Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2279748-Magic-or-Illusion
Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #2279748
A stage magician with money problems meets real magic for the first time.
As a stage magician, I didn’t believe magic existed. To me, the word ‘magic’ was code for ‘smokes and mirrors, sleight of hand, and genius deception. No one in the trade on or off stage believed otherwise. Even my father burst my bubble when I was a boy and showed me how he performed every one of the trade’s tricks. After he died, I picked up his hat, and the show went on. The magic in that was making it feel like he was still there.

Yet some claimed ‘real’ magic did exist. It wasn’t until I was well-established in my niche that the concept was challenged.

I was finishing a show in London on a Friday night. The sweet breeze of the Thames swept past the streets. Stars winked at everyone who looked up at the dark violet sky. And down Delmar’s St off the corner of the Piccadilly Circus was a small theatre packed with people in jeans and untucked shirts, people who’d come from work ready to relax in another world. The world of illusion.

My little brother Jack was there, as always. By day he was an investor in a suit, but by night he was my partner in crime.

For the second act, I donned a black cape and a mask, and it looked like Jack had strapped me to a wooden platform. I say ‘looked like’ because Jack put a costumed dummy in the guillotine while I slipped down a trapdoor and through a tunnel that took me backstage. I returned disguised as the executioner with the large black hood over my face. The guillotine’s blade gleamed in the spotlight. The audience leaned forward in their chairs with bated breaths. With a smirk, I dropped the blade, and off went what they thought to be my head. The audience gasped.

Then I flicked off my hood, and applause rippled from the spectators. Jack and I grinned.

“Ahem. Now for our last trick.” I rolled out a heavy rectangular box. “This time I will say goodbye to Jack. Wow, this brings a new meaning to ‘Jack-in-the-box.’”

The audience laughed.

Jack rolled his eyes.

“Well, goodbye, Jack.” I shook his hand.

He stepped into the box. “Goodbye, Casper—”

“Yes, yes, I’ll see you for lunch tomorrow.” I shut the door. “I never liked him, anyway.”

More laughs followed from the spectators.

“I can still hear you,” Jack muffled from inside the wooden contraption.

“Just testing, Jack! All right, so as you can see, Jack is now in the box. I will make him disappear.” I snapped my fingers. “Hocus
Pocus, Nemo Locus!”

I rotated the box, and then, after a pause, I opened the door. Jack was not there. Good. “Right, Jack’s, well — gone.” His suit sat crumpled on the floor. I chuckled.

Light applause.

“Thank you. Note that the box is empty. Now in a moment, Jack will reoccupy his tailored penguin costume. Hocus Pocus Brother
Locus!” I spun the box, opened the door again, and—

Jack was not there.

I tittered. “Erm, well, that’s awkward. This usually works. I’ll just look inside here.” I looked around the box. “Jack, where the
blazes are you? You still owe me lunch.” His clothes were gone now, and he didn’t even leave a sign he had been here before.

Clunk! The door closed behind me. “Hey!”

“That’s for teasing me,” Jack’s voice came through. The spectators outside clapped thunderously at the joke in the magic trick. Instead of reappearing inside the box, Jack reappeared outside of the box. Well played Jack. Well played. A variation on an aged magic trick.

“I was joking,” I shouted.

“So am I. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been a wonderful audience. We bid you good night, and we’ll see you again

“Jack, let me out, please.”

Waves of applause and whistles filled the air as I felt the box move.

“Jack, this is not funny. The show’s over. I’m breathing dust here.”

“Relax.” Jack laughed as he opened the door. “You’re not the only practical joker here.”

“It’s less fun when on the receiving end.”

I hopped out, dusting off my clothes. I ran a hand through my thinning brown hair. The lights overhead showered yellow light on the varnished maple walls and the racks of colorful costumes. I glanced at the photos of the family over the years. I’d taped photographs to the makeup mirror, so I would never forget how it all started. Our mother died when we were young, and our father got cancer after I finished university, so now it was just Jack and me. Working as a part-time paralegal wasn’t the most lucrative choice, but it allowed me to host shows at night and spend time with Jack and my young nephews and niece. Family was more important than money.

