Mom no longer allowed him to do his dyeing in the house because last year, he did it on the carpet where Langley was able to dip her paws into the mixture. If you look closely enough, you can still see a shady quartz nearing the tips of her fur like some kind of late-blooming calico. Also, there were ghostly paw prints hiding in the living room carpet, forming a trail towards the television set. Mom was angry at the time, but he thought it was kind of cool: sometimes, while he was watching television, his brain would die and he would follow the footprints as if they were his own; his feet filling the space where a print proceeded mere inches in front of the other. On some days, he would drop to the carpet and search the underside of the television, in case there happened to be a portal leading to some far-off place, but the television was tight against the carpet, so it was impossible to tell. He thought about this as he sat patiently on the sofa. Mom and dad hadn’t woken up yet, so the sun was still arresting itself somewhere on the horizon. He didn’t want to start looking for the eggs until it was light outside. Years prior, he was able to find all two dozen of them—along with his basket—before the sun even rose. His parents would come down the stairs and find him lying on the floor with half of a peanut butter cup sticking out from his mouth, going into some kind of sugar-paralysis. When he was much younger, he would have the hardest time trying to find two of them until months later, when the smell would begin to waft itself about the room. After that day, he began to devote himself to being an expert of the search; the countless hours he had spent on seek and find books and the many Where’s Waldo volumes only prepared him for this one particular day. This year, he had decided to get a bit more malicious with his endeavor and left a note out with the two cartons of eggs. “Who leaves a letter for the Easter Bunny?” his friends from school wondered. “He’s not like Santa Claus.” But as far as he was concerned, it didn’t matter who the recipient of a letter was, so long as they could read it. The letter was a single sentence long: Give me a real challenge. He left it out before heading to bed and once he’d come back downstairs in the morning, the cartons were empty, the paper flipped inside out with a new sentence written on its underside: Good luck. He checked his watch then looked out the window. The sun was beginning to paint orange slats on the wall.
The first three eggs were easy: one was stuck in the corner of a couch cushion, another was placed under his pillow (which he had to admit, was rather sneaky) and another was placed delicately on one of the weights of the grandfather clock at an angle where the egg’s gravity would turn with the slow ascent of the weight. He scavenged every hidden area of the house interior until he was sure that there weren’t any more places for him to check. Twenty-one. Time to head outside. In the front yard, the light was dim; the sun had barely begun to crest the top of the hills in the distance, but it was just enough for the light to reach the street. It was all that he needed. He quickly surveyed the front and discovered one waiting in an old nest in the apple tree; magenta, wet enough with dew to give it the waxy sheen of an apple. It used to belong to a blue jay, the nest; now it was hardly used for anything beyond a small little hovel for squirrels. One of the eggs from the original owners had dropped from its branch and that was how he had learned what shape the body took when it hit the ground. Luckily the ants took the rest of its carcass away before he would have to see it a second time. There didn’t seem to be any others in the front planter, so he checked the backyard and discovered one wading in a meniscus of rainwater that seemed to accumulate in the terracotta bird bath; its watercolor hue similar to a warbler’s coat. He almost called it quits on the backyard before he could hear a soft mewing and caught Langley pawing at a section of the lawn that seemed a tad off in its pallor. She looked up at him, as if to telepathically give him some kind of answer before his hands discovered the trowel hanging on the hook inside the toolshed and he furiously went to work on the discolored portion of lawn, sending whole fragments of grass, wet earth and grub larvae flying into the air, until finally a small glittery egg came careening out of the spade, bouncing into the grass with a cloudy violet hue similar to a crayon. He gently kissed the cat, thanked her and added the egg to the collection. Eighteen.
