Updated: Oct 27, 2021
From the kitchen window, Breanne watched her seven sister snow hares decorate the Shiring Tree. They hung long streamers of gold and silver tinsel about the smooth white branches. Pippa’s seven brothers had hung ropes of twinkling white lights earlier that day.
Bree was having a hard time with this year’s pie. This year she had to win the trophy, it would be Grannybunny’s last Shiring Festival. Scowling, she pictured last year’s trophy sitting in the window of Pippa’s house, on the eastside, for all the snow rabbit community to see. She could not fail again this year.
She was using Grannybunny’s recipe, from a handwritten cookbook that would eventually be passed down to her, she did most of the cooking in the burrow. The pie filling was missing something, something…something. She tapped a finger against her chin. She had read the entire cookbook from cover to back, seeking enlightenment, some special ingredient mentioned between the lines perhaps.
Breanne’s snowy sisters came bounding in the door, chittering away happily and shaking iridescent flakes from their long ears. They talked of what they were going to wear that night and who they would dance with. Bree did not care about any of that silly girl stuff, she only cared about beating that pompous rabbit from the east side of the tree.
As the night chased the last of the light from the day, the proud Shiring Tree looked more radiant than ever. The thousands of heart shaped leaves, red like drops of blood, whispered softly, announcing the coming of winter. Winter was their favorite season. The bears were hibernating, the hares’ downy soft fur turned white, and thin-skinned humans rarely ventured this far north. The ancient tree was so enormous, its branches canopied the entire meadow. The twinkling lights, like bright happy stars, lit the clearing entirely, as hares from all four burrows laid out tablecloths and a polished pine dancefloor. The yearly Shiring Festival invoked the most romantic feelings in even the most curmudgeonly of rabbits. Bree’s sisters wished she would
loosen up a bit, have some fun, meet a nice boy…She could only think of the trophy and her pie.
“Davy will ask me to dance tonight,” said Petunia, “I’ve caught him staring a couple of times…”
“Oh Petty, of course he will! You’re the prettiest bunny in Shiretown.” Said Ivy giggling. Poppy rolled her eyes. The eight were identical octuplets.
“I’m going to wear my red dress, to match the Shiring Tree leaves.” Said Annette, dancing with her dress, twirling on her toes.
“That’s sure to make Bobby notice you,” said Pony, “I’ve got my eye on his brother Paul, he’s got really big feet.”
All the chattering and gossip was driving Breanne mad. She couldn’t concentrate on her pie. She grabbed her coat from its hook and went out the backdoor unnoticed. She walked to the center of the meadow and looked up at the magnificent tree, the lights made the snow sparkle like diamond powder. She inhaled the icy winter air, and it cleared her head. She breathed in the wonderful seasonal scents: pine needles, sap, smoke from her neighbors’ cookfires and ginger snap cookies. She leaned against the trunk of the tree, the rippled white bark cool as verglas against her cheek. The bark smelled a bit like cinnamon. A bit like nutmeg too, maybe spicier. An idea came to her like jolt of lightning.
Bree raced back home, then came back to the tree with a sharp little paring knife. She looked around, making sure no one was watching, then she stripped a sliver of bark away from the back of the tree. A droplet of crimson sap oozed from the wound. A goose walked over her grave. She put the bark in her pocket then piled a bit of the snow to the trunk to hide the red hole she had made.
Back at home, her silly sisters were in the bedroom at the far end of the burrow, still chattering away about boy bunnies and clothes and shoes and putting on mascara. She took the bark from her pocket and dried it the oven. Then she placed it in her mortar and pestled it into a fine aromatic powder. Two teaspoons went into her pie filling. She baked the pie until the flakey crust was a perfect golden brown, crunchy sugar grains in the crumbles glittered on top.
Breanne quickly got into her best dress, a silk cobalt blue with delicate crystal beads along the throat and sleeves. Poppy, who was not interested in boys, and Grannybunny waited for her downstairs. The rest of her sisters had left a half hour before.
The band started playing at eight. Some snow hares were already dancing, many were admiring the buffet table laden with steaming dishes, sparkling cutlery, and a crystal punch bowl with rubarb-apple cider in it the color of a young girl’s blush. Pippa was standing by the table with the pies on it, it’s center held the trophy. Breanne couldn’t help but notice he was quite dashing in a charcoal grey suit and cherry red bowtie.
