Rabbit Mountain

by Michael Carter

The pasty-skinned widow with stringy hair fled to these mountains many years ago to escape the memories of her butchered husband. Crime and civilization were no longer for her. Her feet could barely reach the pedals of her red-and-white Willys as she slipped it between gears to maneuver the terrain. When she arrived at the old military cabin she leased from Uncle Sam for one hundred years, the Willys engine, struggling most of the way, died as she rolled into the carport. This must be fate, she thought. A sign that she was here to stay.

The old woman became legend in the high elevations. She garnered the name Yola, but she did not know why. Perhaps it was her skin, she surmised, which took a purplish hue as she aged. She had been spotted twice that she could recall—one time, when she was picking berries, by a Forest Serviceman counting trees; another by a mountaineer who lost her bearing on the land.

As the years passed and her skin darkened and her knuckles swelled, she learned to love the solace of the mountains. Never bothered, she lived a good life, eating berries, grouse eggs, and roasted boar meat in the warmer months. The local sounder of plump feral swine was abundant but accessible only in spring and summer on the far side of the mountain. During the winter, she consumed boar she had jerked and mushrooms she dried through late fall. For holidays, she concocted rabbit stew from meat she cured when the hares were reproducing in the warmer seasons. However, she knew to devour this only as a treat; eating it exclusively would lead to “rabbit starvation.” That is, one could eat and feel satiated but nonetheless starve to death, the meat lacking sufficient fat to sustain life.

Yola’s existence was one of peace and solitude. Nothing wrong with quiet, she often reminded herself.

Until one day the noise came. A small propeller plane sputtered over her cabin and boomed into the mountainside, far from her but close enough to hear screams of those who survived.

*

Somewhere near the mountain crag the pilot could not spot through the clouds, the small band of survivors made camp. The torn fuselage became their shelter. It was late fall when they went down, just before an early frost laced the leaves while they were still changing color. A cold winter was on the horizon.

The survivors foraged Yola’s mountain, consuming many of the berries and mushrooms she needed. They made noise, hollered, and built measly fires in attempt to draw rescuers. They dug a latrine downcanyon from Yola’s cabin, but close enough for the stench to reach her when the afternoon winds switched direction. Despite taking some of her harvest, it was not enough. They felt hunger.

As winter progressed and they ventured farther to seek food, Yola caught sight of them. They became bony. Their clothing hung. Their faces hollowed.

Yola smiled. If they made it deep enough into the winter, they would eventually turn to consume themselves. Then it would be quiet again. Then she would have her mountain back.

*

As snowfall accumulated and winter advanced, it was not as easy for Yola to ignore her neighbors. They hadn’t discovered her; thankfully, her cabin was stashed in a basalt crevasse where only the government knows to secret such things. But their hunger pains intensified, and their moans and hollers awakened her during the night.

“I have underestimated these intruders.” She spoke out loud to herself to keep company.

“Shut up,” she said when their starvation caws woke her.

“Why won’t you die!” she exclaimed when opening her door for fresh air, only to be greeted by whiffs from the latrine.

Finally, she said, “That’s it!” after discovering one of their bodies not far from the cabin. It had not been eaten and was left unburied, merely dumped for the animals to devour or for her to dispose of in spring.

“Wasteful bunch these ones. I must hasten them,” she muttered under her breath.

*

Yola tallied the days with chicken scratches on the internal beams of her cabin. “It should be near Christmas,” she said as she notched another day from atop a bleached-wood ladder she used to reach the upper beams.

She had prepared for this long, hard winter with extra boar and salted rabbit. She decided to give the intruders a special gift, batches of rabbit skewers she prepared and left in bins on the trail to the latrine. On that first day of her offering—Christmas Eve, by her count—they cheered into the night, their stomachs full and seemingly content with savory rabbit.

She continued to supply them with rabbit into the New Year. They became reliant, lazy, not wanting to expel energy to find new food sources. Despite their predicament, they were full and happy.

So was Yola. When she sighted them, they now appeared as skeletons, their winter frocks not bundled but draped loose on their shoulders, their hats drooping over their brows. Then the hunger pains intensified, and they returned to moaning at night.

But they did not last. They starved and dry-heaved and stumbled in delirium. Their bodies accumulated around the mountain, the remaining survivors too proud or ignorant to consume their own kind.

On the final day of their noise and smell, just as spring began to reach Yola’s cabin and make it warm enough to sit on her front porch, she had a cup of pine-needle tea, boar jerky, and a piece of rabbit or two for good measure. She sipped and grinned, even laughed at times, and enjoyed the rest of her days in solitude. And nothing but quiet.

Michael Carter is a writer and an occasional photographer from the Western United States. His stories and articles appear in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. He enjoys scavenging boneyards, fly fishing, and RVing. He has never had rabbit, and something tells him he probably shouldn’t. www.linktr.ee/mcmichaelcarter
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