Despite my misgivings I found myself enjoying the festivities that evening. Anna and I, as well as several others, made sure the entire backyard was strewn, festooned, bedizened, decked, and otherwise decorated with the ribbons. I found that several of my distant relations, at the least the ones who had shown up to help with decorating, were lively and interesting people. We were well-supplied with lemonade and cookies, which didn’t hurt either.
Decorating transitioned into the festival itself without any noticeable increase in creepiness; the last of those who showed up to help decorate became the first proper attendees as we finished putting up the ribbons, and somebody started playing lively guitar music near a giant stack of wood that would later become a bonfire.
The folk music they played a bit quirky, but I liked it. Anna and I attempted to do some of the folk dances the older people were performing. The results were at least entertaining, if not very graceful.
We had dinner afterward, which mostly consisted of hearty salads and mashed root vegetables, but I didn’t mind. It was good and there was lots of it. During dinner the sun went down and somebody lit the bonfire. The music continued, with more subdued tempos more suited to eating.
After dessert (which was not carrot cake, mind you; it was some kind of cream tart with rose petal jam on top. I thought it tasted a bit like soap) all of the out-of-town people gathered in front of the bonfire to receive an overnight pack, containing a lantern, a tent, a sleeping bag, and some snacks. And a rabbit.
“What’s the rabbit for?” I asked my great-aunt Marie.
She smiled as she handed me the little hutch. The rabbit inside was a peachy-tan color with a white underbelly and white socks on its front feet.
“A little companion for your overnight stay in the forest. You’ll have a party together.”
“It’ll become clear at the time.”
I wandered off to stand next to the two participants who’d already gotten their packs and their rabbits. Anna was next in line and she scooted next to me to wait for the last three.
“So,” she said. “Do you think this was what your uncle Echart meant? About what happens to the rabbits?”
“That we all go on a sleepover in the woods? Maybe.”
“But there’s more than six rabbits in the hutch.”
“Maybe some of the rabbits just live here, and don’t go on the sleepovers.”
Anna’s rabbit was mostly black with white patches on its face and ears. The rabbits had ribbons tied around their necks, the same black, orange, and yellow ribbons me and Anna had brought from the store earlier that day. The black ribbon nearly blended in with the rabbit’s fur but the others stood out like fire. The peachy fur of my rabbit didn’t match the ribbons nearly so well, but I thought it was cuter anyway.
When we’d all received our rabbits, Marie and Echart beamed at the us, the light from the lanterns they carried illuminating their faces. They didn’t look scary, exactly, but it was a fairly eerie effect.
“Well then. Let’s be off.”
With that, they set off down the ribbon-lined path into the forest, with the six of us in tow. I tried not to wonder how many of us would be returning in the morning.