By Drew Alexander Ross
I was a child when my father told me stories about the chair in the garden. We would sit side by side on the couch in our living room while I listened to words that transported me to far-away places. I would flinch in terror or cling in awe as stories of amazing adventures unfolded. He promised me that one day I would discover the doorway to these far-away places for myself. I waited a long time for that day to come.
As we sat in our small living room, he would gaze at the painting that hung above our couch and begin his story—always in the same way.
The painting depicted a scene that could have been in a garden of any old English village; but, there was something magical about it. I imagined that it was the backyard of some grand manor. Two columns of stone pillars, six individual posts in all, ran from foreground to background. The stone pillars supported a wooden pergola covered in flowers and thick green vines, which lead the viewer’s eyes toward a row of tall green hedges at the back of the garden beyond the stone columns. A gap in the middle of the hedges revealed a distant field.
In the foreground sat an empty canvas chair, lonely beneath a canopy of vines and a scattered ceiling of pink roses. Sunlight entered from the left, illuminating the chair and just enough of the field beyond to pull its viewers near. Canvas cloth stretched over the chair’s wooden frame, forming a scooped cloth seat, its red, blue, and yellow stripes, vibrant against a leafy background of bright yellow, dark green and pale rose.
The stories began with the chair: who had abandoned it, why, and what happened to them? My father told me about the times he left the chair when he was a kid and what lay in the field behind the hedges. I waited for the day when I would begin my own fantastic journeys from that chair, as my father had promised.
One day I did.
Grandma and Grandpa were inside the house looking for me. I was supposed to be doing chores, and they were afraid because I was just old enough where I could get myself into trouble by wandering off. But I never went far. I was outside in the back garden per usual, sitting in that chair, waiting for my adventures to begin. Leaning back in the chair with my arms behind my head and my eyes closed, I heard a noise from the meadow beyond the hedges. Without opening my eyes, I tilted my head toward the sound. It could be anything. Then the noise came again, I knew this was something unusual.
Rising quietly from the chair, I crept through the grass toward the gap in the hedge, staying close to the shadows of the pillars. As I drew nearer, the strange sounds seemed to become a voice. Not a human one. I peered through the gap in the hedge. A giant rabbit, the size of a large dog, sensed my presence with a twitch of its ears and turned to me. Its ears glowed a vibrant shade of dazzling green emeralds. Its fur shone like new snow. Then in one long bound, it stood before me. My heart beat loudly in my ears as I stood taller in an attempt to match its height.
“Help me.” The rabbit whispered.
The creature shrunk as I stood straighter. It was only a rabbit, after all. My heart slowed, and the foreboding passed as I saw the creature for what it was, a garden bunny. A garden bunny with green ears. I leaned forward to meet its cool gaze, and I sensed my journey was about to begin. It quirked its head.
“Can you help me?”
My first instinct was to jump at the request like my father always did, but something stayed me.
“Why do you need my help?”
The rabbit smiled a buck-toothed grin. A sparkle of saliva dripped off the tip of its teeth, and I looked down at their sharp edges. They could clip a finger as quickly as Grandpa’s weed whacker could trim a blade of grass. I smiled back.
Rabbits ate grass, not fingers.
“Vicious dogs attacked my family hole. I barely escaped!” That rabbit looked over its shoulder. Its green ears twitched. “There was a cave-in. I need your help to clear it so I can get to my children.”
The rabbit waited patiently for my response. It didn’t seem a mighty task, but my mind drifted to the image of a pack of vicious dogs. Jet black hounds growling with froth that sparkled from their blood-red jowls. Maybe the request wasn’t a light one.
But I was determined to have my adventure. This and the rabbit’s trapped children chased the pack of rabid dogs from my mind.
“I will help,” I said. “Show me to your home.”
The rabbit bowed its head and hopped back across the meadow. I took a step through the hedges and followed.
The meadow stretched for acres. Deep yellow and green grass swallowed me in. After a while, the grass was all I could see. The grass grew taller the farther we went from the hedges. The rabbit led and popped its head up every ten feet or so to make sure I was still in sight. I kept my eyes on the small burrow in the clumps of low grasses leading me further on my journey.
The long grass gave way to a field of reeds that soaked up the sun and created an oven around my chest and stomach. I crouched low to be closer to the cooler earth, but the potential dangers began to weigh on me in the form of a sweat-soaked shirt. I wanted this, I told myself as the skip in my step faded, beaten down by doubts and a strange primitive twinge of uncertainty.
