Watership Down; Planet of the Rabbits
Chapter 5: First contact — Chapter 5
Later that evening, Alan’s mind was still going over what he had seen that morning. Could those talking rabbits have actually being real? Maybe they were the key to finding the answers to all this mystery? But, on the other hand, even if they were real, how would they react if they saw him? From his experience as a biologist, Alan knew rabbits to be skittish creatures that would instinctively run from danger, rather that stand their ground against a larger enemy; only these rabbits were almost the size of humans! To them, he could hardly apply as a stronger enemy! Perhaps they were hostile by nature or attacked him in self-defence? They seemed pretty capable of murder, considering their large size, and the possibility of been viciously mauled by a bunch of lion-sized claws hardly appealed to him.
Finally, his curiosity overcame his insecurity and he decided to go back and take a closer look. He turned to the others, “I am just going to scout round for a bit, to see what else has changed. I will be back later.” Picking up his camera and knife, thinking some pictures would be sufficient proof to convince his companions, as well as himself, of what was lurking out there. He set off.
After a short stroll, he came back to the clearing. Most of the rabbits he had seen that morning were gone, except for two still grazing at the far end of the clearing. Alan immediately recognised the first one as Hazel. Beside him stood a smaller rabbit with similar mousy brown fur and reddish eyes, which seemed to have a strange demented look in them. Remembering the story in the novel, Alan felt certain this had to be Hazel’s younger brother, Fiver; a runty rabbit with a sixth sense that gave him premonitions of upcoming danger. The two rabbits seemed to be talking in that strange new language he had overheard earlier. Alan’s jaw dropped in amazement as he listened in, vaguely recognising some of the words; it was Lapine, the language of rabbits that Richard Adams had invented and used in his book, somehow having been developed into the native language of this land.
“How I wish I had brought that book with me,” Alan thought in utter bewilderment, remembering his copy of Watership Down, which he had left on his daughter’s bed a long way away and no use to him when he needed it the most. His confidence restored and his curiosity overpowering his sense of caution, he silently crawled closer through the undergrowth. Taking cover behind some bushes, he slipped out his camera from his vest pocket and activated the silent flash, intent on not drawing attention to himself.
Alan was about to take a photograph of the two, when suddenly a rustling from behind him got his attention; he was not the only one watching after all. He turned round and a horrific sight met his eyes; a large fox, the size of a fully-grown lion, was lying in the grass, facing the clearing. It hadn’t noticed Alan or probably didn’t care; with a twinge of fear, Alan realised it was about to attack the rabbits. Suddenly, the fox launched itself at the two rabbits, followed by a scream of pain and fear. Looking up, Alan saw it had snatched the smaller rabbit in its jaws and was running off with the terrified creature in its jaws.
Not pausing to think, he dropped his camera and gave chase, drawing his knife from his belt. Grasping it by the tip of the blade, he took aim and flung it in the direction of the escaping fox. The knife found its target, right in the back of the beast’s neck, severing the spinal cord; with a moan of pain, the large animal instantly crumpled to the ground dead. Alan rushed at it and quickly managed to loosen the rabbit from the fox’s jaws. For a moment he thought it had been strangled to death, but then it slowly begun to stir. At the sight of Alan, it gasped in fear and tried to run. But the bite on its neck was too painful and it fell, crying in pain. Alan gently grabbed hold of him, trying desperately to calm him down. It wasn’t easy; the rabbit was the size of a ten-year old child and could struggle pretty hard, and Alan feared he would hurt him if he tried any harder to restrain him.
“Whoa, whoa! It’s all right. I am not trying to hurt you! Calm down!” he called out, as he heard the rabbit scream something indistinctive in Lapine. Hearing him speak, the rabbit suddenly stopped struggling and turned to stare at Alan in amazement, almost as if seeing a talking human was something unheard off.
As Alan felt the young rabbit start to relax, he slowly loosened his grip on him, just as he heard more rustling from the trees behind him. He spun round, just in time to see another larger rabbit charging at him. Its head impacted with his stomach with such force, he thought he was going to turn inside out. He was knocked violently backwards and his head impacted with a nearby tree. There was a sharp pain on the side of his forehead and then everything went black.
