literature

Rabbit (excerpt)

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Much later that night, or perhaps very early the next morning, when a splash of moonlight struck Petra in the face as coldly as a bucket of water, she realized she was sitting – or, rather, floating – in Tod's vegetable garden, she could not at first remember why she was there. Hadn't she gone to bed...?

Oh yes. That's right. Something has been stealing Tod's vegetables, and he asked me to sit up and watch over them. I must have dozed for a minute.

She drew her shawl around her more tightly. She did not feel cold, but she knew she ought to. Come to think of it, she couldn't feel the wind rustling through the tomato plants, although she could smell its delicious dewy coolness.

It seemed perfectly reasonable that she could see through her own body, that although she was sitting on a little hillock facing the vegetable patch her weight made no impression on the grass. That was how she knew she was floating.

The night, in fact, was warm – just as warm as if she were comfortably asleep in bed. Stars flickered so brightly in the sky above she could see the pale band of the Milky Way, except where, in the lowest quarter of the night above the horizon, the moon showered cheer upon the earth with a small contented smile.

Without warning the green fronds of a carrot-plant some ways down the garden patch began writhing to and fro. It thrashed this way and that, wriggling clear of the ground, turning horizontal in midair and then, shuddering the whole time, gradually vanished tip-first, greens and all.

Petra leaned forward, blinking in amazement, sure she could not have seen what she'd just seen. It was just so dim out here, and her eyes did not seem to want to open properly. She'd forgotten to bring a flashlight, and it was too late to get one now.

Next a potato plant, swaying all by itself and apparently spitting up a small fountain of soil, drew her attention. When its roots were exposed a single potato rose slowly out of the ground and snapped itself off from the main plaint, leaving it to list sideways into the open hole. There was a crunch and a white mark appeared in the potato's purple skin. As Petra strained her eyes she began to be able to see the faint outline of some kind of smallish creature, holding the potato with two... hands?

“You sneaky little thief,” she muttered, climbing to her feet and starting forward.

The creature turned towards the sound of her voice, saw her, and laughed. At the sound of its laughter Petra stopped dead.

The world had changed.

For one thing, a lot of the stars had gone dark. Those that were left seemed to jump away, millions of lightyears farther out into the sky. The moon was suddenly much closer to the earth, smaller but far closer than it should have been, its smile that of a grinning goblin, its harsh blue light casting long, long shadows across the face of the earth until they vanished in deeper darkness.

And in front of her, calmly munching on a bite of raw potato, stood a large brown-furred rabbit wearing a pea coat.

“Very good,” the rabbit said approvingly. “You can talk and be heard, see and be seen. Ever dreamed before?”

Petra shook her head. “Not like this.” Of course, of course she was asleep. It was so obvious. Why hadn't she realized that before? She shrugged internally. Everything seemed so vivid. She reached down and rubbed a long blade of grass between her translucent fingertips, brushing a bead of dew onto the ground.

The rabbit nodded. “Then welcome to the perilous realm.”

It took another bite of potato, then tucked it into an inner pocket of his pea coat and pulled out a long pipe, which it held between its teeth as it fumbled with a wad of tobacco and matches.

“I suppose you're a fairy then?” The question seemed unnecessary, but Petra couldn't think of anything else to say just then.

“No,” the rabbit stated calmly, sucking its furred cheeks in as it drew on the pipe, “I am a rabbit.” It then drew out the potato again and took another bite, as if it were eating an apple.

“Well, you must be a very special rabbit then,” Petra observed. “Rabbits can't talk and don't smoke or wear pea coats.”

The rabbit regarded her with one eye, as if she were losing points in its estimation.

“No rabbit from here does that, anyway,” Petra amended, still proceeding on her I-am-dreaming-about-Faerie theory.

“I have lived here,” said the rabbit, puffing on its pipe, “my entire life. Who are you to say that rabbits can't and don't do these things, when a rabbit is standing before you doing them?”

“Yes, but I'm dreaming.”

The rabbit shook its head. “Oh dear. I see you don't quite understand. How to put it, how to put it?” He tapped one enormous hind foot against the ground, forepaws clasped behind his back in thought. “The simplest way, I suppose, would be to say: you're dreaming, and so am I.”

“You mean you're part of my dream.”

“No no, not that at all. You're dreaming, and I'm dreaming, but neither of us is in the other's dream. We have both met, while dreaming, err... beyond ourselves, so to speak.”

“But that's not how dreams work–”

“Tut tut!” The rabbit forestalled her with upraised paw. “You are having a dream right now that works this way, and yet you say, 'that's not how dreams work'? Didn't you just say you've never had a dream like this before? So how would you know how this dream works?”

Petra was taken aback. “Yes, but I meant... my dreams aren't usually this vivid. This is more like how people describe out-of-body experiences.” She had sudden mental image of looking down on herself, asleep in bed in her room at Tod's, with the normal amount and angle of moonlight streaming in at the window.

“That's probably,” said the rabbit, fumbling to switch off an alarm that was blinking blue light from his wristwatch, “a bit closer to the truth. Metaphysics is so tiresomely complicated, and we don't have the time now. If we don't get going–”

“We'll be late?” Petra finished, smiling. “What, no pocketwatch?”

“No!” the rabbit said, sounding annoyed. “I told you, I'm not the product of your imagination. Besides, wristwatches are much easier to find these days. I'm Jumphrey, by the way. Peter Jumphrey MacGregor.”

“Jumphrey. That's a strange name.”

“No it isn't!” declared the irritated rabbit. “It's perfectly ordinary. Haven't you ever seen a film with Jumphrey Bogart?”

Petra mentally conceded the point, though the name still didn't sound quite right to her.

Jumphrey knocked his pipe clean against the pads of his hind paw. “Come along, Petra Godfellow. We've a long way to go.”

She saw no reason not to let the dream play itself through, so she took his furry hand and they started out. Tod's rolling green grounds and his neighbor's grayer pasture melded past, and then the woods could be seen, the great trees staggering jerkily towards them faster than Petra had ever moved in her life. Then they were rushing between the trees, the trunks blending to columns supporting many-branched leafy vaults through which the moon darted tongues of cold fire here and there. Ahead, down the curves and turns of a tunnel of green twisting this way and that, almost like traveling down the belly of a writhing snake, could be seen an orange glow – at first no more than an elusive twinkle in the murk of gray and brown and green, then steadily growing and burning ever more brightly until it became obvious that a fire had been kindled among the trees, and they were headed right for it.
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© 2013 - 2021 MrWootton
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OmegaTheOmniscient's avatar
I especially like the bit about his name. XvD
WhisperingWatermelon's avatar
Wow, very nice. I like it. :D
MrWootton's avatar
Thanks! Buy the book, there's not much time left before I publish the sequel! =)