A Helping Hand
By Ellyse R. Joseph
When Lif crested the hill, the sight that greeted her was desolation. The landscape that stretched out before her was flat and dry and scorched. The trees, if she dared to identify them as such, clung to the cracked earth with desiccated roots. “There is no life here” Lif shuddered.
Hunger now dug into her belly like a woodpecker’s beak. Waves of exhaustion pounded her small body so that she frequently had to stop to catch her breath. Lif looked around at her surroundings with a keen eye. She needed to find food and a place to hide. Her eyes came to rest on a withering bush a short distance from where she stood. “Food!” she whispered. She crawled over to the yucca tree and began to dig slowly at the base of the shrub. As luck would have it, she soon hit the swollen tuber of the tree. She quickly dug into it and began to eat tiny bits. She put the remaining bits in her sack. Lif was exposed and although she felt vulnerable, she had no choice but to continue on her journey. Her brother’s voice kept replaying in her head. “If you are on a mission, carry it out at night.” But thinking about him made her think back to why she was here.
Two months ago, things were actually going very well for the bunnies of Deer-Birch hollow. Baby bunnies ran around squealing. Adult bunnies sat in their backyards folding clothes, sipping carambola tea, or having a good gossip. Still others were hard at work, planting or harvesting food from the community garden that fed the bunnies of Deer-Birch. Lif spent most of her days spying on her older brother Orion and his band of warriors as they liked to call themselves. They had assumed the role of guardians of the hollow and Lif’s life dream was to march among them. However, as part of a huge family with very young babies, Lif was often assigned to care for the little ones when the older bunnies were busy.
On the first day of spring, however, Old Themus crawled out of his burrow and sat mindlessly chewing on a stalk of grass. Themus, the oldest bunny in the camp, had not left his burrow for as long as Lif could remember. The bunnies of the camp prepared and brought meals to Themus regularly. And the children were mindful to lower their voices or suspend noisy games when they approached his gate. Needless to say, the sight of Old Themus sent the whole colony into a frenzy. Deer-Birch hollow started whispering about “the omen.” In a panic, they convened a meeting in the village square and made three decisions: they would begin to stock-pile food immediately, shore-up the borders of the camp, and set a curfew for all bunnies.
About a week later, Themus crawled back into his burrow and that evening, a small gray cloud began to gather on the horizon. As the cloud grew bigger, the activities in Deer-Birch whipped into a frenzy. Something was about to hit the village and it was not rain. The gray cloud mushroomed as it got closer. “Locusts!” sighed Lif’s dad. “Batten down the hatches troops! We are about to get hit hard!” The locusts descended on the hollow in a massive swarm of noise and dust and within two days, all of the plants and trees above ground had been eaten down to their stems and stalks.
In the wake of the locust attack, the bunnies began the difficult task of re-growing their crops. Despite the devastation, they were in great spirits because they had full storehouses that would feed their families for at least a month. With this in mind, they worked hard to turn things back to normal. But alas, “the omen” was not over. A thick white blight began to infest the crops as they grew. And to make matters worse, the bunnies began to get sick when they ate food from the new crops. They had no way of getting rid of the blight and they needed help. Desperately.
Deer-Birch hollow came together again and they decided to send out Orion and his band of warriors to seek a cure for the blight. The band left under the shadow of night that evening. The bunnies waited anxiously for their return, hopeful that they would bring back a cure. For Lif, life seemed to drag on. Her family had to carefully ration the food that they had stored until hunger became a normal part of their existence.
One day, the youngest two of Lif’s siblings, Jubilee and Rocky, were extremely hungry. The twins were inseparable. They were each other’s favorite sibling and even had matching friendship bracelets that they wore all the time. So when Rocky offered to go and get some food from beyond the border, Jubilee wanted to tag along as well of course. But since she had promised her mother that she would help her clean out the burrow that day, Rocky went alone. After Jubilee finished cleaning, she waited for one hour, two hours, three hours, and still no sign of Rocky. Jubilee decided to go out and try to find him. A few steps beyond the border, she saw his bracelet ripped and broken. She knew immediately what had happened to her brother. Grief-stricken, she turned to trudge home with her tail dragging on the dirt. But then she saw a light and heard shuffling feet. Then a voice.
