The rabbit is on alert. Nose flicking, eyes darting. Waiting. She was raised that way, to be hypervigilant, to trust nothing. She knows if the fox catches her, it’ll be because she wasn’t witty enough to evade it.
She hops to the edge of the tall weeds. The mat of vibrant grass shimmers with beads of dew, barely out of her reach and oh so tempting. Foxes lurk nearby. She knows where they peek at her from a distance in their quiet dens. In them, she sees a fully formed being, a force, an alpha at the top of the pyramid. In her, they see nothing but consumption.
Steeling her constitution, she hops toward the grass, not straying too far from the places she feels safe. That wouldn’t be wise. A brief elation takes control as the threads of nourishing greens slide down her throat. For a moment, she is calm. What if it was like this all the time? What if she could enjoy grazing in peace and not hiding in the shadows?
A rustle cracks the tranquility. Her ears flicker forward. She freezes. She’s gone too far. Just as she was warned not to. Cursing herself, she bolts for the weeds when a fox leaps into her path.
The fox’s tongue laps across his nose. “Why were you running so fast, little rabbit?” he says.
Her heart jackhammers against her ribs. “Just out for a bite and nothing more. I really should be going now.”
He exposes his teeth with a laugh, gleaming white and pointed. “Don’t be so nervous. You worry too much.”
The thicket is six hops away, but his legs are longer and stronger. She’ll never make it. Inside the waving weeds is safety from which she never should’ve left. The fox creeps closer, head turned in curious wonder.
“Is something wrong?” the fox asks.
No! the little rabbit wants to scream. She fears no predators. This is her turf, her rightful place to exist in peace. She settles her lungs and raging heart and declines to answer. In the fox’s ears, her lack of response is consent.
The fox circles her slowly. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d do something to you. Why, not all foxes are this way. Some of us can be quite upstanding.”
Little rabbit is perplexed. Maybe she should put her faith in the fox. After all, he hasn’t lunged at her yet, sunken his fangs into her side.
From the left, a brown rabbit scampers in to view. An ally. A friend. The fox seems to know her, too.
“I hope you’re not bothering her,” says the brown rabbit to the fox. She’s confident. It catches the little rabbit by surprise.
“No, of course not.” The fox sniffs the air. “I would never. I’m friends with many rabbits. All the rabbits.” He cuts the distance between himself and the little rabbit, scraping a paw against the ground.
The brown rabbit takes a few declarative hops forward. “I’ve always known you to be an honest and genuine creature. Stop fretting, little bunny. There’s nothing to fear at all.”
But the little rabbit cannot relax. She should run. She should hide. She can’t decide how to act, paralyzed, only her wiggling nose giving an indication of life.
“I’m so glad you see my side of things.” The fox noses at the little rabbit’s neck. “It’s hard when everyone assumes the worst in us. We’re a principled lot. We want fairness for every creature in these fields.”
The little rabbit finds herself between the fox’s lean legs. This fairness he speaks of doesn’t extend to her kind. It never has. He inhales the fur on her back. Hunger glistens on the rims of his muzzle.
“Help me,” little rabbit whispers to her fellow bunny. “Please.”
The brown rabbit thinks for a beat, then says, “I just don’t see any evidence that this fox will harm you.”
Her fur separates as the fox snorts in it. “But he’s–”
“Assuming the worst doesn’t help anyone. See? He’s not done anything to me.” The brown rabbit shakes her spine in the periphery of the fox’s attention. “Maybe you shouldn’t have been out here all alone. It’s dangerous.”
The little rabbit protests, “Yes, but you–”
“Always so quick to judge, little bunny. It’s not productive,” retorts the brown rabbit.
The fox opens his narrow jaw. The point of his imposing incisor sweeps against her throat.
“He’s about to hurt me,” little rabbit pleads. “Surely you can see this.”
The brown rabbit assesses. “You’re overreacting.”
A tooth pierces through her flesh. She squeaks in pain. “Can you see it now?”
“Well…” the brown rabbit considers the situation. “Foxes will be foxes.”
The little rabbit yelps in terror as the pressure of his jaw bears down. She struggles against his capture, but it’s too late. In the last grains of consciousness, as the world fades to black, the little rabbit hears her fellow bun say, “It’s a shame. But there’s just nothing you can do about it.”
“Thank you for understanding,” the fox says, smacking his lips in delight.
When the worst is over, the brown rabbit feels validated in her stance. Until the fox rears his bloody jowls and his yellow eyes fix on her. And that night, the fox had two bunnies for supper.