The Magic Shop
Author:Justin Swapp

The Blue Room





A knock on Marcus’s bedroom door at 6:00 A.M. the next morning jolted him into consciousness. He had been sitting up in bed with his dry eyes already open, wondering if he had slept at all. It was like he had been in a daze, not quite able to ward off the memory of the hospital, or of the prospect of tending The Magic Shop, at least until the knock jarred his attention.

“Come in,” Marcus droned. Tofu, the family dog, lay at his feet and Marcus gently pushed Tofu off the bed with his foot before Tofu could lick him. He grabbed the remote out of habit and turned on the TV.

Marcus and Ellie had moved from place to place all their life, but had always lived with their grandparents. Typically, they lived somewhere on the premises of the shop. It was less expensive that way. In this case, they stayed in a loft above the store. This shop wasn’t as large as some of the others, but it was home.

His grandma wedged the door open and entered the room, stumbling slightly over a large pile of clothes that Marcus had left on the floor. Several large posters of the constellations hung on the wall next to his bed; gifts from his grandpa. What his dresser lacked in trophies, it made up for in stacks of movie and music discs, and any other gadgets he could afford online. The room’s one single window overlooked the street in front of the shop.

Marcus sat on the floor at the foot of his bed, staring at the television blankly as the channel quacked about the rising price of gold.

‘Send us your gold watches or rings and we will pay you twenty percent above the going rate! We even take the occasional tooth, see special handling instructions. You could be rich!’

“Come along, dear,” his grandma said as she kicked a jacket off her foot. She tried to get an angle on Marcus’s face. “It’s time to wake up, young man.”

Grandma powered down the TV.

“Hey,” Marcus said, “I was watching that.”

“You don’t even know what you were watching. If you ask me, you were doing more drooling than watching. Get going now.”

The door swung open a little more, and his grandpa and Ellie entered the room as well. Ellie rubbed her eyes until Tofu jumped into her arms and licked her face.

“For your information, Grandma,” Marcus said, “that commercial was about exchanging gold for money. Doesn’t that sound like something we should be listening to?”

“We don’t need a commercial to tell us that gold is worth money, Marcus,” his grandpa said, shaking his head. “We appreciate your concern, but no more TV for a while, huh?”

Marcus rolled over and stretched, exposing an ear bud he wore while he listened to music.

Ellie clicked her tongue. “You were listening to music and watching TV at the same time?” she asked. He glared back at her thanklessly. “Pathetic.”

“What’s the big deal anyway?” Marcus squinted at the clock on his chest of drawers. “It’s 6:00 A.M.” He reached under his bed and produced a handheld gaming system and fired it up.

“Did you think we were joking about you tending the shop?” his grandma reached down and snatched the gaming system out of Marcus’s hands.

“Hey!” Marcus swiped at it, but his grandma was too fast. “The shop doesn’t open for another three or four hours. Plus, hardly anyone comes.”

His grandpa coughed loudly by the door and gave Marcus the look. Despite not getting the look very often, Marcus knew it when he saw it, and it was not to be trifled with.

“You two get cleaned up and meet us downstairs in, say, twenty minutes.” Their grandma kicked a final article of clothing off her shoe as she followed the kids’ grandpa out of the room and down the stairs.

“This is all your fault,” Ellie said. “I keep my grades up and my things clean, yet somehow I get lumped in with you and your consequences.”

“For the record, my grades are fine. Your issue is that you never pull your nose out of your books. You have no friends, Ellie, so they probably figured some people skills might do you some good.”

Ellie stiffened her arms at her sides and balled her fists. “I hate you sometimes,” she said, “you know that?” She grunted before pivoting like a soldier and marching off down the hall. A moment later Ellie slammed her door.

Marcus smacked his lips and ran a hand through his hair before deciding to get ready. He wandered out of his room and across the hall to the bathroom. Normally, he would tread carefully to avoid bothering his grandparents or any customers that might be in the shop, but he figured Ellie had taken care of that. As Marcus began brushing his teeth he heard a thumping from the floor beneath him. This was his grandparents’ way to get their attention. He stomped his foot a few times to let his grandma know that he heard her. Breakfast was ready.

