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Vicious Snippet Four: Jewel

Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Kokab Zohoori-Dossa

 

There’s nothing better than waking up to a debate about your survival.

 

My dad loves to listen to the Primas squawk at each other about Horn Rot. What are they gonna do with me? Stick a needle in my throat and hold me while my eyes roll back in my head? Take me out back and shoot me point blank, making sure to burn any grass my blood touches? How are they going to free him of his burden?

 

I wonder if horns will grow out of the dirt. They grow everywhere on my body, must be in my blood, right? I’d love to bother my family just a little longer, have them calling a gardener to figure out the bones in the grass. 

 

He turns the radio up, and I listen for a second, wondering what his expressions are like out there in the living room.

 

“Why give funding to a bunch of warping bodies? Their horns will kill them, or their brains will rot. They will be in the ground sooner than later, dust, and then we wasted the money. We should focus on our healthy horns, especially the Primas and Prime Boars that might be out there-“

 

“That’s what it’s always about, isn’t it? Primas. Primes. Do any of you care about the actual people you’re supposed to represent? About the actual dying citizens? Do-“

 

“Why should we?”

 

My father clicks off the radio, and I hear just the faintest sigh. It sounds like relief, honestly. I grit my teeth, trying to get comfortable in my bed, but I know I’m going to quarantine again. You give that man even a tiny push, even a tiny sign, and he decides I’m ready to die and get out of his hair. He’s waiting for me to just go off into the night so he can stop feeling guilty for wanting me to get it over with and die.

 

That’s probably in my head, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

 

 

My dad doesn’t know that I have a myth on my side. Or bullshit on my side, whatever you want to call this scam my friends are pulling me into. He doesn’t know that I’m going to meet this myth tonight, that she’s supposed to cure me, that everything will be fine. 

 

All that bullshit my friends believe.

 

I met her in the Nameless forest last week. It’s supposed to be this sacred place where Wood Horns used to live. Nobody lives there now. You don’t survive Wood Horn just like you don’t survive Horn Rot, but at least they’re prettier when they die. The last of them died off like ten years ago, at least the ones that lived out in the wild. It’s all concrete structures and fields full of animals and sick horns hoping for miracles now. My best friend, Grimlynn, she drug me through the forest with a map in her hand. 

 

“It’s the Rabbit. Look, we come out here at the right time, full moon or some shit, and she’ll cure us. My Mom used to tell me about her.” I ripped my hand from hers, scoffing.

 

“We’re dead, Lynn. False hope isn’t going to save us-“

 

“You- you tell that to my little sister. Are you going to take care of her when I choke to death? Huh?” Grimlynn has horns pushing through her throat, and you can hear them choking her when she talks. She has horns growing out of her head and curving down to her eye. She has palm horns, elbow horns, you name it, and she has the worst of it. Even with my mangled stomach horn wrapping around my torso, restricting everything from food to air, I don’t ever feel as bad as she does. 

 

Her older sister Cherish has a throat horn; her mother died from an eye horn; her father shot himself after his stomach horn started. It’s just her and Bevvie left after Cherish goes, and that’s looking to be pretty soon.

 

“Of course I’ll take care of her,” I whispered, but I hope I die first. I don’t want to see Grimlynn go. We’ve been sick together since grade school. Shit, we’re the sickest people I know. I don’t want to be the only poster child for Horn Rot. 

 

We traveled deeper into the forest, and then there was an open plain. It bloomed out like a flower, the concrete structures rising in the distance like an abandoned city. If I found beauty in anything, I probably would have gasped. Rabbits jumped and skipped across the field, so many of them that I got scared I was going to crush one if I stepped forward too fast.

 

“The Nameless sure know how to live,” Grimlynn muttered, and I tried not to point out the irony in her words. 

 

In the middle of this field, a small crowd gathered. A woman stood in front of them, giving some speech, and I knew it was bullshit before we even made it to them. Grimlynn’s sister Cherish stared at her in awe, and she tapped me when I stopped next to her. 

