Bob · Story Series

The Monster in My Building: Part 6

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

It was a half-day at work. I’m on my way home, and looking forward to binge-watching the back-catalogue of a youtuber I discovered late last night. On top of all that, I’m giddy from the fancy decaf coffee that was definitely not decaf I downed on the bus.

In fact, I’m almost okay with the possibility of running across Bob on my way up to my apartment. After all, he was nowhere to be found this morning, maybe he’ll leave me alone now too.

However, as I approach the building I can see Bob standing just inside the door to the east stairwell. At least I don’t have to wonder where he is. On most days I would just sigh and walk over to the west stairwell. But today is a weird day, and at least up until now it has been pretty good.

I approach the building cautiously, though to my knowledge Bob has never attempted an assault on any of the doors. It’s not often I get a chance to get a really good look at this thing, this blight on my existence.

We like to say Bob is nine feet tall, but since the ceilings are under seven, it’s really more of an estimate. Right now his neck is bent in an exaggerated J-shape, putting his head a bit below his shoulders so he can stare at me at eye-level. Which isn’t creepy at all. From what I can see of the length of his neck, he could easily make nine feet if he stood up straight.

His over-sized beak is at least three feet long, black, and flaking at the edges. The bare wrinkly skin on his head and neck is black too, with a purplish tint to it. His claws come out underneath the longest flight feathers on his wings and protrude beyond the black plume of his tail. When his wings are folded, they almost look like they could be oddly thick, stiff feathers. Bob croaks, tilts his head to the side and spreads his wings (as much as they can be spread in the narrow stairwell), and I can see exactly how long and sharp the claws are.

I glance over my shoulder. A woman is out walking her dog on the other side of the street. Part of me wants to bring her over here to see what she makes of Bob, assuming she makes anything at all.

The building residents are fond of saying we can’t all be crazy, but I don’t see why. After all, either Bob (and the occasional physical evidence of his existence) are a shared delusion, or we are all more or less willing to keep sharing a building with this thing. Neither option speaks well of our mental-health.

I have a stupid idea. I don’t know why it entered my head and I don’t know why I don’t dismiss it immediately. I blame the caffeine.

But I reach for my keys. One way or another, Bob isn’t going to be my problem anymore.

I unlock the door and open it, moving aside as I do so. Part of my body is hidden behind the door, but mostly I want to make sure Bob has plenty of room to get out.

Bob growls and fluffs up his feathers, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He waves his beak around where the door was. Bob takes a step forward-

My head is within striking distance of his beak.

I jump behind the door and slam the door in Bob’s face. Bob hisses in annoyance, and I run to the west stairwell, up the stairs, and down my hallway. My hands are shaking so badly I drop my keys and let out a squeak of terror, before snatching them up and successfully opening my door.

I slam my door shut, run down my hallway, and dive into my bedroom closet. Grasping about in the darkness, I retrieve the box of Near Death-Experience Oreos I keep stashed there and start listing all the ways what I just did was idiotic, one for each new cookie. Thankfully I cut this exercise short after the first row, otherwise I easily could have consumed the whole box. But I do not leave the closet. My zebra finches chirp in worried tones outside.

Bob · Story Series

The Monster in My Building : Part Four

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

I stagger out of the elevator, my heart still bouncing around my chest like a demented pogo stick from the miniature heart attack Bob so kindly bestowed on me moments earlier. All this could have been avoided if we just did the strata meeting over Zoom, but as you might suspect, the same factors preventing people from moving out of an apartment building with a giant man-eating bird in it also tend to prevent them from owning computers and an internet connection. Not everyone, of course, but enough.

The only space in the building large enough to accommodate all of us is the lobby, so naturally we all cram ourselves behind the solid door of the optimistically-named “games room.” These meetings are humans-only, you see. Of course it’s not fair to Bob, after all he lives here too. But he refuses to respect the difference between the renters and the snacks, so we are forced to exclude him.

