John saw a flash of yellow in the bushes at the far end of the garden and it intrigued him. He had collected fourteen Easter eggs so far, nearly double the number Melissa had found and for the last ten minutes neither of them had come across any more.
At the start of the hunt, his mother had announced that there were two dozen eggs hidden in the garden and that meant there must be at least two more. John wanted to find them but the scrap of yellow tantalized him. He looked around to see if Melissa was following him, but she had trailed indoors behind his parents, and he was alone in the garden, free for at least a few minutes before being called in to wash before dinner.
Quickly he walked over to the rhododendron bushes and bent down to look at what had caught his eye. Imagine his surprise when he found a yellow rabbit, sitting on its haunches by the roots of the bush and calmly cleaning its paws.
The rabbit looked at him inquiringly and nodded gravely.
“Hello, my name is Phelps, what’s yours?” he said in a perfectly cultured voice.
It was a small voice, of course, because it was a small rabbit, but the words and the fact that a rabbit was uttering them took John completely by surprise. He opened his mouth but no words emerged.
The rabbit seemed unperturbed. “Lost your voice young man?” he said, inclining his head slightly. “Careful now, that’s not something we can go misplacing, can we?”
John’s voice came back with a rush. “Why, you’re a rabbit,” he said, realizing immediately that it was a stupid thing to say.
“Of course I am,” replied the rabbit. “Its pretty obvious, isn’t it? I’ve been trying to catch your eye for the past ten minutes, and now that the grownups have gone in, you stand there saying the obvious to me. Are you coming or not?”
“Coming?” John was confused. “Come where? You mean you want to take me somewhere?”
“Yes, of course,” said the rabbit impatiently, “but I can’t do that unless you tell me your name.”
John hesitated. He had been taught never to reveal his identity to strangers, but he wasn’t sure if rabbits counted as strangers. He saw that the rabbit was tapping his left front paw on the grass and the tips of his floppy ears were beginning to curl downwards. Not wanting to agitate the little beast further, he made up his mind.
“I’m John, John Richards,” he said quickly. “But you can call me Johnny.”
“Well Johnny, that settled then,” said the rabbit, wiggling his ears. “You can call me Mr. Phelps. Are you ready? Close your eyes and say my name.”
John closed his eyes tightly. “Mr. Phelps,” he said before he could change his mind.
After a few seconds during which nothing happened he began to fidget. He was at an age where staying still and doing nothing for even a short space of time was a difficult task.
“When are we leaving?” he asked plaintively.
”We have already left, Johnny,” said the voice of Mr. Phelps from behind him now. “In fact we have just arrived. You can open your eyes now.”
John gratefully blinked his eyes open and then blinked again as he took in his surroundings. On initial inspection, he appeared to be in the same place he had been a few seconds ago. The rhododendron bushes were still at his feet, but they were now a virulent shade of purple. The grass was a pale green, almost yellow and the rabbit was missing.
A discreet cough behind him made him turn slowly.
Mr Phelps appeared to have grown four times larger than he had been earlier. He was now the size of a medium dog and his fur was white, instead of yellow. He was standing up on his haunches, leaning on a polished wooden cane and his face, hidden behind very dark glasses, looked at him with an air of amusement.
“No need to be startled, Johnny,” he said. “Here, have a look at yourself.” A red and white polka dotted waistcoat appeared on the rabbit’s body and Mr. Phelps reached into an upper pocket and pulled out a polished hand mirror which he held facing John.
To John’s amazement, he could only see the waist of his trousers and just a little bit of his shirt, which was now a blue and white stripe instead of the light blue check he had been wearing earlier. His trousers were now held up with a belt rather than his usual suspenders. Apparently he had grown in size too.
He looked up from the disturbing reflection and around at the garden, which was no longer a walled enclosure but a wide open meadow. The familiar garden fence had disappeared and rolling expanses of pale yellow stretched out in every direction, dotted with purple bushes like the one at his feet and strange umbrella-shaped trees from whose drooping edges waving tendrils floated lazily, although there was no breeze to speak of. The yellow grass felt strangely springy under his feet, as if there was a layer of sponge underneath it. Surreptitiously he bounced on his feet and experienced a most enjoyable feeling of elasticity, almost as if he was on the floor of an enormous yellow trampoline. No familiar landmarks were visible, not St. Andrew’s church bell tower that was always visible from the garden or the tall wooden poles strung with power lines that ran by the bottom of their fence. Somehow, these difference didn’t disturb him. After all, a rabbit had brought him here.
“Where are we Mr. Phelps?” he inquired politely, turning back to the rabbit.
Mr. Phelps was now smoking a long thin cigar in an even longer holder, rolling it delicately in his right paw and blowing perfect rings of blue smoke as he studied the boy.
“Why, we are here,” he said waving the cigar airily. “Earlier we were there and now we’re here.”
The reply irritated John. This sounded like nonsense and the rabbit seemed to be talking down at him as his parents did sometimes. But he was a polite boy and didn’t want to be rude. So he humored the rabbit.
“Where exactly is here, Mr. Phelps?” he said in his nicest voice. “Mother will be calling soon and I can’t stay very long.”
“Don’t you worry Johnny,” said the rabbit, eyeing him sideways. “Time doesn’t pass the same way here as it does there. There’s plenty of time before your mother comes looking for you, but to answer your question, this place is called Retsae, and it’s my home.”
