01 Feb He Was Scared of Rabbits, We Didn’t Listen
When I was in elementary school, I moved from my inner-city apartment across the country and into a tiny little town, into an even smaller little cul de sac. My dad promised I would grow to love my new home and make new friends, but I had to make an effort to really experience it. At the time, I thought he was full of shit. But I did as all little kids did, and I stopped caring. I started playing outside and promptly made a group of friends, who lived in the same juncture of houses as I did. We established a fort at the edge of the woods, behind Tarrance’s house, and began our routine of tag and chase, Nerf wars and hide and go seek championships. Among sunny afternoons, I found best friends and forgot there ever was a time before.
Nearly a year after I had moved into town, another kid and his family moved in down the street. My friend group adopted him as one of us, and we continued on as normal. It didn’t take us long to figure out there was something weird about this kid though. One particular rowdy game of tag was ceased temporarily by a chorus of shouts about a rabbit in Jackson’s yard, prompting each of us to turn and look at its unmoving form. Even as kids, we could tell something was wrong with it.
Jackson was the most bothered of all of us, fidgeting nervously and begging us to go somewhere else. He didn’t want to look at it, he even attempted to actively avoid acknowledging it was there. Some of the boys thought it’d be funny to grab him and make him look, holding his head still and trying to pry his eyelids open with childish giggles. None of us expected Jackson to erupt into screams, crumpling to the ground as he began to sob fearfully. We all stepped back and watched as some of our parents poked their heads out and rushed over, swarming us with questions and demands to know what happened.
My mom swiftly grabbed me by my ear and dragged me back towards my house, chastising me the whole way for being such a terrible friend. She sent me to my room, and within minutes the street was deserted of any kids. My dad came in a bit later and apologized on my mom’s behalf, asking about the rabbit we had seen. Animal control was called, and the rabbit was swiftly removed. We weren’t allowed outside for the next few days.
In the coming weeks, we learned that Jackson wasn’t just afraid of that rabbit having a disease or something, Jackson was terrified of rabbits in general. The mere mention was enough to get him sweating and begging for a topic-change, and that paved the way for the years of bullying he had to endure. I felt bad, a lot of us did. We played as we normally did at home and none of us bullied him, but a lot of the kids at school did. All the way through middle school he was tortured day in and day out. It got to a point where the bullies actively targeted anyone who dared associate him, ending most of his friendships, including ours.
After that, I stopped paying attention to Jackson, or “Rabbit Boy” as he was dubbed. Occasionally a story would float around about something he said or another meltdown he had, but as all of us got older, his bullies stopped paying him attention. Maybe they got bored, maybe they realized that they were being assholes for no reason, I didn’t care. I practically forgot about Jackson until sophomore year, when we had a science class together.
It started as being lab partners, we started talking again because we needed to work on a project together. But our old friendship shone through, and soon enough we started hanging out full-time again. He was still kind of weird, but I learned to look past it. I remember specifically one day his mom pulled me aside and told me he had some “mental issues” he was working through, and it meant a lot to him that we were friends again. I felt bad for that kid. A huge part of me blamed myself for his issues, and made me work twice as hard to be nice to him.
Junior year, two weeks before Easter, Jackson and I were screwing around in Walmart. We avoided the aisles stocked full of Easter themed shit, the rabbit imagery, pretended Easter didn’t even exist. It was all fine, and even though we saw kids with stuffed bunnies and chocolate rabbits, Jackson was able to keep it together. We left the store and as I unlocked my car, I noticed something strange, a flash of white towards the front of the store, from the exit we hadn’t left through. A moment of squinting, one of realization, and several of panicking as I tried to goad Jackson to hurry up and get in my car. He got curious, started trying to find what I was looking at, but I finally managed to get him into the passenger seat and the car started.
