Seeping Black

One Monday morning in New York, Jack ventured to a vacant park. He wandered around, searching for signs of a bunny hole. They were disguised so no human would see it for what it was, but there were tiny hints. Jack found one by a cluster of bushes. He stomped his foot, waited a few seconds, then stomped again, waited more, and when it didn't open he trampled over the hole.

Finally, whether Jack stomped correctly or if the hole had enough of the abuse, it gave way. Taken by surprise, he lost his grip on his staff. He slipped down the tunnel, roots slapping against him as he went down, down, down. He opened his mouth to scream and got a mouthful of dirt and roots.

The tunnel opened hundreds of feet above vast grassland, covered with trees, bushes, flowers, and off in the distance, Jack could see the large blur that was Bunnymund's tree-house. He took a beating through a cluster of prickly trees. He breathed and swallowed minty pine leaves until he dropped into a cushioned bush.

"Blech!" Jack spat out the pine leaves he could and picked the rest out with his fingers; some had gotten stuck on his tongue or between his teeth. "I'm gonna freakin' kill you," Jack grumbled. He crawled out of the bush, and then fell six feet onto another bush.

Of course there were cushions; Bunnymund made sure that anyone who fell through his tunnels had safe landing. This specific landing was purposeful; Jack and Bunnymund didn't get along. Tunnels tended to lead to a hold on the ground, not from the side of a sky-high mountain.

He peered over the edge to see ground another six feet down. He more fell than dropped gracefully, and landed on his front.

"I hope you know I hate you," Jack said to the blades of grass tickling his nose. He stood and brushed his pants off. The stiches over his pant knees were torn from the scraping bushes and twigs, his knees and hands scraped from the sharp thorns in the bush. Bunnymund now had all his tunnels open to the worse places possible whenever Jack visited. Last time Jack fell into a large vat of dirty bath water used to wash the egglettes.

"Tell Bunnymund I hate him," Jack told the bush. It rustled. "I know he hates me. You don't need to remind me."

Jack searched for his staff, hoping it had fallen close by. After searching for several minutes and coming up with nothing, he supposed his staff was stuck in the branches of a tree or hidden in a bush. Without it he was powerless. If he wasn't in Bunnymund's world, he would've been tearing his hair out.

Bunnymund would know where it was, since he owned all that was in this underground land. He must've been able to sense where it was.

Maybe he was keeping it away to toy around with Jack.

Jack had come for a visit, and to help out with the preparing of Easter eggs – if Bunnymund didn't anger him much. There was nothing Jack had to do. All the frosting necessary for the parts of the world in winter wonderland was done, and a walk through Antarctica wasn't a great time consumer since there was absolutely nothing to do there but wander around and play with the snow.

Bunnymund would most likely be near his tree house. He didn't venture out; he didn't need to since his egglettes were his messengers and he had a connection to the trees and the grass. If Jack tore out a patch of grass, would Bunnymund notice?

Jack squatted and tugged a fistful of grass. He felt a slight pain, as if he was pulling the short hairs from the back of his neck.

"Ey! What do you think yer doin'?" A pink egglette stepped out from behind a tree trunk.

"Do you know where my staff is?" Jack asked. "I just want it, and a talk with Bunnymund."

The egglette stared at him. It posted its hands on its midsection, waiting for a deeper explanation.

"I'm bored. Okay? I have nothing to do. I was thinking that I could help Bunnymund out with his Easter things. But he didn't give me a warm welcome, so I might just leave. If you'll point out the exit." Jack tried to smile genuinely, but his eyebrow twitched and he gave up after that. Faking smiles, not his skill in situations that he didn't give much a care for. But of course, he wanted his staff back in his hands.

"Yer not supposed ta be here."

"Really? You should check your security system 'cause I got in without any trouble. That's worrisome, isn't it? If someone gets in and ruins Easter, what will happen to all the poor children? Where do I send my complaints? Bunnymund is not doing his job."

"Har har har. Yer a crack up. The staff's probably stuck on a tree branch. Retrace yer steps cuz no one touched it. We'd all freeze."

"Ha ha. Frozen eggs."

"That's not funny."

"It should be. Frozen eggs, frozen yolks, frozen up eggs? That should be a thing." If Jack had his staff, he'd lean on it and ponder some more on frozen egg jokes out loud until the egglette was boiling – get it? Boiling egg? – and got Bunnymund sent over ASAP. "I'd get my staff, if I could. But I'm kind of hurt from falling down hundreds of feet from the sky, falling through bushes, and landing in a prickly bush – two of them actually. So can you whistle up some of your buddies and get it down? You're tiny. You can reach smaller places."

"I don't take orders from you." The egglette sniffed and waddled away.

"Okay. Fine. Be that way. I'll be sure to make a repeat of '68, if you know what I mean."

"Yah wouldn't dare!" The egglette stomped its way back, stick legs stabbing into the grass.

"I wouldn't. I'd just do it 'cause I don't really care. I do what I want. And if I want, I'll throw you at the branch to knock my staff down."

"Bunnymund will punish you!" The egglette flailed its spindly arms.

"He'll just have a chicken lay another egg." Jack shrugged. The egglette looked horrified. "What? That's how you're made, right?"

