(as seen in Suspense Magazine April 2011)
The Horrors of Easter
By Thomas Scopel
“Where’s Mike?” Jimmy whispered, leaning across the lower than usual, round white table toward George. George looked up from behind the graphic novel, quickly scanned the library’s vast openness, spotted him and pointed.
Jimmy looked toward where George was pointing, “Why’s he over there? Ain’t no good books over there,” he questioned, reaching onto the table and picking up one of the various, thicker than usual comic graphic novel books lying scattered across the table. “This is where the good books are,” he added, his excited eleven-year-old voice speaking louder this time.
A, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” came from the rear of the room.
Neither of them, trying hard to keep their snickering quiet, had to look to know that it came from the head librarian Mrs. Williams.
George leaned toward Jimmy, “He always reads,” he whispered. “Betcha a dollar he walks out with at least three books with no pictures in ‘em,” he added with a quick chuckle.
He leaned back, lowered his head and delved back into the superhero tale he was previously engrossed in.
Ten minutes later Mike walked by his two, seated pals carrying three books under his arm. George, out of the corner of his eye, noticed.
“See, I told ya,” he laughingly blurted out.
Mike turned his head and looked back as he continued walking.
Another, much stronger, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
The two tossed their books onto the table and stood up. Mike was at Mrs. Williams’ desk signing out the books.
The walk home could have included three different ways, each leading to one of the three boy’s homes first. Where two routes included using the sidewalk, Mike’s route was through a thick patch of high grass and dense, vine-laden trees. With the spring forward time change, the daylight was longer and the three chose to go the dirt path route. Something they would never do had it been the weaning hours of impending darkness.
“Why do you read so much?” Jimmy brushed his long blond bangs back and asked Mike inquisitively, following him, leading the way through the winter dead and spring life intertwining growth.
George, following the other two’s footsteps, brought up the rear and was wondering if they were on the same path it took them all of last summer to create.
“I like to read. It takes me places. Gets me away,” Mike answered. “I just sit on my bed and let the words take me away. It’s better than listening to my dad yell…or having to go do chores, or get him a beer, or…” he was quiet for a moment before continuing on. “And besides, books are free.”
Jimmy quickly pondered the ills of being poor, came to an understanding moment and felt for his friend. And, he was glad to have not seen any fresh bruises on his friend today too.
“So what books did ya get this time?” George asked, breaking Jimmy’s sudden grim realization.
Mike, still working his way over a rotted log and through a cluster of vines, answered.
“One’s about aliens traveling from planet to planet, sort of like if we was to travel to Paris or London. They’re tourists.” He moved a vine to the side and stepped over and past it. “Then there’s this one about a dog that gets lost at the grocery store parking lot when the car window is accidentally left open and he jumps out and wanders off. He has to find his way home. I already read a little piece of it out before I signed it out. This little old woman lets him into her house and cooks him sizzling bacon and scrambled eggs.” His mouth watered and he swallowed. He didn’t notice George and Jimmy swallowing too. “And, there’s one about scary Easter tales.”
“Scary Easter Tales!” George spoke curiously out loud. “I’ve never heard of any of those,” he added.
“Me neither,” Jimmy tossed his two cents in.
“Yeah,” Mike added. “Me neither. See what I mean about reading?”
He smiled to himself. Partly because he was past and through the vines, but mostly because he knew he was right.
The following morning at the school bus stop, the three stood in the brisk morning sunshine making small talk. Jimmy saw a black spot on Mike’s upper forearm, but didn’t say anything.
“Did ya read that Easter book?” George asked.
“I started to,” Mike answered. “Got through the first story and fell asleep. It was pretty freaky too. It was called Too Sweet to Eat, and it was about…”
The somber silence is deafening as the two terrifyingly wait in the moonlit darkness, watching a large rat scurry across the room, back and forth, seeking lost crumbs. When it finds one, it sits back on its haunches and eats the morsel.
They watch, chilling silent, as the rat’s glistening, large, front teeth gnaw and tear into whatever particle it finds. After ingesting the latest find, the rat continues darting about, back and forth, across the floor again, until it finds the next. Horrifying thoughts increasingly fill them as they watch it gradually getting closer.
The rat disappears into the shadows underneath the sofa and both look toward one another, commonly hoping it has gone away.
