After People, An Infestation of Spectral Rabbits

G. Hogg is not happy about it.

OUT THERE—G. Hogg peers out from below the stairs—surprisingly alert for having just woken moments ago from her usual six-month nap. Her sharp eyes scan the people-less landscape before her. Directly across from her under-stair lair sits a dwelling, presumably occupied by humans, for it is drab and square like humans typically are. This building irks her. Its ostentatious black shutters feature rabbit-shaped decorative cut-outs. Hogg considers this stylistic choice. Her feelings on rabbits are largely ambivalent. Encounters with them are limited to the occasional turf war over neighborhood gardens, that sort of thing. Nervous critters, they are. Probably could stand to cool their hoppity heels a bit. But on the whole, no, she doesn’t think much of rabbits. And so—having now extracted herself from beneath the stairs—she turns with a rankled shrug from the sight of those leporine silhouettes and undulates off into the shrubbery.

Rabbits, ready to multiply.

Dashing through the undergrowth, G. Hogg picks up speed. She whips recklessly through vegetation that has thickened and sprawled. Her eyes are still ticklish to light after her long nap and she blinks and shakes her head.

What is it she sees when she blinks? It’s those blasted rabbits. Blotchy black rabbits on a white field.

Thus distracted, G. Hogg careens head-on towards a tree. At the last instant a large foot materializes and provides an impediment—WHUMP!—though striking the large, heavy foot was no more pleasant than striking the tree would’ve been.

Attached to the foot is a tall personage of regal bearing, who makes a shallow, creaking bow. It’s the tree’s guardian spirit, Mother Wood.

Mother Wood (tree guardian incarnation)

MOTHER WOOD: Hello, G. Hogg!

G. HOGG (shaking it off): Hello, Mother Wood. Thanks!

MOTHER WOOD (bows again): Any time.

G. HOGG: Hey, where did everybody go?

MOTHER WOOD: You mean the people.

G. HOGG: I woke up and they’re all gone!

MOTHER WOOD: Yes, it’s a fairly recent development. You’ve just come from the Nobody Zone, I take it. Tell me, what did you see there?

G. HOGG: You haven’t been?

MOTHER WOOD: Not since it first came into existence, no.

G. HOGG: Well, there’s not much to see. Lots of boring boxes.

MOTHER WOOD: Buildings, I believe they were called.

G. HOGG: Right. All empty. No people anywhere. Zippo.

MOTHER WOOD: I see. And what about other entities?

G. HOGG: Other whatities?

MOTHER WOOD: Have you seen any beings who . . . aren’t people?

G. HOGG (exploring the bump on her forehead with her paws): I’m not sure. What would the non-people persons be doing?

MOTHER WOOD: That is the question.

As the smarting pain on her forehead recedes into a tender ache, G. Hogg is again irritated by the blotches in her vision, which even a kick to the head have failed to dislodge.

G. Hogg blinks her eyes. . . Rabbits . . . Mother Wood . . . Rabbits . . . Mother Wood . . . 

MOTHER WOOD: Are you okay? You seem twitchier than normal.

G. HOGG: There’s something wrong with my eyes!

MOTHER WOOD: Here, let me have a look. Lean back. . . . Hm. . . . Yes, I see! You have ghost rabbits in your eyes. What an interesting development!

G. HOGG (drops her head): I should’ve guessed it’d be something like that. Is it fatal?

MOTHER WOOD: Not usually.

This fails to cheer up G. Hogg.

G. HOGG: I’m not a big fan of rabbits. What should I do?

Mother Wood is silent for a moment. Then she grins and bends down with a great squawk of her wooden spine and creak of her limbs and whispers into G. Hogg’s ear.

As Mother Wood’s whisper rustles on, G. Hogg’s ears slowly flatten until they lie like strips of velvet upon her head. When Mother Wood ceases to speak, the ears prick back up.

G. HOGG: Flags, you say? Hmm. And they’re attracted to the colors? How strange. What do I do once the little buggers have amassed in the clearing?

Again Mother Wood leans down—bark snapping and peeling off her sides—and murmurs into the little animal’s ear.

G. HOGG: Ah, I see. Right, then! I better get started if I’m going to finish setting this up before nightfall.

She lopes off, Mother Wood smiling after her with the closest her wretched countenance comes to resembling benevolence.

The warren—with trap set.

G. Hogg arrives breathless in the rabbits’ favorite clearing. She suspects their warren lies below it, though the long-legged fiends are so clandestine in their movements that she has never once caught them in the act of ducking below ground. Mind you, not that she’s been particularly interested enough to spend much time studying their cryptic behavior. She has far more crucial demands requiring her attention than the observation of a band of meddlesome cabbageheads.

In the day’s fading light she rushes around stabbing into the ground the flag markers she procured from the shed above her burrow, following Mother Wood’s precise instructions. Her preparations now complete, she surveys the scene with a contented shiver before creeping behind a large rock to await the arrival of her nemeses.

As night deepens, G. Hogg becomes sleepy. This is odd after having so recently taken a long nap.

In the evening blue half-light, the clearing grows bleary. Red flags become radishes that weigh down their vines in thick ruby clusters. Orange flags become carrots that grow in bunches among dried carrot-flower bracts and petals. Yellow flags become summer squash that have plumped up from the earth amid a tangle of rhizomal filaments. Is G. Hogg dreaming? This is not how food works.

