Friday, May 24th, 20W2
Bunnyburrow, Hares Crossing Fairgrounds
“Ow! Cut it out, Gi-deon!” Sharla shouted, or rather, raised her voice as high as she could raise it. Which wasn't very high, considering it was Gideon Grey she was attempting to yell at.
“Bah-ah, bah-ah, what’re ya gonna do, cry?” He mocked as he snatched the colorful carnival tickets from her hooves and pocketed them into the front of his overalls.
“Hey!” A voice came from behind Sharla. The conflict paused as they saw the young bunny, Judy Hopps, approaching in her cop uniform from the stage play earlier. She was tiny, yet authoritative. “You heard her. Cut it out.”
Gideon was having none of this nonsense.
“Nice costume, loser.” He taunted, “What crazy world are you living in where you think a bunny could be a cop?” He nearly let loose a load of spit as he shouted the last word.
“Kindly return my friends’ tickets.” She sternly commanded, holding out her paw at Gideon.
“Come and get ‘em…” He patted the tickets in his front pocket, smiling mockingly before his face quickly turned aggressive. He began advancing towards her menacingly. “But watch out, ‘cause I’m a fox— and like you said in your dumb little stage play, us predators used to eat prey!” He brandished his claws and bared his teeth. “And that killer instinct’s still in our Dunnahh.”
“Uh,” Travis started, Gideon’s shady ferret lackey. “I’m pretty much sure it’s pronounced D-N-A.”
Gideon swatted a paw at Travis, causing him to flinch. “Don’t tell me what I know, Travis.”
“You don’t scare me, Gideon.” Judy announced bravely.
Gideon’s shove came swiftly, knocking the rabbit clean off her feet. She hit the ground with a thump, knocking the wind out her lungs. Sharla and the other kids gasped in horror, and took off for the safety of a nearby tree.
“Scared now?!” Gideon barked, as Judy lifted herself to face him, eyes glossy, full of tears, nose twitching beyond her control.
“Lookit her nose twitch,” Travis taunted from behind Gideon. “She is scared!”
“Cry little baby bunny,” Gideon said mockingly, hunched over his victim. “Cry, cry—“
And just as suddenly as he had pushed her, Judy retaliated. She bucked up her legs and shoved them straight into his muzzle, sending him reeling back. Sharla and the other onlooking children gasped from the behind the tree, all eyes wide with shock.
Gideon checked his lip for blood, finding none, before he returned his focus to the feisty rabbit. His eyes were filled with anger.
“Oh, you don’t know when to quit, do ya?” He said, flicking out his sharp claws threateningly. Judy froze in terror at the sight of them, her breath quickened.
Gideon, stop! Sharla screamed in her mind, her heart beating ever faster. She was too paralyzed to vocalize what she was thinking, too scared to stand in solidarity with her friend. No, no, no, please, you can keep my tickets, just leave Judy alone!
Gideon growled and with a deft swipe of his claw, he drew blood from her cheek.
Sharla couldn’t watch, she covered her eyes. It didn’t stop Judy’s scream from filling the air, burrowing into her mind. Judy had come to stand up for her, to protect her, but now… Sharla was powerless, she couldn’t do the same for Judy.
She kept her eyes closed, unable to look at what Gideon would do next. More sounds of distress came from her friend.
Stop, She pleaded, still unable to speak up from behind the safety of the tree. Gideon, that’s enough!
“I want you to remember this moment,” She heard Gideon snarl. “The next time you think you will ever be more than just a stupid, carrot-farming, dumb bunny!”
Sharla opened her eyes to Gideon high-fiving Travis, laughing, and walking away from the hurt Judy that still lay on the ground, holding a paw to her cheek. They abandoned the tree to run over to their friend, who was wiping blood away from fresh tears left by Gideon’s claws.
“That looks ba-d,” Sharla’s brother Gareth said, concerned.
“Are you OK, Judy?!” Sharla asked urgently, her heart still pumping. Judy, I’m so sorry!
“Yeah…” Judy said in a weary voice, sitting up. “Yeah, I’m okay.” She pulled out a stash of tickets she was hiding beneath her, pilfered from Gideon. “Here you go.”
The children gasped.
“Wow!” Sharla exclaimed, amazed. “You got our tickets!”
All this trouble, over some carnival tickets.
“You’re awesome, Judy!” Gareth marveled, clearly in awe of the aspiring rabbit cop.
