|Visionary story universe|
Sir Rodney patted his wrinkled hand across his impeccably combed hair, assuring himself that not one was out of place. He examined his snow white beard, cropped short and evenly and smiled in satisfaction. There was a knock at the door.
"Five minutes, sir." said a slightly muffled young voice.
Rodney smiled lightly and stood, examining himself again in the mirror. His black tuxedo, set off with a red tie and cummerbund, was perfect. Tailored to his exact measurements, it made him look decades younger.
One flex of his fingers, though, brought back all those years.
The smiled faded as he felt the familiar ache in his joints. He reached out to the dressing table and picked up the old, framed publicity photo. It wasn't the best one that he'd had done over the years, but it was his favorite. Black and white, it showed a far younger, clean shaven man. A man who had his entire life ahead of him. A man who knew that he had a good thing going, and was going for the golden ring.
Rodney never attained that golden ring. He grinned as he put the picture back down. Maybe his wasn't a household name, but there was more to life than that. He had, after all, attained a silver ring of sorts. It was enough. He still had his art.
Another rap on the door brought him out of his musings. "Two minutes, sir. We need you in the wings."
The magician tied his black and red cape around his neck and walked to the door. "I'm ready, my good man." He said as he opened it.
The kid on the other side was grinning from ear to ear. Probably only about sixteen, he was apparently just beginning to grow into manhood. "This way, sir." he said as he began to lead the magician down the darkened corridor. He took a deep breath and turned to his head back. "If you don't mind me saying so, Sir, you are one of the best."
Rodney smiled at that. "Why on earth would I mind hearing that, young man? Thank you."
The kid seemed hesitant about what to say next, then took another deep breath. "Sir, I know that this is a bad time to ask, but. . .I've always wanted to be a magician. Do you have any advice?"
Rodney looked hard at the kid for a moment. He'd heard that a lot over the years, from people who seemed to think that this was easy work. A lot of people assumed that just because you wore a tuxedo every night you must be driven home in a limousine.
But, the kid had a familiar glint in his eye, one that Rodney recognized. He'd seen it in a mirror when he was about this boys age. "Son, you're right, it is a bad time to ask. But, if you are willing to see me after my last show tonight, I'll be happy to talk with you about it."
The kid looked crestfallen, "I can't, Sir. I have to be home before midnight. You're last show. . ."
"Ends at 1am, I know. Well, tomorrow, then. My first show is at seven. I'll be in my dressing room by five. Just knock."
The kid grinned gratefully and stuck out a hand as they reached the wing of the stage. "Thank you, Sir! I'll be there!"
Just then, a voice from the stage boomed across the auditorium. "And now! The Grand Master of Illusion, celebrating fifty years of performing, Sir Rodney!"
He took a deep breath, and stepped out onto the stage.
A far different man was looking into the mirror now. His smooth hair was now slightly disheveled. The tie of the tuxedo was undone and hung loosely around his neck. The cape was draped over a chair where he had tossed it after his last show. Now, he sat and looked long at his hands.
He winced at the pain as he sat in the chair. They were no longer the swift, dexterous hands of his youth. He was once now a master of slight of hand, but his shows tonight proved to him that his career was over.
The audience had seen nothing, or not enough for them to catch on. He was, after all, still a master of illusion, even if it was just appearances. But Rodney knew. He was far off his game, and it would only get worse. He would never be like the young magician that stared back at him from the old publicity photo.
Even as he heard a knock at the dressing room door, he started to rub the new pain in his arm. "Come in."
Rodney watched in the mirror as the man entered. His dark overcoat was neatly arranged, setting off the white shirt and black tie beneath. Their eyes met briefly in through the mirror, and the old man removed his hat with a bit of flourish, bowing slightly with a smile. "I am honored, good sir."
Rodney smiled despite the growing pain in his arm. He turned. "And I thank you, good sir. What may I do for you at this God forsaken hour?"
The man pointed a hand to a chair, and Rodney nodded his permission. As the old man sat, he said, "I saw your show. You were magnificent."
Rodney smiled. "All an illusion. I wasn't as good as you might think."
"Oh, I know that. You slipped once with that trick card, almost reveled how you did that slight of hand trick. That wonderful trick with the doves, I believe there were supposed to be three, though? You weren't fast enough to pull the third from the hidden pocket in your cape. I guess that you've given up on the rabbit trick, the one that you used to do."
