The high-pitched beedle of her cellphone, sitting on the table across from her bed, abruptly woke the gray furred rabbit from her sleep. A glance at the clock showed 7:41 in the morning, the summer sun streaking in the window only half-covered by the drapes pinned to the wall above it.
The last week had seen the precinct completely swamped by a horde of out-of-country fans, mobbing the city's sports complex for the World Cup. Judy was usually an early riser, but the week of fourteen hour days filled with crowd control and conflict de-escalation had drained most of the pep she usually contained. All the training and exercise that four years of policework had offered didn't change the fact that she wasn't even close to a meter tall, and the laws of crowd physics didn't look kindly on small-bodied mammals.
She barely had time to shove the thin hot-weather sheets off of herself before the neighbors quickly picked up on the intrusion.
"Hey, rabbit, will you shut that thing up?"
"It's just a phonecall, dumbass! You weren't even asleep!"
"How about you just shut up!"
"No, you shut up!"
"YOU shut up!"
She groaned at the bickering that likely wouldn't quiet down for another ten or fifteen minutes. Once those two get at it… Well, there were a couple fresh patches in the already paper thin walls. Sometimes she really wondered how they stayed together. Probably because housing in the city was too inflated to move anywhere else- She knew all too well that a policemammal's salary didn't go far when it came to housing, even in the rabbit-sized apartments.
Absently thumbing the phone's screen, she hit the answer button without even picking the phone up. She mumbled out a noncommittal greeting while sliding a white tanktop over her head, expecting Nick to be on the other end of the line. He didn't usually call early, but it wasn't unheard of when he developed some hair-brained weekend plans.
She jumped a little when she heard the decidedly not-Nick voice come out of the speaker.
"Hey there, Jude the Dude! How we doin'?"
She quickly smoothed the ruffled fur on her ears before snatching up the CarroPhone.
"Ohh hi Dad! I wasn't expecting you… I was.. uh… expecting someone else."
"Oh, well, didn't mean to disappoint you. Just wanted to check in, y'know! It's been a while."
Judy rolled her eyes. "You and Mom called two days ago."
"Exactly! It's been a while!"
She sat down on the rickety chair next to the table, pushing a few papers that dangled dangerously close to the edge further in. She hadn't had a chance to look at her father's face on the MuzzleTime screen, but as she blinked away the sleep from her eyes she realized his appearance was… not the same.
"Dad, it's not even 8am on a weekend, you're calling me personally without a crowd around you, and you look… well, sorta off. What's going on? Is mom OK?" The worry started to creep into her voice.
"Oh, no, no no no Bon's doin' just fine. We're all doin' just fine, actually."
He shuffled a little bit, the screen shaking as the older rabbit readjusted the phone in his paw. "Most everyone's out laying new pipe or weeding right now, and Bon's heading to Deerbrooke right now. Had to take Clyde in to get his teeth worked on. Y'know, the two in front growing all cockeyed?"
Judy giggled a little at the thought of her younger sibling's goofy smile, the two front teeth sticking out at awkward angles. It wasn't uncommon for rabbits to need braces in the more extreme cases of misalignment, and Judy herself had some for a year in high school.
"Okay, but that doesn't answer my question. What's happened?"
Her father visibly deflated, his usually jovial expression becoming flat. "Well… it's not exactly, uh, something that's happened right now. It's been, ah, sorta creeping up on me. On all of us, I guess."
He set the phone down on some unseen surface in front of him, rubbing his eyes with both paws. Judy could just make out the filing cabinets of her father's home office in the background.
"Y'know, I don't think you'd notice much change, what with being off on all those trips in high school, and then College, and then the City, and… well, you know. You never were one for the farm life, even if you did adore your botany teacher."
"My botany teacher was you, dad."
He chuckled lightly. "So I was. Anyway, what I'm getting at is you've never been real involved in the farm's stuff. Even when your paws were in the field your head was out there in them clouds."
"And that means, well, you've never really been seein' the changes around here."
"Wh- What changes?"
She could see his ears start to droop over the back of the office chair. "Well, I'm not much of a weather forecaster, but the rains… They've been changin'. Our Carrot Days shindig was always meant to follow right after that August cold front that would keep the carrots alive. Did you ever notice that rain?"
Judy shook her head. "Rain is rain, I never paid attention to when it came. Oh cripes, that rhyme..."
If her father noticed her odd choice of words, he didn't pay any attention to it. "Well, that rain is pretty much the lifeblood of Bunnyburrow. That one shot keeps everything alive into September. It's why we never needed irrigation like they do out west."
Judy waited patiently, knowing it sometimes took her dad a few moments to collect his words.
He put his head in his paws, a semi-stifled sob wracking his body.
"Judy… I- I don't-… Judy, it's… it's all falling apart!"
