Welcome to the March installment of First Sunday Short Fiction. Please enjoy the story, and remember if you want to submit a story of your own, you can find instructions on our submissions page.
Rabbit Hole by Kate Barber Bradford
The tree was where she’d left it last fall. After a long cold winter indoors her first venture out in the spring was to make sure the picnic tree was still in the middle of the meadow. The day was warm enough she had packed a little picnic in the antique basket inherited from her old auntie. She spread a blanket beneath the tree and laid out the simple meal of bread, cheese, and fruit. She brushed her frizzy white hair away from her face with the back of her hand and leaned back against the rough bark of the tree as she ate. With her stomach full she grew drowsy and fought closing her eyes.
Something moved beside her. She shifted her position and sat up straighter. Whatever was moving ran toward the little copse of trees between her and home. She could see the grass flattening as it went. Suddenly it stopped and a little head popped up. The creature looked like one of the brown field rabbits she knew lived in the meadow. It appeared to have something stuck on its head.
She didn’t want to move. She had a little fat on her bones these days and both her fat and her old bones had finally gotten comfortable and relaxed. With the double layer of shawls pulled around her she’d just gotten warm, seemed like she was never warm anymore. But if the poor bunny had something stuck on its head it might need her help; she shook herself and rose to her feet. The rabbit twitched, hunched down, and returned to its journey.
She followed the pressed down grass path trying to find the rabbit. At the edge of the copse several slender trees had fallen. She thought she saw the rabbit go into a dark hole between some of the tangled branches on the ground. Whatever was on the rabbit’s head shook when it hit a branch. Was it a hat? More likely a leaf. Maybe he’d gone through the garbage and had a cabbage leaf or a piece of newspaper stuck to him.
Now what? she thought. The hole was small and low to the ground. She could barely get on her knees let alone back up. If she didn’t find the rabbit quickly she’d just have to give up. She hoped whatever was stuck on his head was biodegradable in case she couldn’t find it. The rabbit probably wouldn’t let her catch it anyway.
She moved a branch and saw a large hole in the ground next to an old tree stump hidden under the branches. Next to the hole lay a tiny hat of folded newspaper.
She blinked her eyes. When she opened them the hat was still there. Why, she thought, would a rabbit be wearing a hat? That’s silly. I must be dreaming. But her eyes stayed open and the day appeared like any other day without the ephemeral misty quality of most of her dreams.
The neighbor kids are playing tricks on me. She would have to talk to the people down the road again. Their kids kept crossing the fence onto her property and left all kinds of messes. She didn’t need them hurting the wildlife now as well.
She bent to pick up the hat. Her foot slipped out from under her on the mud next to the hole. She fell hard onto the ground. The fall knocked the wind out of her. When she caught her breath she checked all her parts to make sure nothing was damaged before she moved. She had pushed herself up onto hands and knees when she felt the mud shifting. Suddenly she was sliding on the mud, the ground moving and rolling underneath her, her limbs flying in ways they hadn’t done in years, her head finding only empty space, and she was falling, falling, falling.
Don’t panic, she thought, remembering the last time she fell, breaking her arm. Just roll with it.
And she wasn’t falling any more. The sensation was more like floating, as if the air was embracing her like a pool of warm water and she was a feather on the surface.
Whoa, she thought. What was in that stuff my nephew brought to share last night? She’d felt fine this morning. She enjoyed his occasional visits.
She drifted to a soft landing sitting on her bottom. Her eyes had not adjusted to the dark and she couldn’t see much. She felt around carefully with her hands in case there was something sharp. She didn’t like getting cut any more than she liked breaking bones.
Ok. Where in the world am I? Did I just say that out loud? She touched her mouth with her hand to see if her lips were moving and felt the dirt from the ground she’d just swept with her hand. She spit the dirt away from her lips.
“Help!” she cried. “Help me. I’ve fallen down a hole.” And I can’t get up, she thought. She didn’t know who she expected to hear her, maybe one of the neighbor kids who were always walking through her woods. “Help!”