 

“Always late, huh,” my friend Joyna laughed from the other side. She had shoulder horns that curved around and pointed at her heart, both thin and sharp enough to puncture her flesh in probably a couple of months. Cherish couldn’t speak, but she nodded to me, mouth always ajar. I didn’t recognize the other four Rots, but you could damn near feel the desperation in the air. They all wanted the same thing.

 

Fix us.

 

The woman cleared her throat and started talking again.

 

“I can cure you,” she said simply. She waited for a reaction and ate up all the excitement. 

 

“You can’t even cure your own acne,” I muttered, and Cherish smacked the back of my head. The hit vibrated through my mangled horns, and I shut up. 

 

They’re all taking it seriously. They believe this broad.

 

Grimlynn gripped my arms, air struggling through her lungs, and the hopeful way she gasped hurt me. I wrapped my arm around her and tried to calm her down. 

 

“It has to be done in batches. We have quite a few attendees planned for the next cleansing,” the woman said, and she smiled, flashing her teeth at me. They stunk, all rotted, ugly, and gnarled. “Come back during the full moon with as many of your friends as possible. I’ll cure you just like the legend says.” Grimlynn really lost it, falling to her knees, crying in joy, but I just stared. 

 

“Why should anyone believe you,” I asked, and this time I moved before anyone could hit me. 

 

“I’m the Rabbit. You’ve heard of me.” 

 

I know the legend of the Rabbit. She’s beautiful. Tall. Shit, at the very least the Rabbit was clean. This woman, she had rancid breath. Eyes that could barely open from the crust. I could smell alcohol on her. 

 

And here, this woman was claiming to be the rabbit. The one the Wood Horn fell in love with. Except the Rabbit was beautiful. Tall. Shit, at the very least the Rabbit was clean. This woman, she had rancid breath. Eyes that could barely open from the crust. I could smell alcohol on her. 

 

“You’re scamming us,” I said softly, avoiding the glares from my fellow Rots. The woman looked at me, a sneer growing slowly out from her brown teeth. 

 

“What type of monster would scam a bunch of sick horns?” 

 

“That’s what I want to know.” 

 

Grimlynn grabbed my shoulder, her palm horn digging in too deep, and tsked. “Don’t fuck this up! Look, we’re screwed, but my sister can make it. Just relax, my mother used to talk about this all the time! She’s real!” 

 

“Grimlynn… that woman is not curing anything. She can’t even brush her fucking tee-“

 

“I’ve cured many. If you don’t believe in the Rabbit, it won’t work. Meet me here in two days under the full moon. Bring your friends and family.” I glared at her with everything left in my body, ignoring Grimlynn’s agonized breathing.

 

“How? How are you going to do it,” I asked, but she just nodded again and trudged back through the field to the concrete structure. 

 

We’re dead. There’s no cure for Horn Rot, and there’s no hope in this world.

 

 

The first time my dad saw the horn growing around my stomach, he made me sleep in the backyard. 

 

I think he panicked. There’s not a lot known about Horn Rot, but we all know you fucking die when you get it. We’ve all seen kids with horns growing from the roof of their mouths, pushing their jaw open permanently. We’ve all seen men with a horn curving from their scalp, slowly growing into their eye. We’ve seen what it looks like in the end, even if we don’t know how it gets there in the beginning.

 

So he made me sleep in the backyard, and nobody argued with him. That told me everything I needed to know about my chances of survival. It hasn’t gotten any better, and I was around eight then. He still puts me out sometimes. I’m so used to staring up at the night sky that I can’t sleep without grass under me, sometimes.

 

I can always tell when they’re going to throw me in quarantine. My dad checks on me more often, sticking his head in my door, listening for my breathing. I try to breathe as hard as possible. Some kind of pride won’t let me ask him not to send me, so I try just to show proof that I’m still alive. Jewel is breathing, she’s still fucking kicking, barely or not. 

