Real life as of late has left a lot to be desired. So here's something almost completely different.
I was riding my bike to Tom's house because ever since he stopped going to school, his mom has had me watch him on Tuesdays. Partly because she needs to do errands and he'll have a hissy fit if he keeps having to go in and out of the car, but mostly because she needs a break from him every once in a while. Usually she or her husband would pick me up at my place, but since school stopped for the winter, I need as much exercise as I can possibly get, so I bike there.
It was still around midmorning and I was the only one out, so I was zigging and zagging, crossing the road to swoop from one sidewalk to the other and I'd just started digging around for my iPod when I saw the rabbit.
I swear, I didn't look away. I didn't take my eyes off the road and look at my iPod: I just dug my left hand in my pocket to feel around for it. The rabbit literally came out of nowhere.
It sat in the middle of the sidewalk, with a van parked on one side and a thick hedge on the other. It was white and probably the size of a large cat and it- I kid you not- hopped towards my bike.
I turned too sharply and barely avoided crashing into the van. As it was, I took a tumble onto the road. The rabbit ran after me.
I picked myself up from the ground and glared at the rabbit. The rabbit, being a rabbit, wiggled his nose up and down in a way that apparently meant it was interested in what it was seeing. Namely me, on the sidewalk, glaring at it. It then stood up on its hind legs, gave a little bow, and then ran off into the bushes.
It stopped at the base of the bushes and made a 'come hither' motion with its cute little paws.
"Oh no," I said, picking myself up. "I know how this goes. No way." I picked up my bike. The handlebars dented slightly when it fell- not the bars themselves, but the spot where they connected to the frame of the bike, meaning that when they were held out technically straight, they were turned ever so slightly to the left. The pedals wouldn't move: the bike chain had gotten jammed in the crash. So I put out the kickstand and bent down to start fixing the chain.
I was too busy fiddling with the chain to notice the rabbit. He came up along side me and, before I could do anything, stood up on his hind legs and grabbed my hair.
I smacked him and he ran a few feet away and started thumping his foot on the ground.
"No!" I said, getting onto my bike. "I'm not following you. I know what happens when people follow white rabbits."
So I rode off, leaving the rabbit looking disappointed on the side of the road.
* * * * *
It's a few good miles to get to Tom's house. Past a bunch of residential streets and a few tiny shopping squares and then I have to go down the highway. About at the half-way point, there's the library. It's in front of a four way intersection, with some train tracks going parallel on the opposite side.
Today, though, in the middle of the four-way intersection before the library was a river. The road I was still on was still a road, but the one going across it was now made of water. I hit the brakes and stopped just at the sidewalk's edge.
The water was mostly clear, but dark at the bottom, so I knew it was deep. I looked around. There weren't any cars on any side of the river. Even the parking lot to the library was empty. The only thing I could think was;
Well if they knew this was here, then they should've put up a sign or something! Now I'm going to be late.
I knelt down by the water's edge to get a better look, when something small but sturdy hit my back. I fell into the water. Instead of splashing, like normal, the water opened up for me in a bubble of air, then closed over my head when I was down deep enough. After it closed over the top of my head, that's when it filled in the rest of the air bubble.
I swam through the surprisingly warm water and back to the surface. The white rabbit was on the shore, sitting next to my bike and watching me.
"Jerk!" I shouted. "Why did you do that?"
The rabbit's nose twitched and his ears swiveled around. He got onto his hind feet to see better.
Something brushed by my leg. I screamed and swam madly for the sidewalk.
Something wrapped around my ankle and dragged me down. The last thing I saw was the rabbit, peering over the edge of the river, still twitching his nose.
* * * * *
Time is weird under the water, but I can't put my finger on how.
It takes a good minute of me holding my breath and squeezing my eyes shut before I realize that it's okay. I can breath under the water. I can open my eyes and see clearly without them hurting.
The thing holding onto my leg is the tail of a dragon. The long, noodley kind that look almost more like fancy snakes with arms. It drags me down, down, down to the bottom where, despite the look of it from above, has plenty of light to see.
It lets me go on the ground and swims off, towards a little hut in the distance. That's when I learn the third part of this trick: along with the eyes and the breathing, I also don't have to worry about floating away. I hop a few times, getting used to the feeling of going several feet in the not-air before coming back down. The ground here, I notice, is the regular asphalt road.
Up ahead, standing in front of the hut, is a strange old man with a big scratchy beard who's waving his arms around like a conductor. In front of him, a school of shiny fish swim around. Light bounces off their scales, and for split seconds, i think I see pictures, but they're gone too fast to catch.
"What are you doing?" I say.
He doesn't look away from the fish. "Telling the future."
He nods. "D'you see the pictures?"
"That's the future. The light hits their scales just right, and I can see a good ten years ahead."
One of the fish turns the wrong way, spinning counter-clockwise rather than clockwise with the rest of the fish. All of the other fish begin to change directions with it.
"No, no, no!" shouts the man. He stops waving his arms and goes to the school of fish, trying to shoo them back into the other direction.
"Why can't they swim this way?" I say.
"Because this way reflects the past. I don't want to see what's already happened, I want news!" The fish start turning the right way around again. “They hate going this way,” he tells me. “They’re always trying to go past-ways. I swear, most of my time is spent trying to get them to go future-ways.”
I look up and see the dragon coming back. The only man doesn’t notice, he’s so busy with the fish. Just as the man’s got the fish going right again, the dragon swims through the school, and they scatter.
The old man shakes his fist at the dragon and shouts that the dragon is a sea dragon, and that this is a river! Go home!
The dragon, who is long and noodley and red (unlike properly polite river ones who are squatter and blue), giggles up bubbles and swims off. He likes the way the old man shouts.
