By Chris Bedell
Good girls don’t think about murderers.
It was what my Social Studies teacher said when I pointed out how Americans could have been viewed as murderers when it came to the Native Americans. But that didn’t stop me from thinking I lived with a murderer (my stepfather).
The wind rattled outside and slammed against the house, forcing me to pull the extra blanket over my body. There was something about winter that never sat right with me. My restlessness wasn’t even entirely due to the wind, though, since it was one of those nights when tossing around in bed was inevitable.
Footsteps scurried across the ground while the squeaky sensation traveled to my brain because someone might as well have dragged his or her nails across a chalkboard. It was my stepfather. Not that I cared or anything since he never rubbed me the right way- even when Mom first introduced him to me. Horatio was just one of those people that left a bitter feeling in my body long after he was gone.
The footsteps grew louder to the point someone might as well have lit my eardrums on fire. He was outside my bedroom door. I forced my eyes shut, realizing I had no choice in maintaining control of my breaths, Horatio just had to think I was asleep. It was my only option. The door creaked open a jar while I didn’t even want to think about the possibility of his glare as he snickered at me. The demented thought was even almost enough to drive me to a psychotic break.
His feet scraped the ground while he shuffled away in the opposite direction. I tried not thinking about how it was just Horatio and I now. If only Mom were still alive. The sensation of constant dread would have to wait till another day, though. Because the black spots could only stain my eyelids for so long before my teachers started asking questions about why I always came to school tired. There was no way for me to spin the situation. Being twelve years old meant I still had some traces of innocence left, and my biggest concern should have been about sneaking sweets when adults weren’t looking or goofing off. Not living with a monster.
Shifting around in my bed continued for the next several hours despite how my hair would be a mess in the morning even if it was yet another reality I couldn’t control.
I rubbed my eyes a couple of hours later after something splashed onto my head. I took my hand to my scalp, feeling what landed on me. I scanned my fingers, which now had red stains. I craned my head up, and almost shrieked at how more blood oozed out of the wall since there was no logical reason for my room to be bleeding.
I plopped my head back down on the pillow before a voice called out to me.
“Hello, Esme! It’s nice to meet you.”
I propped up, remaining seated in bed. A child sized rabbit stood there right in front of me in my bedroom; not my stepfather.
I clapped my hand over my mouth, suppressing the urge to scream.
The Rabbit blinked at me. “The name’s Julian. I know you must be surprised.”
I sighed. “You could say that again. I must be dreaming because this can’t be real. There’s no way a talking rabbit is in my bedroom.”
He expelled a faint laugh. “I assure you, I’m quite real.”
I bit my lip. A metallic taste jolted my taste buds. Although I would have to ignore the bitter taste of iron in my mouth. “I should get more sleep. You’re just a hallucination.”
The Rabbit maintained eye contact with me for a couple of more seconds before bursting into a fit of laughter. “I’ve always liked games. What about you?”
I flipped my hair over my shoulders. “You’re wasting my time.”
Julian inhaled a few breaths. “You’re going to want to hear what I have to say. I promise you that.”
I furrowed an eyebrow. If only I could vaporize the Rabbit with my stare. But no! I couldn’t. “Okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re really in my bedroom. What do you want?”
He raised his arms through the air. “Let’s just say I like games.”
There was still something unnerving about seeing a rabbit the same height as me despite how I couldn’t vocalize my concerns. Because this shouldn’t have been happening. My life was weird enough as it was.
I scratched the side of my head. “What are you talking about? You already said that.”
The Rabbit slashed out of my bedroom before I could even blink, and I had no choice but to follow him. I jumped out of bed, throwing the red coat over me in one swift motion since I had to hurry if I wanted to catch up to the Rabbit.
A burst of cold air slapped me in the face as a result of the Rabbit’s exit after I descended the staircase to the first floor.
I darted down the front steps and was careful not to trip on the ice. An accident was the last thing I needed.
I whirled my head around, trying to figure out where the Rabbit was. Something popped out at me as the figure zipped into the woods of my backyard. I glanced up at the sky for a brief moment. Gray clouds remained smacked together while white specs continued crashing to the ground.
As if there wasn’t enough snow already!
Another gust of wind whistled in the background. I rubbed my hands together, attempting to create friction before snapping out of my digression. I had to pull myself together since I couldn’t let the Rabbit get away. There was something about Julian that piqued my interest. Maybe I was bored with my life. I didn’t know. Although if I were being honest with myself, I realized it would be more pleasant to deal with the Rabbit than my stepfather.
I flocked after the Rabbit without bothering to utter any obscenities under my breath before arriving at the beginning of the woods a few minutes later. Wow. Julian had been waiting for me the entire time. He picked up the pace, dashing deeper into the woods. I clipped through the woods while struggling to breathe as the frigid air trickled down into my lungs and almost drowned me. A scream pierced the night while my back hairs pricked up. I ran through the remainder of the woods until I came to a clearing. The Rabbit stopped running as I took a moment to catch my breath while trying not to collapse onto the ground.
I expelled my last sigh for the evening before shifting my gaze to him. “I can’t take anymore running. Please tell me what you want.”