As Marcus descended the stairs, he heard raised voices coming from the kitchen. Winston and Charlotte were apparently arguing. He wandered around the bottom floor behind the shop. On one wall Winston kept the products he used to restock the shop. On the other was a large, crimson tapestry that had been in the family for years. Marcus stood in front of the inventory shelf and tried to take it all in. There were things like packs of face cards, how-to books on magic tricks, disappearing coins and where to look for them, and sleight-of-hand manuals.

Marcus took a deep breath. He didn’t like magic, and he wouldn’t enjoy tending the shop. He knew some kids from school who were awed by the unexplained, and others aspired to be able to use magic’s deception to their advantage and to take advantage of others. Marcus knew better. There was only reality, not magic. He had few memories of his real parents, but he knew that his father loved magic, and that made him hate it. His father was gone, and magic was fake.

Marcus reached into the shelves and pulled out a pair of magical rings. He tapped the hoops together to try to make them interlock. He couldn’t do it. He knew he shouldn’t fiddle with the products. His grandpa didn’t like it when they got into the inventory. He was afraid things would go missing or broken, and they would be out even more money.

A loud thud came from behind him, and Marcus instinctively ducked, the magic rings still in hand. He peeked around a table behind him to see his grandpa leaving the kitchen, looking rather upset.

Winston slowed his pace for a moment and looked around the living room, almost as if he sensed something or someone. After a moment he seemed moderately satisfied, and he turned to the wall at his side with the large, crimson-colored tapestry and pushed it aside. Behind the tapestry was a bare wall, except for an ornate metal triangle that reminded Marcus of a hanger. He tried not to snigger as he wondered why behind the tapestry might be a great place to hang a shirt.

Winston looked over his shoulder again, but apparently feeling satisfied, he grabbed hold of the ring and knocked three times. Marcus had never seen his grandpa do anything so crazy before.

Then, his grandpa took hold of the ring knocker and pulled on it. A gasp came from the wall, and Marcus could see the light coming from behind the wall in the form of a crack. As his grandpa continued to pull, the crack took the shape of a doorframe.

“What the…?” Marcus said to himself. He wasn’t sure what he saw. Perhaps it was just his imagination. He hadn’t really slept, after all.

His grandpa finished pulling the door open wide enough just so he could fit through. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what Marcus thought he had seen the night before, the object that Anabell had given him.

Marcus rose up a bit to get a better look. Behind the door seemed to be a well-lit room with shelves of stuff. Marcus couldn’t exactly tell what, but he saw oddments and other things that looked like relics and antiques. Ceramics maybe?

A moment later, Winston came out of the blue-lit room. Marcus shrunk to the ground again, definitely not wanting to be seen. His grandpa sealed the wall and wiped his hands down his jacket. After a deep sigh, he yelled upstairs.

“Children, let’s get going!” He started to walk away but paused and turned back to the tapestry to pull it back to its original place. Then he joined his wife in the kitchen.

The savory smell of bacon, sausage, and pancakes filled the air as Ellie came bounding down the stairs with her latest book in hand and headed straight for the kitchen. She passed Marcus without noticing him. Once she was gone, he popped up from behind the table and climbed the first few steps. He stomped his feet so it sounded like he was coming down the stairs for the first time, then he followed Ellie into the kitchen.

An array of colored glass bottles, pots, and pans, among other useful utensils hung from the kitchen ceiling. Marcus pushed a large plant out of his way as he entered. His grandma was setting plates on the old wooden table, and their grandpa was at the skillet, flipping flapjacks.

Marcus sat down across from Ellie and wondered whether or not he should tell her what he just saw. He tried to get her attention by staring at her, but she was engrossed in her novel.

“Where do you get all those books?” Marcus asked.

“From the shelves in the family room,” she said. “Grandpa has some great books in there.”

“Okay, you two, let’s talk shop,” their grandpa said, placing a plate stacked with large pancakes on the center of the table. He flopped down across from his wife, who busily nibbled a sausage, and grabbed a strip of bacon for himself.

