Write On!

The Magician’s Last Trick

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm

by Tara Wiley
Grandolfi the Magician threw back the floor-to-ceiling velvet brocade curtains at precisely 2:00 p.m., flooding his workshop with bright afternoon sunlight. He looked out towards the horizon, and smiled to see billowing cumulonimbus clouds rolling in from the east. He loved stormy weather; people were more willing to suspend reality when enveloped in the thick barometric pressure of a thunderstorm. Perfect for the revealing of his latest trick at tonight’s party.

A few miles down the road at Stoneship Farms, Beatrice Stoneship did not greet the horizon with the same smile. In fact, the realization of impending rain threw her into an absolute panic.

“Clarice, Clarice! Plan B! Plan B!” she cried, running down the long narrow hallway towards the servant’s quarters. She gripped a handful of layered petticoat and skirt, hiking the fabric up to allow for a full sprint. The men had already begun to set up the intricate party tents outside. She had barked at them earlier for their slow pace; now she thanked the stars there was not more to take down. Perhaps they had known the storm was coming.

Clarice had heard her mistress, in fact, had anticipated this call already, and was standing at the Announcement Apparatus awaiting the signal. By the time Beatrice arrived, breathless, the gears were already turning. Steam poured from a portal at the top of the intricate machine as Clarice turned lettered knobs to spell out Plan B. Then, with all their might, the two pulled hard on the large copper lever at the end of the apparatus. A long, loud whistle came from deep within the machine, bellowing up, up, and out, through the chimney stack and above the house, where steam puffed in gray plumes across the plantation acreage, spelling out in the sky “Plan B” large enough for all the hired help to see. The Readers stopped their work at the sound of the whistle, scanned the announcement, and quickly spread the word. The boy’s party would take place inside the practice ring by the stables.

Man and machine choreographed the transformation of the practice ring into a glorious party arena. The Streamer churned out lengths of thick satin ribbon in every color of the rainbow, which the men then draped from one side of the arena to the other. Steamrollers smoothed over the horse-trampled dirt, then were driven back, dragging long heavy sheets of burlap, staked solidly into the dirt around all sides. Bright white chairs were arranged in rows for the magic show. Caterers spent hours piling impossibly high towers of food on long tables – all of the boy’s favorites: roast pig, buttered potatoes, pastries, and cakes. Not a vegetable to be seen, but the fruit, oh the fruit!

Flown in from the Florida coastline on chartered zeppelins, the boy’s obsession with citrus was met with mounds of oranges and grapefruit, some left whole with intricate carvings in the skin, others quartered or sectioned or combined into bowls of fruit salad. The aroma was mouthwatering when one walked near, but the horse-and-straw smell was still overwhelming in other parts of the arena. Gregor, the head servant, called for the Purifier.

The Purifier was a glorious contraption, as pleasing to the sight as the scents it produced were to smell.  The size of a small carriage, its outer casing was made of pure copper pounded so thin one could see the inner workings as though looking through a shimmering golden glass. Pressurizing units drew air in, sending it through a series of bellows fitted with gleaming copper filters. The workers then took slices of the citrus fruit and layered them onto trays at the front of the machine, where the purified air blew across them into the arena.

All this time, Beatrice Stoneship scurried back and forth from the arena to the spacious mansion she called home, barking orders to servants everywhere she went. Each time she made the trip to the arena to oversee the transformation, she returned home a bit more disheveled both in body and spirit. The wind was picking up, the clouds rolling in. She hoped it would not deter the guests. Why did birthday parties always have to be so stressful?

She just wanted the best for her son Andrew. When scurrying finally gave way to the hour of beautification necessary to give her the appearance of calm, she allowed her mind to wander a bit to this beloved child. He, also, was submitting to a thorough scrubbing before getting stuffed into his smartest little suit.

As her only child, Andrew was the apple of his mother’s eye. She and her father spared no expense to give their son the best in everything: education, horses, travel, toys. Spoiled rotten might ring true, but Beatrice instead chose to believe she was spoiling her son sweet. All of these activities ate into the time she might get to spend with him, but she comforted herself with the thought of all of his opportunities.

Closing her eyes for a moment as a servant brushed her blonde hair into submission, Beatrice pictured her son in birthdays past. Each year, she had wished she could suspend him at that age. He was growing so fast!

As Beatrice daydreamed, Grandolfi was setting up his equipment in the arena. He marveled at the transformation. Not a hint of horse was left in the place. One would think the entire building had been made simply for this occasion. It was nearly – magical. The perfect setting for his unveiling (or, he thought to himself with a smile, perhaps it would be better said his veiling).

Grandolfi enjoyed his position as a premier magician. After years of working street corners and small gigs, his reputation earned him the ability to pick and choose only the best events with the highest commissions.

More money for less hours gave Grandolfi time to tinker in his beloved workshop. Being somewhat nocturnal, his workday usually began around noon with a stiff cup of espresso and a brief perusal of the social pages in the local newspaper, looking for any new jobs or commentary on recent ones. Then he was off to tinker with his gadgets and gears, constantly testing out gizmos for new tricks. The only drawback of being a premier magician was the ever-growing expectation for more elaborate, space and death-defying tricks.

He came across his latest invention quite by accident. He was actually not working on a trick at all, but was doing a favor for his assistant Iris. She had come bursting into his workshop two afternoons before, her green eyes swimming in tears.

