She ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”
[prologue — let loose the hares!]
A large black object darted past.
A dog, the child thought. A black dog, the color of night, blending into the twilight. A hunting dog. Glossy black fur clothed its limbs, and its two eyes quivered in the darkness, blazing like a blue flame.
The child left the dark woods and walked along a country road. It was far too late to go on his errand. He wished he could go back to his warm home and sit by the fire instead. But as soon as he stepped foot into the garden of this mansion in search of a shortcut, he came across this hunting dog.
The child instinctively drew back several paces.
He heard a soft squishing sound.
An uncomfortable feeling ran up the back of his leg. He had stepped into a clump of softness, with a puddle of warm liquid seeping out of it. When he looked down, he saw soggy chunks of meat scattered around his feet. Red meat, and bits of tawny fur oozing droplets of blood. He spied a long floppy ear extending from a chunk of meat, and hidden underneath, a round eye that looked like a marble. It reflected the darkness of the night sky, and gazed out into inky nothingness.
…It was a hare, he thought.
He lifted his head, and saw a stream of fresh blood dripping from the hound’s closed muzzle.
This hound, who had killed and eaten the hare!
The child’s hands grew slack, losing their grip on a bottle of wine, which fell slowly to the ground and shattered into pieces. The deep red liquid splashed onto the head of the hunting dog.
Its tongue snaked out of its mouth to lick the fluid away.
The sound of thunder suddenly reverberated in the sky.
A white flash of light illuminated the remote mansion, a decrepit place long since abandoned. But now an unfamiliar figure was sitting on its terrace.
The child opened his eyes wide.
The figure, draped in a red linen cloth, was sitting in a wheelchair. Only a dark cavity was visible through a gap in the red cloth where the head should have been. A wrinkled hand stretched out from inside, as thin as the branch of a withered tree, so insubstantial that it could not have possibly belonged to a living human being.
That hand gripped a golden mirror ever so tightly, and trembled violently.
Three pots of silver, copper, and glass were placed nearby, gleaming eerily in the night.
Then a wizened, husky voice uttered the words, “A youth will soon die….”
The child inhaled sharply at the sound of the old woman’s voice. He felt terrified, as if her portentous words were destined to come true.
The voice continued:
“This death shall be the beginning of everything.
The earth will tumble like a falling stone.”
The assembled voices of many men came from the terrace that, by all rights, should have been deserted. The child squinted in surprise as the terrace was lit up with the simultaneous clap of thunder, then once more sank into the darkness.
“What shall be done?”
“What will you have us do?”
“…A box.” The old woman’s voice rang out again. “Prepare a great box, much greater than the size of this garden. Let it float upon the surface of the sea. And then…”
Several claps of thunder crashed one after the other.
The terrace and garden flickered amidst a white flash.
The child fell numbly to the ground, a scream sticking in his throat at the sight of what was illuminated in that light.
The old woman in red sat upon the terrace, a group of other figures surrounding her. The men, clad in their white cloaks, were stretching out their hands, looking for all like wandering ghosts.
And in the garden…
The garden teemed with stampeding round brownish lumps. At least ten hares were frantically trying to escape, and the hunting dog from earlier was lunging after them, clamping onto them with its jaws. Countless chunks of flesh tumbled onto the ground, staining it in pools of blood.
In the next moment, the thunder and lightning ceased, once again cloaking the mansion and garden in darkness.
All was silent.
At last, the voice of the old woman echoed from the terrace.
“And then … let loose the hares!”