“While you are out of school, you will tend the shop every day during the day, except Sundays. Your nights are yours.”

Marcus asked, “Even Saturdays?”

“Especially Saturdays,” their grandma answered. “That’s the busiest day of the week because kids don’t have school and adults usually aren’t working.”

Ellie bit her lip, and Marcus looked for something outside the window to distract him.

Their grandpa chuckled, clapping both kids on the back. “Come on, this could be fun if you want it to be. After all, we are talking about magic.” He raised an eyebrow.

Marcus rolled his eyes. “Cute, Grandpa.”

“It won’t be as bad as you think,” their grandma said. She put her plate in the sink and fingered a dream catcher hanging in the window. “You’ll see.”

They ate in silence for a few more minutes, and then Ellie joined their grandma at the sink. Marcus stood up quickly after he jammed a pancake-wrapped sausage into his mouth. The ladies got angry if he didn’t help.

“Okay, in order for you to run the store,” their grandpa said after they had tidied up in the kitchen, “we need to teach you the basics. Come on.” They entered the living room, the only room between the house portion of the building and the shop.

“On this far wall we keep a stock of inventory to replace the product in the shop when it runs out.” Marcus recognized his hiding place. He and Ellie both nodded mechanically.

“Okay, on to the shop itself then,” their grandma said.

They walked through a door on the wall directly across from the kitchen and into the shop.

The shop was clean and modern, but far from the glitz and glam that you’d see elsewhere in Nevada. There were no slot machines and no blinking lights.

In the middle of the shop, several aisles were stocked with face cards, disappearing coin kits, fake barf, and other classical gags and tricks. Along the walls were shelves of old books, how-to videos, and crystal balls stamped, “made in China” on their underside.

One by one, their grandma reviewed the pricing of each shop item with them, and then she taught them how to process a customer’s payment.

Their grandpa took his turn by explaining the computer system in detail, but was interrupted when a knock came at the shop door, leaving the attached bell ringing faintly. This was odd because the shop didn’t open for another hour.

Approaching the door, Winston peered through the peephole. When the shop was up for business they left the door open.

“Dear,” he said as he came down off his toes, “I’ll to need a minute please. She’s early.”

Charlotte went on explaining the shop’s various details while her husband removed the locks and chains that bound the door.

The moment Winston cracked open the door, a tall, Asian woman pushed it wide-open and stepped inside. “Winston,” she said with a nod. She carefully wiped a long strand of jet-black hair out of her face and began examining the shop. Her skin was like brown pearls, a creamy color that complemented the traditional black and red Asian dress she wore.

“Where is it?” she asked. Her cloudy jade-colored eyes caught Marcus’s attention.

“Not just yet,” Winston said, wagging a finger as he looked the woman up and down. “Did you bring what we had discussed?”

Marcus tried to pay attention to the instructions, but it was particularly difficult when his grandpa acted so mysterious. What confused him was that his grandma was trying to ignore the exchange entirely.

“Silly old man,” the woman said coyly. “Of course I did. Why else would I be here?”

“You can’t fault me for asking, Elba,” his grandpa said. “Not all transactions happen smoothly, as you know.” Winston looked over at the children, who quickly looked away. Raising an eyebrow, he added, “I’m just taking precautions.”

“Well?” Elba asked a moment later.

Winston gave a slight bow, and with a sweep of his arm, said, “Right this way.” He glided giddily toward the back door of the shop, opened the door for Elba, and they both disappeared from sight, leaving Marcus to wonder what they were up to.

“Marcus,” his grandma said sharply as she put her hands on her hips, apparently noticing he was no longer paying attention, but rather gaping at the door to the back of the shop. “How do you process someone’s credit card?”

“Um,” Marcus scratched his head, still watching the door. “I…”

“Marcus Winston Fith, you had better pay attention. Greater responsibility, remember?”

Marcus shook his head. “Sorry Grandma.”

****

It was sometime later, after Charlotte had gone on to explain various magic tricks and the duties of running the store, before Winston and Elba returned.

