Ricky Loves Bunny – a story from Bangan Forest by Laurie Fraser

This is the second story in the Runt Rabbit series from Bangan Forest.

Ricky loves Bunny.

PART ONE

art by William Fraser

art by William Fraser

Bunny’s hut smelled like bubblegum and old apples. It was safe to leave the door open during the day- she lived in a backyard with a fence that kept most animals out. Mole would pop in from time to time, of course, squirrels and such, but Bunny didn’t have to worry about cats or dogs.

Humans shared the backyard when they came out of their house. Small Human liked to pick Bunny up and put her inside things like a doll stroller or a bucket of water. Sometimes Small tried to stuff Bunny into her pocket as if she were a toy and not a real breathing rabbit.

Small Human didn’t do those things to scare Bunny. She did those things because she loved to touch Bunny. Bunny was astonishingly soft, a strawberry blond with big grey eyes and a pretty pink nose. Her whiskers jumped out from her face like sparklers, and she was always smiling. Everyone loved Bunny.

Sticky Ricky loved her the most. He was a mid-size raccoon with a large black mask and a handlebar moustache. Ricky was a flashy guy. He wore a black vest with silver studs, many rings on his fat tail, and plenty of bling around his neck. He came over the fence every night. Sometimes he was early, but usually he was very late, so he would wake Bunny up. She was always tucked in a high-heeled shoe under Mint. Mint’s scent made Bunny’s sleep refreshing and her dreams sweet.

“Bunny,” Ricky would whisper and pet her cheek with his leathery nose. “Bunny, wake up, my Love.”

And Bunny would curl her little paws into pom poms and then stretch out her arms and legs, her nose twitching from his cologne.

“What did you bring me?” she would ask, her paws open then.

Ricky would hand her a cup of coffee maybe, or a whole donut with pink sprinkles or a gold chain or a designer shoe. She had plenty of singles- Manolo Blahnik, Saint Laurent… but only one complete pair: Gucci, which she loved more than her children.

Only a few days previous, Ricky had given her a diamond tiara and she had hidden it at Evergreen’s place so that humans wouldn’t find it. She suspected they would take it from her the same way they took the emerald that they found in her bellybutton last spring.

“How in the world?” wondered Mother Human. She sold the emerald and bought a little boat to take to the seaside on weekends.

Ricky had promised Bunny he’d bring her another emerald. He had declared it a priority and said that she, Bunny, was his only reason to live.

Now if Ricky knew where an emerald was, he’d just take it. Stealing wasn’t the problem- Sticky Ricky was a master thief. He just had to find another emerald. He’d looked up and down, of course; Bunny was crazy for emeralds, but they were rare. Most jewelry boxes had diamonds.

Diamonds were everywhere. Plenty of diamonds were right on people, and Ricky had a real easy time lifting precious jewels directly off humans. (Basically, they got so freaked out, running around screaming when he jumped on their heads, that picking off the jewelry was simple. Humans didn’t even notice. He would sometimes snag a shoe too, with his clever claws, but only if it was designer- something with a heel- Bunny was fond of those.)

Tonight, when Bunny opened her paw, he gave her a chocolate eclair from the French patisserie. Her grey eyes widened then, as if he was Morning and not Sticky Ricky.

“Mmmmm!” She sat right up and ate the whole eclair without offering Ricky a bite. You can be sure- she didn’t even think of sharing. Bunny was spoiled by Ricky and she loved the spoils… but Bunny didn’t love Ricky Raccoon. Maybe Ricky tried too hard. Maybe he too obviously adored her. Maybe he asked a bit too often if he could have a kiss.

One thing was certain: Ricky gave too much to Bunny, and she didn’t think twice about it. You might wonder if Bunny gave anything in return. She didn’t allow kisses, and she turned away when Ricky got yappy. She didn’t tell him about her dreams; she didn’t even tell him about her day. Bunny didn’t share her carrots or lettuce. She didn’t let Ricky meet her children who were kept in the closed hut at night. Bunny did let him pet her downy fur until she fell back asleep under Mint. Her shoulders ached from working all day in the garden and Ricky knew massage. Afterwards, he would sit beside her and watch her sleep.

Up at the crack of Dawn, Blue J. gave advice freely from Maple’s branches, shrieking so loudly that everyone along the alley could hear: “You’re wasting your time, Ricky Raccoon. She will never love you. Give your gifts to someone who cares.” Ricky ignored him every single morning, just like all other animals. Only blue jays care about what blue jays think, and that’s a fact.

Bunny sucked each one of her fingers clean. “Yum!” She smiled at Ricky.

