I Am Your Rabbit
The new King clambers up the platform to greet his subjects. He's young and swarthy, already paunchy like his brother, the more famous Bonaparte. I, Gretl, and my brother Hans the Hatter have come to see his ascension to the throne. The King lifts his hands and speaks. A stifled laugh rises from the gathered crowd. It's not the fact that he speaks Dutch—that's exceedingly polite for a foreign king. It's the words he speaks.
"I am your rabbit," Louis-Napoleon says.
The Butcher next to us explains in a penetrating whisper that he meant to say "I am your king" in Dutch, but that his French accent made it sound like this ludicrous statement. My brother and I exchange glances.
This was meant for us. He is our Rabbit.
Finally the signal has come. The White Rabbit will lead us back home down the rabbit hole. We are sick of this world. It's harsh and grim, devoid of madness and tea parties. My hands are red and sore from the wash water and Hans is rarely lucid anymore from the poisonous fumes of hat-making. We can't hold out much longer.
When Hans inhales the felting fumes, he sees things, and sometimes he can make those things come true.
That very evening we set out for the palace. Hans takes a leather bag with a mercury-treated length of felt. I bring stale bread.
It's a long walk from our small house behind the Peat Market to the King's residence, but it's June, and we can't help but feel happy thinking of the soon-to-be-transformed King. We skip hand-in-hand through the wooded park that leads to the palace, under a full moon that makes my brother madder than ever. I pluck white and green lilies to weave him a garland. Hans finds it hard to speak these days, but his magic is strong. He swings the garland into the sky. It whirls up and up, glittering, until it settles among the stars. A heavenly crown for our Rabbit King.
I drop crumbs of my stale bread along our meandering route to mislead our enemies. When my feet start to ache in their wooden clogs, I take them off to run barefoot through the lush grass.
The royal palace dreams amidst beautiful gardens like ruched skirts, colorless under the moonlight.
We don't dare enter through the big front doors. Instead, we run giddily around the palace until we find another entrance, overlooking the pond. The sentry has nodded off; the doors are open to the mild night. And presto, we're in the King's bedroom. Clearly he doesn't fear us.
The King lies in his silk bedclothes on an enormous golden four-poster. The wooden floor is so shiny I can almost see myself in it. He snores a little. At this point, he's just a man.
Hans stuffs his face into the leather bag with its mercury-drenched felt. His eyes wheel like stars as his head comes up. "You, King," he says in his light stuttering voice, "you are the White Rabbit falling down the well, and all the King's men won't make you whole again."
The King transforms before our eyes. His big French nose becomes a white, whiskered muzzle. His fluffy paws stretch and scrabble in a rabbity dream; his pink nose twitches and snuffles.
We wait respectfully for the Rabbit to wake up. We don't want him in a bad mood. When birds start singing, we realize that the White Rabbit won't lead us anywhere this night. Clogs in one hand, skirts in the other, I tiptoe back out into the rose garden. Hans staggers after me. I’m thankful he’s still clutching his bag. Mercury is expensive, and we couldn't easily replace it if we lost it.
I want to feel elated, to dance as we did on our way in, but my feet hurt, and we’re both tired, let-down. We hoped to be going home right away. It's been so long.
When it’s fully light, we wake in our beds in this world and must go to work. Nothing’s changed, except that the Butcher's gone. "He said he was just going out to buy some tobacco!" his wife wails.
Weeks later, the White Rabbit hasn't yet summoned us. When we hear the King's taking a tour around town, we leave work to watch the procession. The King, French nose and all, sits in his golden coach, waving affably to his subjects. He's no longer a rabbit.
At last it dawns on me. "Hans, he just wasn't our Rabbit. We made a mistake. He was someone else's Rabbit."
Hans opens his eyes wide. The vortexes swirl. If only we could enter them without a guide! "The Butcher," he says. "He was the Butcher's Rabbit."
Of course. That explains everything. The Butcher was standing next to us when the King said the magic words. This gives me so much hope. People are going home, rescue rabbits are being sent.
I take my brother’s arm. We will get home, see the Caterpillar again, play croquet with the Queen…. We're just going to have to wait our turn.
Bo Balder lives and works near Amsterdam. She's the first Dutch author to have published in F&SF and Clarkesworld. Her short fiction has also appeared in Nature Futures, Futuristica Vol. I, and other places. Her SF novel The Wan, by Pink Narcissus Press, was published in 2016.