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Jeff is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Maryland whose work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine. Jeff works for Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, home of New Horizons, Parker Solar Probe, and the newly approved Dragonfly mission to Titan. Besides graduating from Viable Paradise writers forum and the Stonecoast writers' conference, Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Simulation and Digital Entertainment from the University of Baltimore.

I sit with my back to a rusted car, trying to contain my shakes. Rabbit pulls a cigar from his faded overcoat and lights it. It stinks like burning socks, but stinks are Rabbit's pleasure. He likes things that smell of mold, or long forgotten sex, or dirty feet, or diapers.
"They are bountiful in fragrance," Rabbit says when Eddy complains. "They are a remembrance of things that are gone." He blows smoke and laughs, his buck teeth showing below his wrinkled black nose. He watches the smoke drift, his pink eyes catching the light of the fire.
I hold my head with my hands. I try to resist that ache that throbs inside. For the hundredth time, I think about getting clean. For the hundredth time, I imagine holding the spoon and how pretty mama looks when it cooks, all bubbly ambrosia, sweet carbonation for your veins.
Rabbit takes out his watch. "So late, and no mirrors here."
"Found a broken one over by the creek," says Eddy.
"Cracks won't work," says Rabbit, smoothing the greasy white hair over the scar on his head, long and pink from the pen knife someone slashed him with. He adjusts the hair band that pulls his ears back into a tail.
"You could pawn that watch," says Eddy. Eddy stares at the watch and I know what he's thinking. Flashing it around junkies will be trouble. Everyone knows it. Rabbit knows it, but he doesn't care.
"You mean buy some China white," says Rabbit, tucking it away. He shifts to adjust his ass on the worn-out treads of a Goodyear UltraGrip. He bends and picks up a scrap of wood, tossing it into the fifty-gallon drum to feed the fire.
Angus lies on the flattened cardboard of a refrigerator box, covered by a tatty blanket. The old wino stinks worse than Rabbit's cigars, like he crapped himself.
"I wish for tea," Rabbit says, lifting his flask and taking a swig of gin.
"I can get you some tea at the seven," I say.
"Not the sickly sweet bottled contrivance," Rabbit says. "The real stuff, some Earl Grey."
"Right, the real stuff," I say. His whining grates my bones. He goes on about time and mirrors, begs for tea or cakes. I need a fix, a shot of something to clear me right up.
"I'm late you know," he says.
"I know," I say.
Angus has my score, so I give him a toe to wake him. "Angus, come on, I need some."
He opens his eyes and stares at me and grins a toothless smile in a face that's scruff and pock marks. His pupils are dilated, irises lost in black and white. He gurgles a phlegmy laugh.
"He looks mad," says Rabbit.
I kneel beside him, dig through the coat, the fabric stiff with filth. I find the plastic baggie. Angus gurgles, his bony fingers clutching his collar closed.
I fumble for my kit and get the rubber tube, wrap it around my upper arm. "Light me, Rab?"
"That won't get you through the hole," he says.
"Come on, I need to cook up."
Rabbit's pink eyes watch my fingers shake. I'm scared I will drop my hit, so I hold it with both hands.
"Sit still," Rabbit says. He flicks the zippo. The blue flame trembles at the end of the wick and he holds it under the spoon until the potion bubbles.
I fill the needle and jab a vein. The plunger goes down and I tap out. One, two, H is true, three, four, a little door, five six, shoot my fix, seven, eight, the axe won't wait.
Rabbit watches me and smokes, his eyes glowing red. "You're going to be late."
I fall down the hole.
Rabbit waits behind while Eddy and I go to the soup kitchen. He should come. No one will see him. He's Harvey, Frank, Pantoufle. I wonder if it's strange that Eddy and I can see him. Angus could see him before he stopped seeing anything but his phantoms. There's something wrong about addicts seeing the same hallucinations. All of us connected in some bizarre way, our minds entwined like Castor and Pollux, rolling like St. Elmo's fire around this city.
Today it's tacos. The shells are soggy and stale. The beef is good though. They don't often have meat. I pocket some wilted lettuce and old tomatoes for Rabbit. They don't have cakes. I know how much he likes cakes, especially Twinkies.
Rabbit's handsy when we get back. He looks desperate, pink eyes roaming my coat as he turns my pockets inside out and takes the veggies. "No cakes, no cakes, and I'm so late for my date. The Queen will be so mad."
"She'll understand," I say.
"I want to go back."
"I know you do." I sit down, and he leans against me. Tears drip from eyes narrowed to black beads, wetting his furry cheeks.
"I miss Alice," he says.
"She's a flighty girl, you're better off. I can find you a hooker."
"I'm too small," Rabbit says. "I should like to be a little larger."
"Have some potion," I say. "It'll make you big. It'll help you down through that hole again." I feel in my pocket for the baggie. Enough for both of us, maybe. I get my spoon.
"Drink me?" he asks.
I hold the spoon out. "Light it." When he has, I fill the needle. I look down at his arms and wonder where I might find a vein under the hallucinatory white down. I jab it into the meat of his thigh and he hisses.
He slides down onto the ratty blanket, his eyes closing.
"Go be the bigger," I say, as wonderland welcomes him.
"You don't look good."
Rabbit lays on Angus' refrigerator box. He's been there a week, stirring only for hits. He's lost weight. His eyes are glazed. He smells bad, too, worse than the stink of his cigars, or the smell of Angus' body.
"It's no use going back to yesterday," Rabbit says. "But I don't want to go among mad people."
"I'm not mad," I say. "I'm detoxing."
His voice runs fingernails over my internal blackboard. The methadone helps, but Rabbit won't go to the clinic. Not where people are, the sober ones.
He's real, I've decided, which is madder than any high. I've been clean since his first ride. When he gets high, his ears droop, and spit leaks out of his mouth. That sobered me up fast; put me on the path of my one-month chip, my six-month chip, my one-year chip. Once upon a time, the universe existed in the prick of a needle. Now it's metal disks in my pocket that provide weight, keep me grounded to the world.
Methadone only goes so far. The aching need makes my teeth hurt.
"We're all mad here," Rabbit says. "Which way ought I go?" His eyes are closed.
"Where do you want to get to?" Eddy asks.
"I don't much care," he says, "although I'm very late." His voice fades. All that's left is hissing breath through buck teeth. Short gasps, rattling like rusty chains, slowing. Soon, even that stops. If his eyes were open, they'd be glassy, the dead-animal stare of roadkill. I'm staring at the body of a waist-coat wearing rabbit with a pocket watch. Is it madness that I'm sober and crying, not off riding the H?
There's no craving beneath this new pain, this sadness. There's only a numbing weariness, a sense of life stretched and torn, fading, leaving behind eyes that hang in the air, staring into a bleak nothing.
I fish the pocket watch out of Rabbit's waistcoat.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 1st, 2019

Author Comments

I set a challenge for myself to write a work of fabulism in which the white rabbit visited our world. I hadn't intended to comment on our current problems with opioid addiction in America, but there seemed a natural connection given how often counter-culture influences have viewed the original story as drug related despite any lack of evidence that Lewis Carroll used opiates. It just seemed natural after all of Alice's adventures involving potions and water pipes and cakes the rabbit would gravitate towards a group who partook of similar activities. It took several re-writes, though, before I finally landed on an ending I liked, one that reflected both the sad reality of addiction while giving the story a small sense of hope in an otherwise bleak situation.

- Jeff Reynolds
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