Blood came slowly from the nose and stopped. There was not much. That was expected, even anticipated. Their dull and musty eyes looked on. All of them were dead.
They were recently thawed - 10 frozen rabbits - and placed on tables with X-Acto knives, rubber gloves and placemats before 10 people who wanted them no other way.
"If you don't like the color of your rabbit, you can switch with each other. Just don't fight over them," Mickey Alice Kwapis said from where she stood at the head of two adjacent tables, her students seated at both.
This wasn't biology; it wasn't even a remotely academic environment. It was a taxidermy class taking place at Graveface Records & Curiosities in the Starland District where Kwapis, an Ohio-based licensed taxidermist, hosted a workshop that was nothing like Build-a-Bear.
There was little guts or blood, aside from the bit seeping out of the rabbits' noses, a sign that things were going well.
With people milling about the store, perusing records and the litany of books and bitters, Kwapis instructed each student through every incision. It's one way to spend a Saturday, a daytime date perhaps, though most of her students regard taxidermy as a hobby or would-be profession. For either, Kwapis's class is a way to get their feet wet.
For the past two years, it has been a part-time job for Kwapis, 23, who travels across the country teaching workshops at similar venues. During the week she taxidermies or makes jewelry, then off to the next city for another three- to four-hour class.
She's taught 7-year-olds to women in their late 60s, and everyone in between. Classes range between $200 to $700, depending on the curriculum.
At present, she is booked through November.
While studying pre-law at the University of Michigan, anticipating the results of her Law School Admissions Test, she got her start when a friend invited her over to help with a biology project.
"I got to her house and there was just a dead squirrel and a bottle of wine on a kitchen table," she said. "And I'm like, what is this?"
So the two stayed up through the night using a biology textbook from the '70s as reference. When her friend later turned in the project, she received an A.
"I was thinking this was kinda interesting and fun in a weird way; I'm gonna learn how to do this more, for myself," she said. "Then my friends wanted to learn and I started charging them."
She makes her living doing just that, teaching others how to taxidermy on the weekend. And though her freezer is full of dead animals - a hamster named Leon, rabbits, a baby opossum, baby raccoons - she doesn't spend her down time doing taxidermy.
"I don't really do this a lot at home just because of how often I do it, so I don't get home and think I really want to taxidermy something," she said. "But my freezer is overflowing, so as soon as I get back from Savannah, I've set a goal for myself to taxidermy a thing - one thing out of my freezer every single day - until it's completely empty and I can actually fit ice cream in there."
What's most important to her practice is that her animals are all ethically obtained, something Kwapis said other traveling taxidermists aren't always forthright about. For her, the definition of ethically obtained means the animal must be euthanized humanely, the way you'd euthanize a pet, or it must have died of natural causes. If it was hunted, the carcasses must be returned to the hunters.
"I think you have to be honest with your students where (the animals) are really coming from because you don't want to trick someone into taxiderming something that was illegally obtained or that was killed just for taxidermy purposes," she said.
This was paramount to Ryan Graveface, owner of the store that is his namesake, who received a call from Kwapis asking if they were interested in hosting her course. Of course they were.
"Yeah, for sure, that's a huge aspect," he said about her ethically obtaining the animals.
And it's only just the beginning of a wide range of unique classes that Graveface plans to offer at the record store. Psychic gatherings, astral projection classes and a DIY guitar-effect pedal class, along with the regularly hosted music shows, are all set for the coming months.
Kwapis said she plans on hosting more classes in the Hostess City, and encourages even the most timid of students to come out and give taxidermy a try.
"It's like peeling a really gross orange - it should not be any grosser than preparing a turkey on Thanksgiving," she said. "If you can handle cooking meat to eat, you can handle doing this."