He gently sighed and kept searching for things that seemed out of place, even if only slightly. This paid off to some extent: there was one egg that somehow found its way into five different cups of dye—during the dyeing process—and had congealed into an unnaturally natural shade of stone; nearly unrecognizable amongst the other stones waiting in the planter. There was another glittery one that gave off the enigmatic shimmer of foil as he passed over a sewer grate. His body was small enough to squeeze through the vent-like opening and into the hot, dark shadows where he swore that a goblin had been waiting when he was younger, hoping to grab onto his scrawny ankles and pull him deep into the sewer. Now all that was left was the skeleton of a goblin, left to cower from the light in fetal position. Sixteen. He was running out of places to search. It was time to get more creative. Places, colors, memories continued to pass over his vision until he decided to try more unorthodox locations, to some pay-off: a yellow egg with an orange stipe through its middle nestled deep in the cathedral of a four year-old wasp’s nest (that seemed to connect the branch of a lonely tree, near the end of the block, to the ground below), that was so difficult to get into that he had to get on his hands and knees in order to squeeze inside; the hum of the soldiers radiated around him, heat spiraling out from their twitching thoraxes. Most of them had been asleep still, so the venture wasn’t exceptionally dangerous, however he did suffer several stings on his way out. He grew more daring and penetrated the solitude of his neighbor Clarissa’s house via an open window—which he knew was always open, because whenever he would come by to watch Homeward Bound, he would always complain about how cold it was in the room and if she could possibly close the window, to which she would respond by saying “no, it’s too hot in here, we need to let out some of this heat”—and searched her own home for the egg that was half-red and half-yellow because the two of them had dyed eggs together and they had agreed upon dyeing one of their eggs the same way. He was opposed to the idea, but went along with it because he liked spending time with Clarissa and wanted her to be happy. He found both of their eggs—which was easy to do since Clarissa’s eggs were hidden so poorly—but had to distinguish his from hers by a minute pinstripe of exposed eggshell that Clarissa had failed to dye. He would never be so sloppy. Afterword, he had replaced her red and yellow egg in the same spot that he had found it and crawled back out of her window. Once he’d gotten the tenth egg in the carton, he scanned the sunrise. He still had plenty of time left, but he needed to hurry.
He decided to go for a walk; searching the neighborhood for odd places to keep eggs. One was hiding in the neighbor’s mailbox—the seventy year-old man who sometimes sat on the porch with a pellet gun and shot at pigeons roosting on the chimney and in the gutter— next to about a week of accumulated phone bills and curled-up copies of the local paper. His pick-up was still in the driveway. There was also the old park at the middle school where he would squeeze himself between the metal gate and onto the play structure with the aluminum slide that would burn the exposed flesh of its riders with the fire of the sun. He snuck onto the playground and sat at the top of the slide for a nice long time. Memories came and went; dropping different toys down the slide to see which one went fastest, growing bored and walking past the buildings where he could just barely see into the classrooms; the dark corridors where construction paper masterpieces conjoined to create a string of prayer flags, using the basketball courts to practice his futile throws until someone would yell at him to go home already because he would keep the neighborhood up all night with the echoes of his dribbles. He pushed himself down the slide and felt something rub up against him as he reached the bottom of the slope. Another egg. He held it and reviewed it; cold and delicate in his palm. Did the Easter Bunny ever go to school? Was he still in school? Was there a special school for successors of the Easter Bunny to go to once the current one had disappeared? He put the egg in his pocket and began to head home.
The neighborhood began to grow a bit brighter, but still seemed to hide in a kind of dark blue shallow. On his way back, he ended up across the street where his friend David used to live and found an egg resting on the sill of his bedroom window; a darker one with a bat drawn on its face in white crayon. David used to invite him over and the two of them would dig through the tupperware box underneath the bed, filled with contortionist figurines of Batman and his rogues. He remembered going over one time, during David’s birthday, and shooting silly-string with the rest of David’s friends, the foam creating webs all over the lawn, only to harden in seconds; the toxic scent filling the air. He got David an action figure that day. David already had it, but he didn’t mind duplicates. Five months later, David and his dad moved to Arkansas. They hardly kept in touch. Eleven eggs left. He seemed to be running out of places to search, at least locally. The Easter Bunny seemed to get around pretty quickly, he had to imagine. After all, rabbits were fast and he had to somehow find a way to hide every single egg in every single household on the planet, all in a single night… perhaps time had traveled with him. He needed to imagine this, for if he could imagine this, he could harness it. He needed to think broader, and that’s exactly what he did.
