The Magic Shop
Author:Justin Swapp

Full Circle

“What a big waste of time,” Marcus said, just loud enough to be heard over the passing cars as they started back home. “I can’t believe I suggested that.”

“We need to tell Grandma and Grandpa what happened,” Ellie said. They walked past The Magic Box without even noticing it. “And I don’t mean how good the movie was.”

“Tell them what? That we went to the mental ward and tried to ask our crazy uncle to explain how he could possibly draw the face of a man that had recently robbed us before we ever even met him? I don’t think so. They will probably put us at the table right next to him for suggesting such a thing.”

“Didn’t you see his face, Marcus?” Ellie asked.

“I’m holding back the jokes on that one. You make it too easy.”

“You heard what he said, right?” Ellie asked as the sun began to set. The pink and orange sky seemed to darken, bleeding into purple.

“I’m not sure what he said, Ellie, and I’m definitely not sure what he meant. Do you really believe that the man in the drawing did something to Caleb? I mean, what could he have done to put Caleb into the mental ward? Tell him scary jokes?”

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “All I’m saying is that we’re in over our heads and out of options. We have to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. We should start at the beginning with the blue room.”

Marcus considered it and finally nodded. They had indeed exhausted all of their options. They would have to suck it up and look stupid if they were wrong. Their grandparents would probably lock them up with their aunt and uncle once they finished the conversation.

Upon arriving at The Magic Shop, the door swung open and their grandpa stood rigidly waiting with his arms crossed.

“Where have you been?” their grandpa asked. Grandma appeared over his shoulder with a disappointed look on her face.

Ellie answered, “We were just—”

“Don’t tell me you were at the movies,” Grandpa said, “because I looked for you there. Your grandmother told me you had gone to the movies and I got worried, what with the robbery and all. That man is lurking out there somewhere.”

Grandpa stepped aside and waved his arm theatrically, inviting them into the shop. The children obeyed, following their grandma into the living room behind the shop.

“Sit,” Grandpa ordered. The children plopped down on the old couch.

“What is going on with you two?” he asked. “We used to be able to talk about anything, and now everything seems so secret.”

“Is this some kind of pre-teenage thing?” Grandma asked. “Because if it is…”

“We just came from the hospital,” Marcus said, glaring at Ellie as if he had said, “see, I told you I could do it.”

“So you did lie to me,” Grandma said. Then, she raised a questioning finger. “Wait, I thought you hated that place?”

Winston took a deep breath. “What were you doing there?” he asked, attempting an even, controlled tone.

“That picture Caleb drew for you,” Ellie said, “we took it to him.”

“You stole my drawing? What has gotten into you kids?”

Marcus said, “We didn’t steal it, I knew he drew something for you during our last visit to the hospital, but I never got a good look until Tofu brought it to us,” Grandma gave her husband an annoyed look at the mention of Tofu. “And when we did, we recognized the man in the drawing.”

Grandpa froze. “What?” His eyes darted from one person to the next. “You know the man? Explain yourself.”

“He’s the one that stole the skull,” Ellie said.

Their grandparents would have been hard-pressed to appear more shocked than they did at that moment. Winston gaped long and hard at his wife. No words were spoken, but something was being said.

“Are you sure?” Grandpa asked, turning back to the kids. His jade eyes were distant, searching. “It’s critical that you are absolutely certain.”

“Yes,” Marcus said. “We’ll never forget that face. It’s caused us nothing but trouble.”

Grandma asked, “So you went to the hospital to do what, show Caleb and Anabell the picture? You thought they could explain the drawing?”

“Yes, but strangely enough, only Caleb was there,” Marcus said. “And he didn’t react well to the news at all.”

“If what you say is true, we’ve got to pack up our things and leave immediately,” Grandpa said. “That man is very dangerous.”

“So you know him too?” Marcus asked.

His grandpa didn’t answer. He paced the room, mumbling to himself until Marcus spoke again.

Marcus added, “Caleb seemed to know him,”

His grandpa slowed a step. “What do you mean? What did he say?”

Ellie jumped in. “He wrote something on a piece of paper—”

Marcus lifted a hand, “But first, you need to tell us what is going on around here.”

“Don’t you hold out information on this family,” Grandpa scolded. “Your little game could cost someone their life.”

“Winston,” Grandma chided.

“We deserve some answers,” Marcus said. “There have been too many unexplainable things going on around here. There’s something you’re not telling us.”

“Winston, can’t you see? It’s just like I’ve been telling you, it’s time.”

“We’ve discussed this, Charlotte, and we’re not going there, not if we can help it. Moving is the only option.”

