Down the rabbit hole
For as long as Mattie could remember, he felt the suffering of others. It was like nails on a blackboard scraping the inside of his brain. He would hold his head, or slap it and scream, trying to make it stop. And then scream some more as his father tried to beat the crazy out of him so he'd stop worrying his mama so.
When he was five, he realized that when he helped stop their pain, his own dissipated. More, he felt a pleasurable warmth that calmed and soothed him.
It was an accidental discovery. While kicking stones on the side of the road, he saw a stray puppy limping along. Mattie had to sit himself in the dirt and hold his head. The mutt came and licked his hand. He picked up a rock and smashed it on his head. He cried as he did it, that first time. But the dog's suffering ended. So did his.
It was a revelation.
A few days later, when their cook/cleaning lady/occasional babysitter, Mrs. Henderson, made lobster, Daddy was trying to cheer up Mama, Mattie was reeling with pain that dispersed with a warm release as he watched Mrs. Henderson drop them, one by one, into the boiling hot water. You want to drop one in the pot, Mattie? She held him up while he dropped one in. Their screams echoed in this brain. Until they didn't.
Mama wouldn't leave her room, though. Mattie's head pulsed with her pain. And then Daddy's as he threw the platter of lobster with butter against the wall. And then Charlotte's as she began to cry from her crib in the room next to Mama. She couldn’t talk, but Mattie heard her begging to be held. To be loved. He grabbed his head then toppled from his chair and ran from the room before Daddy relieved his ache by throwing Mattie, too.
He sat outside by the lake until his head didn't throb any more. And as he sat, soothed by the silence of the dark, he thought and he planned. When the moon was hanging heavy in the sky, Mattie approached the house. Nothing. A small sigh escaped as he entered and went to his room.
Over the next few months, Mattie learned to not show his pain at the same time that he practiced relieving it. Very soon an injured bird, a mouse in a friendly trap, a squirrel stuck in the chimney, a cat in a tree all served to validate his theory.
One day, he sat in the backyard and watched a bunny scurrying here and there. He could feel its anxiety. Hawk! Fox! Hurry! When he knew where the nest was, he crawled on his belly across the yard. Slowly. Inch by inch. Ignoring the needle-like pains in his head. He reached his hand down the rabbit hole grabbed and squeezed. He almost fainted when his pain turned to pleasure.
He was ready.
Mattie's happy memories with Mama were few and fading. He could still hear her sweet voice singing to him. Holding him as they rocked in the swing on the porch. Splashing in the lake. Then baby Charlotte came and Mama cried all the time. She barely left her room. She would lay in her bed with the shades drawn, a bottle of pills on the night table, something else under the bed. Even when little Charlotte screamed, Mama would just say, Mattie, tell Mrs. Henderson to get Charlotte a bottle or to change that baby's diaper, Mama's tired. Sometimes, she would let little Charlotte lay with her and that would calm them both. Briefly. Daddy wanted to get a nanny, a young girl from the country club, to come help Mama, but Mama screamed and cried so nobody came to help. Thus, it continued: Mama cried, Charlotte cried, Daddy threw things.
Mattie watched and waited.
One day, Charlotte wouldn't stop crying. Daddy was working in his office, I don't want to hear a peep, you hear me, Mattie? Unless the house is burning down I don't want to hear a thing. Mrs. Henderson was watching her soaps in the kitchen, don't bother me, boy, while my soaps is on. Mama had swallowed her medicine earlier along with half the bottle she kept under the bed. She was sleeping with her mouth open. Mattie had been watching her when Charlotte started crying.
Mattie dragged the chair over to the crib and picked her up. She was so little still. His head ached for release.
The police said it was an accident.
"It could happen to anyone, Mrs. Vogel. Mr. Vogel. I know it hurts, but don't blame yourself."
They said Mama had rolled over onto baby Charlotte, suffocating her.
Mama didn't remember anything. Daddy was ashen-faced, holding her, both inconsolable. Mattie sat by the lake, the smallest of smiles on his face as he waited for the pieces to click into place.
The next morning, Mama never woke up.
They say she overdosed on her medication. They found sediment from her pills in the bottom of her vodka bottle. Overwhelmed by grief while still suffering from post-partum depression. So sad.
A few days later, they found Daddy with a gun in his mouth, and the back of his head splattered on the wall behind him. What a tragedy, everyone said. Leaving that poor sweet boy all alone.
Years later, Mattie became Dr. Matthew Vogel, psychiatrist. He was one of the most successful psychiatrists in New York, known for his sensitivity and empathy. And a rather liberal dispensing of prescription anti-depressives. He had a thriving practice on the upper east side.
