Samual cringed as Rory called out from the stage while he whipped his cape around and a pigeon flew from the outstretched hand. The audience’s cheering diminished and Samual thought, “Please let them realize how fake these tricks are.” His shoulders slumped when everyone around him erupted into applause. And cheering.
“Cheering?” This got worse each performance. Why did everyone believe they watched real magic?
Samual didn’t cheer. Onstage, Rory set the hat (The fake hat) on a small table and bowed once again. When a group of young ladies near the front sighed loud enough for those in the back to hear, Rory straightened and blew them a kiss. They giggled and pretended to catch it. Samual rolled his eyes. Girls. If he could do magic, he wouldn’t want a bunch of girls bugging him.
“Oh man. Why do I keep coming to these?”
Coins clinked as they landed on the wooden performance stage accompanied by shouts of “Huzzah” and “Another”. He envied the money that Rory made from his shows. Magic performance was better than trying to sell his vegetables at market, not that his father would agree. Samual stifled that thought as Rory (the fake magician) spoke.
“You want more?” Rory called from the stage. He stalked back and forth, arms raised. If the crowd’s cheers died down, he would lift his arms or take some other stance and elicit more shouting. Samual had grown tired of this act. He knew other Town Magician’s that would laugh at Rory’s amateurish display. In their towns, they performed great feats of magic and kept the crowd entertained. Rory didn’t perform real magic. Instead, he relied on trickery and fooling the audience.
Rory strode to the edge of the stage and the villagers drew in a collective breath waiting for the next wonder. Samual’s shoulders slumped more. He also wanted something wondrous, but magic was denied to him. Rory’s fakery made him mad and a little sad for the other villagers. They thought they were getting a real magic show but received this instead. Why didn’t anyone spot the truth? Stupid adults.
On stage, Rory’s brow creased. The adults blocked his view, so Samual craned his neck to see what caused Rory concern. A group of people huddled together, not watching the show. They appeared to be discussing something of great importance as nothing going on around them drew their attention. Samual studied their faces but didn’t recognize them. Could it be new villagers? They hadn’t gotten any new settlers in quite some time.
“And now, my next trick will astound your senses,” Rory called from onstage. It seemed he shouted at the group that continued to ignore him.
The unfamiliar face’s flicked their eyes toward the stage before returning to their conversation. Samual wondered what they were talking about that would keep them from watching the show.
Rory put the hat back on and Samual noticed that he turned to keep the false bottom hidden from the audience. “Of course he did.”
From in front of the stage, the girls cried out in their joy, making Rory smile and Samual frown. Rory held a hand up and everyone, except the group still intent on their own conversation, looked right where Rory wanted them to. Samual watched Rory’s other hand and caught him shifting some balls around to squish between his fingers.
“Every time! He could at least get better.”
“And now, I have a special trick. Something my father taught me.” The crowd shuffled and mumbled. The tricks Rory’s father taught him were favorites. Everyone admired Town Magician Vav and his ability. Now Rory raised the hand with the hidden balls in the air, but the other hand waved back and forth to attract the audience’s attention.
“What a load of crud.” Tired of the show, Samual pushed toward the side of the stage. His town deserved a good magician. A real magician. Not this fake.
No one moved out of Samual’s way as he struggled against the crowd and he received many angry glares. He didn’t stop and slipped between legs toward the stage.
When Rory clapped his hands together, Samual paused to watch. Most of the audience reacted by jumping from the noise. Rory flung his hands forward while also stepping, Samual swore he heard a separate snap, like a bow string letting loose. Before he could say anything, hundreds of balls filled the air.
While the crowd oohed and aahed, especially the pretty girls, Samual finished his traversal out of the crowd. He wondered how no one else had heard that sound under the stage. The sound of taut wires being released right when there were balls flung into the air. Rory didn’t make balls appear with magic. Instead, he set up the trick ahead of time, like the roaming gypsy magicians did.
