As the Bunny Flies

A short story by Oskar Leonard.

Looming trees, their branches heavy with pale leaves and small fruits, watched a small boy wander down a rabbit trail. They knew that they were far larger than they had any right being, and that he was far smaller than he had any right being, but those little titbits of information had no bearing on his endless journey.

Forwards, leaning left. Always leaning left. Never going anywhere. They sighed and whispered about useless guides and the ethics of leaving a child to wander, but their words were only noise to his small ears.

The boy was dead. Not dead in a metaphorical sense, since there was life swimming in his round eyes, always looking up and around at everything.

No, the boy was physically dead. No breath disturbed his chest, covered by his favourite t-shirt which his mum threw out years ago. A stomach slept inside his gut, no longer rumbling to announce dinnertime. Physically, he was only a shell, but a fairly content shell.

He didn’t know that he was dead, after all.

His memories cut short at the car crash. In fact, they declared that there was no car crash at all. Just a darkened street, illuminated at points by harsh electric street lamps. A blind corner, which he’d dared to dart across.

The desperate shout of his mum? The screeching of tires and brakes? The stench of burnt rubber against tarmac? All walled away, allowing his youthful mind to laugh and sing without those morbid memories tying him down. They would be a concrete block chained to his foot, which now, weightless, began to skip.

A tune slipped from between his lips. A whistling melody, jaunty and upbeat, taught to him by his dad on one long afternoon in the summer holidays. He’d just finished his fourth year of school. His dad had been working on something in the shed, something important, and he had ‘helped’. A little. Enough to keep the work fun and create an illusion of it being a game, not a chore.

Where were they? The question stilled his plump lips, the tune dropping from them as a stone drops into a bottomless pit. Mum and Dad. They wouldn’t have let him play in a forest like this on his own–and, in any case, he wasn’t playing.

This wasn’t fun. It was a walk, a boring hike, but there was no one around to force him to keep his short legs moving. Why was he bothering at all?

Disheartened, he planted his feet in the soft ground and decided he would not move a step further. Far above, the trees murmured their pitying comments, their branches waving gently in an attempt to catch his attention. It will be okay, they promised, we’re looking over you, keep going. But the boy did not speak the language of the trees and the wind, as few people do, so the comforting remarks roamed the oversized forest uselessly.

Looking around with new, startled eyes, the boy began to shake, sitting down with a quiet thump. Alone. Abandoned. Wherever his parents were, they had left him. Maybe forgotten him. Maybe… maybe…

Even though a multitude of worried, childish theories raced around his head, the truth remained locked away in his memory. His fingers idly pulled at grass strands, not hearing their silent cries. Anxiety gnawed at his sleeping stomach.

“Are you lost, little one?” 

Throwing himself away from the sudden voice, the boy ended up rolling in sweet-smelling flowers. Stopping abruptly, he jerked his head backwards. His eyes strained. If his heart had been beating, it might have stopped at the sight before him.

With long, floppy ears drooping down the sides of its face and huge, bead-like eyes peering back at him, a giant rabbit stood close to where he was sat moments ago. Mouse-grey fur covered its body, as white whiskers twitched by a pink nose.

It might have been cute, if its nose wasn’t the size of the boy’s head, and the body as big as his dad’s car. One leg began to drum against the ground and he scrambled backwards. 

The sound echoed through the trees, which were chattering about the poor child and his late guide, and how terrible things were then but how great they once were. This happened quite often as of late, but the boy did not know this, being a new and rather confused visitor to the forest.

“Are you lost?” the rabbit repeated, as its leg abruptly stopped drumming against the ground.

“Yes,” the boy replied curtly, crossing his arms. Although the rabbit didn’t seem dangerous, he kept both of his eyes trained on it. Unblinking. He couldn’t miss a second. “Who’re you?”

“Just a guide, nothing more,” the rabbit said airily, leaning back and resting on its haunches, “someone you can follow, if you like.”

“Why should I?” The boy gritted his teeth. Thoughts of his mum and dad whirled around his mind and random dots began to be connected. He hadn’t found anyone else in the forest–there was no one else anywhere–so the rabbit must have taken them. It had stolen his mum and dad. “You’re evil.”

“I’m neither good nor bad, little one,” the rabbit said, “but I can’t take you back. No one can go back. We must march forwards, for as long as time keeps us moving.”

Mulling over the confusing words for a moment, the boy remained silent. Wind brushed against his skin, attempting to soothe him. It couldn’t help. This was all too much. Tears prepared to form in the corners of his eyes.

He wanted his mum. He wanted his dad. He wanted to see their little house with the cracked front window and his mum’s dried-up tulips in the front garden. His bedroom, filled with football posters and plastic toys.