“Well, it looks like they enjoyed the show.” I cleared my throat, turning around to see Jack with a nostalgic gleam in his hazel eyes.

“They always do what with us cracking jokes while we pull the wool over their eyes.”

“Hmm, yes, Father would be proud.” I clicked my tongue. “He always said, ‘If we help them forget their troubles for a while—”

“‘Then that’s the ultimate trick.’”


“He was one of the great ones.”

“He was.” I sighed. “Well, I’ll see you later.” I clapped Jack on the shoulder. “Say hello to the family for me.”

“Will do. Night, Casper.”


He shut the lights as he left.

I flipped on my cap and skipped upstairs to the small loft. “I wish I could use magic to pay my bills.” Being late on payments happened sometimes, but in my stubbornness, I kept it from Jack because it was a lie I felt I had to tell. I was supposed to take care of him, not the other way around.

With a few swigs of whisky, perhaps one too many, I crashed into bed. The moon rose further above the horizon as I sunk into
sleep. And the trouble was already brewing.

In the morning, I shuffled into the kitchen with a splitting headache when a gust of wind flew past the back of my head. I turned
around. The linen drapes and the windows were still shut. The loft was the same as ever. Red handkerchiefs and broken black
hats were strewn across the place, and gold glitter covered the floor. It was like being stuck in the 1920s.

I shook my head.

The coffee was brewing on schedule. My arms soared over my back in a stretch. I checked the news on my iPhone, but there
was nothing worth reading. New PM elected. Global warming. Famous entrepreneur now became president. I didn’t even know
why I checked anymore. Beep, beep! The coffee was ready, and as I poured myself a cup, another gust of wind swept across my
face. The coffee rippled against the mug’s walls.“What the—” I put the cup down, looking outside. Not a branch stirred, not a leaf
tumbled. So where did the wind come from?

Woosh! Thump!

I jumped. “Bloody hell!”

“Ouch!” A freckled teenage boy materialized in the middle of the loft. His raven-black curls fringed his forehead, and the clothes
he wore made him look like he’d just finished doing Hamlet. He staggered up with a grunt, rubbing his scalp. “I need to ask Valora
how to perfect this time spell. I feel like I’m in a tempest.” He spoke with a thick English dialect, deep vowels, and rolled r’s.

My first instinct should’ve been to call the police, but the shock and confusion bypassed my common sense manual. “Er, who —
who are you? How did you —”

He cleared his throat. “Sorry, when am I?”

“You’re in my loft.”

“No, no, I said, ‘when’ not ‘where’.”


“Ugh.” He rolled his eyes. “Let’s start again. What year is it?”


His eyebrows shot up. “Merlin’s beard! Six hundred years? This is amazing.” He gawked at the cars and skyscrapers. “Also, you
don’t use candles? And what’s this?”

“Hey!” I snatched my phone from his hands. “Stop touching everything.”

“Right, testy, are we?”

“What is going on? Who are you?”

“Oh, that’s easy.” He grinned. “Wilmot Ferne, or Will. I’m a warlock-in-training from 1487. I was doing a new spell, which got me
here. This is my home from that time. Very different too.”

I wheezed a laugh. “You’ve got to be joking.” I gulped coffee as if it could fix this present hole in reality. I looked back to my right
and frowned. Nope. He was still there. “Yeah, this can’t be real.”

He furrowed his brow. “Why would I lie? Do you not have warlocks or magic here?”

“No, we do not have warlocks or magic here. Is this some kind of prank?”

“Prank? Do you mean ‘prance’?”

“Nope, I mean ‘prank.’”

“Huh, we don’t have that word yet.”

“It means ‘bad joke’.”

He blinked.

