I love this story. I would never have believed you if you told me I would love a piece of Goodnight Moon fan fiction so much (in fact, I would never have believed you if you told me there was such a thing as Goodnight Moon fanfic) but here we are. Author and editor Julia Rios perfectly threads the needle of writing a story that’s true to its source material and perfectly science-fictional.
~ Julian Yap, April 3, 2022
(*This story was originally published in 2010.)
The bunny is a boy. He’s a naughty boy, too excited to sleep, after narrowly missing the business end of a farmer’s rake.
The bunny is a girl, a very good and quiet girl who helps the Old Lady clean up the Great Green Room. She is an orphan. Her parents died when the primroses faded. There have not been primroses in a long time, but there is always the moon.
The bunny is gender-neutral, and sie does not feel attached to performing stereotypical acts of gender conformity.
The Great Green Room is a prison for naughty boys.
The Great Green Room is a haven for good girls.
The Great Green Room is a neutral space for the gender-neutral. Everyone knows they have no morals and no emotions. Especially the white ones.
Once the Great Green Room was full of siblings. Bunnies beget bunnies. It is what they do. But then there was a virus, or too much radiation, a cancer, a plague, a zombie outbreak. All the others have gone, and the Great Green Room is a clean zone. The bunny doesn’t remember the others going. He was too busy rascaling about. She was too absorbed in tidying the toy house with the miniature bunnies inside. Sie was too busy being emotionless and white.
The Old Lady is a hologram stuck on endless loop since the program froze. That is why she can only say, “Hush, hush.” The clack of her knitting needles always plays the same short rhythm. At night, sometimes, the bunny imagines it is the sound of a train. It is always night. There is never a train.
The kittens are not holograms. The kittens are real, but they don’t care about anything except playing with each other. They never age.
The bunny does not know how long it has been since the primroses were over.
The bunny has not aged, either.
The bunny was not always white. Once he was black as the eyes of a burrowing worm. Once she was brown as the oaken floor she helped polish. Once sie was gray as uncertainty and smoke. It has been a long time since the bunny has looked in a mirror.
When it is time to sleep, the bunny tells all the things in the room goodnight. All except the telephone. The telephone must stay awake in case anyone wants to make contact. The telephone used to ring. It was alive; it was connected to the rest of the universe. It brought news of the parents and the siblings, of the farmer and his rake, of the primroses. It has been silent a long time now, though the bunny has never told it goodnight. It sleeps just the same, and the bunny knows deep inside that the telephone will never wake, no matter how many times the bunny doesn’t say, “Goodnight telephone.”
The mouse is also not a hologram, but like the kittens, it can’t talk.
The only one who talks aside from the bunny is the Old Lady, and all she ever says is, “Hush.”
The bunny has been supplied with all the essentials for survival.
There are a comb and brush, which are not an ordinary comb and brush; they are sonic. When they pass through bunny fur, they clean it of all germs and vermin. There haven’t been vermin in a very long time, though. The Great Green Room is a clean zone, after all.
There is a bowl full of mush, which is not an ordinary bowl full of mush. When the bunny tells it goodnight, the cleaning cycle activates, and when the bunny says, “Good morning bowl full of mush,” the generation cycle starts. It takes less than a second, a nanosecond maybe, and the bunny has an efficient, nutritious meal. It always tastes the same, though, and never so good as other things the bunny can remember eating.
Once the bunny thought about running away. This was a long time ago when he was a boy, before the encounter with the rake. He said he would run away, and the mother said to stay, and then she gave him a carrot. The bunny does not remember the mother very well, but the carrot . . . oh, the carrot! Carrots, like primroses, have not been around for a very long time.
The bunny was a girl when the mush started, and when the Old Lady came. The Old Lady wasn’t broken then. She gave directions and advice. She taught the bunny how to do all the domestic things a girl bunny ought to do. That was before all the siblings left too. There were a lot of girl bunnies, and they all wore ribbons around their ears.
There is, lastly, a red balloon, which is not an ordinary red balloon. The red balloon floats around the Great Green Room and regulates the oxygen levels. There is another regulator in the Great Green Room’s walls, but the red balloon provides insurance and atmosphere. When the bunny tells it goodnight, it adds a melancholy sweetness to the dark, and a cricket chorus to the Great Green Room’s soundtrack. The bunny sleeps to the melody of those chirps and the rhythm of the Old Lady’s clacks. When the bunny tells it good morning, the melancholy sweetness changes to the crisp clean scent of laundry hanging out to dry, and the crickets give way to birdsong. There is always music in the Great Green Room, even without the longed-for jangle of the telephone.
