Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Batman (1989) [REPOST]

Batman (1989) 

The 1989 Batman film is a classic. It set the bar for superhero movies for years to come, and is still considered to be one of the best in its genre. It accomplished this with the mind of a great director, a few stunning performances, and by taking its lead from some of the best stories comic books had to offer at the time. Sitting here, just a few days from the movie’s twenty-fifth anniversary, I am still noticing things I never had before, and finding out interesting facts about one of the movies—based off of a character, who is responsible for the same—that shaped my childhood.  

Non-comic book fan, Tim Burton, debuted with the dark knight with a drastic change from the last time the character had been on the silver screen, and with a project that was a complete departure compared to the route the 1966 television show and film took with the character and his world, and with good reason. Since that time the landscape of comics had begun to alter, and they were in the middle of that change still, but the flood gates had opened and readers were beginning to see one of the most iconic characters of all time in a new light. There were two graphic novels primarily behind this innovation of the caped crusader, and when Burton read them, he knew the movie had to happen.

Batman finds its source material in the seventy-five year run of the character, but its atmosphere, tones, characterizations, and overall appeal are specifically influenced by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Both comics were a different take on Batman and his world at the time. The Killing Joke was definitive for Joker’s character, and Miller’s work sealed Batman as a hardcore badass. What made both different and stand out though is their tone, the environment of the world that they painted, with how vicious and unkind Gotham could be, and in some ways, how similar the hero is to his villains. 

“The whole film and mythology of the character is a complete duel of the freaks. It’s a fight between two disturbed people.” –Tim Burton

It is an obvious theme, stated clearly at the end of the film; how Batman and Joker created each other and are therefore connected, one unable to have been made without the other. These two characters are often defined as an antithesis of one another, but in The Killing Joke and this film there are several similarities between the two, leading up to the life-long enemies eventual meeting, and the aforementioned scene where the dialogue playfully restates the theme with past exposition. One of the things I noticed upon this viewing is the dichotomous relationship between how Bruce Wayne and Jack Napier deal with their respective female counterparts, and that they both seem to be attracted to similar looking women. Some of these themes are less subtle though, with Burton wanting to show Batman as a grayer character, more anti-hero than true hero, but concordantly, certain aspects are a little too subtle in fact, without viewing the film numerous times or doing research. Burton wanted to give the story a World War II feel in some parts to amplify characterizations, like when Batman is centered in a shot in front of the AXIS sign, comparing him to the faction. The idea is there and kind of works, but is lost on most viewers.

It may sound odd, and takes some of the director’s own words to make sense out of, but this film presented an almost completely different view of Batman than had ever been shown before even though most facets were taken from somewhere in the comics. The hero is darker, brutal and vicious, killing multiple people, which he tries vehemently in the comics, at the cost of putting himself in danger in many instances. I remember when I realized that at the end, Batman could have let Joker get away and saved Vicki Vale, but makes sure to not let the villain escape by condemning him to a devastating end. It seems justified though, as Joker killed a lot of innocents himself. This is also the first time for many viewers that it is pointed out that Batman has sex, something that had just been done in the comics not long before then. There are several uncharacteristic acts that fans see from the dark knight here, as on two separate occasions Batman risks revealing his alternate identity by approaching and in confronting Joker in the persona of Bruce Wayne. He is actually pretty careless with his secret through most of the film.

Batman was not the only one coming across as more intense though, Burton wanted Joker to be more than he was on the pages, discussing why he was such a great character, and wanting to embrace that. “The Joker is such a great character because there’s a complete freedom to him. Any character who operates on the outside of society and is deemed a freak and an outcast then has the freedom to do what they want.” This change in the characters was not the only thing darker, Gotham itself was made to be dismal and gray, a foreboding place for good people. German expressionism was used in the architecture, amplified by the art deco and bland coloring, other than the neon signs and disruptive eyesores that were meant to draw attention. Gotham became its own bleak character. These elements combined made for a dark movie that rivaled its source materials.

It was so dark in fact that it caused the film to draw a lot of criticism, causing Roger Ebert to call it, “a depressing experience.” Seeing what Frank Miller and Alan Moore had accomplished with him as their audience, Burton knew that making a completely different and grittier film would make it something memorable, one way or the other. On a personal note, comparing t to recent comic book based films, Batman still holds up as one of the strongest, and for the first in a franchise, I am amazed that it was not an origin story, and any previous knowledge needed was handled in short flashbacks. My one gripe about the film is actually with Vicki Vale, playing the role of the damsel in distress a bit too much, when it seemed like the character was much stronger than that. The graphic novel adaptation for the film was not bad either, and it inspired Batman: The Animated Series, which is the show that began DC’s longstanding cartoon reign. Not only did the movie represent a better version of the character in some regards, but it has left quite the legacy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Book of Rabbit Part 2

Chapter 4

“It’s ironic, but until you can free those final monsters within the jungle of yourself, your life, your soul is up for grabs.” –Rona Barrett

