Moonlight and Illusions [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Diane M. Wylie
eBook Category: Romance/Fantasy
eBook Description: Illusionist Stephen Elliott performs dazzling magic feats to crowded theaters around the world. In Mexico, an old woman presses an ancient Mayan relic, giving him the stone and a mysterious warning with no explanation. Stephen violates that warning and must hide his secret from the world. He's become a person no one can explain or understand. Sleight of hand becomes real magic, and moonlight becomes essential. Stephen is cursed, alone?and immortal. From her seat in the twenty-second row, Anabel Bernier recognizes with a jolt the handsome star of the magic show. World War II and the passage of time did nothing to dim the burning memory of her moonlight encounter with the charming Stephen Elliott and his Mayan relic on the deck of the USS Hope. Finding him again twenty years later stirs up more questions than answers. Can she trust that he is telling the truth? Could the stone and moonlight have affected her too? Now their lives are inextricably entwined. If she helps Stephen, she could lose him forever. Unexplained events, secrets, and powerful magic threaten their second chance at a future together. But how long would the future be? Minutes? Days? Years? Forever? Terrible choices could lead to unthinkable consequences for Stephen and Anabel. The mysterious Mayan relic holds the key.
eBook Publisher: Vinspire Publishing, Published: 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2011
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Mexico City, Mexico
"Look. See the puppet dance, amigo." The toy-maker held the wooden controller in one hand and maneuvered his fingers to make the stringed toy hop and move. Tiny red wooden shoes clickety-clacked on the stones, and the cloth-covered arms jerked up and down.
"Look, Papa! Can I get one? Please? I promise to eat all my vegetables."
At his wife's nod, Stephen Elliott crouched down to watch the marionette next to his son. The happy painted smile and green hair on the toy were enough to lift anyone's spirits, despite the sweltering temperatures. Sweat trickled down his back and his hair was damp under his wide-brimmed hat. At times like this he longed to dress as he did when he was just a cabinet maker. An open-necked shirt would be much better. He tugged at the buttoned-up collar.
Poor Ruby had even more layers on. All those petticoats under her gown had to trap the heat. But she was in good spirits, smiling at him over Calvin's head as the boy exclaimed over the bright, colored toy.
"He would be a good friend to keep you company on our long trip home." Stephen gave his wife a tiny nod and raised a brow.
"You must take care of it, Calvin dear. The strings can tangle easily." Ruby, of course, saw things from a mother's practical perspective, but she gave an answering nod of agreement.
After a few minutes of the expected bargaining, the toy maker's brown face broke into a smile as he accepted the coins and handed Calvin the controller. Guiding the boy's hand, the man demonstrated the figure's actions. Finally the puppet walked away with a twitching, lurching gait under the guidance of its new owner.
The Elliott family continued through the crowded marketplace filled with the odors of fresh fish, musky leather, and the nutty smell of woven baskets. With each step the calls of the sellers enticed them to buy...at least Stephen assumed this much since he couldn't understand Spanish.
Some tugged at his sleeve. He stopped and searched around. To his left was a tiny, wizened old woman with skin the color of a walnut.
"Senor. Senor. You are American illusionist?"
"At your service, Madame." He searched for his wife and found her one stall away holding Calvin's hand as she examined a rainbow of knitted shawls. His son walked his new puppet back and forth.
"Tonight you do magic for the governor, si?"
"Yes...uh... si," he agreed, still watching his family.
Her gaze followed his. "Your esposa? Wife?
"Si. Mrs. Elliott." He nodded.
"Not the one," the gray-haired woman shook her head then her gnarled fingers took his and flipped his palm face up. Her sleight of hand rivaled his as an odd stone appeared in his open hand. It measured about an inch and a half square with rounded corners. Two rounded holes appeared like eyes and a small oblong indentation formed a mouth. The little square face was divided in half, with one side smooth and the other half engraved with a diamond pattern. The weight and feel of the stone was oddly comforting. Upon turning it over, he saw the small gray stone was smooth on the back, except for some odd markings he couldn't decipher. Stephen met the old woman's gaze, trying to make some sense of this. Why had she said Ruby was "not the one?" Perhaps he'd misunderstood.
"You take for good luck. Ancient Mayan charm," she said, folding his fingers over the stone.