Until a young detective connected the dots between him and a puzzling suicide...and then a series of "suicides" going back 30 years...
But that's a story for another day.
Down the rabbit hole I went,
Headed towards adventure,
And a bunch of fun,
Red rabbits and rum,
A cat with a hat,
A hat with a cat,
What an upside down realm,
Dragons and evil card queens,
Caterpillars and pointy swords,
A lone girl running after,
A white rabbit,
What a mistake,
Red rabbits dance,
And drink rum,
White rabbits just sit there,
Haha! i was the first!!!
i hesitated not a moment!
it’s not like i had much to say,
nothing of worth at least,
well, i almost never do...
but down the hole i jumped,
chasing the white rodent,
and his anachronistic watch.
and the things i found,
in my haste, were not that exciting,
you, see, reality is not that flixible,
and tends to converge upin itself,
most of what would really be cool,
as well as redundant.
so down the hole i am still a teacher,
but i know different things.
i am knowledgable in sports,
i could write books about cooking,
and most impressive of all,
i know some stuff with computer,
it is there that i learned how to tag,
How a slide can change
I counted to three and pushed, propelling myself forward, down the slide and into the tunnel, the sound of children giggling and the cool metal surface beneath me. I was having so much fun as the colours of the tunnel zoomed pass, green, red, yellow, and then everything changed.
The children’s voices melted like snow, metal changed to earth, and I found myself in a rabbit hole, still sliding rather than meeting the sky and my mama’s arms, I was now alone beneath the surface. I wanted to cry, this is not how it usually goes, after the tunnel I’m meant to be on the swings not here following a rabbit trail.
The ground speeds along, dirtying my dress and hands as I try to stop, to no results. I’m falling and falling and then right before the end I see a flick of white, a rabbit? Quickly I push myself forward, trying to catch up to it. I love rabbits, they’re so cuddly.
Down and out of the tunnel, I see so much green, trees everywhere, tropical flowers and the birds, I can hear them chirping a song that I’ve never heard before a soft musical note. I get up from the ground the same time a bird lands and I realise the bird is the same size as me, but how I don’t know, everything else seems to the right size… but not the bird.
“You need to follow the rabbit”
I hear the bird say as he looks towards the curtain of vines where a flash of white has just passed through. The rabbit! Yes, I nearly forgot, I must get to the rabbit; I thank the bird and follow after the busy rabbit.
“Mr Rabbit, please wait for me!” I say as I chase his tail, but he doesn’t turn around, he doesn’t even seem to have heard me in his rush.
“Mr Rabbit!” I can again as we pass through the forest and into a field of mushrooms, it was so adorable that I nearly stopped to admire it, all the mushrooms of different colours and sizes, they were like flowers among the deep green grass. But I mustn’t get distracted again. So I continued to follow the rabbit.
We kept running across the field until he suddenly stopped, turned around and gave me a big grin laced with…something I’m not sure really. He watches me as neither of us move , seconds go by before he speaks “Madeline, you’re here at last” he said with a slow, fake, soothing voice, all traces of haste now gone. With slow steps, he walks towards me, like prey and predator, I can’t move as he gets closer and closer, my heart skips and everything is telling me to run, but I can’t move. The Rabbit stretches out his hand “Come play a game of vines and ladders with me girl”
I stare at his hand, why had I been so insistent on following the rabbit, so much so that I didn’t even question why the bird was the same size as me or even where my mama is, I miss her, I think as my eyes wander from his hand to his face and his expression has changed. A hint of annoyance is on the crease of his forehead. I watch as his other hand fixes his monocle before grabbing my hand, taking the choice from me.
Hand in hand, he leads me to a house at the end of the mushroom field, I struggle as we approach the blue mushroom shaped house but his grip is firm as he drags me inside, locks the door and lets go of my hand. I scramble to the wall, away from the fluffy white rabbit, his fur fools me no more. “Now, now, Madeline, don’t be so scared, I would never harm you” He said with a blank face.
“Then why did you lock the door?” I forced out; I need to be brave.
“Because I can’t have you getting away, really, I just need you to play with me, don’t you want to play?” He said as if it were perfectly normal to say such a thing, “I’ll let you out when you promise you’ll play with me” He said, walking into the kitchen and coming out with a plate of biscuits.
I watched him set them on the table and sit down, helping himself to a snack of the chocolatey goodness, my mouth almost waters just looking at it, but I mustn’t. Mama’s always told me not to accept food from a stranger. He sees me watching however and offers a me piece, stretching the plate towards me and I really, really want one, but no! “No thank you” I say to him.
