Ten minutes later, Peter and Rabbit were standing outside a dilapidated building in Chinatown. The damp alley they stood in looked like it had never seen sunlight and everything was covered in damp green algae.
Peter looked at the flickering neon sign above the door. ‘The Rabbit Hole,’ he read aloud. ‘This place is fucking gross, Rabbit.’
Rabbit looked uneasy and wrung his hands. ‘You gotta keep the language down, man,’ he said. ‘They don’t like that sort of thing here; they say it messes with their Chi or something.’
Peter looked up at the narrow star-filled space high overhead and briefly wondered whether there was a giant farm in the sky to go to after death. He shook his head to disrupt the thought. ‘Isn’t it spelled ‘Qi’?’
Rabbit grabbed his ears and pulled them down low. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know! Please man, you gotta promise me you’ll keep the language down, I can’t handle getting kicked out of here. I need this place.’
Peter scuffed a hole in the algae on the pavement. He loved his swearing so very much – it was all he had left to remind him of his dad. In the scheme of things though, he only had to drop it for one night in order to save a couple of lives, his own included, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. He scuffed the pavement again and heaved a massive sigh. ‘Fine.’
Rabbit’s eyes lit up and he let go of his ears. ‘Thanks man. Appreciate it.’ He took a step towards the building. ‘Let’s see how far this rabbit hole goes.’ He winked conspiratorially and pulled open the heavy steel door.
‘Terrible, terrible joke,’ said Peter, but he followed Rabbit anyway.
White Rabbit was a strange one – for most people the jury was out on whether he existed or not. Some regarded him as a bit of a myth, others a bit of a hero - it all usually depended on who was telling the story, and in which setting it was being told. Young rabbits were told that White Rabbit was the saviour of the whole world, and that if they ate all their greens then they’d grow up to be big and strong like him. Adult rabbits were told by even older rabbits that White Rabbit was better in their day, and that today’s youth had it too easy. Hippy rabbits told everyone stories about how wise and cosmic White Rabbit was, that he was immortal, that he always had the best stuff like, dude, you don’t even know! How far the latter story went all depended on how many drugs the storyteller had taken prior to ‘taking the floor’. For the most part, the story of White Rabbit had circulated for so many years that people surmised that even if he was real, then he’d died long ago. Truth be told, White Rabbit did exist and, yes, he was quite wise, quite old, quite brave and quite fond of all things Opium, which is exactly how Rabbit met him. White Rabbit was responsible for keeping his jaundiced friend out of prison, and was the main reason Rabbit was no longer turning tricks outside dodgy pubs in exchange for drug money. White Rabbit provided a safe place for Rabbit to sleep should he ever find himself in trouble, and he provided him with small amounts of opium just to keep the shakes at bay. Deep down, White Rabbit was a philanthropist; a Zen-talking, opium-smoking, robe-wearing philanthropist. The mystique surrounding him gave him great influence among the rabbit population, which is precisely why the tortoises wanted him out of the picture; anyone who was a rallying figure was a target. He stayed hidden, watching from the shadows, helping rabbits in need whenever he could.
White Rabbit’s first and only close-call with the Consortium came about because of a young girl called Alice whom he’d befriended one night. He’d found her stumbling in a drug-addled haze in the public park opposite his house, muttering about cards and hearts and tea. When she wouldn’t respond to his simple questions he took her to the hospital, worried that it would be too late to counteract whatever substances she had imbibed. In the emergency department he informed the nurse on duty that the young girl seemed ‘as mad as a hatter’ and that she needed immediate care. He disappeared into the night, another good deed done. Shortly thereafter, Alice walked into the head office of the Tortoise Consortium and told a secretary about a rabbit she’d met who matched a description she’d seen on one of their Wanted posters. Alice had a faraway look in her bloodshot eyes, and she looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks, but she was granted an interview regardless. When a clerk sat her down she struggled to stay on-topic and kept rambling on about a card game gone bad and the importance of time-keeping. In moments of coherence she asked about reward money. After some heavy interrogation, Alice named the location of the White Rabbit’s house and left with a pocketful of cash. Consortium agents, acting on Alice’s information, stormed through White Rabbit’s front door that night with orders to shoot first and ask questions never. Ever-prepared, White Rabbit dealt with the intruders the only way he knew how: by throwing burning bags of opium at them from the upper-storey of his house. The intruders got so high so quickly from the billowing clouds of smoke that they forgot why they were there, so White Rabbit made his escape straight past them out the front door. From that point on he was on his guard and only revealed himself to a trusted few.
Peter and Rabbit had been sitting on cushions on the floor of the opium den for fifteen minutes, impatiently waiting for White Rabbit to appear. Rabbit started drumming out a quiet but frantic beat on his knees with his hands and hummed under his breath. His eyes were bugging out of his head from withdrawals and he was directing all his willpower towards not throwing up. Peter on the other hand was spending the time watching the den’s other patrons and the serving girls that tended to them. Businessmen and students alike happily bathed in the fugue of the opium smoke which swirled through the room. Peter was getting nervous, and Rabbit was jonesing pretty hard for a hit.
‘Are… are you ok, Rabbit?’ asked Peter.
Rabbit just ground his teeth and kept tapping away on his knees. His crash had come on pretty quickly. Peter took a deep breath and thought hard about ways he could help his friend, but his brain was starting to vague out due to the smoke. ‘Rabbit, is there some sort of trick to staying sober in here?’