She waited listening intently. She heard a noise to her right. She turned to see a rabbit tail go through a door. A door? A rabbit through a door? Underground? she thought. Did I hit my head when I fell?
Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She was surprised there was any light at all and wondered what the source was. At least I’m still thinking logically, she thought.
She was still looking toward the door and saw a small round table between her and the door. On top of the table light was coming from an array of plates with small edibles and bottles of liquid which glowed with strange luminescence, the source of the light. The space around the table seemed to grow larger as the bottles pulsed brighter.
Each of the plates had a tag: “Eat me”. Each of the bottles had a tag: “Drink me.” None of the plates or the bottles were the same. The table was completely full. How would she ever choose?
Logically? I must have hit my head, she thought, as she contemplated the variety. She never ate strange food or drink. Too easy to get food poisoning or roofied. Sharing with her nephew last night was a rarity. As she aged she didn’t care for having less control of her body and mind.
The liquid in the bottles twinkled and glowed. She wasn’t falling for it. When she partied with friends and family she insisted she had just as much fun without imbibing. She didn’t care if they did; she’d enjoyed it in her time as well.
She looked closely at the edibles. Letters decorated the top of each one; they seemed to move. At first glance she thought they spelled out “choose me”, then she thought they spelled “hurry”. She couldn’t decide what they said and didn’t want to take one and disturb the pattern.
Since the table had appeared and the lights brightened the space seemed bigger. She tried to stand. She managed to get mostly upright, wedged between the table and the wall. She angled her way around the table toward the door. When she had squeezed her way to the other side of the table the door was on the other side of the table. She took a deep breath and wiggled around the table again. The door had moved again. She decided not to go around the table again as it might trigger her vertigo.
I must have hit my head. Damn getting old. Falling down. Nothing the same as it used to be. Can’t even have an adventure without getting dizzy.
She was holding on to the table and glad for it when the door blew open. The rabbit yelled “Hurry up!” from the other side of the door. Somehow his Victorian vest didn’t bother her, but the vista through the open door and beyond him held her in thrall. She abhorred phrases like crystal fairyland but if ever she had to use that phrase it would be to describe the vibrating blue skies, fluorescent golden sunshine, rainbowed waterfalls, and iridescent dragonflies of the meadow she viewed on the other side of the door. She expected to see some tiny winged fairy ride by on a glitter-sprinkled unicorn.
Good lord! That’s it! I’m dead, she thought. Rabbits in vests, ‘drink me’ bottles, doors to other worlds. Yes. She had died and was channeling Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“Hurry up!” the rabbit yelled. “This way! Hurry! Hurry!”
Why is he yelling at me? she thought. Doesn’t he know I don’t like being told what to do? I just can’t move that fast anyway. She didn’t want to go with him. She didn’t trust him. Talking rabbits wearing vests. Something was very wrong.
“Hurry up! Hurry! Hurry! She’s here!”
The table disintegrated under her fingers and she was grasping nothing but air. She didn’t move toward the door, but the door was moving around her, enveloping her, sending her through to the other side. She took a great gulp of air as if she were going underwater and would have to hold her breath until she could get to the surface again.
She was floating again, like a balloon. Any little muscle twitch, every breath she took, pushed her against the air and she was gently buoyed into the world past the door. At the same time she was tethered, held fast, dangling at the end of something.
The rabbit was on the other side of her now. She couldn’t see the door, just the sparkling meadow. The rabbit grew bigger and moved away from her.
“Hurry up!” he yelled. “Hurry up! Follow me! She’s here. Hurry!”
Why did he insist on yelling? She could hear him perfectly well.
“I’m right here,” she whispered. “I hear you.”
But I’m not following you, she thought. You can’t make me.
She started to laugh. What am I? Four years old?
A unicorn pranced into view mounted by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Oh, please, she thought, if we’re going to get weirder can’t we at least have green scaled mermaids riding the damn unicorns? I never liked unicorns anyway. Or horses for that matter. If I’m dead I’d like to see angels, for Christ’s sake.
The caterpillar blew smoke at Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and they turned into the White Queen who began screaming, “Hurry up! Off with their heads! Come back! Here she is! Hurry up!”