The hardest part of the entire hunt was not his ability to trust that the eggs were hiding where he guessed they were hiding, but the travelling itself. He was not immortal like the Easter Bunny; he required a tremendous amount of energy to move around and great amounts of time had been expended in his search. Despite all of this, he was still able to calculate the remaining eleven: a red pin on the map in his father’s office told him that the solid red egg was waiting for him somewhere in Sri Lanka, while a passing glance at the fish tank in the kitchen—where speckled goldfish meandered in and out of a marble statuette of Poseidon—hinted at the chartreuse egg’s location somewhere deep in the Mediterranean. Surely, the most difficult for him was the dark purple one that shone as merely a pinprick on the surface of the moon, and that was with the aid of the telescope he kept in the spare bedroom. A quick bus ride to Cape Canaveral and an even quicker sleuthing upon the launching Discoverer IV got him to the surface of the planetoid, where the egg was resting at the base of the flagpole. He only hoped that the astronauts would forgive him for commandeering their shuttle to get back home. Another had been hiding amongst other, much larger eggs in a fossilized pterodactyl’s nest somewhere in France while the one that he had covered in seemingly invisible white crayon had been glued against the ceiling of an old abandoned planetarium, hidden amongst a myriad of glow-in-the-dark stars that hung in the darkness; its white-green exterior exposed like a pebble in the sky. The fifth egg sat in the very center of the labyrinth of Minos, hidden in the darkness amidst the low haunting growl of demons entrapped, safeguarded by the massive corpse of the minotaur festering in the corner. The fourth one rested on the very tip of Burj Khalifa, where the winds of the earth’s rotation forced it to wobble back and forth as if to tease him with its eventual plummet. The third one was wrested by a monkey’s paw in some forgotten vendor down some mysterious alley, between its thumb and index finger, as if it were an ancient coin, and the penultimate egg was held within the stomach of a basilisk, residing somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains. His journey led him from his home to the airport numerous times. His ability to meander his way onto airplanes was exceptionally simple since he was almost too short to see most of the time and besides, if he could sneak his way onto a space shuttle, he could sneak himself onto anything. His last step into the house brought a kind of exhaustion; a colossal gravity fell on his shoulders and told him to fall asleep on the carpet, but replaced the eggs in the carton and dropped himself on the couch. He was suddenly very tired from his multiple excursions; the crest of the sun had begun to penetrate the higher windows in the living room and made spots of yellow sunlight on the wall. The house was still asleep, the whole neighborhood was still asleep. His mouth was dry. He felt like getting a glass of water, but he didn’t feel like getting up to get a glass of water. From around the corner, Langley came sauntering towards the couch, hopping up and turning herself into a pillow beside him. He stroked her back and allowed his brain to die; his eyes dropping towards the cartons where a single space remained available. His dead mind circled the room, swam around the space of the house, searching for any clues that could aid him in trying to find the final egg, but his brain was so shook from his previous excursions that straight lines simply appeared as strands of spaghetti. Different ideas crossed his mind: it was the dark blue egg that he had dunked multiple times in the blue dye, in an attempt to make it darker. There were plenty of places dark and blue enough to hide such an item: a cave in the bottom of the ocean where the kraken had been sleeping with its tentacles fisted in slumber around the parcel; embedded within the walls of lapis mines locked in the ribcage of Gilgamesh; maybe it was part of an exhibit at the Louvre, or the Metropolitan, or some kind of museum that showcased a thousand rare diamonds and relics from around the world and he would have to come up with some kind of heist plan to nab the egg back; maybe it was waiting for him in a pyramid somewhere in Egypt; maybe it was part of his happy meal at the restaurant down the street and it was as simple as walking a few blocks just to buy a happy meal except that he didn’t really have the kind of money to order such a thing. The Easter Bunny had to know this, so it couldn’t have been hidden there. He thought about the Easter Bunny and how it would appear in these situations, spectating his search like an angel, hidden from mortal view. The egg wasn’t hiding in any of these locations, he knew, but how he knew he wasn’t exactly sure. His chest felt funny. Above him, the sunlight continued to slant across the wall as if applied by a paint roller, making its way into the living room. His hand continued to work its way across Langley’s back, her hair soft and furrowed, her face a chocolate ball with a parted mouth and squinting eyes.
