“Elder Clover always told stories to us about sunshine, grass, trees, flowers, berries, rain, snow, and other animals, but what I loved most were the horror stories he told us of the people with guns that wanted to kill us bunnies. The stories seemed real, like these things actually existed.”
It’s Just The Beginning
“Ma, why can’t I go outside?” I asked.
“Because outside the tunnels there is, there is, uhhh…you cannot go outside, you have to stay inside,” Ma replied.
“Ma, you are confining me in these stupid, putrid, horrible tunnels! Just let me go outside!” I said sadly.
“No. You can’t. Inside is best for me,” Ma said.
“We are talking about me not you, I want to go outside!” I yelled.
“Well, you can’t,” Ma said.
“Ma, you are ruining my life!” I yelled. I sat down on the bench. I felt the hardwood underneath me. I was really angry. I hit the wood really hard. That calmed me for a moment but not fully. I thought about what I knew about outside.
Elder Clover always told stories to us about sunshine, grass, trees, flowers, berries, rain, snow, and other animals, but what I loved most were the horror stories he told us of the people with guns that wanted to kill us bunnies. The stories seemed real, like these things actually existed.
“Ma, I am going to the water hole,” I said as I hopped through the hole in the wall. I ran down the path. The dirt clung on to my paws. I stopped. I brought my paws up to my face. They were covered in dirt, I put them back down on the smooth, soft ground and it felt almost comforting. I kept on sprinting.
I finally got there. The water hole is a pool of water inside of a cave. The rock walls were shiny and smooth. There were little orange fish swimming in the water. I went to the edge of the water, but I was careful not to fall in. I hate water, so does everyone I know.
I looked in the water. I saw myself. My long ears were drooping down on my face, my strawberry colored fur gleamed in the water.
“Strawberry, Strawberry!” The voice behind me came closer and closer. The pawsteps boomed in my ears. Blackberry came up behind me.
“What now, BB?” I said, sounding really annoyed. Blackberry is my little brother. He has black fur and black eyes.
“Ma needs you!” he said.
I hopped up and started to sprint. “Beat you there!” I said and gave myself a head start. Blackberry started to hop, but he was too late. I had already burst through the hole in the wall.
The dirt walls were gleaming. The dirt ground was smooth and soft underneath my back paws.
“Strawberry, clean your room! Then help me with Blueberry, Pa should be back soon,” Ma said. I groaned. Blackberry came through the hole in the wall. I saw him smirk as I hopped into my room.
The walls were covered with things I had found, like dead bugs such as lady bugs, beetles, flies, and other things that were extremely rare in the tunnels.
I cleaned up my leaves. The bottom leaf is what I sleep on, the top leaf is what covers me when I am put on my leaf.
Elder Clover told us that humans use a so called “pillow,” but we use sparrow feathers instead.
The floor is grass brought from the outside by other messengers from different community tunnels.
We have small jars found by messengers on the ground. Each room in every tunnel is required to have a jar with at least one firefly in it to light it up. My firefly’s name is Outside because I’ve always wanted to go outside.
“Ma, my room is cleaned! I am going back to the water hole. When I come back we will have a fresh jar of water. See you soon!” I called.
Once again I made my short journey to the water hole. I passed Hazel’s room, Sky’s, Land’s, Dream’s, Joy’s, and my bestest friend of them all, Snow’s room. I stopped abruptly, and hopped back a few paces. I hopped inside Snow’s room.
“Hi Mrs. Winter, I was just wondering if Snow was here.”
Before Snow’s Ma could answer, Snow’s little sister, Frost, came and said, “She went out this morning, put three carrots in a bag and told us she would be back by the evening meal. So basically, Snow is not here,” she concluded.
“Sorry for bothering you! Bye!” I said as I hopped out the hole.
I hopped down to the water hole. I looked in the water again. I saw my own reflection. Then I also saw a bunny hopping towards me. She looked strangely familiar. Very familiar. It seemed a little weird. White fur, blue eyes, ears tied back by strands of grass in “pigtails” as Elder Clover calls it.
Then I realized it was Snow! How could I be so stupid?! It seemed weird that I didn’t recognize her. Huh. I’ll think about that later.
“Strawberry, Strawberry!” Snow cried.
“What?” I asked as she came up next to me.
