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The sun rose up through the proud oaks, and for all those darling woodland animals, morning came. The Bluebirds turned their singing beaks toward the sun and smiled. The sleepy Toads threw their tongues at the sun and smiled. The Deer gave a wink and a nod and smiled. The Squirrels fluffed their bushy tails and smiled. Even the flowers, the blue tulips and warm yellow daffodils, still teary-eyed from the retreating Winter, shuffled their roots in the ground and smiled at the sun, in their own way. All was well and good. The rabbit was last to wake, dreaming in his hole. But the sun spilled golden and filled up his dreams. He smiled, too.
The white rabbit awoke. A new day, a lovely day, he knew. He rolled over on scruffy puffs of white fur, rolled over again, again: rolling was exciting, he thought. The creature stood up in a dizzy daze, his paws too soft to leave a mark on the patted dirt floors. The rabbit made no attempt to walk, instead shaking his round furry head from dreams and pausing to think… about nothing.
That’s it, nothing at all. It felt nice. His hole was small and bare. A yellow apple, rare to find but stupendously tasty, lay untouched in a little pile of nibbled goods; a few colorful fruits and a nut he thought he’d try after borrowing it from the Squirrels, who just wanted to bury the thing (the silly, disillusioned creatures). The packed sediment turned to gold wherever the sun hit, and the sun hit everywhere. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Grass roots swinging like garish chandeliers over his head, the animal noticed the odd little slashes in the smooth and pounded dirt below him: some bit of a dream that had wandered off into this paradise. He didn’t remember troubled dreams. He remembered the sun when the morning came.
His hole was small and bare, but it was home. It was Daniel’s home.
Daniel knew no time. There was night and day: sunrise, sunset. In the morning Daniel traveled to the apple tree to collect his breakfast; an apple, and dinner; whatever stuck to the core. His life was quiet and perfect as his smile. Day and night. Simple. In the night he travelled back to his hole and slept a long sleep.
Daniel peeked his ears out of the hole and spun them playfully, for as far as they would allow before spinning back. He stepped out onto the green green grass and stared into the blue blue sky. His white fur was beautiful under the sun. He smelled the sweet and sugary flowers, the short, stubby oak trees hardly grown, felt the moist and steamy earth below his feet. A few inches he trotted, took in the air best he could, and smiled at the sun. The Bluebirds were singing a cheery melody. They huffed and puffed their little chests and fluttered their feathers with delight. One infant bird with a belly big and red as an apple hopped nimbly down onto the lower branches towards Daniel. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Daniel looked up sweetly at it. How handsome that Bluebird is, Daniel thought, what pretty little feathers he wears.
“Why hello, Daniel!” chirped the plump little creature. The two never broke eye contact.
“Hello, Bluebird!” answered Daniel. “You have such a pretty voice!”
“Why thank you, Daniel! You have such lovely fur!”
“Thank you, Bluebird! Teach me to sing sometime!” said Daniel, laughing, thinking he’d been witty. He was, after all, quite clever.
“Sometime!” chirped the Bluebird, and it flew back up the tree with its friends, leaving the rabbit below with a single ‘have a good day!’
Daniel couldn’t tell if the Bluebird had been serious or not. He really did want to learn how to sing. Under the cover of their voices, Daniel let out a few quiet notes, trying to stand on his hind legs for the big ones. He didn’t know the words, or if there even were words. They were probably ‘bird words’, he thought. Daniel didn’t know bird words. His song ended, but the Bluebirds sang on. Daniel looked around to see if anyone had been watching, but the other rabbit holes were still, having left for the apple tree or to skip among the lilies. Daniel’s ears twitched and he scratched the brown patch of fur on his side. The wind applauded as it swept his ears. Daniel smiled and hopped through the flowers, humming to the tune: he knew he’d done quite well.
There was silence further in the meadow. The Bluebirds’ song was a whisper in the trees at that distance, but Daniel was still humming, still smiling: smiles all around. Life was lovely. He knew the song well. For Daniel lost his place in the world, every day. Why try to find it? Instead he’d smile and laugh and ‘hello!’ and ‘goodbye!’ and the world was beautiful every day.