'He’s a Eastsider,” she reminded herself, “I hate him. This year I’m winning.'
She placed her pie next to his, brushing her hand against his. An electric tingle went through her chest. Odd.
“Hi Bree. You look ravishing tonight.” Said Pippa.
“Pippa.” She nodded slightly at the charming rabbit, taken by surprise by his candor. “I like your tie.” And she thought to herself. “That was lame.” Aloud she said, “Good luck with the contest.”
“Same to you my dear.”
Breanne turned away and went to her giggling sisters.
“Pippa likes you!” cried Shireen.
“He’s the enemy, he’s just sizing up the competition.” Said Bree, annoyed. “Besides, I could never date an Eastsider.”
Pony piped up, “Whatever you say big sis. But to try relax and have some fun. Go have a drink. Go dance, the band is smokin hot this year! Oh!
There’s Paul. Seeya.” She hopped happily off to a boyishly cute rabbit in a salmon pink sports coat.
The band played a classic ELO tune, but Bree didn’t feel like dancing. She spied Pippa talking to a small pretty bunny from the south burrow, her fur not completely white yet. “Hmph.”
At eleven o’clock the pies were cut. Every rabbit in the community sampled a bite from every pie. Pippa’s peach walnut pie got 39 votes…and Bree’s loganberry pie with a crumble topping 43. She’d won! Bree hugged the golden trophy to her chest a beamed. It was shaped like a tapered cup with rabbit heads for the two handles. Etched into shiny the surface, a piece of pie and the date. The blank spot above the date would have her name on it tomorrow! Grannybunny said, “That’s my girl! Westsiders rule!”
The westside burrows danced and mingled with every burrow except the eastside. The eastside burrows with all but the westside.
At midnight the party was winding down, the last of the punch was drunk and the last of the carrot sticks eaten. Bree gathered up her sisters and noticed they looked odd. Pony’s fur was turning red before her eye’s! Shireen’s eyes were three times their size and black as coal, making her face like a skull! She looked around and saw that ALL the rabbits were morphing into…they looked like gargoyles! Their tails stretched long and whiplike with spearhead tips, their ears hairless and rubbery like melting candles. They were all red as if skinned alive! Their mouths filled up with so many sharklike teeth they couldn’t close them. Their arms stretched to the ground, their swollen knuckles dragged in the snow, the fingertips ending in long black talons. The rabbits swollen heads sprouted dark curled horns. They were devils! Hideous sulfurous demons!
“Where’s Granny!?” cried Shireen.
“I’m here dear.” Replied a demon with wrinkly crimson skin and small round spectacles.
Another old creature came to the westside from the east. “Hello Maybel”
“Hello Sharon.” Replied Bree’s grandmother, her voice frigid with hatred.
“I heard stories about the Shiring Tree Curse from my own grandmother when I was just a toddler.” Said Maybel. “I always thought it was just a bedtime story, one to frighten little children.”
“As did I.” said Sharon, the eastside granny. “This was the doing of you foolish Westsiders!”
“I think not!” Maybel screeched back, her wrinkly red fists balled up and ready for action. “Only Eastsiders could be so stupid!”
The Northsiders and the Southsiders stood around them, shaking their heads, unwilling to take sides.
The two old rivals came at each other with claws outstretched.
“Wait! I did it! I violated the Shiring Tree!” screamed Breanne. “Please stop fighting!”
All the rabbits in the clearing froze in stunned silence, their jaws dropped open like attic trapdoors.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t know. I only took a tiny bit of bark.”
Sharon said, “I told you it had to be a Westsider! The punishment for violating the tree is death!”
A heavy moan spread through the crowd like a fetid breeze.
“I did too!” announced Pippa. He came to Bree and took her hand defiantly, daring anyone to lay a finger on her.
Bree was grateful and squeezed his hand in a viselike grip. “You put it in your pie too?” she asked.
“Yes, but you still won.”
“I don’t care about winning anymore. I’ve turned us all to demons!” she said forlornly.
“WE did, you mean.” Said Pippa.
Bree turned to the northside granny who was the oldest and wisest of all the rabbits, “do we have to have our heads chopped off? Is there no other way?”
