A Terrorwood Story
*Note: Terrorwood is currently being revised and rewritten. All stories in this project are subject to changes at the author’s discretion.
This story was written around early 2018, and I promise my writing has improved since then.
I have always had my Mr. Rabbit.
Mr. Rabbit is not a doll, or a pet, or a nickname for a friend. Mr. Rabbit is just that, a mister who is also a rabbit. For as long as I can remember, he has always been by my side. With a dapper Victorian-era suit over his human body and a narrow top hat perched between the massive ears of his rabbit head, he has never changed, neither in outfits nor mannerisms. Mr. Rabbit has always been polite, courteous, dare I say gentlemanly. When I get ready for school in the morning, he waits for me outside my house. We walk the half mile together, idly chatting about the weather, or the books we have read. Mr. Rabbit likes to keep up with my interests; recently we’ve both been reading modern poetry.
When we get to school Mr. Rabbit walks in with me, falling back a pace. He feels as natural to me as my own shadow, a constant presence in an ever-evolving life. As we walk to my locker he whispers jokes into my ears, gently mocking my peers. He believes that I am far smarter than any of them, but I think he is exaggerating. Mr. Rabbit believes that having confidence is extremely important, so he is always trying to elevate my opinion of myself. I don’t mind it I suppose, though on the days when I want nothing more than to stew in my own inadequacy his insistence on lifting me up can be grating.
I would like to make one thing clear: I am not alone in having my Mr. Rabbit. Not that there are Mr. Rabbits following everyone around, what I mean is that people have Animals. Most all of us have some anthropomorphized beast following us, whispering in our ears. I am just the only person who can see them.
That cheerleader for instance, on the bench with the little pink purse. She has a Ms. Beagle, a dog-woman in flowery frocks always behind her. I’ve heard snippets of what Ms. Beagle whispers, and I must say that she isn’t nearly as kind as she looks. Ms. Beagle’s comments are cruel and cutting, bitterly mean. If I had those words running through my head, I’d surely be as skinny as that cheerleader. The poor thing never gets a break, her best is never enough for Ms. Beagle to let up.
Then that soccer player, the really tall one with the black hair, he who is constantly surrounded by people. He has a Mr. Piranha, probably the scariest of everyone’s Animals. Mr. Piranha is short and round, wearing a Lacoste polo and paisley shorts. He doesn’t whisper to the soccer player, instead he gently nudges the boy towards other people. I think this is why that soccer player is so popular, Mr. Piranha is telling him who is and isn’t worth talking to. I think he will be a politician one day.
Another who interests me is the quiet girl, who has Ms. Cat. That girl always seems to be in the library or eating lunch in a classroom with one of the English teachers. Ms. Cat doesn’t look like a house cat, she looks feral, angry and afraid in her hoodie and ripped jeans. Ms. Cat is always warning the quiet girl to stay away from other people, that people are dangerous and not to be trusted. I think Ms. Cat has been hurt before, I feel bad that she needs to take out her own issues on that meek little quiet girl.
Mr. Rabbit says that I should pay less attention to other peoples’ Animals, that I should focus on myself and my grades. I know he wants me to get into a good college; not an Ivy League, that’s unnecessary, but a good school in a nice city where I can study math. That’s Mr. Rabbit’s favorite subject, mathematics. He’s been telling me so ever since the long division unit in fourth grade. Mr. Rabbit wants me to be a mathematician, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be one. I like math well enough, and whenever I get stuck Mr. Rabbit likes to help me. He tells me that mathematics is just one big puzzle, waiting for equally big brains like myself to solve it. As long as I make a nice salary one day so I can live in a big apartment and buy lots of books, I wouldn’t mind being a mathematician.
My first class is always history, Mr. Rabbit’s least favorite. He thinks the classes are too biased towards American exceptionalism, and I’m inclined to agree. Besides, I grew up watching historical documentaries with my grandfather, I already know the basics. I spend most of the class doodling in my notebook, little geometric spirals that grow and spread out over what few notes I’ve taken. I’ll probably have trouble reading those later, but like I said, I know the gist of it.
During class the other students’ Animals lean against the back wall of the classroom, silently watching. Mr. Rabbit is the only one who sits with their person, me. Mr. Rabbit likes my doodles, he thinks they look like mathematical functions.
Next class is gym, I hate having gym early in the day. Sorry, sorry, Mr. Rabbit highly dislikes my use of the word “hate.” He thinks that hate should be reserved, lest it lose its bite and strength as a word. He is probably right, but I still slip now and then. This unit in gym is awful, pickleball. It’s like a watered-down tennis with wiffle balls and weird, hard plastic racquets. My classmates are obsessed with it, but I would rather be playing kickball. If we were playing kickball, I could keep “accidentally” losing my place in the line-up, and could get through the entire period only being at bat once. Is it still “at bat” for kickball, or is it something like “at kick?” Mr. Rabbit doesn’t know either, but we agree that “at bat” works justfine. The Animals take their places around the perimeter of the gymnasium for the period, again not interacting with each other, just staring at their people. I suppose some would find that creepy, but it’s never really bothered me.