“He did this to me,” Ellie covered her face. “That’s what Caleb wrote down, ‘He did this to me.’”

“What?” Grandpa asked.

Marcus scowled at Ellie. She had just given away their only bargaining chip.

“I’m sorry, Marcus,” Ellie said. “I don’t want to move, but I don’t want to see our family divided either. We shouldn’t fight like this.”

Winston’s face softened. “Kids, we know this is a lot to ask, but you have to trust us. You need to go and pack your—”

Marcus saw the flashing discharge first—a dazzling display of bright lights and streaking shadows splay across the walls and ceiling. Shattered bits of glass, drywall, and wood flew around the room. A deafening blast erupted somewhere behind him.

A moment later Marcus found himself face-first on the ground, covered in soot and debris. He blinked, but couldn’t see. He coughed as smoke slowly filled the room.

“What’s going on?” Ellie croaked. “Grandma? Grandpa?”

Marcus followed her raspy voice, groping toward the overturned couch, then back onto the floor. He blinked hard. Apparently she had been thrown from the couch; he found her on the ground several feet away.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I think so, I—”

Something shattered from the other side of the room and crashed to the floor.

“Where is the Dun-Bahr?” an oily female voice asked from somewhere deep within the smoke.

Marcus grabbed Ellie and pulled her toward the inventory shelves.

“Who’s there?” Charlotte asked. Judging from the sound of her voice, she had landed on the other side of the room. With every moment the smoke seemed to thin out.

“I said, where is he?” the female voice asked again. They heard a thump, and then something fell to the ground and broke. Marcus and Ellie jerked at the sound.

“Who are you,” Winston asked groggily, “to barge in and demand the Dun-Bahr? Have you no shame? Show yourself.”

“Ah,” a deep male voice said, followed by a raspy chuckle. Marcus tracked the voice through the smoke and thought he saw a shadow close in on the source of Grandpa’s voice. “There you are. I have some questions for you.”

“How do you work the skull?” the female voice asked in a slow and calculating tone.

Winston asked, “What skull?”

With a wave of the shadow’s hand, the smoke in the room settled instantly, revealing two people dressed in black from head to toe. To Marcus’s surprise, however, they were both shorter and thinner than their voices had led him to believe.

“Don’t play dumb, old man,” the male voice said. “That wouldn’t align well with the reputation you spent all those years establishing, now would it?”

Marcus couldn’t shake the odd feeling that he attached to these intruders. They had the body of children, but the voices and apparent experience of adults.

“Do yourselves a favor,” Winston said, “and take your parlor tricks to the shop down the street. You don’t know what you are getting yourselves into here.”

“The Magic Box?” the woman asked. “You’ve lost your touch with reality, haven’t you?”

The short man next to her landed a swift elbow into her side, and then removed something from inside his shirt.

“You’ll tell me what I want to know, or I’ll have to convince you by other, more painful means,” the small male said. He opened his hand to reveal a small shard of crystal.

“Raw Uribrim?” Winston asked. “How did you come by that?”

Charlotte asked, “Who put you fledglings up to this? Can’t you see you are being used? Get out while you still can.”

Marcus took courage from his grandparents’ tongue-in-cheek approach to these intruders.

“Just hit puberty, huh? Is this some kind of dojo initiation?” Marcus asked. “You’re not even tall enough to play four-square.”

The two black figures whirled around. Marcus was on the ground by the inventory, still holding his sister.

“Are you making fun of my outfit, boy?” the short woman asked. “You realize you’re not really in a position to mouth off, don’t you?”

“Focus,” the short man said to his accomplice. “Very well, Winston,” he looked the old man right in the eye, “perhaps this will convince you.”

The man lifted his arm and pointed the crystal shard toward Marcus and Ellie.

“No,” Winston reached toward the intruder, “I’ll give you what you want, just leave the children out of this.”

The little man laughed and said, “I don’t believe you.”

The small man flicked his wrist and the shard began to hum, emitting a faint red glow. Marcus cried out and then gasped, feeling as if some invisible force had seized him and began crushing him. Ellie gasped before she could make a sound, and then fainted.

“I’ll give you want you, just stop—” Winston stopped mid-sentence.

Marcus started laughing. He rolled over on the ground uncontrollably as if the same invisible force that had caused him so much pain had changed its mind and started tickling him. His agony had been replaced by unrelenting laughter. Then he started to cry for the tickling to stop.

“Move over, you fool,” the short female elbowed her companion as he had done to her just minutes before. She swiped the shard from his hand. “You can’t even control that thing.”

Winston reached into his pocket and removed a crystal sphere, which glowed a faint blue color at his touch. But before he could use it, the short woman pointed the shard at him, mumbling something unintelligible.

