Roadkill That Never Rots - Chapter 1 - funfettiii - The Secret History (2024)

Chapter Text



'Is your figure less than Greek?

Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak?
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay

Each day is Valentine's day.'

Frank Sinatra, My Funny Valentine


Bunny retrieved his shoe from the rain-soaked grass, peeled a dead leaf from the sole and hurled it towards the window. He watched it arc in the air, the laces whipping wildly, with his mouth agape and a drunkard’s youthful fascination at simple, day-to-day happenings. It thumped against the windowpane before tumbling to the floor and landing before him.

He lurched towards it and keeled over in the grass. There was the stale taste of today’s celebrations burnt onto his tongue; Marion’s oily lipstick that bled into the smile lines cinching her mouth, plain chips and fiery whisky. When he’d drunk it, spurred on by the cry of, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” Bunny had dribbled the alcohol down his shirt and it had already been plastered damply to his skin before he fell to the ground. He blinked slowly, trying to string his thoughts together and failing. Tufts of grass poked his lips and he spat them out furiously.

For crying out loud, he thought, no less annoyed in his intoxicated state, this suit’s ruined, it’s caked in mud and booze and probably stinks to high heaven.

Only he could imagine Francis agonising over dirtied suits, too. Bunny didn’t fear Francis the way he now trembled at the thought of Henry – cold, meticulous Henry with such dead eyes who Bunny, in awful hindsight, may have pushed too far – but, drunk and damp, he was disgusted by him. They all repulsed him, really. Fear scraped and picked at their flawless exteriors, exposing them to the light, and Bunny did not like what he saw. Not at all. Francis was particular and revolting and, if Bunny’s suspicions were to be confirmed, wanted to kill him. Kill him! Hunt him down and shoot him as though he was an actual blasted rabbit. And, writhing in the cold grass with mingled mud and whiskey drying on his shirt, Bunny felt like he was trapped in a gun’s reticle, alright.

He prised himself from the ground and uneasily swayed to his feet, clasping the fallen trainer to his chest. Richard’s window stretched on, endless, and it may as well have been Antarctica. The curtains were drawn but the window was slightly ajar. Gritting his teeth, Bunny wound his arm back, took aim and threw it at the window again.

The brogue shot through the air, hurtling towards the window with such speed Bunny wondered if it’d shatter it. As he thought this, the shoe connected with a window. A flat slapping sound rebounded in the air, amplified by the night’s chill, and the shoe fell back into Bunny’s outstretched palm like the punchline to some cosmic joke.

He screamed, “Richard! Richard, you idiot!”

His throat burned worse than when he’d drenched it in whiskey and mysterious shots an hour earlier. There was a heart-stopping moment where Bunny’s stomach lurched and he almost tottered to the nearest bush to messily throw up. He swallowed.


This time, the shoe zipped through the gap in the window and could no longer be seen. Straining his ears, Bunny could hear several thumps, as though it was rolling across the floor, and a wavering, tall silhouette appeared by the window, haloed by a vintage lamp.

Plaster crumbled beneath Bunny’s shoe as he placed his foot on the brick wall, seeking a ledge to lean his weight on. His socked foot scrambled to find purchase and ripped by the heel as it snagged against a chip. He took a steadying breath, now feeling quite sober, and blindly fumbled for another ledge. His fingers curled around another cranny in the wall from where the blistering wind had eroded it over time. Grunting, he hauled himself up. There was a pole next to him and he shimmied up it, gasping as his fingers slipped over the cool, smooth metal. He lumbered the remaining lengths of the wall with his feet digging into the wall, one hand clenched around the pole and the other scraping at the wall. His fingernails were caked in fragments of brick and dried cement as he swung himself onto the windowsill.

He tumbled to the ground the same way his shoe had done a minute beforehand; ungracefully. His teeth were chattering madly as he lay there like a caught fish, struggling to catch his breath. Sweat darkened the armpits of his shirt and he hoped that it wasn’t noticeable amidst the other stains.

Just as he’d gotten the urge to close his eyes, all of a sudden so tired that he may have slept on the floor, Richard approached him. Bunny could see his reflection on Richard’s shoes, down to his sharp nose and the bead of sweat hanging from his chin.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Bunny sat up and saluted at him. For all his co*cky mannerisms, he felt oddly drained and it took a couple seconds of his tongue roving around his mouth, poking at the insides of his cheeks in the attempt to form syllables, before he mumbled, “Dickie boy.”

He tugged off his muddy sock and flung it across the room. It landed next to his shoe, lonely despite its similarly tarnished companion. All the while, Richard stared at him. Bunny hated it when Richard did that. He had the unfortunate habit of gazing into the distance and it sent shivers down Bunny’s spine to see those unfocused eyes snap onto you, as though he was dragging you down to his personal museum, another fine portrait to be admired.

Despite his lukewarm eyes, Bunny trusted Richard. At first, he’d isolated him because he simply wasn’t, no matter his attempts, one of them. But damn them all, even Camilla, to hell! They could all summon Dionysus and tumble around the forest floor with their tongues down each other’s throats for all Bunny cared.

Richard was his own person, separate from the bacchanals. He was a lifeboat for a drowning man such as Bunny. Due to this line of reasoning, Bunny eagerly complied when Richard gestured at his meagre room and said he could make himself comfortable. There was no sign of Richard’s personality or existence littering the room, which perhaps signified him more than patterned ties could have. The room was barren and devoid of any furniture that the college hadn’t supplied beforehand. A bed was nestled in the corner, well-acquainted with the small table to its right and the grand writer’s desk adjacent to it. Several books were spread across the floor, the pages fluttering at the sharp breeze drifting through the open window. Richard had annotated several, although his handwriting was so cramped that Bunny couldn’t read them apart from the words prose and structure.

As Bunny sat down on the bed, twiddling his thumbs, Richard paced around the room. He seemed to notice Bunny’s eyes flicking after him and stopped, his posture forcefully straight. Down the hall, Bunny could hear pop music. It was probably that girl, Jodie or Judy, one of the two, who Bunny hated on the principle that Charles and Henry did too. She reeked of hairspray and the acrid scent of nail varnish made Bunny’s nose prickle whenever he passed her to visit Richard.

“What happened?”

“Dickie boy,” Bunny slurred, the words thick and heavy; he had to force them out by emphasising each consonant. “I was… at a party. No, before that, I was at a… dinner, why, a dinner, with, you know. Aw, you know. You know!”

“No,” Richard said, his face schooled into an expression of utmost patience, “I don’t.”

Frustrated, Bunny insisted, “You know. Blonde. The two, the twins. Camilla… Camilla and Charles. Richard, it’s awful.”

His chair grated against the floor in a deafening squeal as Richard drew out a stool from under his desk. The sound reminded Bunny of when he was taken to a farm as a young child. The farmer was a gruff, bearded man who lived near their land, so close by that Bunny could hear the distant cries of a rooster in the early morning. Bunny and his brothers had sneaked into the farm despite their firm orders to feed the horses, pet the bunnies – now isn’t that the spitting image of you, Bun, the little bastard’s as wriggly as you, that’s for sure – and frolic in the fields. They found the farmer killing an injured piglet who’s legs had been crushed somehow. Bunny hadn’t realised what was happening until there was a flash of silver and a horrifying, high-pitched squeal. Later, he’d boast that it was all in man’s power, blah, blah, blah, the cycle of life and all that egocentric hogwash.

But now, prising cement from his fingernails, Bunny felt another wave of nausea rise over him and waited for the tide to draw back. When his stomach had settled enough for him to open his eyes, he realised that Richard was speaking to him.

“What’s awful, Bunny?”

“All of it,” he moaned. “I don’t… Richard.”


“We had a nice dinner, me and the twins, not the best, mind you. The bacon was so overcooked I practically cracked my teeth on it but.... all of us, we were laughing. But it sounded like the laughter in those quiz shows. D’you know the quiz shows, Dickie, and it’s just, well, the laughter sounds real but it’s all dead people, right? All dead people laughing… and… it’s canned, that’s the word. Canned laughter. It’s not normal, old man.”

The moonlight rippled across Richard’s face from where he was sat, elbows digging into his knees, his long fingers absently smoothing over his earlobes in thought. The only alarm on his face was surprise at Bunny’s hysteria but the rest of him was unreadable. For all Bunny could analyse his body language with the haughty – and often incorrect – guesses of a self-proclaimed genius, Richard looked as though he was puzzling over a tricky crossword or Greek homework. Clotted red pinpricks flared on his lips and Bunny wondered if Richard had been picking at them nervously as of late. But nervous about what? It was impossible for him to have known about the farmer. Besides, his relationship with the others had strengthened in the wake of Bunny’s hostility; it wasn’t uncommon to find Richard bent over their homework or swapping a cigarette back and forth with Francis.

“So,” Richard began, his eyes wandering to the floor before settling once more on Bunny, “you were eating dinner with the twins. What happened after that?”

Bunny waved a flippant hand in the air. “The true question, chap, is what happened before.” Then, mumbled beneath his breath in a panicked wheeze, “What’s going to happen now.”

As Bunny would reflect on this sentence later, it would be tethered down by a new meaning. That harmless musing (what’s going to happen now)would send chills down his spine because, in a sick and bitter way, it was true. Bunny wasted his time fretting about the past, even if the stains of his last bacchanal were seared into his eyelids, because he should have been deathly afraid of the dangers that were to come.

“Then,” Richard encouraged, coaxing the story from him.

“Then,” repeated Bunny, his chin dipping to rest on his chest, “we went to a bar, in high spirits. Charles did that, um, you know, singing in the rain,” – there was a brief pause before Bunny’s eyebrows shot up and he clicked his fingers – “Charlie Chaplin’s dance. He spun around the lamppost. I joined him. Camilla rolled her eyes but she didn’t mind it, us goofing off. She’s used to it. I daresay, she should loosen up a little. It won’t kill her, will it?”

At Camilla’s name, Richard shuffled the chair closer to Bunny, who snorted. Richard’s head-over-heels puppy love for Camilla was both blatant and embarrassing.

When Richard was still new to the Classics and Bunny noticed how his eyes lingered on Camilla whenever she spoke, he told him, “Save yourself the goddamn time, Dickie boy. She flirts with everyone. Besides, you don’t want Charles in your bad books, don’t cha?”

Richard had turned his head away from Bunny and began to cut his steak into small cubes. By then, Bunny had already eaten his own meal, ordered a coffee and flirted with the waitress. His coffee arrived steaming hot but before he could take a sip, Richard murmured, low enough so that only Bunny could hear it, “I don’t like Camilla that way, it’s not like that.”

Bunny laughed and choked on his coffee. As he coughed into his napkin, his eyes streaming, he adopted a crude Californian accent. “Keep on lying to yourself, brah,” he wheezed, “and I’ll be the King of Spain, how about that? That’ll be gnarly!”

At this, he burst into laughter again, even when Richard flushed furiously. It was difficult to tell when he was embarrassed but his ears always burnt a violent shade of red whenever he was. Even as Henry’s head turned to him, curious of the commotion behind him, Bunny continued to chuckle, slithering down his chair. Bunny wondered what a state they must have looked like to Henry, with Richard continuing to cut his steak into maddening slivers, his lips pressed into a thin line, and Bunny hiccupping weakly.

Although Francis’ face was obscured by smoke at the end of the table, his voice drifted over and it was overflowing with disdain. “Are you on drugs, Bun?”

Bunny grinned. “I’m high on life, old man,” he said, and then beckoned the waitress over for some pudding, will you, thanks, you’re a real doll, because he knew Henry was paying for it.

Now, Bunny rolled over and buried his face in Richard’s pillow, uncaring of the germs. It was soft and now that the frenzied joy of the alcohol had subsided, fizzing with paranoia, Bunny wished that he could go to sleep. Richard was a pushover, he wouldn’t mind. He daresay, if it was Camilla sprawled on his bed, then Richard would be tucking her in sweetly and turning on the nightlight. The thought made Bunny chuckle in short, tight intakes of breath as his eyes fluttered shut. It was warm in Richard’s bedroom and the cold breeze waltzed across Bunny’s face in soothing, rhythmic pirouettes.

“Bunny?” Richard said, his voice lilting upwards. The mattress dipped as Richard sat on the end, shaking his shoulder lightly. “Bunny, I don’t understand. You have to tell me what’s wrong.”

Without opening his eyes, Bunny murmured, “We went to the bar in town for more drinks. I think that’s where I left off. The twins were boring me. Henry, Henry, Henry. All they talk about is Henry! Here’s a question for you, Richard, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out. Do you reckon Henry’s thinking about them?”

When Richard didn’t respond, Bunny’s eyes snapped open and he glared at him, propped up on one elbow. “Well?” he demanded. “Does Henry?”

“I don’t know, Bunny. I’m not Henry.”

“Come on! You’re smart. Not as much as Henry, of course, but nobody is. Although you oughta be intelligent if Julian’s given you the time of day.”

Richard’s face brightened the way it usually did before he made a joke. It was a rare occurrence and Bunny relaxed. It could set a man’s nerves on edge, he knew, when all his friends were made out of steel and didn’t stoop down to his level to understand his perspective. Richard, Francis, Charles, all of them – they took life too seriously. Bunny didn’t see the point of that because life didn’t give two tosses about them. Life was short and they were young and weren’t they supposed to, as their legal duty, flash their middle finger at life?

“Henry’s probably thinking all about you, Bun.”

“Please.” Bunny blew out his cheeks. Catching onto Richard’s easy smile, he grinned back and preened. “He’s twirling his hair like a schoolgirl, thinking about all the money I owe him, Dickie.” After Richard’s quiet laughter subsided, he said, “Fetch me a drink, won’t you, chap? I’m parched.”

As though he was a puppet yanked by the strings, Richard stood up and beelined towards his desk. He crouched down and plucked a half-empty wine bottle by the neck from where it had rolled against the chair leg. There were no glasses nearby so he offered the bottle to Bunny with an apologetic grimace.

“You need to decorate the place,” Bunny advised after a long, thirsty gulp of the wine. “It’s miserable in here. I’m hardly surprised you’re always sleeping around someone else’s place.”

Richard ignored the comment, even when it was paired with suggestive waggling eyebrows, and said, “So you left the twins.”

“Indeed I did, fella. Right. So there was a party across the lawn. You wouldn’t believe this, Richard, a Dutchman tried to make me smoke pot! Me! I was curious but I put my foot down. A freshman girl gave me some, ah, some tequila from a thermos. She was a pretty little girl. Sort of a Deadhead, though. She was wearing clogs, you know those things? And a tie-dyed T-shirt.” He shuddered. “I can’t stand them. ‘Honey,’ I said, ‘you’re such a cutie, how come you want to get yourself up in that nasty stuff?’”

Although Bunny gestured the wine bottle towards him, Richard shook his head. Pursing his mouth, he seemed to think through his next words carefully before asking, “Did anything else happen at the party? You’re shaking.”

As soon as Bunny opened his mouth to respond, his stomach heaved. He dropped the bottle onto the bed and lurched towards the door. Hot bile clawed up his throat and spilled into his mouth. Bunny clasped a hand over his lips and dropped to his knees. He vomited. Long after everything had been emptied from his stomach, he continued to retch and gag, saliva dripping down his chin. He kneeled there, shivering, his clothes plastered to his skin from sweat and thought, please, God help me, I’m falling apart at the seams, would you look at this?

