It was morning and the sun was creeping through the blinds like a ghostly brushstroke of boiled lemon yellow light. BunBun O’Brien sat up in bed, put on his glam glasses, and looked at his collection of Easter eggs from outer space. They were arranged neatly on tiny individual egg easels inside a glass cabinet hewn from a dark wood. He appreciated their outlandish colors and designs, and for the fact their origins were completely extraterrestrial. BunBun O’Brien often dreamt of living somewhere else, out in space, on some different planet that wasn’t so sore and ravaged by hate and greed. He sighed and crawled out of bed. He walked down the narrow hall to the kitchen. He tugged on a string to open the blinds covering the window above the sink. Carrot shavings lay there, now drying and sticking to the stainless steel. He turned on the water and flushed them down the drain. He put on a kettle of water for some hot tea and looked out the window. Bag worms hung heavy and grotesque in some of the tree limbs, and the heat bugs were already shimmering and screeching. He watched ruby red cardinals fly through the leaves. The kettle began to whistle. He carefully poured the hot water over the tea bag in a cup and watched it steam. He carefully carried it to his table and sat down. He sipped too soon and it burnt his bunny beard.
“Damn it all to hell!” he screamed, and then with one swift swipe of his paw, the cup of hot tea flew across the room and crashed onto the floor.
“Can’t I even allow myself one cup of tea without being all wumbly bumbly about it!?”
He slammed his head against the top of the table repeatedly until it really hurt – then the phone began to ring. Once, twice, three times, four.
“What’s wrong? You sound grumpy.”
“Yes. It’s me. Who would you think it was?”
“Where in the hell have you been? I haven’t heard from you in three days.”
“I’ve been away.”
“What’s going on with you? You sound strange, Caroline.”
She paused for a long time. “I’ve been thinking.”
“I’ve been thinking that maybe we should start seeing other rabbits.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means exactly what it sounds like, exactly what I said.”
“No. It means you want to start seeing other rabbits.”
“Yes. We’re getting stale.”
Sarcastically he breathed, “Are we bread?”
“Of course we’re not bread, you dumb bunny! But I think it’s time to explore other meadows.”
BunBun O’Brien could feel the venom boiling in his guts and it was crawling up and stinging his throat like acid.
“So, what you’re really saying is that you’ve already started seeing another rabbit.”
There was some silence and maybe even a little whimper on the other end of the line.
“No you’re not!”
“Things happen. Rabbits change. You’ve changed. You’re not the same silly little bunny I used to know.”
“Who is he?”
He could hear her swallow.
“Carlos!? Carlos is a douchebag! And he’s Mexican.”
“You’re a douchebag! And a racist pig! I hate you!”
“Fuck you, Caroline! Just fuck off!”
“Don’t talk to me that way! Don’t ever talk to me that way again! Maybe if you weren’t such a bum and maybe if you knew how to satisfy me – then maybe I’d still love you.”
“I’ve satisfied you plenty of times, Caroline – don’t lie to yourself for the sake of that over the border hack.”
“You’ve never satisfied me the way Carlos satisfies me. I don’t have to fake it with him. You’re not even a real rabbit.”
“I never thought I’d say this, Caroline. But I really really hate you right now. Don’t ever talk to me again. Enjoy your future life running to the sun in your silver taco truck!”
BunBun O’Brien slammed the phone down on the table repeatedly until it was in pieces. He screamed out a whole belly full of bunny pain. He was dripping and panting and his heart was racing with fury. His head drooped and he began to weep softly in the sparkling sun fuzz of a new day, a day which he already hated.
BunBun O’Brien stretched out on his bed, smoked some high-grade grass, and stared at the ceiling. He felt really goopy inside. He felt used up and spit out. He felt like that old bottle of ketchup that was almost empty, inverted in the refrigerator, the cap all sticky and crusted up. His stomach could barely take what his mind was feeding it.
“I’ll never fall in love with another rabbit ever again. Yarbles to you, Caroline. Big bolshy yarbles to you!”
He laid on his bed for a very long time and then he fell asleep, roughly, and then he dreamed. He dreamed, or maybe it was real after all, possibly sleepwalking, possibly riding to that new dimension – but there he was atop a steaming black horse racing across some great land of green hills and forests and streams and it felt a lot like the English countryside to him, maybe Wales, maybe Tazmania. The horse carried him down into a valley spread wide like Caroline Bunny’s legs, and there he saw a little village with a little pub and so he went inside.
The place smelled like malt vinegar and peanuts and working class sweat. BunBun O’Brien found himself a quiet table in a smoky corner and sat down. A gruff looking man with a big bald head and gnarled hands came over and wiped down the table with a soiled bar towel.
“That doesn’t seem very sanitary,” BunBun O’Brien told him.
“What?” the barman moaned.
“Your towel is dirty and you’re using it to wipe my table. I’m a bit disgusted by that.”
The big barman flipped the towel over his shoulder, rubbed at his boozy nose, then leaned down on the table and looked at him.
“Well that’s just too fuckin’ bad, rabbit. Is that what you are? A rabbit?”
“Yes. And your face smells. Could you back off a bit?”
The barman stood straight up and towered over him. He took the towel and wiped it all over his grimy self, even down his pants and under his arms. He threw it in BunBun O’Brien’s face and laughed.
“Why don’t you just order somethin’ and then move your ass on outta here. I got real customers to tend to,” he said.
