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Chapter 1

Joonie and the Great Harbinger Stampede


The Frailest Rabbit

On the hottest day of the year Hat Rabbit gave birth to three beautiful bunnies. One appeared stillborn. As was tradition, the mother nursed her newborns while the nurse-mother took the limp babe to the mouth of the old hole which overlooks the Grand Valley and laid him facing south, in a nest of soft down to await his return into the earth.

When rabbits die inside the warren, which is rare, most succumb to predators and are taken into the forest. The departed rabbits are placed at the mouth of the old hole to begin their return journey into the earth. According to rabbit beliefs, all rabbits must pass through the bowels of a predator in order to be reborn. By talon, claw, or jaw the lifeless rabbits are then carried away into the forest by bird, dog, or cat to be eaten, digested, excreted, and thus returned to the earth from which all life begins and ends. Again and again and again.

On the night Hat Rabbit birthed three beautiful bunnies and one apparent stillborn, the rabbits of her trace abandoned their warren near the old hole in pursuit of water. Hat Rabbit snuggled her babies in close, and together they began their trek. The animals that prey on the rabbits left the area as well. They always followed the rabbits, for rabbits are food, and food is life. The frailest baby rabbit lay alone, not stillborn, and while facing the Grand Valley, its tiny heart was beating with the faintest rhythm. From the eastern horizon of the Grand Valley the Sun began his long upward journey, muttering to himself about locomotion: Pushing peas with weakened knees up the stairs, again and again and again… At the apex of his ascent he noticed the abandoned rabbit, lying on a bed of down, at the mouth of the old hole. He blew him a nourishing kiss before beginning his slow decent into the jagged horizon of the western mountains, muttering to himself as he went: Bouncing balls down narrow halls, again and again and again…

When the Sun had disappeared, the sliver Moon began her graceful arc across the Grand Valley. As most of her attention was elsewhere, she barely noticed the frail rabbit at the mouth of the old hole. When she saw him shivering and barely alive, she hummed him a warming lullaby and continued on her way across the night sky.

Day after day, night after night, the Sun and the Moon would nourish the rabbit, whisper him stories, and sing him songs.

The Sun spoke of all the great wars and fleeting triumphs of Earth’s inhabitants from the beginning of time. He told tales of the great Runners, Febro and Marzo, and their marches into certain death and ultimate victories. He told of the rise and fall of great civilizations. Sun retold eons of earth’s history, not as threads of details but as great movements, like water flowing in a river.

The Moon sang of feasts and weaving. She sang about the herbs, roots, and berries that aid in the healing of the sick; the dyeing of fabrics; the facilitation of death, and the instigation of spirit-walking. She sang of planting corn and beans and squash. She sang of birth and of death. She sang of migration.

Beside the Grand Valley at the mouth of the old hole the motionless rabbit, whom the Moon named Joonie for the month in which he was born, listened and learned. Although his eyes had never opened, he saw the world as described by Mother Moon and Father Sun with great clarity. With the nourishment of the Sun and the love of the Moon, the frailest rabbit survived and grew.

One morning, just as Father Sun was peaking his head above the eastern horizon, Joonie asked him, Am I dreaming?

Dreaming? replied Father Sun. Yes, as much as anyone, but more than most. He began to mutter to himself. I chase my head right out of bed and all day, long… long… long… At the break of dawn I stretch and yawn and start up the chase again… and again… and again.

What? Come on, Father, Joonie quipped, frustrated with Father Sun’s usual odd answers. Seriously, Father, will I dream forever? Or will I wake up?

Wake up? repeated Father Sun absently as he paced slowly across the sky. The idea of Joonie waking and leaving the mouth of the old hole and entering the cruel world was hard for him to bear. The Sun loved Joonie as his own child, and he knew when Joonie awoke he would face enormous challenges. But Father Sun and Mother Moon could not keep Joonie safe forever.

Even the best of times are dangerous for rabbits, and Joonie was born in the worst of times. Father Sun was aware of the impending plague and oppression that was soon to endanger all things living on earth. Father Sun rose and set many times before he finally answered Joonie’s question.

One day, Joonie, you will wake up.

When? asked Joonie, surprised at the clarity of the answer. Mother Moon and I need to talk, replied Father Sun. Then he grew silent and continued his arc across the sky.

Joonie lay as still as the day he was born and every day hence, thinking about what Father Sun had said.

He and Mother Moon need to talk? Joonie had discovered the murkiness in Father Sun’s answer. When are they going to do that? They are never in the same place at the same time.

