01 Feb Fifty Years Ago, My World Was Destroyed by a Rabbit
I was born on a secluded farm sixty-two years ago, out in the mountains. Won’t give specifics, names won’t help you learn the tale. Mama never liked talking about it after we got out, and my baby sister never learned her heritage. I don’t want to talk about that place either, truth told and all, but I finally feel able. Mama passed a decade ago, and my sister has a family of her own to worry about.
Mama didn’t know which of the men sired me. See, back on the farm, it was that all the children had mothers, but not so much fathers. No one got called daddy on the farm. The men planted seeds as they saw fit in any womb they desired. You’d be flabbergasted what can look normal when you don’t know how normal looks.
Rules were as integral as the old barn and as bountiful as the cornfield by it. I know the important ones by heart even now. Some of them made sense, like don’t play near the fences or go off without telling your mama. Then were the other ones that didn’t make sense, like no children allowed in the barn, and don’t go around the oaks around the fences. Those were drilled into us when we were babes. Kids could play when farm work was finished. Tree climbing was the most fun you could have then, long as you didn’t touch an oak.
It would have gone on like that for another generation had the Rabbit not come.
The whole ordeal-and it was an ordeal- started due to the old adage; boys don’t cry. Now, girls could cry all they wanted, but boys got the belt, and repeat offenders got the paddle. I got the belt more for crying than I did anything else. As to why, see, mama had a baby, a little girl at that time. I only got a look at her as Grandpa R took her out of the birthing room, squalling and pink. She had the prettiest brown eyes I ever did see, but Grandpa R took her away so fast it was like she’d hardly been there at all. Gone like a puff of dandelions in the breeze.
So there I was about a week after, crying silently and rubbing my nose on my shirt to try to get the leaking to stop. I was hurting and confused, having to hide my grief out by the fence. I only had brothers by my uncles, some already having sown their seeds among my aunts.
Sunset after a rainstorm seemed a mighty good time to cry my heart out. I even picked an oak tree to sit under, just for spite. None of the younger kids would come near an oak, and all the older ones were put to work.
So caught up in my own turmoil that I was startled by the damp velvet of a nose nudged my barefoot. I glanced to my left knee to find a cute, black rabbit staring up at me. My eyes showed me a perky little bunny, but my gut quivered like it did when I got the command to pick a belt. Overthinking the dissonance gave me a headache, so I figured it best to not overthink. I just thought the aches were from crying and skipping lunch.
I felt the voice inside my head rather than hearing it with my ears. Picking at the grass near my knee, I eyed the Rabbit carefully. The only talking animals I knew of were the snake from Eden and Balaam’s ass. Since rabbits were closer to asses, I said: “Why d’you care?”
It walked to sit before me, eyes boring into mine. They were crimson and cloudy like the blood that beads along a deep cut. “You’re sad and alone, kiddo.” It looked up at the old oak, giving me a good view of the patch of fur where a mouth should have been. “I’ve seen lots of kids play close to this tree, but they never come close enough to touch it. Why are you out here by yourself?”
I dragged a sleeve across my eyes with a sharp sniff. “Rabbits don’t talk.”
The Rabbit blinked. “I’m not just any rabbit.” It tilted its head curiously, ears fanned. “I’m The Rabbit.”
“Yup! Only Rabbit like me there is!” It cocked its head at me, nose twitching. “So, what’s got you crying your heart out under a tree?”
“…my sister’s gone.”
“Oh.” Glancing down at the earth, its eyes followed an ant as it thought. “I’m sorry.” The Rabbit lay its ears back and stood on its hind legs. “I have a lot of family. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost one of them.”
I sniffed harder. “M-Mama says my sister’s gone to a doctor, but I know better.”
“Don’t need no doctor for ugly babies.”
It cocked its head a little. “I’ve… never seen an ugly baby. Squishy and stinky, but not ugly.”
“Guess her eyes were wrong.”
“…I see.” It hummed, brows scrunched up in thought. “Is that why you’re out here all alone?”
I gulped. “Boys don’t cry.”
