Penultimate Trick

A short story about a mysterious man who performs a magic trick for a Victorian-era King of England.

Men walk on roads.  But not this man.  The road graciously opened its earthen arms to accept his footsteps.  He seemed to walk within the road.  The smile on his face simply gave the road a small consolation for its gracious acceptance of his graceful and mystical strides.

Why was Peter smiling?  It was surely a smile of amusement, those which often formed upon his mouth, distorting the grizzly fuzz contemplating to become a full beard.  Was he smiling at his own appearance?  His demeanor was certainly amusing, even to the man himself.  His gentlemanly attire was matted and dirty with genuine signs of wear and apathy.  His brown bowler hat, nearly the color of the mangy mat of hair upon his head, appeared to be discussing with itself the prospect of falling from his head.  The cloak he wore, rather larger and more flamboyant than the normal cloak of the Victorian era, seemed to be simultaneously drawn tightly about him and thrust into the wind in a savage burst of flapping cloth.

Was the man, Peter Michael, smiling at the moon?  She was undoubtedly smiling at him, her small pale face illuminating the clouds into a sinister shade of green.  This green, beautiful in the same manner as sin, cast an eerie glow upon the stone street through which the man walked.  A small amount of moisture, drizzle from the morning before, reflected the haunting shades from the stone blocks of the streets and walls of London.

Was this man smiling at the trees?  The trees seemed to stretch forth, barren from the ravaging British winter, toward the moon.  Perhaps the trees wanted to share in the smiles of the moon and her companion, Peter Michael.  Peter’s smile seemed to mock the trees; condescending them in their season of gloom and despair.  He certainly wasn’t cold, covered by his traveler’s cloak and thick garments beneath.  The trees, however, felt the cool chill directly on their bark.  The wind made them appear as if they were shivering.  Perhaps this was the sight amusing Peter into his smile.

Was the man smiling at his destination?  The apartment building standing at the end of the street could easily be considered humorous by a man of his circumstances.  The apartments were obviously cheap and dilapidated.  Judging by his manner of dress, although ragged and worn, one could assume that he could afford much better lodging.  The only assumption that one could make regarding his lodging is that he applied the same manner of apathy toward his quality of living as toward his dress.

Was the man smiling at the boy, who stood at the entrance of the apartments?  He obviously knew the boy, who greeted him as a friend. 

The boy, perhaps no older than twenty, switched his gaze between his pocketwatch and the approaching man.  His foot fidgeted in anticipation.

“Who are you waiting on son?”

“A date of course,” the boy replied.

“It’s nearly midnight.  When was your date supposed to meet you?”

“Just a bit before dinner.”

“Does she eat particularly late dinners?”


Peter laughed.  It was a funny laugh.  It was as if the man laughed because he was amused, not because he wanted to amuse others.

“Johnny, your female friend may expect a flower.  A red rose, perhaps?”

“It’s winter, Peter.”

“The winter ground is a brittle old hag, but if you ask her nicely she might wield.”
The man bent over and grabbed a handful of dirt from beside his companion’s feet.  He closed his hand tightly around the dirt and whispered something to it.  He reached his other hand into the top of his grip and slowly pulled forth a large red rose from the clasped hand.  He reached forward to present the flower to the boy while casting the dirt back onto the ground, in one fluid motion.

“I told you Peter, I’m going to catch your trick eventually.  You had the rose in your hand before you bent over to grab the dirt.”

“That flower is over a foot in length.  It would have to have been bent to fit into my hand concealed.  Has that flower been bent?”

“No.  But I know you did something.”

“Of course I did something.  I pulled a goddamn rose out of thin air.”

Johnny remained staring at the flower, intensely contemplating the methods of Peter’s trick.  The unhappiness from being stood-up had temporarily left him.

The End

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