Fluffin knew what an owl was, and he knew the owl that lay before him. This was the great clawed bird that had swooped from the sky to snatch up the young rabbit's dear sister and only friend, Mari. It had happened just after twilight as the pair hopped towards the raised tuft of grass that marked their burrow. Mari had been behind Fluffin. Just a swoosh and a shriek later, and the tawny little doe was hanging limp from hooks that soared impossible miles above. Fluffin gave chase but could not keep up with the shadow of the snowy white bird as it glided over the plains and vanished in the murky woods.
rabbit returned home alone and remained so, despite the attempts of his
brothers and mother to comfort him. When someone is truly lost,
everything they were and did and everything they could be is gone with
them, swept up and away. Worse than that, everything they felt and
thought is also vanished forever. Fluffin had spent his days in play
with Mari and his nights snuggled against her soft belly. He was Mari's
favorite thing. The feeling of being someone's favorite is not so
easily replaced. Fluffin's mother and brothers may have felt a sorrow,
but they could not have felt his sorrow. They had lost one of many,
while Fluffin had lost his only.
All of that had
happened the previous Fall, and Fluffin had since grown faster and
stronger. A lone rabbit has to be fast and strong because a lone rabbit
is always afraid.
The white owl lay on her side, one
great speckled wing stretched beneath her like a downy mat and the
other bent awkwardly behind. Fluffin could see that the owl had also
broken a leg in her descent down through the thick tree limbs above, or
perhaps in what must have been a very hard landing. He knew the bird
had fallen because there were broken branches and leaves scattered
about. The weary bird's chest began heaving rapidly when she realized
she was not alone and Fluffin could see a tiny dark and glistening spot
just at the base of her neck.
"Who's there? I'll eat you up!" The owl coughed fine crimson spray onto her quivering wing.
had been watching the wounded murderess for a while and was certain she
could not move. He crept towards her, stopping a few hops shy of her
hooked beak. "I am Fluffin, I am going to kill you, owl", the brown
rabbit stood as tall as he could and puffed out his chest. His
shoulders were barely the height of the owl's body laying down, but
Fluffin felt that under the circumstances he must still be very imposing
to the helpless beast.
This time the crimson spray
hit Fluffin square in the face as the owl let out a laugh that ended
with another strangled cough. "Oh little rabbit, why should you want to
kill me? What a good joke! I'm already nearly dead, and rabbits do
not eat owls. Though it would be just my luck today to meet one who
does!" A red rivulet ran from the tiny dark spot on the owl's neck.
"Please go away and let me die in peace, rabbit. I haven't much time
left and you've had your fun."
"I don't want to eat
you!" shouted Fluffin, his dander up. "You killed my sister! You
murdered her and so now I am going to murder you!" Fluffin hopped back
and forth menacingly, his tiny chest still puffed and his teeth bared.
sighed the owl, settling back down. "I am sorry for that, if it was me
and it may well have been. But you see", she continued, "I eat
rabbits. I spot a tuft of fur on the ground and I dive as fast as a
falling rock." The owl's eyes widened and her voice quickened with
pride. "With these powerful claws you see here," she clenched her
unbroken foot for Fluffin, "I grab my prey and then I beat my great
white wings until I'm soaring near the clouds! I am careful to kill
quickly, though, so you can rest assured that if it was I who ate your
sister she did not suffer. I am no sadist."
had been expecting an escalation of tempers and was confused by the
owl's almost pleasantly conversational response. The little brown
rabbit moved back a few hops to reevaluate. "You could have taken me
instead!", he finally burst out, eyes wide and wild. "You didn't have
to take her, she was smaller, surely I'd have been a better meal!"
now little rabbit I cannot remember you or your sister, but I promise
you this; if I took her it was because she was the easier prey. Now if
you'll permit me, I rarely have the opportunity to speak with your
kind. I'm near the end of my time and I am curious." The owl's voice
was barely above a whispery gasp, but it rang with the easy authority of
a victorious predator and her unblinking eyes gripped the young rabbit
as tightly as one of her gnarled claws might have. Fluffin found
himself nodding his assent.
"How is it that this one
particular meal of mine vexes you so? I have been alive for six summers
and I have killed once a day and sometimes more. I have eaten rabbits,
mice, even kittens. I have raised my young on carcasses and taught
them to hunt and kill to live when their time neared to leave me.
Through all of that, I never imagined I could cause such dismay." The
owl looked at Fluffin with what appeared to be genuine sadness.
felt softness rising in him but choked it down. "My sister was
different. She was no meal! She loved me, she looked after me, and I
looked after her. We belonged to each other and now, because of you,"
Fluffin's small voice broke here, "I am alone."
that, the rabbit sat heavily on a fallen limb, his fight had reached its
limit and was now as broken as his voice. Fluffin had been more sad
than angry, after all, though it's very easy to confuse the two.
Rabbits don't have much call to become talented with darker things like
rage and vengeance, and so those things were unfamiliar though tempting
territories for Fluffin.
A bitter quiet sank down around the rabbit and owl and filled the air between them.
"Today," began the owl in a
soft voice after the two had been sitting in silence for some time, "I
was carrying a succulent mouse to my babies when I was knocked from the
sky by a boy with a rock. He didn't want to eat me, or use me to feed
his young, or to wreak vengeance on me for some past slight. He didn't
want my mouse, and knew nothing of my nest and waiting children. And
now I am alone and will die, and my babies are alone and will also die.
You may kill me, if you like, rabbit. It will be quicker than waiting
and I will not heal."
Fluffin looked up slowly. The
owl's eyes were closed now and her breathing was more relaxed than it
had been. The snow white feathers around the hole in her neck were
matted with a deep and growing red dampness. The mighty claw she'd
flexed for him earlier lay limp, this powerful killing tool the owl had
taken such pride in now looked more like a little pile of arthritic
twigs. Fluffin felt smaller too. The shadows were getting longer and
the air was getting cooler. It was time to go.
"I am sorry but I cannot kill you," Fluffin answered. "I will leave you as I found you, because rabbits do not eat owls."