Marty and Elizabeth both held on to the handles of their suitcases with one hand, and Gabe’s forearm with the other. Gabe squished his suitcase between his legs, since he needed both hands free to tap the diamond on the ornate golden watch that Thrylos had given him. Then he popped open the cover and briefly admired the diamond at the twelve o’clock position.
“All right, on three,” Gabe said. “One, two… three!”
Gabe felt a sucking sensation at his navel, along with a jolt, even though at the same time he didn’t seem to move at all. The first thing he noticed was how bright it was.
Elizabeth gasped, and then shrieked, “Look! Gabe, look!”
Gabe did look, but it took his eyes a second to adjust to the blinding sunlight. Then he saw that they were standing on a powdery beach. The sand glinted with a slight pinkish hue, and the water—
“Whoa,” Marty murmured, dropping his backpack to the sand and walking toward it in amazement. “I didn’t know blue came that blue!”
“Seriously,” Gabe agreed, shaking his head in amazement. Elizabeth had already run to the water’s edge, cupping it in her hands and letting it flow throw her fingers with a blissful look on her face. The contrast between the perfect, clear turquoise water and the pink sand boggled Gabe’s mind. He didn’t realize that places like this actually existed.
Then suddenly it occurred to him that aside from the sound of the waves, it was eerily silent here. Where were all the families having picnics and playing in the water? He turned around to look at the lush tropical vegetation behind him. There were no signs of civilization whatsoever.
“Is this… a desert island?” he asked aloud, to no one in particular. He felt a sudden stab of fear, which was completely irrational. He still had the watch, didn’t he? If worst came to worst, they could just go back home again anytime.
When Gabe turned around he found that both Elizabeth and Marty had stooped into the sand to unzip their suitcases, and were rummaging around to find their bathing suits. He hurried back to join them, and one by one they went into the jungle to change. Elizabeth emerged again in her favorite black swimsuit. Marty wore red board shorts, but kept his t-shirt on. Despite all his bluster, Gabe knew he was really sensitive about his weight. It wasn’t that Marty was fat, only pudgy and unathletic. But unkind teasing from classmates had made him ashamed that he wasn’t trim and muscular like Timo, or even slim like Gabe.
As for Gabe, he hurried into the jungle and quickly changed into his blue tropical print swimming trunks, debating as he returned to the other two whether or not to leave his shoes on in the water. They were the only pair he had, and he didn’t want to get them soaked with sea water.
On the other hand, though, the washed up sea shells might cut his feet if he didn’t wear them. He decided that he would take off his socks and wear the shoes only.
Once ready, the children ran for the beautiful blue water and the pure white sand. The water was cool and salty. They laughed and bobbed among the waves. Gabe didn’t know when he’d had such a wonderful time.
“What are we doing here?” asked Gabe when they finally threw themselves on the sand to rest. It was wonderful to play, but surely there was more to this adventure?
“Uh,” said Marty, pointing a short distance out to sea. “Probably helping them.”
Gabe turned, following the direction of Marty’s finger, and gasped. An enormous shipdashed upon the reef of a shallow ocean floor and broke into splinters, right before their eyes.
By the big oak trees in the Lovejoys’ backyard, Thrylos turned his briefcase sideways and gave it a swift shake with his wrist, whereupon it sprouted legs and became a table. Gabe clapped like this was one of his tricks, but Thrylos merely arched a brow at the boy and grinned, opening the lid and shielding Gabe from its contents.
“This is just a prop,” he gestured at the briefcase-turned-table. “I only carry it because it’s expected of magicians to have a box of some sort. Completes the image. But that’s not really the kind of magic I do.”
Gabe seated himself cross-legged at Thrylos’s feet and leaned forward. “What kind do you do?”
“Well,” his green eyes twinkled. “I’ll bet all the magic shows you’ve seen have done the same tricks, right? Pick a card and I’ll guess which one, drawing a rabbit out of a hat, pulling a coin out of your ear, and then sawing an assistant in half for the big finale?” Gabe nodded, and
Thrylos’s toothy grin grew wider. “What if instead I could—make it snow in springtime?”