The waste the bunny and the kittens and the mouse create goes back into the ship’s resource tank, ready to be turned into mush or light or whatever else anyone on the ship still needs. The ship’s resource tank is very well stocked. If anyone dies, they go there too. A lot of people have died. There are enough resources to last far longer than anyone in the Great Green Room might naturally live even without the waste recycling. The ship is very efficient.
The bears on the wall are static. They do not move because they are not part of the ship’s programming, but the bunny tells them goodnight anyway. The bunny does not know if there is anyone else on the ship anymore, and telling the bears goodnight is better than admitting that there is nobody left. Sometimes she does admit it. In a very small voice she says, “Goodnight nobody.” And then she shivers when nobody answers. She wishes the kittens would climb into her bed and snuggle up beside her, but they never do. They don’t mew or purr, either. They are so quiet that the bunny is sometimes afraid to close her eyes in case they disappear. It is scary to be so alone, but it would be even scarier if the kittens went away.
The cow jumping over the moon does move. If the bunny says, “Good morning cow jumping over the moon,” it jumps over and over the moon in the frame. It is not real, though. Not even as real as the Old Lady. Sometimes there is a hard edge in the bunny’s voice when he says, “Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.” Sometimes he shouts the words while stamping his foot. The cow always stops jumping then, but the bunny never feels better. The kittens and the mouse hide in the corners when the bunny gets like this. They don’t like it when the bunny is angry.
When the bunny notices the kittens have hidden again, sie sighs. The Great Green Room is a clean zone, and as long as the bunny stays there, sie will be safe. Sie is not afraid. Sie is alone, but sie is not lonely. Sie is not angry, either. Sie has no emotions. Sie is a white, gender-neutral bunny, remember? Sie reminds hirself of that. And then sie eats some mush, or uses the brush, or traces the bears and the chairs in the picture with hir paw. “Hush,” sie says along with the Old Lady. “Hush, hush.” Sie doesn’t know if sie is saying it to hirself or the kittens, but it helps.
The bunny sleeps and wakes and sleeps and wakes. He chases the mouse, she plays with the house, sie feels restless. Not happy or sad or angry or scared, but restless.
There is a book on the table. The bunny has never read it, even though all the siblings learned their letters when the mother was still there. The bunny knows the book by heart already. It is a bedtime story. It is an instruction manual. The mother used to read it to the siblings once upon a time. It is how the bunny learned all the words to say to make things stop and start. It has always seemed wrong to read the book since the mother and the siblings left, though. Always until now.
Restlessness has made the bunny explore every inch of the Great Green Room, even under the rug (where there is no dust) and behind the curtains (where there is just more window and wall), even going so far as to sit on the chair (where the Old Lady hologram hushes and clacks the same as ever). The bunny has exhausted all there is to exhaust, except for the book.
Sie sits on the edge of the bed and takes the book into hir lap, turning the pages carefully, as though they might electrify hir, or crumble at hir touch. They do neither; they only flap gently, for they are paper printed with ink and nothing more. They feel so real that the bunny is filled with a great yearning. Sie has not felt anything like paper in such a long time. Sie had forgotten so many textures in the world, and now they are rushing back and making hir eyes sting with the memories. The mother’s paw stroking hir back, dry leaves in the autumn wind, the stickiness of melted candy.
The bunny’s restlessness grows.
Sie is not sad. Sie is not afraid. Sie will read the book because sie is so unaffected. Sie thinks this very hard until sie can almost believe it, and then sie takes a deep breath, and begins to read.
The bunny reads all the objects in the room, and then sie says goodnight to all of them in turn, and all of them go to sleep. The crickets begin to chirp, the Great Green Room grows dark, the cow stops in mid-leap. There is still light enough to read by because of the moon, though. Outside, there is always the great white emotionless moon. Saying goodnight to it is just a formality. A sacred ritual. A superstition. The moon likes to be addressed politely is what the mother always said.
The instructions end, and the bunny gets to the history part. Sie keeps reading aloud because sie likes to hear the sound of a voice, even if it is only hir voice.
Margaret Wise Brown was the name of the creator. She was not a bunny, but she loved bunnies. So it is written. She liked to hold them (there is a picture of her holding one), and she liked to create.
She liked, too, to do something called “beagling,” which the history says is great exercise. Margaret Wise Brown would beagle when she wasn’t creating. She would run through the woods with all of her might until she caught up with the dogs who had killed the hunted prey. When she got there first of the human runners, which she did a lot, she got to take part of the prey for herself. Margaret had a large collection of bunny parts. Mostly feet. Bunnies are prey. Margaret loved them alive and dead.
