The dining hall is shrouded in a sweltering, bushfire-orange haze, and I feel like I’m sinking in the yolk of a room-sized egg. Above the antique cherry paneling on the walls, a continuous painting that depicts the streets of a bygone town has faded to saddle brown. I’m surrounded by canned chatter, knives and forks clinking and scraping against plates, and open-mouthed chomping on slabs of meat, although the other tables are empty and their linen napkins folded into triangles. The checkered floor is littered with glass shards, smeared with rotten food and covered in patches of mold.
A radiant chandelier is tinting the tablecloth of my round table sand-yellow. Behind two twinkling wine glasses, a swaying cord of drool clashes against the black-and-white tuxedo that the creature sitting across from me is wearing. A fluffy, cream-colored mane obscures a bowtie. I get a glimpse of the matted tufts that come out of grey-tipped, pointy ears, and of two bulging eyes on either side of a whiskey-colored patch like bruised fur, before two overgrown incisors plunge into the crunchy toast of a sandwich. A chunky piece falls onto the tablecloth as the bunnyman retracts his teeth with a slurping sound.
“A-a-ah, you’re awake!” A plume of spit escapes his lips and sails through the heated air. “I thought I’d have to chew you up, you filthy shit-gobbler!”
He shovels the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, tangling slimy crumbs in the tobacco-brown fur of his muzzle. I want to wipe the droplets of saliva off my face, but I feel like my arms and legs are bound to the chair with ropes; I’d love to call the bunnyman a mendacious, mangy son of a bitch, but my vocal cords disobey me.
The bunnyman wiggles his whiskers. The black vest of his tuxedo is stretched tightly over his barrel chest, and his belly is rolling under the fabric like a raging sea.
“You’ve forgotten how to speak, huh? Tsk tsk tsk. I should have expected it from one of you stinking piles of bones and meat. You smell like a brood of horny rabbits having a furtive fuck session in a cage. And you are so eager to abandon your sickly life. How could anyone give up on herself so quickly?” He guffaws. “What a waste of precious meat you are! How do you expect to enjoy life if you don’t live it? Don’t you wish for some fangy and throbbing love meat to slurp up between your lips? Your heart and lungs are filled with muck, but I want you to live.”
His voice makes my eardrums feel like they’re going to rupture, and his breath reeks like a bloated corpse floating in a pool of blood. That I gave up on myself so quickly, this sow-fucking demon said? I did give up; I came so close to leaving Jacqueline behind in that barren world along with my childhood, all the books that I read and all the board games that I played. Everything was about to disappear into an infinite sea of darkness. But now I’ll never escape from this shithole; I will remain a wailing, hunchbacked lunatic who screams at the sky, and not one person will remember me after I’m gone. I should spend my days locked up in some dark cave until I rot away to dust.
The bunnyman swallows down an entire glass of wine, splashes red on the tablecloth, and belches out a vine of acidy fumes. A sneering smile spreads across his lips as a thread of drool seeps out of their corners.
“You stink and you stink and you stink, so let me give you the name that you deserve: I will call you Gummo, which sounds like a dribble of phlegm trickling out of your twisted throat. Yes, that’s such a fitting name for a filthy, unspeakable thing like you. Unwashed flesh lying around in the dirt.” He raises his furry arms, and his fingers plump out into claws. “I’ll also give you my name! It’s Leopold, Leopold the Rabbit-Thing. Now, how many years have I spent stalking you? A few hundred? A thousand?” He makes a sucking gesture with his lips. “I’m no stranger to your malodorous, squeaking, demented thoughts. I’ve watched your anus drool as you squatted in the bathroom. I’ve watched you stroke yourself to a climax as you sat on an anthill. All for you, my favorite meal: a miserable human being. You’re like an emaciated cow standing in a field while the flies buzz around her head.”
It feels like my brain has been turned inside out and scrubbed with bleach. The bunnyman slides with his dirt-brown hand a platter to my side, making its heap of soggy pancakes tremble. The pancakes are the color of brown sugar, and they are glazed with a translucent, cloudy liquid that contains inert bubbles and that is oozing down the heap in gooey strings.
When a smell of chlorine assaults me, my stomach clenches like a fist and my mouth dries up.
“Your fucking breakfast is waiting!” the bunnyman bellows out.
He seizes a fork and sticks it into the soft, tender mass of the top pancake. He lifts the fork, and as the soggy pancake approaches my mouth, it drips the liquid onto the tablecloth, forming gluey puddles.
My body refuses to struggle against the restraints. I’m about to gag on the bile that gushes up, but my mouth opens by itself, and my tongue protrudes to collect the viscous strings of goo that dangle from the pancake.
“Your imbecile brain has started working again,” the bunnyman says in a husky voice. “How lovely!”
His cackle fills my ears; it echoes in my brain like a tsunami, sweeping away every thought.
A familiar tingling starts in my fingers and toes, and as my nerves are pushed to the brink of overload I hear a faint popping sound in the back of my head.
Author’s note: today’s songs are both by Modest Mouse, and they are ‘Alone Down There’ and ‘The Cold Part’ from ‘The Moon & Antarctica’, which has been one of my favorite albums for about twenty years.
I’ve already written the first draft of the next chapter. I call a first draft that point of a text in which I consider it good enough for publication, but then I subject it to another full creative pass line by line to improve it. I’ve also written most of the tentative sentences of the chapter that will follow afterwards, and somehow I still have 14,000 words left of notes to render into the remaining scenes of this deranged novel.