Author's Note: Okay, so I finally edited this. Go me
I Am Thunderbunny
"3 die in house fire"
"Pregnant woman still missing: Feared dead" "Study: Homelessness on the Rise"
"Popular crib recalled after infant deaths"
'The world's shittier than normal lately,' Jack thought, flipping through the newspaper. 'We all think we're so much better than we were a hundred years ago but we're not. We've just had a hundred more years to screw with each other.' He found the page he was looking for. 'In a hundred years, if we haven't already murdered and plundered ourselves to an early extinction we'll have dozens of new ways to make life a living hell.' Carefully, so as not to rip the cheap paper, Jack snipped away the excess.
'At least Ma doesn't have to see it happen.'
He sipped his tasteless, lukewarm coffee and leaned back in his mother's kitchen chair, gazing at the piece of paper held in his trembling hand.
Nancy A. Beatty
Nancy Alice Beatty of Butler passed away Tuesday in her home. Nancy, 63, was a retired postal worker who devoted much of her spare time to the local soup kitchen. She is preceded in death by her husband, Neil, and two children, Nathaniel and Shauna; she is survived by a son, Jack Beatty, a daughter, Nicole Beatty-Howard, and three grandchildren. Funeral services will be held…
Jack earned the less than pleasant task of going through his mother's things for the estate sale by the luck of proximity. His sister Nicole had rushed out for the funeral but couldn't stay more than a few days. She lived in another state and had a family to take care of; he would have to dig through the memories on his own.
He'd never gotten away from home, only moving as far as an apartment across town from his childhood address, so the house never lost its familiarity. He'd visit Ma one or two times a week and even in the emptiness of just two people being there it had felt cozy. Now, though, there was something different. It almost seemed scary, like his mother had been the only think keeping the monsters at bay. With her gone, everything looked so dark. Outlines of dusty boxes lined all the walls, giving the house an oppressive presence, a wrongness that made him uncomfortable.
As the last of four kids, Jack had the unique experience of always living in a home so packed with boxes that he couldn't look out the windows unaided until he was twelve. His parents bought the late-19th-century farmhouse when his mother was twenty. Nate and Shauna no doubt lived a boring childhood in the immaculately kept house: they never had the option of playing hide-and-seek in the maze of cardboard or digging through the towering stacks of boxes that started piling up sometime after Nicole turned three. By the time Jack was born, Nate, Shauna, and his father had all died in a car accident, their things had been packed away out of sight in the attic, and his mother had completely stopped going up there. She took to stuffing things in closets and corners. Every little cubbyhole contained labeled and dated boxes, her most enduring eccentricity.
Jack started in the attic knowing it housed the oldest things. He worked for a few hours rummaging around in the past, uncovering Nate and Shauna's thirty-year-old art projects, mounds of moth-eaten clothes, and a couple dead rats. With a mass of filled trash bags choking the hallway below him, Jack began the tedious process of hauling them to the dumpster out back and cleaning up for the night. There were a few boxes of things he planned to save, mostly just pictures and old toys, which he stacked in the car, got behind the wheel and patted his pocket for his keys, which, naturally, were not there.
'Shit!' he thought, pondering the multitude of equally depressing places in the house they might be. Jack smacked his forehead on the steering wheel and got back out of the car. Remembering that he'd used the keys to help pry the attic window open for a breeze in the dusty room, he took the steps two at a time to the upper level. He fumbled for the light switch, blinked for a second or two in the dim glow of the single bare bulb, and carefully made his way to the window.
Not carefully enough, it seemed, for he almost immediately tripped over an extension cord and toppled headfirst into a stack of boxes piled near the stairs; he barely caught himself in time to keep from tumbling to the landing below. After reassuring himself that he was, in fact, still in one piece, he fought his way free of the mess and kicked it out of his path.
His keys sparkled innocently by the window. Jack grabbed them and turned to go but something caught his eye. A box, probably uncovered in his graceful landing, sat half-open in the corner by the stairs. It looked almost exactly like the hundreds of other boxes in the small space –dusty, slightly crushed, and brushed with a colorful spray of mold – but this was very clearly unlabeled. His mother had a well-established style to her obsessive hoarding: box it up, tape it so "any critters that eye it up can't get any edible bits", then label the tape all in capital letters. There was really no way to miss such an obvious difference. Interested, Jack climbed over the mess he'd made and pulled the box into the cleared space.
