Hohum the Hohum
upon a time there was a lake, which could (although somewhat romantically,
perhaps) be described as a mirror lying on its back, framed by a
range of green, rolling hills. On the banks of this lake there was
a hole, and in this hole there lived a hohum. Now hohums bear a
marked similarity to water rats but are, let me assure you, completely
different. For one thing they walk around on their hind legs, and
for another they speak a beautiful language which sounds very much
like ancient Greek, but not quite. Anyway, this particular hohum
was a very hole-proud hohum (some would say neurotic, but then people
can be cruel) who had the great misfortune of being named after
his species: Hohum the hohum. This, as you may imagine, caused him
a certain amount of grief during his school days, and was the reason
why he had such a troubled relationship with his mother. The oddness
of his name notwithstanding, Hohum liked to think of himself as
a sociable creature, who would, if other people weren't so terribly
messy, have had a lot of friends.
One exceptionally fine autumn morning, at 8:35 precisely, Hohum
carefully closed the door to his hole behind him and held his handkerchief
to his nose. This fastidious custom, which the young squirrels always
found extremely amusing, was intended to prevent any noxious vapours
from offending his delicate nostrils. Unfortunately, the handkerchief
was rather large, with the result that he couldn't really see where
he was going. And so, as he set out on his walk, he accidentally
trod on a passing mushroom.
"Ouch!" cried the mushroom.
"Watch where you're going," snapped Hohum,
irritably. Then it occurred to him that he might actually be the
one in the wrong and, taking the handkerchief from his face, said,
"Terribly sorry, my fault." If he was hoping that this
sincere apology was going to placate the mushroom, then he was very
much mistaken. Mushrooms are tetchy at the best of times, and the
situation wasn't help by the fact that the mushroom in question
didn't speak his language and thus couldn't understand a word he
"No, no, sorry, s-o-rry!" spluttered Hohum
as the mushroom began to hit him with her handbag. To make matters
worse, a young red squirrel, who had been watching the whole incident
from a low branch of a nearby tree, began to laugh and throw acorns.
Piqued, flustered, and decidedly bruised, Hohum stuffed the handkerchief
into his coat pocket and, with unthinking haste, scampered off as
fast as his little rodent legs could carry him.
was only when he was a safe distance away that Hohum allowed himself
to pause for breath. That mushroom was very rude, he thought; after
all he had apologised! And as for that young squirrel
for the first time that week he wondered what the neighbourhood
was coming to. He muttered away to himself as he walked on, eyes
firmly fixed on the ground lest he tread on any suspicious looking
'leaves'. The incident had really upset him, and he was pondering
whether he ought to write to the council, when a sound made him
look up sharply. It had been a rustling sound, the sort of sound
which might have been made by a gang of hostile mushrooms plotting
some fiendish act of vengeance. Hohum looked around frantically,
but he couldn't see any fierce fungi leering from the shadows. Nor,
for that matter, did he know where he was.
As a rule, Hohum liked his day to run to an elegantly
balanced timetable. He would rise with the sun and immediately undertake
a punishing regime of sit-ups. Then, before a simple breakfast of
nuts and berries, he would scrub the skirting boards, dust his feather
duster, and lovingly inspect his prized blue and white china collection.
After his repast, and a freezing cold shower, he would dress in
his immaculate tweed suit, and then go for his morning constitutional,
the route of said constitutional never varying from one day to the
next. However, rather than being the benign, wide pathway of custom,
the familiar lake still in sight, Hohum found himself in the middle
of a particularly menacing looking wood. Gnarled trees, which, to
his horror, clearly hadn't been washed in ages, twisted their way
up to an ominously heavy sky. An involuntary shudder passed down
Hohum's spine, and he drew his coat tightly around himself for comfort.
"It's alright, Hohum old son," he said to
himself, his voice sounding shriller than he would have liked. "Just
" He stepped forward gingerly, and let out
a yelp when he cracked a twig. Try as he might he couldn't rid himself
of the feeling that he was being watched. The bark of the unwashed
trees seemed to form grubby faces, and the tips of the trees' knotted
branches looked like filthy hands reaching out to touch him.
"Oh," he moaned at the notion of them soiling his beautifully
kempt suit. It was at that moment that the ground gave way beneath
him, and the thought of unhygienic trees became immaterial.
