The Horrors of Easter
First seen in Suspense Magazine April 2011
After considerable research, I came to discover that, besides the historic and gruesome crucifixion story, horrific Easter tales were rare and so I wrote my own. This anthological piece contains three stories surrounding one central narrative, all of which utilized common Easter legends or fables.
First seen in the April 2011 Issue of Suspense Magazine and according to my editor, yellow marshmallow chicks are no longer viewed with delicious sweet reverence.
“Where’s Mike?” Jimmy, leaning across the low and round white table whispered at George. George looked up from behind the graphic novel, quickly scanned about the library’s vast openness, spotted him near the large front window shelf and with an index finger, pointed.
Jimmy followed to where George was pointing.
A Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh came from the rear of the room.
Trying hard to keep their snickering quiet neither had to look to know that it came from the old librarian, Mrs. Williams.
George leaned toward Jimmy. “He always reads,” his voice was back down to a whisper. “Betcha a dollar he walks out with at least three books with no pictures in ‘em.” He leaned back, chuckled and delved back into the superhero tale he was previously engrossed in.
Ten minutes later Mike, three books tucked under his arm, didn’t say a word and walked by his seated pals. Noticing out of the corner of his eye, George laughingly blurted out, “see, I told ya,” and another much harsher Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh once again came from the back of the room.
“It’s about time,” Jimmy whispered, tossing the anime book down onto the table and standing up. By the time George followed suit, Mike was at Mrs. Williams’ desk busy signing out the books.
The walk home could have followed the sidewalk, but with the spring forward time change allowing longer daylight, the three chose instead to go a dense, vine laden woodlands route behind the building, something typically avoided if the weaning hours of impending darkness were upon. It would take them to Mike’s rundown home first.
Following Mike through the winter dead and spring growth at the edge of the thicket, Jimmy looked at the books Mike kept tightly tucked under his arm. He brushed long blond bangs back and asked inquisitively, “why do you read so much Mike?”
At the rear, careful to perfectly follow in their footsteps, George wondered if they were on the same path it took them all last summer to create.
“I like to read,” Mike answered, “it takes me places…gets me away. Much better than listening to my dad yell…or having to go do chores…or get him a beer.” He was quiet for a moment before adding, “and besides, they’re free.”
Having been to his house before, Jimmy knew exactly what Mike meant. No television or no game system and the place would probably take a week to tidy. He quickly pondered the ills of beings poor, came to an understanding moment and suddenly felt for his friend. Although he hadn’t seen any fresh bruises on his friend’s short sleeved arms while at the library, he couldn’t eliminate the possibility that they were there somewhere, hidden underneath the ragged clothing.
“So what books did ya get this time?” George asked, breaking Jimmy’s grim deliberation.Mike, working his way over a rotted log and through a thick cluster of vines answered. “One’s about these purple alien tourists that travel from planet to planet.” He reached down to unlatch a vine that caught and tangled in the loose sole of his tennis shoe.
After clearing the nuisance he stepped over it and went on. “Then there’s this one about a dog that gets lost at the grocery store parking lot when the car window is accidentally left open. I already read a little bit of it before signing it out. This little old lady lets him into her house and cooks him bacon and scrambled eggs.”
He thought about bacon sizzling in a skillet. His mouth watered and he swallowed hard. He didn’t notice that George and Jimmy swallowing too.
“And then there’s this one about scary Easter tales.”
“SCARY EASTER TALES!” George blurted out curiously. “I’ve never heard of any of those.”
“Me neither,” Jimmy tossed his two cents in.
“Yeah,” Mike added, “me neither. See what I mean about reading?”
He smiled. Partly because he was through and beyond the vines, but mostly because he knew he was right.
At the corner bus stop the following morning the three stood in the brisk, overcast air making small talk. Jimmy saw a dark spot on Mike’s forearm just before he drew the sleeve down, but didn’t say anything.
“Did ya read on that Easter book?” George asked.
