Writing Prompt Response

The following is my response to a writing prompt that appeared on reddit:

The air was dense with the smell of sweat and smoke, dimming out the lights even further. There was quite a colorful crowd gathered there. The drinks were equally questionable. It was nice as far as seedy, downtown bars go – not that I would know. I am not much of a drinker. But it had been a strange week.

Let me introduce myself: my name is John Bureaugard, and I am a magician. At least, I used to be. This was one of the facts that I mentioned in great detail to the person sitting next to me at the bar. He had the combined misfortune of sitting beside me that day, and worse still, asking me what was wrong.

I suppose it began last summer when I was on vacation. As always, I was extremely short of something to do – including the two dozen unfinished projects that littered my room. That particular afternoon though, I had reached the epitome of boredom, so I went for a walk. I was still fairly new to the city, and it was a good opportunity to explore the surroundings. With any luck, I’d stumble across a wonderful little coffee shop, tucked away in an alley.

I was almost immediately quite thoroughly lost. I didn’t realize at the moment, of course. An hour later, when I turned back, I realized I had no idea where I was or how I got there. I had my phone, of course, but the map was utterly useless. It insisted that I turn left, then continue for two hundred meters. The only way I could do that was by vaulting across at least ten different rooftops (a fact, by the way, that my stranger friend neither desired to know, nor found amusing in any way).

I walked in random directions for a while, hoping to reach someplace I recognized. Of course, all that did was waste another half hour. I finally did the unthinkable – ask for directions. It was almost evening, and the streets were livening up. After asking around a little, the apparent path led me to a labyrinth of alleyways that I never knew existed. You learn something new every day.

At the end of this alley-labyrinth, there was a crowd gathered. As a rule, I stay as far away from crowds as possible. But given a choice between getting lost in the labyrinth and possibly getting lightly stabbed, I picked the latter.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a mob. It was a street performer – a magician. Curiosity got the better of me, and I lined up with the other to see what he had. I was expecting a spectacular over-the-top performance with people disappearing and reappearing in a flash of lightning. I was utterly disappointed. It was mostly about guessing cards and numbers, and it was obviously rigged. Ten minutes into the show, I had figured out who his accomplices were and what code they were using.

You’ve probably guessed what happened next (The gentleman sitting next to me – let’s call him Al – did not). With only two dozen unfinished projects to think of, it was time to learn magic. In fact, this was exactly how I had so many unfinished projects. But off I went to start my glorious career as a magician. And thus my troubles began.

The next morning, I paid the library a visit. Yes, I know about the internet, but I am a fan of roleplaying. And the character I imagined for myself preferred the library (I was greeted by a strong rolling of eyes, courtesy of Al). I want to say that I spent hours scouring the library and was rewarded with a mysterious little book, hidden in a small crevice in the wall of books, covered in dust and waiting for a new master. But the truth is, there were a few hundred books on magic tricks, all of which seemed equally ostentatious, but at least they were all covered in dust. So I just picked one up at random, praying that it wasn’t the worst one I could pick.

I began leafing through the book in the comfort of the “reading corner” of my room. It was a good book – a perfect starting point. It taught some basic tricks that I got started on right away.  In fact, I built an entire schedule centered around learning magic. You could say that I was obsessed with it. I’d argue that I was merely “focused.” I’d be lying. A few weeks later, I knew a few tricks, but more importantly, I was learning the tricks of the trade (Pun intended – A thing I shouldn’t have mentioned to Al, because it just made him glare at me).

I could improvise, improve, and invent – all the signs I needed to decide that I was street-worthy. Back to the alley, I went. As I began setting up a makeshift platform, a few stragglers lined up to watch. Somehow, it felt like sharks gathering around chum. I was “fresh meat” after all, so the metaphor seemed appropriate.

Unfortunately, what I had gained in magical prowess, I completely lacked in showmanship. What saved me was improvisation. What started off as a magic show concluded as a comedy. But it was entertaining – so much so that one of the guys asked me when I was performing next. It was clear that I had many finer points to work on. I told him I’d be performing the next week.

Back to the library, I went.  Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure why it mattered to me so much. All I remember is that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Perhaps that, in itself, was reason enough. I spent the rest of the week sanding some rough edges. The next week, I was back at the alley with a much smoother show. There was much less clumsiness to it despite the increased complexity. That was a relief since it was a bigger crowd. I did maintain some comedic elements, however, as it seemed to keep the crowd engaged. It was decided – my show would be a weekly event.

Every successive show was slightly more elaborate than the previous. And with every show, my audience grew. I was having the time of my life. Summer was almost over, and I would have to go back soon. And I intended to bow out in the most spectacular way imaginable (in case you haven’t caught on, I have some partiality towards drama). And so the day came for the grand finale.

“In these past weeks,” I said, in my most impressive showman-voice, “you have witnessed some strange things. You’ve been amused, awed, and entertained. But now, it is time for you to question everything you know, to witness the very fabric of reality being torn before you.” There were a few giggles. But when I didn’t join in, they died out. “I will need a volunteer from the audience… Preferably someone with nothing to lose.”


Then, a few of the brave (or possibly reckless or depressed) folks raised their hands. I picked a “normal” looking fellow. I’m sorry, that’s the only way to describe him. In a story, he’d be one of the people in the background. But on that day, he was going to be the center of attention. As I began to set the trick up, I asked him the standard questions: who he was, where he lived, what he did. Apart from buying time, they would come to serve an important purpose.