“I didn’t do anything to it, if that’s what your worried about” He said as he continued to eat, still with the plate held towards me. “I really would recommend you eat one, you’ll need it”
I’ll need it… I didn’t understand why I would need it, I’m not hungry and I can last quite a bit without eating “Not in this world you can’t” He said reading my mind
I stared in shock, how?
“Don’t worry about it… you’ll need to eat every 3 hours, or this world will rip you apart”
“Rip me apart!?” I said in horror, my hands shaking at the thought of being torn to pieces.
“That’s right, so eat please” he said unfazed by it all.
I slide down the wall and curled into a ball “Please take me home, I never wanted to come here...” I mumbled “please, please take me home”
“I can’t… you have to play with me first” He said
I looked at him, his soft fur a complete contradiction to every word he says and I know I need to get up, so I do with a deep breath, in, out and up I get “…If I play with you, will you take me home?”
“Of course,” He smiles and stretches out the biscuits, this time I do take one, I need to eat. We eat in silence until the whole plate was empty, him having ate every piece but one and then he got up and walked to the door without a glance at me, he unlocked it and walked out.
Was I supposed to follow him? do I want to, no, of course I don’t… not anymore. But how will I get home if I don’t, I don’t know anyone here but the rabbit and the bird who isn’t here. Closing my eyes, I breath and walk, following the rabbit once again.
Pass the field and into the woods we walk, on and on until the sky pierces through the trees, onto an open board of black and white squares that had ladders and vines placed within, it looked like magic. “The ladders go up” he said pointing at the ladders that ascend to the clouds “and the vines go down” The vines also hung from the clouds, it was a surreal mess of ladders and vines organized only by squares.
The rabbit sighed before speaking again “In a minute, the bird you met before will arrive carrying a dice, he will be rolling it for us. The game is very simple really, just walk the number the dice lands on and if you arrive at a ladder you climb it and if it’s a vine, then you slide down, of course the vines don’t really do anything if you’re on the ground floor” He paused and turned to me with a glint in his eye “Do you know what the objective is?”
“To get to the top?” I said, feeling that I somehow knew this game
The Rabbit gave a cackle “No, the objective is to it make it back to the ground” He said snapping his fingers and changing the scenery just like that, we were now in the clouds, the very top floor and they were like velvet beneath my feet. The top floor looked very similar to the first with the only difference being the texture of the board; my eyes wondered around and there was the bird, perched in the top left corner with a dice the size of a football in his beak.
“Ah Bird, you’re early!” The rabbit said as he noticed the bird. The bird didn’t reply but instead gave him a wary look. I wonder why… “Well now that everyone is here let’s begin the game, Bird, roll the dice”
A load thud was heard as the dice landed on the board as if it weren’t made of clouds, it bounced and rolled along before finally landing on a 6. I saw the rabbit smile just before a swarm of small birds appeared and knocked me down, it didn’t hurt but like the dice, when I fell, a sound that didn’t sound like falling into the clouds rang out. Confused I lifted my face from the clouds and saw that the rabbit was still standing, dodging the birds with ease as if he did this every day.
“I do, we’ve been waiting for you for a long time now Madeline…Do get up soon, you have to walk the 6 squares to your right”
I nearly forgot he could read my mind…why didn’t the rabbit tell me this part of the game before we started. The small birds were still above me, just waiting to strike again and so I thought it would be clever if I didn’t get up, but crawled instead. I only as far as one square before Bird, the one who was the same size as me, pulled me up by the neck of my shirt. “I’m sorry” He said, flying to the dice, snatching it up and returning to his corner.
So now I was standing again when another small bird launched at me and I dodged, I dodged! But quickly I started moving again, there were more coming. I ended up falling 10 more times before finishing my turn. The Rabbit made it through his turn within seconds, he also had a 6; it’s not fair that he got to practice and can now show off about it.
“There won’t be any small birds on the ground level” He said. The game went on like that with me falling and stumbling while he strolled through making idle talk, how it annoyed me. But I pushed on, eyes on the vine until I finally reached it and slid down without a second thought, glad to be leaving that eyesore of a rabbit behind.
The level below was a bit darker, but it was still identical to the top and I noticed that the bird with the dice had followed me down…but it wasn’t my turn yet…
He turned his back towards me and said “Hop on”
I looked at him, what does he mean hop on?