“I started to,” Mike answered, bright eyed and glad his friend recalled. “Got through the first story before falling asleep and it was pretty freaky one too. It was called Too Sweet to Eat and it was about…”
The moonlit, somber silence is broken by scampering feet. Terrified, the two wait, nestled tightly in plastic green straw and watch, only hoping the large rat passes without notice. Scurrying about the room the clawed feet clattering across the wooden floor truly isn’t all that loud, but to the two watchers it is deafening, only growing louder with each back and forth darting. Finding a lost crumb, it stops, sits back on its haunches and devours the morsel with glistening large, gnawing front teeth. The particle doesn’t last long and the search begins again. Horrifying thoughts increase as the rodent draws nearer.
Suddenly the rat disappears into the darkness underneath a sofa and both dare to look at one another each secretly hoping it remains at bay, at least until the moonlight beam streaming in through the window, nearly upon them, finishing its slow trek beyond. It is their only hope, for if the rat returns and takes notice, the dinner bell might as well be rung.
Closer now, the matted gray hair harbors stench and both are able to see the dirty pinkness of its tail. But, neither are overly concerned with those anatomical parts. It is the teeth, reputed to be capable of chewing through metal wire that gives grave concern.
Coming directly toward them, the rat stops when it finds yet another fragment, and is now but a few feet away.
The chewing teeth clack and unable to maintain stillness, one watcher quivers, sending a faint ripple flowing through the box’s cellophane window. The keen rat detects, stops chewing and peers toward the sound.
Desperately fighting off fear the two remain rooted and deathly still.
Patience is one of the rat’s traits and it calmly waits, chronically peering and listening. When nothing draws its attention it continues to chew the crumb.
The moonlight begins bathing soft light over the two and both feel an impending doom as the rat, finished with the latest tidbit, spots them.
Unsure and cautious, the rat creeps closer and soon whiskers flicker and twitch at the grass bedding. Listening to the sniffing around and through the bedding, the smaller of the two watchers can’t help but to notice the beady black eyes brighten into a maddening glow as it is found.
Gnawing and tugging, using both teeth and claws to pry, the yellow marshmallow chick stretches showing white sticky innards. Ruthless, the rat continues eating the spongy body until nothing is left.
The display is horrifying and from behind the glistening cellophane window the chocolate rabbit cringes at the gruesome sight causing it to crinkle loudly. Taken by surprise and spooked at the noise, the rat jumps back. Mouth lined with yellow remnants, the rat looks up at and into the box, focusing on the quivering rabbit trapped inside.
With a lunge, the rat tears through the clear plastic window and breaks the early morning silence.
As the rabbit feels teeth clamping down, it is thankful for not having to listen to that awful clacking sound.
The bus rolls up and hisses to a stop.
“Wow, that was freaky,” Jimmy said before taking the lead and stepping up onto the bus steps.
Following, George added, “yeah, sure was.”
Right after lunch, Mrs. Miller, their short, grey haired teacher, handed out small chocolate crosses as a special Easter treat. More than the others, Mike appreciated the luxury, taking little nips and savoring it though the rest of the day. By the time the three o’clock bell rang, it was gone.
Tomorrow, being Good Friday, there would be no school and the three decided to meet up for a day long bicycle ride excursion.
The morning was sunny and warm with chirping birds fluttering about, happy for the spring day. At George’s, Jimmy took a seat on one side of the concrete stoop while George sat on the other to wait for Mike. It wasn’t long before he came down the sidewalk pushing an old and rusted bicycle. Both George and Jimmy silently wondered why he wasn’t riding it and it wasn’t until he drew closer that they notice the flat front tire.
“I’m thinking it just needs some air,” Mike said with a glimmer of hope in his voice, “Haven’t ridden it since last summer.”
Seeing the dry rot cracks in the tire’s sidewalls and the rust coated chain, Jimmy wasn’t so sure and leaned far into thinking it wouldn’t, but didn’t voice the opinion, not wanting to break Mike’s hopeful bubble.
George was busy eyeing the metal wearing through the front of the worn seat and the damp spider web globs dangling from below it and was thinking the same.
“You know what Mike,” George suddenly blurted, “you could use my sister’s bike instead. It’s pink but it’ll probably ride better,” he added.
Mike gave the decrepit looking bike a once over before thankfully agreeing and leaned it against the side of the stoop. George headed toward the garage.