Hazel and Fiver were out on evening silflay. After finding a private spot, the two siblings sat there enjoying their evening in peace and quiet. The two rabbits were natives of Sandleford, a warren located in the heart of the Great Meadows of Fenlo, their vast homeland. Both siblings, like most of the youngest generation of Sandleford, had been orphaned since childhood and forced to fend for themselves. Unlike his other siblings, Hazel hadn’t made any attempt to join the Owsla, instead dedicating himself to his neglected brother. After the deaths of his father and brothers, the two siblings had become outskirters, living in a cramped burrow on the edge of the warren.
Sandleford warren, ruled by an elderly, short-tempered rabbit called Thearah, was divided into three major classes: the Chief, the Owsla and advisors, and finally the outskirters. The Owsla, which represented the Chief Rabbit, were soldiers assigned on guard duty, patrols or defending the warren from danger. In spite of the risks involved in their duties, being in the Owsla had many privileges, including good food and a choice of the finest burrows for them and their families. There were no does in the Owsla or advisors to the Chief; all the bucks had it as their ambition in life, to join the Owsla and rise to the highest rank possible. Unfortunately, due to corruption and social discrimination, only the finest and most able-bodied bucks were admitted into the Owsla. As a result, more than half of Sandleford’s population consisted of the outskirters, the lowest ranking class.
The outskirters, in direct contrast to the Owsla, had very few privileges. Although not controlled like under a monarchy, the outskirters suffered great resentment and sometimes abuse from bullying Owsla officers. Since the Thearah rarely took the outskirters seriously, many Owsla officers, particularly the younger recruits, made a bad habit of tormenting outskirters with their status, bullying them away from the finest flayrah and sometimes, even assaulting them. Although there were never any serious incidents, this caused great distrust and even animosity between the Owsla and outskirters. In spite of all this corruption, some outskirters, including Hazel, had a few friends in the Owsla.
Hazel and Fiver’s lives were pretty dull; other than scavenging for flayrah that the Owsla offices hadn’t taken for themselves or playing Bobstone competitions with their other outskirter friends, their routine way of life was very monotonous. Neither of the bucks had ever mated, since most of the does chose Owsla bucks because of their privileges or strength. Although Hazel had considered leaving their home warren many times and seeking a new future elsewhere, there was nowhere to go, since Sandleford’s only neighbourhood warren, Thinial had been abandoned long ago during a plague of White Blindness that had killed many Sandlefordians, including most of Hazel and Fiver’s family. Also, in light of the Thearah’s warning that any immigrants or ‘deserters’ as he called them, would be exiled and never permitted to return, the thought was discarded.
As Fiver moved away from his brother looking for some coltsfoot that the Owsla may have overlooked, his sense of smell picked up a strange scent coming from the bushes; it was almost like man, yet it seemed to be combined with some other unfamiliar scents. As he curiously sniffed the air for the source, his instinct told him there was danger approaching. Hazel, who was busy munching a cowslip a short distance away, hadn’t noticed anything. Suddenly, he spun round and, with a twinge of fear, saw a homba charging at him full force. Before he could move or even scream, he felt the beast’s jaws slam shut on his neck and lift him of the ground. The hungry eli quickly bolted from the boundaries of the warren and run into the woods, its sharp teeth keeping a firm grip on its soon-to-be victim. The pain and the predicament of about to be eaten alive overcame him and he blacked out.
After what seemed like an eternity, Fiver slowly opened his eyes and realised he was no longer in the homba’s mouth. He was lying face down on the ground and his neck felt quite painful, “Where am I? Is this the gardens of Frith?” he thought in bewilderment; was this, what dying was all about? Suddenly he was startled from someone gently patting him over the shoulders and he picked up that strange new scent again, this time very close. He looked up and gasped in fear.
Crouching above him was a man, with the strangest appearance Fiver had ever seen. Yet, strange appearance or not, it was still a human, a well-known rabbit slaughterer. Panicking, he stood and was about to bolt for his life, but his injured neck burst with pain and he fell over. As he tried to crawl away, he felt the man swiftly, yet gently grab hold of him. Fiver felt his insides turn to ice; was this creature about to kill him?
“Hazel, help!” he cried out desperately, struggling to escape the man’s tight grasp. Curiously, the human didn’t reach up to strangle him as he had expected him to. Instead, to his amazement, the human spoke in an ancient dialect that most rabbits still used by tradition, “Whoa, whoa! It’s all right. I am not trying to hurt you! Calm down!”
