You’re sitting on a grown-up chair in a small room, arms folded defiantly on the table in front of you. Opposite you, Mr Rabbit is asking the questions. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that this is not going to end well.
“Max, how old you were when Jakey pushed Beth down the stairs?”
You look at Mr Rabbit’s face wondering how much he already knows.
“Seven,” you mumble, distracted by the ceiling lights glinting off his button eyes.
“And tell me again why you didn’t try to stop him hurting your baby sister?” asks Mr Rabbit.
You weren’t expecting this. Like it was your fault?
“I didn’t believe he was really going to do it,” you say.
Mr Rabbit cocks his head, “Really Max?”
His face is soft and kind. Perhaps you can trust him?
“And was Beth hurt?” continues Mr Rabbit.
You recite the answer without having to think:
“She broke her left leg in two places, cracked a rib and got six stitches in her face.” You feel proud at remembering the facts so well.
“Yes,” says Mr Rabbit. “She had to go to hospital. And were you still friends with Jakey afterwards?”
“I tried not to be, but he just kept hanging around,” you say.
“And you didn’t tell him to go away, or tell you parents about him?”
“He always found a way to come without anyone seeing him,” you say.
“I see,” says Mr Rabbit. He appears to sniff the air, as if trying to smell whether your words are true or lies.
You risk a quick glance over your shoulder at the door. Where’s Jakey? Is he being asked the same questions? Will he stick to the story?
Mr Rabbit leans forward.
“Now tell me about Mr Nelson’s dog; Rex. Whose idea was it to hurt Rex?”
You swallow hard.
“Jakey said Mr Nelson was a bad man who needed to be punished,” you say.
“Was Rex a bad dog?”
“No, I used to stroke him sometimes if he was in Mr Nelson’s front garden.”
“Then why did you poison him?”
Jakey has told you how to answer.
“The dog was the only thing Mr Nelson cared about so hurting it was the only way to punish him.”
“Was that fair on Rex?”
“Jakey said, it was only a dumb dog. He said no-one really cares what happens to dogs.”
“Mr Nelson did. He was so upset he had to give up being your teacher.”
Is Mr Rabbit blaming you? You’re surprised. You thought he was on your side.
“It wasn’t my fault,” you say in your best ‘being sure’ voice. “Jakey was just sticking up for me because Mr Nelson always picked on me in class.”
“Hmm,” says Mr Rabbit. “Most people would think that killing someone’s pet was quite a harsh punishment – what would you say, Max?”
“Spose,” you mutter, biting at a finger nail.
Mr Rabbit puts his paws together.
“Max, do you know why you’re here having this chat with me?”
He cocks his ear, waiting for your reply.
There’s a thumping noise in your ears. You don’t like where this is going. You gaze at his button eyes. If you stare hard enough, you can see the room, and the wobbly outline of your face reflected in them. Time passes, then you speak:
“Because Jakey does bad things and he’s my friend,” you say, stony faced, trying to hide your feelings; hoping Mr Rabbit can’t smell your fear.
“Hmm,” says Mr Rabbit. “I don’t think we can blame Jakey for everything can we Max? You’ve been there every time Jakey has done something bad haven’t you?
You nod. It’s true.
“How does that make you feel Max?”
You feel dizzy and a bit sick. Then the anger comes.
“Nothing! It’s not my fault,” you shout at Mr Rabbit – surprised and a little scared by how your voice sounds.
Mr Rabbit freezes. You try to catch your next breath, but it’s as if all the air has been sucked out of the room.
Then Jakey is here. He crouches next to your chair, below the table.
“Don’t trust the rabbit,” he hisses in your ear.
You give a little nod to let Jakey know that you’ve heard him, but is he right? You want to trust Mr Rabbit. He has been fair and kind unlike Mr Nelson or Mum and Dad. They all seem to hate you like you’re some kind of a monster.
There’s a piece of paper and a pencil on the table which you’ve been deliberately ignoring. Now Mr Rabbit pushes both towards you.
“Max, I want you to try and draw the very bad thing you can’t talk to me about. Will you try and do that for me?”
No, no, no.
“Don’t want to,” you wail, in a voice that doesn’t sound at all like yours.
The pencil is sharpened to a point, like its never been used before.
“Stab the rabbit with the pencil,” whispers Jakey. “Now, right between his eyes.”
“No!” you flinch at the thought and glance fearfully in Jakey’s direction.
Mr Rabbit sees you look.
“Max?” he says, in a soothing voice. “Jakey’s here isn’t he?”