Rabbit had stepped out of the almost forgotten Alpo plant, having hurried past Copperhead and Zuzeka. The two girls had waved at him and he stopped to smile at them, knowing Copperhead would be in his dreams tonight, but he needed to get outside. He felt sick, uncertain if it was a side effect of the M or the surmounting stress. He knew Rattler was the real deal, better than his other work he had been doing, more money to be made, but this was huge. The white bag that Rabbit was now clutching was worth a lot of money, especially the way Rattler wanted to do it, and it could be worth more in the future. There was risk versus reward though, and with the chance to make all of that money meant a better chance to fuck it all up also.
Finally taking several steps away from the plant, Rabbit paused and hunched over. He thought he was about to throw up, but it was just spit. He just needed to go lie down. Rabbit stopped again to put the white bag full of M in his backpack, holding tight to the straps now light it was going to slip away at any moment—precious cargo. He was suddenly becoming rather paranoid on the way home, suspicious of everyone who passed him. Where was Phao when you really wanted him around? Rabbit had been held up a few times, but tonight was not a night this could happen. The more thoughts of that type that flooded his mind, the faster his pace became as Rabbit hurried to his home.
Mom and Bunny were already gone. The driveway was empty and the sun had almost finished setting behind the trees. Rabbit had spent a lot more time out at the Alpo plant than he meant to, and after his fun time with the M, all he wanted to do was go inside and sleep. Rabbit was so distracted by this the he almost didn’t see her sitting on the far side of the porch. Rakasha, the Wolf Mother, waved a long finger for him to approach. She was barely looking at him, cold eyes staring off at the setting orange orb, her long black hair with the streaks of gray framing her regal chin and stern expression. Rabbit was genuinely nervous as he stepped forward.
“Where you been, Rabbit?”
“Nowhere, Wolf Mother, just school and all, you know?”
Rakasha pursed her lips and finally turned to Rabbit.
“Nah Rabbit, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me about it, tell me why you didn’t make it by to see me today.”
“I had planned to, but,” Rabbit paused, realizing he wasn’t prepared for this. Lying to Rakasha was not something to be taken lightly. “I fell asleep, Wolf Mother.” At least it was close to the truth.
“Funny, I had heard you had been on your belly with the snakes.” She stood now, staring him down. “You know how I feel about snakes, don’t you little Rabbit?”
“I… um… Copperhead I mean, we were…”
“You have a good thing working for me.” Rakasha put a hand on his shoulder. “You get to make a little bit of extra money while you play at being a criminal, have your share of fun, and most important thing is that I protect you.” Her hand cupped Rabbit’s chin. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Wolf Mother.”
“And if you were working for the snakes, Rabbit, you know I couldn’t keep you in my pack, don’t you?” Rakasha’s hand turned the boy’s chin slightly, almost as if she were exposing his neck. “You would have to make sure it was worth it, this decision. Ask any of my cubs, I do not take back prodigal children so easily.”
“I understand.”
“Make sure you do, Rabbit.” She removed her hand. “I would hate to see you dive head first into a world that you are not ready for.”
Rakasha did not wait for a response. She moved off the porch with one gliding step, heading up the driveway. It wasn’t until then that Rabbit noticed the other two wolves waiting for her up by the tree line. Rakasha rarely traveled alone these days, but if the stories were true, it wasn’t the lesser wolves that people had to fear.
If the story Old Panther had told him was true, Rabbit knew to be careful around Rakasha. Story goes that there was a time when a young cheetah tried to take advantage of her, take a large piece of her operation. We all know a cheetah only hunts the weak, the old, or the young, but I think this one just underestimated Rakasha because she was a woman, or a mother. I barely met a cheetah I like. But this ol’ cheetah here, he would take some of her profits and make some veiled threats at her cubs. Needless to say, she beat him to death with an old frying pan, after biting a chunk out of his throat. Old Panther has a tendency to tell a lot of stories, but ain’t none of them I can think of that was a lie, and Rabbit knew that too.
He fumbled for his keys, finally getting the right one into the lock and opening the door to his home. Like his mother reminded him so often, he locked the door immediately, pressing against the door for an extra moment, unsure if he felt safe yet or not. After a moment of silent contemplation, he rushed upstairs. After tossing his backpack on the bed and securing the white bag from it in the hidden space behind his bed, he went into his mother’s room. There was a chest she kept in the closet with all of the things Rabbit’s father had left behind. Notebook’s of poems from his youth, glasses, two hats, a pocket knife and a wood carving, as well as his own father’s pipe, but beneath the clothes and all the papers was a brown holster with an old six-shooter from his time in the service.
Rabbit’s father used to take him shooting with that revolver at the junkyard; it was how he had such a quick hand. They used to practice their quick draws, like it was the Old West, but those bottles didn’t stand a chance. Rabbit’s father was very careful and taught his son to be the same. As Rabbit sat there, removing the gun from the leather holder and examining it. He took the word cautious to mean having the weapon. He needed it.
Taking the holster and the few extra shells that were at the bottom of the chest, he put everything else back the way his mother had it. Rabbit returned to his room, putting the gun in his backpack. Laid down on his bed in the dark, with another rap song coming from his speakers, Rabbit had more thinking to do. He knew how much money his head was resting over at that moment, knew the risks. It was why he felt more comfortable with his father’s six-shooter just a few feet away from him. Rakasha’s warning was fresh on his mind as well, just a little more prominent then everything else that had happened that day, from Fox’s kiss to his experience on the M, not to mention that he thought he had a test tomorrow in Badger’s class.
Everything was swirling around in Rabbit’s head. He was tired. As his eyes got heavier, he felt a war about to brew in his mind for his pleasure. It was the battle of Fox versus Copperhead, both fighting for his affection, and Rabbit liked where this was going. His eyes had almost fully closed until he saw the blinking light on his phone, letting him know that he had a message. It took some effort to force himself up to get it and turn the screen on.
From FOX: “Sorry I didn’t call tonight. Hope you aren’t mad at me ;).”
Rabbit smiled when he saw who it was from. He thought for a moment what to reply, wanting to make sure he played his cards right. After he came up with something he thought was clever, he put a smiley face after it, feeling frisky.
Across town, Fox heard her phone go off and picked it up.
From RABBIT: “All good girl, I had stuff to do anyway, but you owe me some private time. J
Fox read the message and decided to pretend that she had already fallen asleep. She just wanted to make sure he was still okay after all. She had been through quite the day herself. Sitting in front of her mirror on the kitchen stool, removing her makeup in a room only lit by the bulbs surrounding the glass in front of her, she wanted a shower badly. Fox had already come home and discarded her clothes from the day, changing into an oversized button-up flannel that she thought was the most comfortable thing she owned and some boy-cut underwear. She still hadn’t felt relaxed yet though. It wasn’t hitting Fox that it was her nerves.
After Rabbit had gone inside the Alpo plant she had the bright idea to go the other way and get behind the building. Fox had to put her gymnastics and parkour training to work, but with how much the tree’s had grown up and the old window units sticking out, it wasn’t too hard for her to scale the building and find a broken out window and slip in. She was careful on the old metal walkways, cat-like in her movements. Well, she felt that way until one of the long metal pieces hanging groaned under her pressure. Fox just knew someone had heard it down there.
She had wanted to hear what Rattler was saying to Rabbit, but Asp had begun moving up around on the other hanging pieces of metal. Fox stuck to the shadows, praying that Asp couldn’t see her up there in the darkness; confident he couldn’t hear her now, since more of the railings were groaning with his movement, even the stable ones. She wasn’t sure exactly how long Asp looked for her, but she never moved, convinced that the shadows there were her best bet.
Fox was sweating by the time Asp called off his search. Although he had left her sight, she waited still, not wanting to take any chances. That was alright though. There was a large chunk of time that passed that was just Rabbit walking around and feeling on things, smiling at them as the M settled in. By the time she had made her way down on the catwalks, Rabbit was already under the effects of the drug, though Fox didn’t realize it at first. She watched him first for a few moments, making sure that her suspicions were correct. She finally dropped down and approached him, carefully checking the hallway first to make sure they wouldn’t have any surprise guests.
When Fox approached him, she could tell Rabbit did not see her, at least not in the way that she was looking at him. She saw his smile grow. Rabbit reached out and touched her face. Fox took the opportunity to touch him back, checking his forehead, unsure what to really look for since she knew nothing about the drug. Rabbit was trying to lean in for a kiss now, but this time, Fox wasn’t feeling it at all. She slipped loose of him and took a look around while Rabbit flailed behind her.
Moccasin and Asp hadn’t put the metal piece back over the safe, giving her a clear look at it. It was too bad she didn’t have her equipment with her for that. Fox made a mental note about preparedness. She glanced back over at Rabbit who had begun a fist fight with a broom. Fox stifled an unexpected laugh, pausing only another moment before jumping back up onto the hanging walkway. She went to get back into position, finding a spot where she could see and hear, but that she was certain wouldn’t put her in danger of being spotted.
Just as Fox was getting settled in though she noticed Rabbit flailing around, seemingly trying to pick up something that wasn’t actually in front of him. It was when he began to walk up the metal incline that she realized the problem in this. He was walking straight forward, towards the edge with several of the tall windows, towards the dead end that would have sent him falling onto a lot of metal and concrete. He was about to hurt himself.
Fox felt herself about to push off the wall, ready to pounce on him so that the fool wouldn’t hurt himself, but that was when she heard a noise from the hallway. Someone was coming. Copperhead had stepped out from the darkened doorway, looking around for the one she was supposed to babysit. The snake cursed when she saw where Rabbit was, rushing up to the metal walkway and leaping up on it. Fox gave the other girl credit for her athleticism and reaction time, but a part of her wished she could have been down there.
Fox watched Copperhead slap Rabbit twice and lead him back away from the danger, down to the seat they had been on. She allowed herself one small sigh of relief once that was done. The last thing Fox needed right now was for Rabbit to get hurt or for her to get caught while trying to stop him from doing it. Fox was surprised when they began getting close on the old leather seat, a range of emotions flying through her mind as she watched Rabbit and Copperhead get so close. It was interrupted though by the other boys coming back, and Fox couldn’t help but think that Rabbit just wasn’t having enough luck with the ladies and timing today. It still annoyed her for another second though, before she realized that now was the time for her to be listening.
Thankfully, Rattler projected when he spoke. Fox heard everything she needed to and decided that it was time to leave before everyone else started to do so. She pulled herself up using the wall this time, being much more careful not to cause any noise. It also helped that they were still talking as she left out the window that had let her in so easily. Fox had heard Copperhead and Zuzeka talking about Rabbit around the corner when she left, but she didn’t want to stay long enough to hear it.
Fox headed back to the to the tall grass that she had taken cover in earlier, not realizing until then that it would be getting dark soon. She had wanted to get out of the neighborhood before then, but the thought of making sure Rabbit made it home okay crossed her mind. She didn’t think the risk was worth it though. Rabbit was a big boy. He knew these streets better than she did. Rabbit would be fine, and following him home would mean one more chance of being detected.
Deciding that now was the best time to leave, Fox made her way back towards the road, away from the old Alpo plant. She kept the hood up still, trying to be careful. She had been out all day though, not to mention sweating her butt off up in those shadows, waiting for everything to go down. Once she was several blocks away, Fox had decided to stop at the convenience store at the corner, Baloo’s. She had dropped her guard just a bit, figuring that she was safe. That was why Fox didn’t realize that the person coming out of the store when she tried to enter was Phao.
“Oh, hey.”
“Hey,” Phao responded. “What are you doing on this side of town?”
“Was just… taking a walk. I had to get out of my house.” Fox found her recovery, “sorry, just a lot going on.”
“Well don’t just stand in the doorway kids,” Brother Bear called out from behind the counter. “Be a gentleman Phao and buy the lady a drink, she looks parched.”
“Not unless you’re planning on letting me start a tab,” Phao shot back. His eyes fell back over Fox for a moment though, her expression a bit more sad now. “Yeah, fine. Get her a soda on me.”
A few moments later the two cubs were sitting on the curb outside of the station, watching the old bum with the long colorful dreads, sipping on the glass bottles Phao had purchased for them. The sun was dying out in the distance, making way for the moon and her glory. There were several moments of silence between the two as they sipped in rotating order, until Phao finally spoke.
“So, what is it you’re doing with Rabbit?”
“Excuse me?”
Phao took another long sip from the dark cola before responding.
“I just can’t figure it out. A girl like you.”
“Rabbit’s cute,” she defended. “He has a charm to him.”
Phao laughed. “All Rabbit has is a smile and a lot of hot air he calls game. I was there. I saw the whole thing, remember? You came after him.” He shook his head. “I’ve seen Rabbit go after girls like you, get shot down, get lucky with a few, but you went after him, which is odd.”
It was then that Fox realized that she had not given Phao enough credit. This time it was her that took the long pause to take another drink.
“Are you trying to get at something here, or just looking for gossip?”
“Actually, I think you were dodging.”
“I like him, okay.” Fox’s voice made her sound a little bit more upset. It help that her actual feelings were causing some of the irritation. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“I think you’re playing him,” Phao said, looking away. “I just don’t know why.”
Fox stood, leaving the near-finished glass bottle on the concrete where she had been sitting. She was angry, but some of it was forced.
“You don’t know me, wolf, don’t pretend that you do.”
Phao looked up at her. He stood and met her gaze.
“I know your type, and I know what you want in the end. I just can’t figure out why you picked Rabbit.”
“What you know could fit in my pinky,” she said, holding up the digit. “Maybe you need to go revisit whatever girl wronged you or see if your mother can give you another hug to knock that chip off of your shoulder.”  
Phao’s gaze became a bit more serious with that comment. He snorted and leaned down to pick up the two glass bottles they had been drinking out of.
“Don’t worry princess, I’ll take care of these for you. Brother Bear likes us to recycle.”
“Wait,” Fox said touching his arm. This is where the line blurred. She knew a lot about Rakasha, the Wolf Mother, and how hard she could be on her cubs. The remark had possibly been a tad over the line. “I’m sorry, I’m stressed. I mean, that’s no excuse but…” Her words trailed off, but Phao was looking at her, staring into her eyes. He wasn’t going anywhere.
“He’s my friend,” Phao told her sincerely. “I just want to make sure you aren’t using him.”
“I,” Fox paused, for some reason, not wanting to lie in that moment. “I’m not going to hurt Rabbit.”
Phao noticed the change in words but, that was good enough for him right then. He watched as her hand slowly slid off of his forearm. He slowly looked slightly to the left of her, clearing his throat before he spoke.
“It’s dark. You want me to walk you home?”
“You can walk with me,” Fox said with a smirk, “but you don’t have to.”
It was an odd ending to an interesting day, to say the least. In truth though, it was successful. Fox was proud of herself. She had sent the text message to Rabbit after getting home and then filed her report. There was a bounce in her step now as she stood up from the stool. She turned some music on, bouncing around to it as she unbuttoned the flannel shirt that engulfed her form, ready for that shower she had been promising herself.
She was about to toss the shirt on her bed when Fox saw that her phone had received another message. It was probably Rabbit trying to get her to respond, or maybe even Phao. Both possibilities enticed her enough to pick up the phone. Her expression faded when she read the actual message though. It was from work. The first line was a congratulatory statement based off her report, but the rest was just a mood killer.

