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Drama Fantasy Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

“You can finish the week; then you’re out.”

Words failed Marula as he stared at his last paycheck being held out to him by Ricky, the stocky manager of the Rio hotel in Las Vegas. Marula’s shows had been selling more tickets of late, and the audience always gave an enthusiastic round of applause at the curtain call of his magic show. In Marula’s mind, he was closer than ever to his big break. That was, until now.

“What, are you hard of hearing? Get it together Marula. It’s not personal, it’s Vegas. You had a good run.” Marula took the check and flexed his jaw, feeling the heat rising in his chest. Ten years of magic. Ten years of chasing a headline that now would never bare his name.

“...So who is it?” Marula seethed.

“What?” Ricky asked.

“Who’s taking my place? I want to know.”

Ricky sneered. “Just look to your right, pal. I’ll see you later, I have a meeting.”

Marula turned to the wall. There, behind a layer of glass, was a poster labeled ‘The most incredible Magic Show to hit the strip since Copperfield, sure to alter your Percy-ception permanently’. Beneath the text beamed a kid who couldn’t be more than 20 years old.

Marula tightened his fist. Ten years of weekly shows had passed him by in a moment and not one of them secured a headlining act like this. Meanwhile, some idiot named Percy-ception could manage it. He grit his teeth and stormed off.

Five whiskeys later Marula’s problems felt further away, though the heat in his chest continued to simmer. Surrounded by the exuberant laughter of the guests of the Rio, he felt like he was being reminded that everyone and everything was more entertaining than him.

He slammed another drink back, the amber sending familiar heat trickling down his throat. He waved two fingers at the bartender who nodded knowingly. Marula was a regular here after his show, usually collecting a few tips performing some barside magic from the occasional patrons who recognized him. Yet that wasn’t happening tonight.

Moments later his refill appeared before him, the sloshing liquid mesmerizing his addled mind.

As he cradled the drink before him, the bartender spoke up.

“You should call it a night Marula, you’re looking pretty rough.”

Marula scoffed and took a swig. “Yeah, you’re not the only one who thinks that.”

The bartender frowned. “What happened?”

“Pink slip. Got one more show here, then it’s Hasta-la-Vegas for me. Ten whole years aiming for that headline...and for what?”

“Seriously? I’m sorry Marula. I for one have always appreciated that you aren’t as stuck-up as the bigger performers.” Marula paused, took a breath and let the barbed compliment pass.

“Thanks.”

“You want another round on me?”

“No, that’s okay. I think I’ll take your advice.”

Marula slid off the stool and onto the plush carpet. He straightened his jacket and departed, scarcely keeping himself steady. He ambled down the hallway to the elevator and thumbed the call button.

As he waited alone, another poster mounted between the elevators caught his eye. Percy-ception gleamed at him, green eyes mocking. A flash of fury overcame Marula and he lashed out, shattering the frame’s glass.

He cursed as a ding signaled the arrival of an elevator and shoved his bloodied knuckles into his pocket.

“Mind the glass,” he muttered as he stumbled past the guests exiting and pushed the button for his floor. The rise of the elevator made his stomach turn and next thing he knew, he found himself on his bed, hand wrapped in a towel and head spinning with the TV blaring in the background.

Sometime that night, Marula stirred. The TV flashed and he reached for the remote when he heard something that arrested his attention.

You heard that right!” A voice on the TV called. “What was a one-night only performance is now set to become a regular headline EXCLUSIVELY at the Rio Hotel & Casino here in Las Vegas. Alter your Percy-ception permanently, if you dare, with a Magic Show of the century from the winner of the Magic Societies’ Talent Competition!”

Marula rubbed his eyes, his lips pulled taught. He wasn’t just outed in favor of younger talent, he got bumped by a god damn talent contest winner. A kid who probably never worked a stage bigger than a basement! In that moment, Marula made a decision. He’d fix this.