 

Then you hear the whispering in the hall. My sister usually tries to convince them not to send me, but she’s doing it less and less. They’re all waiting for me to die and get it over with. Save them some money, or some shame, or some fear. I don’t envy them. Nobody wants to pretend they’re okay with being around a contagious person, and I don’t want the burden of contaminating one of them. 

 

Quarantine bothers me, but the little things bother me more: the whispers, the quiet, the toothbrushes.  

 

Every time I go in the bathroom, every single fucking time, there are new toothbrushes. I don’t know where they get the money to buy so many. But if I breathe in there for more than two seconds, the fucking bathroom is spotless, the toothbrushes are new, and my mother cries herself to sleep. 

 

It’s the same as ever, so I don’t know why this time makes me want to cry. Maybe the debates get to me a little. There’s something about hearing people argue over whether you should be put down or pitied that just sits at an odd angle in your chest. Maybe it’s the way all my friends are getting desperate, all of us starting to understand how little time we have left. The way we’re all beginning to struggle in the last stages, the way horns will grow from anywhere and make you feel them the entire time. 

 

I don’t know what it is.

 

When I hear my dad in the doorway the second time, I decide I will go to meet the scam artist with my friends. Someone has to be there to protect them, and I’m the only one with sense left.

 

I struggle up and crawl out of my bed. The full moon pushes up outside, and I wish I could just stare at it a while. I grab my jacket before I crawl out of the window. Crawl is a nice way of saying it, though. I can’t bend my knees that great with the new horns growing behind them, so I just kind of fall out. I stare at the sky for a while, but I can’t find it in me to be embarrassed anymore. 

 

I’m tired. I’m sitting in a mud puddle outside my fucking window, too sore to move any quicker, horns bulging from anywhere decent. I hear my dad poke his head in the room again, and then he sighs.

 

I get up to meet a scam artist with my last living friends.

 

 

I guess I should explain the Rabbit. 

 

There’s this rumor, or myth, or whatever you want to call it. Grimlynn is obsessed with it. Honestly, most people with Horn Rot are obsessed with it, and it gets worse the closer they are to death.

 

It goes like this (and don’t quote me. I’m more of a sarcastic bitch than a storyteller):

 

There was a rabbit, and she was in love with a wood horn. A Nameless, to be specific, though I think all Wood Horns are Nameless. The Nameless was sick, but he knew that. And he followed her everywhere, every damn place she went. She told him she would cure him, that she was his miracle. He didn’t believe her, but he pretended he did for the company and the love or whatever. It felt nice loving someone who would make it.

 

Everyone he loved died, and he was going to die, too. It’s how sickness works. 

 

But the Rabbit, she leads him to a field one day. Fucks his brains out. And he doesn’t die. He lives, and she lives, and they keep fucking. There’s more to the myth. Lots more. Bad shit. But that’s the only part anyone ever brings up.

 

He lived. A rabbit cured Wood Horn. A rabbit cured a disease that has a 100% fatality rate.

 

How does a rabbit fuck a man? Who cares, or that’s what I hear when I ask. Stop asking the wrong questions, Jewel. It’s obviously not a rabbit. It’s a horned girl. 

 

There’s only one question that matters to Rots that believe the myth: how did someone healthy manage to cure someone sick? And does she still exist?

 

The more people get sick, the more you hear about the Rabbit. 

 

The posters around town have her hand-drawn, a crude outline of a rabbit, and in the middle it says, ‘Find the Rabbit, Find the Cure.’ They started popping up a few years ago. And I know it’s bullshit. I can feel it like a horn growing in my heart. I’ve avoided those damn posters for years and years, but I won’t pretend it’s not more and more tempting with every new horn. 