“Have you ever thought about escaping the tunnels and going outside?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I think I am going to soon. Do you want to come?” I asked.
“Yes! I would love to! I was going to ask you the same thing but you said it first!” she said, hopping up and down. “Oh, wait a minute, Ma told me to pick up Sled from his classes. I have to go,” Snow said glumly. She sat up and started to hop away.
“Wait! Snow!” She turned around. “Ma also told me to pick up Raspberry from her classes of history and the outside and her insect after-class,” I said.
“So what does that have anything to do with it?” she said with an annoyed tone.
“That means I can hop with you!” I said hopefully.
“I have to go to get him from the after-class room somewhere up the tunnel. Where do you go?” she asked, sounding hopeful.
“I have to get Razzy from there too. Let’s go!” I said with a smile. Snow smiled back. We hopped together up the tunnel to the after-class room.
By the time we got there, Sled and Raspberry were already waiting at the wall.
“Strawberry, where were you? You are like a billion years late!” Raspberry asked, obviously annoyed.
“Geez, Razzy, stop exaggerating. I was only a couple minutes late,” I said back.
I looked behind me. Snow and Sled had already gone down the tunnel. When I got back, Ma was waiting.
Just About Ready
“Why are you so late, Strawberry Rose Berry!?” Ma screamed. I could tell she was angry. She never uses my full name.
“Uh-oh!” Raspberry said.
“Someone’s in trouble,” a voice said as he hopped out of his room. It was Blackberry. How could I not have known? Obvious.
“Shut your paw hole, BB!” I said through clenched teeth.
“Strawberry, again, watch your language young rabbit. Now why are you late? No lying,” Ma said.
“Uggghhhh! Fine. I was at the water hole and Snow came. We talked for a bit. Then she said that she had to get Sled then I remembered about Raspberry so we went to pick them up. Finally we came here,” I concluded.
“Okay, I will let you off this time. But promise you won’t be late again,” Ma said.
“Fine,” I said.
The next morning I packed a bag full of carrots, cabbage, and my firefly.
I hopped to Snow’s place. She was waiting outside her hole. She had a bag full of the same things I did.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Yup. Lets make a hop for it,” Snow said excitedly.
We went into my room and dug up until we got to the “outside.” Ma never enters my room so it was pretty easy, the tunnel was about a foot underground so it didn’t take very long to get outside.
“Wow!!! It’s just like Elder Clover’s stories! I never thought they were actually true! The sunshine is beautiful!” Snow said.
She was right, it was a whole new world, the color was so much sharper, the sunlight was warming, it was also a lot brighter. I was amazed.
I was amazed, then suddenly there was a whistle.
“Get ‘em!” Soldier Rabbit cried. He and his army armed with toothpicks came rushing at us.
Snow screamed. It was a high piercing shriek. All the soldiers fell to the ground trembling.
“HOP!!! Hop while they are down!” I screamed. Then Snow and I hopped away into the woods.
“We need a place to hide and live,” Snow suggested. “How about that place inside that tree, it could be the entrance hall, we can dig down to make more rooms and OH over there, we can make a city, and OH MY GOD…” She kept on talking.
“Snow, Snow, Snow! The bigger problem is THAT WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO GO HOME!!!” I screamed.
“Oh, right.” Snow looked at the soft grassy ground underneath us.
IN THE TUNNELS…
“Pa, honey, do you think Strawberry is going to be okay?” Ma asked
“I think she is going to be just fine. She can fend on her own. Let’s send more soldiers to look for her,” Pa said.
“Ok, I trust you, Honeybumkin,” Ma said as she smiled.
BACK TO THE FOREST…
“Wait, SB, why can’t we go back to the tunnels?” Snow asked.
“We would be executed by Elder Clover!! He shows no mercy when it comes to breaking the rules!!!” I yelled at her.
“Oh wow, we are NOT going back,” Snow said quietly.
“Yeah, so let’s focus. How are we going to live? Most importantly WHERE are we going to live? How are we going to get food?” I said, almost ripping my ears out.
“We are going to live in that tree, as I already said,” she said waving her hands around with a smile. “We will eat grass and lettuce and carrots and the apples that fall from trees!”
“Ok, I call that tree to live in!” I screamed and hopped to the tree.