His astonishment having won over his fear, Fiver slowly turned to stare at his strange captor. This stranger looked nothing like an ordinary human; he was hardly taller that Hazel and seem to possess intelligence aside from the ability to speak. Before Fiver could master the courage to try and talk back however, he heard a rustling in the bushes and in an instant, the man was sent flying off him, slamming into a tree and falling unconscious. Hazel, determined on saving his brother from the homba, had caught up with them and attacked the human, thinking he was attacking Fiver.
“Keep away from my brother, you embleer ithe! I’ll give you something for your hunger,” Hazel snarled in an icy voice filled with hatred and rage, as he raised a paw to strike a fatal blow on the human’s head. Fiver jumped, “Hazel, no! Please, leave him alone. He didn’t hurt me!” the young rabbit begged his brother, limping up to him. Hazel turned to his brother, looking concerned, as he started nuzzling him for injuries, “Hrairoo ma rusati, are you alright?”
“Yes, I am fine. Don’t hurt him, please. He just saved my life.” Hazel frowned, “What in Frith’s name are you talking about? He is a human, Fiver! Humans kill and eat rabbits, yet you defend him?”
“Hazel, he…he spoke to me,” Fiver said, shaking his head slightly as he realised how foolish he must sound. Hazel looked more perplexed than ever, “Humans can’t talk Fiver! You must have been imagining it. Come, let’s get out of here, before…” Fiver shook his head, “No Hazel, I am sure of it. They were words from the ancient language before Frith’s blessing.” They turned and spotted the dead homba lying close by, Alan’s knife still jabbed into its neck. Hazel’s deep hatred of humans started to recede and curiosity replaced it, realising what had happened; it had indeed been that human that had saved his brother from been torn to shreds. He turned to get a better look at the stranger.
“Where do you suppose he comes from?” he said, staring at Alan’s Oxford shirt and pressed jeans, garments completely unfamiliar to Hazel, aside from the man’s trimmed hair and clean appearance, as well as the curious ticking sound of the watch on his wrist and the gleaming of the horn-rimmed spectacles on his face, “He is definitely not local.”
At that moment another larger rabbit with silvery white fur, emerged from the bushes, “What’s all the commotion about? What in Frith’s name?!” he gasped as he spotted the unconscious Alan. Silver was the Thearah’s nephew, a young veteran in the Owsla and also a good friend of Hazel and Fiver’s. Although he was a strong and daring buck, he was ridiculed and shunned by his fellow officers because was an ‘outskirter sympathiser’ and because of his overweight that usually got him into trouble. As a result, most of his closest friends were among the outskirters, much to the disapproval of his stern uncle. Fiver turned to his brother, “Hazel, he is badly hurt. We must help him or the elil will get him soon.” The fat silvery rabbit looked horrified, “Have you gone around the twist you two? Get away from that…that human!” But Fiver remained stubborn.
“No, we must help him. I’ve got a strange feeling about him. Silver please, you are the biggest, can you help us carry him to our burrow?”
“There better be a good explanation for all this, Fiver! My uncle will be furious if he finds out…” Hazel interrupted him, “Silver, please do what Fiver says. This stranger just saved my brother from being eaten alive; we ought to do something for him.” Sighing in exasperation, Silver hoisted Alan onto his broad shoulders and with Hazel’s help, they carried him to the safety of Hazel and Fiver’s burrow. After reassuring the concerned Silver that everything would be all right and making him promise not to breathe a word to anyone, the fat rabbit left, hoping to get some answers about this strange human in the morning.
“Are you sure I didn’t kill him?” asked Hazel hours later, as they stared at Alan’s still unresponsive form. Night had fallen by now and the man still hadn’t regained consciousness. Fiver placed his ear over Alan’s mouth and listened, “No, I can definitely hear him breathing. By Frith Hazel, I never thought you could hit so hard! You should be in the Owsla…”
“Fiver, are you sure we should be helping him?” Hazel asked with a frown, as Fiver licked at the cut on Alan’s forehead, “Father and our three brothers were killed by man. Remember what mother went through? Perhaps we should take him out and leave him before he wakes, just to be on the safe side? I really don’t trust this fellow.”
