By, Niko Purcell
I nearly jump a foot in the air and rub my eyes so hard I’m surprised they don’t get permanently damaged. Or maybe they already are, because there’s no way I’m really seeing and hearing what’s in front of me right now. I can feel my whole body shaking. I seem to be paralyzed in the middle of the living room. The oak bookshelves, family photos and tulip vases that always offer comfort and security suddenly seem ominous and unwelcoming.
“You weren’t supposed to see me like this,” Flopsy the rabbit says in a very low contrabass tone completely incongruous with her name. But to be fair, Flopsy is a name my little sister June came up with, who has obviously never seen Flopsy in this form: standing on two legs like a person, speaking in a tone lower than a grown man’s, her shadow stretching long behind her and curving up the far wall. It’s a harsh contrast from how I’ve always known Flopsy up until this point: a small black rabbit who spends her days sleeping under our front porch, munching on grass, and not much else. My mouth becomes bone dry and my heart beats at the speed of a train car.
This was four days ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I’ve tried, but no one ever tells you how hard it is to forget coming out of your room at three in the morning and finding your neighborhood rabbit standing upright in your living room and speaking to you. Even though it was obviously just a dream, I can’t shake how incredibly real it feels. Every morning since, when June and my mother have brought breakfast to the front window and cooed at Flopsy, I’ve gotten a chill and had to look the other way.
It was just a dream, of course. I know that. But if it was, then why do I get so incredibly uneasy whenever I so much as step foot on our front porch, directly above Flopsy’s home?
This question is still repeating itself in my mind when I come home from school the next day.
“How was your day, sweetie?” Mom calls from the kitchen, where I can see that she’s chopping carrots.
“It was fine,” I answer as I shrug off my backpack and enter the kitchen. “Hey, I thought we were ordering in tonight. Why are you chopping carrots?” I ask. With the stress I’ve been feeling about the fact that I’m probably going crazy if one weird dream is affecting me this much, pizza tonight has been the one thing keeping me sane. So Mom better not have changed plans.
“Oh, I’m just… how was prom?” she asks, not looking up from the cutting board and picking up speed on the chopping.
“I… it’s April, mom. And it’s 3:30pm,” I inform her, stepping closer so I can catch her expression.
“Oh, silly me,” she answers, shaking her head but still not looking up from the carrots. “Silly me, silly me.” As I approach her, I notice that to her right there’s an enormous pile of the carrots that must be two feet tall.
“Mom?” I ask, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
After that, it all happens in a second. She begins to turns her head. There’s a sliver of black on her face. Her teeth are perfectly white. And big. Huge. Bigger than human teeth should be. She turns toward me completely. I scream. I can feel the blood drain from my face. It’s not Mom.
Flopsy’s lips curve upward. “Fancy seeing you here again,” she says in what is no longer Mom’s light, matronly voice.
But I’m already out the door.
I start with Mom’s office. If she’s not home, that’s usually where she is. It’s a tremendous effort to run, since my heart is already beating at lightning speed and my palms are dripping with sweat. But I have to get to Mom. The willpower it takes to not throw up becomes greater when I imagine how Flopsy managed to acquire the clothing that my mom left the house in this morning.
After seven more blocks that I’m sure I left a sweat trail on, I burst through the door of Mom’s work so hard my hands probably break. I sprint up the stairs and stumble into the silent office. I can feel everyone’s eyes on me as I zig zag through the grey cubicles, registering dozens of blurry Hang in There posters and diagram-covered whiteboards. I hear a few shouted inquiries directed at me, but I don’t have time to respond. My mental vocabulary has been reduced to two words: Where’s Mom. I’ve been repeating them over and over in my head so many times that I don’t notice my collision with an office worker until I’m already on the ground.
“Whoa, whoa, hey, what’s going on here?” she asks me, crouching down and offering her hands. When the spinning ducklings above my head have faded, I see that my mysterious helper is Shelby, Mom’s coworker and friend who has dinner with us sometimes. I take her hands and spring myself back onto my feet.
