The heavy, five paneled oak bedroom door shut behind me with a thunk. There was no reason to shut it at all, seeing as I was the only one living in the apartment carved out of the hundred- and fifty-year-old building, but childhood habits stick. At least, they do with me.
Though I’d grown up with the full run of the entire manse and it’s generous backyard, I’d gotten used to living in the smaller space. I liked it, actually. The apartments that had so scandalized my family members when the project was first proposed suited me just fine. The renovations had made the space friendlier and more cozy.
Hurrying down the well worn red and blue Persian runner, I slung my black backpack over my shoulders and reached up to adjust my lavender tie. I was almost to the front door when I was stopped short by the damn sense that someone was looking at me.
I cursed under my breath, dropped my hands, and looked up.
There it was, fur gleaming white in the sunshine.
The rabbit’s head looked down and stared. Judging. Its creepy red glass eyes refracted the light pouring through the diamond-paned windows set into white walls above the dark wainscoting that defined the long hallway.
The Hall to Nowhere we called it when bored on long, rainy days.
Nowhere, except, once again, here I was, trying to leave. Being judged by a taxidermied rabbit’s head.
It always judged. And there was never any way to measure up. The rabbit’s head had judged my first attempts to crawl. It had judged my acne scored cheeks. It had judged my tears when Father died.
“Your tie is crooked.”
My hand jerked toward my neck, reflexively, before I willed it back down again. I would not adjust my tie, crooked or not. I wouldn’t. It was a matter of principle to not do what the rabbit’s head said. The damn thing was so bossy and had been since I first noticed it staring down at me
“Made you check,” it said. So petty. So snide. So. Damn. Superior.
“Piss off,” I replied, keeping my voice steady and calm. It wouldn’t do to let the head know it rattled me.
I’d tried to get rid of it over the years. It was trotted out of boxes at a few rummage sales, but was carted right back home again. I tried to donate it to a charity shop, who thanked me promptly but said they had no room for taxidermy.
The rubbish bin wouldn’t take it, either. Wouldn’t even open up its lid.
The damn rabbit’s head had everyone, and every thing, entranced by its strange magic. We were all under its fucking spell.
All because great grandfather wanted to impress his lady love with the damned rabbit’s foot she wanted. “For luck,” she had said. So he had to kill the damn thing, dress the right foot, and make a cunning little, metal cap for the top of the bloody stump.
And then, the twisted carcass spoke.
“You have stolen my happy life and must bear the curse.”
Grandfather dropped his knife, the story says, and pierced his right big toe. He walked with a slight limp from that day forward. He also, legend has it, once he got his bleeding under control, chopped the head from the carcass to get the thing to shut up.
That only made it worse.
“What do you want?” I asked, feeling peevish. I was running late again, this time to the first job interview I’d had in months that I was actually looking forward to. I didn’t want just any job. It didn’t need to be heroic, but I wanted to do something at least marginally meaningful.
“Tsk tsk,” the rabbit said, tongue rasping against its long front teeth. “Is that any way to talk to a magical rabbit’s head?”
By force of will, I did not roll my eyes, but stood in what I hoped looked like a respectful posture.
“Well?” the head would not let the insult slide.
I sighed and dragged the toes of my shoes across the backs of my slacks. I hadn’t had time to polish them this week. May as well give them a quick buff while I was standing here.
“My apologies, oh rabbit’s head. Is there something you require of me?”
The small pink nose sniffed, which was odd if you thought about it. It sounded like a human nose, sniffing.
Of course, the rabbit was also talking, so…
I dragged my thoughts back to the white whiskers that quivered two feet above my head.
“I require,” it said, “to receive my due. To take up my former occupation. To…”
“You know this isn’t possible. We’ve discussed it ad nauseam.” Literally. I was thoroughly sick of the rabbit’s head, the discussion, and the damned mess it had made of my life.
“I have to go. I’m late.”
“For a very important date?”
I swore the thing sneered, though varied facial expressions weren’t its strong points.
“Clever,” I replied. “For a job interview.”