“Hazel, are you willing to turn away the fellow that saved your brother’s life?” Fiver asked stiffly and Hazel sighed, “No, I guess not,” muttered the brown-furred buck, silently praying to Frith that his brother’s kindness wouldn’t bring trouble upon them. Their father and brothers’ violent deaths at the hands of native humans, which had been witnessed by Silver’s sister Violet, leaving her traumatised, had been a terrible tragedy for the whole family. The two siblings sat watching Alan, as they waited for their guest to awake.
Back at the plane, Derek and Robbins were still preoccupied with their card game, “Bet you ten and I’ll raise you ten,” Derek said, placing a £10 banknote before Robbins. “So what have you got?”
“Three queens,” replied Robbins with a wide smile, placing his cards forward, “I win again.” Having lost most of his money and feeling irritated at having lost the third game in a row, Derek turned to look at the setting sun, while Robbins pocketed his winnings.
“It’s getting dark. I wonder what’s keeping Alan so long. Perhaps we should go and look for him?”
“Oh, don’t bother. A former marine can take look after himself; we should remain here, in case help arrives,” Robbins replied, resetting the cards for another round. “Care for another game?” But Derek didn’t fail to notice a hopeful expression on Robbins’s face that seemed to hope for the worst.
Alan slowly opened his eyes and found it was completely dark around him. Soon he realised he was no longer in the open air; he was underground, judging by the strong smell of soil that filled the air. Feeling in his belt, he also realised his knife was missing along with his camera, probably having been lost in the confusion with the fox. Reaching into his vest pocket, he found his box of matches. Striking a match, he found himself lying in a geode-shaped burrow, big enough for him to crouch in. The floor was covered in rough straw, like a carpet.
His head felt extremely sore and his stomach even worse. He put his hand up to his forehead and traced a small cut just above his left eyebrow, where he had hit the tree. Fortunately, the impact hadn’t shattered his spectacles that, miraculously, were still on his face. Shakily and weakly he got up and was about to crawl towards the end of the tunnel when a firm, yet non-threatening voice spoke from behind him, startling him, “Hli, vahra.”
Alan spun round and found himself face to face with none other than Hazel, who was staring at Alan with a cautious expression. Fiver was standing right beside his brother, staring at Alan with a look of concern and admiration, unlike the fear he had shown when he had first seen him after the fox attack. Alan noticed his neck still looked sore and raw from where the fox had held him, yet he didn’t seem to be seriously injured. Both rabbits seemed a bit startled, probably by the striking and hissing of the match; a natural fear of fire. Alan carefully tried to remain calm, to face his situation.
“Look here fellas, this isn’t what you think it is. I wasn’t trying to cause trouble or anything. I only wanted to…” He was worried that probably the two rabbits didn’t understand English, something that could prove potentially problematic. As he thought of trying what little Lapine he knew, Hazel, having been convinced of his guest’s speaking abilities, cut him off.
“There is no need for explanations stranger,” he said, to Alan’s amazement, in an almost perfect English dialect, with a hint of a foreign accent (Lapine) that Alan couldn’t quite place, his face now forming into a thin smile. His voice was friendly and caring, yet he still looked rather wary of Alan, “Fiver told me what happened. He told me you risked yourself on his behalf. I wanted to thank you for your kindness and bravery and also to apologize for attacking and hurting you earlier. I had no idea your intentions were innocent.”
Alan relaxed, realising he wasn’t in any danger…for now. He could tell the two rabbits were very friendly but their enormous size, not to mention their talking abilities, still overwhelmed him. Hazel went on speaking, while still keeping a good 3-foot distance between them, almost as if uncertain, if the talking human standing before them was trustworthy or not, “We brought you down here, to keep you out of elil’s way until you are better. Fiver didn’t want to leave you out there unconscious.”
“That’s right. I could sense your feelings when you pulled that homba off me. You are lost and confused. I want to help you, just like you helped me,” the runt rabbit said, speaking for the first time.
“Sorry, where are my manners? I am Hazel and this is my little brother Fiver,” Hazel said, looking slightly taken aback.
“It’s an honour to meet you Hazel, Fiver. My name is Alan.” Normally, he would have offered his hand to shake, but decided against it, thinking these rabbits weren’t familiar with that gesture. Careful not to startle the rabbits, he lit the flashlight he had salvaged from the plane, to conserve his matches; he didn’t like having two rabbits three-quarters his size standing before him in the dark. The two rabbits kept their eyes fixed on him.