He knelt beside it on the creaking floor and riffled through the crinkled papers. 'Why didn't Ma label this one?' For a moment he was disappointed: the box only contained old newspapers, he thought. But then his searching fingers touched something softer. He recoiled for a moment, hoping to God it wasn't another dead rat (or worse, a living one), but peered in again and grabbed the thing. Out came a stuffed animal.
The stuffed bunny had lived a long, trying life. One of the glass eyes was missing, ripped out if the puckered scar of a carefully stitched hole was any indication, and had been replaced with a white plastic button; someone had thoughtfully inked a pupil and green iris on that to simulate an actual eye. The lumpy body consisted of worn gray corduroy and some fleecy material for a puff tail that had lost its fluff long before then. Its ears were moth-eaten, its string nose and mouth were coming undone…it looked a mess in almost every way. Only one thing on it seemed unharmed and that was its blue cotton superhero cape, gaudily embellished with glitter and paint picking out a lightning bolt and 'Thuderbuny' in a childish scrawl.
His childish scrawl.
Jack laughed at the thing. "We meet again, Thunderbunny. It's been a long time, buddy."
Thunderbunny was perhaps his earliest memory, and certainly his first friend. When he built forts under the dining room table or conquered the box mountains, Thunderbunny could always be counted on to stay at his side. He could not for the life of him figure out why the toy was in the attic, though he did vaguely remember his mother telling him not to play with it so much and then it had disappeared. He'd been very young then, probably less than six, so the memories were all hazy but pleasant. The stuffed toy, if he remembered correctly, came from his grandma. It had been passed from his grandfather, to his father, and then to Jack.
No wonder the poor thing looked like it'd been pounded with bricks.
He set the stuffed animal aside and looked back at the box. His mother had done something strange with this container, layering old newspapers over pages and pages of finger-paintings and pencil sketches. They all seemed foreign to him but he knew they were his. He recognized his childhood drawing style well enough to know he'd drawn every one.
Juvenile characters and wobbly lines depicted a variety of topics, events all revolving around himself and the bug-eyed, cape-wearing Thunderbunny. He got a good chuckle out of one sketch in particular: Thunderbunny, a lumpy gray-green blob with large ears and a billowing cape stood in a Superman-inspired pose proclaiming in shaky, fat letters, "I AM THUNDERBUNNY!!!"
Jack glanced at his watch. 11:30 PM. If he didn't leave soon he wouldn't be home 'til almost midnight and he had to go to work in the morning. He tossed Thunderbunny and the papers back into the box in a haphazard manner that would've made his mother cringe if she'd seen him do so, and hauled it downstairs to the car.
Jack was hardly fond of his job as a tech manager at the local RV shop. The pay was decent but he didn't have much to do but type things into the computer and occasionally show his boss how to use basic technology. 'To think I spent four years in college learning accounting just to repeatedly tell a seventy-year-old man which buttons to press on the copy machine.' His day job grossly wasted his abilities.
That day, instead of searching the Internet for the latest depressing batch of world news or sharpening pencils to throw at the ceiling, he put said pencils to good use and doodled. Smirking, Jack sketched Thunderbunny sitting in his office. "I AM THUNDERBUNNY!" the little stuffed animal declared in a neat little speech bubble, looking around with giant eyes. "WHY THE FUCK AM I HERE?" Jack finished the cartoon with Thunderbunny setting the building on fire and roasting marshmallows over the glowing embers of his boss's desk.
He chuckled, tossed the paper in the trash, and got back to work, the drawing forgotten.
That night, Jack had the strangest dream.
He dreamt he was a foot tall, wandering through the maze of hallways at work. When he reached his office, Thunderbunny was spinning in his chair. Thunderbunny waved at him, winking his good eye, and shouted, "I AM THUNDERBUNNY!" He struck a comic book superhero pose and flew down to Jack's level. Grabbing a computer cord in his cloth paws, Thunderbunny opened his mouth to reveal some sharp rabbit teeth and began gnawing through the rubber.