BunBun O’Brien removed the rag from his face with the tips of two fingers and threw it onto the floor.
“That was pretty much the most disgusting thing that has ever happened to me. Do you have a place I could wash up?”
The barman just shook his head and waved his arm.
“Back there, but don’t get ya piss everywhere. I run a clean joint.”
BunBun O’Brien made his way through the pub and to the men’s room in the back. He pushed the greasy door in and the smell was atrocious. It was in fact the most disgusting bathroom he had ever seen – soiled deep with the human stain. He made his way to the sink and turned on the water. There was some slamming and sexual moaning coming from one of the stalls.
“Thank God I don’t have to take a plop,” he said to himself.
He scrubbed at his hands with a dirty bar of soap, splashed his face, and almost threw up. He looked at himself in the stained mirror and a long crack in the glass split his features in two – for a moment he thought he saw a man on the other side of the rabbit. He grabbed for some paper towels and dried off. The dirty passion was still going on as he walked out. He made his way through a cluster of big meaty men smoking and playing pool. He went to the bar and sat on a stool right in front of the barman.
“The barman grumbled. “You’re still here?”
“You might be interested to know that there’s a bit of nastiness going on in the men’s room.”
“What the hell ya talking about?”
BunBun O’Brien leaned in so he could whisper. “I think there’s people in one of the stalls doing woo hoo.”
The barman was confused. “What the hell are you saying?
“You know – the ol’ in-out, in-out.”
The barman poured himself a pint and drained it quickly. He slammed the glass down hard and stared BunBun O’Brien right in the face, his mean and sweaty jowls dangling like a bulldog’s.
“This is a friendly place. People get friendly, if ya know what I mean. The way I see it, it ain’t none of your damn business, so why don’t you quit complaining about everything and just order something.”
BunBun O’Brien sighed, his own fractured sense of morality momentarily defeated.
“All right then. I’ll have a slice of carrot cake and a glass of milk.”
The barman laughed so hard he began to choke.
“What? Hey, boys, come check this one out! The little sissy bunny wants a slice of carrot cake and a glass of milk.”
A flood of laughter roared from the opposite end of the pub.
BunBun O’Brien was embarrassed. “I don’t see what’s so funny.”
“Does this look like a fruity tooty cafe to you? We don’t serve milk and cake. We’ve got beer,” the barman scolded. “If you want milk and cake maybe you should try the preschool down the street.”
There was more laughter and then a few big drunken men came over and gathered around BunBun O’Brien at the bar. He felt like he was in a bad Bruce Lee movie.
“What’s that you’re wearing on your face?” a mean man named Billy Ruben asked.
“Yeah, that’s right. Glasses. But why are they all sparkly and glittery like that? Are you some kind of faggot?”
“I happen to like a little sparkle in my life, and as far as my sexual preference is concerned, it’s really none of your fucking business.”
“Hey. Did he just use the word sexual? I think he’s trying to make a pass at you, Billy,” a brute named Freddy Favor said from somewhere behind.
“Shut ya trap, bastard!” Billy yelled. “This queer’s ‘bout to get a smashing!”
Freddy Favor pushed forward. He was the size of Andre the Giant, and even his clothes couldn’t contain the curled blossoms of thick body hair that crawled out.
“No. No. No. I’ve got a better idea,” he said. “Let’s pin him to the dart board and go a few rounds. Those ears are big enough to hold him up for a while.”
“That is if we stick the darts in nice and deep,” Billy Ruben added viciously.
BunBun O’Brien hopped off the stool and put his paws in the air.
“Now hold on one damn minute. I get the picture. You’re looking for someone to pick on and I just happen to be an easy target. Right? I’m not bothering anybody but you guys just had to start a bunch of shit. Well, I’m sorry, but it’s not going to be me today. Now if you’d kindly step aside, I’ll be leaving.”
Big Billy Ruben stood in front of BunBun O’Brien and crossed his muscular arms across his chest.
“Sit back down and shut your trap, bunny man. You need permission to just get up and walk out – and we haven’t given you none.”
“Aw geez, come on!” BunBun O’Brien groaned.
Freddy Favor stuck a big meaty fist in his face. His knuckles were huge and hairy.
“I say we jump on his belly ‘till he pisses blood!”
“Aw for fuck sake. Is that really necessary? What pleasure could you possibly attain from watching me piss blood? I don’t get it. I do not understand your attraction to such barbarism. I think you boys all need a bit more time in the evolution oven.”
“What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout now?” the barman said. “You don’t make much sense at all. Maybe we should stomp your guts out, fill you with stuffin’ and mount you on the wall.”
The drunken brutes all laughed out loud. The barman pointed to a prominent spot above the bar and grinned.
“Right up there so everyone could get a nice look at ya.”
BunBun O’Brien sighed over the tom foolery.
“Look, if you guys don’t let me walk out of here right now, I’ll be forced to use my magic.”
Freddy Favor spit beer out of his mouth and howled like a madman.
“Magic!? What kind of magic will you be doing then? Are you going to pull some flowers out of your arse? Ya little tart.”
Billy Ruben chuckled. “Nah, he’s gonna being pulling my foot out of his arse after I kick him all the way backs to where he come from.”
“So, do you live in a top hat?” the barman asked. “You just used to the spooky dark and not being out in public and that’s why you don’t know not to order cake and milk at the pub. Is that it?” The barman poked a fat finger, a finger that looked like a nasty sausage, right in BunBun O’Brien’s breastbone. “Stupid bunny rabbit. You just don’t know how to conduct yourself properly in public.”
