ate until he was full. Becoming sleepy, the bird’s eyes closed.
Nuts! worried the flea. I don’t want to sit here all day. Maybe the bird will forget about the race and never go to the pond. I must get there myself.
The flea jumped off the bird and scuttled down the tree. Hopping along through the forest, he became tired. “Oh, dear,” he sighed. “The pond is still far away. I should have stayed on the bird—he might wake up anytime.” Then the flea heard a dog barking. It was chasing a rabbit, and they were running toward the pond. “Aha!” cried the flea. “This is just what I need.”
First the rabbit sped past. Then, unnoticed by the dog as it ran by, the flea jumped onto its back. Away they went through the forest.
Good! thought the flea. I’ll beat that bird yet.
The dog ran on and on until it was quite close to the pond. Then suddenly it tripped on a stick and rolled over and over. The flea fell off, and before it could jump back onto the dog, the animal had run away.
“Oh, dear!” wailed the flea. “Why did I ever hop off the bird?” He looked up and could see the bird high in the sky.
Suddenly the flea saw a cat. This was its last chance. “Hello, cat,” said the flea. “I hope you can help me.”
“Oh?” replied the cat. “Why should I help you? I don’t like fleas.”
The flea told the cat about the race. “I see,” said the cat. “I’d like to teach that bird a lesson or two myself. Hop onto my back. I’ll take you to the pond.”
“Hurry!” urged the flea. “We want to surprise the bird.”
Soon they came to the pond where the toad was waiting. It was surprised to see the flea first. “Where is the bird?” asked the toad.
“He should be here soon,” replied the flea, hopping to the top of a tall bush.
“Here he comes,” said the cat. The bird flew down to the pond.
“I won!” declared the flea.
The bird did not know what to say. “How could you—” he began.
Suddenly the cat jumped … but not fast enough. Just in time the bird got away. The flea had won, and the cat had taken his beautiful tail feathers. The cat went away without supper.
“Come down from that bush,” the toad said to the flea. “I can’t see you very well.”
“No, I’ll tell you my story from here,” said the wise little flea, not to be tricked by the toad. And the toad hopped away without any supper either.