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Stories

The Adventures of Fuzzy Bunny

1 – In the Pleasureberry Bush

It was early Sunday morning and the summer sun gleamed down in warm patches through the tall trees of Greenapple Wood. Fuzzy Bunny was sitting in a big pleasureberry bush with his best friend Hoppy, the two sharing a bottle of fermented carrot juice. Fuzzy had talked Hoppy into taking the precious bottle from his parents’ liquor cabinet and the two were now enjoying the stuff out of sight.

“Jesus this is good carrot juice!” said Fuzzy, handing the half-empty bottle to his inebriated friend.

This particular pleasureberry bush was but several yards away from Greenapple Haven, which was the warren in which Fuzzy and Hoppy lived. In fact, Fuzzy liked this spot because, while he could see the entrance to Greenapple Haven from here, he and his friend could not be seen from the entrance to Greenapple Haven. “We can see them, but they can’t see us,” he would tell Hoppy. The bush was also near the entrance to the Wood and as such possessed a most desirable vantage point.

Hoppy took a sloppy swig from the bottle, spilling more than a few drops on his chin. “Dude,” he murmured, giggling.

“Hey you’re gonna waste it,” scolded Fuzzy in a harsh whisper. “Gimme that,” he spat and yanked the bottle from Hoppy’s drunken grasp. Hoppy was too drunk to respond, so he simply giggled and attempted to clean up the spilled carrot juice with his arm.

Fuzzy shook his head and took a long swallow from the bottle. “Aahh,” he said and dried his wet mouth with the back of his paw.

A noise from outside the bush disturbed the moment of quiet.

Fuzzy lifted a stout pleasureberry branch behind him and peered out for a few seconds in the direction of the warren. The sound of steps came quite clearly from the entrance to Greenapple Haven. “Shhh,” said Fuzzy quietly. “Somebody’s comin’ up.”

A gray wrinkled old rabbit had appeared and now was chewing some grass and muttering to himself. He was facing the opposite direction and was too far away to hear Fuzzy and Hoppy.

“Who is it,” giggled Hoppy.

“It’s Old Browntooth,” said Fuzzy.

He looked at Hoppy, who was now lost in a giggling fit. Laughter being contagious, Fuzzy began to giggle too but tried to stifle his laughter. “Hey man, don’t make me laugh,” he said, trying not to giggle.

Hoppy instantly and dramatically snapped his face into grim seriousness, clamping his whiskered mouth shut. Alas, the serious look evaporated when a loud snort issued forth from his mouth and gales of laughter promptly filled the pleasureberry bush for the next several seconds. Fuzzy and Hoppy heaved in relief when the laughter finally subsided.

“Lemme see,” said Hoppy, suddenly alarmed. He stumbled over to Fuzzy to share the same view and tripped over Fuzzy’s leg. “Jesus, will you watch it?” said Fuzzy, pushing his drunken friend off him.

Hoppy lifted the stout branch and he too saw the old rabbit. He began to get nervous. “Dude, we better go,” he said. “Before he sees us.”

Fuzzy grimaced and playfully pushed his friend. “Don’t be such a pussy. That old bastard can’t do nothin’ to us.”

Hoppy was frowning. “I don’t know, dude. He got us in trouble once before, remember?” In his drunken state, Hoppy’s emotions were shifting rapidly. “I hate Old Browntooth.”

Fuzzy cackled silently and clapped his friend on the back. “Yeah that’s the spirit, Hop. Here, have some more o’ this.” He handed the bottle to Hoppy, who raised it to his mouth and drank liberally.

Old Browntooth was looking around suspiciously near the entrance to Greenapple Haven, waving his walking stick tentatively in the air. Fuzzy Bunny continued to spy on the old rabbit, between swallows of carrot juice, of course. Suddenly, Fuzzy got an idea.

“Hey Hop, how’d you like to get back at Old Browntooth for turnin’ you in that time?” Fuzzy asked Hoppy.

Hoppy frowned and turned the bottle upside down to reveal its emptiness. “Dude, we’re all out,” he complained.

Fuzzy dismissed his friend’s complaint with a wave of his paw. “Aw, don’t worry about that shit, man. I got a better idea. Now listen up,” and the two brought their heads together as Fuzzy whispered his plans.“ Every few seconds, a very drunk Hoppy would nod his head in agreement and smile, and Fuzzy would embellish the plan a little more.

Fuzzy knew that Hoppy was very drunk, and when Hoppy was very drunk he was likely to do just about anything. And that, thought Fuzzy, was very fun indeed.

2 – Old Browntooth

Earlier that same morning, Old Browntooth opened his eyes to the new day, awakened by the distant crowing of a rooster. One of the oldest rabbits in Greenapple Haven, Old Browntooth had the good fortune to retain his keen hearing even as his other senses declined.

“Goddamned rooster,” he muttered, gingerly stretching his thin old body. He grimaced as his bad leg creaked angrily.

The old rabbit waited for the familiar pain to subside, then lifted himself to a sitting position. “It sucks gettin’ old,” he said, and reached for his walking stick. He sighed and leaned on the stick, staring at nothing in particular, and thought about his life.