“I didn’t want to say anything about not having a good bike yesterday on the bus.” Mike eyes were sullen, like he was about to cry.
“It’s okay Mike,” Jimmy replied patting his pal on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We’re gonna have some fun today. Who know’s? Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring you a new one.”
Yeah, right, Mike thought, managing a faint, appreciative smile.
George came back wheeling a twenty inch pink bicycle with streamers hanging from the ends of the white hand grips. “The back tire needs a little air,” George said turning and aiming the opposite side handlebar at Mike. “We’ll take care of that along the way,” he added as Mike took hold.
They stopped at Bennett’s gas station and Terry, the teenager who worked there put air in Mike’s tire, checking it twice with a silver tire gauge. George was waiting inside at the counter for him with three bottles of water, chips and candy bars. The teen quickly rang up the total and George paid and requested their lunches be separated into three bags so each had their own and Terry obliged.
George tucked the bags into his backpack and the three were off again.
Leading the way down the grass laced, cracked and uneven sidewalk, Jimmy chose his route as to include many of the sidewalk’s raised portions and would jump from them. While it was only mere inches, his imagination dictated that they were far larger. Mike considered doing the same, but was conflicted between not wanting to damage the borrowed bike nor cause any issues that would halt the excursion and chose the smoother pavement of the street edge instead.
At the park, each took a turn on the large sliding board before seeking out the swings.
Much stronger than any typical backyard set, the long, high and heavy deeply concreted steel poles and the thick rubber seating slats hanging by the attached heavy chains allowed for vigorous swinging.
Although each boy swung as high as they could, none chose to push the envelope and go that little bit farther to risk breaking the gravity barrier and going weightless and Jimmy was declared the day’s unanimous height winner.
Gently swaying, catching breath, Jimmy asked Mike, “did ya read any more of that Easter book yet?”
“Yeah, sure did.” Mike replied, not breathing quite as hard. “I got another one read last night, after my dad fell asleep. This one was different though, more gruesome and bloody.” George leaned forward and peered around centered Jimmy and listened.
“This one was called Deep Rooted and it was about…“
Aged and cranky, the rabbit felt the spring sunshine beam down and warm his fur, but it still didn’t lift his disposition. Crouched alongside, his humble, plump wife saw the disappointment on his face.
“Don’t worry dear,” her voice was sweet and compassionate, “the time isn’t over yet and you may still be selected.”
“I just think you will,” she added, knowing that with Easter just around the corner the likelihood of his application as assistant for one of the coveted maker, painter, or deliverer Easter positions Peter Rabbit offered each year was probably already rejected.
In all the years they had been together, she watched him apply for over and over only to be rejected.
Now, while still going through the motions of sending an application, discouragement held firm. Knowing how much it meant to him, the hurt flowed through her too, but she always hid it, tried to comprehend and concentrated on remaining positive.
“It’ll be okay,” she attempted to reassure, noticing that today was worse than usual.
“I just need to be left alone for a bit,” he grumbled and wondered off to disappear in the waving golden meadow grass.
When he came to the brook, he down and took a drink of the cool crisp water. It was refreshing but didn’t quench the ire, and he hopped over to a log, nestled under and began dozing.
When he awoke it was dark and fear quickly replaced anger. Inching out from the snug and safe location, he carefully inspected the tall grass waving in the moonlight. Satisfied that no predators were in hiding and ready to pounce, he slowly hopped his way toward the path through that he had earlier used.
Within twenty feet of the hole he called home, he stopped again and cautiously repeated the inspection process. Assured, he continued hopping, one small leap at a time.
On the third leap the grip of talons deeply ripped and dug into his back. Reactive, he kicked hard, felt skin tear open amidst tufts of flinging fur and broke free. Evasively dodging back and forth along the path, he got to the safety of the hole.
He hadn’t seen the owl’s mad, red eyes.
Initially horrified at the bloody sight, she finally settled and was happy he survived before gingerly cleaning what she could and tucking him into bed.
That night, wicked and morbid dreams filled his unconscious psyche as the fever took hold.
Early next morning she was up and checked in on him. Still asleep, she left him rest and headed out to forage for tomorrow’s Easter dinner.