As the crowd shouted and stomped, Samual waved his arms to get attention. When the cheering continued, and no one paid him any attention, he climbed atop a giant rock so they would notice him. He viewed the villagers as they enjoyed themselves. They seemed so happy. Would they still be happy knowing they had a fake magician? Maybe not, but Samual thought they deserved to have a real Town Magician and have real magic to enjoy. That’s what he wanted.
Rory answered the crowd by shouting thank you and bowing again and again. He kept telling them they were a great audience and he loved them all.
Samual sucked in a breath as he prepared to shout, when he met Clarise’s stern glare. She stood on the opposite side of the crowd. He had tried to avoid her at this show, but she had been watching him. She shook her head slowly from side to side. In answer, he nodded his head up and down. Her gaze became more stern. They argued about exposing Rory as a fake. Clarise didn’t understand the harm if Rory couldn’t channel real magic, it looked real to her. Her family channeled magic. Her father could perform a little magic with metal, shaping it and animating it. She wasn’t convinced Rory was a fake. “There’s plenty of magic in the world, Samual. Everyone enjoys Rory’s show. That’s good enough,” she told Samual often.
Samual and his father had no magic. Samual’s father didn’t trust magic and forbid Samual to even talk about it. If he knew Samual attended a show, even a fake show, it would upset him and there would be another argument. Joseph, Samual’s father, didn’t even want Samual around Clarise because of her family’s magic, but Samual didn’t let that stop him from being friends with Clarise. Things were more tense than ever with his father, but Samual would not let his father boss him around forever. When he was old enough, he’d move to a town with a great Town Magician. He hoped he had some magic, even a little, but so far he hadn’t seen any indication. If he talked about magic he would receive an almost endless round of screaming from his father, and that was something he’d like to avoid.
He continued to stare at Clarise’s stern gaze as he prepared to try once again. It wasn’t fair that other kids in other towns got to see good town magician’s and they got this … this … this apprentice. Samual smiled. Rory might mess up and the rest of the village would realize he duped them. Then the town could get a real magician to have some real magic shows. And protection, if they needed that.
“Are you kidding me?” Samual called. He looked around at the cheering villagers. “He’s fooling all of you?”
Those closest gave him angry looks before backing away and continuing their cheering. He looked to each one, but no one would meet his gaze except Clarise. Clarise was so mad Samual thought he might see steam rising off her head. He’d deal with that later.
“Why won’t any of you listen to me. I glimpsed the bottom of his hat,” Samual implored. “Didn’t anyone else realize it has a false bottom? That’s not magic, its sloppy tricks. He’s a fake.” The crowd shuffled further away, no one met his eyes.
The stage magician and Samual locked gazes. Rory’s smile turned into more of a sneer. He lifted his hands and threw his head back. The villagers erupted into a fresh bout of cheering, almost as if they wanted to drown out Samual’s voice.
“Did you love it!” Rory shouted, and the crowd responded with more wild clapping and cheering.
Samual frowned and locked gazes with Rory. Rory sneered and lifted his hand and gripped his wrist with the other hand. There was a small amount of smoke and Samual saw surprise in Rory’s eyes.
“So, something didn’t go right. Guess that trick wasn’t prepared well.”
Samual smiled, hoping that others would understand that Rory had tried, but no magic had happened. Rory looked at his arm in shock and flicked his eyes to look at Samual before turning to the crowd with a huge grin. Grasping his cloak, he swung it in a big flourish and stalked across the stage.
“He’s covering it up. But I know.”
Samual waved his arms for attention. “Did you see that? Nothing. Nothing happened, but he tried.” Excited he scanned the crowd. Clarise no longer shot daggers at him with her eyes but looked at Rory. Was that confusion on her face?
Excited, Samual continued. “Lift the skirting and look under the stage, it’s rigged. Do you imagine that he produced all these balls out of thin air! Come on! Yes, real Town Magicians can conjure many items out of thin air, but Rory isn’t a true Town Magician.”
