“What happens to the rabbits?” I asked.
“The same thing that happens to us all,” said my great uncle Echart.
“Right,” I said.
For the rest of the buggy ride, I avoided looking at the rabbits in their little cages. The inhabitants of Innswale put them out by their mailboxes, apparently for Echart to collect, because they still followed the “old ways.” What old ways? And why did they all ban cars for a whole month?
Not a proper month, really. The last two weeks of June and the first of July, because that’s when I said I could come visit. A chill came over me.
No it couldn’t be. Surely, they did this every June. It had nothing to do with me.
Instead of the rabbits, I focused on the rear end of the horse pulling the buggy. It was round and speckled white, and as pleasant as could be expected. It was also puzzling. Nobody said anything about this before I came here. I mean, we all knew Echart’s side of the family was weird. They don’t like technology. They spend too much time in the woods. Blah blah blah.
Too me, all this seemed beyond the pale, and probably something I should have been told about before coming here. For this, and I still didn’t know what “this” was, I’d given up my full yearly allotment of vacation time. I decided I was far too much of a people pleaser, and really needed to learn to say no.
The front yard of Echart’s home was as large as most lots in my neighborhood, and a plethora of my distant relations milled about under the great umbrellas of trees. Packs of children ran around the shrubberies.
As we meandered up the drive towards the house, they were drawn to us as if by magnetic attraction. Older children fetched the rabbits from the back seat of the buggy, cooing an exclaiming over them. Others grabbed my bags. Me carrying them myself was out of the question.
A crowd of cousins of various kinds escorted me to the front door, our procession led by an eager older lady puffing under the weight of my bags. Voices gabbled around me as I was introduced to more names and faces than I could possibly remember.
The house was sprawling and old. The hardwood floors protested with the weight of feet upon it, but thankfully people had started to drift away from the procession, and back to whatever they were doing as the novelty of my arrival lost its luster.
Once we arrived at my room everyone cleared out and left me alone for a bit so I could freshen up and what not. I didn’t stay up there long. Everything was poufy and flower-print, and I felt if I stayed there too long the vines on the wallpaper would come to life and strangle me.
I went downstairs, and then out into the backyard where everyone seemed to be hanging out. Echart’s wife, Maria, found me a chair in the shade and plied me with sugar cookies and lemonade.
Large rabbit hutches were stacked up against the house, which at least solved the mystery of where the rabbits had gone for the time being. The hutches were decorated with ribbons and the children fed the rabbits flowers through the wire mesh.
A petite woman with a shoulder-length bob sat down in the wicker chair next to me. “Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “I’m one of the other…visitors.”
“Oh. So this is a thing, then,” I said.
“I’m pretty sure everything is a thing.” Anna giggled.
“But you know what I mean. An event. It’s not just me visiting, for reasons.”
“Yeah. I think there’s about five of us.”
“So are you on Echart’s side of the family, or…”
“I’m not. Actually I think maybe one of my uncle’s married Echart’s cousin. But no, I’m from one of the other Innswale ‘old families’.”
“Oh, okay. I guess this is more of a thing than I thought.”
“I know, right? The secrecy is crazy. I tell you though, if we’re being inducted into a cult or something, I’m out of here.”
“Yup, I’ll be right behind you.” I took a sip of my lemonade. “Hey, do you know what’s with the rabbits?”
“No. There’s something with the rabbits?”
“People just left them by their mailboxes for us to pick up.”
Anna had opted for the pink lemonade, spiked with raspberry cordial.
“The car thing is a pain, though,” she said.
“Oh yeah. Do they do that every June?”
“Different times. Depending on when it works for people to come.”
“It’s for us? It can’t be for us. That’s crazy.”
“It is, but it’s true.”
Anna shrugged and nibbled on a sugar cookie. “I guess we’ll find out.”