Geoff looked in dismay at the movie listings posted behind the sullen cashiers. Everything was sold out until 9:00, almost two hours from now. "Great," he muttered to himself. He glowered at the theater doors, tail twitching angrily. So, should he just hang out for a while, or go home and forget about a movie for tonight? The theater was part of a newly expanded mall, so he decided to at least wander around a bit before making a final decision.

After wasting a little time in the multi-purpose music/book/video/computer game/etc. shop, the bored wolf headed next door to the sporting goods store. He was the kind of guy who could spend hours in a place like that, contemplating taking up any of a dozen sports as be browsed through the equipment, but never actually buying anything. Working his way toward the back of the store, where it opened into the interior of the mall, he quickly grew tired of the mainstream sports and looked for more obscure pursuits. Hmm... rollerblading could be a good workout. Hmm... kayaking could make for some interesting weekends. Hmm... he'd been meaning to get a set of weights for a while now.

And so it went, until he'd worked his way through most of the store and was heading back toward the front. As he passed through the boating section (hmm... waterskiing would impress the babes), a bright display caught his eye. "SILV - the ultimate safety gear" shrilled the sign in bright red type. Below that, in smaller letters, was a notice that read, "Self-Inflating Life Vest. PLEASE do not touch. Ask for assistance."

He'd never been able to resist things he wasn't supposed to touch, so he stopped at the table and looked the items over. They appeared to be some kind of life vest, except they were made of a shiny orange latex, and were flat and limp. Curious, he picked up the display model and looked it over, in case he decided to take up waterskiing, or kayaking, or falling off logs, or whatever. He couldn't understand how it was supposed to work, so he slipped it over his head. Looking down at his chest, he finally noticed a small red plastic handle that had been covered by one of the straps, and a sticker that read "pull to inflate."

"Aha!" he said in triumph, and gave the handle a satisfied yank. Nothing happened for a second, and he was about to pull the vest off when it suddenly clamped down firmly on his torso. With a faint squeaking, the vest quickly expanded, but not the way he'd expected. Instead it somehow spread itself out, completely covering him in bright orange rubber from the neck down. He gasped in shock, and then found that he couldn't stop. He kept inhaling and inhaling, faster and faster. His chest and stomach began swelling, inflating, and within a few seconds his arms and legs were growing as well. His ballooning torso quickly engulfed his swollen limbs, and within 10 seconds he had become a big orange sphere, with just his uninflated head, hands, and feet sticking out. He could also feel his tail thrashing helplessly behind him. He rocked back and forth a little, squeaking gently, too shocked to think.

He heard hurried footsteps rushing up behind him, and then a voice almost in his ear cried, "I can't believe it! Don't you know how to read? I mean, really!" Keeping up a constant stream of chatter, a pudgy rabbit wearing a "Sporty Morty's" vest came into view, glaring at him disapprovingly. He broke into the steady flow of words with a harsh, "What the hell happened to me?"

The rabbit, whose name tag read simply "Ed," thumped on Geoff's side a few times, producing a weird hollow echo that he found most disturbing. "Well, you ignored the sign and tried out one of the S.I.L.V. units, of course. Weren't you paying attention?"

"I mean what happened to me, you moron? I'm a ball, fer chrissakes!"

"Technically you're more of a balloon right now, sir. The Self-Inflating Life Vest is the ultimate in safety gear for all manner of water sports and emergency situations." His eyes began to glaze over as he slipped into the sales pitch. "Sturdy, rugged, puncture-proof, and compact, the S.I.L.V. deploys in seconds and renders the wearer..."

"Shut up for a minute!" Geoff interrupted. "The damn thing didn't self-inflate, it inflated me!"

"Of course it did, sir. You pulled the cord and inflated yourself. It is a self-inflating vest, after all."

"Well, how the hell was I supposed to know it did that?"

"It's perfectly clear from the name, sir. Need I remind you that had you obeyed the sign, I would have been happy to explain it to you fully." He paused for a moment and looked a bit embarrassed. "Though I do have to admit, the phrasing has caused a little confusion. Perhaps we shouldn't leave a display model out like that."

"You're goddamned right you shouldn't, you little rodent! Now get me out of this so I can kick your ass and then sue it off!"

Ed looked thoughtful for a moment. "The occasional illiterate customer notwithstanding, it's still very useful to have a display model out. I think I can solve both our problems. Well, mine, anyway." He opened box on the table and pulled out a second vest. "This is the cold-weather model, for more extreme conditions," he explained, placing the vest over Geoff's head.

His eyes widened. "What the hell are you doing? Get me out of here, dammit! I'll eat you and your whole family!" He wobbled back and forth a bit with emotion, but that was about all he could do.

"Just a moment, Sir," said Ed, and gave the handle a tug, sending another layer of bright orange latex to spread out over Geoff's spherical body. This time, however, it also engulfed his head, pressing his ears flat and turning his head into a featureless orange blob. Featureless, that is, except for a pair of dark-tinted lenses that covered his eyes, and a black triangular patch at the tip of his nose. He tried to continue his tirade, but found himself unable to make anything louder than a very muffled grunt. The double-layer of rubber he was encased in also made it nearly impossible to twitch his fingers. He could only glare angrily, until he realized that Ed couldn't even seen his eyes through the lenses.

"Ah, perfect!" the rabbit said, stepped back to admire the big round ball that was Geoff. "This is just perfect! We can show off the product without worrying about anyone getting themselves into trouble. Well, anyone else that is," he added with a snicker. "Don't worry about air, by the way. The suit will filter it from its surroundings and provide you with all you need. As for food, the company actually found that ballooned users don't require much. You could last for over a month lost at sea, for example."

He easily hoisted the orange balloon onto the table, bracing it in place with a careful arrangement of boxes. "Lovely!" he said to himself. Then, to Geoff, he said, "Relax, the sale only lasts another week. Of course, I'm not sure I can let you out of there without risking my own safety. I'll see if I can figure something out by then. In the meantime, enjoy your new job. And by the way, rabbits are lagomorphs, you airhead." Ed walked off chuckling to himself, not looking back.