It was a quiet Saturday morning when Daria came down the stairs, passed her eight-year-old sister who was watching cartoons in the living room, and wandered into the kitchen in search of breakfast. She pulled a box of cereal from a cupboard and poured some into a bowl. Finding the milk already waiting for her, she picked it up and began pouring it over the cereal.
That's when the smell hit her.
"Ack!" she gagged. She sniffed cautiously at the bowl, wrinkled her nose, and looked at the carton of milk in her hand. Realizing it was room temperature, she slammed it back down on the counter, splashing a few drops of rancid milk on the counter.
Cereal forgotten, she turned her head toward the living room and shouted, "Quinn!"
Shortly after, her younger sister came in, attention divided between her and the blaring television behind her. "What?"
Daria pointed accusingly at her. "When you got your glass of milk last night, did you put the carton back in the fridge?"
Quinn glanced nervously at the milk and then back at Daria. "Um...yes?"
Daria glared. "Sure you did. Then who took it back out of the fridge, so it could sit out overnight and spoil?"
Looking everywhere but at her sister, Quinn answered, "The Trix Rabbit."
"The...." Daria turned to see the cereal box on the counter, complete with grinning cartoon rabbit. "Sure he did."
"He did!" Quinn insisted. "Really!"
Daria rolled her eyes. "So the two-dimensional rabbit hopped off the box and got the milk back out of the fridge after you put it away?"
Rolling her eyes right back, Quinn replied, "Duh, Daria. That's just a picture. The real Trix Rabbit is my friend. He lives here!"
"You're not fooling anyone, Quinn. There are no rabbits living in this house."
"Uh huh!" Quinn resorted to her most irrefutable argument.
"Nuh uh!" Daria rebutted.
"Good morning, girls!" Jake called out as he entered the kitchen. "What's new?"
Daria smirked. "Quinn left the milk out all night, but says it was really the imaginary rabbit who's living in the house with us."
"Really?" Jake asked Quinn. Daria's smirk grew as she waited for the matter to be settled at last. "That's great!" The smirk disappeared.
"But Dad--!" Daria protested.
"You know, I had an imaginary friend when I was a kid," Jake mused. Daria crossed her arms and huffed a sigh. "Until the old man found out and screamed his head off at me. Never saw that rabbit again."
"Rabbit?" Daria asked, wondering if her father was humoring Quinn or not.
Jake didn't hear her. "That was the only friend I had, too! Would have been nice to have someone to talk to at military school, but nooo! Lousy old bas--I mean, I wonder what ever happened to him?" He changed gears abruptly as he remembered his young daughters were still listening. "Hey, what's your friend's name, Quinn?"
"I don't know," Quinn answered thoughtfully. "I call him the Trix Rabbit and he seems to like that, so maybe that's his name? I guess I didn't ask."
"Helloooo!" Helen greeted her family. She went straight to the coffee maker and poured herself a cup. "I'm afraid I have to go into work this morning. The partners called a last-minute meeting." She grumbled under her breath, "What kind of sick freak wants to go into work on a Saturday morning?"
Daria, seeing that Jake was a lost cause, tried to gain a new ally. "Mom! Tell Quinn that imaginary--"
"Sorry, Sweetie," Helen interrupted. "No time to settle arguments today. Ask your father, okay?" She reached for the milk.
"Um, Mom--" Daria tried to say, eyeing the carton.
"I told you, not now!" Helen gave her daughter a stern look. "And clean up this counter. You know better than to leave messes around!"
"Fine." Daria watched in silence as her mother poured a generous measure of milk into her coffee, then irritably grabbed a dishtowel and sopped up the droplets of milk she'd spilled on the counter.
"It's the darnedest thing," Jake said. "Now I can't remember what my friend's name was. I think it started with--"
Helen had just taken a drink from her coffee mug and immediately spit the mouthful out again--all over the counter. Daria, still scowling, handed the dishtowel to her mother.
Jake started to exclaim, "Hey, it's no use crying over...." but was silenced by twin glares from his wife and older daughter.
