The Hunted

I was breathless. I darted barefoot across the length of my mother’s kitchen on the second floor of the creaky hundred-year-old farmhouse, bumping around chairs and pushing off the harsh edge of the table top as I cut a vee through the pungent scent of the morning’s coffee and burnt toast. The chilly floor was sloped with age, and the cracks in the linoleum threatened to topple my clumsy three-year-old self.

The young rabbit was enjoying the tender grass at the side of the gravel road when a beagle came over the rise, its nose to the ground, tail raised high and waggling back and forth with excitement. The rabbit scurried along the dusty stretch of pale dirt road, springing left, then right. Gravel sprayed.

I tripped over the shallow threshold of the back bedroom. My heaving chest hit the dirty floor hard. Sliding into the shadows, I sought asylum in my usual hideout.

The rabbit knew instinctively that the beagle was its enemy and made a quick choice. Deep alfalfa, stone wall crevice, abandoned rubber tire.

Under the bunk bed was dark and dusty. I clawed my way to the wall. “I’ve got the army belt!” she bawled. My dingy t-shirt rose up to my armpits, my tiny fingers brushing away the globs of dust.

The beagle was excited, sniffing with the concentration of the hunt, the imprint of previous canine generations fueling its quest. The rabbit froze, eyes bright and bulging.

Paralyzed with fear, I tried to slow my breathing. The floor shook with her angry footsteps. I listened intently, my ears trained for the source. White ankle socks and brown penny loafers paced back and forth inches from my nose. Lucky penny Lincolns, heads up.

The rabbit blinked once, a cautionary test of its security. At dawn, it didn’t expect the beagle to be in its path. Its fur was dotted with burrs from the chase. The rabbit waited. Long seconds became longer minutes.

My disheveled hair was tangled in the galvanized bedsprings. I couldn’t turn my head and pressed deeper into the chilling chasm. Claustrophobia set in.

“God-damned little brat,” she muttered to herself.

Soon Mummy was flinging Daddy’s army belt from one side to the other under the bed. Its heavy brass buckle clanged against the bed frame tolling my fate.

The rabbit’s mottled brown and gray fur blended into the grass.

I was scarcely noticeable in the shadow of the bunk bed. I scooted further back, and made myself small, afraid to be caught and dragged out by my dirty bare feet.

The rabbit didn’t make a sound. Its survival depended upon it.

I didn’t cry. Eventually she would stop.

Soon the rabbit sensed that the beagle was gone. It moved with one tentative hop at first, followed by a pause to listen. Then it resumed nibbling the grass at the side of the road.

When I was sure she had given up and gone away. I slowly crept out and brushed the fuzzy grey globs off my red corduroy pants. The wale had worn off the knees and the elasticized waist was no longer capable of resuming its original shape, but they were familiar and  soft as a rabbit on a roadside.

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