The blade felt lightly balanced as he held it firmly in his mouth. It had a sweet, airy taste to it. Kip saw the haunches of his opponent tense. He leaped to the left just as the flying ball of fur came towards him and flicked his blade out to the side.
‘Got you!’ grinned Kip as he spat out the piece of grass and rolled to a halt. One of his ears flopped over his eyes and then flipped back up, alert. ‘Two-nil, I win this time!’
A rabbit with mischievous eyes and large brown paws looked back at him. He was sitting on his rear-end and his coat was covered in dirt, leaves and tiny pieces of his tattered grass sword.
‘Yeh, yeh, you got me at Grassy, but I’ll beat your skinny butt in the digging race tomorrow!’ retorted Chase.
He was probably right thought Kip, looking down at his own slim paws, Chase might be the younger brother, but he was no pushover when it came to burrowing, and tomorrow’s full moon competition had been the talk of the warren for several days.
‘One more round! One more round!’ Kip glanced up and saw two tiny rabbits hopping up and down, chanting repeatedly.
Dotty and Dina were the cutest pair of twins in the whole colony, at least in Kip’s view, and the youngest of his siblings. ‘Pleease!’ They chirped.
Just over their shoulders Kip noticed dust particles, for a second lit by the sun’s warmth, then vanishing from view with the last light of the day. His heart skipped a beat. His gaze drifted, and Chase’s dark eyes caught onto his before he quickly glanced away. Chase picked himself up off the floor, shook himself and began hopping towards the two smallest rabbits.
‘Not today Dotty, Dina! Come on it’s getting late we better head back home.’
‘But the sun’s only just gone down!’ Dina protested.
Chase had reached the twins, and spoke in a lowered voice, just out of earshot of Kip. Kip felt the prickle of heat rising to his face; he knew what Chase would be telling them. But he didn’t want his sisters thinking he was a coward for being afraid of the dark. He clenched his teeth.
‘It is still early Chase, I’m up for one more round if you are!’
Chase looked up, an expression of mild surprise on his face. ‘Oh! Alright, well if you’re up for it, then sure!’ he said, his open mouth now transforming into a smirk, as he turned towards the twins. ‘We can always tell mum and dad it was his idea if we get in trouble!’
A brisk breeze blew across the hilly plain on which they stood, and all the blades of grass leaned over in one obedient motion, shivering as the gust passed them. This was the perfect place to play Grassy; a wide, open battlefield, undulating ground so that their manoeuvres must be precise, and a plentiful supply of grass stalks to choose from. Amongst the young rabbits of Burrow Mound there was no game more popular, although some would say Jumper is a close second. Two rabbits now searched amongst the sea of green, shuffling expertly through each leaf, looking for the perfect tool for the fight ahead.
Dina scampered up to Kip, her mottled brown and black paws held out in front of her. ‘What about this one?’
‘It’s too long,’ Kip explained as Dina’s expression fell. He smiled at her. ‘Long is good, but it needs to be strong enough that it doesn’t flop over and you can control it.’ He plucked a stem from the ground. ‘Like this!’ He dove at her and tickled under her chin with the piece of grass. ‘Aghhh!’ She shrieked and ran away giggling.
‘Enough beating little bunnies Kip,’ said Chase as he snuck up behind. ‘I’m gonna take you down this round!’
Kip and Chase now stood several feet apart in a shallow dip between two small peaks. Twilight and the wind funnelling through the trough made the shadows dance, and the fluttering grass morphed into a crowd of tiny spectators edging them on. Kip had always had keen senses and so he favoured the counter-attack, relying on his sharp reflexes to react once he had seen his opponent’s move. He dug the claws on his back feet into the ground, steadying himself to leap.
Chase began to feint side to side, tentatively feeling for Kip’s reactions. They both knew that Chase’s best bet would be to try and deceive him, lurching one way before striking the other. As Chase came bounding towards him Kip felt a sudden change in the wind. A beat that shouldn’t be there. His eyes looked up to the sky just as Chase soared to his right and struck out.
‘Ha, you won’t get me with that old eye –‘
‘Hawk.’ Kip said low, but firmly. ‘Move…Now! Dotty, Dina with me!’
He saw the two baby twins standing there wide-eyed and gawping at him. ‘NOW!’
Their heads finally lowered and they began running towards him, but each jump felt agonisingly slow. Kip’s eyes darted back skywards, searching for their deadly adversary, and saw its silhouette against the pink-orange horizon, just a few hills away. It was flying in the same direction as they were running, but not getting any closer so Kip couldn’t be sure if it was after them.
‘Chase, to the burrow! Plan Two, Plan Two! You take Dotty!’
Chase nodded, his mouth a thin line of concentration, and he and Dotty veered off to the right. Kip nudged Dina in front of him and yelled towards her as they ran.
