Myths & Legends
I had a roommate in college, Jonas something-or-other, who tried to get me interested in Dungeons and Dragons. The idea was that you’d make up a character with all these different abilities and stats and whatnot and someone running the game would tell you what was happening and you were supposed to tell them what you wanted to do. Then you’d use some dice and the numbers on paper to figure out if you were successful.
I never really got into it, it was just too strange, but one of the things that was interesting to me was the stats. They were numbers to determine your characteristics, things like Strength, Dexterity, and so on, and there was one for Intelligence and one for Wisdom. Intelligence was supposed to be your regular smarts, like math and history, but Wisdom was your street-smarts, your gut, and it let you do things like notice things in the background and tell if someone was lying.
I liked that, and I feel like it describes the difference between me and Zoey. Zoey wasn’t the smartest; whenever she didn’t understand something, she came to me, and that happened often. But she was wise. It was Zoey who could tell when someone was lying, when something was out of place, and when things weren’t right. If there was something spooky going on, she picked up on it way faster than I did, and to this day I believe that’s why some people can walk through haunted locations and feel nothing while others see shadows and hear screams. Some people are just better attuned.
If that truly is the mechanism behind sensitivity to the supernatural, then Zoey was certainly much wiser than I. Virginia alone proved that.
We entered Clifton sometime in the afternoon. The town was small, smaller than Hurricane, even. The actual downtown area had less than fifteen buildings in it, and as I pulled off to the side of the road, Zoey stretched in her seat.
“Goodie, lunch time. I could use a break.” she said.
I shook my head. “Nope. This is the next place we’re setting up.”
“Why?” she asked, looking at the small cluster that was Main street. “This place barely has anyone in it.”
“No idea. But it’s on the itinerary.”
She frowned and opened the glove box to retrieve the stack of papers we had our roadmap notes on. After flipping through them, she withdrew a paper and read “Clifton, WV, Creepy America location. Home to the ‘bunny man’ bridge.” She put it back in the stack. “Well, that explains that.”
I groaned. “So you’re telling me that we just spent all that time just to drive somewhere that we know has nothing?”
“I think I’m telling you it’s time for a lunch break.” She opened her car door and climbed out.
Part of me wanted to get back on the road and keep going, but I exited the car with her and crossed the street to a pub-style restaurant. Halfway across the road, though, she stopped.
I paused and looked at her. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just… weird cold spot.” She shivered.
I raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing and continued into the pub, a large place made out of dark wood. Despite my desire to get back on the road, I couldn’t help but feel my mouth water as the scent of deep fryers and seared meats hit my nose. A sign said “Seat Yourself”, so we took a table near the bar.
At the bar was a man, disheveled and distraught, with red eyes and the shiny trail marks of tears running from the corners of his eyes. He brought the bottle in his hand up to his mouth, swayed and then barked “Anofer!”
A different man behind the bar shook his head. “You’ve had enough Tom.”
“You can’t tell me wha’s enough, not wif’ my daughter in the ground and nobody worryin’ ‘bout the killer.”
“You know that’s not true. The police…”
“The police are blind fools!” he yelled. “I told ‘em who it was. I told ‘em it was the Bunny Man! I saw ‘im, axe an’ all, an’ now Janice is dead an’ everyone thinks I’m crazy, or did it, an’... an’...” he broke down sobbing and the man behind the bar took him by the shoulder and escorted him out.
Zoey and I exchanged looks.
“So…” she began.
I shook my head. “No. We are not staying here.”
“C’mon Liam, why not?”
“Because it’s just going to be a waste of our time. Like the dogman was.”
“The dogman was different.”
“There’s just… I don’t know. Call it a hunch.”
I raised an eyebrow. “A hunch?”
“Yeah.” She waited for me to respond, then sighed. “Alright, alright, I know it’s not a lot to go on. But we’re already here, and we already budgeted the time and money to stay here for a bit. So why not?”
I thought about it for a bit, then shrugged. “Alright, I suppose we can stay a bit longer than just lunch.”
We couldn’t talk to Tom; when we tracked his house down and asked to interview him, a woman I presumed to be his wife cussed us out then slammed the door in our face. But after asking some of the locals, we learned that Janice was in high school, and, well… you know how high schoolers are.
I’m going to skip most of the interviews, because they simply weren’t very helpful. Too few of the details were corroborated, and too many people spent time talking about irrelevant issues and potential theories. The more kids we talked to, the more obvious it was that we were hearing rumors and not facts.
