PseudoPod 829: We’ve All Gone to the Magic Show

We’ve All Gone To The Magic Show

By Todd Keisling

Earlier this summer, word spread around our town that the Magic Show’s doors were open. Swollen and stained timbers that once barred the entrance were found scattered about its front stoop among a pile of last year’s dead leaves. The double doors, famously ornate from a lavish bygone era, stood half-open in offering. The building was a converted brick rowhome sandwiched between two residences and had always been there, I think, but no one could say for sure. Not then, and certainly not now. Anyone who might’ve offered conjecture to its origins is gone now. 

All I can offer in explanation is that it’s been here for as long as I have, and I was born in this little hamlet. While the other townsfolk called it by its name—THE MAGIC SHOW—after the chipped and peeling sign which hung above the entrance, I employed another name for my own private amusement, Mannequin House, after its bizarre form of decoration. 

Two mannequins stood in the storefront windows against a backdrop of thick black curtains. The figures were often shrouded in patchwork garb to reflect the season or holiday, from bathing suits and sunglasses on the 4th of July to jeans and sweaters for fall. Eyeless, expressionless, they stood on display to anyone who passed by on the sidewalk, silent sentinels for our little town. To new residents and tourists, the storefront offered nothing more than a curious mystery and a general eeriness inherent in the presentation: Just who maintained the storefront windows? And why was the entrance boarded up? 

Being the town librarian afforded me plenty of time to speculate, and the old building held my fascination for far longer than I care to admit. There were no records of its construction or ownership even in the extensive collection of historical records housed in the town library. The oldest map of our town, dated the same year as its official charter, depicted the structure along with its neighbors. Photographs from the late 19th century revealed its presence there on Main Street, the weathered sign in full display, with dressmaker mannequins standing proudly in the windows while horse-drawn carriages occupied the foreground. Even then, the front doors were barred to the public. The Magic Show has always been a part of this town, a malformed limb from the womb without purpose or promise, and yet to sever one from the other would drain the life of both. 

As an insomniac, I enjoyed nightly strolls through our little town. Every night when I walked by the old building, I stood on its front steps and knocked between the wooden slats. It was a hobby I’d adopted when I was a child, when kids were free to roam after sunset; decades later, I still played my game, waiting for someone to answer. Flickering lights trickled from between the curtains occulting the interior. The mannequins’ shadows drew long across the sidewalk and street, possessed with a spastic movement from the happenings within, and I heard shuffling footsteps somewhere inside. No one ever answered my knocks, however, and I admit I was relieved. Not knowing who or what resided beyond the doors was part of the Magic Show’s allure. Every small town is entitled to its mysteries, and with enough time, they grow to thrive on them.

And yet I continued my speculation, adding The Magic Show to my growing list of nocturnal hobbies. I often imagined a seamstress or tailor, evidenced by the dressmaker mannequins in the old photos, honing their craft by starlight. 

But why the barred doors? Why the secrecy? 

Some histories, we learned, were meant to remain entombed, their shadows and dust and wood shavings forever closed away from time and memory. We once slept in cautious comfort knowing the old building’s shadow fell upon us, a silent institution in our town that would never falter, never change. The Magic Show was a part of us, and we a part of it, serving a balance in the small universe of our making.

How happily ignorant we were. 

A full day passed after the discovery of the Magic Show’s opening when the mayor didn’t show up for work. My neighbor across the street, Tina Wood, worked as a clerk in Mr. Taft’s office, and she relayed the details to myself and the Kirkland family next door. “It’s not like John not to show up,” she told us. “Especially on today of all days. He was supposed to review the planned eminent domain proceedings—”

She stopped herself, but the secret was out. Brian Kirkland prodded her for more information. “You can’t leave us hanging, Tina. Come on, what eminent domain proceedings?”

“Well…you know their plans to revamp Main Street? There was a private meeting after the city council adjourned last month.”

“The Magic Show,” Brian said. “They’re really going to tear it down. Huh.” He looked at me and shrugged. “Guess that explains why the doors are open now.”

