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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1881316
Somewhere in the Australian desert, someone, something struggles for a droplet of water.

A droplet of water forms on the edge of the rusty tap. It hangs there for a second, absorbing more water and gradually growing in size. Eventually, its weight is big enough for gravity to claim it, and the droplet falls into the earth with a faint drip. The dry earth swallows the droplet greedily, absorbing its wetness until there’s nothing left except a dark spot on the yellow ground, the mark of the water.

Slightly-Long-Ears watches another droplet forming on the tap, and tries to gulp. But he can’t. His throat is so dry, even gulping is difficult. The droplet falls to the dry earth, gifting it with more wetness. But he remains where he is, his throat screaming for that droplet.

He’s so damn thirsty.

Slightly-Long-Ears sighs. He really wants to do what his throat is telling him: run to that rusty tap and wait for another droplet to fall. But he can’t. He’s a rabbit after all—a proud, happy and extremely dehydrated European Wild Rabbit—and there’s his natural enemy standing on the way. The rabbit-proof-fence juts out of the earth, separating him from the rusty tap and its heavenly water. Perfect.

Another droplet falls to the earth, but all he can do is lick his lips. He leans at the iron fence, and sniffs. And sniffs, and sniffs. All the time his head jerks around and his eyes roll, trying to find a gap in the fence big enough for him to sneak through. There’s no such luck. So he looks up again, blinking once when the glaring sun strikes his eyes with its light, and measures the distance between the ground and the top of the fence. Then he draws a quick breath.

Well, here goes nothing.

He puts one forepaw on a small gap between the wires; the metal’s cold touch prickles his furs. It seems solid enough, though, and it doesn’t bite back at him, which is good. So, keeping the foothold ready, he hauls his body up and puts the other forepaw on another wired gap. The fence trembles at his weight, but not for long. Ears fidgeting once, twice, he continues his ascent.

It’s a rhythmical movement, almost like walking—only now he’s walking upward and gravity is against him. The wired fence shakes with his every move, but he climbs on. The shaking becomes the most violent when he’s halfway to the top, and after a moment of the seeming earthquake, Slightly-Long-Ears considers jumping down and forgets about this foolish chase for a drink. But his throat disagrees.

It takes forever—but he’s almost there. He can feel moisture gushing out of his tongue, like water coming out of a sponge. Rabbits don’t drool, neither do they sweat. Not through their pores, at least. Those drips are all he has left in his body, and he would gulp them again if only he weren’t too busy trying not to fall.

He hauls himself up one more time—and places one paw on the top wire that stretches horizontally across the fence. But he can’t find any footstep. For a frightening second he scrambles on the fence, trying not to slip and plunge to the rocky earth below. Taking a deep breath, he pushes a hindleg again to haul himself up, the other paws reaching for the top of the fence. There’s a breath-holding moment when his hindleg dangles in the air, gravity weighting him down, until his forepaw finds a hold on the other side of the fence.

Only then he remembers to breathe. Rabbits don’t smile, but right now he feels like grinning as he looks at the rusty tap not too far ahead. He can imagine his throat, for the first time in a long while, clapping imaginary hands in excitement.

But then he sees a movement in the corner of his eye and turns around. There’s a big animal glaring at him. It stands straight on two hindlegs, with its belly bulging and its skin furless. And when Slightly-Long-Ears catches sight of its short ears, he feels a sudden grasp of panic.

He knows this animal. The rabbits call them short-ears-two-legs. And they’re nasty, nasty predators.

‘Ficking rabbits,’ the animal growls. Then it runs—or tries to, since it seems more like limping on two hindlegs—to fetch an iron stick from its nest. Slightly-Long-Ears can hear a faint click as the animal aims the iron stick at him—followed by a loud BANG.

Something buzzes past the fence, and the earth explodes, jolting Slightly-Long-Ears so hard that he almost loses his footings. The short-ears-two-legs makes that faint click again, and then another BANG. The earth erupts again, this time not too far from him. He quickly lets go of his grip and drops to the earth.

His back hits the ground hard. It hurts—he feels oxygen is pumped out of his lungs. But quickly he scrambles back to his paws and runs. There’s another BANG and another explosion, but Slightly-Long-Ears has disappeared among the rocks.