In the past, I have asked Mr. Rabbit why the other Animals don’t stay with their people during classes and why they don’t talk with each other. Mr. Rabbit said that the classes are like a break for the other Animals, and that they don’t like their people the way he likes me. He considers me his friend, not his obligation. No matter how hard I pressed, he would never tell me anything more. Still, one day I hope he explains to me why the Animals do what they do when they do it. Mr. Rabbit says that I shouldn’t bother with those thoughts, but they pop up from time to time and far be it from me to attempt to control my own thoughts.
Back in the hallways again, and the Animals are whispering to their people. Almost everyone has an Animal, and if other people could see them, I think everyone would feel extremely claustrophobic. The hallways get really crowded with all the fur and scales and skin, the closeness can be unbearable in the summer when the school’s air conditioning isn’t quite powerful enough to keep everyone cool. When the lack of space and air to breathe gets overwhelming Mr. Rabbit takes me by the shoulders, and pushes me through the crowd to where I need to go. I am thankful that he’s there to keep me moving, I don’t know what I would do without him on days like that.
Now, there are people who don’t have Animals. Those people scare me the most. They walk through the world with big grey saucers for eyes. Matte, dull disks that express nothing. No one else notices how creepy they are, and they move through the world with friends and families and lives. Yet there is something missing from them, those with the empty eyes. Those who have Animals are bright and vibrant, distinctly and unequivocally alive. While their Animals are not always kind, the people are real. Those who do not have Animals, they do not look real to me.
By any other measure I guess they are happy, drifting through life without apparent pain or heartache. Still, they scare me. I avoid them as much as I can, Mr. Rabbit helps me with that. Sometimes in class, when we’re randomly assigned partners to work with, Mr. Rabbit will go up behind the teacher and whisper to them. He ensures that I only work with people who have Animals, and that is a huge relief to me. I suppose I have never really talked to someone who didn’t have an Animal, nothing more than simple conversation. But I don’t want to talk to them beyond that. I’m afraid of what they would say.
After gym is my Spanish elective, where we learn the same basics of the language every year. I like to think that I’ve absorbed enough to hold my own in conversation, but that’s probably just hubris. After Spanish is a free period that I spend on the library computers, researching colleges with Mr. Rabbit’s input. We have decided that we’ll stay in New England, so that narrows the selection down a bit. I want to go to New York like everyone my age does, but Mr. Rabbit thinks we’ll do better in Rhode Island. He is probably right, so I make sure to print out some information on Rhode Island schools. I want to stay inland though, I’ve never been a big fan of the ocean.
After my free period is lunch, which is really another free period specifically in the cafeteria. I do have friends that I sit with, but I usually just space out and scroll around on my phone. I sometimes have trouble paying attention to normal conversation, because of the whispering of the Animals. Lunch periods are the one “class” that the Animals engage in, I suppose because it is a social exercise rather than an academic one. My best friend’s Animal is Mr. Hawk, he seems pretty similar to Mr. Rabbit in his intention to raise up my friend’s self-esteem. Although Mr. Hawk is rather more direct about that, and I think her opinion is high enough as is with no extra input. Still, I’ve known her since elementary school, and if I’m going to have a best friend I’d rather she be over-confident than not.
I have three more classes after lunch, and my best friend is in all of them. We did that quite intentionally and signed up for the same classes so we could work together, particularly in Calculus. She’s not as good at math as I am and struggles a bit, but Mr. Rabbit says that that’s a good thing. According to him, learning to teach others math is a good way for me to solidify the information in my own brain. Of course, he is right as always, and making sure that she is on track keeps me focused as well. Also, Mr. Hawk doesn’t help her like Mr. Rabbit helps me, which I think is unfair. Mr. Rabbit says the Animals aren’t responsible for their people’s grades, but I think if they can help then why not? Mr. Rabbit reminds me to focus on the teacher, and back to reviewing last night’s math homework we go.
You’re probably wondering how I’m talking to Mr. Rabbit. Well, we don’t actually talk. It’s more that I think, and he whispers back. I don’t really have much privacy because of that, Mr. Rabbit knows everything that I think and feel. I’ll take that trade-off though, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to physically talk to him. People would think that I’m crazy, talking to what they perceive as thin air. I’d rather have no privacy and keep my reputation as a normal person.
