“Pick a card, any card.” I say to the 10-year-old girl in front of me, while fanning out a deck of face-down cards in front of her. Her hand drifts across the cards, searching for the one she prefers. She picks one out from near the end of the deck and pulls it out.
“Can I look at it?” She asks me.
I reply with a smile, “Please do, memorize it for me. Let me know when you have it, and don’t let me see it.”
She turns the card over and stares at it for a few moments, committing the card to her memory. “I’ve got it!” She declares.
“Perfect, put it right here at the top of the deck.” She carefully plants the card where I asked and I go to work shuffling the deck, making big, exaggerated shuffles and trying to be as entertaining as possible. I pull out one of the cards and proudly present it to her. “Is this your card?”
The smile she had melted into a look of confusion. She stammers a little and says, “Oh, that’s not it.”
I feign my own look of confusion. “Oh dear, my mistake.” I pull out another card and ask again more reserved, “Is this your card?”
She shakes her head, “I’m sorry, it’s still not.” I can tell she’s starting to feel embarrassed for me.
I start patting my various pockets. “I must have misplaced it, would you mind checking your pant pockets for me?” I ask her.
She looks perplexed, but she indulges my request. She reaches into her left pocket, and pulls out empty-handed, then into the right. Her eyebrows raise as her hand recognizes something that wasn’t there before. She slips her hand out, and she’s holding a card!
I question her in a knowing tone, “Ah, is that your card?”
She flips it over, and forms a huge grin before shouting excitedly, “It is, that is my card! Daddy, look!” and she holds it towards her father, who was standing a few feet behind her.
The man smiles back at her and affirms, “I see it, that was cool!
The girl turns back towards me and hands me back my card. “That was awesome, thank you mister.”
“Of course.” I reply. I take the card and flip my hand over, then turn it face up again. I’ve made the card disappear and a small chocolate is in its place. “For you.”
Her eyes go a little wider and she gasps. “Wow, thank you!” she grabs it out of my hand and steps back to join her father’s side. Her father drops a ten in my tip bucket, we give each other a nod and a smile, and then they go on their way down the city sidewalk.
That was a good showing, I think to myself. At this moment I feel a vibration in my pant pocket. I pull out my phone and see I have a call from my roommate. “What’s up Derek?” I ask after accepting the call.
“Hey Marvin, I’m at a garage sale and found a chest full of magician-looking stuff here, thought they might make good props for one of your stage shows.”
“Oh cool, how much do they want for the stuff?”
He mumbles to someone standing near him for a second and then says, “She says only $30 for the lot.”
“That’s not too bad, can you buy it for me and I’ll pay you back tonight?”
“Will do, I’ll be gone when you get home, just leave it on my dresser.” I tell him thanks but he’s already hung up on me. Derek makes his living reselling things he finds at yard sales, storage auctions, and the like. He’s always in a hurry to get to the next one before the good stuff is gone.
I spend a few more hours doing street magic, get enough tips to make a decent dent in my rent payment, then make the half hour bicycle ride back to my place.
I unlock the door to our apartment and step in. I take in the view of home; peeling wallpaper, cheap appliances in the kitchen, stained beige carpet that should have been replaced five years ago, craigslist furniture. But it was what two struggling artists and a cheapskate could afford in the city. Ben, the other struggling artist, had dozed off on the couch while some drama played on the TV. I prop my bike up against the wall and walk over to my room. I’m ready to get out of my get-up. As the door squeaks open I see something new has appeared on my bed. A decent-sized chest, maybe just small enough to tuck under one arm, was resting on my mattress. I walk up to it; it’s wood, dyed a dark black, with bright silver metal bands adorning it. Some swirling designs are etched into the wood and metal.
This is actually pretty cool, this will go great in a show, I think. I undo the latches and pry it open. This stuff looks pretty cool too. I pull out an old candelabra, some weird looking crystals, an amulet adorned with a large gray stone, a nondescript dark silver ring. I lay everything on the mattress next to the chest as I rummage through it. The last item is a book at the bottom of the chest. I pick it up, no title printed on it, bound in a dark brown leather. Must be a journal of some sort.