"It's trying," he says.
"Trying to do what?" I say
"I mean it's irritating." He grabbed one of the fish's tails and pulled, trying to get it back.
"Oh," I say. It's gotten boring, and I can tell the fish are going to take a while to catch. I turn to the wall of mud that lines the river and start climbing.
"Bye," I say, looking back.
He waves and goes back to trying to wrangle the fish.
* * * * *
Time I went back to normal once I got out of the water. I crawled up from the wall of mud and onto the sidewalk across the street from my bike. The rabbit was gone, probably off to cause someone else more trouble.
I looked in the direction I was supposed to be going. There was still no traffic, and the street looked longer than ever. And, I noticed, I was sopping wet. While the water in the river had been warm, now, out in the air, it was uncomfortably cold. I tried ringing out my hair and my shirt, but there was only so much I could do without taking it off completely- which was not going to happen where the dragon could reasonably be watching.
I sighed, sniffled, and started walking.
I was going to be so late.
* * * * *
I got lost a while later.
The familiar residential area around the road gave way to unfamiliar trees. The road and sidewalks and train tracks all stayed the same, but the houses were gone, replaces by sparse forest. The sparse forest quickly turned into thicker forest, as such things tend to do. Still, I figured that if the road was there, then I must've been going the right way. In the back of my mind I had the foggy notion that, while they could change the stuff around the road, and turn it into water and stuff, they couldn't change the location of the road itself. I didn't stop to wonder who the 'they' were.
Around what my internal map told me was the three-fourths point, I met the foxes.
There were three, total. One red, one white, one black. They were sitting in the branches of a tree close up next to the sidewalk. As soon as I walked under, they flew down from the tree and started walking with me: two one either side, and one walking backwards in front.
“Why’re you wet?” said the white one on my right.
“A rabbit pushed me into a river.”
They all three nodded, like this was what you expected a rabbit to do.
“Where are you going?” said the red one in front.
“Nowhere,” I said, keeping my eyes up.
“Can we come too?” said the black one on my left.
“I’ve been to No Where,” said the white one. “It’s always nice this time of year.” They started circling lazily around me, keeping up with my walking pace.
“Better than Now Here,” said the black.
“Everywhere’s better than Now Here. Now Here’s always so boring.”
“You’ve been to Every Where?” said the red fox. “I didn’t know that!”
I stopped walking, They stopped moving forward with me, but continued to circle. “Don’t you have anything better to do?” I said.
“I’ve got an Any Thing,” said the white fox. “I got it when I visited Any Where.”
“Lucky!” said the black.
“I mean, can you please leave me alone?”
They stopped circling. For the first time, I noticed their eyes. The white one had completely black eyes. The black had red, the red had white. All of their eyes were glowing.
“Alone?” said the red. “Why would we do that?”
“Hey,” said a new voice.
Immediately, the three foxes closed in around my legs. All four of us looked towards the bushes where it had come. A large calico cat slunk out of the bushes and lazily made its way towards us.
“What are you doing?” it said. Despite being calico, its voice was obviously male.
“We found a toy,” said the red fox.
“It’s ours,” said the white.
“You can’t have it,” said the black.
The cat gave them a look that showed them exactly what he thought of them. He yawned. The foxes began to growl when they saw his teeth. The cat began to clean his face. The foxes bared their teeth.
The cat looked at them and said, “Go home.”
The foxes screeched and blurred off into the bushes. The cat spat, disgusted. “Foxes,” he said, “are entirely silly creatures.”
I eyed the cat warily. At least the rabbit hadn't talked.
“Thank you,” I said. “But I have to go now.”
“Do you?” said the cat. The cat came over and started rubbing my legs and purring. The second he touched me, I felt warm. Not uncomfortably warm, but the half-sleepy, tucked-under-the-covers-while-it's-cold-outside warm. Good warm.
"I'm late," I said. "I have to get to Tom, Torri, and Karl's house before twelve or else they'll miss their movie."
"Rrrreally?" he said, his r’s rolling with the purr. "That’s a shame."
“What do you wa—ahhwnt?” I said with a yawn. My eyes suddenly felt heavy.
The cat stopped purring and stretched. “I want my ears scratched,” he said.
I duly knelt down and started scratching.
“Under the chin, too,” he said. I obliged.
“Good, good. You’ll do nicely.”
“Do what?” I said drowsily.
“Not important.” He began to purr again. Suddenly I felt tired. “Do my neck and then we’ll be off.”
I staggered back, away from the cat. "Stop it," I said. "I know what you're doing."
The cat trotted over and started rubbing again, winding itself between my legs. "I'm sorry," he said, "but you have to be asleep for this part. The way I get around makes human’s brains hurt. You’ll just panic if you’re awake."
I turned and ran.
“No!” said the cat, running after. “Come back! You have to stay!”
“Sorry!” I called. The running was waking me up. “I have to go!”
* * * * *
The woods thinned out a few minutes later. Houses returned to their spots, cement overtook grass, and a few cars started driving by. I wondered how weird I must’ve looked. I’d dried off mostly, but I was still definitely damp all over.
A block away from the house, stuck half way in the neighbor’s lilacs, I found the bike. Both of its tires were completely flat: it looked like something had bitten through the rubber and into the tubes.
A white rabbit was sitting nearby. It ran when I came for the bike, but stopped long enough to thump its foot on the ground at me.
“Well same to you!” I said.
So I made it to Tom, Torri, and Karl’s house on time. The second I stepped onto their lawn, all the remaining damp dried off. The tires to my bike didn’t re-inflate, but I guess that would’ve been asking for too much. Torri didn’t ask what happened, but she said Karl would gladly take my bike home for me in the pickup when they got back. I remain eternally grateful.
Just another one of those days, you know?