“Hares to Hounds” by Marco Etheridge

The boy feigns sleep, but he is ready to spring. Two children stalk his bed, dark-light-girl-boy, clad in spring-green and ochre, barefoot both. The boy watches from under hooded eyelids, two creeping steps closer, one, then springs in pajama ambush. They anticipate his lunge, dash away ferret-swift, dancing in giggle-caper. The pair divides, splitting into two swift hares, dodging about the sickroom, and the chase begins.

The three careen over wide floor planks on slip-soled feet smooth and young. Leap high, dodge low, pirouette and spin. An errant elbow sloshes a fishbowl, tipping but not spilling the goggle-eyed tenant.

Once, twice past a window gaping to summer morning. On the third pass the dark one leaps, the light one dives rolling, and the boy springs after. Somersault—roll—twist and they are up and dashing over prickle-foot grass. The downslope race becomes a melee, a rout. A willow copse marks the creek at the bottom of the greensward. The children weave at a dead run as hares become hounds and hounds hares.    

In the lead, the boy ducks into a shadowed opening in the willow wall, a portal that is pirate cave, jungle path, or secret passage, depending on season and whim. Green-shadowed tunnel and then the flash of sunlight on dappled water beyond a hanging rope. One—two—leap and he is hands-tight swinging, pirate over ocean—flying, flying!—and his reflection flies beneath him.

Feet slap frog-slippery mud, toes dig, and he is up the far bank. The rope arcs back across the creek. The hounds leap to pendulum after him, two together hanging as one, swing-leap-land-run.

The trio tears down the creekside path, trailing gossamer shawls of spider webs severed from bough and fern. A wide space under the trees and the dark girl leaps past. Now it is hare-hound-hare in a headlong tumble down the narrowing pathway.

A shale wall blocking, a sharp turn, all three otter-sliding down a mud-slope bank. Then a splash-dash creek crossing, calve-deep stomping through shining pool over sandy gravel. And each of them splashing a rooster tail while chub and minnow panic beneath their churning feet.

They ladder-climb the muddy bank and each other in a frenzy of fingers and toes, burst over the top and into the murky green copse. Rabbit-pop into sunshine, rough-mown grass underfoot, and the long upslope back to the silent house.

The boy is the hare and they the hounds but feet falter, breath gasps, gravity pulls. Behind him, dark-light-girl-boy glimmer-fade in morning sun, waver, and stutter-vanish. The boy staggers, faints, falls. A warm breeze catches him, bears him on, through the open window and into the waiting sickbed.

*  *  *

The woman, statue-still, keeps a summer night vigil beside the sleeping boy, one marble-white hand hovering above his brow, not touching, as if to shield him from the gleaming moonlight. He is her only pirate boy, flesh of her flesh, elven child, tumbling kitten, and fierce tiger cub, still and small beneath the coverlet.

Lowers her hand to her lap, lifts her eyes to the silver disk waver-shining beyond window glass, and begs the moon to look into her heart.

Leave him here with me, leave him be, my one, my core, the best of me. 

The moon makes no reply, only slides on to the West of night to outshine hidden stars. Still, she watches, moon and boy, boy and moon, while the silver beam passes from the frame and falls from the bed, leaving woman and son in darkness.

*  *  * 

Two lithe bodies sprawl across the tangled bedclothes, dark-light-girl-boy feigning sleep with gaping mouths and rasping snores. The boy, impatient, circles the bed in a shaft of morning sunlight, stalking not-quite-silent over the creaking planks. Dust motes weave and ghost-float as he circles.

He knows their game, sees the treachery of a hooded eyelid quivering, the twitch of a toe. He is a tiger, tensing coil-spring muscle and sinew. Then another eyelid flutters and a giggle breaks the silence. It is too much to bear! The boy pounces, tickle-finger claws extended, plunging one paw apiece into their false slumber.

Dark-light-girl-boy squeal-squirm across the mattress, and he bounces between the two, fingertips digging into heaving ribs. The trio falls from the bed, hands and knees thumping floor planks, crouching, growling challenges.

A fierce counterattack erupts beneath the bedframe, chasing dust bunnies from their sanctuary.

First one, then two, then the last, they separate, slither-sliding across the floor, springing to the balls of tensed feet, ready to fight or flee. The boy throws wide his arms, begins to spin, a whirling dervish bathed in morning sunlight. They mime his twirling, faster, faster, until the room spins with them, and dizziness takes them down.

The wide window gapes open to summer morning, calling them, pulling them from the floor, irresistible. Hand-in-hand they rise, pull each other into a dancing circle, caper once—twice—thrice, each waiting for the other to dash.

The boy springs first, the light one dives, the dark one leaps, and they are all three up and running, running down the wind, down the morning sun, down the long slope of prickle-foot grass.

Three together they reach the willow copse, disappear into the pirate cave, the green-shadowed tunnel, there to frolic as buccaneers, explorers, wild creatures, hounds to hares and hares to hounds.

Marco Etheridge is a writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a part-time poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His work has been featured in more than sixty reviews and journals across Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. Marco’s volume of collected flash fiction, “Broken Luggage,” is available worldwide. When he isn’t crafting stories, Marco is a contributing editor and layout grunt for a new ‘Zine called Hotch Potch.
Author website: https://www.marcoetheridgefiction.com/

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