Anny had seen magic shows before. She was familiar with the rabbit in the hat, along with all the card tricks. But the sudden silence from the audience introduced a kind of tension in the club, a warning that this act would not be an ordinary one.
Lavinia walked away and the lights grew dim once again. There was only one spotlight remaining, a hazy, pale sort of glow that illuminated one small circle of the stage. Anny waited, tapping her knee impatiently.
“When is he–”
“Shh!” Jacky grabbed her arm again as a figure stepped into the light. He wore a dark cloak, his hood pulled over his eyes. But despite his air of mystery, his movements were casual. He held under one arm a small table, no bigger than a nightstand, and with a silent sigh suggesting the mundanity of routine, he placed it in the center of the light and stood before it. Anny couldn’t see much reason for the crowd’s silence. The whole scene seemed pretty ordinary to her.
The magician reached into the folds of his robes, pulling out another object for his act. It looked like a crystal ball, at first. But as Anny continued to watch, she noticed that its surface was cloudy, like a pearl’s. He placed it on the table, and there it stayed. The act was about to begin.
But just as he was about to place his hands on the pearl, he stopped. He turned his head to the left, towards the alcove where Jacky and Anny were watching. It was nothing more than a sideways glance, hardly a moment. But a second later and he was looking straight at them.
Anny froze in her seat. Was he staring at her?
He took one step, then another, his head cocked ever so slightly to one side. And then he extended his hand.
Jacky grabbed her shoulder. “He wants you.”
She turned to her, eyes wide. “What?”
“Go!” She yanked her off the stool and pushed her forward. Before Anny knew what was happening, she was onstage.
“Wait!” She tried to whisper, but her voice came out loud in the sudden emptiness of the stage. A glance towards the audience, and she went silent. All eyes were on her.
The colour rose to her cheeks. Her knees felt weak. She could feel the gaze of the audience, every head in the room turned to her. She remembered the silly jacket she was wearing and the goggles on top of her head. Her face was bright red now.
She turned at the sound of his voice. In an instant, the audience was gone. The stage was gone. Any embarrassment, any frustration had vanished, and was replaced by a pair of steely eyes and a face of smooth, dark skin. She couldn’t look away.
His lips moved again, but she couldn’t hear the words. Her feet began moving, all on their own, towards the pearl in the light. Still, she stared, unable to tear her gaze from the magician’s eyes. His face was calm, gentle. His features soft and strangely childlike. It was only when he bowed his head that Anny could look away.
The pearl was in front of her now. How she had arrived before it, she didn’t know. Again, she felt her cheeks turn red, remembering the audience in the darkness past the stage. She turned to her left, towards Jacky, but she was watching too. Was this supposed to be normal? It didn’t feel right. Hoping to steady her shaky breathing, she looked down at the pearl. And once again, she was in a trance, watching a soft glow dance from within. Her eyes were glued to its surface, her body motionless as the magician came up behind her.
He held her shoulders, sliding his hands down her arms until his fingers were around her wrists. She didn’t move. His skin was soft against her own, but she could sense a dangerous strength in his grip that made her pulse quicken. Still, she stayed standing. Her own arms were trembling, but she couldn’t find the strength to back away. All she could feel was his breath on her neck as he drew closer, the warmth of his body as he surrounded her. He guided her hands until they rested above the pearl.
Her voice came out shaky, uncertain. “I don’t want to.”
A trace of a sigh. “Now.”
She shook her head, hardly moving. The words caught in her throat and came out as a whisper. “I can’t.”
His grip tightened on her wrists. He didn’t need to say anything, she could sense his impatience. But she didn’t want to touch the pearl. She was seized by a terrible reluctance. A warning, a fear. And she couldn’t move away. Her hands remained suspended above the glowing surface.
“I can’t do it.”
But he wasn’t willing to wait. He thrust her hands down.
Rushing wind, a force like a hurricane surging past her on all sides. Her feet left the stage, her body left space and time and she was thrown into a raging storm. There was nothing else to be heard, or seen. All was white. Wherever she looked, she was met by a blinding light. It was too much to take. She closed her eyes.
She couldn’t. It was too much!