“Quickly, I’ll explain later, we need to go before the rabbit notices”
I looked from the bird, to the game and saw that half of the small birds were flying down from the top level; I hopped on his back without another thought and we flew away. I don’t know if this was the right choice, but I can’t stomach the thought of enduring who knows how many more levels of this game if I didn’t have to. We flew in silence for minutes of time before the bird finally spoke.
“Madeline, I’m taking you home now because I can’t stand to watch this anymore. We are currently in the kingdom of cards and you are the land’s prophesied girl, the girl who will open the portal to heaven and that game of vines and Ladders was the portal”
“That was the portal? How?” I asked, which got a sigh from the bird. “I don’t know” He said “Only the queen knows how, but that isn’t important right now. What’s important is that the queen can never get access to heaven, she wants to destroy and replace heaven with the kingdom of cards”
“why is this world called the kingdom of cards?” that probably wasn’t the best question to ask, but I don’t even know what to make of what he just told me… replacing heaven with the kingdom of cards…?
“It is called the kingdom of cards because our queen is the Queen of Hearts” and I didn’t know what that meant either, so I just watched the mushroom field pass as the wind moved around us, I watched as the mushrooms ended and the woods started, we were retracing my steps but from the sky this time.
“We’re approaching the tunnel now, I’m going to shrink us down and fly you back home, don’t panic if you don’t see me with you on the over side, I’ll be in the kingdom of cards” He said as I saw the rabbit hole that brought me to this world, I saw it and I cried, I’m going home!
“Get ready!” the bird said as we neared the entrance and began to shrink. I nodded and bird zoomed in, flying through the dirt until earth changed to metal again and I was sitting at the entrance of the tunnel slide.
The bird was not here, and I didn’t panic, just sat for a moment, still crying, and looking at the end of the slide…
“Madeline dear, are going to come down?” I heard my mama say from below, my mama!
“No!” I said drying my tears and taking the stairs, into my mother’s arms as she took me home.
The next day, I got a strange letter… it read
I’m sorry your visit with us had been cut short, the bird had to take you home because my Rabbit henchman had been acting against my orders and so you had to go home before he ruined everything.
But don’t worry… I’ll be seeing you again very soon my dear.
The Queen of Hearts”
This story is based on the Reedsy.com prompt "Write about a character coming out of a long hibernation (either literal or metaphorical)."
"Another day to work towards my goals." Leftover thought to himself as he woke up. He slid out of bed and walked towards his dresser to get his phone. He would need CCC to alter his appearance so he could enter the public areas of the castle and keep up the facade that he was normal. He looked in the mirror, prepared to see the reflection of the dark silhouette form his body was stuck in. To his surprise, the human the rest of the country of Prosperity knew as King Lenny Overature stared back at him.
"No way! Am I.... cured?"
Overjoyed, Lenny ran out of his room and down the stairs. He had his life back. He didn't have to be Leftover anymore. He was ready to put his grudge against Hugh's hero network aside, and end his plans of destroying them and building his own superior group of heroes. First he would find his father, and start fresh with him. He would not need to hide his silhouette appearance and have Hypnorc control the former king's mind anymore - they could have a real father and son relationship again.
Lenny was in the dining room, or where it should be anyway. But he found himself outside on the castle grounds. The sky was dark and foreboding, not how it should look first thing in the morning. He looked back and saw the castle crumbling into dust. Lenny then looked at his arms and watched as they faded to dark. Before he knew it, his body was nothing more than a silhouette, and he was back to being Leftover once again.
Leftover studied his surroundings, and observed that the outdoor castle grounds were not what they used to be. What was once grass was now guacamole. Giant stalks of bacon stood where the trees used to be. A river nearby had the look and scent of coffee.
"Such delicious things.... if only I had a mouth still." Leftover mused out loud. "Still, what is happening to Prosperity?"
"Do you like the new decor?" A man approaching Leftover said. Leftover thought he recognized the man, and once he was close enough, his suspicions were confirmed: Hugh was standing before him.
"The last time I saw you, I turned you into a silhouette." Hugh said. "Oh wait, that wasn't actually me, just someone posing as me.... well, you blame me for your condition anyway!"
"It is your fault!" Leftover responded angrily. "If your employee didn't banish Bill to the Reflection Dimension with my features, I could have returned to normal!"
"Yeah yeah, everything's my fault, you want to kill me, you think you can replace my life's work with your own network and become a better hero than me." Hugh said condescendingly. "You think I have a team of pawns and your team is made up of queens. You're a silly man, your little fledging group of wackos wouldn't stand a chance against my worldwide network!"