With redemption on his mind he lay on the bed and plotted. First, he’d buy a ticket to Percy’s show. He’d watch the amateur performance in disguise, heckling from the crowd and spoiling the illusions. And should that not be enough to get Percy to tuck tail, he’d have a friendly word afterwards. He’d give Percy some advice, tell him he isn’t ready for the pressures of Vegas. With luck, he’d send Percy running back home by the end of the night and force Ricky to come beg for a talent like him to return to the stage.

With swirling thoughts of how he’d get his job back in his mind’s eye, Marula fell back into unconsciousness.

Two floors below, unbeknownst to Marula, Percy sat in a similar room very much awake despite the late hour. His heart raced, fingers jittery as thoughts of his upcoming debut loomed over him. Things were moving so quickly. Only two months ago he was an average kid, trying desperately to save up money after high school.

In fact it was only because of the cash prize that Percy even responded to the ad from the Magic Societies’ Talent Competition. He sent in a portfolio video of tricks, not truly expecting anything to come of it. And yet a call back came all the same, ushering him to perform along a few hundred selects for a chance at fame and fortune.

Fortune Percy needed badly. It would be his ticket into college at last. But fame? He feared that. For Percy was no mere performer of tricks. He came from a family of genuine magical means, one which taught him a myriad of magics upon turning 13 under the condition he abide by the family’s three absolute rules: Never use magic on another, never expose a family member’s magic, and most crucially, never reveal his own magic.

“All Magic has a cost, Percy,” his mother told him after he promised. “And these rules are ours.”

Those promises had been easy enough to keep since then, contented as he was to cast spells at home. But now, eight years later, he found himself torn with an opportunity for easy riches dangling before him.

His family pleaded with him to turn it down, the risk of exposure too great in their eyes. Unfortunately for them, money is a powerful motivator. So after two days of thinking, Percy decided. He pulled together an act to shock the world and bought his ticket to stardom.

Nevertheless, he now paced the hotel room in Vegas into the early morning hours, questioning his choice. He’d only aimed to win the contest for its 50k cash prize. Instead, he’d blown the judges away with a performance they heralded as revolutionary and his video went viral.

He’d been surrounded by cameras, praise and agents in what felt like seconds. They rushed him after he won, eager to get his ear.

Percy underestimated the shell shock of sudden fame, a fact underscored by his current complimentary suite and signed contract next to him. The dollar amounts thrown around dazzled him and before he knew it he was “Percy-ception”, the headliner.

He rushed to the bathroom and splashed cold water over his face. He examined his reflection, taking in his shaggy ashen blonde curls and green eyes. The reflection urged him to be strong. No matter how many eyes were on him, it wasn’t like he could choke and spoil the fun. The magic was real – and so would be his success.

Percy took steadying breaths and hardened his resolve. All he had to do was never reveal his secret; how hard could that be? He strode to his bed and tucked in, now determined to rest up for the premiere. As sleep approached, he dared to believe that perhaps this could be the beginning of a better life after all.

The stream of excited people began to trickle in around 5:00 PM, an hour before the curtain was to rise. People were clamoring for a first look at the viral sensation of Percy-ception and sold-out the show.

It was no surprise then, when Marula entered unnoticed in a shoddy disguise. He wore a hat and jacket, squeezing past others to make his way to the front row. His last paycheck barely covered the cost, but he didn’t care. The cushioned seat sighed as he took his post, pulling a flask from his pocket and topping off his courage.

Backstage, Percy bounced between confidence and doubt. He had remained strong all the way up until he saw his attire. He felt as a magician in a costume, ready to put on an act. Yet now that it came to it, this didn’t sit right. He shed the gaudy cloak and tailored shirt in favor of a plain white t-shirt and smiled. This was him: Casual and real.

“Percy, my boy, ready for your big night?” A voice called from behind. Percy turned and recognized Ricky.

“As much as I’ll ever be,” Percy replied.

The booming sound of the announcer then shook the building. A rich voice enticed the crowd, pulling cheers out of them as it teased the wonders they were about to behold.

