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Alarms ring and panicked rabbits scramble from their bunks. It's way too early in the morning for this, especially after last night's party celebrating the completion of bunny boot camp. The fermented carrot juice was disgusting, though, so at least I am spared the hangover the others seem to suffer.
We brush our fur, comb our whiskers, and line up for roll call. Unseen birds are just beginning their pre-dawn song as the instructor hands out the last badges of our new employment: an enamel pin identifying us as official Easter Rabbits.
To my delight, I am also awarded a beautiful hat in recognition of achieving highest marks in class. It hides my bent ear quite nicely.
"Map," the instructor calls.
"Check!" we respond.
"Wood samples and cream cheese."
"Check!" I have no idea what this last item is for, but I have it.
"All good. Off you go!"
Twenty-three newly minted Easter Rabbits leap around the corner into Spring.
My new outfit is genius.
What better way to infiltrate a universe populated by rabbits than dress up as a rabbit?
Of course, I am vehemently opposed to wearing fur (and will lecture the rabbits about it when I get there) so my cunning disguise involves crepe paper, fuzzy slippers, cotton wool and an old TV antenna perched upon my head.
Dangling carrot earrings complete the ensemble.
I am ready to begin my life as a rabbit.
I make my rounds through a town that appears to be devoid of inhabitants. I'm carrying a large sack of balloon animals. I do have to be careful with my claws, but I'm glad the balloons aren't heavy. Some of the other rabbits are carrying sheep or even horses.
I am now keenly aware of the dimensional threads that weave through the fabric of the universe. On the other side of this thin veil is a throng of players who toss carrots in the air. It is my job to pop through with impeccable timing to snatch the carrots and replace them with a balloon animal.
When my sack is empty, I return to the main staging arena. Rabbits who did not qualify for field work are sorting all the Faberge eggs, bird houses, candy, and other tchotchkes for distribution.
It's all rather chaotic. I can see why there is a high turnover among Easter Rabbits, and why the higher-ups (briefly I wonder about those higher-ups) have to resort to a draft to restore ranks.
The sheep keep getting into the candy. Butterflies, while pretty, are hard to corral without damaging them. No one wants to carry the dolls (creepy) or basket bunnies (seriously creepy). The fish just plain stink.
And we have to do this for twenty-nine more days.
I circulate through the Castle empty-side with balloon animals until I run out and return to the staging arena. I'm waiting for a new supply of balloons when one of my fellow Easter Rabbits pops in, staggering and choking dramatically.
I politely look away, but the rabbit filling my sack nods knowingly. "He must have encountered one of those pickles."
"Pickles?" I ask.
"Yeah. Someone on the playing side has been throwing pickles instead of carrots. It's a bit of a shock when you aren't expecting it, apparently. Whoops!" A balloon giraffe bursts in his paws, and he reaches for a lion instead.
"Hmm, not something I've run into yet." Pickles might be an enjoyable break. I'm getting tired of all the carrots.
"Stay safe," says my balloon artist as I flip my sack over my shoulder and head out again.
By afternoon, nearly all the Easter Rabbits, veteran and freshman alike, have accidentally eaten a pickle. Several of them are even refusing to return to the field until the assault of pickles is dealt with. I, however, refuse to carry a bunch of sheep around unless they can give me a sack-of-holding and a pay raise – wait a minute, am I even getting paid for all this work?!
My balloon artist smirks a little, but the sheep-herding rabbit pulls her ears in distress. "Even two sheep, maybe?" she wails.
"Oh, fine, give me two sheep," I grouse.
She wrangles two sheep into a sack and scurries away before I can change my mind.
I round that non-existent corner determined to get rid of the sheep first chance I get. And luckily, almost immediately, I sense an incoming carrot.
Oof! The sheep is larger and heavier and a helluva lot more difficult to shove through an aperture than a balloon animal. For a moment I even thought I might have to leave the ovine halfway between dimensions.
I proceed down the hall, waiting for the next carrot. This time the sheep does get stuck, and no amount of pushing and straining on my part has any effect. In the end, I leave my sheep sack on the floor and half a sheep hanging in the air.
The boot camp instructor never had anything to say about a situation like this.
The very instant I taste the sourness of the pickle, I rear back. It's not even a very good pickle. Furthermore, it has a string tied around it. I spit it out and haul on the line for all I'm worth.
Something on the other end hauls back.
A tense tug-of-war ensues, but I'm energized by several days of transporting balloon animals in bulk, not to mention the impromptu sheep wrangling.
With a last mighty pull on my part, something bursts through the aperture and hurtles into me. I scrabble away from the…. I'm not sure.
I think it's a human draped in cotton balls, quilt batting and paper streamers. It has a bunny slipper on one foot; the other foot is bare (not bear), but that's because the other slipper is now caught on the antenna strapped to its head.
"Grim!" the apparition shouts.
Indeed. I can't get away fast enough. My feet tangle in the pickle line though, and I tumble and slide to a halt, fairly trussed up myself.
"Grim!" the intruder shouts again.
I struggle. If I can just… make it around… the non-existent corner…
Too late! I'm caught in a massive hug and whirled around as this person shouts a third time, directly into my ear, "Grim!"
What I tell you three times is true.
My cunning plan is a rousing success! Who can resist a pickle?