Remaining deathly silent, neither risking the inadvertent creation of an attention attracting sound. Almost simultaneously each watch fearfully on, as the moonlight beam, streaming in through the window, continues its moving trek across the living room floor and is now nearly upon them. Both are fully aware that if the cascading spotlight shines directly onto them, they might as well ring the dinner bell.
The rat appears out from under the end side of the sofa and sits back, devouring the latest finding. Being closer now, its stench begins to waft past them. Each can faintly make out its matted gray hair and the dirty pinkness of its tail. But, neither is overly concerned with those anatomical parts. It is the rat’s teeth, reputed to be capable of chewing through metal wire that gives the grave concern.
The rat scampers directly toward them and stops five feet away, as it finds yet another snack. They listen to its clacking, chewing teeth and quiver, sending a faint ripple flowing through the box’s cellophane window. Taking notice of the sound, the rat stops chewing and looks toward where the sound had come from. Both remained terrified and deathly rooted. The rat waits, looking directly in their direction, listening for another sound. There wasn’t one and it continues to chew.
As the moonlight starts bathing them with soft white light, both feel impending doom growing as the rat, finished with its latest tidbit, finds its way up to them. Its whiskers flick and twitch across the grass bedding. They hear it sniffing about, around and through the bedding, directly before them. The maddening glow in its beady, little, black eyes grew when it found the first of the two.
The rat tore into the yellow marshmallow chick ferociously, gnawing and tugging at it, using its claws to pry. The chick stretches and its white sticky innards became visible. The rat continues tugging and chewing its way up through the bottom of the chick’s spongy body. The chocolate rabbit watches the horrifyingly display and cringes at the gruesome sight from behind the box’s glistening cellophane window.
The rabbit shivers and the box window crinkles and rattles again. Hearing it, the rat jumps back, slightly spooked and dropping what was left of the now headless, melted and smudged, yellow marshmallow chick in the process. It peers up into the box and focuses upon the quivering rabbit trapped inside. The rat lunges toward it, tearing through the clear plastic window, causing a loud plastic ripple to break the early morning silence.
As the rabbit feels the rat’s teeth embed into the sides of its head, it realizes that the rapid breath and continuous teeth clacking sound is the worse part.
The bus hisses to a stop and the doors open.
“Wow, that was freaky,” Jimmy said, quickly looking back at Mike before stepping up onto the bus steps.
“Yeah, sure was,” George added, following Mike onto the bus.
Besides getting a small, chocolate, cross treat from their teacher, school was the normal reading, writing and arithmetic, and the three were happy to hear the three o’clock bell ring. With tomorrow being Good Friday and having no school, the three decided to go for a bicycle ride.
Friday was a wonderfully sunny and warm day. The three met at George’s house and began their day long planned excursion, stopping first at Bennett’s gas station to put air in Mike’s back tire. George bought each of them a bottle of water, a bag of chips and a candy bar and asked Terry, the teenager behind the counter, to separate the lunches into three different bags so each had their own.
George led the way down the grass filled, cracked and uneven sidewalk, jumping from the raised portions as though they were the biggest ramps. Mike was afraid his old bike wasn’t up to the task so he rode on the smoother pavement of the street edge.
When they got to the park, each took a turn on the large, sliding board before seeking out the swings for their typical, swing height competition.
The swings were considerably stronger than the usual backyard set type swings. The heavy steel poles were long and high and were concreted deeply in the earth so it could withstand and remain stable through vigorous swinging. The swings themselves were wide and had thick rubber slats, attached to heavy chains that looked as though they would hold back a rhinoceros.
Although each of the boys would swing as high as he could, none would choose go that bit farther, risking breaking the gravity barrier, going weightless and potentially finding themselves plummeting straight back down to a hard landing on the trampled, hardened earth. Of course, becoming tangled in the loose chain on the way down and metallically snapping a bone was another serious threat.
The three boys sat swaying on the swings.
“Did ya read anymore of that Easter book yet?” Jimmy asked Mike, gasping and out of breath from the three’s prior height competition.
“Yeah, sure did.” Mike replied, not breathing quite as hard. “I got another one read last night, after my dad went to sleep. This one was different. More gruesome and bloody.”
George leaned forward on his swing and peered around Jimmy, in the center, at Mike and listened.
