THE BASSET AND THE HARE • by Nathaniel Johnson

There once lived a lazy basset hound named Alexander who loved nothing better than eating, washing his paws, and daydreaming about chasing hares.  Successfully snaring a hare, however, remained only a fantasy for, unlike most of his breed, Alexander was too lazy to rise up and actually pursue one. Hares move rather too quickly, he reflected, so why chase the prey? Someone always brings me my food.

One day, Alexander woke from his reveries to discover a remarkably large hare squatting directly front of him. Mottled, with long spotted ears and a stubby tail perched over muscular hind legs, this was, indeed, a classic rabbit.

“Good morning, Basset,” said the hare, wrinkling his inquisitive nose.

“Say, are you real, or am I dreaming?” said Alexander.

“As real as you are, Basset, and twice as fast,” the hare replied.

Alexander meditated for a moment. “Is that a challenge, Hare?”

“Yes it is, Basset, to a race — between the two of us. Think you’re spry enough to try it?” The hare grinned tauntingly.

Alexander mused a moment, wondering whether or not to accept the hare’s dare.

“Right! Where do we start?”

“We’ll begin at the barn, cross Smith’s pasture, circle Farmer Boardman’s pond, and finish back here by the barn… or will that be too much for you?”

“Excuse me?” said Alexander.

“You’re rather fat, Basset, with regrettably short legs,” observed the hare. “You’ll never make it past the pond.”

“All right, impudent Hare, you’re on!” Alexander sat upright, panting. “Hey, what do I get if I win?”

“Well, you could have me for dinner, fat boy!” The hare then rolled over backwards with laughter.

Alexander considered himself a clever basset, and instantly hit upon a plan: unbeknownst to the hare, he would be laying a trap. “Agreed, Hare, I’ll accept your challenge, but on one condition.”

“What’s that, Señor Basset?”

“We must take the garden path around Smith’s pasture.”

“Why?” asked the hare, suspiciously. “That only makes our run longer. You’ll be all worn out!”

“Not necessarily,” replied Alexander. “I don’t mind the extra distance, but those brambles in the pasture will catch my fur and scratch my ears, so if we take the garden path, I won’t be hurt.”

“Those ears of yours are just too long, foolish Basset,” laughed the hare.

You should talk!” said Alexander. “Yours are huge!”

“At least mine don’t flop down and fall in my food,” replied the hare. “Okay, Mr. Hound, when shall we start?”

“In exactly one hour — at three,” replied Alexander, “I’ll need my nap before we run.”

“Cool! One hour, Basset — better be ready.”

“I’ll be there, Mr. Hare.” Alexander paused a moment. “By the way, what happens if you win and I lose?”

“You must vow never to chase Leporidae ever again,” shouted the hare, already halfway down the road. “My kin don’t appreciate you dogging them as you do.”

“That’s a deal, Mr. Hare.” After the hare disappeared around a bend in the road, Alexander muttered, “Your relatives probably wouldn’t be very tasty, anyway.”

Amused by his clever scheme, Alexander chuckled aloud; he remembered that hares loved carrots more than anything. He also recalled that Farmer Boardman’s carrot patch grew near the garden path, and that old Boardman himself might be working in his gardens that afternoon; farmers were not terribly fond of rabbits on their properties.

Alexander and his challenger met at the appointed hour, shuffled over to their starting point, and crouched down.

“On the count of three, old man!” cried the hare. “Ready?”

“Ready!” replied Alexander.

On three, the hare leapt forward and shot off ahead of Alexander, now in furious pursuit of his competitor who was already far down the road. Nearing the garden path, Alexander watched the hare make a sudden turn next to the carrot patch, and then slow to a stop; before him stretched endless rows of delectable ripe carrots, just ready for picking.

It was a warm summer day; Alexander, already sweating, took an abrupt a detour past the carrot patch, raced across the pasture and disappeared into the woods. Just then, Alexander heard someone shouting. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw old Farmer Boardman charging out of his house toward the carrot patch waving a long stick. Suddenly, there was a flash and a loud explosion; Alexander knew that long sticks usually meant deep trouble for animals.

As he rounded the pond, Alexander looked back to see if the hare was behind him; now, the basset’s legs were weak and his paws felt sore from running over rough stones and broken branches. Panting heavily from the heat, and slowing to a walk, Alexander limped back to their starting point, flopped down, and imbibed from his water bowl.

Alexander almost felt pity for the hare. Oh well, why worry? Alexander said to himself. That impertinent animal was just begging for trouble, anyway. Just then, his competitor slunk into view — head down, eyes remorseful.

“Looks like you won, Basset,” mumbled the hare.

“Seems like you lost more than the race,” replied Alexander, observing the hare’s wounded tail. “Will it grow back?”

“Perhaps,” said the hare. “Anyway, I’d better be off; since I have no one to serve me, I’ll need to find some dinner. My! That was a heavenly carrot patch. Perhaps I’ll try again after dark.”

“Better beware, Hare,” warned Alexander, settling down for his nap. Alexander folded his paws, closed both eyes and yawned contentedly.  I have been a noble hound — a truly beneficent basset, he thought, and then fell fast asleep.

In his worst nightmare ever, Alexander was being pursued by an entire family of furious hares — some without tails, all demanding retribution. Someone kept shouting his name and when he woke, trembling and fearful, there before him stood his owner, holding a bowl of fresh rabbit stew. Much to his owner’s bewilderment, Alexander jumped up, knocked the bowl over, and let loose with a long, mournful howl.

Nathaniel Johnson lives in Rockport, Massachusetts, is active in local writers groups and on-line at Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope Virtual Studio. His most recent works have appeared in AlienSkin, Boston Literary Magazine, SNM Horror Magazine, and Absent Willow Review.

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