It gave a mouthless gasp. “Not true! My sire, Furfur, he cried when he lost his best friend.”
“Furfur’s a funny name.”
The Rabbit quirked an eyebrow, a strange look on a rabbit. “What kind of name do you have, then?”
The Rabbit chuckled at me then, paws perched onto my foot. “The crazy king from Matthew’s Gospel.” It blinked slowly, ears facing forward. “You’re not crazy or a king. Are you sure that’s your name?”
If a talking rabbit wasn’t strange enough, this one knew scripture. “You know the good book?”
“To the letter! Old and New Testament!” The Rabbit sat back on its haunches and blinked at me curiously. “What’s your favorite story?”
“David and Goliath. What’s yours?”
“The Gospel of Judas.”
My brows furrowed. “I don’t know that one.”
“You might be a little young for it.”
“Hey, I’ll be a man soon enough!”
“Really? How old are you?”
I sniffed hard and managed a smirk. “Thirteen by autumn.”
“Thirteen? Wow. I’ve never known anyone who was a man by thirteen.”
I puffed up like a peacock at that. “Guess I’m just lucky!”
“You sure are.” Its ears flicked forward, and it leaned up to my face. “I’ve got a secret for you, Herod.”
I leaned down and listened in.
“I’m lucky, too.” It lunged playfully and rubbed our noses together in a quick Eskimo kiss. “Now, you’ve got my luck on you!”
I found myself smiling wide as I stood to go. “My grandpas are gonna like you! Come on!”
“Come on?” Its ears fell back a bit in confusion.
“Yeah, come with me!” I waved it to me with a hand, but it sat stiller than a stone.
“Well… I can’t.” It pawed at the dirt, brow furrowed as little lines carved themselves into the earth from its claws. “See, I can’t go past the big oaks. Whoever owns this land did something to them to keep ones like me out. Don’t know why; my kin are kind to kind kin,” it mumbled before thumping a back foot. “It’s a dumb thing, but if you want me to come with you, you gotta carry me past that big oak.”
The Rabbit shrugged. “If you live here and take me into your home, the oaks won’t hurt me.”
Who’d wanna hurt a funny little bunny? “Hurt you how?”
Its eyes widened into big red marbles with those perky ears laid flat to its shoulders. “I don’t wanna find out! Furfur told me I’d turn into a pile of salt. I don’t wanna be like Lot’s wife. Will you help me?”
Gulping, I nodded. A talking rabbit that knew scripture should have been a welcome sight. I reached down and gripped the furry friend around the middle and lifted it into my arms. It wasn’t larger than a cantaloupe, but its weight was double! It had a pelt like the rex rabbits we raised in hutches by the pigs.
It turned its head like an owl to look up at me. “Am I too heavy?”
“Naw. Met piglets that-weigh way more!” I grunted with the effort it took to stumble back over past the oak, and the Rabbit shuddered in my grip.
The fuzzy oddity hopped free of my arms and scampered away. It rose to its back paws and turned its front ones to face palms up. “I’m… okay.” The Rabbit stared up at me, then launched itself into the air about a foot. “Ha! I’m okay!” It bucked like a wild horse and landed with a bright laugh. “Thank you, Herod!”
“You’re welcome!” I said as The Rabbit ran quick circles around my legs.
“This is great. Now I get to see your home!” Shaking itself and coming to a halt by my feet, it glanced up at me. “Where to?”
“It’s not far! Just over that hill.”
“Lead the way!”
The walk back was quiet, feet on damp grass and paws kicking up dark dust. I didn’t make a peep until the laundry line came into view. A few of my aunts were taking down bedsheets, while my mama sat in a chair folding smaller items. She saw me first. “Herod, there you are!” Her eyes were tired, but her smile was true. “I wasn’t sure where you’d run off too.”
“Just checking the fences. I found this one by a tree!” I offered a hand at the Rabbit, who sat properly like a calm cat or well-mannered dog.
Mama’s eyes flickered a little with something I didn’t understand at the time. The look you’d shoot at a spider in your food, not at a little bunny. “By a tree, Herod?”