Chapter 5

The sun was rising, the birds were chirping, coffee was brewing, and Brother Bear loved the mornings. Dawn was his favorite time of day, taking a moment each day when he opened the store to stop and truly admire the beauty of it all. That was part of the reason the old brown bear always had a smile on his face. Everything was in place for the start of a good work day. He had the newspapers out, cigarettes restocked, and fresh doughnuts all up before dawn. Bear had propped the door open like he did every day that the weather was even remotely nice, wanting Baloo’s to feel inviting. Now all he needed was for the customers to come pouring in.
Brother Bear leaned back on the stool behind the counter, opening up a newspaper. His eyes scanned over the stories of the economy, stock markets, gang activity, and new urban renewal programs. He was enjoying reading the paper in the closest thing to silence the morning could offer as others headed to work, but something caught his eye in the headlines.
Bear’s eyes quickly scanned over the words, pausing a few times to go back and read, double checking what he thought he saw. The news wasn’t pleasant. He was nearing the halfway point of the article when the sound of a car pulling up caught his attention. Bear had only intended to glance up, quickly returning to the words on the page, but something was out of place. The car that had pulled up didn’t stop by the pumps, but instead came up to the front of the store, stretching over three different parking spots instead of pulling in the correct way to one. The car was sleek and black, a nice and expensive machine that looked out of place in that neighborhood.
Someone Bear didn’t recognize stepped out of the driver’s side, quickly making her way to the back of the car. The driver was wearing a nice suit and a pistol on her side. She glanced up in at Bear. She had those predatory eyes and angular features, her pulled back hair gave her a long and serious face. It was the look he had seen before on Panther many times, the look of a killer. Bear’s hand almost reached for the sawed-off underneath the counter.
She opened the back door of the expensive vehicle and stood to the side, making way for someone to get out. Now, Brother Bear knew the man who got out of the backseat. It was the eyes, and that smug look that stood out, even though he had shaved his head and finally grew out that stubble on his chin he used to try to pass as a goatee. There was something new on his face though, a set of three deep scars across the left side. How many years had it been since he had seen the little bastard, Bear couldn’t remember. He hadn’t realized how his hand that was still gripping the paper was tightening as the man entered his store.
“Now how in the world has this place not been demolished yet?”
“Hello Shere.”
“If it isn’t the old bear,” Shere said with a smile, stopping to pull his sunglasses off and slide them into the pocket on his suit jacket. “I know it has been a while, but it’s Regal Shere now.”
“New look, new name, but something tells me not too much else has changed.”
Brother Bear put the paper down and came around the counter, one massive hand resting on the top of the flat surface as he eyed the tiger. Shere laughed at him.
“See there old bear,” he said pointing a finger at him, “that’s where you’re wrong. You already messed up underestimating me. I am not the same kid you used to kick out of here all those years ago, and you’d do well to realize that.”
“Is that so?”
“That is so.” Shere said as he began to walk around the front part of the store, turning his nose up at several things he came across. “In case you haven’t been keeping up, I’ve made a little bit of money since I got out of the hood here.” He picked up a candy bar and laughed slightly to himself. “I came back though, to improve things. I didn’t want anyone to think I had forgotten the little people.” Shere headed up to the counter, tossing the candy bar up in the air and catching it. “You know, the ones that helped me,” after catching it again, he slammed the chocolate bar down on the counter, shooting Bear a look, “and the ones who annoyed me.”
Bear headed back around the counter, not playing Shere’s game. He picked up the chocolate and rang it up, motioning to the total displayed in blue on the small screen. Bear bit his lip, staring at Shere, wanting to ask a question.
“So, how did you get those scars, little tiger? They look pretty nasty.”
Shere’s smile had faded at once again being referred to as little tiger.
“Accidents happen, Old Bear. I let them serve as a reminder to everyone who needs it.”
Regal Shere dropped a twenty on the counter and picked up the candy that he used to steal from Baloo’s in his youth. When he did though, Bear noticed that Shere’s finger was still pointing at him, perhaps as a warning as he considered Shere’s last words.
The tiger turned and removed his shades from the suit pocket, pausing at the door a moment to slide them back on before stepping back into the awaiting sunlight.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Bear.”
Brother Bear slammed his hand down on the twenty that had been left on his counter, debating whether to take the money or throw it out for a moment before sticking it into the register. For someone who had a reputation of being jovial and calm, he was quite angry until Shere’s car had driven off. Am I getting the point across here about Shere? He wasn’t the likable type.
Now that the sour of his irritation was gone, Bear was ready to get back to trying to have a good day. He was about to pick up the paper before another shadow interrupted the sunlight that was trying to stream into his store. It was Old Panther.
“Damn, Baggy, but you sure are a sight for sore eyes. I’m glad it’s you in here now.”
Panther was entering the store, but his head was still turned looking over his shoulder. Bear also couldn’t help but notice one of his friend’s hands was firmly planted on the hilt of one of his black hunting knives. It was all of that training and the time in the war. Panther was the old type that wanted to sit where he could always see the door in a restaurant, or whose house was set up where there were only so many entry points, but multiple escape routes.
“Bageera,” Bear said to him a bit more stern this time. “You can put the claws away.”
“That car that just left,” Panther replied, as if he hadn’t heard Bear. “Was that who I think it was?”
“Sure was,” Bear said as he strolled to the cooler and grabbed two beers. It was their custom when Panther showed up this early. “New car, new look, new scars, same old stench, and you should check out the paper too.”
Bear handed Panther the bear first and then the newspaper. Panther retreated to his normal spot in the store, a stool in the corner where he could see the door and be close to the back door if need be. He popped the bottle cap off with one quick motion, using the side of the counter, a maneuver he had perfected as a teenager, and had only once messed up in Bear’s store. Brother Bear still picked on him about it from time to time, and there were very few individuals that Panther let make jokes at his expense.
Panther took two long swigs from the bottle, savoring the taste of the beer that Bear never let him pay for. He opened up the paper and began to scan the headlines.
“It’s on page three, nice and tucked away.”
He heard Bear, who was restocking the beers now. After taking a moment to scan a few other things that stood out, he found the article his friend had wanted him to read. He brought the paper a little bit closer, reading each line twice and much like Bear, not liking the words that he recognized. Panther was concentrating so much on the article that he didn’t reach for his beer again until he was on his third time reading through it.
“You need glasses.”
“You stay quiet,” Panther shot back as he took another long swig. “This says all this is being funded by the Cloudkicker project, but not who the money is coming from.”
“I’d be willing to take a guess.”
Panther thought for a moment. “Kahn Industries?”
“Now you’re all caught up, Baggy.”
“How many times I told you to stop calling me that,” he said with another drink of his beer.
“No clue,” Bear said with a smile. “I just ignore you.”
Brother Bear turned the radio on as he walked by to grab another case of beer, filling the store with an up-beat tune from the radio. He was moving to the rhythm, dancing slightly on his way back with the crate. It was the little things like this that kept him smiling so broadly.
“Not to kill your mood, Bear. But this is going to be a problem,” Panther said tapping the paper. “Maybe not tomorrow, or the day after, but soon enough.” He slid off the stool. “And I need another beer.”
“Have at it.”
By this point Bear had grabbed a broom and had begun to sweep the floors again, even though he had already done it once that morning. He enjoyed performing the activity with the music. Panther had made his way back to the cooler, removing another beer for himself, and then one for the road. He would wait until Brother Bear wasn’t looking to slip the ten dollar bill into the tip jar, or the one for the orphans fund, either made him feel better about all of the free drinks.
“You know, I saw something strange in here the other day.”
“What? A paying customer?”
“You’re a riot…”
“Between your charity and the thieves in this neighborhood, I’m amazed you can keep this place open, Bear.” Panther popped open another bottle against the side of the counter and took his place on the stool again, other than the drinking, he barely moved, like a statue.
“Anyway… I saw Phao in here, which isn’t uncommon in itself, but he seemed really chummy outside with a fox girl.”
“Mmm, pup thinks he knows a little something about love, eh?” Panther smiled and took another sip before returning to his natural pose, watching the door as a customer entered.
“He couldn’t be doing too bad,” Bear said as he went to ring up the customer. “They walked off together.”
Father Panther waited until the patron had left the store, eyeing him a bit. Bear realized that this made some of his customers uncomfortable, but there were several that he wanted to feel that way, so he never said much about it.
“You find this uncommon because you think she’s out of his league?”
“Oh, I know she is.”
“What about Rabbit, you seen him around?”
“Sure, the other day,” Bear answered as he went back to sweeping.
“I see things too, talk to people,” Panther remarked. “I saw Rakasha yesterday, said she was on her way to see Rabbit.”
Brother Bear actually stopped his sweeping at this, looking up at Panther and leaning on the broom, waiting for him to continue.
“I can’t figure it was good.”
“I’ll bet.”
“If I had to guess, I’d say he didn’t listen to me. I’d say he was getting wrapped up by those damn snakes.”
“Think he’s in trouble?”
“I think he will be,” Panther said, finishing off the second beer. “Ever since Rattler took over from Kaa, those snakes got their fangs back. They stopped staying low on their bellies and realized how strong they were together, especially with that new one that came from down South.”
“That kid they were calling Asp?”
“That’s the one.”
Brother Bear sighed and leaned back off of the broom. He returned the item to its spot in the corner and picked up the two bottles that panther had polished off, tossing them both into the oversized trashcan near the restroom door.
“Want me to have a talk with him,” Bear asked.
“Don’t think it’d do much good, but sure.”
Panther wasn’t looking at Bear as usual, staring out the door at someone.
“Should I try and have a chat with his mom then, with Hare?”
“Not a bad idea. Not sure it’ll do anything.”
“Well then what the hell do you suggest then?”
Panther finally slid off of the stool and looked to Brother Bear with a stern expression.
“He made his choice.”
He popped the top off of his to-go beer and headed towards the door.
“Be seeing you around, Bear.”
He wanted to say something from behind his counter, try and rally more support for Rabbit, but Brother Bear couldn’t think of anything to say that he thought might actually help. Panther was already out the door, but he hadn’t gone too far, stopping to look at the bum sitting on the concrete curb of Baloo’s. The man with the multi-colored dreadlocks didn’t look up at the panther, but knew he was being looked at. There was an odd moment of silence that neither regarded at first.
“I still don’t like you being here.”
“I ain’t got nowhere else to go, Panther. You know that.”
Panther sighed and took a long drink.
“If you’re going to stay, at least keep your eyes open, cause something is brewing.”
Old panther headed across the parking lot, sipping his beer as he traveled, one hand close to his knives. The war may have been over, but some people never let go. Bear was looking forward to a full day’s work, but Panther, he had to go see Rakasha. He made his way down the street and then…
You know, actually little cubs; that may be a story for a little bit later. Old Panther, he has quite the long history, and sadly, I don’t just mean from the war. I know most of you are too young to know about it, but you will one day. You hang around old folks like me, you’ll learn a lot, but for now, let me see if I can get us back on track.