He didn’t know how long he sat there for, dust billowing around him as he retched, unable to clear the bacteria from his throat. When he staggered back into Richard’s bedroom, Richard was hovering by his desk, as though he was unsure on whether to run after Bunny or not. Bunny barged past him and collapsed in his chair, mopping at his forehead with a red bandana. The smell made him feel nauseous again; sour body odour, earthy mud, the faintest whiff of the fries he had pinched off Camilla’s plate.

“Musta,” he gasped, struggling to catch his breath, “been something I ate.”

Richard glanced at his door. “Did you make it to the bathroom?”

“Naw. Ran in the broom closet.” Unable to bear the smell any longer, Bunny crumpled the bandana into his fist. “Get me a glass of water, wouldja?"

In a wisp of linen and straight trousers, Richard left the room. Bunny wilted against the sofa, holding his head in his hands. He feared that, if he didn’t, then the last few months would shatter his skull and leak from his ears. He was so troubled by these memories – the country house, the party, the forest – that he almost didn’t notice when Richard returned, both hands wrapped around a glass of water. Bunny seized it and drank it in one gulp.

Alarmed, Richard yelped, “Not too quick.”

Ignoring him, Bunny drank the rest and slammed the glass down onto the desk. His sweaty handprint remained on the glass and he wiped it away with the heel of his trembling hand. He gulped. Hot sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eyes, burning them. He plucked at his collar, wishing that Richard would open his window even further.

“Oh my God. Sweet Jesus,” Bunny panted and waited for Richard to sit down on his bed before sucking in a quick gasp and wheezing, “Can’t stomach it any longer. Just can’t. Sweet Italian Jesus.”

Silence stretched over them, tense and oppressive. Richard picked at his lips until blood smeared on his thumb and he frowned, wiping it on his trouser. He clasped his hands on his lap instead. Bunny’s eyes were glazed as he tried to calculate where the others were now. It was only a matter of time until they revealed their plan to him and killed him. How? Despite his disdain for sports, Henry was taller than Bunny, although he outweighed him and had the advantage of partaking in some soccer games. Henry could tackle him but then their fingerprints would be on his body. Francis could throttle him with one of his expensive scarves. Camilla and Charles could tug on either one of his arms and pull until they snapped from their sockets, spilling a horrifying concoction of muscle tissue, fat and severed veins.

Bunny’s hand was still shaking when he swept his hair from his forehead. “You don’t even know what the devil I’m talking about, do you?” His voice dropped to a resentful mumble. “All true. All true. Swear to God. Nobody knows but me.”

Richard was frozen, staring at him. There was a crease between his eyebrows. Bunny could hear his own pulse ticking away in his wrists and dragged his palms over his face, peeking up at Richard through his fingers.

“You don’t have a clue,” he whispered and pressure welled behind his eyes. “Boy. You don’t have a f*cking clue.”

“Uh, do you want an aspirin? I meant to ask you earlier. If you take a couple now, you won’t feel so bad in the—”

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

Richard stilled. He would have appeared perfectly composed if not for the red spot of blood on his upper lip. “Why, no,” he said, a beat too late. “All you need is a little—”

Sniffing, Bunny dragged his sleeve across his eyes. Something scorching and rancid like the fires of hell were brewing in his stomach, bubbling, and he thought that he might explode. He wiped his face again, this time with enough aggression to scrape his skin, and jabbed a finger at Richard.

“You think I’m a lunatic. Bats in the belfry!” Bunny shouted. “Nobody listens to me!”

“Calm down,” Richard soothed, raising both hands in the air as though Bunny was aiming a gun at him. His voice was low, calm and reminded Bunny of his childhood home’s sofa, where he used to rake his fingernails through the velvet. “I’m listening to you.”

“Well,” Bunny said, feeling as though he was yanking the curtains back after a long and gruelling intermission, “listen to this.”

Where should Bunny begin? He could start with the very first holiday Henry paid for. Upon entering the hotel suite, Bunny had collapsed face down on the bed as Henry stood, unmoving, by the door, ignoring Bunny’s command to jump on the bed, see if they could break the mattress, it’ll be like being a kid again. Perhaps it would be more fitting to describe his first day in Hampden, fresh-faced and already bored. But Bunny blamed the bacchanals. Its effects rippled outwards like a stone skimming a pond surface, each ring larger and more convoluted than the last.

It had been Henry’s idea. Julian’s lesson on them had intrigued even Bunny, who’s attention span was notoriously volatile. Mass hysteria. It had been absurd enough to silence all of them, lulling them into a sort of trance. Their eyes were fixed on Julian as he weaved knowledge into the air with each flippant hand gesture, every flame that danced in his eyes. Although all the Classics admired Julian, Henry revered him. Julian’s words were gospel and his class had memorised their hymns by heart.

Richard had left fifteen minutes ago. His visits were becoming increasingly frequent and Bunny enjoyed his company – he didn’t stand up for himself in the fear of being isolated from the group and so Bunny could poke at him for as long as he wished – although nobody had quite warmed up to him yet. He was kind but he wasn’t in another realm of existence like they were. They were golden. No matter how much he polished his work and caring gestures until it shone like billboards proclaiming LIKE ME! PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LIKE ME! Richard was merely bronze at best.

They were gathered in the kitchen. Bunny sat on the island with his heels knocking against the cabinets and a half-empty plate on his lap. The others, bar Francis, pushed around their leftovers at the table, wincing at the scraping noise but carrying on nonetheless. A cigarette perched between his fingers, Francis peered out the window at Richard’s receding figure as it loped down the driveway. He took a deep drag of the cigarette and turned around.

“He loves that damn tie, doesn’t he?”

“We all have something we like,” said Charles between measured sips of his wine. He yawned and swung his legs onto the table. Francis’ hand darted forwards before falling limply to his side, as though he wanted to swat Charles’ feet onto the floor but had stopped himself.

“What, even sex?” Bunny suggested, repulsed, after a bewildered pause, at the same time Francis mused, “Is that his only tie? I have plenty, I can offer him one.”

Camilla grimaced at Bunny. “Really.”

He batted his eyelashes at her. “Really, sweetheart,” he mocked but stiffened at the way Charles’ hand had tightened around his knife. “Calm down, Charles. Sweet Italian Jesus, stab me in the goddamn throat, won’t you, I was going to wash these dishes but you’ve blown it! Camilla, Francis.” He flourished his plate in the air. “Blame Charles, not me.”

Shaking his head, Charles laughed and said, “You’re so dramatic, Bun.”

As Francis passed, Bunny inhaled the cigarette smoke and spluttered. Just as he was about to yelp his name in annoyance, Francis plucked his plate from his grip and rounded the table. Camilla, her lips pressed together to muffle any complaint that may have escaped unbidden, helped.

Henry’s eyes drifted upwards to her as she took his own plate and balanced it atop Francis’ wobbling tower of cutlery. She flushed and turned away. Her hair had been cut recently into another boyish pixie, the ends curling by the nape of her neck, and it exposed her pale throat. Bunny noticed the quick bulge of her throat as she swallowed and, his head whipping back and forth, he surveyed Henry’s expression for any hint of emotion. Henry had steepled his hands beneath his chin but he was still watching Camilla as she and Francis dumped the plates into the sink.

Interesting, Bunny thought.

When Camilla spoke, she had to raise her voice to be heard over the sound of water gushing from the tap. “Even if you did offer, Francis, Richard would say no.”

“I don’t know,” Charles mused, tipping back his chair, “it would be impolite to refuse. When has he ever denied us something?”

Instead of the shrewd eyes that Bunny would have paired with such words, there was something kind and musing to his face. Most reliably, Charles was the considerate one, who had a soft streak. He often liked to overwhelm this charity towards strangers or waitresses until they were glowing from his affection, believing that it was theirs only.

Looking away from Charles, Bunny said, “He didn’t pay for our food when I took him to the restaurant.”

“Well, Bun.” Francis swivelled around to flash him an unapproving look. “When have you ever paid for anything in your life?”

“I’ll pay for your assassination, François.”

Before Francis could respond to this comment in kind, Henry said, “We should attempt a bacchanal.”

They all stared at him. Soap suds trailed down Francis’ forearms and dripped to the floor. The bubbles gathered into a small puddle by Camilla’s left foot, encased in an iridescent film. Charles swung his chair back onto the ground, where the legs firmly planted themselves onto the glistening tiles. Camilla’s finger winded around a strand of hair that’d spilled into her eye, suffocating it, the tip bulging red. After sliding off the counter, Bunny’s mouth gaped, open, closed and then opened again as words fell from his mouth in a tangled mess:

“I— the, you, wuh– what… What do you mean, Henry?”

He didn’t blink at Bunny’s uncharacteristic stammering. “You know what I mean,” he said, “Julian’s lesson yesterday was dedicated to it.”

“It hasn’t been done in over two thousand years,” Francis said, his voice ringing loud and uncertain in the silence, after turning the tap off. He smoothed his hands over his wet wrists and pulled a face at the tacky residue the soap left behind.

“I know that, of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Men have walked the moon. That’s only been attempted once. Several bacchanals have occurred throughout history, not to mention the ones that haven’t been documented.”

Charles splayed both hands on the kitchen table. There was a puckered scar that stretched across his knuckles from falling from a tree as a child. “How would we even do it?” he asked, a look of utmost wonder drifting over his face. It reminded Bunny of the sun peeking through grey clouds on a rainy day.

“Do you think I haven’t considered all the possibilities?”

Nobody had a sufficient response to this as there was no doubt that Henry had. He wouldn’t leap into a plan that hadn’t been scrutinised for mistakes and loopholes. Although the very idea of the Classics in the midst of mass hysteria was laughable, they all trusted Henry. Not because he was kind or brave or deserving of such adoration.

It all narrowed down to this: Henry solved sh*t. When Bunny was faced with a bill and all he could retrieve from his pockets were the inner linings, Henry swooped in and tossed paper bills at the waiter. He never waited for Bunny to struggle into his coat and simply hovered by the entrance, his umbrella’s shadow obscuring his eyes. When Francis had a convulsing panic fit minutes before an exam, it was Henry who seized him by the shoulders, slapped him and gave him a rapid-fire explanation of the basics before marshalling him into the classroom. They never spoke of it – Henry never touched anyone out of his own volition apart from Camilla – but Francis got every question right in that exam, even if he began to wheeze and gasp the minute he’d finished. When Charles had drunkenly climbed to the college roof, Henry didn’t cajole him down but he stood there, staring at him, and the blankness to his eyes unnerved Charles enough that he hurried down like a chastised child. When Camilla cut her foot, stumbled down the stairs, hacked off her hair, Henry plucked the glass from her foot, Camilla’s blood drying in clots on his clothes; it was Henry who deduced that the wound wasn’t fatal although Richard had once attended medical school and knew better; Henry who noticed and commented that the haircut suited her.

Henry knew everything. He could solve any issue with the click of a finger and didn’t care for anything in repayment. The sky was blue, the grass was green and Henry was always three steps ahead of them. Bunny trusted him. What was there not to trust? Did he like Henry? He supposed that he had adored him at the time – they were like chalk and cheese but Henry’s silence subdued Bunny’s obnoxious jokes and even now, Bunny didn’t know what aspect of his personality was natural or an influential stain left by the Classics.

The only question anyone could summon up was, “When?”

“Tonight,” Henry said, and excused himself, leaving the others to their own thoughts as the bubbles popped wetly on the ground.

Later that night, Bunny had assumed that Henry had forgotten all about it. They were all sprawled on the grass outside. The moonlight washed them out and made them look like ghosts, their grey ankles overlapping, noses parallel to the sky. It was a frigid evening and the wind had a vicious bite to it but nobody noticed, merry and sleepy and flushed. Bunny crossed his arms behind his head and burped.

Est-ce ma faute à moi, si j'ai connu d'autres caresses,” Francis sang. His voice was reedy and tuneless as it wavered in an attempt to navigate through the high and low notes. “Si j'ai connu d'autres ivresses, si j'ai tremblé dans d'autres bras!"

The wine bottle was pressed into Bunny’s hands (même quand tu m'aimes avec des larmes) and he took an eager gulp before rolling it across the grass. It nudged Henry’s foot from where he was sat on the porch steps rather than sprawled on the ground.

Henry’s head co*cked to the side like a bird and, his fingers a flash of white in the darkness, he picked up the bottle and began to drink from it. He swallowed rapidly. Wine dribbled down his face onto his hands, slipping beneath his shirt cuffs, but he didn’t lower the bottle. Punctuated through the Classics’ sudden silence were the whistling, quiet noises of him breathing through his nose for air.

“Dear God,” Francis said, interrupted from the song. He sat up. “All of it?”

Bunny cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “All of it! All of it! Come on, Henry, my good man!”

Horrified awe gleamed in Charles’ eyes. “He’s going to kill himself. Christ! Someone stop him.”

Only nobody did.

The remaining dregs of wine could be glimpsed through the tinted glass as they trailed towards the neck. Henry swallowed it and lowered the glass, his eyes watering. His chest rose and fell in uneven tides and he looked as though he needed to cough but wouldn’t allow himself to. The empty bottle perched on his lap the way a cat would and he stroked it after wiping the spilled wine from his mouth.

“What are you all staring at?” he asked, his voice ragged.

Gulping as he lurched to his feet, Bunny balanced himself by clapping a hand on Camilla’s knee, which was raised and pulled to her chest, encircled loosely by her arms. The world spun. After bleating, “Thanks, darlin’,” towards her (she ignored him and popped open a can of beer) he dropped next to Henry and thumped him on the back.

“Why, we oughta take you to the pub!” he exclaimed, slinging an arm around Henry’s shoulders. “I could sign you up to a drinking competition and make bets.”

Henry peeled him off. “Have you forgotten?”

“What? What is it?” Bunny’s eyes narrowed. “Is it something to do with Marion? She keeps me in line, I tell you, but God, she should just laugh it off for once, I keep on telling her, a little bit of discomfort isn’t going to kill you, is it…”

“The bacchanal.”

“Oh,” Bunny wheedled, dragging out the vowel. He sagged against Henry and blearily looked into the grass, where a line of ants meandered up his shoe. “Oh, that.”

Without warning, Henry stood up and Bunny slumped to the floor where he once sat. His head knocked against the porch and he swore, lurching to his feet. He jabbed a finger at Henry’s chest, swaying, and glared at the Classics. They were all still plastered to the ground, red splotches high on their cheekbones, singing little ditties to themselves. Camilla was quiet and motionless as she watched Bunny poke Henry, crushing the ants that hadn’t fled to safety beneath the sole.

“You made me fall! I could have cracked open my skull!”

“Bunny,” was all Henry said and it was so vague and dismissive that Bunny shrank into himself, embarrassed for a reason he didn’t quite know. To the others, he commanded in a quiet voice uncharacteristic of his confident posture, “Get up. Go to any bedroom, all of them, and fetch the bedsheets. Take them to the living room.” After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “Only the white bedsheets.”

Like an army general, he stood by as Bunny stumbled inside the house, his arms wrapped around himself, followed by Francis, who was flanked by the twins. They only spoke in soft, excited murmurs. Francis didn’t talk at all, but Bunny noticed his shrewd eyes flick to Henry, then down at the grass stains on his brass-coloured trousers. Lilting through the house as the Classics ransacked the bedrooms, stripped the beds, lurching as they balled up bedsheets and tossed them on the armchair, was the light tail-end of Est-ce Ma Faut.

“Est-ce ma faute à moi… si je l'aime encore plus de toi…”

Bunny pushed past Charles for the wardrobe mirror and spluttered. His reflection was no different from how he usually looked – short, sharp features bunched together in a broad face, his blond hair standing up on end like a duckling, expensive glasses that pinched his nose bridge – apart from one crucial detail. A bedsheet was wrapped around his body and tied by his shoulder in a crude chiton. He barked out incredulous laughter and swung the wardrobe door shut.

