He only intended to bring down the moon.
That was what the rabbit in the tall hat and red cape told the boy.
A simple trick, he said, though it had to be done exactly right.
“Wait and see,” he said, winking one of his big black eyes in the boy’s direction. He sat down on a bale of hay and began gently plucking at the strings of his violin, putting down his long ears over it and twisting the little pegs at the top.
“What will you do with it?” the boy asked.
“I’ll put it in my pocket for a while, I expect, or perhaps I’ll lend it to the jugglers. And tomorrow night, I shall send it back.”
He touched a few strings with his bow, a clear whisper of music.
The boy tried to look away toward the edge of the sky to see if the moon was rising yet, but the tents blocked his view. All he could see above the red and orange and yellow and blue and green and purple stripes was a band of smoke-blue sky and the city’s great clock tower, rising into the night with its enormous face lit from within by a hundred candles.
The boy looked back at the rabbit. He had his eyes closed while he moved a brown paw rapidly up and down the neck of the violin, pressing strings silently.
His name, he’d told the boy, was Pierre.
“Half the reason anyone remembers Vivaldi is because of his name: Antonio Vivaldi. It slides off the tongue like his music slides off the strings. But not me. My music will stand alone. People will hear me play and they will ask, ‘Who? Who has written this?’ They will see me perform and they will say, ‘Who? Who is that? This is a rabbit I shall want to remember.’”
The boy’s name was Nick and he had come from the sea.
As he’d stumbled across the sand dunes toward the lights of the city he’d heard strange wild music and seen tents like a field of grounded hot air balloons.
He wandered the hay-strewn paths, rocking from side to side on his sea legs as the hard ground seemed to rise up to hit him.
A man stepped out of one of the tents, laughing. All across one side of his face a roaring bear was tattooed, its teeth so real the boy could almost see them gleaming. But the boy was used to tattoos much more frightening than this one, and he asked the man what the place was.
He walked away tasting the strange new word under his tongue like a sweet.
Sounds dashed around him like gales, passing with each tent, and the boy walked on following a hot, sweet smell, until he came to a small cart with a red and white striped umbrella over it, though it wasn’t raining.
The cart was filled with rows of green apples with sticks thrust through their cores and something brown and sugar-scented over their tops.
It had been a long time since his last dinner at sea, and he was hungry.
The man behind the cart wore enormous overalls on his skinny body and a blue scrap of shirt. His face was dirty and he didn’t look at the boy, but went on whistling out of the side of his mouth and trying to fit the pieces of a broken pipe back together.
The boy started to turn away when suddenly there was a flash of red, a streak of brown, and a rabbit in a top hat and cape stood before the apple cart.
He looked from the cart to the boy, and he winked impressively. From out of the folds of his cape he pulled a shiny brown violin. He held out a paw beneath it and turned it upside down. From the swirling curves cut in the wood a flash of silver fell. The rabbit tossed it to the man in overalls and picked out two apples.
Then the rabbit took the boy by the collar and led him around the carnival, and as they went, he talked about himself.
“I’m not an ordinary magician,” he explained, “I’m a composer, a composer of magic and music, and in the best times the two become one.”
As he said this, he tripped over a hose winding between the tents and fell, and his violin soared through the air. Fortunately, the boy caught it and held it tight. The rabbit was on his feet again in an instant, brushing sawdust off his cape. He took back the violin and said thank you to the boy and went on.
But suddenly he stopped. “I know what I will do!” the rabbit said. He looked down at the boy with sparkling eyes. “I have decided that you are a noble boy and for you I will do a most wondrous piece of magic. Yes, for you I am going to play down the moon.”
That was what the rabbit said, and so, while they waited for the moon to rise to an adequate height for bringing down, the boy sat with the rabbit on the hay bales back stage, and then he watched his act.
The boy thought the rabbit wouldn’t need to bring down the moon after such a wonderful act.
He stood on a small round stage and played his music. Complex music, sometimes loud and sometimes soft, but always very fast and while he played, flowers grew out of the floor, coaxed by the notes, and ropes formed themselves into hearts and snakes and trees in the air.
When it was over, he bowed once and walked off.
While the crowd was still applauding, he appeared at the boy’s side.
“Come,” he said, and took the boy’s hand in his paw and led him out.
The night seemed darker, though by now a thin sliver of moon hung above the tents like a pale crack in the sky.
The rabbit led the boy toward the outskirts of the city. In the darkness they stumbled as they went, but the boy never had to catch the rabbit’s violin, for he had put it away in a special violin shaped satchel that he wore under his cape.