In an instant, thick red wisps shot out of the shard like vaporous ropes. They wrapped around Winston, squeezing him tightly like an angry boa constrictor.

“Who are you?” Winston wheezed.

“We are Dun-Bhar,” the short woman said. “And we’ve come to—”

“You’re no Dun-Bhar,” Winston coughed, his eyes vacillated from looking at the wisps that made their way up his arm, to glaring at the intruders. “I would have sensed you. Besides, the Dun-Bhar don’t capture, they kill.”

“If that’s a request,” the short man said, “it can be arranged.”

Marcus watched helplessly as the ropes enveloped his grandfather like a cocoon. Grandma’s eyes welled up with tears. He had to do something, but he had no idea how to face these people.

“Enough of this,” the short man said. “Our orders were straightforward, and it’s clear by his devices that he’s the Dun-Bhar. Let’s take him and get out of here.”

“No!” Charlotte lunged at the short woman, reaching for her locket. “You’re not taking him anywhere.”

The short woman redirected the crystal in her hand with an effortless flick of the wrist, causing another blinding flash and sending Charlotte crashing against the wall. She fell, unconscious.

“Old fool,” the short man said. “Let’s go.”

Marcus searched the room for something to defend his family, but found nothing; not unless he wanted to throw a deck of cards at them or try to hit them with a pair of steel hoops. Instinctively, he put his hands in his pockets. He felt his wallet and his phone. Neither would do any good.

Then he felt the small marble his uncle had given him. Maybe he could throw it at them or roll it and make them trip? No. The thought was ridiculous. Caleb had asked him to keep it safe at all costs. To toss it would be to throw it away and never find it again.

Marcus pulled the marble out anyway. He had no hope of doing anything real with it, but it was all that he had, and he wanted to feel like he was doing something. He wouldn’t just sit by like a sissy as his family was torn apart.

The moment he showed the tiny marble in his hand, the two strangers stepped back and shielded their faces.

But nothing happened.

A second later, the intruders let down their guard. “Think you’re funny, do you?” the short woman asked, pointing her crystal shard at Marcus.

He closed his eyes, bracing for whatever hideous power she was about to unleash on him. Then, although he didn’t see it right way, a blue wisp appeared just above the small marble in his hand. Not a moment later another wisp appeared above the intruders’ shard, and then another, until an obvious trail of misty blue fibers connected it to Marcus’s small sphere. Marcus opened his eyes. The hungry marble didn’t look the same. With each passing moment the crystal sphere fed, he felt it get heavier and grow larger, filling itself with the blue magical substance.

“Do something,” the short woman said, only the word “woman” no longer described her accurately. Her voice had changed. It was no longer deep and mature. Gone was the raspy voice from minutes ago, replaced by the high-pitched voice of a young girl.

“The drain!” the short male said, his voice remained intact. “We’ve got to get out of here with the Dun-Bhar.”

“Stop him!” the girl ordered, shaking her fist. Her voice now sounded vaguely familiar to Marcus. Struggling against an unseen force, she reached inside her shirt and pulled out a second crystal shard. She tossed it to the short man.

The short man mumbled something and pointed the shard toward Marcus. The crystal instantly came alive with a red glow at his touch.

Marcus thought he heard a low growl. The two intruders must have thought the same as they turned toward the source of the noise just in time to see Tofu jump off the back of the couch and onto the short man. The dog rebounded off the short man’s torso then lunged at his arm. Tofu bit deep into the wrist that held the shard and dangled there, writhing. The short man released the shard and fell screaming in pain.

Tofu then leapt on the girl, who instantly fell to the floor, surprised. She wrestled with the dog. Tofu defended better than his size would have indicated. He clawed and snapped at her, preventing her from gaining a true hold on him.

A scratch from Tofu’s nails across the girl’s face removed a portion of her mask. She screamed and threw Tofu then scrambled for her shard. She grabbed it and got to her feet in time to take aim at Tofu. A blinding red flash followed, and for a moment Marcus thought he saw the angry face of a girl he had seen the last day of school. Then his attention was diverted to the yelp of their beloved Tofu, who had been tossed through the air and into the far wall.

The girl pointed the shard towards the ground. With a flash the room filled with light and smoke. Marcus coughed. While he couldn’t see, he felt the ball in his hand, its size more like a marble again. he shoved it back in his pocket. He felt weak.

“I would have finished you, boy, but alas, today it was not in the cards.” These were the last words that he remembered the girl’s familiar voice say.

Marcus struggled to hold his weary eyes open. The prissy little voice was Elizabeth’s; he was sure of it.