The Taste of Blood
-- one month before --
The gray bunny slowly walked through the empty hallway. Her eyes still tried to adjust to the light that was provided by the small flashlight in her paws when she carefully moved forward. She knew that she had to get out of this place soon. The doe again checked the stopwatch that hung around her neck.
Just ten more minutes. I just must make it for ten more minutes, and this nightmare will be over, she thought when a sudden noise jerked her to a halt. An old instinct kicked in and let her cower down on her four paws. With risen ears and an anxiously twitching nose, the small gray bunny waited in the darkness of the empty place.
Why me? Why must this happen to me?
Three years ago, Jody ran away from home to become a famous actor in Zootopia – the city where everyone can be everything. It was the night after her graduation from school when she had that terrible argument with her parents. How dare they think the most popular bunny from high school will become some carrot farming nobody’s wife. She knew that she was born for more - that she was better than the rest. And she had to leave that stinky Podunk if she ever wanted to prove this.
Reality hit her hard when she finally arrived in the big city. The dream of becoming the next Jessica Rabbit in no time soon went up in smoke. And Jody had to learn the hard way that life could be difficult, especially in a big city like Zootopia. So, she worked hard. Ran from one casting to the next and scratched a living by doing any job she could get. Even if it included certain services that bunnies are famous for – besides carrot farming of course. But even if her life was a mess, she was too proud to go back home with her fuzzy wuzzy tail between her legs. No, she would hang on. And there was still the booze to ease her crappy life.
This one night, she was on her way to the seedy little motel she called her home since she arrived at the city. The owner didn’t ask questions about her age, and he also accepted some of her special services as payment when she ran low on cash.
Another casting turned out to be just an attempt of a so-called ‘director’ to bed some naïve little wannabe starlets from the country, the doe thought when she entered an alley. At least she could convince him that her effort deserved some reward. After all, it was enough to pay her rent for two more weeks. Or it would have been if she wouldn’t have taken a little refreshment at that bar halfway.
It was then when she heard a muffled pop and felt that sting shortly afterward. Her paw hadn’t the time to reach for the tranquilizer dart in her neck before her vision blurred and everything became dark.
The next thing she remembered that bright light which had woken her up. After her eyes had adjusted to her new surroundings, she realized that she had to be in a hospital. Everything was covered in white tiles, and she was lying in a hospital bed. She checked herself for some injuries but found nothing other than some punctures that might be caused by an IV. Beside the bed, she found a little table with a glass of water and two energy bars for lagomorphs. Jody mustn’t have eaten anything for hours so tore open the wrappings and shoved the delicious tread into her mouth. When she also drank up the provided water, she suddenly became aware that something was odd with this room. The lack of any windows might be plausible. A lot of the hospitals also had some rooms underground for mammals that used to live there anyways. And since she was a bunny it would make total sense. Also, the fact that the bed was apparently built to fit for larger mammals was nothing suspicious. In the city’s overcrowded hospitals, this happens all time. No, what disturbed her was the fact that there was no closet for the patient’s belongings or a button on the bed to call a nurse. Instead, she found a CCTV that was mounted in a corner just beneath the ceiling. And what sense would it make to add two doors to the room on opposite walls? The confused doe removed the sheets around her to get out of the bed when she noticed the next curiosity. She didn’t wear one of these ugly hospital gowns. No, she was dressed in a tank top and some shorts.
What kind of place is that, Jody thought to herself when she slid onto the floor just to realize in an instant that she must have been longer in the bed that she thought at first. Her tired legs gave in, and she could just manage to take a hold in time before she fell. After gathering herself, Jody thought it would be best to get some answers by herself and tried to open one of the doors just to notice that it was locked. She soon became aware that the other one was locked as well. She was trapped.
“Hey! Open up that damn door! Open up! Don’t you hear me?” The bunny yelled while her tiny paws hammered against the metal of the door in front of it.
She hadn't any ideas how long she tried. Her yelling soon turned out into begging. Finally, she sunk to the floor and hid her face in her tiny paws when tears started to run down her cheeks.
“Open the door. Please, open the door,” Jody sobbed desperately. “Please.”
“Well, good morning my little bunny. It seems you made yourself acquainted with your surroundings already,” a distorted voice suddenly spoke calmly. Jody quickly realized that there had to be a speaker attached to the CCTV. “Ah, I see you also had your little breakfast. Good. You will need the energy for our little game. Oh, don’t worry, it’s quite simple. In a minute, I will open the door. Five minutes later, a hunter will start to chase you. If you are still alive after an hour, you are free to go. I’ll provide you two items that may come in handy. Good luck.”