Hohum fell for what felt like ages. At first, his
fear had been overtaken by his annoyance at feeling his trousers
being torn by what he hoped was nothing more sinister than a particularly
spiky root. Just back from the cleaners too, he thought as he tumbled
through the darkness, bumping and thumping against the sides of
the tunnel, down and down and down
Once his annoyance had
subsided, and he had resigned himself to looking a complete peasant,
the delayed pang of fear stabbed him in the stomach, the said organ
temporarily relocated somewhere near his throat. He was clearly
falling into someone's home, a set, or a den, or something like
that, and whilst the tunnel was too narrow to be the entrance to
a dragon's lair, whoever lived at the bottom might still have very
Finally he landed with a heavy bump on what, to his
surprise, felt like plush carpet. Hohum sat up and rubbed his head.
He hadn't felt this groggy since his brother Dennis had tricked
him into getting drunk on their Aunt Bernice's elderberry sherry
when he was twelve.
"Where am I?" he said out loud. Then he
noticed a crack of light some few feet from where he was sitting.
It must be a door, he thought. Carefully he got to his feet and
made his way cautiously over to it. As he got nearer he could hear
voices talking in a strange language which might have been fox,
but was in fact rabbit.
"I tell ya, I didn't hear nothin', woman,"
said a low, gravelly voice, and although Hohum couldn't understand
the words, he took an instinctive dislike to the speaker.
could hear it and I was in the kitchen! Mon dieu, Geoffrey! Stop
chewing that tobacco and clean the wax out of your ears!" This
voice was lighter, probably female, and, although Hohum couldn't
be sure, appeared to have a different accent. He crept nearer to
the light, and peered into the room. An obese rabbit in a grubby
string vest was sitting in a faded, chintz armchair, chewing nonchalantly
and periodically belching. Standing in a doorway on the far side
of the room, and in complete contrast to the slovenly gargantuan,
was a tall, bony rabbit, wearing an apron and holding a large carving
knife in her right hand paw. Strangely the pair looked familiar.
Hohum was sure that he hadn't seen them before, and yet he felt
certain that he recognised them from somewhere. But where? Before
Hohum could figure it out he felt an untimely tickle in his nose.
"Ah-ah-ah-CHOO!" The sneeze exploded into
the living room.
"You heard that, I trust?" said the female
"Course I heard that, woman," said the male
rabbit, "I'm not deaf!" He pushed himself to his feet
and lumbered towards the door. Hohum began to panic. The only way
out was the way he'd come, but he'd never be able to scamper up
the tunnel in time
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear
flooded the antechamber, and Hohum turned sharply to see the mound
of man rabbit looming over him.
"What have we here?" he said, and although
Hohum couldn't understand the words, the brown globule of spittle
running down his chin looked particularly unpleasant.
"You got something, Geoff?" called the female
rabbit from the living room. Hohum thought that her tone sounded
decidedly hungry, which was odd because he was sure that rabbits
were supposed to be vegetarians. Weren't they?
"P-please," he stammered, "P-please,
I'm s-sorry to intrude
" It was apparent that the bulging
man rabbit didn't understand him either. He simply grunted, grabbed
him by the scruff of the neck, and pulled him rather roughly through
Bizarrely, despite the evident danger that he was
in, Hohum found himself thinking just how tastefully decorated the
living room was. A cheerful fire was blazing in the grate, and above
it, on the mantelpiece, there was a selection of homely family photographs.
On the walls hung a variety of inoffensive landscapes (nothing vulgar
or modern, Hohum noted approvingly), and the wallpaper too was respectably
understated, with just the hint of a floral motif. Likewise, the
light fittings, with their pale pink satin shades, and the nest
of mahogany side tables, gave the room a pleasant air of the antique.
Even the slightly tatty upholstery of the three-piece suite possessed
a certain faded charm. Yes, all in all a fine room, thought Hohum.
Mind you, it could do with a little dusting
It was the sight of the carving knife pointing at
his throat which brought him back to reality. That, and the bloodthirsty
look in the female rabbit's eyes.
"Now steady on," gulped Hohum, a bead of sweat forming
on his brow.
"Talks funny, don't he," said the male rabbit with a dry,
"Look, there's clearly been a terrible mistake. You see there
was this mushroom, and - " Hohum was babbling now, the words
tumbling off his tongue in an incoherent stream of plaintive self-pity.
"Oh shut him up will you, Geoffrey?" said the female rabbit,
"I would use the knife, but I don't want to make a mess on
the carpet." The male rabbit snorted disinterestedly,
"He's a scrawny runt, but he might do for a sandwich, I suppose."