“Wow.” I scratched my neck. “Okay, just — could you go back to where you came from? 1498, whatever?”

He snorted. “1487. I’m not that old.”

“Right, then go, please. I’d like to enjoy my morning.”

“With ease.” He harrumphed. “Do you have some cheese?”

I glared at him.
“Fine. I’ll eat later.” He shut his eyes and took a deep breath.

I rose my eyebrows. “Could you—”

“Wheesht.” He rose a finger.

I crossed my arms.

Will chanted in a foreign language. Then, as before, a gust of wind whipped my face, and I wrapped my arms around my head. I
shivered at the chill that went through the air.

Silence pervaded the loft.

I lowered my arms. Will had disappeared.

The windows were closed, and the door locked. The floor and the roof were intact too. I sunk onto the couch with my coffee,
mouth ajar. What had just happened?

Years later, I’d still counted that towards a hallucination from that whiskey, but the next time it happened, I was nowhere near

The magic show I had performed with Jack maintained its popularity, but the antics backstage had become less entertaining.
During this particular show, my brother behaved off in a way, and I found out why after the show had ended.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“I found these under the old programs.” Jack slapped the bills down on the dressing table. “Why didn’t you tell me you were
having trouble? I could’ve helped you, lent some money.”


“I thought we were in this together. I’m your brother. Why—”

“Because it’s my job to take care of you! Okay? I’m the eldest, and I promised father. You have a family.”

“And you’re part of it. I just don’t understand—”

“Look, it’s my business. You shouldn’t have to worry about this.”

“Just because you’re the eldest doesn’t mean you get to decide who takes care of you. If you’re always watching after everybody,
who’s going to watch after you!”

I huffed. “I watch after myself just fine.”

“Barely. And what hurts worse is that you’d rather lie to me instead of telling me the truth. You don’t want help? That’s fine, but
we’re all we’ve got. We should at least be honest with each other about the serious things.” Jack took his coat from the hanger
and shrugged it on.

“Going home?”

“Yes. Where I don’t have to worry about this,” he echoed back. I let him leave without saying another word. This was a mess of
this all right. I ran a hand through my hair. “Great. Well handled, Casper.”

As I entered my loft once more, a foreign sneeze echoed in the loft. I flinched.

“Hello?” I said.

“It’s me again.” I searched and soon found Will on the couch. He looked more mature now and seemed to have a cold.

“Ohhh, no. Not now. Not a good time.”

“I just need to stay here a few days. I got caught by bandits, and I got sick and fell into a river.”

“Don’t care.”

“I thought you’d have moved out by now.” He furrowed his brow.

“Obviously, I haven’t. And what happened to your accent? It sounds more… normal.”

“I did some more time spells and added to my vocabulary. By the way, your future is terrible.”

“You’re telling me.” I rubbed my neck. “So you’re from the 15th century?”

“16th now. I turned 30 a few weeks ago.”

“And why did you come here? I mean, in my time.”

“It’s cleaner.” He smiled.

I laughed. “Hmm. True. Is there anything else you can do?” I couldn’t believe I was indulging him, but I couldn’t resist.



He rubbed his fingers, and a small fire in the shape of a dragon kindled from his palm. The dragon’s wings fluttered in the air as if



“But beautiful.”

“Isn’t it?” He glanced at me and blew out the fire.

“Wait. So. I can’t believe I’m saying this — magic is real?”

“As real as you and me. People have just forgotten it exists apparently.”

“Wow,” I said again.

“Mmh-hm.” He broke into a coughing fit.

“Okay. Lie down. I’ll make some tea.” I noticed for the first time that his clothes were wet too. I grimaced. “Actually, while I do that,
go take a shower. I leave some fresh clothes by the door.”

He stood and shivered. “What’s a shower?”

“Er… well, it’s—”

“Just kidding. I know what a shower is.” He chuckled.

I huffed with a hint of a smile. “Of course, you do.”