A small hatch opened in a wall next to one of the doors and offered a flashlight and a small black box.
“Ah, I almost forgot to say. Don’t waste your time and energy with calling for help. Nobody will come. And you won’t make it too easy for the hunter to find you, will you? So, you better prepare yourself. You are the first bunny in this game, and I expect a good show.” As sudden as it appeared, the voice was gone again and left the confused bunny alone with her thoughts.
What? What was that? Is that some sick joke? Or some reality TV show? Jody thought when she got up from the floor. That guy can’t be serious.
She started to observe the two items in the hatch. The flashlight was a light LED device which seemed to provide a good amount of light. It had a clip on one side and could also be recharged by shaking it as it was shown on a small label. The black box had a display on it and was attached to a neckband. She couldn’t see any buttons on it, but it showed a timer that was running down. It had to be something like a stopwatch. Next to the remaining time, the words ‘GET READY’ was displayed. It started to beep when the last ten seconds started, and the text started to flash.
They had to be kidding me, Jody thought again. If they dare to believe that they can fool me with such a tall tale, they are wrong. I won’t play such a stupid game.
Suddenly, one of the doors swung open, and the box in her paw beeped again. The timer now ran down from five minutes, and the message changed to ‘RUN AND HIDE'.
This had to be a joke, the gray doe thought again while she was still staring at the device in her paw. But there was this nervousness which gradually increases inside her. She still considered what to do when the voice appears again.
“I may haven’t made myself clear enough, my little bunny. I’m sorry about that. You must run and hide. - Now. You may have noticed the second door to this room. Well, let me say it that way. It would be a bad idea to stay at this place.”
The kindly voice became way more sinister when it spoke the next words: “You may still think that this is some bad joke. But I assure you that I’m absolutely serious. So, start running! NOW!”
This was it. Jody knew she had to move. She put the small little box on her neck and snatched the flashlight before she ran through the door into the dark hallway.
The previous noise turned out to be nothing. So, the trembling little bunny kept moving. Another check of the timer showed that the last five minutes would start soon.
You can make this, Jody, the doe thought to herself. And afterward, you will leave this city. You will go home to your family and beg them for their forgiveness. You will tell your parents that you love them. And you will say that they were right, all along.
Suddenly, the small black box around her neck started to beep again. And it seems to her that it was even louder than before. The display showed a new message. ‘JUST 5 MORE MINUTES. YOU CAN DO IT’.
“No! No! No! Please, stop,” Jody begged just when a loud hissing was heard in the darkness. In her panic, she tried to silence the sound of the infernal device with her tiny paws when she started to run. Unable to see properly she missed a nail that stuck out of a wall. It hit her on her upper arm and cut a nasty wound in it. Another hissing sound just answered Jody's cry in pain. And this time it was way closer. Too close. In a sudden inspiration, she tore the still beeping stopwatch from her neck and threw it behind her. The wounded doe was scared to death when she kept running through the dark hallway. She attached the flashlight to her top while trying to stop her arm from bleeding with her free paw.
After she had turned another corner on her run, Jody switched off her light and pressed her back against the wall. She breathed heavy when her keen ears tried to scan her surroundings again. She still could hear the beeping in the distance. But there was nothing else.
I fooled him, the gray bunny thought in relief. I fooled him. It can’t be more than one or two minutes now. Thank God.
She slowly peeked around the corner and angled her ears in the last known direction of the terrible sound to be sure that her hunter didn’t follow. There was no noise but her own anxious breathing. She closed her eyes and sighed heavy when she suddenly felt a blow to her upper back. The force of the impact let her slit onto the floor a few feet. Jody kept lying on her side for a moment before she became aware what happened right now. Her hunter found her. She was so close, but in the end, she lost the game.
No! You won’t give up that easy, Jody! Pick yourself up and run! You just have to run for a bit, and you will be safe! The terrified doe thought to herself. She was ready to use her last resources, jump to her feet and run as fast as she could. But why couldn’t she move? And more important. Why couldn’t she even feel something below her neck anymore? There was nothing she could do besides lying on her side and waiting while she heard the scratching sound of claws on the floor next to her.
“Please, this just doesn't happen,” she whispered weakly, while tears started to run down her cheeks again. “Wake up, Jody. It is nothing that a bad dream.”