A rotten tomato sailed through the air and splattered against Samual’s chest. Surprised, Samual looked at the gloppy mess dripping down his tunic and worn leather vest. He caught a mirrored look of surprise on Rory’s face. “Is he wondering why someone would bring a tomato to his show? Wondering if they might have thrown it at him?” It pleased Samual that there might be someone listening, even if they still believed Rory. A shout of “Go home kid,” rose above the crowd and there were grumbles as many pairs of angry eyes turned toward him.
Samual ignored the tomato chunks dripping from his chest as he jumped down and headed to the stage skirting. Again, it pleased him when Rory looked panicked and backed up a step. Several villagers stepped forward and restrained Samual. A tussle broke out as he tried to get around them.
“Stop right there, kid. You need to go home,” one of the villagers said.
From onstage, Rory winked at the crowd and the gaggle of girls all sighed and giggled. “Looks like I need to add a kiddie part of the show.” Laughter erupted. “Until next time,” he shouted as he flung a smoke pellet to the ground. As the smoke cleared, everyone realized Rory had disappeared. Samual shook himself loose from his distracted adversaries. The girls all gasped (Samual rolled his eyes at their silliness) and then the crowd started babbling about the great show and how exciting some tricks were.
The crowd dispersed. “But, he’s just under the stage. Listen to me, it’s another fake.” He stepped toward the stage, intending to rip the skirting off but several burly men blocked his way. Samual knew Rory had paid them to make sure no one, especially Samual himself, approached the stage. Everyone ignored him as they walked away.
“Now son, you should settle down and enjoy the show like the rest of us.” One of the older villagers stopped by Samual.
“Mr. Robers, it’s a sham,” Samual answered. He liked Mr. Robers who would tell tales of the old days. Sometimes he had sweet milk and would let Samual and Clarise drink some.
“Son, our town magician is wonderful. Samual, you should relax and enjoy the show.”
“He shouldn’t be a Town Magician.” Samual said without conviction.
Samual glanced at Clarise as she joined them and took his arm.
The older man continued. “You don’t know how bad things used to be. Years ago, this town didn’t have a magician. For years. Times was bad, I tell ya’.” The man spit, the ball of saliva splatting at his feet. “When our last magician died, I feared we’d return to those times. I’m glad Rory stepped up to take his place. He’s the best Town Magician I’ve seen in years.”
“No, he’s not. Listen to me, he’s fooling all of you.” Samual said. The group walked away from the stage.
“Now son, you saw the same things I did, a fantastic show. Even better than last time.”
“It’s all tricks, I tell you.”
“That’s good, we need a magician with tricks.”
“No, not in a good way. Oh, never mind. Perhaps we’ll be lucky and won’t need his skills,” Samual said.
“Son, who knows. In a couple years you might get some magic. Lots of kids get their skills when they approach adulthood. Well, I hear that Rory didn’t have magic when he was your age.”
“Samual, you’ve done all you can. Let’s go.” Clarise tugged on Samual’s arm, urging him away.
“Enjoy the show, kids. And believe me, if we ever needed him, our Town Magician would come through,” the old man said. "That’s what they do.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Samual replied.
“Remember boy, he has the amulet.”
“Big deal. If he doesn’t do real magic, and it’s all fake trickery. The amulet is supposed to be for a real Town Magician.”
“You just don’t give up. Maybe when your older, you’ll see. Anyway, you and Clarise come over some time, I’ve got some more sweet milk.” Mr. Robers clapped Samual on the back and smiled at Clarise then walked away.
Samual looked at the balls on the ground rolling with the wind. The coins sat on the stage waiting for Rory to emerge from hiding to gather them. He was tempted to hide with Clarise and wait for that to happen. He stared at the skirting around the bottom of the stage, sure that Rory stared back at him. Clarise tugged his arm. Samual sighed and turned to walk with her, his shoulder’s slumping as he shuffled along.