The northern demon-hare said, “Technically, the old rule that protects the tree indicates a blood sacrifice, not necessarily death.”
“Blood sacrifice?” asked Pippa.
“Yes. Your blood must soak into the laceration you made, to make up for the sap the tree bled. Then you both must spend the night in the tree. It will decide to either forgive or condemn.”
Pippa asked shakily, “What if it condemns us?”
“Then we will have to behead you and live forever in the shadows as horrid demons.”
“Well, let’s get this over with.” Pippa said. He walked towards the Shiring tree, still holding Bree’s hand. The tree was not a joyous festive protector anymore. It was now an angry vengeful giant towering over them with simmering contempt in its heart.
The crowd parted to let the couple through, then followed. Silks and satins rustling gently were the only sounds.
Pippa and Breanne reached the tree. Pony ran over with a small paring knife she’d run home to fetch, it was the same one from earlier that evening. Fitting. She gave it to Bree. Pippa bent to the trunk and brushed away the snow revealing two small holes in the bark. The demon crowd gasped as one.
“I made this one,” he said, pointing to the bloody little hole.
Bree only nodded and turned her creepy red hand palm up. She sliced deep enough to have blood well up, but not so deep to need stitches. A sharp cry escaped her clenched fangs. She ran the knife over Pippa’s upturned demon hand, he bravely gritted his teeth. Simultaneously, the couple bent forward and pressed their palms to the tree’s wounds. After ten seconds, they stood and watched as their blood was sucked into the wood like rich red wine down a drain.
The demons left as the couple climbed into the tree. Bree’s sisters sobbed. Pippa’s brother Ralph brought them a thick woolen blanket. Maybel and Sharon were the last to leave. There was nothing left to do.
Up in the center of the tree the young couple curled up in a wide fork. Between the heavy blanket and their own body heat, they were quite toasty warm.
“Why do our family’s hate each other?” asked Pippa.
Bree said, “I don’t know why. All I know is that Grannybunny gets all huffed up when you even mention your Gramma’s name. I think the feud must have started with those two a long time ago.”
“Yeah, Gramma gets all snippy too, when you mention the name Maybel in our house.”
“Maybe they competed in a pie contest.”
The demons burst out laughing.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.” Bree said.
Pippa said, ”Me neither. Every time I close my eyes, I see a big scary grizzly bear wearing a leather hood and sharpening an ax.”
Bree shivered, “Thanks a lot. Your death vision is worse than mine. I see a guillotine. The blade is slick with blood and drops are falling into a stained wicker basket.”
“What?! That’s way creepier than my bear!”
“Let’s try and think of something pleasant.” Said Breanne. “I’m sorry I didn’t dance tonight. The band was good. They even played my favorite ELO song. It’s been stuck in my head since I heard it.” Then she started singing, “You got me runnin’, goin’ out of my mind. You got me thinkin’ that I’m wastin’ my time…don’t bring me down, no, no, no, no-no.”
Pippa joined in on the “ooh-ooh-hoo” part. Then they sang the rest together, “I’ll tell you once more before I get off the floor, don’t bring me down………”
After singing the entire song, they talked.
“Will you be my girl?” asked Pippa.
“Yes.” Sighed Bree. She kissed him then asked, “What will our grandmothers say?”
“It may get ugly. But they need to get over this feud of theirs.” Pipped said.
Bree said, “Yes! Whatever it is, they are going to talk it out. Even if we have to lock them in a room together!”
They chuckled at the mental image.
They talked until faint indigo tickled the sky and the stars marched off to bed. When the sky lightened to lavender, the demons dozed off. They awoke to the shouts of their families, friends and neighbors. Everyone was running towards the great tree. They were snowy white hares again! Pippa and Breanne looked at each other and saw a soft furry white face looking back.
“We keep our heads!” Bree exclaimed.
Pippa added, “Whoo-hoo!”
The hares all whooped and laughed around the couple. After a while everyone went home to their breakfasts.
Grannybunny said, “Come inside Breanne, I’ll make us some French toast.”
“You go on ahead, I’ll be in in a minute.” She replied.
When they were alone again Pippa held out his arms to Bree. She didn’t hesitate. She fell into his arms and he gently rocked with her to music only they could hear.