I tossed and turned that night, thoughts and questions occupied my head, and the chirping of crickets sounded louder than usual. I closed my eyes and counted the sheep, rolled onto my left and right sides, and pulled my blankets tighter around me to no avail. Finally exhaling in surrender, I kicked off those sheets and rolled out of bed. My feet found their way into the kitchen and my hands into the cupboards. Outside the window, a light blue crept up from the city’s horizon to chase away the indigo of the night. For a while, I watched the colors grow gentler as I sipped from the mug between my hands—beep Beep Beep. I glanced over at the clock: 7 AM. It was time.
My yellow Miata hummed to life with a turn of the ignition. The headlights were propped up, fully illuminating the tar-filled cracks that ran along the pavement. I shifted the gears from neutral to first gear. An awful sound came from beneath my feet, and the car moved forward with a sudden jolt. My car needed a new transmission. As I left the driveway, the sun rose from behind the trees and streaked the pavement with meek orange and pink rays of light. My hand tightened on the worn-down steering wheel. I drove for 25 minutes before the hospital entered my view. The only way into the hospital’s parking lot was through the front entrance. That was just how the road was designed.
As my car pulled up closer to the entrance, a thin figure entered my peripheral. It sat on a concrete block beside the hospital entrance. Coming closer, I could see more defined features. It looked around to be 5’7” tall (170 cm). The sun hit his black hair revealing tints of purple, and his pale skin contrasted against the light blue hospital gown. He kicked his legs back and forth as if waiting for an adult…wait…is that Fox? Why was Fox waiting in front? In a hospital gown?
I slowed my car down to a crawl for Fox to see me. A multitude of questions entered my mind, but the pressing matter at hand still weighed down on me. Will it really be this easy to leave the hospital without paying for the fees? Fox looked up and made eye contact with me. He gave a small wave, but his hands froze when the hospital’s glass doors slid open. The same nurse from last night walked out with a clipboard in hand. Her hair seemed even messier than last time, and the bags under her eyes were even darker. She locked her sight onto Fox and made a small grunt.
“Eh? What are you doing outside? For the last time, we told you to be resting in bed!” She yelled. Without hesitation, Fox sprinted towards the car. The nurse ran out to follow. “You kept me up all night! Who the hell is that clumsy? You destroyed hundreds in equipment!” Her pace quickened with determination to inflict the worst revenge. Consequences for our actions.
The nurse sped up and tripped over her feet. The clipboard flew out of her hands, and all her papers scattered into the air. “Don’t you dare come back!” She screamed in defeat. Her bun had come undone and spilled over her shoulders, but Fox did not look back. Instead, he opened the car door and jumped into the passenger seat. I stomped the gas pedal once the door slammed shut. The wheels screeched against the wet pavement, while the engine hollered in pain. Despite trying so hard, we held in place. The laws of physics failed us. Damn friction!
From the corner of my eye, I saw the nurse flip us off.
The car caught grip. We propelled forward, but the sudden jolt made the car unstable. I yanked the emergency brake and veered the steering wheel left. The car swerved more than expected. We were going to hit the cement barriers! I pumped the emergency break to change directions, but it only delayed the inevitable. In a last-ditch effort, I dropped the emergency brake and lurched right. Only our weight determined the outcome.
We drifted only inches away from collision.
The car spoiler cracked when it clipped the concrete. I split-shift into second gear and shifted our weight.
We cleared the wall. The car adjusted to the intense pressure, and we were on a straight course out of here. Ahead, the road to the freeway was a straight line. I took a deep sigh and relaxed my body. The adrenaline was still coursing through me.
“You’re smiling.” Fox caught me off guard. I brought my right hand to my face, and l felt my lips upturned. I didn’t know why. I cleared my throat. “What did she mean when she said, ‘destroyed hundreds in equipment?’”
Fox turned sheepish. “Whatever do you mean?”
My eyebrows creased. This idiot. “How did you manage to destroy that much property?”
He looked down and twiddled his thumbs, “I..uh…might have tripped over the power cord…and spilled water on the machine…Don’t worry! I will pay them back once I acquire money!”
I sighed in disappointment. Who would have thought a guy as meticulous as him to be just as clumsy. I pointed to a backpack next to his feet and said, “I brought some clothes for you.”
