Part 4They stumbled through the dark woods for a time, but Sariel halted them after a while. “We should not walk in darkness,” she warned them quietly. They slept the rest of the night in a vacant house, an unsteady structure in an abandoned neighborhood not far from Razor’s compound.
Inside, Sariel began to rummage through her bag. Chess lay down on the floor and was vaguely aware of Ileana muttering something about keeping watch. He started to raise himself on one elbow, thinking to ask Sariel a question, but then decided against it. He was much too tired.
Sariel woke him as dim light was beginning to filter through the broken, opaque windows. Any evidence of Razor’s mistreatment had vanished from her face, but both of the girls seemed subdued and reticent. Ileana handed him one of the nutrition bars from his knapsack. Chess, chewing slowly through the dry, gummy bar, wondered if their mood was the result of the rations. Marveling that his sister had always seemed to enjoy the tasteless things, he gratefully reached for one of the water bottles, now filled, that he had brought with him. He gulped down some of the contents and nearly choked.
“I can purify the water enough to save us from immediate illness,” Sariel told him, taking the bottle from his hand, “but I cannot remove the chemicals that pollute the land through which it flows.”
“I don’t think anyone can,” Ileana added grimly. “Except maybe those water wizards…?” She sighed and squinted toward the window. “We should really get moving.”
They walked on in silence for the entire day, stopping only for brief rests every once in a while. They just kept going, as quickly as they dared, through the rough terrain of trees and brush, interspersed with the wreckage of old buildings and other things left behind. Chess desperately wished that they could stop to talk, to discuss plans, to reassure him that everything was okay -- but what would be the point? They all knew that they had no idea where they were going, and their only goal was to get as far away from Razor as possible. Chess did not want to imagine what would happen if Razor or his men found them now. One thing he was pretty sure of: he would no longer be “Goldfish,” the misled computer guy. Now, he would be the man who had stolen Ileana away from Razor. And his fate would probably not be as easy as a quick gunshot to the head.
Despite the heat of the day, he shuddered, gripped his backpack, and quickened his steps.
As dusk began to fall, Sariel slowed her pace, wandering closer to each abandoned house they passed. Chess, too, inspected the buildings, but each one looked every bit as unstable a shelter as the one before it. They were all fearful of traveling after dark: wary both of the uneven, obstacle-laden ground, and also of the animals that roamed by moonlight. Finally, Sariel found a house that suited her and they went inside, to sit on a dirt-covered floor while feasting on their nutrition bars and chemical-laden water, and watch the darkness grow outside cracked and dirty windows.
“I will keep guard first,” Sariel announced after they had eaten. Then she rose and exited through the creaking door. With a shrug at Chess, Ileana lay down on the floor and closed her eyes. Chess followed suit, but the dust inside the old house made his eyes burn and his throat constrict. Despite his extreme weariness, he was still awake when Sariel came back in, carrying a long branch.
“You should sleep,” she hissed at him. “I will wake you in a few hours.” She sat down with the branch and began carving slivers off of it with her knife.
The following afternoon, their journey took them across the edge of a large, open field, where the bright sunlight made the grasses glow a fluorescent green. With an outstretched hand, Sariel stopped them, and then she set out alone across the waves of green, carrying her branch.
From the cover of the tree line, Chess and Ileana squinted at her in confusion as she walked with slow, measured steps, the stick raised over one shoulder. “What’s she doing?” Ileana whispered.
And then, its fur catching the sunlight, a rabbit sprang from behind a clump of grass. Sariel hurled the stick. And, close to Chess’s ears, Ileana’s shriek drowned out the rabbit’s.
Continued next page...
Anya: Bunnies aren't just cute like everybody supposes. They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses. And what's with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway? Bunnies! Bunnies! It must be bunnies!
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling, Season 6 Episode 7
Rabbits recall to mind the novel Watership Down, which was an early inspiration for my writing. Back in 1976 it was also the basis for a role-playing game: Bunnies and Burrows.
I re-read the novel very recently, and, like just about everyone who has re-visited a favorite book at a later stage in life, I found it to be an almost completely different story. The book that I had once taken as just a nice fairy tale has an overarching theme that now stands out like a neon sign. And with every new encounter that the rabbit-protagonists have, the message gets louder: sacrificing freedom for a feeling of security inevitably leads to unhappiness, stagnation and death. From the callous way that the heroes are treated in their hierarchic (and doomed) home warren to the depressive state of the does in the regimented Efrafa, it is clear that submission to oppressive authority is a bad life-choice. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Strawberry’s warren, where the rabbits do not speak of those who have been sacrificed so that the rest may enjoy plentiful food and unusual comfort. Even in one of El-ahrairah’s folktales we are meant to shake our heads at the young peacenik rabbits who have no appreciation of the sacrifices that the elders made in fighting for the freedom they now enjoy.
While I certainly cheer for the success of the adventurous heroes, I am, after all, a Libra and never wholly invested in any ideal. If some rabbits wish to take steps to mitigate the danger in their lives, who am I to judge? In fact, I recommend it, especially if they live near me. Because the weirdest part about re-reading this book was the cognitive dissonance I felt at thinking of rabbits as sympathetic characters, while concurrently fighting them off in my garden. (But... the nice lady at the garden store told me that rabbits wouldn’t eat hostas!)
The more rabid (pun intended) fans of Watership Down might enjoy this webpage!
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