"Ah, yes, I read how the Mayans were an ancient civilization who settled on your country's Yucatan peninsula. Is that correct?" He smiled. She intended to make sure he took this stone.
"Si. Good luck. This symbol means 'Way' in Mayan language."
"It means 'good luck' then?" Stephen turned the stone over again in his hand then checked on his family. Ruby appeared to be purchasing a bright yellow shawl.
"No, 'Way' mean 'Companion Spirit.' It bring you luck." The old woman's unfathomable brown eyes bored into his. "Companion Spirit is sun spirit. Only sun. 'Way' not for moonlight. Understand? Only sun. No moon."
"Of course, Senora. I understand. The 'Companion Spirit' can only be in the sunlight, not in the moonlight." Fumbling for some coins, he paid the woman. Best to keep good relations with the Mexican citizens. Ruby was looking for him now.
"Thank you. I shall treasure this greatly, Senora." He slipped the stone in his pocket, tipped his hat to the odd little woman, and hurried to catch up with his family, wondering if the Mexican woman sold all the travelers passing by her table a good luck charm.
"Tonight will be your last performance before we begin our journey back to Philadelphia. Are you glad of it, my love? Or will you miss the adoration of the multitudes who come to see The Illusionist?"
Stephen checked the pockets of his black coat to make sure he had everything. Along with a piece of candy Calvin had given him were the small balls, cards, and coins he needed for the act, and the good luck piece. From their room backstage he heard the buzz of the crowd beginning to grow. Tonight could be another sellout.
Moving to his wife, he took Ruby in his arms and held her close, inhaling the light violet scent of her perfume, a gift from him while they were in France.
"I grow weary of traveling, Ruby love. Calvin has grown up these two years past. It is time he had a proper schooling...an American schooling."
"I look forward to going home as well, husband. You need to rest after tonight. This has been hard on you, I fear. You've dark circles under your eyes. Didn't you sleep well last night?" She reached up and smoothed his forehead.
"No. I kept going over every trick in my mind. I want everything to go well tonight." Giving her a brief squeeze, careful not to wrinkle her satin gown, Stephen took a deep breath and stepped back to survey his beautiful assistant. What a perfect distraction she was on stage with her voluptuous figure, resplendent in a deep red gown and white stomacher with its low neckline. Red shoes and the red ribbons in her hair completed her ensemble.
"You are stunning, my beloved." He gave her a gentle kiss.
"Why thank you, sir," she responded with a playful curtsy. "Calvin is sitting with Uncle Michael tonight, so I can concentrate on helping you."
Stephen donned his traditional red silk-lined magician's cape and offered his arm. Why had he ever worried about accepting Thomas Marchand's proposal to take his show on tour? The man had arranged every theater, museum, and venue to perfection, down to this final showing with the Governor of Mexico in attendance. Even his brother, Michael, had approved enough to come visit and take in the last show of his seven-country tour.
He left Ruby in the darkened wings, which were filled with various props, and stepped alone onto the stage. Stephen strode confidently to the center where a solitary table awaited for his first trick. While gas lighting existed in places like New York City and Philadelphia, torches, candles, and reflectors rimmed the stage to illuminate this room. Smoke from the lighting added to the atmosphere of mystery and helped disguise the accoutrements of his trade.
The spectators were faceless figures, barely visible to the magician. But they were out there, pulsing with life and buzzing with an undercurrent of excitement. They were like a singular, massive organism reacting as one.
"Senors and senoritas, my name is Stephen Elliott, The Illusionist. I come before you tonight to entertain and amaze. The laws of nature and the universe will be defied. Watch closely..."
Four blue and white teacups already sat upside down on the table. Stephen lifted each cup one by one to reveal nothing hiding underneath. With fluid and dramatic movements, he showed the audience a white ball. Placing it under the cup farthest to his left, he repeated the action for the remaining three. He slid the cups all around the table, mixing them up, then lined them up in a row again, and stopped.
Pulling his wand out of his cape, he gave each overturned cup a tap. He lifted the first cup...nothing under it...no ball. Then he lifted the second cup. Nothing. The third cup, also nothing under it. But when he lifted the last cup, all four balls came rolling out, scattering onto the floor.
The audience clapped enthusiastically.