“Whatever do you need money for?” The red glass eyes swiveled in their sockets. “You have this lovely place to lay your head, and me for company.”
“I need food. And WiFi. And a phone. And my bicycle needs servicing, and…” I stopped. Damn it. I was justifying myself to the damn white rabbit once again. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Cool as a cucumber, the head was. If it still had nails, it would buff them. I hated the rabbit, but I wouldn’t give it the satisfaction of whining. Not today.
I turned, yanked open the apartment door, and fled down the wide oak stairs to the main entrance, hoping against hope I hadn’t missed my bus.
The boy irritated the rabbit. He was so… weak. Now, the boy’s grandfather had been a proper adversary. Someone the rabbit could sink his teeth into, so to speak. As a matter of fact, when the old man had grabbed the rabbit it had, indeed, sunk its front teeth into the webbing of his right hand and tore through the flesh. All these years later, he could still taste the sweetness of his blood.
This boy, though…something must be done. The rabbit would be stuck in this poky hallway, all alone, with no children to admire the fine tilt of his head, or tell one another stories about how powerful and frightening he was. He missed all of that, mightily.
But the boy was cowed, and children were highly unlikely. He never even had friends around. Life itself had failed him and the boy expected nothing less.
“What he needs is a proper spine… But I suppose he may need a little luck to begin with. Damn it.”
The rabbit hated the thought, but nonetheless, just as the rabbit took luck away, so the rabbit could grant it once again.
“Why do you want to work with us?”
The woman wore jeans, and a long-sleeved T-shirt. I had totally overdressedm but she looked at me as if that didn’t matter a whit. A half smile graced her well scrubbed, milk pale face, as if she expected something wonderful in reply.
Extroverts. They always seem to expect something wonderful to emerge from human interactions.
You’re projecting. I heard my former therapist’s voice inside my head. My one true friend, I’d let him go when the money started running out.
“Sorry. To be honest, I need a job.”
One pale eyebrow raised. “I believe that much is clear.”
“And…” I swallowed, “my mother loved plants, and, with my IT skills, helping a large nursery like yourselves set up web systems seemed like a way to keep her memory alive.”
I looked out the window at people bustling by, then back at her, then realized what I’d said was true.
“Maybe I’ll take up gardening again. I haven’t since…”
She nodded, as if she understood, not prompting me to finished the sentence that still dangled in the air between us. I couldn’t very well tell her that my mother wasn’t dead, just wasn’t here. She’d bunked off to South America with the gardener after Father died and all the trouble started. I hadn’t seen her in years.
Mother had said she wanted “a fresh start. I can’t bear to see the house chopped up. And I cannot bear that rabbit anymore.”
But it was fine for me to stay, wasn’t it? Fine for me to live in a construction zone for months, and drink tea while dodging falling plaster. It was fine to stick me with Grandfather’s damned rabbit’s head.
“I have loads of computer experiences, and loads of experience with plants, even though it’s been a while. If you’ll just give me a chance…”
The sympathy on her face warred with slight distaste.
Cardinal job hunting rule number one: Never seem too desperate. Well, then. Blew that.
“We’ll call you,” she said, then rose and stuck out a hand. “Thank you for coming in, Mr. Green.”
Her handshake was firm. Dry. I did my best to match it, before picking up my backpack and shuffling toward the door. At least I made certain my back was straight.
Luck was a small magic, part of the larger magics of rabbits everywhere. The magics they had learned to hide once the humans started hunting them, not for the meat of their flesh, or the warmth of their fur—which rabbits abhorred and feared, but at least things that an animal could understand—but for their feet. Which was ridiculous. The feet of a rabbit held no more magic than any other part. But humans were a superstitious lot, and latched onto the smallest fancies, insisting they were true.
Thankfully, the “lucky” rabbit’s feet trend had fallen out of fashion, which was one good thing about human fancies. So at least Humbert did not have to worry as much as he used to about the other rabbit clans.