Slightly-Long-Ears is digging. Stomping his hindlegs hard, he reaches out his forepaws and begins scratching the rock sediment away. Scratch, scratch, scratch—he flattens his ears so that they won’t hit the rocky ceiling. Scratch, scratch, scratch—dirt flies with every scoop of his paws, forming a new pile behind him as he goes. Scratch, scratch and more scratch—

The wind is roaring outside; its blow becomes stronger now that the sun has shifted. Dirt and dust fly around like a desert screen. The roar echoes inside this rabbit hole Slightly-Long-Ears has been digging in the past few hours. He’s safe, for now, under the protection of a lonely tree drying in the wasteland.

And while he’s here, maybe he should do something useful. Like find something to drink.

Scratch, scratch, snap—his forepaws touch something different, something not as solid as the rocks. He stops for a moment to examine what it is. It shapes like a mass of thick, dirty hair, only it’s rougher and has tentacle-like fibres. He leans forward and sniffs; the smell of a dry plant fills his nostrils, not too dissimilar to the dry tree he’s hiding under.

Happily, he resumes digging, although more slowly this time because he doesn’t want to tear the tree roots he has found. He digs around until he can see the roots more clearly, and then cleans the dirt mixed in the tangles. Then he licks the tip of his lips, and bites a mouthful. The roots snap with a quick noise and he munches them happily. Rabbits have their own ways of surviving in a wasteland, and one of them is drink the moisture inside a plant. He can feel the very moisture inside the roots gush into his mouth, healing him of his thirst.

Or so it should. Slightly-Long-Ears munches and munches, but the roots have very little moisture left in them. It seems the sun, that bright bully, has dried them to the last drops. All he can find is the bitter taste of the hairy fibres, and very few drops of water. Not enough to satisfy his thirst at all.

Slightly-Long-Ears sighs, but despite the bitterness, he doesn’t spit out the roots. They’re all the water he has left, after all. And as he’s munching, he closes his eyes, and dreams of that rusty tap again. How cold and fresh its water must be ...

But then there’s the rabbit-proof-fence again, still standing mightily as if it won’t even let him dream about the rusty tap. Sighing, Slightly-Long-Ears snaps his eyes open and starts thinking.

How should he get past the fence? Should he try to climb it again? Nah. His back still hurts from the fall earlier.

Should he try to bite the wires until it’s broken? Nah. He doesn’t fancy eating those cold wires. They’re too sharp for his liking.

Should he pray until a bunny-god takes a pity at him and destroys the wired fence with a godly hand? Tempting, but ...

Slightly-Long-Ears swallows the roots; it leaves a bitter taste on his tongue, but at least it fills his stomach. Then he leans forward and takes another bite.

The wind is still blowing outside. Slightly-Long-Ears continues munching the dry tree’s roots. It seems like he will be stuck in here for a little while.


The wind is stronger now—and drier too. It blows all the dust on the earth, like a storm of dirt and dust, covering everything eyes can see. It’s no longer whispering—it’s now more like whooshing and booming, causing everything to tremble in fear of the angry gale.

A particularly strong wind hits the tree. Deep in the rabbit hole, Slightly-Long-Ears stops munching. The tree is shaking and creaking under the impact, and for a second it seems it’d fall. But then the wind slows down a little and the tree remains rooted to the ground.

Rooted—but now half of its roots are in his belly. Slightly-Long-Ears swallows another mouthful and burps.

Gradually the wind gains more speed again, bellowing like a nightmare giving birth. Slightly-Long-Ears hears another creak as the tree shifts under the constant battering of the gale. Then he looks at its roots, wondering how long the half-eaten roots can support the tree.

With his tongue still numb, he licks the tip of his lips, wondering if it’s okay to take one more bite. Perhaps the next roots would have more water in them. But can the tree stand it?

But why should he care? He’s still so damn thirsty.

Hesitant step by hesitant step, Slightly-Long-Ears comes closer to the tangled remains of the roots, ears prickling every time he hears the tree creaks. He leans forward a little, just one centimetre to biting the roots, and listens. The wind gradually slows down again, as if giving a cue that the nightmare is finally over. He bites a mouthful.

Then the wind strikes again—with twice the force it hit the tree before. The dry tree can’t stand it—not with its roots half-eaten. It releases a loud groan and begins to collapse.

Slightly-Long-Ears freezes, roots still in his mouth. The whole rabbit hole is trembling. Roots begin to rise, the weight of the trunk pulling them out of the earth. Dirt and rocks sprout out around him, one or two of those solid meanies nearly hitting him on the face. He quickly spits out the roots and sprints for the exit.

