I stopped pulling rabbits out of hats when I was nine.
By then I’d already been doing it for six years. People seemed to like it – or at least, it always made them laugh and smile. “Look at Seamus!” they would say. “What a wonderful trick!” I remember being at a family reunion, pulling rabbits out of hats for every other group of people that my Mom or Dad assured me we were related to, no matter how weird they seemed. Someone would hand me a hat, or I’d use one Dad had brought with us, and I’d pull out a rabbit. Sometimes I’d pull out another rabbit, sometimes three or four. Aunt Georgina had me pull eight rabbits from a hat before I could get away from her. I avoided her from then on, every reunion, wedding, or funeral we went to.
No one ever wondered why no two rabbits ever looked the same.
Of course, no one wondered how I would manage to pull a rabbit out of any hat given to me either.
Granddad was different, though. He never asked me to pull a rabbit out of a hat. He spent his time showing me other tricks – sleight of hand, card tricks, things like that. He would watch if other people asked me to pull a rabbit from someone’s hat, but…it was odd. He always had this look on his face, this sad little smile. Like he knew something no one else did. I was nine before I understood why Granddad smiled like that.
He had a live in nurse by then. Grandma had passed when I was only four. Granddad carried on by himself for a good long while, but when I was nine, he agreed to having someone else living in the house, just to help him out and just in case there was an emergency. I’d showed her some of the tricks Granddad had taught me, and one I had taught myself from a book I read. I must have done a good job teaching myself – Katie, the nurse, was impressed, but so was Granddad.
Mom was looking around. “Papa, where’s your hat?” she asked.
Granddad coughed, just a little. “Put them all away a few months back. I don’t get out enough to worry about burning the top ‘o me head anymore.”
“That’s right,” Nurse Katie said. “You pull rabbits out of hats, don’t you?”
I nodded. “Would you like me to show you?”
“You best not,” Katie said. “I have some horrible allergies. Cats, dogs, rabbits – just about any animal with fur will set me to sneezing.”
“Just as well,” Granddad said. “I’d like to speak to our budding illusionist about that last trick of his. I certainly didn’t teach it to him. Privately, if you all don’t mind?”
“Go ahead, Dad,” Mom said. “We’ll get dinner started while you two talk shop.”
Granddad and I went to his study. When Grandma was alive, she sold antiques from a long, narrow shop that wrapped across the front of the house and down one side. Granddad had a room in the front of the house that he purposefully arranged so that the door was blocked, to insure he would have some privacy to work on his magic tricks and keep his secrets safe. The entrance was hidden behind a cabinet of old baby dolls. He and I would spend hours in there whenever I came to visit.
Granddad sat down in an old high backed chair, while I sat on a small stool. “Would you like to know how I did it, Granddad?”
He smiled. “Not right now, Seamus me boyo. I’ve got a couple of things I want to tell you, first. Important things, you understand?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Well, first of all,” he said. “This room here, and everything in it, will be yours when I’m gone. Which, I hope, won’t be for quite some time yet, mind you, but the world is an uncertain place. But out of all my children, and their children, you and I – we’re the only ones with any magic in our blood. Any real magic, if you catch my meaning.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice to a whisper even though no one else was anywhere close by. “You and me, Seamus me boyo, we’re the magic men in this family.”
I smiled and nodded. He and I did our secret Men of Magic handshake, both of us grinning like idiots.
“That’s one thing told,” he said. “Now, for the other…” Granddad sighed and licked his lips. For a moment it looked like all the color had drained out of him. “It’s about…the rabbits, Seamus.”
“In the hats.” He rubbed his hand across his lips before continuing. “I did it too, when I was young. Didn’t matter which hat, nor how many. If I was the one pulling, there was a rabbit in every one. It’s the same for you, isn’t it?”
Granddad nodded himself and rocked back in his chair. He seemed to…shrink then, to suddenly become so very old and so very frightened. When he did finally sit up and straighten himself, it was with effort that he did so. “Be careful, Seamus. One day, they’re going to want something of you. Something precious, something important. Something…” His lips quivered, and his eyes lost focus as he remembered. “Something irreplaceable. I know. I know, Seamus, because one day, long ago, longer than I will admit…they wanted something from me.
“And I gave it to them. God forgive me, I gave it to them.”
It was the only time he ever mentioned the rabbits to me. For a long while, he sat with his head in his hands, soft, muffled sobs wracking his suddenly ancient frame. Finally he looked up at me, caught my eyes with his.
“No more, me boyo,” he said, dread filling his eyes. “No more rabbits.”
He passed in the night.
No, that’s not right.
Something woke me, in the long thin hours of night. I didn’t know what it was. I listened for several moments, but I heard nothing. I crept out of bed, slipped past the room my parents were sleeping in, and padded down the hall to the bathroom for water.
I saw him sitting there, on the floor in the hallway, his back against the bathroom door. Pale moonlight filtered in through the windows. One of his hands was twisted into the rug, bony fingers wound tightly into the carpet. He had his head tilted back, his mouth stretched wide open. There was a glassy look to his eyes, and when I went to shake him gently, his skin was cold and waxy.
He did not move. He did not blink. He did not breathe.
I shook him again, a little harder, then once more harder still. I looked down at his still body, hoping for something – anything – to suggest he was still with us.
His right hand laid against the floor, palm up. Tufts of dark red fur clung to his fingers.
From the shadows near the stairs, I heard a soft, heavy thump. I looked towards the sound.
There was a rabbit. It was sitting there, watching me. Plump, like a rabbit should be, but big – easily twice the size of any rabbit I ever pulled. It’s nose twitched at me, just like a rabbit’s nose should. Normal as anything.
Except it wasn’t. It had dark red fur, and eyes that gleamed a baleful gold in the moonlight. In places the fur was still damp looking. It rose up on it’s hind legs, nose twitching, golden eyes fixed on me, and thumped the floor again, kicking up a cloud of dirt and dust, then leaped into the shadows.
I looked back to Granddad, and my eyes suddenly focused on his teeth. There was something stuck between them.
Fur. Dark red fur.
So I stopped pulling rabbits out of hats.
It’s been fifteen years. I’ve not touched a hat since. I focused on card tricks when I wanted to do some little bit of magic, and I’ve done all right with it.
But lately, I can feel it.
It’s waiting for me everywhere it seems. In the mailbox. In fast food bags. Cookie jars. Packs of M&M’s. The pockets in my jeans.
Fur. Soft, warm fur.
The rabbits…they’re everywhere now Not just in hats.
And they want out.
— Shane Stewart