I sat in the wide bay window of my grandfather’s old cabin, one of those old log structures barely holding on by loose nails and scraps of insulation. It was a weary place, but the squeaking metal fan on the table provided a breeze and the spices and vegetables slowly stewing on the stove wafted warm and comforting odors around the small room. I turned my attention away from the stained paperback I found on top of musty sheets in the hope chest to where a white bunny circled the area around a fallen tree and he looked... famished. I watched him silently and carefully, hopefully, held on to his every move.
It looked as though my long-eared friend was onto something. He seemed to be digging with purpose, but I couldn't quite make out why. Ah, of course: A lone radish had grown in the forest, probably the result of a stray seed absentmindedly dropped by a passing bird or carried by the fur of an animal. But all at once, a mysterious rustling came from a bush just beyond the field of sight of my small bunny. Could mean trouble. He heard the noise, too; his sensitive whiskers quivered at the hint of imminent danger.
Unfortunately for him, this is what nature is all about.
It was simply a deer. He posed no threat in a predatory sense, but he still stood above our bunny in the food chain, which didn't dispel some semblance of risk. Wishing to avoid an encounter, he hopped away to safety. In his escape, however, my bunny had forgotten his wild radish and left it conveniently uncovered for another hungry, herbivorous creature.
The deer took my... no, our... bunny's dinner for himself. Our friend retreated to his warren in the roots of the upturned tree. It's simple, homemade comforts must have provided some consolation to help pass another hungry night. Twilight fell on the peaceful forest, a twilight who arrived unaware of the struggles she both soothed and concealed. The crickets began to stir, performing their rehearsed, melodious rhapsody. In the distance, flashes of heat lightning illuminated a purple summer sky and threw frightening, yet benign, shadows on the walls of our bunny’s home and of my own cabin.
Even the deer, at last, had to rest. Because of this fact of nature, our erstwhile antagonist retreated into the deep stand of trees to dream of the next day's pointless battles and rest comfortably with a full stomach. I sensed the a fog of sleep encroaching on me, yet I couldn't force myself to retreat to my bed and abandon the bunny from my mind. I wrapped myself tightly in a faded sheet and rested my head on the cool window pane.
Upon my midnight waking, a storm was rumbling to the surface of the clouds overhead and threatened the foundation of my cabin with sweeping winds and fat drops of rain. My eyes darted out the splattered window. Dear reader, if a definition of bravery exists, this must have been it. Our lone bunny faced off against the elements, ineffectually protecting his solemn home by pushing around some moss with his pink nose. It was a symbolic gesture, perhaps, but sometimes those are all we have. Even the bunny knew this.
The wind continued to roar and it was becoming ever clearer that Mother Nature had not just knocked on the door. She was ready to come in, sit down, kick off her boots, and pour herself a drink. Our bunny had no family, no friends, no loved ones of any kind except his lone observer and her audience, lying anonymously in wait of his next moves.
The rain picked up more and more as small puddles gathered around the entrance of our bunny’s cozy abode. They continued to grow in size and connect to one another, prepared to mount an impersonal attack on our dear bunny. It won't be long now, I thought, but still, this is what nature is all about.
And yet, is it? Is nature about destruction or about life? It seemed to me like this unflagging little hero of a bunny may have had some help after all. A family of beavers looked on in curiosity, perhaps in consideration of taking up the cause to protect our friend. Often called nature’s best architects, the intrepid mammals spared no effort to shore up the endangered burrow.
A small brown thrush, seemingly bold in the rain, approached the unlikely rescue team. I half-expected to see a few of these scamps out in weather like this, hoping for stray seeds to fall from hidden branches or worms to emerge and soak up the wet, but to see one at that moment was a rare treat indeed. The little beauty was far from her natural habitat and had abandoned her usual reserve to join the merry, albeit uncommon, band.
I’ve heard it said by old students of the natural world that a storm will sometimes urge those in danger to protect one another, even if they may never interact in times of peace and prosperity. Sometimes those old recluses know that they’re talking about.
Our abnormally feisty thrush pitched right in to save the small rabbit hole, belied it's powerful wings and small size to move sticks and roots to-and-fro in the back of the hole, and increased the size while the beavers continued to reinforce the front and sides with straw.
The supposed cruelty and indifference of the natural world -- all too often its most salient quality -- were washed away, as if by storm, by the nobler instincts of even our most humble kin.