“This one was called Deep Rooted and it was about…”
Aged and constantly cranky, the elder rabbit felt the spring sunshine warm its fur. It didn’t lift his disposition though. His humble plump wife sat crouched beside him.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get selected this year,” her voice was compassionate and sweet.
“You know damn well I won’t be chosen. Hell, I haven’t been selected in fifty-seven years. What makes you think I’ll be selected this year?” His angry sarcasm was thick.
“You will,” she attempted to keep him calm, knowing that with Easter just around the corner it was probably likely that his application was rejected again.
For fifty-seven years, and ever since she had known him, he applied for one of the Peter Rabbit’s coveted Easter aide positions offered every year. And, each year he wasn’t selected to be a maker, painter or deliverer. This lack of selection grew more and more discouraging as the years passed. Knowing how much it meant to him, it hurt her to see him not selected. But, she always hid her discouragement, tried to understand and concentrated on happier times.
“It’ll be okay,” she attempted to reassure.
“I just need to be left alone for a bit,” he grumbled, wondering off and disappearing in the tall, waving, gold grass.
When he made it to the brook, he looked both upstream and down before bending down and taking a drink of the cool, crisp water. After the quick sip, he hopped over to the log that he, more times than not, could be found sleeping under on most afternoons.
When he awoke, it was dark and he felt a little more than scared. He sat up and carefully inspected the tall, moonlit waving grass. Satisfied that no predators were hiding within sight, crouched and ready to pounce, he slowly hopped his way to and into it, following the path he used earlier. After ten feet or so, he stopped and repeated the inspection process cautiously, this time looking at his home’s hole. Again assured, he continued hopping, one small leap at a time.
On the third leap, he felt the talons scratch deeply across his back, ripping his skin open and flinging tufts of fur. Evasively leaping high, the gripping talons broke free, tearing through his back’s flesh in the process. When he hit the ground he instinctively dodged back and forth, across and through the high grass until he got to the hole. He hadn’t seen the owl’s mad, red eyes.
Patching him up as best she could, she put him to bed. That night, his dreams were uncannily wicked and increasingly morbid as the fever took hold.
The next morning, while looking in the mirror, he noticed his eyes changing color, getting redder and the foaming drool lingering at the sides of his mouth.
With his wife out foraging for tomorrow’s Easter dinner, he sat alone with twitching and chilling red eyes growing worse as they chronically searched about the room. With visions of macabre looking baskets of psychedelic-color, dripping eggs, his anger deeply festered into madness.
By the time she came in through the hole, he was fully in the throes of vicious insanity. Just as she realized she no longer recognized him, he pounced on her, clasping hold and gnawing into her neck. He dropped her limp body to the floor, wiped the back of his paw across his mouth, smearing blood down the side of his face, bent down and picked up the woven basket she had been carrying. Turning it over, he dumped the carrot and assorted greens out of it, slid it over his arm and headed out the hole drooling thick, white, mucus-filled foam along the way.
Through the tall grass he bounded, unconcerned of any potential predators and continued with jagged long leaps, until he came upon a mowed yard harboring a large farmhouse. A chicken house, looking exactly as the farmhouse, but having a wire mesh fence around it, sat in the rear of the backyard. He followed the manicured lawn’s line around to it. Crouching, hidden in the edge of the tall grass, he meticulously watched the chickens strutting and pecking about inside the fence and waited for the impending nightfall.
As the darkness increased, the hens sporadically would run up the plank and into the roosting house. The mediocre rooster strutted around, waiting until all the hens retired inside before entering himself.
The rabbit hobbled up to the fence and pushed its nose ferociously against the small, octagon shaped wire ring. Unable to break through, it continued pushing while chewing on the wire.
The rabbit continued madly gnawing, occasionally chipping pieces of its buck teeth away before eventually getting through the wire.
Easily fitting through the coop’s doorway, the rabbit squinted through the moonlight, shining in through the dust and cobweb covered window for the rooster. When he saw it at the end of the row of nesting hens, it was fast asleep. Slowly, over excrement, moldy nesting grasses and lost feathers, he crawled across the floor. When he was below the rooster, he took aim and leaped, mouth open, ready to clamp.
