No amazement, no awe, no applause - instead, no pay and the tacit threat of a law suit.
Alexi dug a thick rectangle of folded paper out of his pocket and examined it. It was a good trick. A good finale. The paper opened out, expanding like a parachute. It could be done in one fast movement, the spring released, the paper unfolding like great wings over the heads of the audience, filling the air with glittering sequins. It worked well with small groups.
He knew something was wrong at once. He could feel it. The pressure of the spring in his palm was subtly different. It felt looser than it should, not so elastic. But in the time it took him to realize this, his arm was already swinging back, his mouth still full of patter he no longer heard. There was no unfolding, no whisper of the thin paper as it expanded dark pleats like the petals of a strange and wonderful flower. Instead, Alexi watched in horror as the dense-packed paper flew out of his hand as hard and fast as a stone.
It hurtled across the room and hit little Misha in her left eye. Misha, three years old, opened her mouth and set up a deafening howl. Misha was Kolya’s little sister. It was Kolya’s party. Alexi had potentially cost the daughter of his employer the use of an eye. If ever an employer had an excuse not to pay...well, Alexi hadn’t waited to be told. He’d gathered up his props, horribly aware of the accusing, belligerent glares directed at his back. Misha was taken off to be comforted, her eye bathed, the other children enticed into another room with the promise of candy and cakes. On his way out, after trying to apologize, Alexi noticed the cards he’d left out in the hope of future engagements were gone from the table in the hall. In the bin, he thought. Thrown out, like me.
He fingered the spring again. There was no repairing it. He tossed it into the back of his van and closed the door, leaned on it a moment and sighed. The sigh should have released him, unwound the tense muscles of his back and shoulders but he was too wound-up. All the time now he felt pressured, coiled and compressed from outside and in. Clock’s ticking. Tick-tock tick-tock, where are you Alexi? What have you done? Where is your life? Where are you going?
“Nowhere,” he said aloud to the night. “Nowhere.”
Someone passed by at the end of the drive, whistling. Alexi recognized the tune:
Bright face, round face,
beautiful young maiden
stood there near the small valley,
and broke twigs of juniper ...
It lifted the weight off his shoulders a little, eased the beginnings of a pounding headache. He sang the first two lines as he got into his van.
Someone had left an envelope on the passenger seat. Immediately Alexi thought of law-suits, though it was impossible – there hadn’t been time. I locked the van. How? Maybe they’d felt badly, left payment for him anyway. Yes – again how? He knew he’d locked the van because he’d just opened it, using the key. It was a plain brown envelope. There was no name on it. It wasn’t heavy either, maybe just one sheet of paper inside. Alexi tore it open and switched on the van’s interior light, unfolding the paper on the steering wheel.
Would you like to play a game?
- Godfrey De Vries
- Elias Heikkinen
- Tony Blake
- Kamali Ncube
- Ebisawa Hitomi
- Michelle Sanchez
- Yu Mei
- Thiago Torres
- Vahide Younan
Kill these people and we can give you your dream.
It was a joke. A bad joke. Still he shivered. Someone had gone to lengths to achieve it, breaking into his locked van – locking it again so he never would have known it had been touched if not for the envelope.
Kill. Really kill? He couldn’t do it. We can give you your dream. Someone who knew him. Someone who knew his ambitions, his hopes. Someone I know, Alexi thought, someone I know is not my friend – is my enemy.
Or...or...can give you your dream.