"Oh, dad." Judy desperately wanted to jump through the phone and hold her father tight.
"Just, y'know- The rains have been disappearing for a decade, a little less every year, a little hotter..." His voice cracked. "When you were last here, you remember that haze that coated the valleys?
"That was the Corrinson's estate going up in flames. The entire forest! Burned! Gone! Not even a pile of ash left after the winds picked it up and flung it over the hill towards us."
Judy gasped. Admittedly, her family had been preoccupied with her grandfather's funeral at the time, but none of them had told her that nearly six thousand acres of prime forest had been lost completely.
The buck clenched his paws on the desk's edge. "Oh, cheese-and-crackers. Judy, I don't- don't think the farm will survive."
There were only a few times when Judy could remember her dad being this broken up, most recently being when her grandfather died. Stuart Hopps had always been very emotional for as long as Judy could remember, but this seemed much different.
She started to feel the tears creep into her own eyes.
"Dad, don't say that. It'll survive, it always has!"
He looked back up at Judy through the phone, he eyes red-rimmed and the fur on his cheeks matted and damp.
"How can I not say that? I've got eight different bills on the desk here that don't have a chance in Hell of being paid until the crops come in, and I don't even know if I can cover it then!"
He angrily picked up a pile of envelopes from the desk, slamming them back down in front of the phone causing Judy to flinch involuntarily.
"Seventy-five thousand dollars, Judy! Seventy-five grand to drill a god-forsaken hole in the ground, in a year when I couldn't even put fuel in the tractors! Another forty grand for the pipes running to the fields! And a constant six grand a MONTH in electricity to keep the pumps running! All because the damn rains won't come!"
"Dad..." Judy opened her mouth to speak, her throat feeling constricted by the tears now flowing freely from her eyes, but was quickly cut off by her father's continuing tirade.
"Last year's crop was only half of what it usually is, no thanks to those mites. That August rain was little more than a drizzle anyway! The fucking carrots we pulled out of the ground were half shriveled up, the distributors wouldn't even take most of them! I had to open four lines of credit at separate banks just to stay afloat!"
Stu never got this angry. Not even at Gideon when she had come home with claw marks on her cheek. And most of all he never swore, not even when he had crushed his toes under the tractor bucket on accident.
Judy sniffed back her tears. "Dad! ...Have you been drinking?"
He yelled belligerently. "So what if I have?"
"You… You need to st-stop. Please." Her own voice cracked. She had never seen her father like this.
Stu's expression softened suddenly, and he picked up the phone to hold it closer to his face. "Aw, crackers, I'm sorry, Judy. I didn't mean to dump all that on ya. Y'know, it's just… Agh."
She took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves from all the info just dumped on her. "Look, dad, we'll… We'll work it out."
They sat in silence for a minute, both of them thinking things over.
"Some of the other kids can get jobs in Deerbrooke's mines, maybe bring in a little extra money? And you can use that to help pay off whatever. Farming isn't everything."
A slight twitch of anger returned to Stu's face as he leaned closer to the camera. "Judy, farming IS everything! We've been farmers since before we even came to this continent! Grandpap built the first burrow on this land with his own hands! It's a legacy, Jude! Not just some way to stay alive!"
He leaned back, staring at something off to the left. "Besides, there's not been good things told about work in the mines."
He started to sob again, throwing his head back and staring at the wooden ceiling.
"Payments due on Monday… Can't make it up… Gonna lose the land under title… 60 years here. 60 blood-stained, back breaking years… And it's all gone… There won't be a thing left..."
"Oh lord, I've condemned my family forever!"
"Dad, seriously! Stop! We'll make it work! I can send some money back, a-and we can… We can… um, Dad?"
The brown buck had left his chair, going to the cabinet behind him.
"Why can't they just leave me alone?!"
"Dad, what the hell are you doing?"
He slammed the metal cabinet shut, turning away with his shoulders hunched in defeat. A sense of dread suddenly welled to the surface of Judy's chest, overpowering everything else.
Judy screamed through her tears into the phone. "DAD, WHAT THE HELL! TALK TO ME HERE! PLEASE, PLEASE JUST COME BACK! "
He walked off screen, his eyes closed.
Judy's wail reached a frantic pitch. "DAD, PLEASE!"
There was a bang, and a flash. Something dark colored splattered across the ceiling.
And the darkness closed in around Judy, the world evaporating as a disembodied scream filled her tiny room.
The following weeks had turned into an foggy blur for the gray rabbit. Bogo had given her as much time off as she needed- within reason, of course. Nick managed to get his hours cut to basic paperwork, spending more and more time with Judy helping her sort through both her family's and her own mess. Judy never realized just how much work her dad had done to keep the farm working smoothly, and just how deep of a hole he had dug.