Before Hohum could register the large, hairy fist hurtling towards
him, everything went black.
woke to find himself in what can only have been the larder. The
walls were covered with none too clean looking tiles and from the
ceiling hung a carnage of animals. Voles, squirrels, and even an
otter dangled from meat hooks, their dead eyes still betraying their
last moments of terror. Hohum felt an involuntary scream rising
from his belly, but to his surprise no sound came out. It was then
that he realised that he was both bound and gagged and lying on
a very dirty chopping board. He felt nauseous. The room started
to spin. Don't pass out, Hohum, he thought to himself, whatever
you do, don't pass out
Who were these ghastly people, and
why (although he was grateful) was he still alive? Even more importantly,
how was he going to escape? For the first time in his life Hohum
wished that he'd spent more time with his Uncle Henry.
Despite having a glamorous career as a stunt double
for a famous movie star, Uncle Henry had the great misfortune of
being unimaginably boring. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say
that the misfortune was his family's, for Uncle Henry was rather
too fond of the sound of his own voice. It was for this reason that
Hohum's Aunt Bernice had turned to drink, and it was for this reason
that Hohum hadn't been to a family gathering for nearly ten years.
However, in addition to his stunt work, Uncle Henry was also an
accomplished escapologist, and had, during the course of many long
Sunday lunches, explained a few of the trade secrets to his somewhat
less than interested nephew. If only he'd paid more attention
Hohum vaguely remembered something about tensing your muscles before
the ropes were tied, but it was a little late for that now. Maybe
if he tried wriggling?
As he struggled to find some slack, Hohum's mind once
again returned to the identity of his captors. Images of the fiendish
couple flashed before his eyes: the tobacco-chewing oaf in his soiled
string vest; the streaky female with the hungry expression and the
extremely sharp knife
The extremely sharp knife. Oh dear.
Suddenly Hohum knew precisely who they were, and his heart almost
Hohum wasn't one to listen to gossip, he had of course heard the
stories. For years there had been whispers about a pair of carnivorous
rabbits living deep in the woods. Every time a young field mouse
or hedgehog disappeared, people would turn to one another with knowing
looks and mouth the names 'Geoff' and 'Madame Rabbit'. Hohum had
never paid much heed to what he'd thought was nothing more than
idle chatter, but now
Some said that Madame Rabbit was French;
others that she simply thought she was. What they all agreed upon
was that at some point in her life she'd developed an unnatural
taste for meat. As for her overweight husband Geoffrey, rumour had
it that he was a former bodybuilder whose figure had run to fat
after he'd developed a fancy for his wife's avant-garde cooking.
And now Hohum was tied up in their larder, undoubtedly destined
for the pot.
Yet why am I still alive? he thought. Why not just
kill me, like these other poor creatures, and have done with it?
His musings were interrupted by the sound of heavy footfalls and
the rumble of disgruntled muttering.
her sous chief
" Geoff lumbered into the larder, and Hohum
thought it safest to pretend that he was still unconscious. The
smell of sweat and tobacco made him want to retch, but he managed
to keep himself still, to all intents and purposes as dead as the
creatures hanging above him. Hohum held his breath as the unreasonably
large rabbit lifted him off the chopping board and, to his amazement,
began to untie him. Could this be my chance to escape? he wondered.
But Geoff's grip was too firm, and besides, he didn't fancy his
Irrational thoughts played through Hohum's mind as
the vile oaf began to strip off the remnants of his once handsome
set of tweeds. He'd always been more than a little uncomfortable
with the concept of nakedness. As a child he had insisted, much
to his parents' annoyance, that he bathe separately from his brother,
and since then he had always made a point of dressing with the curtains
closed and the light off, just in case anybody should be passing.
Now here he was in all his glory, being watched by numerous pairs
of dead eyes. Yet all he could think about was the kind of dish
he would become. He really hoped that it wouldn't be over-seasoned.
A mild curry, perhaps (korma preferably), or maybe a hearty goulash
with some nice homegrown vegetables? Including carrots. Yes, lots
of carrots. Hohum had always been partial to carrots. There was
something comforting about them. He was in the process of pondering
whether it was the colour or the shape when the strong smell of
paprika, chilli and garlic met his nostrils and he knew that he
was going to become a meal that he would never, ever want to eat.