“This is a disaster.”

Charles sidestepped him to open the wardrobe door again and inspect himself. “What if Richard forgot something and comes in to find us all half-naked, prancing around in togas?”

Bunny screwed his eyes shut in the attempt to imagine this scenario. All that came was Richard’s phantom voice, “Hello, I’m sorry for bothering you, I left my wallet right…” before trailing into stunned silence. As for the Greek class's reaction, Bunny couldn’t conjure anything and was stuck rehearing Richard’s voice as it ricocheted around his brain.

He was too drunk for this, he thought bitterly, as he looked at Charles’ back in far more detail than he ever wanted to. There were goose-bumps running up the delicate slope of his neck.

“What was Henry thinking?” Bunny moaned, clapping a hand over his eyes. “Surely the clothes have as much to do with it as… as the wind did to Icarus.”

“Imagine Francis and Henry upstairs,” Charles said. “Arguing by now, I bet.”

The relationship between Henry and Francis had always been a mild one. Although they treated one another with aloof respect (would you like a cigarette, Henry?) they had conflicting ideas on Greek history and mythology, not to mention their egotistical snippets of psychology. Their arguments were never bloody or even tense in the way Bunny so often snapped at Francis, but jovial sparrings. They’d enjoyed playing chess together, each turn exchanged through sips of cider, until they realised that they could plant their own teams and launch lengthy debates during dinner instead. These good-natured debates could last up to weeks. The longest had stretched for over a month and by the end of it, the very mention of conjugated verbs and the “inane principles of man,” made Bunny want to bash his head in with a hammer.

“Yes, yes,” Bunny agreed, mourning the alcohol’s buzz, which was now dwindling as he sobered up. “They can’t agree on what shoulder to tie the goddamn chiton.”

After stripping every bed in the house, they had all disbanded. Now that they could not be distracted by passing around the wine bottle, they were shivering and even Henry had been struck by an odd, fleeting paranoia. Camilla could get change in the living room – he had called it the epicentre of the house, which made a whole lot more sense when Bunny was warming his hands by the fireplace rather than dressed in a creased bedsheet – whilst they divided into pairs. Charles immediately chose Bunny, who was flattered. Francis led Henry to his room. As they passed, Bunny wolf-whistled and then gagged as Francis blew another plume of smoke into his face. Francis extinguished his cigarette by twisting it into the wall, where it smouldered, gnawing into the plaster.

“Do you believe it’ll work, Bun?”

Bunny turned around so quickly he stumbled, the floor veering up and down as he grasped onto the radiator. It burnt the tips of his fingers and he swore, pulling them back.

Charles had tilted the mirror so it was angled towards Bunny and their reflections were oafish and awkward, nothing like the Romans Bunny had envisioned when Julian lectured about them. Untrusting of the clasp holding the pin up, Charles had his fist clenched over his right shoulder and grimaced at Bunny.

“The bacchanal? Do you think it’ll work?”

“No,” Bunny said, “but even if it does, I’m not going to remember a thing in the morning.”

Charles smiled at him and agreed, “Me too,” before opening the door, so narrowly that only a sliver of the hallway was revealed, and peeking out. Bunny looked over his shoulder. No movement stirred the hallway but distant voices buzzed from the living room, overlapping. As Charles lingered, tugging and fussing with his chignon, Bunny barged him aside and stepped into the hallway.

Oil paintings lined the walls and, beneath Bunny’s bare feet, the cream carpet was soft. Despite the hazy, haloed glow of overhead chandeliers and the candles squatted on spindly coffee tables, the night sky pushed its palms against the window. The branches of a sagging tree scraped across the glass with a furtive whispering noise. In the daylight, the hallways were liminal and airy but, drenched in moonlight and inconspicuous shadows, there was something sinister about them like a child’s shoe strewn across a road… or how the wine had darkened on Henry’s shirt as they trailed inside, to a shellshocked scarlet that could have been mistaken for blood.

As Bunny descended the corridor, the shadows seemed to shrink away from him. The faraway voices swelled and dipped in volume, their breaths rippling over the shell of his ears. Two windows were installed at either end of the corridor before it jutted, unnatural like a broken spine, towards the grand staircase. The night sky was ripe and purple, rich against the floral curtains that were tied back to reveal the moon.

Movement flickered outside. Bunny’s heart thundered in his throat as he froze, his pulse queasily strumming in his ears. He swallowed and groped around blindly for the candle. His fingers grazed against the metal and clasped around the candle holder, raising it before him. Candlelight swayed over the walls. The heat made Bunny’s eyelashes prickle and burn. All the while, that predatory shadow weaved back and forth behind the window.

Panicked tears rasping against his eyes, Bunny craned his head around. Whereas before Charles had been slumped against the doorframe, he’d vanished and the empty doorway was dark and dismal. Bunny stumbled back, pushing himself against the wall so that nobody could creep up from behind him and wrap a dead, limp hand around his ankle. The flames warmed his face. He struggled to breathe, feeling as though he’d tumbled down a hill, sucking in lungfuls of pollen and tears and adrenaline.

He’d left his asthma pump in the living room. Slowly, Bunny slid down the hallway without prising his back away from the wall, which was cold and smooth against his bare shoulders. He gulped and heaved a juddering breath, unable to tear his eyes from the window. The shadows were waxing and waning like the candle’s flames as they licked towards his face.

“It’s nothing,” Bunny wheezed.

Something flicked in that shadowy figure and scraped softly against the window. All the energy sapped from Bunny’s body and he gulped, one hand flying to his throat and rubbing it in a desperate plea to work, please just breathe, damn it!

He sputtered on the next exhale, unable to tear his eyes from the window, all the muscles loosening in his legs until they felt like jelly. He’d never understood what that phrase meant up before: the unclenching of all his strength whisking away to pump adrenaline around his body, of which was screaming at him to run, foolish in his chiton, and weep like a baby.

Rage boiled deep in Bunny’s bones. Swallowing, the gulp trapped in his throat, he stepped forward and tried to scream, “Go to hell and say salutations to the devil for me, you bastard! Come out, come out, wherever you are, you don’t scare Edmund Corcoran! I’m not scared of you, I’ll rip off your balls and drape them over your head!” only it came out as a reedy, choked noise.

As he continued to furiously spit out weak, strained gasps, the figure shifted. Moonlight eclipsed it and it could have been mistaken for an angel, silvery beams twisting through the negative space of an elbow or perhaps a leg. Bunny flinched against the wall, too winded to scream, as he waited for the figure to smash open the window. The figure moved… the moonlight sifted through it and it hadn’t been elbows, no, arms didn’t raise and splinter off into crooked digits, torsos didn’t expand to clove-shaped manes.

A deer stared at Bunny through the window, its eyes as circular and dead as the taxidermized fawn head overhanging the fireplace. The light bounced off the deer’s wise eyes, so grey they could be mistaken for pennies, dully. It butted its antlers against the glass and the flat thud carried no further than several metres down the hallway.

Bunny almost sank to the floor in relief. He fumbled to place the candelabra down and laughed shrilly. A deer! There hadn't been an intruder intent on ransacking the house and Bunny’s organs – one of the two, in Bunny’s humble opinion, were infinitely more valuable. It was just a deer.

“Only a deer,” Bunny told himself and licked his lips nervously. He turned around to make sure that nobody had seen him; Bunny, snivelling, one scare away from collapsing to the floor in a pathetic heap, all over a stupid, bug-eyed deer.

He waved his fist at it. “Go away, you animal. I ought to fetch my gun and shoot you dead.”

It blinked at him (those eyes were like pearly piano keys and the song was certainly a lament but for who) and Bunny shivered, wishing he could choke his careless threats back down his throat. The deer turned around and skipped away.

In its absence, the moon peeked back into view, sliced into ribbons by errant branches. Bunny shivered, thinking of those pockmarked craters in the moon, circular like gun wounds. For a mad, feverish moment, he imagined himself hauling the gun from its holder, the metal cold and slick beneath his hands, and running into the woods, screaming. He’d twist one foot into the damp forest floor, pivot and shoot randomly into the trees, bullets pinging off tree trunks, the gun juddering at each teeth-chattering pop of the trigger.

He breathed out and backed away from the window in rapid, tentative steps that became more confident with the growing distance. Without looking around, Bunny’s hand fumbled behind him until it wrapped around a doorframe and he side-stepped through. It was the dining room across the main living area.

Many evenings had been wiled away in this dining room, although they all abided by some unspoken rule to eat cooked meals in the kitchen only. There were cards laying on the table and Bunny liked to shuffle them, dragging his finger down the thin edge to create a satisfying flapping noise. Often it was Charles who played with him, joined by Camilla, only Bunny never won these games as they seemed to, with no more than a single glance, know each other’s cards and make bets according to them. Bunny wheedled whenever he was caught and where the finishing line seemed miles away. Henry never fell for this, although Francis did. Bunny wasn’t a winner, though. He was a gambler of sorts, happy to make preposterous bets on dogs, horses, luck, no matter the sour outcome.

He peeked into the living room to find them sprawled on the sofas, their bare feet swung up onto armrests. Nobody was facing his direction and they continued to talk in slurred voices, giggling, sometimes struck with a sudden graveness that made Bunny shiver. For perhaps the first time, Bunny was able to quietly watch and see past the rose-tinted window that guarded the class from the outside world. He had never considered his friends to be good people; did that matter? To Bunny, goodness was abstract and irresolute, something that could be loosened and tugged from its well-intended roots. It sure didn’t matter outside elementary school and he doubted that the playground was a suitable metaphor for rare social harmony as bullies were bound to kick some sand castle, punch out Neville’s teeth, and the good kids would either break their backs trying to please them – don’t hurt me please – or hide a secret, darker part of their psyche.That was what Bunny believed. When you got down to the bare bones of someone, after peeling away the clotted, moulding flesh of aesthetics, lurking there was a nasty surprise. Not that everyone was evil, it was simply that everyone had that secret, whether it be ripping the wings off flies or littering or manslaughter.

Bunny was under no illusion that his friends were perfect. They held themselves with a superiority that the rest of the college lacked. Rejecting fashion trends and modern slang, instead speaking with the tongue of a Greek professor, drove them apart from everyone else and so it was only natural that they clustered together and made tight, unbreakable bonds.

Bunny himself was popular and good-looking and, although his voice was grating and pinched, he could hit a punchline with it. But perfect? Of course he wasn’t. He was amazing and beautiful and witty and charismatic and lovable but perfect? There was no point in lying to himself, like Francis fooled himself into thinking men wouldn’t quietly slip from his bedroom in the morning and never return, or how Richard assumed – he didn’t tell Bunny this but the hungry, wishful look in his eyes told him more than enough – he had a chance of laughing with them rather than just at the same time.

Looking at them now, Bunny could see them in all their ugly, lovable glory. Henry had ignored them all and was staring at the taxidermized fawn, neither eyes human or alive. Charles lolled on the sofa, one foot dangling, a wine bottle hanging in his loose grasp. He burped and then laughed, rolling to face the pillow. Charles cycled through stages whenever he was drunk, which was frequently. First came the high and he’d dance with anyone closest to him and kiss Camilla with a loud smacking noise on her cheek. As the bottle emptied, he became drowsy and quiet, the calm before a storm, which exploded in a shrieking rage where the veins would bulge on his neck. He never punched anyone; he merely sat in seething, wallowing anger until he slipped away to God knew where, it could have been Julian’s classroom or heaven for all Bunny knew.

Francis was perched on the armchair like an exotic bird of some kind, leaning back, the firelight twisting through his hair, so orange and vivid that it could have been alight. To Bunny’s surprise, he wasn’t smoking (he cycled through several cigarettes a day and had already developed a rasping cough and a grittiness ran through his voice, lost amidst his many inconsistent accents which could only be estimated to be British underlaid with Boston and, very faintly, French). Instead, he sat there with one finger trailing up and down his wrists. The fire’s glow made him appear older and illuminated the lines in his face and the purple swell of his eyebags.

Next to him, Camilla sat with her legs drawn up to her chest, a childish pose which clashed her shrewd eyes. Bunny never knew where to stand with Camilla – she was a girl! a governing part of his brain whooped before whispering snidely, but not a particularly girlish one, what a bummer – but he came to the, albeit surface-level and fuelled with boorish sexism, conclusion that she hid her intelligence. Her weapon of sorts (not malicious, Bunny didn’t think, but as a means to simply not be harassed in the wake of such a male-oriented class) was her femininity and the inherent romance of it. Bunny didn’t have the words, let alone the patience, to articulate his thoughts but the brunt of his disdain for Camilla lay there. She was going to be treated differently anyway, so she may as well embrace it and so her shrewd eyes were cast to the ground to hide them, quietly thinking, scheming, dreaming. Bunny had never experienced such yearning because he was rich with privilege but the intense burning, the scream deep in the shadows of her face, was so scorching that it was a shame her pretty grey eyes and snub nose distracted from it.

All of this – the love for his friends, the disgust, the comfort he found in their hideousness so grotesque it made it all appear beautiful – flooded Bunny within a second. There were no words. It was a feeling, so strong he felt as though he’d been slapped, that bleached his mind and left it pale and wispy, and he had no idea that death was quite similar. A supernova of tantalising something, followed by—

He snapped out of it and jogged towards Henry, grinning. Surprisingly, Henry, caught off-guard by his silent approach, smiled back before turning away. Bunny remembered why they’d been – or were, he supposed – best friends. You get on my nerves when you act as though you’re above me, old chap, he thought sentimentally, but we do have a grand time, don’t we? Drinking, me getting, you buying, it’s all fun and games, isn’t it? Our thing? Us?

Bunny asked, “Were the chitons necessary? We look like a bunch of gay hippies.”

“Yes. Details are crucial to an investigation.”

“Investigation?” Bunny echoed. “I’d consider it more of a party.”

“It’s more than that.” Henry frowned at him. “Don’t be so dense.”

At this, Bunny lapsed into offended silence. He glanced up at the dead fawn, shivered and then spat out, “There’s a massive deer outside, you know. It was so close it touched the window. You need to watch out for that. I don’t want to go outside, prance around like a goddamn lunatic and then get stabbed in the throat by an antler.”

Surprise flashed across Henry’s face. “What?”

“A deer. Big one. Bring the gun or something.”

Henry made a dismissive hand gesture. “It’ll be fine. The deer won’t bother us and we won’t venture far into the woods.”

“Oh, so you’ve thought of everything,” scoffed Bunny.

“Well, no. That’s impossible. But I have considered the most likely scenarios and I planned accordingly.”

Bunny nudged him, his pointy elbow driven into Henry’s gut, not deeply enough to hurt but a light force that he hoped would aggravate him. Their friendship was a seesaw of annoyance and dependency and it was never Henry who rocked it up and down, disturbing a short period of calmness; Bunny couldn’t resist poking at Henry’s buttons because he knew that everyone else was too nervous of its consequences. It was only his duty.

“Okay then. What are the most likely scenarios? Enlighten me,” Bunny droned. “Bless me with your endless wisdom.”

“Well,” Henry repeated, shifting away, “I doubt that this bacchanal will be successful. I believe that it’ll take many attempts to perfect until we experience it fully. We’ll be dangerously near alcohol overdoses, fainting spells, hypothermia. It has to be during the night, anyhow, because we can’t be disturbed, although the temperature will be lower.”

Bunny frowned. “Tell me this, old boy, what are we going to do if someone, say Camilla, faints during the bacchanal? What if she chokes on her own spit and dies? ‘Hello, operator, I’m ever so sorry, we attempted a weird sex ritual and my friend died.’ Yes, yes, that’s going to go down a charm,” he drawled sarcastically.