When she was not as old as the Old Lady, Margaret died. She has never been alive in the bunny’s memory, but the mothers and the fathers and the siblings loved her anyway. The bunnies would always love the creator, alive or dead. Just as the creator would always love them. Just as somewhere, maybe, she still did.
The history is very clear about one thing, even though it never explicitly states it: the creator will not save the bunny. The bunny is a creation, but it is not a chosen person, or a pet, or one of the saved. There are no saved. Even if the creator were still alive, the bunny would not necessarily get any help from her. Being noticed by a creator is not always a good thing. So, if the bunny wants help, sie must help hirself.
The bunny does want help. The bunny wants to beget other bunnies so that there will be more than just hir in the world. The bunny wants to be passionate and brown instead of emotionless and white. The bunny can’t help being made that way by the creator, but these things still make hir guilty.
Lately the bunny has begun to wonder if hir guilt is productive. Just because the creator was part of a systematically racist and sexist society, does that mean the bunny has no choice but to be a sexist and racist construct?
In a postapocalyptic world where there is only one bunny, does it matter what color the bunny is? What if there are other bunnies out there? Or a special chamber for replicating? What if the bunny is responsible for hir own fate?
What if sie dies trying to find out?
What if sie stays in the Great Green Room and dies anyway?
The bunny hides under the covers, trying to block all this out of hir mind. It doesn’t work. Eventually sleep comes, though. Eventually worrying will tire a bunny out enough that sleep is inevitable. Eventually, the bunny thinks, death will come in the same way.
When the bunny wakes, it is not morning (it is never morning unless the bunny makes it morning). The moon is still shining and the crickets are still chirping, but in the bunny’s heart, fierceness is dawning.
“Good morning door,” the bunny says, and on the wall where the holographic bookcase used to be, the iris of the Great Green Room’s door appears.
The bunny has not seen the door since the time of the mother and the siblings, but it is still as shiny and clean as it ever was. The bunny looks at it sidelong in brief glances, afraid that if sie looks too hard it might open. Or worse, it might stay closed forever.
Deliberately, the bunny puts the slippers on hir feet and slings mittens around hir neck. There are no bunny clothes other than the flimsy pajamas, only accessories. This is due to the creator’s Freudian sensibility. The bunny wishes that sie were better equipped—that there might be some protection between hir fragile body and the world—but the time for squeamishness has already passed. The bunny does want to procreate, after all. Sie must agree with the creator on that.
The bunny hops to the center of the Great Green Room, twitching hir nose in anticipation. Sie wraps the end of the balloon’s string around hir left front paw. “Good morning red balloon,” sie says. “Come along, now, we’re going out.” The balloon bobs gently along above the bunny, raining birdsong and fresh-laundry scent and making it so the bunny can breathe.
Now the hard part.
“Good morning airlock,” sie says, and the iris dilates.
Behind it is a blank chamber with metal floors and mirrored walls. The bunny does not look back at the Great Green Room. Sie is afraid that would make hir lose hir nerve. Instead sie hops forward, decisive.
“Goodnight room,” sie says.
The iris constricts.
It is not too late to undo this.
The Great Green Room is a clean zone, and right now the bunny is still clean. Sie could go back in, and stay safe. Sie could . . . but it is no good. The bunny has chosen hir way.
There are mirrors everywhere in the chamber, which is small, but oddly angled. The bunny cannot tell where sie ends and the mirrors begin. Everywhere sie looks, sie sees irises and bunnies and balloons. Some of the bunnies are brown, and some are black, and some are gray. They look excited and scared and determined. Their genders are not evident, but their emotions certainly are.
None of the bunnies are white.
The bunny turns in a slow circle and tries to find a white one. It is easier to be a white bunny in some ways, but the bunny cannot choose hir color anymore than sie can choose hir creator. Sie can choose hir actions, though. Sie surely can choose those.
So the bunny stops moving, and puts hir ears up in a businesslike position.
“Good morning ship,” sie says, and the iris opens before hir like a primrose in spring.
Thank you for being part of The Sunday Morning Transport journey this week.
Julia Rios (they/them) is a queer Latinx writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator whose fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Latin American Literature Today, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit, among other places. Their editing work has won multiple awards, including the Hugo Award. Julia is a cohost of This Is Why We’re Like This, a podcast about the movies we watch in childhood that shape our lives, for better or for worse. They’ve narrated stories for Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. They’re @omgjulia on Twitter.
“Goodnight Room,” © Julia Rios, 2022.
Oh, this was such a gorgeous puzzle-box! I will have to re-read several times to absorb all the pivots and emergent details.