Brer Rabbit stopped and looked around. "Who's that?" he said.
"Help me! Help me please!" shouted the someone.
Brer Rabbit turned his long rabbit ears this way and that. The voice appeared to come from a big rock by the side of the road. Brer Rabbit knew rocks weren't in the habit of talking, so he hopped over to investigate.
"Brer Rabbit here," he said. "Who's that there?"
"Oh, Brer Rabbit, thank goodness it's you. It's me, Brer Wolf! I was napping in the shade of this here rock, and it fell right down on top of me. Come round to the other side, and you'll see."
Brer Rabbit hippity-hopped around to the other side and, sure enough, there was Brer Wolf's sharp snout sticking out from under the rock.
"I'm stuck down here in this hole," he said. "Go find a big stick, Brer Rabbit, and you can roll the rock away. I'm begging you! Help me please!"
"I don't know, Brer Wolf," said the rabbit slowly. "I suspect you'll eat me for breakfast just as soon as you get out from under there. You're a hungry man at the best of times. And these ain't the best of times."
"No, I swear," Brer Wolf replied, "I swear I won't. Just get me out from under this rock and I won't touch you nor any of your kin ever again."
"And you'll give me free run of your goober patch?" asked the rabbit. "And the tater patch too?"
"I swear," said the Wolf. "All the goobers and taters you can eat."
"Done!" said Brer Rabbit, already thinking on the fine meal he would have. He grabbed a big stick, and with him a-lifting and the wolf a-pushing, they rolled the rock aside.
Brer Wolf then leaped out and grabbed Brer Rabbit. "Now I've got you!" he shouted.
"Wait just a minute," the rabbit protested. "What about that promise you made?"
"Smart rabbit like you should know not to trust a hungry wolf like me. And I sure am hungry after spending all night underneath that rock."
"This ain't right, Brer Wolf. It's an injustice is what it is. We'll have to take it to the judge."
"What judge you got in mind?" asked Brer Wolf.
Brer Rabbit thought fast. "Sis Cow's just yonder in that field; I saw her as I was hopping by. We'll let her decide."
"Okay," said the wolf. "But don't try any funny business, or I'll strangle you on the spot."
"Morning!" Sis Cow said.
"Morning to you, Sis Cow," Brer Rabbit replied. "Brer Wolf and me got a problem here, and we need your help."
After he explained what had happened, Sis Cow pronounced judgment. "You're a fool, Brer Rabbit, to expect any gratitude. Look at me: I let Mr. Man milk me every morning, but for what? He takes my children and turns 'em into steaks and leather shoes. There ain't no gratitude to be found in this world, that's a fact."
The wolf tightened his grip, but Brer Rabbit squeaked, "Not so fast, Brer Wolf. In matters of life and death you need more than just one judge. Let's ask the persimmon tree; he's right over there."
"You got no cause to complain, Brer Rabbit," said the tree. "Look at me. I give my fruits every year to the critters and the peoples alike, but soon as Mr. Man wants to clear this field, just you watch; he'll chop me down and burn me up without so much as a by-your-leave. If you trusted the word of a wolf, more fool you."
"Breakfast time!" snarled the wolf.
But Brer Rabbit squirmed and shouted, "Three judges is what we need, Brer Wolf. You gotta have three. And I see Brer Terrapin poking his nose out of the grass right over there. Don't go breaking the law and ruining your breakfast; we got to go and ask Brer Terrapin to judge."
"Brer Rabbit! Brer Wolf! I'm surprised to see the two of you in cahoots," said the turtle. "What kind of trouble are you getting into this fine morning?"
Brer Wolf hurriedly told the turtle what had happened. He didn't notice Brer Rabbit winking at Brer Terrapin, nor Brer Terrapin winking back.
"I'm not sure I understand, Brer Wolf," the turtle then said slowly, the way turtles do. "You're saying Brer Rabbit hit you with a rock? And that's why you're so angry?"
"No!" shouted the wolf. And then he explained it all again, while Brer Rabbit kept on a-winking at Brer Terrapin, with Brer Terrapin a-winking back.
"Ohhhh," said the turtle at last. "You want me to cook breakfast for you and Brer Rabbit here?"
"NO!" screamed the wolf, who was getting hungrier by the minute.
"How about you show me?" said the turtle.
And so Brer Wolf and Brer Rabbit, along with Brer Terrapin, went back to the rock by the side of the road.
"I was in here," said Brer Wolf as he jumped down into the hole. "And..."
"NOW, Brer Rabbit!" shouted the turtle. And the two of them pushed against the rock and rolled it right back on top of the wolf.
"Thank you kindly," said Brer Rabbit to the turtle, "thank you kindly indeed."
"My pleasure, Brer Rabbit," said the turtle in reply, "my pleasure indeed."
"I'm thinking we might find some nice breakfast over at Brer Wolf's tater patch. Would you care to join me?"
"That I would," said Brer Terrapin, "that I would!"
"We might save you a tater or two, Brer Wolf," added Brer Rabbit, thumping on the rock with his right hind foot. "Or then again — thump thump thump — we might not."
Course that wolf got free somehow; wolves usually do. But not before Brer Rabbit and Brer Terrapin ate up all his taters for breakfast, and most of the goobers too.
Bibliography. This story is inspired by two sources:
The Tiger, The Brahman, and the Jackal, from Indian Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs.
Brother Wolf Still in Trouble, from Nights with Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris.
Author's Note. As you can see, I adapted the ancient Indian folktale about the brahmin and the tiger and the jackal to a story about Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf and Brer Terrapin. It was not my idea to do that; this story is an African American folktale, first recorded in written form by Joel Chandler Harris in 1883. The version that Harris recorded does not include the part about the judges, so that is my addition: I added in Sis Cow and the persimmon tree as judges to the story about Brer Wolf under the rock. In the Indian folktale, the judges were a pipal tree, a bull, and the road itself.
I wanted to include a third judge too; it was going to be Brer Possum, who is so kind as to eat up ticks but as a reward he gets hunted and made into possum stew. But I ran out of room (I struggle with the 1000-word limit also!), which means I did not get to include Brer Possum as a judge.
The folktales of India spread widely throughout the world, so you can find versions of this folktale in medieval Europe (in Europe it is the story of a dragon, a peasant, and a fox; here's a medieval English example), and you can also find this folktale told in Africa. The folklorist May Klipple found 48 versions recorded in Africa! For an example from Africa, here is a Hausa story about an ungrateful hyena rescued by a monkey, with a jerboa as the trickster: The Ungrateful Hyena.
When enslaved Africans came to the Americas, they brought their folktales with them. Although the slave-owners tried to erase the slaves' African identity (African languages, religions, names) and tried to deny that African cultures even existed, they could not stop storytellers from telling the stories, and so the African stories became African American stories; the majority of the Brer Rabbit stories come from Africa. That is what I studied all summer (here's my Brer Rabbit website), and I am excited to be writing my own Brer Rabbit stories for class this semester. This is the first Brer Rabbit story that I have written, and I want to do a Brer Rabbit Storybook, picking out the best stories to illustrate the African origins of Brer Rabbit, Brer Terrapin, and the other trickster heroes.