“Don’t touch me,” BunBun O’Brien warned. “If you touch me again I’ll bite your hand off.”
“Ooooooooh,” Billy Ruben teased. “Big bad bunny rabbit gonna chew at us with his wooden teeth. I’m shivering in my shoes.”
“I don’t have wooden teeth.”
“They look like wooden teeth.”
“They’re not wooden teeth.”
“Oh, well I guess it don’t matter none,” Billy Ruben said, parading his tail feathers like a heated peacock. “Wooden or not, I’m about to smash ‘em down your stupid throat!”
Big mean Billy Ruben swung. BunBun O’Brien ducked, then grabbed the arm, bit down hard into his wrist, and tore out a hunk of flesh.
Billy Ruben pulled back and screamed.
“That little bastard’s tryin’ to eat me!”
“I warned you! Now just let me go on my way and nobody else gets hurt.”
As the barman wrapped his dirty towel around Billy Ruben’s gushing wound, Freddy Favor angrily went at BunBun O’Brien himself, but soon regretted it when he received a swift and furious kick right in the testicles.
“Ohhhhhhhh my nuts!” he cried out. “The little bastard crushed my precious jewels!”
And then he fell to the floor with a deep thud.
“Just get the hell out of here and don’t come back!” the barman scolded. “I don’t ever want to see ya again.”
“Don’t worry,” BunBun O’Brien said as he hopped over Freddy Favor’s big moaning body on the way to the exit. “I wouldn’t bother coming in here if it was the last place open on Earth and I was dying of thirst!”
BunBun O’Brien’s eyes flickered open as he awoke to the sound of someone furiously pounding on his front door.
“Hold on a minute! Jesus effin’ Christ! Who’s there?”
“Caroline?” he wondered, and he pressed his face against the door. “What the hell do you want?”
“I’ve left some things here and I would like to pick them up.”
“Tough shit! I’m busy right now. I’ll set them outside for you later.”
“I have a right to get my things. I can call the rabbit patrol and then you’ll have to let me in.”
“You’re being a real pain in the ass, Caroline. A real pain in the ass!”
BunBun O’Brien reluctantly unlocked the door and slowly pulled it open. He peered out at her. He could smell her. It drove him mad.
“Come in, but make it quick. I’d rather not look at you more than I have to.”
“I won’t be long. Just a few things in the bathroom – and my records. Where are my records?”
BunBun O’Brien pointed to the cabinet where the stereo sat.
“Right there. Where else would they be?”
“You don’t have to be snotty.”
“Excuse me. I suppose I should just hop up and down with joyful glee. Perhaps if I were sunbathing nude on a Mexican beach and sipping carrot juice with my lover, maybe then I’d be a bit more cheerful.”
“Fuck you, too!”
Caroline Bunny quickly gathered the rest of her things and made toward the door.
BunBun O’Brien stopped her. “Hey wait. That one’s mine.”
“INXS – Greatest Hits. That’s my record.”
Caroline was flustered. “Here. It’s a lousy record anyways. I always hated it when you played it.”
“I thought you liked it.”
“Good grief, Caroline. You’re a real piece of work.”
“He killed himself.”
“The singer of that crappy band you like.”
“Yeah. Everyone knows that.”
“Well, maybe you should do the world a favor and do the same thing.”
“You have a hunk of dirty coal for a heart. Do you know that, Caroline?”
Her tearing eyes darted away.
“Goodbye forever,” she whimpered.
“Adios, trampola,” BunBun O’Brien said, and he slammed the door so hard that the entire front part of the house rattled.
BunBun O’Brien suddenly felt all alone in the world. He actually even felt bad about the way he spoke to Caroline. He took a framed photograph of them together at the Deer Park Carrot Farm and dropped it into the trash can. Then he stomped it down. The glass cracked. He poured the trash can onto the living room carpet and kicked at the pieces madly. He didn’t care. It was over. It was over forever and his stomach suddenly pained him. He lit a scented candle and sat on the couch. He wanted to call a friend but his phone was all smashed up. He smoked some more of that high-grade grass and disappeared into another dimension.
This time it was an empty beach. The water was gray and smashing hard against the shore. The cloud ceiling was thick and hung low. The horn of some invisible lighthouse groaned in the distance. He thought he saw someone rowing a boat in the water. He moved closer to the water’s edge and realized it was someone rowing a boat in the water.
“Hey there!” someone called out. “Can you help me pull it ashore?”
“All right!” BunBun O’Brien called out. “Where did you come from?”
“Hold on. That’s right. Reel me in like a big fat fish.”
The boat hit the shore, the stranger jumped off, and together the two pulled it in until it fit snugly in the sand.
“Thanks,” the stranger said. “Who are you?”
“My name is BunBun O’Brien. I’m a rabbit. Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Pierre Moose. It’s very nice to know you.”
“So, where did you come from? All I see is water.”
“All in good time, my strange little friend. Why don’t we build a little fire. I’m quite cold from being out there so long. Then we can talk.”
“I don’t have any matches.”
“I do. A good seaman always has matches.”
“Well, for situations just like this.”