Old Browntooth had lived in the warren for as long as anybody could remember, and his front teeth had been stained brown for as long as anybody could remember. In his youth, Browntooth had been quick and brave and attracted the attention of many female rabbits, at least before his front teeth became discolored. He had long been a valuable member of the warren due to his powerful hearing. He sighed again, recalling many a daring raid on the farmer’s crops, the exhilaration of outrunning the dogs. He had grown old though, and recently noticed a frailty that hadn’t been there before. These days, he could barely muster the strength to range beyond the warren’s entrance.

“When did I get so old?” he complained to himself.

Suddenly his raggedy old ears stood up straight. “What the hell was that?” he growled. Old Browntooth was usually the first rabbit awake; the noise that only he could hear sounded like someone or something moving about outside.

Old Browntooth was very protective of his status as earliest riser and frowned at the thought of another rabbit waking up early. “We’ll just see what’s what,” he said and used his walking stick to get out of bed.

It took a long time for the old rabbit to reach the main hall, which was quiet at this early hour. He stopped for a quick drink of water in the small pool that served as a public fountain, silently cursing the cold temperature of the water, then set out to investigate the source of the noise. As he labored in the warren’s main tunnel, the only sounds he heard were his own raspy breathing and uneven steps on the dirt.
When he finally reached the entrance, he looked out carefully and poked the ground ahead of him with his stick. “Can’t be too careful,” he thought.

He looked out and didn’t see a soul. He poked the ground with his walking stick and disturbed a few bugs. “This is very peculiar,” he muttered. But he shrugged and began chewing some grass, a habit he’d picked up because it helped keep him regular. He was all set to return to the warren when he heard a noise from the big pleasureberry bush across the way. The noise he heard was Hoppy’s drunken snort.
“Stay back you slimy bastard!” he croaked, waving his walking stick around at unseen enemies. “You won’t get me!” Once in a great while a snake would wander into the pleasureberry bushes and panic would seize the warren. This was Old Browntooth’s first thought at hearing a noise from the bush.

“I may be slow and weak, but I’ve got me a weapon!” he said.

Suddenly the branches of the pleasureberry bush started to shake, freezing Old Browntooth in his place, walking stick extended like a sword. His eyes grew wide.

“SSSSSSSSSS!” The unmistakable hiss of a snake came from inside the shaking bush.

Old Browntooth tried to shout an alarm, but the word “snake” came out barely above a whisper.

“SSSSSSSSSS!” The noise was louder now and the pleasureberry bush was shaking violently.

The old rabbit was frozen solid; he could not move a muscle and his eyes were fixed on the bush.

Suddenly a loud shriek pierced the morning air and out of the pleasureberry bush came Hoppy, drunk and out of his head on pilfered fermented carrot juice, running as fast as could directly toward Old Browntooth.

“SOOOOO FUCKIN BROWWWWWWWN!!!” he screamed, and the shock of his entrance stunned the old rabbit, who clutched his suddenly heavy chest.

Hoppy jumped over Old Browntooth just as it looked as if he would run him over, and the old rabbit was knocked off his feet, breathless.

Fuzzy Bunny emerged from the bushes with a big grin on his face. “Go Hop!” he called out to his drunken friend.

Hoppy was rolling on the ground laughing. Old Browntooth was still on the ground.
Fuzzy said, “Oh shit. Hey Hoppy!”

The old rabbit was clutching his chest, and only now saw that it hadn’t been a snake after all. “Why….why…” he growled.

Hoppy had stopped laughing and he and Fuzzy approached Old Browntooth warily. “We was just having fun,” explained Fuzzy innocently.

“Why you….you young punks,” spat Browntooth. He began to feel dizzy.

“Shit Hop, I think you gave the old bastard a heart attack” said Fuzzy.

Hoppy’s eyes were well glazed over, and he gave no indication that he had either heard or understood his friend’s comment. Instead, he stared at the old rabbit on the ground and started to repeat “So brown, so fuckin’ brown,” first in a whisper then louder and louder.

“Jesus Hop, get a grip, willya?” said Fuzzy impatiently. Fuzzy had no intention of baby-sitting his out-of-control friend, even if the fermented carrot juice had been his own idea.

Hoppy grabbed the old rabbit’s walking stick and began beating him with it, crying out, “Brown!” with each blow.

“Hoppy, no!” Fuzzy shouted, and tried to knock his friend’s paw away. It would not do to be accused of accessory to murder. Hoppy’s violent state gave him extra strength, and he pushed Fuzzy away roughly, sending him reeling into a sharp rock. Old Browntooth had stopped breathing; his frail body bounced with each blow of the walking stick.

Fuzzy was dazed; he’d knocked his head on the rock. He slowly got up and saw a group of male rabbits swarm over Hoppy before he fainted.

3 – Elder Floppin’s Decision

That evening, the main hall of Greenapple Haven was crowded with the citizens of the warren, who eagerly gathered to await the decision of the Elders. The rabbits were all chatting about the horrible murder of Old Browntooth. Of course no one could remember a murder having ever been committed in the warren, so this was big news indeed. Rumors were spreading like wildfire.

Fuzzy sat in the far corner of the hall near the front, a large bandage wrapped ‘round his head. His shocked and angry parents stood directly in front of him. Hoppy was nowhere in sight. “Poor Hoppy. I bet they got him locked up,” thought Fuzzy.