Elba appeared first, holding her handbag snugly against her body. Grandpa followed slowly, his expression hard to read. While he was smiling, he looked bewildered.

Elba patted her handbag. “Nice doing business with you,” she said when she opened the front door.

Winston nodded. “Thank you, Elba. This means a lot to our family.”

“I hope it works,” she said, and then she was gone.

The kids’ grandma glanced up at her husband hopefully for the first time since Elba had arrived. He blinked hard and gave her a slight nod.

“Okay kids,” their grandma said, suddenly in a hurry. “Ellie, I want you and Marcus to practice processing transactions with this credit card like I showed you. I shouldn’t be long.” Charlotte rounded the checkout counter and headed off to the back room with Winston.

Ellie positioned herself behind the cash register where her grandma had been just a moment ago. “Get me that pack of face cards,” Ellie said, pointing at the first aisle.

Marcus wandered over to a nearby shelf on the first aisle, grabbed a pack of cards, and returned to Ellie.

She took the cards and began to repeat what their grandma had shown them. “What do you think that was all about?” Ellie asked curiously as she scanned the bar code on the back of the pack of cards with the scanner gun at the register. The system beeped, and displayed the cost. She responded by swiping the credit card.

“We need to talk,” Marcus said, not taking his eyes off the back room. “I saw something this morning.”

“Let me guess, spots? I wasn’t going to say anything, but you look horrible. You didn’t sleep well, did you?”

“Seriously.” He looked her in the eyes. “I saw something super strange.”

Ellie put the pack of cards and the price scanner down and considered Marcus. “What do you mean?”

“I saw Grandpa do something weird this morning before breakfast.”

“But you didn’t come downstairs until after me.”

“Actually, I came down first, but when I saw Grandpa, I hid.”

“Why?”

“You know how Grandpa hates when we mess with the shop inventory. Well, I was toying around with it when he walked into the room, so naturally I ducked behind the table. I had a good view of him when he started fiddling with the wall.”

“What wall? What was he doing exactly?”

The clopping of footsteps preceded the shop’s back door opening, and Winston and Charlotte entered the room again. “Kids, we’re going out for a while,” Winston said. “We need you two to stay behind and watch the shop, okay?”

“But we’re not ready!” Marcus exclaimed. “You’ve barely told us anything.”

“This will be a good test to see who paid attention this morning,” their grandpa said.

Ellie sat down on the chair behind the counter. ”Where are you going?”

“To run some errands.” Their grandpa hooked arms with their grandma. “We shouldn’t be more than a few hours.”

“Do your best,” their grandma reached the front door, “and it will all work out. No pressure.”

They left without another word.

Ellie wandered toward the bookshelf, fingered a few books, and pulled one off the shelf. She sat down at a nearby chair and began to read.

“So that’s it?” Marcus tossed his arms up in the air. “Grandma and Grandpa just leave, and you just flop down and start reading? I’m just stuck here.”

As if he had been cued, Tofu trotted into the room, his dog collar jingling lightly in stride. He stood at Marcus’s feet for a moment.

“Hey there, boy.” Marcus scratched Tofu behind the ears. “At least I have you to keep me company.”

Tofu turned around and went back into the living room behind the shop.

Marcus sighed. “You could have at least chewed on Ellie’s book.” He waived the dog off. Predictably, Ellie didn’t even look up from her book.

With nothing else to do, Marcus got up and followed the dog into the living room. “You’re a funny little creature, Tofu.” Marcus looked around, but saw no sign of Tofu. He whistled for him like he normally did, but got no response.

Marcus looked behind the couch, under the coffee table, and in some of the inventory, but couldn’t find him. Then he considered the tapestry, and Tofu virtually vanished from his mind.

When Marcus lifted the tapestry, he stared at the triangular knocker he had seen his grandpa manipulate earlier that morning. He couldn’t resist figuring out what his grandpa was up to. On the other side of that wall was some kind of secret.

Marcus looked over his shoulder—all clear.

His curiosity was peaked, and he couldn’t resist figuring out what was going on. What was it that grandpa had done?

