The clearing in the woods was home to the small forest creatures. The birds and squirrels shared the trees. The rabbits and porcupines shared the shade beneath the trees, and the frogs and fish shared the cool brown waters of the forest pond.
Until the day the Terrible Things came.
Little Rabbit saw their terrible shadows before he saw them. They stopped at the edge of the clearing, and their shadows blotted out the sun.
“We have come fore every creature with feathers on its back,” the Terrible Things thundered.
The little fish leaped from the water to show the shine of their scales, but the birds twittered nervously in the tops of the trees. Feathers! They rose in the air, then screamed away into the blue of the sky.
But the Terrible Things had brought their terrible nets, and they flung them high and caught the birds and carried them away.
The other forest creatures talked nervously among themselves.
“Those birds were always noisy,” Old Porcupine said. “Good riddance, I say.”
“Why did the Terrible Things want the birds?” asked Little Rabbit. “What’s wrong with feathers?”
“We mustn’t ask,” Big Rabbit said. “The Terrible Things don’t need a reason. Just be glad it wasn’t us they wanted.”
Now there were no birds to sing in the clearing. But life went on almost as before. Until the day the Terrible Things came back.
“We have come fore every creature with bushy tails,” roared the Terrible Things.
“We have no tails,” the frogs said.
“Nor do we. Not real tails,” said the porcupines.
The little fish jumped from the water to show the smooth shine of their finned tails and the rabbits turned their rumps so the Terrible Things could see for themselves.
“Our tails are round and furry,” they said. “By no means are they bushy.”
The squirrels chattered their fear and ran high into the treetops. But the Terrible Things swung their terrible nets higher than the squirrels could run and wider than the squirrels could leap, and they caught them all and carried them away.
“Those squirrels were greedy,” Big Rabbit said. “But the Terrible Things don’t need a reason. Just mind your own business, Little Rabbit. We don’t want them to get mad at us.”
Now there were no birds to sing or squirrels to chitter in the trees. But life in the clearing went on almost as before. Until the day the Terrible Things came again.
Little Rabbit heard the rumble of their terrible voices.
“We have come for every creature that swims,” the Terrible Things Thundered.
“Oh, we can’t swim,” the rabbits said quickly.
“And we can’t swim,” the porcupines said.
The frogs dived deep in the forest pool and ripples spiraled like corkscrews on the dark brown water. The little fish darted this way and that in streaks of silver. But the Terrible Things threw their terrible nets down into the depths, and they dragged up the dripping frogs and the shimmering fish and carried them away.
“Why did the Terrible Things take them?” Little Rabbit asked. “What did the frogs and fish do to them.”
“Probably nothing,” Big Rabbit said. “But the Terrible Things don’t need a reason. Many creatures dislike frogs. Lumpy slimy things. And fish are so cold and unfriendly. They never talk to any of us.”
Now there were no birds to sing, no squirrels to chitter, no frogs to croak, no fish to play in the forest pool. A nervous silence filled the clearing. But life went on almost as usual. Until the day the Terrible Things came back.
Little Rabbit smelled their terrible smell before they came into sight. The rabbits and the porcupines looked all around, everywhere, except at each other.
The rabbits stopped quivering. “We don’t have quills,” they said, fluffing their soft, white fur.
The porcupines bristled with all their strength. But the Terrible Things covered them with their terrible nets, and the porcupines hung in them like flies in a spider’s web as the Terrible Things carried them away.
The rabbits scampered in every direction. “Help!” they cried. “Somebody help!”
But there was no one left to help. And the big, circling nets dropped over them, and the Terrible Things carried them away.
All but Little Rabbit, who was little enough to hide in a pile of rocks by the pond and smart enough to stay so still that the Terrible Things thought he was a rock himself.
When they had gone, Little Rabbit crept into the middle of the empty clearing. “I should have tried to help the other rabbits,” he thought. “If only we creatures had stuck together, it could have been different.”
Sadly, Little Rabbit left the clearing. He’d go tell other forest creatures about the Terrible Things. He hoped someone would listen.