By Chris Garson
Copyright 2016 Chris Garson
Doug Fulbright trembled as his hand reached for the door knocker. His entire life had been building up towards this moment. He’d always believed in magik, ever since he was a little boy watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Some people said the whole thing was a hoax. Faking a lunar landing, now that would be a real trick! They even made a movie about it, Capricorn One, starring OJ before he killed his wife and Jack McCoy from Law & Order. Doug never doubted that the landing was real though as a child he thought magik brought Apollo 11 to the moon. After he grew older, Doug realized that technology was responsible, but he never stopped believing.
Doug asked for magik sets every birthday and every Christmas. His first trick was a vanishing. His parents played along and pretended they didn’t notice the curtain hiding the Tonka truck. By the age of six, he could pick the right card from the deck every time. At seven, he could levitate objects, and by the time he finished elementary school, parents in the neighborhood were hiring him for birthday parties. He loved performing tricks, but what he truly sought was real magik, the kind of magik Gandalf and Merlin wielded.
After college, Doug delighted wedding crowds, entertained at birthday parties, performed at night clubs, and sold out shows on the Vegas strip, to pay bills and finance his obsession with real magik. Once, he even performed at a funeral. It was during the 80s, when things like that happened. “Keep the mood light,” the widow said. “Randy would want people to have fun.”
Doug never forgot his dream of discovering real magik. Cheap sleight of hand tricks, fabricated illusions, and mirror magik were enough to keep crowds clapping, but didn’t fulfill him. When he wasn’t on stage, Doug spent every waking moment tracking down rumors of real magik. He went to Laos for the woman who could talk to water buffalo, but it was a ventriloquism trick. The mind reader in Vegas used audience plants. The guy who bent spoons really didn’t and the flying twins, forget it. A blind man could have seen those wires. The tribal shaman in the Congo claimed he was talking to his ancestors, but anyone could have spouted that gibberish. It was the same with the “other Dali Lama” living in Dubai, the Outback witch doctor, and the so-called Sorcerer Supreme of Greenwich Village, who turned out to be a comic book fan with a large Doctor Strange collection.
Through it all, Doug remained convinced real magik did exist. The trip to Mount St. Helens proved him right. At the volcano, a stooped, old hunchback living in the fields of frozen lava wielded power. He could twist reality, reshaping it according to his will. From there, Doug traveled to the rain forests of Brazil and watched a painted medicine man performed miracles. The third time, he braved the radioactive wastes of Chernobyl. In the nuclear wasteland, a deformed monstrosity with a cranium bulging like the buggers in Mars Attacks! out-predicted the Amazing Kreskin.
All three told a similar story, about a steely-eyed man with crescent pupils and magical rocks. The medicine man told him the rocks were the petrified testicles of the Great Jaguar. The mad genius in Chernobyl said they fell into our world from another dimension when the reactor melted down, and the hunchback swore the volcano belched them up from an ancient Atlantean tomb.
Doug didn’t know which story to believe, but took comfort from the common thread of the man with the magik rocks. Now, the trail led him to Salem, Massachusetts. The location alone gave him confidence. What better place to inherit real magik than the traditional home of America’s earliest witches?
He stood before a ramshackle dwelling on the outskirts of the city, a building so old the witches might have lived there before they were burned at the stake. He would have thought the one-story affair abandoned if not for the lit candle behind the curtains draping the front window.
He hesitated before knocking on the door, nervous of success and terrified of failure. If the information he bought was accurate, his dream was about to come true. According to his informant, he’d find the man with crescent pupils here. The informant mentioned a name too, but Doug hadn’t believed him. If real magik did await him beyond the door, he knew exactly what spell he’d cast first. He’d known for years.
He knocked. The door swung slowly open of its own volition, revealing a single large, bare room lit by a solitary candle. A man shrouded in shadow rocked in the corner on a Pilgrim chair. A blanket over his legs covered one or more large, bulky objects.