Chapter 6

This story is about Rabbit after all. And things were looking up for him. Over the next week or so he had begun doing what Rabbit did best, talking up people, spreading the good word, and giving out those free samples, and just as Rattler had predicted, all that work paid off. It wasn’t long before folks started throwing money at Rabbit for what he was selling. Once Rabbit had paved the way, Rattler sent out the other Nags to distribute as well. Rabbit was still his top seller, able to get to places and reach people that the snakes couldn’t. Rabbit knew he was a valuable commodity too, because he had made more in that week with Rattler than he had in months with Rakasha, especially with the bonuses.
There were other perks too. Rattler had told Rabbit that he was always welcomed at their den, the old Alpo plant. There was always beer there, recreational drugs, and girls. Rabbit liked all of that, even if he had to watch himself with the last one, as his relationship with Fox had taken off as well. The most important thing that the plant offered though was a place away, without his mom and sister, and somewhere Rabbit felt that he could let loose. Rattler also made sure to remind him that if Rabbit ran into any trouble, that there was a gang of hard cases ready to rough up whoever needed it.
Rabbit was all smiles as of late. He felt on top of the world. The only thing that was suffering was his schoolwork. He had taken that night to try and make a dent in the work, staring at his text books like they were in foreign languages, and let’s just say that Rabbit wasn’t one much for taking notes. Phao had called to see how it was going with his friend. Things had been a bit different with them as of late. Rabbit knew Phao wasn’t the one who sold him out to Rakasha. No matter how loyal Phao was to his mother, that wasn’t his way. Phao reminded Rabbit that the Wolf Mother had a long list of people who reported to her, kept her in the know. She was well informed, especially with the vultures at her beck and call. We all know vultures aren’t too loyal, but they always have some information you want or know where to find a quick score. However she found out didn’t matter now, Rakasha kept her word to Rabbit. As soon as he began slinging for the Nags, he was cut off from the wolf pack. Phao couldn’t be around Rabbit as much other than at school, so they talked on the phone more on nights like tonight.
“This shit is too hard man. This book makes no sense.”
“Are you still on covalent bonds?”
“Yeah, I’m still stuck on this,” Rabbit said irritated. “I’m seriously wondering if I can pay her off. She seems like the type.”
“Dude, you can’t buy your way through high school.”
“Why not? I don’t need this-“
Rabbit’s words were cut off by his door slamming open. Bunny stood in the doorway, her bag still slung over her shoulder from work. She was wearing a hooted sweatshirt with her cut-off jeans, her pink and purple hair tied back in a ponytail, and there was a sour look on her face.
“We need to talk, now.”  
There was a moment of silence. Rabbit was used to responding harshly to his sister, a continuous back-and-forth confrontation between the two, but this was as serious as he had ever seen her.
“Phao, let me call you back man.”
Rabbit hung up the phone and stood up from his bed. He approached his sister.
“Something wrong with moms?”
Bunny clenched her teeth and swung the back from her shoulder at him. The bag contained her work clothes, but most important to this moment, two sets of tall black high heeled boots, which was the part of the bag that struck Rabbit’s shoulder. She hit him twice and swung a third time, but he had managed to duck away.
“She would be sick if she knew what I found out tonight,” Bunny yelled, letting her bag drop to the floor. “Do you forget where I work? Who I see on a nightly basis.” She was leaning into Rabbit now, almost choking him. “You think I wouldn’t found out what you’ve been doing, what you were selling?”
“Get off me!” Rabbit pushed her back finally and slid across the blankets to the other side of the bed. “What are you even going on about?”
“I know about the M. I know you’re running with the Nags now,” Bunny’s finger was waving accusingly at him. “You burned your bridge with Wolf Mother and you’re pissing off the Bandar.”
“Well that’s my business.”
“You think so? What if mom or Old Panther knew? What you going to do when Wolf Mother or the Bandar decide you’re spreading out into their territories, or that your profits are cutting into theirs?”  
“I’ll handle it. What’s it to you?”
Bunny laughed. “You mean your new friends are going to handle your problems?”
Rabbit came back around the bed at his sister’s lack of respect, his eyes flashing with anger.
“I’m not going to take your lip. I’m not taking shit from anyone anymore,” he said with a raised tone. “This is not your thing. It isn’t mom or Panther’s business either. This is about ME!” Rabbit pointed to his chest and then pushed his sister back. “So get out of my room unless you’ve got something else to say.”
Bunny was furious, spitting mad. She had a lot more that she wanted to say, but it was all going through her mind too fast.
“Do you even know what that shit does? M, have you seen it?”
“I’ve done it. I know exactly what it does.”
“How much? How much have you done.”
Rabbit paused before he admitted, “just once, but I was fine.”
“Well maybe you should come down to the club tomorrow. Cause you’ll see quite a few people who have done that shit more than once, a lot more, and it has fucked them up bad.” Bunny took a step towards Rabbit again. “That drug is ruining lives, making them do crazy things for just another taste. It has turned some of them into straight up zombies.”
“No one is making them take it, Bunny.”
“Are you listening to yourself! You selfish son-“
Bunny’s words were cut short by the front door slamming shut. Hare had come home early. She clenched her fist before poking Rabbit in his chest with her free hand.
“You’ve changed.”
Hare came up the steps. She raised an eyebrow seeing both children standing in Rabbit’s room looking at her.
“Were you two shouting?”
“Rabbit’s music was too loud,” Bunny answered quickly.
“That’s no reason to shout,” her mother replied. She looked back at Rabbit. “You should be in bed, you have school in a few hours.”
“I was…just studying,” he said, motioning to the books on his bed.
Hare smiled, thinking that was the first time in a long while that her son had done that.
“Still, get some sleep. You won’t do yourself any favors being tired.” She half turned to leave before stopping to look at Bunny, “go on and get out of there, let your brother get some sleep.”
“Right, mom.” Bunny groaned after Hare’s door closed.
Being younger, mom always gave Rabbit more leeway, even though she knew better. Hare also didn’t care for how Bunny had chosen to make money, thinking that the low pay and embarrassment at Cougars was better than being an exotic dancer, even if the tips were keeping the family afloat. It just pissed Bunny off more that Hare knew what Rabbit did, knew that he worked for the Wolf Mother in her ring, but it was the same way of doing that business, so she let it all slide for the most part. Maybe she just didn’t want to deal with it. Since their father’s death, everything else had been so hard, maybe that would have been the final straw. Bunny didn’t have to like it though.
“I hope you don’t sleep well,” Bunny said before shutting Rabbit’s door.
Rabbit stared at his doorway for a moment after it had closed. The house was quiet, and that unfortunately gave Bunny’s words time to run through his head again. He turned his stereo on low, anything to help him drown his thoughts out. Sitting back down on his bed, he wondered when his sister had become the moral one of the family. Not that anyone else was that bad, just mostly that he himself had kind of typecast her after she became a stripper.
He laid back at first, still unable to push her words from his mind. Rabbit had a conscience, he just didn’t like to admit it. Rabbit thought about it for a few more minutes before looking over at the clock. He sighed, knowing he needed to be up in two hours now, and that he couldn’t afford to miss any more school. He got up for a quick moment, pushing the bottom part of his bed out of the way to reveal his stash. Rabbit pulled out the second shoe box and opened it. The cardboard box held six rolls of money, mostly fives and tens, with a few ones and twenties mixed it. Rabbit ran his hand over the tops of the rolled-up and rubber band bound caches before picking one up and lying back with it on his bed. Rabbit needed to clear his mind, focus on what was important. He leaned back and slid a hand down into his boxers, deciding to masturbate and try to sleep, hand still clutched tight to the stack of money.

Rabbit was quite tired the next day at school, taking homeroom and the first two periods to catch up on the missing hours of sleep. There was a large puddle of drool involved when the Giraffe yelled at him, but now he was heading to his math class with Mr. Badger, one which he would not be able to sleep through. Barely able to muster enough energy to remember where the book for that class was, Rabbit decided that it would be best for him to just skip.
After slipping out the back door, Rabbit headed down the hill to take up one of his usual hiding spots behind the vocational building. He had hidden there numerous times. It was a convenient spot just past the auto shop, shaded, spacious, a good view of the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill, and too far out to worry about getting caught.
Rabbit sat down behind the building. He watched the cars move about the neighborhood below him before pulling his wallet out and fishing around for the joint he had tucked away in the crease. Placing it in between his lips, he pulled the lighter from his pocket and lit the blunt, taking in a deep inhale. Listening to the sounds around him, Rabbit thought about how much he hated it there. Several of the others had begun talking about college, careers, families… that was if they didn’t already have a few cubs of their own running around. The idea of even more school after all of this made Rabbit sick to his stomach. None of this was for him.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t ambitious, to the contrary in fact. Rabbit was ready to do something, be something, and to make his name at any expense. The more Rabbit puffed on the weed, the more he wanted to think about it.
Just as Rabbit was about to lean back into the warm awaiting grass, someone caught his eye. Down the hill and to the right, just outside of the senior parking lot, there was a woman standing next to a black car on the other side of the chain-link fence. Squinting now, he was almost certain that she was watching him.
The woman was dressed in a black suit, and what Rabbit could make out of her gaze seemed serious. She had long dark hair over her shoulders that also kept her him from making out too many details of her face. He looked at the blunt for a second and rubbed his eyes, almost expecting her to be gone when they were opened, but that wasn’t the case. Rabbit stared even longer, the paranoid really setting in as he realized that the woman wasn’t moving, even though she had clearly been spotted.
“Hey,” a voice called out.
Rabbit jumped, clutching at his chest and then his backpack, where the six-shooter was. When he turned though, he realized it was just Phao.
“Calm down,” Phao said, extending a hand.
“Dude, but,” Rabbit turned back to the woman that had been watching him, but she had already gotten back into the car. The vehicle was cranking now and preparing to drive off. He watched it for a moment before turning back to his friend. “Some weird shit dude.”
“What was,” Phao asked, dropping his bag onto the grass.
“There was…,” Rabbit began to explain, but convinced himself that it was just the weed. He was being too paranoid he thought, a little jumpier than normal as of late.
“You alright?”
Rabbit didn’t answer Phao. He just passed him the joint and the two sat down on the grass. Both boys puffed then passed for several minutes, finishing off the joint in silence. After that there was some mild griping about classes from Phao, and then Rabbit asking more questions about covalent bonds and algebra. Phao wasn’t the best student in the world, but no one in their right mind took a bad report card home to Wolf Mother if they wanted to sleep peacefully.
It was lunchtime now, and Phao had stolen two bags of chips and a soda from the cafeteria. He gave one of the bags to Rabbit and the two sat and watched the cars as they ate. Neither realized that they were being stalked from the shadows until she pounced. Fox’s arms wrapped around Rabbit’s neck from behind, pushing the scrawny boy over and knocking his cowboy hat off. He was surprised, but thankfully a tad less jumpy than when Phao had approached him. He still made a small sound that could have been a yelp, but it was hard to make out over Fox’s laughter. The two lay in the grass for a moment, both laughing now and exchanging hello kisses before sitting back up.
Phao had ignored the actions that were beginning to become common place over the last few days, finishing off his chips and tossing the bag onto the concrete by the building. The new couple shared one more kiss after Fox found her spot in between the two boys on the hill.
“I miss anything,” she asked.
“Not a damn thing,” Rabbit answered. “This day has pretty much gone to shit already.”
“Did you skip class again?”
“You know he did,” Phao answered her. “He was here before I was, and my class is the closest.”
Fox shook her head.
“Are you two ganging up on me?”
“You do want to actually get out of high school eventually, right?”
Phao’s question was almost serious, even though it sounded like a joke with his tone.
“Oh, I’m getting out of here.”
“Yeah, but I would like to see you graduate.”
Phao laughed after Fox backed his comment again. She turned and smiled at him briefly before wrapping her arms around Rabbit’s waste. She had done so because Rabbit seemed to be getting flustered.
“Can we change the subject please, or do we want to harp on me some more?”
Phao laughed again and grabbed his backpack with one hand.
“I’ll go find something else to do, give you two some time alone.”
“No, don’t,” Fox said, stopping him. “I have to go make some copies in the library before my next class, might even check out a book for once. You two hang.” Fox stood, her hand trailed on Rabbit’s cheek for a moment though, looking at him. “We’re still on for after school though, right?”
“You know it. Wild horses and all that,” Rabbit said to her with a smile.
Fox smirked and leaned down for one last kiss, “until then.”
Phao looked up at her, catching her gaze before she moved off.
“Hey, did your dad get that job?”
“He got one route,” she told Phao, “but it isn’t enough from what he told me. He is still looking. At least it is something though.” Fox’s expression faded slightly at the new line of conversation.
“I… could talk to my mother if you want. She may have something.”
“Phao, I don’t-“
“Don’t believe all the rumors about her,” Phao interrupted. “She’s a businesswoman.”
“I’ll mention it to him, okay?”
Fox waved to both of them and said her goodbyes before heading back around the vocational building. There was a few moments of silence as Phao rummaged through his pack and Rabbit watched him. He wanted to make sure Fox was out of earshot before he asked Phao the fresh question on his mind.
“When did you two become so personal?”
“Huh,” Phao questioned as he looked up.
“Asking that shit about her dad. Are you trying to make me look bad?”
“What,” Phao asked, genuinely confused. “No, I just walked her home a couple of times. She mentioned that they are in some financial trouble. I just thought I would ask her how it was going.”
“And offer to hook him up with a job through Wolf Mother?”
“What the hell is up with you? Don’t you want me to get along with your girlfriend?”
Rabbit had honestly already let it go before Phao’s question left his mouth. He had been thinking about something else, and although Rabbit hadn’t thought of talking to Phao about it, the situation had suddenly changed his mind.
“Nah, nah that’s fine man. I mean,” he stared at Phao for a long moment. He turned to his friend. “Okay, look, something is on my mind, and it is driving me nuts.”  
“She hasn’t fucked me yet!”
Phao sighed. He crossed his arms over his knees and placed his head down on them.
“Are you kidding me, Rabbit? You’ve only been dating like a week.”
“We’ve been doing everything else.”
“Oh my Gaia. Really? Dude… you really don’t know shit about girls do you?”
“What do you mean,” Rabbit demanded with a raised tone.
“This isn’t ninth grade anymore. You aren’t just getting head from Blue Bird behind the gym between classes like you used to, or whatever you had with that turtle chick you were embarrassed to talk about. You have a chance at a real relationship with Fox.”
Phao stood, brushing his pants off. Rabbit placed his cowboy hat back on and stood up as well before responding.
“I am thinking about the relationship, and it’s time to take it further.”
Phao shook his head, “what if she isn’t ready?”
“I got a plan.”
“What? Seriously?”
“Fox has been saying she needs to relax, and she can’t say she has class or shit else to do tomorrow.” Rabbit reached into his pants as he spoke, pulling out a small baggie of the shimmering brown substance just enough from his hiding space so that Phao could see it. “So, I am going to help her do that, and help myself get some pussy.”
Phao looked stunned for a moment.
“What the fuck, Rabbit. Are you seriously saying you are thinking about getting Fox high just so you can have sex with her?” Phao pushed a finger into Rabbit’s chest. “That’s taking advantage of her, it’s rape.”
“No, it isn’t,” Rabbit said. “She has been talking about getting high off this stuff with me since we started going out, and I didn’t say I was going to force her or anything. You’re saying some shit that just isn’t true.” Rabbit pushed Phao’s hand away. “Why would you do that man, you’re supposed to back me up.”
“I don’t like it dude. Her first time with you shouldn’t be when she is geeked out of her mind. It’s not cool.” Phao took a step back, he wasn’t looking for a fight. “I can’t support you if you’re doing something stupid. You need to seriously think about this before you do something you’re going to regret.”
The two boys stared at each other for a moment. Phao was getting ready to turn and leave, but for once, Rabbit realized his friend had a point. The problem with Rabbit was that he had a little voice inside of him that asked if it really mattered, as long as Rabbit got what he wanted. And that was where the real conflict lay.
“Phao, you’re right.” Rabbit raised a hand for him to stop and then lowered it, turning to look away for a moment. “You’re right. Maybe I should just talk to her, just be upfront.”
“Yeah, maybe you should,” Phao shook his head. He never made the mistake of thinking he was any type of standup fella or anything, but there were times he really worried about the way Rabbit thought. He headed off back around the building, leaving Rabbit alone to skip the rest of his classes.

