Updated: May 8
Gestalt Media continued the Short Story Contest in April 2020. Contributors submitted short stories
of 3,000 words or less on the theme Bunny. Then, it
was up to readers to vote on the winning submission.
The winner of $50 is C.D. Storiz for her submission entitled Chasing Rabbits. Her story will also appear in the year-end anthology published by Gestalt Media of all short story contest winners.
This month C.D. Storiz has donated her winnings to the Gestalt Media Authors Relief Fund to assist our contracted authors during these uncertain times. A valued member of the Gestalt Media family and a truly talented author.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy this wonderful tale by C.D. Storiz
The late afternoon sun peaks through the blinds as my eyes come into focus. Something has woken me from my nap. I rub the crick in my neck as I orientate myself and stumble to the kitchen for water. Standing at the fridge is my brother. Why am I not surprised he’s here again?
“What are you doing here?” I ask gruffly, filling my glass from the tap.
“Oh, hey,” he says sniffing the containers in my fridge. “You’re awake.” He holds out a Tupperware container I don’t recognize. “What is this?” He scrunches his face and it reminds me of the same face he used to make when we were young.
Snatching the container from his hands, I shove it back on the shelf. “Something the neighbor brought over. I’m not sure.” I slam the door shut and cross my arms. “Again, what are you doing here?”
“Dinner? Remember?” he cocks his head to one side.
“Oh, shit. Is that tonight?” It’s hard to remember lately, the days blur past me.
“Yeah, it’s tonight,” he eyes the counter behind me but says nothing about all of the empty booze bottles. “Throw some water on your face, Jack. You’re not backing out of this again. Susan’ll have my hide if you cancel one more time.”
I’m still groggy. I don’t want to go to dinner. I just want my little brother to leave me the hell alone. I run my hands through my hair. I feel the slick greasiness as I try to remember the last time I took a shower.
“Hey, Mikey, man, I’m just not up to it. Rain check?” I let out a sigh as he gives me that look. Not the I’m sorry your wife and kid died six months ago look, but the you’re an asshole of an older brother kind of look.
“Seriously, Mikey, I don’t feel well, man. Another time. I’m sure Susan has made some version of pot roast that any man would give his right eye for, but I… can’t sit at that house. Not tonight.” Not any night.
“I didn’t come over here to take you to our place. I know… it’s too soon. But I have reservations at Tom’s. Come on. Best pulled pork sandwich on the coast. And, from the looks of it, you can use some good food. When’s the last time you went shopping, anyway? Or cleaned this place, huh?”
“What are you, my mother? Susie got you so whipped you’re wearing an apron now?”
He smiles. It’s the first joke I’ve cracked in months.
“Now, now. There was a time when you used to yell at me to clean up my room, too.”
“Yeah, when you were like five.”
“Sucks being the older brother, I know. I’m just paying you back for having my back all those years ago. You were a good big brother, Jack. Are. You are a good big brother,” he corrects himself.
I sigh. “Fine. But it’s just you and me, right? So, what does it matter how I’m dressed? Especially if we’re going to Tom’s. Reservations, my ass. You know damn well he doesn’t take reservations. I’ve a better idea. Why don’t we take the Harley’s out and ride tonight? Like old times. Head up to the cabin for a few days.”
“No can do, Jackie my boy. Susan is on the porch, waiting. Now go throw on some clothes that look like you haven’t slept in them for days and for god’s sake bro–put on some deodorant.” He smiles as he gives me a push up the stairs.
I nod my head and drag my heavy-laden feet up the steps. After splashing cold water on my face, running a comb through my hair, and taking a swish of mouthwash, I’m ready. At least, as ready as I’ll ever be. But something stops me at the top of the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that my son’s door is slightly ajar.
I can’t shake the queasy feeling that overcomes me as I step closer to his door. I push it open and watch as dust dances on the wisps of light streaming in through the window. It’s different. I’ve avoided this room for months, afraid to go in. Hell, I couldn’t even touch the door handle without breaking out in a cold sweat. But I’m drawn to it. Like a bug to the light. Something pulls at me and draws me in.
The toddler bed creaks when I sit on the edge and a flood of memories come rushing back. Me tossing my son into the air, catching him with his infectious laughter filling the room. Snuggling with him as I read him a bedtime story, making silly voices for different characters. Shadow puppets on the wall, stargazing at night, endless coloring, puzzles galore, and Legos. Tons and tons of Legos. I pick up his pillow and drink in its scent. I can still smell the baby shampoo that Lisa bathed him with. I hug the pillow to my chest as if I am holding my son. I close my eyes and let the memories wash over me.
