There was once a wolf and two rabbits. The wolf killed the rabbits.
Now let me tell you the story again.
In a place imagined by imagination there was a mountain on which grew vegetation so rich it ran like husks of dense green fur in the summer and remained browned and stubborn in the winter. On this mountain there lived two rabbits and a wolf.
The two rabbits were white save for a sandstone brown spot between their eyes. Twins were these two rabbits, and large. Each was as large as three rabbits their normal size. Neither spoke, not even in their own rabbit language. They communicated in their own special way and had since birth and too-soon abandonment. The rabbits felt safe in their size and private thoughts. They did not know they shared the smooth-ridged mountain with a wolf.
The wolf knew only hunger. Hunger and survival, which have always been, for all things created, one and the same. If the rabbits were large, the wolf was enormous. If the rabbits were content, the wolf was kinetic, never fulfilled. The wolf was a gray black speckled animal wrapped in muscle tone. Round thick veins ran the length of its legs and its claws were the size of lumber nails and black as a spider’s eye. Let’s go back to that day on that mountain with the two rabbits and the wolf.
For a long and peaceful period, the rabbits were unaware the wolf shared any part of the world with them. They grazed and sat in the sun and slept and rested well through the night. It was for the rabbits as it is for most of us, living without the knowledge that some kind of death, an end, is never more than an elbow’s length away.
During all this time the wolf was fully aware of the rabbits, but could do nothing about it. He stalked and wandered and crept all through nightfall, though nightfall was not his usual preference, so that by the time the rabbits awoke he was very tired. He slept through the day, sometimes even skipping the small and few meals he could manage and grew hungrier. One night while roaming the mountain in search of the rabbits, angry that he had slept through another day, it occurred to the wolf that hunting at night was not the way to catch the rabbits. If he was to catch them, it would have to be in the daylight.
Hunting during the night, in the first place, went against everything the wolf had ever been taught about finding food. His father, a massive gray, relied entirely on the cover of night for rest, something the wolf always accepted as the means typical to all wolves. If there was another reason for the day hunting, there was no an explanation. But an uneasiness befell the wolf so that even thinking of the sun resting in the sky gave him a terrible hollowness in his chest. A total strangeness he couldn’t begin to explain but had to work through somehow.
He decided to begin just as the sun had started lighting the sky into a watered blue veil and while the stars were still visible, a way of easing into it. As the wolf began his slow motion walk through brush and foliage he nearly laughed as the realization of his fears came into full view. He, a wolf, a predator among predators, was very simply scared to hunt in daylight. Until that moment he had no cause to ever question this oddity, having never had the need to hunt at any time other than at night. Now, facing his strangeness, it couldn’t have seemed more laughable. What was there to worry about? It wasn’t the thought of losing his prey or the hunt becoming harder in the daylight. The sun was not a magic sphere held up by the clouds until the instant he was beneath it so it could be dropped across his slinking body. No, there was no sense to any of this.
The wolf had lost his sense of purpose. Stalking for more than three hours across all the ridges of the mountain his every thought had been of his fear, the strange aversion to daylight hours for hunting, losing sight entirely of the two rabbits. Stubbornly, the wolf stopped along a natural shelf situated just beneath a fine and wide cave and twisted his neck, shaking loose the old thoughts, tugging with his front paws at the tip of his nose, generally hoping to shock himself out of his line of thought. Replacing all he was purging, the wolf pushed and pushed an image of the first time he spotted the rabbits, fat and plump, hovering together nibbling grass. Wide-eyed and shallow breathing, he remembered. He pushed the image and pushed.
But what the wolf did not know was that the rabbits had enchanted him. Could, in fact, enchant more or less anything in any way they chose. The enchantment worked to make the wolf afraid of sunlight, a basic, formless fear and discomfort. It crossed their minds to finish the wolf off and do the same for moonlight, but cruelty never sat well with the rabbits. They were every bit the timid creatures one would expect, hardly ever using their abilities. Certainly not for anything remotely as devious as the spell cast on the wolf.
But it was a matter of survival. And for that, the rabbits would do almost anything.
So it was unknown to the wolf that no matter how much he writhed and turned and shook that his fear of the sunlight could not abate. He could no more overcome this secret enchantment than he could have pulled down night like a curtain. After failing on the third day to remain outside the cave by the natural shelf, the place he had made his new home, hoping the change would throw the rabbits off, the wolf gave into his hunger. Unable to find the rabbits or any other living thing in his state, he began to pick with a single tooth the skin along his left front leg. It began as a small habit, but once he had picked enough a small bubble of blood welled up, soaking through the skin and matting the hair. Absently, without much thought, the wolf licked the small wound and the taste of copper rushed across his taste buds, his mouth pulled back in a snarl, and he let loose a great howl, one word clanging through his head.