My first plan involved strapping a duck to the top of a microwave and randomly pressing buttons. I got nowhere, and the duck was furious.
So I did the rounds until I found a fishing rod, baited it with the most logical thing I could think of and lay in wait for a stray denizen to offer a carrot to the gatekeepers of the multiverse. The Castle Gates seemed as good a place as any to try.
It is not long before someone arrives. I flick my rod back and forth, accidentally snagging my own knickers, resulting in them landing on my head.
Second time I cast out to the side - then I have to apologise profusely for the impromptu nose-ring piercing I give Annelliegram as she is trying to conduct a tour. Thankfully I don't think she recognises me, as she refers to me as a "menace to the kingdom". Clearly she thinks I'm someone else.
The third attempt is more successful, but I lose my pickle.
I get into a good rhythm soon enough and keep casting until I get a bite.
Mostly it's "Ew! A pickle!", interspersed with balloons popping and, for some reason, the bleating of sheep.
Then finally I land a big one! I reel and they pull, drawing myself closer to the aperture in a game of tug of war I'm trying to figure out how to lose. I leap up onto the roof of the well and wait for the final full strength yank from my opposition. It comes and I jump, squeezing myself through the aperture, while passing back a balloon animal so my unwitting assistant is not cheated out of their carrot.
I hear an infuriated "AW! I've got this one!!" as I desperately try to hold onto my loose slipper while I topple through into the neighbouring universe.
I look around, "Hey! Half a pickle!", then untangle my slipper from my rabbit ears.
The very next thing I see fills my heart with joy. It's a bent rabbit ear. Only this one is furry and doesn't pick up Netflix.
She appears to not recognise me.
Still seems to not know who I am.
I pounce and activate full cuddle mode.
"Grim!" I stroke her fur.
"No, it's Jenny Wren! I don't know anyone called Geoff."
"No... I said get off!"
"Didn't sound like it", I frown, but let her go.
She stands back and peers at me. "Do I know you?"
My hand smacks my face and I sigh into my palm. "Not again."
It could be amnesia. It could be suppressed memory. She may even be an imposter.
I have to find out which.
There is only one thing for it. I whip the last stick of dynamite from the Delphi realm out of my bra (you never know when I may need it) and strike a match.
"Anything ringing a bell?"
Phhhu! I blow out the match and pluck the dynamite from Jenny Wren's hand, placing it in my sack for safe-keeping.
Lights flash. Something hits me from behind, wrenching my arms behind me, twisting my ears painfully, and shoving me to the floor.
At first, I think Jenny Wren is having a severe temper tantrum over losing her explosive, but then I see her beside me, also crushed into the flagstones. My sack is yanked from my hands; my hat rolls away.
Then the voices begin. "Violation 9714A, section 2, non-compliant intrusion into the lagomorphic patrol regions. Violation 8223K-7, unauthorized utility of interdimensional transport mechanisms. Violation 515-16-D72, blanket provision, illegal importation of preserved cucurbits. Violation 3.14159—"
"Yay, pie!" Jenny Wren exclaims.
"Violation KR311, article 9f, interruption of presiding officer during formal arrest procedures. Violation 44ZM-19-A1, fishing without a license. Violation 44ZM-19-A2, fishing for non-piscids. Violation 44ZM-19-A3, fishing out of season. Violation D.1831.3... "
I'm being arrested?!
Jenny Wren and I are now pulled roughly to our feet. As we are frog-marched (rabbit-marched?) off to an uncertain next chapter, Jenny smiles slyly and shows me the stick of dynamite, somehow recovered from my balloon sack.
"Heavens to Betsy, we certainly violated a lot!"
"WE?" Grim exclaims.
"Glad you're having a good time, but we need to get serious." I put on my serious whisper voice. It's like Batman, but girlie.
"... Violation 223L, section 1, impersonating a lagomorphic patrol officer. Violation 223L, section 1-A, impersonating a lagomorphic patrol officer poorly; specifically - getting the ears completely wrong..."
"Do you know where we'll be taken?"
Grim sighs rather impatiently. "As it happens, no. This is my first time getting arrested."
"Today?" I'm perplexed.
"... furthermore, the tail is clearly a wad of cotton wool..."
"That can't be right. We were arrested all the time. You can't remember?"
"... I mean it's not even stuck on well... just bits of teddy bear stuffing falling behind us in clumps..."
"PTG? His magic broom? Randy? RoboRandy?"
"No, no, no and what?"
"...And the attempt at the nose and whiskers would be sad if it weren't so specistly offensive!"
Oh dear God. "Tarquin?"
The guard looks at me sharply.
"Aww! You're in alternate realities too?!"
I wonder how many Tarquins I will need to kill before this is all over.
We are thrown in adjoining cells and read our rights. It takes an annoyingly long time, as different species have different rights. This is, of course, unacceptable and I plan to write an angry letter as soon as I'm free.
The guards finally leave and I move to the cell wall to begin planning our escape.
"OK, so we have one stick of dynamite and-"
"Why would I go anywhere with you?! I have known you all of 10 minutes and I've been attacked, arrested and thrown in a cell!"
"I know, good times."
"I have done nothing wrong. Once the judge sees that, I will be let go and you will face whatever consequences are befitting your fishing related misdemeanours".
I frown. "You're putting your faith in the justice system?"
There is silence as I take this in.