The kids loved the card tricks, the floating wand and they went crazy over the bunny coming out of the hat. The parents grew bored and returned to the house while the kids stayed. “More, more, more,” they yelled.

“All right, kids. All right,” Hal the magician said. “One last one.”

He leaned forward, peeked around the side of the home to make sure the parents were gone. As the hyperactive kids cheered, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold necklace. The chain was skinny, hardly noticeable but the pendant was thick and it shined bright with help from the sun. But Hal disguised it all with some showmanship, to distract the kids from what he was doing, up until he slickly placed it around his neck.

The first time he had tried this was in his bathroom; his reflection had disappeared in the mirror but he could still see himself if he looked down. No matter, this was the greatest discovery, not only in the magician community, but the history of the world.

The kids didn’t know it, but this was a trial run before he performed the greatest show on Earth this coming weekend, The Disappearing Man.

He stopped the nonsensical hand movement and prepared to show them the trick. “Don’t be afraid, children.” Some of the eight-year-olds scoffed at the implication.

Then, he began. “Ala Kazaam, Ala Kazoo, watch me disappear right in front of you.” Then, under his breath, he whispered, “Fade.”

The pendant dangling from his neck shined and vibrated; he felt it, saw the light bounce off him and spread across the backyard. The kids had no change of expression as their little faces glowed gold. Then, his body convulsed, that part got their attention. And he forgot how much it’d pained his chest in the beginning; the throbbing, the tightness, like the pendant was digging into his skin, his soul, trying to merge with his heart. And perhaps, that’s what it was doing, he didn’t fully understand it, yet. But he survived the other seven times. He’d survive it now. All for the glory of entertainment. The joy of seeing the amused, confused, shocked faces of his audience. All for the trick. It was worth killing for, so it was worth dying for, as well.

But he was fine, he’d gotten through another transformation and blended within the world. Camouflaged with the air. The young kids didn’t know how to react, some screamed and ran inside, others stood and cried. A few walked toward him with awe, trying to feel around, actively searching if he were still there.

Before the parents could come outside to investigate the noise, he grabbed his pack from the wall and it, too, disappeared with him. Then, he fled the backyard and the home until he was safe in his apartment.

When Hal pulled the necklace off, the glowing had stopped and he became visible, again. His heart was pounding and his adrenaline continued to rise. Not from the transformation, no-no, he was used to that now, but the rush he got from presenting the trick to an audience. Adults, kids, didn’t matter, the reaction was everything to him. He lived for that. Obsessed over the clout that’d follow once he performed in front of the world. This was his one chance, his one shot to make something of his mediocre career as a magician’s assistant. He’d spent all of his money to reserve this spot and naming the event “The Disappearing Man” would likely gather a large audience with a massive media presence. From card and hat tricks to invisibility. It wasn’t tricks anymore, not magic, but dark magic. Sorcery. Whatever. I’d be the greatest in the world once they witness.

The walls of his home were still riddled with maps of the amazon rainforest he’d visited a week ago. Barely a speck of the drywall in sight. Parts of it were newspaper clippings of his upcoming event in two days. He didn’t sleep, didn’t eat much, only prepped. He’d always been hailed as a decent trickster but a terrible showman. No way could he just walk out there and disappear. There had to be build up, anticipation. So, he worked on that for the rest of the evening, well into the early morning until he passed out on the sofa. 

He was never much of a coffee drinker, but Hal had consumed more of it this week than his entire life. Trying so hard, so desperately to keep from sleeping, from dreaming. The nightmares from his trip would haunt him for the rest of his days. And once his eyes closed, he’d be thrown back in the amazon with his team.

He didn’t have the energy to get up and make a cup, but before he dozed into a deep slumber, a knock at the door saved him from that hell. He jumped from the sofa; panting, sweating, trying to push that horrific memory out of his mind, and waddled over to the peephole, looking through. After seeing the visitor, he dropped his head and sighed. Perhaps he should’ve stayed in the dream. But he couldn’t just not answer it, that’d be too suspicious. Best deal with it now, get it out of the way and be free to move on to better things; the event. So, he fixed his face in a gloomy way and opened the door. “Mrs. Donovan,” he greeted the old lady on the other side.

She mirrored that same expression as he did and raised her arms for a hug.

They embraced. Longer than usual. And when they released, he remained in the doorway, blocking a path into his home. “I’m so sorry.” His eyes watered up. If this magician thing didn’t work out, the man had a knack for acting.

Mrs. Donovan sniffled and grabbed a tissue from her purse, wiping her face, just staring at him.

He broke the silence. “I would’ve come by sooner, but,” he stammered. “But I—I didn’t know how to face you.”

“It’s okay, dear,” she responded.

“If it weren’t for your son,” he paused to catch his breath to keep the act going. “If it weren’t for Charlie, I’d be dead somewhere by now. His friendship saved my life. I just wish I could’ve saved his.”