Finally, a hill approached, and I lifted my head to breathe in an invigorating gust of wind and wide-open space. My mouth gaped as I took in the colorful wonders surrounding me, and I questioned whether I was still asleep, dreaming in the canvas chair.
A forest flanked the side of the reed field and went into the distance toward the meadows of grass. Trees with lime green, canary yellow, and lagoon blue leaves watched over the fields. There was a darker line on the horizon, and I wondered what mysteries these lands held. We had to be close to the rabbit’s hole, though. I bent down and spotted the ruffle in the short grass ahead of me.
“Mr. Rabbit!” I called.
One green ear poked out of the low grass, followed by its little head.
“Is your hole in the forest?”
“Are we near the forest?”
“No. It’s off a ways.”
“Keep your head down when we pass!” The rabbit said. “That’s where the dogs live.”
Before I could nod, the rabbit dove back into its tunnel, and the ruffle of low grass moved on ahead. I frowned and resumed my pace, cursing myself for not asking more questions. At this rate, it would be dark before I got back to the house. I didn’t want to think about Grandpa’s reaction to that. My tongue swelled, and the back of my neck burned. I raised my head and inhaled deeply to catch one more reviving breeze before I put my head back down on the trail.
I kept my ears pricked, hearing the chirps of exotic birds. I scanned the drunks of the forest looking for any sign of the animals but kept one eye out for any sign of a vicious beast. Only the glittering forest beckoned, and I moved on, captivated.
My ease was stifled suddenly when a roar pierced through the fields and left a ringing in my ears. My eyes searched for the source of the cry, and I saw a much larger bulge in the long grass a little ways off. A splinter of pain pierced my toe.
Ducking down, I saw the rabbit release the big toe of my shoe with a drip of my blood trailing from its teeth. The rabbit glowed and began to pulsate. It began to grow, and its ears shined dark before the rabbit caught its breath.
“That’s the cry of the beast!” The rabbit said.
“The creature sounded in pain.”
“It caught our scent. It’s trying to lure you into a trap!”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I watched the rabbit tremble. My toe throbbed. What would it feel like if the beast bit me?
I was scared, but I wanted to see another creature in this land. If rabbits had green ears and could grow in size, I wanted to see what other animals here were like. A glimpse of the dog might be worth it. I looked back at the rabbit. Its eyes bulged, and its nose flared. I decided not to give the rabbit an option.
“I’m going to take a look.”
“Hurry back.” The rabbit bristled. “And don’t get too close!”
I crouched low through the stalks. I couldn’t see where I was going, so I headed toward the direction of the last wail. Slowly, I rose up and arched my neck to peek over the reeds. A loud wail echoed, and I jerked my head down. The creature was a few yards away.
I crept forward.
A gap in the stalks revealed a wolf-like creature with two sparkling, bright blue eyes. Its fur was glossy with a sheen of charcoal black and had a tail almost as wide as its body, like a beaver’s. The tail, the color of topaz, was soaked in fresh blood. My eyes wavered at the sight, and that’s when I noticed the thorns wedged into its tail. The blood dripping from the creature was its own. It roared again.
I looked closer and thought that this creature was too regal to be one of those vicious dogs the rabbit feared. Even in its pain, it looked majestic. My body shot upright to enter the clearing when I saw the wolf lean to its tail and attempt to bite the thorns loose.
The creature looked up toward me and emitted a low growl. Its tail rose and resembled a club waiting to be swung. I held up my hands and stared into its blue eyes. It looked back at me and sniffed the air.
I took a few slow steps forward.
“I can remove the thorns.”
Its tail, resembling a powerful club, twitched as it thought.
I held out my hand to allow the creature to take my scent and judge my character.
Though my hand shook, I stood as tall as I could. It bent forward and lowered its snout. It could have devoured my arm with one snap of its jaw, but instead, it turned and lowered its tail.
I let out a pent up breath, then moved to the tail to inspect the damage. The thorns were deep and caked in a mix of fresh and dry blood.
My heart beat in rhythm with my Adam’s apple as my hands moved over its tail. My ears felt the pulse of blood rushing to my head, and I tensed at any sharp intake of breath from the wolf. Though time seemed to slow in those tense few minutes, I was able to remove the thorns with great care. I finished, and the wolf licked its tail and swung it through the air with satisfaction.
“How did you injure your tail?”
The creature turned to me.
“I was hunting. My enemy has terrorized the innocent for too long.” It said. “But the evil creature protected its lair with thorns and escaped while I was left to lick my wounds.”
The wolf surveyed me for a moment and finally approached.
“Thank you.” It murmured.
It licked my face and turned away. It was then that the wolf resembled a dog. I remembered the rabbit’s warnings, and my eyes dropped to the ground.