He awoke a short time later not as sore as he suspected and rose. Looking in the bathroom mirror he noticed his eyes darkening, from pink to red and was unable to control the foaming drool consistently forming at the corners of his mouth. He spat twice before going to the living room chair.Festering madness began gripping and he was unable to control his body twitching. The day’s prior anger returned,
much harsher than before and macabre looking baskets filled with psychedelic colored dripping eggs, each having a red overtone, filled his thoughts. With chilling red eyes peering and darting about, he searched the room and waited.
By the time his wife came back a couple hours later carrying a carrot and assorted greens, the throes of insanity was peaking. Immediately she saw him, slouched haphazardly in the chair, white foamy saliva drooling from his mouth. He hadn’t noticed until she frightfully dropped the basket. Slowly his head turned toward her. He looked through glazed eyes, but initially didn’t see. When realization registered, out of the blue he leaped up and pounced on her like some demented zombie rabbit. She turned to run and he clasped hold of her shoulders and gnawed into her neck until her limp body dropped to the floor.
Standing over her, he wiped the back of his paw across his mouth, smearing blood down the side of his face, and bent down to picked up the woven basket. After dumping the contents, he slid it over his arm and headed out the hole.
Having no concern for predators, with jagged long leaps he bounded through the tall grass smudging a red tinted mucus trail along the way, only stopping when coming upon the mowed edge of a yard surrounding a large farmhouse. A chicken coop, designed to look exactly as the farmhouse, sat in the backyard, inside a wire mesh enclosing fence.
Keeping at the manicured edge, he carefully rounded the property. When he drew near the rear of the coop, he went back into the tall grass enough to remain unseen and crouched to watch the oblivious chickens strut and peck about inside the fence.
As nightfall descended, the mediocre rooster strutted around waiting and watching the hens taking turns traversing up the plank and disappearing in through the roosting house door before entering himself. When all was clear and quiet, the rabbit rose.
At the octagon shaped wire ring fence, he sat the basket down and could smell the dusty musk of the courtyard as he pushed his nose against it. Realizing he would be unable to get through, the rabbit started madly gnawing at the wire. Unfazed by his front buck teeth chipping away, tiny snaps were heard each time he bit completely through a strand and eventually the hole was large enough for him to fit through.
The coop’s doorway was more than adequate for his size and he quietly entered. Squinting through the moonlight shining in through the cobweb covered window, he saw the rooster, his eyes closed, at the far end of a row of nesting hens.
Creeping slowly over excrement, moldy grasses, inches of dirt and many lost feathers, he crossed the room. Directly below the rooster he took careful aim and leaped, mouth open, ready to clamp.
Cackling chaos reigned as the hens scattered, some running out the door and the blood flowing from the dead rooster’s shredded neck tasted divine. Quickly gathering, before long the pile of eggs was substantial, and as calmness took over, the rabbit wiped the red foamed from his mouth, once again his face smearing with a fresh coating of bright red.
Sitting alongside the freshly collected eggs, the rabbit reached back and with a vicious, unflinching tug, pulled a tuft of fur out of his tail. After dipping it into the rooster’s blood puddle, he began painting.
“The rooster didn’t crow today,” John Farmer said, shoveling in a massive bite of the ham, egg and potato omelet. “Did you leave the door closed again Katie?”
His eight-year-old daughter, busy picking through the basket of candy she found waiting for her this morning, vividly shook her head no, but replied, “I’ll check.”
She slid off the chair and hurriedly went to the door kitchen door.
She turned the handle and pushed. Surprised at the resistance of something resting against the bottom of it, she pushed harder and was able to slide away what was stopping it from freely opening.
Stepping outside, she looked down and saw the red trail leading to a smudged ugly red egg filled basket.
Reaching down, she blotched her palms cupping the bottom of the basket and picked it up. Placing it safely on the banister railing at the opposite end of the porch, her father called, “Katie, get in here and finish your breakfast girl.”
Back inside, she scooted the chair closer to the table, plopped down, grabbed and took a bite of toast before lying when blurting out, “nope…door’s open.”
By the time breakfast was finished, the red blotches on her palms were nearly gone.
