Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fluffin and the Fish

Fluffin stretched his legs and wriggled his long toes in the cool riverbank muck.  He would go no deeper here, he knew that the current in the river proper was far too fast and strong.  Rabbits are fair swimmers and like most furry forest animals they enjoy a dip in warm weather.  Despite an enthusiasm for swimming, a rabbit's small hands and narrow feet make poor paddles.  And so Fluffin knew better than to try his luck in the quick river even on the hottest day.

Luckily for Fluffin, the river itself was not the only option.  The remains of a beaver dam had created a small sheltered eddying pool that was the perfect depth for a rabbit bath.  Grainy silt had swirled around the downriver portion to form a soft rounded rim over which fresh cool water continuously lapped.  The resulting small basin was protected from the current on the upriver side by a tangle of branches and thickly packed mud.  The old beaver dam had been as formidable a piece of architecture as could be found in the forest at one time.  It was only through seasons of abandonment that the dam's center had succumbed to the steady press of the river.  Fluffin and a host of birds, frogs, and other small critters had been utilizing the cozy little whirlpool all summer long.

Fluffin had just waded in waist deep and was busy picking panicked fleas from his belly when a firm wet slap sent him spiraling under with a splash.  Rabbits aren't fighters.  Like most furred vegetarians, they startle easily, run first and fast, and only pause to consider the threat when they are well and truly away.  Fluffin shot out of the water like a rocket and it wasn't until he had beaten a wet path to the edge of the clearing that the sopping bunny risked a backwards glance.

The small pool was roiling and boiling, great splashes popping up and slapping back down into the churning brown mess.  This went on for a few moments as the curious rabbit watched, but then there was calm.  Fluffin's sharp eyes spotted the culprit of this chaos.  A heaving black fish with long shining whiskers around its mouth occupied the center of his bath, inky lidless eyes flashed just above the troubled surface.

A fish!  Only a fish.  Fluffin looked sheepishly at the wet trampled grass that marked his hasty escape.  Still, as his mother constantly reminded him, better to be fast than food.

"Say there, uh, fish, you've smacked me in the face", Fluffin called out, "And that is my pond you're in", he added a little more boldly.

The fish's voice came out thick and muddy but haughty, "Well I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be, I belong in the open sea", Fluffin looked doubtfully at the small river but the fish continued without pause, "It is poor luck and treachery that bring me to this... wooded burgh, I assume you are the owner of this area?"  The fish groaned and gurgled and rolled his wide head and one fin back and forth in a way that vaguely indicated the immediate clearing.

"Oh I don't own the..." began Fluffin, but not quickly enough.

"Of course you wouldn't own the entirety of the woods or river, the woods are far too large for a young animal such as yourself to hold sway over effectively, and this river, as you must know, goes to the sea and the sea is never the domain of furred creatures", the fish carefully rolled his r's, "But you did mention that this puddle was yours, did you not?"

"Well, yes, but not..."

This time the interruption came not from the fish, but from a fat marbled tabby who had managed to approach the frustrated rabbit and chatty fish unnoticed.

"You going to eat that?", inquired the cat with a purr, the fish frantically splashed to the far end of the shallow pool, his thick tail and sides twitching just under the muddy water.  Fluffin opened his mouth to respond but closed it quickly as the fish had yet again beaten him.

"Of course not, cat, everyone knows rabbits do not eat fish, and if this small thing were to try and eat me he'd get a taste of my razor sharp barbs and soon think better of it!"  With this the fish wriggled his thick neck and head and his long whiskers waved lazily under the water's surface.

"Oh, well if you're not going to eat him," the cat blithely ignored the fish and responded directly to Fluffin, "I will.  If you'll fetch him for me, as I cannot get wet, I'll let you eat from my farmer's garden.  Plenty of delectable treats there for a rabbit like yourself, don't be foolish, let's have this done."