The ground grew thick and sticky as the meadow retreated and the swamp stretched out to fill the void. Swords, blades, silver sabers from another time jutted limp from the mud, sobbing in the swelling mass of heated sludge. How exciting! Now Daniel could make sport of dodging the relics that threatened his path! The world grew more thrilling every day, every day a new challenge! Daniel tried a clumsy smirk but the smile was already there. He swerved dangerously around the rusted metal and zipped through the mud and tar with remarkable speed. Glints of silver flashed in his eyes, the glowing ruby reds and emerald greens of the gem-coated hilts glittering by in the mire. They were the most beautiful things he’d ever seen. The speed of the sprint was lost on Daniel. Suddenly an inky green pond, a beautiful pond, he knew, charged into view. Daniel’s eyes went wide and his smile swallowed gulps of wind as the fur clung to him for dear life. Faster, faster, faster he flew! He stretched his legs far back until he was unstoppable and then… plunged!
Daniel was a rabbit. Swimming was not his… well, he couldn’t do it. Instead he tilted his head and watched the fish swim by as he sank. A dark red haze, thick like spider webs, rose continually from his black little paw. Daniel marveled, his eyes following the crimson stream upwards. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. A rainbow of fish swum through the murk. The red ones, with the pretty yellow stripes, they were his favorite. Twice Daniel tried to shout, “Hello, Fishes!” but failed spectacularly as water surged into his open mouth. So he watched and he sank.
“Why hello, Daniel!”
Daniel jumped into the air, his hind legs kicking and splashing water. The hazy green wisps of weeds and daring flower stems clung to the watery bottom with only a few inches of height: the pond was no pond at all. But the voice, the voice! He searched for the voice. Daniel spun eagerly on his little paws and hopped in place with excitement. Where is it! Where is it! Where is it! Oh come out! When the waters settled, a slimy green head no bigger than the rabbit’s paw peered up from the depths. It smiled at him.
“Just me, Daniel.” said the Toad.
“Oh, hello Toad! You startled me, Toad!” Daniel smiled and gazed at the sun until his vision went dark. But he still smiled.
Toad shrugged and flapped his webbed hands like pancakes on the water. “You almost drowned, Daniel. That would be…” Toad tried to think. “…bad.”
“Yes!” said Daniel. Drowning sounded exciting.
“Going to the apple tree?”
“Oh course, Toad! Breakfast!” Daniel licked his lips. “I don’t eat flies like you, Toad!” Daniel chuckled to himself. He was so funny. Always so funny. Handsome, too.
“Where’s Samantha?” asked the Toad, accidently swallowing a gulp of water.
“S-Sam? Oh.” Sam, where was Sam? Daniel had forgotten. The present day was the only one he cared to remember. Where was Samantha? Funny he still remembered the name. Must be important.
“Don’t you two always go together?” said the Toad.
“I think she’s at the tree, Toad. Yes, she’s at the tree, Toad! Nothing to worry about, Toad!” Daniel started hopping away, the mud tugging at his feet with a repeated sucking noise.
“Have a good good day!” called Toad.
It was always a good day, Daniel knew.
Time was lost on Daniel. Sunrise, sunset. That is what he knew. It was noon. It was not sunrise. It was not sunset. Then where was he? Daniel hardly remembered his talk with the Deer.
“Why hello, Daniel!” the Deer had said, smiling, everyone was smiling.
“Have you seen my daughter? She seems to have wandered off,” said the Deer, idly pawing at some lilies.
“No!” Daniel spoke cheerfully. “What’s her name?”
“Oh.” said the Deer. She let her head fall for a moment, her eyes wander. The lily crushed under her hoof. Daniel waited pleasantly: he could wait all day. But the Deer did look up, after some time, smiled gently at the rabbit and skipped off, wishing Daniel a good day. It was always a good day, Daniel knew.
He bounced off and forgot everything, as he did. The Bluebird song was far off now. His apple tree was close. Daniel knew that. The sun was beginning to set. He knew this time.
Daniel charged blindly for the towering shadow as the wind whistled past his ears and the song of the Bluebirds vanished in the trees. The creeping night was a warm blanket dotted with stars holding hands in constellations. Daniel saw them sometimes—Orion, Cassiopeia— but could never find them again, so he stopped looking. His stomach whimpered. It was sunset. Daniel had not eaten. That was okay. He laughed off the pain and spun his ears.
