Fiction · 10/07/2020

The Children’s Magician

He does not have a top hat or a white rabbit. He will not pick your card. Doves will not fly from his cloak. He won’t saw you in half. Well, not literally. His act has only one trick, but it is unforgettable. Years later, people still find themselves consumed by it, paralyzed by its mysteries.

The Children’s Magician is older now and doesn’t perform that much anymore, but during his younger days, his magician’s prime, he’d perform two or three times a week and set a town ablaze.

Today, he performs what will be his final act, though he has made that promise to himself before. Across the street he watches Karen Bowers in her front yard. Beneath the boughs of a giant pine, in the shattered sunlight, she is on the grass, on her knees, playing ball with Ian, her four-year-old son. The ball is pale white, like a full moon, and Ian throws it with both hands, smiling when it reaches his mother.

Then, the phone rings.

Karen turns, moves to answer it, but stops. There is a pause, a tug at her mind. Let it ring, it says. This tug will stay with Karen her entire life. It will never stop pulling and, over time, it will unravel her.

But she doesn’t know this yet, so she points to Ian, tells him to stay in the yard. Then, she rises, goes inside, and answers the phone.

The magician is out of his car and across the street in seven steps.

He crouches beside Ian, extends a hand. The boy, though confused, takes it, and the magician pulls him close. He wraps his other hand around Ian’s face, swallowing his head, blackening his eyes.

And like that, they are gone.

The magician leaves Karen to return outside to the slight breeze, the shaggy branches of the pine, the brown summer grass, to everything exactly as it was before, save for one key difference.

He leaves her there, in what will forever be the last place she saw her son, to contemplate this trick, this disappearing act.


Joe Dornich’s stories have won contests and fellowships from Carve Magazine, The Master’s Review, South Central MLA, and Key West Literary Seminars, among others. Joe’s debut short story collection, The Ways We Get By, which is not nearly as creepy or depressing as what you just read, can be pre-ordered here: