The breath of the creature directed a fog seen only because of the tender mercy of a single ray of light passing through a crack somewhere, above, that I could not see.
“My name is Antonio,” the creature muttered, offering a hand forward in friendship. “Or Tony, if you prefer.”
“Jeff,” I replied, still concerned by the attention this odd being was raining down on me. I shook his furry palm, but tepidly.
“Be not worried, your fear I see,” the creature sighed. “I hear much of this before. ‘We need not the eggs and you frighten children with such accent…be gone!’”
“Please, my friend. I work many years to find for you and I work with much people. I tire. I am weak. Please, to me, open for your mind to let some light where it was not before. What it is you fear to lose? Many hours locked inside – a cage – like this! Too late for fear!”
“Okay…okay,” I started. “It’s the pink polka-dotted vest. I can’t take anyone seriously who’s dressed like that.”
“You should want I wear matching glittery top hat? I remove hours ago. Goddamnit Texas heat make hat wearing burden much.” He buried his head in his paws as if to wipe sweat from his forehead and into a head of hair that was no longer there.
“I’ll get over it. No, it’s alright. I don’t normally talk to large furry rabbits about Easter.”
“You think only this of me? Am I so different from you now? Possibility. It is many years thus.” Tony looked up from his paws at me, expectantly, his eyes beginning to well.
“Jeffrey Olson, my new friend, I am much more than oversize rabbit before you.”
I stared into the rabbit’s eyes trying to hide my incredulity. “So tell me….Tony….”
Tony pointed at the letters scrawled on the wall, “Look. There. See word?”
I shook my head up and down to acknowledge.
“Praxis,” he roared. “I put there. For someone. Anyone, actual. It is code,” he paused a long pause. “For Soviet communism. I use that word here and they lock me up without key. It scares hell from them. Like when you see atheist in them, even while they worship sincere pious. Denial total. Insane.”
“The Easter Bunny is a communist? C’mon, Tony. Help me out. I’m losing you here.”
“Easy to be lost in places like this, Jeffrey Olson,” he paused a long pause. “But true it is. I fill thirty notebooks full with thoughts few know to follow before or since, but water-clear they were to me inside these walls.” He stared to the side. “Things become clear when it is just you and these bars.”
“Tony,” I interrupted, “the Easter Bunny is not a communist. Certainly not a Soviet communist. It just cannot be.”
“How certain you are! How would a hell you know? Are you expert on my life? Think you know fascists and ol’garchs care damnit for truth? Know you what we fought in days like those?”
“You mean 200AD? The Roman Empire?”
“No, ” Tony, sensing my agitation, motioned to slow my inquiry. “Before the second war. Before we knew Stalin lied. To all of us. Praxis was dirt to him.”
“But,” I began, incredulous. “We had the Easter Bunny for a thousand or more years before then.”
Tony shook his head in acknowledgement, showing me his paw in frustration. “Yes,” Tony began, speaking slower, more deliberate. He moved to sit beside me on my cot. “We have secret brotherhood for hares of Easter from beginning. I have been one of many.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I started as Tony’s weight shifted and tightened the blankets around my chest.
“I will soon to tell you. What needs you to know I had visit just like I visit to you, for same reason you are here. The torch passed to me for times.” Tony seemed breathless, sensing my disbelief.
“No. You’re crazy. You’re in a rabbit suit!” I pawed and clawed at Tony’s fur, ripping open his vest, looking for seams, looking for clues. He finally pushed my hands away from him, pinning them down to the cot around my head.
“Done for now? Relax you must, Jeffrey Olson. Long day and much misery. Take to your mouth and bite down.”
I opened to receive the sacrament and bit down into it, reflecting on the events of Thanksgiving Day, the name on the list – my confusion. Maybe this has all been a bad dream and I will wake up. Soon. In the meantime, Tony’s jaws and mouth moved up and down, words pushed air across the space between us, but it was like watching a movie with the sound muted. He could have been speaking a foreign language, or I could have been too tired, but it seemed like a part of me understood what he was saying, but not a part of me I knew very well at all.
