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BECOMING COTTONTAIL • by Deven D Atkinson

I am exiled; shunned from the warren and left to scratch my own burrow into the hard clay and shale. It is my life. The lot has been cast. I had no say in the matter. For me it has always been so.

I was a sickly bunny, the only kit in my litter. Shunned by my generation’s kindle I became used to playing alone, eating alone and sleeping alone. My mother paid less attention to me than to my older siblings–long after she should have stopped mothering their litter. Some days she did not even feed me. My older siblings were taught how to smell danger and how to run the zig-zag. They were admitted into the main warren in full standing. I tried to participate in the lessons, but was ignored. And every time I entered the warren I was nosed back out. Burrow after burrow rejected me for being different. I smell wrong. I smell like I am not their kin. I never knew my father yet I know that I must smell like him. I am small and look sickly, but I am not. I am hard as rock. I can run faster than the wind blows.

The Cottontail did not object when I moved into her domain. She was old. That spring she had only one kit in her nest on the hard, cold ground. I did not judge. Just because cottontails do not dig warrens like decent rabbits does not make them evil. They do things differently, that’s all. I watched Old Cottontail and I learned a few things. It was better to sit still when the humans were around. They are both deaf and anosmic, or nearly so. Their eyes are better at catching movement than at discriminating a motionless rabbit from a patch of clover. Humans are fun to watch.

For the first time in my life another paid attention to me. A young buck cottontail now visits me when it suits him. The first time I saw him he sat impossibly still, staring at me. I stared back.

Suddenly, he charged.

Startled, I jumped straight up into the air and he passed beneath me. He could see I was quick and strong. His nuzzle was soft and remains so. I smell exotic to him. I am his almost-cottontail doe.

This spring I was gravid. Like Old Cottontail I built a form fitting nest on the hard, cold ground. Well, nearly so. I could not resist digging up the thin topsoil and a little bit of the hard packed clay and shale. When the kits came, I shed extra fur to keep them warm and dry. I fed them all, once a day, as I should. The rest of the time I sat munching clover with an eye always turned in the direction of my almost-burrow. I was afraid I would make the same mistakes my mother made. I have not.

Old Cottontail only had one kit this spring. A cold snap was more than the old lady could bear and she died while grazing a fortnight ago. Her kit, Young Cottontail, stayed so still that it took me two days to find her. I fed her once a day as well. I am young and strong and had enough milk to share without depriving my own.

Now my milk is gone, and the time for teaching the kits has arrived. This morning I coaxed Young Cottontail out of her nest. Nervously she sat as my kits inspected her from ear-tip to toenail. I showed them all how to smell danger. Young Cottontail ran the zig-zag as  well as the rest and I am proud. They are all strong as rocks and can outrun the cool summer breeze that blows in from the west. They are a strong kindle, and they look after one another while they nibble on new dandelion leaves and white clover.

This evening when the moon is gone I am going to take them into the humans’ area and let them sample the fresh sweet shoots of corn. They have worked hard at their lessons and deserve a reward.

This is my life. The lot has been cast. I am becoming cottontail and I would not change it even if I could.


Deven D Atkinson is a computer programmer living in rural Southern Ohio. Besides appearances at Every Day Fiction he has a story in “The Infinity Swords” anthology to be published by Carnivah House.

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BECOMING COTTONTAIL • by Deven D Atkinson, 3.8 out of 5 based on 40 ratings
Posted on September 11, 2008 in Inspirational, Stories
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  • K.C. Ball

    Lovely story. Well and tightly written. I gave it a five.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    “Shunned by my generation’s kindle I became used to playing alone, eating alone and sleeping alone”.

    That doesn’t work with rabbits. Their digestion relies on passing vegetation through their guts twice. The first time it comes out as pellets in their burrows, and then they eat it again after microbes have broken it down further. So, rabbits need access to where the pellets are dropped. An isolated rabbit wouldn’t survive; if it tried to store up its own pellets, the other rabbits would find and eat them. The only way to cope is to be able to eat other rabbits’ pellets so it all evens out.

  • Kathleen

    I liked this story. Well written. Don’t know enough about rabbits to know if they can survive or not. I just liked the way it was written.

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ Oonah V Joslin

    I was just going ‘Aw, sweet’ when I read the comments. Maybe I won’t read the comments anymore – just the story. If we refused to suspend disbelief every time we read a story, there would be no stories. But I was interested to know more about the digestive system of the rabbit.

    Having said that, Aw, sweet :)

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks for the comments, KC and Kathleen!

    PM, Good point. The protagonist is ignored-alone not isolated-alone, and I did not want to get technical as some people would be grossed out by rabbits eating cecotropes for breakfast. I haven’t asked her, but I bet the protagonist coped by eating hers before anyone else could steal them. Delving into the science of it all spoils the modern fable theme I was looking for.
    But I can see where I could have done a better job at dealing with the issue of being lonely. Thank-you very much for your comment!
    I am very curious what other rabbit people think.