“Woah, whatcha looking at?” I turn around to see Ben standing in the doorway. I never shut the door so he must have saw as he walked past.
I hold up the book and reply, “Derek found this stuff at a sale, I think I might use it in an act.”
“Mind if I take a look at it?”
“Be my guest.” He walks up next to me and grabs the book out of my hand. “How did your audition go today?” I ask him.
He scans to take a look at everything I’ve laid out and then replies nonchalantly, “They said they didn’t think I had the range for the part.”
I laugh and say, “Car dealership commercials are known for their breadth of emotion.” I pick up the amulet and slip it over my head. Then I pick up the ring and slide it onto my left ring finger “Does this complete my look?”
Ben glances over at me and says with a bit of sarcasm, “You finally look like a real master magician.” He flips through a couple pages of the journal and says. “You found some real weird occult stuff, this thing is full of spells.”
I look back at him while fiddling with one of the crystals. “Dude, really, it’s a spellbook? That’s hilarious.”
He points at the page he’s looking at. “A lot of them have pictures of hand movements to do for them. This one is a spell of long-range communication. You ready?”
I sit down on the edge of the bed and rest my chin on my hand. “Blow me away.”
Ben shifts the book to balance on one hand and attempts to replicate the movements in the book. It looks like very stilted sign language. He finishes with no effect. With another dose of sarcasm he whines, “Dang, it didn’t work. I’m so surprised.”
“Maybe you just don’t have the gift.” I tell him and chuckle. “Let me give this a go.” He faces the book towards me so I can see the page. I stand so I can do a proper job. I shift the crystal I’m holding to my right hand to use my left hand for the gestures. Some of them are pretty simple, making a ‘C’ with my hand or a closed fist. Some of them have my fingers sprawl out at weird angles that are a little uncomfortable. I finish and as expected I see nothing happens.
“Holy shit.” Ben says softly. He is wide eyed and pointing. I follow his finger back to my right hand, where the crystal I was holding was glowing a deep blue. It looks as if the dark clouds of a thunderstorm are rolling through it.
“Holy shit!” I repeat his saying with a more appropriate amount of enthusiasm. I bring my hand up to take a closer look at it. As it passes in front of the pendant on the amulet the gray stone glows bright white and shines a light at the crystal, and an image is suddenly hovering in the air between Ben and me. I find myself staring into another man’s face, floating as a hologram a few feet in front of me.
The face looks startled, and exclaims. “What the…Who is this?!”
“What do you mean ‘who is this?’ Who are you?!” I exclaim back.
The man seems to have some sort of realization pass over him, then a look of fear materializes. “You hid your magic before casting this spell didn’t you?”
I reply, still exasperated. “What does that even mean?”
The man’s face becomes very serious, and he says, “You need to listen to me, they’ll be coming for you, what city are you in?”
Ben finally says something after watching in wonder. “What, don’t tell him!”
The man pauses for a second, thinking, then instructs them. “Go to Dearborn and Van Buren, you’ll see a dark red, unmarked door. I’ll meet you there, go as fast as you can. Run!” With that the hologram disappeared, the stone on the amulet returned to gray, the crystal again became clear.
I can’t believe that just happened, I’ve got to be on drugs. But I see Ben clear as day, we’re both stone-cold sober, and he’s just as in awe as I am. “He said Dearborn and Van Buren right?” I ask Ben to confirm.
“You’re not actually going to go meet him are you?”
“He said someone was coming for us!”
“It’s probably him!”
I take a deep breath in, try to rationalize what just happened, what we need to do. “Look, we need to act fast. My gut is saying we go meet this guy. I want you to come with me, that way you’re not waiting around if something does come here, and we’ll be better off if we can have each other’s backs, no matter what.”
Ben fidgets, he’s still processing himself. “Alright, let’s go. We’ll have each other’s backs. Come on, we’ll take my bike.” He tosses the spellbook over to me. I pack it and everything else back into the chest and exit my room. Ben grabs his keys, we book it downstairs to the street level. He makes it to his motorcycle first and tosses me a helmet. I make sure I keep a good grip on the chest with one hand, hold onto his waist with the other to keep steady. Ben peels out and we make our way to the mysterious red door.