Her eyes flew open. The wind was still howling in her ears, but the light had faded. It was dark now, the edge of her vision marked with shadow. The only light that was left was far ahead, in the distance. She stared at it, watching as it came closer. The storm around her began to weaken, quickly fading as the shape in front of her took form. It was strange to see, obscure, yet oddly familiar. It stretched upwards and downwards, long and thin, like a narrow jewel. But its sides were rough and jagged like stone. At its heart was the light, the blinding glow, burning fierce as ever as it stood before her. Years upon years seemed to pass in that moment. The light remained, the stone before her unchanging. She struggled to understand, to make sense of it, but there came no answer to her question.
What is it?
Silence. Darkness. The wind was gone, the light was gone. There was nothing. And then a voice.
She opened her eyes. It sounded like rain.
A familiar face. Jacky sighed in relief as their eyes met. “You all right there, kiddo?”
“Mm…” Her head was swimming. “What happened?”
Jacky helped her to her feet. “Let’s get you a seat. I think that’s enough excitement for one night.”
She glanced to her left. It wasn’t raining, the audience was clapping. She was onstage. Why was she onstage?
Once Jacky had walked her off, behind the safety of the curtains, her mind began to clear. “What happened? Why was I–”
Kit skidded around the corner and stopped at their feet. He seemed worried for a short moment, but he was smirking seconds after seeing Anny on her feet.
“Dang,” he said, “two in one day! Didn’t mention you were a fainter.”
She pulled away from Jacky and scowled. “I’m not a fainter! I just… I was…” She looked back to the stage, but the magician was gone. The audience was still clapping as Lavinia took her place for the final act. “Where did he go?”
Before Kit could answer, Jacky pushed him back towards the stage. “You’re on drums! Let me look after Anny.”
“I’m fine,” she said quickly. “I just need to sit down for a while.”
Jacky turned to her. “You sure?”
“Alright.” She seemed relieved and eager to get back to the other end of the stage. “See you after the show.” Offering one last smile, she turned on her heel and disappeared.
Left on her own, Anny retreated backstage. The faintness she had experienced was quickly fading, an unnatural calm stealing over her mind and body. Desperate to recall what had happened, she spotted a costume trunk and took a seat, the music from the stage now distant. With a deep breath, she hung her head and closed her eyes.
But the harder she tried to remember what happened, the more she seemed to forget. It was hardly a minute after she had sat down that the whole instance was completely blackened from her mind. She couldn’t explain the strange feeling in her stomach, the heavy cloud hanging over her head. It wasn’t like anything she had experienced before. It was different, new. It was… Was it?
Could this be magic?
She sat up with a start. Someone had taken a seat beside her. Her heart jumped to her throat when she realised who it was.
“You are from aboveground.” His hood was pulled back, revealing a head of thin blond hair, but there was no mistaking those cold eyes.
Anny opened her mouth, but went silent as he caught her gaze. She could only nod.
He stared at her a long while, thinking. “You are not human.”
Again, she couldn’t speak. And she couldn’t look away. She shook her head.
At last, he turned from her, staring into the distance. A long silence followed. More than anything, she wanted to ask him what happened, she wanted to remember it. Her courage faded under the influence of his presence, but her curiosity was mounting as time wore on. Just as she was about to speak, his eyes met hers again.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
Desperate as she was to ask her own questions, she knew she had to answer. He was waiting for an answer, and he wasn’t going to let her go until she gave him one. In reply to her silence, he turned his gaze to her hands, clasped nervously on her lap. And in that moment, she managed a name.
He looked back to her, but his eyes were glazed over in thought. “Jack?”
His gaze was less intense, she felt herself relax. “Yeah. I’m just here to–”
But his eyes snapped back to attention. She couldn’t speak. And even when he looked away, towards the hall that led to the stage, Anny was unable to break the silence. Frustrating as it was, she couldn’t bring herself to ask him what happened. She could only look down at the floor and close her eyes a second time. The late night was catching up on her.
She opened her eyes as Imagic rose to his feet. An instant later and she was staring at his hand, resting on her shoulder.
“You did well,” he said.
She shivered as he pulled his hand away, keeping her eyes on her feet to avoid his searching gaze. But he had no more questions. He turned from her, making his way down the corridor towards the dressing rooms. And she watched. Exhausted, dazed, she stared as he disappeared around the corner. Even when he was gone, she continued to stare, wondering, but too tired to make any sense of her own questions. She could only sit in silence, the distant music fading into applause.
The last act of the night had come to a close.