Pierre Moose was a tall, lean man with a face chiseled by the salty air. His hair was long and gray and now soaked by the sea spray. The hair matched the color of his speckled beard that was kept cropped close to the skin of his face – like sandpaper. His eyes, stone gray and constantly scanning the horizon, looked weary and full of ghost stories. He wore a black raincoat, unbuttoned, and beneath it a heavy sweater with a turtle-neck collar. His dark pants were puffy and dirty, and he wore rubber boots that went up to just below his knees.
“Have you been fishing?” BunBun O’Brien wondered aloud.
“Fishing? Oh no. I’m not a fisherman. I am an adventurer.”
“What kind of adventures?”
“Ah, too many to mention. Why don’t you gather some wood before I freeze to death.”
BunBun O’Brien went off toward a cluster of trees and brambles that grew away from the shore. He turned to look back at the man, now kneeling in the sand, and he was rubbing his hands together in the cold and making colors float off from the tips of his fingers, like an emergency flare or maybe birthday candle sparkles for a circus clown. It was strange, really kind of eerie and hallucinatory, BunBun O’Brien thought, and he wondered if he had stumbled upon some sort of magician or old sea warlock.
“What the hell does he need matches for if he can do that?” BunBun O’Brien asked himself. “And I wonder if he knows anything about sailing to Mexico – I’d sure like to kill that Carlos bastard.”
BunBun O’Brien gathered what wood he could and returned toward the spot on the beach where Pierre had decided to build the fire. He was staring off into the waters, smoking an old pipe, and thinking deeply so it seemed. BunBun O’Brien dropped the paltry amount of wood onto the ground and the man looked at it and then up at him.
“I suppose I should have gathered the wood. I didn’t consider your small arms.”
“I can get more.”
“It’s enough for now.”
Pierre Moose arranged the sticks like an inverted cone and stuffed kindling at the bottom. He fumbled in his pockets for a box of matches and pulled one out and struck it against the side.
“They’re a little damp,” he said, continuing to strike until it lit. He cupped the flame with his bony hand and set it to the kindling. It took right away and soon the flames rose and the sticks took to it and there was fire.
BunBun O’Brien felt the heat wash over him and it gave him some peace in the growing darkness.
The man stood up tall and he was somewhat menacing in the light of the fire.
“Stay here. I’m going to gather more wood.”
BunBun O’Brien watched the lanky stranger stroll off in the direction of the wooded area. He seemed like some lost soul or phantom searching for good in a world with so little. He watched the fire and listened to the waves crash. He felt alone, wayward and unsettled. He missed Caroline. Yes, she was unsavory and cruel, he thought, but the good memories soiled the bad ones. The thought of her with Carlos made his guts hurt. He saw some blinking lights in the distance. A ship was passing. Then Pierre appeared without warning and dropped a pile of sticks at his side. It startled him.
“You can start feeding the fire,” Pierre told him.
BunBun O’Brien added the sticks and the flames grew. Then he set on a larger log. Then another. It was roaring and warm and Pierre settled into the sand and lit up his pipe again.
“You’re welcome to stay on the beach with me tonight if you like. Then in the morning I can take you to my island.”
“An island? Is that where you live?”
“I suppose you could say that. It’s not much living really. But it’s peaceful. No one bothers me out there.”
“Do you like being alone?”
“Yes. People have it all wrong nowadays. They’re all screwed up. I don’t want to be a part of that. And you? What brings you wandering to this place?”
“I’m not really sure. I got a little high.”
“You don’t know how you got here?”
“Or, isn’t this just a dream?”
“Not to me.”
“I thought I was dreaming.”
“You also seem to think you’re a rabbit.”
“But, I am a rabbit.”
“No. You’re just a man who thinks he’s a rabbit.”
“Why would any man want to think he was a rabbit?”
“I haven’t figured that out about you yet.”
“But, just look at me. Don’t I look like a rabbit?”
Pierre Moose studied him as if he were a fine piece of art.
“Well, it is true that you’re small and you have larger than normal ears and an unruly beard. So, yes, I suppose it is possible one could mistake you for an animal, and yes, possibly a rabbit. But I assure you, friend, you are a man.”
“How can that be?” BunBun O’Brien wondered aloud. “How can that possibly be? How have I managed to live within such a charade?”
Pierre pointed his pipe and with straightforward honesty said, “You must be severely delusional.”
“So, then Caroline must be a real woman?”
“My girlfriend. I mean my ex-girlfriend.”
“Well, she must be a real woman. I seriously doubt any sane dame in the world would date a rabbit.”
BunBun O’Brien dipped his head and thought about it. His mind was a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.
“Don’t worry about it so much,” Pierre Moose reassured him. “Tomorrow I will take you to my island and you can be a man and even live there if you want. There’s plenty of room.”
“I’m not really sure what’s going on, Pierre. I think I need to speak to a priest.”
“Yes. Do you know any?”
“Well, I think there’s an old minister who lives out on Rocky Point. A Mr. Abrams, I believe. It’s on the way. Maybe he can help you readjust your marbles. I have to stop for supplies anyway.”
“I would like to do that. Thank you.”
Pierre tapped his pipe out on the sand, set more large logs on the fire, and then laid out flat on his back and folded his arms.
“I’m going to try to meditate for a while before going to sleep,” he said. “Stay close to the fire. It’s going to be cold.”
The next morning they docked at Rocky Point, and it was indeed a rocky point that jutted out into the sea like a stony gray elbow. There was a tall white lighthouse and a small harbor, and an odd quaint village that rested neatly at the crest of a steep hill.