When he asked if we’d ventured downtown to have a look inside the dusty building’s carcass, we both shuffled uncomfortably. The structure had sat silent and inert for so long that we revered it on an unspoken level, a quiet totem to a long-forgotten god erected so long ago that no one remembered its purpose or creator. There was only the structure, its old bones, and its darkened maw pried open for all to see. 

I shook my head. “No, I haven’t gone down there. Been too busy with the library.” 

“I hear that,” Tina said. “Robby went down there this afternoon to look for Mr. Taft. I expect he’ll tell me all about it when he gets home.” 

Tina’s husband, Robby, also worked for the mayor’s office and sat on the city council, so none of us questioned why he’d be involved with Taft’s plans to level the building. But like mayor John Taft, Robby Wood didn’t return home that evening. His old pickup truck was found parked in the gravel lot behind the Magic Show, next to Mayor Taft’s new Audi. Calls to their phones went unanswered. 

I awoke to screaming the next morning, and after hastily dressing myself, I joined Brian on the curb in front of the Wood residence. Tina sat crumpled on her porch steps, weeping hysterically into her hands. Brian and I exchanged glances as we approached her, and in that moment, I stumbled over something in the wet grass.

Confused, I looked down and gasped. A beige arm lay in the grass along the sidewalk. The appendage was smooth, the grain barely present, and stretched from a set of carved fingertips to the elbow. A round metal nub protruded from the flattened end. I stared for a moment, puzzled by its presence on Robby and Tina Wood’s front lawn. 

“Tina,” Brian said, kneeling at her side, “what’s wrong?” 

She pulled her face away from her hands, revealing two swollen and bloodshot eyes, and pointed to the other side of her porch. “There’s…there’s more of him…over here.”

I followed her hand and spotted a large mass collapsed in the corner of the porch. The mannequin sat in a heap against the porch railing, one wooden leg stretched out with its foot tilted to the side; the other was curled backward, partially hidden beneath the bulk of the torso. The left arm was missing just above the elbow, and the right hung limply with its hand turned palm up in offering, the fingers clasped together as though holding something. Its head was missing, the mannequin’s neck a smooth oval stump. I ran my fingers over it.  

“Shh, Tina. Just tell us what happened.” Brian met my eyes and I shrugged in reply. I didn’t understand this any more than he did. A few more minutes passed before Tina collected herself, and by then, Brian’s wife Elizabeth had joined us. She took his place to comfort the poor woman. 

When she was ready, Tina pointed to the flowerbed alongside her house. “His head is over there. I think it rolled behind the rose bush.” She swallowed back her tears and phlegm, snorting for air. “It looked just like him and when it reached for me, I panicked. You know I took those self-defense classes last year, and I just—I just—”

More tears. 

I stepped into the flowerbed and carefully pulled back a stem of blooming roses. There was something back there, hidden in the shadows and mulch. I looked away, was about to call for Brian, but Tina’s cries had drawn the attention of our other neighbors on the block, and he was relaying the findings to them. Instead, I knelt and reached for the round shape. 

What I pulled into the light gave me a start, and I recoiled in shock. Robby Wood’s head peered up at me, his eyes wide with glee, his mouth a concave indentation that curled up at its edges, smiling the biggest smile in the world. His face was painted eggshell, his cheeks the slightest hint of rouge. Whoever had carved this eerie facade depicted Robby as a smiling, laughing idiot with nary a care in the world. 

I stood and looked back at Tina, unsure of what to say. What could I say? That this was a sick joke? Rationally, I wanted to suggest this was a prank, but I held my tongue. She must have sensed my disbelief because she held out her hands in frustration.

“When my door rang this morning, I thought maybe it was him or even the police to say they’d found him, and instead it was this…this thing that only looked like him, and he was holding this…”

She opened her hand, revealing a crumpled piece of parchment. I took it from her and smoothed it out, revealing a curled and ornate script that simply read: “You’re invited to the Magic Show.”