 

But why would the Rabbit cure us? She loved the Nameless. We don’t know her ass. Don’t get me wrong, I understand Grimlynn. I just know nothing is that easy, and I don’t know that it’ll ever be.

 

“You ready?” Grimlynn croaks, breathing out some new shit she’s smoking now. I want to tell her not to, but who am I to tell a dying girl she can’t smoke? There’s life in laughing at death, and we find life anywhere we can. We stand in front of the bus station with her little sister, Bevvie, and the kid is so adorable that I ruffle her hair. She blushes and steps behind Grimlynn.

 

“Sure. It’s a waste of time, but sure. The minute she asks for money, I’m out.”

 

“Look, Jewel. Listen. I’m dead… the next time… I hit quarantine,” she says. She gives me an awkward smile, biting her lip, and I guess she can feel it. They say you can always feel it once a horn starts growing in the wrong place, or pierces something. 

 

“I’m dead… soon… Jewel. We need… some magic… for Bevvie. We need the Rabbit. Okay? I can’t… go… alone… and the others… already… left. Please.”

 

“Yeah,” I whine a little, and then I straighten up. Bevvie waves to me from behind her back, finally smiling, and wow, the kid has horns in her mouth. I want to cry looking at the way they poke out from her gums. You see it better when you have it. I see her in two years with no teeth, just horns jutting up into the roof of her mouth, right through to her brain, and I want magic, too. I want magic so bad that I lean over and kiss her forehead.

 

“Might as well head out.” We stare at the flyer. Grimlynn laughs, patting my back softly, and she doesn’t even need the smoke to prove she’s alive. She’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. Her palm horns hurt like hell, but I don’t say anything. Fuck it, everything hurts. 

 

We head over to our bus, but I catch the slightest glimpse of an outline. Just the silhouette of a massive stag in the middle of the street far in the distance, and then it’s gone.

 

 

We see the smoke way back from the bus stop, and Grimlynn stops so suddenly that I walk into her back horns and almost impale myself.

 

“Shit, what is it?”

 

“Fire. Screaming, too… I think.” We stop for a moment, Grimlynn leaning heavily on me, and the bus pulls off behind us a little too fast. They’ll probably spray it down. Everything new, everything clean.

 

Bevvie cowers a little, terrified, and she has the right idea. The smoke puffs up into the sky angrily, viciously. It’s not regular. I can feel the bad energy from it right there at the start of the trail. I turn to start walking back to town, but Grimlynn grunts in rage.

 

“I’m dead tonight. I’m dead, Jewel. We have… we have to… we have to try! Maybe it’s… normal… part of… the ceremony…” I just stare at her. I don’t know what to say. Grimlynn looks down at the poster, sucking in a breath. The air tastes like ash, and I pretend there’s nothing else there. 

 

“I’m… dead. Fuck it… let’s… go… anyway. I want to… try.” She pulls Bevvie forward, limping over her ankle horns. They pierce deep into her Achilles tendons, and her struggled grunts hurt. Her elbows are locked, both bent permanently. There are three skinny horns growing out of her spine like the bones of wings. She’s a fucking monster, and watching her try to walk on her own makes my own horns sting. 

 

My head tries to pull any type of good situation that could come from a fiery field. I can’t, but I won’t let them go alone.

 

I nod and help her walk forward, slowly grabbing Bevvie’s hand. 

 

 

The sky is nearly orange and black when we emerge from the trail, the screams are mangled and agonized, and I know we’re too sick to save.

 

The myth that brought us here is about a rabbit fucking a man. You have to be desperate to believe things like that. And I stare at the field of screaming, sick, howling Rots trying to crawl away from men burning them alive, and I know that we’re too sick to survive. We’re beyond the point of a cure, or hope, or even magic.

 

You have to be too sick to save to believe this hard.

