The Black Rabbit

Shiro, the white rabbit, sat alone among the summer reeds. She listened to the wind.

“Be better,” she heard the bamboo forest whisper.

Shiro went down to the river. She heard cheers as she approached. Yorokobi, the river otter, leapt onto the bank amidst a circle of forest creatures. A raccoon dog panted up out of the water, shaking out his fur and laughing.

“No one in the forest swims as quick as I!” said Yorokobi, turning a somersault. The crowd laughed and cheered again.

A black rabbit appeared at Shiro’s side, quieter than her own shadow.

“Look how they love the otter Yorokobi,” said Shiro to the black rabbit. “If I am the best, it is I who will be loved.”

“Shiro…” said the black rabbit. But it was too late.

Shiro hopped up to Yorokobi.

“I can beat you across the river, otter!” she said.

“O ho ho,” said Yorokobi. “Another challenger!”

The creatures laughed and cheered.

“Ready, set, GO!” shouted the raccoon dog.

Shiro sprinted into the river. Using her strong hind feet, she pushed against the water. Yorokobi moved like the water himself, rippling above the surface, below the surface, bubbles streaming behind him.

Shiro willed her legs to paddle faster. Yorokobi broke the surface like a dolphin. The animals cheered. But with a final thrust, Shiro touched dry ground first.

Wet to the skin, Shiro flopped on her side.

“Ha!” she panted. “I am the best.”

“I guess so,” said Yorokobi. The otter swam back to the creatures on the other bank.

“Three cheers for Shiro, the fastest rabbit in all the land!” said Yorokobi. The crowd cheered.

Shiro raised a tired paw to the creatures on the far bank as they left with Yorokobi.

***

Shiro sat alone amongst the autumn reeds, and listened to the wind.

“Be better,” she heard the bamboo forest whisper.

She walked into the forest, and paused beside a glade. Isogashi, the squirrel, and his many uncles and many, many cousins were dashing here and there and everywhere to hoard their cache of nuts for winter.

“Hi ho, hi ho, one two three, I can store more nuts than thee!” they chattered back and forth while they worked.

Shiro saw a silhouette darker than her own shadow out of the corner of her eye.

“Look how they admire the squirrel Isogashi,” said Shiro to the black rabbit. “If I am the best, it is I who will be admired.”

“Shiro…” said the black rabbit. But it was too late.

“Hi ho, hi ho, two three four, I will have the biggest store!” said Shiro, jumping into the glade.

Isogashi shook his tail to the left and right, chattering to his relations.

“O ho, cousins! We have competition today! Let’s see who can gather the most by sundown.”

The squirrels worked like a troupe of acrobats among the branches of the trees and on the forest floor.

Shiro ran until her feet were sore. She dug until her claws broke. Her white coat became matted and dirty as the afternoon changed to dusk. She dropped one last nut onto her pile as the sun went down.

Isogashi went from cache to cache, appraising each with a sharp eye. He came to Shiro last.

“Well, well, cousins! The good news is that today has been our best day yet.” The squirrels chattered and shook their tails left and right.

“The bad news is, we have been beaten by a rabbit!” Isogashi gave Shiro a wink.

Shiro nodded to the squirrels as they cheered.

“Do you even eat nuts, Shiro?” asked Isogashi.

“Ah, well, no, actually,” said the white rabbit. The squirrels laughed.

“Come back tomorrow, if you want to gather more nuts for us!” said Isogashi.

Shiro watched from the forest floor as the uncles and cousins followed Isogashi up into the trees.

***

Shiro sat alone amongst the winter reeds, and listened to the wind.

“Be better,” she heard the bamboo forest sigh.

The sharp light of the full moon cast long shadows on the snow. Shiro watched Fukuro, the owl. His silhouette was a dark shape racing through the stars in the sky above. His shadow was a dark shape racing along the snow on the ground below. The creatures of the night fled before him.

Shiro could feel the warmth from a yet darker shape beside her.

“Look how they fear the owl Fukuro,” said Shiro to the black rabbit. “If I could fly the fastest, it is I who would be feared.”

“Shiro…” said the black rabbit. But it was too late.

Shiro climbed the shallow side of a rock outcropping. She felt the cold winter wind blow through her ears as she reached its steep precipice.

“Be better,” she said to herself.

Shiro crouched, preparing to fling herself into space.

Her movement went not unseen. The shadow of Fukuro turned. It raced along the snowy ground towards the white rabbit.

The owl’s shadow grew large as he swooped low. But another shadow raced to Shiro faster.  The black rabbit bowled Shiro away from the edge. Fukuro’s claws clacked shut empty in a spray of snow.

***

Shiro sat with her friend in the green spring grass.

“Shiro,” said the black rabbit.

“Yes?” said Shiro.

“I was never your friend because you swam the fastest.”

“I gathered the most nuts,” said Shiro.

“I was never your friend because you gathered the most nuts,” said the black rabbit.

Shiro took a deep breath of the morning air. The meadow smelled fresh and warm in the sun.

“I think there are some dandelions nearby,” said Shiro. “Want to come see if we can find them?”

“I’d love to,” said the black rabbit.

© Bethany Joy Carlson  |  February 2012

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