Gone was the familiarity of the dog park; its quiet, picturesque beauty evaporating into a haze of smoke. Blade by blade, the neatly-trimmed grass plucked itself from the earth, as if some outside force commanded them. Intermingling with the leaves of the hearty oaks and steadfast elms, a festival of new green danced carelessly in the air unaware of its inevitable demise. James could do nothing but gape silently at the horror around him, helpless to prevent the doom of even a single leaf. He could only watch as the earth around him shed its identity, a baptism of smoke and lights.
Oh god – the lights!
In the confusion, he had hardly noticed the gathering beams, a blaze of brilliant colors amidst the swirling phosphenes and mist; his eyes were prisms projecting a dazzling light show he could not interpret. The world around him was ending and he did not know why – he could not! Surely, he must be dreaming! As he frantically tried to recall the symptoms of a stroke, James felt his entire existence pitch and roll with sudden exhaustion.
‘So this is how it ends’ he mouthed, unaware he made no sound. His private whirlwind of darkness hurled him along the unknown and unknowable; silent and absolute, he tumbled through a void that had no care to explain itself. Its only gift was the benison of slumber that shed his silent horror.
For what could have been minutes or weeks, James rested within the privacy of his thoughts. Certainly this wasn’t death if he could still dream, still think. Through the turmoil of his mind, he recollected the day’s events: His morning routine had been uneventful, outside of trimming a few stray hairs on his face; normally clean-shaven, he had taken to the notion that he might appear more his age if he left a layer black stubble. Then came breakfast, a short walk in the calm morning sunlight to a nearby café that had the best croissants; objectively, of course. He had no other obligations for this sleepy mid-morning, and intended to enjoy its rarity. The dog park wasn’t far away, and a calm walk would help digest his breakfast. There weren’t often many people walking through this early, but he still held hope he might at least observe some friendly wildlife.
Then there was darkness, a thick veil of confusion and blank space, and a…rabbit? No, that can’t be right. There aren’t rabbits around here. He felt a nudge from the abyss, as distinct as his own existence, but he could not fathom its origin. He was filled with the idea that he must try to wake himself, try to stay active; surely the hospital staff was keeping him alive.
And again, another jab; this time into his ribs. A white pain grew from his chest as the impact forced him to take a breath. The air was sweet; much cleaner than he had ever recalled. This wasn’t a hospital or any place he had been before, so surely this must be a dream. He rolled over to his side and sighed despite himself, unwilling to meet the new day.
“Are you planning on laying there all day? We’ve much to accomplish.” A thin, nasal voice pierced his thoughts, a measure of impatience hidden beneath the inquiry. Only after a brief moment did his eyes shoot open, the strange voice scattering his broken thoughts. The air was thick with the scent of new growth, of cherry blossoms and sweet greens and the promise of new life. Thick with oxygen and rich with life, James drew it into his lungs until he thought they would burst, the cleanliness bringing him a new vitality. As he began to wipe the tears and crust from his eyes, he became acutely aware of a large figure looming over him. A slight tilt of his head put him nose-to-nose with what appeared to be a giant rabbit. ‘Nope, I’m still apparently dreaming.’ He muttered under his breath before beginning to lay down once again.
“Unbelievable!” the fictional figure exclaimed in exasperation. A sudden burst of fire and lightning rang through James’ crown, a jolt of pain that cleared the remaining cobwebs and alerted his senses to his surroundings. “Come, guardian! There’s much to do. I didn’t summon you here for an afternoon nap!” The figure paced around him as he rubbed at his head, furiously trying to scrub any sensation other than pain into his skull. One at a time, his eyes opened to the bright afternoon sun and took in the unfamiliar surroundings. He was laying on a granite slab in the middle of a dense copse, the mix of maple, oak and ash trees towering over thickets of juniper and other unidentifiable berry bushes. The sun was high but gentle, a silent promise of spring life and the coming summer warmth. As his vision adjusted, he focused on his assailant as it paced dutifully in front of him, obviously impatient with the current situation.
“Y-you’re…a giant rabbit?” he stammered, trying to make sense of this wild dream. Or at least, he thought it was a dream. Surely, rabbits couldn’t talk – or walk around on their hind legs, for that matter. It towered over him, a cow-spotted lop, it’s brown and white patterning contrasting gently against its royal blue, cracked-velvet vest and linen trousers; if it was 5 feet tall, surely its ears made up three of them. Upon accusation, it paused its pacing briefly to contemplate the query before hopping up to lean into James’ face.
“What, you’ve never seen a Lapin before? I knew the gods didn’t pay much attention to us, but to be so unknowledgeable! I’m beginning to wonder if they forbid your summoning to prevent your folly, not your wrath.” It stood practically on top of him, paws on its hips, tapping its enormous, padded foot on the hard stone impatiently. The small, knurled staff in its right paw still gleamed gently with some arcane theurgy he could not hope identify.
“No, of course I haven’t ever seen a giant, talking rabbit with a magic stick before! And what do you mean ‘gods’? I’m no god, I’m just a human…arguing with bunny in a ridiculous dream! Hell, I must have really hit my head…” he retorted as he tenderly stroked the forming lump atop his head, presumably where the lop had struck him. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m not about to go dancing off into the woods with a bunch of bunnies.”
As if by proclamation, James felt a tightness around his entire body squeeze and lift him into the air. The large rabbit approached him, the ire in its ocean-blue eyes plain as the afternoon sky. The emerald gem wrapped in the end of his staff glowed brightly, secured to the wood as if carefully planted during its growth to become a part of the very wood surrounding it. “I am Harman, your summoner. Our need is great, and you are bound to ME! You WILL help us, Yoomen; god of creation!”
Unable to move anything but his smart mouth, James retorted, “My name is James, you crazy bucktoothed rat! Put me down before I make you into a stew!” As if by direct command, the pressure around him disappeared, leaving nothing but 6 feet of air between him and the granite slab with which he was about to become intimate. He groaned in pain as he hit the hard rock, groping the ground as if to catch the breath so violently torn from his lungs. “Fine!” he sputtered through shallow wheezing, “I’ll go with you! Apparently I have nothing better to do.”
The lop grinned and nodded in smug satisfaction to his victory. “Come then, James Yoomen. We have much to discuss and little time, lest you be as lost from purpose as you are wit. No doubt the covert is aware of my actions now, but the cataclysm must be prevented at all cost. I have yet served my purpose, as have you. We must have haste!”
As James stood on his own, he pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “It’s HU-MAN, not…you know what, nevermind. Let’s just get on with this,” he swirled a finger in the air to indicate his present surroundings, “this, whatever this is.” The rabbit nodded sharply and beckoned him towards an opening in the clearing, a foot-worn path into the dense woods. James had no idea where he had ended up, only that he dreaded it keenly.