You nod. No point denying it. All the same, you feel guilty.
“I’ve got an idea,” says Mr Rabbit. “Why don’t we ask Jakey to draw the picture?”
You shake your head slowly. Not going to happen.
But Jakey has other ideas.
“I can’t draw,” says Jakey, “but I’ll tell Max what to draw. Pick up the pencil Max.”
You hesitate. Did Mr Rabbit hear Jakey speak just then?
“I said pick up the pencil Max,” says Jakey, in that dead-sounding voice he uses when he’s decided something and will not be stopped.
You pick up the pencil. You can’t say no to Jakey when he tells you do to something. You feel its sharp point with your fingertip. It feels good.
Jakey comes close so he can look over you shoulder while whispering instructions in your ear.
You’re good at drawing. First you draw the tree, then the rope.
Next you draw the body hanging from the rope by its neck. Finally you draw four dashes where the letters will go.
“Ask the rabbit to guess,” whispers Jakey with a snigger.
You turn the picture towards Mr Rabbit.
“Max, do you really want me to play this game?” asks Mr Rabbit.
You nod helplessly, unable to look directly at him.
“B” says Mr Rabbit.
You take the picture back and fill in the letter B.
“E” says Mr Rabbit.
You fill in the letter E.
“T” says Mr Rabbit.
You fill in the letter T.
“H” says Mr Rabbit.
You fill in the letter T.
Jakey claps his hands together with glee.
Her name clangs like a gloomy bell inside you. You feel a single tear run down your cheek.
“Thank you Max,” says Mr Rabbit. “Now I must ask you a difficult question.”
Your hands are shaking.
“Do you know that your sister Beth was hanged from the tree in your garden using the cord from your dressing gown cord and that you were there?”
“Good boy,” says Mr Rabbit.
“Now Max, I want you to think very carefully about your next answer and I want you to tell me the truth. Can you do that for me?”
You shrug. Can you tell Mr Rabbit the truth? Will Jakey let you?
“Max, do you know that Jakey doesn’t exist?” says Mr Rabbit slowly.
The words sound hollow and unreal. You sway on your chair wondering if you could fall asleep forever, if you tried hard enough.
“Liar!” hisses Jakey.
“Do you believe me if I tell you that only you were present all these times we’ve talked about. Max, do you believe that you murdered your sister Beth?”
You’re so tired of lying, of being scared.
“Yes,” you say loudly and clearly.
“Now listen to me carefully, Max.”
You feel broken. You listen.
“Jakey was your twin,” says Mr Rabbit. Unfortunately Jake died inside your mum before he could be born. Only you survived Max. You know this. You’ve always known this, haven’t you?”
You can’t think straight. You cover your eyes with your hands, hiding in darkness.
But Mr Rabbit won’t shut up. He is definitely not your friend.
“The cord that connected you to your mum (it’s called the umbilical cord) got caught around Jake. It cut off his air supply and he died because he couldn’t breath. The doctors opened up your mum and got you both out. You were lucky, but it was too late for Jake. You were saved Max, just you. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Fucking liar!” Jakey yells in your ear, making you flinch. You breath hard. You’re not sure what’s true anymore, but you know this isn’t fair. Jakey’s always been there. You remember the first time you felt him behind you. If you turned your head quickly you could catch a glimpse of him. Sometimes in the mirror too, if the light was right or you were upset or angry, he was there, shimmering, like you think an angel would look. They said he died so that you could live, but he didn’t die. He didn’t die! And he’ll never let you go. He wants you to suffer for what you did to him.
Jakey is going apeshit beside you.
“Stab the rabbit, stab the rabbit,” he’s chanting in a high voice, but for the first time ever, he sounds scared.
You pick up the pencil and grip it hard with both hands. Mr Rabbit looks at you pleadingly. You snap the pencil in half without meaning to.
“Yes,” you say numbly. “It was me.” Let Jakey do his worst.
“Good boy Max, well done. You’ve been very brave,” says Doctor Dawn. She takes off the rabbit glove-puppet and lays it gently on the table between you. You stare in horror at Mr Rabbit’s lifeless body. The lights no longer reflect in his button eyes. You mourn for him. You reach for him, but Dr Dawn moves him out of reach.
“Time to grow up a bit and take some responsibility Max,” she says, not unkindly.
Jakey is sobbing beside you like a pathetic baby.
Dan T Patton
Read Dan’s previously published short stories:
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
Visit the STORGY SHOP here…
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.