Rodney smiled a little. "You're a magician?"
"In a manner of speaking. Believe me, no one else in the room knew that anything was amiss."
Rodney turned back to the mirror, removing his coat. Damn this pain in his arm. "I'm afraid that you have caught my last show. I will not risk embarrassment on the stage."
The man lost his smile, looking very serious. "I already knew that."
Rodney looked at the reflection of the man in the mirror and felt his feet grow slightly cold. "Who exactly are you, by the way?"
"A friend, and a colleague of sorts. You might say that I've dabbled in slight of hand more than once in my life. I am here, though, to ask you a question."
Rodney rubbed his throbbing arm more and more. "What's that?"
"Do you have any regrets?"
Rodney looked at the old man while he ran through his thoughts. He thought of the times that he'd been on stage. He thought of his life as a magician. He had been married, three times in fact, and had a few kids. They'd grown apart over the years, but they still loved each other. There was one thing, however. . .
"I never took on a protégé. My kids didn't have any interest in the stage. Can't blame them, really. But, I never took anyone under my wing. I never helped another young magician rise."
The old man looked at him sadly. "Why not?"
Rodney sighed again. "I never had the time, really. Or rather, never took the time. I thought about it. Many times over the years, in fact." He shrugged, "Never did it." Rodney turned back to the mirror again, his face brightening suddenly as he remembered something. "There still is time!" he said. "I'm still good enough to teach."
The reflection of the darkly dressed man seemed to grow even darker. "No. There is no more time."
Rodney stood, barely hearing the mans words. The pain in his arm had become intense. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He fell to his knees and started to fall forward. The old man caught him and gently lowered him to the floor. "Don't worry, Rodney." He said quietly, "You'll get your chance."
Kalab walked through the back door of the theater with a spring in his step. He was going to talk to Sir Rodney today! Just from watching the man on stage, he could tell that he was the perfect man to point him right, to help him find if he had talent. He knocked on the door of the dressing room.
Still no answer. No sound at all. Concerned, Kalab opened the door slightly and peered in. A man in a dark suit was sitting at the dressing table. There was a bundle in his lap, and he was holding the aged publicity photo. But it wasn't Sir Rodney.
"Oh! Excuse me! I was looking. . . "
The man turned and smiled thinly. "You must be Kalab. Come in. I've been expecting you."
Kalab furrowed his brow. "Sir? I'm sorry, but have we met?"
"No, you might say that I am here on behest of Sir Rodney. Please, sit down."
Kalab sat. The man had a very serious look on his face. "Kalab, Rodney passed out of this world last night. It was after his last show, after you had left."
It took a moment for that to sink in, then Kalab's face fell. Somehow, he felt that he was watching his future vanish. "Oh, no! That can't be. He promised to be here. He has to be alive!"
The man put a hand on the boys shoulder. "I'm sorry, but there are things that no one can prevent. However, he did think of you in his last moments."
That made Kalab more confused. "Me? He'd only met me once."
"True, but Rodney was more than just a wonderful magician. He was a teacher, and he wanted to teach you. It was his wish that you have these, for you to use."
The man handed Kalab the dark bundle. Kalab looked at the black cloth for a moment before he realized what it was. "His cape?" he asked quietly. The cape felt warm, though, and too heavy. Reaching his hand naturally into a concealed pocket, he felt his hand close on something soft and warm. With a small flourish, he pulled the white rabbit out of the cape.
The old man smiled and clapped. "You have talent. I think that Rodney knows that."
Kalab shifted the white rabbit to a position laying on his arm, where it rested comfortably, unmoving. The man stood from the chair and ran his hand through the fur. "This, you might say, is Rodney's greatest gift to you. You might say that he is something of a familiar, and will be with you a long time." The man picked up his coat and slipped it back on. "I, unfortunately, will not be. I'll be sure to catch your first performance. Look for me. I'll be in the shadows." With that, he donned his hat and walked out the door.
Kalab sat in the dressing room stroking the white rabbit for a long time, thinking.
The white rabbit, looking at his reflection in the mirror, smiled inwardly. Not only had he found his protégé, but he had pulled off the one trick Houdini never could.
For a master magician, that was all he could ask.