's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Greatest Magician in the World

Submitted by Samsinater (email)

I always thought magic would be so much cooler if it were real.

Maybe because I always desperately wanted to be the one person alive who could do real magic in a sea of fakers. Though, don't get me wrong! I don't think it's bad that magic tricks are fake. I mean, they're called tricks. They're "magic" acts. Their fakeness is advertised right in the name, completely transparently!

Which is why, of course, it's so incredible when people seem to do real magic anyway. We all know it's fake. It's not being able to explain that fake thing that makes it so interesting, maybe more so than it should be. (Maybe there's a jab at religion somewhere in there.) But that's not important, not to me, not anymore.

What's important is I can do real magic.

It's not magic like you see in kid's stories or fantasy games, with arcane power channeled through wands or spellbooks, but it is something that no one else in the world can do. I know no one else in the world can do it, because there's no way anyone else who could do what I do would squander it doing magic tricks, just for the sake of being better at them than everyone else. Not unless they were another magician, but I haven't found anyone even half as good at what I do.

I know you're wondering, "so what is this great power of yours, already?" It's simple. To say it bluntly, I can pause time. At will, unconditionally, for everyone except myself, just by willing it so. And I can unpause it just as easily. Neat, right? I'm sure you can imagine the implications when it comes to magic.

It was a little messy at first, when I didn't realize I'd even gotten the power, and then when I was still figuring out its rules, but I managed to scrape by without people suspecting too much. Hell, seeing as when I was kid, I told everyone I knew how badly I wanted to do magic -- given how often I asked someone to pick a card, or tried to palm coins for them -- they probably just figured it was part of my newest act, something novel from some new kit made with the cheapest factory-made plastic mom's credit card could buy.

How I got this power I still don't know. Maybe I just wanted it badly enough, more than anyone else ever had. Maybe a god from the Greek pantheon thought it would be funny if one, and only one, mortal could do magic, and he chose me to do it. (Supposedly I'm a quarter Greek on my mother's side; it's grabbing at straws, I know, but a guy can pretend he knows how the world works, can't he?)

At this point, I don't suppose it matters where it came from. What matters is... there are consequences.

And I don't mean the movie consequences, like stepping on a butterfly and causing a tsunami. That would be stupid, and ridiculous.

I'm talking about the creatures you can only see if you can pause time.

I never saw them at first, when I was just at home, or in school, freezing time for shits and giggles. Maybe just by coincidence, maybe because they weren't interested in me when I wasn't doing magic. I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is they're fast, so staggeringly fast you literally cannot see them unless you can freeze time around them, and I nearly shit myself onstage the first time I saw one hunched over in the crowd.

Their skin is grey and rubbery, stretched tight in some places and downright flabby in others, but with this slight shifting shimmer to it, like they're made of the most boring glitter putty imaginable -- the color you'd only expect to see in a horribly pathetic office party, to celebrate the new filing cabinet. They don't wear clothes (as if any tailor could cater to their spindly, geometrically nauseating bodies), so I always imagine that glimmering sheen is just their way of getting all dressed up for my show. Like makeup, but on a grey and lifeless corpse.

I've never seen any eyes on them, not on their chest or their hands or anywhere, but I never have any difficulty imagining they must be in their heads because, universally, they're always grinning straight in my direction.

Every time I theatrically snap my fingers, and mentally send the command to time itself to take a little break, there they are. Randomly sprinkled in the crowd, all grinning at me no matter how far away they are, in even the most spacious theater, they're there.

I hate those stupid mouths of theirs. They're big, and wide, and dumpy, taking up more than half of each of their faces. I don't even know what they look like closed because of how they always grin, their lips extending right off their cheeks, sometimes slipping in front of one another. It's like a graphical glitch in some CGI production, except there's never any clipping -- just wet, rubbery cheeks, and teeth at least as shiny as their glimmering gums.

There's a reason I personify them as enjoying my show. It's so I don't go insane at the thought that extra-dimensional beings are ceaselessly mocking me.

And to my credit, they do always seem to enjoy me! No matter what stupid trick I'm doing, even if it's just moving coins from one clear glass cup to another one, totally invisible to the audience thanks to my magic, they're always grinning at me. If I'm doing especially well, they'll even be in a frozen pose of clapping -- with all three pairs of legs if I'm lucky, and they aren't hanging from the walls or ceiling.

I've never told anyone about them, of course, for the same reason I just smile a shit-eating grin when people ask me how I did it, and I tell them, oh, that's easy; I just froze time and did it while you weren't looking. Nobody believes me, even when I tell them exactly what I did, even as impossible as what I do is otherwise, because I still sell it as a trick. Because nobody's ever done what I can do.

Maybe that's the greatest trick of all, tricking people into believing my magic isn't real?

...You know, actually. I have a slight amendment to what I said before. I have seen them with closed mouths, once.

I don't like to think about it, because in some ways not seeing those familiar grins is infinitely more terrifying than them baring rows and rows of teeth at me. But I have seen them frown at me, all of them that were in the room, just once.

It was when I was closing one night, probably just past my hundredth show, sitting on a stupidly fat pile of cash from my impeccable career. You wouldn't believe how many places were willing to engage in bidding wars just to have me perform for them for a single night -- not unless you knew just how packed the theater would always be, even if the tickets were twice their normal price, even thrice that.

But with how wealthy I'd become, drowning in more money than I could ever hope to spend, I'd been thinking about it and, though it wasn't an official announcement, decided I'd sign off with letting people know the big news: after a solid five years in the business of blowing minds and stumping critics, this might be my very last show!

When I snapped my fingers to literally disappear in a puff of smoke, that's when I saw them. All frowning, all directly at me, and while I hadn't really kept count, I could swear there were more of them in that moment, at least five times as many. All frowning. All staring, eyeless, right at me, a dwarf compared to their freakishly huge stature. Some of them were onstage that time, something they'd always been polite enough never to do, to stare at me. One was as close as four feet away.

Just staring. Frowning.

When the smoke lifted, and I was still standing exactly where I had been, looking confused like I'd messed up my trick, I broke out my widest smile and let the audience know the good news: I wasn't going anywhere, of course! I was going to be performing for the rest of my life!

I had to. After all, my audience -- my real audience -- had made it very clear:

It wasn't my choice to make.