The incident at Tina Wood’s home was not the only one to occur. The mayor’s wife, Deborah, also found a carved caricature of her missing husband at her front door. The effigy of John Taft possessed a similar gleeful smile and bright eyes, and the same invitation hung by gold thread from its carved fingers. I wasn’t there to see it, but I later heard from Brian’s wife that Deborah dismantled her husband’s mannequin and carted it down to the police station. I’m not sure what the purpose was. Evidence, maybe—but of what? Chief Atkins was just as flummoxed as the rest of us. He reassured the hysterical woman that the police were doing everything they could to find her husband, vowing to investigate the cruel prank as soon as the resources were available to do so.  

I sat on my front porch that evening, as I usually did that time of year, having a smoke and watching the town wind down from the day’s excitement. Brian and Elizabeth stopped by for light chatter and drinks, but I feigned fatigue and a headache and wished them a good night. They left me to my devices, retiring soon after the streetlights flickered on, and soon I was left alone in the dark with nothing more than my pipe and my thoughts. 

The Wood household remained dark except for the front porch light which Tina had no doubt left on in case her husband returned. I hoped for the best for the poor woman, but deep down I knew better. I think she knew, too. Deep down, maybe we all did. The Magic Show’s open doors and the disappearance of two prominent men in our community could not be a coincidence. I thought back to the prior evening’s conversation, about the mayor’s plans to declare eminent domain and level the old building; I thought of the fluttering shadows of someone moving beyond the curtains of the Magic Show’s windows, something I’d witnessed on so many midnight strolls. You’re invited to the Magic Show, the invitations read, and I wondered what awaited beyond that dark threshold. 

I wasn’t alone in my wonder. I’d finished my pipe and was about to begin my nightly walk when Robby and Tina’s porchlight blinked out. The loss of light was so sudden that I held my breath, and while I listened to my beating heart and the symphony of crickets in the air, Tina Wood stepped outside and locked the door behind her. 

If she saw me watching, she gave no sign. She stood at the porch rail, surveying the neighborhood. I thought about waving to her, her name just on the tip of my tongue, but a spike of curiosity drove itself into the back of my mind. A couple of minutes passed, and when she was satisfied that no one was watching her, Tina trotted down the steps and along the sidewalk. I waited until she turned the corner before following her. 

Small towns like ours possessed a certain kind of peace at night, a certain kind of stillness that’s almost otherworldly. On such nights, when the sky is full of stars and our neighbors are sleeping, reality seems to loosen at its threads. The stitching gives way just so, and if one knows where to look, they can see the machinations of the universe spinning away behind the veil. That night was no different, and the farther I followed Tina through our dark neighborhood toward Main Street, the more I felt we’d slipped beyond the curtain and into a backstage area off limits to most. 

The air grew heavy, pregnant with an oppressive humidity that intensified with pressure as I trailed behind her. Up ahead, a solitary white light split Main Street in two, pouring from the open doors of the Magic Show. I slowed and waited beside the hedgerow at the corner. Tina crossed the street and hesitated at the steps, staring up into the white brilliance with the fascination of a child. Her shadow stretched and distorted across the empty street, and I was so enraptured by the way it danced in the shimmering light that I didn’t see the approaching silhouette. Deborah Taft stepped into the light and offered Tina a thin smile before taking her hand. Together, both women entered the building and vanished into a thick sheet of white light. 

Moments later, the light blinked out, draping the street in shadow. A cool gust of air swept past me as though the world itself had been holding its breath. The humidity abated, the fabric of reality suddenly stretched firm once more, and I was alone in the darkness except for my racing thoughts. Deborah and Tina, I thought, walking home. They’ve gone to the Magic Show. 

I considered having another smoke when I reached my house, something to settle my nerves, but a hollow clapping sound in the distance gave me a start. I turned and felt the world drop out from beneath me. Down the street, at the corner from which I’d walked just a few minutes before, a lone figure stood beneath the streetlight with its arms held in the air. I strained to get a better look, but the contours of the figure’s face were wrapped in shadow. I must’ve stared for at least five minutes, waiting for the figure to move or speak or do anything, really, but it never did. Unsettled and tired from the events of the evening, I climbed the steps of my porch and opened the front door. 