He coughed into his arm before summoning the energy to speak. “You’re right not to trust your stepfather, Esme.”
My hair bounced in the wind, almost hitting me in the face. “And why would you say that?”
He averted his gaze, deciding to look at the deer that just wandered by. “Because he killed your mother.”
My mouth flung open, expelling a gasp. I couldn’t believe it. He uttered what I had been thinking for almost the last year. “You can’t be serious.”
His head swayed back and forth like it was a ball going from side to side on a tennis court. “I’m afraid it’s true. But if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you myself.”
Julian snapped his fingers, making a crackling sound ripple across the air. I blinked before scanning my surroundings. I was in my front yard; only it wasn’t winter as birds chirped all round me while the sun’s rays beamed down on the flowers.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Just pay attention since you might actually learn something for once in your life.”
I resisted the urge to tell him off right then and there. If he could help prove my suspicions regarding my stepfather were more than a “funny” feeling, then so be it. I had no choice but to accept his help because Horatio ruined my life since I couldn’t count on him. Because of him, I transformed into a girl that acted several years older than I actually was. Enriching my vocabulary by reading more mature books was one of my few escapes after all. But the whole thing was pathetic because it was all I had left to hold onto.
I almost clapped my hand over my mouth when I spotted a woman plucking weeds from her garden since I would have recognized the blonde hair anywhere. It was Mom.
I shot Julian a brief look. “Can she hear or see us?”
Julian shook his head in a vigorous fashion while remaining silent. So much for small miracles!
I furrowed my eyebrows. “What does this have to do with anything?”
The Rabbit rolled his eyes. “Just pay attention!”
My shoulders buoyed up for a moment. “Okay. Whatever you say, Julian.”
Mom got up, taking a break from plucking weeds. She ran her fingers through her locks, huffing. I wondered if she felt the same way about my stepfather as I did. I should have berated Mom more about Horatio because there had to be a reason I never felt right around him.
She kneeled down on the ground again before continuing to remove the weeds from her garden. A man slithered up behind her. His emaciated appearance would give me chills till my last dying breath. The man turned his head, gazing in my direction. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t even hear or see me because his red eyes almost made me pull my hair out. I then lowered my gaze. Horatio had an axe in his hand. Although it didn’t make any sense for him to be carrying an axe. But then it hit me: Mom’s funeral was closed casket, which meant nobody actually saw her dead body. Something was off about the situation but I didn’t know what it was. Although I didn’t need to give Horatio the benefit of the doubt because he used up his chances a long time ago.
She whipped her body around to face him, clapping her hand over her heart after noticing the axe.
Horatio didn’t say anything. He flung his axe through the air, severing her head. It didn’t matter that Horatio couldn’t hear me. I still smacked my hand over my mouth, muffling my screams. Wow. Witnessing Mom’s execution was something I would have to live with for the rest of my life.
Tears fell down my face without any warning. “He really did it. Horatio is the reason Mom died. It wasn’t an accident. It was premeditated murder.”
“Yeah. I’m afraid so,” Julian whispered in a faint tone.
“Tell me something, Julian. What’s your stake in the situation? You couldn’t have told me the truth to be nice. How do I know this is even real?”
Julian shook his head. “I can assure this is very real and that it’s in my best interest to help you.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
He scoffed. “Forget it! That part isn’t important.”
My heart thumped inside my chest while it got louder with each passing beat. Sweat also crashed down my face. “Anyway, please tell me that Horatio was being impulsive and he has a psychiatric condition and forgot to take his medication or something…”
The Rabbit didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. I had my answer before I opened my mouth.
I took my right hand to both of my eyes and wiped them while I waited a couple more minutes before speaking. “I still don’t understand why he killed her.”
“He took out a life insurance policy one month earlier.” The Rabbit’s squeaky voice lingered in the air.
Having a rabbit menace me might have even seemed whimsical if the situation wasn’t tragic. But that was the point. My life was tragic. Check that. My life wasn’t just tragic; it was a nightmare.
I opened my eyes the next morning since I didn’t have a choice. It might have been winter, but the sun’s blistering rays were still uninvited. I sat up on my bed, and it didn’t take long for me to gaze up at the ceiling. Blood still spurted out from the same spot as before.
A half-devoured carrot caught resting on the floor my attention, making me almost scratch my head.
Whirling around revealed my coat from last night was on my bed. I felt the jacket and almost screamed when the dampness sent chills up my back. Having a wet jacket didn’t make any sense since I hadn’t gone anywhere the previous day. My teeth chattered, forcing my attention to the window. It was open.
The “signs” raced through my mind like a man trying to flee hell before he was swallowed up by a sea of red, yellow, and orange: a half-eaten carrot, an open window, and a damp coat? Something was off. A noise squeaked through the air. No one was there. Maybe it was all in my head. I blinked several times. The window was still open and the half -eaten carrot remained on the floor. Julian’s visit was real, which meant Horatio killed Mom. The only question was what I would do with the information now that I was armed with the truth.
But there was also a chance I could have been crazy.
Although saying I was crazy was the easy way out because I would have ignored something like this in the past. But not now.
There was no doubt about it. There were reasons for the lingering sensation in my stomach, and heartburn wasn’t one of them.