 

Maybe thirty other Rots are burning in the field. Some try crawling away in anguish until they succumb, others can’t move enough to do it. The flames swell over crowds of Rots and seem to release them to the sky. For a second, I want that. I want to turn to ash and feel myself breaking off in chunks and join the fucking wind, nothing but horns left behind, and I want it to be over. And then I feel Bevvie shaking next to me, and I grab her, and I don’t want anything but to save them.

 

Let her horns kill her. I won’t let these fucking cowards do it.

 

“KILL THEM! SAVE THE CLEAN! SAVE YOUR PEOPLE!” A man is yelling as he sprays the bodies with gasoline, and I grab Grimlynn and pull her and Bevvie behind a tree. We made it to the concrete structure. It’s illuminated in the night, the fire soaring through it, and I can feel Grimlynn shaking next to me. 

 

“No, no, no,” Grimlynn says, and she falls forward onto her knee horns. She sticks into the dirt, too far from the trees for cover. I try to pull her backward, but she starts whimpering, and then it’s so loud that you can hear her over the flames. The flickering orange coats her like paint, and I feel reality tightening over my stomach.

 

“Lynn,” Bevvie screams, but I grab her mouth.

 

There are sick people everywhere, all of them charred and twisting in the heat. Hopeful idiots falling for anything. I recognize some through the orange. I see Cherish’s gnarled neck horns, her body stuck up on its knees, hands melting together as if she were praying when they got her. I see Joyna’s ugly red spikes smoldering in the grass. They’re all dead. I wonder how long they’ve been convincing Rots to come here, to burn in agony.

 

Being the late ones saved us for once. I tell myself they were probably surprised, hopefully surprised, and maybe they had no idea what was happening. They didn’t have time to realize that there’s no cure, no magic, no Rabbit. 

 

The boars scream and rant at them for so long that I can hear their screams in my ears, traveling through my blood. 

 

“DIE, BITCH! YOU’RE KILLING US!”

 

“DISEASED PIECE OF SHIT! DIE!”

 

They throw bottles of fire and gasoline. One seething Boar stops and stares in our direction. Grimlynn is sobbing too loud, damn near wailing, and I can’t stop her, can’t get her to move back behind the trees. They start to walk over, and fuck, I’m terrified. I don’t want to die like that. I’m already fucking dying. I don’t want to burn

 

I grab Bevvie and try to crawl backward, but I can’t crawl. I can’t do anything. 

 

“Ru- run! RUN!” I push her forward, and she slips, but she’s a great kid. She jumps up and disappears into the forest with the escaping rabbits, her tiny feet too fast to see. One of the Boars throws a fiery glass bottle at her, but it bursts above her head, and she keeps going. 

 

I lay back and stare up at the sky, and I just wait. The moon is red tonight, bathed in the blood of my friends, but I don’t know. There’s no poetry.

 

“So stupid. So fucking stupid,” I say, letting my tears wet my words. Grimlynn is still screaming, still smashing her palm horns into the ground. The Boars make it to us, one with horns taller than I’ve ever seen. They pull Grimlynn forward, ignoring her painful cries as her ankle horns snap. I tilt my head up so I can only see the woods and the sky, and then I hear liquid splashing, and then a bottle bursts, and Grimlynn screams in so much pain and agony that I let myself shake it to a blur in my ears.

 

I tilt my head back more, staring behind me, and my heart stops.

 

Something is standing in the woods, and even Grimlynn’s burning screams can’t erase it from my head. It’s tall. It has pools of black flowing behind it, some of it flowing in front. There are white flaps on either side of its head, both going down past its chin. I lift a little, staring at the black mass in the woods, but no one else seems to notice it. It tilts its head to the side.

 

“Fuck, these two are even worse,” the Boar says, and I feel fluid spray over me. I keep watching the black shadow.

 

There’s a loud screech, and then a bottle bursts against one of the Boar’s face. It explodes, fire spraying all of us, but I roll over until the flames stop chasing me. The Boar tries to scream and ends up sinking, the air not reaching his lungs, and his friends try to put him out. Grimlynn stops screaming, and she doesn’t start again. 

