Bonnie giggles in her sleep, tosses and turns from side to side, and swats her face until the giggling switches into a loud scream.

“Eech! It’s trying to eat me!”

Her brother jolts awake and her mother comes running from the carrot patch, losing half her harvest along the way, to find Niko hopping around after a boisterous puppy named Fifi and Bonnie wiping the slobber off her face, horrified.

“Yuck.” She rushes to her mom as the little beast goes straight for Niko’s ears. “Eek! It’s trying to eat Niko now!”

Their mother watches the benign wrestling match and laughs. “Honey Bunny. It’s just play biting. That’s what dogs do when they like you.”

Fifi sticks her butt in the air, wags her tail, and yaps while Niko tries to roll her over. His sister realizes that all his body parts are still intact so she decides to join in and bites the puppy’s tail.

“Yelp!” Fifi runs away with her tail between her legs, leaving Bonnie confused. Her brother and mother both yell at her in unison: “Bonnie!”

“What? You said that’s how they play.” She jumps back to her bedding and sulks.

“Oh dear. Yes, but they don’t actually bite down. They touch with their teeth, like this.” Mrs. Hopper snuggles up to her daughter and nibbles the fleshy part of her ear.

Bonnie blushes. “Whoops!” She sees the curious puppy poke her nose into the small clearing in the hemp patch but doesn’t dare come out.

“Get down on your front paws, Bonnie,” Niko demonstrates. His little fluffy tail wags furiously as he spreads his chest to the ground and jacks up his rump. Bonnie giggles at how silly he looks but it seems fun so she follows his lead.

Pretty soon, Fifi comes out from her hiding place and the three of them romp around the matted stems. Mrs. Hopper bounces back to her morning chores.

There haven’t been any dogs on the Hopper farm for several years now. Farmer Tom’s old German Shepherd Lex passed away a few months before Bonnie was born. He was a gentle giant and Niko’s first experience with canines. Luckily it was a positive friendship just as she imagines this new compact-sized bundle of energy will develop into.

It doesn’t take Bonnie any time to accept the new playmate either. “Finally,” she thinks to herself. “Someone I can gang up on Niko with. Hehehe”.

“Fifi! Où es-tu Fifi?” A rustling noise in the hemp approaches.

“That’s not Farmer Tom,” Bonnie whispers as Niko and her escape to find their mother leaving Fifi rolling in the dirt alone.

Katou emerges through the densely packed crop, scoops up the black ball of fur that used to be her white toy poodle and frowns. She suspects her Fifi wasn’t alone in the garden. Her eyes follow the bunny prints leading away from her. “Chouette!” She runs back to the farmhouse to announce her findings.

Meanwhile, the young Hoppers nibble on some lettuce leaves while their mother finishes her morning collection. “A little mint…some sage…some rosemary…and the nightshades next.” She disappears into the tomato patch for a few minutes then out the other side to collect a few beans, all while keeping an ear up for her kits.

The concerned mother doesn’t quite know how to break the news to her young about Farmer Tom. She knows that the new puppy distraction will wear off and Bonnie especially will start asking her where he is.

Niko and Bonnie spend every afternoon following Farmer Tom around as he checks on his polyculture paradise. Niko has even been involved in planting several of the companion plants in their secret carrot patch. Before Lex died, he would ride on his back and direct him where to dig, then he would hop down and drop in the seeds Farmer Tom had taught him to plant.

When Bonnie was old enough she joined her brother in the daily horticulture lessons and now there is no plant, weed, tree, or shrub that either of them can’t locate, recite their ideal soil conditions, choose a companion plant for, devise pest control strategies for, create the perfect mulch for, and even properly preserve the seeds from. The map of this entire culinary garden is etched into their furry little brains. And the two youngsters are now so fond of Farmer Tom that they called him Grampa.

The two cottontails back out of the tomato patch dragging a large potato. “Mommy, can we make mint soup puree for Grampa today? It’s his favourite.” Bonnie asks.

Mrs. Hopper sets down her basket, sits her children down at each side of her, and squeezes them in close. She knows the news will break their hearts. She takes a deep breath:

“My sweet honey bunnies, Grampa is not here anymore.”

… to be continued in Vultures In Paradise.