This story first appeared in Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest in 2006. It’s a companion piece to “Munsil and the Minotaur” (Escape Clause anthology). Enjoy!
The Minotaur knows it’s time for the rabbit to die. He’s been going into the zoology section of the colony ship every hour or so to check on the rabbit, but so far he hasn’t been able to bring himself to end its suffering.
The rabbit leans limply against the side of its hutch. Its eyes look dull, and its fur looks rumpled and coarse. The Minotaur can see oozing sores in places where the hair has fallen out. Blood stains the fur around the rabbit’s mouth, and its bedding is soiled with bloody waste.
It’s been almost a week since the monstrous solar flare delivered over 2000 REMs of radiation to each of them. Oh, the ship had a Munsil Shield that was supposed to protect them from radiation, asterioids, and other hazards – but it had shattered about two months after they passed the halfway point on their journey to Mars. Nothing to do but go on, and hope for the best. All hope died with the solar flare.
The Minotaur lifts the rabbit out of the hutch, carefully, trying not to jostle it. It’s taken a week for everyone to die, delerious and diarrhoeal. The frogs died first, their moist membranes no match for radiation. The fish, the birds, the mammals – all dead now. Only the roaches and the Minotaur are unaffected. It takes more than a little radiation to do in a half-god and some prehistoric insects.
He’d signed up for the colony ship because he believed in the promises of a new life. After thousands of years of enduring the scorn of the fully-human, the bleak solitude of Mars seems almost comforting to him. As they traveled, the Minotaur realized that the colonists on the ship were no kinder than the humans he’d left behind, and he started spending more and more time with the animals. He knows he is being ridiculously sentimental about this rabbit, but he can’t help it. He has always imagined taking this rabbit with him to his new farm, and spending the next several thousand years surrounded by its progeny.
He sets the rabbit on the cold metal examination table. With one clumsy hoof, he tries to smooth the rabbit’s fur, but the rabbit twitches convulsively and screams. The Minotaur has never heard anything like it: so loud, full of agony. He flinches back and the rabbit falls silent. The only sound in the room is the roaches scratching in their cages.
Dr. Kowal tried to show the Minotaur how to administer a lethal dose of morphine, but it’s impossible for him to work the syringe with his hooves. Dr. Kowal did what she could before she became too sick to move, but most of the colonists died on their own, miserable and suffering. Even though they were cruel to him, the Minotaur pities them. No one should have to die like that. He wishes he’d been strong enough to end their lives humanely. He will always hate himself for being too afraid to help them.
He will do better with the rabbit.
The rabbit convulses as he watches. A thin stream of bloody diarrhea spreads across the table. The smell is foul, like the other smells in the room.
The Minotaur places one hoof under the rabbit’s head. It screams again, but more weakly than before. The Minotaur forces himself to stay with the rabbit. He lows to the rabbit, hoping the sound is soothing. The rabbit screams one more time and then falls silent. The Minotaur places his other hoof so that the rabbit’s tiny soft head is sandwiched between his hooves. He closes his eye and steels himself – then with a sudden jerking motion, he yanks his lower hoof up. The rabbit’s neck snaps. The sound fills the room and he knows he will always remember the way the rabbit’s spine crunched under his hooves.
The rabbit lies silent and broken.
The roaches scratch in their cage but suddenly he can’t stand being alone with them. He bellows in rage and smashes a hoof against the glass. It shatters, and roaches pour out. One at a time he crushes them until the feeling of their carapaces collapsing crowds out his memories of the rabbit’s spine. The floor of the zoology lab is littered with their corpses, white fat oozing out of them.
The Minotaur bellows again, but no is left to hear.
The Minotaur’s Rabbit by Beth Wodzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.bethwodzinski.com.