Fuzzy had convinced his parents of his innocence in the matter, then together they told their story to the elders. The five ancient rabbits then went off to discuss the matter among themselves. Fuzzy couldn’t help grinning at the memory of how he had tearfully told them what had happened. How he and Hoppy got up early to go for a morning run and Hoppy had this fermented carrot juice and how Hoppy kind of reeked of the stuff already, but then Hoppy started acted all crazy so he Fuzzy suggested they go hide in the pleasureberry bush to get out of sight, and Hoppy insisted that he Fuzzy join him for a drink so what else could he do and then Old Browntooth showed up and Hoppy just went all crazy on him and charged out of the bush and knocked the old guy down and beat him with his stick. He Fuzzy tried to stop his drunken friend but he got knocked down and cracked his head on a rock.

“Haw, what a performance,” thought Fuzzy, confident that his explanation would help him to avoid punishment. Fuzzy had always been able to talk his way out of difficult situations. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Hoppy had blacked out and couldn’t remember the incident at all. He felt a little sorry for his friend and wanted to visit him, but his parents refused. They didn’t want Fuzzy associating with such a bad influence.

Fuzzy snickered at the thought.

He caught sight of Honey Bunny with her obnoxious upper-class boyfriend, J. Worthington Rabbit. If he wasn’t personally involved in this business with the elders, Fuzzy would have gone right over to the beautiful young rabbit and made some time with her, if for no other reason than to annoy J. Worthington. Honey Bunny saw Fuzzy from across the hall and gave a little wave; J. Worthington saw it and scowled at Fuzzy. “What an idiot,” thought Fuzzy.

A murmur rippled through the expectant crowd and Fuzzy saw that the elders were filing into the main hall. Hoppy followed them in looking tired and frightened, escorted by two burly adult male rabbits. Fuzzy tried to wave at his friend, but Hoppy didn’t see him. “Jeez, he looks like crap,” thought Fuzzy.

The crowd gradually hushed as its attention turned to the five elders, who stood sternly at the front of the hall waiting for silence. Elder Floppin, the craggy white rabbit in the center, cleared his throat and looked down at Hoppy, who remained sandwiched between the two escorts. Floppin was the revered spokesman of the elders and his judgement was respected above all others.

“Fuzzy Bunny.” Elder Floppin’s deep gentle voice filled the hall and he moved his eyes back and forth across the crowd.

Fuzzy Bunny raised his hand and said “Here.”

A fresh wave of crowd murmur spread quickly as many rabbits strained to get a look at Fuzzy. Elder Floppin frowned and then fat Elder Whitetail banged a gavel repeatedly. The noise died down and Floppin looked directly at Fuzzy. He motioned with his paw for Fuzzy to come forward and Fuzzy complied with a shrug.

Elder Floppin looked at the crowd and began. “Rabbits of Greenapple Haven. You all know of the brutal murder of our beloved Old Browntooth this morning. We come before you tonight to denounce this most heinous act and ensure that justice is done and that the rabbit,” and he looked directly at Fuzzy, “or rabbits, who perpetrated this crime are duly punished.”

Small pockets of whispered assents drifted from the crowd and Fuzzy began to worry.

Elder Floppin looked down at Hoppy and pointed his knobby paw at the nervous rabbit. “Hoppy Hare, there can be no doubting your guilt. You wantonly and without reason murdered Old Browntooth.”

The crowd voiced their agreement but Elder Whitetail banged his gavel until the room grew silent. “Please allow the Elder to continue!” he shouted in his squeaky voice.

“Thank you Elder Whitetail,” said Floppin, nodding to his fellow elder. He turned back to face Hoppy and continued when the hall grew silent again. “However, we have determined that, er, external factors surely played a role in the tragedy. These external factors have tempered our judgement of young Hoppy.” He looked down at Hoppy, who was too nervous to return the old rabbit’s gaze.
Elder Floppin cleared his throat. “Therefore, it is the decision of the elders that Hoppy Hare be assigned to the Gatherers and remain under the watchful eye of our own Bull Bunston,” he said, glancing at the big gray-brown rabbit standing to the right of Hoppy. Bull nodded his acknowledgement. “You shall continue this assignment until further notice.”

The crowd began a new dull roar in response to the decision. The Gatherers were responsible for collecting food for the warren. This meant stealing vegetables from the nearby farm from under the beady eyes of the farmer’s ferocious dog. Hoppy looked pale.

The elders all nodded to each other in agreement. Elder Floppin began speaking again, louder this time to break through the din. “As for you, Fuzzy Bunny,” he said sternly, looking directly at Fuzzy, “it is our opinion that, while there is no physical evidence to contradict your story, you nonetheless must bear some responsibility for Old Browntooth’s death.”

Fuzzy moved closer to the elders. “Hey wait a minute, you can’t pin this on me!” he said loudly.

Elder Floppin frowned but continued, ignoring Fuzzy’s protest. “And so, it is the decision of the elders that you Fuzzy Bunny shall also be assigned to the Gatherers, also under the tutelage of Bull Bunston, until it is determined that you have sufficiently redeemed yourself.”

This was not what Fuzzy had expected. No, this was not good news at all. “You ain’t got a case against me, I’m innocent!” he said, louder than he had intended.
“Do not try to talk your way out of this one, Fuzzy. The decision of the elders is final,” said Elder Floppin. Elder Whitetail banged his gavel twice to signal the formal end of the meeting.