Percy took his spot on the stage with a wave from Ricky and waited for the curtain to rise. Meanwhile, Marula sneered at the excitement for one so green as the lights dimmed and a spotlight snapped on, ready to illuminate the star.

The velvet curtain rose to loud cheers. Percy waved, ready to dazzle with an array of spells. Percy-ception’s show began with a series of disappearances, starting with a bowling ball and working up to a grand piano. At each object he paused a moment, snapped his fingers and elicited gasps from the crowd as the object vanished. He ran his hand where the object had been each time, demonstrating this was no mirror trick. Percy’s body hummed, the crowd’s energy amplifying his own. He swelled with pride, realizing he could do this.

In the crowd, Marula sat aghast. His voice caught in his throat, struggling to find anything to heckle at. He knew all the tricks, yet here was a kid who had him stumped. Trick after trick confounded both the audience and Marula. His hopes of Percy’s failure were dashed as equal parts astonishment, curiosity and rage bubbled within him.

By the end of the show, Marula’s ears were ringing from the constant roar of the audience. It was the single most impressive performance he’d ever seen. Percy-ception wasn’t just introducing a new style, he’d somehow reinvented the game.

As the curtain fell and people began to leave, Marula remained. He took another mouthful of his flask and waited. He burned to meet this kid.

Meanwhile Percy sat on the stage and leaned back on his hands, breathing heavy, for some time. He couldn’t describe the elation he felt, stoked by each cheer he heard tonight. The afterglow didn’t get to last forever though, as the curtain before him shifted and a man appeared.

Percy popped to his feet and examined this stranger. The lanky man wore an ill-fitting suit beneath an open, over-sized jacket. His eyes were hidden by a black hat, pulled low.

“H-hello? Who are you?” Percy asked, acutely aware that the stagehands were no longer around. The man didn’t answer, instead stumbling forwards. The silence was deafening.

“Show’s over man. You shouldn’t be back here,” Percy said, raising his voice somewhat. The man jeered.

I shouldn’t be here? You’re the one on my stage kid,” the man said, shedding his hat and jacket ceremonially. An awkward silence passed between them.

“Am I supposed to recognize you?” Percy asked, trying to remember which direction led to the exit. The man’s forehead creased, pale skin reddening.

“Name’s Marula...ring any bells?” Marula asked. Percy considered his next words as the hairs on his arms prickled.

“Oh, Marula...now I remember,” Percy lied. He watched Marula’s face and could tell he wasn’t convinced. Marula dug into a pocket and Percy took the chance to leave, bolting for what he hoped was the exit.

Marula scoffed, watching the young talent run behind a curtain and into a hallway leading to storage rooms as he drained the rest of his flask. He then pursued, getting angrier with each step. This kid wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Percy was just like Ricky, laughing in his damn face. Marula’s world dimmed to red, his reason taking a backseat to violent impulse.

Percy’s shoes slammed against the concrete floor with each step. He knew he went the wrong way now as he snaked his way down a long hallway with many doors. With each corner he hoped to see somebody, but he was alone.

Marula followed at his own pace. He knew this place well. There was no exit from here, only a series of doors to various storage and utility rooms. As he walked, the sound of Percy’s steps echoing ahead of him, Marula made a new, better plan. He’d threaten Percy, learn his secrets and kill him. To Marula’s alcohol-soaked mind, this was the easiest way to remove Percy from the picture for good. He felt in his other pocket, grasping a revolver.

Marula rounded a corner and finally locked eyes with Percy.

Percy scrambled through a random door, abandoning finding an exit in lieu of a hiding spot. The room he entered was spacious, the vacancy palpable even in the darkness. He fumbled for a light switch but found none, opting instead to charge blindly over and under various shapes. After he stumbled a good distance into the room he dropped to the ground and hid.

Marula arrived at the door and pushed it open. It creaked, a black void greeting him. He pushed through, taking a step to the right and flipping a switch obscured by a stack of boxes. Rows of long white light bulbs flickered to life. Percy squinted against the sudden glare and remained crouched low.