The hollow clapping echoed from down the street, and when I turned back, the corner was empty. I stepped inside, and for the first time in years, I locked my front door. 

Tina Wood didn’t show up for work the next morning, but her effigy did. Her coworkers found it propped against her desk outside Mayor Taft’s office, draped in a pink sequined dress, its face caked in painted makeup with a hollowed mouth carved into a ridiculous smile. A dusty wig of blonde hair was meticulously placed upon the wooden dome of its head. 

A similar mannequin was found behind the mayor’s desk, clad in a gray blazer coated with balls of white lint. Mayor John Taft’s familiar grin was displayed on the figure’s face, but its bulbous eyes and rosy cheeks betrayed the implied friendliness. No one cared to discuss how the mannequin came to be in Taft’s office, or its reassembly and inexplicable travel from the police station. Barry Harmon, the city tax collector, was later quoted in the morning newspaper, remarking that the mayor’s wooden doppelganger “looked more like Taft than Taft himself.” 

He didn’t care to clarify his statement, but I think we all understood his meaning in that tacit way between neighbors, the same way we knew not to cross property lines or to abstain from troubling one another after nightfall. We all knew there was something exceedingly uncanny in the way these mannequins were carved and painted, something that instilled in them the raw essence of their subjects, and their appearance in our lives brought us closer to the edge of something we all felt but could not identify with words. 

Deborah Taft’s likeness was later discovered outside City Hall, just beyond the entrance. She wore a blue sequined dress and a dirty mop of auburn hair. A wicker basket hung from one of her suspended arms, filled with an assortment of dried flowers and a stack of torn parchment paper which all bore the same message in beautiful calligraphy: “You’re invited to the Magic Show.”

An attempt was made to review the lobby security footage, with hope that the culprit behind these disappearances and the placement of the mannequins, but nothing came of it. From what I heard, the footage itself was corrupted, barely viewable due to interference with the camera itself. Other cameras were reviewed and provided the same result. The ancient analog security system was long overdue for an upgrade, but the city council had voted against new technology, a fact which now haunted them in the absence of the mayor, his wife, and the Wood family. 

I spent most of that day combing through the town records once again, certain I’d missed something in my prior research. One of our town forefathers must have documented the building and its nature, but after several hours and several hundred documents, I concluded my search emptyhanded. 

Tired and suffering from eye strain, I closed the library early and walked home. I contemplated an afternoon nap to catch up on sleep, as I’d spent the previous night in a state of half-dreaming fear, tossing and turning and stirring at every errant sound. Visions of what I’d witnessed the night before followed me into slumber, and I awoke that morning soaked in sweat and shivering. 

Home again, I checked my mailbox for the daily delivery, and found only a folded scrap of paper. I recognized the torn edges and rough texture, recalling the way Tina handed her invitation to me the day before. I wadded the paper into a ball and tossed it into the street unread.

Brian’s knocking on my door woke me from my nap, and I joined him on the porch. Elizabeth stood in one corner, nervously chewing at her thumbnail. I asked him what was wrong, and he replied by handing me a pair of folded papers. I didn’t bother opening them. Didn’t have to. 

“Tina isn’t answering her phone,” Elizabeth said. “And she’s not answering her door. Her car’s parked in their driveway, and I heard they…” She trailed off, turning away from us and bracing her hands on the porch railing. Brian finished for her.

“They found a mannequin made up to look like her. In the mayor’s office.” I nodded, told them I’d heard the news. Brian shook his head. “I don’t understand what’s happening here. First the mayor and Robby, then Tina—”

“The mayor’s wife,” Elizabeth added. 

“—Deborah, too. And it looks like everyone got these damn invitations today. I just—I don’t get it, and I don’t like it. Something’s not right here. Where did they go? Who set up the mannequins in their place?”

