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Robynn Clairday lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. This story previously appeared in Writer's Workship Review.

Chris Carr is a Canadian-born artist and graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design. His freelance illustration and Web design can be seen at Clarity Design.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Run Rabbit by Robynn Clairday

     The snow grabbed and sucked her into its dense white maw. Jamie breathed hard, her thick rubber boots slipping and sinking into the drifts. She had to run, run fast. Hurry. Faster. Flashes of herself winning the fifty-yard dash last year befo re she'd graduated from junior high. Feet flying and soaring effortlessly over the black top.
     This snow was wet, heavy caking onto her and clinging like a shroud. The drifts, some three feet high, covered the field, smothering the long dead grass and wildflowers. The shouts were getting closer, piercing the wet gray air. Jamie wasted a precious second looking over her shoulder, her lungs tortured for oxygen; the six boys were gaining on her. Their curses and outrage getting closer.
     She held the rabbit closer, its small brown-and-white body pressed against her breast beneath her coat. Their hearts pounded together in unison. Cold streaks of mud from the rabbit's terrified scrabbling covered her jersey. Her father would be furious if he saw the shirt before her mother had a chance to clean it. Gasping hard for breath, Jamie veered left wildly. Somewhere ahead there was an apartment complex with trees and buildings, somewhere she could lose herself.
     "We'll get you, you stupid little bitch!" shouted Gregory, the ringleader of the boy swarm. She used to think he was cute, the cutest among the others, who were all cool boys. Babes. That's what the girls in her class called them. Gregory's dog, a c how-terrier mix, a thick, powerful animal with a wide square face, barked excitedly and bayed as it drew closer to Jamie. She ran harder, her legs soaked to the bone through her longjohns. And now the dampness had re-frozen and numbness was setting in.
     She had been nervous but pleasantly excited when she first saw the tight circle of boys, had approached them shyly with a timid smile on her face. She had heard the dog's frenzied barks. And then she had stepped closer and seen what they were doing .
     "We'll get you, we'll get you!" Their taunts sang out behind her. They were furious but aroused and almost happy. She could tell. They sounded just like her father when he had worked himself up past the boiling foam of his rage. His face would already be purple, his eyes glistening and bulging. He would have already broken a lamp or a chair, thrown one of his wife's glass figurines till it made a satisfying crash. Now he would be rubbing his hands together, anticipating his revenge, the sweet feel of his anger satisfied. Jamie forgot about the tiny stream running through the meadow. Her feet broke through the crust of ice and she was up to her thighs in ice water. Another burning shot of adrenaline and she was plunging free. The rabbit was so still she wondered if it'd died.
     A small bit of good fortune rose before her, a flattened smooth area of snow stretching out for several yards. Jamie sucked more air into her starving lungs and pushed hard, her feet too numb to feel the ground.
     The little rabbit had been running in mindless rings with Gregory's dog closing in. The boys' laughing circle kept it from breaking free. Jamie stepped up to them and said hello, and they turned, cocky and grinning, looking her over. Two or three of them had butcher knives in their hands. Her heart plunged as she read their faces and saw their hunger -- their mean greedy need. Without thinking, she had plunged through the boys and scooped up the petrified rabbit. Taking advantage of their surprise, she took off running.
     Jamie always wanted Nina to run, but her sister never would. Run out of the house, Jamie would whisper silently. Run to the neighbors. But Nina would simply stand there, whimpering softly, and would usually wet her pants. Which would enrage their father more. He would tower over Nina, furious over her ineptitude, her gawky, teary self. His hand would close over Nina's bird-like arm and he would yank her to him. In Jamie's dreams, she would see herself step forward and place her own body between Nina's and his. In her dreams, she would shield Nina and save her.
     Jamie's fingers touched the rabbit, amazed at the butter softness of its fur, the tiny delicacy of its body. The boys were yards away from her and gaining ground. They had first been amused and scornful when she ran off with the rabbit, then they had commanded her to return it, fully expecting her to comply. It hadn't taken long for their disdain to turn into fury.
     Once Jamie had spoken up and tried to defend Nina, but her quavering efforts to protect had only added fuel to his manic rage. Then she tried to avert his anger, tried to soothe and assuage the irritants that set him off. With her own baby-sitting money she would sneak out and buy the Hostess cupcakes her mother had forgotten, and sneak them into the cupboard. She would carefully refold the newspaper neatly so the edges squarely met before he read it in the evenings. She would dust under table legs, so when he checked they would be clean. But he always came up with new rules, new demands and always found infringements.
     The boys were only feet away, she could hear their heavy breathing beneath their threats and curses.
     "You're dog meat. You're dead. You dumb girl," Gregory snarled behind her.
     Jamie's mouth was filled with saliva. She was choking and coughing, her lungs too clogged and battered to work. Her nose was running frantically. Her legs could not go faster. Move, she pleaded with her weary body, move. She was back in the snow drifts, the snow like taffy, dragging her down. I have to get away, her mind drilled relentlessly. I have to get away.
     In the next moment, Jamie was surrounded. The six of them encircled her quickly, a solid enclosure of their solid flesh. One of them held the panting dog by the collar. Drool fell from its tongue.
     "You're dead, bitch. Give us the rabbit." Gregory smiled, breathing hard.
     "Give us the rabbit."
     "Give it to us."
     Knives swung and gleamed. Thoughts burst through Jamie's brain as her eyes desperately scanned the circle. The hard, hungry faces, the eager hands ready and willing ... no escape. Jamie smiled weakly and shrugged as she gently extracted the rabbit from her coat. The boys grinned in triumph, two of them dropping their guard. Jamie jumped and tossed the rabbit through a space between the pair. The rabbit hit the ground running and, finding a reservoir of energy and strength, sped away, a brown-and- white blur disappearing over a snowbank.
     Escape--run away, she pleaded silently with the rabbit.
     Then out loud: "Go, go! You've made it--you've made it!"
     Jamie laughed happily and hugged herself. See, Nina, you can run. You can make it.
     The boys were strangely silent, exchanging knowing looks and smiles. They no longer looked in the rabbit's direction. They moved in, and closed up the circle. Their boots were only inches from Jamie, their knives inches from her face.
     "Let me go," she said, too tired to move. Weariness turned her blood into sludge, her muscles into cement.
     Gregory shook his head. The other five also shook their heads. The knives slithered and flashed in their hands. Gregory's dog moved in, growling thunderously before leaping and knocking her down. It stood over her, pinning her down with its bared teeth, wet snout and heavy paws. As they knelt over her and the hunting knives descended, Jamie whispered to herself, run, Nina, run.