IMOGEN became aware of the noise from the cage on the floor in her sleep.
Valentina, her coffee and white-coloured hamster, regularly made a noise, moving about early in the morning. And Imogen, just as regularly, woke up and checked on her. It always happened an hour or so before dawn and Imogen didn’t know if it was Valentina that had gotten her used to the routine or if she had influenced the hamster in some way. All they knew was that they both woke up early, regular as clockwork.
Imogen dropped her hand to the floor and found the cage. She squeezed her fingers through the bars and felt Valentina sniff them, her nose and fine whiskers tickling as she did so, then rub up against them for a moment before she scampered off to bury herself inside the wadding nest she had made in her small cardboard box house.
Imogen smiled to herself as the memory of her dad came flooding in. When she was a baby in her cot next to her parents’ bed he had often put his hand in just like that when she had woken for some reason. She had snuggled to him and found comfort and safety and, eventually, sleep. The thought made her happy. She could do for her pet hamster what her father had done for her.
She didn’t, however, fall asleep again this time as usual. There seemed to be something different about this morning. She drifted awake and slowly sat up. She tried to think what was bothering her. She still felt fuzzy from being asleep only moments ago.
“Why am I awake?” she thought to herself. The answer wouldn’t come to her.
She was about to flop back on to the pillow when a noise from behind the drawers snapped her to complete attention.
“Who’s that?” she asked sternly in a half-whisper. She waited, but when no reply came she said again: “Come on! Who’s there? Stop mucking about.”
To her surprise, she heard whispers.
“Right, that’s it,” she said and began to get out of bed when she heard, “oh, now you’ve gone and done it. I told you to keep quiet”.
Then another squeaky voice replied: “Sorry, I thought...”
“No, you didn’t think,” said the first gruff voice. “Wait here while I sort this out.”
Imogen had one foot on the floor when the soft but heavy pad of paws carried a large, grey dappled rabbit slowly from behind the chest of drawers into the middle of her bedroom.
“Oh my” was all that Imogen could think of saying as her other foot touched the floor.
The two of them stared at each other for a moment, oddly illuminated by the nightlight on Imogen’s bedside table.
Imogen broke the silence: “I hope I’m not dreaming.”
The rabbit stood tall and, looking her eye to eye, said: “Oh, that would make things a lot easier but unfortunately you’re wide awake.”
“Oh my,” said Imogen again.
“Oh my indeed,” said the rabbit. “It means I have no choice but to smooth this over.”
“Pardon?” Imogen was still unsure of what was happening.
“Begging your pardon, Miss, but it’s very rare for you ‘Biggs’ to be awake when we do this and, well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to be quick as it makes me nervous to be noticed.”
“Do what?” was all Imogen could think of saying.
“Deliver the eggs of course. It is Easter after all.”
“Oh, so it is.” Imogen remembered what was different about this particular morning.
“And I’m training up an apprentice here and it’s his first job,” continued the rabbit as Imogen stared.
She was distracted by the tool belt with pouches he was wearing and the lumpy backpack.
He waved to the chest of drawers and Imogen slowly turned her head, still holding her eyes on the rabbit, until a pitter-pat drew her gaze to where he was waving.
From behind the drawers a smaller, rounder ball of fur slowly hopped to the middle of the room.
Eyes wide, Imogen squeaked: “Oh, how cute!”
The little white fur ball was also wearing a tool belt and a backpack.
“This is my nephew, Loppy,” said the large rabbit, “on account of not hopping too straight.”
He added sidelong: “Say hello to the lady before she thinks we’re rude.”
The white fur ball looked up at Imogen and said meekly “hello” and quickly ducked his head back down.
“Well, hello, young man,” said Imogen, not knowing what else to say to a pair of talking rabbits.
“Do you mind awfully if we get on with our job, miss?” asked the big rabbit.
“Job? What job?” replied Imogen.
“Er... well, it’s Easter and we’re rabbits.” He paused, waiting for Imogen to make the connection. When she didn’t, he continued: “You don’t think the eggs turn up out of the blue, do you? After all, they do call us Easter Bunnies.”
‘Oh...!” Imogen caught up. “I thought mum hid them around the house.”
