So, I had to go and pick the hardest title on the list. I couldn’t go with something that would write itself, I had to be a smartass. Well, here it is, I don’t know. The best I could do with a difficult title…
The Living House’s Rabbit
Roscoe bays first. He always does. The brambles shake with his excitement. A white tail in the brush thrashes. The other dogs sprint to him from all around, diving into the thicket lest they miss any action. Now Molly and Jet have the scent too.
I don’t see this rabbit, but I can tell by the dogs that it’s on the move. They cross the stream, choked with trash where some asshole used this place as a dump. I can see the dogs sprinting along the washed out road, and I know where that rabbit went. I’ve hunted this place a thousand times. No two chases are the same, but once the rabbits hit that road it always ends the same way.
Crossing the stream I notice that crawfish and minnows don’t seem to mind the old refrigerator or the tires. To them, it’s just convenient cover. Maybe trash isn’t trash to nature, only to humans. Creatures of the woods figure their own things out.
Twisting through the brambles, shotgun over my head to avoid scratching the stock, I come out on the road. It’s washed out on one side badly enough that a portion of the stream trickles along it in the rut. One track is still solid, though, and I follow it, listening to the dogs.
They’re at the house.
The rabbits always go to the house from this road. It’s a beacon to them, almost a guarantee of survival with the pack nipping at a tuft of cottony tail. I haven’t ever killed one once they get to the house; the best I can hope to do is head them off beforehand.
I cross the stream again and the house comes into view through the woods. My grandmother’s grandfather built this house in the 1860’s. The metal roof still keeps it dry, and the shingles still keep the walls watertight where they are still attached. Many have fallen off, though, and lay scattered like oak leaves around the base of a tree. Each time I return, I see that another one, or two, or three, has fallen off. One of the bricks has fallen out of the chimney since I was here last. Empty windows look out into a meadow to the north, and woods to the south.
The dogs are sniffing around the rotten porch, yelping and howling their disapproval. They know it’s nearby. They can smell it. They feel it.
Mollie slips under the porch through a hole chewed out years ago by rodents. Man isn’t the only creature that builds and changes the landscape for future generations.
The doors are long gone, just empty gaps in the walls. Surprisingly, the floors are still in good shape despite years of rain coming through windows and doors. Vines choke the chimney, seeking the promise of light at the top.
Underneath the floor, I hear the beagles. Sniffing, scratching, whining for something I know they’ll never get. Groundhogs have dug holes under the house, perfect for rabbits to use in escape of their pursuers. It’s O.K. though, the woods are full of rabbits. I sit on the bottom step in the kitchen. One of my favorite spots in the world. My grandmother is a child again, warming her hands in front of the hearth. The cooking stove glows. The pantry shelves stocked with jars of preserves, damsons and strawberry and blackberry. A pie on the table. People I don’t know go about the daily business of living a simpler life. A harder life. The walls weren’t insulated. The doors weren’t sealed. How did they get through a winter in this icebox?
I don’t know how long I sit on the steps. When I come out of the dream the beagles are gone, looking for another rabbit. They’ve already given up on this one. I don’t blame them. I’m sure they remember this house too. It takes care of its rabbits.
The front yard still, even after almost 80 years of abandonment, looks domestic. The flower beds still explode with buttercups and lilies every spring. An old tire still twists gently at the end of a hempen rope. My grandmother, and her mother before that, played here. Time, it seems, has infinite weight. I find myself missing family I never met.
The rabbit sticks its head out from under the porch, tentatively twitching its nose for danger. Sniffing none, it hops out. One hop, then two. Eyes, ears, and nose electric, ready at the first hint of danger to bolt back to safety. Detecting none, it nibbles at the edge of the flower bed. It would be an easy shot from here, but I don’t raise the gun. I laugh to myself with the realization that I don’t want the shot hitting the house. It shouldn’t matter. But the house is somehow living, keeping memories alive from a time that nobody remembers. If this living house wants to protect its rabbits, who am I to take them away?
I wonder what my great-great grandfather would think about this. A fat rabbit in front of me. Me not shooting it because of a ruin that he built over 150 years ago. “My progeny is an idiot,” he would probably say, I know that my grandmother would. I’ll bet they never passed up on a free rabbit. But the house is pleased, and it’s all that’s left of any of them.