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art by Melissa Mead

The Velveteen Rabbit Says Goodbye

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. She also spends a lot of time living in her head, where she cooks up some pretty strange ideas. She still has her childhood teddy bear, Cinnamon, who is most definitely Real.

There are many Melissa Mead stories to explore at DailyScienceFiction.com.

There once was a rabbit who had been made of velveteen. For many years now he'd been Real--not just Real in the eyes of the Boy who loved him, but real to the world of grown-ups and rabbits with twitching noses and springy hind legs.
The Rabbit's hind legs weren't as springy as they'd once been. They ached in the wintertime, and he hopped more slowly. He liked nothing better than to lie in a sunny patch by the thicket of overgrown raspberry canes and dream of the days when the Boy had held him close and warm beneath soft blankets.
He was drowsing like this when he felt someone stroke the fur between his ears. He opened his eyes to see a dainty figure in a dress of pearls and dewdrops. Her face would have been quite the loveliest thing the Rabbit had ever seen, if it weren't all wet with tears.
"I know you," said the Rabbit. "You made me Real."
"I gave you flesh and fur, long ago," said the Nursery Magic Fairy. "Your Boy made you Real."
"But you're crying! Whatever is wrong, dear Fairy?"
A new tear trickled down her dainty nose. "Do you remember your Boy?"
"Of course! He got tall and strong, and went off to a place called War."
"War isn't a place, little Rabbit. It's a terrible thing that grown-ups do when they forget that others are Real."
"And my Boy is there?"
"He calls for you in his sleep."
"Oh please, bring him back!"
"I can't do that, little Rabbit. Fairies, especially nursery fairies, have no place in the middle of a war."
"Then take me to him, please, so he won't be alone."
"I can send you to him, but only the Boy will know that you're Real."
"But I thought that that once you become Real it lasts for always," the Rabbit protested.
"And so it does, but one of the dark magics of war is that it blinds people to Realness in others, even those who are right before their eyes."
The rabbit shuddered. "I can't leave my Boy alone like that. Please, send me there."
The fairy kissed him between the ears. The raspberry canes vanished. He was in a dark place that smelled of damp and mildew, surrounded by hard lumpy objects that jostled and poked him.
Light poured in above him, the way it had when the Boy used to pull back the covers. And it was the Boy who looked at him now, although his face was a young man's, filthy and stubbled, and his eyes looked like he'd just woken from a nightmare.
"Is this a joke?" The Boy reached down and lifted the rabbit gently. "Bunny? But you disappeared a long time ago."
His hand stroked the rabbit's head where the fairy had kissed him. It felt different, and the rabbit realized that he was once again made of velveteen, all in one piece. He sighed a little for his strong hind legs and long twitching ears, but the Boy was holding him again, and that was all that really mattered.
The rabbit tried to snuggle up under the Boy's chin the way he used to, but he'd forgotten how to wear his old velveteen body. The Boy smiled anyway.
"It must be the gas. I'm seeing things. But I don't care. I'm glad you're here, old buddy."
The rabbit wasn't glad to be in that place. Even stuffed down in the knapsack, he heard cries like a rabbit being caught by a fox, and the air smelled sharp and rusty. But his Boy was smiling. That was what mattered.
The Boy kept him out of sight in the knapsack most of the time. "You don't want to see what's out there, Bunny," he said, his young face looking pained and old. But sometimes the rabbit saw, through a hole in the canvas, glimpses of torn-up earth, and still bodies, and glints of light on metal.
One day the Boy snuggled him under his jacket, for warmth, and the rabbit saw another face. Someone else's Boy, he thought.
But the other young man looked at his Boy, and the rabbit realized that he wasn't seeing them at all. To that other Boy, they weren't Real. The other Boy raised a stick and pointed it at them. It flashed and thundered. Something tore through velveteen and stuffing, and into his Boy. The rabbit felt something warm and wet, like tears.
The other Boys made a great fuss when they found the rabbit. They sewed up the holes and washed away the blood. They called him Hero, and the Boys in the other beds all asked to hold him. They pinned shiny things on his spotted velveteen front, and touched the sewn-up place, and a bit of light came back into their too-old eyes. The rabbit was glad for that, because his Boy lay with his eyes closed, his skin burning with fever. He didn't speak or respond when anyone else spoke to him, but when they put the rabbit back in his arms, he held tight and wouldn't let go.
The rabbit lay close against his Boy's chest and trembled. In his sawdust heart, he called out for the Nursery Magic Fairy, but she didn't come. All around him, Boys-grown-old moaned with pain, or cried out in the long, lonely hours of the night.
Toys don't sleep, or dream. The rabbit no longer slept, but he lay throughout the night on his Boy's thin pillow, dreaming of the day when his Boy should be well again, and take him home to the old dear house. How he wanted to see the house again, and the bright cheerful gardens, and the late afternoon sunlight slanting golden through the trees.
"You see it too, don't you, old buddy?" said the Boy.
The rabbit startled, for although the Boy had talked to him many times, he'd never really waited for an answer. Now he sat on the edge of the bed, looking faintly shimmery at the edges, with everything around him washed in shadow, so that the rabbit could only see his pale, wistful face.
"You're well again!" the rabbit cried, and snuggled fiercely up against him. "Now we can go home, and have picnics in the raspberries, and play hide-and-seek in the woods...."
The boy chuckled. He picked up the rabbit and stroked him. "You sound just like I imagined, Bunny. I always wished you could talk."
"I'll talk all you'd like," said the rabbit, quite breathless with excitement. "Maybe... maybe I'll even learn to sing!"
The Boy laughed out loud, but none of the sleepers around them stirred. "Oh, Bunny, I wish we could go home and play in the garden. But people are different from toys. You can't just patch 'em up with a bit of fabric. We've got blood and bones and things, and sometimes nobody can fix them."
The rabbit remembered running, and a glimpse of sharp teeth. "Like when a fox catches a rabbit?" he said in a very small voice.
The Boy looked startled, and held him even closer. "The fox got me, little friend. I have to go."
"I want to come with you!"
"I don't think toys can go on this trip," said his Boy.
"I'm not a toy! I'm Real!"
Once again, the Boy looked startled. He looked into the rabbit's boot-button eyes, and nodded.
"You are, aren't you, Bunny?"
"Would you do something for me?"
"Look around. See all those other fellows, sleeping? They're hurting. They're scared. They need a friend. Would you be their friend?"
"But... but you're my Boy."
"Now you'll have dozens. Aw, don't look so droopy. It's not like I could ever forget you, you know. Perk up those whiskers. There you go."
"But you're not just a toy, remember. This isn't make-believe. This is real."
"And Real is for always," said the rabbit. "Only War makes people forget."
The Boy touched the rabbit's velvet nose. "You're a very wise little Bunny, you know that? Will you help them remember?"
"I promise. And I won't forget, either."
"That's my Bunny!" His Boy smiled: a real, bright, joyful smile, and was gone.
The rabbit never forgot that smile, or his Boy, or any of the others. And many of the boys who did go home never forgot the velveteen rabbit who reminded them, in a corner of their hearts, that they were all Real.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Author Comments

This is what happens when you mix an obsession with living history programs and a love of classic children's literature. Here's a link to the original, much gentler story: The Velveteen Rabbit.

- Melissa Mead
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