Johnny watched in awe as the magician came onstage.
“It’s only illusions,” Dad said.
“I know,” Johnny answered, a burble of wonder tickling his spine; illusions fascinated him.
“Magic doesn’t exist,” Dad whispered when the magician pulled a dove out of a hat.
“I know, Dad,” Johnny hissed. Dad had a way of spoiling even fake magic.
Johnny knew magic was all sleight-of-hand, distraction and optics, but it fascinated him. That our brains tricked us into believing someone pulled a dove out of an empty hat intrigued him. Dad was a scientist and shot down anything unproven. He leaned over and whispered it was only science and illusion. Johnny shifted in his seat. Didn’t Dad understand he wanted to watch the show, magic or no? He liked magicians; they were more fun than clowns and he enjoyed trying to figure out their tricks.
Dad and Johnny left when the show ended, and, in the car, while Dad turned on the ignition, Johnny took out his allowance and counted it. Maybe it would be enough to buy the magic kit he’d seen in the toy store in town.
“What’s up, bud?” Dad asked when he saw Johnny counting his money.
“I want to buy a magic kit.”
Dad looked askance at him and opened his mouth to speak but Johnny interrupted him.
“I know, Dad. It’s all illusion, but I want to understand the science behind it.”
Dad smiled. One little seven-letter word and Dad was hooked.
At home, Johnny cradled his new magic kit. He sensed that something could change as soon as he opened it. Deep down Johnny wanted dragons to exist and to imagine he could snap his fingers or wiggle his nose for cool things to happen. Yet, if he opened the kit and learned the tricks, all fantasies would end. He closed the door to his room and sat cross-legged on the floor.
Johnny opened the box and frowned. The lid said it included “everything necessary to learn the art of magic: one top hat, one wand, one deck of playing cards, five colored scarves, and one instruction booklet.” But the box only contained two items, an old book and a small green pouch.
When he touched the book, it tickled his fingers and sent a delightful surge through his spine. It was old and leather-bound and Johnny turned it over searching for the title, but it had none. He opened the cover. The first page was blank, and the second, third and fourth. The whole book was blank! He flung it away, disappointed.
“Boy, what a waste of an allowance!”
He turned his attention back to the box but all that remained was the velvet pouch. Johnny reached for it and the contents inside clinked with a strange thick sound, unlike the jingle of coins. Small stones sprinkled the carpet when he opened the pouch and overturned it. The nearest one had a crude R carved on one side. Johnny flicked it away and watched amazed as it rolled back to him. He picked it up and the same funny feeling ran through his fingers, up his arm and down his back. He held the stone in his palm and thought for a moment it had sparkled, but it was just a trick of the light, right?
“No way it glinted,” he whispered, but there it was again, a tiny green spark, like a firefly.
Johnny reached for the book; the stone flew from his hand and attached itself to the cover as if the book were magnetic. One by one, the stones on the floor bounced up and stuck to the book. He opened it and dropped it, aghast, when writing appeared. As the writing progressed, like an invisible pen writing visible words, the pages flipped by themselves. The writing was not English. In fact, it wasn’t any recognizable language; it looked like someone was writing with sticks. Johnny realized they were the same characters carved into each of the stones, but jumbled and organized, as if they formed sentences.
When the book flipped to the last page, it slammed closed and lifted a cloud of dust which engulfed Johnny in a sparkling tornado… And whisked him away.