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The Rules of Magic
Wendy was three olives into her second martini when she lost track of the Amazing Alistair’s turtledove. The dove was brown and gray and small enough that he could almost, but not quite, palm it in his hand. Wendy wasn’t a fan of animal tricks. The little furballs were unpredictable and had a way of doing unpredictable things--like dying--at the worst possible moment.
Alistair had passed a scarf over the dove and the dove had vanished. Poof. Gone. It wasn’t up his sleeve. It hadn’t gone into one of his pockets. He was working with an ordinary round table. It didn’t conceal any trap doors or hidden compartments. Alistair hadn’t even taken off his hat. The bird had simply vanished.
The audience, mostly heavyset tourists from the Midwest, yawned indifferently and waited for the big reveal. Wendy nodded to the bartender for a refill and waited for Alistair to finish his set.
“The trick with the bird,” Wendy said, “how did you do that?”
Alistair shed his black coat and hat. “A true magician never reveals--”
“Skip it, bucko. I know every pass, shuffle, prop, and illusion this side of the Catskills. I know them better than you do. I’d be headlining my own act except--”
“You’re an assistant,” Alistair said.
Wendy hated the term. Magic was a stage show. There were leads, there were supporting players, but they were all working towards the same end: collecting a paycheck. If they did their jobs well, the audience remembered the illusion, not the stage personas who created it.
“It’s a basic Schubert pass with a Mallory finish,” Alistair said. He produced a scarf from his breast pocket and began working through the steps, using a navel orange in place of his pigeon, but he worked the steps in the wrong order and ended up with two oranges on his makeup table instead of none.
“A Schubert pass works like this.” Wendy palmed an orange, worked a little razzle dazzle, and let it drop into her purse.
“Right,” Alistair said. “Exactly so.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?” Wendy worked the second orange through a Mallory finish. If she had know they were going to work with oranges, she would have planned ahead and brought a bottle of vodka. They could have had screwdrivers.
“That’s exactly what I did.”
“Sure,” Wendy said, “so where’s the bird?”
“You made your bird disappear. You made a bouquet of white flowers re-appear. So what happened to your bird?”
Alistair nodded. “It flew south. It does that this time of year. It’s all very sad.”
“It wasn’t a trick,” Wendy said. “It was magic: you made a dove disappear. I want to learn.”
“Ah,” Alistair said. “Is there a turtledove epidemic that you need to eradicate for some as yet unspecified reason? Sure, I could teach you: it was a Schubert pass with a Mallory finish. Or something similar. But there are rules. And rule number one says--”
“A true magician never reveals his secrets,” Wendy said.
“So, we’re in agreement, then, on the rules.” Alistair packed up his trunk and Wendy knew she’d never see him again. They were both working the circuit, but he’d contrive to show up just after she’d cleared out or he’d swap billings with the other prestidigitators and escape artists on the tour.
“Just answer me one question and I’ll forget the whole thing,” Wendy said. “You made a dove vanish, that was real magic, the kind the rest of us only dream of . . . so why are you working two-bit clubs?”
“There are rules,” Alistair said. “Rule number one we’ve discussed. Rules two through fifty-seven . . .” He shrugged and that was it.
Wendy never saw him again. But she heard stories. Whispers. Alistair had sawn a woman from Decatur in half and hadn’t used a prop box. He caught a bullet with his teeth in Sioux City. He performed the Sands of the Nile using diet Coke and three packets of Splenda.
Wendy retired her assistant’s act and started headlining. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shown her the secret. It was enough to know that there was real magic out there. She intended to find it.
The quick pacing and offhand tone followed by a a gaping space where the twistending belongs are a kind of parlor trick turned magic too.
This is a little reminiscent of Houdini who spent the last decade of his life trying to find a legitimate magic-doer. He searched through fortunetellers and fakes, never finding what he was looking far. Meeting the genuine article is an interesting idea and gives a good foundation to this interesting take on magic. Michele Dutcher
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