That afternoon, Daria was pleased to find the living room finally deserted. Quinn must have run out of cartoons. In a good mood for the first time since the argument, she placed her latest library book on the couch and went into the kitchen to find a snack before she settled in.
When she returned with her cookies and water--no one had gone to the grocery store for more milk yet--she was confused to find the book missing but the living room still empty. Putting the snack on a coffee table, she went to a window to see her father outside, mowing the grass. Her mother was still at work, so Daria stomped up the stairs to the bedroom she shared with Quinn.
Quinn was sprawled on the floor with over a dozen dolls, acting out some kind of fashion show. "What did you do with my book?" Daria demanded.
"What book?" Quinn asked without looking up.
"The book I put on the couch downstairs! Where is it?"
Now Quinn looked at her sister, confusion on her face. "Um. On the couch downstairs?"
"No, it isn't. Because you took it or hid it or something!" Quinn just continued to stare blankly at her, so Daria grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up. She dragged her protesting sister along behind her until they came to the living room, where Daria's book was in the exact same spot on the couch where she'd put it.
"See?" Quinn said crossly. "Told you."
"But it was gone--and where did my cookies go?" The water still sat on the coffee table, but the plate of cookies was missing.
"Oooh, you have cookies? Can I have one?" Her annoyance forgotten, Quinn looked hopefully at Daria.
Daria looked back out the window, where Jake was now engaged in a wrestling match involving the lawn mower and an inconveniently-placed tree. She whirled to face her sister. "How did you do that?"
Quinn's cookie-motivated excitement faded as quickly as it arrived as she heaved a melodramatic sigh. "Do what?"
"Put my book back and take the cookies while I wasn't looking! I was with you the whole time!"
After a moment, Quinn's eyes widened. "Hey, I know! I bet it was the Trix Rabbit. He sometimes plays tricks on people. Oh! Trix and tricks! I guess that's why he likes being called that." Misreading Daria's immediate frustration, she added, "But it's okay, because that means he likes you!"
"No, that means you're delusional," Daria grumbled.
Quinn blinked at the large word, but from her face it was clear she knew she'd been insulted. "Yeah, well," she said, stalling as she tried to think of a comeback. "You're just mad because you can't see him!" she said before scampering back upstairs.
"That's because he's not real!" Daria yelled after her. She glanced back at the couch to make sure the book was still there, then walked into the kitchen...to see her plate of cookies waiting for her on the counter. Glaring at it, she muttered, "And I'll prove it."
After her meeting, Helen had picked up some takeout for dinner along with a new carton of milk--which Daria occasionally checked on to make sure it stayed in the fridge. Daria waited to put her plan in motion until after they'd eaten, so Quinn wouldn't be too suspicious.
Quinn was stretched out on the living room floor, drawing on paper with her crayons, when Daria ran in with an excited look on her face. "I saw him!" she exclaimed with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
"The Trix Rabbit!" Daria pointed up the stairs. "He's upstairs right now! Go and see for yourself!"
Quinn shrugged, dropped the crayon she was holding, and got up to follow her sister upstairs, where Daria led her into their bedroom. "There!" Daria said, pointing to a corner. "He's standing right there!"
Quinn peered curiously at the corner for a moment, then looked back at Daria. "Ummm...there's no one there."
Daria's plan--to trick Quinn into claiming she saw the Trix Rabbit in a random place before revealing that Daria had made up the story--immediately fizzled, but she quickly cobbled together a new one. "Oh, that's right. Just after I saw him, he told me he was going away on a trip. A really long trip. Maybe for years." At least this will get her to shut up about the stupid rabbit.
Quinn's face fell. "He left without saying goodbye?" she whispered.
The disappointment on Quinn's face made Daria hesitate, but determination won out over pity. "He, um, told me to say 'bye' before he left. I guess he was in a hurry to, I don't know, leave the milk out at someone else's house."
"Okay." Eyes cast down, Quinn turned and trudged back down the stairs. Daria followed and watched as she sank to the floor and fidgeted sadly with a few of her crayons.