“Ewwwww, gross,” George said, wondering how long it would take Katie to start foaming at the mouth.
Mike chuckled and said, “kind of makes ya hungry doesn’t it?” before jumping up from the swing. “LAST ONE TO THE PICNIC TABLE IS A ROTTEN EGG!” he added, laughing and running off. Jimmy envisioned the rotten eggs being colored red.
Sitting in the sheltered shade of the picnic table, George passed out the chips, candy bars and waters and each snacked, starting with the chips.
Afterward, they climbed the large oak centering the park, rode the swings a little more, took more than a few rides down the large sliding board and rode the bikes around the trails surrounding the area, stopping to peer into a groundhog hole.
By late afternoon, all were tired from the day’s excursions and the ride home seemed to take longer. Along the way they made plans to go fishing in the creek the following day, each knowing very well that fishing sometimes meant swimming, even if the water was a little cool. George told Mike to leave his broken down bike and just ride his sister’s home for the night, but Mike declined and decided to just walk, not wanting the unpredictability of his father to potentially hamper tomorrow’s festivities.
Saturday was a glorious day with spring in full bloom. The three, each carrying fishing poles across the handlebars, Mike’s considerably older than the others, happily rode the bikes down the sidewalk, through the park and onto the old, crevice filled logging road beyond the swings. George wrecked when his front tire slipped into one of the deep, water runoff created trenches littering the old, iron stained dirt roadway, tumbling over the handlebars, landing sprawled out on his back knocking the wind out of him.
Mike pulled the undamaged bike free while Jimmy waited for George to catch his breath before brushing the orange colored dust from his back. Before long, the three were laughing about it and back on their way.
When the roadway narrowed and became too treacherous to ride, they hid their bikes off the road’s edge in the weeds and walked the remaining quarter mile or so.
At the a pristine and crystal clear pond created years ago by a coal seeking steam shovel, each set off flipping the surrounding large, flat rocks, looking for worms to use for bait. Jimmy was the last to find one and, not wanting to inadvertently drop and lose it, he took the time to slip it onto the hook before joining George and Mike, already having cast at the water’s edge.
“You know,” George said, brushing the last bits of tiny roadway particles off the front of his shirt, “I don’t get Easter.”
“What’d a ya mean you don’t get Easter?” Jimmy questioned.
“I mean,” George explained, animating with the free hand, “with the Easter Bunny and all. How can one rabbit make it to every house in the world in one day? Let alone lug eggs and candy. And another thing,” he rambled on, “Easter goes way back and so does that Peter Rabbit. Doesn’t he ever get old? I mean cripes, he has to die sometime. Right?”Sitting in between George and Jimmy, Mike said with a chuckle, “the last story in that Easter book is about that legacy thing. It was called Will the real Peter Cottontail please stand up? And, it was about…
Fourteen year old Freddy Taylor inched his way around the brush pile and stopped when he caught sight of him. Peter Cottontail was sitting up, sniffing the cool crisp air. Ever so quiet, Freddy lifted the shotgun to his shoulder, took aim and pulled the trigger. BANG!
The young bunny, hiding deep in the brush pile awaiting his father’s all clear signal, jumped at the loud noise, retreated deeper into the pile and crouched down. When he turned back around, peering through the intertwining branches, leaves and sticks, he saw a proud Freddy holding up his father by the hind legs. Never having heard a gun before and unaware of its killing capacity, the bunny watched his dangling limp father being carried away and wondered why he wasn’t moving.
Nighttime settled before the bunny accepted the inevitable, and fear grew. Unsure which direction to take, the bunny looked nervously about. As tears filled his eyes, there was a voice.
Startled, the little rabbit turned toward it and quivered when he saw the large buck deer staring back at him.
“Your father’s gone little one. We’ll take care of it.” The buck winked and dashed off.
A different, much softer voice called out this time, from alongside an old and collapsing wood tool shed. Squinting in the darkness the rabbit saw a mother opossum, standing in front of her brood of three, waving for him to come to her.
“Hurry,” she added.
Something about her voice reassured and he went to her.
Bright eyed, the littlest of the clan’s squeaky voice spoke up, “you can stay with us.”