In the pale light of the rising sun, few signs remained of the summer storm that battered the glen, save the dampness of the ground, strewn leaves, and a hot sense of cacophony that lingered in the air. The beavers finished their work and headed home. The thrush returned to wander the woods for leftover grubs and berries. Maybe she found her way back to the hollowed out trunk she once resided in, maybe she forged herself a new shelter. Our sweet bunny was exhausted and could finally rest easily knowing his home was secure.
But alas, as in life, our bunny’s rest was short-lived. The leaves on a nearby bush rustle once again, not from wind, but from the force of movement. The deer was back. Perhaps confused by the antler-like appearance of our bunny’s protective barricade, he tested the situation with his hooves. I, much like our bunny, was unsure of where this would lead.
With a single smash from the deer’s powerful front hooves, the burrow was under attack. Our friend hopped to safety far from where the deer -- provoked by what, I will never be certain -- sparred with his home and could only watch as he continued the relentless rampage. A couple more mighty movements and the dam…
The dam had been breached.
Water flooded into the small enclosure, swept away the bed of leaves our bunny once rested on, and thrashed against the new walls. The deer continued its attack with more than enough misplaced rage and superior size to topple the weakened walls. They started to give. Even the deer, in his blind fury, seemed to sense what was going to happen as he stepped to one side.
The sound of the walls cracking, crushed by the weight of the tree it is built into, was deafening. Not because it was loud but because it showed that our small bunny, despite his found family of beaver and bird, had lost the home he fought so hard to protect.
It was all over. The warren had been destroyed. An injustice of astronomical levels. Words fail me even now.
And yet, what was this? Our bunny was on his feet, using his thin whiskers to assess his new surroundings. Perhaps even the deer was impressed because, as if confused by the events, he turned into the woods and retreated to the brush.
My friends, the spirit of this bunny was indomitable!
There was something bigger at work here, something our dear bunny was finely in tune to. His strife did not define him, but his ability to keep fighting. His loneliness did not define him, but his ability to accept companionship and love. Our bunny curled up in his new home, a home that was both irreparably different and yet, in spirit, all the same.
I unwrapped the sheet and padded across the room towards the light switch. After flicking the dim bulb off, the room was lit by a stream of yellow sunlight that left small rainbows on the walls as it ricocheted through the raindrops left on the window.
The world can be cruel and indifferent, such is the way of nature. But in it, there is the kindness of strangers and our incontrovertible ability to make ourselves a home.
The bunny rested. And finally, my friend, I hope you can rest, too.
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Emily, wow. Okay, this was interesting and the fact that we have basically the shadow non-human characters was great. I also thought the story had moral value. One thing I got to mention is this almost "Neil Gaiman-like" form this story has. It's simple, told almost like a "Once upon a time story" yet their are some nice word choices, nice descriptions, everything seems succinct, thought about and purposeful. I couldn't detect purple prose, I found that their was a nice balance of showing and telling here. Congrats!
Thank you for your comment! I also want to say that describing anything I write as "Neil Gaiman-like" is genuinely praise of the highest order for me; Gaiman was one of my biggest inspirations as a younger writer, so I thank you especially for that!
Emily, your descriptive abilities are impressive and lovely. If I'm being completely honest I felt like I was listening to a narrator tell us all about these habitats on a Discovery channel special. The voice and tone of your story carries in that way, and I found that to be really rad! That's just my impression, but I always enjoy a story that allows me to envision it in different formats. Those nature specials carry an ASMR feeling to them, that's very similar to a bedtime story.... Well done!
I'm glad you picked up on that Nature-Documentary-Narrated-By-A-British-Celebrity feeling I tried to encapsulate! I was hoping for it to seem like one of those bedtime stories that is just as entertaining for the parent as it is for the child, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you very, very much :)
Oh I'm so glad that is what you were going for. I'm not always the best at critiquing and giving input in a way that feels poetic, I worry I'll hurt feelings. I try to go with my gut on what it feels like when I read someone's writing. But it really was beautiful!!! I can't wait for you to write more.
I got old-man-narrating-an-animated-film feels, especially since your descriptions are so vivid and I love how you turned an observation into a lesson in determination and highlighted the cruel beauty of nature. Though I am wondering if our narrator is reminiscing on something that happened ages ago, or if you had submitted your story under the wrong prompt?