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks, Oonah!
    Perhaps it would be a good idea that sensitive folks should wait to look up rabbit eating habits and specifically cecotropes until they are not eating their own breakfest, or lunch… lol.

  • http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/ Sarah Hilary

    I’m not a rabbit person, Deven. Regardless, I enjoyed this. It felt rich in analogy.

    “If we refused to suspend disbelief every time we read a story, there would be no stories.”

    Brava, Oonah!

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    I absolutely loved this story! It’s one of my favorites here in quite a while. I gave it 5 stars. Thanks for sharing it!

    And, I don’t know anything about rabbit digestion, but I believe that nature finds a way. Maybe the narrator and the lonely cotton tail could share pellets. :-)

  • Fionnuala

    I know nothing about rabbits, their eating habits or their digestive tracts. Nor do I care. I do think this was a clever story, more about seclusion, loneliness, parenting and loss than anything else. Well done.

  • http://canyonsofgray.blogspot.com dj barber

    Great voice and flow, Deven. Love the classic fable style.
    Here’s to ‘suspending belief’ as well.

    –dj

  • Lois McShane

    I enjoyed this story – many facets and a strong, wise voice. Great work!

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Really good story, which says a lot about aloneness, perhaps not accurate about rabbits’ eating habits… but let’s take a poll – Do we have any rabbits in the audience tonight? No, then perhaps this little glitch doesn’t matter as it won’t offend too many rabbits.

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks, Sarah, Erin, Fionnuala, dj and Lois.
    The voice of this one is something I am extremely proud about. If only I could replicate this with everything I write… (sigh).

  • http://www.ekentrada.com E.K. Entrada

    Very original. Thanks.

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks, Avis and E.K.!

  • http://www.rumjhumbiswas.com rumjhum

    Apart from the fact that I am a rabbit person (humans who have lived with lagomorphs know how intelligent and loving they can be, apart from being utterly adorable) this story really appealed to me for the strong emotions and lucid structure. Thanks a lot for this story Deven. :-)

  • http://afburns.wordpress.com/ Alexander Burns

    This is excellent! I’m amazed when someone can write little epics like this in so short a span.

  • http://www.shamelesscreations.com Kevin Shamel

    Really good, Deven. Spans emotions and tells a great story. Thank you.

  • http://msherlock.blogspot.com M.Sherlock

    good

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Unfortunately, “I bet the protagonist coped by eating hers [pellets] before anyone else could steal them” doesn’t work; they have to be given enough time to ripen so the microbes can do their thing.

    Guinea pigs do the same thing, incidentally. I have sometimes wondered if human beings could handle generic vegetation if we did an artificial version of the first stage – macerate, soak, heat, blend with a starter culture, dry and pelletise, then wait.

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks you all for the kind comments. It has been a fun day for me. Thanks!

    P.M. – While I could get into a discussion about hind-gut/cecum fermentation that some rabbits use, I don’t think it would be–productive.
    I wrote a modern fable. The “alone” in the story was a description to evoke loneliness, not to specify isolation.
    When this story was accepted I feared that people would be upset about the theme. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be taken to task over rabbit droppings.
    It has been an interesting discussion. Thanks for that.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    At least I imparted a little more wonder.

    BTW, I once heard of a shop that displayed the sign: “Watership Down: you’ve read the book, you’ve seen the film, now try the pie”.

  • Celeste goschen

    A hard perspective to write – through the eyes of an animal – and you pulled it off. I loved it.

  • http://www.stevegoble.com/blog Steve Goble

    All rabbit-habit debates aside, I like this one a lot. Nicely done, Deven.

  • Robert Orme

    Not much to add… an epic, emotional story that you have fit into a very short space without anything feeling glossed over or rushed. The simple, straightforward narrative style works very well. Only problem? The title made me think that this was supposed to be the origin of Peter Cottontail. Anyways, very nice work Deven.

  • http://blogtiderising.wordpress.com Deven

    Thanks, Robert (and Steve and Celeste and everyone else).

    Perhaps the narrator will someday have a precocious kit named Peter…
    I’ll make no excuses, though. I struggle with titles. I hope that I get better at selecting them as I improve as a writer. Constructive comments like these only help me to learn.

  • Mary

    I really enjoyed this little story. In fact, I may go home and read it to my eight year old daughter. I’m sure she’d love it as well.

    Right away, the writer made the reader feel sympathy for the character. Who hasn’t felt alone? I loved the descriptions as well. Very well done.

  • http://www.theshinejournal.com Pamela Tyree Griffin

    Loved this story-what rabbits can or cannot do is no consequence. It’s the author’s world and it doesn;t have to be perfectly or biologically true.

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