On this day, one year ago, Richard George Adams, one of the last of the great novelists, passed away. His magnificent novel, Watership Down, touched the lives of millions, including my own. So, to commemorate the first anniversary of his death. I dedicate this tribute to his memory. This tribute is my own imaginative retelling of Richard Adams' final night on earth.
December 24, 2016
The snow drifted gently downward, gliding through the crisp winter sky to land gently on the street. Night had long since fallen, but the darkness outside was illuminated by the gaily decorated houses nearby. Hundreds of Christmas lights shone from every roof, chimney, and tree. Candles flickered in the windows, occasionally offering a brief view of the inhabitants within. Everything was shrouded in a veil of silence. The streets were empty, the cars immobile and cold. Everyone had long since retreated indoors to prepare with bated breath for Christmas Day, which was but a few hours away.
Richard George Adams stared out his window, absorbing the beauty of the scene before him. The legendary author drank in every detail, a small smile gracing his lips. Richard, like most people, loved Christmas. He always had, ever since he was a boy growing up in the quiet English countryside. It recent years, however, his love had become deeper, more meaningful. He began to see things with a clearer, and more appreciative, perspective. Sometimes he would spend hours just watching the children play in the snow, or the holiday frenzy of the people in town, or the twinkling stars in the Christmas sky. With a shiver, he pulled his jacket more tightly around him.
"Ninety-six years." He thought.
Ninety-six years. Good years. He had long reached the point where age was of no major concern. He had led a wonderful, full life, and he was perfectly happy to spend his days in the company of his family and friends, reading and writing to his heart's content. However, lately, something had changed, He felt weaker than he should have. He tired too easily. No matter how warmly he dressed, the cold permeated his skin, reaching down to his very bones. Still, he mused, what could one expect after living for almost a century?
With a sigh, he turned from the window and seated himself in his favorite chair, beside which a cozy fire burned on the hearth. The heat from the fire surrounded him, tantalizing him with its warm embrace. He frowned, it was long past time for him to go to bed. Christmas Day was almost upon them, and it would not do to be sleepy and lethargic on the big day. The rest of the family would be arriving bright and early, and disappointing the children was an unbearable thought. Richard grinned as he imagined what his wife would say, apologizing to the children with hugs and kisses... before hunting him down with her favorite rolling pin. But it was so warm and cozy by the fire...
He slowly closed his eyes. "Just a few minutes." He thought.
With a start, his eyes snapped open, wildly, he looked about, wondering where he was, then, as his mind composed, he relaxed.
"Of course silly." He thought with a grin, "You fell asleep in front of the fire again."
He glanced at the clock. It read exactly 12:00 O'clock PM. "It's Christmas," he murmured to himself. For a moment, he sat still, basking in the joyous reflection of the moment. Then, with a grunt, he rose to his feet. It was time to be off. With any luck, he could slip into bed without his wife noticing. Just them, a though pierced his brain.
"What woke me up"? He thought. He glanced around. Nothing had been disturbed. The clock had not chimed, the fire had burned out, and the lack of pounding upstairs signified that everyone was sound asleep. Yet, something was different. The stillness seemed heavy. An unnatural calm filled the atmosphere.
Then, he heard the voice. "Richard," whispered a quiet ethereal voice, "Richard".
Richard almost fainted with shock. Whirling around as best he could, he peered around the room, searching for the source of the voice. "Come", whispered the voice again, "Come".
What prompted him he could not say, but Richard suddenly felt a sense of direction tickling his ear. Taking up his cane, he made his way into the hallway, and found himself standing by his front door. With a sign, he grasped the cold metal doorknob with his wrinkled hand. With a twist, he unbolted the door, threw it open, and stepped outside.
The scene that greeted him took his breath away. The snow had continued to fall throughout the night, even now, snowflakes twirled and spun through the air on their way down to earth. The entire neighborhood was covered in a unbroken blanket of pearly white, only varied by the red and orange light from the candles that continued to burn in the windows of the other houses. The night was dark, yet the full moon and the stars radiated a glow that bathed the area in a supernatural light.
Yet, the most amazing thing of all was the silence. Never in his entire life had Richard Adams experienced such absolute silence. There was no sound. None. There was no wind, no rain, no natural noises. After a moment, Richard realized that he could not even hear his own breath, or the crunch of his feet upon the ground. Instinctively, He realized that he was witnessing something special, something that a man witnesses only once in a lifetime.
Then, something caught his attention. There, sitting on the unbroken snow, was a rabbit. The rabbit had a brown coat complimented by a creamy white belly. His fur was healthy and shiny, and it took Richard a moment to notice that it was not a winter coat at all, but a sleek summer coat. His left leg sported a large scar, and yet, both legs were strong and powerful. His stance was calm and relaxed. From his furry head gleamed a pair of bright brown eyes, but these were not the eyes of an ordinary rabbit. They were expressive and intelligent eyes, filled with understanding and wisdom, and they were staring right into Richard's.
Richard had never laid eyes on the rabbit before, but it only took him a moment to realize who it was. It was a rabbit he had seen a hundred thousand times before in his mind, in his dreams, in his imagination.
"Hazel," he whispered. A smile spread across the rabbit's face. "Hello Richard," He said softly, "Its been a very long time."
Richard's mouth opened, but no sound came out. Confusion, excitement, joy, awe, and more crowded into his brain, overriding his senses. He fell to his knees, staring into the face of his greatest creation.
"Hazel", he whispered again. "How, how is this possible"? "All things are possible for our Lord." Hazel said.
"What are you doing here"? Richard asked. Hazel's expression became serious. "I've come for you." He said.
After a moment, he continued. "You've been feeling tired, very tired, but I can do something about that." "I've been sent to ask whether you'd care to join us."
It was only then that Richard noticed that Hazel's body was shining with a faint silver light,. Also, the snow surrounding Hazel was completely smooth, no rabbit tracks. In an instant, he understood the meaning of Hazel's words. He bowed his head. For what seemed like an eternity, he did not speak.
Finally, he looked at Hazel. "Then, it is time"? He asked. Hazel nodded. "Yes, it is time. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now."
Richard looked back towards his house. He glazed at the frost covered windows, where his family still slept. His gaze wavered as tears formed in his eyes. Suddenly, he felt the gentle pressure of a soft paw on his arm. He looked down into Hazel's dark eyes, which were filled with compassion.
"You needn't worry about them", Hazel said gently, "They'll be all right, and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."
A profound sense of peace and serenity fell upon Richard. With a sign, he closed his eyes. He knew that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying in a soft bed of starlit snow. Slowly, he stood up. His eyes snapped open. Energy, strength, and power, such as he had never felt, poured into his body and filled his senses. He looked at Hazel, who was absolutely glowing with pride and joy.
"Let's go," Hazel said, "Everyone is waiting for you." He turned and began walking up the moonlit street. With one last fond glance at his home, Richard followed.
After a minute, Hazel looked back, and with a mischievous glint in his eye, he began to speed up. Grinning, Richard followed. Hazel sped up. Richard followed. Hazel speed up, Richard followed. Soon, they were flying across the landscape, running at speeds to fast for mortal eyes to follow. Suddenly, Hazel leaped into the air with a single, powerful bound. Laughing, Richard followed him. Up, up, up they went, finally disappearing into the bright Christmas sky.
The following morning, the Adams family found the body of Richard George Adams lying on a bed of pearl white snow, an expression of perfect peace on his face. As they grieved, they found an unexplainable sense of comfort in a message carved into the snow next to the body. Somehow, the message had been unaffected by the falling snow. It read, "Don't cry for me, I'm with my friends." The message was punctuated by the soft footprint of a rabbit.