 

Another bottle flies over us, and this time the Boars run. I turn back to the figure in the woods. It’s a woman, and she walks over to me like we’re not in a field of fire. She kneels, surveying my body. My eyes blur so bad that I can’t see her, but she tsks at my horns.

 

“Poor girl. Don’t worry; it’s not so bad. But we don’t have much time. What quarantine do they usually take you to?”

 

“Grim… Grimlynn… they… they…”

 

“Write my name on the list,” she says, and the voice is feminine and scratchy. “Bunni Nameless. I have contacts in quarantine, if they see it, they’ll call me. I promise I’ll find you, and then I’ll follow you home. I’m going to change your fucking life, you understand? What’s your name?”

 

“Je- Jewel!”

 

“Pretty bitch name, huh? I love it. Have faith in me, Jewel. Something big is coming and I need you to be ready.” 

 

Grimlynn’s body smolders next to us, but I want her to wake up. The Rabbit sighs, turning to look at her. I want her to see the Rabbit. 

 

“I’ll make sure the Nameless take care of her. Don’t you dare worry. They tend to the sick that die on their land, I promise.” The woman blurs harder in my eyes, the tears full of ash and soot, and I can’t even comprehend how beautiful she is. She moves around me, and I realize she is cutting my gasoline-soaked shirt from my body. She takes off her shirt and ties it around my chest, not even bothering to try to fit it around my horns.

 

“Hey! Hey! What do you think you’re doing? Are you stupid?!” I jerk at the noise, and an officer is standing in the field, hands on his weapon. Behind him, the Boars are being escorted back through the field with their hands behind their backs—one still twists in agony next to Grimlynn’s blackening body, flames eating him.

 

Not Quarantine patrol. Please, let her cure us first, you pieces of shit! 

 

I tilt my head back up to see the Rabbit, to plead with her to cure me now, to ask her to save Grimlynn, but she’s gone. I watch the sky and don’t know how to feel. 

 

Quarantine Patrol makes it to me, and they’re shaking their heads in disgust. 

 

“They think this savagery will help us? This one’s alive. Take her in,” one says, adjusting his uniform absently. They grab my arms, and they lift me up, and I don’t even get to check to see if she’s still in the woods. I don’t even get to thank her for the shirt.

 

 

“Why give funding to a bunch of warping bodies? Their horns will kill them, or their brains will rot. They will be in the ground sooner than later, dust, and then we wasted the money. We should focus on our healthy horns, especially the Primas and Prime Boars that might be out there-“

 

“Do you have to play that on repeat all fucking night? Turn it off, Cecilia!” The only nice nurse yells, throwing a small smile in my direction. I can’t see it. Not really. It’s tucked behind a face mask, just like they all wear. They switch their outfits and the masks every thirty minutes.

 

Everything new, everything clean.

 

Horns have imagination. When you see a Gore Horn with Horn Rot, see that big horn splintering out of their torso, it’s all creativity. Sickness has a personality, and each person displays it differently. I look down at a little girl with her fingers clenched around my ankle horn, her entire arm shaking, and a horn is jutting out of her fucking neck that’s bigger than her torso, maybe. The little building is packed, and I know they took me to the one by my house. The bad one.

 

Where’s the Rabbit?

 

Throughout the night, they bring the bodies from the field and remove dead Rots. In comes the dead, out goes the dead. Charred, burned bodies to sit in the room with me until I finally just die, but I don’t. I get to breathe in Cherish’s crumbling fingers and Grimlynn’s warped skin. Cherish, they can’t even get her out of the praying position. They put them on stretchers and push them back against the wall, check to see if I was alive, and then keep moving. Grimlynn’s body falls off her cot, scrunching into a corner, and it doesn’t feel like anything. 