He didn’t want a big, silly rabbit. He didn’t want a forest which made him feel two inches tall. He didn’t want any of this.

“I can,” the rabbit began again, one huge paw dabbing at an equally huge ear, “show you family. People who you haven’t seen in a long time. But we can only see them if we move forwards, and you can’t move forwards when you’re sitting down.”

That was true. Opinion flickering from one extreme to another, as often happens to young minds in perplexing situations, the boy clambered to his feet. Noticing his movement, the rabbit turned around.

Without another word, it began to bound away.

Hurrying to keep up, the boy skipped behind it, his footsteps drowned out by the rabbit’s thunderous thumps. Every time it landed, the ground seemed to shake. All the while, the trees whispered about efficiency and morals and other bits of bureaucratic gossip which they had time to delve into. The boy, as ever, was ignorant to their mumblings.

Presently, both rabbit and boy found themselves in a part of the forest where the trees thinned out, and the ground began to feel marshy. Every so often, the boy thought he could hear laughter on the wind, but it escaped from his ears as quickly as he caught it.

“What’s your name?” the boy called to the rabbit, breath gushing from his lungs to make the effort. He didn’t notice how the cool air didn’t enter his chest until he needed to speak, but perhaps it was better that he didn’t. Living in his innocence must have felt blissful.

“Whatever you wish it to be,” the rabbit said plainly, not looking back at the boy.

“I’ll call you Bunny.” Although the boy murmured the words, he felt like the rabbit would hear him. With those big ears, how could it not?

The trees gave way to a gap in the earth, inhabited by a winding body of crystal clear water. Rushing to the side of the river, the boy stared down at his reflection in wonder. It was perfect. Undisturbed. Complete. As vivid as a photograph, yet even more… real.

Before he could turn to Bunny and ask it more questions, something caught his eye. Far down the river, too far to see properly, was a speck of something. Maybe a fish. A really big fish, just like Bunny was a really big rabbit–that would make sense.

But no. As it drifted closer–and it did drift, rather than splashing or swimming–the colour became a soft brown, and more shapes began to form. Two bodies, atop a primitive boat of some sort. Old bodies, which bent a little and were painted with the lines of ageing, but bodies nonetheless. More people.

Was it his mum and dad? It couldn’t be. They weren’t that old, even if they were a lot older than he was. Just strangers. That thought saddened him a little, as he turned back to Bunny.

“Where’s my family? You said I’d see them,” he said, half-demanding, half-upset. 

Those tears were beginning to crop up again, threatening to spill over his eyelids and trail down his cheeks, like when that girl had pushed him over on the playground. He’d cried then. He’d been hurt and confused, but now he was just confused. More than that, he was tired of being confused.

“Yes, your lost family. You’ll see your mother and father in time, and your grandmother and grandfather sooner, but you have more family than just them, little one,” Bunny’s words made the boy face the boat again, squinting his eyes.

It was floating closer now, pulled by the gentle swaying of the water, and he saw two wrinkled faces looking back at him. Names didn’t spring to mind, like when he saw his friends at school, but their appearances tugged on some strings of familiarity in his brain. He knew them. For some reason, he didn’t know their names but he knew them.

“Danny!” One of them, an elderly woman, began to wave with one hand. Danny. They knew his name, so why didn’t he know theirs? “Oh, Danny!”

Without the people on-board seeming to do anything, the boat bobbed over to the side of the river, pausing by Danny and Bunny. The trees murmured about happy endings and warm resolutions, congratulating each other on a job they’d had no real part in.

“Danny! You remember your granny, don’t you? Come here, dear!”

He did remember–he did remember! A glass jar of hard sweets and a frightening set of false teeth. Hugs and wet kisses. Granny and Gramps. Not his grandmother and grandfather, but one generation above. Older, to his young mind, just older.

Jumping at any sense of familiarity, he ran towards the boat and practically fell into waiting arms, which should have been frail but felt as strong as his dad’s. Wet kisses smothered his cheeks, which became wetter still with joyous tears. He didn’t understand, but he knew he was safe.

As the boat began to drift down the river once more, Bunny nodded and twitched its nose. Ignoring the trees’ endless commentary, it bounded down the bank for a few steps before taking one massive leap.

Danny watched in awe as Bunny began to soar through the air, disappearing into a peaceful sky.

Oskar Leonard is a self-published author, poet and illustrator, as well as a senior editor at The Altruist, a staff editor at All Ears India and a creative writing intern at FOURALL Magazine. He has written six books: three novels, two poetry anthologies and a novella. His pieces have been featured in publications like Fever Dream Zine, Potted Purple Mag and The Young Writers Initiative Literary Journal: Juvenile.

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