Drama / Basement of a house / A Rabbit / 998w
Mom finally snapped and let all of Zach’s rabbits go yesterday. She said she was tired of being kept out of her own goddamn basement, the rabbits stunk up the place, and didn’t he have better things to do, he’s fourteen for fuck’s sake?
Zach doesn’t. The rabbits have been his “thing” since he was eight and got Milly and Zilly, the first pair. Mom regrets that decision. Pets were supposed to be healing, the psychologist had said.
So Zach spent all yesterday howling and sobbing through the woods, looking for his rabbits, ages nine days to six years. He’s released rabbits himself, in the past. But not his special ones, the ones he kept to breed. He’s been working on their DNA the way normal kid brothers work on Lego castles.
But he’s my kid brother, and the rabbits kept him busy and sort of happy, so now I’m down here in the basement while he weeps upstairs, hoping to find at least two stowaway bunnies. I’ve got a flashlight, since Zach took out all the light bulbs a while ago. He wanted total darkness, he said, to get the right “traits.”
Rabbits gestate for 31 days. Zach told me he averages nine generations a year. That’s almost sixty generations he’s had, about three hundred and sixty rabbits.
Was that a flash of furry little bastard? I flick the beam of my flashlight after it, but there’s nothing but cobwebs and an ancient Lionel model trains box. Zach had never been interested in those. I would’ve been, when I was four years old, but my parents hadn’t ever worried about my development.
There’s a lot of shit. Little hard pellets, piled into corners. A lot of sawdust bedding and rabbit kibble and dried up curlicues of veggies from over the years. Every time I breathe in it’s like I’m licking a barnyard floor.
Zach showed me a picture of this funny white lizard once and told me that was what he was after. Its skin was so pale I could almost see through it. I said, “You’re gonna have a hard time making Mil or Zil into one of those, chief.”
He looked at me like I was slow. “It’s a cave salamander. Adapted to the darkness. It doesn’t even have eyes.”
That was his thing, I guess. Eighth grade biology. He’d been doing really well in school that year—mom and dad thought the rabbits were helping—but before I even knew what was happening, he’d bought infrared goggles with his saved-up pocket money and started this at-home breeding program, popping out little bunlets, trying to get some kind of blind albino deal. After a while, I stopped asking what exactly he was doing because of how goddamn weird it all was.
I get down on all fours, crunching rabbit poop, and look underneath a beat-up dresser. No bunnies. There’s an old X-men I’d given him on his fifth birthday, since he was big into reading, but he hadn’t liked it much. I pull it out and smear the greasy dust off the cover. Professor X wants to know why my brother is making homemade mutants.
Hell if I know. He’s probably a mutant himself.
There’s a thump from upstairs, in my room. It’s Zach’s room, too. I pitched the biggest fit when they put his crib in there with me, in my tiny-ass room with one tiny-ass window, but it turned out he fussed less in there. He liked the darkness and stuffiness.
After the thump there’s some screaming, mom and Zach both. It sounds like Zach threw himself at the wall. He hasn’t done that in years. Add the bunny release to the list of decisions mom regrets—but honestly, every decision about Zach seems like it’s the wrong one. My family is like a rabbit on a wheel, running and running, trying and trying, but never getting where we want to be.
I take a deep breath of the stale shit air. Then I sweep around with my light and find the main pen, with its mountains of sawdust, its big water tray. I get closer. The pen is lined with rags and towels, bunny nests. They’re stiff and stained, and I have to swallow back vomit. But one of them is twitching. I squeeze my tongue between my teeth, pinch the towel, and fling it away. There’s a squeak of surprise.
Two rabbits. White as Chiclets. Shrimpy looking, quivery things. I grab the towel again and scoop them into it before they hop away. Up close, against my chest, I realize that they don’t have any eyes. Just soft depressions in the fur of their skulls. It’s so bizarre that I freeze for a second. They have normal pink noses. Maybe an extra digit or two. Kind of cute, even.
I’m imagining Zach’s face when I walk into the room holding them. He’ll cry the happy kind of tears. I’ll take him downstairs and make him fish sticks and grape juice, and we can all let out the breath we’ve been holding.
Then I catch sight of the big bowl of water. And I hesitate.
Maybe there were no rabbits left.
Zach takes a little time to recover, mopes a while. He finds some new, less crazy project. He meets a friend, who likes to ride bikes or play guitar. He goes back to regular school, aces his exams because he isn’t up all night supervising rabbit births, or pulling out his own eyelashes. He graduates, decides that he likes the outdoors, maybe meets a girl.
The screaming above hitches up an octave. I hear dad leave the kitchen table and start climbing the stairs with a slow, ominous tread, while the rabbits squirm in my arms like the thoughts I’m trying not to think. It’s a situation I’ve been in more times than I can count.
“Zach!” I call as I start up the basement steps, a rabbit in each hand.
So, I was pleased at having finished this one without scrambling for the deadline, and in my pleasure I forgot to give it a title other than the placeholder I put in there while working. So, to stick to my 48 hour limit, I have to stick to “Alba,” too. I used it initially because it was the name of the first ever genetically modified bunny, a glow in the dark lil thing. It also comes from Latin for “white.”
I feel pretty good about how I conveyed the relationship between the narrator and his younger brother. I didn’t want much resentment to come through; more exhaustion, if anything. Working hard on individualizing voices of characters, so I can depart from the ubiquitous middle-aged, pseudo-British vibe I picked up from reading a lot of English YA lit.
I’m more concerned that the parents’ recent unraveling did not really come across, the urgency of which is what motivates the narrator to come down to the basement and root around in rabbit poop. The word limit does kind of pen you in.