Speaking of snacks…

I enter the stuffy games room, making sure to close the door behind me, and make a beeline for the snack table. It’s really the pool table with a plastic sheet over top, but it may as well always be a snack table since there’s only one pool cue and half the balls are missing. I suspect they’ve been absconded with as Bob-repellent devices. There are a couple plastic trays of muffins on the table, and they are just as uninspiring as I expected. But there is also a knot of people clustered in front of the table, and suddenly I find myself irritated that they would deny me something I didn’t want much in the first place. I risked my life to attend this meeting, is a mediocre store-bought muffin really too much to ask?

Terry, the superintendent, barks at everyone to sit down so the meeting can get underway. As the knot of people disperse, I scoot towards the table. Terry catches my eye and scowls at me. I sit down.

“Alright, let’s get this started. We’ve got quite a few items to get through.” Terry frowns at the rumpled piece of paper in his hands. “Don has a proposal he’d like to make about the fire doors.”

“Yes,” Don stands and addresses the room. “The fire doors exist for a reasons. They are for our safety.”

Carly crosses her arms and sighs audibly.

“Please hold all comments until after I’m done,” says Don.

This topic isn’t new to me. Don, and a few others, think we should leave the fire doors completely closed to make sure they function correctly. Others point out that this will leave Bob stuck on one side of the building, which isn’t fair to the people who live on that side of building. I tune out Don’s speech on fire safety and glance over my shoulder at the snack table.

The chairs are arranged in a tight horseshoe. The opening of the horseshoe is four chairs down from me, and I know there is no way I can get up and walk that distance without incurring the wrath of both Terry and Don. However, I could slip between my chair and the next one and stealthily duck over to the snack table without being too obvious. It’s not like no one would see me, but it might work depending on how heated the fire door debate gets.

“So, in conclusion, we have no choice but to–“

Carly cut Don off. “Are you volunteering to have Bob on your side of the building then?”

Numerous grumbles of dissent arose from others who also lived on the west side. Incidentally, I also live on the west side of the building, but I believe too strongly in the power of controversy to stifle decision-making to get worked up about this.

I examine the space between my chair and its neighbors. Could I fit through? Yes. Without drawing the ire of those sitting next to me? Assuredly not. But, if I scooched my chair to the left, the gap on the right could become large enough to reasonably slip through. Fortunately, Carly is to the left of me, and she won’t mind me sitting a bit closer for the remainder of the meeting, especially if I bring her a muffin too.

“Now just wait a minute.” Don raises his hands to quell the rising arguments. “We can still share the burden of Bob equally, as we have always done. Periodically, we can transfer Bob from one side of the building to the other.”

“And who’s going to do that?” said Carly.

“Well now, as it’s a matter of building safety I think the superintendent–“

Terry let out gruff snort of laughter, which served more to dampen Don’s suggestion than any verbal refusal could have.

“Well how about Don just closes the fire door on his floor?” says the skinny guy who lives on the first floor.

“Oh sure,” says Don. “It won’t matter if I’m baked from a fire from below because nobody else wants to put in the effort.”

I shuffle my chair an inch to the left. Carly glances at me, but I pretend nothing has happened.

“I don’t think we should be closing doors at all,” says Molly, anxiously clacking her knitting needles. “Bob is used to having them open. Suppose he finds one closed, and bangs on it until he breaks it down. We can’t have Bob trying to break down doors.”

The room is quiet for a minute. We all rely on the sanctity of our closed apartment doors for our survival; the thought that these barriers could be breached seems profane.

“We don’t know that Bob is strong enough to do that,” says Don.

“Well, if he is, we sure as heck don’t want him knowing that,” says Carly.

“Or…” says Todd.

“Oh good grief,” says Don.

“Now, hold on, Todd. We’ll get to your suggestion in a minute,” says Terry.

“It’s pertinent to Don’s agenda item,” Todd says.

“Like heck it is,” says Don.

“It is, because if we do it we won’t have to worry about Bob anymore,” says Terry. “We feed Bob.”

A cacophony of protest arises from the room. Amid the hubbub, I scooch my chair another inch to the left, and slip out of my seat and over to the snack table.

“Now, now. Come on. This would solve everything. If we feed Bob, he won’t be hungry. Then we won’t have to worry about him eating us,” says Tod’.

I quickly scan the offerings on the table. One muffin coquettishly suggests it is a chocolate chip muffin, even though I know perfectly well it must be raisin bran.

