For Teresa Anne Chianakas who passed away on 9/3/16.
I remember sitting with my Mom at a cancer center on so many occasions, but in July 2016, there’s one session that particularly stands out. I was in talks with Horror Block, and they were considering including Rabbit in Red. It was a huge deal, as thousands and thousands of horror fans around the world would be introduced to my book. While this was happening, my Mom and I were awaiting the latest test results. I started bargaining with higher powers.
“Let Horror Block change their mind. I don’t even care if the book completely fails. Just let my Mom survive and be healthy.”
Horror Block shipped the book to over 10,000 people and the response was “exceptional” enough that we worked on a new deal to even send my second book to thousands around the world. But my Mom got bad news—treatment was no longer working and the cancer had spread.
I finished the first draft of Bury the Rabbit later that summer, just a few days before she passed. I hope all of you know how much love and passion went into this series, and I hope you enjoy it as much as my wonderful Mom—my biggest champion—would have. This project is the end of a trilogy that kept me motivated and stimulated during the hardest of times. I say goodbye to it now and give it to all of you. Thank you for being a reader and a friend.
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
– Stephen King
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
– J.K. Rowling
“To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
– Peter Pan
During the year that followed the original Rabbit in Red contest, Dexter Lange morphed into something like one of the lesser known characters of The Walking Dead. After his adventure at Rabbit in Red, he wasn’t invited back. Instead, Dexter went back home to Seattle, Washington.
He had finished high school with passing grades, but he learned a lot more than any high school class ever taught. He learned about coding, he studied psychology, and one more precarious subject.
He learned all about explosives.
Images from the first-year contest consumed his mind and motivated his personal studies. Witches, clowns, and . . . spiders. The spider had dropped on his forehead. Then it had climbed down his nose and almost danced near his eyeball.
How did JB know he was afraid of spiders? He knew JB had accessed their personal information from the first day they agreed to the terms of the Fright Fest 4D app, and so Dexter learned coding.
Today Dexter had received a text that changed everything. He read it and re-read it. Could it be true? Could Rabbit in Red have been destroyed?
On the bed he’d had since he was a child, he sat and stared up at the ceiling. While his old “friends” returned to Rabbit in Red, Dexter spent the year at home. His parents didn’t question him. He told them he would take classes online, that he didn’t want to deal with people, including them. Dexter only had to open his eyes as wide as possible. His mom would choke, his dad would blink hard, and they’d leave him alone in his bedroom.
He studied ways to make a person’s head explode, and he planned revenge.
Sitting on his bed, he stared at the text that just appeared on his phone. It’s gone. RiR. Burned to the ground. He thought back to that Halloween weekend, the only experience he’d had at Rabbit in Red. He had replayed that weekend in his mind over and over again. Even as he tried to eliminate the old visions, he still pictured himself holding a knife—what had turned out to be a fake knife—and stabbing Daniel’s father over and over again.
Of course, the man dressed as Daniel’s father had turned out to be JB. It was all a big game, and Dexter had lost. At the end of that first-year contest, JB had gathered them all back in Rabbit in Red’s commons to explain. He had a bunch of bullshit to say. Stuff about overcoming fear, becoming a team, helping one another, blah fuckin’ blah.
Dexter had stared at JB then and wanted to scream. You want to overcome fear? Sometimes you have to pick up a knife and plunge it through someone’s heart! Especially if that someone was going to hurt you.
JB had invited those assholes to lead his so-called horror college. Bill, Jaime, Wes, and Rose. Sycophants, that was what they were. Sickos and sycophants. Almost everyone got invited back. JB had even let Daniel return, but he had let his brown-nosers make that decision for him.
And what about Dexter?
“As for you, Dexter, you and I will have a conversation in private.” That was what JB had said to him in front of the other first year Rabbit in Red contestants. But Dexter was never invited back.
He started to think of that conversation—more like a lecture—that JB had given him. No, no time to dwell on that conversation again.
He rolled over on his bed and re-read the text message.
“It’s gone. RiR. Burned to the ground.”
How many times have you replayed that conversation with JB, Dex?
You know how many times. Every damn day.
But did you ever do it?
Get out of my head!
Dexter let go of his phone, threw up both of his hands, covered his ears hard, and squeezed. The voices were getting louder.
JB had known something about everyone. He had known their pasts and their fears. Maybe he knew everything. In their private conversation, he had asked something very special of Dexter. After that conversation, Dexter had thought that this could be a great redemption. Or it could become his ultimate revenge.
As the summer after graduation had approached, he knew the first-year students were working on the new theme. JB had called it “Burn the Rabbit.” Dexter laughed out loud in his bedroom, thinking of the text message on the phone. It was as if it were meant to be.
So last summer Bill, Jaime, Rose, and Wes and the rest of the ass-kissers put their teeny tiny brains together and came up with Hellfire.
Dexter had to admit it wasn’t half bad.
He had watched every news story he could, and he had followed along with any updates JB had posted on frightfest4d.com. Hellfire took a traditional haunted house and turned it into something that would literally make most people shit their pants. Enhanced by the Rabbit’s Eye, an ordinary haunt could turn into anything—it could make the participant feel as if they were falling or even on fire. The Rabbit’s Eye was virtual reality on steroids. Yes, that was the real genius of Hellfire—it had tricked their brains into making them think they were feeling pain.
Dexter’s jealousy raged. He would have loved to try it.
Dexter watched the stories about the new recruits when they had joined. There was Brandis, who had become the new love interest for Jaime. That made Dexter laugh. He didn’t give a shit about love, but anything that would piss off Bill was great. There was Carol, who had a huge girl boner for JB. That part of her made Dexter sick, but Carol was hot. Then there was Diane—Dexter respected her. She got hurt and came back with a vengeance. Dexter had laughed when he heard about Jimmy. Jimmy apparently had an attraction for Daniel, and Dexter laughed at all the ways he could exploit the situation to mess with Danny boy.
There were several others, but Dexter’s mind drifted to Ricky next. Couldn’t forget Ricky. What a surprise that turned out to be.
Dexter had seen right away that something wasn’t right with Ricky. What was that old saying? People can’t see what’s right in front of their eyes? Ricky reminded Dexter of those Mission Impossible movies. Anyone with those resources could change their face.
Ricky, of course, turned out to be none other than Sid Malcolm, Chester’s brother. Chester was JB’s right-hand man. During the first year, they locked Sid up because he had threatened to call the police and tell them about JB’s insane tests.
Moving from his bed to his computer desk, Dexter browsed through photos on frightfest4d.com.
“How did they not see this?” He looked at Ricky’s face. “That moustache, c’mon, so fake.”
What a year Burn the Rabbit had been. Dexter knew JB had made every effort possible to keep the scarier stories out of the public eye. Dexter knew this because he never saw any news stories about Tara Stein, Jaime’s kid sister, who had been kidnapped and nearly got burned alive. He knew that a so-called horror professor had been murdered. He knew that Diane, one of the new recruits, had nearly been killed. And of course there were other deaths—Donnie Chase, the assistant who dressed as Samara, being the one that really caught his attention.
Dexter looked at their pictures online, then turned his attention back to his phone.
He had known all of this because of the texts.
He smiled and thought of JB.
“I learned a trick or two from you, master,” Dexter said with a snarl. He loved that he had someone on the inside keeping him updated. Dexter may not have been a big player last year. He had watched from the sidelines and waited patiently for his turn to play.
That time had finally arrived.