"Fetch me?  I dare say he shall not!  See here, bunny, if you help me escape this accursed bath, I will bring you treasures the likes of which you've never imagined!  There is a whole world of wonders to behold in my home, the sea!"  The fish managed to spit out the word "bath" in a way that was vaguely offensive to Fluffin, though he couldn't quite understand why.

"I don't have all day", chided the cat, "my farmer grows carrots and celery and lettuce, horrible to taste though I enjoy rubbing against them," the cat paused to leisurely lick a chubby paw before going on, "I've drawn blood from more than a few rabbits who were fond enough of our crops to risk my claws for a nibble, I'm certain it would be a good trade for you.  A fish you cannot eat for a feast."

"What kind of treasures, fish?", asked Fluffin, stepping into the pond.

"Oh rabbit", said the fish, more animated than ever, "You cannot even begin to guess at what treasures lay at the tips of my fins were I able to leave your confining and yet very comfortable pond!"  The fish's tone had warmed somewhat.

Fluffin had been wanting to give his mother a present, and it would be very impressive if he returned to the burrows laden with unimaginable treasures and wonders from the great open sea.  Fluffin wondered what a treasure or a wonder looked like, and thought today he would find out.

The little rabbit fluffed his chest and made his announcement.  "I will help you escape, fish!"  The cat shrugged, stretched, and strolled away into the forest without a word.

"You will not regret this, brave and kind rabbit, may I have the pleasure of your name?  You are the smartest and most wise creature it has ever been my great and profound good fortune to meet!"

"Fluffin", grunted the rabbit as he struggled to push the heavy fish over the basin's sandy rim and into the deep river current.

"You'll have to pull me, use my whiskers, and I'll be over in no time!", suggested the fish helpfully.  This seemed practical to Fluffin, he positioned himself on the rim and gripped the slippery black tendrils in his small paws.

It worked!  In a flash, the fish's body was atop the rim and ready to slide down into the fast moving water on the other side.  With a wide grin and a flick of his strong tail, the fish shot past Fluffin, who unfortunately still held a barbed tendril in one paw.  The little rabbit was jerked in with a splash and tumbled head over tail along the rocky floor of the quick river, trying and failing to get purchase with his paws on either the bottom or the surface that shimmered tauntingly above.  It wasn't until the nearly drowned Fluffin was swept round a bend that he was buffeted against the bank and able to grab onto a reed.

The haughty fish was nowhere to be seen.  Fluffin climbed onto the bank and collapsed in a panting wet heap.  Again, the rabbit didn't notice the cat's quiet approach until it lay stretched out beside him.  "So how was the treasure?  Was it unimaginable?", asked the cat, grinning.

"I'm sorry we couldn't make the trade, cat.  I'm sure the fish will be back with his portion of the bargain we struck,"  Fluffin looked up and down the river anxiously, "he was very enthusiastic about his offer, after all, and I'm certain he must have been in a very big hurry to get to the sea and collect my reward or else of course he would have helped when I fell in."

"Oh of course, of course," purred the cat.  "Don't worry about me, rabbit, one meal is as good as the next.  I ate a few baby birds.  I don't mind waiting with you, I'm anxious myself to see your prize."

It wasn't until the shadows from the trees on the far side of the river stretched across to lay their chill on the pair that the cat suggested what they both were thinking.

"Little rabbit, it looks like the fish might not be coming back with your reward."

Fluffin hopped to the bank and sent his powerful rabbit sight up and down the river as he had done repeatedly in the hours previous.  "But why would he offer those things?", he lamented woefully, and not for the first time.   "I didn't ask for unimaginable wonders and treasures, the fish set the terms himself.  If he had only asked for help and offered nothing, I'd have given it."

"Well", suggested the cat in an uncharacteristically kind voice, as he'd grown fond of the rabbit, "How could the fish be sure of your help?  If you'd no intention of paying and your life hung in the balance, what might you offer?"

"I suppose," responded Fluffin, somewhat soothed.  "That doesn't explain why he swam away after I fell in the river."

"Oh," replied the cat.  "That one is easy.  He's a dick."