The sun was setting over the field and Sycamore made his way to a small spinney in one corner, stopping on occasion to perk his long, furry ears up, and to feel the warm summer air playing on his long whiskers, whilst he sniffed the evening breeze. All clear! He entered the trees and heard the quiet guttural calls of his mother. He found her in a depression in a bed of moss with his two brothers and sister in attendance.
“Sycamore, what took you so long?”
He’d fallen asleep after feasting on a pile of carrots he’d chanced upon. “Sorry, mother, I thought I smelled a fox, and lay low for a while.”
“Hmm. Well, anyway, you may now all suckle from me.” She stretched out on the moss, exposing her belly and four enlarged nipples, which the leverets quickly latched onto.
Sycamore was in heaven as he drank the warm, sweet milk, feeling his mother’s warmth and his siblings’ closeness.
When they had finished, their mother lapped up any urine they had expelled, so as to cover their tracks. Then her voice became serious. “Now the moon has gone through one cycle, it is time to make your own way in life. I will no longer be here to suckle you, and you must continue to wean on the fruits of the woods and farmers’ fields.”
“But will we still see you, mother?” asked Blackberry, Sycamore’s brother, with a tear in his eye.
“Yes, son, I will still frequent the same woods and fields, but it will only be a few moon-cycles before you will father leverets of your own. And just a few more before Bluebell, your sister, gives birth to her first litter.”
“How exactly does that happen?” asked Sycamore, bemused.
“You will find out son, never fear!”
An older hare lolloped onto the moss. His coat had many curls and grizzled areas.
Mother cleared her throat. “Now, I want to introduce someone to you. This is Uncle Ditch.”
“Hello young ‘uns, well, you have all grown so much this past moon-cycle that you are now free to go further afield. I will stay close but never wander more than two fields from me. If you get lost, then I will come to this spot at sunfall. Meet me here.”
The young hares nodded, feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
“Now, you know about foxes, owls and eagles, and man, with his fire-sticks, traps and poisons. But I need to warn you of one further thing.”
“What’s that?” chirped up Hedgerow, the other brother.
“Patience, Hedgerow!” laughed Uncle Ditch. “Well, you’ve seen a slow-machine, something that moves around the fields on its own with a man in it, turning the earth with a lot of noise?”
“Yes,” they all answered.
“Well, beyond these fields lies a track, made by man from something black and hard. From time to time a machine will come along, much faster than the slow-machine, and at night, with two huge glaring golden eyes, bigger even than the eyes of the biggest owl in the forest! And how they shine!”
Sycamore felt a shiver pass through his fur. “Will they attack us?”
“No, but if you see one, you must run. Run as fast as you can, faster than the wind, faster than the clouds that scud across the sky on a stormy night! And pray to the Great Hare for deliverance!”
Just then a young buck hare appeared.
“Greetings Juniper,” said Uncle Ditch.
Juniper bowed. “Uncle Ditch, I have terrible news. Chestnut, he … he’s gone to the Great Meadow in the Sky.” He began to cry.
Sycamore felt his eyes watering, even though he had never met Chestnut.
“What happened?” asked Uncle Ditch.
“He was on the black track when a fast-machine came along with its golden eyes blazing. He ran and he ran and he ran, but it caught him. He was mortally wounded. There was nothing I could do to save him.”
“His soul will go the Great Meadow, and his flesh will feed the crows,” said Uncle Ditch sadly.
Sycamore piped up, “If we hares cannot outrun these fast-machines, then why do we even try. Why don’t we run away and hide until they’ve passed? … Ow!” he exclaimed, as his mother whacked him around the head.
“How dare you question Uncle Ditch and the wisdom of our kind!” she scolded. “You will do as you are told!”
Sycamore felt all eyes on him. He felt indignant but acquiesced. “Yes, mother, sorry.”
But as the meeting wound to a close he told himself that he would never try to outrun something that could go faster than him and would never get tired. Where was the sense in that?
By running and hiding until the fast-machines had passed, Sycamore lived to a ripe old age. But eventually the time came, as it does for us all, for his soul to leave the old, faithful body that had fathered many, many leverets, and to pass on to the Great Meadow in the Sky. There, he was overjoyed to become reacquainted with his dear mother again, and with so many other relatives and friends who had also passed into spirit.
Now they are free to run and feast on lush grass and crops, safe from the threat of predators and fast-machines, and under the loving care of The Great Hare.
So, if you are driving at night and a hare runs in the headlights in front of you, then please be kind and drive slowly until it has run off the road. Not every hare has heard – or chosen to pay heed to – the teaching of Sycamore the Wise and his descendents.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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