Daria watched her silently, wrestling with her conscience. At last she decided she had to tell the truth. "Quinn--"
Quinn looked up and gasped. "Oh, hi!" she cried.
"What?" Daria realized Quinn was looking at something past her, turned around, and groaned when she found nothing but empty space behind her. "Ah. Trix Rabbit?"
"So you really can see him now?" Quinn asked excitedly.
"No!" Daria growled. She stomped up the stairs again, leaving Quinn to chatter away at thin air.
The next morning, Daria slept late after a fitful night full of weird dreams about invisible people and sour milk. When she finally woke up, however, she resolved not to let Quinn's weird claims bother her anymore. "Chances are she's forgotten all about it by now, anyway," she muttered as she eyed her still-sleeping sister.
Downstairs, Daria was relieved to find the milk in the fridge. She got herself a bowl of cereal and carried it to the living room, where Quinn's crayons and paper were still scattered on the floor. Shaking her head, she stepped over them to sit on the couch.
As she settled in with her bowl, she glanced down at the mess and frowned. Sitting on top of the various pictures of rainbows and princesses was a drawing of a rabbit, one that Daria was pretty sure she hadn't seen when she and Quinn had gone up to bed the previous night.
No wonder Quinn's still asleep, she mused. She must have gotten up in the middle of the night to draw more pictures.
When she looked more closely at the drawing, though, she realized that it looked nothing like the childlike scrawls Quinn normally did. The proportions looked accurate--or at least accurate for a large humanoid rabbit, the details were expertly crafted, and the shading was done so well the picture almost looked three-dimensional.
There's no way Quinn drew that. Mom or Dad must have. But why?
At that moment, Jake and Helen came down the stairs. Helen saw Daria and said, "Good morning, Sweetie. When Quinn gets up, could you tell her she needs to clean up her pictures?"
Daria nodded. "Did one of you draw that one?" she asked, pointing at the rabbit drawing.
Helen shook her head and continued on to the kitchen, but Jake stopped and picked up the picture. "I didn't draw it either, Kiddo, but it sure looks familiar." Still crouched on the floor, he studied it with a wistful look on his face. "It reminds me of someone, but--"
He was interrupted by the arrival of Quinn, who was clomping down the stairs in high spirits. "Hi, Daddy!" she cried.
"Hi!" he replied cheerfully, setting the picture back down and standing up.
"Mom said to clean up your stuff," Daria said flatly. She was still equal parts confused and irritated by the latest mystery, and watched her sister closely as she gathered up the pages. If she was expecting Quinn to reveal some kind of clue, she was disappointed. Quinn gave no reaction to the rabbit picture other than widened eyes and a small smile.
Daria finished her cereal in thoughtful silence.
Later that day, Daria checked to make sure Quinn was absorbed in playing with her dolls upstairs and her parents were going over bills and other assorted grown-up stuff in the kitchen. She returned to the living room and pulled a volume at random from the encyclopedia set on the bookshelf.
"Here goes," she muttered, setting it upright on the coffee table, cover slightly open to keep it from falling over. She stepped back and watched the book for a short time to be sure it was stable.
"Okay," she said, quietly enough not to be heard outside the living room. "If you're really there, then prove it. Knock over that book."
Nothing happened. Daria continued to watch, brow furrowed. The minutes went by, but still the book sat there without so much as a tremor.
Just as Daria was about to give up and put the book away, a door slammed upstairs. Her eyes immediately went to the book, which continued to stand still for a few more seconds before suddenly beginning to tilt back and forth.
Holding her breath, Daria watched as the book moved in one direction, then another--so slowly that it almost didn't look natural. At last, the book leaned forward far enough to shift the center of balance and it fell over with a substantial "thud."
Daria stared at the book for a few seconds, trying to interpret what she'd just seen. It must have been a delayed reaction from the door slam. Had to be. I think. No, I'm sure. Right?
She stepped forward and picked up the book, then looked around--even though she wasn't expecting to see anyone. "H--hello?" she said quietly. "Is someone actually--"
"Hi!" Quinn called as she bounded down the stairs. Embarrassed, Daria immediately stopped talking and hid the book behind her back, although in hindsight she realized she had no reason to do so.