Great, she thought. How many more people will be yelling? They were so loud, too loud.
“I’m right here. I’m going as fast as I can,” she whispered, and she breathed, and twitched her muscles so she could move through the strange air of this world beyond the door. The tethers held her tight even as she bounced through the air. She felt like she was breathing underwater.
The White Queen put something over her head, cupped her hand over her face. She waved her hand in front of her face as if she were being bothered by a fly. The rabbit pinched her arm and then walked away.
Good, she thought. I’m not dreaming. I felt that pinch.
Wait. Do pinches feel different from rabbits? Why is that damn rabbit pinching me?
She didn’t know what she was even thinking anymore. Her eyes were dazzled by the strange light in this world beyond the door. Her ears were full of some strange whine like the worst tinnitus she’d ever had except exponentially louder. She couldn’t hear herself think. She knew what that meant now.
The croquet game was in full swing. Bright pink flamingos wandered off like drunken two year olds. Hedgehogs rolled across the meadow to the picnic blanket under the tree. The cardsmen hustled and motioned and bent and ran and yelled and yelled and yelled.
“Hurry up! She’s here! We’ve got her! Hurry up!”
Stop with the yelling already, she thought. This beautiful place and all you can do is yell? Have some respect. Be quiet!
The meadow swam with glistening dust motes as the rabbit came to her side. His vest gaped open as he looked into her eyes.
How did you get so big? she thought. You’re just a little meadow bunny.
She reached out to touch him. Touching him would explain why he was so big and could look straight into her eyes. Her arm moved through air thick as glue and she could not reach him even though he was right next to her.
“Who are you?” she said.
“She’s talking! She’s still with us! Hurry up,” yelled the rabbit.
“Off with her head!” yelled the White Queen.
“I’d like to keep my head, thank you very much,” she said.
“Carol, Aunt Carol! Can you hear me?” yelled the rabbit.
“Of course I can hear you,” she said. “I always hear talking rabbits.”
“She’s disoriented. Let’s get her on board and down to the hospital for an assessment,” yelled the rabbit.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I was having a picnic and you ran by. You were smaller then. I followed you. What’s all the fuss about?” She wiggled her muscles and breathed but could find no way to move in this air. She wondered why she was talking with a rabbit.
The White Queen grabbed her hand and the warmth gave her a sense of comfort. “We couldn’t find you,” she yelled. “We looked everywhere, Carol, and finally thought of the picnic tree. Thank God we found you when we did.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Who are you?”
“None of your games now, Carol. You know perfectly well who I am,” the White Queen yelled.
Yes, she thought. You’re that neighbor who lets her kids trespass on my property.
“Thank goodness you let my kids run through your property all those years,” yelled the White Queen. “I’d run out of ideas where to look for you, and then my youngest called and told me about the picnic tree. We can’t see the tree from either of our houses. We’re so lucky to find you.”
She had been feeling around with her hands and trying to move her legs. She was tied to something flat and straps held her immovable.
“Let me go,” she said to the rabbit, who looked strangely like her nephew.
“Hurry up,” he yelled. “We have to get her out of here. She could be having a brain event. We have to get her stabilized.”
I’m more stable than I’ve ever been in my life, she thought. I can’t move. Pretty damn stable.
She felt a bump as two men pushed the flat surface she was on. In the clear clean light of day she saw the meadow, the picnic tree, the pile of tangled branches with a mud slick beside a stump, and the dark hole in the stump. The picnic blanket was still spread out next to the tree along with the basket. The rabbit-nephew sat down beside her. The neighbor and her children watched from outside the ambulance until the EMTs pushed the doors closed. When the doors clicked into place Carol was grateful for the blessed quiet as her nephew took her hand.
story ©Kate Barber Bradford 2017
photo by Ray Hennessey courtesy of Unsplash, with additions by Michelle Simkins.
About the Author:
Kate Barber Bradford is Editor in Chief at Hagstone Publishing. Kate has a BA from Pacific University in Creative Writing and English Literature.
Read her blog at https://sassykas.wordpress.com