A grimace wavered on Henry’s lips, which were usually pinched together into a thin line so tense that muscles stirred in his jaw. “It’s not a sex ritual,” he said and Bunny was thrilled to find that tetchiness had begun to stain his voice.

“My good fellow,” said Bunny, clapping a hand onto his shoulder, “you are focusing on the wrong problem here.”

“It won’t happen. I won’t allow it. If you all behave, then nobody will be grievously harmed.”

Bunny pinched his forefinger and thumb together, leaving an inch of empty space between them. “And I’m about this much pleased with the prospect of knowing that I still have a massive chance of winding up with a black eye or, what, frostbite on my ass?”

Finally, wonderfully, losing his temper, Henry snapped, “There’s a difference between a stab wound and a little cut.”

“Not if you’re holding the knife!”

“Witty,” deadpanned Henry, adjusting his glasses.

“There’s a reason I was accepted into Julian’s class. I’m not an idiot.” A moment’s pause where Bunny stringed together the foreign words in his head, followed by, “We pay a high price for intelligence. Wisdom hurts.’”

Tilting his head to the side, Henry paused to survey him, the firelight glinting off his glasses. He didn’t smile because he didn’t need to; the thoughtful silence spoke for him. Bunny had no time to bask in this glorious, hypnotic approval – Julian’s influence had bled onto Henry and it was in mannerisms like these, careful eyes, smiles, rare moments of equality, that made Bunny wonder where one began and the other ended – before Henry turned away.

“Drink until you can’t stand,” he told everyone, who stared at him, rapt.

Bunny snorted. “You’re trying to kill us.”

Lounging on the sofa with a glass cradled to his chest, Francis drawled, “Aren’t we supposed to chant incantations?”

“We’re not witches.”

“We’re summoning a deity, I think that’s as close to witchcraft as one can possibly get.”

Conversations melted into something drowsy and pleased. Bunny was delighted to find that, after two more drinks, the alcohol kicked in again. He did many things he was embarrassed about recounting to Richard now, although he happily blathered about everyone else’s drunken misdemeanours. Henry tripped over the table. Francis kissed Charles, who pushed him against the wall, reciprocating the kiss with a giddy, almost aggressive enthusiasm, until he stepped back and began stacking cards as though nothing had ever happened. Camilla sang and her voice was low, hoarse and missed all the notes. She spilt alcohol down herself and, after gazing at her ruined dress for several seconds, poured the rest, the wet cloth clinging to her collarbone.

For a good ten minutes – or perhaps an hour – they played classical music and fancied themselves at a ball. This was the only memory that Bunny was able to look back on fondly.

The lights were golden. In his drunkenness, everyone was beautiful and adored him, hanging onto his every word and seeking out his touch as though he was Midas. In this memory, they were dancing in a crowded ballroom. Elbows brushed him. Kisses were blown in his direction by passing dancers, revering and hungry. Apart from the Classics class, everyone wore masks; dull, sparkling garments shaped as swans, crows, pigs. The orchestra stood on a platform, clad in dark suits, with bloody craters for eyes. A masked woman muffled her peals of bright laughter behind a gloved hand.

“My lady,” Bunny slurred. In his mind’s eye, he was dressed in his favourite shapeless blazer with black shoes shined to perfection. “May I have this dance?”

Camilla looked at him, lips pursed, as stoic and unmoving as always. She was wearing a blue ball gown with several rings encircling her fingers. Her hair was speared with intricate wild flowers. The many layers of her skirt rustled and swished around her legs as she shifted from one heel to the other.

Bunny took her hand and kissed her knuckles. He tried to look over her shoulder at the others and they were dancing with their respective partners. Charles spun around a blond woman, his face alight with his infamous Hollywood smile. Bunny caught a glimpse of red hair between the throng of people and knew, without seeing, that Francis was dancing too.

He couldn’t spy Henry anywhere. He didn’t know that they were all clutching each other in the living room, trading partners at a whim, stepping on each other’s bare toes and laughing hard enough to crack ribs. He almost wished he could remember what reality must’ve been; them all in stunning unison, lurching through an uneven two-step, flawless in their messiness, like the lipstick smeared across Camilla’s mouth.

“Of course,” she said and her voice was high and pretty unlike its usual hoarse rasp.

They danced, him and her. There were no missteps. When the song finished with the prideful flourish of a violin, they remained coiled around one another. Bunny’s nose dug into her shoulder and he breathed in the wooden musk of her perfume. Her hands were tightly clasped around his middle. Strangers swayed and bowed around them. Overhead, the chandelier rotated slowly, tugged by an invisible string, its candlelight flickering after every synchronised dancer. The music reverberated through Bunny’s chest and, despite the warmth blooming in his heart, he felt hollow.

“You know, doll,” he whispered, not moving, “you can be real pretty when you put the effort in.”

Since this was all crafted in his mind’s eye – in her own, perhaps Bunny was replaced with Henry, who was absent from the ball – she did not respond. Placid. Perfect. Flooded with an odd fondness towards her, Bunny brushed her hair behind her ears and felt gravity guide him towards another partner.

Leaning against the ballroom doors was Marion. She was dressed in a red gown unlike her usual varsity shirts, tight jeans and short skirts that made the blood surge to his head. Her hair rippled over her shoulders and Bunny knew that it’d smell of her favourite vanilla-scented shampoo and caffeine. She was swilling a wine glass around, the red liquid rolling to and fro, and Bunny had to tear his eyes away from its enticing sway.

When she noticed him, one side of her lips twitched. “Hello.”

“Hello, sweetie,” he said, not abashed, but confident. He was handsome. He was capable. He was overflowing in cash and could recite any language backwards, navigating through Latin with the ease of a native speaker before swerving to romantic French, tossing Spanish and Ancient Greek back and forth. "You look beautiful tonight. Would you care for a dance?”

Contemplating this offer, Marion sipped at her wine and raised an eyebrow at him. She paused and replied, “Can you watch the dancers with me?”

“Of course, honey,” he beamed, and leaned forwards to peck at her cheek. Instead of swatting at him lightly the way she always did before uttering a long-suffering sigh and kissing him back, she turned her head so that their lips met. He could taste lip balm, artificial and tacky.

Stumbling, laughing into the crooks of one another’s necks, Marion leaned into the door and opened it and together they slipped out of the ballroom. They made it about five steps down the corridor before slamming, with an odd, dream-like urgency, against the wall.

Bunny kissed her.

Their hands fumbled in the darkness, kneading grooves into the soft arc of Marion’s elbows and Bunny’s wrists. They melted. Bunny didn’t bother telling Richard about what happened afterwards – not much beyond kissing, mind you – but it was vivid in his mind, the warm light turning Marion’s upturned face orange, the music bleeding faintly through the walls. Bunny lowered his head to press kisses into her neck, on the delicate skin above her collarbones.


He didn’t respond, instead smoothing a hand across her jaw and cupping her face. In his past, Bunny had cycled through several girlfriends but Marion was a real babe, his one and only (for the time being, anyway) and he truly did love her, like how he used to love his train sets as a young boy. She was beautiful, of course, and just Bunny’s type, which was blonde and an almost Junoesque build, cold and frosty in a way that made it all the more glorious when slivers of warmth glimpsed through. Marion was a steady constant in Bunny’s life and a respectable girlfriend, if he cared about such things as the family title. His father adored him. Even if his girlfriend had been a criminal, there would be exceptions made for him. Marion was wealthy, she was smart but in the average, standard way, and wore dresses and painted her fingernails every three days and was just such a girl, a real doll, that Bunny was head over heels for her.



“Um,” Marion’s voice dwindled as she looked away from him, “do you want to…”

For all of his boasts about having a girlfriend, Bunny was chaste and awkward when it came to sex. It was something furtive, to be hidden away, a private aspect of him that he refused to divulge in. Whenever he noticed a hickey on his neck, a strong wave of embarrassment and revulsion washed over him as he adjusted his collar just so to conceal it. The chase after a girl was never quite the same as the intimate relationship soon after. It was similar to his ashamed feelings regarding drinks. If he was hungover, he could never deign himself to inform the others of his woeful aches and pains. It was embarrassing to suffer so greatly for something that you could only blame yourself for. Getting drunk in the moment – the glorious reel and tug of it like a fishhook sinking into his subconscious, where happiness and lunacy dissolved into drowsy purple – Bunny had no qualms with. But the idea of people knowing its consequences, knowing that he’d had sex, that margarita, and that he could possibly regret it… Bunny’s skin crawled.

“Oh Christ,” he said, startled, “no.”

Before she could respond, a hand lashed out at his back and Bunny phased through her and tumbled through the wall. He was catapulted into reality with the grace of an ox.

There was no time to react before he tumbled to the ground, hard. Henry stared down at him.

Across the living room, Camilla and Francis were hobbling through a waltz so complicated that it made Bunny’s head hurt just looking at the tangled blur of their rapidly moving feet. Camilla dipped him. Francis laughed, high and giddy, before he loosened his grip on her and slithered onto the sofa, hiccupping weakly. Charles was dancing by himself. He spun around in sluggish circles, hands wafting loosely by his sides, Achilles in his white chiton and golden thicket of hair.

“You’re a terrible dancer,” was all Henry said, although there was no distaste in his tone, merely polite honesty.

Bunny squinted up at him, the orchestra’s birdsong echoing in his ears, and marvelled at how someone so drunk could be so graceful. Sure, Henry was flushed and swayed back and forth in maddeningly short oscillations and was a sad, morose drunk. But this intoxication, what Bunny considered so humiliating when the consequences were stamped on him the following morning, was dignified on Henry.

Why was Henry so much better than everyone? Arrogant, yes, but it wasn’t unwarranted given his intelligence and sharp, enunciated way of explaining Greek passages or philosophy. That was why he and Bunny were such a fine pair, he reckoned, because they were both primed for a vicious slap in the face to reality – but would they ever receive one? Would anyone dare? Bunny was obnoxious, yes, but his looks made any amateur wisecracks appear charming. Both of them were reckless, selfish, egotistical, so full of themselves they could choke on it, but to imagine them as anything but was a disservice. Henry wasn’t perfect, but he was so convincing that outsiders would believe he was without any question. Here, on the floor, Bunny was swamped with admiration for Henry unlike his growing incredulity.

“You’re my best friend, old man,” he confessed tearfully. “D’you want to be the best man for my future wedding?”

Henry had already turned away. He mumbled, “Best friends are the consolations of only children,” which didn’t even make sense because Bunny had several siblings.

What else, what else… Soon enough, Henry was struck by the fabulous idea to go outside. His logic was reasonable because Bunny doubted that any cult worshipped their gods inside of a living room next to a three-hundred dollar vase, a painting imitating Van Goph’s Starry Night and a massive jar of cherries. The latter Francis lugged with them and he dawdled at the end of the line to eat them straight from the jar.

Outside, the night was tender and flushed. They sang Greek hymns and held hands. Bunny was between Charles and Francis. Although this was untrue, Bunny strained his voice so it could be heard the easiest as he was under the belief that it was the best out of them all. Strong, baritone, not afraid to shimmy up a high note. Given his ability to play the piano, Charles met the notes accurately, although he lost the words in the process. Disoriented or perhaps just uncaring, Francis hopped from one song to another on a whim, French ditties and limericks and the odd parlour song.

Χαίρε Νύμψε, χαίρε βάκχε


αρρήτοις λέκτροιοι τεκνωθείς

The grass beneath his bare feet trembled. A faint whine, the ghoulish parody of tinnitus, whined and shrieked in Bunny’s ears. He screamed, “ερνεοίπελον!” alongside Henry and the others, with such force blood flecked against his teeth, stark against the pearly white enamel. (His teeth, unlike Francis’ and Richard’s, weren’t stained yellow from cigarettes as he vehemently refused to smoke due to the health and safety rules that were drilled into him as a sports player. You couldn’t tackle your opponent or run across the pitch if you were hacking up a lung, could you?)

They sang some more, danced until it felt like Bunny’s muscles were dissolving, and whooped with giddy laughter. The world was quickening, the seconds breaking into a hasty jog, as minutes were stretched taut, snapped and uncoiled into untied threads. Although whether this was his memory or the lapses of consciousness within the moment was unclear, the question of what he was doing became more and more hazy. Someone’s chiton ripped down the back. He was aware of laughing one second, his hands cupped around his mouth to holler over imaginary music. The next, he was weaving through the spindly trees as they swiped at his hair, cupped his chin, whispered to him, the hidden child born of secret nuptials… immortal force of nature… hear my voice, O Blessed One!

Bunny continued to wade and struggle through the bushes. He didn’t feel the thorns that scraped against his face. He didn’t know where he was moving to, exactly, only that the destination would be somewhere even better than Venice or Greece or even Spain combined. Better than reclining on a deck chair with a co*cktail in one hand as he shielded his eyes from the sun with a newspaper that was so warm from the day’s heat that it stung his fingertips. Better than classes with Julian, who never made him feel small for his inconsistent handwriting and doomed attention span. Better than heaven, better than dessert in a restaurant, better than being Edmund Corcoran, although that was such a fun and wild ride to begin with.

A shadow shaped as a human whipped through the trees but he was too drunk to notice.

Laughing so hard Bunny almost puked, he spun around and looked up into the treetops, marvelling at the shoots of light reaching through the leaves. He was shivering in his chiton and his teeth were chattering so vigorously that he bit down on his tongue as he laughed. Blood spurted down his chin but he didn’t feel it, swaying in the wind, so drunk that he felt as though he was drowning. They were on the brink of something, he could feel it in his bones, in the weighted air, something that was beautiful and terrible and otherworldly. They were hurtling towards the point where worlds, both the waking and the unseen, blended into one seamless crevice, like the stairway to Heaven. They were so close that Bunny saw blotted-out shapes dance in the air and there was a pent-up, manic fury boiling in his stomach that he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried, release.

His blood curdling scream swelled and deflated in the air. He had never felt such euphoria in his life. Was this what Henry meant? No matter the god bullsh*t, it felt like one hell of a high. Bunny stumbled back into a tree trunk and sagged down it, sap sticking in thin strands to his neck.

A prone figure lay like a starfish across him. Bunny, not trusting himself to walk or else he’d keel over and giggle hysterically at his own clumsiness, crawled to it. The man’s chiton was stained with grass and his skin was clammy and warm to the touch as Bunny turned him over. Francis snored. Clotted strands of hair poked into his open mouth. He smelt of sweat and vomit.

“Francis,” Bunny sang, broke off sharply to gag at the smell and tittered, unable to stop himself, which made him howl with laughter even harder. He felt light-headed. “Wake up, Francis, wake up! Don’t want to miss the motherf*cking bacchanal of your f*cking,” – This was spat out with the slurred indignation of any drunk – “fuh- f*cking life time!”

Francis didn’t stir. Bunny swallowed, his tongue roving around the inside of his mouth, and quickly swung his head left and right, squinting through the trees. He could hear distant whoops and ghostly shrieks of joy. Grass splintered underfoot as he spun around on his haunches to face Francis once more. He seized him by the shoulders and shook. Francis’ head lolled back and bumped against the ground with a flat thump.

“What’s the matter with you?” Bunny garbled, feeling as though his tongue was several sizes too large for his mouth. The world gave a dreadful lurch and he tumbled to the grass, now eye-level with Francis, who’s eyelids fluttered and twitched.