“Yeah!” Sharla said, agreeingly. “That Gideon Grey doesn’t know what he’s talkin’ ‘bout!”
Judy dusted herself off, “Well, he was right about one thing,” she said walking over to her fallen hat and picking it up. She donned it once again, a determined smug on her face. “I don’t know when to quit!”
Sharla nodded in agreement. “If there’s anyone that’ll prove that a rabbit can be a police officer, it’s you, Judy!”
And maybe one day, I’ll prove that a meek sheep like me can be an astronaut…
“Judy!” An older female voice called from behind them. Sharla spun around to look— Judy’s parents. A mortified look overtook their faces as they saw the fresh claw marks left on Judy’s cheek. “What happened— who did this?!”
4 Years later
Monday, December 18th, 20W6
“I don’t know if I should tell her…” Gareth said solemnly. “What if she says no? Wow, I would die right there…”
“You’re twelve…” Sharla said back to her brother, not sure how their conversation strolled into his crush on his lab partner. “She’s twelve… or somewhere around there. Unless she’s moving away, none of us are going anywhere for a while.”
The two were walking home with Carmen Hopps, who had been their long time tagalong companion. It wasn’t until a few months ago that she had even begun to feel comfortable enough talking with them, sometime after her ninth birthday.
“You think you have it bad,” Carmen spoke up, “There’s a high schooler that has a crush on me…”
“Ew!” Gareth and Sharla said in unison.
“I think I’m related to him, too…” Carmen shuddered. “He creeps me out.” She laughed.
“OK, you see?” Sharla said teasingly to her brother. “At least the girl you have a crush on is in your class, and not in pre-school.”
They were nearing the rabbit homesteads. Large mound-shaped homes in the ground that the expansive families of rabbits usually shared. Sharla and Gareth both lived in the suburbs nearby, but they typically walked Carmen home when Judy or one her other siblings weren’t able to walk with her.
A short overland train bridge temporarily shaded them from the warm winter sun. It didn’t snow in Bunnyburrow, thanks to the weather control barrier that kept farming weather in service year-round.
“Uh, oh…” Gareth said suddenly.
“Hmm?” Sharla said, curious, looking ahead.
“I think I hear something,” He mumbled. “Something ba-ad.”
Sure enough, someone or, someones came from behind a pillar that held up the far side of the train bridge. Not just any someones… Gideon Grey and Travis Miles. They were bantering and laughing, although Gideon’s laugh could be taken as an insidious cackle, as if he had just finished poking an injured bird.
“It’s just the un-wondertwins,” She said, unyielding. “I’m not scared of them.” She kept her pace, with Gareth and Carmen lagging slightly behind.
“Uhh-hh,” Gareth bleated worryingly, then started whispering “That’s good n’ all, Sharla— B-but I-I— am”
Carmen did what she usually did when nervous: she stopped talking, but quickly caught up to Sharla, as if to prove that she wasn’t scared either.
“Just stick with me,” Sharla said simply, bundling her cloven hooves into fists. She neared the laughing hoodlums, the small one was just that— small, but annoying. The larger one seemed to tower ever larger as she closed the distance between them.
Puberty had struck Gideon about a year ago, so he had become rather taller and bulkier. Even with their age difference only being about sixteen months, Sharla was dwarfed in comparison.
“Oh, well ,look who it is!” Gideon said loudly and obnoxiously. “It’s the loser squad. You three hang out so much that I can smell how kickable you guys are.”
“Back off, Gideon,” Sharla demanded, attempting to walk by. She was quickly blocked as Gideon walked in front of her.
“Oooo!” Travis said, giggling. “She’s getting pretty feisty, maybe we should teach them a lesson!”
Gareth and Carmen awkwardly took shelter behind the unflinching Sharla. She had had quite enough of Gideon picking on other kids.
“Gi-ideon,” She said, puffing out her chest defiantly. “We’re just trying to go home, now cut it out and—“
“Oh, oh, how rude of me!” Gideon mocked, “Why, this is all just a little misunderstandin’. Ya see, I have no intention of gettin’ in your way.”
“Good,” she said, unimpressed. “Then get out of it.” She tried to walk around him again.
“Ah, ah,” Gideon said, side stepping and blocking her way again. He didn’t like how resistant Sharla was being, he didn’t like this one bit. “Wow, I was just gonna give you guys a hard time, scare ya a bit.” He put his paws on his knees and bent down to her eye level. “But now you’ve gone and got me all upset.” he frowned.