We did hear some things repeated often enough to seem true. Janice’s body was found out in the woods. The murder weapon was an axe. Janice’s father, Tom, had gone looking for her after she hadn’t come home for several hours after school, and it was him who found the body. He also saw a figure nearby, a tall, bearded man in a bunny suit, standing a ways away with a bloody axe, who disappeared when he looked away for a split second.
And everyone knew who that was: the bunny man.
Which is where things disintegrated into speculation again. The bunny man was a lunatic, he was a prisoner, he was a ghost and he was a hobo who lived out in the woods. It was the typical contradictions you would find among any local legend. Even more problematic, there were some people who thought the bunny man wasn’t real, or at least, Tom’s story wasn’t, and there was a more sinister motive behind it.
There was also a smattering of stuff online. Apparently, there was a weirdo who had threatened some people with an axe while wearing a bunny suit, but that was about it. The main version of the legend, that he escaped an insane asylum into the woods and was never caught, had been thoroughly disproven by a local historian. Beyond that, there was only hear-say.
“Well,” I said as the high-schooler who had been eager to share in his theory that Janice’s former boyfriend was somehow involved scurried off to parts unknown, “that was a bust.”
She frowned at me. “What do you mean?”
“I mean there’s nothing here. Just a children’s campfire tale and an unfortunate dead girl stuck to it.” I started to pack up the camera we had been using back into its carrying case.
“And that means what, exactly? That Tom just made up the story about the axe man in a bunny suit? There’s a lot saner ways to deflect guilt.”
“Well I never said he was sane.”
I started to lift the bag off the ground, but Zoey grabbed my arm, forcing me to look at her.
“Can’t we stay here for a bit longer?” she pleaded. “Please, Liam?”
I sighed. “You still have a hunch, don’t you?”
“Alright, but just until tomorrow morning. Once nothing happens, we pack up and leave.”
When we made it back to where the R.V. was still parked, there was a small crowd of people gathered at one end of Main Street, blocking the road, backs turned to us to stare at whatever it was that held their attention. Zoey and I traded glances at each other, then moved to join them.
“Alright everyone, I’m going to need you to back up a bit” a man in a brown sherrif’s uniform said, waving his arms in front of the crowd.
“It’s Tom, isn’t it?” someone called.
“Now we don’t know that” the sheriff replied. The unknown voices continued to gossip.
“Well, it’s either him or the bunny man.”
“You can’t believe that nonsense, can you?”
“Well just look at it!”
We were close enough to see now. There, in the middle of the road, was a body. At least, I assume it was a body. By the time we got there, it was covered in a white sheet, edges and corners turning red from soaking in blood.
That was hardly the most interesting part, though.
Surrounding the body on the far side were several stakes in the ground, no higher than three feet in the air. Pinned to them, like some bizarre diorama of Roman crucifixion, were rabbits, nailed into the wood stomach up so that their paws were outstretched in a position of defensive fear. The wounds from these nails all leaked blood into the dirt.
“Look!” the sheriff shouted, face visibly turning red, “you’ve all had a nice oogle. Now I need you to scurry off so we can wall off this scene!”
Begrudgingly, the people left in twos and threes. A breeze passed by and Zoey shivered again.
“Creepy, huh?” I asked as we meandered to one side of the street.
“It’s not that,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s just so damn cold.”
I moved my hand through the air. It didn’t feel too bad; it certainly wasn’t warm, but it was by no means cold. “It feels fine to me.”
“Really? You can’t feel that?”
“Anyway, that’s not important” she declared with a wave of her hand. “What is important is that there’s something here.”
“Yeah, I can’t argue with you there.” I scratched my head. “But why now? I mean, the bunny man urban legend has been around for decades but this seems to be the first time it’s gotten a verified body count.”
She smirked. “Well, that’s our job, right? Finding out. Question is, where do we start?”
“Well, there was that bridge…” I remarked.
Bunny man bridge was… anticlimactic, all things considered. The supposed hot-spot for the maybe maybe-not ghost of the serial killer was little more than a short white brick tunnel than ran under a railroad. It wasn’t even long enough to get properly dark in there. Supposedly he had hung himself here, but I didn’t see how because there was nothing nearby to hang a rope to. But with the whole rabbit-pole thing, I supposed all bets were off.