“I have to go,” I said. “Another creature needs my help.”
The wolf nodded.
“Like father, like son.”
My head quirked at the words, but I just stared as the creature trotted back toward the woods.
“Make sure you’re back through the hedges before nightfall. The powers of evil grow in the dark.”
The wolf disappeared into the woods, and I hurried back through the reeds, trying to remember if my father told me a story about this wolf.
The sun crept lower in the sky, and the heat began to dwindle. I didn’t have time to reflect on sentiments. I relished the more refreshing breezes that came with the dying sun, but I quickened my steps. When I found the rabbit, it was frantically hopping about.
“I thought I lost you!” The rabbit exclaimed.
“I’m alright. A creature was in pain, and I helped. I hurried back as fast as I could.”
“We should be moving. It’s not safe to be here for too long.”
“Will I have time to get back to my house before dark?” I asked.
“If we don’t waste any more time.”
We moved on to the dark area on the horizon. It was marked by a line of decaying trees. Neither vibrancy nor color existed in this world within a world. The only sign of life were the footprints of a seemingly large animal etched into the muddy ground. Dirt and mud caked the land, and the footprints of a large animal marked the territory. The rabbit did not speak as it moved further into the dark territory.
A dead branch cracked from somewhere behind me. I turned and thought I saw a shadow dart across the edge of my vision.
“We are close,” the rabbit said. “We must hurry.”
I expected the rabbit would be alert to any danger if its family was in potential harm, but he pounced ahead fearlessly with vigor. I wanted to finish my adventure. I wanted to return to Grandpa and Grandma, who were bound to be ill with worry over my absence. The feelings of guilt were repressed quickly as I thought of the rabbit’s family in danger, which reminded me of my mission. I moved on.
The rabbit bounded ahead and turned behind a mound of upturned earth by the roots of a gigantic tree: the rabbit hole. Its home. We finally reached our destination. I walked over and inspected the hole. It was just wide enough for me to fit in.
The rabbit seemed to be bigger again. And now, its white fur was the grey slush of old snow. It stared at me, its eyes hollow. I wondered if the creature thought it was too late to save its family.
“What can I do?”
The rabbit licked its lips.
“I’m too small to break down the packed earth at the cave in. It would take me too long to get through to my family with my claws and teeth. I’m worried they’re starving already.”
“How can I help?”
The rabbit licked its lips.
“Use your size down in the hole. Your strength will break through.” The rabbit said. “I’ll wait behind you to scoop out the leftover earth.”
I nodded and made my way into the mouth of the hole.
On hands and knees, I crawled into the dark, confined space. I could crouch, but the faint light from the sun gave me limited visibility. My breath grew heavy. The earth was cold, and I felt a shiver crawl up my spine where my sweat chilled. I did not want to stay in this space long.
I reached the cave-in and dug at the dirt barrier. My hands clawed at the packed earth, but there wasn’t any give to the ground. Sweat poured down my face while the coldness of the tunnel made my shirt clam up against my back. I longed for more of the earlier, blazing sun.
Frustrated, I jabbed a fist at the earth, and my hand sparked with pain. I jerked back. Blood trickled down my palm in a steady flow. I squished to one side so I could let the light from the mouth of the tunnel illuminate my hand. It was a small puncture. I moved a little more. What caused this?
My shoulder brushed against the side of the cave, and more sparks of pain pierced my side. I held in a yelp and turned more carefully to let light in.
My heart jumped in my throat. I began to feel claustrophobic as I noticed vines of a thorn bush curls along the sides and ceiling of the tunnel. It felt like a rock replaced my Adam’s apple. I struggled to inhale shallow breaths filled with terror.
In panic, I turned to the mouth of the cave, but the last light of the day was suddenly blocked off. I thought back to the sound of the snapped branch as we entered this dead woods.
A green glow filled the tunnel. I had to blink my eyes to focus my vision.
When my vision cleared, I wished light hadn’t returned. The creature I thought was a garden bunny filled the cave with its bulk. Its green ears illuminated the cave with a poisonous neon light, creating a deathly grey hue over its fur, which stood on end. Its teeth now seemed like they could take off my arm as easily as my fingers. Its eyes reflected a soulless pit.
“Finally!” The creature cackled. “I waited for your father to come back for years! I don’t mind settling for the son.”
I couldn’t make a sound. I was too paralyzed to even whimper. The rabbit swayed from side to side, and I realized there was nowhere for me to go.
I knew I couldn’t win, but I couldn’t let my last moments be in fear. I set myself to make whatever stand I could and got to my feet. I shut my eyes and ran forward in a fumbling crouch.