“We are pleased to meet you too, but we both have to ask you something. Not that we aren’t both eternally grateful to you, but I have to ask you before someone else does. I can tell from your scent, as well as from your appearance and nature that you are not one of the humans that live in the surrounding area. Not to mention that you possess the ability of speaking our tongue, something impossible for the humans we know. Who are you exactly? Where do you come from?”
Alan’s own mind was also filled to bursting with questions regarding his hosts. So in this alien land, the characters of a fictional story were real; could the plot be real as well? Should he tell them? Despite his uncertainty of his situation and trying to be as understandable as possible, he explained, “I come from another world, very different from yours. I don’t know how exactly I’ve come to be here, yet here I am. I tried to approach you, hoping you could help me figure out where I am…” Hazel answered him immediately. “You’re at Sandleford warren, in the meadows of Fenlo. What’s your warren called?”
“Well, I guess you can call it London and its people Londoners,” Alan replied, his fear of his hosts now completely diminished, yet he felt a twinge of disappointment, realising that his new friends would hardly be of any help to him in finding his way home. The fact that Sandleford Park was now ‘Sandleford warren’ and the county of Hampshire was the ‘meadows of Fenlo’ didn’t sound too promising, being the names of supposedly fictional locations in a storybook. Hazel and Fiver listened intently as Alan continued his story.
“My companions and I were sent on an observation flight and we got lost. Your assumption of me not being born of this world is correct; we took off from one world and when we tried landing, we discovered the world we knew had vanished and was replaced with yours, with the time zones and seasons all shifted. Don’t ask me how it happened, because I don’t know. All I know is that we are stranded here with no idea of how to get back.”
“Time zones?” asked Hazel confused; the principles of basic human science were hardly known among rabbits. To explain better, Alan showed them his watch. Hazel and Fiver stared at it cautiously, as the ticking noise, sounded much like a heart beat to them. Fiver sniffed it and gently nudged it with his paw probably thinking it was alive, “What in Frith’s name is that?”
“It’s called a watch; a devise we use to tell time. Twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night form a 24-hour cycle that mark off each of the 365 days of the year,” Alan explained, pointing at the moving hands, “Don’t you have a way to tell time round here? With the movement of the sun and the moon?” Catching the gist of what Alan was talking about, Hazel explained.
“Well, not in the way you tell it. We know about uth-frith and ni-frith that mark off a day, uth-Inle and ni-Inle that mark off a night, hrair days mark off a season and finally the kes seasons that form a full cycle of seasons,” he explained, what seemed to be his people’s calendar system. Although fairly straightforward, Alan realised it wouldn’t do him much good since these rabbits didn’t seem to keep any accurate track of the date without the use of numbers, thus it would be pointless to enquire any further.
“Impressive…Does your kind make many gadgets like this…watch? Or that other contraption of your that glows like Frith?” Hazel asked staring at the glowing bulb of the illuminated flashlight, “Over here, we praise someone for building a strong warren or telling a good story, but this…” Alan chuckled, “This glowing contraption is called a flashlight; we use it to generate light in dark places. And these are just a minor sample of what you can find in the human world. What if I were to tell you that we have contraptions, or planes as we call them, that allow us to fly?” Both rabbits’ eyes went wide in amazement.
“You say you flew here?” asked Fiver with great interest just like the man’s feelings for the two bucks were mutual. Then his eyes went wide with understanding, “That mysterious bird the night patrol saw two nights ago, that was you?”
“That’s right. That ‘mysterious bird’ of mine crashed and our captain died. It’s just me and two other survivors left stranded.” Finally deciding that his guest was no threat, Hazel spoke back to Alan in a more welcoming manner.
“Well, you are welcome to stay with us until you find your way home; we do owe you a favour after all. As long as you stay out of sight from the Owsla, there should be no problem. Our neighbours are close friends and can understand.” At the thought of gossip leading to his exposure, Alan felt uneasy.
“Does anyone else know about me being here?”
“Yes, a friend of ours helped us carry you down here but don’t worry; he can be trusted.” Alan breathed a sigh of relief at this. Then he turned and noticed that Fiver was staring directly at him, his eyes locked with the man’s; Alan realised that the seer rabbit was sensing his emotions.