She wasn’t aware of the massive paw on her side until she was pushed on her back with enough force to let her head roll in the direction of her attacker. But it was too dark to see anything. She just could hear the deep growling and feel the warm breath of the large predator on her muzzle.
“Please. Wake up,” Jody sobbed again when she heard that strange ripping sound and felt that her torso must be rocked on the floor.
What happens? What was the noise? She thought in panic. It was kind of fortunate that she couldn’t feel or see what her merciless hunter did to her body. Even the evolved predators in this city would be disgusted by the view.
“Please…” the wounded bunny begged again.
Suddenly, the lights in the hallway turned on, and she saw a female cougar in front of her. The large feline drew back from her body and started to struggle before she fell to the ground. The feline wore similar clothes as Jody. But there was something more. There was that large collar on her neck which also had that strange device attached to it. A green light was flashing on it, and it emitted an odd sound, just loud enough to be caught by the bunny’s acute hearing. When Jody's bloodstained eyes wandered to the muzzle of the passed out mountain lion a gasp escaped her. This red stain. Was this – blood? Was this her blood? Unable to move her head she tried to watch down her abdomen, but all she could manage to see was that small pile of blood next to her that slowly became larger and larger.
Her eyes widened in shock.
“No! Please! It can’t be real. It can’t be…” Jody cried in agony when she heard a painful moan from the cougar next to her. She saw the large feline sit up and start to rub her backhead slowly.
What happened to her? The paralyzed bunny thought. Was this caused by those Nighthowler drugs from the news? But it seems that she is acting normal again. She has to be normal again.
“M - Madam, please. C-Can you understand me?” Jody stammered weakly. Her lungs burned when she tried to speak. The ears of the cougar had twitched before she turned towards her. With a puzzled face, the feline observed one of her blood covered paws before her gaze turned on the little bunny in front of her.
“Oh, thank God! Madam, please! You must *cough* help me. Somebody must have subjected you to those Nighthowler drugs and…”
“One moment, please,” the feline spoke in a friendly but painfully voice before she stood up and reached for her shorts. The sound of an opened Velcro fastener let the poor bunny’s blood ran cold. It was just too similar to the other nasty sound she just heard when the still savage cougar did something with her belly.
“Madam, please. They also took all of my…” Jody tried to explain when the cougar interrupted her again:
“Oh, shush you, my little bunny.”
What was that? My little bunny. Weren’t they the same words that the mysterious voice used before, the terrified doe thought with widening eyes.
The cougar pulled a small case and napkin out of pocket and started to remove the blood from her muzzle and paws. When she finished cleaning herself, she opened the case and put the glasses from inside on her muzzle. Afterward, she cowered next to the bunny in the slowly increasing pile of blood and began to observe the mangled body of her prey.
“Well, my little bunny,” she finally spoke in her usual friendly voice and with a warm smile on her muzzle. “It seems to me that you just won our little game. And I won’t break my own rules. You are free to go. Hop home.”
“B-But how…” Jody started to stammer again.
“Oh! You wonder how you will do that?” the feline interrupted her again. “Well, I’ve got some good and some bad news for you. The bad news is that your spine is crushed which would make you palsied for the rest of your life.”
Jody could scarcely believe her ears when she heard this. She wanted to question the cougar when she was cut off again.
“Well, the good news on the other paw is that due to that giant wound on your abdomen, you won’t suffer that long. You can trust me with that. I’m a doctor.”
“What. But why would you…” the moribund bunny whispered.
“You want to know why it had to be you? Well that is an excellent question, and I would love to explain it to you.” the cougar cut her off again with a cheering voice.
“Well, my little Jody.” With pleasure, the feline noticed the surprise in the gray bunny’s eyes when she called her by her name. “Yes, I did my homework. A little runaway. Left her home in the burrows to become a famous actor in the big city. And after three long years, you are still hunting for your dream. Some mammals may call you determined. A trier. Oh, how was that song: ‘Try Everything’”
She laughed heartily before her gaze turned into a frown. “You want to know what I would call mammals like you? An illness. Like a virus, you infect the society. You are weak, and slow down the others around you. And I won’t allow this anymore. I won’t let such sick mammals walk around these streets anymore or let infect more and more of Zootopia their breed.”
The cougars gaze drifted away when she kept talking.