Despite Todd’s assurances, objections to his idea flood the room. Old Roger, who’s lived here longer than anyone else, shakes his head. I think I hear him say, “that would only bring more.” I shove that thought out of my head and pick up the raisin bran muffin.

“No, you can’t feed him, Todd, because someone else already does that,” Molly somehow manages to make herself heard above the commotion.

The room falls silent again, and everyone notices me standing at the muffin table. Obviously, I have not been feeding muffins to Bob, and I stare haughtily back at them. I snatch up a lemon-cranberry poppy seed muffin, return to my seat, and hand the raisin bran muffin to Carly.

“Thank you, honey,” she says.

She likes raisin bran, mind you. I can’t fathom why, but she does.

Bob · Story Series

The Monster in my Building: Part Three

Part One | Part Two

Today is a Bad Day, because I have to leave my apartment for a second time after work. I’m an incurable homebody; it’s one of the side effects of living in a situation like this. You’d think it would be the opposite, that I would spend as much time as possible anywhere but here. Believe me, I’d like to. But leaving the apartment means coming back, and that means dealing with Bob twice when I could just stay home and try to pretend he doesn’t exist. Staying out longer after work isn’t a great option either, because I’ve learned the only thing worse than dealing with Bob during the day is dealing with Bob at night.

But today is the building’s AGM, and there’s no avoiding it. Well, I could skip it technically, but if I’m absent everyone is going to think I’ve been eaten and send someone up to check on me. Then I’ll have to fake a cold, which no one will believe because no one ever wants to go to these things. Besides, if we’re not coming we’re suppose to let the super know by email, so no one has to risk their lives to check on anyone, and I’ve completely missed the boat on that.

No, I am going. I sit up on the couch, preparing myself to stand and brave the corridors of this cursed building. The clock on the wall reads 6:37. I still have over twenty minutes. I flop back down again.

The super, Terry, said he would provide muffins at the meeting. I will try to think about muffins for the next twenty minutes, a muffin meditation, if you will.

The muffins will be the grocery store bakery kind. Possibly baked on-site, but this makes little difference to the overall quality. Either way, they will be monstrous things, two or possibly three times the size of a single homemade muffin. They will have a soft, spongy interior with a not-terribly appealing moist and slightly sticky exterior. There will most likely be Things in the muffins, inclusions which can either propel the muffins to near-cupcake levels of culinary delight or render them inedible.

Odds are, we will have a mix of Tolerable to Inedible inclusions. Nuts, blueberries, raisins, the carrot/coconut/candied fruit mix of Morning Glory muffins. But perhaps…just perhaps, we may have chocolate chips, or even a pool of jam hidden in the center of some muffins. Knowing Terry, though, this is fairly unlikely.

Most if not all muffins can be improved by heat, and the application of butter, but this is not likely to be possible either. The best I can hope for is a napkin to keep crumbs off my lap.

It is nearing 6:55. Now I am both hungry and depressed, but I suppose this is better than the state of existential dread I would be in had I spent the last eighteen minutes considering the possibility of being eaten on the way to the meeting. Needless to say, I am not a muffin and I don’t appreciate being treated like one.

I sigh, and go check the peephole in my door. The coast is clear. Of course I knew it would be, because no ruminations on muffins is capable of preventing me from hearing Bob lurch his way down the hallway. But not checking would be a pointless risk and I refuse to engage in pointless risk-taking, even on principle.

There are others in this building who pride themselves on using deductive reasoning and logic to intuit where Bob is likely to be, and don’t check their peephole or the monitors unless they feel they really need to. I suppose they think the smug feeling they get from being right most of the time makes up for getting the living daylights scared out of them every so often. I think it’s idiotic.

I slip out of my apartment and scurry to the monitors beside the elevator. I’m used to feeling like a rabbit caught out in the open whenever I leave my apartment, but that doesn’t make the sensation any more pleasant. Bob is coming up the west stairwell. More to the point, he is not on the ground floor where I intend to exit the elevator, so the coast is clear.

As I enter the elevator, I hear the stairwell door open at the end of the hall, and the familiar rustle of Bob’s feathers as he pushes through.