I hear him and Lisa singing as she scrubs him in the tub. I hear him squeal with delight as he plunges toys into the water, splashing her. In the doorway, I see the ghosts of my wife and son, wrapped in a towel, his stuffed bunny, Mr. Nibbles, in his sweet little hands.
“Bunny show, Daddy! Bunny show!” he calls to me holding up the stuffed rabbit he’s carried with him since birth.
Mike’s voice calling from the bottom of the stairs shatters my reverie. And that’s when I notice what was wrong with this picture. What was missing.
I jump from the bed to the closet, throwing open the doors. His clothes, gone. His little toddler suits, shirts, and outfits. Even his shoes are gone. I pull out the drawers one by one and each is empty. And I turn to the shelves and notice that there are only a few mementos left on them.
I tear down the steps two at a time and slam Mikey against the wall.
“Where is it?!” I scream.
He winces. He knows exactly what I am talking about. “Jackie, listen. Calm down, bro.”
“Don’t bro me! How could you? How could you do this to me?” I ignored the fact that I’m not only ten years older than my brother, I am at least 50 pounds heavier, stronger. I see his face turning red as I tighten my grip on his collar.
But he doesn’t fight me. He grits through his teeth, “put me down!”
I drop him to the floor and watch as he catches his breath. He stands, leaning against the counter with one hand. “Look, Jack, you told us we could. You knew we were coming today. Don’t you remember? It’s time, man. Time to let them go. Time to let him go.”
“Did you clear out Lisa’s things, too? Huh?” I take a step closer, my fists balled, ready to swing.
“No. We wouldn’t do that. Jack, listen,” he holds out his hands. I see small droplets of perspiration forming at his hairline.
“Where is it?” I scream. “Give me his stuff back! Give him back to me, do you hear me?” I’m yelling so loud, spittle flies from my lips.
“Him?” Mikey asks. “You mean his things, right Jack?”
Susan must have heard us arguing. She rushes in the kitchen and puts her hands on my shoulders. “Jack, dear, please listen. It’s not good for you to hang on to all of this.” She pulls on my shoulder and I turn to face her. Her blonde hair and green eyes bore into mine. But I’m so angry my vision blurs and I push her away from me, hard. Mikey is at her side within seconds and starts screaming at me.
I feel a slight pang of guilt as she holds her stomach, caressing it. My brother wraps his arms around her shoulders and consoles her.
“Now, now,” he says, patting her. “Wait in the car, sweetheart. It’s fine.” He assures her, but I can tell from the look on his face, he isn’t so sure.
I’m shaking. The liquor spills on the counter as I try to pour a scotch. I down the first one, pour another and turn to face my brother. “I’m sorry,” I mumble.
“I know,” he gives a wry smile.
“I don’t want – ” I struggle to find the right words. My brother has been so patient with me. He’s watched me drown in alcohol through this whole grieving process. As my business partner, he’s kept the business going. As my brother, he hasn’t judged me. But when I saw his wife… his pregnant wife… and the thought of her baby wearing my son's clothes… I just couldn’t.
“I’m not ready, Mikey. Not yet,” I say, garbled with tears, remorse, or is it guilt?
He nods. “We’ll go. I’ll bring you back some food.” He pats me on the shoulder and shuffles out of the kitchen but stops in the doorway. “Oh, and by the way; his things are in the garage. We didn’t throw them away. Susan didn’t pick through his things like the vulture you think she is. She did it for you. To help you move on. She knew it would be painful for you to pack up his things. Never in a million years would she want to hurt you.”
And he was gone. He didn’t wait for a reply. I heard the screen door slam shut followed by the car door and the sound of his minivan taking off bringing me to tears. But I don’t know how to ask him to stay.
I stagger to the garage, drink in hand, and tear through the boxes until I finally find it. At the bottom of the third box I scour, there sits my son’s favorite toy, Mr. Nibbles. A once fluffy white cottontail stuffed rabbit was now a well-loved grey bunny with matted fur. My son loved this toy. He never went anywhere without it. Except the night he died. Rabbit in one hand, my bottle of scotch in the other, I sat out on the back deck well after sunset.
Fireflies danced in the moonlight as I swished my drink, the stuffed toy on my chest. It not only held memories of my son, but his scent lingered on it. If I couldn’t hold my baby boy any longer, at least I had Mr. Nibbles. I let the tears flow, their saltiness stinging my eyes.