Bunny tried to reach for Francis’ shoulder to paw at him again but missed, limply slapping his face instead. His hand slithered to rest on the muddy grass. A lump welled in Bunny’s throat as he suddenly lost all track of the last few hours and forgot what was happening.

He closed his eyes and tried to think, the memories slipping through his fingers. The deer. The chiton. Henry. The ball. The deer. Bunny wondered if he should have lugged that gun along with him before he forgot that, too, and wanted to weep, pitying himself and the bewildering situation he’d gotten himself in.

Slowly, his limbs refusing to cooperate, Bunny sat up and had to stay there for several minutes, his chin knocking against his chest, to stop himself from sinking down to the ground. Blood bubbled and dried in clumps on his chin. Although he could taste the metallic sweetness of it, he felt no pain from his gnawed tongue.

“Francis,” Bunny slurred. He had never felt so drunk in his life. “Francis.” At once, his name became too long for Bunny to choke out and all he could manage was: “Wake. Wake… up. Wake. Wake up. C’mon, you… bastard. Wake.”

Coughing, Francis woke up and turned over to be violently sick in the grass. His shoulders heaved. He retched. The ugly sound of Francis heaving between ragged, quick breaths made Bunny queasy. He blinked slowly, thinking, I need to sit down, over and over again, until he realised he already was.

“Francis. Francis,” Bunny said. Screams and laughter drifted over to them but it seemed impossibly far away. “Francis, don’t f*ck’n die on me, okay? I would… look susp-suspi… suspicious. Can’t lose you.”

All of his dinner emptied from his stomach, Francis dry-heaved, hands clawing to his throat. Miserable, the euphoria drifting from his body and dissipating in the sharp early-morning air, Bunny allowed the wind to prick at his eyes. He dragged his hands down his face and tried to piece together his scrambled thoughts. All he knew was that Francis was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, there was hot blood rippling down his lips and they were both wearing white duvets.

Eyes, painful in their brightness, latched onto Bunny in the darkness, so bloodshot it took a moment to pair them with Francis’ long, freckled face.

“My head,” Francis groaned, kneading at his eye sockets, so roughly that Bunny was scared his eyes would pop into his palms. “I’m dying.”

In his drunken state, this statement was undeniably true and made Bunny recoil. He and Francis had never been close, teetering on a tightrope between lightweight squabbling and resentment, but he didn’t want Francis to die. Each friend group had their elected roles and there would be a gaping chasm if Francis ceased to exist. Nobody to scoff and roll his eyes at Bunny, nobody to react to Bunny’s quips, nobody to ram the sharp heel of his boot into Bunny’s shin beneath their desks, nobody to cluck about unfinished homework with as they wrote the answers hurriedly, textbooks balanced on their knees, as Julian prowled the class.

“Sweet Jesus, ” he spat vehemently.

Francis sucked in a sharp breath and gripped onto Bunny’s arm, fingernails wrenched into his forearm. “I’m dying,” he babbled, his breath warming Bunny’s cheek. It smelt of vomit. “I think I really am dying.” His tearful eyes latched onto Bunny and he slurred, “See you in hell, you old bastard.”

Impossibly, Bunny smiled at him. He opened his mouth to respond but there was a growing sluggishness to the world; it wavered back and forth, juddering, and Bunny could feel the vibrations of warmth emanating from the earth’s core rumble up the grass, warming his shins. He passed out and the last thing he was aware of before slipping into a dark, dreamless slumber was Francis crying, “I’m sick,” heedless to the fact that nobody responded apart from the crows.

It was six in the morning when Henry shepherded them back into the house. His chronic headaches and an impending hangover mixed together as well as bleach and vinegar. Henry was irritable when he peeled Francis and Bunny from the forest floor. This effort was taxing, it seemed, because Henry staggered away to throw up and, as soon as Bunny awakened to the sensation of knives skewered into his brain, he joined him.

Bunny didn’t know how they all made it back to their beds. His memory of the journey was hazy. He collapsed into his bed and slept for six hours until Henry woke him up by flinging the bedsheets from him. Bunny threw an alarm clock at him, and missed.

After slowly turning his head to look at the shattered alarm clock on the floor, Henry croaked, “It’ll be suspicious if we all miss class.”

“I’m not going,” Bunny said – and fell asleep before he could hear Henry’s response.

When he woke up next, tangled within sweaty blankets, he realised that Julian’s lesson was two days away and that Henry’s failed persuasions had been for nothing. The occasions of Henry being wrong were so rare that Bunny was unnerved rather than amused, but he blamed it on the headache. Henry’s own were like nothing Bunny had ever thought could exist and he’d later wonder how Henry managed to haul himself up to knock at all their bedroom doors.

When they staggered into class, still recovering from the failed bacchanal, Richard glanced over at them curiously, scanning their weary faces and Bunny’s uncharacteristic terseness. He asked what was the matter. Impressed by his own ability to think on the spot, Bunny blathered about an argument with Marion. It wasn’t strictly a lie as Marion was furious at him for talking to a girl at a party prior to the bacchanal. His body language was flirtatious, she had yelled at him, and he was making her look like a damn fool. Bunny had wheedled and placated her as best he could, before dropping his head to his chin like a scolded child. He and Marion had made up (they always did, no matter the reason why she was annoyed at him) and now they were right as rain – but Richard didn’t know that, although he had been present for many of their squabbles.

“Marion’s been screaming at me all night,” he grumbled, slumping in his chair. “We’ve been arguing since she visited at… what time was it, Henry?”

So naturally that Bunny almost believed him, Henry said, “Eight o’clock.”

“I’m sorry, Bunny,” Richard murmured, not looking up from where he was writing, his pen scratching busily against paper. For all his interest in the class, he was an introverted, gruff soul who spoke very little about himself or others. “I hope you both resolve whatever the issue is. You look wretched.”

“Yes, yes,” said Bunny, waving off his concern, eager to nip the subject in the bud before it grew out of hand. “Marion will forgive me soon enough until the next disagreement, I say.”

A few days later, Bunny had launched into a spiel to Richard about how he’d coaxed himself back into Marion’s good books by inviting her out to a dinner, one of the few that he paid for himself. She had mellowed out somewhere during the first or second course when Bunny confessed his undying love for the twentieth time – “Sweetie, I’m a better man when I have you as my beautiful girlfriend, I won’t ever make the same mistake again, I swear my life on it,” – and the night had ended on a content, high note, as though they hadn’t cycled through the motions a million times before. Bunny wasn’t concerned about this. Relationships were never easy and they needed time to adjust to each other. Besides, Bunny’s status as a young adult was beginning to dwindle into the terrifying mid-twenties where he wasn't expected to mess around anymore. He liked the messy experimentation ofc being a college student. There was something raw and desperate to it that he suspected Julian admired too, or else why did he hang around Hampden with no payment to speak of it?

Richard had responded to this patter with an uninterested (he had witnessed a great deal of disagreements after all, and they had no doubt grown trivial to him) hum before changing the subject to discuss Greek conjugations. Bunny had been pleased at Richard for having steered the focus away from him and his lies, so he happily prattled about the rules in translating Ancient Greek, including the many that infuriated him.

The next few bacchanals swelled in their absurdity to the same disappointing result. Instead of the general interest waning like Bunny had assumed it would, he, too, became fascinated with the execution of mass hysteria. It was no longer a foolish act of experimentation but a game of sorts, one that they kept on losing no matter how hard they tried. Henry upped the alcohol dosages, told them to smear pig’s blood on their faces, played music from the house, where it warbled from the windows faintly as the five stumbled around blindly in the darkness.

When Henry suggested poison, Bunny hadn’t even been affronted, he’d just been pissed that it hadn’t been introduced sooner. By now, they had been attempting bacchanals for a month now and Bunny was restless, bored of its repetitive mania.

“You’re insane,” protested Francis. Unbeknownst to him, his collar was turned up and it made him resemble a vampire. “This can’t be safe.”

Henry flashed him a dead, rude look. “Nothing we’ve been doing has been safe thus far, and you haven’t complained about it.”

His arms crossed behind his head, Charles asked politely, “What’s the poison, anyway?”

“I was considering mushrooms.”

Camilla had been silent until now, curled up the windowsill with one leg lolling, the pointed tip of her Oxfords drifting near Charles’ shoulder. She was wearing baggy trousers, an insignificant detail Bunny only remembered because Francis flashed them a disapproving look and offered warmly to tailor it (or even better, we could visit this quaint town about twenty minutes away, there’s a great selection of boutiques there, Camilla, dear, you’ll also like this strange park I stumbled upon one day), and her class textbook was splayed open on her lap. She slipped a bookmark between her page and closed it with a resolute thump.

“Where would we get the mushrooms from?” she asked.

“I found several in the forest near campus,” Henry said, fumbling in his pocket and withdrawing a mushroom with his forefinger and thumb. Everyone recoiled and he continued calmly, “I researched the doses. Besides, if we need to ask, Richard used to study medicine, he’ll know.”

Alarmed, Charles said, “We can’t tell Richard about the bacchanals.”

“I’m not going to. Are you?” Henry asked, his voice hardening.

“What? No. No, of course not.”


She scrunched up her nose in distaste at the very idea before saying, “No, Henry.”


He laughed nervously, a high, reedy sound unlike his usual Boston drawl. “Don’t look at me like that. No. I’m not telling Richard. No. Is this really neces—”


All eyes swivelled over to him. Plucking his shirt collar away from his neck, Bunny yelped, “No! What kind of fool do you take me for?” before fussing with the bang of hair that always fell before his right eye just so. It wasn’t that he was lying, he had no intentions of telling Richard anything, but they frightened him then, all pale and wan and with the glistening poisonous residue of the mushroom tacked to Henry’s fingertips.

“Good,” was all Henry said, but there was a satisfied gleam to his dark, sultry eyes. He leaned forwards, his elbows digging into his knees. “That’s all you need to do. Don’t breathe a word and listen to me. I know what I’m doing.”

Nobody could protest to that and so that night, they all huddled before the fireplace, nervous, hushed. Glass clinked as Francis dolled out shots, which he then nursed to his chest, the bottle standing proudly by his foot. He counted to three and they drank them in one swift, throat-burning gulp. For all his love of wine, Bunny always gagged at the burning taste of shots, the way they raced down to his heart in a rasping blaze, and he silenced his cough by biting down on his tongue, hard.

Henry took off his blazer and folded it on the armchair, smoothing down its creases before retrieving the poisonous mushrooms. Charles cleared his throat but didn’t say anything when Bunny’s head swivelled towards him. Tension strummed in the air.

Bunny wandered towards the table and plucked a can of lukewarm soda. He gulped it down, the bubbles flat and disappointing, in an attempt to rid the taste of shots from his mouth. He grimaced, adjusting his glasses.

“Are you sure this won’t kill us?”

“Quite sure. Who wants to go first?”

“We’re not wearing the chitons,” commented Francis.

“Astute observation.”

As Francis bristled, Camilla stepped forwards and took a mushroom, holding it towards the light. Her fingernails were painted in a clear, shiny gloss but there was dried blood encrusting her thumb. When Charles stepped forwards, his mouth open to protest at her going first, she popped it onto her tongue and chewed. Nobody spoke as she swallowed, wiping her mouth with her sleeve, and reached forwards to pour herself another shot. It was the tinkle of the brandy chiming against the table that shocked Bunny into blathering.

“My, my, Camilla,” he said, tempted to pat her on the shoulder. “What does it taste like, woman?”

Sipping the brandy as she thought, she replied at last, “Like what you’d expect.”

After that, all the boys eagerly ate their own mushrooms, reluctant to be the last one. Their haste needn’t have mattered anyway because it was Henry who held the remaining mushroom. Bunny would have goaded him if he wasn’t chewing on the rubbery vestiges of the mushroom. Henry ate it, as casually as though it was some sort of candy, and wiped his hands on his trousers.

“Now,” he said, after he’d eaten it all and had washed the poison down with more stale soda and brandy, “we wait.”

And wait, as Bunny emphatically told Richard between idle ramblings about Shakespeare and lacrosse, they did. Bunny himself didn’t experience any symptoms until nine o’clock rolled around. What he first noticed was the tightening of his throat. He initially assumed that it was asthma and shambled around for his inhaler. When he found it, he sagged into his chair and breathed in the sweet puff of salbutamol.

Out of the blue, Francis said, “I think I’m dying.”

Henry didn’t still from where he was shuffling cards. “No, you aren’t,” he said calmly but there was something hungry in his voice that reminded Bunny of a stray dog he found once at the side of the road. It had just been run over and was whining softly, snapping at him when he approached, before it lunged forwards with its dwindling strength and bit his hand. Bunny still bore the scars on his hand, although they were faint due to his family doctor being the third best in America.

Charles frowned at his array of cards. “I have an extra card, Henry.”

Henry ignored him. He stood up, pausing to dust lint from his trousers, and sat down next to Francis. “What makes you think you’re dying?”

One hand pressed over his torso, Francis considered each word as he spoke, creating curious pools of silence between every syllable, “I… I suppose my abdomen hurts. Not in a normal way. I think I might be sick.”

“Oh, don’t,” Bunny interrupted, screwing up his face. “Just swallow it.”

“You should become a nurse, Bun,” Francis said flatly. “You have a spectacular bedside manner.”

“You’re not in bed. You’re sitting on the sofa.”


Pinching his nose bridge, Henry snapped, “Francis, for God’s sake, tell me your symptoms,” and Bunny realised that Henry's shirt was stained grey and plastered to his skin by sweat. He was shaking and his dark hair was plastered to his clammy forehead, drying in clumped wisps.

Francis sucked in a trembling breath. He blanched and Bunny had the sudden fear that he was going to vomit all over the sofa – and wilted in relief when Francis gulped, closing his eyes. His breaths were slow and irregular. Bunny struggled to hear him when he murmured, “I can feel my blood glowing.”

“Oh, that’s normal,” Charles commented, tossing the cards to the floor. He struggled to his feet and gripped onto the sofa, glaring at them all. “f*cking normal. Wonderful. I’m going to my room.”

“Don’t you dare.”

“Don’t threaten me, Henry. You don’t scare me!”

“I don’t have time for this so quit whining and sit down.”

Francis yelled, “Shut up! Shut up, my head’s going to split in two.”

“Be quiet,” Camilla piped up from where she was prising the cards from the carpet, speaking through gritted teeth. She held her head in her hands, her blonde hair swinging into her eyes. “Arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere, will it?”

Bunny, uncomfortable about the fact he hadn’t spoken for a good minute, said, “Jesus Christ, loosen up. Relax! Sweet Jesus, calm down. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”

There was a playing card trapped under his shoe. Feeling as though he was in a dream, Bunny picked it up and turned it over. The jester leered at him. Pursing his lips, he stared at the jester for a moment longer – his sharp nose, hateful eyes, the maddening crescent moon that was his grin – and tucked it into his pocket. As Charles and Henry bickered, he slipped back into the sofa. The cushions were dragging him down and he didn’t protest, cocooned in a warmth that would be comforting if not for the insistent itch in his throat. It was as though a spider was crawling up his throat (the itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout, down came the rain, and washed the spider out) and the thought made his eyes fly open, horrified, as he held onto his throat and coughed in heaving rasps.

“What’s the matter with you?” Camilla asked.

“Nothing,” Bunny said once the coughs had subsided, waving a dismissive hand. He laughed to himself, long and hard, the cries rattling in his chest. Boy, he really couldn’t breathe. Was this what drowning felt like? “The itsy bitsy spider went up the...

“Oh f*ck,” Francis moaned, who was now hunched over, both hands clasping his stomach. He gagged miserably. “He’s singing. Since when did that forebode anything pleasant? Does anyone have any painkillers?”

