It was just before last Christmas that it happened. I was just
about to finish my list of cards when I noticed that Oxo was behaving
rather oddly. Normally Oxo would like to spend a lot of his time
leaning against my legs when I was sitting down and writing. It
was comforting to both of us to have the physical contact, and,
what is more, Oxo, although he is a small Jack Russell terrier,
usually helps to keep the draught away from my legs during the
chilly winter evenings. There many advantages in keeping a dog
- particularly one like Oxo.
This evening Oxo was restless. He seemed to have something on his mind. He could spend a few minutes sitting, staring intently at nothing in particular and then prowl around the room quietly, as if he were listening to something I couldn't hear. It wasn't the sound of the wind or the dull roar and splatter of rain against the windows. Now and again he would do his usual circular walk and begin to lay down in his favourite spot under the table, and then, straight away, he would get up again and stare. I'm sure I could see puzzlement in his furry face as he cocked his head a little to one side and wrinkled his forehead. I tried stroking him but he didn't respond to my efforts. He was preoccupied with something.
With Oxo so unsettled, I found that I couldn't concentrate on what I was trying to do. Who does one keep on a Christmas card list and who can one safely forget? One has to be completely relaxed and rational to make such important decisions, and I was nearly as fidgety as Oxo. I gave up the attempt and decided to make a cup of coffee, and then, when I had drunk it, I would take Oxo out for a short walk, despite the wind and the rain.
When I sat down with my coffee I watched Oxo for a bit, trying to decide what was wrong with him. He ignored me completely as if he was concentrating his attention on someone else. Even when I picked up his lead and said: "Walkies" he seemed to be completely disinterested. He sat passively as I put his collar on and dutifully followed as I went to the door. Instead of carefully exploring the sites he wished to mark, he just cocked his leg in a clump of grass until his bladder was empty. Then he made it clear that that was that, It was time to go back indoors after less than a minute outside. Although it was a wet, blustery, and chilly, it couldn't account for his anxiousness to get back in the house. I resolved to take him to the vet the next day in case there was something really wrong with him which I could not even guess at.
The next morning Oxo seemed to be back to normal, so I just
had a few words on the phone with the vet's assistant to get her
opinion. She advised me to see if the trouble recurred - he could
have eaten something which had given him hallucinations. If he
showed no other signs of illness he would probably be alright.
The weather had calmed overnight and the morning was still and mild for the time of year. I decided that it would be a good time to take Oxo out into the fields at the back of the house. I knew that he liked following the tracks of animals which had traversed the field during the cover of darkness. This time he was eager to be out, and as soon as I had slipped his collar off in the field, he was away, nose down and tail up, following some mysterious path which only he could follow. He went quickly, full of purpose, and was soon out of sight in the hedgerows.
I walked slowly in the general direction he had taken, noting that his tracks were clearly visible in the dewy grass. The usual birdsong one hears on a December morning was sharp and clear. It was so quiet and peaceful that I could hear birds singing several fields away. The sound of traffic could just be heard in the distance. The ssh, ssh, ssh, sound of my boots, as I strolled through the wet grass, was loud by comparison. There wasn't even the distant rumble of a passing jet to disturb the pastoral atmosphere. I was alone but not lonely: My senses were keyed to every nuance of the restful scenery.
When I reached the edge of the field there was no sign of Oxo anywhere. I didn't worry because this was just what I had hoped for. Oxo was completely back to normal.
I walked along the side of the hedge listening, trying to locate the site which had temporarily attracted Oxo's attention. I had reached the corner of the field without finding a way to get through to the next pasture. I had been aiming to come back on the other side. So I turned, and began to retrace my steps. Then, suddenly, I saw hundreds of rabbits scurrying across the field towards the house. I had never seen so many rabbits run in a group like that before. It was rare to see more than the odd one or two at this time of year. They disappeared into the hedge near the house as quickly as they had appeared from the hedge near me. A few moments later Oxo appeared quite close by, and came up to me, wagging his tail furiously.