"Worldwide network, please!" Leftover snapped. "The same six people are the only ones I hear about in these short stories.... what kind of worldwide network has only six heroes? Way to overwork your people Hugh!"
"Now now, I can't control how many of my employees the writer chooses to focus on." Hugh laughed. "However, I can assure you that there's more than six. The ones you are referring to are probably all I need to win against you anyway."
"Wrong, I will destroy you and the rest of your network, regardless of how many there are!" Leftover said, making a yellow helmet with a toothy smile appear in his hand. He donned the helmet, which then covered his body in armor. A sword then appeared in his hand.
"Oh yeah, you had that modded and stole it from me, didn't you?" Hugh asked. "I give you credit for using a different design, but that really does look terrible! And Leftover is your villain name? How lame can you get? Are you going to destroy a turkey dinner?"
A beautiful woman stood in the distance, mocking Hugh's foe by yelling "Leftover turkey dinner!" repeatedly in her jeers.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Leftover shouted.
"That line has already been used in Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5." Hugh laughed. "Are you Leftover because you have no original material of your own, you have to use what you can find?"
"I am Leftover because your network's failures have left me as a silhouette. But rest assured Hugh, when this is over there will be nothing left of you and your team at all."
"That line is kind of cool, but you've already used it in three other stories." Hugh mocked. "Well, I guess it is time to dispose of the leftovers. That gorgeous woman over there wants a turkey dinner fight, so let's give our fan what she wants!"
Hugh's body began to grow, and soon enough he towered over Leftover. Hugh's head remained the same, but the rest of him resembled a floating cooked turkey. A cannon popped out of the turkey, and the cannon fired steaming hot mashed potatoes at Leftover. Leftover dodged the delicious blast, then made a laser gun appear in his hand. He fired a shot at the cannon, destroying it with a direct hit.
"Not bad, Leftover." Hugh said. "You may have a terrible name and a plan that is destined to fail, but your shooting game is top notch."
"I don't need your approval Hugh, my days of idolizing you are over." Leftover said heatedly. The laser gun disappeared, and Leftover readied his blade. "My father never let me carve the turkey at Easter dinner, I guess I should thank you for this opportunity."
Leftover ran towards Hugh until he was close enough, then lept into the air and repeatedly slashed the fowl version of his former hero. Once he was finished slicing and dicing, all that remained of Hugh was a floating head.
"I may have underestimated you, perhaps my network and I should be concerned about your schemes after all." Hugh's head said in a tone of reverence. "I now understand what you meant when you chose the name Leftover."
"Like I said, I don't need or want your approval." Leftover said, summoning his laser gun and destroying the leftovers of Hugh. Leftover looked into the distance, and noticed the woman that made fun of him was no longer present. Leftover then heard a loud whooshing sound, and everything went dark.
Leftover rose from a cot he had apparently been laying on. He was deep underground in the castle where he and his team plotted against Hugh in secret. As his vision became less cloudy, he noticed a man in his 30s dressed in a fancy suit looking at him.
"Doctor Sic.... what's going on?" Leftover asked.
"You volunteered to test my newest toxin, a drug that traps its victims in their nightmares unless they overcome the fear within." Doctor Sic replied. "You have been asleep for a month."
"A month?" Leftover cried out. "Has anything changed? Any signs of Lifer?"
"Lifer has not appeared recently, and there have been no reports of random things coming to life." Doctor Sic answered. "CCC has been out helping his 'clients' mostly, but he has also been modifying some of our servants to look like the old you on the throne in order to keep up the appearance. Hypnorc has been keeping your father under his control, and thanks to that the former king still has the kingdom believing you are your normal self. Willy is getting stir crazy and awaiting a mission where he can use his worm transforming powers. The only hero from Hugh's network that has been sighted lately is Chris, and all he has been doing is stopping minor crimes."
"Thank you for the report, I am grateful that you all have been holding down the fort, and keeping our existence under wraps for the time being." Leftover replied.
"So, how do you feel about the toxin?" Doctor Sic asked. "Shall I pick a place to administer it, and maybe draw out our rivals? Maybe Lifer will show up as well."
"I approve of this course of action." Leftover said. "I can assure you from my experience that your latest creation is something else."
"If you don't mind me asking leader, what was your dream about, and what did you have to overcome?" Doctor Sic asked.
"I'd rather not say." Leftover said. "But if your toxin affects Hugh's network like it affected me, then the only thing left of them will be the bad memory that they are!"
*Author note: my wife picks on me for naming my main antagonist Leftover, often asking me if he has won against turkey dinner yet. So some writing credit for this story goes to my lovely wife.*