He’d been a priest of several clans, once upon a time, which is where he got his extra strength. It was the only reason his consciousness had not fled his body immediately upon death. He had compelled the grandfather to not throw his head on the compost heap, where his being would have dissolved along with his flesh.
As long as the head of the priest was preserved, intelligence survived.
And it was time, long past time, he realized, that he used that intelligence again, and turn this boy’s life around.
Because the boy certainly would not do it on his own. And without that change, the rabbit was condemned to boredom for as long as the boy lived, and perhaps even beyond.
The bus rumbled and hissed and smelled of fried potatoes and Bay Rum cologne. Not my favorite combination, though the potatoes made me hungry.
My name is Felix. Ironic, I know. Father and Mother had hoped the name would ameliorate the cursed influence of Grandfather’s rabbit’s head.
It didn’t. As a boy and teen, I was gangly, awkward, withdrawn, and stumbling. None of these qualities were the classics that set a person up for success in life. Unfortunately, I hadn’t outgrown them.
Sighing, I pulled the bell cord and shoved my way through backpacks and solid shoulders. Reaching the back exit, I pushed hard against the doors. As the soles of my leather shoes touched down on the sidewalk, I saw her, cloud of dark hair floating above plump, rounded shoulders. Brows furrowed beneath green framed glasses as she stared down at her phone. I couldn’t quite see her eyes, but I just knew that they were beautiful.
Her bright red dress was covered in a pattern of a white rabbit in heraldic dress, holding a golden trumpet in one paw. Alice.
I stumbled, tripped, and fell, backpack smacking the back of my head as my knees cracked against the concrete.
“Oh my God! Are you okay?”
Her voice was like sunshine breaking through clouds.
And then she crouched next to me, smelling of honeysuckle and warm skin. And I was right. Here eyes were as beautiful as the rest of her. Bright with intelligence. A rich, chocolate brown.
I felt a flush stain my cheeks. Damn it.
“I… I… I’m fine!” I blurted and struggled to rise. She reached out to help me. As her hand touched mine, I hissed with pain. She dropped it.
“Just scraped.” I pushed myself up off my bruised knees, swaying a bit as my backpack thunked back down into place. My right hand hurt like anything.
“Can I help you somewhere?”
I shook my head. “Thanks, but, I’m almost home.” Where I would have to climb stairs. My knees ached just thinking about it.
“If you’re sure…” she seemed dubious.
He had used just a bit of magic. A sprinkling of possibility winging the boy’s way.
If the dolt required more, the rabbit would supply it. But he trusted neither his magics, lain dormant for so many years, nor the boy himself. What if he overloaded the fumbling ass, and he became ill, or worse, died? And then, what if the rabbit ended up in the dreaded rummage sale for good this time?
Hanging there on the wall, watching the sunlight shift across the dusty walls, awaiting the boy’s return, the rabbit’s nose twitched in horror.
No. He had used just the right amount of magic. The boy would be fine, and his luck would change, that very day, in fact.
Unless the boy was further gone than the rabbit realized.
Magic needed an opening, no matter how small, in order to be applied.
But surely the boy was still malleable enough? Not so old and set in his ways…
“Is there a good place to eat around here?”
I found it hard to parse the words coming out of her mouth. I’d been ready to shuffle off in shame, but here she was, gazing earnestly at my face, asking me about food. Was she asking me to lunch?
I cleared my throat. “Uh. Yeah. There’s a place around the corner. Salad, sandwiches, you know. Basic stuff. But it’s really good.”
I pointed to the intersection behind us, showing her where it was. Hope that she was asking me to lunch warred alongside hope that she would go on her way and leave me to nurse my wounds in peace.
Honestly? I didn’t know which outcome I preferred.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
My heart lifted. I guess I did know. I had made a decision. Damn the rabbit’s curse, I wanted this.
“Yes. I am. May I join you?”
She smiled and gave a slight nod.
I couldn’t help but smile back.
If all went well, the boy would grow less boring, at least. Human children took a long time to be interesting, and who knew if the bit of luck the rabbit had thrown the boy’s way would be enough to hook another human long enough to bear a squalling babe, let alone allow the child to grow enough to become interesting.