Originally, we were going to stake the location out in our car, but after only a half hour there, the same sheriff from before rode up and told us that we couldn’t park our car in the middle of a roadway, so we were forced to park it about three miles away at a general store and walk back. He also told us that we couldn’t hang around the bridge, but we ignored that part.
We stayed as the sun went down and continued to stay as the night dragged on. Once the sun had disappeared, the trees lengthened into long shadows, tall and slender entities whose silhouettes hid the inside of the forest from us. What we could see was what was illuminated by the moon and stars, as well as the occasional house light from deep in the woods, shining like will-o-wisps; a floor of leaves, small ridges and hills, and the dark shapes of man-made signs and fences were all painted in a sheen of gray that is night light.
As ten dragged to eleven and eleven to midnight, the air got oppressively cold. My breath was visible and I was shivering now. I turned to Zoey and cleared my throat. “Ready to…”
“Shh!” She grabbed ahold of my shirt and dragged me into a shadow under the bridge. Her camera was pointed into the woods, so I followed its end and pointed mine at the same spot.
There, in the dim light, was a figure. Tall, how so was impossible to tell, but it was obvious even from this distance. The darkness blocked most of his features, but there was no hiding the most obvious one: the dirty pale purple of a full-body suit with two ragged rabbit ears at the top of it.
Its route took him closer to us and we both stopped breathing, stopped moving as he passed. Now we could see a dark black beard pouring out of the mouth area, dark eyes where the suit was cut out to allow for vision, and a large dull and chipped red axe hanging from his side. His footsteps were shuffling plods that kicked up the leaves. His other hand was dragging something large and brown and with relief I realized it was a deer carcass. Its eyes were stuck in glassy panic and its throat was slit so deep that the dragging almost threatened to tear the head off. He didn’t so much as look at us as he moved deeper into the woods.
Without a word, we followed behind.
It was nerve-wracking. There’s no way to move silently in a forest and every leaf crunch and twig snap sounded like the boom of a cannon. Most of them he ignored but when the noise was particularly loud, he’d stop and look up. We’d have to duck behind a tree or rock and wait until we heard those plodding shuffles again, then quietly resume trailing him. It continued in this way for what must have been hours, but with every moment spent hiding, he got just a bit farther ahead until he crested over a ridge quite a ways away. When we caught up, he was gone.
After waiting five minutes to confirm he was no longer near, Zoey whispered “I think we lost him.”
I nodded. “Time to head back, then.” I turned around and stopped. “Um, where exactly is back?”
She squinted into the night. “I can’t tell, none of this looks familiar to me.”
She cursed. “Alright, follow me.” Zoey climbed down the ridge and started walking in the direction we came. I walked behind her.
Suddenly, Zoey tensed up and held her hand up to me to stop.
“What?” I asked.
“Movement, up ahead.” She pointed to some trees.
“Maybe it was just a deer?” I couldn’t even convince myself with that tone of voice.
She twirled and stared at a spot behind me. “It’s… circling.”
I swallowed and moved with her, back to back to cover blind spots.
“Do you hear that?” she murmured to me.
“Hear what?” I replied.
“Silence. The animals have gone quiet.”
There was a sudden explosion of leaves and dirt to my left. I spun to face it. It was the bunny man, and up close, he was even more terrifying. Now I could see the wild and mad look in his eye as he swung the axe, blunt-end first, towards me. I yelped and tried to bring my arm in front of it but it was too late. The metal end hit my head with the force of a truck. My ears rang. I saw stars of white in my vision. I tried to blink them away and backpedal, but my foot caught on a branch and I fell. All sounds morphed into weird echoes, like I put my head in a fishbowl, and there was a tunnel of black crawling around the ends of my eyes. I saw the strange bearded rabbit man bend over and grin at me and I just couldn’t take any more.
My eyes forced their way closed.
I felt the sensation of warm air licking my face. I twitched my cheek in response and the motion awakened all of my nerve ends, bridging back all my pains and aches in full force. Groaning, I opened my eyes.
I was still in the woods. Around my hands was a rough and scratchy rope tied to the tree at my back, holding me up in an uncomfortable half-sit. In front of me was the orange glow of a campfire, the source of the warmth. Outside of that was just shadow.
I saw movement to my left and I turned to it. The bunny man. He was walking back, axe hanging from one hand, pieces of wood in the other. He threw one into the flames and sat across the fire from me. As he did, he picked up a small object, my camcorder, I realized, and opened it up.