I frantically stab at the Close Door button, and after a pause that seems to last for an eternity, the elevator door closes and I begin to descend, away from the creature lurking in the same hallway I occupied only moments before.

I double over and release an aggravated sigh.

It’s been ten seconds since the last Bob-related incident. Congratulations everybody. Get back to work.

Bob · Story Series

The Monster in My Building: Part 2

Here’s Part One if you missed it.

I sit at my desk, staring at the little clock in the left-hand corner of my computer screen. It reads 4:58. It’s quitting time, and I hear my coworkers joyfully gathering their keys in anticipation of a relaxing evening at home. I sigh, wishing it was possible to teleport myself onto my couch at home.

This, I think, is the part I hate the most. I can’t look forward to going home. Because I never know what’s going to be waiting for me when I get there. Bob might be off sleeping somewhere, or as I approach the door, looking down as I fumble with my keys, I might look up to find Bob standing on the other side of the glass door, staring at me. I’ve never met a horror movie jump scare that can compete with that particular sensation.

We don’t have the CCTV monitors on the outside of the building, you see. It’s been tried, but they kept getting stolen or damaged, and people had privacy concerns. The front doors sort of provide a view of the monitors outside the first floor elevator, but if you go in a side door there’s no way to see where Bob is until you’re actually in the building. I usually just open the door a crack and listen for his footsteps, but this isn’t foolproof.

Once I thought I was safe, but I opened the door just as Bob was walking down the stairs into view. I slammed the door shut only moments before the mass of claws and black feathers plowed into it. He walks slow but he can move fast when he wants to. I almost died that day.

That day could be any day. And one day I might not shut the door fast enough.

I can’t help but mull over these things on the way home. Sometimes it seems like useless self-torture, but today I think of it as practice. A way of preparing myself for battle. I can make it to my apartment; I have done so every other time I’ve ever left. I just need to be alert.

I get off the bus and sigh again. My building is just out of sight beyond the curve in the road. What would happen if I just walked the other way? I could go to a hotel and find somewhere else to live. Be a hobo. Anything. But then my pet zebra finches would starve, and I’d never see my favourite mug again. Nope, like it or not, I’m going home.

As I round the corner, I see police cars in the parking lot outside the building. Two feelings war inside me. Dread, because we might have lost someone, and hope, because maybe this time they will find Bob and then this will all be over.

People have called the police or animal control numerous times about Bob. Somehow, none of them ever find him. I’m surprised they still come, frankly. But we have the CCTV footage, and numerous photos, even if both of those can be faked. There seem to be a few people in both departments who have seen enough to believe that something is here, even if they can’t find him.

This is the second mystery, other than what Bob survives on in between unfortunate incidents with residents’ pets, or heaven forbid, a resident. That’s really rare, though. Most often its a visitor who thinks it’s all a joke. Or somebody’s crazy ex-something. Or a burglar.

Carly, the lady from 218, is standing outside watching. She wears thick blue eye shadow and a coat that looks like it might have been a floral print couch in another life. I can see she’s been experimenting with cutting her own hair again. She turns to me as I approach. “Bob got stuck in the laundry room.”

Real hope bubbles up within me. I struggle to keep it down. “Really? Did they find him? They must have, right?”

“You’d think. But I haven’t heard anything from inside. By now there should have been gunshots or something.”

I cross my arms.”Maybe they want to keep him trapped in there. They’re being cautious, or they want scientists to see what it is.”

“Maybe.”

“He can’t walk through walls. We’d all be dead if he could.”

Carly shrugs.

Two officers emerge from the building: Joel, and another officer I don’t recognize. Joel is a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Bob, but I can tell he’s convinced something is going on here, even if he doubts a nine-foot bird is involved.

“Well?” says Carly.

Joel shrugs and shakes his head.

“How?” I say. “How in the actual pancake-flipping heck.”

“Forget it Ashley, it’s chinatown,” says Carly.

“I’m going to have to get a statement from both of you,” says Joel.

“I just got here,” I say.

“Alright then. You’re free to go,” says Joel. “Would you like an escort up to your unit?”

“That would be great actually,” I say.

