I'm writing a story a day this June as part of The Literal Challenge's 'Like the Prose'.
Today's story is 'Ruby and the Rabbit Hunter'. 15year old Ruby is waiting to hear the outcome of a family court hearing that will decide where she lives now her mother has died.
Ruby and the Rabbit Hunter
It was baking hot and the jackdaws seemed to be sounding the alarm as I climbed over the gate into the field and ran along the edge of it until I came to the track that leads down to the river. I didn’t dare look back. From behind, in my school uniform, I could be anyone from Habitson’s High, but my face, well everyone seemed to know that. I was Rubbish Ruby, Ruby Ratface, Ruby the druggy’s girl. Only the PE teacher called me Ruby Cooper, and that was when I was chilling in the changing rooms when I was meant to be playing football or basketball or some shit.
“Ruby Cooper”, she’d yell. “Get out here and show us your skills.” Then I’d smile a bit and saunter out. Miss Prebble would give me one of her looks and I’d shrug and half smile.
“I need you out there, Ruby. You’re the gal that gets the goals.” Which was true. But somehow the rest of the class didn’t appreciate that. They all hated me.
But today I wasn’t going to school, and I used my ‘supercool running’ skills, another thing Miss Prebble said about me, to bolt down that track towards my favourite place in Sheperdstown, the river. I love it there, even when it’s cold or raining. I get to my spot and take five deep breaths, and I can feel my heart rate slow down. Then I know I’m safe.
I needed to be safe that day because my life was being decided upon, without me being there. It sometimes made me laugh out loud, although inside I felt so angry I wanted to smash everything up. How dare they do this to me. A family court, privately making decisions about where I was going to live now my mum had died – how unkind is that? I had to switch my mind away from it or I’d go ballistic. And if I’d gone to school, it would just have ended up in a fight, and I’d be excluded, again.
The track was lined with green hedges and was puddle free, and I ran and ran. As usual, I met nobody and there were no sweet wrappers or fag packets littered around, so I knew I wasn’t likely to bump into anyone else bunking off from school. Instead, the track grew greener and less towny as I ran on. The bushes on one side morphed into trees, the branches overhanging the track and instantly cooling me down. I’d noticed the taste sweat in my mouth, but I didn’t intend stopping until I reached the river, which was very soon.
I turned the corner, where I usually burrow through the hole in the hedge to get to my hide by the river, and then I stopped. A baby rabbit just sat there. It looked at me for a couple of seconds then bolted, passing by me as it scampered up the track. I pushed on through the gap in the hedge and came out on the top of the bank leading down to the river, about ten metres away. There were more trees here, which suited me perfectly, and I clambered down to my special place, where I could sit, nestled between the roots of an old oak.
My plan was to wait here until someone told me what the court had decided. Then, if they decided I had to go into care, I’d run away; or maybe drown myself in the river. I wasn’t sure about that yet. What I did know was that some of my ‘choices’ were worse than life with my mum had been. And that had been crap because she was an addict. I don’t know if I was more scared of going back to a care home or living with my uncle. I’m not going to say why, but you might be able to guess. I wanted my own place most of all, but Lizzie, my Youth Offending Officer said I was too young. Lizzie wanted me to stay living with Scarlet, my sister, but she’s got a little boy and is expecting a baby and has a tiny flat. I didn’t want to think about it, so I opened my school bag and took out one of my cans of cider. It opened with a shwssh and I swigged back several large gulps.
I heard footsteps and a black dog appeared, closely followed by a nice old guy carrying a bag. I’d seen him before. He was walking along the river bank. When he saw me, he stopped.
“Are you ok?”
I nodded. My heart rate went up and I considered running, but what the hell. He nodded back while his dog approached me and let me stroke him. The man put his bag down and leaned against a tree.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked.
“Rabbits”, he said. I’ve done well today. I’ve got four of the blighters.
I was dumbstruck. This sweet old guy was a rabbit murderer? What else did he kill?
He saw my face and chuckled.
“There’s just too many of them. They eat through all the things I grow on my allotment; my lettuces cabbages, cucumbers. So I have to keep them down.”
I looked at him, thinking of that baby rabbit I’d just seen. Had this man killed his mum? I think he could see I was shocked but he went on.
“They don’t feel a thing with these new humane traps. They come in for a tasty nibble and that’s it. Off they go to rabbit heaven. And we have rabbit stew for tea.”
I felt tears well up in my eyes. “But the babies. What about the babies?”
The old guy looked at me his face scrunching up even more than I thought possible.
“They have to grow up fast, I guess, or they’ll die.” Then he gave another throaty chuckle. “The tough ones survive though. Like any breed, the weaker ones are weeded out. It sounds cruel I know, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.”
At that he picked up his bag of dead rabbits, whistled for his dog and walked on along the riverside path.
And then my phone rang. My wait was over.