“Do you remember that speech from that heroic bunny cop of Zootopia about a year ago? Thousands of years ago, predators survived due to their aggressive hunting instincts. Well, this is not the whole truth. We were there to regulate. We got rid of the weak, of the unworthy. And it was the day when I was hit by one of those Nighthowler pellets from that maniac sheep when I realized that I have to do it too. I can still taste the blood of my first prey on my tongue.”
The cougar licked her lips with pleasure.
“Oh, my little Jody, I’m glad that I wasn’t allowed to do surgeries since that day. I don’t know if I could behave myself from digging my fangs into the delicious flesh.”
The feline shook her head sheepishly before she continued her tale.
“Yes, it was an accident then, but soon I became aware that I have to continue the legacy of my ancestors. I’m a deadly weapon, designed by Mother Nature herself to get rid of the weak. I have to heal the society. It is my duty, as a doctor and as a predator. So I started to search for them. Unworthy mammals.”
The gaze of the cougar focused on Jody again when she saw that the eyes of the weak bunny started to close tiredly. With a worried expression, she put a paw to the does head and shook it gently.
“Oh, you can’t do this to me. You are the first who made it that far, and it is such a pleasure to have someone to talk to.”
The feline smiled relieved when the weak bunny opened her eyes again. Her big paws start to stroke Jody’s head gently.
“Yes, that’s the spirit. Well, you may ask how am I supposed to choose who’s worthy and who’s not. I asked myself the same question. I mean, who am I to decide this. So I set up this little challenge. Who else than Mother Nature should be the judge in this? One hour to prove yourself. All I need is a little bit of Nighthowlers and this little gadget here.”
The cougar reached to the collar on her neck and opened the latch. She removed it and wagged it in front of the paralyzed doe.
“Do you like it? I made it myself. An auto-injector will dispense the Nighthowler antidote into my blood after an hour. You survive long enough, and you will no longer have to deal with the savage me. And as you see, I’m a real nice mammal after all.”
The feline put her paw on her knees and gave a deep sigh.
“Well, I hate to prove myself wrong, but I was wrong with you. You can consider yourself as worthy. I would shake your paw, but I guess that would be kind of… You know what? Who cares?”
With this words, she took Jody’s limb paw and shook it enthusiastically.
“Please. I don’t want to…. I don’t…” Jody whispered when bloodstains started to run down from the corner of her mouth.
“What was that?” The cougar asked when she put a paw to her ear to indicate the bunny to speak louder. “You want to say something?”
“Mommy. Daddy. I’m so sorry... You were right all along. I wish I could…”
Jody couldn’t continue her last sentence when she gave her final breath. The little gray bunny in front of the deadly predator was gone. The cougar didn’t move and stared on her prey.
Well, that was a first time. I never thought I would need the fail safe I built in the stopwatch, she thought when one of her paws started to rub the back of her head again.
“I guess I have to rethink the mixture of the antidote and the sedative again. There has to be a way to get rid of those terrible headaches afterward.”
She got up and moved her gaze to the little body in front of her again.
“You surprised me, Jody. And I don’t like surprises. I guess it will be better to let the watch start beeping at ten minutes the next time. But nonetheless, it was a nice to talk to somebody. Know what? You deserved a little reward.”
The cougar reached for the neck of Jody’s lifeless body, lifted it from the ground and slung it over her shoulder. She didn’t care about the blood. She never expected to be that clean after the hunt or that the little napkin in her pocket would be enough to clean more than the spot for her glasses. The clothes would be burned anyways, and she couldn’t wait for her usual warm shower. The grumbling of her stomach was also something new to her. No, this little bunny was a whole new experience, and she liked that. The feline turned her head towards the gray doe on her shoulder and smiled when a sudden idea came into her mind.
“Oh, I know. I will enjoy your flesh with some fava beans and a nice chianti,” she cheered when her tongue greedy liked her lips.
“Hey, Jody. Open the door. It’s time for the rent.”
The old ram kept hammering at the room door of the ran down motel. “Open now. I won’t ask anymore, little starlet.”
There was no reply.
“Ok, you had your chance, cotton tail.” The annoyed landlord reached for his keyring and opened the door. The room was empty. And it also seemed that there hadn't been somebody for days.
“Hmm... Another one who didn’t make it in the big city. She might run home to mommy and daddy again.”
It wasn’t the first time this happened at his place, and he knew that it wouldn't be the last time either.
“She could have brought her key back at least,” he grumbled. “What a shame. She was such a sweet girl. And she also had a cute little ass.”