Magic words.

Houdini portraitI have always been a fan of magic. When I was young, I would practice card tricks and little sleight of hand tricks. I bought little magic kits with my allowance money. When I was ten, I received a book of coin magic from an older cousin—a book I still have. I also remember being particularly fascinated with Harry Houdini, though he was more of an escape artist than a magician. I must have checked out dozens of books from the library that had to do with his life. I even did a few school projects about him—as many as I could get away with, at least.

So naturally, now that I’m all grown up, I just had to write a story about a magician.

Of the stories I’ve completed so far, I believe this is probably my best one. It certainly has the best ending of any of them. The perfect ending for a short story, in my opinion—both conclusive and open-ended. If I wanted to, I could pick the story up right where it leaves off. If I decided to never touch the story again, it would never feel incomplete.

Interestingly enough, the story was born when I was writing the first draft of a novel. In it, one of the characters sits on the steps of a coffee shop, waiting outside for the owner to come open up the shop for the day. As she waits, she is reading a book by an author she admires, who happens to be another character in the story that factors in much later on. I gave the book a name and, through my narrator whom I love so much, explained to the reader that it was about a magician whose life was forever changed after a chance encounter with a stranger. This, of course, was a reference to something that would later happen in the novel itself; however, I couldn’t help but find myself enthralled with the premise.

It had a main character. It had a plot. It had a title. All I had to do was fill in the gaps. So I did. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, it turned out rather marvelously.

This story, entitled Something Darker, is about a street illusionist in the late 1800’s who is taken under the wing of a mysterious man with seemingly endless capital and a hidden agenda. As the man grooms him to be a true stage magician, the illusionist gets a taste of real power when he realizes that his new show does not employ simple tricks or illusions for its effects; he is using real magic.

How fun.

Why set it in the 19th century? Simple. Magic just doesn’t have the same hold on us anymore. We are a society that has to know everything. We don’t really have room for wonder in our schedules. Besides, today’s magicians rely just as much on camera tricks as they do real, honest illusions (a nice oxymoron).

To put it simply, magic just isn’t all that magical anymore.

However, at that time, magicians were gods of the stage. They held their audiences in the palm of their hands without the aid of computer graphics or grand camera movements. What you saw was what you saw, and what you saw left you breathless. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture. I wanted to show that awe and that wonder … as well as what happens when it all comes crashing down.

Here’s a small excerpt from my favorite part of the story—naturally, the part where everything goes horribly wrong:

The curtain came down, and the air was filled with a silent stillness. There was no applause, no cheering—nothing but the restless quiet of stunned silence. I waited there behind the curtain for some sign of reaction, but none ever came. After several minutes of waiting, I retreated to the theatre’s dressing room. Had I stayed there just a moment longer, I would have heard the beginnings of the riot.

I have decided that this will be the first story I submit for publication. Right now, I am combing through a list of literary magazines and journals that I found online, trying to find the best possible fit for it.

This story was a joy to write. Hopefully, it will be a joy to read as well.

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About [rlh]

Ryan L. Haddock is an aspiring writer, emphasis on the "aspiring." He mostly writes short stories, but that is only because he doesn't seem to have the attention span necessary to write a novel. At least, not yet. He is also a husband and a father . . . yet he is still struggling valiantly against the notion that he has to grow up. View all posts by [rlh]

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