He said, “I got the eclair by reaching into a bag and pulling out a box of them. Humans were busy talking and shopping. No one even noticed me until I opened the box to try one. That’s a benefit of being short.”

“Are there more eclairs?”

“Then they started screaming for a broom, and I had to head out before I finished eating. What a commotion! I tripped over something gooey – a pecan pie had hit the floor, I think – and I landed on my back, sliding across the floor with half an eclair in one hand and the box in the other.”

Bunny waited, her grey eyes opened very wide…

“I dropped the box and eclairs flew everywhere.”

… and she gasped. “No!” Her paw fluttered to her mouth.

“I was able to bring you just one, the one I had started to taste. It was still in my hand when I rolled to the curb and stood up, a shoe print on my back. I’m so sorry, Buns.”

Bunny told Ricky that she was tired. It was the middle of the night, after all. Ricky was nocturnal, suited for life in a mask. When he climbed into his bed exhausted at the end of Night’s work, Bunny was waking with Dawn, refreshed and ready for 9 to 5.

Sometimes he called her at suppertime, before he went out in the evening, but she wouldn’t pick up the phone. “What’s the point of that?” thought Bunny. “He can’t pet me over the phone. He can’t feed me from there. He just wants attention.”

Blue J. would chatter from Maple’s lowest branch. “You rude rabbit. This raccoon is not going to spoil you and love you forever. If you don’t give something in return, he will leave you. You will get no donuts or trinkets then!”

“I don’t want to kiss him!” Bunny stamped her back feet.

“Why not?” asked Blue J. “He’s a fine raccoon.”

“He’s a thief!”

“Best thief in the city and everyone knows it. A provider. Think about hopping along beside him down Widest Path in a human-skin cape, a tiara on your head for all Forest’s animals to see.”

Bunny twitched her pretty pink nose. Of course, she longed to live in Bangan Forest. All Town’s animals had heard of the utopian life there: no cages, no humans, just wild foraging and the sound of Wind in Leaves. Could Ricky take her there? Her mother had always warned of Danger Road. Her father had pointed out the benefits of domesticity – the regular meals, the safe yard. He had preferred it to freedom.

“I’m not kissing a thief.”

“Your only escape!”

“I have no reason to escape,” yelled Bunny, stamping all four pom poms now, her long strawberry blond fur flying.

Blue J. spread his wings and flapped. “Think about it,” he screamed as he flew away.

What no one knew, not Blue J. and not her children, and certainly not Ricky, was that Bunny had a little crush on a little rabbit named Runt. He made her smile. Now Runt was nothing special and Bunny could see that. He had no skills. He couldn’t find work because he had quit school. He was terribly small, barely a rabbit at all, really. He was twitchy too. Twitchy nose, twitchy ears, even a twitchy brain.

Bunny couldn’t explain to herself why she liked Runt. He wasn’t handsome. He wore a wrinkled tan coat that was too big for him; his feet were oddly large too. He didn’t give her much. A pizza crust. A chocolate bar wrapper to lick.

In fact, Runt had so little that, one morning, when he squeezed under her backyard fence, Bunny noticed his tiny ribs showing through his thin fur coat, and she had a brand-new thought. Well, it was a brand-new feeling – it was compassion. With Sun beaming at this character development, Bunny gave Runt the carrot cake leftover from Ricky’s visit. Runt gobbled that up with such pleasure and gratitude that Bunny felt happy just watching him. After that, Bunny saved food for Runt every day.

And so it came to pass that Ricky Raccoon was feeding Bunny and Runt and all Bunny’s children too, although he’d never met them.

PART TWO

art by William Fraser

It seemed like it would go on forever: Ricky would come over the fence every night, and Runt would squeeze under the fence every morning. Ricky would give Bunny a treat, and Bunny would save a little for Runt. Ricky would ask for a kiss, and Runt would get one.

You know, sometimes it seems like every day is the same and nothing will ever change…. but of course, change is always on the move. It’s good to remember that, to know that change is just down the street; change is in the next paragraph.

And so now, at this point in the story, because of Sticky Ricky’s fame, because of his newsworthy struggles to keep Bunny satisfied, and because his final act of thievery was recorded by security cameras and shared on the world wide web, it cannot be helped that this unremarkable love story must now transform into an insider’s account of a celebrity’s tragic downfall.

Change arrived around the time that Sticky Ricky was getting a bit too well-known in the city. Animals knew him, of course. They knew him for his skill and drama and generosity, but the problem was that humans were starting to talk about a raccoon who jumped on their heads and stole their treasures and their shoes too. Ricky himself wore black Converse runners, nothing fancy, but he was a sucker for Bunny and Bunny was sucker for shoes. And emeralds and chocolate eclairs, but in the end, it would be a shoe that did Sticky Ricky in.