Classes are all done for the day now, we are heading to our lockers to collect textbooks and jackets before heading home. My best friend is coming over to my house so we can work on our Calculus homework. Homework takes longer when we’re working together, but that’s because we’re also being social. When it’s just she and me and our Animals in my bedroom, she tells me other people’s secrets. I think that’s really why we’re friends. She talks, I listen. She’s definitely more involved with other people than I am, of course she only has to deal with half the amount of bodies I do. The arrangement works for me, this way I’m kept abreast of what’s going on amongst my peers and she has a rapt audience for her stories. I think once we graduate we will most likely drift apart, and only nominally keep in touch. That doesn’t break my heart, and I don’t think it’ll break hers either.
My best friend starts telling me other people’s business at my locker. The biggest news of the day is the new girl who just moved to town. She tells me how apparently, the new girl is pretty, but totes crazy. She’s, like, nice, but is always talking to herself. And not, like, normal talking where you’re thinking through your day, but, like, a conversation. Immediately that puts my instincts on high alert. Wasn’t I just telling you how I’m glad that I only have to think with Mr. Rabbit, so that I don’t look crazy? I ask my friend what the new girl looks like, and my friend says I should turn around and see for myself. So I do.
The new girl is sitting on a bench down the hallway, hunched over her phone and clenching her backpack between her knees. She looks worried, upset, and overwhelmed. There’s an Animal standing over her, Mr. Rabbit tells me that she is Ms. Alpaca. I know that seems like it should be pretty obvious, but I don’t like to assume. She could have been a Ms. Llama, I don’t really know the difference between llamas and alpacas. Ms. Alpaca is wearing a cardigan and mom jeans, with a pair of cheap sunglasses perched on her head between her little flippy ears. I ask Mr. Rabbit if he has ever met Ms. Alpaca, but he doesn’t respond, he’s staring at the girl just as intently as I am. We’ve both forgotten about my best friend, who has already moved onto a new topic of one-sided conversation.
Ms. Alpaca looks to be chastising the new girl, I can’t quite hear what about. The new girl looks like she’s… Ignoring Ms. Alpaca? But one can’t ignore what they shouldn’t know is there. I ask my best friend if we can reschedule homework, it is Friday after all. Maybe we can meet up on Sunday instead? I know she has a family thing tomorrow and that we’ll be cutting it closer than she likes, but I really need the evening to decompress. She rolls her eyes and Mr. Hawk looks annoyed that I’m breaking our usual routine, but she says it’s fine. We say goodbye and she jogs off to get a ride with one of our other friends, she lives too far away to walk home. I know that everything is not fine and she is at least a little mad, but I can deal with that on Sunday by relocating our homework location to a café. She feels sophisticated when we do homework in cafés, like we’re college students.
I start walking over to the new girl, trying to hear what Ms. Alpaca is saying. Mr. Rabbit is trying to stop me, he thinks that this is a bad idea and that we should just go home. For the first time in a long time I’m ignoring what he is saying, I am not taking his advice. The new girl looks distressed, scrunched up likes she’s trying to disappear into herself. I can hear Ms. Alpaca now, and though she is whispering as all the Animals do, it is an angry whisper. The new girl is embarrassing herself, making a scene like this. She should just be like all the other students and stop freaking out. All the other kids have Animals, the new girl should stop making such a big deal out of it.
I reach the new girl, I’m standing over her now. She hasn’t noticed me yet, and I have to duck my head to get her attention. This startles her, and I apologize, I didn’t mean to sneak up on her like that. The girl swallows nervously, and there is no denying it now. She is staring at Mr. Rabbit. Mr. Rabbit is whispering furiously at me, that we should leave now and go home and do our homework like we’re supposed to, leave this crazy new girl alone. The new girl’s eyes go wide when she hears this, and she starts gathering up her things, stammering that she isn’t getting any service here. Her mom is supposed to be picking her up but her mom just got a new job in town and might not be out of work yet but why would I care about that she’s sorry she should probably just go now.
I’m not sure what is the best way to go about this, so I improvise. I look the new girl deep in the eyes and tell her that it’s okay. I glance back at Mr. Rabbit with intent, glaring strongly enough that he stops protesting. I make eye contact with the girl again, and ask if she wants to walk home with me? I only live a half mile away, if we walk maybe she could find a spot with stronger service, or at least have somewhere better to wait than a soon-to-be-empty high school?
The new girl got what I was trying to say, though she keeps nervously glancing at Ms. Alpaca and Mr. Rabbit. Still, she says yes, she’d appreciate walking home with me. Now Ms. Alpaca is burning holes into me with her angry eyes, she doesn’t like me and thinks that the new girl should stay away from me. I tell the new girl that my name is Demetria, I know, dramatic, right? She can just call me Demi, that’s what everyone else calls me. The new girl is still nervous, but at least now she’s smiling. Her name is Alexandrine, equally dramatic. We laugh at that and she says I can call her Lex.
She stands up and slings her backpack over her shoulder. I grab her by the hand and lead her out of the school. She relaxes the instant we’re outside, away from the crush of students and Animals.
She is the only other person I’ve met who can see the Animals. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited to see what happens next.