Rabbits was published in Carrier Pigeon in 2010, with illustrations by Eric Collins.
Copyright Christopher Stanton
I left some of that beef casserole for you, Misty said. It’s here in this pink Tupperware.
Casey looked up from the couch. There wasn’t anything on the TV except for the Lumberjack Olympics and that kid’s show with the talking cucumber. It was almost seven o’clock in the evening and he had just gotten home from work.
Thanks, he said. He brushed Triscuit crumbs out of his moustache and kicked off his heavy black boots.
Casey and Misty were twenty-three years old and had been together since high school. They had been married for five months and six days and lived in a trailer home off the access road, in a brand new park called Riverdale. The recreation room had a Dance Dance Revolution machine which Misty quite enjoyed. Casey preferred the pool tables, but they were usually taken by a squadron of Hells Angels who played Thin Lizzy music on a portable boombox that was missing a speaker.
Casey worked days as a guard at the penitentiary. The week before, he had seen an inmate get his stomach sliced open by another prisoner while they were outside at exercise hour. The man had bled to death on the ground in less than five minutes.
Did you hear what I said?
Casey looked up at her. The story of the inmate’s murder had been on TV and in the local paper, which was only two sections and mostly made up of classifieds, for people who were selling truck tops or escort services. Then the next day, it was already forgotten.
Sure, sweetheart, he said. Pink Tupperware.
Misty frowned. She put dirty dishes in the sink and ran some hot water over them. Then she buttoned the sleeves of her good striped blouse, and straightened one of her Precious Moments figurines on the window sill.
I’ve got to get to work, she said. I’m gonna be late.
Misty worked the night shift, as a dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Office. She had an excellent phone manner and could remember minute details about everything.
We’re out of beer, Misty said. Just so you know.
I got two legs, Casey said. I’ll just stroll on over to Derrick’s and get what I need.
Maybe you can pick up some of that potato salad you like, she said, and smiled. With the egg and pimento in it.
That might be nice, Casey said.
We should grill out tomorrow, Misty said. It’ll be like a summer picnic, and whatnot. Maybe I can pick some fresh flowers.
It’s April, Casey said.
I just thought it might take your mind off things, she said.
The back of Casey’s neck bristled.
I’m fine, he said, and turned the channel. He watched as a burly man with a blond beard raced another across three logs, then turned and went back the other way.
Casey, his wife said. He felt her hand on his shoulder then; he smelled her perfume. It reminded him of walking through a peach orchard.
What is it, Casey said. He heard thunder then, way off in the distance. The curtains above the sink shifted in the breeze, then settled against the screen.
Why won’t you talk to me?
Casey felt her eyes on him, waiting for an answer to her question. He kept staring straight ahead. She bent down to kiss him, but all he could think about was that prisoner, barely older than himself, lying on the cement with his guts spilling out in a splash of red. Casey hadn’t told her that he had been there, not ten feet away, when the man with the scar on his nose had dashed across the blacktop with a knife in his hand.
* * *
A clap of thunder shook Casey awake. It sounded like God had struck the sky with a sledgehammer.
The digital clock on the stove was flickering, and so was the picture on the TV. It was almost nine o’clock. His stomach growled like he hadn’t eaten for a week.
He got off the couch and then remembered that they were out of beer. It was only a five minute walk down the road to Derrick’s Bait Shop and Deli. They didn’t close until eleven on the weekends.
Casey grabbed his wallet and opened the door. As he walked down his front steps and across the new sod he had just laid down that past Saturday, he saw that the sky above him was a dark gray-green, the color of the cow pond that he passed on his way to work every morning. And a sharp wind had sprung up from the south. It blew dust in his eyes. He smelled static electricity.
Another clap of thunder crashed across the sky.
I heard they had lightning strikes in town, the old man in the trailer across the street from him called out. He stood on his front porch, watching the sky with a pair of binoculars.
There’s twisters down in Riley, the man continued. Tore up a farm and killed two people. I heard it on my weather radio.
Casey thought of Misty, sitting alone in the dispatch room, maybe sipping a pop or a large coffee she’d bought from the vending machines down the hall in the station. Listening to the thunder, wondering about him.
You better get inside, Casey said. You better keep yourself safe.
The old man waved a hand at him dismissively and lit a cigarette.
I might say the same to you, he said.
The burning end was a tiny point of light in the approaching darkness. It reminded Casey of a firefly.
He started down the road, passing his neighbors, each trailer home the same but different. He caught glimpses of dark figures moving in the windows, or huddled around the lights from TVs, perhaps watching The Weather Channel, wondering what was coming next.
He walked past the recreation center, the swings creaking and swaying in the wind, and past the welcome sign, lit by floodlights, tiny gnats swirling in the beams. Then he set off along the two-lane access road that led from the park up to Derrick’s and the gas station and Route 4.
Misty was right. He hadn’t talked to her, really, since it had happened. And he hadn’t taken her out for more than a month. Casey knew she loved the Italian place in town with the watercolor gondolas on the walls and the paper tablecloths that she drew on with green and blue crayons. Casey’s favorite part was the spumoni ice cream, and the hard peppermint candies in the bowl near the hostess stand.