“He’s not dead, Hal. Just missing. We’ll find him soon. You must have faith,” she said.

Hal nodded. Once he saw that she was done, about to walk away, he retreated into the home.

“One last thing,” she mentioned. “Did you guys find what you were looking for? You, Charlie and the others? Before he left, he was so excited to explore the amazon but more to find some lost treasure. I told the boy he was chasing ghosts.” She chuckled through her misery.

But, was it misery, though? To Hal, it didn’t look like it anymore. More like disappointment and this seemed like an interrogation than anything. Maybe, he was just paranoid or anxious about the event tomorrow. Or both.

He held on to the phony performance a little longer and shook his head. “No, ma’am. We didn’t find anything. Just ghosts, like you said.”

She stood there, studying him seemed like. Then her straight, teary face lifted into a smile. “All right, Hal. Keep in touch.” She waved goodbye and walked away.

He closed the door, slammed his back into it and heaved a huge breath of relief that made him slither down to his butt. Still, that paranoia didn’t leave him until he saw her drive out of the parking lot from his living room window. But why the short visit? Does she know what happened? Does she know what he did? Impossible.

Every time he tried to focus on his upcoming event, a negative thought of Mrs. Donovan would sprout. That led to the tragic journey he and his friends had embarked on. But some good came from it. The treasure. The pendant. And he justified his actions, their sacrifice, for the sake of entertainment. It helped him move on to positive thoughts.

Hal entered the theater from the alleyway and by his request, minimal staff was present. Just a security team at the exits. It was a maze of hallways backstage, with arrows on the walls to lead him to the stage. The closer he got, the faster his heart beat, the more his clothing absorbed his sweat.

The last hallway, a short one, led to the curtains, and he peeked through and saw the most people he’d ever seen. Not an empty seat in the house.

The heartbeat continued with the sweat, but he was ready. He forced himself to follow through with this, if he backed out now, nothing would justify what he did back in the amazon.

They didn’t give him a backstage room; he didn’t need it. He had plenty of practice this past week, at home, in the bathroom, at the kids’ birthday party, and on his long walk to the theater. Passing citizens, a ghost to the world, invisible. No one knew him today. But tomorrow, everyone in the world would know his name.

“Hal The Magnificent, everyone,” an announcer introduced him to the stage.

He touched over his shirt and rubbed the pendant dangling underneath it, then took a deep breath and welcomed his future. “Here we go.”

Before he could walk through the curtains, a hand gripped his shoulder and turned him away from the stage.

First thing he saw was the rage in Mrs. Donovan’s eyes. Then, he felt a sharp pain in his belly. A throbbing that spread around his waist and up his chest. He looked away from the old woman’s eyes, and saw her hand plunged into him, the handle of a knife stopping her from digging deeper.

In the background, he heard a thunderous applause and the announcer said his name again. But that sound faded away as Mrs. Donovan’s voice took control.

“They found my boy, Hal. Barely held together. Clinging to life. And with his last breath, he told the authorities what happened out there. What you did to him and the others.” Her rage descended into sorrow as tears flooded her eyes and fell down her cheeks. “You took the only family I had left in the world. And for what? A toy.”

He wanted, so badly, to tell her that it was more than a toy. It was actual treasure. Something that’d change the world forever. But only blood filled his mouth when he opened it. Everything was garbled.

She twisted the blade and he groaned, wanting to fall, but the woman held him up with the knife. She had unnatural strength for her age. “I couldn’t even say goodbye. He didn’t say goodbye.”

Then, she released her grip on the knife and he fell with it still plunged into his belly. She walked over him, reached under his shirt and snatched the pendant off his chest.

“You don’t deserve this.” Then, she put the pendant in her purse and spat on him before she walked away.

The backstage ceiling transitioned into the forest. The Amazon. And in his dying moments, he was thrust into that nightmare that he’d been forced to relive every night since it’d happened.

Hal, Charlie, and three others trekked into the amazon on a six-day trip after Charlie discovered a map of treasure leading to ancient sorcery. Hal, Charlie’s apprentice, followed along, and their three friends tagged along. Took them three days through rugged terrain and deadly rapids that took two of their friends out before they found the cave that housed the special pendant. It revealed that whoever touched it, would be invisible to the eye. Charlie’s obsession with the treasure was superseded by Hal’s greed. Not for money, but power. The power to entertain. He saw that path with the pendant. But with Charlie alive, he would only be the helper, the unknown apprentice. So, he pushed his best friend off the cliff of the cave into the roaring rapids. And he bludgeoned the other friend with a rock until he stopped moving. He, too, followed Charlie off the cliff into the river.

Hal’s eyes were still open when that nightmare ended. People all around him, wondering what had happened, calling for help, but it was too late. Hal felt himself fading away.  

© 2021 M. Sydnor Jr.

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