When Ricky became infamous, he got a new name: Killer Raccoon. The rest of the headline was usually something like: …attacks again! …on the loose! …steals $2,000 Gucci shoes from Mayor’s daughter! Town citizens armed themselves with baseball bats and handguns. Stores shuttered at dusk.

Now, to Ricky Raccoon- which is the name his mother gave him, not Killer or Sticky mind you, just Ricky- this was all fabulous fun. Everything is fun to raccoons. He would hide and jump out on a head, usually a human head, and all the humans would immediately start shooting at him. This made the head scream louder or sometimes, spurt blood. Even humans who were way far away down the street would pull out their handguns and wildly shoot. Not one of them could aim, but they could all pull a trigger.

Ricky was fast on his feet. He would be in Bunny’s backyard with a fresh shoe, and humans would still be shooting each other in the head.

Rat Council met to discuss the matter. With shops closing early and humans shooting at anything that moved, their quality of life was much affected by this idiot raccoon. It was time for him to go.

Rats can be quite effective at creating change. They can spread disease, destroy buildings, and cause a black out. Rat networks are exceedingly complex, and a rat bite can be fatal. Rat Council had no doubt that they could ferret out the thief for the humans and put the entire matter to rest. And so a suggestion to put a bounty on Ricky’s head was seconded and passed. The hunter who brought in Killer Raccoon would collect a tiny clown car suitable for sidewalks, alleys and Shriner parades.

Rats knew all about the shoe fetish. Rabbits, chipmunks and mice had been sleeping in designer shoes for years. Bunny could only keep a few favourites on hand because of her klepto humans. She’d place the high-heeled shoes in bushes and flower gardens, discreetly enough that humans didn’t find them but convenient enough for seed storage, sunbathing and her babies’ afternoon naps. As Ricky brought her new shoes, she’d discard the old over the fence. Animals all over the city had foraged there. Designer shoes were in tree stumps, dens and burrows; they were in attics, chimneys and under porches all over town.

Ricky spent his last afternoon of freedom at Kangaroo Kuts getting a manicure on his clever claws, some fresh wax on his handsome handlebar moustache and a little trim around his pointy ears. He wanted to look his best for Bunny that night. He had seen an advertisement for a temporary exhibit at the museum. The exhibit was titled: The Collected Shoes of Imelda Marcos, a woman who appeared to love shoes as much as Bunny. There were 3,000 single shoes on display and Ricky had seen the one that he wanted on the front page of the pamphlet- silver patent with 4” heels and an emerald buckle.

Bunny would love him for sure.

Ricky had robbed the museum before, at night when he could slip easily under the laser security- again that advantage of being short. The security system was looking for thieves of human size and ability. Ricky was faster than most motion detectors could detect.

The thing that Ricky didn’t know – and it was an important bit of intel – was that rats had been following him since Kangaroo Kuts. They were in touch with each other electronically, a blue tooth headset on each rat’s head. They’d reported on his meal at Piggy’s Pub, a stop at Little Raccoon’s den and some odd frolicking in the park. When Ricky finally reached the museum around midnight, the rats cheered quietly through their blue teeth.

“I knew it! He’s here!” Ratty wanted the tiny clown car.

“A real Sherlock, you are,” said Ratson to his boss, but his speaker was muted. “Imagine a shoe thief coming to a museum full of shoes.”

“Brilliant!” said Brownlips.

Ricky sprinted up the wide front steps of the museum. He scaled the tall door in a matter of seconds, disappeared onto the roof and re-appeared in the marble lobby. He followed the arrows to Imelda’s shoes and came to a room with high ceilings. The light was dim, but he could see that the shoes were all behind glass, like closed bookcases.

The shoes looked new and shiny, lined up like a factory outlet, but each pair was different. Ricky’s eyes searched for the silver shoes, but he couldn’t see them from where he stood at the door. He leaped to the top of a display case and walked along the top of it, looking down and all around. He hopped from case to case; his clever claws clicked on the glass tops as he searched.

Rats can’t climb glass cabinets. They can’t jump more than a couple of feet high. Ratty, Ratson, Brownlips and all the other rats could do nothing but watch the master thief who started running and sliding on the top of the long cabinets.

“Whoo-hooooo!”

Ricky thought of Bunny then, how thrilled she would be to play among 1,500 pairs of shoes, but Buns wasn’t free. She’d never been further than the backyard fence.

He leapt to the next glass top and slid all the way to the end. That’s when Ricky stopped looking at shoes and started seeing runways all around Exhibit Hall.