Even the times they had made love lately hadn’t been the same. Even though he craved to connect with her, he felt like he was floating above himself, desperately trying to remember how her touch was supposed to make him feel.
Thunder shook the sky. And suddenly, there were rabbits everywhere. Rabbits poured from the tall grass meadow on his left and dashed across his feet and around his legs. They hopped across the road and into the tall goldenrod beyond the gravel shoulder on the other side.
Casey stood there a moment in the darkness, his heart beating double time, his mind trying to process what he had just seen.
And then a brilliant streak of orange light shot toward the earth and struck the parking lot of the gas station, not fifty yards ahead of him. It was gone in an instant.
For a moment, there was only silence.
Then he heard a scream. A woman up ahead of him screamed, and Casey began to run.
* * *
The man was lying on the ground, the door to his Toyota Camry still open, car keys glinting on the blacktop near his outstretched hand.
There were raw red marks on his fingers, and at the base of his neck. The stench of burning flesh was everywhere.
For a moment, Casey’s mind flashed back to the prisoner, lying on the ground, the pool of blood spreading around him like a butterfly’s wings.
A woman sat on the ground near the ice machine, shaking, barely able to stand up. Her t-shirt had a picture of a kitten on it.
It just hit him square on the head, she whimpered. He got his gas and he was getting back in his car and it hit him.
Casey bent down next to the man. His eyes were closed, and his lips looked thin and gray.
Casey felt for a pulse. It was weak, but present.
Can you hear me, Casey asked him. Buddy, can you hear me?
The man didn’t move.
Is he dead, the woman asked. Is he electrocuted?
I don’t know, Casey said. I’m not a doctor.
A girl in a blue-striped shirt and stiff slacks ran out of the gas station. Casey had seen her working behind the counter.
What happened, she said. I seen the light come down.
You call an ambulance, he said. You get them out here right now.
The girl ran inside. Casey turned to the man, who was moaning.
You’re gonna be all right, man, Casey said. Don’t move.
Raindrops splattered the pavement. The girl in the striped shirt appeared next to him.
They’re on their way, she said. The woman on the phone said they’re coming.
She stood there, watching him. The wind blew her hair in her eyes.
Do you know what you’re doing? she asked.
Casey looked down at the man. He was about fifty years old, with graying hair. One of the lenses in his glasses was missing. He looked like an insurance agent, or maybe an orthodontist.
No, Casey thought to himself. No, I don’t.
The man opened his eyes then. They were the deepest blue that Casey had ever seen.
Hey, Casey said. Hey, mister. You just lie still, now.
The man looked at him. A bead of sweat dripped down his forehead and into his eyelashes.
What, the man said. What did you-
You stay real quiet, Casey said. The ambulance will be here soon.
Thunder rumbled across the sky.
Thank you, the man said. The faint line of a smile crossed his lips. He reached out and took Casey’s hand.
* * *
The lights in the trailer were out when Casey got home.
He sat there for a while on the couch, listening to the metallic patter of the rain on the roof.
The phone was buried underneath the pillows on the couch. Casey took it and dialed a number with shaking hands. He heard Misty pick up on the other end.
Casey, she said. Are you alright? I was drinking my coffee in the break room. A call came in about a man getting struck by lighting. I thought it might be you.
Casey wiped his wet hair back from his forehead as he sat there in the darkness.
I’m okay, he said. I just needed to hear your voice.
He remembered the lights of the ambulance as it took the man with the broken glasses away, down the highway, into the night. The paramedics had told him that the man was going to live, but somehow, Casey still didn’t feel anything, one way or the other.
I know you think I worry too much, Misty said.
Casey heard the rain on the window, where she was, on the other end. He imagined the telephone lines between them, swaying in the wind and the storm. He didn’t want to feel that apart from her ever, ever again.
I love you more than anything, she said. You know that, don’t you?
I know it, Casey said.
Who’re you gonna talk to, if ain’t me, she asked. It’s not right for you to carry things around with you. Not if I’m here.
Casey swallowed hard. A million thoughts rushed through his brain all at once. Then his mind focused on the sunset that evening, just before the murder, as he stood in the prison yard. Tendrils of purple and orange and deep red, snaking out from the sun as it slipped below the field of tall grass and the horizon beyond. Casey had never seen anything more beautiful.
For a moment, he felt like crying, but no tears came.
I could’ve stopped it, he said, finally.
I could’ve saved him, but I wasn’t paying attention, Casey said. That kid wasn’t much older than me. Everything was fine one minute. Then he was on the ground and there was blood everywhere.
Sweetheart, she said. You didn’t—
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now, he said. I thought tonight would make me feel different. But I just feel the same.
Oh, sweetheart, she said. The curtains above the sink shifted, then settled back against the window screen again. He heard her breathing, steady and soft, on the other end of the line, waiting for him to continue.