That is the problem with most people though, and why it is hard to be trusting. Most people only saw what Rabbit showed them, which he realized early on he had to be careful about. No matter what he actually thought, it was what was expected of him that he had to do most of the time. Rabbit spent the rest of the school day thinking about Fox, imagining what he wanted to do to her, and had decided to keep the M open as an option. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Book of Rabbit Part 1

The Book of Rabbit

Chapter 1

“I will remember what I was, I am sick of rope and chains -
I will remember my old strength and all my forest affairs.
I will not sell my back to man for a bundle of sugar cane;
I will go out to my own kind, and the wood-folk in their lairs.
I will go out until the day, until the morning break -
Out to the wind's untainted kiss, the water's clean caress;
I will forget my ankle-ring and snap my picket stake.
I will revisit my lost love and playmates masterless!”
― Rudyard KiplingThe Jungle Books

               Sit back little cubs and listen to my story. Who I am and how I fit into it all isn’t as important as what you can learn if you keep your little hungry mouths shut and your ears open. This is important because the world out there is a damn jungle, and you’ll need to learn everything you can if you plan on making out of here alive.
               Years ago, in this here city, there was a little cat named Rabbit, and boy was he a spunky little kid that thought the world couldn’t beat him. Much like the rest of us, he was poor as dirt with his stolen tennis shoes, daddy’s old cowboy hat, and a big ol’ smile on his face when there wasn’t a cigarette hanging from between his lips. You see, Rabbit wasn’t afraid of anyone, because he knew he was faster than anyone else around, and had the biggest pair on him in the South.
               Rabbit hung around one of the little wolf cubs named Phao. He’s not really important to this story, mostly because he’s a little snot, but he’s one of Rakasha’s kids, and that is one scary woman. If you don’t believe me, try to mess with one of her cubs, or take something that’s hers, because it won’t be pretty. Phao knew it to though, so much like Rabbit, he walked with a lot more confidence in his step than he should have had.
               These two little brats were usually doing runs, delivering packages, or collecting money, most of the time they when they should have been in school. When there wasn’t anything for them to do they just wandered around and caused trouble, but they liked to go talk to Father Panther. That crazy fool was a vet from the war. The bad one; where he got those scars and the tattoo of the panther across most of his face. He always started each story with that same predatory smile that showed off his one gold fang.
               “So you want to know about the flames, eh little Rabbit?” He’d ask the kids as they sat down on the concrete steps in front of his overgrown yard and dilapidated home. “You want to know what it would be like to be cooked,” he asked with an almost cruel laugh. “They don’t feel it for long, because the body can’t feel the pain anymore, but the brain,” he said with a dramatic pause. “Oh, it still knows, and keeps on telling them to run, run like rats!”
               Rabbit and Phao liked these stories. The tales were always about war and death, or sometimes women and drugs if Panther had been hitting the bottle, as he was prone to do. He didn’t mind telling the stories to the cubs, gave Panther someone to talk to, and he saw something in Rabbit that he liked, something most couldn’t. Rabbit was ambitious, but he was willing to work for it.
               “That’s why I prefer my knife,” Panther said, sliding the long black blade free of his belt, letting it shine against his almost yellow eye. “I like to get up close, make sure the job is done.” There was that grin again. Panther was old, true, but he was far from harmless, no matter what Rakasha said. “Guns jam, misfire, or clog, but as long as I have my claws,” he replaced the black knife next to its brother. “I shall not be left wanting.”
               Rabbit was smiling as he watched Panther, listening to the end of another great story. Phao, however, had gorged himself earlier that day and had begun to yawn with his mouth gaped wide.
               “Yo, I got to get going,” Phao said.
               Rabbit stood up to leave with his friend, nodding as he put a cigarette in his mouth. Old Panther’s hand snatched up quick though, grabbing the forearm of the young boy. Rabbit looked down at the old hunched over cat.
               “Hey,” he said, getting Rabbit’s attention. “What we talked about last week: those Nags leaving you be? They lay off?”
               “Yeah, Panther,” Rabbit reassured, uneasily, “I told you I had it covered. I talked to Rattler, everything is cool. No need to worry.”
               Panther eyed the young one for a moment, considering his answer.
               “Don’t get involved with those snakes,” he almost spit with the last word. “Don’t do any kind of business with them. You’re better than that.”
               “I know, old man. I’ve got it. Don’t worry.” Rabbit pulled his wrist back and straightened his hat one more time.
               Phao was already a few steps away. Rabbit waved goodbye to Panther before he went to catch up. The two walked in silence for a few minutes, up to the crosswalk at the red light, before Phao shook his head.
               “You should have just told him, man. You know old dude is going to find out.” Phao bit his lip, shaking his head again. “Panther knows too many people, sees too much perched up on those steps of his all damn day.”
               “Shit, I don’t know why I didn’t.” But Rabbit did know. “I guess I just didn’t want to disappoint him or something, that’s all. He and my pops used to be real close.” Rabbit sighed as they walked. “But I can’t stay working for your momma. The money is too good with the Nags.”
               “I know.”
               “Maybe if I told her, said I wanted to stay but needed more incentive.”
               “Nope,” Phao said flatly. “She’ll tell you she pays so little because she keeps you safe, that you are under her protection. Then she’ll say some bull about her guidance and how she’s survived out here…man, I’ve heard it too many times.”
               “You need to get out from under her paw too then,” Rabbit said as he paused to light the hand-rolled cigarette in between his lips.
               “That’s easy for you to say, you aren’t one of hers.”
               That ended the conversation for that day, but now Rabbit’s mind was on Rattler and what he had promised. The boys had taken a pit stop, going by Baloo’s, a little gas station near their neighborhood. They crossed over the cracked pavement of the parking lot, glancing at the bum with the long dreadlocks who was always outside of the store, before heading in. The bell above the door rang out and Brother Bear gave a deep and hearty hello.
               “Hey there boys,” he exclaimed, coming down one of the center isles. “Want your usual?”
               “That’s fine,” Phao said, slipping a candy bar off of the shelf when Bear turned away.
               Brother Bear was a brute of a man, tall, thick, and tanned a dark brown, whose family had come here for a better life. His accent was barely present anymore, and his pleasant disposition had become almost permanent ever since opening up the small gas station. It was his little slice of life. It and his family were the necessities, and he was constantly trying to tell the boys that as he sold them the sodas in the glass bottles.
               “Here you go boys. That’ll be $3.50.”
               Rabbit looked confused at the price. Brother Bear pointed at Phao’s.
               “That’s cold, Bear,” Phao retorted.
               “Even if I’m wrong,” Bear held up a finger, “which I am not, you still owe me for a few others that I didn’t nail your ass down for, so cough it up.”
               The two boys pulled what they had in their pockets, but Phao ended up putting the candy bar back.
               “If you two had some honest work, this wouldn’t be a problem.”
               “Yeah, yeah,” Phao said, heading for the door.
               “Later, Bear.”
               Bear nodded to Rabbit, watching the two as they left. He came out a moment later, after putting the money in the drawer. Bear’s eyes were still locked on the two boys as they crossed the street. The two kids made it to the end of the street before they touched fists and went separate directions. The old bum drank whatever the container held in the brown paper bag as he watched Bear, watching the two boys.
               “Why you waste your time on them? They ain’t nothing but criminals in training.”
               Bear shook his head before turning to the old bum to respond.
               “That’s rich coming from you,” Bearn sneered. “The boys have potential. They just need some guidance, better than what they have.” He scratched his thick hair absently. “All they have to do is make it out of here.”
               The bum with the multi-colored dreadlocks let out a laugh that turned into a cough, one hand holding his side. Bear turned to the man fully now, a more serious expression than his usual manner as he waited for an explanation.
               “That wolf cub has no chance, and Rabbit,” he said with a cough. “Rabbit gone be lucky if he don’t wind up on the wrong end the gun.”
               “It’s closing time. Why don’t you get out of here,” Bear said night began to claim the sky.
               “Right,” the bum smiled. “See you tomorrow, Bear.”
               As Bear closed up his place, Rabbit on his way home, humming a tune to himself as he looked down at his fancy new sneakers. He finished up the last cigarette for the day, giving his shirt a sniff to make sure the odor wasn’t on him too much. If his mother had anything to say, he could blame it on being around Father Panther. Rabbit had learned how to deal with his mother, a task that was much easier than dealing with his father. Now that he was dead though, Rabbit was the man of the house.
               Rabbit stepped in the door like he did every night, tossing his hat up on the end of the banister and stopping in the living room to stretch and scratch his balls. Someone had left the television on a cooking show where Jackal was discussing the importance of slow cooking venison. His mother must have left it on. There was a smell coming from the kitchen that had caught his attention, a sweet aroma that he wasn’t used to.
               A pan sizzled on top of the stove. It contained meat and green peppers with what looked like small chunks of onion. Next to it were some other bits of food on a cutting, but Rabbits eyes had focused in on the large chunks of potatoes. Rabbit loved potatoes. He reached forward, his hand scooping up four pieces with a smile. As he brought the delicious food to his mouth though, a hand came hard across his face with a popping sound that echoed as he was slapped.
               “Ow!” Rabbit cried. “What the fuck, Bunny!” He dropped the food back onto the counter.
               Rabbit’s sister, Bunny, stood in front of him now with her arms crossed at the top of her exposed midriff. Her pink and purple hair hung down in front of an angry set of eyes. Eyes that Rabbit swore looked red in that light.
               “What the hell did you do that for,” Rabbit asked again, rephrasing his question.
               “Oh, I’m sorry. Were you the one here all day helping momma, or were you the snot-nosed little brother out dealing that couldn’t even bother to pick up his phone? I only ask, because you look like the little piece of shit-“
               “Hold on now, Bunny,” Rabbit interrupted. “Mom didn’t say she needed me.”
               “It’s the first of the month, fool. She needed her medicine, and help at the church. You know better.”
               Bunny shook her head and went back to the food, checking on it. Rabbit realized he had made a mistake, but the truth was that he had simply forgotten. He paused for a moment and then tried to switch the subject.
               “What is that? It smells good.” He asked his sister before moving a bit closer, still enjoying the smell. “It looks like-“
               “It ain’t for you,” Bunny said flatly. “This is for me and momma. I bought the food with my money that I worked for. You can have cereal.”
She pushed past Rabbit to grab the salt, ignoring his hurt expression as she continued to season the food.
“Guess you’re just jealous we don’t all have to make money on our backs,” Rabbit shot back.
It took Bunny a second for it to process, but when it did she lunged at him. Rabbit was too quick though. He had already grabbed the box of cereal and shot out of the living room. She heard him padding upstairs, her teeth clenched and a fist balled tight. She would get him later.
Rabbit had already bounced into his room and locked the door. His hand flipped the controls on the stereo, bringing it to life with blue buttons and an orange display screen, blasting out the raps about the realist killers as he flipped on the lamp by his desk. Crashing down on the bed, it took a simple fluid motion to reach underneath and bring up the old shoe box where the good stuff was. Rabbit pulled out one of his expertly rolled joints and lit it up as the music played.
The boy lay in the near-darkness for a while, puffing out the smoke and thinking about the future. He was thinking about tomorrow, what he had talked about with Rattler, and his mind wandered over to Fox and those short shorts she wore. There was a lot to think about, but Rabbit spent most of his time thinking on what he would do when he finally had enough money to quit school, to move out of his mom’s house, to get out of the city. That was the plan, by any means necessary.
There was a knock on his door, one Rabbit barely heard over the stereo. His mother pushed the door open with a frail hand before stepping in, glancing around his room. She paused when she saw the joint hanging out of his mouth.
“Hey, mom.”
Rabbit reached for the remote, muting the stereo. He knew she would want to talk.
“Could you at least try and hide the drugs from me?”
Rabbit smirked and placed the burning joint on the edge of the ashtray that was on top of the stacked up magazines next to his bed. His mother, Hare, stepped further into the room and glanced at his walls, squinting in the dim light.
“Why did you take all of your drawings down, Rabbit?”
Rabbit shrugged. He almost absently reached for the joint again, but stopped himself.
“No point. Teacher says I’m good, but not good enough.”
She frowned. “So, get better—practice.”
“Come on, mom. That isn’t for me.”
Hare approached the bed finally, placing a hand on her son’s shoulder.
“Then what is for you?”
“I’m going to think of something.”
She knelt next to the bed on one knee.
“Rabbit,” she said weakly gripping his shoulder. “You’re too smart for this. You have a future out there if you do well in school, if you show up. You need to get out of here and go to college.”
“Education ain’t nothing but a scheme mom. It’s just another system designed to keep folks going back to it. It’s just like the food stamps we’re stuck on.” Rabbit sat up. His mother was already moving to stand back up herself though. “Come on, mom. I’ve got plans.”
Hare moved back towards the door, but turned back to look at her son.
“I’ve got to get to work. They probably need me to sew up a few people tonight who had plans like yours.”
“It’s not like that,” Rabbit protested loudly. “Between you and Old Panther, all I hear about is how bad that shit is.” 
“I left you some of my food in the fridge,” she said, done arguing. “I am headed to work, and Bunny is already gone to do the same. You have the house to yourself, maybe you’ll find some time to study.”
Rabbit didn’t respond.
“Keep the door locked. I’ll be back around dawn.”
She shut his door. The music was quickly turned back on, and up. Rabbit stood up and pulled his white t-shirt up over his head, tossing it to the floor. He picked the joint back up between two fingers and knocked off the ash before taking a long puff on it again. Stepping into his small bathroom, Rabbit cut the light on, it flickered to life, showing his reflection in the mirror. Exhaling a long stream of smoke he admired himself for a moment in the mirror, thinking about Fox again. He held up and arm, flexing it, letting his free index finger trace a muscle. He ran the same finger across the scar on his shoulder afterwards, a long three inch cut from a bike accident when he was younger. Rabbit thought it worked for him. He liked the way that he looked. There was a smile into the mirror before the light turned off. The only light that could be seen was the dim cherry at the end of his joint.