“Ha! Yeah, right!”
“So what do you do?”
‘I mean so many eggs, do you.. um.. er..” She was lost for words and blushed bright red.
‘What?” exclaimed the large rabbit. “Oh, for goodness sake, we’re not chickens!” Pointing to the backpack, he continued: “They’re in here and we scatter them.”
“Ah, sorry,” said Imogen meekly, “but there isn’t enough room in the pack for all the eggs.”
The rabbit froze and gave Imogen a long stare as if trying to figure out whether she was being serious.
Then, slowly and carefully, he said: “I’m not Santa Claws and Loppy isn’t my helpful little elf. There are thousands of us.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Imogen.
“Where do you think the saying ‘breeding like rabbits’ came from?”
“Well...” Imogen didn’t finish.
“To keep up with the demand and growing population, that’s where!” The rabbit was on a roll now. “It was easier before chocolate, when we just gave every child a real decorated egg. Works of art some of them. Kept the chickens busy too.
“Then came chocolate and, bam, the whole industry was in turmoil. Chickens’ feathers went flying, the painters and decorators went on the march. Took quite some time to sort out.
“Now there’s a factory, packing, distribution. All on a grand scale. We do one house then it’s back down the rabbit hole for a new pack, next address, quick as you please, up and out, bounce, bounce, scatter, scatter and then all over again till it’s done.”
The rabbit paused and Imogen pounced with a question. “But why don’t we see you all?”
“Ah, well...” The rabbit was searching his mind for the right words. “Er... you see, we struck a deal with Santa Claws.”
Imogen’s eyes went wide.
“Oh yes,” said the rabbit. “You see, he gives us the magic to get the deliveries done in double-quick time and we provide him with the chocolate he needs to complete his deliveries.”
“So you come down the chimney too?” Imogen was unsure.
“No, no, no! But the magic is the same, it’s just a rabbit hole from the factory to here, or... there, if you get what I mean.”
“But how come nobody sees you?”
“You’re a curious little one, aren’t you? Well, as I said, it’s Santa Claws’ magic so it works on time as well. Time stops, we do our job and time starts again. But it doesn’t last too long because we can’t use up all the spare time the jolly old man has otherwise he’s in trouble, which is why only the fastest bunnies get to do the job.”
“So why am I seeing you?” There was sarcasm in Imogen’s voice, almost saying “I don’t believe you”.
“Well, I’m not really sure. It sometimes happens and it happens to Santa Claws too. Were you awake all night?”
“No, but Valentina half woke me a little earlier for a cuddle.”
“Ah, if the magic was cast while you were touching her then she would have shielded you from the effect. It only works on Biggs you see. All other creatures keep on going, like what they normally would.”
“That’s lovely, now can I watch you scatter the eggs?”
“That would be fine, Miss, but then we must really get going.”
“Lovely!” squeaked Imogen and, stretching out on the bed, rested her chin on the pillow. “But please try not to go too wild — last year we were still finding stray eggs weeks later.”
“We’ll try, miss. Loppy’s just starting out but he’s a good ’n.” He turned to the ball of fur beside him and said, ‘off you go then, show the little Miss what you’re made of.”
Loppy bunched himself, squeezed his eyes tight and lowered his ears and his feet began to pat the floor extremely quickly, then his back started to shudder. The shudder turned into a rapid bounce and all of a sudden, like a fluffy rubber ball, he shot off, bouncing off everything.
In his wake, like a multicoloured jet stream, Easter eggs shot out in all directions. They landed on books, behind toys, in shoes. One bounced off Valentina’s cage and on to the pillow next to Imogen’s nose. It made her squint. The beautiful shiny foil made her cheek seem to glow red, gold and green.
When she looked back, the rabbits were standing beside a big hole in the floor.
“Thank you, Miss, and a happy Easter to you and hope not to see you next year.”
They waved in turn and did a back flip and a twist and were disappearing down the rabbit hole that began to close quickly behind them.
Before it closed and the glow from inside faded, Imogen was certain she saw thousands of rabbits rushing about, all wearing tool belts and backpacks of different colours.
“I must remember to cuddle Valentina next year. Loppy was soooo cute!” thought Imogen just before she drifted off to sleep again.