The Rabbit, Isabelle Singleton
She is one of the cunning folk, and it is a heart filled with desire and hope that I make my way through the woods towards her, the half moon smirking knowingly in the dark.
The thicket seems to part as I pass through it, with the precious thing in my arms, and doesn’t try to hold us back from what lays beyond.
I almost miss the sting of the brambles nip, but we pass through undisturbed. As if the woods are holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. What happens to me.
There is no noise in the dark but the snap of twigs underfoot and the constant shuffle of the wild inhabitants lurking just beyond my sight.
All I see is what the lantern and the moon pick out for me. Presented in shadows.
It is only tonight that anyone can speak to the cunning woman. I’ve heard stories of lost travellers given riddles and those who dream of better things handing over blood promises and first borns, never to be seen from again, trying for a better life.
Our village is dwindling, the woods creep closer everyday, but today, I am creeping within. I know the price for what I ask, it’s weighted in my arms, lighter though, than the guilt pressed in on my chest. But I have to ask. And today is the only time she will speak to me, the mistress of mischief, the witch of the woods.
Above me are stars, or snowflakes suspended in time, I do not know. It’s almost as if the night has encased us in a small catch of seconds.
Everything is numb with the cold sucking the warmth from my fingers, and the tip of my nose.
Lungs ache from exertion and jack frosts breath. But I do not stop to rest. The witching hour is soon upon us.
I must get there soon.
The brambles retreat behind me and the branches above hang lower and lower, tangling together. Their snarled fingers form shapes, cantrips of protection and power. It thrums through me, warmth spreading like whiskey in my veins.
Bracken forms a moon gate further ahead and it is here that I stop.
I don’t know whether my courage has failed me, or whether I’m waiting for a sign, but the curved thorns, the blackberries glistening like small eyes, make me weary. The precious thing in my arms feels so heavy but I strive forward through into the unknown.
It is now that the thorns cut into me, my blood offered to them unwillingly, but a necessity out of my control.
The bracken tunnel gets smaller, narrower and I am forced to crawl, pushing the precious thing before me until we are birthed, bloodied and unclean into a fairy ring.
The small circle of grass is bejewelled with snow drops and within the centre, the burrow is an open mouth, waiting.
They say she has taken on many forms, but as I peep into the burrow before me I see that it is a rabbit she has chosen to reside within.
Maybe it is because it is almost midwinter, and to burrow down into the earth to rest, to wait for the breaking of spring is better in a rabbit burrow.
But that matters not. The only thing that matters now is what answer she will whisper through those sharp teeth.
I lay the precious thing down before the burrow, and as the wise women of our village say is custom I take a bit of my hair, sliced with a silver blade. Another slice of my finger, and I toss the bloodied tuft into that dark gaping mouth.
The precious thing before me glows in the moonlight, and I almost turn and run, back to the safety of the village where everyone will be filled warm with wine and laughter.
I could take a man into my arms, and perhaps, later, when more wine is drunk a woman too, and we could make secrets behind the hay bales together, our laughter erupting like sparks and floating off into the night.
But it is too late now, as the scuffle of the cunning woman, wrapped in rabbit fur and bone, hops towards me in the moonlight.
The golden glow from my lantern dims, as if bowing down to her mysticism before snuffing itself out.
The smoke trails slowly, meandering like a slow tide and she breathes it in, the bloodied tuft of my hair hanging loosely like broken prey between her teeth.
“What is it you ask of me?”
Her voice comes not from the rabbit, but from the wind.
Shivering I answer
“I wish to be like you. Oh mistress of mischief, the witch of the woods.”
Candle smoke and tangy blood have found their way to my stomach, and I want to retch, but i resist.
“And what do you give me?” Her voice chills me again but I answer
I un wrap the precious thing. The small bundle of limbs and hair and skin, that’s breathing slowly. So slowly I fear the cold has already taken her.
“I give you my daughter”
The rabbit twitches her nose. She does not judge, for she is not one to judge. The years she’s lived have eroded her away. Fear is absent, she is a boulder in a gentle stream. Unyielding.
“Our life is a lonely one.”
The rabbit looks to my daughter, my precious thing, and nods
“I see that you do”
“Please, powerful one. I wish to be as you are. I cannot give her a life. I have nothing. I want nothing. I wish to be your sister.”
“And the child?”
“She is yours, if you will have her.”
“Your string of fate ends here. You have already cut it with your knife and your hair and your blood. She is just another stranger to you. A small child you have not seen before. Go, my sister, and use your craft. Pay homage to our Selena, the moon. Bring in the solstices. Go, and live what you have bought.”
I thank the cunning woman, sucking at the mark on my thumb, and bid farewell to her and her daughter sleeping so peacefully under the stars.
As I make my way through the bracken, the thorns parting for me, unfurling like snakes in the dark, I look back and see her for what she is. Brown thick hair tumbles around her and a cloak of rabbit fur covers her skin. She is singing sweetly to her daughter.
We lock eyes, and she smiles, and I shiver for some reason. There is an ache in my chest as if I’ve released something I have been squeezing for a long time. Fear is absent.
And as I make my way back to the village my skin glows with moonlight, and I smile, my mouth full of rabbit teeth.
Isabelle Singleton is a recent creative writing MA graduate who has been described as a kooky cinnamon roll of a human being. She is a big fan of grapes and believes her spirit animal is a red panda (who are also big fans of grapes).