Chapter 2

“Basically, I believe the world is a jungle, and if it is not a bit of a jungle in the home, a child cannot possibly be fit to enter the outside world.” –Bette Davis

               Now, let’s talk about my girl Fox for a minute.
Fox cursed, realizing the she had broken another nail. She pushed the thought aside, determined to fix it later, after school. Right now, that ol’ girl was trying to figure out a good excuse for why she didn’t have her chemistry homework. She had been thinking about it while searching for the book in her locker, but that was when she had noticed the broken nail. Now her whole process was messed up.
               There it was, stuffed into the back underneath her jacket. Fox grabbed the chemistry book and slid it under her arm. She closed the locker, knowing she was going to be late. This had been a trend for her lately, and it needed to end. She had too much to do though, and it was all starting to come crushing down on her. That’s what happens when you keep secrets though.
               She came up with a story about her sick aunt. Teachers buy those types of stories a lot more from the students who usually have good grades. She tried her best to pay attention in class that day, but learning can be pretty boring when everything else you do feels more important. Her entire day hinged on lunch period. It was where she could get what she needed, make her contacts, and catch up on the right types of gossip. Fox didn’t have anyone at the school that she considered a close friend by any means, but she had made a lot of acquaintances. It helped to be a wallflower, to fit in with almost anyone. The issue with that of course is when someone can fit in with anyone; it is easy to lose sight of who they really are.
               Fox moved through the courtyard as the students ate, played, and conversed. She made her usual rounds, talking to some of the girls, couple of the football players, and Skunk was always good for information, but the real work came with the Bandar and Nags. They were the two biggest gangs in the area. Drugs came from a lot of places in this city, but the Nags were the biggest movers and pushers around, and the Bandar had almost cornered the markets on guns and tail as well. The saying still goes around these parts: if someone is looking for something illegal, they’re going to go through a snake or a monkey to get it.
               They were not hard to pick out of a crowd. The Nags all were dark green and black with either silver or yellow chains or other jewelry to show off their status within the gang. A dark yellow eye with a slit of black could be seen on most of them, showing off that they had killed for the gang. The snakes prided themselves on their cars, most of which were tricked out or done up with art by other gang members. The Bandar on the other hand stuck out through association. Whenever they could be, they were always together. There colors were mostly black and brown, with no real indicators of rank or importance, though everyone knew Louie was most certainly king. Unlike the snakes though, the gang of monkeys considered women to be more like property or trophies. I know you pups have seen them, walking around on leashes or with those diamond studded chokers.
 It was true, everyone knew who belonged to which gang, but the real challenge for Fox was trying to get them to talk without tipping her hand. Recently though, Fox thought she had found a way in—Rabbit. She was proud of how subtle she had been, how well it was working. When she saw him with Phao at the old orange picnic table the cadence of her steps changed, and whether she realized it or not Fox’s hips had a tad bit more of a sway to them, accented by her shorts and long legs.
“Hey there, Rabbit.”
Phao looked up and bit his lip. Fox nodded to him and he gave an odd hand gesture to acknowledge her presence as pleasantly as he could. Rabbit had been focused on the story that he was telling, but that focus was easily replaced onto Fox.
“What’s up there, Foxy?”
She smiled at his flirty greeting, but there was something Fox didn’t like about the guys like Rabbit. It was the abundance of confidence. She was pretty sure Rabbit was nervous talking to her, but he did everything in his power not to let that shine through. There was a conflict for her of course, showing interest to get she wanted, how did she expect him to react? It had to be done though, and Fox felt she was handling it as best as she could. She sat on the bench across from them, but Rabbit stood up and moved to sit next to her. She smiled and leaned back, the blank tank top showing off her curves.
Phao stood up and looked away from the two for a moment.
“You know, I’m gonna go see if I can score some food.”
“Yeah man,” Rabbit said, his eyes never leaving Fox. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
Fox actually gave Phao a quick glance before he turned to leave. She wasn’t sure what to make of the wolf, but he wasn’t what she needed. She turned back to Rabbit. Trying to ease some of the tension, Fox gave him an odd smile.
“So what’s up?”
“Shit, you know,” Rabbit answered, taking off his cowboy and placing it on the orange table. He wanted to be able to lean in closer. “I was just waiting on you.”
Fox laughed. “No, I mean what have you been doing?”
“Eh, nothing new, girl, just chilling with Phao and putting some work in.”
“Oh yeah? Where did you say you worked again?”
“I do a little bit of everything.” Rabbit smiled and reached an arm around Fox’s shoulders. She gave him no signs of wanting to recoil, even if her mind disagreed. “I do whatever it takes to make my money, but I can’t work for just anyone. I have standards.”
“That’s right. And one day, I’ll be my own boss and handle business my way.”
“Okay. So what is it you want to do?”
“You know, have my own company.” Rabbit realized that didn’t answer her question. “I’ll make my money and then do investments, land development and real estate, entrepreneurship type stuff.”
“But you have to make that money first.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” Rabbit let his other hand brush up against her knee slightly.
This time, Fox did move away, hidden in a fluid motion as she turned to face him. She was trying to get across a more serious tone.
“That’s the problem I’m having.”
“Really? I thought your family was loaded.”
Fox sighed. “It hasn’t been the same since dad lost his job at the packing company.” The best lies are based in the truth. “That and, my mom is really getting on my case about spending money, but I need new clothes, new shoes.”
Rabbit nodded, leaning in still just a bit more, trying to relax with her.
“I’m sure you can find something.”
“Right, nothing that pays what I want, not with school,” Fox said, looking away a bit dramatically. “And hell if I’ll end up working a pole.” She was trying to hit his buttons the right way.
Rabbit snickered. “Hey, my sister makes a lot of money doing it, and you’re way prettier than her.”
“What!? Really,” Fox said, feigning the surprise.
“Of course you are,” Rabbit said with a smile. His hand came up to her face, caressing a cheek gently.
“No,” she popped him playfully on the shoulder. “I mean I didn’t know Bunny was a stripper.”
Rabbit laughed. “What? You think she was going to college? She sure as hell ain’t making that kind of money from working at Cougars. Besides, they fired her.”
“Never say never I guess,” Fox said after looking away from Rabbit.
“Nah, you aren’t the type.” Rabbit placed a hand on the bottom of her chin and gently pulled her attention back to him. “You just need you a man who can appreciate you, find your real talents.”
The line was as cheap as they come, kids, but for some reason, Fox didn’t find herself laughing like she thought she would. Instead, she had let Rabbit get in close, real close. He was about to kiss her, and Fox was about to let him, but just as she could feel his warmth, that was when the bell rang for fourth period.
Fox shot up so fast that she almost clipped Rabbit.
“Shit, I have to go. You know how much of a freak Badger can be if you’re late.”
“Uh, yeah,” was all Rabbit could get out. He was cursing on the inside.
“What are you up to after school?”
“Got some errands to run, not much other than that,” he said, standing. “Why, you want to hang out?”
“We’ll see,” Fox said with quite the powerful smile. She gave a soft wave over her shoulder before heading back into the building.
As soon as Rabbit was sure she was inside, positive that she wouldn’t hear it, he kicked the old orange picnic table as hard as he could. His foot was going to hurt for the rest of the day, but Rabbit didn’t regret the kick, just what he thought might have been the biggest missed opportunity of his life. He didn’t want to go to his math class now, and fought the urge to go masturbate in the gym bathroom. Rabbit found Phao and convinced him to skip class with him instead.