The mother opossum smiled. With a nod, she turned and led them through a fallen, rotted board gap leading under the shed.
Tucking him into a more than comforting straw pile, she stroked his head. “Just rest little Peter,” her voice was calm and sweet, “all will be taken care of soon enough.”
When she left he nestled in and wondered how she knew his name was Peter.
The morning was crisp and cool and again Freddy was out for an early hunt. At the brush pile, with shotgun prepared against his shoulder, he crept around. Finding nothing, he lowered the gun and turned around, intending to go back the way he came.
Having quietly stalked him, from behind a thicket of thorns the buck watched and waited.
Freddy drew near and the buck lowered his head and attacked. Alarmed, frightened and astonished, the teen dropped the gun just as antlers drove deep into his chest. He flexed once before going limp. The buck snorted and raised his head, lifting Freddy off the ground and carried him off.
Outside the shed, commotion woke Peter and he hopped to the gap and peeked out. The boy that took his father was lying just outside, covered in blood and surrounded by an audience of animals, with the big buck slowly circling.
The voice from behind startled him before the sweetness to whom it belonged registered. With her nose she nudged him and he hopped out into the bright morning sunshine. Taking notice, an excited hush rippled through the gathered animals.
A deep voice came from above. “Go to it little Peter…it is safe.”
Looking up, Peter saw the old owl peering back with large yellow eyes. A truck tire leaned against the shed not far away and utilizing his father’s teachings, he darted behind it, crouched and shivered. The owl chuckled loudly and there was a giggle from a few of the animals. Perplexed, Peter looked back at the laughing faces.
An aged raccoon left the cluster and approached Peter.
“It’s okay,” the raccoon said, extending and offering his paw. With one last glance up at the still smiling owl, Peter accepted.
At the side of the body the raccoon let loose of Peter’s hand and pointed to one of the steaming puddles of blood covering a gouge wound and whispered, “taste his blood little Peter,” the raccoon whispered, “and it will be all better.”
Peter looked at the raccoon, a mesh of confusion across his face.
“Go ahead Peter,” the sweet voice rang out, “trust us.”
Hesitant, Peter followed direction and leaned forward. He could smell the teen’s lingering sweet musky scent and he flicked a tiny pink tongue once into the red puddle. It tasted warm, thick and salty, full of iron.
Revulsion rose, pursued by nausea, but before Peter could get sick, dozens of visions crashed into his mind. Each image, vivid and clear, flashed brightly, embedding the full brunt of Easter spirit. There were multi-colored eggs, yellow and pink marshmallow chicks, various shaped chocolates, jellybeans and baskets overflowing with trinkets. Peter felt weak and just before collapsing he saw a man attached to a cross, suffering.
When he awoke, the teen’s body was gone and the animal’s smiling faces hovered, looking down upon him. No longer did he feel an impending need to be sick. Excitement and renewal surged through his small body from head to paw and he was oddly looking forward to painting eggs, right after making a grass blade woven basket.
“Wow,” George blurted with astonishment. “Kind of like Easter magic or something like that.”
Jimmy sat silent.
“I guess so,” Mike added, reeling the fishing line in and finding the hook empty. Not wanting to search for more worms, he stood up, pushed the hook’s point into the corked handle and set the pole aside.
The sun was almost down when they got back to Mike’s house.
“Just bring my sis’s bike by tomorrow,” George called out before Mike entered the rundown home and he and Jimmy started to ride away. They heard loud yelling begin, but were around the corner and too far away when a shattering crash rang out.
The following morning Jimmy looked at the basket of sugar-laced treats and wasn’t quite sure if he could ever eat a yellow marshmallow chick or chocolate bunny without wondering whether or not they felt his teeth chewing.
George looked in his basket, hoping to not find a red egg.
Mike, knowing full well that yet again there wouldn’t be anything waiting downstairs for him rolled over. He cringed when the pillow brushed against the tenderness below his eye. Readjusting, he grinned lightly, knowing that his pals would gladly share their Easter treats with him. Chocolate wouldn’t be a problem, it would melt, but keeping a jellybean out of the fresh and still slightly bleeding tooth hole would be. The smile weaned and he began to lightly snore.
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