He reached out for the knocker, but hesitated. If he got caught, he would be in a lot of trouble. Their grandpa hadn’t told them about this, and he had obviously gone to quite a bit of trouble to conceal whatever was behind this wall.

An unexplainable feeling came over Marcus at that moment. Perhaps this wasn’t just a secret—this might be dangerous.

He took a deep breath and grabbed hold of the knocker. As he touched it, his hand tingled. His arms prickled with goose bumps, and then, in an instant, zap! He felt a shock, and jerked his hand away.

Was this a security measure?

It felt like a warning. He and his grandpa had a good relationship—an understanding. This would violate his trust for sure. Marcus let go of the tapestry and stepped back.

“What are you doing?”

Marcus spun around to find Ellie standing behind him with her book at her side.

“Nothing. I… I was just looking for Tofu.”

As if he had finally heard his name, Tofu strolled in from the kitchen; a pancake dangled from his mouth. He dropped the pancake at the children’s feet, and broke off a piece to eat.

“I guess we’ll never have to worry about that one going hungry.” Ellie scrunched her nose. “It’s like he comes equipped with food radar.”

Marcus wiggled Tofu’s tail. “So, do you remember what I told you earlier?”

“About how you were bored and stuck here? Yeah.”

“No, about Grandpa acting differently.” Marcus pulled back the tapestry. “Can you explain this?” He pointed at the wall knocker.

“What about it?” Ellie asked, sounding slightly annoyed. “This is an old house, and sometimes old houses have quirks. Grandma and Grandpa have done the best that they could with it, you know. They just can’t afford to renovate it yet.”

When it came right down to explaining what he had seen, it was harder than he thought. Marcus felt his cheeks redden, and he knew he was acting sheepishly.

“Spit it out already,” Ellie said. After a moment, she turned around and started walking out of the room.

“Grandpa opened the wall, Ellie. I watched him,” Marcus said as if he had been holding his breath too long. ”He’s hiding something important on the other side.”

Ellie turned around, chuckling. “You really didn’t sleep well last night, did you?”

“I mean it.”

“Prove it, then,” she said. With her arms crossed Marcus thought she looked a lot like grandma. “Open it.”

Marcus considered the wall again and swallowed. It was a big, thick wall. He wasn’t even sure that he could open it, and now he had the added pressure of not looking like a fool. This is the kind of thing Ellie could get a lot of mileage out of if he were wrong.

Marcus doubted himself. Maybe he had been seeing things after all.

“What’s the hold-up? Ellie asked. “If this is your idea of a joke—”

“I don’t want to break Grandpa’s trust.”

“Look, if Grandpa really was acting odd, he might need our help,” Ellie said as Tofu finished the last of the pancake. “We should at least check it out to see if there is anything to this. I’ll hold the tapestry.”

Marcus nodded and tried to remember what his grandpa did. Marcus took hold of the knocker, and felt that strange sensation in his arm again.

“My arm is prickling. It’s going to zap me.”

“Ignore it,” Ellie said.

“Easy for you to say.” Marcus tapped the knocker once and felt a surge through his arm. He recoiled.

Ellie reached out for him. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. It’s like I jammed butter knife in a wall outlet.”

“You’re right,” Ellie said. “Something strange is going on. We have to try again. If you want me to—”

Marcus grabbed the knocker again and swallowed hard as the hairs on his arm rose. He knocked again and felt a jolt run through his arm. He ignored it and knocked a third time.

The wall wheezed.

Ellie jumped back. ”What was that?”

Without answering, Marcus tugged on the knocker with both hands. As he pulled, a line of light cracked, and then traced the shape of a door on the wall. Marcus kept pulling, and soon a door-shaped slab gave way to a small room filled with a soft blue light.

“I don’t believe this,” Ellie said, squinting at first. Marcus stepped away.

It appeared to be a simple storage room, but smelled sterile, like a hospital. The cold light seemed to emanate from the walls, as if the room was buried behind a sheet of thick ice. Placed neatly on the shelves were objects and instruments of various shapes and sizes, but they all looked dated. Beside a basic-looking crystal ball, there was a wooden box with hieroglyphics painted on its sides, a sword with exotic symbols etched on the blade, and a feathered leather necklace with the most graceful golden plumage Marcus had ever seen. There were many other things as well, all of curious workmanship. While all the items were quite different, they had one thing in common. Strips of folded cardboard were neatly displayed in front of each object like small tents. The only markings they bore were beautifully hand-written numbers; all of them except for the crystal sphere.