“This is very strange. It feels almost as if you are an old acquaintance, even if none of us have ever met you before. I don’t understand it.”
“I see you have discovered one of my secrets Hrairoo.” Alan said, smiling at the surprised looks on the rabbits’ faces, as he used Fiver’s Lapine birth name, “I suppose there is no point in avoiding it any more. There is something else I think you should know. Something that may sound crazy, but true nonetheless.” The rabbits looked at each other in confusion, as Alan explained, “We may have never met before, but I know you all very well. Back in my world, your life’s story is part of a famous tale.”
For the next hour, Alan told his two new friends about the story of Watership Down. He told them about Fiver’s vision of Sandleford’s destruction, their escape, the perilous journey to Watership Down, establishing a new warren, the challenge to Efrafa and the final battle, all the way to Hazel’s death. When he had finished, what he saw shocked him. He had expected the rabbits to at least express disbelief, if not mock him or accuse him of lying. Instead, Hazel was staring at him with expressions of worry and Fiver was silently trembling beside his brother.
“So that means, you also know our destinies?” Alan nodded, “When does it all start?”
“I don’t know. Judging by your age, I’d say in the non-so distant future. However, I still haven’t seen any familiar events occurring, so I can’t be certain,” Alan replied.
“Perhaps you could guide us through it?” Since Alan preferred to deal with facts rather than theories, he decided to speak plain.
“But we don’t even know if anything will happen. According to the story, it all happens in my world. Your world varies a great deal from mine; that alone, could change everything. Besides, what am I supposed to do? Go up to your Chief Rabbit and tell him that this warren is about to end? In the story, he didn’t even take yours or Fiver’s word on it. I doubt mine will make a difference, given that humans don’t seem to be very popular round here. And it could turn out to be a false alarm. Unless…”Alan suddenly came up with an idea to test his theory on the reality of the book’s plot. He turned to Fiver.
“I think there is a way to find out if any of the said events will actually happen; shortly before Sandleford’s destruction, you had a vision of the imminent catastrophe. If you actually have that vision soon, then we can tell for certainty that the future has been written and act accordingly. I say we wait and see.”
“And if it does happen as you say?”
“Then I’ll give you instructions on what you have to do,” Alan replied, feeling rather stupid at the prospect of changing the outcome of a fictional story. Hazel looked sceptic and troubled, “What about the others? Should we tell them anything?”
“No, not yet. Since some of them have seen me already, there is no point in hiding me from them. You should tell them about who I am and where I come from, before someone gets cold feet and decides to blab to the Owsla. However, don’t tell anyone else what I told you about your foretold future until we’re absolutely certain. We will tell them when the time is right.” As they continued chatting, Alan saw light appear from the burrow entrance behind Hazel.
“Morning,” he said. “I better return to my camp, before my companions start scouting the area looking for me and stumble across any of your Owsla.” He crawled towards the exit run, Hazel and Fiver behind him. He stepped out into the early morning sunlight, feeling almost blinded by the light, after having spent an entire night in a pitch-black burrow. As he walked away, he turned to look at his two new friends that were staring at him from the burrow entrance.
“When do we meet again?” Fiver asked, looking rather sad at watching Alan leave. The professor smiled warmly at the runt rabbit.
“This evening. Just before dark, sneak out of the warren and come to my camp. That should be safe from any prying eyes or ears. Also, bring anyone else who saw me with you. Vao frithaes ma vahril!” he said, trying his best with Lapine.
“Wait, please…” Fiver said and Alan turned to look at him, “Thank you.” The man nodded curtly, “My pleasure lad.” Even Hazel couldn’t help but smile in gratitude, as they watched their new friend disappear through the trees. Perhaps there was indeed more to humans than what met the eye?
Back at the plane, two men that had had a sleepless night of searching the surrounding woodland for their missing companion, were having a heated argument. Derek was yelling at an irritated Robbins.
“I told you something was wrong. He goes for a walk and just disappears like the wind. We go looking for him and all we find is a dead giant fox with his knife stuck in its neck. Where did he go? Oh, believe me, if he is hurt because you prevented me of going after him sooner, so help me I’ll wring your neck!”