The blood flowing from the rooster’s shredded neck tasted divine and the rabbit lapped a bit more as the hens scattered and quickly ran out the door. Using his paw, the rabbit wiped the red foamed from his mouth, down the side of his face and once again smearing it with a fresh coating of bright red.
Sitting in the corner of the chicken coop, a pile of freshly picked eggs nestled alongside, the rabbit reached back and pulled a tuft of tail fur out. He didn’t flinch. Bending down, he plunged his mouth, covering his nose in the process, into the rooster’s blood puddle. After a small sip he sat up, wiped the blood from his nose with the fur and using it as a brush, began painting the eggs.
“The rooster didn’t crow today,” John Farmer said, shoveling in a massive bite of his traditional Easter morning egg, ham and potato omelet breakfast. “Did you leave the door closed again Katie?” he asked his eight-year-old daughter, who was busy shoveling a pile of her own.
She shook her head no and continued chewing.
“I’ll check,” Katie replied after swallowing her bite and secretly questioning whether or not she had actually left the door closed.
She slid off the chair and hurriedly went to the door.
Feeling something against the bottom of the white, metal, storm door when she opened it, she pulled the door back and looked down, through the glass at the red trail leading to an ugly, blood-smudged, red colored egg filled basket.
She reopened the door, only to the basket and squeezed through the skinny opening, closing the door behind her.
Reaching down, she cupped the basket with both hands, blotching her palms red and picked it up.
She was busy placing it safely at the other end of the porch when her father called out to her, “Katie, get in here and finish your breakfast, girl.”
Pulling the chair closer to the table, she sat down and grabbed a piece of toast.
She looked up at her father and blurted, “Nope…door’s open,” before biting into the toast.
By the time she finished eating, the red blotches on her palms were nearly gone.
“Ewwwww, gross,” George said, wondering how long it would take Katie to start foaming at the mouth.
“Lunchtime,” Mike said jumping up from sitting on the swing. “Last one to the picnic table is a rotten egg,” he added, laughing and running off.
Jimmy envisioned the rotten eggs being colored red.
After eating the chips, they each jokingly added a frightened voice of the candy bar screaming before chomping into them and laughing with chocolate covered teeth.
Being tired from the day’s excursions, the ride home seemed to take longer, but it really didn’t. Along the way they made plans to go fishing in the creek tomorrow, each knowing very well that fishing sometimes meant swimming, regardless of the time of year.
Saturday was a glorious day with spring in full swing. The three, each carrying a fishing pole, quickly rode their bikes down the sidewalk, through the park and onto the old, crevice-filled, logging road behind the swings. George was the first and only one to wreck when his front tire slipped into one of the treacherous, deep trenches. He tumbled over the handlebars, landing on his back, sprawled out across the orange, iron-stained, dirt roadway and knocking the wind out of him. Mike helped him pull his bike out while Jimmy brushed his back off. After hiding their bikes in the weeds, they carefully dodged rocks and jumped crevices as they hiked down the road.
When they got to the fishing hole, each set off looking for and flipping large, flat rocks in search for worms to use as bait. Jimmy was the last to find one and joined George and Mike at the water’s edge, already having cast. He slid the tip of the hook into the end and up the center of the worm and cast the hook into the water.
“You know,” George said, still brushing bits of tiny gravel, coal and other various particles off of his shirt. “I don’t get Easter.”
“What’d a ya mean you don’t get Easter?” Jimmy asked questioning.
“I mean,” George reiterated, “with the Easter bunny and all. How can one rabbit make it to every house in the world in one day? Let alone lug eggs and candy and junk. And another thing,” he started to ramble. “Easter and that there Peter Rabbit go waaaay back. So, what happens when he gets too old to do it any more? I mean cripes, he has to die sometime. Right?”
Sitting in between them, Mike laughed out. “The last story in that Easter book talks about that legacy thing. It was called Will the Real Peter Cottontail Please Stand Up? And, it was about…”
Fourteen-year-old Freddy Taylor inched his way around the brush pile and saw him, Peter Cottontail, sitting up and sniffing the air. Quickly, and ever so quiet, he lifted his shotgun and took aim. BANG!
The young bunny, hiding in the brush pile waiting for its father’s all clear signal, jumped when it heard the noise and retreated deeper into the brush pile. Turning back, it peered through the intertwined sticks in time to see a proud Freddy holding up its dangling limp father by the hind legs and it wondered why its father wasn’t moving.