After school that day though, Fox had hurried from her last class. She had somewhere to be, a different path to take that day. Out the back door, away from the busses and student parking lots, that was the way that led into the ghetto behind the school, the way Rabbit and Phao took home every day. She came out the door in time to see them walking down the hill. Rabbit’s hat wasn’t hard to spot, which allowed her to hang back a bit, masked in all of the other students just in case one of them had looked back. It was time to put some of her skills to the test, and to see if her lead panned out like she thought it would.
Fox had been following them for five blocks now successfully, but this was the easy part. She had been hanging back with her hood pulled up, not wanting to be seen by the boys, or anyone really. It wasn’t dark yet, so it was a little less suspicious for her to be walking by herself, but one guy trying to holler at her and everything could go south quick. She was trying to be smooth, even if this was her first time doing anything like this. The only hiccup was when Rabbit had stopped to get something out of his backpack. She was almost sure that Phao had stopped her, but if he had, he must not have realized it was her.
Fox was focused now, which she was thankful for. She had spent fifth and sixth period thinking about Rabbit, about almost kissing him. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but something had nagged at her about it. It was that first step that had caused her to ask: how far was she willing to go? Fox already knew the answer though; knew before she started.  
Rabbit and Phao had walked four more blocks now in silence now. One would occasionally point at someone they saw and the two would laugh or crack jokes for a moment. A block ago, Phao had stopped to talk to a tall leggy blonde that Fox didn’t recognize. Other than the fact that she seemed older, Fox couldn’t tell much about her, but made a mental note to remember her. The stranger’s looks, the way she was dressed, the tattoo on her neck, smelled like a tiger to Fox.
Whoever it was, her conversation with Phao wasn’t long. Originally Fox had thought that the wolf was trying to entice the leggy blonde, but now she wasn’t so sure. The boys had begun walking again, but they weren’t quiet this time. The two were having a conversation about something, a discussion that Fox wished she could hear. If she could have gotten closer, she might have been able to read their lips. The risk wasn’t worth it though. It didn’t quite look like they were arguing, but Phao didn’t exactly look pleased either. It was just hard to tell without knowing the context.
Fox’s prey finally stopped at the next red light, sharing a couple more words before pounding their fists together and laughing about something. The two had split up though, which in her eyes would make this easier. Now she just had to worry about Rabbit spotting her. The only thing Fox didn’t like was that the further they went into his neighborhood, the more lost she felt. She knew a little, but it was still all unfamiliar territory, which could prove to be a problem if a bad situation came up.
Rabbit had passed by Baloo’s, but he didn’t turn the way he should have to go home. This was a good sign for Fox. This little after school activity may prove to have been worth it after all. Rabbit was moving along briskly, humming a tune to himself as he rounded the corner. Fox noticed that he was being a bit more careful it seemed, paying more attention. He had looked over his shoulder twice now since splitting off from Phao. It was smart really. Never know who could be watching. Especially in a place like this where everyone was just a little bit nosey, because sometimes, information was just as good as money. Also, this was the type of place where everyone reported back to someone, all kinds of folks had feelers out there.
Fox observed as Rabbit went down the hill in front of him. She stepped off to the side to avoid detection, from Rabbit and the people that had come out to sit on their porch, or the one down the street fixing his car. This almost caused her to lose sight of Rabbit though. He wasn’t at the bottom of the hill like he should have been.
Fox shot out from behind the wall she had been using to obfuscate herself with. She quickly made her way down the hill, keeping her hood up and glancing around for him. Had it not been for that cowboy hat, she would have missed Rabbit hopping along down a long alleyway between two rows of houses. Fox had no clue where Rabbit was going, but now she wanted to get closer for fear of losing him again. It was a short lived fear though. Rabbit took a right past one of the older houses with the half torn down back porch. He knocked a beer can off of the hood of an old rusting silver truck that sat in front of some trees along the poorly kept dirt path he was now following. Fox also noted the tire tracks in the dirt and flat grass. Wherever Rabbit was going had seen several visitors recently.
Sure that Rabbit wouldn’t see her; Fox finally made her way around the derelict vehicle and took a glance down the long dirt path. Rabbit’s destination was clear now, the old Alpo plant. A small rundown factory that had been there since the seventies, most of the residents had forgotten it was there. Over the years everything had built up around it, leaving the ruins of the past to vanish into the trees and other businesses. The main entrance had actually been blocked by a piece of the roof that had fallen off about ten years ago due to a tornado.
Rabbit wasn’t heading towards the front though. He had gone to the side of the building, still humming his song. Fox moved off of the dirt path and into the tall uncut grass. This was more her style, able to stalk her prey unseen. Moving through nature’s camouflage, she actually made it around the corner faster than Rabbit did. She could see the cars now, all parked behind the loading dock, hidden away from prying eyes. The tricked out cars meant that she had been right all along, this place was a den of vipers.
Fox could see everything from her current position. Rabbit had made his way around and taken his backpack off before climbing up the raised platform of the dock. There was an open door on that side. A shadowed figure stepped out of it in his black leather jacket and waved Rabbit inside. This was a meeting Fox didn’t want to miss, but getting in undetected would be complicated, and possibly past her abilities. She watched the outside for a moment longer, realizing that she had to try. She had not come this far to wait outside.