Quinn failed to notice any of it, as she was focused on other matters. "Daria, what's a pooka?"
"A what?" Daria briefly forgot about the book.
"Pooka. Yesterday the Trix Rabbit told me he was a pooka, and I wanted to know what that meant. Is it like a job or something?"
"I...I don't know."
"Okay!" Completely unfazed, Quinn skipped off to the kitchen.
Daria, now curious, walked over to the encyclopedia and reached for the "P" volume, only to find the space empty. She looked at the book in her hands and frowned to see it was the one she'd been holding all along. Okay, weird coincidences need to stop happening. Right now.
She opened the volume and flipped through it, muttering under her breath. "P-O-O-K-A," she spelled, locating the entry. "Pooka. From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Ms. Morgendorffer?" She gave a small exclamation and reread the entry. "'How are you, Ms. Morgendorffer?' Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?"
Shaking, she replaced the book in the set and dropped wearily onto the couch. Think this through, she instructed herself. Quinn must have set this up somehow. But she wouldn't know that word on her own. And what about that encyclopedia? Maybe she got Mom or Dad involved, and had a new encyclopedia printed, then--wait, Quinn can barely tie her own shoes. How would she mastermind an elaborate conspiracy?
She groaned. I'm losing my mind. So is Quinn, but I've suspected that for a long time. Oh, God. Does that mean it's contagious? Should I warn Mom and Dad?
Sinking further and further into the couch, Daria had never been so relieved that Monday was the next day, if only so she could finally get out of the house and away from any hypothetical rabbits.
Unfortunately, her relief was long gone by the time Daria got home from school on that eagerly-awaited Monday. Throwing her book bag to the floor, she ran up the stairs and into her bedroom--which, for once, was empty of Quinn--and slammed the door.
"They don't like it when I can answer all of the teacher's questions, so they call me 'stupid' on the playground," she raged, fists clenched as she paced the floor. "'Stupid' is not knowing what year the Declaration of Independence was signed."
She fell backward onto her bed with a loud sigh. "'Stupid' is calling someone dumb because they're smart."
Rolling over, she buried her face in her pillow. "'Stupid' is caring about what those jerks say about me anyway."
After that, she was silent except for her deep, ragged breathing punctuated by occasional sniffles.
As she lay there, Daria because aware that her hair was being brushed away from the sides of her face as though by a gentle breeze. Confused, she sat up, but saw that the windows were closed. Then she felt something softly pat her hand, but nothing was there. What she did see was her dog-eared copy of Black Beauty sitting on the table next to her bed, even though she knew it had been in her bookshelf since the last time she'd read it months ago.
Picking up the book, Daria smiled slightly. Her anger at her classmates faded and she turned her mind toward the comforting thought of rereading one of her old favorites. As she opened it, she noticed that her bedroom door was open, despite her clear memory of slamming it shut only minutes before.
Her expression darkened, but then she looked at her book again and shook her head. "It doesn't matter," she told herself firmly as she turned back to her book.
But just in case, she whispered, "Thanks."
Downstairs, Jake stood in the living room and wondered if he should check on his daughter. She'd seemed upset when she first came home, but he knew he had a history of making things worse.
Suddenly, his face lit up. "Well, hello!" he exclaimed to the empty room. "I haven't seen you in a while!" He listened for a few moments before his face relaxed into a relieved smile. "Oh, good. I was getting worried about her." Jake chuckled slightly after another pause. "Yeah, I missed you, too. I'm glad you came back." He listened, then shrugged sadly. "Aw, that's too bad, but I understand why you have to move on. You take care, okay?"
The front door opened on its own, but Jake held up a hand. "Hey, before you go, mind if I ask why you left the milk out the other day?" After a few seconds, he said, "Ah. So it was Quinn after all? Yeah, I thought I remembered you being more careful than that. Well, thanks for letting me know. Bye..." he said as the door swung shut, then finished with a sad smile, "...Harvey."
Quote taken from Harvey: A Comedy in Three Acts by Mary Chase.
Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.