By Nicole Mueller
Among the back rooms and dusty halls of the city, a phenomenon had been growing. There were never flyers pinned up or articles in the paper to advertise as other acts had. No, rather word of mouth carried the renown of the show.
The magician was famous for spectacular feats performed worldwide. A vanishing act in Paris, levitation in London, and now there were rumors of an even grander show to come. The word around the streets of New York City was that the magician would be delving into the world of reanimation.
On the day of his show, the performance space was set up as usual. The stage was empty so as not to detract from the main event soon to come. Hundreds of candles filled the room with a flickering light, casting shadows that morphed and danced across the walls. The room was thick with heat, heavy black drapes, and the smell of damp wood. The ladies in their tight laced dresses fanned themselves lazily, though they did not dare to feign a swoon for fear of missing the show.
The audience was humming. It was never known how a show would start precisely, only that each to date had started at exactly midnight. Now, at ten after the hour, the assembly was becoming increasingly concerned. Were they in the wrong venue? Was this perhaps a hoax put on by some elaborate copycat artist to rid them of their money? The only signs that the infamous magician was in the building were the usual mute attendant at the door and the raven on its perch in the corner.
The raven, seemingly on a whim, took to the air above the heads of the audience. It swooped low, ruffling the decorative feather on the hat of a woman in the back row. The young boy sitting beside her watched it with large, calm eyes.
When it had finished a loop of the room, the raven landed upon a nail in the wall above the stage. Now standing in the dim light upon the stage was the magician. The audience broke out into rapturous applause, silenced by a flick of his hand.
The magician stepped forward into the brighter light of the candles. The mask on his face glinted in the light, catching the fine swirls of gold woven through the black silk. Tonight he wore white gloves, another lapse in tradition. Usually, they were a pure gold that held the eye of an onlooker, inviting one to find the source of his tricks.
The magician pulled a length of black silk from within his coat. With a snap that startled the entire first row, the silk lengthened into an entire swath, falling over a sudden form. He pulled it away to reveal a long wooden table now standing in the middle of the stage.
As the crowd applauded, the magician motioned to a member of the audience. From the other side of the young boy in the back rose a young woman, no older than eighteen, dressed in plain, black mourning clothes. The boy watched her pass by without much more than indifference.
She joined the magician on stage without a word. Two bulky men carried a human form draped in a sheet out onto the table. Ladies in the audience gasped in realization of a corpse in the room. Several of the more pious members of the audience members crossed themselves at the sight. The sheet was removed from the body and the woman with the decorative hat in the back moved to shield the boy from the sight, but stopped. He looked on with the same gaze of indifference. He was not her child. It was not her duty to protect him from the indecent sight.
The deceased individual was a young man with a face still free from any lines of worry. His death had yet to leave a mark upon the world, save the red rims in the young woman’s eyes. The raven on the nail swooped in closer—as if to get a better look at the deceased—as the magician adjusted his gloves.
His demeanor did not show his usual confidence. There was a subtle line of tension within him visible only to the keenest of eye. However, the hand he laid upon the dead man’s eyes was steady. The silent performer now uttered whispers, sounds too quiet for even the woman on stage to hear.
With his free hand, the magician pulled the length of silk out once more. Overhead, the raven had taken flight. The beats of its wings seemed to synchronize with the rhythm at which the magician spoke. In a flourish, the silk flew up to conceal the two men on stage. It folded the raven into the gleaming mass. A breeze snuffed out the nearest candles. For three heart beats, there was no movement in the room.
The silk dropped.
Standing now on the stage was a taller man. He wore the garb of the magician, but had the complexion of one that belonged to the grave. With hands clasped to his now beating heart, and the arms of the woman firmly wrapped around him, the man looked down in disbelief at the figure now lying on the table. The healthy flush was steadily draining from the man’s face, one no older than the young couple above him.
Years later, when the incident had been long missing from newspapers, one of the burly stagehands would recount the event. He would tell those that would listen of the eccentricities of a once world famous magician. He would tell of that final performance that ended more than just the young man’s career. In particular, he would tell of the events that took place after the show.
The disturbed audience had cleared away, the magician’s body had been taken for further examination, and he was now trying to lock up as hurriedly as possible. From the wings, the stagehand spotted a young boy standing before the stage. In front of him was a twisted black form: the magician’s raven. The poor thing had probably been stepped on and crushed in all the excitement. It was impossible to know.
As he watched, the young boy took the bird into his hands and inspected it before placing the body in a small bag at his side. Then, the boy flashed the smile of a cherub at the stage hand, and walked away.
In the flickering light of dying candles, the stagehand saw a long, slithering shadow attached to the child’s feet. In the next breath, he would always admit to having had a bit to drink, and having been a little spooked from the evening’s events. He had learned after years in the asylum that belief in the forces unknown stem only from proof. Men cannot return from the grave unless they bring a piece of their casket with them. Other than that, a story of the sort is little more to the casual listener than shadows, silk, and light tricks.
Nicole Mueller is a junior in high school from St. Louis, Missouri. She enjoys travel, singing loudly in the car, and black pens. Nicole currently hopes to pursue a career in Journalism, although professional taste-tester sounds appealing to her as well. This is her first published work.