I thought of what I’d witnessed last night when I’d followed Tina, and I wanted to tell them, but something held my tongue. That same fluctuating heat clouded my mind, and the space around us grew thin. Something mechanical buzzed elsewhere in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t a car or lawn equipment. This was lighter, repetitive, and jarring. Worse, I don’t think Brian or Elizabeth heard it, and before I knew what was happening, Brian was ushering me to the porch swing.

“You don’t look well,” he said. “Do you want some water?”

Elizabeth didn’t wait for me to reply, opening the door to my home and returning a moment later with a glass in her hand. She gave it to me and I drank out of obligation. 

“Sorry,” I said, my head still swimming with thoughts of Tina and Deborah. I gulped more water and returned the folded paper to Brian. “Maybe they accepted the invitation? Maybe they’ve gone to the Magic Show?”

Brian crumpled the pages in his fist. “None of this makes sense. What the hell is happening in our town, man?”

Morbid curiosity, I wanted to tell him. Instead, I thanked Elizabeth for the water and offered an empty platitude to soothe their concerns. They remained for a few minutes longer, making small talk about the weather and their day at work, but I was only half-listening. My mind wandered back to the strange sensation of the world peeling back from itself, the rippling of reality’s fabric as the seams began to tear, and the odd mechanical noise I’d heard in my head. 

Something like a saw, maybe. The buzzing of a drill. Or the rapid motor of a sewing machine.

What began with the mayor gradually spread to others of less prominence over the next several weeks. Average citizens vanished in the night and were replaced with their mannequin counterparts the following day. Like Robby and Tina Wood, one spouse was joined by the other; children followed, in some cases before their parents, as evidenced by the vanishing of Cordelia White. Her disappearance led to a scene a week later when elementary school teachers arrived to find a parking lot full of child-sized mannequins with invitations in their hands.

One by one, the households in our town gradually went dark, and those of us who remained were trapped beneath a sweltering blanket of anxiety. Those of us who were left kept to ourselves, shuffling off to our jobs in the morning and locking up our homes at night, while the mannequin effigies of our neighbors multiplied in number. 

I spent my evenings on the porch, smoking my pipe and watching the lost souls abandon their darkened homes in favor of the strange building downtown. In those final days, I gave up my nightly walks. The mannequins unnerved me so, and I couldn’t bring myself to visit downtown anymore, not after I’d watched Tina and Deborah venture inside the Magic Show. A part of me wanted to continue my ritual of knocking on that door, but I was too afraid someone would answer. Such a fear spoke to the overall anxiety permeating our town. The Magic Show was obviously the origin of the vanishings and replacements of our neighbors, but to address the situation meant confronting whomever resided within its walls, and none of us were brave enough to face the prospect. 

Early one morning, while I was preparing my breakfast, Brian knocked on my door. I greeted him, offered for him to join me, but he declined. 

“I can’t. That’s why I stopped by. I wanted to let you know me and Elizabeth are leaving town. We don’t want to be here when whatever’s happening comes for us.”

I thought of mentioning he’d already received the invitation but decided against it. He was panicked, and he held his hands at his sides to hide their trembling in hope I wouldn’t notice. 

“You can come with us. In fact, we’d like for you to. Elizabeth and I talked about it. We know you don’t have any family here. It’s just you and this lonely old house. Why not come with us? I don’t think I could stand it, knowing I’d left you here to be…”

He trailed off, leaving the outcome unsaid. We both knew what would happen eventually, sooner or later. Probably sooner. 

“I appreciate that,” I told him. “Give me the day to think it over.” 

“That’s fine, but don’t take too long. We’re leaving as soon as Elizabeth comes home from work this afternoon. I took the day off to pack our things.”

“Fair enough.” 

I saw him out, waiting until he’d left my yard before closing the door. I’d like to think he knew I’d already made up my mind to stay. This was my home, and in some ways, my town. I liked it here, liked the scenery, the peace and quiet. Although the mannequins and the vanishings unsettled me, I had to admit I enjoyed the solitude. I would miss Brian’s company, though. He and Elizabeth were always good neighbors to me. 