I’m pretty sure Joel meant it as a joke, but thankfully he’s the honorable type.

Joel and I head into the building while the new guy takes Carly’s statement.

“Hey, do you want to carpool to the laundromat later, honey?” Carly calls to me.

“Sure, sounds good,” I say.

“I told you there’s nothing in there,” says Joel as we enter the elevator.

I shrug.

“So if there’s this monster in here that ya’ll are so afraid of, why don’t you just leave?” says Joel.

“I like to live dangerously,” I say. “Plus, if a resident is physically injured by Bob we get 10% off our rent permanently.”

“Really.”

“Last one was eleven years ago. Mrs McGraw from the second floor. Lost her thumb.”

Joel smiles, thinking I’m joking. And I am, sort of. Except about Mrs McGraw, that actually happened.

I also often wonder why I don’t just leave. I have two opinions on the matter, and I wobble between them like a pendulum on a metronome:

  1. I was born here* and I’m going to die here. This is my home and I’m not going to let some dumb bird chase me out. Who else can still say they spend less than 25% of their income on housing? Nobody. And I’ll never have to worry about my apartment getting broken into. Besides, how do I know the next apartment building I move to won’t have something worse?
  2. I have to leave. I will leave. As soon as possible. Right after the economy becomes rational again and I can afford to.

When we arrive on the third floor, part of me actually hopes Bob is standing outside when the doors open. I know he won’t be; he wasn’t anywhere on the CCTV monitors on the first floor. But what if he was? For the price of a brief moment of terror and some temporary hearing loss from gunshots in a small space, it could all be over.

He’s not, of course. We step out into a perfectly ordinary hallway, except for the paint color, a kind of queasy avocado that screams “serial killer residence.” I suppose in a sense, this is true.

Joel sees me the last few feet to my apartment door and we bid each other a good evening. I grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from my freezer and deflate onto my couch, trying to forget that in about 14 hours I have to do all this all over again.

“I have to get out of here,” I say, and my zebra finches chirp agreement from their cage in the corner.

*Literally. When my mom went into labor Bob decided to park himself outside our door and wouldn’t leave for a full 48 hours. So I was ushered into the world on our couch, attended by my father and the building superintendent. And by Bob, who clacked his beak in ominous congratulations in the hallway outside.

Bob

The Monster in My Building: Part 1

Photo by Gabriele Brancati on Pexels.com (This is not Bob.)

I’m about to head out to work, just putting my shoes on, when I hear the familiar creak of the elevator’s hydraulic system, and the clunk of doors opening on my floor. My apartment is right next to the elevator, and usually it’s just one of the other tenants. Still, I can’t help but tense a little.

I hear footsteps shamble past my door. The scritch-clump scritch-clump of heavy, clawed feet, and then a guttural croak like the great-grandfather of all ravens.

“Shut up, Bob,” I say.

I hear a deep “awk,” and then nothing. No more footsteps. Bob heard me. Of course he did. He mostly hunts by sight, but he can hear.

I look at my phone. At this point I have no choice but to wait until Bob loses interest and leaves, but I think I can still catch my bus if I hurry. Bob usually doesn’t hang around for more than a minute or two.

As per usual, it isn’t long before I hear the scritch-clump of Bob’s footsteps again. I wait until I hear the creak of the fire door opening, the rustle of feathers as Bob pushes through, and then the door swing closed behind him.

I wait until Bob is well on his way down the hallway, heading towards the stairwell on the east side of the building. It’s actually fairly unusual for Bob to take the elevator. We suspect it only happens when Bob accidentally bumps the car call button, and the elevator is already on that floor and opens immediately.

Cautiously, I slip into the hallway, and peek through the fire door. Bob can’t open doors, so we leave them propped open so he can stick his beak through the gap and push through.

The hallway¬† is clear, so I hurry over to the elevator and check the monitors mounted next to the elevator. They show live feed from all the buildings’ CCTV cameras. There are other displays next to each elevator and stairwell door on every floor.

Bob is in the east stairwell, shambling up towards the fourth floor.