The angry scream of the wind hits him square on the face—but it’s still not as loud as the groan of the tree as it falls. Slightly-Long-Ears jumps out, right on time to hear loud, quick noises as something snaps along with the tree. He turns around to look.

The wires on the rabbit-proof-fence are torn apart, one by one, as they try to hold the weight of the tree—to no avail. Both of them hit the ground, with a boom and an explosion of dirt.

As if it has spent all its power on the previous gush, again the wind stops its scream. But Slightly-Long-Ears freezes on the spot. He raises his ears up high. He looks at the new clearing before him, at the broken fence and wires on the ground. All is a mess. The mighty rabbit-proof-fence has fallen.

Then he looks up and sees the rusty tap, still standing, safe and sound under the protection of the short-ears-two-legs’s nest. And as Slightly-Long-Ears watches, another droplet forms on its edge, brilliant like a pearl.

A dry hand of thirst chokes his throat. Slightly-Long-Ears manages a slow and painful gulp, and then takes a hesitant hop toward the rusty tap. He glances at the mess of wires and fence around him warily, as if expecting them to jump and again keep him away from the fresh water. But they don’t. He takes another step, and another step, and another step—and then he breaks into a sprint.

There’s a noise of something swung open, but his mind is so focused on the pool of fresh water that he’s not listening. He doesn’t hear it either when a short-ears-two-legs cries out, ‘Dad! The fence is broken! There’s a rabbit in our yard!’

Slightly-Long-Ears takes one last leap to the side of the rusty tap. Then he leans down and begins licking all the dark spots of water on the ground. There’s nothing much there—the wind seems to have licked all of them dry earlier—but when he glances around in seeking for more water, one big droplet falls on his head. He looks up and sees more—more—water dripping from the rusty pump. Another droplet falls, and he tries to catch it with a forepaw. But he misses. Yet another drop falls and he slashes his paw again. This time the water lands right between his stubby toes, wetting them. He greedily licks them dry; his throat yells in happiness.

Then he hears the faint click. He turns around, and his eyes widen. He sees two short-ears-two-legs standing in front of their nest, one of them holding the same iron stick on its arms. And it’s aiming at him.

BANG! The earth explodes again, not too far from where Slightly-Long-Ears is. The sudden noise breaks the freeze spell on him, and he jumps back to his paws, ready to scramble for a cover. But he hesitates. He glances at the dripping water again, feeling his throat is still begging for more, more and more water. He licks his lips. Perhaps he could take one more lick before running?

Another click and another BANG. Another explosion on the ground, only a few inches from his right hindpaw. He jerks backward. Then he turns around and runs, leaving the pool of fresh water behind. He can imagine his throat crying—and he suspects it would, if only it had enough water. But with another explosion, Slightly-Long-Ears dares not to slow down, let alone to stop. His heart beats in protest. But he keeps going until he sees the fallen tree—and jumps.

There’s one last BANG and his right leg explodes. A scream escapes his mouth. Then he falls to the ground, head-first, and the momentum brings him roll on the earth for a few rapid seconds. Dust and dirt fill his lungs, choking him. But eventually he stops, right next to the fallen tree.

And lies there in wait.

He can hear a smile in the short-ears-two-legs’s voice. ‘Well, sonny, I got you a rabbit soup.’

Slightly-Long-Ears remains lying there, his right leg throbbing and burning. He doesn’t even dare to scream. Two shadows approaches him, hiding his body from the glaring sun. He tries to gulp. But he can’t.

He’s so damn thirsty.

1. European Wild Rabbits are considered the number one pest in Australia. Their origin is Europe, but they were brought to Australia at the beginning of 19th century and, thanks to their terrifying adaptability to the dry environment, had become so populous that the government had to pay to have them hunted—without much success. Hunters may have killed two millions rabbits a year, but there were still too many rabbits all over the continent.

2. One of the solutions to this problem is the rabbit-proof-fence, which is used mainly to keep these pests from the agricultural and pastoral areas in Australia. Rabbits tend to kill young trees by ringbarking them. They also tend to dig a burrow (or rabbit hole, as I call it in this story) and gnaw on the tree roots to find water, which can be scarce in this dry environment.

3. The portrayal of rabbits in this story is not one-hundred percent accurate, because the actual rabbits usually prefer to live in a group.

© Copyright 2012 A.S. Hendra [Job-Searching] (pumpkinhead at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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