in the AiR!
Congratulations to this year's flowering fictionist, Blake Talton!
"Shpring is in the Air" 2021 Prompts:
Your shtory may be any genre, but must incorporate one of the following prompts:
1. An April Fools prank goes viral.
2. A Jewish family sets a seat for Elijah, but a different prophet shows up at their seder.
3. The Easter Bunny gets fired.
Read Blake's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Ross Denyer and second runner-up Richard McNulty—below!
YOU'RE FIRED, EASTER BUNNY
By Blake Talton
I can still smell the vinegar from when we dipped them in dye. Little round white fragile things, smooth and hard as coated candy. Finger-painted smudge-smiles stared down from fireplace mantles. You asked what they would hatch; I told you about rabbits. We made deviled eggs from the leftovers. I let you sprinkle paprika overtop those yellow dollops of sunlight.
That was the spring I found you stacking glass cups to make a castle. When I exchanged diapers to pull-ups and doctors said your leg was growing crooked. When you asked me questions I couldn’t answer: why do frogs hop like rabbits, what is “sex,” why do the other kids have a daddy, why is Grandma so old.
You were legs and questions and hunger. Like a clockwork machine I bathed you, put food inside you, read stories to you. I told you about the curious monkey and the yellow hat and the dysfunctional family of bears. Bills stacked on the counter and bags stacked underneath my eyes. Overtime, I sliced deli meats until the whirr of machinery conjured voices that were not tangible.
Your father, maybe, “Did you tell mommy you love her today?”
Your Grandma, “… not feeding him enough.”
The Easter bunny, with its big round eyes and gift baskets, singing hymns until the crescendo of “Hallelujah” bleeds into my mind’s eye and I cross to the front of the pulpit, confessing all my dirty secrets.
I took pills to keep me awake, drank merlot until my hands stopped shaking and I forgot if I had read you a bedtime story, so I read another. This one was The Velveteen Rabbit, and you asked if we could have the picture of your father stuffed to bring it to life. A wise man once said that love is sacrifice. If that’s true, then I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.
You always liked the Easter egg hunts. I suspect it was the thrill of the chase, waddling from red-shell to green, cloying and mouthing round balls of chocolate.
We used to walk Easter morning from park to park. Most times, I would hold your hand and listen to the church bells ringing, ringing, ringing. You would throw sticks at ducks, check the pond for turtles, though I forbid you to play near the drainage ditch and the steep descent of its walls. You would climb aspen and bottom out with woodchip prints on hard-to-wash shorts. One time you cut your hand; I said, “Part of growing up is learning to fall,” and kissed it better.
This was the spring I worked late that night, set the Easter egg hunt as dawn broke over rain-drained clouds, and forgot to drink myself to sleep. You woke me up twenty minutes later, exhausted.
I wish I had forgotten to set the hunt.
I wish I had skipped out Easter walk, refused to paint eggs thick with vinegar dye.
I wish I hadn’t loved you, for one small hour of all, that Easter Morning.
But I did. And I do. And I cannot take back the time spent together, the happy memories where you smiled one toothless smile and I scrubbed pain from linoleum tabletops. And I cannot take back the lazy line of our stroll, nor the book I set over my eyes, nor the music of the bells and church choir shouting “Hallelujah!”
I suspect it was the thrill of the chase, a trick of the light. Or maybe the grass was slick with rain, and the drainage ditch swelled with pregnant puddles. The baby rabbit you chased was innocent, frightened, helpless. I’d like to imagine it was innocent. The lip of the ledge lay a footfall away. The turn of the shoe too sudden, the slope of the slide too steep.
That was the spring you forgot how to fall.
And this is the spring I forgot how to forget. I painted eggs with smiles I thought you would have liked. I worked late because the thought of coming home to an empty home crushed me. I crushed eggs instead, scrambled them.
The Easter dye sits on the lip of the mantle, staring down with questions I cannot answer: why do rabbits run from children, why do children always chase, Have I told you that I love you.
I set a stuffed rabbit over your tombstone today. I think you would have liked it: eyes full of color, a plastic basket without chocolate. I’d like to picture you all grown up, disappointed in the lack of sweets, looming over that rabbit with a waggling finger.
“You’re fired, Easter Bunny!”
And I could tell you that I love you today, and that your father loves you too, and that I’m feeding you plenty, thank you very much.
It’s a pleasant thought, I think. And I’ll keep that thought with me, even when I cannot keep you, for those moments when life hands me questions I cannot answer.