 

They can’t sit in the regular morgue. Everything outside of quarantine has to be new, has to be clean. Hours pass, and it’s just me and the dead from the field after a while. Even the little girl gripping my ankle dies, slow and agonizing, and I miss her like I knew her.

 

I scribbled the name on the entry list. Wrote it in for Grimlynn and the little bit of hope she had. I couldn’t tell what time it was. There are no windows in quarantine. I sit there staring at Grimlynn’s body shoved into the corner like an old bag, and I feel myself getting hysterical looking at her, and then she starts charring up, starts burning in front of me. I shake my head until it goes away, until everything just gets quiet and all I hear is the wheezing around me. 

 

Coolest girl I’ve ever known, and she gets to rot in a room with a bunch of horns she doesn’t know, all of us tossed together like dirty laundry. 

 

“Look, don’t die. Please. I can’t take it. I can’t take it, Lynette,” I whisper, and then my head flops down and I can’t bring myself to move.

 

 

I look up, and the room is dark. 

 

A woman is sitting in front of me, wheezing, a crown of roses around her head. Thorns scrape against her forehead and scalp. There’s blood everywhere, all of it staining her loose shirt, her sunken cheeks. She holds a long staff in her hand, and when she moves, it makes a loud, ugly groan. There’s no one else in the room, but Grimlynn’s body is still scrunched in the corner. The door is open to a brilliant white light. I wonder if I’m dead.

 

This one is awake. I don’t want the living,” the woman says. Her voice comes out like it’s being chopped in the air, waving in and out, and it’s worse than the staff.

 

Not her, Mother.” Standing in the door is this man, or what I think is a man. Fuck, his hair is super long, pooling around him like water, and I immediately think of the Rabbit in the woods. I can’t tell what he looks like outside of that. His body is pretty much a black silhouette. White vines crawl up his legs and torso, twisting under his arms and over his horns. They push into his mouth, and whenever he opens it, they seem to bloom tiny flowers. 

 

The woman with the staff gets up and walks away, limping around the man. I move my hand and realize I don’t have any horns. They’re all gone! Every single disgusting, mangled, twisted horn is gone. I laugh a little, staring at my arms, and only look up when the man clears his throat.

 

“You’re not the Rabbit.” He says. I try my best to sit up, but I just choke. 

 

“I… fuck… yeah! You’re… you’re looking for the Rabbit? She’s- look, she’s supposed to come help me. I can tell her you’re looking for her if you help me! Please, can you… look, can you help?”

 

No.” The voice is warped, ugly, and scratched. I suck in a breath. 

 

“Whatever! Whatever, it doesn’t fucking matter, go ahead and let me die. Grimlynn, look, she needs you first! Can you bring her back? She has a sister, a little sister, and- and the Rabbit is gonna cure us, we just got tricked by- by… She couldn’t write it, but I- I wrote it for her-“

 

And then I suddenly realize I’m dreaming. I’m probably dying in quarantine right next to Grimlynn’s body, and Bevvie will die, too. We’re all going to die. 

 

The man moves to the side, and I just sit watching the vines crawl over him in defeat. 

 

The Rabbit wants to save everyone. She will not learn,” The thorned woman scratches. “We can’t save everyone. We have to choose. There is dignity in death.” The staff keeps making noises on the ground, and fuck, it’s this noise that just rattles in every one of my bones. She leans over Grimlynn’s darkened body and touches her, and a burst of light swallows the room. 

 

“Are you helping her,” I ask. The woman nods, finally smiling, and her smile is somehow sedating. I feel calm. 

 

“We’ll take care of her. I promise,” The man says, and I believe him. Fuck, I believe him. The woman walks away into the other room, and I realize I can’t see through the door. It’s like a black wall. I say goodbye to Grimlynn, to Lynette, and I feel a peace I’ve never felt before. 

 

The Nameless man turns, but I scramble to get his attention.  