“…and what you need must to remember,” Tony emphasized, waking me in a start, “is a day comes when you must pass this gift on another prophet, like you. Then your work here is finished. You do all that you can have done. A great peace you feel.”
“Do I have to wear that suit?”
“This not suit, Jeffrey Olson.” Tony stood and started to become animated. “It grows to you over time, but barely it troubles. Others become old, but you grow ears long, fur and wild urges to spread happiness every year when green in hills glows bright to evening Sun…flowers…they bloom and hang in dabs yellow, blue and magenta right before ground, waving gently in mid-air. Smells so sweet and perfume of wildest, most joyous imaginations and then…then you go to begin new search. Year after year, seeds of Spring you plant into minds of little children so one day one may grow, just as you, in time to harvest, to shine forward every springtime brighter than before.”
“That sounds so…beautiful…Tony.”
“It is, Jeffrey Olson. It is. My gift to you, it is priceless.” And with that Tony touched my head with his paw and I felt a jolt unlike any other I had ever felt before. I saw only the Light, the Good and the Joyous. Then my head slammed back into the cot.
“It is accomplished.”
“Wait! But….” Tony backed away from my cot and slowly evaporated into the background behind him as if it were a pool of water and feeling. He waved goodbye to me and to the life I once held as my one and only. Now I would know many such lives in my search of becoming. I waved back, weakly, and laid back down, exhausted, yet smiling widely – sheets drenched.
I awoke to dry sheets and blinding light. The smell was unfamiliar – I couldn’t place it, but an over-laundered scent of blankets burned dry struck me immediately. Noise. Streaks of color turned into people talking quickly and moving about with some sense of purpose. I tasted metal in my mouth. I opened to begin to ask someone where I was, but an ache rumbled through my jaw and into my skull. I felt my scalp to check – still hair. “Nursh? Nursh-ah!” I could barely move my mouth and tongue.
I waited for a lull in the noise level, propped myself up on my elbow and tried again. “Nursh! Sothbody! Halp!”
A pleasant looking young male nurse appeared at my bedside. “Mr. Olshausen! You’re awake!”
“Huth am I?”
“Jeffrey. Jeffrey Olshausen. Don’t you remember yet?”
“Mether what,” I asked.
“Go ahead and lay back down, Mr. Olshausen. You’ve been in an accident.”
“Yes. But you’re going to be fine. A little rehab and you’ll be hunting Easter eggs with the best of ‘em!”
“Ether? Am I late?”
“Late? No! Goodness no! You’re right on time.”
“Gooth. I neeth to find the chillin who found my eths.”
“Of course! Of course. As soon as we can schedule some rehab for you, you’ll be out of here in no time. You’ll lead a normal life.”
“I’m the Ether Bunny,” I said with great pride and sense of purpose.
“Of course you are, Mr. Olshausen. Of course you are.” The nice man turned and walked back towards the nurse’s station, the eyes of the staff focused on a face I could no longer see. Smiles appeared on their faces and I suddenly felt a crushing aloneness I don’t remember ever feeling before. Was this my world any longer?
The green of the hills fluoresced and wild flowers bloomed in the wind, hanging in mid-air just as Tony had promised me several weeks before. I felt the joy and gratitude that meaning and purpose give a life such as mine. I have helpers in my country home who assist me in finding and speaking to the little children, bringing me extra blankets when I get cold or shiver with the fever of my transition. Tony was so right about this new life of mine. I have been reborn.
I often stare into a blue tinted screen at night watching for letters, words and numbers from emails and news sites as they scroll up the page, looking for secret words and clues from the children. They’re there, if you look long and hard enough, and remain patient. I’m having a lot of luck with the codes I detect in the weekly lotteries from around the world. A burst of five numbers per week requires multiple years before a message can be deciphered and divined from a single lottery, but there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lotteries of five and six digits each week, worldwide. I barely have time to decode them all, but Tony was right: I get such relief from pulling these numbers together to decode the magic that directs my efforts each Spring.