“What is this?” he asked, pointing it at me.
“I-i-it’s a camera."
He stared at me with a total lack of recognition for the words."
"It records things," I clarified.
He pressed a few buttons. I saw the little red recording light come on just as he grunted and threw it away into a pile of leaves, taking a seat across from me at the fire and staring at me.
I did the same. Now, in proper light and with no distractions, I could see the smaller details. He was a white guy, hard to tell in the full-body rabbit suit. The only places his skin showed through were in the various rips and tears in the suit that lived alongside stains of all different colors, as well as his hands, which were large and gnarled. His beard was scraggly and unkempt; chunks of dirt resided in it. And the smell… it was the scent of an outdoor outhouse, only worse.
I got my feet from under me and stood, slipping one or two times from the fatigue as I did so. He watched this awkward display while remaining immobile, following me only with his eyes.
“Wh..who are you?” I asked.
“I’m surprised at you. Can’t you tell?” His voice was deep and rough. It reminded me of the sound of tires on gravel.
“You… you look like the bunny man…”
“There you go then.” He rose and lifted the axe up.
My heart leapt into my chest. “Wait wait! Y-you didn’t answer my question!”
He stopped, towering over me and staring down at my crouched form. He didn’t say anything.
“I mean...” I licked my lips, “you act like you’re him, but the legend looks fake. Mismatched details, and things. A-and this is the first time there’s ever been bodies. So are you him or are you pretending?”
He continued to stare.
“You know,” he said at last, “I wish more of your kind just stopped to think, like you just did. You really have gotten dumber over the years.”
“So you’re not then?” I wanted to keep him talking, mostly to buy time until I could think of a way to escape… but part of me was truly curious.
He turned to his axe, then to me. After making what looked like a shrug, he sat the axe down near the tree and turned away from me. “No, I wasn’t. This flimsy… shell is a matter of necessity. I used to be great, a god, even. Leshy, man of the forest. They worshiped me. They feared and loved me all at the same time. Some even gave their lives in my name with a smile on their face.”
“So what happened?” I twisted my hands around the ropes, looking for weak points.
“The god of light.” He spat on the ground and turned back to me, making me stop my escape attempt. “He and his ilk entered my land, turned my people away from their own religion. There was not enough to sustain my form. I had to hop from one shell to the next, trying to find enough to sustain me.”
“Enough what? Faith?”
He nodded, dark eyes twinkling in the fire light.
“That… that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe not to you.” He jabbed his finger hard into my chest and his tone turned angry. “You were made with a spirit, a life force, so much so that you feel free to waste it on whatever grabs your attention. I am only soul, a personality alone, forced to feed on your scraps like some kind of dog.”
I winced. The area he poked me at was sore; I was sure it was bruised. “So... you’re taking the faith people use on this urban legend? And stirring up more with the murders?”
He nodded once again and grabbed the axe at his feet, beginning to raise it. “It’s a shame I have to kill you. You possess a rare intelligence.”
“Wait! Wait, just please one second, I can help you!”
He lowered the axe to his feet and waited.
I gestured to the camera on the ground with my head. “I m-make stories. I-if you let me go, I can tell people about you. Show you to the world. Get people to believe in you.”
He shook his head and chuckled. Then he laughed, loud and hard. “So that’s your game. You had me going for quite a bit with the clueless act. Very well done. But I won’t let you bind me to a form, not so close to the time of ascension. Though,” he said as he raised the axe above his head, “thank you for removing my guilt for this act, you piece of warlock scum.”
“No, please, I-I-I didn’t…”
A sudden flare of orange filled the forest as a towering pillar of flame suddenly erupted deep into the forest. The bunny man turned around to watch it rise, then glared at me. “Friends of yours? No matter. I’ll be back for you.” He trekked into the woods in the direction of the fire, leaving me alone in the small camp.
I strained against the ropes at my wrist. No use. They were too tightly tied and too thick. Panicked, I scanned the camp for something, anything to help me out. It wouldn’t be too long before he came back.
“Psst!” Zoey’s voice hissed from behind me. I looked back to see her standing behind my tree.
“Zoey?” I whispered. “Was that you?”
“Yeah. If camping with my family has taught me anything, its how to build an irresponsibly large fire.” She withdrew a pocket knife and sawed through the rope. “C’mon, lets go.”
