You can’t always believe what you see in this hilarious coming of age novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and I Have a Bad Feeling about This.
Harry Houdini. Penn and Teller. David Copperfield. Marcus Millian the Third.
Okay, so Marcus isn’t a famous magician. He may not even be a great magician. But his great-grandfather, the once-legendary and long-retired Zachary the Stupendous, insists Marcus has true talent. And when Grandpa Zachary boasts that he and Marcus are working on an illusion that will shock, stun, and astonish, Marcus wishes he could make himself disappear.
The problem? Marcus also has stage fright—in spades. It’s one thing to perform elaborate card tricks in front of his best friend, Kimberly, but it’s an entirely different feat to perform in front of an audience.
Then Grandpa Zachary dies in his sleep.
To uphold his great-grandfather’s honor, the show must go on. It would take a true sorcerer to pull off the trick Marcus has planned. But maybe he’s the next best thing…
“IS THIS YOUR card?” asked Marcus Millian III, holding up the nine of hearts.
“It is!” said his mother, eyes wide with surprise. “How did you do that?”
Marcus sighed. “Seriously, Mom?”
“That wasn’t the card, and you know it.”
“Well, true. But I didn’t want you to feel bad.”
Marcus grabbed his mother’s hand and led her out of the kitchen into the dining room. The meatballs on her plate of spaghetti had been arranged to form the number two and a club.
“You were supposed to say no. Then I’d look all disappointed and say, ‘Okay, I guess I need to practice the trick more.’ And then we’d sit down for dinner, and you’d see your card number in the spaghetti.”
“That’s pretty clever.”
“I can’t become a master illusionist if you’re just going to humor me. The magician is supposed to deceive the audience, not the other way around.”
“You’re right. You’re right,” Mom said.
“I’m fifteen. That’s something you do with a six-year-old. I can take criticism. Do you think Penn & Teller’s parents fibbed to them about it being the right card?”
“You’ve made your point. It won’t happen again.” Mom smiled. “Next time I’ll throw the card down in disgust and say you’re not my son. Go call your father for dinner.”
Marcus had been testing a trick in which the picture frames on the wall in his father’s office would rearrange themselves to spell “DINNER.” It would require a fairly complex pattern of fishing line that he could manipulate from outside the room that he hadn’t worked out yet, and there were only enough frames currently on the wall to form “DIN,” but once it was perfected, he knew Dad would freak.
Until then, Marcus would have to resort to walking upstairs like a primate to pass along the message.
“Hey, Dad, dinner’s ready,” he said.
“Thanks.” Dad saved the file he was working on, pushed back his chair, and stood up.
“Got time for a quick trick first?” Marcus asked.
Marcus shuffled his deck of cards, though it was a fake shuffle that kept the two of clubs on top. His favorite card was the jack of diamonds, but the two of clubs was easier to construct out of meatballs.
“Cut the deck anywhere,” Marcus instructed.
Dad cut the deck in half perfectly. Marcus frowned and furrowed his brow, pretending that the trick was ruined, and now it was going to be embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone.
Misdirection—one of the most important skills for a magician.
Marcus set the two halves of the deck on the desk. “Look at the top card, but don’t show it to me,” said Marcus.
Dad complied, taking the card and glancing at it. He thought he was looking at the card where he’d cut the deck, but he was actually looking at the top card of the full deck.
“Stick it anywhere in the deck,” said Marcus, and Dad slid the card back in.
Marcus did a full shuffle. “Would you like to shuffle it yourself too?” he asked. The order of the cards made no difference now, so he’d let Dad think he had more control over the outcome than he really did.
“Sure.” Dad gave the cards a quick shuffle and then handed them back to Marcus.
Marcus stared at the deck, then pulled out a random card. The ace of spades. “Is this your card?”
Marcus feigned disappointment. “Are you sure you remembered it right?”
“Huh. Sorry. I guess I need to work on this trick some more.”
“No big deal. It’s all about practice,” Dad said.
They went downstairs and sat at the dining room table.
“Looks great, sweetie,” Dad said to Mom. He twirled some spaghetti on his fork, jabbed a meatball, and popped it into his mouth. “Delicious.”
He quickly ate another bite. “So good.”
He took a third bite. “Mmmmmm.”
Marcus sat there stunned, staring as Dad had three more bites.
“What’s the matter?” Dad asked. “Not hungry?”
“Did you notice the formation of your meatballs?”
“You didn’t look at them?”
Dad glanced down at his plate. “Is there something wrong with them? They tasted fine.”
“They formed a two of clubs.”
“Oh. Okay, yeah, no, I didn’t notice that.”
“What? I don’t analyze my dinner before I eat it!” Dad said. “You should have told me the magic trick was still going on! I would’ve paid more attention!”
“It was a simple card force. I wouldn’t mess up a move that easy.”
“How am I supposed to know how easy a trick is? That’s between you and Grandpa Zachary.”
Grandpa Zachary was actually Marcus’s great-grandfather, who went by the stage name Zachary the Stupendous. Now eighty-nine years old, he’d retired twenty years ago and was mostly forgotten in the world of magic, but Marcus idolized the cranky old guy.
JEFF STRAND lives in Tampa, Florida. He is the author of A Bad Day for Voodoo, I Have a Bad Feeling About This, and The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. Explore his website at jeffstrand.com.
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