Charles yelled, “I’m sick of you and your games!”

In response, Henry shouted, his voice cracking under the strain, “It’s not a game! Just sit down. Sit down, Charles,” and here he slumped, feverishly pale, sweat trickling into his eyes. Henry wiped it away and lurched to his feet. “We have to go outside. The bacchanal.”

Not opening his eyes from where they were screwed together in a wince, Francis bit out, “I don’t care about the bacchanal. I need painkillers. I can’t think straight.”

As Francis continued to babble to the growing vexation of Henry and Charles alike, there was a tug deep in Bunny’s gut, followed by the curious sensation of a hook being strung from his throat. Words dissolved into meaningless hums. Mouth agape, Bunny rubbed at his eyes and tried to focus on the Classics class but his eyes refused to settle, roving, writhing in his sockets; beetles with their own volition.

Bunny tried to stand up but gravity rocked towards his knees and forced him to the floor. Pain rippled across his face. His cheekbone slammed against the cold floor. Probing at the hot skin by his left cheek, Bunny struggled to lift his head, which continued to knock against the floorboards in rapid ditties. White noise rose in pitch and the floor trembled, tense as a strung wire, with such intensity his teeth chattered. Against his will, tears sprang in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks and into his open mouth, salty and cold.

“I can’t hear anything,” he gasped. He wrenched his nails into the sofa to prevent the floor from swallowing him whole. No matter how much he urged them to, his eyes remained fixated on the velvet sofa and the splintered vestiges of his torn nails. “I can’t hear anything.”

Weeping silently, Bunny struggled to pull himself up, pawing at the sofa with his dwindling strength. He sucked in a shaky breath. Spasms waltzed through his fingers and he turned over his hands as they jerked and jumped randomly.

"What’s happening to me?” he breathed, his voice thick through the saliva that overflowed his mouth. Warm spit dribbled down his chin and plinked onto the floor. Was it possible for one to drown in his own saliva?

A hand wrenched into his shoulder and yanked him up. His legs twisting beneath him, useless, Bunny slammed into Charles’ side. Somebody was clinging onto him and, with an outsider’s calmness, he saw himself reeling into Henry, caught as he stumbled over Francis lying prone on the floor. Camilla was slumped over the table, her eyes rolling in their sockets.

He watched as they were all roused and led through the living room, pausing to catch their breath by sagging against the wall, until they burst outside. The cold wind slammed into his chest, punching out breaths, and Bunny gulped and drank the fresh night air eagerly, crying, so quickly he thought his head would explode.

Hand in hand – lest they fall to the ground since Bunny had lost all sensation in his legs – they staggered into the forest, too winded to argue, reeling. Bunny wasn’t sure what hand was his. The world swayed around him. The air had colours, red and mustard yellow and the tinny, clinical grey of that deer’s eyes. If not for the hands wrapped around his own in a vice grip, he would have collapsed. His bones were weak and juddering. Someone was crying, he realised, in great, gasping heaves so violent that the shockwaves trembled across their chain to his fingers. When this realisation came with the discovery that he could hear once more, he made a strangled noise.

Branches swiped at his hair, raking their spindly fingers down his clothes. Directions were meaningless. All he became aware of was their slow, agonising crawl to Dionysus, pleading for him to look at them, to see through them and like what he found. What would a god look like? Would he have a thousand eyes like biblical angels, crooning, “be not afraid,” and, “do not fear,” through the mouths of birds and leaves?

In a delirious haze, Bunny reckoned that, to hell with it all, they looked like gods themselves. Could someone’s humanity be picked and scraped away in the pursuit of otherworldly divinity? Bunny reckoned that it would. With all his thoughts and personality bleached by the mushroom poison, waning under the veil of exhaustion and pain, was Bunny just a shell of a body, ambling towards another host? Was it painful to become a god? Henry had dead eyes, sad eyes, partially hidden by his hair to conceal that ugly scar of his, so perhaps sacrificing yourself for some careless god had its consequences. But God, if Henry wasn’t perfect, everything would have been so much easier. Bunny understood why people were drawn to Henry like moths to a flame. Henry didn’t hide the bitter parts of himself, and that was something to be admired.

All of this introspection, Bunny told Richard wryly, amounted to nothing, just like this attempt.

This was because, after staggering through the woods for an hour, they all collapsed to the ground before the clock had the chance to strike midnight. The next few attempts were similarly disastrous, almost comical in their failure. They chewed laurel leaves. They sang Greek hymns. At last, Henry proposed a fast. Bunny had demanded, “Are you out of your mind?” only to decline brunch, waving off beers, loping past the canteen and fancy restaurants with gritted teeth.

It had been two days later when Henry called off the hunger strike. Bunny had happily, spitefully, stormed over to the nearest diner the next morning and ordered half the menu. He remembered slumping in his seat, dabbing crumbs from his mouth, so nauseous he feared that he’d see his American-style pancakes for the second time.

The bell overhead jingled. Bunny paid no attention to it and sipped at his coffee. A shadow stretched over his table. He didn’t look up from the dark, clogged scum of his coffee.

“We’re attempting it again,” Henry said.

Bunny paused to burp before finishing his coffee, shuddering at the bitter taste. He sighed deeply and lurched to his feet, slapping the bill into Henry’s hands. A grim smile twitching on his lips, he walked out of the diner as Henry prised open his wallet to pay the bill of $254.

Bunny waited for him to join him outside, picking at the food trapped between his teeth as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Two hundred and fifty-four dollars. The receipt was as long as the bible.”

Puffing out his cheeks, Bunny flapped a dismissive hand at Henry and drawled, “It’s my bible.”

Henry tilted his head at him, the sharp sunlight reflecting off his glasses. “Three days, Bunny.”

“Go to hell.”

“Okay,” Henry responded, not reacting to Bunny’s offended tone and the jabbing finger he shoved into his chest. “We’re meeting at six. There’s no need to bring alcohol. We won’t be drinking any of it.”

Seething, Bunny stared at Henry’s receding figure as he loped away. He yelled, “It’s awfully bold of you, old man, to assume I’m going! Very bold!”

Henry didn’t react any further to Bunny’s deranged shouts apart from one still, slowly raised hand of farewell. Bunny shouted – no words, just a sharp growl that was intended as, “Henry, just wait till I…” and, somehow, morphed into the tail-end of a curse – and kicked a lamppost. He did it again, relishing the pain that flamed up his toes, and had drew back his leg for another spiteful kick when the bell chimed. The waitress stood by the door, clasping her notepad to her chest.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, pursing her lips, “but I’m goin’ to have to kick you out.”

Bunny looked at her, then at the empty space where Henry once stood, and plastered on a simpering grin. He walked forwards and clamped a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll get going.”

“Yeah. You do that.”

“Good day.”


Just as Henry knew he would, Bunny showed up early to the damn meeting.

What else was there to say? Despite the continuous failed bacchanals, their appeal curdling like spoiled milk, Henry’s determination grew. He refused to see their failures for what they were: grim, unchanging reality. Bunny was sick of waking up with mud in his mouth, disoriented, as he strung together the night’s events. Henry had suggested another strike but Bunny had given up. He sneaked to parties and had as many shots as he pleased, one for every Classics member. He didn’t tell anyone, of course, of the bacchanals and his refusal to commit to them. It was a quiet, lovely spite that made him smile upon awakening. Pretending to be high was easy. It was funny, in a way, watching Henry and Francis dance in the woods like dumb nymphs.

The straw gurgled as Bunny drank the last foamy dregs of his milkshake. He was in the canteen. Students flocked past. He smirked at their disco tops, tight jeans and leather jackets that were clearly bought distressed and ripped.

Bunny swirled around his straw and hummed beneath his breath, content. Life was good. Tonight, he would swing by Francis’ house. They’d all be subdued as they neared the finishing line of another fast. Bunny could do as he liked. No arguments, no headaches on his behalf, and a wild night, all things considered.

The winter break was hurtling towards them, fast. It had been months since that first bacchanal. Their chants still rang in Bunny’s ears when he tried to fall asleep, resonant and haunting, the final note of something monumental. Richard had his growing suspicions but Bunny doubted that he’d dare voice them. Bunny’s anxiety about Richard discovering their bacchanals had softened into a small, insignificant drone. The most pressing of his concerns was where his winter holiday was going to be spent. Bunny was toying with the idea of Iceland – although the frosty weather made his lips curl in distaste, there were some tourist attractions he wished to see – or perhaps Italy. Bunny could persuade Henry or Charles to tag along. Most holidays were spent with Henry, although they bickered due to the prices. Bunny never found it difficult to persuade Henry to loosen up. You just had to be repetitive, that’s all, and Bunny was relentless when something either bugged or amused him. Charles seemed like the perfect candidate for excursions, where his tipsiness was fitting rather than morbid, because he was polite and well-mannered and agreed with Bunny on most fronts. However, that meant that Camilla would have to join them, too, and Bunny didn’t want to be left out from their secretive, furtive double act.

It didn’t matter, anyway, whether he made up his mind now or not. There were still weeks before the winter break and Bunny was bound to have decided by then. Life was good. He bit into his grilled cheese sandwich happily, unaware of Charles who was frozen in the doorway, his grey eyes widening as they fell upon Bunny – and the empty milkshake glass beside him.

After that, Bunny heard of no more bacchanals. It had seemed that finally Henry had finally accepted that they would never recreate one in all its awful, heart-stopping glory. Although he’d only recognise this feeling upon reflection, he was relieved. There were new things to focus on, after all, and life had to hurtle forwards in its typical fashion. Henry would forget sooner or later. He had to.

In a convenient display of pathetic fallacy, the night that followed was windy and autumnal, a full moon leering down at any late-night workers hurrying to their workplaces. Bunny had decided to watch the Hitchco*ck series; the Film Society was playing it in the auditorium for only a dollar’s entry fee to help their funds. Bunny tore his eyes away from the window and the dark, stormy night that expanded from it. He walked with a leisurely, relaxed gait. The film wouldn’t start for another ten minutes and the opening scenes were hardly relevant to the plot, anyway.

A shoulder collided against his, causing both parties to spring back. Bunny rubbed his shoulder furiously and glared at his attacker, only to relax when he recognised the wan, freckled face before him.

“Dickie boy! What are you doing out here at this time of night?”

Richard was still wearing that tie of his, Bunny realised, and a blazer he had probably been gifted by Francis since the cut was elegant and expensive. It was the only garment of his that hinted at genuine wealth. Even though Richard’s fashion was as sombre and serious as the rest of them, all waistcoats and button-downs and charcoal trousers, there was something false and dreamy to it, like how a young child would dress up for Victorian Day at elementary school. A mimicry of casual yet sophisticated wealth that was slightly off its target, stripping it of any authenticity.

But Bunny liked Richard well enough despite his disapproval of his fashion sense. Richard joined in enthusiastically whenever Bunny clowned on the poor and garish, although it was obvious to anyone with two eyes that Richard’s background was more similar to Judy Poovey’s than Bunny’s. Richard was reliable and smart in a self-contained way and Bunny reckoned he was a good friend to have in the old rack. If you needed help, he was more than happy to jump through rings to give it. Despite his melancholy spells, he wasn’t boring company either. Not at all. It was good to be in contact with someone who wasn’t a true Classics student, Bunny reckoned, or else he’d go batsh*t with Henry’s sordid analogies.

“Oh, I’m walking home. I lost track of time in the library.”

Bunny slung an arm over his shoulder and said warmly, “Hey, want to watch the Hitchock series with me, old chap? I say, it’s better than sitting around in your room with that awful girl singing Madonna all night.”

“Her name’s Judy Poovey, Bun.”

“Yes, yes, I know that,” rebutted Bunny irritably, “but her singing habits and perm are more interesting to me than her name. Anyway, what do you say? It could be a roaring good time.”

Richard’s eyes flicked across his face and after a thoughtful pause, he replied, “Sure, Bun, why not?”

“Why not indeed!” Bunny echoed, thrilled.

By the time they arrived, the movie had been playing for six minutes already. There were no seats left so, disgruntled, they sat on the stairs instead with their elbows digging into their knees. Unable to get comfortable, Bunny squirmed until he was leaning back on his elbows with his legs stretched out before him, the movie’s glow reflecting off his shoes. Wind howled outside and flung itself against the windows. Bunny unwrapped a butterscotch-flavoured Dum-Dum sucker and popped it into his mouth. He cracked it between his teeth as some students flurried to prop the door open with a brick as it had slammed open and shut for the past thirty minutes without warning.

The movie had been good but it wasn’t his favourite. Afterwards, Richard had offered drinks so they traded a glass of whisky back and forth until Bunny coughed up his own money for beers. A marvellous idea bloomed in his mind. He was going to sneak to Henry’s apartment and give him a scare, spook the living daylights out of him. At the time, this seemed like such a hilarious joke that he laughed at the very thought of it. To his relief, Richard never questioned his uncontrollable bout of giggles as he was laughing, too, for an entirely different reason.

"Do you know where Henry is?” he kept on asking Richard between thirsty gulps of beer.

“No. No, I haven’t seen him today.”

In high spirits, they parted ways with a clumsy and rare hug wherein both backs were thumped with merry cheer. Bunny lurched all the way to Henry’s apartment. The spare key was hidden beneath the front carpet and he eased it into the lock, holding his breath. Inside, the flat was silent and still. He wandered around the flat for somewhere to hide and debated between behind the sofa or the door. He crouched behind the door for about ten minutes until he got bored and wandered to the freezer. Behind untouched frozen food was vanilla ice cream. Pleased with this discovery, Bunny held the carton to his chest as though it was a dearly loved child of his, held his spoon between his teeth and flopped onto an armchair. He shovelled ice cream into his mouth until he fell asleep with his head flung back, losing consciousness so quickly he wasn’t even aware of dreaming.

He awakened to the sound of muffled whispers and footsteps. The lock clicked and gave way. Bunny’s eyes flew open. Something sticky was all over his face, clothes and floor. Standing by the entrance were four ghostly figures. Blood dripped down their hollow faces and plinked to the ground by their torn feet. They were whispering, their long white arms gesturing wildly. Bunny couldn’t hear what was being said over the sounds of his screams. He continued to shriek, recoiling into the sofa, even as they began to speak over one another in overlapping voices:

“Calm down, Bun!”

“It’s only—”

“Shut up, shut up, for God’s sake!”

One of them clapped a bloody hand onto his mouth and Bunny screamed even louder. He could not link previous events – sitting on the sofa eating ice cream – to this dangerous robbery. Bunny flung their hand off and breathed heavily, staring at his assailants. They hadn’t stopped talking to him in urgent whispers, ignorant to the fact he wasn’t listening. The shortest of the masculine spectres lurched forwards and his mouth opened and closed rapidly but Bunny couldn’t make out the words because the movement had made him scream louder, his heart thundering in his chest. The smallest one picked up an ashtray and hurled it towards Bunny. It hit him in his chest – “Dammit! Jesus, that hurt!” – and the explosion of pain rippling outwards from his sternum was enough to finally quieten him.

He rubbed his eyes and gawked at them. Francis was trying to wipe the blood from his chiton and only achieved in smearing it further. Camilla’s hair was matted and red instead of blonde. Charles continued to rave to Bunny with one hand clasped around his arm, his knuckles drained of colour. Henry stood over Bunny, enraged at the ice cream spilled down his front and all over the Oriental rug. Veins pulsed in his neck.

“What did you do to my rug?” Henry cried and shook him by the shoulder, hard. He demanded in an angry hiss, “You ruined it! My nice little Oriental rug!”