He waved his hand, and Gabe blinked in surprise. He looked around, and sure enough, cold little snowflakes kissed his cheeks and nose. He waited just long enough for Gabe to catch a few of them and watch them melt in his palm. Then he waved a hand again, and the snowflakes vanished.
“Or—conjure fire?” When Gabe looked up again, he realized that Thrylos had pulled an unlit wax candle from his table. At his word, the wick ignited. Gabe’s mouth dropped open.
Thrylos blew out the candle, and a trail of smoke floated upward into the air. Then he pointed at Gabe. “Or—counter gravity?”
Gabe gasped, as his legs flopped down now that the ground was no longer supporting them. Instinctively he flung both arms out to the side as if to steady himself, feeling just a bit frightened now.
“I’m flying!” he cried out, and Thrylos chuckled. He continued to lift Gabe into the air, but stopped when his feet were just a few inches from the ground.
“People always expect me to levitate myself, as if by strings,” he mused. “It’s so much more impressive when you’re the one to fly, instead of me, don’t you think?”
“But—but—we’re outside!” Gabe blustered, “there can’t possibly be any strings!”
“Do you see any strings?” Thrylos countered, amused.
Gabe looked all around his body, determined to make a thorough search before he answered this question. As he did this, the weightlessness caused him to tip forward and somersault in the air. He started to laugh in spite of his nervous excitement.
“This is amazing!”
“This is magic,” Thrylos agreed, chuckling himself now and lowering Gabe back to the ground. He landed on all fours, panting hard as if he’d just exerted himself. He made his way back to a cross-legged position but leaned forward, gazing up at Thrylos in hero-worship.
“Will you teach me?” Gabe begged. “Please? I know kids probably ask you that all the time, but I’ll do anything. I’ll be such a good apprentice, I’ll do anything you ask me to do and I’ll work so hard—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there,” Thrylos held up a hand. “Let me correct one major false assumption you just made. True magic cannot be taught, because it’s not a trick or a technique. It can only be believed.”
Gabe blinked, and frowned, already feeling let down. “I don’t understand.”
Thrylos closed the lid of his briefcase. “Here’s the secret of magic, Gabe. Are you ready?”
Gabe nodded, hope filling his breast again, and Thrylos knelt down in the grass beside him.
“Anything is possible,” he whispered. “But most people don’t believe anything outside their usual experience. That’s the whole secret right there: just believe, no matter what your senses and experience tell you, no matter what your friends and family tell you is and isn’t possible—believe, and you can do magic. The hardest part is disregarding the ordinary in the beginning, but once you start experiencing magic, each experience makes it that much easier to believe the next time.”
Gabe still felt skeptical. Didn’t every magician say that theirs were not tricks or illusions, but real magic? And yet, he’d never seen anybody do the things Thrylos just did… how else could he explain that?
“How do you… get started, then?”
“With help.” Thrylos grinned. “When my mentor first recruited me, he asked me the very same question I’m about to ask you. What impossible thing do you most wish to experience? My answer was to fly. That’s when he did for me what I just did for you. But what’s yours? Do you want to soar through the clouds with the birds? Or swim with the dolphins? Or skate on Saturn’s rings? You name it.”
Gabe realized he’d been holding his breath, as each offer conjured a different, incredible image in his mind. “You mean it?”
Thrylos nodded, and Gabe realized up close that his eyes were so green, they looked like emeralds. “I mean it.”
Gabe was silent for a long time. Then finally he said, “Can… can I think about it for a little while before I answer? I don’t want to wish for the wrong thing…”
Thrylos gave Gabe a grave nod. “Absolutely, I understand. Very wise.” He stood up, closed the lid of his briefcase-table, and gave it a shake. The legs retracted and vanished, and it was a briefcase only again. “I tell you what, Gabe. I will come back in exactly one month for your answer, to give you plenty of time to think about it. All right?” He stuck out a hand, which was twice the size of Gabe’s and very weathered. Gabe put his hand into Thrylos’s and shook with all the enthusiasm he had.
“You have a deal, Mr. Thrylos!”