What is Bob? I don’t know; nobody knows. He looks like a nine-foot tall Maribou stork with claws on his wings that would make a therizinosaurus feel inadequate. He will eat anything made of meat, but we haven’t had a death or the loss of a pet in a long time. This means either he is something unnatural and will never die or go away, or someone is feeding him. I’m not sure which I find more appalling.

I could use the elevator, but Bob has a habit of making a mess in there. Maybe he gets motion sick, or maybe he thinks of it as a kind of litter-box. I can’t tell what. So I hustle to the west stairwell, and down the stairs before Bob has time to arrive at the fourth floor and traverse the length of the building to the west stairwell. Unless he takes the elevator again, there’s nowhere else for him to go.

I know I have plenty of time to leave before Bob even enters the stairwell, but even so, knowing he is coming propels me out the door faster than any coffee could.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Thirteen

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve

I squirmed on the floral lazboy as my great-aunt Marie handed me a cup of tea. I still didn’t understand why I was growing a tail at all, never mind how to sit down with one comfortably. The first part, at least, I hoped Marie could help me with.

Marie settled down on the equally soft and floral chair across from me. Hers creaked when she sat down on it. “Well, where shall I start?”

I had so many questions. They flew around my head and blended into one another like the blobs in a hyperactive lava lamp. Why was this town so strange? What was with the rabbits? What was in that stuff Marie gave me, and my rabbit, if it was the same stuff? And perhaps most importantly, what had it done to me?

Finally I decided, we might as well begin at the beginning, or something close to it.

“What are we?” I said.

“Human,” said Marie. “Well, almost entirely human.”

“I see. And the other part?”

Marie picked up a picture frame from the side table. After gazing at it fondly for a few moments, she handed it to me.

The photo was a black-and-white of two solemn-faced women in old-timey plain dresses, with a young girl standing between them.

“As you may know our ancestors came over from Germany during the 1880s. Two of them are what we used to call wolpertingers, but now we usually just call them the ancestors or the elder folk. They are sisters and one of them — Marie-Annika — I was named after her, and she also brought her daughter Hannelore, who was half human.”

Marie reached out and tapped the young girl in the photo, indicating Hannelore.

They did look human. But their eyes were large and too round. Their noses were too small, and their ears were prominent and pointed. All of these fell within the range of normal human features, but taken together they produced something of an uncanny valley effect. Something was different about them.

Or was I just seeing it because I’d been told they weren’t human?

“Wolpertingers?” I said. “I’ve seen those on video games. They looked like squirrels with fangs and wings.”

Marie shrugged. “They are a diverse people. They usually take the form of various forest folk. But they can also take human form if they wish to.”

“Which is how a human and a wolpertinger could…get married.”

“It’s not very common of course. Marie-Annika and her sister are quite unusual in that regard.”

My brow furrowed. “Are unusual? Don’t you mean were?”

“Oh no, they’ve both remarried to humans.”

“They’re still here?”

“Yes. Well, not here. They live much longer than we do, of course. But they live in the Black Forest now, “Marie sighed. “They went back to the Fatherland to help rebuild after the Berlin wall came down.”

“As one does.”

“Things were going so well before this year, some of the townsfolk were wondering if they might come back. They’re revered in this town, as you might expect. But with the way things are going now…well, who knows.”

“So, the festival. What is it, exactly? What happened? You can tell me now, surely.”

“Echart does go a bit overboard with the mystery of it, but he likes. Normally people ask questions, and we explain it all at the pond.” She sighed. “When you didn’t, I thought someone had told you.”

“Well?”

Marie clasped her hands and brought them to her mouth a moment before continuing. “It is a celebration of our past, to put it simply. For one month we bring back the old ways our ancestors knew with the root from the Old Country. It changes us and our companions, so that for a little while we know something of their home.”

“Wiat, so this is temporary?”

“Oh yes.”

“Thank goodness.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned that sooner. But what you have experienced is a great gift. I hope you realize that, even if your introduction to it was…unexpected.”

“Sure, it just..took me off guard. A carrot from Germany did all this?”

“No, leibchen. Not the Fatherland, the Old Country.”

“Do I want to know what that is?”