The morning bled into the afternoon, and I wasted the hours dozing on my sofa. My dreams were scattered and frantic, haunted with visions of mannequin parts and bolts of fabric, culminating in a furious pounding and shouting that wrenched me from slumber with a start. Disoriented, I sat up and waited for a chill to pass over me. The pounding continued, rattling the walls. 

“—need your help! It’s Brian! Please—” 

I staggered to the door. Brian’s pale face stared back at me. Beads of sweat bled down his forehead. 

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Elizabeth,” he said between gasps for breath. “She’s…she’s gone to the Magic Show.”

Brian was a gibbering mess by the time we got to his car, and from what I could make out of his panicked stammering, Elizabeth hadn’t called him on her way home. Calls to her phone went to voicemail, and after an hour of growing panic, Brian left a note and went for a walk to calm himself. He’d spotted her car parked across the street from the Magic Show, and that’s when he’d raced back to my house. 

“I don’t understand,” he said, more to himself than to me. I climbed into the car and strapped myself in. “…she said she had no desire to find out what was inside the building, but…” He started the car and backed into the street. In my evening observations, watching our own neighbors wander along the sidewalks toward downtown, I’d noticed the fear in their eyes, the anxiety shrouding their faces. There was a morbid curiosity inherent in all of us, a deathly instinct that wouldn’t leave something as incomprehensibly intelligent as the Magic Show alone. But to tell this panicked, grieving man such a thing would be pointless, and I kept quiet, watching one street turn into the next. 

Minutes later, we arrived downtown and parked behind Elizabeth’s car. The Magic Show lights were on, its doors standing open. We were expected, a concept which gave me pause, but Brian Kirkland would not be dissuaded. He left his car door standing open as he raced across the street, up the short set of stairs, and disappeared into the building. I heard his voice echo from within, calling his wife’s name, a sound that drove a shiver down my arms. 

Standing before the old building, I felt infinitely smaller, reduced to the essence of a child when I would playfully knock on its closed doors. No one ever answered, but now I wondered if the person dwelling within would remember me from all those years ago. I felt the world around me swell and breathe, the wind blowing empty plastic bottles and other detritus along the deserted street. Reality shimmered and shifted, revealing the threads and stitching beneath which held everything together, and in that moment the mannequins standing in the windows turned toward me. Their rigid arms articulated up and out, extending chiseled fingers to the glass where they tapped erratically. The painted, grinning faces of the mayor and his wife stared back at me, welcoming me inside.

Brian cried out—in terror or in pain, I did not know—and I forced my legs forward, up the stairs, and into the dark maw of the Magic Show. The doors slammed shut behind me, swallowing the world in shadow. 

I stood in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust and my heart to slow. Brian had fallen silent, and the building was filled with a familiar churning noise. Plangent, mechanical in its regularity, the metal churning continued in waves, revving up like a motor before coasting to a stop. I felt along the wall, found a knob, and turned. To my surprise, a light switched on overhead, revealing an enclosed foyer. A bench stood in one corner, populated with discarded boots, overalls, and other workwear. Opposite the entrance was another door. I opened it and called out Brian’s name. 

My voice echoed across a vast expanse that caught me off guard. I’m not sure what I expected to find. A regular house, maybe, with hallways and rooms, or an old theater as the name “Magic Show” suggested, populated with rows of bucket seats. Either one could not be further from the truth, and I sensed the nature of this enigmatic space as I crossed the demarcation.

A wide empty room opened before me, illuminated with flickering gaslight sconces along the walls, while more modern lighting hung from the ceiling at various workstations scattered along the floor. I marveled at the size, certain the building I knew so well from the exterior could not possibly contain such a space. A series of tables stood in the center beneath a wide circle of light, pushed together to form a massive surface on which someone had erected a model town in Lilliputian scale. To my right was all manner of woodworking equipment, from belt sanders and lathes to a variety of table saws and blades. Fragments of miniature houses and wooden figures lay strewn along a worktable. Scattered along the floor were mounds of wood shavings and sawdust, imprinted with a series of crisscrossing footprints. 

