As magicians go, he was ordinary. He was skinny, disheveled, and frankly ornery. He had a nasty way of insulting his audience. He was always looking for the blockbuster trick, the one that would become his trademark play. The problem was, he liked to sleep in, take long lunches, and go out drinking at night. The one disappearing act he seemed really good at was he way he made his girlfriends disappear, when they’d had enough of his freeloading. That would all change, he decided. He was going to find the perfect set up, the startling sudden outcome, the magicians stone, that would cause his career to materialize right before his eyes.
The UPS man finally delivered the wizard’s wonder making widgetry he had ordered from a Middle Eastern firm that claimed ancient connections to Zoroastrianism. The box was heavier than it looked. The instant he opened it, a bright light flashed up into his face, and the sound of ancient lutes played a eery mystical melody that suggested that this was more than a little detour.
The instructions were clear and to the point: “Don’t follow the instructions.” He pulled the contents from the box, and laying them before him, he saw that there were four little vials, each filled with a different colored powder, one with green, one with blue, one with yellow and one with red. A large triangle and cross were included. He reached further into the box, hoping for a picture, an outline, something to demonstrate how the trick was to be assembled. Then he found it. A chalice, one so ornate, so bejeweled and unique in design that he realized that he had hit the online jackpot of the magician’s repertoire.
He mused on the instructions not to follow the instructions. He decided to put the pieces together for himself, as his impulses might lead. He poured the ingredients through the triangle and into the chalice, and added his best cabernet wine, mixing them thoroughly with the cross. Then, in a moment of desperate hope that he might one day be the greatest trickster of the age, he drank it down, gulping it to the last drop, and wiped his sleeve across his mouth. He stood there in the sunlight streaming through the window, waiting. . .waiting.
Then the room about him completely disappeared, the sky opened up, and he was transported through a dark tunnel so fast that his vision was completely overcome by the passing shadows.
When he reached the end of the tunnel, and entered the light, he was blinded by the glare. He closed his eyes involuntarily from the brightness. He didn’t even have to open his eyes to know what he’d see.
The world all around him was populated by wailing, dead magicians who had landed, like him, in the hell of quick gimmicks and short cuts. This, he knew, was the cruelest trick of all.