He watched her ears flatten, then he slowly gazed at the paw prints on the carpet and suddenly, his energy returned. He pulled himself up from the couch and slumbered over towards the footprints, leaving Langley to sprawl out on the cushion with her paws upraised. Feet scraped over the crusty paint of the pawprints before reaching the television. Then his hands grasped either side of the set and his feet planted firm against the carpet before he was able to force all of his weight into his lower abdomen, pulling with all his might. He strained furiously, afraid that he might break something within his body, sweat pounding from his skin and staining his hair, his shirt, his pajamas. The wooden block of the set wouldn’t budge. He suddenly wanted to crawl back into bed, but instead he continued pressing himself against the television set until it finally began to slide across the carpet, pulling up strings of the floor and creating a violent scratching sound as it did so. His breathing was hard for a moment, his clothes wet with sweat. He allowed the air to fill his lungs before allowing his eyes to shift towards the hole in the ground that the television had been hiding. It was a perfect circle shape, like a cartoon drawing of a hole. He peered into it, expecting Bugs Bunny to pop out. He peered deep into the hole and counted the indentations of a makeshift ladder leading deep into the dark. Tiredly, he made his way down into the hole, his hands clutching each dirt-rung; the space barely wide enough to fit his body. He climbed down for a number of minutes before his foot awkwardly touched the floor of what appeared to be a large cavern, walls of gaslit lamps lining the rigid surfaces of cylindrical soil that led deep into further darkness; the only portions of wall visible in the lamplight. He followed them into the darkness, a level in a videogame, the darkness tempting him with sleep. The end of the tunnel came into view, the light broadening out a bit into what appeared to be an upside-down bowl of some kind. He stepped into it, his bare feet dry and calloused with dirt. The space opened up, his hand shaded his eyes from a singular glow that filled the hovel with spheres of light. It seemed to be coming from a candle that was sitting on a short table next to a spotless, leather reclining chair.
Also on the table was the final egg, resting in a saucer, and a basket wrapped in cellophane. Between the two of them was a section of paper, folded in thirds. He sauntered into the light of the room and stared at the items on the table and then the chair, wondering if all of this was meant for him before deciding that there was no way that it was meant for anyone else, and he took a seat in the recliner that rocked back and forth before he stopped it from moving with his feet planted firmly on the soil beneath him. The light on the cellophane hid the baskets contents, minutely: a couple of plastic eggs, surely filled with jellybeans, a chocolate peanut-butter rabbit, some other chocolates, plastic grass and what appeared to be a new Batman figure that reminded him of David. He looked back down the hallway from which he came from, half-expecting someone—or something—to come waltzing out from the darkness. Once he had come to terms with the fact that nothing was coming, he turned back towards the table and lifted the piece of paper. He unfolded it, examining the writing underneath; the feminine cursive that fed a simple demand: pick one. He flipped the paper over, as if something else had been written on the back, then he dropped it in his lap. His eyes leaped between the egg on the plate and the basket full of trinkets and goodies. His body settled into the recliner; it was cool and malleable and suddenly, he was afraid to close his eyes. This shouldn’t have been a difficult choice, he understood; it was either he completed the collection of eggs or he took the basket of things with him back to the surface, back into his living room. He couldn’t just take both of them; that wasn’t how it worked. He understood this, and simultaneously, he hated it. Suddenly, there was a great hatred that he felt for the Easter Bunny; offering this merciful furniture to him and leading him through this dungeon beneath his television set, knowing well enough that he would have traveled the entire planet before finally resorting to this final instrument of his hunt. And now he was being offered an impossible choice, a choice that no reasonable person should have to make: would he complete his journey, follow through to the end, or simply reap the fruits of his labors? What good would it be, he wondered, if he took the basket back with him and sat there with the chocolate wrappers at his feet like wood shavings, the cartons nearly full except for one, singular egg?
His hesitation ended as his exhaustion made the decision for him and he rose from the chair. The candle on the table began to sputter and die out, and he knew from this that he only had a few moments before the rest of the lights in the tunnel would die out and by that time, he would have to be out of the ground. Without hesitating, he made his way back down the tunnel of gaslights, towards the dirt ladder that led to the surface. He looked back towards the space with the chair and watched as the lights were extinguished, one by one, before mounting the steps of the ladder and heading back up towards the top. Soon, his fingers found carpet and the hole had opened up into his living room, once more. Without looking back towards the hole, he strained his body against the television set until the massive box covered the space and the area had been filled once again. He heaved until his breaths became a series of coughs, and he crawled over towards the couch where Langley was still sprawled out with her paws flat on the cushions. He pushed himself up, his feet still dirty from the dungeon beneath the television set, and placed the final egg in the carton before sitting himself back onto the sofa, next to the cat. The deed was done: the sunlight was now full against the wall; a perfect square of gold that made shapes from the window above. He stared at the two cartons of eggs, blinking, wondering if he had made the right choice, wondering if satisfaction was going to come to him eventually. The thought was too tiring for him, at the moment. Instead, he fell onto his side and held Langley tight in his arms, his head resting softly on a cool pillow at the end of the sofa.