What followed actually gave the rabbits pause, nearly had them rethink their means of surviving the wolf. It was, again, the cruelty that sat heavily on their fast-beating hearts. The wolf had eaten most of its two front legs. The rabbits watched it from the safety of their hidden place in the early evenings, just after sunset. Using its back legs to kick itself forward, and with its head turned sideways, the wolf inched itself along the ground. Occasionally, a spinning spider or a series of lightning bugs would come close enough so that the wolf could lunge and catch these in his teeth. A fat moth was a treat. But it did nothing to stave off his aching stomach. And so he ate of himself, a little more each day and justified it to himself in whatever way animals can when such darkness overtakes them.
But, as I’ve said, the wolf gets his two rabbits.
Secretly, one of the two rabbits, by very small degrees the smaller of the two, had completely changed its mind about what they were doing to the wolf. He wanted nothing more to do with it and so went about the task of reversing his part of the enchantment. Somewhere in the recesses of his rabbit mind there was a plan to move off the mountain and away from the wolf and his brother rabbit and all the rest.
So, on what was to be the last night of his or his brother’s life, the smaller rabbit, instead of sleeping, made his way back to the highest point of the mountain, the place, the only place, where they could make their charms work. The moon was all the beautiful and scary and mystical things the moon can be in a sky so dark and when so full and sharp, hanging above in cold silence to witness the smaller rabbit climb the small stone perched at the mountain’s top.
The moon did that, watched events, calculated them, studied them, and people and animals. In all this place there was none more curious than the moon, but none more incapable of doing anything at all about the things it witnessed. Its influence, beyond the tides, was hardly worth mentioning. But there was one significant use the moon served. The rabbits learned at some point along the way since forgotten that the moon was essential for casting spells, enchanting both people and other animals. It was unclear as to whether or not this was something only they could do or if the moon unknowingly aided anyone or anything fortunate enough to stumble across its harnessing, quiet power.
On this last night, the moon seemed so large, so fat and crisp, it might have been cupped in a spider’s web fixed to each corner of the galaxy and a mere few feet away. The rabbit raised his ears to listen, stilled its tiny heart to better feel, and began to reverse his spell. When finished, the moon and the starless black sky had not changed. There was no indication whatsoever that even one thing had been altered at all. But there was a shift to the air, a dropping of the breeze that had been pushing the tree limbs around and scuffing the forested contours of the mountain. Atop the stone, the smaller rabbit could feel the minerals and granite insides begin to warm under his feet, could sense the humming like static after a lightning storm, and knew the wolf would be freed.
Of course when the larger rabbit learned of his brother’s change of heart, he was outraged. The two of them stood in their favorite patch of greens and the smaller rabbit confessed between mouthfuls. He did so quickly, as if the words were thorns removed in a flinch to avoid prolonging the pain. Without replying, though, the larger rabbit darted up the mountain, weaving in and out of their regular path, improving his chance of making it to safety, he thought, before the wolf, surely nearby, had the chance devour him whole.
His brother’s hasty reaction surprised the smaller rabbit and he became stunned in the way rabbits can often appear in the wild. Statue-like, the smaller rabbit sniffed the air with fast twitches of his nose until he caught the wolf’s earthy and bloody scent. He would live another seventeen seconds before the wolf tore open his throat. It’s possible the last thing the small rabbit imagined was that better place off the mountain where he could live peacefully and to himself, at rest. But it’s just as possible he thought of nothing but pain, panicking beyond control, his body in total nothing more than a spasm held tightly between teeth.
Reversing the enchantment had restored the wolf, you see, made him whole again and fueled by a golden fire that set his veins ablaze so that he pounced the moment he saw the rabbit, wrenching him so violently his maw and face was fully coated in blood and mats of fur before the rabbit’s heart had beat its last. Quaking with energy, the wolf howled as if his throat had burst and exploded up the mountainside, the scent of the larger rabbit thick in his snout.
What is left to say? The wolf catches the second rabbit. It may have cornered it in a grove of fir trees. It could possibly have tracked it back to the cave by the natural shelf or even followed it and lay out his attack on the mountain’s top, the birthplace of his old enchantment. It isn’t fully known. What is known is that he caught the second rabbit, eventually. Surely he must have. The rabbit was only one rabbit and the wolf, after all, was a wolf.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books, most recently the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His stories can be found in PANK, New World Writing, Five 2 One Magazine, WhiskeyPaper, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere. He was cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016.