“I’ll be at the general store gathering my sundries and such,” Pierre Moose said, and he pointed. “You should find the padre at the big red church. I’ll meet you back here when you’re ready. Good luck with figuring out who and what you are.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
BunBun O’Brien made his way up the hill and into the town. He saw the steeple of the red church and it pierced the sky like a holy needle. He went to the door and pulled but it was locked. There was an old woman nearby sweeping the walk. She was hunched over and dressed in a sweater and had a purple kerchief over her head. She stopped and looked at him.
“Church is only open on Sunday,” she said with a tired, gnarled voice.
“I need to see the preacher, Mr. Abrams I believe. It’s rather urgent. Do you know where I could find him?”
The old lady pointed with a crooked arm.
“Out back there at the house. That’s where he lives. Not sure if he’s awake yet though. He’s a nightcrawler. Takes to drinking, too. But I suppose he’s the best we can get around here.”
“Thanks. I’ll see if he’s in.”
BunBun O’Brien made his way around to the rear of the church and there sat an old white house, crooked and quaint, with a nice yard and a little stone fountain with a statue of some bearded saint pouring the water from a jug. He went to the door and knocked. Someone stirred inside. He knocked again.
“Hello?” he called through the door. “I need to speak with a minister.”
The door suddenly jerked open and there stood a pot-bellied man; unshaven, unruly, droopy in the eyes and jowls.
“Yes? Who are you?”
“My name is BunBun O’Brien. Pierre Moose said you may be able to help me.”
“Pierre Moose? I don’t know a Pierre Moose. It sounds made up. What did you need?”
“I need to speak to you about a spiritual matter, I think. It’s quite important to me.”
“All right, hold on. Let me at least put some clothes on.”
He closed the door and BunBun O’Brien sat down on the stoop and waited. He listened as the holy statue dribbled the water into the small pool. The sound made him suddenly realize he had to evacuate himself. The door finally opened, and the preacher, now properly dressed in black with white collar, invited him in.
“Could I use your bathroom?” BunBun O’Brien immediately asked.
“Well, I suppose. It’s down the hall there, on the left. Please excuse the mess. My cleaning woman has gotten lazy in her old age.”
BunBun O’Brien relieved himself in a dirty toilet, flushed, and then came back out. The preacher was sitting at the kitchen table eating toast and sipping coffee.
“I hope you don’t mind if I eat my breakfast while we talk. Would you like some coffee?”
“No. Thank you. Do you have any carrot juice?”
The preacher eyed him strangely. “No. I’m afraid I don’t, but why don’t you tell me what you’re so concerned about.”
“Well, I fear I’m severely delusional. That’s what Pierre says. But I think he may be right. I’m afraid I just don’t know who I really am.”
“That’s not so unusual. Many people are unsure of who they really are.”
“But, tell me. When you look at me, what do you see?”
The preacher sipped at his coffee and glared at BunBun O’Brien over the rim of his cup.
“I see someone I’ve never met before. I see a stranger in my house.”
“I mean physically. What do you see?”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Am I a man?”
The preacher hesitated and looked at him strangely.
“Of course you’re a man. Some sort of man. I don’t really see what you’re getting at.”
“I’ve lived my entire life thinking I was a rabbit.”
“A rabbit? If this is some sort of joke, well, then I’d rather not be a part of it.”
“So, I don’t look like a rabbit to you?”
“No. Of course not. That’s preposterous.”
“I really thought I was a rabbit.”
“Son, perhaps you should be seeking counsel from a psychiatrist, not a preacher.”
“You think I’m crazy?”
“No. But perhaps your friend was correct in his diagnosis of severely delusional.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do to help me?”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“Make me feel better about it. Can’t you heal me or work a miracle or at least pray for me?”
The preacher took one last crunch of toast and final gulp of coffee, and then looked at him square in the eye.
“A man is born. A man lives like that. Then a man dies. You are a flesh and blood man. Don’t doubt that. I will pray for you, but I encourage you to seek the advice of a medical doctor. There are many medications available to those with such afflictions of the mind that you seem to be in possession of.”
“Pills? You want me to take pills? I came here for cleansing of the heart and spirit. I came here for a sense of peace and understanding and this is what you give me? That I should take pills?”
“Please understand. I have limitations in what I can do. I’m not God himself. You came to me for advice and that is my advice. You need to be under a doctor’s care. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some things I must get done today. I wish you well.”
The preacher stood and went to the door and held it open. BunBun O’Brien got up and walked out. The door closed behind him with a slam. He heard the lock slide into its casing. He went to the holy man statue and ran his hand over the stone. It was cool to the touch. He pushed on it. It wobbled. He pushed again, harder, and the statue fell. The bearded saint broke at the neck. His head rolled, then stopped. The holy face looked directly up at him, gently smiling. Then the stone lips began to move.
“Aren’t you going to put me back together?”
BunBun O’Brien froze. His heart started pounding hard within his chest.
“Don’t just stand there. Help me!” it said.
BunBun O’Brien carefully leaned over the stone head and looked at it. The face was alive and human to him. He rubbed at his eyes and slapped himself.
“I must be going fucking insane!” he yelled out.
It was then that the boozy padre opened the door and stuck his head out.
“Hey!” he yelled. “What are you doing out there? Get out of here!”
Mr. Abrams stepped out from the house completely and that’s when he saw that the beloved statue was broken.
“Why did you do that?”