“Perhaps not. At least, not yet.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Twelve

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part Ten | Part Eleven

I sat at the desk in my room. Even after spending a relatively short time in the room, I found the floral wallpaper no longer seemed excessive and cloying. Instead, it seemed abundant, thriving. I liked it.

The rabbit liked it too, I think, though my new furry companion still seemed concerned about me. I wished I could tell it not to bother. The whole thing had been a dream, after all. And if my rabbit was a bit different in the morning, well, for all I knew I was still dreaming.

I was tired though, which was odd, since the part about getting up in the middle of the night and having a party with dancing rabbits had all been a dream. But maybe the dream hadn’t been very restful. Maybe I would have a nap.

I squirmed on my seat. My clothing seemed to be bunching oddly at the base of my spine. In doing so, I turned and caught a glimpse of glowing eyes watching me from the mirror.

Startled, I jumped to my feet, and was no less alarmed when I realized I’d spotted my own reflection. My eyes reflected light back at me, like those of a cat or dog in low light. I tilted my head slowly back and forth.

Normal.

Not normal.

Human.

Paranormal forest creature.

Trying to distract myself from the growing panic rising in my chest, I batted my hand at the base of my shirt, hoping to resolve whatever wardrobe malfunction was going on back there. What I felt was not clothing.

I turned my back to the mirror, lifted my shirt and hiked my pants down a bit. I had a tail.

Short and fluffy, like a bobcat’s.

“Marie?” I tried to keep my voice calm, but it quickly rose to a shriek. “Marie!

My rabbit furrowed its brow again, and let out a low whistle.

“No, I am not okay,” I said.

Great-aunt Marie burst into the room. “What is it, dear?”

“What’s happening to me?”

“Lower your voice dear, you’re going to scare the other–“

“What is this?”

“Well, it’s coming in very nicely.”

“What did you do to me?”

Marie exchanged a glance with the rabbit, who chirped.

“My dear,” said Marie. “Don’t you remember what happened last night? You saw what the carrot did to…”

“Fritillary,” I said.

That was the rabbit’s name. I didn’t know how I knew that.

“Yes, Fritillary. I offered you the cake. I asked you if you understood what it meant.”

“I thought I was dreaming! How else would there be dancing rabbits?”

“You thought it was a dream?”

“Yes I did. Don’t look at me like that,” I said. “I think it was a perfectly reasonable assumption to make under the circumstances.”

“No one else has,” said Marie

“Well, I did.”

“I did ask you.” Marie wrung her hands a bit.

I sighed. “Would you please explain what’s going on? I’m not going to freak out.”

Or at least, I would resume freaking out at a more convenient time.

“Yes, I think I’d better.” Marie nodded. “We’ll have a cup of tea in the sitting room.”

“What’s in the tea?”

“Just cammomile, and a few herbs from the Old Country. It will help.”

“It won’t give me antlers or anything, will it?”

“Don’t be silly. You’re a lady. Nothing could give you antlers.”

“Right.” I followed Marie out into the hallway and down towards the sitting room.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Nine

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

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.”

“A what?”

“It’ll become clear at the time.”

“Alright.”

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.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Eight

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3| Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The trip into town to get the ribbons was…interesting, to say the least. We got a lot of stares and people whispered to each other, and otherwise acted weird. But it wasn’t the sort of attention you’d expect to get wheeling an ungodly amount of black, yellow, and red ribbons in a handcart down mainstreet.

People seemed excited to see the preparations, for what I didn’t know yet. A few even came up to us and asked to touch the ribbons. We said yes; I couldn’t what harm that would do. Some even tried to inconspicuously follow us for a while, pretending they happened to be on their own errands in the same direction we were headed. Thankfully, they gave up on that once we turned onto a residential road.

“So, what do you think are the options of where this could be going?” said Anna. “Say this was a movie, what would you expect would happen?”

“Oh boy, nowhere good.” I said. “There’s definitely a monster in the forest.”

“For sure. And this event tonight doesn’t bode well.”

“No, not at all. I usually don’t watch movies with culty things in them.”

“You’re thinking about Midsommar, aren’t you?”

“Trying not to,” I said. “But regardless of the ribbons, we know this really isn’t a cult. Even though if it was a movie it totally would be anyway. And we know that the participants don’t die. They don’t even warn other people against going. At least not the ones I’ve talked to.”