“No need for that, Deek. I am alive and kicking, if not a little shell-shocked from my little adventure last night,” Alan said as he emerged from the bushes. The two men instantly jumped at his voice, “Alan! You son of a bitch, don’t scare me like that again! Not that this foul git would make a fuss about it, mind you…” Derek turned to look at Robbins with distaste.
“Where the hell were you? And what happened to your eye?” the journalist snapped, as he tossed Alan his knife and camera, which they had found while searching for him. “Back from your holiday?”
“Shut up you two and listen. I found something that will probably drive you bonkers. This place is inhabited by gigantic rabbits that speak fluent English and are supposedly the fictional characters of a storybook. What do you make of that, huh?” Derek and Robbins remained silent and staring. “What the hell are you blabbering about doc?” Robbins finally snapped, “Have you taken one too many blows to the head perhaps?”
“You don’t believe me do you? Well, I suggest you do, because they will be coming here tonight.”
Derek looked thoughtful. “Alan, tell us what happened to you last night. After seeing those giant mushrooms and now that gigantic dead fox, I believe I have seen more than enough to convince me that you were not dreaming.”
So Alan told his two companions everything; how he first spotted these strange rabbits but decided to remain silent until he could find proof, his return to the warren, the fox attack, being accidentally attacked and waking up in the borough with the two giant talking rabbits who befriended him. He even told them his absurd deduction that they were in fact in a world that only existed in a story.
When he was done, Derek was staring at him with an unreadable expression while Robbins was strutting around, shaking his head as if he had been listening to the most absurd conversation of his life.
“So we can add the mystery of the replacement of human society with rabbit society, to that of shifted time zones, reversed seasons, dead radios and missing places. Instead of finding help, we find rabbits. Civilisation has been reduced to a domain of giant, talking rabbits.” Alan said, biting his lip and rolling his eyes. Derek, although still unsure of the reality behind his best mate’s story, seemed to be thinking hard.
“Then perhaps these rabbits of yours could tell us where we are? Maybe they saw that mysterious shock that changed everything and know what it is?” Alan shook his head in denial, “No, I already asked them. They saw our plane descending, but none of them saw what we saw up there. Besides, I found that they don’t know anything about our world, anymore than we know about theirs. It doesn’t figure. How could these strange rabbits have evolved, without someone having seen them before? It’s just nuts, it is.”
“Damn right its nuts Professor, just like you are. Giant talking rabbits indeed! You’re sick.” Derek held a menacing finger up to Robbins’s face, “You shut up.” He turned back to his friend, “So what’s your conclusion to all this mystery?”
“Well…” the former marine muttered pacing around nervously, “My deduction is that we have somehow slipped into another dimension, out of our world. That is a reasonable explanation why everything has turned topsy-turvy. Either that, or we are all somehow hallucinating.”
“No, you and lard-belly here are hallucinating!” Robbins said, bored by the conversation, as Derek’s eyes flashed dangerously at the insult. Alan looked at him, “We shall see soon enough.”
Meanwhile, Hazel and Fiver were being bombarded by questions from some other rabbits that had arrived to see them, shortly after Alan had left. Although Silver had kept quiet, several other outskirters had somehow got wind of what had happened and had come to check on Fiver and also to find out more about this ‘strange talking human’.
“You had a human in here last night? Are you mad?” gasped a dark grey rabbit, as Hazel told them everything that had happened last night, however excluding what Alan had told them about the future, intent on not pushing the story too far.
“That human can actually speak our tongue?” said Silver, who had arrived first of all.
“You said he killed a homba to save your life, Fiver?” asked a chubby, young dwarf rabbit that stood beside another rabbit with golden brown fur and a slightly dreamy expression. After a series of loud stamping to stop the muttering, Hazel addressed his visitors.
“Patience everybody. All questions will be answered. Hawkbit, yes, we had a human in our burrow last night, but not out of madness, but gratitude. Silver, yes, this human can speak the ancient tongue of our ancestors very well and by the look of it, he has spoken it all his life. As for you Pipkin, yes, he chased after that homba and killed it before it could strangle my brother to death.”
“By Frith, Hazel! You could give me a run for my silflay with this tale,” said the dreamy rabbit rather excitedly. Some of the others chuckled but Hazel remained serious.