“Uh, oh,” Travis squawked, “She asked for it.”
Gideon… she thought, her knees starting to shake, she fought hard to steady them. Why are you like this?
“Now,” Gideon said, holding out a paw and rubbing his clawed fingers together. “If you go under this here bridge, it’s gonna cost ya.”
“Gi-deon!” Sharla shouted softly, which was about her top volume. Gareth and Carmen watched with wide eyes as she stood up to the towering bully. She could feel herself getting light headed, her heart was pounding, unbelieving that she was standing up to him. She started to bleat her speech. “We’ve go-one under this bridge e-everyday for the past three years, I-I-I shouldn’t have to—“
“Didn’t ya hear?” he interrupted, catching on to her failing tough persona, “This is my little patch of road now. Ya like it? It’s nice and shady, you can hear the train whiz by overhead. It’s gotta price: fifty bucks!”
“I-I don’t ha-ave—“ Sharla started.
“She doesn’t have to pay you anything!” A voice came from behind Gideon. He stood up straight and looked behind him. The other kids looked around his girth to see who the challenger was.
“Oh, look, another loser.” Gideon chuckled hardily. “Seems everyone’s linin’ up to pay my fee today. What ever will I be buying with these profits?”
“Kindly step out of my friends’ way,” Judy said sternly as walked around Gideon and stood next to Sharla with crossed arms.
Judy, you’re here to stand up for me again, Sharla thought, feeling more confident, her nervousness dissipating. No, this time, I’ll stand up with you. I’m not hiding this time.
“Yeah, Gii-deon!” Sharla proudly declared, “We don’t need to pay you anything. Stop being such a bully!”
“Hmm, you think I’m a bully, eh?” Gideon snarled, then turned to Judy, “What about you? You got some kinda beef with me? Your parents gonna come knock on my door with the cops again if I don’t do what you tell me?”
“My parents called the police because I was assaulted, Gideon.” Judy said back, no hint of timidness in her as she stared him in the eyes. “And that won't be happening again. I’ll repeat myself, step out of the way now.”
“I’ll deal with you later,” Gideon pointed a threatening finger in Judy’s face. "You think you’re some kinda hotshot because you been workin’ out, going rock climbing? I’m still much bigger than you, don’t you forget it.” He shifted his focus to Sharla. “And you, if you don’t got the fifty bucks, let’s see what else ya got!”
And with that, his claw whipped around Sharla, grabbing onto her backpack.
“He-ey!” She shouted, “Get off!” She struggled to back away, to stop Gideon from opening her bag, but he only pulled harder. The other children could only watch, unable to process this new struggle. Travis was wide eyed, yet grinning.
“Hey!” Judy yelled, she readied herself. “Get off her! I’m warning you, Gideon!”
I’m not letting you treat me like this!
She gave one final push, and Gideon pulled her bag in turn. Her backpack, unable to withstand the stress of two pulling forces, gave way. The bag tore at the seam in a lower corner, causing its contents to spill out onto the ground.
Sharla could only look down at the mess.
Then, suddenly, as quickly as the tear in her bag had appeared, Judy had jumped up to the support column, then leapt from it, and collided, rabbit feet-first directly into Gideon’s jaw. Gideon tumbled to the ground with a painful yelp.
He tried to get to his feet, anger driving him. Judy deftly put her foot on his back, twisting a swiping arm backwards, causing him to let out another painful groan.
“Ah-ah-agh!” Gideon whimpered.
“I warned you,” Judy said sternly. The other children, including Sharla, could only stare in disbelief.
“Get offa me!” He shouted, careful not to struggle. “It hurts!”
“Calm down, and I will,” Judy shot back.
Oh, Gideon, Sharla thought, with a mix of pity and disdain.Why do you pick fights like this?
“Agh! Travis, help me!” He hissed.
“I, uh- Gid, yo-you know I’m no good at these physical tussles!”
“No one’s going to help you but yourself, Gideon Grey” Judy said, patiently waiting for him to relent. “Apologize to Sharla, and calm down, then you can get up.” She increased the bend on his arm almost effortlessly.
Gideon breathed heavily onto the sidewalk, “OK! OK! Sharla, I’m sorry! Agh!”
With that, Judy released him. Gideon scrambled to his feet, clearly embarrassed, and beaten.
“This isn’t over!” He spat, as he hurried away, across to the other side of the street. “You will never be a bunny cop, y-you hear me!” He shouted back. Travis wasn’t far behind, in fact, it didn’t take long for Travis to make it far beyond him.