BunBun O’Brien looked back at him. “It was an accident. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t lie to me, brother. I was watching you from the window. You deliberately knocked it over. That’s vandalism and I’m calling the constable.”
Mr. Abrams hurried inside to ring the law and BunBun O’Brien panicked.
“Shit! Shit! Shit! What do I do?”
“Run you fool,” the stone head said. “But wait! Take me with you.”
BunBun O’Brien snatched the head up in his hands and it looked even creepier close up.
“What about your body?”
“There’s no time, and it would be much too heavy. I’d rather just be a head than lying dead somewhere in a pile of stones. Now let’s go!”
BunBun O’Brien ran and ran and ran until he could run no more. When he was near the dock he saw Pierre Moose there loading sacks into the little boat. He rushed to meet him.
“Come on! We need to get out of here,” BunBun O’Brien yelled.
Pierre looked up, confused. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ll explain it later, but right now we need to go.”
“All right then. Well, get in, and what the hell is that?”
“It’s a head. Come on! Row!”
Pierre took his place and stroked the oars as hard as he could. “There’s a storm coming in. Things might get a bit rough out here. But don’t worry. I’ve done this countless times.”
The water was choppy and the bobbing motion of the small boat was churning BunBun O’Brien’s stomach like butter. He put his head over the side and spewed into the sea. Pierre rowed like a madman and there was no sign of the law at the shore and BunBun O’Brien felt better about that. He set the stone head down on the bottom of the boat and held his head in his hands. Pierre thought he was crying.
“What’s wrong with you?”
BunBun O’Brien looked up and tears were flying out of his face like Niagra Falls.
“I don’t know. I just got really scared back there. That preacher was no help at all. He was actually kind of mean.”
“Well, then I’m sorry I suggested him. I was just trying to help.”
“It’s not your fault. I’m just fucking deranged.”
“It’s all right now. We’ll be to the island soon and you can rest. You just need to calm down.”
“I’m not good at calming down. My nerves are on fire.”
“Are you going to tell me about the head?”
BunBun O’Brien looked down at it as it gently rolled about at the bottom of the boat. The eyes were closed. The face was still, like stone should be.
“It spoke to me.”
“That’s impossible. It’s made of stone. If it’s true, make it talk now.”
BunBun O’Brien picked it up and stared straight into the face. There was nothing. It was just stone as it always had been.
“Hello? Where did you go. It’s okay, this is my friend.”
The eyes suddenly became human again and opened. The jaw twitched. The lips fumbled to speak.
“Where are we?” it said.
“We’re on a little boat heading to an island in the middle of nowhere. This is Pierre.”
The face stretched to look at the lean, gray man rowing the boat.
“Hello. Thank you for letting me ride along.”
“That’s incredible,” Pierre said. “How can it be? Stone does not speak.”
“He’s a holy stone,” BunBun O’Brien said.
“I am Saint Pedro, the patron saint of migrant workers and loose Latino women. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“I never heard of a Saint Pedro,” Pierre said. “I think he’s bluffing. This is some kind of evil spell or curse. I think you should throw it over the side.”
“No!” the head of Saint Pedro protested. “Please don’t do that. I’m not a bad saint. I just do bad things.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Pierre.
“I mean, I am the imperfect saint. I am the sinful saint. I’m the most human of all saints. You’ll be able to relate to me.”
“Will you be mean to us?” BunBun O’Brien asked.
“Of course not. Not on purpose anyways.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” Pierre said. “I think we should restrain him until we can be sure he’s not going to do us in.”
“How?” BunBun O’Brien wondered.
“Put him in that burlap sack there and tie it tight.”
“That seems a bit drastic,” BunBun O’Brien said. “He hasn’t done anything so far.”
“Just the same, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Here, look. You can see the island now.”
BunBun O’Brien put the head into the bag and synched it tight. Then he looked out at the horizon and there he saw a mammoth island of dark stone and deep green trees blooming in a rolling mist. The cold waves slapped against the cliffs. The sky above hovered like a bruised womb of fog and cloud. It was menacing to him, yet it breathed sanctuary.
They brought the boat aground on the far side of the island where there was a small cove and a soft beach. Pierre hoisted his supplies over his shoulder and BunBun O’Brien carried the stone head of Saint Pedro. They made their way into the trees along a footpath worn down by Pierre over time as he came and went. BunBun O’Brien looked up, and the tops of the trees seemed so very far away to him – the light of day could barely break in as the canopy was so thick.
“How far is it?” he asked Pierre.
“Not far. Is the head heavy? Do you need to rest?”
BunBun O’Brien lied. “No. He’s just being restless in this bag.”
The path wound on and on, into the deepest parts of the island, and then the trees retreated a bit and the ground opened up and that is where BunBun O’Brien saw the crooked little white house, crooked and steaming in the mist.
“I know it doesn’t look like much,” Pierre said as he set the sacks on the porch. “But it’s comfortable enough. Quiet and peaceful, too. That’s the way I like it.”
BunBun O’Brien stepped onto the porch but Pierre held him back with his large hand.
“I think you should leave the head outside. I don’t feel good about bringing that thing into my house. It might be bad luck.”
“I’m not bad luck,” Saint Pedro said. “But I would like to be out of this sack. It’s itchy.”
“Where should I put it?”
Pierre pointed to a stump at the edge of the clearing.
“Put him there. I suppose he won’t be able to run off.”
BunBun O’Brien carried him to the stump, set him free from the sack and set him upon the flat surface.
