Listen to this story, narrated by Victor Ramos:
A thousand rabbits poured from the hat. Something had gone very wrong. They hopped straight off the stage and through the petrified crowd. White rabbits, black rabbits, grey and brown rabbits, big plump thumpers and little cottony wisps.
Rolando the Inconceivable dove headfirst under the sawing box, staring into the sable abyss of his top hat. He turned it to the left and the right. He flipped it and tapped the top, with only a muffled felt echo for his troubles. An echo drowned in the tumult of several hundred showgoers being stampeded by a cavalcade of rogue flopsies.
Young children laughed with delight as they were subsumed under rolling heaps of the lagomorphic legion. Gentlemen and ladies of means threw arms and hands forward to protect their tailored finery from the rush of carrot-guillotines. Some of the elderly, whatever their feelings on the issue, fainted out of sheer excitement, and the wave of cottontails surged softly over them.
Rolando the Inconceivable (née Jeff Peterson) fished his phone from his pocket as the noise died down; the rabbits and crowd had fled. He raced through his contacts for the one marked ‘WEIRD OLD LADY.’
“I need a meeting. It’s about your product.”
“How was the performance?” The weird old lady lived in a house that used to be something other than a house.
“Haven’t heard the news by now?” he said, grumpily gnawing at the side of a scone that was less baked than fossilized.
“I don’t entirely keep up with news,” said the weird old lady.
“A thousand. One. Thousand. Rabbits. That’s a conservative guess.”
“You said you wanted to amaze,” she said. “You said you wanted a new spin on the old trick.”
“I was thinking somewhere in the realm of twenty,” Rolando said. “Maybe thirty-five at the outside. My audience ran screaming into the streets. You know what this will do to my career?”
“Wait,” she said, “and see.” That same knowing nod she’d given when she’d sold him the charmed silk hatband in the first place.
He waited. He saw.
In six weeks, he made more money than in the preceding ten years of stage magic. When he finally took a few days off, he went to visit her again.
“Where do they come from?” he said to the weird old lady, sipping the weird old tea she’d offered him.
“You should know better, asking a magician to reveal her tricks,” she answered with a smirk, chewing a bran muffin.
“Just a hint? I’ve cut you in, after all.”
“I suppose a hint won’t hurt. Just like your magic, the kind I do seems impossible. But when you take a close enough look, everything makes sense.” She sipped her tea. “This one’s about universes.”
“Uncountable. Most of ‘em are very much like ours. Earth, moon, people, chickens, Denny’s. But there are always differences. Some places got more of some stuff than others. More water, maybe, or more trees. What do you know about thermodynamics?”
“There’s an inclination to move from where there’s more stuff to where there’s less stuff until it’s more even. What I whipped up for you is based on a different law, but it operates on a similar principle.”
“So…” he said, setting his tea cup down and trying to ignore the reddish stain in its bottom, “there’s a world covered in rabbits somewhere and you’re… exploiting the natural tendency of the cosmos to move them to less rabbity Earths?”
“In a fashion.”
“Well,” he said, “thanks for enlightening me.” He shook his head, making for the diminutive plywood door.
“A word of caution,” the weird old lady said. “The other side of the scale isn’t always a nice place to be.”
Rolando nodded and took his leave. The warning didn’t really stick in his head.
The fifth anniversary of the first rabbit storm rolled around, and with it the largest magic show in history: an open air festival in the middle of the Great Plains. In a few days, a temporary outdoor theater the size of a city sprang up.
The roar when he rose to the stage out of a trapdoor, surrounded in fog, lasers zapping a tapestry all around him, was unlike any sound he’d ever heard.
Now, most of his other big tricks had gotten famous. It wasn’t just about the rabbits anymore. Their every reaction rolled across the open plains and up to the gorgeous night sky. Each murmur of enjoyment and gasp of surprise shot through him, and he smiled and smiled.
At last, the time had come. He raised the hat with its inscrutable enchanted band. Nearly the whole crowd got to their feet. People in wheelchairs were helped up by their friends. Little kids were hoisted onto parents’ shoulders.
He tapped the hat, right on the band. As had happened so many times before, the storm followed. He closed his eyes as the laughter and cheering and screaming seemed to make the whole world ring.
Then, with one final echo, the noise was gone.
He opened his eyes, confused. Had something gone wrong with the trick? He squinted through the bright stage lights. No. The rabbits were there.
The crowd was gone.
She found him plying his trade in a little bar in Chicago. He guessed cards and showed an amazing fluency at sleight-of-hand to eight or nine appreciative patrons. He joined her for a drink afterwards.
“Told you,” she said.
“They never came back,” he said with a sad smile.
“Scales shift,” she said. “I suppose you squandered away all your fortune. VH1 Behind the Rabbits, eh?”
“No,” he said. “I’m still rich. But money was never the point. That’s why I’m here right now. To make a few people happy. It’s not ten thousand, but it’s enough.”
“We all go through our lessons,” she said.
“This happened to you once,” he said. “Didn’t it?”
“I had too many friends,” she said quietly into her drink.
“Well,” he said, raising his glass. “Now some yous have more. And you’ve got one.”
He smiled. She smiled. They toasted. He performed at the bar all week.