Sharla didn’t say anything, she merely started picking up the spilled contents of her bag.
“Are you OK?” Judy asked, kneeling over to help pick up her books. Sharla sniffed, almost ready to cry. She was embarrassed, exhausted from the confrontation.
“Y-yeah,” Gareth chimed in, the reality of what had happened still processing. “He didn’t hurt you did he?”
“I’m… I’m OK.” Sharla nodded quickly a few times, fighting back the tears. “He didn’t hurt me, just my bag.”
It was a lie. Gideon had hurt more, far more than her backpack.
2 Days later
Wednesday, December 20th, 20W6
Bunnyburrow, Evanbrooke Jr. High School
“I’ll see you after school,” Sharla spoke loudly across the crowded school hallway to her friend, “I just need to grab something from my locker.”
With her bag still torn from Monday’s incident, she was left carrying her books around herself. It was a cumbersome exercise.
Making her way to her locker, she noticed something… someone: Gideon Grey. He towered among the other students, rivaling even the taller antelope or deer students. Yet, in a school with a mostly bunny student body, he was easy to spot. He was standing near her locker.
Oh, no… Sharla grimaced, her heart beating faster at the thought of what retaliation he had in store for her. Please, Gideon, just leave me alone…
He spotted her and quickly, but awkwardly, made his way over to her. She turned away, not wanting any of his harassment today.
“Sharla,” Gideon called.
She didn’t respond, her clacking hooves against the tile floor only quickened, gently dodging the other students in the hall.
“Sharla, wait!” He called again, much closer.
No, don’t run, stand up to him again. Show him that you don’t need Judy to defend you!
Resolute, she took in a breath, and turned around, her books still clutched to her chest.
“Gi-deon, I don’t want any trouble.” She said, as he approached her. There was something in his paw.
“Here…” He said bluntly. He shoved a bright blue and grey backpack in front of her.
Sharla stared at the backpack for a moment as he held it out awkwardly. With one hoof on her books, the other cautiously reached out for it, taking it.
“I don’t—“ She managed to let out, before Gideon promptly turned around and briskly padded away, shoulders stiff.
The backpack was brand new, the brand tag still dangling from its shoulder strap. And it was sheep-sized, much too small for Gideon to wear.
He bought me a— Sharla looked it over, cautiously. Gideon Grey bought me a backpack?
She looked around. He was nowhere to be found.
Turning back to the bag, she knelt down and placed her books on the floor. She examined the new backpack, just slightly worried that he had done something horrible to it. Was it a trick?
The fresh zipper glided open as she peered inside. Its contents were: a box of oat and cheese crackers, a small bag of alfalfa hay cookies, and a torn piece of lined paper.
She covered her mouth in confusion, trying to process what he had done. Gideon had filled the backpack with a few treats, and… a note. Reaching in, she took out the small piece of paper.
The adrenaline from before was still coursing through her body, her hooves shaking just slightly. She didn’t know what to think. Was it genuine? Was it a set up for another extortion later? Maybe he had stolen it and would report her as an accomplice… But what to make of the note?
It didn’t make any sense.
The years rolled by. Gideon kept his distance from Sharla and her friends, and she almost forgot about him.
But sometimes, there are mammals you just never fully forget.
And while they weren’t friends, Sharla and Gideon would sometimes trade a passing glance in their years in Junior High School, and shortly after, High School.
She would catch him in the lunchroom, on the way home, in the hallway. He often gave an awkward smile, or, if it was a good day, he would even say, “Hi”. But he never tried to bully her again, whether out of fear of retaliation from Judy or… a silly thought sometimes crossed Sharla’s mind. Was it remorse?
Sharla even caught herself looking for him now and then. Even though she had nothing to say, she would still look. And she could have sworn… maybe… he looked for her too.
5 More years later
Saturday, October 22nd, 20X1
Bunnyburrow, Bunnyburrow Junction Train station
“Hey— uh, hey…” A voice came from behind. An older voice, deeper, one she hadn’t heard in a while.
Sharla turned around, only to look slightly upward.
“Gi-ideon?” She said, giving a slight smile. “Gideon Grey. Wasn’t expecting you.”
He had grown, but she had as well. Having hit puberty herself some years ago, he no longer towered over her as he did when they were children. He was still taller to be sure, but she now came up to his chin.