Jack was getting a bit worried now. "What are you doing?"
Thunderbunny giggled a disturbing little giggle and tossed the sparking wire into Jack's wastebasket. The papers smoked and burned easily. Thunderbunny hopped by, picking mini-Jack up on the way, and frolicked out of the burning building. They watched the fire build to a stunning inferno; Thunderbunny offered him a marshmallow-
And Jack's alarm clock blared in his ear. He groaned and hit the snooze button.
'No more doodling at work for me,' Jack decided the next morning as he got ready to head to the office. 'I don't need to have crack-head dreams like that every night.'
He ran a comb through his hair in a halfhearted attempt to give it some semblance of order and went to the kitchen for breakfast, turning the TV on as he reached into the refrigerator for the carton of orange juice.
"-local news, the main office of popup camper retailers Frontier Outdoor Accessories caught fire sometime after midnight last night. Nearby residents reported the fire and firefighters were still working to contain the blaze until about an hour ago." Jack stopped drinking the orange juice mid-gulp, liquid running down his face unchecked as he stared at the television. The reporter stood just outside the iconic yellow police line tape with the soggy but smoking rubble of his old workplace featured prominently behind her. "Police have found no cause for the fire yet but suspect arson. In a bizarre twist, the potential arsonist is believed to be a teenager or younger after a half-eaten bag of marshmallows was found at the scene."
Jack set the juice carton down and sprinted into the living room. Thunderbunny's box lay half-open in the middle of the floor; he was fairly certain it had been closed when he went to bed.
"Where are you, you little hell-creature?" He tossed papers aside until he found worn corduroy. "Aha, little demon!" Pulling the bunny out of the box he held it tightly by the ears and stared, horrified, at how much it had changed in one night. The acrid smell of smoke clung to the fabric of its body, more than enough evidence for him but not the only hint of its nocturnal mischief. Little bits of ash clung to the dirty paws and sticky white streaks stained its mouth and upper paws: Marshmallow.
Jack threw the smoke-scented toy against the wall. It settled in the corner by the sofa, a harmless plaything. He sat there, surrounded by a mess of paper, panting as he stared at the evil bunny. Hours seemed to pass before he looked away, suddenly aware that he was squatting on his living room floor in his pajamas, glaring at a stuffed animal. His eyes focused on a vibrantly colored finger painting next to his right hand.
Thunderbunny, more of a blob than normal but clearly labeled in his mother's handwriting, held hands with a stick figure named Jack in what appeared to be maroon rain. Ma had dated the picture: January 25, 1983.
"When did you get to be evil, Thunderbunny?" he asked no one in particular.
As he stood to leave the room, a headline caught his eye. He shuffled the papers off the one he wanted, read the headline, reread the headline and quickly sat back down.
January 26, 1983: Red Rain Falls in UK
Jack frantically dug through the stacks of drawings and newspapers, matching dates as he went, cursing his stupidity for just shoving the lot back in when he'd gone through the box before.
July 20,1984: Jack had drawn Thunderbunny sending robots after a stick figure.
July 21, 1984: First Known Robot-Caused Death
May 30, 1985: As far as he could tell, this seemed to be the last of his Thunderbunny drawings. In it, Thunderbunny said, "Tornadoes!" A large number of coiled squiggles, the universal symbol for 'tornado' surrounded the stuffed animal.
May 31, 1985: 41 Tornadoes Form in Midwest, 70 Confirmed Dead
Jack counted the squiggles: 41.
There was nothing left to do then but drink.
"Now, the way I see it, Thudderbuddy," he slurred, blinking at the corduroy rabbit in the overly bright lights of the bathroom and pointing at it belligerently. He couldn't remember if he'd dragged the toy into the bathroom or if it had stalked him there on its own but it no longer mattered. It was there so Jack was going to give it a good talking to. "The way I see it, you're just an eeeevil possessed doll. Nooo, don' look at me like that, ya bastard. You, you poisoned my little baby brain and made me draw all those evil things and…and stuff."
Jack crawled to the toilet and retched.
