“It might not mean anything,” said Eirik, adjusting the panda cub on his hip like a nervous sack of potatoes. “I mean, I don’t decorate with green either. My apartment is white, black and taupe – wait, no, I own a green umbrella, but It’s not like I display it anywhere.”
“There’s a way to verify,” said the panda. “There’s a cookbook on the counter. Yes, that open book there. Turn the pages. An evil creature can be identified by the recipes it keeps.”
Anders glanced toward the hall through which their host had disappeared, and then joined Eirik at the kitchen counter where he thumbed apart the cookbook’s delicate pages. The first recipe was for a classic yellow cake. Hardly incriminating.
The panda read recipes headings aloud, volume rising with each title. “Lemon pepper asparagus, bread pudding, lima beans, liver, escargot?” Its eyes widened in luculent abhorrence. “SPICY SALSA?!!”
Anders scowled. “These are normal recipes.”
Whimpering, the bear buried its face in Eirik’s shoulder and mumbled unintelligible things.
Eirik shrugged. “Maybe he doesn’t like salsa.”
“SILENCE!” snapped the panda. “IT’S EVIL!!”
The little guy’s panicking. Anders studied the trembling black-and-white animal with concern as it clumsily elaborated on how bread pudding beckoned a fate worse than death. That thing outside, whatever it is – “Alfred” – it really spooked him. He then considered his best friend who skimmed the next recipe for evidence of evil despite having no clue what he was looking for. We need the bear to keep his head.
Anders nodded at the panda. “Are you gonna be okay to keep being our compass?”
A sound in the hall hushed them. The rabbit returned with a spring in its step and a freshly combed coat and had, for reasons unknown, doubled in size.
Anders blinked. Is it bigger? “Um, excuse me, you have a lovely home. The little glass statues are…” Their host moved to sit in front of them. ‘Twas a natural adjustment which, as their backs were to the counter, situated the rabbit between them and the door. Anders said, quickly, “None of your décor is green.”
“Of course not.” The rabbit sat up. “The color green is unpleasant. The color green is gross. The color green. Smells like regurgitated caramelized onions, and I hate it.” It smiled, fluffy cheeks squishing its eyes shut. “All evil things do.”
Evil rabbit in a cottage in the woods. Anders sobered. I don’t remember Nana ever telling us this story. On the bright side, this monster was better than the one outside. We can handle it. It’s not so big that Eirik and I can’t -. A clear view of the disproportionately enormous, tall-backed chair in the adjoining living area stopped his thoughts cold.
The rabbit went on. “I don’t allow green things in my home. Not even old gourmet tea boxes.”
The box. Anders grabbed his empty pants’ pocket. I dropped it?!
“My front door picked your pocket. Don’t be embarrassed, it does that to everyone.” The rabbit noted Eirik’s fingers resting on the cookbook. “It was a gift, that cookbook, from Nana Ana to encourage me to stop catching and braising lost hikers. Brilliant book, brilliant. Since using it, I’ve had not one craving for human viscera. For example, I look at you…” Its black eyes bored into Anders with a surreal gleam, smile spreading like an virulent mold stain. “And I feel nothing.”
Eirik edged away from the cookbook. “Is it possible for us to have the box back?”
A single green item had done little to repel ‘Alfred.’ Without any green at all… Anders flicked a stiff we-might-be-screwed glance to his buddy who nodded, furtively.
“Oh, dear, look at your poor compass. He’s become senseless.” the rabbit leaned toward them to sniff at the bear like a curious toddler. “That’s what happens when they’re out of practice. I suppose you’ll want to go before it melts beyond all usefulness – unless, of course, you don’t mind if it melts in which case you could stay for cake and tea. You do mind? Ah, well, then I’ll show you out.”
The rabbit led them through the cozy living area with the giant chair and out onto a wooden deck framed by humble elbow-high rails; three steps dropped from the platform to a narrow path which crawled away into the mute forest.
Nana’s bungalow would have plenty of green things. Green was her favorite… Anders scoffed to himself. Green wasn’t actually her favorite color, was it? He looked to the panda. “Hey, how far is the bungalow?” The bear shivered with its face buried in Eirik’s chest. “Panda, hey.”
Eirik bounced the bundle lightly in hopes of a response. It clung to him more fiercely. “Nope, he’s broken.”
“Due east,” said the rabbit, standing on the top step. “Follow this path and continue straight through the trees when it curves. The bungalow is in a couple hundred meters or so.”
Anders glanced down at the evil rabbit. “Any advice on dealing with Alfred?”
“Sure. First, don’t let him catch you. Second, sei nicht so dumm.”
He stared. I don’t know what that means.
The rabbit binked in place, suddenly. “MacPherson!”
“Once you’re beyond the curve, call out for him. He’s infinitely more effective and far more delightful than any green thing at warding off Alfred!”
MacPherson. Got it. “What’s he look like?”
“Well, that’s rude.”
“Why? He’s a manatee.”
[to be continued]