MORE THAN A COTTON TAIL
“Are you firing me?” asks Esther, her soft, floppy ears twitching irritably.
She’s in the office of Ray Bradbunny, the CEO of Easter Bunny International. She'd thought she'd be getting a raise. Instead, she’s being replaced by a younger bunny.
“I’m sorry,” says Mr. Bradbunny, “But we’ve decided to go in a new direction.” “A younger direction, you mean!”
Mr. Bradbunny removes his spectacles and hops down from his desk for a heart to heart.
“Listen, Esther. You’ve been the face of this company for 8 bunny years, longer than any bunny before you. You’ve been on banners and greeting cards, headlined Easter egg hunts and petting zoos. You had a great run. And your hutch wasn’t bad either.”
He puts a little fuzzy paw on her shoulder. “Time to bow out gracefully.”
She wriggles out from under his paw, uncomfortable.
"Don’t condescend me! Whose decision was this?”
“The board’s. It was unanimous.”
“So it’s a complete coincidence that I’m turning 30 bunny years old tomorrow?”
Mr. Bradbunny clears his throat, awkwardly.
“Your ears are world famous, but they are…” he hesitates. “How do I put this? They’re not as perky as they used to be.”
Esther drops a pellet. The CEO recoils in disgust.
“Is that…did you just…”
“Oops! You’ll have to blame it on my geriatric bowels. I’m sure you won’t have any problems from Lolita! Assuming she’s toilet trained!”
“I’ll report you to the Better Bunny Bureau for public defecation!”
“Don’t act like you haven’t done it!” she says and proudly hops out of his office.
“You can kiss your 401carrot goodbye!” the CEO calls after her, but Esther has bounded out of earshot.
* * * * *
Esther’s ears twitch uncontrollably as she slams a Long-ear Island Iced Tea, places the glass next to two empties on the counter. She’s sitting at the bar of a local strip club “Hare Deep”, drowning her sorrows.
“Come on, Marge. One more.”
Marge is a magpie, the owner of the bar and strip club. She’s also Esther’s best friend, and crosses her wings, concerned.
“Take it easy, honey. You’re not in college anymore.”
Esther bursts into tears.
“That wasn’t an age comment, I just meant... ugh, alright.” Marge pours another Long-ear for Esther. “Just tell me you’re not driving.”
“I’m not,” says Esther, as she grabs the drink.
“Slow, slooooow! Drink it slow!” says Marge. Esther stops half-way, gasps for air, then finishes the glass.
“Okay, that’s the last one for an hour,” says Marge, concerned. “Not that I’m suggesting you drink any more. But you probably shouldn’t go anywhere either.”
“Do you think my fluffy little bunny bottom days are behind me?” asks Esther.
“Girl, you can do whatever the hell you want. And your bunny bottom is fine AF.”
Behind the bar, a baby bird starts to cry. Marge throws her beak skyward in exasperation: "It's not feeding time yet, Matty!" The baby bird keeps crying anyway.
"But I'm more than just a cottontail and a nice set of ears," says Esther.
Marge smiles. "You know that. I know that. Hell, I'd bet even the assholes that fired you know that. It isn't right, and it isn't fair, but it doesn't change the fact that you're in control of what you do next."
"I'm too drunk for tough love right now," says Esther.
"You're never too drunk to hear the truth. But I have to say, you're handling your Long-ears like a champ."
Esther holds up her empty glass, hopeful.
"I still ain't pouring you another one," says Marge.
"Worth a try," says Esther, setting her glass down. They both chuckle.
"Okay, I'll admit I didn't handle the situation in the most mature manner," says Esther.
"Dropping a chocolate raisin on the office carpet? Yeah, probably not gonna win friends and influence people."
They both laugh, and even little baby bird Matty warbles along with them.
"No, probably not," agrees Esther. "But it was satisfying." She smiles up at her best friend. "Thanks, Marge."
"Of course. And I know you'll bounce back. You always do."
Esther nods in agreement, then burps. Her ears start to twitch a little. "I'm feeling a bit woozy. I think those Long-ears might be catching up with me. Could you grab me a water?"
"Sure thing, let me just feed Matty first," says Marge, who proceeds to vomit into Matt's mouth.
