This was the best part of the job. The awestruck faces of the excited children sitting in front of him. He had plucked a little girl’s card from the deck and watched her eyes light up in wonder. He had pulled an endless chain of colored scarves from his sleeves as the children before him gasped. He had pulled the rabbit out of the hat to a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” followed by a flurry of applause and laughter. Max Potential absolutely loved being a performing magician.
When he had finished his tricks and posed with the birthday boy for one last picture, Max set about packing up his act. He bent down and stuffed all his effects into the little black briefcase he used to tote them from gig to gig and slid his wand into the back of the wide, red band that adorned his top hat. As he stood to leave, the birthday boy’s mother came over to thank him once more and slipped a $20 tip into his hand. Max smiled gratefully at her before sliding his sunglasses into place, then went on his way.
On his way home, Max knew he would pass by the little café he liked so much, and he figured he’d stop in for a little snack. After a couple blocks, he could hear the clinking of cups and glasses and the pleasant chatter of people amidst the chirping of the birds in the bright sunshine. Almost all of the visitors had chosen to take advantage of the outdoor seating on such a lovely day. Max smiled at the sight of it and headed up to the counter.
After a couple minutes, he heard his order get called so he went down the counter to grab it at the other end. When Max stopped to throw away his napkin, he felt a tug on one of his coattails. He looked down and found a wide-eyed little girl looking back at him.
“Sir, are you magic?” she asked him politely.
“I am a magician,” Max replied, smiling, “So yes, I am very magical.”
“Woah!” she exclaimed, drawing the attention of a few more patrons.
“Well, go on then,” said a man seated just to Max’s left, “Show us a trick!”
The little girl began clapping and squealing and Max looked around a bit sheepishly as more people shuffled closer or scooted their chairs around to get a better look at him. He did have all his supplies. And he did so love getting to entertain an audience, especially one with such an enthusiastic response.
Max set down his briefcase and pulled out everything he’d need, keeping his back to the crowd so that they wouldn’t see him rig up all his little contraptions. When he was ready, he turned back around and announced that the magic of Max Potential was about to begin. The audience cheered and he began his show.
Max pulled trick after trick and stunt after stunt, and the audience ate them all up. As he effortlessly flew through his routine, he took great interest in the faces surrounding him. There was the little girl, whose eyes had grown impossibly wider. The man who had asked for a trick was clutching his round belly with laughter. Then Max’s gaze fell on the woman.
There was no real reason for it. He’d been scanning the crowd, looking at everyone, and this woman wasn’t particularly noticeable; she didn’t stand out in any way. But she was different from the rest of them. While they watched his hands, she was watching his face. It caught him slightly off guard to see how intently she watched his eyes, and in her own he found a hint of something dangerous. And the way she stirred the tea in that cup. It was rather mesmerizing.
Suddenly, the cheers of the audience fell on deaf ears. Max could no longer hear them or see them. He only had eyes for that cup, and all he could hear was the whisper of her voice as if it was inside his mind. You are getting very sleepy, it called to him over and over. And indeed, he was.
The puffs of smoke appearing from the tubes in his sleeves never stopped, but Max did. It was like a block of ice had encased him from his toes to his chin. He was unable to move or call out or think of anything but the stirring of the tea in the cup. And the stirring of the tea didn’t stop either. Even after the woman quietly slid from her chair and waltzed out of sight, the stirring went on. No one noticed the woman making her getaway, not even Max whose eyes were glued to that mystifying teacup.
Some magician you are, the voice jeered in his mind. It was a voice like hot ice that made him shiver and sweat at the same time, but wouldn’t release him. It was the voice that would forever haunt the mind of Max Potential.