Lost in his culinary reverie, Hohum had been oblivious
to the fact that Geoff had carried him into the kitchen, but now
the discordant aroma of a questionable sauce brought him back into
the moment. He ventured to open one of his eyes. The kitchen was,
as far as he could tell, reasonably hygienic. The cream-coloured
tiles on the walls were markedly cleaner than those in the larder,
and the work surfaces were made of polished stone. A range of utensils
hung from the farthest wall, and below him, on the stove, bubbled
the saucepan of offending sauce. He could also see the monstrous
Madame Rabbit, crushing yet another clove of garlic.
"Très bon, Geoffrey," she said, her
voice thick was salivation. "With this recipe it is essential
that the hohum is alive when it enters the sauce. The infusion,
you understand? The je ne sais quoi of the meat!" Incomprehensible
as these words were, Hohum was certain that they pertained to his
imminent stewing. This is it, old chap, he thought, saddened by
the fact that he would never see his prized blue and white china
was about to drop Hohum into the saucepan when his wife cried out
sharply, "Mon dieu, Geoffrey! What is it that you think you
"Puttin' it in the pot, woman, what do ya think?"
her husband replied indignantly. Madame Rabbit gave him a poisonous
stare, drawing air through her sharp, protruding teeth.
"You forget yourself, mon cher. First I must
add one more vital ingredient." She reached into a large ceramic
jar on the work surface and produced a bulbous, green frog. Hohum's
stomach knotted as he guessed what the murderous chef was about
to do. Madame Rabbit had begun to sing softly under her breath,
and although Hohum couldn't understand the lyrics he felt sure that
they belied the seeming innocence of the tune.
It was then that something remarkable happened. As
Madame Rabbit was about to remove the poor creature's legs, the
frog (still very much alive and clearly alarmed by its predicament)
managed to slip from the butcher's grasp and hop onto Geoff's shoulder.
The mound of man rabbit let out a surprisingly high pitched shriek,
and began dancing wildly about the room.
"Get it off me! Get it off me!" he cried.
"Pull yourself together, Geoffrey!" Madame
Rabbit snapped. But it was too late. Before she could get out of
the way her boulder-like husband crashed into her, and the two of
them tumbled onto the kitchen floor.
To his delight Hohum found himself catapulted into
the air, the thrill of release making him temporarily forget his
morbid fear of heights. Indeed, the breeze through his fur was rather
refreshing, but there was hardly time to savour the moment as with
a marked lack of grace he landed precariously on the rim of the
saucepan, his rat-like arms spinning frantically in an attempt to
retain his balance. The fumes from the noxious blend of herbs and
spices made him feel queasy, and a number of times he thought he
was going to plummet to his certain doom.
"Oh dear!" he said out loud, as he edged
his way unsteadily round towards the saucepan's handle. On the floor
Geoff was still whimpering about the frog, whilst his wife, trapped
beneath his not inconsiderable bulk, let fly an assortment of highly
Hohum realised that he must act swiftly if he was
going to have any chance of escaping with his life. He was dangling
from the saucepan's handle now, eyes squeezed tightly shut, desperately
trying to summon up the courage to let go. Come on, come on, you
can do it, he thought. But his fingers seemed locked rigid, and
try as he might he couldn't release his grip. Time thickened as
a childhood memory stirred behind his eyelids. It had been the school
holidays, and his brother Dennis had somehow managed to con him
into climbing the large oak tree by the side of the lake. Going
up had been alright, and the view from the top had been beautiful,
but coming down
Hohum's courage had failed him, and he'd clung
to the trunk refusing to move. In the end, Dennis had had to summon
their father, and the best part of the evening had been spent trying
to talk Hohum back to earth. He could remember, eventually, dangling
from one of the lower branches just a few feet from the ground,
his father offering words of encouragement, telling him that he'd
come this far, that he would catch him, that everything would be
alright if he would just let go.
Hohum let go.
The drop was shorter than expected. Indeed, it hardly
felt as if he'd fallen at all. The reason became clear when he unbolted
his eyes and saw that he had landed on the frog. It was in mid-leap
towards the open kitchen door, and in alarm Hohum dug his fingers
and toes into the amphibian's warty, green back.
"Do you mind?" croaked the frog. However,
its words were lost on its terrified passenger, who clung on for
dear life as they flew into the living room.