Fox stuck his hand in, what he found were worn blue jeans, a white sweatshirt, and brown leather shoes. He outstretched the sweatshirt in his arms. “You don’t have bad taste in clothing,” he said.
I softly waved my hand to dismiss his comments. “I am glad you like it. Now, where are we going? I can’t keep driving aimlessly.”
Fox propped up his feet on the window frame, making himself comfy. “North to San Francisco. Bolinas. It’s near the beach.” He then adjusted his head to watch the clouds outside and said, “I have some family I need to move. Can you take them in your car?”
“A whole family?” My eyebrows twitched. “How many?”
Fox remained silent. A few seconds passed between us before he cleared his throat and glanced over at me.
“I have 6 small dust bunnies,” he said.
My voice rose slightly. “Dust bunnies?”
In a smaller voice he added, “They are small fluffballs.”
“…Why did you not tell me earlier? It’s extra cargo.”
Fox stretched out his arms. “ If you don’t want to take them, I can take care of them myself. I just need a ride there.”
I smirked and said, “Sure, I’ll put it on the tab. Just take care of the music.”
Fox grabbed my phone from the glove compartment. It took only a bit before ACDC played on my not so shabby 5.1 Stereo System. One of the few things I was proud of in my Miata.
Fox stared blankly at the phone. “Do you know this song?” he asked.
1 hour of driving later
The car ride was silent with only a few interjections where Fox gave directions and shared some stories from Animal Party. Nothing clued me in on how they operated, just the mistakes the grunts made. Otherwise, we simply listened to ACDC on repeat. Surprisingly, Fox had not heard a lot of music since waking up. What he knew consisted of the recommendation from those around him, and he had never listened to much himself.
He navigated us to a run-down building. It stood derelict off the coast of the beach. The sand ended where dry bushes and long grass stood sentry around the perimeter of the building, but a small opening in the vegetation revealed a pathetic dirt path that faded into the sand.
I parked my car 10 feet away from the rundown structure.
It was a light yellow building with a faint blue stripe that aligned perfectly to the dirt-streaked windows of the first floor. When we came closer, I saw that the wooden walls had split under the many years of direct sunlight. Moisture in the air facilitated the growth of mold along the wooden walls, visible for everyone to see. A small ramp led to the front doorway.
Fox paused for a second. The salty air and the familiar building caused him to lapse into silence as he attempted to fully articulate his thoughts. A small smile found its way onto his face. “This is where I woke up,” he mentioned. He walked up to the front door and tried to open it. The handle turned, but the door refused to budge. Fox tried a few more times, but the door stayed hinged. An awkward silence lingered between us. Fox looked at me coyly after the sixth attempt.
With a wry smile, I said, “Let me help.” I took a few steps back and motioned to Fox to pull on the handle. He moved to the side of the door with his arm extended to pull the handle down. I took to running speed and threw my side against the door.
The door gave way, and I fell forward onto the floor. Dust shot out foremost, revealing a small narrow corridor. The air smelled slightly more tart than outside: salt must be accumulating inside the building. Fox walked over to my side and extended his hand. Right, I am still on the floor. I took his hand and lifted myself up. We walked onward. The hallway’s end exposed an empty room, and nothing blocked my view of the barren room except for the mold protruding through the walls. This unoccupied space pricked feelings of uncertainty. I turned about, taking in the details of the room, and saw a wooden staircase on the right and a door that faced us. Fox walked towards that door, and I followed after, the floorboards creaking under our feet. When he pushed it open, the incoming air pushed away the sticky air around us. I peeked over Fox’s head and saw a staircase spanning downwards into the dark abyss. Fox took the first steps down, but for me, the passageway was illuminated too poorly to walk with the same confidence as him. I couldn’t see past his back, so I trailed behind him with my head down, trying not to fall forward. We exchanged no words as if in vigil until a faint light beckoned to us at the end of the stairs. For a brief moment, the soft light encased my entire vision; a small prairie and redwood trees greeted my eyes. Small orange gems illuminated the room, giving me the false sense that it was mid-day. My curiosity was piqued. The small gems became clearer when my eyes adjusted to the change in lighting. I realized that the jewels were embedded among the ceiling and walls.