I hopped inside. The hollow trunk smelled like cinnamon and hazelnut. There was a soft coat of grass on the ground.
I hopped outside. Snow was filling birds nests with snow to put on the ground of her place. The fresh air felt chilly on my face. It was all new, trees, sky, clouds, snow, bushes, real grass, flowers, birds, and other animals. My mind was blown.
Then there was the sunset. I gathered a feather, no it wasn’t a sparrow feather like in the tunnels, it was a robin feather. I had only seen sparrow feathers.
I loved being out of the tunnels. Being inside for my whole life would make me depressed. Being outside felt like I was a bird. Spreading out my wings and flying free and no one could stop me. I felt like a new bunny.
I grabbed two leaves, one to sleep on and one to cover myself.
I hopped back into my tree. I placed the leaf, then the feather, then another leaf.
I went back outside to get some wood and something to eat. There was a shadow, it was a bunny, but it wasn’t anyone I knew.
The shadow got bigger and bigger.
“Hey! You seem new around here! I am Thalia. Our names aren’t based on things like yours, Strawberry. I know all about you. Everyone in the village I come from is a messenger, well, almost,” Thalia said. Bunnies came out of bushes, tunnels, and the other trees. “Join our village!” Thalia finished.
“We will join your village. Snow will too. Right, Snow?” I called.
“Right! I want friends!” Snow cried from somewhere in the dark, but then I heard a scoop so I now knew that she was still scooping snow.
“So…let’s get to the leaf, we are only bunnies, but you are rabbits, we need our rest, bye!” I squeaked and hopped into my tree.
I woke up in my tree. I hopped outside. Thalia was giving orders. I would have to listen to her because she scared me to death. I bet she could rip me right apart with a squeeze of a paw. She could kill a fox with a flick of the hind paw. I bet she could gnaw down a tree. I think she could crush a skull in one swishing motion. I would always obey her.
Becoming a Part of Message
“You there,” Thalia pointed at me, “and Snow, we are having the welcoming ceremony, and also the adoption ceremony, but also the naming ceremony.”
All the rabbits and bunnies gathered around.
“We gather together today to welcome two new members of the community. They will be renamed and adopted. Strawberry will now be Gabby and will be adopted by Will and Bella! Snow will now be Izzy and will be adopted by Ben and Marin! Thank you all for gathering here today and welcoming Gabby and Izzy to our village!” Thalia concluded.
My new parents came up to greet me.
“Hello, we are your new parents. Call me Ma, and him Pa. We will care for you more than anyone else, we promise. We will always love you, even after we die.” Right after she said that, I trusted them with my life, I would love them forever. I couldn’t believe it after hearing that wonderful speech, it just clicked. We were bound forever until death. We walked to my tree and brought all my things to theirs. There were six empty leafs.
“Pa, what are the extra leaves for?” I asked.
“They are going to be for your new brothers or sisters. I know you are wondering why I am not at work, but when your wife is about to have her litter, you have to stay and help her out.”
TWO DAYS LATER
“Gabby, your Ma just had her litter, she wants you to help carry them to the meeting place. They are all healthy. Three males and three females. Hurry. The rabbit birthing six bunnies doesn’t usually live very long after giving birth,” Ben said hopping to my tree with me hopping behind.
“Ma, are you ok? You are turning white,” I said. Pa and I gathered close.
“I am afraid I am going to have to say goodbye. I am so sorry for leaving you this soon, Gabby, I love you all, goodbye Will, I love you I will always love you, goodbye,” Ma said then her arms went limp and her eyes rolled to the back of her head.
“I love you too, Ma,” I whispered.
“Oh no! Ma let go of a bunny!” I cried and bent over to pick it up. When it was safely in my arms, it wasn’t hurt the slightest bit.
“Wow, this bunny is really strong!” I said as a cradled the gold bunny.
“We have to bring them to the ceremony,” Pa told me, his face still wet with tears. Tears didn’t come to my eyes, I didn’t know why.
“Yes, we should,” I agreed. I picked up the females and Pa picked up the males. We carried them together to the ceremony.
We handed Thalia the bunnies. “We gather here today to welcome Will and Bella’s new bunnies! Let’s now do the naming ceremony. This will be Skylar, this will be Maddie, this will be Bella, this will be Achillies, this will be Asher, and this will be Nick.” Thalia finished and handed us back the bunnies.