“Wait.” I ran back over to the camera on the ground, picked it up, and then began to follow her. We did an awkward crouch walk through the trees, trying to move fast and stealthy.
“Did you figure out who the hell that is?” Zoey murmured to me.
“Not who, what.” I gripped the camera tightly as I went. “I think he’s an old pagan god of some kind. Needs faith to live. Nobody believes in him any more, which is why he’s squatting out in the bunny man’s skin. He’s stealing that faith.”
Just as I finished, I heard a roar from behind us. No mere growl, this was a roar you would hear on something primal and ancient, like the battle cry of a T-Rex. Hazarding a glance behind me, I saw his silhouette. Except it couldn’t be. No silhouette could reach that tall like that, and you can’t see shadows in the dark.
Or against the night sky.
There was a tug on my shirt as Zoey grabbed me out of my trance and yanked me onto the road, bunny man bridge directly in front of us. “C’mon!” she yelled. “There’s a safe spot two miles up the road!”
“We’re not going to the car?” I asked, wide-eyed.
There was another ear-splitting howl behind us and I nodded.
We took off as fast as our legs could carry us. Neither one of us were in particularly good shape but adrenaline made up for the slack and turned us into Olympic sprinters. Around us, the wind started up, whipping the trees around like a hurricane. The shadow continued to chase us, darkening the forest into a void, swallowing any lights from the houses or ambient light from the sky.
Zoey kept going, past the bridge, past the intersection we had our car parked away from, and further north. I pushed myself to follow, but it was getting harder. My lungs burned. My sides felt like stitching threatening to burst and spill my insides out. My legs were burning too, and the protest they gave was making it hard to keep the rhythm up. Zoey was feeling it as well. At one point, she started to stumble and I had to grab her and stand her upright.
And still the shadow continued to advance. It was no more than five feet away now.
“How much further?” I barely managed to pant.
“There!” She pointed to a building about fifty feet away. “We just need to get to the parking lot.” I could barely make it out in the fading light, but I couldn’t see anything special to it. Certainly no reason to believe it could protect us. But I was far beyond questions at this point.
I gave one last push. This wasn’t adrenaline, this was pure willpower at this point. My body was threatening to break, I could feel it. Just to the parking lot, I told myself. Almost. Just to the parking lot…
I bounded over one last hurdle, a small patch of grass, and I was there. I turned around to see Zoey three feet behind, still struggling to make it. The darkness, practically a pure void now, was right on her heels. Some of it had gathered into a hand and was reaching out to grab her, mere inches away from her head.
I reached out my hand and she grabbed it. I pulled with all my might, toppling us both over onto the pavement just as the hand tried to snatch at her. It instead collided with the empty air in a shower of white sparks. Golden-colored crackles of lightning burst from the spot as the sound of sizzling and the smell of fresh ozone ripped through the air, causing the shadows to rush back and retreat inwards until all that was left of the advancing threat was the bunny man,
“You…” His voice quivered with rage. “This is who aids you?”
I couldn’t say anything. The only thing I could do was lay on the pavement and force air into my aching lungs.
He brought his fists up and pounded on the invisible barrier, causing another shower of sparks and lightning. When he lowered his arms, I could see the smoking burns on them.
“I’ll remember your faces” he vowed. “I’ll remember and I’ll tell the Parthenon, old and new. There will be no mercy for warlocks who ally themselves with the god of light.” He turned his back to us and walked into the forest just as the sky began to brighten into the twilight before dawn.
For the longest time, neither of us did anything. We just sprawled on the pavement, gasping for air, feeling the burn of our unhappy muscles. Once my breathing became more controlled and burning sensation faded into a less intense ache, I looked around at my surroundings.
The building was large and white structure, with a spire reaching into the air. I couldn’t read the blue korean letters written above the doors, but the large cross on the steeple let me know where we were.
“A… church?” I gasped.
“Yeah.” Zoey panted for a minute before continuing. “I remember when my old church did this whole ceremony to turn the ground holy before building a new wing. Did the parking lot too.”
“How did you know it would work?”
“I had a hunch” she replied.
I stared at her. Then I laughed. Zoey joined in too, and we filled the morning air with the sound, celebrating the bizarre victory.
I’ve gotten some flak from trusting Zoey’s hunches and her “spooky sense”, as the fans liked to call it. Most people chalked it up to lazy script writing. But those people never got to see it in action, and I did. And it wouldn’t be the last time it saved our lives.