 

“I’m sorry… I know you just did a lot. But please, I have to try. Just- just cure Bevvie. She’s a little girl! She’s… she’s just a small girl, don’t let her die like us.” He stops. I feel the horn in my stomach growing back, pushing against my flesh. My calf horns start to grow. All the horns, all of them, they’re coming back and I can’t stop them.

 

The Nameless man finally sighs.

 

“The Rabbit is always tricky. She wants me to know she needs help, but I can only help the sick. I want you to help them for me. Promise me that you’ll do your best, and I will do mine. For you and your friend.”

 

“Okay! Okay, I promise! Tell me what to do!” 

 

The Nameless laughs, purple smoke puffing out of his mouth. He points back to the door, his teeth suddenly showing through the darkness.

 

“Wake up and help the stag.”

 

 

“Who’s the stag,” I say out loud, but they’re already gone.

 

The staff screams again, and when I look, I’m back in the real world. Quarantined. Grimlynn is still in the corner, but somehow she doesn’t look the same. Somehow, and it’s probably in my head, she seems empty. Cherish, Joyna, they all seem empty, and I hope that they’re all in the same place. That they never see a horn again in their next life. 

 

Four hours later, they release me without explanation. I almost argue, wanting to take my friends’ bodies, not wanting them to go in the dumpster like I know they will. 

 

A thick man stands outside with his hands in his pockets, blood covering his shirt, and I start crying. I mean I really let it out, really just heave against my stomach horns. He lets me, rubbing his hand on my back, and he doesn’t say a word. 

 

“You got me out again,” I whine to him. “Fuck, I really can’t stand you. Thank you.”

 

“Kittens need fresh air,” he says softly, surveying my body. “You wanna show me who did this?” 

 

Old Bro is one of our Prime Boars, and what he’s really asking me is who I want dead. I don’t usually pay attention to him. Every time he sees me he asks if I want someone dead, or if he should ‘talk’ to someone. He’s annoying, he follows me everywhere, and I have no idea why a healthy Boar would want a Rot. But I make a mental note to help him find the scam artist, and the teens, and everyone else. I make a note to find the Quarantine Patrol, every single fucking person that was on that field, and let Old Bro prove his loyalty to me. 

 

I want blood for my friends, and Old Bro was my way to it. He’s been stalking me and bothering me for years, and he’s the only one I know who can get my out of quarantine no matter how many times they put me in. I was going to let him help.

 

“Yes. But something else first.” I’m embarrassed, but I power through. It’s important. “Make them put my friends in the Garden,” I manage. “Don’t throw them away. They put your father in the Garden, I- I want my friends there. Make them!” He pauses for a second, then nods. 

 

“Thank you. I mean that with all my heart. You are the most annoying man to ever exist… but thank you.” He wipes a tear from my face and smiles slowly. You can tell he’s been around women all his life. He knows when to smile, when to talk, when to bother you. 

 

“Anything for you, Kitten. The whole world if you want it. Let’s go eat.”

 

I shake my head, groaning. “I’m tired. I just want-”

 

I look up to speak but stop when I see something around his shoulder. A woman is standing under a flickering store sign across the street. She has a little girl with her. The girl waves and then cowers behind the woman. The Rabbit makes the outline of a house with her finger, and then disappears around the store with Bevvie. Old Bro stares at me. He grabs my chin and lifts my face, an amused look spreading over his.

 

“I almost couldn’t find you. You wrote something else on the sheet this time.”

 

“Yeah,” I mutter, feeling myself blushing. Feeling something like enthusiasm pushing into my throat. 

 

“Nameless Bunni, huh? What’s that?”

 

“Last name, First name. Bunni Nameless,” I say absently, and I pat his shoulder in thanks. I’m moving and I can’t even stop myself.

 

“You know where The Rabbit is, don’t you, Kitten?” For once, I know how to feel. And I give the wide fucker a big, happy smile, breaking out of his grip. I walk back toward my house, feeling agony everywhere, but finally understanding hope.