Now she found herself standing on the top of one of Bunnyburrow's many sloping hills, amidst a crowd of at least two thousand rabbits and other various mammals. Nick stood by her side, ever the resolute partner in his form-fitting black tuxedo, ready to comfort her or whisk her away if she so needed.
The words that the preacher at the head of the crowd, a frail looking grayish sheep, uttered in a depressed monotone seemed empty and hollow to Judy's deadened ears. She had taken to simply staring at the ground underneath her feet, unable to meet the gazes of the family surrounding her. Not even to look at her mother, only a few feet away, her face buried in an oversized handkerchief.
At some point, after what may have been hours or even just a minute, the sheep had snapped his black book of psalms closed and bowed his head in silence as the hot summer winds ruffled the fur of everyone present. Four antelope lowered the unassuming casket, adorned only with a monogrammed H in the plywood cover, into the open hole that awaited.
Afterwards, as the solemn crowd milled around and condolences were shared, a group of rabbits in sets of gray suits approached Judy and Nick. Nick instinctively moved closer, slightly in front of Judy, hoping to head off any unwanted confrontations.
Judy sidestepped his movement. "Nick, it's fine."
Her family didn't have 275 children without a few of them having aspirations beyond the simple farm life, and many of them had taken the path of upholding the law, albeit in a different way than Judy had taken.
"Hi, Judy." The brown rabbit in the center of the group hugged his sister warmly, quickly returning to an arm's length when he caught the glare of the fox at her side.
"So, ah, we've got the new bankruptcy papers back from court."
"And?" Judy looked on expectantly.
"The bank's offered a seventy-five percent hardship reduction over the next ten years and a freeze on the current balances, but they wouldn't waive any of the still owed amounts. They've put forth an option to refinance under a more traditional long-term mortgage, instead of the credit lines your father had set up previously."
"That's still over a hundred grand..."
"Yes, but it's no longer accruing insane amounts of interest. That's what matters. With the new irrigation systems set up, the farm's income should be back to normal, and regular payments can be made with no other large capital expenditures."
Judy felt her composure, just barely collected for that morning, begin to flake away again. "Back… to normal…"
"That's of course assuming that the water tables stay up, and the Department of Agriculture's outlook for that isn't good with all the new wells being drilled."
Nick quickly picked up on Judy's distress and pushed her away from the crowd of Hopps lawyers. "Ooooookay folks, that's enough of that. I think we're going to head home now."
As the two mammals slowly wound their way down the hill, the dried grass rasping against their legs, nothing but the rustle of wind in the grass and the murmur of the still-dispersing crowds broke the silence for an untold number of minutes.
"You doing OK, Carrots?"
Judy sighed heavily, and leaned her head into the fox's arm.
"No, I'm not. I don't think anybody is."
"You know, Bogo told us not to come back until next week. Apparently things have been real quiet after the sports crowd fled town."
"I know that."
"Just sayin' it, Carrots. Give yourself some time."
They kept walking casually, the hill's slope flattening out into a short grassy field where hundreds of cars were parked seemingly at random.
"I've gone through this myself, you know."
Judy looked up in surprise. "Oh, cripes. Nick, you've never told me. I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. It was a long time ago. And besides, my dad… Wasn't a nice fellow by any means."
Nick rifled through his pockets until he pulled out a set of keys, deftly swinging them around on the keychain.
"Now, where did we park? I hope I can find it before we starve."
Judy couldn't help but laugh lightly, Nick's humor never failing to cheer her up. "You know exactly where we parked, dumb fox. Fifth row, fourteen down from the rotten stump."
"So we did, so we did. What would I ever do without my bunny's photographic memory?"
Judy had no answer to Nick's last question. In fact, for the first time in her life, she didn't feel like she had an answer to anything.
So this one was quite a bit more emotional than the usual technological crap I write. And, unfortunately, it's largely grounded in the real world.
Suicide rates among farmers in the U.S is nearly double that of the national average, even higher than that of veterans. Prices on everything are going up while crop income remains relatively stable, debts begin to mount, and the inherent unpredictability of a profession dependent on the weather means every year is a crapshoot anyway. And unlike veterans, there's no national support network, like the VA, built up for farmers specifically. Rural isolation based on distance doesn't help either.
I've experienced this first hand in my own community. Suicide rates spiked around 2001-2003 during a sudden drought, when water supplies were cut off for nearly two years. Farmers have killed themselves, their wives have killed themselves, their sons, daughters, you name it. It's horrible. And with the changing climate making things even drier and hotter for America's midwestern "breadbasket", it's only going to get worse. Suicide really tears families apart, and if the farm was struggling before, losing its head can sometimes doom it to permanent failure. Just not always, as this story shows, if there's enough family willing to step up to the plate.
Sorry, WildeHopps fans- I kept it ambiguous in this story. I'm saving it for another time. ;-)