Beyond the model town display stood an army of mannequins at the opposite end of the vast room. Faceless males and females, adult and child alike, were clad in the efforts of an apprentice tailor. They encircled a small table, and it was there I saw the source of the churning noise filling the space, my head, spinning the world away in stops and starts. An antique sewing machine sat on the table, its foot pedal swiveling forward and back from unseen pressure, while the machine’s rotor churned the needle up and down. A dark panel of fabric slid through the machine, fed from an unseen bolt in the shadows above. 

I waited for a pause in the machine’s cacophony and called out Brian’s name. He did not answer. As I approached the latter half of the room, I noticed a black top hat just to the side of the sewing table and knelt to retrieve it. Hidden beneath the hat was a small wooden man carved with meticulous precision, down to the curls of hair and trimmed fingernails. Even without paint, I recognized the stark features of my friend. I walked back to the model of our town and placed Brian in his front yard next to Elizabeth’s grinning effigy. Out of curiosity, I removed the roof of City hall and peered inside, satisfied to find Tina behind her desk and Mayor Taft governing from his office. Across town, at the other end of the table, Deborah Taft admired an arrangement of painted flowers in her backyard. Robby Wood stood beside his truck, which was parked behind the miniature Magic Show. Faceless effigies stood in the storefront windows against a backdrop of painted curtains. Dim light flickered from beyond the open doors, and just up Main Street, I spotted a small gang of children racing along the sidewalk. 

Satisfied with their placement, I returned to the sewing table and examined the top hat. A small piece of parchment was tucked into the white band along the rim, and I plucked it free. “DEED OF SALE,” it read. “OWNERSHIP OF THE MAGIC SHOW.” I skimmed the legalese, reading as far as my name before tucking the paper into my pocket. I already knew the contents by heart.

Of my many hobbies as a child, model building was always my favorite. The precision of creating something to scale, painting it to reflect its source, and tailoring clothes to fit the people who would live in this illusion I’ve created were all things I enjoyed in my youth. The precision, and the phantasm in which we live. The show in which we perform and the burden of curiosity we bear. 

When I placed the hat on a nearby mannequin, the last shred of fabric slipped through the sewing machine, and the metal parts ceased their churning. I followed the sheet with my eyes, watching it slide upward along the wall and into the shadows above. Toward the center of the room, the rippling fabric slipped along the wall and to the floor like a large black curtain. 

Beyond the rippling seams, I glimpsed the world and the stars above; I glimpsed the world, and the life below. I saw our town. My town. The way it is and the way it was, and the way I will always remember it. The library and City Hall. My house, the Woods across the street, and the Kirkland’s next door. Our neighborhood lit by lamplight and encased in shadow. Along Main Street, a group of children raced along in the dark, daring one another to knock on the front door of the Magic Show.

I took a seat at the sewing table, marveling at the display of my fantasy beyond the curtain and spotted several leaves of parchment tucked beside the machine. The headline read, “INSTRUCTIONS.” Hesitant and trembling, I took the first page and read its opening lines—


Earlier this summer, word spread around our town that the Magic Show’s doors were open.


—and I came to understand the nature of this illusion I have created. I would return to repair the torn seams of this world, but now there is someone knocking at the door, and I am too afraid to answer.

About the Author

Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling is the author of Devil’s Creek, a 2020 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel, along with Scanlines, The Final Reconciliation, and Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors, among many shorter works. He also dabbles in graphic design under the moniker of Dullington Design Co., and was the recipient of This Is Horror’s Award for Cover Art of the Year for his cover design of Arterial Bloom, edited by Mercedes M. Yardley and published by Crystal Lake Publishing. A former Kentucky resident, Keisling now lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his family where he is at work on his next novel

Find more by Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling

About the Narrator

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and a rescue dog and cat. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal, a source of critical study and creative response to the work of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine.

He has work out or forthcoming in Weird Fiction ReviewPseudoPodLovecraft eZineXnoybis, and the anthologies A Walk on the Weird SideWound of WoundsPhantasm/ChimeraFor Mortal Things Unsung, and Ashes and Entropy.

Find more by Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett