The Silence of the Rabbits

By Pete McArdle

Bernardo had always been a very naughty bunny, constantly biting his brothers, trying hard to hump his sisters, and sneaking into Farmer Brown's vegetable garden at every opportunity. His parents had told him and his siblings many frightening tales of what the farmer had done to careless rabbits, not only murdering them but skinning them, searing their flesh over a low flame and ultimately — gasp! — eating them. There was even a dark rumor that Farmer Brown had sewn several rabbit pelts together into a long, furry overcoat, which he wore outside when the weather turned frigid.

"The man's a stone-cold sociopath!" Uncle Ziggy liked to say, puffing on his briarwood pipe after dinner. Uncle Ziggy had lost a forepaw to a fox and was blind in one eye, an affect that gave great weight to his dour pronouncements. "I'll bet he secretly wants to be a rabbit, that's what I think."

But regardless of what Uncle Ziggy thought, Bernardo had a wild streak almost as long and as wide as the dun-colored stripe that ran from the top of his nose to the tip of his tail. In his short time on the planet, he'd developed quite the taste for danger, not to mention eggplant, beets, radishes and zucchini.

One fine spring morning, his amorous advances having been rejected by all seven of his sisters, Bernardo convinced his youngest brother, Billy, to go vegetable hunting with him. At first Billy was scared and hesitant to leave the safety of the forest — frankly, he was a bit of a mama's bunny — but Bernardo promised to keep him safe and plied him with tales of strawberries so deliciously ripe that the juice stained your snout bright red.

The two brothers hopped through the forest, slunk on their bellies through a wide field of alfalfa — their big round eyes scanning the sky for silent but deadly birds of prey — and finally came to the back fence of Farmer Brown's vegetable garden.

Farmer Brown was certainly one determined fellow, his wire-mesh fence was four-foot high and extended a full foot below the earth, the wooden support-posts anchored in concrete. But he'd clearly never encountered a rabbit quite as single-minded and cunning as Bernardo.

Bernardo had started his secret tunnel almost five feet from the fence, the entrance obscured by an old, low-hanging juniper. And after weeks of patient digging, whistling "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" as he worked, the industrious rabbit had emerged beneath the leaves of a huge rutabaga, the taproot undamaged and the tunnel opening well-hidden, exactly as planned. With his foolproof tunnel in place, Bernardo came and went as he pleased, careful to take only a single sample of any given vegetable and harvesting different combinations each time he visited. The little bunny was quite confident he was leaving no pattern whatsoever, nothing that would alert the farmer to his frequent depredations, and in this, he was correct.

However, as Bernardo and Billy went to work on some watercress, a motion-activated camera, installed only the day before, began tracking them. The brothers had just dug up a big, beautiful turnip when the back door to the farmhouse slammed open, and before Bernardo could thump out a warning, a large-caliber bullet blew Billy's brains out. Too shocked to even squeal, Bernardo lunged for the tunnel opening, a second bullet blasting the rutabaga to smithereens as the small bunny disappeared down the hole.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Hopkins household that night, although Bernardo's parents were not as broken up as he would have expected. They'd apparently been blessed with six new offspring that very morning and despite little Billy's awful demise, they did finish the day plus-five. But there was no consoling Bernardo, he couldn't eat, he couldn't poop, he even rejected his sister Patrice's thoughtful offer to mate with him.

He finally retreated to a small tunnel off the family room and there wept hot, bitter tears over poor Billy, how he'd led him into the Valley of Death and then utterly failed to protect him. Right now, thought Bernardo, my bro's probably floating in a stew pot with veggies, potatoes and a bay leaf or two. The horror! And while the meat slowly sloughs off his bones, that, that...human is adding Billy's fur to his latest winter coat, or maybe he's making a pair of ear muffs. Oh, the horror!

By morning, after a bleak, endless night of tossing and turning, Bernardo's grief had turned to rage, his normally soft big brown eyes were mere slits, his furry forepaws fists of fury. He was a rabbit on the edge, all teeth, claws and tail, and he was not afraid to use them. While nibbling on some partially-digested fecal pellets, Bernardo planned out his revenge.

* * *

The fateful day had finally arrived, all the arduous digging had been done, all the rehearsals had gone smoothly, and even the teensiest of details had been committed to memory. It was time to rock and roll.

Over lunch, Bernardo informed his family that he was leaving the warren, maybe for a little while, maybe forever. His sisters gave small shrieks of distress, his dad merely grunted from behind the sports pages, and his Mom said, "Honey, watch out for wolves!"

Bernardo stuck his nose out the exit hole, sniffed for predators and satisfied there were none nearby, hopped out into the lush underbrush of the ancient maple-and-fir forest. His long ears on high alert for the sound of ponderous paws, he hastened through the forest and fields, his little rabbit heart pounding double-time.

Upon entering Farmer Brown's garden, safely hidden behind a large head of broccoli, Bernardo steeled himself for battle. After sharpening his claws on a flat stone, he tore open a ripe tomato and painted war stripes on his forehead and cheeks. For just a moment the bunny's courage faltered, there was still time to turn back and give up this perilous quest. But then he remembered little Billy's head exploding, all the long sleepless nights he'd endured since that day and more recently, the obscene rabbit-fur fez he'd spied on Farmer Brown's head.

With a shrill, Lepidoraean whoop, Bernardo sprang into action, savagely tearing up an entire row of string beans then sitting still on his haunches, facing the farmhouse's back door. When Farmer Brown came tearing out the door, his AK-15 assault rifle at the ready, Bernardo began zig-zagging down rows of sweet corn and summer squash, bullets blasting great gouts of dirt into the air all about him. Catching his breath behind a large granite boulder, the beleaguered bunny heard the human's footfalls drawing closer, accompanied by the sound of a fresh clip being inserted and a steady stream of strident curses.

The farmer was now a couple yards off-course — to have his revenge, Bernardo would have to risk his life. He gulped hard and darted across the farmer's path, the loose soil tickling his belly as he dove into the pea patch. There was a quick belch of gunfire followed by a loud snapping noise — like tree branches breaking — and then a loud piteous howling that was music to Bernardo's ears. His plan had worked perfectly!

Peeking out from between the sweet peas, the rabbit saw Farmer Brown's head and shoulders protruding from the immense pit Bernardo had dug only inches below the earth's surface. And judging from his high-pitched ululations, both of the man's legs were broken, the depth of the hole had been more than sufficient. Between the farmer's grievous wounds and massive girth, there was no way he was leaving that hole.

Bernardo hopped over to where the assault rifle had fallen and kicked it farther away from Farmer Brown, just to be on the safe side. Then the triumphant bunny sat back and glared at his fallen adversary.

"I'll kill you, you goddamn filthy pest!" spat the fat, florid-faced farmer. "I'll skin you alive and then — "

A quick spray of bunny-rabbit urine silenced the apoplectic oaf.

That should teach him some manners, thought Bernardo, grinning smugly, or at the very least, teach him to breathe with his mouth closed.

Bernardo could have and probably should have left Farmer Brown to die a relatively quick death due to hypothermia and dehydration. But that would have been much too kind, especially after all the atrocities the man had committed against poor defenseless rabbits.

No, that simply would not do.

For almost a month after he'd trapped the blue-eyed, blue-jeaned monster, Bernardo kept the man's shoulders well-covered with pine boughs and brought him only vegetables with high water-content, lettuce, cucumbers, celery and such. And as the bunny grew fat on carrots, parsnips and yams, safe from every known predator save red-tailed hawks, he watched the bad man slowly and inexorably shrink, the skin hanging loose from his chin until one day, he simply stopped breathing.

* * *

Bernardo waited patiently until dark, a considerable risk with so many owls close by, and then he crept into the Hopkins family warren. He could hear all his relatives in the living room, grunting, squeaking and grinding their teeth, and Bernardo giggled imagining how surprised his family would be. Moving stealthily to the living room entrance, he suddenly pounced into their midst, roaring and shaking the terrible mask he'd made out of Farmer Brown's face.

"I'll kill you, you fucking varmints!" he bellowed, chuckling as every single rabbit fled the room, their tails raised high in sheer panic. The room now empty, Bernardo shrugged off the mask and rolled around the floor in hysterics, his left hindpaw thumping reflexively, a trail of pellets marking his progress.

It took several minutes before his parents, brothers and sisters slowly returned, some of them angry at Bernardo's shenanigans, some just relieved to find there was no danger. But all of them, to a bunny, were extremely proud that Bernardo had avenged his brother's death, even old Uncle Ziggy. He kept the Farmer Brown mask and to this very day, wears it out on Halloween. Between the mask and his missing limb, he's really quite the sight.

And Bernardo? Bernardo got a peck on the cheek from his mom, a "Well done, son," from his dad who was busy perusing the stock prices, and all the sex a young buck could ever want from his sisters, Alice, Janet and Samantha, and their hare-brained friend, Candi, who happened to be sleeping over that night. Like I said, Bernardo was a very naughty bunny!

Pete McArdle's been blessed with a beautiful wife, three wonderful kids and an active, if somewhat twisted, imagination. When not drilling teeth or trimming azaleas, Pete enjoys torturing words, especially adverbs. His work has somehow found its way into eighteen magazines, proving once and for all that there's simply no accounting for taste!

Four of the author's stories have previously been published on the omdb! website; "Bless Me, Father," "The Aged Avenger," "Leap of Faith," and "The Great Bear Provideth."

Copyright 2013 Pete McArdle. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.