Fuzzy shook his head slowly in disbelief. “Decision final?” he said quietly, his anger turning to fear. “I ain’t no gatherer!” he said, but nobody appeared to hear his complaint and an image of a large black dog tearing him apart flashed through his head. The bump on his head started to ache.

The elders filed out of the room, followed slowly by the noisy crowd. Fuzzy caught sight of J. Worthington Rabbit, who grinned. “Yeah, smile now, laughing boy,” thought Fuzzy. “I’ll make sure I get the last laugh on you.”

Bull Bunston approached, an ashen Hoppy in tow. “Well well well, looks like I got me two new recruits,” he said in his gruff voice. He poked his large paw at Fuzzy’s chest. “You’re with me, Mouth,” he growled, and he and his burly friend steered Hoppy and Fuzzy out of the main hall.

4 – Full Metal Rabbit

The Gatherers were generally known as the toughest rabbits in Greenapple Haven and lived in the Barracks, a remote area of the warren. The Barracks was almost a warren unto itself and accessible only by a long narrow tunnel and by a secret entrance from above ground. The rest of the inhabitants in Greenapple Haven were only too happy to let the Gatherers live apart; whenever the rough rabbits came to the main warren, they invariably drank too much carrot ale, got into fights and chased the female rabbits around.

Bull Bunston had arranged for a bare minimum of Fuzzy and Hoppy’s personal belongings to be sent to the Barracks, so they were there waiting for the two recruits when they got to the small room where they were to sleep. The burly escort pushed them into the cramped quarters.

Bull Bunston stood in the passageway, paws on hips. “Here it is ladies, your home away from home.” he said, his voice booming.

Fuzzy frowned at the tiny room. “What? You gotta be kiddin me—“

The burly escort slammed his fist into Fuzzy’s exposed belly, crumpling the younger rabbit into a writhing heap on the ground.

The escort laughed. “Naw, he ain’t kiddin’ youse,” he grunted.

Bull watched Hoppy help Fuzzy to his feet and smiled. “Oops, I forgot to warn you about Hammer here, he said sweetly. “He doesn’t like recruits that mouth off.”

Hammer cocked his fist in Fuzzy’s direction and growled. Fuzzy was rubbing his aching belly and tried to back up, but instead fell back onto one of the beds.
Bull faced the room, big paws on hips. “Alright, that’s enough playin’ around, Mouth.” He glared at Fuzzy. “Now listen up you two losers. The Elders want me to make decent rabbits outta you and that’s just what I intend to do. It won’t be easy, I promise you. Half of all new recruits wash out, but you do not have that option.” Bull poked a furry paw in the air for effect. “You’ll get two new roommates first thing in the morning, then your training starts for real. Reveille at oh-six hundred hours. Goodnight ladies.” Bull and Hammer laughed and left the recruits.

Hoppy was the first to break the silence. “Dude, I’m sorry I got you into this,” he said.

“Ah, forget about it pal," replied Fuzzy, finally recovered from Hammer’s assault. “We’re in this thing together.”

“Yeah but, if I hadn’t gone crazy and, and…” Hoppy’s voice trailed off.

Fuzzy sat in the darkness rubbing his face and thought, “poor Hop.” Finally he said to his friend, “Listen Hop, let’s just forget about all that.”

“Dude, what did he mean ‘we do not have that option’?” asked Hoppy.

“I don’t know. I figure he’ll give us all the particulars tomorrow.”

“Well,” said Hoppy, “you better keep your mouth shut around that Hammer. I don’t think he likes you very much, Dude.”

“Hunh,” said Fuzzy derisively. “That big ape doesn’t scare me. I’ll turn on the charm, just you wait.”

The two friends grew quiet, and after a time Fuzzy heard Hoppy’s snoring. It took Fuzzy another hour before he too finally fell asleep.

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Fuzzy and Hoppy were roughly thrown from their uncomfortable beds early the next morning by Bull, who enthusiastically shouted “Rise and shine ladies, let’s go, up and at’em.”


Bull escorted the two recruits to the galley, where they were instructed to sit and eat small bowls of awful-smelling porridge. Bull left momentarily, then returned with the two new recruits. “Ladies, meet your fellow recruits,” said Bull to Fuzzy and Hoppy. The gruff gatherer introduced the tall white rabbit as Stretch and the short plump light brown rabbit as Piehole. He turned to the newcomers. “Since you’re all losers, I’m sure you’ll have lots in common with Mouth and Killer here.”
Bull laughed and turned to leave. “You losers got ten minutes to chow down. I suggest you use it.”

After Bull left, the newcomers sat down next to Fuzzy and Hoppy. Piehole was a friendly, chatty sort but Stretch was silent and sullen. “I’m a legacy,” said Piehole cheerfully. “My dad and granddad both were Gatherers.”

“That’s great, kid,” said Fuzzy. “Seems like a good kid, he’ll get eaten alive,” he thought.

Stretch snorted derisively. “Why would anyone willingly join this outfit?” he muttered, and forced down a spoonful of the swill sitting before him.

“I take it you are not here by choice?” asked Fuzzy. He wanted to size up this surly character.

Stretch looked up at Fuzzy and glared at him. “None of your business,” he said.
Fuzzy shrugged and smiled. “Hey, it’s no skin off my back, pal. I was just tryin’ to be friendly.”

“Aw, don’t mind him,” offered Piehole. “His parents sent him here and he’s angry about it is all.”