“What is this place?” Ellie asked, eyes wide with wonder. She looked down at the misty floor. Marcus thought it looked like the smoke that came from the dry ice they used at Halloween.

“See,” Marcus said earnestly, “I told you Grandpa came in here this morning.”

Ellie rubbed her neck. “What did he do in here?”

“I think he put something in here. Maybe what he got from the hospital last night.”

“What do you mean? What did he get from the hospital last night?”

“Haven’t you noticed what he does at the hospital when we visit? He always talks to Caleb and Anabell, one-by-one, and gives them some of Grandma’s homemade licorice, and Anabell hands him something that he stuffs in his jacket.”

At that moment the shop’s front door rang out loudly, and Marcus froze up.

“Hurry and close this up,” Ellie said. She darted out of the room and headed for the shop, calling: “I’ll get the door.”

“Come on, Tofu,” Marcus said in a huff. Tofu was in the blue room, preoccupied with smelling something on the bottom shelf that looked like a knotty old stick. Marcus stepped outside the room and Tofu followed.

This time he easily pushed the slab of door into the wall, a slight hiss being the only sign of resistance until the door-shaped crack of light faded, and ultimately disappeared. With a sigh, Marcus replaced the tapestry, ran a hand through his hair, and returned to the shop.

Ellie was just finishing up with a customer. Marcus thought she looked like she had been doing this for years. She took the product, scanned it, and ran it through the computer without a problem.

“Thanks for coming by,” she said as the woman left. “And please tell your friends about The Magic Shop.”

“That was pretty good.” Marcus approached the checkout stand. “I couldn’t have done that.”

“You’re probably right. You didn’t exactly pay attention to Grandma when she was explaining it.”

“What did you think of the blue room?”

“I don’t know. It was strange, for sure, but there didn’t seem to be anything too weird in there, just a bunch of old stuff. What were those numbers, price tags or something?”

“Maybe they’re selling antiques on the side to support the family?” Marcus speculated.

Ellie grabbed her chin. “Do you think that’s where Grandpa took that lady this morning?”

“She did say ‘nice doing business with you,’” Marcus said.

After talking things out with Ellie a bit, Marcus felt better. At least, he didn’t feel as potentially crazy.

Ellie went on to show Marcus everything that their grandma had already shown them that morning. A few more customers came by the store, and they took turns handling each of them.

After a while Marcus began to bore, and took to staring out the window at the passersby across the street.

“How bad do you think things are for us,” Marcus asked, “financially I mean?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not good. I hear Grandma and Grandpa arguing all the time.”

“Maybe there’s something we could do to get more customers? We’ve only had a few,” Marcus said. “Have you seen that magic shop across the street? It seems like it’s always busy.”

“Yeah,” Ellie said, “but I’ve never been in it.”

“I want to go check it out,” Marcus shot up like he just sat on something sharp. “Will you watch the store?”

“I guess so, sure,” she cracked open her book again. “I’ve got this store thing down anyway. You better come back with some good ideas, though.”

Marcus bolted out of the shop without wasting another moment. Some distance down the street opposite them stood a tall, rectangular building with a large, horizontal marquee blinking the name: The Magic Box in different-colored lights. A line of people waiting to get inside overflowed out of the shop’s entrance and into the street.

What could possibly attract so many people to one place? Marcus couldn’t see a clear way around the line, so he found the end of it and took his place. He wondered what their competitor did differently than they did.

Marcus felt the phone in his pocket vibrate, so he pulled it out only to find a sarcastic text message from his sister.

Don’t get lost

He sniggered just as he felt a tap on his shoulder. Marcus spun around.

“Are you here for the show?” A floppy, blond-haired boy about Marcus’s age stood before him, grinning from ear to ear. Apparently this boy was looking for some way to pass the time too.