“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro said. “Why can’t I come inside?”
“Not now,” BunBun O’Brien said. “You heard Pierre. He doesn’t like you too much.”
“What about you? Do you like me?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I guess that’s up to you.”
“You know, I could send you to hell if I wanted to,” Saint Pedro said to him, seriously.
BunBun O’Brien blinked at him, then his head dipped and he thought about how derailed his life had become. Even in the midst of trying to be good and peaceful and not stir up trouble, trouble always seemed to find him, get attached to him, like glue or magnets.
“I’m already in hell,” he answered, and then he walked away and went into the house, and there he saw a cozy little place, a bit worn down, but Pierre had made it livable.
The man was busy in the kitchen area, filling cupboards with cans and boxes and little bags by the light of a lantern. There was no electricity, only candles and the lanterns, and there was a wood-burning stove that was already beginning to glow, and now the fire crackled and the place was getting warmer.
“Do you want some coffee?” Pierre asked as he prepared the pot.
“Yes. And I’m hungry.”
“Well, then come in, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”
BunBun O’Brien sat down at a round table in the middle of the room.
“Do you have any carrot cake?” he asked.
“No. But I have something better. Just picked it up fresh today. How do you feel about liverwurst sandwiches.”
“It’s liver sausage. You spread it on bread. I like to refer to it as the poor man’s pate. Here, try it.”
Pierre set down two plates at the table. BunBun O’Brien stared at the bread, then he peeled the sandwich open to peek inside.
“It looks disgusting, he said.”
Pierre took a big bite of his own sandwich and chewed. “Nonsense. It’s delicious.”
BunBun O’Brien took a small bite. He nibbled carefully. The taste and texture did not sit with him very well. He set it back down on his plate.
“I can’t eat this. Don’t you have anything else?”
Pierre was somewhat offended. He got up to pour himself a cup of the coffee. “You’re welcome to hunt yourself a fish if you want. Otherwise it’s liverwurst. I’m sorry, but I have limited options. It’s a peaceful life, but not always easy and convenient. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable back where you came from.”
BunBun O’Brien sensed that he had hurt Pierre’s feelings and so he got up and walked outside. Saint Pedro whistled for him to come over.
“What do you want?” BunBun O’Brien asked.
“I just wanted to talk. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m afraid I offended our host by not eating his disgusting sandwich.”
“That wasn’t very nice of you.”
BunBun O’Brien snapped. “What the hell do you know! You’re just a stone head.”
“I know enough that it’s rude to complain about the food when in someone else’s home. You should apologize.”
BunBun O’Brien sighed. His stomach grumbled. “I’m just not myself when I’m hungry.”
“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro whispered. “I don’t trust him. I say we take his boat in the middle of the night and leave this place.”
“We can’t do that. He’d be marooned.”
“Would you really care? Face it, you’re not the nicest animal in the world.”
“Why did you call me an animal? Do I look like an animal to you?”
“Every man is an animal. You’re savages. Pigs. The world has fallen because of you – you human animals.”
“You used to be human,” BunBun O’Brien pointed out.
“I rose above it,” Saint Pedro answered. “Wait. Be quiet now. He’s coming.”
They saw Pierre Moose moving toward them. He was walking softly and carrying a big spear.
“What’s going on out here?” he asked.
“We’re just talking,” BunBun O’Brien said. “What’s the spear for?”
Pierre clicked his teeth and rubbed at his sandpaper face.
“Self preservation mostly,” Pierre answered. “But I feel bad about you going hungry – thought I’d try to bag you some fish for supper.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’ll eat the sandwich.”
“I already finished it for you. Besides, I feel like doing a little fishing. Why don’t you get the fire pit going while I’m gone.”
Pierre looked at him differently. His cold eyes were suspicious now.
“I won’t be too long,” Pierre said, and then he went off down the path and soon he vanished.
“I don’t like this,” Saint Pedro said. “I don’t like this at all. He’s up to no good. I can feel it. We need to get out of here.”
“That’s not an option right now. If we went off in the boat at night, who knows where we’d end up. We’d probably drown.”
“I think he’s crazy.”
“What sane man lives alone on an island in the middle of nowhere?”
“Maybe he’s sane and the rest of us are crazy.”
“He’s upset. A lone man who gets upset is never a good thing. You should have eaten that damn sandwich!”
“Pipe down, Pedro. I’m going to do what he says and build the fire.”
“Well, then at least set me over on that log so I can watch you and not have to be alone.”
“Fine,” BunBun O’Brien said, and he took the stone head of Saint Pedro and set it on the log. “Now just stay here while I get some firewood.”
BunBun O’Brien went into the trees and gathered sticks and logs and branches. He dragged it all back to the circular fire ring little by little until there was a substantial pile. He went to work breaking down branches and piling the sticks. He put together a bundle of kindling and put it at the base.
“I don’t have any matches,” he said to Saint Pedro.
“Look in the house. He’s got to have matches in there.”
He went into the house, dug around and found an old coffee can stuffed with matchbooks. Then he thought he heard a terrible scream. He ran outside but saw nothing. He lit the fire and soon it was roaring. The day was fading as Pierre emerged in the clearing. He was dragging something large along the ground behind him.
BunBun O’Brien looked up at the man who had seemed to have grown larger and more stern.
“Come here and help me with this,” Pierre ordered.
BunBun O’Brien went over, but when he saw what Pierre had, he jumped back.