Doug approached slowly. The light from the candle grew brighter, like someone kept turned up the dial, except there was no dial and there was no one in the room besides Doug and the man in the wheelchair. He could see him better now, sitting upright, with shoulders square, and looking fit. He kept his snowy hair short and parted to the side and wore a zipped up flight jacket. The man appeared to be in his sixties and Doug saw in him the relaxed confidence of a person used to being in the public eye. A performer like him, or a news anchor, or a politician.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me,” the man said, crescent pupils clearly visible against steely blue irises, like moons in the sky. He wore the crooked smile of a carnival game operator who knows damn well which water gun shoots fastest.
Doug stepped so close that the man’s breathing sounded like the puff of retro rockets. In full light, he recognized the man. He blinked. He rubbed his eyes. He blinked again, but it was still the same man. “It is you. He said it was you, but I didn’t believe him.”
Buzz Aldrin pulled away the blanket. Freakin’ Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut from Apollo 11! Buzz Aldrin, the man who walked on the moon! Two grey, pocked rocks rested on Buzz’s lap. He smiled, obviously enjoying Doug’s stupefaction. “Go ahead, Doug. Touch them. It’s what you’ve wanted.”
Even though the informant had told him, even though he could see it with his own eyes, Doug could hardly believe that Buzz Aldrin was the man with the crescent pupils. And Buzz Aldrin knew his name? What the hell was going on? “H-how …”
Buzz laughed, as if Doug ought to be onto the joke by now. “Capricorn One got it wrong but right. There was a hoax, just not the one they showed in the movie. We landed on the moon sure enough, but while everyone was watching Neil, I got these. Go on, touch ‘em. You deserve it, as much as those others did. You’ve been looking long enough.”
“What will happen?” Doug couldn’t take his eyes off the rocks. After talking to the hunchback, the shaman in the rain forest, and the radioactive man, he had some idea of what might happen, if all went well.
“It depends. Sometimes nothing. Sometimes they give you the power of the gods. I’m betting on you, Doug. I’ve got a feeling about you.” Buzz winked.
Buzz was playing a game and between the wink and his scheming smile, Doug felt sure it was rigged. He’d run enough shell games to know when he was the mark. He studied the rocks closely. They looked ordinary enough, very much like the ones he’d seen at the volcano, and not at all special. He’d never have guessed they came from the moon. “How do they work?”
“Hell if I know.” Buzz shrugged, as if to add ‘who cares.’
“Does NASA?” If they knew about the magik rocks, Doug had just discovered a cover-up worthy of WikiLeaks, not that he would ever tell. Magicians knew how to keep secrets. Wizards too, he supposed.
Buzz jerked back as if Doug just slapped him across the face. “What’re you, crazy? NASA doesn’t know about the rocks and they never will.”
“How’d you get them home without anyone noticing?” Doug always thought the propeller heads knew the spacecraft’s weight down to the last milligram.
Buzz snapped his fingers. The rocks vanished from Doug’s sight. Buzz snapped his fingers again. They reappeared. “It was easy. Now, let’s see what if you’ve got what it takes. I’m getting hungry.”
Buzz snapped his fingers a third time. From nowhere, a table filled with gourmet dishes appeared in an empty corner of the room. The smile returned to his face.
Doug reached down to touch the rocks, barely able to contain his excitement. This was it. The moment he’d waited for all his life. Magik, real magik, would be his if the rocks found him worthy.
His outstretched fingers made contact with the hard, cold rocks. Nothing. His stomach sank. Had they rejected him? He closed his fingers around the moon rocks, pleading silently for approval. He could feel the holes on the bumpy surface, much like those on a sponge. Then, they warmed to his touch and purple light crackled from them.
A jolt went through Doug. He didn’t break contact with the rocks, even though he was dizzy and weak in the knees, as if someone had knocked the air out of him. His vision swam for a moment and then sharpened. He tingled with power. It ran down his arms, through his body down to the tips of toes. Doug felt like he could do anything.
He pulled his hand away from the moon rocks, encouraged by Buzz’s nod. After closing his eyes, he concentrated on his newfound power and fixed an image in his mind, clear and vivid.
Doug felt the weight upon his palm and opened his eyes. There it was, just as he’d pictured it. The Tonka truck, returned from its vanishing.