“Shut your face, fatso,” shot Stretch. His eyes flashed angrily. “In fact, all of you shut your face. I don’t want to be here, I don’t wanna be your friends, I don’t wanna talk to anyone and I don’t want anyone to talk to me, got it?”

“Lighten up, willya,” said Fuzzy. Stretch glared at him again.

The four recruits resumed their breakfast, foul as it was, until Bull returned and ushered them out of the galley and down through the tunnel to the main training area. This area was a large room, nearly as large as the main hall, and divided into several areas set up with a variety of training equipment. They were instructed to form a straight line in one corner of the large room in front of a blackboard, then Bull took his place at the blackboard. Hammer stood silently behind the recruits, his muscular arms folded before him.

Bull paced slowly back and forth as he spoke. “Welcome to the Gatherers, ladies. I am Drill Sergeant Bull Bunston. You will address me as Drill Sergeant, as in ‘Yes Drill Sergeant’ and ‘Thank you Drill Sergeant.’ Understood?”

The recruits mumbled unintelligibly in response.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” shouted Bull.

“Yes Drill Sergeant!” the recruits said clumsily.

“I STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“YES DRILL SERGEANT!” they shouted in unison.

Bull nodded his satisfaction. “That’s better, ladies. Now, our job as Gatherers is two-fold. One – we scout out good sources of food, in our case the farm that’s a short distance down the hill. Two – we gather food from the farmer’s crops. Job one is dangerous, job two is even more dangerous.” He let that sink in before continuing “You will be trained in all three facets of our operation. You will learn how to be an expert lookout, then you will learn the fine art of running, and finally, those of you who don’t wash out will eventually learn how to gather food and deliver it safely back here to Greenapple Haven.”

Piehole raised his paw. “Uh sir, I have a question,” he said tentatively.

Bull stormed over to Piehole and stopped when his face was inches away from the frightened recruit. “Why you miserable pile of BLUBBER, who TOLD you you could ask a question?!” he shouted.

Piehole was shaking but manage to stutter, “I’m sorry sir.”

“I’M A WORKING RABBIT, YOU DON’T CALL ME ’SIR’!”

Piehole let a tiny moan escape. Bull was still in his face.

“WELL?!” shouted Bull.

Piehole shook his head vigorously. “N-no, Dr-drill S-sergeant,” he stammered.

Bull turned his back on the scared rabbit and resumed his lecture. “Now, if I can get back to what I was doing,” he looked directly at Piehole, who lowered his eyes, “IF there are no more INTERRUPTIONS!”

There was no response, so Bull continued. “For the next several days, you will drill and you will drill hard. There will be no let-up until you are properly trained as Gatherers. If any of you losers wash out, I will be very angry. And you won’t like me when I’m angry, I promise you.”

-----------------------------------------

True to his word, Drill Sergeant Bull Bunston, along with Hammer and other tough veteran Gatherers, put the four recruits through their paces. The young rabbits spent hours listening to lectures and drilling, and drilling and drilling until they all collapsed from exhaustion at night. Fuzzy and Stretch seemed to be adapting to the rigorous routine well enough, but Piehole and Hoppy were not adapting as easily. Piehole tried hard, but his extra weight made the intense physical workouts difficult for him to complete. Bull Bunston was constantly on his case. Fuzzy felt sorry for the kid.

Hoppy was certainly physically capable of drilling, but seemed to settle into a depression after a few days and stopped talking, even to Fuzzy. Fuzzy tried to cheer his friend up with tales of exuberant victory celebrations to come, but Hoppy just retreated into his own troubled thoughts. Hoppy’s depression began to affect his performance in the drills, however, and this seemed to enrage the unpredictable Hammer, who would berate the troubled recruit constantly, alternately calling him “Killer” and “wash-out” and scaring him with tales of Chopper, the big sharp-toothed, foaming-mouthed dog that guarded the nearby farm, who liked to “tear apart defenseless small animals.”

Still, the training continued. The Drill Sergeant and the other grizzled veterans began taking the recruits out on training missions. They started by scouting on the edge of Greenapple Wood, close to the warren. As they learned the lay of the land, the missions ranged further away from the safety of the warren. Bull and Hammer always accompanied the recruits, Hammer continually bullying Hoppy to little effect.

It was on these scouting missions that Piehole found his niche – he had great eyes and ears and an uncanny sense of direction, so he was perfect as a lookout. Even Bunston praised the young rabbit. “See ladies, even Piehole here can be a Gatherer,” he said. Piehole beamed.

Hoppy of course simply moped around on the missions, much to Bull and Hammer’s consternation. Gathering missions required teamwork above all else; it wouldn’t do to have a team member’s inaction affect the success of a mission. Bull emphasized the teamwork constantly and Hammer redoubled his efforts to bring the rabbit out of his shell, but his brutality just served to increase Hoppy’s depression.

Weeks passed and the recruits were beginning to operate as a team. Fuzzy and Stretch were both very fast and proved to be able runners. Bull announced that they would scout the nearby farm tomorrow. The recruits couldn’t help but feel the excitement. A real mission! At last! Piehole, Fuzzy and even the surly Stretch looked forward to some real action of weeks of training. Hoppy did not share this excitement. If anything, the prospect of getting close to the horrible dog filled him with fear.