"See…see this is you," he said later, drawing Thunderbunny holding a big knife on a piece of toilet paper. "You're serial killer evil wrapped up in a fluffy package. See?" He stared with bleary eyes at the doodle in his hands. "Aw, shit." Jack tossed the doodle in the toilet and flushed triumphantly, shaking his fist at Thunderbunny. "Don' you get any ideas, hell-spawn!"
He promptly passed out.
"Wake up, Jack."
Jack had woken up on a bathroom floor with a hangover of epic proportions at least once before in his life but, as he struggled to open his eyes amid the throbbing of the headache from hell, he slowly became aware that something unusual was happening. His eyes gradually adjusted to the combination of bright lights and alcohol-induced fog and he saw that something unusual for the first time: a stuffed corduroy rabbit holding a butcher's knife to his throat.
"Good morning, Jack. Did you want me to do anything with this knife or shall I just leave it here?"
He gulped, completely forgetting the pain in his head. "C-could you give me the knife?"
"Right-o, Jack." Thunderbunny hopped off his chest and placed the heavy knife in Jack's hand. Jack immediately curled up in the corner and flailed the knife at the bunny in some vague attempt at a threat; Thunderbunny just watched him, the yellow light of the bathroom mirror giving the scratched glass of his 'real' eye an eerie gleam.
When it became obvious Thunderbunny wasn't going to bite his head off or something, Jack relaxed and put the knife down. "What are you?"
The corduroy rabbit twitched a moth-eaten ear, stood up on its hind legs, put its paws where a human waist might be and stated, in a deep, echoing voice, "I am Thunderbunny."
"Yes, I know. But what are you? How are you evil?"
"Are you evil?" Thunderbunny asked in return.
"I-no! Of course I'm not-"
"Then I'm not evil."
Jack rubbed his nose and stared at the talking toy, headache returning to make the conversation even harder to follow than it already was. "If you're not evil then what are you? How do you explain the pictures…and the news articles? You killed all those people!"
"You drew the pictures, you dreamed the pictures, I lived them out while you slept," Thunderbunny explained. "I am you, Jack. You did those things, or, rather, had me do them."
"So…I am Thunderbunny?"
"More or less. Thunderbunny is you and Thunderbunny is this toy…but mostly Thunderbunny is you."
Somewhere in the back of his mind Jack thought this might actually make sense. Had his mother noticed what was going on? Perhaps that was why she'd hidden the stuffed animal in the attic: she didn't want him to keep doing…whatever it was he did. "How do you know all this?"
Thunderbunny shrugged. "You must have known somehow, deep down, right? Otherwise we'd both be confused right now and you'd probably destroy this toy and lose your powers."
"Powers? What, I'm a superhero now?"
"Why not? You've got superpowers and a cape-wearing sidekick. Might as well save the day." Thunderbunny posed again. "We both know the world needs our skills."
Jack poked his arm hard; it hurt so he was relatively sure this was not just a dream. "That's it," he mumbled, "I'm never getting drunk again."
"A wise decision," Thunderbunny muttered, hopping away, "since you probably don't want to wake up this way ever again.
"Local Sportsmen's store burns down"
'Well, I can't do much more with that one,' Jack thought, flipping through the newspaper. It was about 7 o'clock that evening and he still had a horrible headache but, with aspirin and a new purpose in life, he ignored that and skimmed the newsprint for something he could handle.
"Angry woman sets pitbull on noisy neighbor"
'Or that. Another example of creative innovation in the game of "I can shit on you more!"'
"Police search for bank robber"
Jack grinned into his toast and turned the paper around. "What d'you think? Shall we go after this guy?" Thunderbunny, perched on the counter by the empty cereal box, just stared at him, stuffed animal once more. Jack thought there was a bit of a gleam to the glassy gaze, though.
"Bank robbers it is, then, Thunderbunny." He raised his milk glass in a toast to the corduroy bunny with its mismatched eyes and little blue cape. "To bringing in the bad guys."
With that, Jack put pen to paper, drawing the man seen on the security videos and Thunderbunny calling the police on him. Thunderbunny would help capture the villain, tonight and every night after, until there were no more villains left to bring in.
"You can run but you can't hide!" Thunderbunny decreed in the drawing as the sketched officers dragged the robber away in handcuffs. "I AM THUNDERBUNNY!"