Sitting stock still in the chair, her frown deepened. A cloud of thought passed over her eyes before she shrugged weakly. “Well. Must be one what got out of the hutches. Put it back before it runs off for good.” She folded up a button shirt and stacked it onto a pile in a basket at her feet. “Supper will be ready in about an hour.”
“But mama, this one-”
From around a pinned sheet came one of my uncles. Sweat soaked his hairline, and his shirt was stained with pig slop. “Boy.” Thinking back on it, that uncle might have been my father, had the same nose and jaw… Hell if it matters now. He never knew me. He frowned deeply from his sun-wrinkled face. “Put that rabbit back in the hutch.”
The Rabbit, for its part, said nothing as it followed me to the hutches adjacent to the barn. Pigs grunted and grumbled in the mud near the hutch, a glorified chicken coop that wasn’t big enough for our chickens. Popping the door open and giving it a tug, I eyed the Rabbit sadly as I squatted to give it a pat goodbye. “I’m awful sorry, Rabbit.”
It nuzzled my hand and stood on its back legs. I felt it smiling. “Don’t worry. I’ll wait here until dark.”
My lip wobbled. “But if someone picks you for the barn-”
Tiny, red eyes gazed up at me with a ferocity twinkling within. “I’m no ordinary rabbit, Herod.” It scuttled back into a corner between two butterscotch does, eyes never leaving mine. “Go.”
The door shut, and I latched it, sucking back a wad of snot as I stormed back to the house. So much for a rabbit that knew scripture being welcomed!
Dinner was about two hours worth of an ordeal back then. Lunch was simple sandwiches you could bring when working the farm, but breakfast and supper were a madhouse of food. I’m never gonna forget that dinner. There was nothing special about it, just cornbread, several roasted chickens, boat after boat of gravy, greens enough to fill a wheelbarrow. But it’s not the food what makes it stick.
I picked at my plate. Had a single wing and a scant bite of cornbread. Turned my nose up at greens. It ended soon enough. It was dark out by the time it was done, the moon climbing slowly through the woods like a watchful eye to shine her light above.
“Still having thoughts about that loose bunny?” Mama asked as I gathered up plates. She sat and dried while one of my aunts scrubbed. An older girl put them away.
“Don’t worry, Herod. You brought a lost little bunny home. That’s a good thing.”
I wanted to believe mama, but she hadn’t heard it speak. Dishes piled away sooner than later, and the kitchen was cleared of plates and people by the time the moon crested the trees as if perched in their topmost branches.
My reverie at the sight of the moon was cut short by a noise at the door. Scrabbling noises cut through the kitchen. Staring back at me through the screen was a pair of tiny red eyes. Paws with tiny claws pressed the screen in as a nose puffed air at me. “Howdy Herod.”
I checked over my shoulder before busting out into the night air. “Rabbit!” I reached out and stroked the funny bunny from nose to tail. It lay almost flat as a pelt, its fur warmer than a cat that’d slept in the sun all day. “How’d you get free?”
“The hutches aren’t like the oaks.” It paused to groom a front paw coyly. “Your rabbits aren’t talkers, by the way. Cuddly as can be, though. They damn near licked my hide off!” It settled onto all four paws and blinked. “Are they for meat or fur? Pets don’t live in cages.”
“We use the whole thing, but that happens in the barn,” I finished with a shudder that rattled my rib cage, and not just from the oddly cool night air.
It noticed. “What’s so bad about that old barn?”
“Animals get cut up for meat, and hides get tanned in the rafters.” I glanced over my shoulders and leaned closer. “Kids can’t go there. Only men.”
The funny little bunny blinked, its brows furrowed as it stood on its hind legs. “You’re almost a man, aren’t you?”
“You don’t like seeing creatures getting hurt?” it offered softly. Ears back, it turned to look at the barn, sitting stark and jutting like a tombstone past the corn. “I gotta go in.”
Its head whipped around to stare with huge eyes. “Why not?”
My eyes misted. “You’ll get chopped up for dinner.”