When Bull made the announcement, Hammer stood behind Hoppy in the training hall, as always waiting for a reason to berate the young rabbit. “Well Killer, looks like youse will be meetin’ up with Chopper pretty soon, heh-heh,” he growled. Hoppy’s eyes were wide with fear. Hammer leaned in close to the frightened recruit. "Then we’ll see who the real killer is,” he whispered so that only Hoppy could hear.

Despite his best efforts to remain aloof, Fuzzy watched his friend with growing concern. After all, it was sort of Fuzzy’s fault that they were even here, and as his own skills increased with training, he began to feel the need to protect his friend. But what could he do, he couldn’t tangle with the brutish Hammer. He felt powerless, a feeling he did not like at all.

In preparation of the upcoming mission and to blow off steam after weeks of grueling training, the recruits were given a leave of absence for the evening. “Don’t get into too much trouble at Greenapple Haven, ladies. I’ll be watching you,” warned Bull.

Hammer pressed his big paw roughly into Hoppy’s shoulder. “And I’ll be watching youse, Killer,” he said, an evil smile on his face.

That evening, Piehole and Stretch got cleaned up and headed toward the main part of the warren. Fuzzy told them he’d meet them later. Hoppy declined their invitation to come along and lay on his cot, a worried look on his face. After the other three left, Fuzzy tried to encourage his friend. “Hey Hop, cheer up, man. Don’t pay attention to what that asshole Hammer says, he’s just trying to scare ya,” Fuzzy said.

“I hate him, dude,” said Hoppy. “And I hate this place.”

“C’mon pal, don’t be that way. Ya gotta get yourself outta this mood.”

“Who cares anyway, dude. I’m a killer and a loser. Hammer and Bull are right about me. I’m gonna wash out if I don’t get torn to pieces by that Chopper first.”
“Hey, this ain’t the Hoppy I know!” said Fuzzy That Hoppy would be comin’ out to party with us! That Hoppy would tell that creep Hammer where to stick it!” Fuzzy had never seen his friend like this.

“Nah, you go ahead and have fun dude. I’m gonna just stay here.”

Fuzzy shrugged. “Suit yourself man. But if you change your mind, we’ll be at Pip’s Pub.” He left his friend alone and went off to join his fellow recruits and the other Gatherers.

Hoppy lay on his cot and started to cry.

5 – Chopper

Fuzzy, Piehole and Stretch were hustled awake shortly after dawn by Bull and Hammer. Groaning collectively at the sudden interruption of their sleep, each recruit saw that Hoppy’s cot was empty.

“Up and at ‘em, ladies,” yelled Bull. “You got a big day ahead of you.”

Fuzzy wiped the sleep from his tired eyes. “Where’s Hoppy?” he asked to nobody in particular.

“He was sleeping when we got back from Pip’s last night,” offered Piehole.
Hammer slammed his fist into Hoppy’s empty cot with an angry grunt. “Looks like your pal’s gone AWOL,” he spat. “Youse better hope Chopper finds him before I do, heh heh.”

“Never mind about that washout, Mouth!” boomed Bull Bunston. “You ladies get out of bed and drag your sorry hides to the training room, ASAP!” He and Hammer exchanged a glance. “You let me and Hammer worry about Killer.”

The two veterans left the recruits to get ready for the day’s mission. Fuzzy’s eyes narrowed in anger at Bull’s comment about Hoppy. Fuzzy was worried about his friend.

Stretch stood up and yawned loudly. “One less loser to get us all killed, that’s what I say,” he muttered.

Fuzzy shot him a dirty look. “Shut the hell up, Stretch,” he said angrily.
Stretch shrugged, muttering “Doesn’t make any difference to me.”

As the three young Gatherers made their way to the training room, Piehole walked next to Fuzzy and lowered his voice. “Fuzzy, where d’ya think Hoppy’s off to? Think he really went AWOL?”

Fuzzy frowned. “I wish I knew. He was pretty depressed when I left him last night. Who knows where he is?”

“Well, I sure hope he shows up soon,” said Piehole. “I hate to think what Hammer and the Sarge will do to him if they find him.”

“So do I Piehole, so do I.”

--------------------------------------

Chopper lay in the grass next to the open barn door, enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun. The other animals gave him a wide berth as they made their way out of the barn into the yard. The farmer went about his business, ignoring Chopper for the moment, spreading the morning feed for the hens, leading the cows out to the pasture, inspecting the vegetables.

"Chopper!" called the farmer, pausing on his way to the far end of the vegetable patch. The dog stood up lazily, prompting a rebuke from the impatient farmer. "You lazy cur, GIT UP!" he shouted, suddenly brandishing a stick.

Chopper suppressed a growl but obeyed his master. He walked over to the entrance to the vegetable patch, his usual post when the farmer tended to things farther away. Chopper sat up and forced himself to be alert. The farmer muttered something about a "lazy old good-for-nothing" then disappeared into a tangle of tomatoes.

Even though Chopper obeyed the farmers sharp commands, he hated the man. Sometimes he would stare at the man from a distance and imagine attacking him, knocking him down, tearing at his throat. Chopper grinned, a thread of drool leaking from his mouth. "Then Chopper have feast," thought the dog. "Chopper like that."

But in thruth, the farmer had the dog well-trained. Of course, the farmer was the only human who could handle the big dog, and then only with the aid of a whip. Everyone else was afraid of the beast.