With a substantial amount of effort and not so closely behind, the young bunny followed its father’s carrier and watched, from a distance, as Freddy entered the farmhouse door, accidentally banging its father’s head off the side threshold. With nighttime fast approaching, the little, scared rabbit crouched and waited in the tall grass, continuously watching the door.
“Pssst.” The little rabbit turned toward the nearby voice and quivered when it saw the large buck deer staring down at him. “Your father’s gone little one. Let us take care of it.”
The buck winked and dashed off.
“C’mere.” A different, softer voice called out this time from the side of the old collapsing wooden tool shed.
The rabbit looked and saw a mother opossum, standing in front of her brood, waving and flagging him to come to her.
“Hurry,” she added.
Her voice felt reassuring and he went to her.
“You can stay with us ‘til tomorrow,” the littlest of the clan said, bright-eyed and chipper.
The mother opossum smiled and lead them through a hole that a fallen board had opened up and into the shed.
“Just rest, little Peter, it will all be taken care of tomorrow.”
Her voice was calm and sweet. Nestling into the straw pile, he wondered what would happen tomorrow and how she knew his name was Peter, before falling asleep.
The next morning was crisp and cool. And Freddy was out early. He walked slowly around the brush pile again, but found nothing and felt a little discouraged. When he turned around, the buck, head lowered, drove its antlers deep into his chest. Freddy flexed once and went limp as the shotgun fell to the forest floor. The buck snorted and raised its head lifting Freddy off the ground and carried him off.
The little rabbit awoke to a commotion outside of the hole doorway. He hopped to it and peeked out. The boy that took his father was lying, just outside and covered in blood, while an audience of various critters, including the big buck, stood, circled around the body.
The voice startled the young rabbit, but it knew whom its sweetness belonged to, and he felt her nudge his bottom. He hopped out through the opening and an excited hush flew through the collection of gathered animals.
An owl, looking down from an above branch calls out, “Go to it, little Peter…it is safe.”
Looking up, and immediately upon seeing the old owl, the rabbit darts behind an old leaning tire, crouches and shivers. The owl chuckles loudly and the animal crowd follows. Perplexed, confused and perhaps a bit bewildered, Peter looks out from behind the tire at the laughing faces.
An older raccoon walks up to the peeking Peter and offers his hand. Peter placed his paw into the raccoon’s hand and followed, hesitantly to the lifeless body.
At the side of the body, the raccoon let go of Peter’s hand and pointed to a gouge wound, bubbling with a steaming puddle of blood.
“Taste his blood, little Peter,” the raccoon whispered, “and it will be all better.”
Peter, still confused but following the direction, leaned forward and flicked his tiny, pink tongue into the red puddle. It tasted salty and somewhat revolting.
Suddenly, before Peter could have the opportunity to be either disgusted or sick various visions and images crashed into his mind. Each flashed brightly and embedded the full brunt of the Easter spirit. Peter saw a cross, standing high above a scattered college of brightly colored eggs, yellow and pink marshmallow chicks, various chocolates and jellybeans before collapsing.
When he awoke, the body was gone and many smiling faces hovered over him. He felt excited and renewed and was looking forward to making a grass blade woven basket.
“Wow,” George spoke up. “Kind of like the magic of Easter or something like that,” he added, wide-eyed.
“I guess so,” Mike added, reeling his line in and pushing the empty hook into the pole’s corked handle.
The sun was almost down when they got to Mike’s house. Before riding away, they heard his father loudly yelling. They were gone when the crash was heard.
The following morning, as Jimmy looked at his basket of sugar-laced treats, he wasn’t quite sure if he could ever eat the yellow chicks or the chocolate bunny without wondering whether or not they felt him chew.
George looked at his basket, hoping to not find a red egg and not feeling much like devouring early morning candy.
Mike, knowing full well that, yet again there wouldn’t be a basket waiting downstairs for him, rolled over. He cringed as the pillow brushed against the tenderness above his eye. Readjusting it, he smiled thinking of how his pals would gladly share their candy with him and pondering how to eat it around the fresh and still occasionally bleeding tooth hole. The smile waned and he began to lightly snore. <