“Herod, I’m too lucky for that.” Shaking its head, its ears made a hollow clattering noise as it hopped away from me and to the building, stirring up motes of black dust. “C’mon. You got my luck on you, remember?”
The fear that long-held me back from even thinking of going past the doors faded. Stiffer than a starched shirt, I followed. The animals breathed and wheezed in slumber as we passed.
The main door was too much for me on my own, but the side door was simple, if in need of a good oiling. I slipped inside, the Rabbit a silky shadow by my heels. The faintest creak of the rafters above and the heavy odor of salted iron floated from all around. The only light was that of the moon above and the two, red eyes of the Rabbit.
My eyes followed its eyes as it searched about for… I didn’t know.
“Mm?” It didn’t look at me as it explored, those tiny red eyes bounding from one place to the next like lightning. Across from meat hooks, up in the loft, down again by the tractor.
“How come nobody saw you were different from other rabbits?”
It turned to me then. “What do you mean?”
“I knew you were different when you met me, but no one else can tell.”
It chuckled at me in the dark. “You’re lucky, like me. Luck brought you to that tree.”
I doubted grieving my baby sister was lucky. “…what are you looking for?”
“Mm. My sires sent me here to look for something. I can smell it, but I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Too much death to tell what’s what.” It floated from the rafters and hovered before my face. It looked… almost bigger in that darkness as a cloud blotted the moon. Then the silver shine returned, and the Rabbit was back before me, ears back in dismay. “I can’t figure it out-” The Rabbit then shot onto its back feet, head swiveled to the barn door. “Someone’s coming. Hide!” It fled to the safety of the tractor, and I followed with far less grace.
One of my grandpas pulled open the double doors holding a bundle in one arm. A baby squealed and cried in the night as he kicked a rug from the floor. He held it to him only to hold it still, not from love or care. Between the guts of the machine, my eyes widened in fear as he pulled out a hooked knife from his breast pocket and adjusted the baby in his arms. He hushed that child forever with one sharp swipe. Wiping the blade against his pants, he swaddled the baby completely and dropped it to one side. Grandpa bent on both knees and pulled open a trap door that’d been under the rug, and swept the baby into it with a massive hand. He headed back to the doors and shut them once everything was back in place, as calm and cold as if he’d done in a hog. The barn barely changed, save the stronger scent in the air.
I don’t know how long I sat frozen. “Oh my god…” I covered my mouth to choke back a scream.
“No God here, Herod.” The Rabbit stared hard at me in the low light. “And I’m sorry to say I found what I was sent to find. Herod, when you said your sister’s eyes were wrong, what was wrong about them? Do you know?” But it asked like it already knew.
The urge to duck my head and pick a belt surged through me. “They weren’t blue. Gotta be blue.”
“…then my sires were right about this place.” The Rabbit stood tall, its tiny red eyes blazing. “I’m so sorry, Herod. Your grandpas are bad. Unmistakably bad. They do as they please and slaughter anyone if they look wrong.”
“B-but we have to honor our elders. Gray hair is the crown of a righteous life-”
My ears rang as the Rabbit focused completely onto me. “Righteous.”
“The Bible says-”
The Rabbit let out a growl that rattled the barn to the roof, pelts swayed from their rafters, and knives jangled on their chains. I fell silent.
“I know your Bible.” Its voice frayed slowly into many the longer it spoke, like the end of a rope finally losing form. “The bible says that God drowned every man woman and child that He deemed evil. The bible says that God smote all the firstborn of the Egyptians after making their king crueler after every plague. The bible says that God wants us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, but He does horrible things with no repercussions and no one to tell Him it’s wrong.” It sighed and sank onto all fours, still watching me. “Does that seem right to you?”
“I…” But at my core, I knew I’d already questioned those very things. I knew I’d had doubts I never spoke of for fear of the belt or worse, the paddle. “…no.”
Its voice dropped to a gentler tone, speaking in one voice as before. “Then why is it alright for your grandpas to be cruel if it’s not right for God to be cruel?”