The warm reds and pinks of sunset coated the leaves and grass like a fresh morning dew. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Pretty, Daniel thought, really pretty. Soon he began to notice small holes in the dirt dug by little paws. Once or twice his feet struck these little graves and a nut flew out. Squirrels. Daniel didn’t stop. Squirrels were friendly, but stupid.
The sweet voices greeted him, hidden in the trees.
Then they all said, “Why hello, Daniel!”
“Hello, Squirrels!” said Daniel. Then he was gone. They were gone. It was always a good day, Daniel knew.
It’s so tall, he thought. Then he forgot he’d said it and repeated: it’s so tall. The apple tree. The hopeful hare gazed up, straight up, through the stretching branches. Each apple hung against the sky like its own star, and my there were so many stars. So many stars he’d never reach. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
An irregular ring of fallen apples continued intermittently around the chocolate-brown trunk, wishing to be stars again. If Daniel had known anything of the planets, he would have seen each of those fallen fruits as its own being in some orbit around the trunk. That big one would be Jupiter, the red one would be Mars, and that one, the one with the dark spot, it would be Neptune. But Daniel knew nothing of the stars or the planets. In fact, he knew nothing of anything at all.
The great universe of the apple tree was guarded by many eyes: the Owls. Daniel saw them, dozens of golden eyes on every perch. They watched him, their faces without feature or expression. They did not flutter a feather. They were seers, though of this no one knew. The Owls looked at Daniel, without words. Daniel almost lost his smile in their presence: he almost saw himself in their eyes. And of this he made nothing. Nothing, at all.
Those were the night’s only words as darkness carefully dripped into the sky and the animals turned over in their sleep. Daniel knew it was time to sleep. He felt the dreams coming over him, his smile became harder to sustain, but he hummed to himself, hummed that beautiful Bluebird song, and so he managed. With his teeth he removed a single apple from its orbit. Something made him want to walk it. So with delicate rabbit steps he tip-toed, so not to wake the sleeping apples above, around the trunk. He was half way through when Daniel was staring down the hole. It seemed to lead under the very tree: deep, deep under. How deep? Daniel shivered. It looked like… like his hole, his home, but it wasn’t. It was not his home, at all. There was a strange smear leading into its swelling darkness, red… like berries. Daniel didn’t like berries. He thought he heard something down there. No… no no no no… don’t think about it, he thought, stop thinking entirely. That didn’t work. Daniel hummed a song, that pretty, eternal Bluebird song, and took a step, stepped past that dark abysmal hole. One step. His apple rolled on the ground. Daniel saw it, didn’t know what to think, didn’t think at all. Daniel saw it. Didn’t know what to think. Didn’t think. At all.
It looked like him, like a rabbit, fuzzy, white fur. But, it wasn’t… him. It was twisted everywhere, mangled and torn and bitten. The neck was snapped back, with white fur clinging to the small body in little red clumps. Red, everything was red. The belly was open, eaten into, and very, very red. The creature was unlike anything Daniel had seen. He just looked at it. His smile twitched. There were red gashes all over the creature, through the tiny black nose and the black paws, like the yellow stripes on those fish Daniel tried to greet earlier. Yes, like those fish, he thought. He thought. He thought. Daniel couldn’t think. He couldn’t smile. What— what… was it. What was it. It was like him it was a rabbit like him it was like him but it… didn’t move… or talk, or smile or say “Why hello, Daniel!” Daniel couldn’t think. It was dead. It was mangled. It was red. Daniel couldn’t think.
He stared at it for a while. He tried to imagine the Bluebird song in his head. All he heard was screaming. He couldn’t remember the Bluebird song. Nor did he wish to sing it. The Owls turned their heads together and stood solemn over Daniel. Over Daniel they watched. A long time the rabbit stared, the Owls stared. A long time the night waited, the sunrise waited, waited for Daniel. The paradise waited for Daniel to return. The night was long, years long. Daniel stared at the animal. Daniel couldn’t remember the Bluebird song.
Finally he spoke. Daniel spoke.
“I— I think… I’ll go home now.” And he went home.
Wesley Chapel, Florida
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