“My father’s best Envisioner! I broke it somehow. If he finds out – he didn’t even know I borrowed it – oh, Olfi, please, tell me you can fix it!” She was all sputters and gasps as she thrust the holographic camera onto his table and herself into his arms. He almost forgot to return the embrace as he struggled with an appropriate response.

Theirs was a complicated relationship. Grandolfi was only ten years Iris’ senior, yet the harshness of his own life experiences, so deeply etched into his angular features, seemed to thrust a full generation between them. Employer, mentor, friend, lover; they seemed to tumble through these roles at a dizzying rate. Some days Grandolfi truly had to think hard to remember where they stood. But on this day, he simply reached for what she needed: comfort and rescue.

“Sweet Iris,” he murmured as he stroked her thick black waves of hair. “My dear, you know I will do anything for you. Dry your tears, get us some coffee, and we will see what magic I can do.”

The sun streaked across his worn worktable, descended beneath the horizon, and rose again, while Grandolfi lost himself in his work. The Envisioner was a most complex machine, and the mechanisms were small and challenging for his large hands to manipulate. More than once, he threw wrenches across the room in frustration. More than once, the gasp and longing of Iris, who quietly stood and worked by him as dedicated as a surgeon’s nurse, kept him going.

Finally, the magician fashioned a gear from his own collection of spare parts, set the housing back in place, and propped the Envisioner on a makeshift tripod to test its worthiness. He turned a few dials and waited for the indicator to develop a warm glow. Looking carefully through the lens, he focused the camera at his favorite espresso mug, and pressed the shutter release.

An image should have been captured, then set to playback as a holographic image wherever the camera was later aimed.

What happened instead was astounding. Iris shrieked in disbelief – what had happened to her father’s prized possession? – while Grandolfi danced around the workshop with the giddiness of a schoolboy. Already his mind was crafting the presentation of such a trick.

Where once sturdy cream ceramic enveloped steaming espresso now stood a holographic image, not a captured image showing the reflection of the cup, but the actual cup itself, replaced by the holographic image!

He’d had only twenty-four hours before the Stoneship boy’s birthday party to play with the new-old contraption. The party would provide nearly a hundred observers for this latest feat. He wanted to be sure it wowed. As he set up his props, he kept the machine under a velvet cloth near the back of the stage.

The gaggle of wealthy families began to arrive, carriage by carriage, filling the arena with satin, lace, and laughter. Strolling musicians played requests. Children played indoor versions of various carnival games and ate until they were nearly sick.

7 p.m. arrived with a loud announcement for all to find their seats for the magic show. Grandolfi and Iris performed in perfect synchronization, astounding and delighting the guests with their performance. Items appeared, disappeared, reappeared. Birds flew. Iris survived impossible abuse from Grandolfi’s hand: swords, fire, more. Grandolfi survived the same.

Andrew Stoneship, the birthday boy, watched in delight from a small throne on the stage.

To Grandolfi, it was all a dream, just a prelude to the ultimate moment, the finale. He heard his voice rising and falling with his prepared script –

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, imagine with me. Touch your chair, your parasol, ladies; hold your watch, gentlemen; children, consider the lollipops in their sticky splendor. Solid matter under your fingertips, yes?

“Consider this beautiful orange in my hand, with its masterfully carved flesh. Andrew, hold it. It is real, yes? As real as any orange you have ever treasured?” The boy tossed the orange from hand to hand, grinned with anticipation, and handed it back to the magician.

“This very orange, in a week, would no longer be beautiful, would it? A shriveled skin, rotting flesh. It is a work of art, but not one that could be savored for a lifetime, no? But, what if – what if this very item could be treasured as a vision of itself, forever? Not a picture, not an image of it, but the very item, transformed? Would you like to keep this orange forever, Andrew? Yes?

“Place this orange, Andrew, on the pedestal here. Yes, right on the black silk square. Now, back to your throne, son, while I complete this miraculous transformation.”

Grandolfi took out the Envisioner. He had reconstructed the outer shell to make it appear to be an entirely different machine.  He covered the intricate collection of levers and gears in gold flake. The only recognizable items were the lens and the bulb one pressed to take an impression.

He aimed the lens at the orange while Iris distracted the crowd with an elaborate dance. He held the bulb in his hand, held his breath. He could hear the crowd still with anticipation.

Andrew Stoneship smirked. He could see the lens. He knew it was just an Envisioner,  like any other Envisioner, surely. He would get in on this trick. He watched carefully.

Grandolfi’s hand began to press into the rubber bulb.

Andrew leapt in front of the lens, and in that instant, began to shimmer.

Iris’ scream of horror was the first signal to the crowd that something had gone horribly wrong.

Beatrice Stoneship leapt from her seat, rushed towards her boy who wasn’t, tried to grab him, but her hand went right through the holographic image. She whirled to face the magician, screaming, “Bring him back! Bring him back!”

But in that moment of shock and confusion, Grandolfi had reacted with a performer’s improvisational skill. In the blink of an eye, he, Iris, and his mysterious machine had disappeared from the arena.

They left behind a scene of chaos and confusion, at the center of which stood a ghostlike figure which used to be Andrew Stoneship, forever suspended at eight years of age.

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  1. Tara. You really have an interesting mind. I’m learning more about you through this than I ever thought I would! 😉 my only thought on this story is that it needs to be even longer. I want to lose myself in this freaky little world 🙂 I liked it very much, I’ll have to investigate this steam punk thing…

  2. Just loved it, such an intriguing story, I want to know more 🙂

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