Behind them, Hohum could hear the sound of Geoff and
Madame Rabbit scuffling to their feet and attempting to quarrel
their way through the kitchen door in ravenous pursuit.
"After them, Geoffrey!" the psychotic chef
screamed, the words curdling in her throat, "Don't let dinner
With a roar, the mound of man rabbit bouldered into
the room, rolling into the nest of mahogany side tables, sending
family photographs flying from the mantelpiece, and even unhinging
the front door as he tried to apprehend the petrified Hohum and
his amphibious steed. To its credit, the frog bore the weight of
its passenger with effortless ease, leaping from table to lampshade
to chair with the lithe precision of a trained gymnast (which, of
course, it was).
In a very short space of time the once well-appointed
living room began to resemble a badly organised boot-sale. Broken
furniture littered the now less than plush looking carpet, the light
fittings, with their pale pink satin shades, hung from the walls
at alarming angles, and more than one inoffensive landscape had
considerably decreased in value. As for Geoff, he was clearly showing
signs of fatigue, his fat hairy body a stink with perspiration.
With one last uncoordinated lunge he crashed towards his deft-footed
dinner, demolishing what was left of the three-piece suite, before
lying motionless amid the debris.
really not feeling very well," moaned Hohum, as the frog performed
an aerial somersault, clearly showing off. Mid-roll, he caught sight
of Madame Rabbit. She was standing in the kitchen doorway and even
upside down she didn't look happy. Her mouth kept on opening and
closing, but no words were coming out, and Hohum was sure that her
dark, beady eyes had turned a disconcerting shade of red.
What happened next seemed to be in slow motion. To
his horror Hohum realised that Madame Rabbit was holding her fiendishly
large knife. No, worse, preparing to throw it! The blade sung through
the air as it made its way murderously towards them. Hohum was vaguely
aware that the frog was trying to say something, but its incomprehensible
words seemed even more stretched and strange than before. I'm going
to die, thought Hohum. It really wasn't fair. It was a Tuesday.
Nothing untoward should happen on a Tuesday. And yet here he was,
clinging naked to a frog he'd only just met, about to be cut in
twain by an unreasonably large knife thrown by a carnivorous, Francophile
Not for the first time that day, Hohum wished he'd
stayed at home. He should be there now, sipping juniper berry tea
and reading an improving book. Maybe even doing a little knitting
It saddened him to think that he'd never finish the jumper he'd
been working on. True, the diamond pattern had been proving tricky
to get right, but it would have looked splendid when finished. It
would have made him the envy of the neighbourhood, but now it was
destined to be merely a one-sleeved monument to what might have
been. He imagined his mother having it mounted and framed and displaying
it over her fireplace. She would see it everyday and think of him.
Yes, there was comfort in that.
Hohum's maudlin self-pity was interrupted by a miracle.
The knife missed. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the
frog moved, dropping deftly out of the way to land momentarily on
the unconscious Geoff's head, before springing, with undiminished
vigour, towards the space left by the recently unhinged front door.
Within moments they were in the antechamber, and Hohum ventured
to glance over his shoulder before they disappeared up the tunnel
and out into the liberating night air. He could see Madame Rabbit
collapsing to her knees by the side of her fallen husband, an expression
of silent rage, infused with disbelief, distorting her already disturbing
features. It was a scene that Hohum would never, ever forget.
Hohum was glad of the cover of darkness as he and
the frog hopped in the direction that he sincerely hoped was home.
If the neighbours saw him in his current state
Well, he simply
wouldn't hear the end of it. Finally they reached the banks of the
lake, and to his delight Hohum could just make out the entrance
to his hole. It was gently illuminated by the stars, and he'd never
been so happy to see it in all his life. The frog, who seemed to
have an intuitive understanding of the situation, stopped a few
feet from the entrance, allowing its passenger to rather stiffly
disembark. It croaked something which sounded like 'ribbet', but
actually meant 'your welcome', before leaping into the waters of
the lake with a resounding plop and disappearing from view.
"Thank you!" called Hohum, as the velvet
ripples dilated into the shadows. He took a deep lungful of cool
night air and suddenly realised how chilly it was. Best get inside,
he thought, put some clothes on, maybe even do a few rows of knitting
He doubted that he'd get much sleep after all that excitement. Indeed,
there seemed little point in resuming his precious schedule just
now. Perhaps, for once, he'd stay up and watch the sun rise.
©Tom Masters 2010
Illustrations © Ryan Medlock