by Patrick McLaughlin
The man sits in the center of a darkened room. A single light bulb hangs from the ceiling, casting light upon him, but not those watching him. He sighs. They place a loaded gun on the table in front of him and, while not explicitly stated, he knows he must shoot himself.
“Get out!” Screams the woman. She is screaming at the man. It’s six weeks earlier. He looks at her longingly. She does not look back. She screams again and points out the apartment window at his belongings scattered across the street. He nods and leaves, not bothering to reclaim his things.
Three days later he is standing in the rain without a rain coat, clutching some tattered ones and hoping he has enough to afford a coffee and a bagel. There has to be something better than this.
One day later. He performs his first trick. He knows he shouldn’t. It’s wrong to do what he does. That’s what he’s been taught. A crowd gathers in front of the locked storefront. Unlike other variations on this trick, there are no obstructions to the view. He breathes in deep and walks through the wall.
Later, when counting his money, he sees he has made over one hundred dollars.
His next trick is at an after-hours bar. He chugs seven unopened bottles of grain alcohol. A woman is so shocked she drops her lighter. He walks up to her and breathes fire to light her cigarette, and then puts it out in his eye.
The tricks become more and more dangerous. The money pours in. He’s well off. He’s made it to the top. He does talk shows now. Always, his act is on a delay; the networks don’t want to risk broadcasting his demise.
He visits the woman again. Before she was sorry for him, now she’s afraid. She will not take him back. He will perform one last trick.
He sits in the room and looks at the gun. He picks it up. This is a return to his roots, performing underground for sums of money. He breathes in one last breath and presses the gun against his temple. He closes his eyes and fires.
No money was made that night, but it made the papers. They interviewed the woman. She is distraught now and blames herself. The man took all his secrets to the grave. Magicians will puzzle over them, but never figure them out.
A boy is walking down the street. He looks up at a familiar face.
“Are you him?” the boy asks.
The man just smiles and winks at him, and the boy feels something change within. He looks up again but the man has already gone.