“Hi, my name is Jason,” he said, extending a friendly hand. “Do you think you like magic more than I do?”

Marcus considered how blunt to be about this, and decided to just say it. Perhaps Jason would just let him be. “Uh, no, not so much,” Marcus said. “I don’t believe in magic. Actually, I don’t like it at all.”

For a moment, Jason looked confused. “Well, I bet I can change your mind. Watch this,” he said enthusiastically. He whipped out both arms theatrically and rubbed his fingers together. With the flick of his wrist he produced a gold coin in his left hand, apparently from nowhere.

“I had two gold coins before I met you,” Jason said. “Where did you put the other one?”

“Let me guess,” Marcus said, rolling his eyes, “behind one of my ears?” Then he realized that he had done exactly what Jason wanted. Just as Marcus began to speak, Jason waved his coinless hand in front of Marcus’s face and behind his ear. When his hand came back around to Marcus’s face again, it contained an identical gold coin.

“See, you had it in you all along,” Jason said. “Pretty neat, huh?”

“Uh, Sure,” Marcus said, really just wanting him to go away. Marcus looked over Jason’s shoulder. For the first time since he had arrived, he noticed that up and down the line everyone seemed to be practicing different magic tricks, not just Jason.

“What did you mean when you asked if I was here for the show?”

Jason laughed as if Marcus was being funny. It took a few moments, but Jason finally realized that Marcus was serious.

“Well, tonight is the annual Who’s got Magic Talent show,” Jason said. “They’ve been promoting this for several months now.” Jason pointed to a poster on the brick wall across the street, a few stores down from his family’s Magic Shop. “It doesn’t start until later tonight, but it’ll be worth the wait.” The poster showed a man in a black suit pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

A strong hand gripped Marcus’s shoulder, bringing his attention front and center. “Come with me, young man,” a familiar voice said. The voice was his grandpa’s, and he wasn’t happy.

“I just wanted to check out—”

“Don’t talk, just follow me.” He quickly pulled Marcus by the wrist through the crowd all the way back to The Magic Shop.

“We could have at least scalped my place in line,” Marcus said, earning him a severe scowl.

When they returned, Charlotte stood at the checkout counter with a hand on her hip.

“Where have you been?”

“I went to check out the competition across—”

“Not only did you prove your teacher right, but you’ve shown that you need an even greater amount of discipline. Do you realize you left your sister here all alone, Marcus?”

“This is Ellie we’re talking about, right?” Marcus asked. “She’s tougher than I am.”

“Enough,” Winston said. “These are dangerous times, and you need to act accordingly.”

Charlotte crossed her arms, fuming.

“For the time being, you’re grounded,” Winston said. “Go to your room.”

“But Grandpa,” Ellie said, “I encouraged him.”

They both shook their heads.

Marcus went up to his room and sat in the windowsill. What just happened was a lot to take in. He and his grandpa had a great relationship, and to his knowledge they had never had a run-in like this. He didn’t want to feel at odds. It was confusing.

Across the street, the crowd of people waiting to get into The Magic Box only grew. He wondered what it was like; what he might have seen had he been allowed to go. Really, he just wanted to help make his grandparents’ Magic Shop successful.

Just then Marcus heard Tofu’s jingle as he came trotting into the room. Marcus didn’t care. He was focused on the outside, on The Magic Box. The silence got Marcus’s attention, a pause in Tofu’s jingle. Marcus knew what was next. Instinctively he braced himself as Tofu leapt in the air, and landed on his lap.

“Funny little guy,” Marcus said, still staring out the window. He scratched Tofu behind the ears and then worked his way to the dog’s face, like always, when something scratched Marcus. He looked down at Tofu, who had something in his mouth.

“Open up, boy,” Marcus said as he tickled under Tofu’s throat.

Tofu loosened his grip, and Marcus wiggled a familiar-looking stick from the dog’s mouth. He spent a minute trying to remember. It’s not like it was the first time Tofu had played fetch with a stick. Then he remembered the last thing Tofu was sniffing at in that mysterious blue room; the knotty stick.