At the last second, I opened my eyes to see if I would make contact. The rabbit’s claws flashed toward my face. I turned and felt thorns tear into my shoulder. I stumbled and dove before it could strike again. My uninjured shoulder collided with the rabbit, knocking us both off our feet.
I scrambled to see the rabbit was ready for another strike.
I steadied my footing in a low crouch. The upward curve of the ground showed the entrance was just ahead. I fixed my eyes on the fading light at the mouth of the tunnel and hoped that one more shove, or maybe a lucky dodge, would give me a chance at freedom.
The monster blocked my way.
It lunged for me, and I sprang to the side of the tunnel. More thorns pierced my back. The rabbit turned to face me. Its teeth opened wide, and I dove back down the hole. I was so close to the opening, but there was nowhere else I could turn. I shuddered at the ferocious growls echoing towards me.
When I turned back to face the rabbit, I saw it readying itself to pounce. Its claws worked furiously against the ground. Its ears began to pulsate their sickening green light, which skewed my vision. With squinted eyes, I watched the evil green and grey blob pounce for me as I attempted to make one last run for the entrance. Its paws brought me to the ground.
Claws sank into my chest. I let out a yell of pain and despair. I flipped over, refusing to let the rabbit look into my eyes as it finished the job. I prepared in that brief moment for the inevitable sharp plunge into my neck and the total darkness that would follow.
But something was wrong.
Its teeth missed my neck and plunged straight into the dirt. I let out a furious, wavering roar as I scrambled maniacally for my life toward the exit. I had utterly forgotten the mysterious shadow that snapped the branch from before.
The shadow moved across the opening, and light filled my vision. The wolf! Blood dripped from its teeth. I turned at the mouth of the cave as it moved to let me out and saw the haunch of the rabbit punctured with bloody holes.
The rabbit turned and met my gaze. Its mouth trembled with foam. It pounced forward and leaped toward me.
The wolf’s massive tail swung down and entombed the mouth of the cave with dirt. A ferocious snarl was muted by fallen earth. The wolf made the final touches to entomb the evil rabbit in its hole, forever.
I turned and saw the wolf pant. The setting sun cast a golden background against its black sheen. It looked back at the sun and turned to me.
“We must get you home.” It panted. “Hop on my back.”
Still in shock, I hurried to obey. I jumped on its back, and we were off. The wolf’s paws tore up the earth as we raced through the decrepit branches and the looming, lifeless trees. As the wind of the oncoming nightfall brushed our backs, we burst into the field of reeds to race the setting sun. Deer with purple antlers and birds with transparent wings watched our dash across the fields.
There was a sliver of light left as the wolf passed through the meadow and approached the hedges. It stopped at the barrier. I hopped off its back and turned to the wolf.
“How can I ever thank you?” My head hung.
The wolf brought its snout under my chin and raised it high.
“You helped me with the thorns.” It replied. “And I damaged the rabbit’s lair. He tricked you by twisting a story of my own effort to stop him.”
“I was gullible.”
“Those who prey on others with the guise of the weak are the most cunning of all. You acted from the goodness of your heart. There is never shame in that.” “I was scared.” My head dropped.
“You stood true in the end.”
I picked my head up.
“Don’t let anything shake your resolve to help others, little one.”
The sun began to creep out of sight.
“You must go now.”
I smiled and hugged the wolf.
“I have one question.”
Its head twitched.
“What did you mean like, ‘like father like son?’”
“Your father came here a long time ago. I recognized your scent.” The wolf stated. “He said one day his son would come to this land.”
The wolf grinned.
I smiled in return, and we both turned our separate ways. The wolf went back into the meadow. I ran back through the hedges and collapsed into the chair in the garden.
I looked down from the painting and squeezed the shoulders of my wide-eyed son curled up next to me. Earlier, he had crept down the stairs well past his bedtime. Not unlike the many nights I did when I was his age.
He took a seat next to me on the couch and looked up at the painting. He asked about who left that empty chair. Where did they go? I looked up at the painting and began to tell him my first adventure with the chair in the garden.
About Drew Alexander Ross
Drew Alexander Ross studied business and film at the University of San Francisco, class of 2015. His primary focus is screenwriting, and he enjoys reading at the pace of two books a week across various genres, fantasy foremost. He hopes to be a successful writer one day and currently works at a middle school in Los Angeles. Drew has placed in three screenwriting competitions, and one of his short stories was published by The RavensPerch. Another short story was accepted to be published by DrunkMonkeys in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @DrewAlexanderR1 and on GoodReads!