Tapir Gets The Octopus Treatment
Long before there were humans, Earth was a ball of water dominated by a single enormous island, and all animals were neighbors. Many of them looked and behaved very differently from how we know them today; the leopard, for example, had no spots, and fish could walk on dry land. Every animal understood the same language and lived together without conflict.
However, there was one beast that got on everyone's nerves: Tapir. Back then, Tapir was a sleek, beautiful animal, with thousands of colors in his long-haired coat. He could breathe fire and often terrorized smaller creatures just for fun, but his favorite past-time was bragging about how wonderful and gorgeous he was compared to all the other animals.
He even made up a silly rhyme:
"Who has more colors than the peacock?
Tapir, of course!
Who can haul more weight than a horse?
Tapir, without a doubt!
Who swims better than a trout?
Who works harder than a bee?
Tapir, that's me!"
The other animals had their own opinions about that. Octopus, who was cleverer
than most animals gave her credit for, liked to ask "Which animal is most mature? Not tapir, that's for sure!"
Eventually word got around to Tapir that Octopus was making fun of him, so one day he went down to the seaside to have a little talk with her.
"I hear you've been making little jokes about me behind my back," Tapir said gruffly, snorting a little flame to make sure he was being understood. "That isn't funny, you know. If I wanted, I could burn down your house in an instant!"
Octopus knew Tapir was so ignorant, he didn't even know that water couldn't burn. Perhaps there was more he didn't know? She suddenly thought of a way to pay him back for all his foolishness. She said, "Oh, Tapir, I would never make fun behind a back as beautiful as yours. But I know a way to make it even lovelier than it already is."
Tapir pricked up his ears, which, back in the day, were long and tufted with gold fur. "Really? But that's impossible!" He thought about it a moment. "No, you must be joking. Well, I'll be off, then!"
Octopus knew she needed to somehow convince Tapir to undergo her "treatment", so she stayed in her den for two months, planning a scheme. To do this, she enlisted the help of Monkey, Parrot and Dolphin, who were always ready to help pull a prank on someone; especially if it was Tapir. Octopus had fashioned three mirrors out of sea glass for the mission. She gave them to her accomplices and bid them good luck, hoping they had memorized their lines well.
Tapir was busy chewing on some shrubs when he heard Monkey's voice behind him. "Hey! Tapir!"
Tapir turned around, and there was the most gorgeous creature he'd ever seen! It was almost as beautiful as himself. "Monkey," he gasped. "Where did you ever get such a colorful coat?"
"Thank Octopus!" Monkey replied from behind the mirror, trying not to giggle. "She has this amazing treatment that makes you bigger, stronger and more beautiful than ever before. Big improvement, don't you think?"
And with that, Monkey danced out of sight.
Disturbed, Tapir ran home to hurriedly groom himself. He didn't want the other animals thinking he was less beautiful than Monkey, of all creatures! He preened and pruned for three straight days. Thirsty after all that effort, he went on down to the water hole to get a drink. Suddenly, from out of the depths, came Dolphin's voice. "Oi! Tapir! Over here!"
Tapir looked into the water, and there was another strange animal, even more handsome than Monkey! "Dolphin? What happened?" he squawked in horror. "Where did you get those amazingly long, golden ears?" As far as he remembered, no creature living in the water ever had such fantastic ears.
"Oh, these old things?" Dolphin laughed. "Octopus gave them to me. It's part of her 'special treatment', you see. Everyone's getting one, these days!"
And with that, Dolphin splashed away, making sure to stay behind Octopus' sea-glass mirror.
Fuming with rage, Tapir rushed home. He brushed his coat a thousand times until the colors shimmered like a rainbow in a mountain stream. He cleaned between his toes. He scrubbed his sharp, sharp teeth and made sure his sinuses were clear. He lifted weights. He went on a strict diet of lotus leaves and banana bread.
Finally, after one month of this, Tapir emerged from his house, feeling better than ever. "After this," he thought, "not a single animal will argue that I am the most perfect being alive!"
Just then, he heard Parrot's voice, and his heart sank: "Yoo-hoo! Tapir! Up here!"
Slowly, Tapir raised his head. And up in the trees was the most absolutely breath-taking, awe-inspiring animal he had ever seen. It was ten times more splendid than either Monkey or Dolphin combined.
"Let me guess," growled Tapir. "You got the Octopus Treatment, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did!" exclaimed Parrot happily. "And boy, did it ever work! You should try it sometime, Tapir. It's worked wonders for me, and a lot of the other animals, too. I mean, you should have seen how happy Mole Rat was when he-"
"That's it!" Tapir screamed, and blew a great sheet of fire up at the tree where Parrot was sitting. But as he did so, he saw Parrot open her vast mouth and breathe an equally large tongue of flame back at him. It was too much for poor Tapir. He ran off, failing to see Parrot drop the sea-glass mirror as she flew away from the raging flames. The mirror shattered on the forest floor.
Meanwhile, Octopus heard someone throwing pebbles into her underwater house. She followed the ripples and there was Tapir, sitting miserably by the water.
"I've been expecting you," smiled Octopus.
"Oh, Octopus! Please make me the most beautiful creature in the world again!" sniffed Tapir. "Monkey and Dolphin and Parrot are all more wonderful than I am, and I can't stand it!"
"Don't worry. I know just what to do," said Octopus soothingly. "But it will cost you your coat of many colors for the treatment."
Tapir looked shocked, then resigned. "Oh well," he sighed. "As long as I'm the most beautiful animal again, I don't care!"
Octopus took Tapir's coat and put it in a special box. Without it, Tapir looked rather pudgy and pale. Octopus gave him a small, waterproof bag in return. Tapir looked at it. "What's this?"
"It's a bag of my special ink. If you spread it all over your body, you'll be the envy of all animals on Earth once again. Guaranteed!"
Tapir thanked Octopus with tears in his eyes, then left. On the way home, he just couldn't resist opening the bag to see what Octopus' special ink looked like. In his hurry, the bag split open, spilling the ink on the ground.
"NO!" Tapir cried. He jumped into the slowly dwindling puddle of ink, rolling over and over, trying to cover every inch of skin. He managed to get his head, shoulders and hindquarters submerged, but his midsection and the tips of his ears were left white. The ink got into his throat, clogging his fire-breathing passages. The ink also shrunk his ears until they were little more than misshapen stumps on top of his head.
Tapir ran back to Octopus' hole. "I need more ink! I need more or I won't be the grandest animal in the world!" he panted in desperation. There was no answer; all Tapir could see at the ocean bottom was a large pink rock. "I'll be back," he threatened, and left.
Little did he know that Octopus was lying on the rock, covered by Tapir's coat of many colors. She had cut it up into many pieces, each piece a different color, so that all she needed to disguise herself was a piece of Tapir's coat of the same color as the rock she was hiding against. She smiled to herself. After what had happened, she figured she could use the extra protection.
As time went by, Tapir, no longer with any reason to brag about himself, became a rather meek and unassuming beast. But whenever another animal mentions the incident, he starts snorting and raging, as if trying to breathe fire again. And Octopus continued wearing the coat she'd tricked from him, until it almost became a part of her. The two never saw each other again.
And that's why tapirs have such weird color schemes, and how octopi can change their colors so quickly.