He would run a bit, slide right to end of a cabinet and hop over a gap and continue sliding on the next one, as if he were on a skateboard. That’s what he was doing when he flew over a gap larger than the rest and landed hard on a low display case, cracking the top. Only one pair of shoes was in the case. They were silver with 4” heels. The ethereal light caught a cut green stone on each silver buckle.

Ricky jumped up and down on the top of the low case, breaking it into pieces and crashing into the silver shoes. Alarms screamed. Rats mobbed the room. Rats swarmed up and around Ricky. Rats grabbed tiny fistfuls of his fur until they could pull him right to the floor. It took 153 very determined rats to carry the thief out the front door of the museum where he was handed over to police, a silver shoe with a 4-inch heel and an emerald buckle still held tightly between his teeth.

The morning headline read: ‘Killer Raccoon in Custody’, but it was Blue J. who announced the news to Bunny. “No more treats for you. No more shoes. No more donuts. No more cupcakes. No more Ricky. No more candy floss for you. No more petting. No more diamonds. No more…” until Bunny screamed at J. to shut up, to leave her alone, to take his bad news far away from her backyard.

It was Runt who found her curled up into in a damp furry ball, crying her little heart out.

“I’ll take of you, Bunny.”

“How? You bring me nothing but garbage. I need my Ricky!”

All Town’s animals believed Ricky would escape Townzoo. His claws were clever and so was his brain; he’d be out and on a spinning human’s head in no time.

Runt moved in with Bunny, and they ate dry hard “food” provided by humans who shared the yard with them. The pointy-toed Manolo Blahnik under Mint was never replaced by a newer shoe. It softened and molded over time, but Bunny continued to sleep there, sometimes dreaming of a masked visitor who put a chocolate eclair in her paw and petted her back to sleep.

Bunny had loved Runt more at one time, but now that Ricky was gone, well, it was Ricky she pined for. Runt was desperate to make her happy, but desperation sours love – everyone knows that. No matter what he gave her: fast food wrappings, half a cup of cold coffee, a shiny screw- it was never enough for Bunny. She smiled sometimes, a compassionate smile for him that acknowledged his efforts, his lack of skills.

Poor Runt couldn’t even read. No one would hire him, but he got better at scrounging around, following humans like a seagull, getting some bagel bites that way. He figured out what Bunny needed, and that was sweets. She could live without the shoes. Runt swiped sugar packets from outdoor cafes, and they kept her mood in check. Once he found a ball of ice cream on the ground. It was chocolate, and Bunny laughed delightedly when he dropped it dripping at her pom pom feet.

Still, it was a mediocre life in their opinion, and they often spoke of Bangan Forest. Bunny had never been, but Runt told stories about Widest Path and Bangan’s Council of Seven, stories about his family den crammed with babies and his mom who took off. He told her about reclusive Turtle and portentous Lynx and Campfire ringed with friends. He told her about fresh greens everywhere he looked, soft moss to sleep on, and the sound of Leaves in Wind. Winter didn’t go there, he told her, only Spring and Summer lived in Bangan.

Bunny couldn’t imagine life without humans or fences or dry food in a dish.

“What about skunks? What about dogs?”

The more Runt talked about the clean life in Bangan Forest, the more he missed it. He was tired of hearing sirens and gunshots and Bunny’s complaints. Here in Town, Runt was a loser, but he remembered how he felt strutting down Widest Path. Runt was respected on Minadendramowin, as it was once known; all beings were respected there.

He knew the way home. It was dangerous though, and he didn’t think Bunny had what the trip would take. For one thing, she didn’t have any papers. Worse, she was soft and spoiled. Bunny had never even hopped down the street. She knew nothing of the world, and her muscles were weak.

It is true that Runt Rabbit was small, and he had a twitchy brain. He was uneducated and terrible at stealing. You might think that Runt didn’t have much to offer, but Runt had a kind heart, and he was a good male. He didn’t consider leaving without Bunny; he knew she couldn’t take another loss after Ricky.

Runt also knew she wouldn’t survive the journey. He hadn’t told her that Widest Path was the only guaranteed peaceful passage. There were hundreds more paths, some narrow, some dark, some hard to find. He hadn’t told her about Hawk or Hungry Fox. Bunny was their favourite kind of meal: slow and plump and sweet as pie. No, she was safer in her yard with a hut and a meal plan.

Bunny was a sugar addict with a broken heart. She wasn’t good at being alone. Runt understood that even though Bunny wanted Ricky Raccoon, she needed Runt Rabbit.

As so it came to pass that Runt and Bunny lived unhappily together in Town.