‘Do you remember Plan Two?’
‘I think so!’ She squeaked, ‘parsley, tomato, broccoli…pairs, trees, burrow!’
‘Good.’ Kip panted. ‘Head for that big oak!’
Kip and Dina were racing through the open plain, feeling the foliage grasping at their faces as they brushed it aside. Kip saw Dina wince as a thistle tore a piece of fur from her side, but she bravely kept on running. Every few seconds Kip would take a peek upwards to the west, making sure he knew where the hawk was at all times. If they could make it to the treeline their chances of being spotted were lower and from there they could run alongside the trees all the way back to Burrow Mound. He looked up to his left. The sky was empty. Where was it?? He felt panic immediately start to rise through him. What if it was behind them? He could picture it - swooping down, eyes fixated and claws extended like a descending demon of the sky.
A yelp arose from over a hill to the north of them. He heard Chase cry ‘It’s coming! It’s seen us!’
‘Zig-zag Dina!’ Kip shouted. ‘Zig-zaag!’
He spotted it now, it had circled behind them, but was still high in the air. Waiting for its moment to strike. A red-tailed hawk – large and powerful, they wouldn’t be able to outrun it. Their only hope was to make it to the dense trees where its huge wings would hinder it. Kip’s ears could feel the disturbance of the air with each infrequent wing-beat far above them. Suddenly the pace changed, the beats grew faster. It was diving. He could see Dina in front of him, the white of her little tail darting left, right and left again. The trees were only a few seconds away.
He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw the deadly glisten of talons closing in. He mentally prepared to jink right and dodge to the left, but something was nagging at him. The hawk’s angle was off he realised…it was aiming too high for him; its target was Dina!
At that moment an image popped into the forefront of his mind; Dina with her adorable black patch around her right eye, cheering his name at the running race in his Scouts class last moon. He remembered yesterday feeling proud as she correctly identified some ominous looking buttercups instead of munching down on them without thought as young ones often did.
A surge of adrenaline burst through him and he took a mighty leap forward. He could see what was about to happen. Dina had just zigged to the left, but her timing was too predictable. He had noticed the eyes of the hawk going back and forth, preparing to execute its final lunge in sync with her next turn.
Kip flew through the air as if the wings of the hawk itself were carrying him. His jump took him over Dina’s body and he reached out with his paws and his teeth, grabbing her by the scruff of the neck. He twisted in the air and came crashing to the ground, flinging Dina over his shoulder. As he landed his felt a sharp pain on the back of his head and the scrap of barbed feathers against his skin. The hawk’s wing had hit him, but its claws had collided with the hard dirt. The hawk beat furiously, struggling to take to the sky once more.
Kip let out a gasp of relief. It had missed. He knew they had only a precious few seconds before it launched another attack. His eyes searched for Dina in the grass. He saw her getting to her feet, her patchy fur streaked with mud and her eyes wet with tears.
‘Quick!’ he said, eyes wide and darting, ‘we’re almost there!’ They ran now, side by side, the shadow of the gigantic oak tree looming large over them, the white of their tails whipping through the long stalks as they turned from side to side. Ahead of them Kip saw Chase and Dotty dash behind the oak and swerve to the right.
Behind them he glimpsed the hawk high in the air once more, veering round and preparing to streak towards them again. At last they made it to the treeline and circled the girth of the enormous oak, its roots bulging the earth around it. They paused for a second to catch their breath.
Dina looked at Kip and he saw her face widen into a grin. The tears that had accumulated in the corners of her eyes leaked out has she let out a high-pitched laugh and pointed at him. Kip grinned too, caught up by her infectious smile and relief they’d made it to the trees.
‘What?’ He said, head cocked to the side.
‘You’ve.. got three ears!’ She proclaimed between laughs.
‘What? You’ve lost it!’ Kip let out a laugh too.
He ran his paws over his head and brushed off a feather that was sticking out right between his ears. He grabbed it and threw it at her, but it floated harmlessly down between them. He burst into laughter too.
Somewhere far away his brain was telling him that the wing beats of the hawk were quickening. He’d almost completely forgotten about the danger, but now the world seemed to snap back into focus.
‘Go, go, go!’ He took Dina off guard as he charged forward again, headbutting into her to make her move. ‘It’s still after us, follow me!’
Kip knew the burrow was to the east, close to the edge of the trees, but they needed to lose the hawk fast. He dashed further into the forest trying to put as much shrubbery between them and their foe. After a short while he could no longer hear the hawk or feel the disturbance of the wind from its wings. He paused, his ears flicking back and forth.
‘Ok, I think we’ve shaken it.’