Once the kettle was set to boil, I grabbed a set of pajamas from my bedroom to leave by the bathroom door and spread three
blankets on the couch. The kettle whistled no later. I turned it off and poured the water into mugs. The tea bags of peppermint
leave sunk into the water before floating up again. The steam that rose was mesmerizing.

My mind was drifting toward my argument with Jack. I wondered if he’d drop by tomorrow still. Probably not. Both of us needed
time to cool off. Money was always an issue these days, and I just didn’t want it to become a problem myself. That’s why I hid it
from Jack. If he helped me, how would he manage? Maybe I was thinking too much about it.


“Bless you,” I said without thinking.

“Thank you.”

I turned around to find Will shuffling towards the couch and wrapping himself in the blankets like a caterpillar in a warm cocoon.
I’d forgotten about finishing the tea. “Milk and sugar?”


“With the tea.”

“Oh. No milk. One sugar.”

“Right.” I put a mug down on the coffee table. “Let’s check your temperature.” The thermometer was in the bathroom, which was a
little fogged up from the shower. He must’ve been freezing. He would be after falling into a river, wouldn’t he? And why were
bandits chasing him? “Hmm.” I found the thermometer and returned to the living room. “Let’s see if you’re fever isn’t too bad.”

“What are you doing?” He moved back.

“I’m putting this into your ear. If you have a fever, I need to give you paracetamol.”

“Ugh, fine.”

It wasn’t too high, only around 38C. I just hoped it wouldn’t get higher than that. I grabbed two tablets of paracetamol for him to
take with the rest of his tea. He took the medicine without much fuss before falling asleep.

I couldn’t believe it myself. There was a warlock from the 15th— 16th century sleeping on my couch with a cold. I couldn’t sleep,
so I kept checking his fever as the night passed, it went up to 39C at one point, but I cold compress and got his temp back to

He looked different than the last time we’d met. When I really looked at him, I could see how much he’d grown. A copper beard
was growing on his chin, and the baby fat was replaced by prominent cheekbones. His face wasn’t that of a teenager anymore.
Experience was etched into his features. To me, he’d only a few years, but to him, we’d met in 13 years, give or take. I wondered
about all the adventures he’d seen, especially if he’d traveled to other times in history.

As the night wore on, my eyelids slid shut, and I eventually dozed off in the armchair. It’d been a long day, and while colds had
easily killed back in Will’s time, here they weren’t too bad.

I awoke to find Will gone. He wasn’t on the couch, and… I heard sounds coming from the kitchen. Music. And sizzling? I groggily
yawned and scratched my head as I shuffled over. He was dancing to some old American rock band. Not something you expect
to see a warlock from the 15th century doing. I laughed. It was ridiculous.

I harrumphed. “Is that ABBA?”

He yelped and turned off the radio before looking back at me. “Er… good morning.”

“I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I don’t ‘cook’. It’s just eggs and bacon.” The toast popped. “I bumped into an American on the Hollywood set around the 1920s.

She taught me how to swing dance and cook breakfast.”

“Oh. Cool.”

“Least I could do since you’ve decided to let me stay until I recover.” He sneezed into his sleeve.

“Bless you.”

“You’ll be saying that a few dozen more times today I reckon.”

I chuckled. “How do you feel?”

“The same. Terrible. Thank you for reminding me.”

“It’ll take about a week.”

“Hmm.” He rubbed his temples, probably nursing a headache.

“Er, you sure this won’t make you nauseous or anything?” Bacon and eggs were delicious, but for a cold?

“Now that you mention it.” He gagged and excused himself to head to the bathroom.

I winced as he retched into the toilet. I’d make him oatmeal with blueberries. Five minutes later, we were sitting on the bedcovers
like old friends with our legs folded. I’d draped a blanket over Will’s shoulders as he cradled a warm bowl in his hands. After he
finished eating, he lay on his side. “So, what happened yesterday?” He pulled his knees up to his chest. He glanced at me.

