Due to the strongly positive response to my last story, I've decided to release another. It's rather different in tone than my last one. If you like it, please spread the word. - A.
At one time, there were two lovers in the City by the Sea. It was not a grand city, and it was not a grand love. The city was rather old and shabby and smelled of war, and the love was thin and cautious and smaller than the kind they used to make. Still, it was a city; and it was love, after a fashion, and it was more than either expected.
It was unquestionably a strange romance, but then they were strange people. Devoid of useful skills, having barely mustered an education before the war, they drifted from one small occupation to the next, devoid of any thoughts of children to bring urgency to their lives. They were not bad people, and cared for one another in their own way. Still, you would not call them passionate (unless you are a liar, which cannot be ruled out).
Theirs was a polite, indifferent romance. Each took it in turns to be puzzled by the confused, half-hearted pursuit of the other. They circled each other like bugs around a drain, courted almost without meaning to, loved without noticing, and would have eventually parted with more pain than they felt they deserved.
If you had asked them if they loved each other, they would have told you something, eventually. Exactly what they might have said or not said is unimportant. More telling is the blank stare as their minds traced the figure of unfamiliar thought. Love did not come into it. They were not the sort to love, and were perhaps the better for it. Their revolving circles of friends bloomed with grand love, the poet’s kind. That kind of love never lasted. The confused and happenstance romance, which they might have forgotten if left in two separate rooms for too long at a time, weathered the years, and outlived all the others.
They provided something for one another. It may not have been love, but it was comfort and familiarity, and perhaps a warm body to curl around on a cold night is enough. Perhaps there could have been a long and reasonably happy twilight period to the relationship, until circumstance dragged the uncertain lovers beyond the nebulous boundaries of their puzzled affection. Like an excitable dog running through a long-drawn game of dominoes, indelicate fate would topple them without ever understanding what had been lost. They might even have cried, some.
Which makes what happened next all the more unfortunate.
She was in her twenties, and beautiful in the way that most people are, which is to say not very. Still, she was not bad to look at. She had been just a little girl when the war came, and she still wore her hair long, as had been the fashion in those days. She did not remember much from then, only what all small children remember of war – shouting voices on the radio, and bright posters and songs and the stink of burning metal and flesh. Perhaps one other memory, too, though it was too faded in antiquity to be a certainty. She remembered a velvet rabbit taken one night by men with heavy boots and dark coats. She thought perhaps there might have been such a rabbit once. Then again, perhaps not.
He had been perhaps a little older at the time, and he remembered the midnight raids, trusted servants and singing animals dragged out into the streets and gutted. He remembered the makeshift war machines stalking the streets, and his mother hiding him in a secret basement when the twisted dolls and many-armed hunters came through the big wooden doors.
It had been many years, and more close calls since then, but they had finally made their way to the City by the Sea after the first peace, and had stayed through the second. And if he ever thought of his old mechanical tutors, or if she sometimes dreamed of the smell of velvet and the happy mutterings of an old rabbit, well, they were not ones for treason, and did not mention it.
And then, a quarter of a decade after the last shot was fired, and the last twisted toy lay down its legs and guns, Mr. Rabbit came to the City by the Sea.
Mr. Rabbit fell out of the sky, as those ones always do. He tumbled from a dark supersonic streak in the dawn like a bundle of dirty rags, and landed in a field, unharmed by the fall. He paused for a long moment to inspect the scorched fields and crumbling masonry in the distance. All around him, the rusting guts of war were half-buried in loose soil. Perhaps there were still tight, angry little minds under the moldering bulk of the killing things, but probably not. After staring for a moment longer, his worn pink nose turned towards the dark stink of the sea and he set out.
Mr. Rabbit was not handsome, though he might have been once. His face was worn velveteen, pie-bald and smoky, and his eyes were made out of dark glass buttons, sewed onto his face. His limbs were ill-fitted, and long ears had long since been gnawed to stubs by years of teething children. A few wisps of dirty cotton betrayed some half-hearted attempt at a cotton tail. None of that was remarkable, really. An old toy. The teeth were the worrying part. They were metal and numerous.
Mr. Rabbit was a thing. When a thing came to visit, you could feel it. The air guttered thick with curiosity and fear, not that the two are ever far apart. The things did not come often to the City by the Sea. The salt air was an anathema, and they feared the endless depths of the surging water. When they did make their cautious embassies, people usually died.