Dina didn’t respond, she just sat down with her back legs splayed out in front of her, panting. They were in a dense thicket of birch trees and night seemed to be closing in a lot faster here.
‘We can’t be far from home now.’ Kip said, ‘let’s get back before anything else finds us.’
He’d been in this part of the forest before and it didn’t take them long to find their way out of the birch thicket. They moved as quietly as they could, weaving in and out of the undergrowth, through a clearing filled with dandelions, past the Great Willow and to the edge of the wood where a familiar series of green mounds filled them both with warmth and relief.
As they spotted one of the many tunnel entrances to Burrow Mound Dina gave a cry filled with happiness and relief and sprinted down the earthy hole as fast as her little legs would carry her. Kip followed, but he was worrying about Chase and Dotty. They had gotten to the forest before him so they should be back already.
As he poked his head into the tunnel entrance a blast of warm air hit his face and an echo floated upwards carrying Chase's delighted roar at seeing Dina. All the tension fell of Kip's shoulders and he rushed forwards, eager to laugh and cry at the day's events in the safety of his home.
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Hi Edward, What a great story! The action was so vivid, I was holding my breath, praying they would escape the hawk. I grew up and still live on a farm and you really nailed the movements of both predator and prey. Great work.
Thanks so much Susan! I did do my research on this one, including watching some videos of red-tail hawks so I'm glad it paid off for you!
What an adventure, Edward! Having read a few of your other works, it's neat to read this and see how adaptable your writing can be. It's much different than your recent pieces. I really enjoyed the pause for humor with the "three ears" comment amidst the hawk chase!
I'm so pleased you think so! I actually wrote this piece a while back as one of my first short stories and at first it was weird trying to capture the perspective of an animal, but I also wanted to make them feel emotionally relatable and human in a way too!
I believe you accomplished their human relatability! I think it's wonderful that this was one of your earlier stories. I've found with the weekly prompts, I'm always looking forward, but I think there is fun in revisiting something you've written in the past.
I couldn't quite understand the objective of Grassy, but this story made me feel even more compassion than I normally do for wild rabbits. Nice that you chose them for this prompt, given that rabbits are usually associated with magicians.
So pleased you felt for the rabbits, that makes me think I did something right! And thanks for the Grassy feedback, perhaps I should add in a little more clarity!
It seems that Grassy might be akin to Fencing in the human world. At least that's what I imagine
Got it. That helps.
The amount of research is obvious. Edward. It certainly shows. Well done
The action is well-written and I especially appreciated the drop immediately into the story! It's easy when writing "kids" fiction to spend excessive time on introduction, so kudos for that. I enjoyed Brian Jacques when I was little and this reminded me of his books. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks so much Katy! Ah yes, Redwall! I remember that from when I was little too. Glad you enjoyed the story.
Good stuff. Very tense and dramatic there Edward. Thanks for a good read.
Thanks so much for reading Darren. I imagine it must be a pretty fast paced, tense life being a rabbit sometimes!
So good Ed. I was hoping they would.both make it,but so worried one of them would be taken. I look forward to reading more of your work. Happy holidays to you
Happy holidays John, thanks so much for reading!
I enjoyed this so much! Your story was full of fun, fear and family, just as I imagine life is like for the wild ones. You have probably gleaned from one of my writings how near and dear rabbits are to me personally, and the realism here was beautifully realized. It's not easy being prey. They deserve our respect, not to mention they're so dang cute!
Yes I've always thought wild rabbits are very cute and interesting creatures. Their little burrows and colonies - who knows what goes on underground that we have no idea about? Happy you enjoyed the story Susan, thanks so much, I loved reading about Peppy too!
You just struck a wonderful chord with the question, "who knows what goes on underground that we have no idea about?" A few years ago I was writing/drawing comic books and I have a 120 page book about a rabbit colony/family entitled BOING! All I can tell you is that it is not a nonfiction account, but sure was fun!
I loved the descriptions in Watership Down and H is for Hawk is one of my favourite books of recent years, so what's not to love in your pairing? The exposition is beautiful, the love of the grassy hill and the rabbits' world really comes through. You certainly deliver with the flight sequences; at the risk of sounding teacherly, great diction choices really capture the hawk's pursuit. Loved it.
I remember reading Watership Down when I was a child and really enjoying it. Always good to hear the word choice is appreciated, thanks Rebecca!
I adored this story!!
Thanks Wendy, happy you enjoyed it!
Nicely done, Edward. The action was riveting and it all felt real.
Yes was bit of a different trying some animal protagonists, thanks for reading Delbert!
Gripping story! It starts with such joyful innocence and lovely descriptions - very easy to enter their world. And then the tension with the hawk… that keeps up for a good pace… and has a satisfactory ending. It does have tones of Watership Down and the Redwall books. Really enjoyable!