It was autumn, and the houses of the countryside wore the freshly fallen leaves like a royal cloak. The many colors sang and danced, twisted and twirled, as the wind tore them from their ethereal homes and tossed them in the direction of the humble world below. The people of this unofficial village were all outdoors on this particular evening, bustling to and fro along the main road. Their activities varied from final arrangements to last-second details to eager waiting, but the steady buzz of conversation that wafted through the twilight was all the same. It was time for the Festival, and not one among the townsfolk was going to miss it.
All of the townsfolk were there, but Rabbit was not. No one saw Rabbit during the preparation of the Festival, and the same no one noted her absence. She was easily missable, and never missed. She was long and lithe, and ordinary enough for the people in this town (ordinary, in this context, meaning one nose and two elbows). She knew many and was known by few, and was liked by all, if liked meant not hated. But most important at this instant is that she was not present at the Festival, which was to begin at any moment.
The twilight quickly faded into dark, and before the first star showed her light the fireworks began. The first rocket soared skyward, pausing high above the rooftops and hovering there for a fraction of a second, before exploding. It sent flaming raindrops of red, yellow, and purple down to the delighted faces below. The magnificence of the sparks were then lost in the darkness, only to be found again hundreds of feet above in even more colors. The newborn darkness quickly died off as the glowing rainbows flew in all directions, to the wild approval of the crowd below.
The shouts and cheers swam through the breeze like fishes in a rainbow sea, and soon found the ears of Rabbit, who was still not there. In fact, she had not moved a muscle since her absence was first noted. But that has not yet happened, as she is not the type one would fret over. Therefore, she was quite free to move about if she wished, but she did not, so she sat, muscles moving but not carrying her any closer to the Festival. She sat high above the world of the farmers and merchants, gazing down at it from the topmost branch of a tree. Her eyes were of an odd grey tint, like the powerful, twinkling whitecaps on nighttime ocean waves. They darted occasionally toward the fireworks, but focused mostly on the tabby figure sitting next to her.
“Oh, Thimblewink,” she said, letting one leg swing over the edge of the branch. She stretched her other leg as long as her perch would allow, effortlessly keeping balance as her upper body relaxed against the trunk. “I think that you were once a fine sir, living in a wonderful palace as large as the fields under the sky. The walls were stone, and the floors were wood, and the ceilings would be painted. Each was a different color, weren’t they, Thimblewink? Yes, and you had thousands of servants, and they would bring you food and drink, and bow when you spoke. Then they would say ‘Yes, m’lord’ or ‘No, m’lord’ or ‘Right away, m’lord’ or whatever you desired. That’s right, isn’t it Thimblewink?”
Thimblewink yawned, and stretched his long back as cats usually do. He rose with a lazy flick of his tail and walked closer to Rabbit, laying down across her leg and closing his eyes once more. Due to his feline nature, you can imagine Rabbit’s possible surprise when she heard an answer.
“Aye, my dear Rabbit, you are right, but only a bit right. I was indeed a great lord in my earlier years, but even before that I was a pirate. I had a hook for an arm and a patch for an eye, and I would stand tall and proud on a ship that was all mine. I would stand by the wheel and shout commands at my crew, and they would quiver and shout back, ‘Aye aye, Captain Thimblewink’. Then they would get to work doing whatever I fancied, while I set my eye on the horizon and sailed uncharted seas. I would steal gold and jewels and all sorts of pretty things, but then I had a change of character and became the good lord that you so accurately guessed.”
It was not, of course, Thimblewink who answered. This Rabbit easily discovered by leaning on her branch and glancing below. The fireworks still exploding above let off enough light to illuminate another figure climbing the tree, with some difficulty. Rabbit swung her other leg over the branch, letting both hang freely as she reached out toward the groping hand below her. With a mighty tug and a yowl from a shaken Thimblewink, the figure struggled onto the branch and hugged it tight, adjusting his lanky legs awkwardly beneath him.
“Oh! My brother Tommy, we are both glad to see you,” cried Rabbit, and enjoyed giving him a fierce hug that unseated him further.
He was as much her brother as he was her sister, but the two were as close as siblings might hope to be. In a sense, they were brothers, and they were also sisters. They were each other’s mothers and grandfathers and teachers and audiences. He was her Tommy, and she his Rabbit, and that was enough. Put simply, they were the best of friends, nothing more or less.
Tommy was Thomas to his elders, Tom to his peers, and Tommy just to her. He was tall and muscular, but not particularly handsome. He was intended for farm work, or so he had been told since he could remember, and even before that. His hair was red, his eyes blue, and his face coated with the dirt that came along with plowing fields and caring for animals. His father was a farmer, of course, and his mother an excellent cook. His attire consisted of slightly worn pants and a shirt that was a bit too big, and on colder days perhaps some boots and a jacket, but usually his arms and feet were bare.