“They could be imposters.”

“Yeah, but in a movie though. I don’t think that’s what really happened.”

“That would be a little far-fetched.”

“Another thing, though. When I asked about the rabbits, Echart said that what happens to them happens to all of us. But I don’t think that means death, because we know the participants in this don’t die.”

“Unless he meant all of us, eventually.”

“Maybe, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what they’re for. I don’t think the adults would encourage the kids to be playing with them and getting attached to them if that was the case.”

“Then what does it mean?”

“I have no idea.”

We trundled along in silence for a while, and I stared at the ribbons. This conversation had not made me feel any better about what was going on.

“Well, what if it wasn’t a horror movie?”

I shrugged. “Then it’s a weird artsy flick and we’re going to get married to the thing in the forest. Or the rabbits.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Seven

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

When I woke up I could already smell breakfast cooking and hear the clamor of my hosts, the four other house guests, and what turned out to be another half-dozen people who’d just dropped by for breakfast.

I got lost in the shuffle, and nobody mentioned the cherry cobbler incident, or anything that came with it. I wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed about this or not. Part of me would have liked to discuss it, but I wasn’t really sure it would help. What was there to discuss, really?

I was halfway through a strawberry waffle when Anna mostly-politely shoved aside one of my second cousins and plopped down on the bench beside me.

“Hey,” she said. “Apparently something’s going on this evening that requires a metric butt-ton of ribbons. Want to go into town with me to get them?”

“Ribbons?”

“Yeah, ribbons.”

“Sure,” I said.

Despite the warning about the quantity of ribbons required, I was nevertheless surprised when Anna showed up with a wheelbarrow. Or something like it. It was less awkward than a wheelbarrow, perhaps one could call it a handcart.

“Really?” I said. “We couldn’t just carry them in bags or something?”

“Oh, we’ll do that too. We need all the ribbons,” Anna said. “I mean literally, all of them. The general store made a special bulk order just for us.”

“Wow,” I said.

We trundled the handcart down the street in companionable silence for a while. I noticed Anna’s multitude of charm bracelets, which reminded me of the ones popular girls usually wore at my high school. Somehow this got me off on a mental tangent about the differences between younger and older millennials and wondering whether or not Anna saw me as one of her own generation or essentially a younger version of her parents.

I mean, it wasn’t like because I was older and had kids I was suddenly a member of a different species. And then, I suppose I didn’t really know whether or not Anna did have children, but she was undeniably younger and certainly had that irresponsible, unencumbered “single” air about her.

“Did you notice anything…weird…last night?” said Anna.

“What? Oh,” I said. “Did you?”

I hadn’t actually answered her question, but then I wasn’t sure what the answer should be. Strictly speaking, the answer was yes, but I wasn’t sure what I’d seen was actually significant. But if we started discussing it, I knew it could start to seem significant whether it really was or not.

“Yes,” she said. “I think so. My great-aunt’s house doesn’t have indoor plumbing, lucky me-“

“You’d think there would be building code violations along with that.”

“Right? Personally, I think she pays protection against inspectors to the family of hedgehogs that live under the porch. Those things are ornery,” she said. “Anyway, I had to go outside last night and I saw something. I mean, it could have been a deer or a coyote, but I swear it was walking on two legs.”

“What did it look like?”

“Well I saw a kind of upright silhouette, and the glowing eyes with reflective light like pets have in camera flash.”

I inwardly cringed. “And a long tail?”

“Maybe. That or it waved at me, and I don’t know which concerns me more.”

I nodded and looked down at the handcart.

“So, did you see something?” Anna said.

“Possibly. I got up to get a snack last night. I thought I saw shining eyes and a long waving tail when I glanced into the dining room, but it could have just been something shiny and a tree branch waving outside.”

“Wait, what you saw was inside the dining room?”

“Or outside on the porch, maybe. If I saw anything at all. I mean, it’s so easy to get carried away with these things. Just think about all the people who’ve seen bigfoot.”

“Oh totally. Especially since this place actually is weird. But who knows.”

“I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes open.”