John was astonished. There was nothing around that could serve as a home for the large rabbit standing before him and no path that might lead to one. He didn’t want to offend Mr. Phelps however, so he smiled and said “are we going to your home then?”
“We most certainly are,” said Mr. Phelps emphatically. He was now chewing on a large pink carrot with an exceptionally bushy green top. His dark glasses had disappeared and his eyes had become a much darker pink than they had been back in the garden. In fact, they looked decidedly like ripe strawberries to John, who was too much of a gentleman to say anything anyway.
“Close your eyes again Johnny,” said Mr. Phelps waving the carrot at John. “We’re leaving right away.”
John felt the same sensation of nothing happening this time around too, so he opened his eyes after a few seconds without being told to.
They were certainly not in the meadow anymore. He appeared to be in cozy little room carved out of some smooth brown material with soft plush white carpets on the floor and beautiful pictures of scenery on the walls. Mr. Phelps was seated in an armchair by a window, carefully painting a solid white egg in bright swirls of color. By his side was a small basket filled with six eggs, already painted and delicately tied around the middle with shiny bows. The rabbit appeared to be a more manageable size now and a quick glance at his own self reassured John that he himself had returned to his original form, although he was still wearing the striped shirt and the belted trousers. He walked across to the window where Mr. Phelps sat and looked outside.
Through the slightly opaque glass he saw a small garden filled with strange shrubs. The plants were unlike anything John had seen before, short and sparsely leaved, with many branches spreading out like a canopy just a few feet above the ground. What looked to be eggs were suspended from many of the branches, all white and in various sizes. John knew that eggs were laid by chickens and he could not believe his eyes.
“Are those eggs, out there on those bushes?” he said finally after he had blinked his eyes a number of times, pinched himself a few more and confirmed that what he was seeing appeared real.
“They certainly look like eggs,” Mr. Phelps replied, “but I prefer to call them Cheggs.”
“Cheggs?” John was intrigued. “Why do you call them that? Is it because they aren’t real eggs?”
“Oh, they’re real eggs all right,” laughed the rabbit. “Except they are solid chocolate inside.” He picked up one of the painted eggs from his basket and offered it to John. “Here, try it. I’m sure you’ll approve.”
With that, he tossed it towards John, who was so taken aback that he had to juggle for a bit before he had the egg safely in both hands.
It looked like a regular egg to him and felt like one too, though it felt somewhat heavier than a true egg. John couldn’t say for sure, not having handled too many real eggs himself. As he looked at it the egg seemed to wiggle in his palms. Thin hairline cracks appeared on the painted shell, growing more pronounced as he watched. Not wanting the egg to break in his hands, John stooped down and placed it on the carpet. Even as he took a step backwards the eggshell splintered into many tiny fragments and flew apart, leaving a perfectly formed chocolate chicken standing there on the carpet. It looked so lifelike that John expected it to cock its head and move about, but it just stayed there, and beside him, Mr. Phelps chuckled.
“It’s just chocolate you know,” he laughed. “Go ahead, have a taste. Unless you don’t like chocolate,” he added, seeing John’s hesitation.
John liked chocolate. He liked it a lot in fact. Easter was one of his favorite times of the year because there was so much chocolate around. He had never seen a chocolate figure so perfectly formed before. It looked delectable, and picking up the tiny morsel, he popped it into his mouth. The chocolate seemed to melt inside his mouth and when the syrupy center exploded on his tongue he had to put his hands to his mouth to keep from drooling on the carpet. Quickly it was gone, but the taste lingered long after he had swallowed the last morsel.
He turned to the rabbit in amazement and saw that Mr. Phelps, now dressed in a burgundy coat that resembled a bath robe was smoking a long pipe that glowed gently in front of his face and made the whiskers on his nose gleam silver in the reflected light.
“Have another, Johnny,” said the rabbit, pushing the basket forward with his rear paw. “I made these especially for you. Try the green and silver one next. I believe it has a ginger candy center.”
John couldn’t help himself. He knew he was being greedy and rather impolite, but he took the basket and sat down on the spongy floor, picking up the green and silver egg. It was as wonderful as Mr. Phelps had promised. He ate that one, and a purple and orange one after that and a blue and gold one next.
He ate them all.
After what seemed like only a very short time, he sat back in a daze of satiation, the empty basket lying there before him, surrounded by tiny shards of colored shell. Drowsily he thought that this might be the best Easter yet. He yawned prodigiously and lay back on the carpet, which seemed to mold itself around him like a warm blanket. Mr. Phelps, still sitting in the chair, was wreathed in fragrant smoke that somehow smelled like ripe berries. He didn’t really want to fall asleep but in spite of his best efforts his eyes grew heavier and heavier, the carpet grew cozier and cozier and he felt himself float away on a cloud of nothingness.
He came awake slowly to an insistent sound above him and a gentle pressure on his shoulder. Reluctantly he opened his eyes to see his mother bending over him, shaking him awake.
“Where’s the rabbit? I mean, Mr. Phelps?” inquired John groggily.
“What rabbit? And who’s Mr. Phelps?” asked his mother a little sharply. “Have you been talking to strangers John?”
John opened his mouth to explain and then closed it without saying anything. It was all just too absurd to explain anyway.
“No mum, I’m sorry, I must have dozed off,” he said sheepishly.
“You’ve been asleep in the garden for a half hour or more and no wonder,” his mother said. “You ate all the chocolate eggs you picked up this afternoon and it’s going to ruin your supper.”