What was the trick? I was going to make him disappear – and I don’t mean behind a false wall in a box. I meant to actually make him disappear. It would be as if he never existed in the first place. I told the crowd that. In a few minutes, I was ready. I waved a cloth between him and the audience, and when I let the cloth drop, he was gone. I gave the stunned crowd a magnificent bow, and I walked away. The next day, I returned to college for my fall term.

I didn’t have many friends back home, but the internet being what it is, I could track the rumors from college. I was a genius! Or at least, so I thought at the time. Of course, no one knew how I’d done it. But I had delivered. As far as the crowd was concerned, that person really did not exist. The key was Kevin, ‘that person’ who disappeared. He was an old friend of mine, and that was his last summer in the city. He was moving out the day of the finale, and I’d used that to my advantage.

It had taken meticulous planning and execution. But at the end of the day, it had paid off handsomely. His landlady recalled him but being as careless as she was, she didn’t know when she saw him last. His name was Kevin, but his registered name was Maxwell. He was an intern at a place that took fifty interns every summer. That was precisely why I asked him those questions – because I knew people would want to check. And it worked. He now existed only in records. In other words, by a trick of light and sleight of hand, we had turned Kevin into a ghost.

Admittedly, it seems like a lot of luck was involved. And I did get lucky with so many things just lining up perfectly. But I didn’t care – I was the Apex Magus. I spent my term dazzling my classmates with random tricks. After a few weeks, I stopped following the rumors. I’d enjoyed enough, and it was time to get some of those pending assignments and projects done. In retrospect, that may not have been the best idea. I missed a lot of… “interesting” developments.

Before long, it was break time again, and I was back home. I paid a visit to my alley (Yes, I considered it to be ‘my’ valley) and that’s where misfortune befell me. I was in plain clothes, but a shady looking fellow stared at me for a long moment and shuffled off. I saw him a moment later, pointing me out to someone who nodded. I expected them to be people who had watched my show and remembered me. The once aversion to crowds and shady people had left me – in this case, for the worse. He walked up to me. I’d like to call to memory, a famous saying about pride and how it “cometh before the fall.”

“Are you the fellow who can make people disappear?” he asked. Well, not really. I paraphrase because he may have included words not suitable for all audiences. But of course, I was still floating above the ground.

“Why, yes. Yes, I am!”

“The boss would like to speak with you.” I paraphrase again.

I still hadn’t entered the fight-or-flight state. Perhaps “the boss” was just a talent manager who’d heard of me. But I was starting to feel like something was off. When we arrived at the “office,” I was almost certain that something wasn’t right. Maybe it was armed men standing lookout, maybe it was the fact that it was an abandoned metalworking factory… Who can say?

And when the boss spoke, I was certain that something was wrong. He was a parole jumper. And he’d heard of someone who can “make people disappear.” He had concluded that I was somehow able to get people new identities and relocate them or something along those lines. And how had this happened? Because I had let the rumors run loose. Over time, they had gotten convoluted, and the facts had been completely lost. So, there I was, just a fellow standing amid about a dozen hardened criminals armed with nothing but my wits against their semiautomatic pistols.

I think this was when my proverbial wings hardened to wax and I fell straight back down. I had to explain something that he was clearly not going to like. How was I going to play this?

“So… Here’s a funny story. When I say I can make someone disappear, I mean it like a magic trick. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for?” I smiled as sincerely as I possibly could. Alas, combined with the fear that was now gripping me, it must have looked way creepier than I wanted it to be.

They didn’t seem amused, which was not a good sign for me. They discussed something among themselves. I might have considered breaking for it if there hadn’t been armed guards at every possible entrance. In the following conversation, I want you to assume that I’m paraphrasing everything that wasn’t spoken by me.

“Then why did you come here?” The boss looked at me, not unlike a wolf looking at a downed rabbit.

“Um… That person asked if I was the one who could make people disappear. And I did do that last summer. And when he said the boss would like to talk to me, I assumed that he was talking about a talent manager or something. So…” I let the sentence hang.

There was a long silence. They seemed to be considering my fate. I was fairly certain what the answer would be, but I asked anyway: “Can I go now?”

“See him off,” the boss said, nodding at one of his men. I want to say that I handled that well, but the truth is, I was gripped by crippling fear. I stumbled about twenty times on the short walk to the entrance. I was certain that I was going to be shot and buried at an undiscoverable location, and no one would ever find out. Worse, thanks to my reputation, most people would just assume that it was another trick. Why, oh, why did I ever learn magic?

I was almost prepared, but for one last time, my dumb luck kicked in. The police stormed the hideout. Bullets were fired, blood was spilled, crooks were caught… It was all a blur. Apparently, they had been staking out the hideout for a while, and my random appearance was the distraction they needed to storm in. That was about two weeks ago. The real hell came after that – testifying in the court. There were so many hearings, and I had to appear every single time even though I only spoke today. Do you know how dull courts are? Very!

I just finished giving my testimony, so I came to the first bar I saw. (I sighed, and Al finally looked up).

“So… You can make people disappear?”

“Yeah… I don’t do that anymore.”

“Don’t say that. The boss’ll want to talk to you.”

“What? No! I can’t actually make people disappear. Were you even listening, Al?”

He stared at me for a moment. “How’d you know my name?”

“What? Oh. I just assumed… Never mind, that’s a whole different topic. My point is, I can NOT make people disappear.”

“Of course. (He winked). We can all be reasonable. Expect to hear from us. Soon.”

And he walked away.

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