“Where’s my mom?” I ask, heedless of the frantic look in my eyes. Her eyes dart back and forth between mine, her brows furrowed and lips slightly open.
“Your mom doesn’t work today, sweetie,” she answers. “What’s going on?”
“I–My–She–” Even in my current state, I can recognize that telling Shelby I’ve discovered my “mom” in the kitchen in the form of a deep voiced, five-and-a-half-foot tall rabbit wouldn’t be the best idea. “I just really need to find her. It’s really important,” I say. Shelby’s eyebrows furrow deeper. She touches a hand to my shoulder, turns her head around and calls her boss’ name.
“Yeah, I’m going to have to leave early today,” she tells her once she enters. “Like, now. Dock off one of my sick days or whatever.” The boss looks past Shelby to me, then looks back to Shelby and nods. Shelby places a light hand on my elbow, and we begin our way back past the cubicles. Suddenly, I can no longer be around these glorified boxes that people call cubicles. I need out.
As we move down the street towards my house, Shelby asks is my mom okay, did something happen, why do I need her so urgently right now.
“She’s fine,” I answer. “I just haven’t seen her today and I need to.” I keep my eyes firmly on the road ahead, as if my mother, furless and with normal sized teeth, will jump out from behind a building at any minute and tell me she’s not a rabbit, she’s perfectly aware of what date it is, everything is okay.
As my walk with Shelby continues, this begins to seem more and more plausible.
“I went through a few months in college where I’d have vivid nightmares every night,” she tells me. “It was terrifying. But once I started preparing myself for the dreams before bed every night, they didn’t seem so scary. I started being able to fight the scary clowns and they’d go away. You should try it with the rabbits.”
I let out a breathy laugh. “Yeah, maybe,” I answer, nodding. I’m finally able to feel my breath rise in fall in waves again rather than jagged jolts. In fact, Shelby is beginning to seem like an angel in red flats.
“Have you been stressed from assignments recently?” she asks. “That was a big reason behind my nightmares when I was in school.”
I nod again. “Yeah,” I answer. She rubs her hand in circles on my back
“Well, we can tell your mom all about it when we get to your house, okay?” she says. “I’m sure she’ll be right inside.” I feel a burst of gratefulness for Shelby, and I realize that I probably need to work on my tendencies to jump to conclusions and panic before analyzing situations. Before we know it, we’re at my house, and my breathing has become so normal I can even smell the sweet spring air again. She takes me up the stairs leading to our porch, still with a gentle grip on my arm. “Home sweet home!” she declares, the porch’s wooden planks creaking underneath our feet. Her tone when she speaks to me makes it sound like she’s speaking to a five year old, but I’m too happy about the relief I’m about to feel to care. I lean against the mailbox.
But the feeling of the cool metal against my back doesn’t last for long. I’m falling. The porch’s wooden planks are no longer underneath my feet. Once I’m on the ground, I’m vaguely aware of either side of my chest buzzing from being shoved, on top of the sensation of my legs covered in the dirt from under the porch, and being unable to push myself up because a strong force is pressing me down from my back. I feel like I can’t breathe. My hands and knees kick up dirt in my efforts to move backwards, but my every movement only seems to power me further towards the undesired direction. I can’t see anything, because I’m facing opposite the light: underneath the porch.
When the hands move and I’m free to scramble back around, I still can’t see much light, because I’m now completely submerged underneath the porch. Air is coming out of me in short, sharp breaths. Through my alarm, I manage to register a pair of red flats planted five feet in front of me, right where the porch ends. A pile of sliced carrots plops ungracefully onto the dirt. The same carrots I ran away from not even an hour before.
“Welcome to your new home,” “Shelby” says from above me. I stare at the carrots covered in thick dirt that look about as edible as a coffee mug.
But I guess I have bigger problems now than a little dirt on my food.