“What the hell is that!”
“A trespasser,” Pierre grinned.
“You speared him? Why in the world would you do that?”
“I told you, he was a trespasser. This is private property. I have a right to defend my island.”
“So you just killed a complete stranger? Why didn’t you just tell him to leave for crying out loud?”
“I don’t have to defend my actions to you. My God, I’ve done nothing but help you! I’ve welcomed you here, to my home, and all you ever do is complain. Now, are you going to help me with this or not?”
“What are you planning on doing with him?”
“He’s going to eat him!” Saint Pedro cried out.
“I am not!” Pierre yelled. “I don’t ever eat them.”
“Them,” BunBun O’Brien wondered.
There was silence. Pierre looked at them. His eyes were wide with madness. “I don’t ever eat them,” he repeated.
“Then what in the hell do you do?” BunBun O’Brien demanded to know.
Pierre’s head drooped. “I collect them,” he answered.
“I told you he was crazy!” Pedro yelled out from the log.
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Pierre said. “It’s like a hobby, really. I give dignity to them. I honor their memory by preserving their bodies.”
“I would like to leave,” BunBun O’Brien requested. “Please take me back. I won’t ever say anything to anyone.”
Pierre slapped a hand to his forehead. “No! You can’t just leave. Not yet. Please. You have to understand. It gets very lonely here. Let me just show you, both of you, and then you’ll get it, and then in the morning I’ll row you to wherever you’d like.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Pedro called out. “It’s a lie. He has no intention of ever letting us go.”
Pierre grew angry. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You damn head!”
BunBun O’Brien tried to soothe the tension. “All right, Pierre. Just settle down. You can show us. I understand.”
Pierre looked at him. “You do?”
“Of course. Loneliness is a terrible thing.”
“What are you doing?” Pedro demanded to know.
“Just give him a chance to show us,” BunBun O’Brien snapped back. “If you don’t stop making things worse, you’ll go back in the sack.”
They followed him by torchlight as he dragged the body to and outbuilding behind the house. They heard the body hit the ground as he released his grip so he could fumble with the lock. They heard a chain rattle, then slide. A heavy door was slid to one side and the metal material made a loud clanging noise. Pierre disappeared into the darkness.
“Wait here,” he said.
Then one by one, lamps were lit and an orange glow began to blossom forth from the blackness. And soon the reality of Pierre’s madness came to light as the bodies became visible. There was an entire group of them, nearly two dozen – men, women, children, even dogs – and they were stitched up neatly, clothed, with grotesque upturned smiles and shiny lake stones for eyes. Some were positioned in chairs, others left standing. Some were made to look as if they were engaged in conversation with each other. Some simply stared out into space.
Pierre came back to the entrance and pulled the body up and into the building. He let it drop to the floor near a large table.
“Come in,” he insisted. “Take a look around.”
BunBun O’Brien stepped over the threshold with Pedro clutched tightly in his hands.
“Well,” Pierre wondered. “What do you think?”
“It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Saint Pedro said, and BunBun O’Brien quickly clamped a hand over his cold stone mouth.
“Go on,” Pierre encouraged. “Take a closer look.”
They moved forward, and then the metal door boomed closed behind them.
“I don’t want any wild animals getting in here and destroying my work,” Pierre said.
BunBun O’Brien looked down at Saint Pedro. The stone head’s eyes were wide with fear. He kept his hand pressed hard over the mouth.
“That’s quite a collection of people you have there,” BunBun O’Brien said.
“Thank you. Come here. Closer. I want you to meet my best friend in the world. He was the first.”
Pierre guided them to a tall man in the very front. He was dressed in fishing clothes and had a round hat atop his head. The face was full of fear despite the fact Pierre had stitched the corners of the mouth up.
“His name is Rick,” Pierre said proudly. “Go ahead, say hello. Don’t be rude.”
BunBun O’Brien looked up at the frightening face and tried to smile. “Hello there, Rick. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
There was no reply.
“Ahh, he never says too much,” Pierre said. “He’s the quiet type. Actually, they’re all the quiet type.”
And then he came forth with an insane, seething snicker that sent shivers up and down BunBun O’Brien’s entire being. Saint Pedro’s head slipped out of his hands and dropped to the floor with a thud.
“You fool!” he cried out. “You could have cracked me in half!”
Pierre suddenly reached down and scooped Pedro up. He held him before his face and studied him.
“Put me down you lunatic! Put me down!”
“You know,” Pierre began. “You really, really grind my gears. I don’t like that. You’re starting to upset my friends here as well, and I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”
Pierre quickly walked across the outbuilding to the door. He slid it open, tossed Pedro into the darkness, and slid the door shut again with a bang. Then BunBun O’Brien thought he heard him pick something up. Then Pierre was walking toward him, slowly, calculating. BunBun O’Brien was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.
And then it came, a searing pain right in his guts, the inability to breathe, and finally complete darkness.
Pierre sat in a chair in the outbuilding. He was eating a liverwurst sandwich and drinking a glass of milk as he admired the newest member of his clan. It was BunBun O’Brien’s body, but in place of his own head was the stone head of Saint Pedro. The mouth was completely chiseled away now so that he didn’t have to listen to the incessant talking.
“Oh my yes,” Pierre said. “You’re much more agreeable to my nerves when you don’t speak.”
The mouth didn’t move of course, but the eyes did, and they frantically darted from side to side as if he were screaming some never-ending scream.