My lids grow heavy as I drained the cheap scotch. The empty bottle clanked to the ground. I snuggle Mr. Nibbles in my arms as I roll on my side and fall asleep. The buzzing of mosquitoes and the laughter of a child wake me from my slumber. The full moon illuminates the yard with elongated shadows’ and an eerie quiet. A quartet of crickets in time with the hum of a bullfrog plays in the background. My head pounds, and my mouth is dry. Mr. Nibbles dropped to the ground as I stood, shaky on my legs.
But as I reached down to scoop him up, he hopped away and into the depths of the forest that bordered my property. I stood there for only a second with my mouth agape when I heard that familiar laughter. The giggle of my son, his voice bouncing from the trees like echolocation. I rub my eyes and search the grounds. The rustle of bushes caught my attention and there was Mr. Nibbles, beckoning me to follow. A fluffy white cotton tail, his grey-matt fur shimmering in the moonlight.
I swear the rabbit called to me, “Daddy! Come find me!” The same words my son would squeal with delight as we played a game of hide and seek.
I nearly tripped over the empty bottle, gained my footing and set off in the night after Mr. Nibbles.
“Where are you?” I called out in a whisper. Woods surrounded me but I still did not want to alert the nosy neighbors.
“Daddy! Come find me!”
“Jamie, son! Is that you?” This time I was sure I heard his three-year-old voice. I’d know it anywhere.
“I’m cold daddy. Come find me,” he called to me again.
I spun around the darkened wood and then glimpsed the furry sight a few yards ahead. My son giggled and taunted me to come, and I followed along in his game.
It was the most alive I felt in months. The cool night air made my breath swirl before me and though I shivered, I wasn’t about to turn back now.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” I reply in a sing-song voice. Jamie loved to play hide and seek. He and Mr. Nibbles always wanted to hide, and me to find them. I draw in a deep breath and feel the crisp fresh air sting my lungs. Behind the trunk of a large oak, at least a meter in diameter, I saw the fluffy white bunny tail attempting to hide. Though, he couldn’t suppress his giggles, giving away his hiding spot.
“Ah, ha! Gotcha!” I laugh as I run toward my son’s beloved rabbit.
But whether it was the remnants of the scotch, the darkness of the woods, or the slick, slippery feel of the forest ground beneath me, I lost my footing. My body slammed to the cold, hard ground. I immediately saw stars circling above and felt a sticky wetness on the back of my head.
“Daddy’s tired, Jamie. I think I’ll take a rest here for a bit. You can come out of your hidey hole, son.” I reached out my hands and wiggled my fingers toward him.
He was no longer in his rabbit form but as the child I remembered, Mr. Nibbles, his beloved bunny in his arms. He peeked from behind the tree and when he saw I wasn’t getting up; he inched closer. He plopped his thumb in his mouth, his bunny under his arm, and sat crossed legged next to me.
“Jamie,” I whispered.
“Daddy,” he smiled. He stroked my head and pushed the strands of hair from my face. I opened my arms and he lay beside me, snuggling, as we looked up through the trees at the stars above. I point out the constellations to keep my mind from the chilling frost I feel deep in my bones. I feel my shallow breath becoming raspy but I just don’t have the energy to move from this spot. My son’s body next to mine brings me warmth. His button nose and tousled blond hair glimmer in the surrounding darkness the way a thousand fireflies light up the grove at night.
“It will be a beautiful day tomorrow, son. Stars this bright mean clear skies tomorrow,” I feel my words slurring. I fight the urge to close my eyes. I hold him close and kiss his forehead.
“Mommy’s waiting for you,” he kisses my cheek and snuggles closer. “Sleep, daddy. Sleep.”
* * *
Mike beamed as he held his son for the very first time. “Hello, little one. Welcome to the world. He’s beautiful. Look, he has my eyes.”
Susan smiled. “If you say so, sweetheart. What shall we name him?”
Mike drew in a breath. “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to name him after my brother and my nephew.”
“I think your brother would have liked that; Jackson Jamieson Lapin has a nice ring to it.”
“Hello, Jackie boy. Welcome to the world,” Mike held a small, white stuffed bunny rabbit above the infant as he kissed his forehead.
CD Storiz loves to escape by reading and writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She and her husband recently became empty-nesters which they are finding they love. Not that she doesn’t love her two college-age children but boy did they turn her hair grey! When she’s not escaping into the fantasy worlds she creates, she teaches Chemistry, Environmental Science, and Physics at a school for gifted. She also plays frisbee with her dog, Tessa, and tries to wrestle and wrangle her cat, Chat.