“Oy! The little one done spotted us!” one yelled.
“We should get her before she runs back to her village to tell the others!” said a second.
“Be the third darn rabbit we caught today!” exclaimed a third.
“You know, they look a bit similar to me” a fourth voice offered.
Weasels were an ancient enemy of the rabbits. They wanted to take their crops and they went around looting all the colonies. What they would do is surround a colony and capture any stray bunnies before they chance to warn the others of the coming assault.
“Oh no! I must run,” Jubilee whispered under her breath.
Jubilee dashed toward her burrow as fast as her little feet could carry her. She ran into Lif at the doorway and told her everything. They cried and cried and cried until Jubilee went to lay down on the bed. Lif could see the joy draining out of her sister’s eyes. And at that moment, she knew she had to do something and fast. Lif started to pack her things. She grabbed a canteen of water and set out the door, not knowing what to expect.
Back at the colony, the weasel attack was in full swing. Even though Jubilee had tried her best, the adults didn’t have enough time to prepare and they were soon captured. The weasel leader demanded to know where they kept their food. But the bunnies all remained silent. They knew that if they lost their precious food, they would surely perish.
It had now been three moons since Lif left on her mission. The water in her canteen had been running dangerously low. The night before, she had luckily found a yucca tuber for dinner. She nervously patted the leftover bits in her sack. Suddenly, her eye caught a slight movement. It looked like someone needed help. She hurried over to where the movement came from and found a prairie dog, faint with hunger. “Help me, please!” Her words were weak but clear. “I haven’t eaten in days.” Lif grabbed some of the yucca tuber from her sack and fed it to her new friend.
“Hi, I’m Lif. What’s your name?” Lif asked kindly.
“My name is Daisy. I was out gathering food and got lost in a sandstorm. They creep up on you out here in the desert.”
“I’m looking for my brother and his friends,” said Lif. “Have you seen a group of bunnies?”
“No, I haven’t but my home is not too far from here. I can take you and we can ask around,” Daisy replied.
An hour later, they arrived at the prairie dog town where Lif shared her story with Daisy and her family. Lif soon learned from Daisy’s parents that the locusts had struck their town a year ago and the white blight had soon followed. One of the prairie dogs had developed a successful formula that got rid of the blight.
“We will take you to him and I’m sure he would be glad to share with you,” they told her. Lif learned an interesting fact about the prairie dog formula: it used feathers from hawks, the natural enemies of weasels. One drop would send even the bravest weasel ducking for cover. She filled her sack with bottle of the formula, thanked her new friends, and set off for Deer Birch hollow.
When Lif arrived back at the hollow, she met her brother, Orion, and his friends outside the gate. They told her that they were disappointed because they had failed to find a cure for the blight. But they were even more heartbroken because the weasel had taken over Deer Birch hollow and now held everyone hostage in the town square until someone spilled the beans on where they kept their food. Lif excitedly told Orion and his friends about the formula in her sack.
“That’s brilliant,” Orion exclaimed. “We could storm the town square right now and send those weasels packing!”
And that’s exactly what they did. Weasels squealed and ran in all directions as fast as they could. No weasel was brave enough to come near Deer Birch hollow ever again.
One Year Later...
A tiny mouse named Minnie stumbled into Deer Birch hollow one autumn afternoon. She looked tired and hungry. Lif had been watering her garden of carrot and tomatoes.
“Help me, please!” she cried. “Locusts have devoured all of my family’s crops and when we planted new ones, they were soon covered in thick white blight. It made most of my colony sick. A few of us set out to try and find a cure. And what’s worse is that that some mean old weasels have stolen all of our good food we had stored.”
Lif smiled and put her arm around Minnie’s shoulder.
“Come inside and I’ll get you something to eat. And don’t worry, I think I have the solution to your problems!”