Marula scanned the storage room of junk.

“I just want to talk, Percy,” He called, shutting the door behind him and sliding a stack of boxes in front of it. “I’ll make you a deal. You tell me how you made those objects disappear, along with your other tricks from tonight, and I’ll let you go.”

Silence answered him, enraging Marula further. He kicked over a lamp, smashing it upon the ground. “I’m not fucking around Percy! I know you’re in here so make this easier on yourself.”

Percy’s mind raced, considering his options. He wasn’t as defenseless as Marula thought, his magic still at his fingertips. But now the first rule from his family barred his way – he couldn’t use his magic on another. He considered escape, though he could see through a crack between nearby boxes that Marula had obscured the exit and was standing nearby.

Percy fought to control his trembling legs. He didn’t see any weapon, so perhaps he could still talk his way out of this. He stood, exposing himself. Marula snapped to his position and raised the gun from his pocket. Percy stiffened.

“Tell me, Percy, like your life depended on it. How did you do those tricks?” Marula’s face was flush, unsteady on his feet. Percy fought with himself. The third rule, the most important, was to never reveal his magic. He’d asked his parents what would happen, but never received a straight answer: Just insistence that he should never find out.

“I...uh…” Percy stumbled, unable to come up with a lie, “a magician never reveals his tricks, right Marula?” Marula’s gaze hardened, his thumb clicking the hammer back.

“Try that line again, kid.”

Percy struggled to swallow, fear rendering him unable to see any other options.

“ANSWER ME!” Marula yelled, taking a step and firing a warning shot. A poster frame exploded to Percy’s left.

“I…” Percy began, mentally apologizing to his family. “The truth is...I’m doing real magic.”

Marula paused, the swelling tension that had been consuming him since Ricky fired him vanishing for an instant. Laughter overtook him, spilling forth. Percy watched, perplexed, as Marula howled like a deranged man.

Then, a voice growled within Percy’s mind, as clear as words spoken into his ear.

Nobody can know.

Percy then saw the various shadows in the room spring to life, surrounding Marula. They pooled at Marula’s feet like living water, before swelling upwards and outwards, finally snapping around him into a bubble as black as night.

All fell silent. The last laugh’s echo faded.

The bubble then popped, revealing nothing. Marula was simply...gone.

Percy fell to his knees, cold sweat clinging to his neck. He’d finally learned the cost of revealing his secret, though he couldn’t comprehend the meaning of the ominous voice that enforced it. After a few minutes he rose, returning to his room in a daze.

Over the next few months Percy struggled to carry on. His success continued to swell but in the back of his mind he still heard that gravely voice and saw Marula’s twisted face. To move forwards he tried to repress the memories, instead embracing his new life on the stage.

Under the stage lights he was safe, protected from the darkness. At least, that’s what he told himself each night when the shadows grew nearer. And so Percy, a magician among magicians, held true to his poster. For Percy and Marula, his show had indeed managed to alter their Percy-ceptions permanently.

July 21, 2023 01:57

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3 comments

Emilie Ocean
18:06 Jul 24, 2023

I wasn't expecting to have Percy's pov too when the story began with Marula, but I'm glad I got to understand both their thoughts. I'd love to know more about Percy and his magical inheritance. It's spooky and fantastical at the same time. Thank you for this story :)

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Thomas Holland
18:30 Jul 24, 2023

Thank you so much Emilie, your comment made my day! I had a blast writing this short story and the dual POV more or less introduced itself as I went. I definitely ended with a chunk of lore for Percy's magic that got left out to fit the word count limit.

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Theo Benson
20:37 Jul 24, 2023

Hey Thomas! I saw you mention in the comment below that you had more lore to go with Percy’s magic that didn’t make the word count cut. Honestly I’d love to see another story focusing on Percy and the lore behind his magic! I find the idea very fascinating. Like - where on earth did that voice come from?? It’s got me asking questions - which is the key to a good story. Thanks for sharing your work and good luck on future projects! :)

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