"We aren't made. We're born."

"Yeah. From chickens. Chickens lay eggs."

"Laid is not born! Yer ticking me off and if yah don't stop, I'll have you booted!"

"Ticking off? Do you mean, boiling?" Jack leaned forward and raised a brow. "Get it? Boiling egg? Funny, right?"

"Get yer butt outta here. Yah treat me like dirt, I ain't helping yah!" The egglette left, for good this time.

"This sucks." Jack looked up at the towering tree he was sure he'd taken a beating from.

He wasn't in any mood – physical or emotional – to climb, so he walked in a random direction, thinking he'd end up at Bunnymund's tree house soon, or at least an egglette that was willing to help him out.

He didn't keep track of time – he rarely did with anything other than tracking the seasons, but he knew he had been walking for longer than he should have; he was nowhere near a tree house.

Jack kept walking for another hundred seconds, and then decided to call out for help. He asked unseen egglettes for help, certain that many had heard him, but no one answered. He peaked behind trees, in bushes, between tall blades of grass, but found nothing. No egglettes.

Were there other creatures besides those waddling eggs? Bunnymund didn't tell Jack much about his homeland, besides the fact that he owned it all and egglettes were his workers, just as the yetis and elves were North's.

The grass gradually changed to orange, the trees wilted and the bushes bare. Jack continued on, believing this to be a rough patch. All homes had their ugly places. Jack's first home, back in the 1700's, was ugly all over. When his family moved to Thaddeus Burgess, his home was also ugly all over, but it grew on Jack until the only ugly room was his own.

Jack thought he heard someone call his name. He lengthened his steps. "Hello? I could use some help."

"What are yah doin' here? Go back!" It was the egglette from before.

"How'd you get here so fast?" Jack looked around for a tunnel opening. "Are there shortcuts? Secret tunnels?" He looked at the egglette. "Does one of them lead to Bunnymund's tree house? I could really use a shortcut."

"Turn around! Yah don't belong here! It's too dangerous! The Forgotten –" The egglette squealed and waddled through a cutout in a half-dead thicket. "Hide! Hide!" It whined and stamped its foot. A small hole opened. "Hide!" It beckoned to Jack and then jumped into the hole. It warped shut.

Something howled.

Jack pressed himself against the dead bark of a tree.

Another howl.

He'd gone too far into the dying part of the woods. Everything was dying or dead, and the sky wasn't the pretty orange pink Jack knew it to be. Here it was like a bucket of ink had been spilled. All homes had ugly spots, but this was beyond ugly.

Something cracked.

"Not good." It wasn't easy pushing himself away from the tree; it felt like a safe zone.

Jack started back and –

He ran further into the dying woods.

There was something standing there. Something black and white and absolutely nothing friendly looking.

"Don't look back. Don't look back," Jack chanted under his breath.

He looked back.

The thing was on his heels.

"Leave me alone!"

Jack turned sharply right. He slammed against a trunk, bashing his arm numb. He leapt over a fallen tree, his heels caught the edge of the naked branches, and he stumbled into a tree.

Something grabbed his wrist.

He twisted free, screaming, and then continued to run blindly. He took trickier paths, through narrow gaps between trees, over tall bushes, underneath low and thick branches, and never knew if he was gaining or losing distance between his chaser.

If he had his staff, he'd fight, but without it he might as well have been a human boy and not an immortal sprite.

Then something wrapped around his waist, something slapped painfully over his mouth, and he was thrown in the air.

He landed on his stomach behind a bush, something heavy flattening him.

"Stay calm," a voice whispered.

Jack held his breath, heart beating like an African drum. Footsteps crunched beyond the bush, and then stopped. He squeezed his eyes shut. Then the steps continued on, past the bushes.

"It's gone."

The weight rolled off Jack.

"It's about freaking time," Jack hissed. He rolled onto his back, sat up. "What took you so long?"

Bunnymund flicked a finger against Jack's forehead. "What processed you to come down here? Don't you know any better? Always stay away from the dark side. Idiot."

"How the heck was I supposed to know? You never told me anything. And your stupid tunnels keep dropping me in the crappiest places. I fell from the sky." Jack pointed angrily above. "And I lost my staff and you're getting it back because I'm pissed and it's your fault that I almost died."

"First, you're immortal. You can't die. Second, your staff's on the sixth branch of the tree you first hit. Third, why were you walking in this part of the wood?"

"I didn't know there were freaking Slender Mans here. I didn't even know there were 'dark sides'" – Jack air quoted – "here. People don't put dark sides in their homes."

"You think I want this here? I don't. Pitch put it here."

"Pitch?" Jack's voice dropped. "What? You – you invited him to do interior decorating?"

"What? Are you serious? Bloody hell I didn't. His darkness seeped in. He spilled through the cracks. This part of the wood is forbidden."

"Then what are the Forgotten? One of your egglettes said something about that."

"The Forgotten? Those are the egglettes that neglect their duties. Nothin' to be afraid of. That thing that just walked by, yeah, be very afraid. Com'on. Let's get outta here."

Bunnymund opened a rabbit hole. He looked at Jack. "Well? Lassies first."

Something howled, cutting Jack off from a retort. He dropped in the hole.