“Yea— yeah…” He said nervously. “I, uh… I thought I’d come and… say goodbye… seeing as how I didn’t say nothin’ to ya at graduation an’ all…”
Sharla gripped the handle on her suitcase a little tighter. She was unsure what to say, so she averted her eyes instead.
“I, uh,” Gideon stuttered. “I just saw Judy came by, looks like she already said her goodbyes and…”
“Are you… scared of Judy?” Sharla glanced at Gideon again, giving a nervous laugh. “You don’t need to avoid her, you know.”
“Oh, uh,” he scratched the back of his head. “I know but, uh, it’s just… I didn’t wanna cause ya any trouble before you left on your trip— so, uh…”
Sharla gripped her suitcase’s handle with both hooves in front of her. She hadn’t really told him where she was going. They didn’t have much opportunity to talk. After all, she was in advanced placement classes and Gideon… It’s not that he was dumb, or found school challenging, he just didn’t try at first. But Gideon recently had a change of heart and managed to turn his school work around just in time for graduation.
“You want to know where I’m going?” She asked, figuring that’s why he was there.
“Uh… y-yeah…” Gideon said bashfully. “You going to college or…?”
“I’ve enlisted in the Unified Air Front.” She said, more bluntly that she had meant to. “I’m going to Pawstin, Ibexas to be stationed at Percheron Airbase.”
“Th-the Air Front?” He said, his jaw hung, almost in shock. “You joined the Armed Forces? I-in Ibexas?”
“That’s right,” she nodded, “They have a higher education plan for Biomechanical Engineering. I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to get me into the space program. You know… It’s always been that silly dream of mine.” She let out a another nervous laugh.
Gideon stared for a moment, processing what she had said. Again, he wasn’t dumb, but the concept of Bio-mecha-whoozit escaped him. Whatever it was, Sharla was leaving to pursue her dream.
“I’m happy for ya, darlin’,” he said, though a hint of sadness showed through, “And it ain’t no silly dream. Always knew you’d be the one to make it to outer space. You were one of the more brighter ones here, real smart.”
“Thank you, that’s nice of you to say,” she said sincerely. It was odd getting such a sweet complement from Gideon Grey. “It was a really tough decision, knowing I’d leave home behind and move to a new territory. But, um… I should get going. The train leaves in a few minutes. Thanks for coming to see me off!”
There was an air of awkwardness around Gideon, an aura he normally didn’t give off. She turned around after a beat, and headed for the waiting train.
Sharla turned to face him again. “Hmm?”
“I, uh…”, Gideon stammered again, he rubbed his paws together, as if the friction in his paws would help him speak. “How long will you be gone?”
Seven years… the words rung in his head.
“Will ya…” He paused awkwardly, unsure what he was trying to ask. “You’ll come back n’ visit your old home, right?”
Sharla smiled then gave a simple answer, a nod.
He awkwardly returned the smile as she turned around and entered the train, the door closing quickly behind her. His own reflection shown in the window, the morning sun glaring off it. He didn’t see Sharla, but he waved into the train nonetheless. His wave slowed, the sight of himself waving making him feel self-conscious. Why had he come to see Sharla off? Did he say what needed to be said? Maybe. At the very least, he had said his goodbyes.
He turned around. The train made some whirring noises as it sped down the track. A few mammals still wandered around the train station made for bunnies, but he paid them no mind. He stared out in to the farming fields as he walked, the distant mountains, the sparse trees. They were empty, all of it. Nothing in the fields, no clouds in the morning sky.
Everyone was leaving. Sharla, Gideon’s brother and sister… Even Travis was leaving in a few weeks to attend some fancy school up in the Northern Federation for “Cell… cellular pharma—whooza-cology” or some such.
It’s not like he had spoken much with Travis lately, anyway. Unlike Gideon, Travis had more or less excelled in school, and the two eventually fell out of contact. Still though, Gideon hadn’t had many close friends in his time in Bunnyburrow, and the wake of Travis leaving stung.
He ambled to the parking lot of the train station, still caught up in his own thoughts. Reaching into his pocket for his keys, he walked up to his truck. Rather, his mother’s truck, and looked into the driver’s side windshield. There it was again: his reflection. He had aged, grown into a fine looking young fox, albeit rather portly. But for all the change, all the self-improvement he had strived for in the past year— Was it enough? Everyone was leaving and he was still here, in Bunnyburrow.
A single question entered his mind as he slid the key into the door.
What do I do now?