A broad swathe of freshly disturbed grass showed the path the rabbits had taken - directly towards my house.
With Oxo practically gambolling as he accompanied me, I made my way back towards the gate at the opposite corner of the field. Funny thoughts ran through my mind as we went through the gate onto the road. I imagined the rabbits congregated at my front door, waiting to get in.
There were no signs of rabbits in the garden as Oxo and I went
inside, happy that all was right with the world - apart from a
few odd things here and there. I looked out of the kitchen window
to see if the rabbits were making their way back again. There
was nothing to see apart from my back garden and the empty field.
Everything was peaceful and normal but I was pre-occupied with
a strange feeling of a sort of expectancy. After putting the kettle
on, I opened a tin of dog food for Oxo and made myself a cup of
tea, resolved to finish my card list.
I wasn't prepared for what I saw in the lounge as I went in to sit down. The rabbits had covered the floor and were sitting there quietly as if they were expecting me. I picked my way carefully through the assembled gathering to my favourite chair, wondering about the strangeness of the situation. Oxo followed me, the rabbits showing no fear of him as he passed among them.
Oxo sat and faced me, looking me in the eye with the sort of stare I had seen the night before. The rabbits stared at me too, with the same degree of intensity. After a moment, Oxo began to bark quietly as if he were trying to talk to me. Then the rabbits began to squeak, repeating the same cadences as Oxo's barking. The sounds reminded me of a conversation heard through a wall or the sounds one hears from someone else's personal stereo. It was impossible to understand what was said - but one knew it was a conversation. Oxo and the rabbits repeated the same sound sequence many times before I could begin to guess what they appeared to be trying to tell me. I then tried to put what I thought I had heard into normal words to see if I had understood correctly. Oxo showed me by wagging his tail if I got a word right and making a convincing `NO' sound when I got it wrong. Eventually I made fewer mistakes, and became attuned to the weirdly distorted versions of speech which Oxo and the rabbits produced.
This is what they told me:
"A thing came to Oxo which said it was Oxo's new master. It made Oxo understand my proper master's words. It made Oxo know how to tell the rabbits how to understand my proper master's words. It made Oxo see all of the world from far away like a bright ball floating in a dark pond. It said that it was going to be the humans' new master. Oxo knew I did not want a new master. Oxo found that the thing was strong outside and not so strong inside the house. Oxo went to the rabbits to tell them about the thing because the thing wanted Oxo to tell the rabbits. The rabbits let Oxo get into one of their big holes. In the hole the thing was not as strong as in the house. The rabbits made a new big hole which went down a long way. Oxo went down this new hole. The thing was very weak down this hole. Oxo told the thing to help a little rabbit which was ill. The thing left Oxo and the little rabbit died. Oxo got out of the hole and the thing was still in the dead rabbit. The other rabbits filled the hole up again to bury the dead rabbit and the thing. All the rabbits have left the place where the hole was. The thing is still there but it can't get out. If the thing got into a worm it could get out again one day. The rabbits think it is a bad thing. Oxo thinks it is a bad thing for Oxo and Oxo's proper master."
Then, in a clearer voice than he had used before, Oxo said:
"Master, can you make sure that the thing can never get out again."
I had recorded the sounds which Oxo and the rabbits had made on tape, so I know I didn't imagine it. I trust Oxo, and his story seems to be true. My problem was: who should I tell about this? How could I make them believe me? Oxo and I agreed that I should write this down as a story which people can believe - or not - as they want to. In the meantime, the rabbits are keeping watch and reporting to Oxo from time to time. It is now summer and the rabbits are doing well in their new warren. They have dug a much deeper hole to put the thing in, in case it gets out again, but, happily, the thing hasn't yet got out of the original hole. I hope it stays there forever - and so does Oxo.
Copyright (C) W. H. James 20/10/1985 Revised 08/06/96 and 30/11/98 (1840 words) .
Wilf James,106 Jarden, Letchworth, Herts. SG6 2NZ, UK. E-mail wilf dot james at ntlworld dot com This version of my email address is to beat spammer's robots.
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