For his part, Chopper enjoyed his fearsome reputation. He hated humans and enjoyed smelling their fear when they were around him. Well, being on watch at the vegetables wasn't so bad as chores went. Especially today. Today there was a good chance that he'd catch a rabbit unawares in the carrots.

Chopper sighed at the memory of the last rabbit who dared cross his path. "Mmm, rabbit good meal," the dog thought. He licked his lips at the prospect of another such tasty morsel and continued to watch the borders of the farm for small invaders.

An hour or so passed and the farmer wearily got up and walked passed the big dog. "Stay Chopper," he commanded, and disappeared into the house. Chopper stayed.

Meanwhile, the Gatherers from Greenapple Haven had staked out their positions around the farm. Bull had given everyone their orders. Earlier that morning, he had sent Hammer off before the others to reconnoiter. The younger Gatherers had watched as Hammer carried an empty sack with him down the hill. "Better him than me," commented Stretch. Bull gave him a dirty look.

Now Piehole with his superior vision was out of sight behind the big log on the hill overlooking the farm. He had a complete view of the entire farm. Fuzzy and Stretch had made their way carefully to a large clump of bushes just behind the fence nearest the tomato patch. They had been able to evade the farmer's attention and both breathed a sigh of relief when the man left the vegetables. As the designated runners of the mission, it was up to Fuzzy and Stretch to create a distraction for Bull and Hammer, who would gather up what food they could. It wasn't as dangerous as it sounded, though, because Bull and Hammer had assured the young rabbits that Chopper would not leave the confines of the farm. All they had to do was listen for Bull's signal then dart up the hill in sight of the big dog. Bull and Hammer would sneak into the vegetable patch, fill the sack with pilfered vegetables for the warren and sneak back out again.

As they waited in the bushes, Fuzzy's nervousness made him talkative. "He sure looks mean," he said.

"Guess so," murmured Stretch. "As long as doesn't catch me, I don't care."
Fuzzy thought he spied movement along one side of the barn. He felt his heart race in anticipation. "Shouldn't be long now," he said. Stretch said nothing.

Fuzzy was getting impatient. There! There it was again! There was no mistaking the hulking form of Hammer, creeping along the side of the barn with the sack. Fuzzy moved closer to the edge of the bushes to get a better look at the barn. Stretch watched him silently.

"Something's not right," said Fuzzy. "I thought I saw Hammer down by the barn. What's he doing there?"

"You're seeing things," said Stretch.

Fuzzy watched as Hammer crept into the barn. "I'm moving in for a closer look," said Fuzzy.

"Suit yourself," muttered Stretch.

Fuzzy shot him a dirty look, looked around nervously, then hopped out of the bushes toward the barn.

Chopper was getting hungry. Watching all the stupid clucking hens pecking at their feed made his stomach growl. Would the farmer miss one fat little hen? He licked his lips thinking about tearing into the delicious chicken meat.

"Psst!"

Chopper whipped his head around and assumed a defensive position. Bull Bunston and Hammer were inside the entrance to the barn, their bodies hidden in the shadows. "Psst! Hey Chopper, we're here!" called Bull. Hammer held the sack close. Something was moving inside it.

Chopper approached the barn growling. "Little rabbit come! Little rabbit bring Chopper food?" he asked.

Bull and Hammer backed up a bit. They had arranged this deal with the dreaded Chopper months ago. "Take it easy nice doggy," said Chopper. "We've got your food. In exchange for all we can carry from the farmer's garden."

Chopper smiled, drool forming around his bared fangs. "Good little rabbit. Bring Chopper food. Show Chopper food!" He stepped inside the barn now, closing in on Bull and Hammer.

The two rabbits exchanged a look, then Hammer opend the sack onto the barn floor. Out tumbled a wide-eyed and frightened Hoppy.

Fuzzy couldn't help but gasp when he saw his friend and realized what was happening. He had been hiding in the straw nearby, having snuck into the barn from the other side. All eyes turned to the straw.

Chopper growled angrily. "What this?! Little rabbits try to fool Chopper?" He stepped closer to the shaking Hoppy, who stood between the big dog and his two captors, his eyes darting this way and that seeking an escape route.

"Take it easy Chopper," said Bull trying to calm the dog.

Fuzzy tried to swallow his fear. He had to try to save his friend. He leaped out of the straw.

"You bastards!" he said angrily, "You're trading Hoppy for food?"

"You should have stayed at your post, Mouth," said Bull Bunston. "I don't know how you got in here, but now you know too much." He nodded to Hammer.

"Yeah, looks like this is gonna be your first and LAST mission, Mouth," added Hammer.

Chopper looked confused. In his confusion, he grew angry. "You bring TWO rabbits for Chopper to eat?"

Fuzzy tried to ignore the drooling dog. "Let him go, Bull."

Bull laughed. "You stupid grunt, not a chance."

Suddenly Hammer lurched for Fuzzy, but Fuzzy hopped aside. "Stand still Mouth!" yelled Hammer.

Hammer lurched again, but Fuzzy ran past him and knocked Bull to the ground. He grabbed Hoppy and tried to pull him with him toward the open barn door and freedom but his friend was frozen in fear. "Come ON Hoppy, MOVE!" cried Fuzzy.

In the confusion, Chopper forgot all about his "deal" with Bull and Hammer. His barn was filled with rabbits, invaders! "Farmer not like rabbits in barn!" he growled.

