One of our local NaNoWriMo coordinators gave our Facebook group a silly prompt to warm up for NaNo prep season. It was fun to stretch those flash fiction muscles a bit. Prompt and my contribution are below:
“Hey NaNo-ites, how about a little pre-NaNo writing prompt:
A neighborhood is plagued for 3 months by a swarm of 50 bunny rabbits. On the 1st of September, all but one vanish. Explain this.”
Norman opened the back door just a crack and pressed his eye to the gap. He could feel the tremble in the hand holding the doorknob and hated it, so he tightened his grip. When nothing immediately attacked him, he widened the opening a little farther, enough to poke his head out into the goldening afternoon light. His eyes swiveled wildly in all directions; his ears perked to catch any hint of the gnawing sounds that had haunted his dreams for months now.
There was nothing.
He withdrew and whispered to Miranda, who was crouched behind him with a Teflon frying pan held in her meaty hands like a baseball bat, “I think it’s clear.”
“No, Norman! You can’t go out there! It’s a trap or something. They’re smart! I– I won’t let you go!” She planted her feet wide, and he was momentarily certain that she was about to launch her three hundred pound frame at him and pin him to the ground. She could do it, too. The look in her eyes turned mournful. “Don’t you remember what happened to Petey?”
Norman did remember. From where he stood, he could still see the bare bones of the golden retriever’s ribcage thrusting toward the sky where his corpse had fallen in the backyard. Norman closed his eyes against the memory of teeth and torn flesh and soft white paws grown dark with blood. Barely a scrap of meat now remained of Norm’s faithful companion. The wretched beasts had picked the bones clean.
Not for the first time, Norm cursed his own stubbornness in refusing to “join the 21st century”, as Miranda had put it when she suggested they give up their landline to get cell phones. The phone wires had gone dead near the beginning of the crisis (damn critters probably chewed through the cable, he thought sourly), and for the past several weeks, he and Miranda had been isolated and afraid, living off their prepped food stores from the basement and hoping to hear the knock of a friendly neighbor giving the all clear. They hadn’t dared go outside. Every day had been punctuated by far off screams and the scratching of tiny, malevolent paws on the metal doors and vinyl siding.
Until today. All had been quiet since they woke up this morning, and Norm was desperate for news. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he’d decided to check it out for himself.
“Miranda,” he cajoled, “be reasonable. We’re running out of food. How many more bean dinners can you stand? That’s all we have left, and even those will be gone in another few days.” He knew he was hitting her where she lived. Food was her passion, and the slim survival rations had left her nervous and irritable.
“I’ll be careful,” he continued. “If I see or hear anything, I’ll come running back. I won’t try to fight them like… like Petey did.” He swallowed his shudder.
He saw the moment the fight went out of her. She slumped into a kitchen chair. It creaked in protest.
“Okay. Just… come back to me, all right?”
“I will,” he assured her, wrapping his heavy canvas coat around his midsection and zipping it up tight. He wasn’t sure it would help, but he felt better having something between his skin and the dangers outside besides a thin layer of flannel. He picked up the garden rake, gave it a couple of practice swings, and then slipped into the backyard, closing the door as quietly as possible behind him.
The eerie silence remained as he eased through the garden gate and moved cautiously down the street. Carnage was everywhere, and he tried not to look too closely at any particular pile of viscera, afraid of recognizing the face of someone he knew. All was dark except for the house across the street, where a warm light blazed boldly from the windows. But wait, wasn’t Harold still staying with his daughter in Miami Beach?
As he crept on silent feet toward Harold’s obviously occupied home, Norman was startled badly when a flash of white suddenly appeared beneath the shrubbery in Harold’s front yard. He wheeled back so hard he nearly tripped and fell over, just like in one of those horror movies his son used to love. His heart raced and he lifted the rake menacingly, sure he’d never be fast enough to defend himself from a lightning fast charge.
But the rabbit didn’t attack. It just stood there, quivering, almost as if it was the one who was scared. But wait, that wasn’t right. Where was the rest of the colony? They were always together, a pack of fifty or sixty vicious bunnies that had ranged all over town, swarming anything that moved and devouring it without mercy.
Before Norm could act, the rabbit darted away, just as rabbits had always done until that terrible, unthinkable day at the town picnic back in July.
Just then, Norm heard the faint but unmistakable tones of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” wafting from Harold’s backyard. Was he hallucinating now? And what was that aroma that filled the air, making his mouth water? Surely not… barbecue?
More curious than ever, Norm let himself quietly through his friend’s gate and made his way down the cobblestone path to the back patio, the music growing louder at every step. Finally, he peered around the corner and found himself face to face with the strangest sight he’d ever seen.
Harold, six feet tall and so skinny he’d gained the nickname Hatrack in college, was sitting at his own picnic table wearing a gaudy blue and orange Hawaiian shirt, a chunk of grilled meat grasped in each fist. His mouth was coated in barbecue sauce, and there was an unsettling roundness about his midsection that Norman had never seen before. It looked like an orange stuck in a straw. Most disturbing of all, the end of the table was covered with a pile of small bones that was easily a foot high.
Norman stepped out from his hiding place, gobsmacked.
“Noh-mah!” Harold yelled around a mouth of what Norm had to presume was roast rabbit. Flecks of cooked flesh sprayed from his gob, but he didn’t seem to notice. He tried to swallow, turned an alarming shade of red, and washed it down with a guzzle of beer from the stein near his elbow. Once recovered, he motioned with a friendly arm. “Norman, join me! This is the best rabbit I’ve ever tasted!”
Wonder warred with rising bile as Norman contemplated how many other people had been eaten by the carnivorous lapins now being sucked down by his seemingly oblivious neighbor. Was there such a thing as secondhand cannibalism?
“What are you doing here?” he managed to splutter. “I thought you were in Miami Beach.” It seemed too daunting a task at the moment to explain all that had happened in Harold’s absence.
“Well, I’ll tell you, buddy. I love my daughter, but she has got to be the world’s worst cook. She’s got her man and her little ones on some kind of fool ‘vegan diet’, and ain’t nothing in her kitchen but rabbit food now.”
Norman choked a little, but Harold didn’t notice.
“Heaven knows I tried, but a man needs his meat, you know what I mean?”
Norman nodded automatically at this truism, still trying to take in what he was seeing.
“So I came home, determined to clean up my grill so I could hit up Tim’s Special Cuts for some of the good stuff later, but wouldn’t you know it? Like manna from heaven, my backyard was completely full of rabbits! And you know, it’s been a time since I had me a good brace of coneys, so I just opened up the back door and tossed out one of them gas grenades I brought home from ‘Nam. Told you they’d come in handy one day!” He grinned through his Jack Daniel’s No. 7.
Norman didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. Instead, he sat down across from his oldest buddy and grabbed a chunk of grilled rabbit from the still-full platter. After the tiniest hesitation, he took a big bite.
After all, a man needed his meat.