* * * * *
After her stint as the Easter Bunny, Esther went into a long and prosperous career as a marketing consultant for Cadbury's and motivational speaker for Rabbit Empowerment. In her spare time, she volunteers at local warrens for underprivileged bunnies.
or, Don't Count Your Chickens
When You're High on Crack
By Richard McNulty
It was at that moment, Barry realized what he needed to do:
He needed to run, and he needed to run fast.
He bolted down 3rd Street towards the subway. The slippers he had on weren’t made for running; they were made for idiots who dressed up like rabbits. At least the soles were rubber; If it had been raining, he would have been fucked. Looking down for a moment, he could see that his left slipper had traces of that fat kid’s blood. Barry had never thought that those Muy Thai classes Veronica used to drag him to would ever become useful. Guess the bitch was right for once.
He glanced back and could see the angry mob. At least fifty kids and their parents, absolutely addicted to crack, were hauling ass after him, ready to kill for his eggs. Barry had about twenty-five yards on them, but that wouldn’t last long; he knew that the adrenaline rush they were riding was better than anything he could have imagined. Better than seeing titties at Mardi Gras, better than Christmas ham, better than watching your enemies die. Well, maybe not quite that far... But just maybe.
Barry could hear the train arriving. He turned the corner at 6th Ave and flew down the steps of the subway. He needed to disappear.
He could see the F train, he heard that annoying ding dong, he watched the doors close. No time to swipe here of course, Barry jumped the turnstile, but the train was leaving. He was too late.
Without thinking, he jumped down on the track and ran after it. (It’s amazing how much faster you can run when you’re high on crack.) Luckily, there must have been some kind of slow down, because Barry was able to grab onto the back of the train. It was one of those old trains with the platform on the back. He hoisted himself up over the rail, opened the back door, and casually stepped into the car. He got a lot of weird looks, not necessarily because he had just jumped onto the back of a train, but because he quite literally looked like the Easter Bunny on crack.
He sat down, took off his backpack, unzipped it, and started eating the chocolate crack-filled eggs. He only had about seven left; he thought he might as well finish them all, since he wasn’t going to live long anyway. He had done bad things. Really bad things. He deserved to die... but, so did his employer.
The train arrived at Herald Square. Barry exited, his heart pumping harder than he’d ever remembered. Coming above ground, he turned and ran for Trump Tower. He walked through the rotating glass doors.
Barry was really starting to come up now... He had to play it cool though, so he could get upstairs without any trouble. He pulled out his badge and swiped himself into the elevators. He pushed PH.
This was the same elevator he met Veronica in. It probably would have been wise to realize that if she was in this part of town, in this particular tower, on that particular day, then chances are she probably was a whore at heart. He doubted it at first. but he was wrong. Oh well. She wouldn’t be whoring around ever again, that was for sure.
The door opened up at the Penthouse. Barry walked down that familiar hallway for what he knew would be the last time. He kicked open the double doors to Cosmo’s office, absolutely out of his mind. He could hear The Godfather soundtrack coming from the vinyl in the corner. It was all this sick fuck ever listened to.
“Barry….Barry buddy what are you doin’ here?”
“I’m done selling your eggs Cosmo. I’m done with this shit. These kids are out of control. The whole city is addicted to this shit! You got me all fucked up on it, too. But no more. I’m not peddling this shit anymore."
Cosmo cocked his head for a brief moment before tossing it back in laughter.
“You’re not done…. You’ll never be done, Barry, because I own your fuckin' ass. You forgetting something, you bunny-hopping fuck? You owe me your life, I could have killed your ass on that bridge... and yet. I gave you another chance, because of what I promised Ma." Cosmo stood up from his desk and began walking in that slow deliberate way mob bosses always walk. “How many times am I gonna have to convince myself to not kill my flesh and blood?”
“Don’t you worry about that brother... because I’m gonna do it for you."
Before Barry could move, Cosmo pulled out his gun and started shooting, hitting Barry in his chest, arm, shoulder, his thigh. Didn’t matter. Barry couldn’t feel anything anymore... He was too high on crack. At full speed, he tackled into his older brother, and they crashed through the top floor window of the penthouse.
As he was falling, Barry remembered how their family used to spend every Easter in mass, and how he had always taken it for granted. He really enjoyed the music from the choirs. He could vividly see the stained glass in every window, and how each panel told a different story. Most of all he remembered sitting there holding his mother’s hand; every now and then making eye contact with her. He remembered how her eyes were two different colors, sort of like Easter eggs.
After falling for what felt like hours, Barry and Cosmo splattered on the ground together.
Then everything went black.