But the rabbits in G. Hogg’s eyes have become restless. They flicker and stir in her field of vision, superimposed over this spontaneous night garden of culinary delights. Dozens of them leap like sparks among the vegetation, munching and devouring. At the moment there are more rabbits in G. Hogg’s eyes than there have ever been. But as the vegetation is eaten down, closer and closer to the ground, the rabbit shapes follow. They follow the vegetation down into the earth and keep devouring until they have disappeared, seeped down into their secret warren. G. Hogg hears the faint rumble of them gnawing deep underground.

Well, that was a lot for one day. G. Hogg decides another nap is in order.

In the morning she wakes, feeling fresh and bright eyed. The clearing is empty. No flags, no strangely configured food, and no rabbits. Thank you, Mother Wood!

Not far from the clearing is an ancient site—G. Hogg scampers through it without noticing and is happily on to other excavations—which has aged as only things in an After-People world can age. Here lie the remains of a rabbit, bones changed by time into petrified wood. Long rabbit legs extended. From the hardened stump of a skull its rabbit ears are still erect and alert.

Study of the site suggests it was a domesticated rabbit. A pet. Its name was Bun-Bun and it lived its life in a hutch, fed by the hand of its owner. It didn’t know where its food came from or how it grew. It had never seen food growing. Then its owner disappeared.

And so Bun-Bun began to disappear, too, withering away to bones, growing very still, and ever dreaming of what lay beyond its drab, gray box.

Here lies Bun-Bun.

SS, NG

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After People, A Bird Reflects

Migrations of a Reversible Bird

ZEROTH AVE.—On the empty sidewalk of an unused street, a bird leans against the foot of a red fence and reflects upon the new, people-less situation. In other times the bird might’ve perched above a minibar or over a wicker reading chair. There was so much to reflect upon then. All the comings and goings. Now, settled at the foot of the red fence, it reflects endlessly upon a car that has lost its hubcap. The bird has been here for days. No one is coming for the car.

Reflecting upon the car, the bird’s thoughts alight here and there but never arrive anywhere. The bird realizes it’s lost its tail feathers—its thoughts can travel, but there’s no navigation anymore, no geography, no point. The bird, which was originally red, has begun to feel blue.

What would be most welcome is a change of some kind, progress from one state to another, even a waning or deterioration would be fine, but the bird has that uneasy, gloaming feeling of neither this or that. Before the red bird can feel all the way blue the emotion pauses. The bird waits, purple, on the brink of opening its beak; not to cry out at some bright new arrival, but rather, to swallow a birdcry out of the graying air.

The bird, now standing tall and ridiculous, considers: perhaps what is needed is a simpler, more elemental transmogrification. A regression or devolving, if you will, back to the basics. As an enormous blue rooster I feel too obvious, it thinks. People, when they were around, were always gawking, angling for photo ops. The rooster feels self-conscious. It craves a more anonymous existence. While not opposed to remaining in the public eye (what’s left of it), it would feel more comfortable if its appearance was less compelling. Aesthetically it would still like to retain a pleasing form, but one that the random roving eye might simply encounter and pass over—the eye’s owner inwardly satisfied to observe—before moving on to more glamorous sights. The rooster rocks back on its back claws, dreaming of some elegant geometric shape.

The bird forgets itself. It has taken the shape of forgetting and so nothing happens for a very long time. The universe goes about its quiet business. Spheres putter in circles. Experience is rounded down to a smooth, lunar zero. Hummdrummm, says the universe. Where has that bird flown off to?

Eventually, from some instinctive tendency, the bored universe begins to dream. It dreams of a verdant wood. Broad leaves open. Stands of trees arise. Sunlight dapples the understory. The forgotten bird begins to feel a warmth. The dappled wood is warming it; with its warmth the wood makes it more and more a bird. At its center, the half-remembered bird, experiences a rumble. It’s feeling peckish. It can’t stay in this shape much longer.

The bird emerges completely from the simple forgetful shape, and opens its beak. A plea for sustenance. Mother, fill me. But when the bird opens its eyes it finds Mother Wood spitting mad. Propped on her crutches, Mother Wood hisses furiously at the little open beak. She has become enraged by the act of creation. The only product of need is more need. Little street bird, Mother Wood doesn’t want you.

Skeletonized and rejected by its woody mother the bird wobbles off in search of solace. When abandoned at birth—before sensations even enter consciousness—an internal untethering occurs. So, following the only instinct it yet knows the bird wanders back into the oneiric woods of its origins—a place of mystery and the unexpected.

For long days and nights it travels the forest floor, pecking aimlessly at the leaf litter and poking its beak into every crevice it encounters. What is it searching for? Not even the bird itself knows. Call it a compulsion if you want, but be wary of so-called ‘diagnoses,’ for labels always belie the complexity of what lies beneath them.

Finally one bright morning following a particularly treacherous night of travel, the bird weaves on unsteady pipestem legs into a vast clearing at the center of which towers a massive double-trunked tree. Upon seeing this tree a sudden clarity blooms in the bird’s feeble still-forming brain. It skitters toward the tree with newfound energy and pauses, hovering before a stone tablet embedded in the surrounding earth. Straight ahead, in a hollow at the tree’s base, stands a small door. The bird quivers, electric charges running beneath its feathers, stretches its neck forward and taps upon the door with its sturdy bill. After a few long minutes the door pops open and the bird springs forward.

(Though no one is in the forest to hear it, a faint tinkling of shattered glass rings out as darkness falls.)

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