Such a long, important day you had, sweet Tony. Your birthday. You’ve had cake, ice cream, and wishes. The presents are open, pretty wrappers shredded and tossed. Many people love you, Tony.
Didn’t you like my present?
Didn’t notice it? Of course you wouldn’t. What with the bike and the game system, the piles of money and games. You opened the box of nine little rabbits, all in a row, and tried to understand. An ugly bit of kitsch that even your mother wouldn’t find pretty. Off-color, wicked-looking little rabbits, born mid–last century, crazing cracks on their porcelain faces. Faces of an ugly confidence, hidden knowledge in their bucktoothed grins. Why would I give such a thing to a child? Everyone at the party tittered in that nervous way people save for those who make jokes about death or who insult the feeble.
But you . . . you don’t hide your feelings. The look of confusion, drawn brows, and a mouth pursed to one side made me laugh. I’m sure you didn’t see. You were surrounded by those who love you, ten deep. I stood near the door, but I watched just the same.
You turned the box of the nine little rabbits, all in a row, glancing at the sides like they would explain the strange gift. I saw you sneer at my name and message swirled in calligraphy on the card. It said, “Some gifts teach more than gratitude.” You didn’t ask me to explain. You tossed the gift upon the pile of misfit presents to nestle among the socks and ties you didn’t give a second glance. At party’s end, I asked if I might tuck you in. Your mother smiled, glad I finally took an interest in her boy. You father, well . . . he’s of little consequence. Don’t you agree?
All that matters is you, me, and the stories of rabbits, all in a row.
Each rabbit could be a wish, a beautiful hope for your young life. They are not. I’m no fairy godmother.
Each rabbit could be a curse because I’m jealous of your curling locks, straining youth. Perhaps in time, you might come to see them that way.
I see them as cautionary tales. Things to learn.
This cheery fellow remembered his trench coat and gloves. See how his hands spread out in invitation? He loves children. Loves them in his burrow, snuggled in a corner. See how he watches children swinging, mindless of the monster leaning against a tree trunk. One child strays from the pack, chasing a soccer ball. Rabbit One catches the ball, kneels down, and sends it, gently, toward the child, whispering promises only a child will believe. The rabbit mask hides his wolfish mouth, grinning and slobbering while it imagines the child served up later upon a platter. The child backs away, knowing the rabbit face doesn’t go with the growling rasp of the voice asking for his name. Rabbit One hurriedly shows the picture of a pretty doggy lost and soon, the child forgets his worry. They must find the doggy.
Rabbit Two brews tea for his elderly mother, a battleship of a woman with more money than years. She’s collected cats who perch from every surface, watching with lamp eyes as he chops cat feces into fine powder and sprinkles it into the steaming tea. Each cat is marked for a special death. Once mother is gone.
Rabbit Three. The hidden rabbit. He sees you. Stalks you. He drinks your tears in like wine. When you stop crying, he makes you cry again. Because he is thirsty.
Rabbit Four looks like a sweet, young thing. Plaid skirt and black tights. Smooth hair shining in the sun. She smiles, lighting up the room. That’s when she counts her victims. Those she can use. She’s a black widow who eats her mates—usually with a side of cornbread.
Rabbit Five cuts locks of hair from women on the subway. He sews the locks onto a cloak he believes gives him their souls. When he wears it, it swishes and whispers. It tells where the women live. They never see him coming.
Rabbit Six practices surgery on animals she steals from people’s yards. She’s found that each death, sustained like the ethereal note from a Stradivarius, gives her a sip of immortality. When she saws open their chests and wraps their lungs like cloaks around their shoulders and pulls their intestines out like ropey garlands, she feels the blush of new power push into her hands. Do gods feel this way? She thinks so and wonders if she does this to her lover, will the power be stronger? Will it stay for more than the moments she drips with crimson life, scalpel like a bolt of life lightning in her shining fingers?
Rabbit Seven sits in his living room looking at porn he’s made and sold. Upskirts. Pee pics. Gay trysts in parks. Camel toes. Little girls on playgrounds. Old women sleeping in bed, sheets hiked up around their waists. Rabbit Seven doesn’t use his name when he sells the pictures. He sees himself as an artist. Like Banksy, it’s not about his own fame, but the beauty of his images. He picks up his camera and heads to work at the nursing home.
Rabbit Eight tells stories that weave into nightmares. Like a succubus, she drinks fear. She steals innocence from children to sip like a vintage so rare. She reveals to monsters their future faces so she might sup upon the struggle between light and dark in a fractured soul. That Rabbit, sweet Tony, is me.
You, Tony, are Rabbit Nine. So loved by all. But I see it there, in the way you watch the others. I smell the monster you keep inside. What story will I tell about you? I am so hungry.
Donna J. W. Munro has spent the last fifteen years teaching high school social studies immersed in the beauty and immediacy of teenage world building. Her students inspire her every day. An alumni of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program, she published pieces in Every Day Fiction, the Fantasist Enterprises Press anthology Modern Magic: Tales of Fantasy and Horror (2005), the Seton Hill Kindle anthology Hazard Yet Forward (2012), the new anthology Enter the Apocalypse (2017), and Dark Matter Journal (June 2017). Contact her at https://www.facebook.com/