If I don’t look, maybe it’ll all go away, like a bad dream.
Because surely this was the worst dream he could ever imagine.
Christopher King sat in the corner, holding the ace of spades in his hand. With a flip of his fingers, he tried catching the card between his knuckles and moving it into a back-palm, where it would appear to vanish to an audience. All he succeeded in doing was causing the card to shoot across the room. He didn’t go after it. He merely grabbed a different card and tried again, refusing to look away, knowing that if he did he would have to face reality.
Magic had always been a hobby of Chris’s. His father had shown him his first card trick when he was seven and had taken him to see his first professional magic show when he was eight. Ever since then, Chris had wanted to become a magician. As time moved on and Chris grew older, he realized that there was no such thing as real magic—it was only smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand—but that hadn’t driven him away from wanting to learn how to do the tricks. In fact, it made him want to practice, so that one day he could fulfill his deepest ambition and perform the greatest trick the world had ever seen, one so great that everyone would believe it was real. However, now at fifteen, Chris wished that magic was real, because there was nothing he wanted to do more at this moment than to be able to disappear.
People he had never met and would never meet again walked past him, talking to one another, sometimes stopping to mutter something consoling to him. He pretended not to hear or even to see them. If he didn’t acknowledge them, then they weren’t there. And if they weren’t there, then none of this was really happening.
He held the playing card between his thumb and forefinger, giving up on the back-palm and flipping it over instead, watching as the back turned into the front and then the back again. If only it was that easy to turn back the hands of time. It wasn’t fair how your life could change so abruptly. How one minute your parents could be safely driving home, and the next in an accident with an eighteen-wheeler.
“Chris . . .”
Chris looked up. One of the people had stopped to offer his condolences. He was a thin man in his mid-forties with a dark moustache and glasses that magnified his sad and drawn eyes.
“Chris, I’m so sorry. My name’s James Chivaro. I worked with your father at the office.”
Go away, Chris willed. I don’t care.
The man held out a pale hand. Chris didn’t know if the man was offering to shake or to help him up. Chris didn’t want to do either.
When the man saw that Chris didn’t make any effort to take it, he hunkered down, his knees popping like twin pistol shots.
“Chris, I understand that this is a hard time for you, and that you feel alone, but I want you to know that things will get better. Believe me. You’ll find a reason to go on and be happy again. I lost someone very close to me at an early age, too, and it felt like my world ended, but here I am today, still whole.”
Chris didn’t want to hear any of it. He squeezed his eyes closed, fighting back the tears, wishing that the man would go away. Thankfully, he did. When Chris finally opened his eyes, he expected to be alone again. What he did not expect was for someone across the room to be staring at him.
This man was large and rugged-looking. He wore a ponytail and a goatee, and his eyebrows were drawn so close together, his glare so intense, that it felt like the man was gazing into Chris’s soul.
The man’s presence startled Chris, and he quickly looked away. Curious if the man was still glaring at him, Chris snuck a look back. To his surprise, the man was gone. It was impossible to tell if he had really been there or if he had been a figment of Chris’s imagination. Needing to find out, Chris stood up, tucking the playing cards into his pocket. When he did, the room immediately grew quiet, as if everyone had been waiting for this moment. The strangers standing between the chairs parted, creating an aisle to the front of the room. Chris forgot all about the odd man. Very slowly, he walked forward, toward the two people lying down, waiting for him at the end of the aisle. As he approached the beautiful hardwood caskets, tears began to flow.
It was time for him to say goodbye to his parents.