But in the old days, the house was large, and filled with other people, not just the dreary boy. The rabbit had heard shouts of laughter and whispered conversations. New people would always pause, and admire him. For a time, he had held pride of place in a more central location, where people gathered, and drank strange, caustic liquids that made them dance.
And they paid attention to him. The boy was so dull and stupid, the only way the rabbit could get any attention at all was through needling the creature. And he wearied of it.
Oh! How he longed for the days when rabbits traveled for miles to seek his counsel. He had not dreamed about those times for decades, but lately, the dreams had returned, filling his mouth with the taste of dandelion and green grass. He awakened, nose twitching and eyes wet with weeping.
Those days would never come, but at least he could make life more interesting again.
He just wanted one being to look upon him with admiration instead of disgust. If that had to be a human? He would settle.
For the rabbit was no fool. A wise rabbit took what he could get.
Her name was Rhonda. She was looking for a place to live, just arrived from a city far away. She laughed at his jokes.
Her favorite comic book was Saga.
I could not believe my luck.
While she was away, washing her hands, I watched the people on the sidewalk outside, everyone heading somewhere. I had washed mine immediately. The right one still stung, but at least it wasn’t filthy. And though my knees felt like hell, I hadn’t torn my best trousers, which felt like a minor miracle.
I finally noticed my fingers tapped idly on the phone. I’d just check my email quickly, before she came back. My breath quickened…and then my jaw dropped.
“Did something happen?” She was back.
“I, uh…no. Yeah. I mean…” I looked up at her, still standing there, expectant look on her face. Don’t blow this, asshole. Cardinal rule of dating—so I’d heard—don’t check email when a gorgeous woman is staring at you. But…
“Can you give me a sec?” I had to read the thing. “I think the job interview I had this morning just emailed me.”
“Sure.” She slid into the bench across the table, the white rabbits on her dress rippling across her chest as she scooted herself in. Damn.
I lowered my eyes back to my email. “Thanks.”
Scanning the scant paragraph of text, my jaw dropped yet again.
Things like this never happened to me. Never.
“It seems too soon for this, but…” I glanced down, and then back up again. Her brown eyes held steady. “They want me to come back in for a second round. They actually liked me!”
Her brow furrowed. “And why wouldn’t they?”
No way was I answering that, so I just shrugged, put down the phone, and smiled. All of a sudden, smiling felt easy.
“Ready to order?”
He heard footsteps. They sounded different. Lighter. Then the scrape of key in lock. The dark wood door opened. The light changed.
And there stood the boy, barely recognizable as the creature who had left scant hours before.
He had a smile on his face. As a matter of fact, he was grinning ear to ear.
The boy slung the pack from his shoulders and dropped it to the floor.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me today!” There was excitement in the boy’s voice. Interest. Life. And he was talking to the rabbit without prompting.
“What, pray-tell, happened to you today?”
“I think I may have gotten a job. And a girlfriend. Or… well… a friend at least. We’ll see. But, yeah…I had a good day. A really, really, good day.”
He picked up the pack from the floor and sauntered—sauntered!—down the hallway toward his room
The rabbit gave a sigh of relief. The burst of magic had been enough. Enough to set the wheels in motion. Enough to make a change. He had not lost his magic. But perhaps another nudge…
“You will bring this friend over? Introduce us?”
The boy paused. Turned. Stared up at the rabbit. “Sure. Why not?”
Those were the words the rabbit had been waiting for, all of these years, though he had never realized it until now. The boy had not asked a curious question for so long.
“Hey,” the boy asked. “Why are you being nice to me, anyway?”
“Perhaps I just wanted a change.”
Waking up in my high bed the next morning, I could barely believe my luck. Sure, my knees hurt, but I had a second job interview, and plans to see Rhonda again.
And the rabbit wasn’t being an asshole anymore.
Maybe my life was turning itself around.
And I was determined to help it along.
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