Skylar was grayish blue and had blue eyes. She reminded me of Blueberry, home, and the family I left because of my own curiosity. A tear trickled down my furry face.
“Gabby darling, are you ok? Why are you crying?” Pa asked.
“Call me SB. I am crying because I am so happy! These are tears of joy that the bunnies we born!” I said. Pa seemed to buy it.
Thalia handed us a HUGE bird’s nest. I remembered that you were supposed to put the young in it. I have a fuzzy memory of Elder Clover, if that was even his name, saying that humans called this a stroller.
I think we use human words around here. I am not sure. I’ll catch on at some point.
“Thanks, Thalia! Can you help me put the bunnies in the stroller?” I asked.
“Sure,” Thalia said and put the golden bunny with the golden eyes, the one Ma had dropped, Achilles, I think, into the stroller. Then Maddie, the light pinkish one like raspberry, Bella the whitish one, Asher the black one like BB, then Nick, the spotted one, then Skylar, the blue one, like Blueberry.
Pa and I pushed the stroller back to our tree. We fed them each mashed carrots and apples, then we put them to sleep.
“We are going to have to take them to the daycare, you are going to have to be messenger, and I have to go back to my job, being the food collector,” Pa told me.
Being a Messenger
The next day, Pa left early for work, so I mashed carrots and fed it to the six for their “breakfast.” I put leaves and feathers in the strollers to make them feel comfy, then one by one I put them each in the stroller.
I pushed the stroller through the village passing Thalia who was giving orders to men who were painting the ground blue with mashed blueberries.
Finally, we got to the huge tree where I saw bunnies hopping everywhere. “This is the place,” I told them.
I saw a female rabbit and some others scrambling about feeding bunnies, bringing bunnies to the hole to do their business, burping bunnies, helping crying bunnies who had fallen, and breaking up fights between toys.
“Um, hello, can I drop off these little bunnies?” I asked a rabbit who was sitting on a log burping a little bunny. Her eyes widened.
“SIX MORE? I am so sorry, we can only take four of your six for everyday, are you their mother?” she asked.
“No, their older sister,” I turned to look at the bunnies. “Who wants to stay here and play with other bunnies?”
Skylar raised her paw, so did Bella, so did Asher, and so did Nick.
“It is decided. Skylar, Bella, Nick, and Asher will be staying with you. I will take the other two. Then Pa will pick them up before dinner, if that is what you call it,” I said. I waved my paw at the four who were staying and hopped away.
“Hey guys, we are going to go to other villages and give them things,” I told Maddie and Acki. The gold bunny, Acki, replied with a nod and grabbing a stick as if to be saying or else. Maddie smiled showing her big white teeth.
I let Maddie and Acki hop around. Acki hopped back to me with a jar. “Here go,” he said as I took the jar and put it in my bag. Maddie was by the flowers lifelessly staring and then quickly moved to something else then repeated the cycle over again.
We got to the next community. This one was above ground unlike my first community. I walked down the road, putting things on the houses that were marked with the same mark on each package. Maddie and Acki were looking at the package, then hopping down the marked path looking for the right tree to put the package. I handed them the packages and they delivered them. They are really good helpers.
Next village. Underground this time. It was my old village. I gave Maddie and Acki all the packages and told them to go in and come out when all the packages were delivered. I waited outside.
TEN MINUTES LATER
“Back,” Acki said.
“All gone,” Maddie said and showed her paws to prove that there were no packages left. I picked them up and set them on my back and walked back to my village.
Back Home With My New Family
When we got back to the village, we went straight to the daycare place. Asher, Skye, Nick, and Bella were waiting. “Gabby! Homey!” Nick cried.
I placed them on my back and hopped to the tree. I put them all on their leaves and prepared their mashed carrots.
Pa came and sat down at the stick and waited for dinner. Each one of the bunnies came up and sat on the bench with Pa.
I placed the mashed carrots at each of the bunnies seats. For Pa I put out apples, cabbage, and carrots. I put out for me apples and cabbage.
We talked all night until the sun set on the hills. We gathered together on the stick. This was the first time I actually felt at home. I was with new my family. No, my old family wasn’t my family at all, my new family is a true family. I was free. Finally. Forever.