They walked until they neared the great clock tower. Its face shone huge and yellow, black hands pointing this way and that, but the boy didn’t know what it said, for the only clock he could read was the sun.
The rabbit stood at the base of the clock tower and flung off his cape and drew out the violin.
“Now,” said the rabbit, “look to the moon!” And he began to play.
The boy sat on the ground and looked up at the moon. The music was different from in his act, sometimes slow and sad, sometimes pleading, sometimes seeming to sing of summer, this music was simple, and in its simplicity, the boy could feel the power running like a dark river.
The music wound on through the night and sleep began to build behind the boy’s eyes.
The rabbit played a long, last note and everything was still. No noise came from the city or the carnival.
The boy looked up at the moon, still hanging high in the sky.
And then the night broke open.
There was a tremendous crash and a sound that could have been that of two trains colliding at full speed, grinding, screaming, and a breaking of glass. And silence.
The boy huddled on the ground with his arms around his head. He didn’t know what had happened or what the mountain of rubble before him was, until he looked up.
The moon seemed lonely.
The clock tower had fallen.
The rabbit was nowhere to be seen. The boy began to run around the fallen giant, calling for him, crying.
He wouldn’t have seen him in the shadow of the broken tower if he hadn’t tripped over him. The rabbit was sitting, unhurt, still holding his violin, staring at the mass before him. He looked at the boy as if he didn’t recognize him.
“The clock tower fell.”
“The clock?” The rabbit said. He put his ears over his face.
“Are you alright?” The boy asked.
The rabbit looked up at him miserably. “I thought it was the moon!” he whispered.
Suddenly a figure stepped out of the shadow of the fallen tower. The boy jumped, but the rabbit barely glanced up at the small penguin in a dark suit and tie.
“What happened?” he asked in a deep, kind voice.
“Well,” the boy said, still uncertain himself, “I think he played down the clock tower.”
“I thought it was the moon,” the rabbit whispered again, to the penguin.
“My friend,” the penguin said gently, “you know you are quite blind without your glasses.”
“I know,” the rabbit said, “but a rabbit in glasses looks so ridiculous!”
The penguin shook his head sadly.
“Can’t you play it back again?” the boy asked, “Like you were going to do with the moon?”
“He could put it back,” the penguin said, “but the clock is broken, and with it, time in the city is broken. Every clock, every watch, has stopped.”
“How do you know?” asked the boy.
“Well,” the penguin looked down modestly, “I’m not an ordinary penguin.”
“Then do you know what we need to do?”
The penguin scratched his beak with a flipper. He looked from the rabbit to the crumbled clock. “With my help and the proper music, he could put the clock back. But to restart time… How does one control something that no one can understand?”
They stood there for a long time, the rabbit, the penguin, and the boy. No sound touched the night, and the moon stood still in the sky.
At last, the boy spoke. “I think,” he said, “That I understand time. It’s only a way of moving. Like music and the way the sun crosses the day. Minutes and hours don’t really mean anything, it’s where the stars are in the sky, and I know. I know where they’re supposed to be right now. Play a song about time, and I’ll show you how far across the sky the stars should be.”
The rabbit and the penguin looked at each other and then at the boy. The penguin smiled. He pulled a silver screwdriver from his breast pocket. “I’ll see what I can do to help inside,” he said, and walked towards the clock’s broken face.
The rabbit’s eyes didn’t sparkle now. His cape was gone and his top hat was dusty and dirty. “I don’t think I know how,” he said.
“Yes, you do,” said the boy. “Look at this tower. You played it down, you must be able to play it up again. Just compose some new magic.”
The rabbit stood silent for some time. Then he straightened his hat and turned to the boy. In the dark, the boy thought he saw him wink.
Then he held up his violin and began to play again, a high fast rhythm that filled the whole night, right up to the moon. And the boy stood beside him, pointing out the map in the sky.
And though the boy always insisted it was the best magic the rabbit had ever done, putting back the tower and restarting time, the rabbit always shook his head.
“I only intended to bring down the moon,” he would say.
How much of it was the rabbit’s magic, how much the penguin’s silver screwdriver, or how much the faith of the boy, none of them knew.
But when the sun crossed the sky in the morning, the hands of the big clock tower marked its passing, while away on the sand dunes, three sets of footprints marched towards the sea. For when it came time for the boy to leave, the rabbit and the penguin agreed.
“He is not,” they said, “an ordinary boy.”