I am exiled; shunned from the warren and left to scratch my own burrow into the hard clay and shale. It is my life. The lot has been cast. I had no say in the matter. For me it has always been so.
I was a sickly bunny, the only kit in my litter. Shunned by my generation’s kindle I became used to playing alone, eating alone and sleeping alone. My mother paid less attention to me than to my older siblings–long after she should have stopped mothering their litter. Some days she did not even feed me. My older siblings were taught how to smell danger and how to run the zig-zag. They were admitted into the main warren in full standing. I tried to participate in the lessons, but was ignored. And every time I entered the warren I was nosed back out. Burrow after burrow rejected me for being different. I smell wrong. I smell like I am not their kin. I never knew my father yet I know that I must smell like him. I am small and look sickly, but I am not. I am hard as rock. I can run faster than the wind blows.
The Cottontail did not object when I moved into her domain. She was old. That spring she had only one kit in her nest on the hard, cold ground. I did not judge. Just because cottontails do not dig warrens like decent rabbits does not make them evil. They do things differently, that’s all. I watched Old Cottontail and I learned a few things. It was better to sit still when the humans were around. They are both deaf and anosmic, or nearly so. Their eyes are better at catching movement than at discriminating a motionless rabbit from a patch of clover. Humans are fun to watch.
For the first time in my life another paid attention to me. A young buck cottontail now visits me when it suits him. The first time I saw him he sat impossibly still, staring at me. I stared back.
Suddenly, he charged.
Startled, I jumped straight up into the air and he passed beneath me. He could see I was quick and strong. His nuzzle was soft and remains so. I smell exotic to him. I am his almost-cottontail doe.
This spring I was gravid. Like Old Cottontail I built a form fitting nest on the hard, cold ground. Well, nearly so. I could not resist digging up the thin topsoil and a little bit of the hard packed clay and shale. When the kits came, I shed extra fur to keep them warm and dry. I fed them all, once a day, as I should. The rest of the time I sat munching clover with an eye always turned in the direction of my almost-burrow. I was afraid I would make the same mistakes my mother made. I have not.
Old Cottontail only had one kit this spring. A cold snap was more than the old lady could bear and she died while grazing a fortnight ago. Her kit, Young Cottontail, stayed so still that it took me two days to find her. I fed her once a day as well. I am young and strong and had enough milk to share without depriving my own.
Now my milk is gone, and the time for teaching the kits has arrived. This morning I coaxed Young Cottontail out of her nest. Nervously she sat as my kits inspected her from ear-tip to toenail. I showed them all how to smell danger. Young Cottontail ran the zig-zag as well as the rest and I am proud. They are all strong as rocks and can outrun the cool summer breeze that blows in from the west. They are a strong kindle, and they look after one another while they nibble on new dandelion leaves and white clover.
This evening when the moon is gone I am going to take them into the humans’ area and let them sample the fresh sweet shoots of corn. They have worked hard at their lessons and deserve a reward.
This is my life. The lot has been cast. I am becoming cottontail and I would not change it even if I could.
Deven D Atkinson is a computer programmer living in rural Southern Ohio. Besides appearances at Every Day Fiction he has a story in “The Infinity Swords” anthology to be published by Carnivah House.