Bunny could taste blood on his lips and shuddered. “Well,” he said and, to his surprise, snorted. “Seems like you’ve all gotten yourselves into quite the problem.”

Henry glowered at him. “Are you going to apologise and help or continue being useless?”

“Apologise for what?”

Henry didn’t grace him with an elaboration, instead opting to demand scathingly, “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Wanted to give you a bit of a scare , that’s all. Isn’t that ironic?” Bunny mused. At Henry’s stony face, he sighed and raised both hands in the air. “Alright, alright, I’m sorry. But sweet mother of Jesus, what happened to you all? Wait. Wait, no, don’t tell me... it was a bacchanal, wasn’t it?”

Bunny began to cackle at the absurdity of it all. Charles hissed at him, “Shut up,” through gritted teeth, which only made him laugh harder.

When his laughter tapered out into awkward silence, Bunny said, “Boy, you guys scared me! I musta been half-asleep. But a bacchanal!” A pause. “The one time you go without me, you get yourselves scratched to ribbons. Typical.”

Unable to help himself, Bunny continued to prattle without pausing to breathe. He spoke of the weather, the movie, sports, Marion and even his brothers as they all swayed before him. Henry scrubbed his hands up and down his face. He picked up a crumpled tissue from the coffee table and slowly wiped blood from his glasses. Francis was shivering. So distressed that his fingers were curled into rigid claws, he scraped and tugged at his soaked chiton. He murmured to himself between quiet, dry sobs. Francis raised his hands to his face and turned them over. The sight of his fingers webbed together with blood made his face crumple and he continued to frantically scrabble at the knot of his chiton. Camilla and Charles were slumped together with Charles’ arm wrapped around her waist. She didn’t speak or move but instead looked through Bunny. It was her eyes, so blank and glazed through the tangled nest of her hair, that made Bunny babble even more. He didn’t want to stop because then they would all have to explain themselves. That would mean that this wasn’t some dream. It was real.

At some point, he fell silent. Henry began to explain in a rapid, hushed voice, “We hit a deer.”

“Was the road busy? Did anyone else see?”

“It’s late, Bun. Nobody’s driving at this time of night. We had just finished a bacchanal. It wasn’t successful. When we were driving back, a deer ran right into the road and there was no time to swerve; it noticed us before we realised what was happening, and it froze. It was terrible.” Emotion gleamed in Henry’s eyes. “It was terrible. I think its neck was broken.”

“Oh,” Bunny said, digesting this. “Oh. Wow. Jesus.”

They slunk to the bathroom. Francis was the last to leave. He had finally managed to tear his chiton off and hurled it to the ground before hurrying to the bathroom, dressed in only his boxers. Shaking his head, Bunny watched as he left before following. All the other men were gathered there. Bright red blood was smeared across the porcelain. Water thundered from the taps and crashed against the bath’s sides. Henry’s razor swayed from its pegs, emitting hard, rhythmic thumps as it collided with the wall. Mingled blood and water gathered into thin puddles on the floor, trapped in the gaps between the tiles.

Bunny leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “Looks like that deer took a plug out of your arm, Charles.”

Charles’ eyes widened and he turned away to hide his arm but Bunny had already seen it. Teeth indentations were gnawed deep into the soft flesh of his upper arm. The skin was swollen, veined and almost plum in colour and there were tufts of fur flattened from slick blood around the bite. Bunny could see coiled fat and tissue bunched together within the dash-shaped gouges. It was as though Charles had wrenched a spoon into his arm and scooped out several pockets of flesh.

Everybody spoke very little and Bunny eventually lost interest and sloped away. When he reached his bedroom, he flopped onto his bed, although he didn’t sleep all night, feeling acutely aware that he had missed something crucial and would forever be reeling after the past to figure out what.

The next morning, he awakened in a considerably brighter mood; he danced in the privacy of his bedroom, sang merrily, forgave Marion for their recent dispute and ordered a fry-up at the canteen that was disappointing but filling.As he pushed around eggy dregs around his plate, Bunny dwelled on the night’s events. In the canteen, surrounded by the warmth of ongoing conversations and cliques, the horror on the Classics’ faces were diluted somewhat, dulled to a soft, forgettable – and thus forgivable – haze. Even for their standards (and Bunny was aware of his friends’ eccentricity as it was what attracted him to them in the first place), it was absurd. What had happened to the deer? Did they mention where it ended up?

Bunny swallowed a mouthful of lukewarm bacon and decided that it was nothing more than a jolly tale to tell later. No harm would come from it. It was just a deer, after all. He had to be exaggerating. Francis, Charles, the lot of them – they were harmless, really. Once you stripped away their haughtiness, they were just sheep. Nothing that couldn’t be pushed and prodded back into their rightful places.

Bunny had never truly liked Francis and the twins anyway. It was Henry who he loved; Henry was his best friend, and sometimes it felt like Bunny was only begrudging the others just to please Henry. If Henry had abandoned all his friends in favour of Bunny, he would have been thrilled. But sadly, the twins and Francis — despite how Bunny had warmed up to them — were a package deal, lumped along with Henry, and if they had been separate people, then Bunny wouldn’t have bothered with befriending them at all.

Soothed by this train of thought, Bunny finished his breakfast and walked towards the exit. He was whistling but it didn’t quieten the nagging at the back of his mind, relentlessly cautious, scraping away slowly at his subconscious. That voice was digging an escape. It was a shame that he never listened to it, and so he never found such an easy way out.

That night, he asked Richard if he wanted to drop by Francis’ place to pick up the others, who of course agreed. Nothing was amiss. Richard probably hadn’t realised that anything was wrong, and if he had, it could be excused by hangovers, deadlines or interpersonal conflict that he was oblivious to.

The only thing that made Bunny falter was the woollen muffler around Camilla’s neck. She didn’t speak at all that night and would only purse her lips in reaction, fiddling with her scarf. A nasty bout of laryngitis, Charles explained sympathetically.

They dined in the Brasserie. Everybody talked very little. The air was rich with small, polite noises; rain pattering on the roof; cutlery clinking; the gargle of throats being cleared; breath whistling in and out of noses. Bunny and Richard were the only two who drank alcohol. The others opted for sweet tea, which they laced with so much honey Bunny was surprised they didn’t transform into bees there and then.

After the waiter took their orders, Bunny leaned forwards and said, “Feeling queasy, bakchoi?” and slunk back into his seat with a smirk at Camilla's unamused face.

Nobody ate all of their food and the parking lot was empty by the time they spilled out of the restaurant. Moonlight rippled over the cars. Bunny circled the car and crouched by the headlights. They were intact, glassy and perfect. He trailed a finger down them and stood up to kick the tires lightly. The others stood by to watch him, hugging themselves against the frigid breeze. Dead leaves were whisked around their ankles. Bunny’s hair was flattened to his scalp from the downpour. Cold bullets of rain trailed down his neck. He inhaled deeply and tasted mud, pollution, far-away takeaway shops, thick clag that got trapped in his throat.

After swiping the damp hair from his eyes, he glanced over his shoulder and queried, “This the one you were in last night?”

“Yes,” said Charles, nonplussed, although he was shivering from the rain.

“German cars. Hate to say it but I think the Germans have got a metal detroit beat. I don’t see a scratch.”

“What do you mean?” Richard asked. He was sat on the bumper of another car and his trouser legs had ridden up to expose a sliver of goose-pimpled skin that had an unhealthy pallor.

Bunny straightened up, slapping his hands onto his knees. “Aw, they were driving around drunk. Making a nuisance of themselves on the public road. Hit a deer. Did you kill it?”

Henry was shielded from the rain by the black umbrella he always lugged around with him. Through the curtain of rain plinking around him, he looked at Bunny for a moment, squinting at him.

“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you over the rain,” said Henry.

Bunny rolled his eyes. “The deer. Didja kill it?”

“It looked pretty dead to me.”

After that, Bunny forgot all about the deer. It wasn’t until two weeks later that reality slapped him in the face, hard enough that he was left reeling. He was sitting with Marion in Commons before lunch, one arm around her waist, his nose digging into her shoulder, as she talked to her friends. She had a subscription so several newspapers were spread around her. Her friends had launched into a dreary conversation about bands and concert etiquette.

After this conversation passed the ten-minute checkpoint, Bunny peeled himself away from Marion, who didn’t react, and flipped through the newspaper. It was all boring stuff, football games, politics that he didn’t bother researching into, diets, new vaccines, fashion trends – God, why would anyone want to read all that everyday?

Bunny closed the paper. The front cover caught his eye. There was a grainy photograph of a bearded man with dark craters for eyes where the ink in the printer had blotched. Written in garish capitals across the page was, ‘MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN BATTENKILL COUNTY!’A farmer’s body had been discovered with a fragmented skull. Police suspected that the farmer had been bludgeoned to death and then left to rot. What made the case so puzzling was that there were no leads, no clues, no murder weapons, no suspects.

Bunny frowned and nudged Marion. She flashed him an annoyed look and turned to face her friends, winding a strand of hair around her finger. Bunny skimmed the article, his morbid interest growing by the minute.

When he saw the twins and Henry approaching, he shot up in his seat and hollered, waving the paper in the air, “Look here, you guys, some chicken farmer got killed out by Francis’ house.” He recited a few lines in the halting, painstaking voice he always adopted whenever he read. The words wiggled away from him.

He cleared his throat and continued, “No, no murder weapons or anything! Nothing! Isn’t that puzzling? Hey, November tenth?That’s the night you were out at Francis’s. The night you ran over that deer.”

Henry said, “I don’t see how that could be right.”

“It was the tenth. I remember because it was the day before my mom’s birthday. That’s really something, isn’t it?” Bunny said wonderingly, sitting back down. The others slid onto the opposite bench and mimicked his casual slouch.

“Why, yes.”

Upon noticing Marion and her friends, Charles smiled at them. Some grinned back, others ignored him. To Bunny, he agreed, “It certainly is something.”

Bunny smiled back and teased, “If I had a suspicious mind, I’d guess that you’d done it, Henry, coming back from Battenkill County that night with blood from head to toe.”

By now, Marion and her friends were listening with curious, scandalised expressions. They whispered to one another. Henry and the twins laughed.

“No, Henry and I were fighting for Camilla’s honour,” Charles joked and they all laughed again as though this was the height of comedy. There was something wooden to it, though, like canned laughter in sitcoms after a punchline.

Bunny persisted, “I can’t believe this, guys. An honest-to-God murder, out in the woods, too, not three miles from where you were. You know, if the cops had pulled you over that night, you’d probably be in jail right now. There’s a phone number to call if anyone’s got any information, you know. If I wanted to, I bet I could get you guys into a heck of a lot of trouble.”

That sentence rang in his mind long after they had all dispersed to class. Bunny had always been stubborn. When he was fond of an idea, he sank his teeth into it like a starving dog and refused to let go. He toyed with the prospect of Francis, Henry and the twins murdering that farmer around in his mind, innocent in its absurdity, examining every angle the way someone would rack their brain for answers in a crossword puzzle. There was no real danger or importance in getting the answer right, only amusem*nt on behalf of the player. Bunny didn’t believe that they had killed the farmer but he found the coincidence of it all both maddening and hilarious. In the same fashion of how he’d relentlessly commented on Richard’s clothes until he wore him down, how he alluded to Francis’ sexuality in the light-hearted, callous manner of a school-yard bully… his mocking obsession of the case leaked into his mannerisms.

He had saved the newspaper and, as a joke, pinned it on the windshield of Francis’ car, grinning as the pages fluttered desperately against the glass. It was all fun and games. It wasn’t serious. Just a ludicrous horror story, he had to convince himself. The more he made fun of the farmer’s murder and spoke of it openly, the less frightening it became. He used to ask his brother to retrieve an imaginary sock from beneath his bed when he was young and scared of what lurked beneath it. Standing there, trembling, so scared he thought he might faint with his eyes jerking wildly in their sockets, Bunny had watched his brother wriggle around beneath the bed. By the time his brother surfaced for air, irritated at the lack of socks and consequently at Bunny’s lies, the fear had been cured. If there was a monster there, it would have already gobbled his brother up.

Bunny reckoned that this, while more cruel and dissonant in approach, was the same thing.

So, sue him, he did scrape away at the healing scab of the Battenkill murder. Whenever there was a lull in a conversation, it was what he mentioned with faux casualness. It was a wondrous Rubik's cube and he couldn’t resist the satisfying clicks when he spun a row into neatly arranged colours, even at his friends’ visible discomfort. They’d get over it. It begged the question: why were they annoyed? It was just a joke. They hadn’t truly killed the farmer. He didn’t understand why it bugged them so much.

Bunny used Marion’s lipstick to scrawl, ‘I AM THE FARMER YOU KILLED!’ across Henry’s mirror and had wheezed hysterically when Henry stormed out of the bathroom towards him, mortified, his fists clenched and unmoving. When Charles spilled red wine (he said it was cranberry juice but he was a terrible liar; his lips turned up at one corner whenever he did) down his starched white jumper vest, Bunny said that it was the farmer’s blood. He told Camilla that nobody would want to sleep with her if she cut her hair any shorter, even when she was sent to prison, where looks were valued less so than availability. Bunny didn’t have any evidence for this apart from his entitled opinion, so naturally it was undeniable and true.

“Prison for what?” Camilla had asked, not reacting to the jab at her hair. She unwrapped a lollipop and popped it into her mouth. Her voice was cracked and rasping after her laryngitis.

“You know what,” Bunny said and cackled at the split second where her face had shifted to something haunted and grief-stricken.

This game of sheep versus what he deemed the big, powerful dog broke into the winter break, hammering cracks into their drowsy late-night conversations and overall friendship dynamics. Things were amiss. As Richard had never witnessed anything but the tense, exaggerated performance of their class, he didn’t suspect that anything was wrong. Bunny knew and, to be honest, it gave him a spiteful kind of satisfaction. The power that came with handling delicate knowledge was addictive. He knew he’d have to retire the act soon (the jokes were wearing thin even for him, the man who was making them) but it would be a saddening loss, a goodbye, a funeral, one that heralded a body drifting gently away on a boat as the sea expanded infinitely around it.

The last week of school was a hectic one; frantic all-nighters; pen smeared down the heel of his hand; jabbing the space key on his typewriter so the words were several inches apart; hellish, claustrophobic dreams that jolted to a bitter reality that reeked of flat soda, dried sweat and cloying ink. Bunny paced around his room so frequently he wore little grooves into the carpet. Although he looked forward to Rome, exams worried Bunny. He wasn’t academic like Henry or even Richard. Whenever Bunny tried to write his thoughts on paper, the words eluded him, slippery, unable to hold onto some real substance.

It was difficult to focus, anyhow, even more so than usual. Rome had taken over his fascination with the Battenkill murder. Bunny learnt the sparse bones of Italian from several books, crooning the words under his breath to memorise them. He prattled to Francis in Italian, who replied in throaty, careless French, although their responses had no connection to the statement beforehand and were cobbled together like clumsy granny squares. He bought new clothes and guidebooks but this surfaced another glaring issue: Henry’s sudden reluctance at buying for whatever Bunny asked him to.

Bunny’s spending sprees couldn’t have lasted forever but he intended to drag them out for as long as he pleased. He asked for Italian books, watches, shoes; all of this Henry didn’t deny him exactly but there was even greater chagrin on his face when he slapped money notes into his hand.

“It makes my heart ache, thinking of you stuck here while I’m exploring the tourist attractions of Italy,” Bunny said to Richard insincerely, watching the lines tighten around his mouth, such a minute detail that nobody would notice if they hadn’t been looking out for it. He fluttered the menu and stabbed a finger down onto the fine print. “Suffolk lamb for me, Henry.”