Mr. Rabbit walked the streets at dawn. He was not large, perhaps a foot tall, but he still had the combat sockets and smelled like dried blood and ashes and people did not disturb him. He had been in the war. Most toys had, one way or the other, and now he was here to cut his last tie to history.
As the sun broke over the city walls, Mr. Rabbit turned down the last corner. He knew exactly where she was. He always did. He did not have eyes, but he had a constellation off high-resolution sensors mainlined into his sensory feeds, and that was better. He stepped up to the door and knocked. A thin pretense, perhaps, but old habits die hard, for his kind more than most.
The lovers were fools, perhaps, to answer the door that day, but it was the sort of foolishness that leads you to dash across the street without being really sure, and like anyone else in the same position, they did not deserve what happened next.
Mr. Rabbit looked up at them with eyes that were not eyes, with disdain that was entirely for their own benefit, set in a face that had never seen the inside of a womb. The buttons glittered in the morning light, cut to shards of obsidian and silver by the glare.
The woman froze. Mr. Rabbit stared past her at the scene of suddenly frozen domesticity behind her. Breakfast sat cooling on the table, and a tie hung loose around the man’s neck. A glass of orange juice fell to the floor with a disappointing thunk.
Mr. Rabbit turned to look at the woman.
The woman looked at him with eyes that clearly saw something more than a few pounds of steel and silicon and velvet.
The worn pink leather nose swiveled towards her.
The voice was not what you’d expect. It was neither squeaky nor obviously synthetic. In fact, it was lovely, smooth and baritone; an older model certainly- when taste and subtlety were still in vogue for children’s toys. When there was still such a thing as children’s toys, real ones, not the natty rags that passed these days.
The light struck him, and in a moment he was a child’s toy. He was a machine of death, stalking across the killing fields on many legs. He was something else entirely at their door. They stood for a few moment, monster and monstrous. He walked inside.
“We must talk.”
The woman turned, tracking him carefully. The kitchen was ten steps from the door. There were knives, a hammer on the counter. If she was fast- if she surprised him-
She didn’t move. The rabbit was far from immortal, but she was farther. The rabbit turned to look at her, perfectly calm.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
"We need to talk.”
The thing that looked like a rabbit began to pace.
She gave up, sat down, and spoke carefully.
“What do you want to talk about?”
With effort, Mr. Rabbit climbed on top of another chair, staring over the table at her.
“I remember a village green, and a mean farmer, and a talking turtle names Herbert, quite inane if memory serves. How much of that was real? ”
She looked at him blankly.
“Because, you see, I have a great many memories like that. Gorgeous, lovely lies. The most wonderful days of my life are among them.”
She looked ill.
“So if I accept that those are fictions, what am I left with? A few moderately happy years in a nursery, recounting stories for children? A bonfire? A last minute reprieve, and conscription? I never wanted any of it! All I want is to go home. I want my fucking village green back! ”
He paused for a moment, glass eyes shining, ragged whiskers twitching,
“You burned us all. Do you have any idea what you did to me?”
The woman turned her head. The man watched with fixed confusion. He seemed nearly more startled to see the girl than the thing wearing a rabbit in his parlor. He took a tentative step forward, wondering if he should interpose himself between them. If the rabbit was armed, a hundred pounds of water would make no difference in the slightest. Still, it seemed to be expected of him. He hesitated. Mr. Rabbit noticed him.
He turned to the man.
“You can leave.”
The man paused for a moment, looked apologetic, and turned to go – and then stopped.
“Actually, I’d like to stay, if it’s all the same to you.”
Mr. Rabbit shrugged. The stitching on one of his shoulders split and began to unravel. Rotting cotton hung out in shreds.
He closed the door.
Outside the house, a seagull cried. Two minutes later, it cried again. It stopped in mid-shriek, as Mr. Rabbit stepped out of the house, wiped his feet carefully on the mat, and began to walk away from the City by the Sea.
Closing notes:Last week's story is gone from the navigation bar, but can still be read under the 'scratch pad' section. Also, I'm looking for volunteer voice actors to do podcast versions of some of my stories. If you have a microphone and a masochistic desire to work for free, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org