We pulled out, but then I realized the only way onto the main road was to pull out past the other exit, there was nothing I could do. I went as fast as I legally could without hitting anyone, but my efforts were in vain. Jackson noticed as we drove past, it was a man in a giant white rabbit costume. I still remember his screams of terror as I rushed home. I threw a hand out for him to grab on to, I kept trying to calm him down but I didn’t know what to do. Probably stop the car, but I didn’t think about that. We got to his house and sat in his driveway for what felt like hours, just me and Jackson. When he calmed down I took him inside his place and hung out for a while because his parents were gone.
We went back to his room and he asked me to stay the night, I had nothing better to do and I felt so bad, so I did. When his parents got home we moved to the family room and hung out for a bit. I remember the whole time I always thought something felt off. I didn’t like Jackson’s dad, didn’t like the way he was looking at me, didn’t like the way he acted. I was uncomfortable, I just wanted to go home, but I didn’t feel right leaving Jackson alone. After dinner we went back up to his room and got ready to sleep, he made himself a pile of blankets on the floor and let me take his bed.
I felt like I was being watched, but Jackson just shrugged and told me I’d get used to it. That weirded me out more. The whole day he had been talking cryptic and acting weird, I was getting tired of it. Finally, as Jackson brushed his teeth I risked a glance outside, surveying the edge of the woods.
A flash of white in the moonlight caught my eye, and I felt nervous as I stared into the trees. I stared for what felt like forever, before I finally noticed a figure just beyond the edge of the treeline. I couldn’t quite make it out, but I swore it was a rabbit costume. Shaking my head rapidly, I shut the blinds, bid Jackson goodnight, and went to bed. That morning I left as early as possible, and over the next few weeks I stopped hanging out with him. We would occasionally swap greetings, but it was clear we were no longer friends. I didn’t want to be. After that, I moved on with life and started to forget all of this. I got a job, I moved out of my parents house and into a small apartment closer to work, and I forgot.
I bring all of this up now, because today I learned one of the most horrifying things I could possibly imagine. I flicked on the news as I got dressed for work, idly listening as I went through my usual steps of my morning routine. I almost didn’t notice as the anchor began her next story, but one word caught me by surprise, pulling my attention to the screen.
“-In the basement, an old and faded rabbit costume, presumably used to lure in his victims.” She spoke excitedly, recounting the events earlier that night. A local man had kidnapped several kids in my town over the course of the year. When they raided his house, they found a horrible scene. Two dead, one in critical condition, and two in mostly stable condition, all held in his basement. They sat on dirty mattresses, covered in shit and left to rot in their own waste until he came to beat them or assault them. His basement was covered in rabbit memorabilia, statues and pictures lined every shelf and wall. They found letters addressed to no one, describing in detail his grizzly acts on not just these five kids, but several more. Bodies of various young ages were found in the woods behind his house.
When I got home I looked up the story to read more in detail, I learned things the news hadn’t covered. He had a safe in his house the police had a hard time breaking into, but when they did, they were met with hundreds upon hundreds of pictures of kids. Playing tag, doing chores, taking showers, even taking baths. Some of the less grim ones were up online for people to look through, they wanted to see if some of the kids could identify themselves. Morbidly curious I shuffled through the stack and found some startling discoveries. Not only was I in the stack, I was in there a lot. I saw pictures of me getting off of the bus or playing outside, some of me washing my dog. All clearly taken from outside the home. But out of all of these pictures, only one truly scared me. One picture was of me looking out of the window of a vaguely familiar house, staring directly at the camera. And I knew right then and there, that that was the night I had stayed over at Jackson’s place.
I called my mom up immediately and asked her if she had seen the news. We talked and talked as I scoured for details over the story. I wanted to know who this creep was, why he was so familiar. It didn’t take long to figure it out. His last name was so familiar to me, only because Jackson shared it. All of those years of wondering why Jackson acted so weird, those nights being curious about his fear of rabbits? It all made sense.
For years, Jackson had been telling us he was afraid of rabbits, and he was to an extent. But Jackson wasn’t telling the whole truth. Jackson was afraid of rabbits because to him, they were monsters. All those years, all those nights, and it finally made sense.
Jackson’s dad was a monster no one else could see, because like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, he paraded around in a harmless disguise.
I think I’m scared of rabbits, too.