After a moment, Stephen held up a hand for quiet. He suddenly gave a lurch, as if he were gagging, putting a hand to his mouth. Out came one white ball, then another, and another, until the balls were falling from his mouth like rain.
The people cheered. He bowed, smiling at their enthusiasm.
For the next ninety minutes, the tricks he performed became increasingly sophisticated. Sometimes Ruby assisted, and other times he did them alone.
A Mexican guitar player stepped out from stage right, positioned himself on a stool in front of the closed curtain, and settled down to strum a melody. The music emerged sweet, poignant, and low, a kind of magic in itself.
Energy surged through his muscles and bones. By the end of a performance, he needed something new, something able to astound his audience and leave them talking to each other. With luck his reputation would precede him into his own country, and he could continue this business he loved.
Ruby came up beside him, walking quietly through the dimness. Her calm and familiar presence at his side comforted and steadied him. He knew he could count on her to step on stage with a ready prop or a whispered suggestion if a trick went awry. Taking Ruby's hand, he rubbed his thumb over her knuckles.
"Are you ready, Stephen?"
"One last trick then homeward bound. The coach will be waiting in the morning to head north." He leaned over and gave her a brief kiss, full on her lush lips. She tasted of tea and honey.
"Now, Senor?" The stagehand came up on his right.
"Now," he agreed and bent to pick up a twelve-inch square box, covered with a blue velvet cloth.
Pulleys squeaked and ropes creaked as the curtain slowly opened on the set he had specially constructed for the governor's show. In the center of the stage was a small drapery-lined square alcove enclosed on three sides, its outlines slightly blurred by the dim light and smoky air.
As Stephen carried the box forward, keeping his gait smooth and his gaze on the audience, the guitar player switched to a series of chords sending a chill up his spine. He placed the covered box on the round top of a small, three-legged table.
With a flourish, he pulled off the velvet cloth to reveal a beautiful box sculpted of highly polished dark maple. Turning a small brass knob, he then opened the hinged door in the front.
The crowd grew quiet at the sight before them as the music faded away.
Inside the box was a man's head. The eyes were closed. On its head was a white turban.
Moving to the side of the alcove, Stephen raised his hand palm up, extending his fingers toward the box. "Open your eyes, Omega!" His voice bounced off the ceiling with a strange echoing quality in the momentary hush preceding the collective gasp.
Omega's dark eyes opened. The head moved back and forth.
"Give the wonderful people of Mexico City a smile, please," Stephen requested.
Obediently the corners of its mouth lifted and the head nodded. A ripple of incredulity ran through the crowd.
"Omega," the entertainer commanded. "Please recite after me. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds..."
The disembodied head repeated the magician's recitation of the first paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence with little inflection in its voice. When the last syllable drifted away, Stephen waited.
He couldn't see his audience, so there was little he could do to detect their feelings. Did they like the new trick? His heart pounded as the silence stretched. Omega had finished and closed its eyes again. Still the silence reigned as if the people were gone. Then two people clapped hesitantly.
"Thank you, Omega!" Stephen bowed toward the box. Stepping forward, he closed the door, tapped three times on the top then opened the door again. In place of the turbaned head was a visible pile of ashes.
Gasps of surprise and muttered words in their native tongue met his ears, pleasing him.
"Thank you for your attention, senors and senoritas. This concludes tonight's show. We hope you have enjoyed our presentation of magic and mystery. Have a safe journey home to your hacienda." This time he gave a full bow to the audience, allowing his cape to billow out dramatically.
As he straightened, a commotion broke out to his right. Someone...no several people thundered up the wooden steps leading to the stage. Stephen swiveled to greet them with a smile. Anyone joining him on stage was highly unusual, but he kept calm.
Two members of the Mexican army in full uniform with guns drawn ran up and grabbed each of his arms in vise-like grips before he could move.
"Senor Stephen Elliott," the Governor of Mexico City, his honored guest, stood in front of a stunned Stephen. "You are under arrest! Usted esta debajo de detencion!"
"On what charge, sir?" his brother, Michael, shouted from the floor, while confusion and shock tied his own tongue.
An angry string of indecipherable Spanish was spit into Stephen's face before the governor turned toward the crowd. "I charge Mr. Stephen Elliott, also known as The Illusionist, with sorcery. Black witchcraft!"