Chapter 3

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place –W. H. Auden

Rabbit had stepped into the Alpo plant. It was a welcomed breeze in the old drafty building. Several of the walls had been knocked down, windows were broken, and there was only one working toilet, but that wasn’t what Rabbit was focused on. There were two televisions, three couches, and an old pinball machine next to a refrigerator full of beer and a table where four guys were playing cards in the center. It was the grown-up version of the clubhouse Rabbit used to have, but girls were certainly allowed in this one. Rabbit made sure to pause and smile at Copperhead and Narcissa as he crossed the concrete floor. They had both been sweet on Rabbit at one point or another, and he had hoped that they still were. He would have probably gone over and spoken to the girls, had Diamond not motioned him over. It was time for business.
Rabbit followed Diamond down the hallway. It was so dark that the only thing he could see was the silver lined angular shape on Diamond’s back. The den was dark and warm, the way the Snakes liked it. Rabbit followed through the hallway and into the other half of the building. This three story section must have originally been the factory portion. There were tall windows on the far wall, several that had been broken out. Three different levels of catwalks lined the walls; some broken, with others barely hanging on, high above them. There was debris that had fallen from the large hole in the roof and old metal pieces that used to hold the machinery and conveyer belts in place, all of which had been pushed to the front with the collapsed double doors or to the sides. Rattler and the others had turned that part of the building into a practice area of sorts with a set of wrestling mats and lined up bottles that were being used as a shooting range.
Rattler was holding a large .45 with an ivory handle and a laser sight attached to the bottom of the barrel. A bit of smoke trailed off of the barrel as those present eyed the glass bottle that Rattler had just shattered. He brought the gun up with a smile, his other hand trailing down the handle. Rabbit thought it looked like Rattler was stroking his erection, way too happy.
Rattler handed the piece off to the man standing next to him who began to reload it. A girl that Rabbit didn’t know had been watching the guys shoot, but now that Rabbit was here, she and another member of the gang got up from the old bus seat that they had been sitting on and left back down the dark hallway.
“Look who dropped by,” Rattler said after he turned his attention to Rabbit. “I know you know Diamond, but have you met Moccasin and Asp?”
“Nah, not yet.”
Rabbit shook both of their hands, all smiles. These were the kind of people he wanted to be in with. Moccasin was a tall guy who looked like he lived in the gym, but he had an impressive set of shades and a hot pair of kicks. Asp was shorter and darker skinned, and his rolled up sleeves showed off the numerous tattoos that lined his arms and neck. Rabbit was pretty sure that Asp had a lot more that he couldn’t see, someone who was probably addicted to them. Suddenly Rabbit wanted a tattoo.
“Now that that is all taken care of, you ready to do some work?”
Rabbit nodded. Rattler motioned to Moccasin and Asp who moved over to what Rabbit had thought was one of the piles of old machinery. They pulled large metal piece aside to reveal a safe that had been put inside one of the old large machines. A good hiding place. Rattler knelt down to handle the dial. Rabbit noticed that Moccasin was giving him a bit of a look, so he turned away until he heard the metal lock on the safe clank and the door creak open.
Rabbit looked back as Rattler pulled out a black satchel bag. He was smiling as he walked it over to one of the other platforms and opened up. Rabbit was honestly not sure what he was about to see, and when he was nervous, he talked.
“You said you had something you needed done, Rattler. A way we could make some money.”
“Patience, Rabbit. Good things come to those who wait.”
Rabbit nodded and smiled, asking himself to please stay quiet. Rattler was digging through the satchel bag, pulling out a smaller white bag. There was a noise that Rabbit heard, he had good ears. He looked up towards the ceiling—squinting. Asp had glanced up as well.
“What is it,” Rattler asked, holding on tightly to the white bag.
“Probably nothing. This old ass building is always making noise,” Moccasin said.
Rattler nodded. Asp slipped away from the group, jumping up to one of the slanted metal walkways. Rabbit watched him for a moment before Rattler began moving again. He was opening up the white bag.
“Like I said, Rabbit, I’ve got something new.” Rattler pulled two small plastic baggies from the larger white bag. “This is new, and it is going to be hot. My supplier is calling it M.”  
Rattler tossed the baggie to Rabbit. It was filled with a reddish-brown powder that seemed to reflect the natural light that was pouring in from one of the tall windows, giving the substance an iridescent glow. Rabbit caught himself staring at it for a moment.
“What’s the catch? What makes it so special?”
Rattler smirked at the question.
“Luck you, you’ll get to find out first hand.”
“Huh,” Rabbit asked, but he had already figured it out.
“Go ahead, do it. Get lit.”
“I don’t usually-“
“You wanted to do business, didn’t you?” Rattler’s expression was still jovial for the most part, but Rabbit knew he was very serious about this part.
“Rattler, you don’t really think I’m a snitch do you?”
“Call it whatever you want. After today though, you’ll be able to tell all of your customers exactly what they are buying.”
Rabbit knew it was about to happen one way or the other. He opened up the baggie, taking one more long look at the brown substance. Moccasin had picked up a tray and placed it on one of the stands near him. Rabbit poured half of the small pouch out and using the small knife on the tray, began separating it into lines.
“What makes it brown,” Rabbit asked, “chili powder?”
“You won’t care in a minute,” Moccasin assured.
Rabbit didn’t fight it anymore, he didn’t want the snakes to think there was any reason not to trust him. He put his nose down to the tip of the line, examining the brown powder before using a finger to close off his other nostril. One sharp inhale later, Rabbit had taken the first line, and he noticed it burned. Powering through, he took the second line, coming up from it wide-eyed and numbed.
“Just let it sink in,” Rattler said. “This stuff only takes a minute or so to make your dreams come true.”
Rabbit smiled. He heard what Rattler had said to him and thought that he had responded with something pretty profound, but in actuality, his mouth never opened. He was focused on the tall window with the broken glass at the top. The sun was shining in and to Rabbit only, that light had just become a lot brighter. A lot of things were brighter actually, and everything felt closer, friendlier. All of Rabbit’s senses were stronger now, which was why he was suddenly touching himself.
“Moccasin, sit his ass on one of the couches and get someone to watch him for a bit. We’ll finish talking about business when he has had time to cool down.”
Rattler motioned for Diamond to follow him. Both left down the hallway as Moccasin took hold of Rabbit’s arm, leading him over to the old seat from the van. Moccasin sat him down, unaware that the reason Rabbit was smiling so big was because he thought that it was Copperhead and Narcissa who had come to keep him company. Asp jumped back down from the crosswalk next to Moccasin.
“See anything?”
Asp shook his head. “Just the wind I guess.”
“You were hoping it was his wolf friend,” Moccasin said with a bit of a twisted smile, “weren’t you, Asp?”
There was an indifferent sound that came from Asp’s left nostril as he took one more look around.
“I’m going to go check around the outside,” Asp said, not answering the previous question.
“Wait, I don’t want to watch him.”
“Get one of the girls to do it then.”
Moccasin liked Asp’s idea. He waited a moment, after Asp had disappeared down the hallway, and then left that way himself, leaving Rabbit on the old leather van seat, stretched out and wide-eyed. Rabbit had done drugs in the past, enough to know what he needed to and to realize that they could be helpful or harmful. He hated to not be in control though, or when anything made him question himself. That wasn’t cool. This was different though. He could see the real world, the things happening around him, but he was sure as hell not seeing what everyone else was.
Oh, let me stop right here for a moment little cubs and remind you all why these drugs are so bad. Rabbit did this shit once and was pitiful, but most don’t stop there. You want more proof, I’ll take you to see a leopard I know. You gotta be smart when messing with them, cause they can be bullshit. Back to the story though.
What had started off as brighter colors and what Rabbit called the sounds of Gaia whispering to him had expanded as the M took effect. His blood felt like it was boiling and he needed to run, but the wall of flowers wouldn’t let him. There was the hippopotamus also, and the floating clock. Rabbit was fascinated by the flower wall though. It was reminiscent of a tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe with a splash of Dali that had aspirations of being a Rembrandt. Had the old masters had this drug though, how much better they would have understood suffering.
One of the flowers in particular had caught Rabbit’s attention. It had a vague face-like shape to it, something cute and perky. Rabbit reached out for the flower, wanting nothing more than to caress the most beautiful thing he had seen in that minute. It was warm to the touch, taking a more detailed shape every second, morphing from a yellow wonder into the face of a girl. It was a face he liked very much, Fox’s face. She was smiling back at him now. He leaned in for that kiss, which was missed at lunch. Fox’s face leaned in as well, willing and able to reward him. Rabbit was a nice guy after all, and Fox wanted him.
Just as their lips touched though, what should have been a sweet kiss was a knuckle sandwich. Rabbit took four knuckles across the face and fell backwards in a stumble. He looked up, so that he could look at himself. An exact copy of the original, cowboy hat, slick kicks, and all giving him the evil eye. The new Rabbit pointed at him with a commanding demeanor.
“You stay away from her, Rabbit.”
Rabbit was quite confused, but he sure wasn’t afraid. He pushed himself forward and landed a punch on the evil doppelganger, but took a few blows of his own right afterwards. The shadowboxing fool wasn’t listening, figuring that he was fighting for love or some such. He was strangling a broom at this point, wrestling around with it on the ground.
“You’ll only get her hurt,” the evil doppelganger broom shouted.
Rabbit squeezed the neck of his clone harder, wanting it to be quiet. It didn’t feel right though, his fingers collapsing in on themselves as the neck gave way to softer material that buckled under his pressure. The paper-like substance spurted up through his grip and went everywhere in a shower of green and white. Money fell all around Rabbit in a pile. He gasped with delight, grabbing it with his hands and then shoveling it into his shirt. The wind picked up though, carrying the money away from Rabbit. He hurried to pick up what he could, running after the rest. It was slipping away from him. He shoved money into his pockets, down his shorts, scurrying to grab what he could. He was following it up a hill now, heading towards a beautiful rainbow. That is where the money wanted to go, so obviously, that was where Rabbit wanted to be as well.
He stumbled upwards, a steeper slow now, grabbing at a few bills, with the majority still in sight next to the rainbow. Things were beginning to slow down though. Rabbit’s mouth was dry and his legs were becoming weak, but there was all of that money amongst the bright colors of the fantastical looking rainbow. It was becoming hard to move now though with this wind, strong, almost like someone was yelling at him.
Something struck Rabbit again, but it hurt much worse this time. He had taken five across the face this time, in the form of a slap, and then felt a hand on his arm, gripping tightly, with exquisitely sharp nails. The rainbow was gone and the money had turned into blank white paper in his pockets and in his hands, fading into ash.
“Snap out of it, you tweaked out dipshit!”
That voice! He was sure it was Fox’s. An angel, calling out to Rabbit, wanting to give him something better than money and rainbows—that kiss. But as the world faded back into its greater form of reality, he quickly realized that it was another slap the angel wanted to bestow.
“Rattler would be pissed if off’d yourself on your first taste of M.”
He could see her face now, against the backdrop of the light coming in from the window as his vision cleared. The frizzy red hair and green eyes meant that it wasn’t Fox. It was Copperhead in her green halter top and jeans, with a strong grip on his arm, the other hand poised and ready to slap again if need be. She stood beside him, at the edge of a very high part of the catwalk which he apparently had climbed up to. Had she not stopped him, Rabbit would have walked right off of there to a rude awakening.
“There we are,” Copperhead said with one more firm shake of his arm. “Let’s you and I get down off of here and have a little sit before you do anything stupid.”
Rabbit did not protest. It was only a few minutes before they were back on the leather seat from the old van, and she had brought Rabbit some water to combat the dry mouth. Things were slowly starting to make sense again and his face didn’t feel quite so numb. The whole thing was a stern reminder of the multiple reasons that he did not dip into his own product.
“Not a problem,” Copperhead said with a smile. “Narcissa left with Coral, so I told them I would babysit.”
Rabbit nodded and asked his next question hesitantly.
“Heh, yeah. I hope I didn’t do anything too stupid…?”
“Well, when I came in you were losing a fight to a broom.”
Copperhead’s smile was wider now, playful with a hint of pity. She wrapped an arm around Rabbit and leaned in closer to him, with her legs pulled up under her.
“You’re fine little Rabbit. I wouldn’t say anything to hurt you.”
Her comment came with a small kiss on his neck. Rabbit felt her breath exhale onto his skin and that was all he needed for his confidence to come back. He turned to his side and brought his face closer to hers. Copperhead’s eyes were a sea of emerald green and stunningly entrancing. She closed a little bit more of the distance, making him do the rest. Just as their lips touched a loud laugh, near that of a cackle, erupted from the dark hallway. The room was even darker now by the way the sun had moved, but Rabbit didn’t need to see to know that it was Rattler.
“Did you see her expression! That she-cat will never show her face around this neighborhood again,” Rattler joked.
“And hell if she’ll get the stain out either,” Diamond chimed in.
With Rattler, Diamond, Moccasin, and Asp returning through the doorway, Copperhead moved away, standing. She let an impeccably kept and sharp red fingernail trail across Rabbit’s cheek to say goodbye. Confident or not, Rabbit had been losing out today.
“He’s all yours, boys.”
Copperhead disappeared into the dark hallway with a flash of red hair and that continued smile, leaving the four snakes and Rabbit alone. Moccasin and Diamond watched Rabbit for a few moments as he took another long drink from the water bottle, curious as to how much the M had really affected him. Rattler had gone back to the safe, opening it again and retrieving the satchel that he had brought out earlier. He removed the white sack and looked inside, checking the contents, either paranoid or cautious.
“Here’s the deal little Rabbit,” Rattler said. “You break up a couple of these into samples, very small doses, and distribute it as a little bit of a free taste to some of the usual suspects. They will get the word around and after their first real taste, folks’ll be lining up begging for it.”
Rattler threw Rabbit the bag. It landed in his lap.
“You get me my ten thousand by this time next week. It may sound like a lot, but if you’re as good as you like to say that you are, shouldn’t be a thing.”
Rabbit nodded, lifting up the bag in his hands. He was still just a bit woozy, coming down harder than he had in a long time. There was a moment of silence before Rabbit realized that Rattler was waiting on some sort of confirmation. Rabbit nodded twice, feeling a headache coming on.
“Any questions?”
Rabbit was thinking about what he held in his hand, how he was going to sell it.
“Why is it called M?”
“Hell if I know,” Rattler said honestly. “It came from a supplier up state, and I paid good money for it. Didn’t care much what the name was.”
Rabbit nodded, standing up. He remembered that this was his big opportunity to break out.

“You got it. I’ll get it out, just leave it to me.”