Max Elliot Anderson
A young rabbit stood outside his home, looked down at the ground and mumbled, “Willy the wrong way rabbit.” He shook his head and repeated, “Willy the wrong way rabbit.” He took a deep breath. “That’s what they call me, Willy the wrong way rabbit.”
Willy wasn’t worse than other rabbits. His ears stood up straight like theirs, he had the same color of fur, and his bushy tail looked just as nice as any other rabbit’s in the woods. But poor Willy really did have a big problem. No matter what he was supposed to do, Willy always did it the wrong way. For example, most rabbits take off running with a hop, skip, and a jump. But not Willy. He started out with a jump, skip, and then a hop.
His mother had nearly given up trying to teach Willy the right ways. That’s because two days ago, she asked him to take out the garbage. Instead, Willy brought trash into the house and stacked it neatly in the hallway. “One of these days,” his mother scolded, “something very bad could happen to you if you don’t stop, look, and listen.” In fact, earlier on that day, she had taken him down to the railroad tracks where a sign with those very words of warning stood guard at the crossing. But Willy didn’t stop, he didn’t look, and he didn’t listen. He charged right toward the tracks just as a fast-moving passenger train roared through. Lucky for Willy, his mother grabbed his little coat just before that monster streaked only inches in front of his twitching nose. He held his breath and closed his eyes tight.
For nearly a minute after the train had passed, his mother couldn’t speak. But when she did, Willy knew he was in trouble. “Willy the wrong way rabbit,” she said in a trembling voice. “Whatever shall become of you?” And that was the last time she had tried to teach him.
When Willy’s friends teased him about being the wrong way rabbit, they weren’t simply being unkind. Willy always did things the wrong way. Like whenever he ate dinner with his family. If all the other rabbits at the table passed serving bowls from the left to the right, Willy tried to pass them in the opposite direction, which was wrong. If he were told to turn right, he went left. It was no use telling Willy to go up the path because he’d turn and go down. To Willy, left was right, black was white, day was night, up was down, hot was cold, in was out, under was over, and fast was slow.
Willy hopped out into the woods where he could think about his problems. He stayed out there for a long time. Later he wandered down by Webster’s Creek where he spoke quietly. “I’ve always been a happy rabbit. Having fun is just a habit. If there’s a carrot, I will grab it. I can’t help it I’m a wrong way rabbit.” After sitting on the bank for a while longer, he heard a familiar voice.
“Hey Willy! Where’ve you been?”
He looked up at his friend Wilbur.
“We haven’t seen hide nor hair of you?”
Willy blinked. “Huh?”
His friend laughed. “It’s a rabbit joke, Willy.”
Willy rubbed his nose. “I’ve been around. What about you?”
“We hopped past where the watermelons grow.”
Willy smacked his lips. “Watermelons. What a wonderful taste. Who was guarding them?”
“Old Man Woodman, why?”
Willy’s ears stood up a little straighter. “What was he doing?”
“Why was he whistling?”
Wilbur sat next to his friend. “Whenever he knows we aren’t around, he whistles.”
Willy turned to Wilbur. “Where was his dog, King?”
“Whining in the bushes at the end of a strong rope.”
Willy shook his head. “Wonder why?”
Willy stood up. “Wow, wouldn’t a watermelon be delicious on a hot day like this?”
Wilbur stood next to him. “What are you thinking?”
“Well, Wilbur, why don’t we get all of our friends, hop on over to Woodman’s yard and go through his fence tonight?”
“What if King whines?” Wilbur asked in alarm.
“Who cares? That dog can’t catch all of us. Besides, Old Man Woodman doesn’t hear very well anymore.”
So, after dark that night, Willy, Wilbur, Wyatt, Weldon, Walt, and Warren headed for the back fence behind Old Man Woodman’s property. A full moon shined its light on their path. Willy had been warned many times, by his mother, “Stay out of gardens. We have plenty of our own food. A rabbit can go into a garden and never come out.”
Mr. Woodman’s fence hadn’t been repaired for many years. Several of the boards had loosened so that, if a rabbit wanted to, he could easily push them to one side and have all the fresh carrots, lettuce, radishes, and other vegetables he wanted. And right now, Willy wanted all of them; even though he knew it was wrong. He and his friends pushed their way through the fence. They stopped on the other side, right in front of the straightest garden rows any rabbit has ever seen.
Willy looked closer. “Not a weed anywhere,” he told the others. Then, as if they were in their own, personal produce department at the grocery store, each rabbit began picking and eating nearly everything in sight. Before long, they completely forgot about Old Man Woodman, his dog King, or anything else. And that was a big mistake.
On their very first visit to this garden, Willy and his friends made sure to know where the dog had been tied and the length of his rope. Willy may have been the first to hear it tonight, he wasn’t really sure. But one thing he was sure of is a low growl cut through the night air, just to his left, or was it his right? No matter which one it was, Willy knew he and his friends were in danger.
Good thing that hound is still tied up, he thought. Willy slowly opened one eye. What he saw made him squeeze his eyes shut and wait. The next thing he felt was the hot breath from Mr. Woodman’s dog. Willy noticed that Old Man Woodman had tied an extra length into King’s rope. Now he could chase rabbits two times farther than before. Right then Willy knew he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, and he hadn’t even made it to the watermelon patch yet.
Willy opened his other eye. That’s when he noticed his friends eating lettuce in the row next to where he hid. He had two choices. Willy could stay hidden, or he could warn his friends and put himself in danger. He thought for only a second or two. Then he stood up, took a big bunny breath, and called out in his loudest voice, “Run for your lives!”
His friends dropped what they were eating and dashed for the fence. The growling hound turned around toward Willy and cut off his path of escape. And that’s when Willy noticed something. In an instant, he dove under King, ran through his four legs, and streaked toward the iron stake at the other end of the rope. Well, King had no choice. He spun around and followed as fast as he could. When he reached the stake, Willy ran around and around and around as King chased only inches behind him until something surprising happened. The dog had wound his rope around that stake until he could run no more.
Next, Willy did the right thing for only the second time in his life. He didn’t run the wrong way. Instead, he raced straight for the fence, burst through, and tumbled into the grass on the other side where his friends met him. They all cheered and hopped around as they shouted, “Willy, Willy, the right way rabbit!”
From that day on, Willy listened to his mother, and even though he made mistakes from time to time, Willy tried his best to do the right thing so no one could call him Willy the wrong way rabbit ever again.
- The End -
Max Elliot Anderson writes adventures and mysteries for middle grade readers. An additional 23 books are contracted for publishing over the next several months!
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