Rabbit snapped out of his almost-coma and clapped his hands together. ‘Trick!’ he said. ‘That’s it! You’re a genius! I just need to turn a trick! I’ll be right back!’ He jumped to his feet and tore out a side door.
‘Oh crap,’ said Peter. There was a sharp intake of breath from everyone in the room and a frowning serving girl bustled over to Peter, shaking her finger as she came.
‘You will not speak like that in here. It disturbs the Qi.’
‘You’re killin’ our buzz, man,’ came a voice from across the room.
‘Oh,’ said Peter. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know that word counted. My bad.’ He stared at his lap until the girl went away. After a few moments the low hubbub of conversation returned and he was at ease again. It could have been the opium kicking in though; that would’ve helped relax him as well.
The door Rabbit had bolted through creaked open and Rabbit bounded back into view, stuffing white powder up his nose.
‘You got your fix I see,’ said Peter disapprovingly.
‘I did! Yeah. Yeah! Yeah, I didn’t have to turn a trick either, was mad,’ said Rabbit, frantically stuffing what was left of the contents of his hands into his pockets. Rabbit glanced around with shifty eyes. ‘He’s here.’
Deep blue velvet curtains dropped behind the pair, almost on cue, and White Rabbit appeared in front of them. ‘Hello Peter,’ he said, his voice airy and singsong. ‘I understand that you are to the wind what the cherry blossom is to the tree?’
Peter just stared at him, replaying the question in his head. ‘What?’
White Rabbit just stared back until Rabbit nudged Peter. ‘It’s the way he talks, all in metaphors and poems and gear. Just smile and nod until it makes sense,’ he said.
Peter turned his head towards Rabbit just a touch, but didn’t break eye contact with White Rabbit. ‘So it makes sense in the end?’
Rabbit paused as if deep in thought and scratched his chin. ‘Sometimes,’ he concluded.
Peter looked a bit stunned, but recovered and turned his expression into a smile and a nod.
‘Good,’ said White Rabbit. ‘You understand, much like the apricot understands the bee. Please, allow me to introduce myself.’ He bowed low, arms spread wide. ‘I am White Rabbit, you may call me “White”. How may I assist you?’
Peter blinked his watering eyes for the first time in a minute. ‘Tortoises are trying to kill all of us and they’re using Little Bunny Foo Foo to do it!’
White flopped down on the cushions and stroked his wispy beard. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘What’s “yes”?’ said Peter.
‘We’re all “yes”,’ said White.
Peter just looked puzzled whilst White took a huge pull from the hookah which sat beside him. A large billowing cloud issued forth from White’s nostrils and rose into the air. Peter stared at it until it merged with the cloud of smoke which hugged the ceiling.
‘What were you expecting?’ asked White, glancing up at the dissipating smoke with a chuckle. ‘The answer to your problems in a tableau projected onto my smoke cloud?’
Rabbit had started gazing happily at his own hands, so Peter continued the conversation on his own.
White Rabbit nodded. ‘Yes. We’re all “yes” sometimes. Do you understand?’
‘Of course he doesn’t understand,’ said a booming voice as the curtain was torn down with a swipe of a massive paw. ‘Nobody understands you, White,’ continued Foo Foo, his shotgun in hand. ‘No one ever has. You talk in riddles to make yourself seem more mysterious, but all you really are is a long-lived rabbit who escaped from a research lab many years ago, and you deal with the trauma by losing yourself in clouds of opium smoke.’
Peter pissed himself and started shaking, but Rabbit seemed unaware anything was happening, and kept staring at his hands. White however just looked amused. ‘I’m curious, Little Bunny, how did you find us?’
Foo Foo took a few steps closer. ‘I bumped into your friend Alice. After a bit of… encouragement she told me about your yellow friend’s opium habit and told me I might find him here. Finding you and Peter as well was just a nice surprise.’ Foo Foo started laughing, but his eyes stayed cold. ‘My bosses are going to love this. I get to take out Rabbit, Peter Rabbit and the elusive White Rabbit all in one go. Outstanding.’
Rabbit, bored of his hands, looked around and noticed Foo Foo standing there, light shining through the new hole in his ear. ‘Sweet dance-fucking shit!’ he screamed, pointing at Foo Foo. ‘Run!’ Rabbit’s mad dash for the door ended when Foo Foo pulled the trigger and took of his head. The body collapsed to the floor and people started screaming. Peter sat wide-eyed and stared down the barrel of Foo Foo’s gun, unable to comprehend the sudden loss of Rabbit. Foo Foo pumped another shell into the chamber. ‘Goodbye, Peter,’ he said with a smile. ‘Look on the bright side: at least you won’t have to be the Easter Bunny anymore.’ As Foo Foo’s finger tensed on the trigger, White darted forward with surprising speed, whipped his robe around Peter and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The shotgun pellets sprayed the floor where the two targets had been a fraction of a second earlier. Foo Foo lowered the gun slightly, looked around for his quarries and bellowed so loudly that all the fleeing serving girls froze in place. ‘No one leaves until someone tells me where they are!’ He blew away one girl as a warning and pieces of her sprayed across a rice paper partition. Foo Foo grinned. ‘I don’t know art, but I definitely know what I like.’