“This is no story, Dandelion. We did meet a human that possesses abilities, unlike any other human anyone has ever seen before. And I will give you the reason to this mystery: This human is not from our world. He and his two companions stumbled on our world by accident and are now stranded here. My brother and I promised to help him and we intend to keep that promise. Tonight, we are going to find him and talk to him again. I suggest you come and see for yourselves, to dispel any doubts.”
“Hold on a shake, Hazel. You aren’t serious about doing this are you? Go and visit a human? How do we know that this…human isn’t hostile or dangerous? You said he killed a homba with one blow. What if he decides to do the same to us? What if he is some sort of spy?”
“I don’t think that will happen, Silver,” Fiver said confidently, “I could feel his emotions when he was here. He is haunted by some dark past and seeks happiness again; but there are no evil intentions inside him. I trust him absolutely.”
“What about the Owsla and the Chief Rabbit?” said Silver after a few minutes of silence, “I don’t think my uncle would be happy if he found out we have secret contacts with a human, unusual or not. You know how much he despises them and as for him saving your life Fiver, well that would be of little interest to him.”
“That is why I want your word, that you won’t speak of this to anyone else, least of all the Thearah and the Owsla. Can we count on you?” Hazel asked, looking at the crowd with a slightly worried expression. The group muttered at each other; although Hazel and Fiver’s actions of trusting a talking human were questionable, the thought of doing something ‘against the rules’, right behind the bullying Owsla’s back nonetheless greatly appealed to the outskirters.
“Alright, you have it. I just hope you know what you are doing Hazel,” Silver replied and the others slowly nodded in agreement.
Unknown to any of them however, two other, unwelcome rabbits were listening just outside the burrow entrance. Both were rather thickset and had mean, bullying expressions on the faces; they were Owsla officers, who had come to visit the outskirters’ neighbourhood, hoping to find some victims either to bully or report to their captain on some hearsay accusation. Now, attracted by the sight of so many rabbits crowding into that particular burrow, the two officers were eavesdropping with interest, “What is all this about Toadflax? What are they talking about down there, in secret? I saw that those who went in were cautious not to be seen. Could it be some conspiracy?”
“I don’t know Scabious. They are saying something about a friendly human who they have met and talked to,” muttered Toadflax, an officer in the Sandleford Owsla. He was a young recruit, born to a respected Owsla father who had recently passed away, letting his son take up his position as Owsla scout. Although he was a good runner and tracker, his family background gave him the impression of being superior to others around him, particularly the outskirters, who were frequent victims of his bullying behaviour. His friend and fellow Owsla comrade, Scabious was of a similar background, arrogant and selfish, with no qualms of abusing his position to suit his own interests. Highly disliked among the outskirters, the pair wouldn’t miss a chance to torment someone and then attempt to frame him for a supposed charge, should he retort or strike back. Although they were both always careful never to push it too far and land themselves in trouble, their behaviour was a major concern for all outskirters.
“Talked to a human? That’s preposterous, not to mention suicidal,” answered Scabious, shaking his head in disbelief. Toadflax ignored him and kept listening closely at the burrow entrance; being a highly ambitious soldier with the dream of rising to the rank of captain someday, he had made a habit of spying on the outskirters, hoping to find someone to turn in for a supposed crime and earn a reward promotion in return, usually without success. But this time, it was not to be the case.
“I think the Threarah would be interested in hearing about all this. If Frith is smiling on us today, maybe we have discovered something that would earn us a generous promotion from the Thearah. I am personally dying to becoming Owsla captain and have that old hypocrite Holly bumped down a few steps.” Captain Holly, the Owsla captain of Sandleford and Toadflax and Scabious’ commanding officer, was a brave, yet strict rabbit who valued order and obedience; unfortunately, their attempts to impress him enough to promote them to high-ranking officers had been futile, earning their jealousy and spite in return.
“I think you are right, Toadflax. Come on, let’s go before we are discovered.” And they left, thinking of how they could use this opportunity to their advantage.
Author’s note: Chapter 5 is up! Although the story has many similarities to the book, the plot will differ greatly from the original, due to the circumstances of the time travel, among other factors. By the way, the text in italics is Lapine talk; whenever a human isn’t present, the rabbits speak Lapine but I dubbed it into English to make life easier for the readers. Thank you RogueFanKC for your wonderful reviews! Enjoy and please review!