When Mother Moon rose far on the eastern horizon, she was as full as a bubble.

As soon as her soft light shined on Joonie he asked her, Do you and Father Sun ever speak to each other? Mother Moon glowed a soft orange from the smoke sent up by a forest fire in the valley below.

Father Sun and I do speak on occasion, she replied.

When? asked Joonie.

Only during an eclipse.

Oh. When is the next eclipse?

I will wax and wane six more times before the next eclipse, said Mother Moon as she cast a gorgeous light onto Joonie. Why do you ask? Did Father Sun say he needs to speak with me?

Yes, he did. About me waking up.

A dark billow of smoke crossed Mother Moon’s face. She knew that one day Joonie would leave the mouth of the old hole. She also knew the magnitude of the approaching threat and the challenges Joonie would have to overcome in order to survive.

Mother Moon looked down at Joonie. His feet were large for his body, but his legs were long and strong. His brown and white fur was soft. His ears, like his feet, were gangly and disproportionate. Mother Moon hoped he would grow into those someday. Joonie had become strong and healthy from the nourishment he received from Father Sun and Mother Moon.

But that was not all. Through the telling of stories they taught him about the depths of emotion, the corruption that comes with power, and the benefits of giving. They taught him about the seasons, the stars, and the tides. He learned many things about many things, except how to live.

Joonie lay in wait for the seasons to pass. The stories he heard from Father Sun grew in intensity, and the world he had once imagined took on a darker hue. Mother Moon began her songs the moment she crested the horizon, and they did not stop until she disappeared behind the far western mountains. Her songs were about running and hiding. She sang of survival. When the eclipse finally came, Joonie was anxious. The world he had imagined entering no longer felt safe.

During the next eclipse, Father Sun and Mother Moon spoke briefly as they passed each other in the sky. We have prepared Joonie as best we can, said Father Sun getting straight to the point. It is time for him to awaken.

I never knew I could love like this again, said Mother Moon. He is a beautiful child. Why does he have to face such hard times?

For every grand cycle there is born a Runner to thwart the approach of the Iam. Fate has chosen Joonie. To be honest I don’t know why Fate chose a rabbit, or the Runner before that, but she and I see things differently.

Is that because Fate has chosen to keep us apart?

Moon, we cannot blame Fate alone for the choices we make.

The eclipse was ending, and Mother Moon and Father Sun began to slowly separate. As their connection once again slipped away, Mother Moon whispered, I will love you forever. To which Father Sun replied, And I you.

Moon drifted past. Sun’s first rays of light found the earth again. A mixture of their light shined upon Joonie, who opened his eyes for the first time.

The rays that shone on Joonie also fell further north. There, the light was cast on something else. Something round. Something that moved. Now warmed, the crowning dome of a giant head breeched the crust of the red earth in a spray of dirt and dust.

With great effort, the creature forced its way upward through the hard-packed soil, struggling to push its enormous head through the small, dry opening. After the head popped through, its spindly limbs and emaciated body followed.

The creature’s skin was covered in a thick layer of mud and fine, red dust that dried and cracked as it crawled out of the hole.

The oddity struggled to sit cross-legged before the mud dried. With great effort, it balanced its enormous head on its puny shoulders before it became immobilized by the baked, earthy crust that covered it. The creature’s eyes were wide open under the crust, two moist circles. The creature came to rest there next to the hole, unmoving, its head like a round chunk of sandstone worn down by wind and rain and balanced upon a frail pillar.

A nearby obstinacy of bison witnessed the strange birth with dull interest as they ambled and chewed their cud. In time, the ambling obstinacy surrounded the precarious formation but was unconcerned by its presence. A passing bull smelled the moisture and salt from the creature’s damp eyeholes and licked at them before moving on. Wrens perched on the dome momentarily before flittering off.

From there, the obstinacy expanded from horizon to horizon. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of bison, heads down, grazed on the prairie grasses contentedly. The bison passed by the odd statue with only the occasional bull or cow stopping to lick the salt from the creature’s eyes. They hardly noticed the tap-taptapping that came from inside the swollen head. They were oblivious as the creature’s skull cracked like a clay egg.

But when a swarm of savage beasts burst out of the skull, screaming and tearing into the nearby bison, the obstinacy spooked. And thus began the stampede—the stampede that would become a harbinger signaling the dark coming of the Iam.

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Friends of Joonie

Friends of Joonie

Art by Ravi Zupa