The sudden shift in lighting caught me off guard, so I leaned into the wall beside me. I rubbed my eyes with my left hand out of habit. When I opened them, I found my hand resting on one of the looser special rocks. It shifted into a yellow hue instead of its initial orange. Fox watched the rock in my hand. “Those are called lux rocks,” he said. “They glow when there is a high concentration of aether and change color depending on the nature of the aether. Right now, yours is glowing yellow because it is absorbing your aether.” He pointed to the ceiling. “Those are glowing orange because they are absorbing the aether from the plants and animals.”
Fox took the rock from my hands. The rock made a slow and smooth transition into a deep purple haze. “I always…”
A bush shook directly before us, and long grey feathers popped out of the foliage. The surrounding bushes started to shake in the same fashion. I took a defensive stance in case it pounced on us.
A grey blur bolted from the bushes and lunged at Fox.
Adrenaline rushed through me, my body propelled towards him, ready to rip the animal off of him, but laughter halted me.
“Hahahaha. Stop that, Ted.”
I jolted to a stop at the sound of small squishes. When I turned around, what looked to be small bunnies scampered out from the bushes. Their tiny paws made a minute squish sound whenever they took a step. The feathers I saw earlier were actually giant grey feathers protruding from their head—dust accumulated along the strands that shaped the feather’s design. As such, the dust formed beautiful patterns unique to each individual bunny. Their gray fur accentuated their other features to a fault. They were simply too cute. While I was drowning in my own thoughts, the rest of the bunnies dogpiled onto Fox. The dust in their fur flew in all directions from their movement, forming a small dust cloud around him. One rabbit emerged from the dogpile, but he was wedged between the rest of the dust bunnies. Comedically, he exerted too much pressure and flew into the air. I jumped forward and caught him.
(the sound effect when they walk)
Fox started snapping his fingers and the dust bunnies dispersed in response. They formed a line right in front of Fox who was still on the ground. He slowly pulled himself up, using one of the bunnies as support. “Blitz, Min, Chai, Yin… You are all here,” he said, but the smile on his face grew downcast. “What did I tell you! I told you to not come out of your home. Who knows what would have happened if it wasn’t me?” Fox scolded the bunnies like a mother goose taking care of her young. The bunnies nodded their head in response to each sentence. I could not tell if they fully understood or only nodded their heads to appease him.
Fox continued to lecture the rabbits but stopped mid-sentence with widened eyes. “Where is Ted?” His gaze darted about the room, and his movements became sporadic. He looked through bushes and overturned everything in sight, checking everywhere except for me. What a loser. He kept rummaging around until he spotted Ted in my arms. Meeps and meps arose from the bunnies as if to mock him. His cheeks flamed red in embarrassment. “Ahem… They were here when I woke up for the first time.” The meeps quiet down, the crowd kept shifting their gaze between Fox and me. “…They have been family ever since.”
The dust bunnies clamored amongst each other when Fox made his declaration, but their meeps gradually became skimpy and curt. Some even started to do a small dance. Fox let out a small sigh seeing the commotion he had caused. “I have something to say to you all.”
The chirping died down, so Fox continued, “The day that we have all anticipated and dreaded has arrived. We are leaving the sanctuary.”
Their eyes opened wide. The idle meeps tarried, and the feathers on the top of their head perked up. A slow realization dawned upon them as silence encapsulated us.
“The people who threatened our livelihood have started to act on their threats.” Their feathers twitched in response to his words. “They took our food, stole the water from our rivers, killed our fellow animals, insulted us, and berated us. They took advantage of us and held you all hostage!”
The bunnies stamped the ground in distaste.
“They will keep stealing from our sanctuary until there is nothing left. Right now, Animal Party thinks that I am dead. There is no doubt that they will take you next. Things may look grim, but this finally allows us to escape.” He paused and allowed his sight to roam across the crowd. “Knowing from experience, we have 2 days at most before they come. We will escape from here at nightfall and take refuge in Sona’s home.”
I glared at Fox. He didn’t ask about this. Despite this, the air around me was tense.
“Now come, we must pack!” He hollered.
The bunnies erupted in meeps, but amidst that chaos, the noise merged into a hazy solemnity. It was their very own declaration of war.