Bull and Hammer were now trying to maneuver around Chopper toward the open barn door up. "You ain't goin' noplace, Mouth," said Bull, trying to watch both Fuzzy and Chopper.

"Goddammit Hoppy, RUN!" cried Fuzzy, and he hopped past Hammer toward the confused dog.

"No rabbits in barn!!" Chopper snapped his fearsome jaws at Fuzzy but missed, and as he snapped them again, Hammer passed by him.

CHOMP!

Chopper's jaws closed around Hammer's neck. The rabbit twisted and turned violently but to no avail. Chopper shook his head vigorously and broke Hammer's neck with a SNAP. He stood in the open barn door with the rabbit's carcass hanging from his mouth.

"Hoppy RUN!!! NOW!!" shouted Fuzzy, and this time, his frightened friend took his advice. Hoppy darted out of the barn just past the dog and ran away from the farm.

Bull watched Chopper drool over his prize. "Mouth, I'll get you for this one. You ain't comin' out of this alive, I promise you."

Fuzzy was glad his friend was free, but now Bull Bunston was advancing on him. Chopper had dropped Hammer's dead body and was growling anew. "Chopper HUNGRY!" he said, and leaped toward the two rabbits.

Fuzzy hopped out of the way at the last minute but Bull Bunston wasn't so lucky. Chopper had him pinned to the ground with one big paw, his hungry drool dripping on Bull.

"Now, come on Chopper ol' pal, we had a deal. I brought you food and you let me take some vegetables. Heh-heh, come on now, stop foolin' around." His voice betrayed his panic.

"Chopper forget deal. No deal with rabbit. Chopper hungry. Chopper EAT rabbit!!" His jaws closed in on Bull Bunston.

Fuzzy looked down and saw the empty sack. He grabbed it and ran out of the barn, ignoring Bull's death scream and the awful gurgling and chomping sounds that followed.

Not thinking clearly, he suddenly remembered the mission. He ran into the vegetable patch and quickly filled the sack with as many carrots and lettuce leaves that he could. He escaped into the clump of bushes where Stretch waited just in time. The front door of the farmer's house banged opened with a clang as the farmer ran out to see what all the noise was in the barn.
"What the- where's Bull and Hammer?" asked Stretch.

Fuzzy grabbed him and ran toward the hill and safety. "No time….let's get outta here."

When they reached the big log where Piehole had been serving as lookup, Fuzzy stopped running, let the sack rest on the ground and panted.
Fuzzy ignored Piehole's excited questions. "Hoppy…" he said and looked out over the hillside. His friend was nowhere in site.

6 – Extraordinary Circumstances

Elder Floppin sat behind his big desk, the picture of benevolent wisdom, and looked down silently at the three young Gatherers. Their return had caused quite a ruckus indeed. The news of Bull Bunston and Hammer’s crime and subsequent unpleasant demise both shocked and excited Greenapple Haven, and made celebrities of Fuzzy, Piehole and Stretch.

Piehole squirmed uncomfortably, convinced that he had done something wrong and would be punished. Stretch sat quietly staring at his feet, his face blank. And Fuzzy thought about his friend Hoppy, who still hadn’t returned to the warren. Fuzzy had been asking around all week if anybody had seen Hoppy, but nobody had.

The old rabbit finally cleared his throat, breaking the silence. He looked down at the official looking papers that sat on his desk. “Extraordinary circumstances,” he began. “Quite extraordinary indeed.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The eight Gatherer recruits stood nervously at attention in two rows of four under the drill sargeant’s disapproving stare. The portly corporal stood behind one cocky-looking young rabbit with a smirk on his face in the back row.
Sargeant Fuzzy Bunny surveyed his first recruiting class. He had been promoted by the elders as had been Piehole and Stretch. The Chopper incident had siezed the imagination of many young male rabbits in the warren and recruitment for the Gatherers soared. There was now a waiting list to get in, in fact. Fuzzy still thought of his lost friend Hoppy of course, and had made a vow to himself to go look for him as soon as this first class of Gatherer recruits were trained.

Fuzzy paced slowly back and forth as he spoke. “Welcome to the Gatherers, ladies. I am Drill Sergeant Fuzzy Funny. You will address me as Drill Sergeant, as in ‘Yes Drill Sergeant’ and ‘Thank you Drill Sergeant.’ Understood?”

The recruits mumbled unintelligibly in response.

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” shouted Fuzzy.

“Yes Drill Sergeant!” the recruits said clumsily.

“I STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

“YES DRILL SERGEANT!” they shouted in unison.

The cocky recruit in the back row suddenly snickered, and Piehole was immediately in his face.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LAUGHING ABOUT BOY? SOMETHING SEEM FUNNY TO YOU?” he yelled. The recruit turned pale at Piehole’s sputtering verbal assault, but Piehole was just getting started. “You some kind of comedian Funnyman? You wanna SHARE your little JOKE with the REST of us FUNNYMAN?” Piehole’s nose was practically touching the now frightened recruit’s nose. “WELL, DO YOU FUNNYMAN?!”

The recruit was shaking but managed to squeak out “Y-yes s-sir.”
“I’M A WORKING MAN, YOU DON’T CALL ME SIR!” screamed Piehole.
Fuzzy looked on and let Piehole finish giving the kid the business.

Yes, he was going to enjoy this job.

THE END.

© 2006 Michael S. Cohen

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