I met the Easter Bunny on my sixth birthday. None of the friends my parents had gathered for me saw it, but I recall it vividly. Dozens of counselors and psychologists have told me that it was a false memory. Somehow, they claimed, I had confused two distinct childhood events. Trauma has a way of doing that, they would say.
My family lived at the edge of a deep forest my whole life. We weren’t country folk by any means, our suburb just happened to be located in a wooded valley. The forest both drew and scared me in the way that the edge of a cliff calls to you.
I was never allowed to play alone in the trees. My father told me all kinds of scary stories about escaped lunatics and cave-dwelling troglodytes.
“There are things that would love to make a snack of you,” he said, “lucky for you, they’re all scared of your pops!”
Dad was always telling us stories about fantastic things. The kinds of stories that psychologists would later blame for my delusions.
My birthday party was held in our backyard every year. Dad would rent a jumping castle the day before and wake me by firing it up. The engine would commence its ear-splitting whine and I would know that it was time. Mom would lay our patio table out with a spread of cake and candy. The best part about having your birthday in early April was the Easter eggs, and Mom would painstakingly hide eggs for the hunt.
Friends would begin trickling in from all around the neighborhood from nine to find me bouncing away. The castle was packed by ten and the hunt started at eleven. This is the way it had always been and, as far as I was concerned, would always be.
Parents would have to periodically retrieve clumps of kids that had wandered too close to the trees. The trees called to us all.
Mom announced the start of the hunt, and I scrambled to collect as many eggs as my tiny hands could carry. I knew there were more in the cupboard, but I’ve always been competitive.
My mom was crafty about hiding the eggs, never reusing a hiding place. I would move out in a spiral from the middle of the lawn to hunt, grabbing eggs that others had missed. Eventually, I found my way to the edge of the woods, where I spotted an egg hidden just inside the perimeter.
Silently, I praised my mom for her craftiness as I crossed the boundary. I grabbed the egg and was about to turn back when I spotted another, slightly deeper in. My smile widened as I realized that my mom must have hidden a special surprise for me in the woods.
Blinded by excitement, I followed the trail of eggs leading me deeper into the woods. There seemed to be no end to them, and soon my basket was full. I surveyed my surroundings and realized that I was lost.
My first instinct was to cry out, but I was afraid of getting into trouble. I went the way that I had come, and after about an hour of walking I realized my mistake. That’s when I started crying.
I cried until my tears ran out and then sat down next to a big tree. The sky was darkening by the time I mustered the courage to stand up again. Trees have a way of crowding together in the dark.
Something big caught my attention as it moved through the darkness. The thing was clearly approaching me, and I called out, thinking that it was my dad.
There was something off about the way it moved, the odd loping hop of its thick lower body. I stood watching as it drew close enough to see. The thing was similar to pictures I had seen of kangaroos, but it had arms that were clearly human. My legs trembled as my bladder emptied. The thing’s face was caught halfway between an elongated buck-toothed snout and a wide human smile. Small beady red eyes regarded me with alien intent.
The thing slowly hopped over to me, bearing a basket much like my own. I held out my basket as an offering, and it froze. My arms shook so bad that some eggs spilled out. The Easter Bunny tilted its big-eared head and snatched the basket from me. I saw sharp claws on the tips of its fingers.
Just then, I heard my father’s voice calling out to me. The Easter Bunny cowered and hissed at the sound before rushing off on all fours, taking my basket with it.
My father found me crying my eyes out and took me home. I told my parents what had happened, and they took me to see a psychologist. They never believed me.
I still see those red eyes watching me from time to time. Despite moving far from those woods.