“What do you mean?”

“When you saw me it was as if you’d already had enough trouble for the day. Now I’m thinking you don’t get into much trouble as
a magician.”

I huffed. “Unless you have bills because the rent’s getting higher, the world poorer, and the economy tighter.”


“My brother just figured out that I’m having money problems. I’d hidden it from him for years because I didn’t want him to worry or lend me some cash.”

“Why? He is family, is he not?”

“Yeah, but he’s also my little brother.”

“So? You’re also both adults. He can take care of himself. You don’t have to feel ashamed to accept him if you need help either. I
believe it makes for a nasty example of pride.”

“I—” My first reaction was annoyance, but then I gave in as I realized he might be right. “Er, that may be a valid point.” I cleared
my throat, a little embarrassed. “I just… before my father died, he told me to watch after him, and I guess I did my job too well.” I
bit my tongue.

“You know, help is easier to give than accept. And I think you’re more used to the former than the latter.”

“God, I feel like I should be paying you.” I chuckled and shook my head.

“Well, what are friends for?”

I looked back at him. “Hmm. Yeah, I guess, we are friends, aren’t we? A fake magician from the 21st century and a Medieval
warlock who time-travels spilling the tea.”


We giggled.

“Not what people normally do.”

“Not what people in my land do often at least.”

“Oh—” I started laughing again. “Right, because people in your time actually know about magic.”

“Ehhh, but very few know how to move between dimensions.”

I shook my head with an amused expression. “You are something, Will.”

“I am?” He rose his eyebrows, a couch escaping him.


The rest of the week passed by similarly. We breakfasted; I treated Will’s cold, and he told me of his adventures with bandits who
stole to survive and sometimes ‘just because. He talked of battles with wizards and balls and walking with kings and dragons. And
while Will rested, I prepared for my next shows.

Of course, the day after Will and I had talked about my dilemma, I called Jack. Before that night’s performance, we really sat
down and talked. It was a relief, and I believe that it had drawn us closer as brothers.

Once my friend recovered from his cold, it struck me that I’d miss him. I wasn’t looking forward to having the loft all to myself
again. Before my show, we prepared to say goodbye, at least for now. It was Friday night, and I was going to dinner at Jack’s
place. Will didn’t want to stay for any longer than he had to.

“Well,” he said.

“Well.” We stood awkwardly in the kitchen where it all began. He was going to poof away, and I would proceed throughout my day
as I had before Will had arrived. It was going to be an abysmal return to an old ‘normal’.

“Ahem, it’s been eventful and pleasant spending my sickness here.”

I quirked my lips. “It was certainly interesting.”

“Yes. Yes, it was.”

“When do you think you’ll be back?”

“I don’t know. Honestly, in my case, I can return after tomorrow after having lived a decade on my part. The making of the spell
however is complex. The herbs are difficult to gather and must be preserved.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Which means that I might be older than you the next time I visit.”


“I—” He took a breath. “I don’t have many friends either.”

“Oh.” I nodded.

“So, I’m glad that what was my home hundreds of years ago is your home. I couldn't have bumped into a nobler fellow passenger
in the journey of life.” He held out his hand with a fond smile.

I shook it firmly. I’d come to respect him in the short time we’d known each other, and I realized that I would not be going to an old
‘normal’. Because I wasn’t the same as a week ago. I’d changed. For the better.

“Also, in case you think this has been all a dream (I wouldn’t blame you), I want you to have this. A keepsake to remember me by.” He took a Gold medallion with old English engraved on it. “I imagine you will not show this to anyone, especially a museum.”

“I will keep it safe. I promise.”

“Then, I must be off.”

“Dragons to slay and kings to serve.”

“Aye.” He winked. He whispered in his old language as I’d heard him do the first time he left. For a second he was her, and then
he was gone. But he’d be back.

And I’d never forget his words.
It is easier to give help than receive it.

© Copyright 2022 Eliza West (holmes221b at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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