“Exactly!” The Rabbit shook itself, black motes flying from its coat. “If your grandpas act like that cruel God from the bible-” Those small, unblinking eyes cast scarlet light in the darkening world around us. “-then they must not be good men at all.”
“Then what do we do?”
The Rabbit finally blinked. It came closer to me and planted its front paws on my barefoot. “You and I alone? One thing.” Its ears fell back to lay on its shoulders. “But with my family here? We can do the rest.”
The excitement lacing its voice put me off. “I dunno.”
“Your hands will stay clean. Promise. You just have to do one thing, and my family can handle the rest. I’m David, and you’re my slingshot. Do you trust me?”
But I was frozen.
“Herod.” I stared into those fathomless eyes that glowed with hellfire. “Do you trust me?”
I sniffled. “Yes.”
The Rabbit sighed. “Good. All you have to do is climb one of the oaks, and take down one of those little bags nailed to it. Just one, and my family can come through.”
I peered down at the little fuzzball. “You promise?”
It blinked. “Well, one other thing.”
The Rabbit’s gaze grew hard. “Get yourself out of here before midnight tonight.”
My throat ached from unshed tears. “C-can I bring my mama?”
“Oh, sure! A boy needs his mother.” Its ears fell back, and it stared up at me guiltily. “I didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t take anyone with you.” Scuffing a paw at the boards, it mumbled sadly, “Your mama’s expecting again. I could smell it.”
“But she only had my sister a couple days ago…”
The Rabbit nodded once and sighed. “Get that bag, Herod. Please.”
Standing on stiff legs, I pushed the side door open. Over my shoulder, I asked it, “What’re you gonna do?”
It sat and watched me, tendrils of black uncurling at its feet. “Wait.”
Gulping and turning out into the night, I checked no one was close by and ran to the woods. The trees weren’t easy to find in the dark, but it helped that they were all evenly spaced out.
Inching my way up the oak, I found purchase on a thick branch. Slowly standing up and feeling about for a back, the dark sure didn’t help. But the wind blew the clouds from the moon, and the silver light fell upon a little bundle nailed a bit above my reach. I had to jump up to grab it, and my weight ripped it from the nail. The suede ripped open, and the contents spilled out. Black salt, ash, a cinnamon stick covered in weird writing with rosemary sticking from the ends. A crystal with an eye carved into it was tied around the bundle. A small, silver crucifix.
I did my part, but it felt like part of my heart was caving in. I had to get mama.
Boys weren’t allowed into the women’s side of the house, but this was more important than a rule. The men’s side and women’s side were set up about the same way, with three-high bunk beds lining the walls and two in the center. Even then, some of the younger women had to double up.
I must have looked a fright to her that night, eyes wide and my hands filthy with ash and salt. She’d been placed in a bottom bunk by herself. When I grabbed her arm and shook her awake, she jumped a little as she woke. “Sweet lord, Herod! What’s going on?”
“Mama,” I spoke softly but kept my voice firm. “Something’s wrong, and we need to get outside.”
Her voice was still groggy from sleep. “What’s so wrong that-”
“Mama.” I grabbed her hands and tugged her to sit up. “Mama, we have to get out of here.”
“Now.” I’d let my voice slide to a higher pitch and volume, and when someone snored a little louder behind me, I pulled myself together just a bit. “Grab what you can, and get to the oak nearest the woods. We need to leave before midnight.”
That cloud from before that’d darkened her eyes at the clothesline passed over her again, and she nodded. “Okay.”
After some quiet gathering and pushing her to hurry along, we made it out of that house. I had her go ahead of me promised I’d meet her there and to just wait for me. Truth was, I was dead on my feet from the day I’d had. I swear, I’d only leaned up against the side of the barn for a minute, closed my weary eyes for a second… then the next thing I knew, I heard the Rabbit, talking to someone around the other side of the house. Not a chicken or pig to be heard, all gone silent as the grave.
Of course, I followed the voice, eavesdropping around a corner but out of sight.
“This boy, Herod?”
“A good boy who never asked too many questions.”
