“I call that a crying shame,” said Terrance Carlisle. “My wife and I got to see your show once. Amazing. I said to her, Marge, that’s not illusion, that’s a goddamn miracle.” He shook his head. “Breaks my heart to think our son will never get to see you perform.”
The aforementioned son was at that moment sitting on the den floor and gnawing thoughtfully on a plastic binkie. He had just turned three last Wednesday. His name was Rupert. Despite his father’s best efforts to preserve dignity, it was threatening to turn into Oopsie. Several of the other investors’ wives were taking it in turns to pick him up and admire how heavy he was getting.
Terry had introduced the magician to the other guests by his stage name. “Please,” he’d said, “call me David.” But it wasn’t some nobody named David Barnholt that Terry had invited to the party. He’d promised the investors a special one-night only performance by Mister Omega, and Mister Omega’s insistence on staying retired was inconvenient. “Did you ever get to see my great-aunt perform? Madame Zee? A bit before you time, I presume.”
“You presume correctly,” Terry admitted. “But with you to carry on her legacy, we don’t suffer for the loss.” In truth, Terry hadn’t been that impressed with Mister Omega’s show. It was Marge who’d gushed about miracles and magic. She’d always been easy to please. But Terry knew better. The magician’s show had been sadly lacking in pacing, showmanship, and flash. It had been just one trick after another. And they were good tricks, Terry had to admit, owing undoubtedly to years of practice in prestidigitation, but he’d found it disconcerting the way Mister Omega had seemed not to be on speaking terms with the hand that performed them. He’d worn a gaudy great ring on that hand, the only showy thing about him. Otherwise he’d dressed for the stage as though for a card game, in a shabby suit like the one he was wearing now.
It had been Mister Omega’s penultimate performance, and no wonder. The following and final night’s show had ended abruptly, but Terry had never bothered to track down the details.
But that wasn’t the point. The point was, the magician seemed criminally ignorant about how social engagements like these were supposed to go. When the wealthy host extends an upper-crust invitation to the down-and-out performer and *then* gives him a chance to wow an influential audience, it’s terribly ungrateful for the performer to decline. Besides, he hated the reminder that Mister Omega was a good ten years his senior.
“She was lucky to have you following in her footsteps,” bellowed Claude, who liked to joke that he was Terry’s “not-so-silent partner.” “Who’s going to follow you? You can’t quit before you’ve trained up an apprentice. How else will the legacy continue?”
“All things must come to an end,” Mister Omega said. “Even legacies.”
“Unacceptable!” said Terry briskly. “The show must go on!” He called to his wife, who was halfway underneath the coffee table retrieving Rupert’s binkie. “Marge, come over here, will you? Bring Rupert.” There was a round of laughter from the men as Marge bumped her head extricating herself from the furniture. Several of the other investors’ wives surged forward to coo over her owie. “Come on,” Terry said, “make sure the kid can see! Mister Omega is going to do a magic trick for us.”
For a moment, Mister Omega just glowered. Terry hoped he wouldn’t be stupid enough to cut off his own nose to make his host lose face. “All right,” he said at last. “Fine.” He stuck his right hand into the pocket of his ill-fitting slacks and pulled out—yes, that god-awful ring. It was even uglier than Terry had remembered. The “gem” looked like poor-quality zircon, cloudy and yellow, unevenly faceted. The metal of the setting was blotchy with tarnish. The whole gave the impression of a jaundiced and cataract-ridden eye gripped in the talon of a zombie eagle.
Mister Omega slid it onto his left-hand ring finger. Then he held up both his hands, fingers splayed, and let his sleeves fall back to reveal the vast quantity of nothing that was up them. Preliminaries satisfied, Mister Omega’s beringed left hand shot out toward Rupert with frightening suddenness—Marge gasped and tightened her arms around the child—and pulled out a coin from behind his ear. He held it up so that all the assembled guests could see the golden gleam. Then he handed it brusquely to Rupert, who was still staring in confusion and shock. Rupert reflexively closed his pudgy hand around the trinket. Then he began to howl.
“There,” said Mister Omega.
Marge bounced Rupert in her arms and made desperate shushing noises at him. She shot a glance at Terry as though waiting for him to do something, God only knew what. The other investors chuckled nervously among themselves.
A soft whumming noise vibrated out of nothing and grew to a roar until the air beside them rent itself asunder. Thunderclouds the color of three-day bruises roiled in the gap. Out of the gap stepped a being. It was humanoid, but only grudgingly, as though its form were provided by a universe grown bored with humoring humanity’s childish notion of a bipedal monopoly on sentience. Its four limbs moved like an attempt at simultaneous translation. When Terry blinked, the lights and colors behind his eyelids formed an afterimage modeled off of another and greatly more disturbing shape.
“I think you have something of mine,” said the being. Its voice arrived not in Terry’s ears but in a roaring emptiness inside his brain which he associated with fainting. He had only fainted once in his life, but the humiliation was memorable. The being reached out with an intention that was shaped like an arm and hand, a slow satirical echo of Mister Omega’s magic trick, and with this intention it plucked the coin out of Rupert’s unresisting hand. “Thank you,” howled the abyss in Terry’s mind. Then the being faded backward through the ragged hole in space-time, which promptly darned itself up neater than a stocking.
Its exit left the room silent. Even Rupert had ceased to cry. Finally, Mister Omega said, “I hope you’re happy now.” Then he strode from the room, retrieved his overcoat from its hook in the foyer, and slammed his way out into the night.
“Well,” said Terry, “that was a thing that happened.”
“And are you happy now?” said Marge icily. “Come on, Oopsie, let’s get you to bed.” She didn’t slam any doors on her way out of the den, but her flounce was more effective than Mister Omega’s even so.
Claude gave a bark of laughter that seemed perhaps a little too deliberately conjured to break the tension. Terry was grateful nonetheless. “That trick,” he commented, “really was in poor taste. If Mister Omega didn’t want to perform for us, he had only to say.”
This has been the Friday Fictionette for June 1, 2018. It's also the Fictionette Freebie for the month, making the full-length fictionette (1210 words) available for anyone to download from Patreon (as an ebook or audiobook) regardless of whether they're subscribers.