Henry didn’t face him, nor grace him with a response. The rest of the meal was brittle and awkward. Richard had given himself no time to swallow the dregs of his wine before hurrying home, his coat slung over one shoulder.

Bunny watched him leave with his chin propped in one hand. His eyes slid to Henry. Annoyed, faux-casual, delicately straightening the fork on his empty plate.

Bunny murmured to himself in stilted, breathless Italian, “How do I fix this?”

“You used the singular pronoun, ‘you,’ rather than, ‘I,’” corrected Henry, scraping his chair back, “and perhaps you should start by paying for your own damn Suffolk lamb.”

After that, Henry’s attitude followed in a similar depressing strand. For the most part, Bunny was oblivious to it (he was so sour all the time, it didn’t matter to Bunny who the cause was) but when he did notice, it made him feel awkward in his skin, uncomfortable, a little child who hadn’t been punished but knew that he should, really. It wasn’t his fault, though, that he needed to prepare for Italy. It wasn’t as though Bunny’s demands gnawed into Henry’s money. It barely made a dent. So Bunny could not understand why Henry was so frustrated at him because what else was he going to do with the money? Leave it to fester and rot in his bank or crumpled in his suit pockets?

Camilla and Charles were staying with their uncle and aunt to bustle around and answer telephones. Bunny had never been dragged along with them but he imagined this holiday to be early spring, creaking front porches, a pedantic Nana, dogs that smelt of damp attics and rainwater, twisted together with a warm, balmy Southern drawl. Francis was spending Christmas before travelling to the starry lights and neon signs of New York. Once, after they had all regathered after the winter break, a little scarred from the hustle and bustle of New Years, Francis launched into a long, winding story of Christmases spent with Olivia. They had hosted well-contained parties. He spent most of his time shivering on the front steps overlooking the drive, nursing a cigarette, dressed in vaguely festive pyjamas that were too short at the ankle. This depressing image was blotted out into a diluted wash of colour at his flustered disclaimer that it had been a wonderful Christmas, truly, an addictive blend of both old-money luxury and seedy Las Vegas glamour.

Bunny was surprised when Richard announced that he wasn’t returning to his wealthy, distant parents in California; he intended to stay right where he was to brood and focus on his studies. Bunny had always suspected that Richard’s parents weren’t as rich as they seemed and was waiting for Richard to announce it, red-faced, to the class. Whilst everyone else was as shocked by this decision as Bunny, it was because Richard’s decisionresembled Henry more closely than the shambling, quiet, freckled anomaly he’d always been to them. Henry gravitated towards Richard and now paid him more blessed attention than before. Bunny watched, glowering, as they walked around the campus, their coats flecked with snow, and discussed pretentious topics such as liminal spaces. This sudden cool, melancholy Richard replaced Bunny as Bunny and Henry’s friendship frayed at the seams. Or at least that’s what it felt like. It wasn’t fair!

Henry and Bunny had been the first to leave. Bunny was desperate to flee Hampden as soon as he could. He asked Richard to help him pack as he had no obligations, no hobbies and no other friends for that matter apart from Judy Poovey. It wasn’t as though Richard was unattractive in personality or appearance so Bunny didn’t understand why not. The problem with Richard was that he never put himself out into the world. Some girls Bunny knew for a fact wanted to sleep with him. So why not? That was the question Bunny always felt when he dwelled upon Richard for too long (a rare occasion as he simply wasn’t that interesting to him): a stream of why, why, why?

T-shirts and pants fluttered in the air as Bunny tossed them across the room into his suitcase. A blue jacket had gotten caught on the bedpost. He scooped up an armful’s worth of socks and dumped them into the suitcase, flattening the pile with his hands.

Dressed in yesterday’s crumpled suit, Richard wandered around his bedroom, his footsteps quiet and considerate. He trailed a finger over the photographs on the wall and squinted at either the impressionist landscapes or the few blurred, dreamy Polaroids of Henry, Charles, Camilla and Francis.

Carefully, Richard prised a framed Japanese print from the wall. He placed it down on Bunny’s bedside table so gently Bunny wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t been in his direct line of vision.

“Don’t touch that!” he yelled, his voice snapping in the air, murderous.

Stunned, Richard recoiled. He didn’t say anything as Bunny stormed over and snatched the print from his hands, so vigorously that he pulled a muscle in his elbow.

What infuriated him more than the tight, blood-boiling pain was the utter lack of reaction on Richard’s face. Although his whole body was tense in preparation to fight, he still wore that insipid, sinister, sickly intelligent look on his face. It was something hollow that glowed behind his eyes, the twin of Henry, and Bunny hated him, he wanted to f*cking throttle him. What made him better than Bunny? He was a poor, lying, pesky—

Bunny heaved in a ragged, hot breath. “That thing’s two hundred years old,” he continued, unable to hide the trembling that wracked through each word.

After that, Richard refused to help him. He glared at Bunny and stalked from the room. The door slammed shut behind him.

His shoulders slumped, Bunny gaped at the door for an indeterminate amount of time before clearing his throat and hanging the Japanese print back onto the wall. The more time that passed, the greater his embarrassment swelled. Richard ought to have asked before touching Bunny’s furniture, sure, but he didn’t deserve to be screamed at.But the nerve of just leaving! Not to mention slamming the door! Well, it didn’t matter. Bunny was determined to smooth things over. He scribbled a note of apology and purchased a box of Junior Mints and a poetry book. Hope bloomed somewhere deep within his chest as Bunny dropped them in Richard’s mailbox, certain that their friendship would be as right as rain before the next sunrise.

Dear Dickie boy,

I am Terribly sorry, chap, for today’s outburst. I was angry but I daresay, a bit of carelessness on your part and my own hardly matters in the Great scheem of things, don’t They? Anyway, I’ve thought about it and I’m embarrassed for shouting at you like that. I handled the situation wrong and I take Total responsibility for that. But as my father likes to say, what’s Done is done. What do you say we meet at the Lionsdeck on Osprey Street. They have some Excellent drinks i’d like to introduce you too, my good fellow. Enjoy the poetry and the mints! Forgive a soul, won’t you? It won’t happen again and I am very sorry.

From your good old friend Bun

To Bunny’s immense relief, Richard had been swayed over by the note and the presents attached to it. Now, Bunny could focus wholly on Rome. No petty arguments, no panicky revision sessions, merely a long and glorious excursion. He left quickly after a hasty goodbye to the twins, Francis and Richard.

“Goodbye!” hollered Francis, both hands cupped around his mouth, before he fished a white handkerchief from his pocket and waved it around in the air. “Goodbye, see you whenever!”

Perhaps the gods were smiling down at Bunny because there was no traffic on the journey and more green lights than red. By the time Henry and Bunny arrived, the airport was bustling and crammed with people.

With a languid flick of the wrist, Bunny crammed his sunglasses onto his face. In the process, his usual glasses – rounded, thin wired, with an expensive flair – were pushed back into his eyes. Annoyed, he adjusted them and settled back into the hard plastic seat. Through the bronze lens, a figure wavered in the distance, stilled and then grew larger. Bunny squinted at the fuzzy outline, pinching it between his fingers. He squashed the humanoid shape and allowed his vision to focus, sharpening on shoulder pads and a square jawline, as Henry bloomed into definition.

After sitting down in the seat next to him, Henry rifled through tourist brochures. There was a scarf looped around his neck and his gloves were maroon, the only blotch of colour apart from the high, watery flush on his cheekbones.

Bored of watching him, tracing the angles of his face with his eyes, Bunny surveyed the airport. It was busy given the countdown to Christmas. Families flocked near cafes. Young couples either bickered or talked sweetly, arm in arm. The air was swollen with the sound of coffee beans grinded and rattling around in machines; high, anxious fretting; footsteps snapping against the linoleum; the repeated question of, “What’s in your bag?” by muscled security guards.

Bunny cleared his throat. “When’s our flight?”

“An hour’s time,” murmured Henry, not looking up from the pamphlet, as though he was interested in the top five tourist attractions in Morocco.

Frustrated, Bunny snatched it from his hands and stared in disgust at the dead-eyed families at the beach. He snorted and said, “Do you reckon they were held at gunpoint?”


“The family,” elaborated Bunny as he flapped the brochure in Henry’s face. At the lack of reaction, he sighed and sank back into his seat. “Never mind, chap. An hour’s enough time for a quick lunch, don’t you say?”

Henry’s eyes flicked down to his watch, then roved across Bunny’s face. “I doubt it,” he said at last wryly, “since you tend to order one too many drinks during it, and lose all track of time.”

In a valiant attempt to act mature, Bunny ignored him by fidgeting with his cufflinks, although the gesture was unintentionally reminiscent of a toddler squirming when their mother reproached them. He leaned forwards to catch a glimpse of the, while undoubtedly garish and unsophisticated, fast food court. Greasy food was admittedly better than caviar but it didn’t make Bunny feel better than everyone when he ate it. He wouldn’t mind ordering whatever caught his eye on the menu though, just for the sake of it, because if he sat in this chair for an hour longer, he very well might climb out of his own skin.

“I won’t order any drinks,” Bunny said, “besides, there’s nowhere to buy any.”

“A loss,” Henry murmured, kneading at his temples. His lips were twisted into a knot, although, at Bunny’s obvious gawking, he smoothed out his face by wiping any unseemly emotion from it. “Some would consider it rude to stare.”

“You need a drink more than I do, I say,” said Bunny, clapping him on the back. “Headache? Or the headache?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“The famous Henry Winter, not knowing about something!”

Henry closed his eyes. There was a pained bite to his voice as he spoke, “Not now, Bun.” More calmly, he added, “Anyway, I doubt it’s anything serious. If it was, I would be bedridden.”

“You’ve come down with the bubonic plague instead, then?” mocked Bunny but he didn’t press Henry any further and they lapsed into peaceful silence.

Forty minutes and a ghastly can of lukewarm soda later, they winded through the airport. Bunny had always disliked the white funnels of the airport’s digestive system, the bleak starkness of them, heat and anger simmering low in the air. His father had taught him to always barge through crowds as a boy because nobody would step aside for you unless you showed them why. In school, fashion alone could part a clogged hallway better than the sea did to Moses.

In airports, nobody cared about what you wore. So you had to show them in the good old aggressive way that made Bunny feel very self-assured of his testosterone levels. It was with this mental justification that Bunny elbowed a greying businessman and weaved through the crowd. Henry shuffled behind him, awkward, trapped within the many ungainly limbs and bags and, god forbid, overwhelmed toddlers who were soothed by candy. The only reason Bunny knew this was because the evidence was slathered all over their faces. One had even tried to seize his trouser leg and he’d yelped and tugged it back. Bunny reckoned he’d make a wonderful father one day (well over five kids, a good barbeque, stunning wife, maybe a dog or two) but today wouldn’t spark any paternal instincts within him and neither would tomorrow.

Sweating, Bunny burst from the crowd and spun around as he tried to find their plane. Through the veil of strangers flitting back and forth, there were signs. Netherlands. France. Toilets. Hungary. Fire exit. Bunny reeled back and forth, breathing heavily, and bumped into a stranger. He whipped around so fast that he almost tripped over his feet.

The young woman glared at him. “Watch where you’re going,” she said coolly and wafted past, her fur coat twitching around her ankles as though it was alive.

After scoffing at her nerve to talk to him in such a reproachful manner, Bunny lurched forwards, thinking that if he found a wall to lean against, he’d be alright. Nobody could focus with strangers milling and swarming around them. Uncaring of who he pushed, he shouldered his way through the crowd.

His glasses were steaming up and he wiped them with his sleeve angrily, his hands shaking. Damn crowds. Was he the only sorry fool who knew what crowd crush was? Crowds could kill you. He tried not to think of crushed windpipes; panicky heels and trainer soles trampling back and forth over his fractured skull. He was pushed back and for a moment, he stood there, stumbling as shoulders grated against his own. Faces span around him like drunken teenagers reeling back home, their eyes ungodly bright, and Bunny understood suddenly how mass hysteria was born where it shouldn’t have existed at all, a stubborn weed that couldn’t be prised from its roots. It felt like a bacchanal of its own.

Henry took his arm. “Come on,” he yelled over the cacophony of voices. “What are you standing around for? We’re going to miss our flight.”

“I don't know where to go,” snapped Bunny. Portugal. United Kingdom. The words on the signs squirmed when he tried to read them. “Where’s the damn…”

Henry wandered around, peering at the signs. Bunny trailed after him and stepped on his heels, although he denied it when Henry told him to cut it out.

He could have kissed the stewardess when they found their plane and hastened down the corridor, across the icy asphalt, and onto the plane. The stairs quavered from the sharp wind.

Bunny smiled, the tension draining from his body with each chair they passed, and moseyed into first class.He sat down and crossed his legs. As Henry sank into his own seat, Bunny leaned over and pushed up the window cover to peer at the airport. Anticipation thrummed in his chest. Content, Bunny settled back and felt as though the universe was settling back into place, with him in first class, unruffled, unbothered and with the whole wide world awaiting him.

Bunny clicked his tongue and called for a passing stewardess. “Do you serve alcohol?”

“I… um, well,” she stammered at his growing impatience. “Yes. Yes, we do, sir.”

“Excellent.” He rubbed his hands together and turned to Henry. “Whaddya say, chap, a toast to start this holiday with a bang?”

“You’re happy.”

“Just thrilled to be alive and young, Henry, you should try it sometime. Come on. This is a voyage! An excursion! An escapade! Just between you and me, I say you’re dying to loosen up a little. It must wear down a guy to be so morose all the damn time. Come on. Come on.”

Henry hesitated, his eyes flicking over to the stewardess, who was watching this exchange with no change in her nervous demeanour. He began to speak, paused, and said to the stewardess, “Two glasses of champagne, please.”

“Yes, Henry!”

“Is that all, gentlemen?”

Bunny swung his legs up onto the vacant seat in front of him. “That’ll be all.”

The plane trembled. A lanky stewardess with a sparse fringe stood before them and explained what to do if the plane crashed, her hands slicing through the air. After she stalked back to the captain’s cabin, the plane juddered and the captain’s voice growled through the faulty speakers for everyone to please fasten their seatbelts. Bunny fumbled to jam his seatbelt into the plastic holder.

Unable to stop himself from grinning, he squirmed around in his seat and yanked open the window cover to peer outside. The turf sped past him and then there was a second of heart-juddering, glorious weightlessness as the floor fell away. Juddering, the plane lifted into the sky. Bunny continued to watch the airport shrink and, silent in the seat next to him, Henry turned the page of a newspaper he’d found.

“Your champagne, sir,” the stewardess said. Her eyes shot to Bunny and she added, “And sir.”

“Thanks, I’m parched.”

Bubbles popped on his tongue. The champagne was light, airy. Bunny had nearly drunk all of it before he realised something. He lowered the flute and swivelled towards Henry, who was swirling the alcohol around in the glass without drinking any. His eyes were vacant and his lips were tugged downwards. The look of utter emptiness on his face – a porcelain doll who’s delicate china had begun to crack, where spiders and co*ckroaches emerged – made Bunny pause, swallowing. The world felt twisted and off-centre.

He snapped himself out of it and said, “Henry?”


“Cheers,” Bunny said airily, holding his flute towards Henry. “To Rome!”

“To Rome,” echoed Henry, and nudged his flute with Bunny’s; and there flashed his elusive smile, a rare-sighted bird, at the bright resonant chime of glass grating against glass.

Roadkill That Never Rots - Chapter 1 - funfettiii - The Secret History (2024)
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