“Good. You’re almost done, Teravint. You’ve done Furfur and I proud.”
“Thank you. I’ll meet you there, sire. I’m not used to this.”
A chuckle that was closer to a gargle than anything. “I’ll let you get changed. You’ve done well, my child.”
I waited like we had in the barn for my grandpa to leave, and I turned the corner to confront the Rabbit.
The cute little bunny was gone. I don’t know what was supposed to be standing in its place. Too skinny and hairy to be of this earth, too sharp and cruel to have a soul. All blades and thorns weaved out of wires and soot on two bent legs. A tail lashed, and hooves found footing, but I can never remember the details. I don’t think I’m meant to understand.
The thing snuffled the air and spun on a hoof towards me. It had a mouth now, and it fell open in a gasp that gaped into endless black. “Herod!” It took a knee and held an arm- or was it a vine?- out to me. Two, tiny coals glowed where eyes should have been. “Herod, you need to get out of here, please!”
I was rooted to the spot, save the piss running down my leg.
It glided until we were nose to nose. “Herod, please.” A hand of bone and barbs patted my shoulder. Soot coated my shirt as the scent of sulfur stung at my eyes. “This is no place for kids. It never was. You have to-”
Around the corner of the house, a pallid horse head with milked over eyes looked our way. A narrow blade stuck out from between its eyes like a cruel mockery of a unicorn. “Teravint, are you-” The talking head paused, milky eyes fixing widely on me. “Oh shit.”
The Rabbit –Teravint, right. It always had a name.– turned to the mock-unicorn with a soft squealing noise. “Amdukias, what do I do?” A barb-coated arm shot out before me, a thorny barrier between myself and the thing staring at us. “W-we can’t take him, I marked him, b-but when I told him to leave he didn’t-”
“Hush, child. You’re alright.” The mock-unicorn sighed and rubbed a grizzled hand over its snout. The trees rushed and groaned with the absent wind as it pointed my way with the same hand. “Boy, why are you still here?”
I found my voice and stuttered out, “I-I can’t find my mama in the dark.”
Amdukias groaned, planting the hand aimed my way onto the ground. Another hand joined it as his amalgamate body of horse and man came around the corner, all ribs and sallow, drum-tight flesh. “Child, Furfur is near. We’ll meet you at the settlement. Get him-” he pointed my way with his horn- “out of here.” He galloped away on four sets of hands through the corn and towards the house.
Teravint turned me to face it, eyes bright in the dark. “You just need your mama? Okay, gimme a second here.” It lifted its horned head and sniffed at the sky. “Oh! I’ve got her. She’s by the tree where we met.” It looked back to me, horns rotating to the left. They may have been ears, but at that point, I was getting dizzier the longer I looked. “If we hurry we can-”
Its chest exploded backward as a round of buckshot unloaded from behind me. A painful wining blocked out the sounds around me.
My head swam as I turned to one of my uncles as he fumbled to reload the shotgun. He opened his mouth to shout to me and was silenced as Teravint launched itself over my head with a painful shriek. Dirty paws grabbed a fist full of shirt and didn’t let go, even as the butt of the shotgun hammered into its face. A spray of ash and charcoal flew up with every blow, but that didn’t even phase it. Teravint gripped my uncle around the throat and hoisted him above like he were a sack of corn. The unknowable beast opened its mouth wider and wider, the bit my uncle’s face clean off like a ripened peach.
Teravint stood slowly, hands to its sides, and back to me. Viscera dripped, and the scent of blood wafted on the growing wind. Something winged and silent flew overhead and cut out the light of the moon. Back near the houses, through all that corn, the screams of my twisted family sliced through the night. Through all my aunts and uncles shrieks of terror and the gunfire that died as fast as it started, I heard no children. The dozens of half-siblings and half-cousins were silent as the moon that hung above.
Dropping my uncle’s corpse, the thing turned its head slightly, the sliver of a scarlet eye burning with hellfire as it landed on me. Teravint turned itself from me and aimed with its left arm to the trees. Viscera and blood dripped as it spoke a sad and firm command; “Run.”