Rabbit was Rabbit to anyone and everyone, and she was the town orphan (or at least, the girl with no past, money, or trade). She was about the same age as Tommy, which was an age that was associated with the beginnings of responsibility and duty, but an age where respect to one’s elders was still prominently necessary. They lived in a community that was less concerned with exact age, however, and more focused on capability and usefulness. In that category, Rabbit often failed miserably, not because of inability or unwillingness, but sheer unconcern. Noone in the town would deny the fact that if you asked Rabbit to do something, she would do it willingly, quickly, and often without adequate pay. But besides these occasional tasks, Rabbit was perfectly content with lazing the days away just how she pleased. Responsibility was something foreign to her, as was the need of money or material wealth. This was frowned upon by most, but not by Tommy (or Thimblewink).
“I thought you hated climbing trees,” laughed Rabbit, giving the boy another unseating shove. He wobbled dangerously and gave the far-off ground a wary glance, but remained on the branch.
“It’s not the climbing up that bothers me, much as the way down,” came the grumbled response. He spoke with a rough voice and accent, trademark to the townsfolk and farmers of the land.
To this, Rabbit let out another steady stream of laughter.
“Oh, but it’s so easy! You just stand,” she did so, “walk like this,” she balanced her way to the edge, “and jump!” With unusual agility she leaped from one branch to the next, each lower than the last, until she landed firmly. Her cat bounded down at her heels, and looked up at Tommy with curious, if not mocking, vibrant green eyes.
Tommy stared down with reluctance, then, still seated, crept his way over to the edge of the branch. One glance down sent a slight shiver through his being, and already he regretted his rebellion. Tommy (or Tom, anyway) was the Juggler, a key feature at the Festival, and, unlike Rabbit, he would be missed. But such things cannot be undone, so he leaned his legs over the branch and cautiously slid to the one below.
Another rocket soared into the air, casting illuminating patches of light on the world below. Rabbit sat on the ground, watching her clumsy friend in the tree above. The sparks above lit her up in odd ways, giving her a kind of kaleidoscopic appearance. The light bounced off of the hair that peeked out from underneath her limp, lopsided straw hat. Rabbit’s hair was a dirty blond color; it fell straight and short, the longest tuft reaching just beyond her chin. She wore little more than a long, flowing shirt and ragged pants, along with her hat and a blade of grass between two teeth. She, like her friend, wore dirt rather well, but her dirt was that of untilled earth and wild things, not farmland and stabled beasts.
Another wave of wild cheers was heard from the villagers as a golden shower of flame revealed a strange, unknown world of lights and shadows and wonders hidden during the daytime. Rabbit jumped up and threw back her head, adding her own whoop to the noise. Her hat fell nonchalantly from her head. It settled in the tall grasses, and was quickly buried beneath Thimblewink and stray leaves falling due to Tommy’s struggles above. Rabbit followed her hat downward, stretching her long body out in the grass beneath the tree.
She lay gazing up through the branches. The bark and leaves jutted through the sky, dividing Rabbit’s world into hundreds of fragments of sky and tree. Thimblewink took his customary place atop her midriff, and Tommy finally reached the ground with a rather large thump. He frowned at her chuckling, but quickly exchanged his displeasure for amazement, as the greatest firework yet exploded above them.
It was quiet going up, unlike the screeching rockets that were all too common throughout the Festival. The flaming spark that was its womb made its way unnoticed into the sky, but did not pause to explode at the usual height above the roofs. Instead, it continued to climb and climb until it seemed that it would surely slow to a stop and come crashing down to the earth, destroying them all. It slowed, and stopped, but did not fall. It hung there, indistinguishable from the countless stars, and the crowd seemed to hush suddenly. The earth froze, time halted, as every villager, farmer, merchant, and Rabbit held their breath, waiting. The intruder among the stars then revealed itself, letting loose a massive explosion of colors beyond compare, along with sudden whistles and bangs. The colors fell, but did not fade; they leapt again into the air, each spark splitting into ten more. The showers made their way to the rooftops, and were extinguished by the night sky, leaving a faint glow as the only evidence of its magnificence.
Tommy lay beside his friend, enjoying the scent of autumn grasses mixed with gunpowder. He released a pleased sigh, shifting his gaze from town to field to tree to cat, and then closed his eyes. The darkness that engulfed him brought comfort, as above him the final rockets and sparks of the Festival faded, and people migrated back to the shelter of their homes. The sounds of the last children cheering and Thimblewink purring gently lulled them both into a content dreamless sleep.