By Tracey West
Illustrated by Brian W. Dow
Ben Michaels adjusted the heavy pouch of newspapers
over his shoulder and stared at the high hill aheard of him. He sighed.
Old Man Martin had it in for him for sure. He had more hills on his
route that any other carrier for the Bleaktown News.
At least it's the last block
today. Ben thought as he trudged ahead. It was also payday.
That thought made Ben's feet move a little faster.
With the five bucks he made today, he'd have saved up
thirty dollars so far. That was half the money he needed to send away
for the Official Junior Professional Magician's Kit.
His friend Lori thought he was crazy.
You should save your money for a
bicycle, she had said. That would make
your paper route a lot easier.
But the whole reason I got the
paper route was so I could buy a magic kit, Ben pointed out.
Lori shook her head. Is magic
all you think about?
Ben didn't have to think twice. Of
course! he replied.
Ben had been interested in magic ever since he was
seven, when he had seen a magician on TV pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
He had spent the last five years reading every book in the Bleaktown
library on magic tricks. Every penny he had went toward buying tricks
at the toy store: the little plastic box that made a quarter appear and
reappear, a specially marked deck of cards, three plastic rings that he
could magically pull apart.
But Ben was tired of doing ordinary magic tricks.
Sure, little kids were amazed when he pulled a scarf out of thin air,
but that was amateur stuff. Ben wanted to be a really great magician
someday --- as great as the legendary Harry Houdini, his idol.
That's where the Official Junior Professional Magic
Kit came in. The ad in Junior Magician magazine said that it
contained tricks performed by the world's greatest magicians. Ben
couldn't wait to get it. It would only take six more weeks to earn
another thirty dollars, and then the kit would be his.
Ben reached the top of the hill and tossed out the
last newspaper in his puch. Finally. He turned the corner and headed
downtown to the newspaper office.
The clock tower at Bleaktown Town Hall chimed four
times. But the gray, gloomy sky made the day seem later that it was.
Sunny afternoons did not happen often in Bleaktown.
That's probably why they call it
Bleaktown, Ben realized for the first time. This place is bleak. Every house in
Bleaktown was either gray, dingy white, or dusty brown. The downtown
stores all had grimy windows and sold boring things like eyeglasses and
But there was nothing boring or bleak about magic
tricks. To Ben, the most exciting thing in the world was the look on
someone's face when he got a trick right.
It's too bad magic's not real, Ben
thought as he climed the steps to the Bleaktown News office. Then I could make another thirty dollars appear out of
thin air and quit this dumb paper route.
Ben picked up his five dollars from Old Man Martin.
Then he turned off of Main Street onto Wary Lane, a shortcut he
sometimes took. The stores on Wary Lane were even more boring than the
ones on Main Street. There was Just Lampshades, Mel's Medical Supply,
Sebastion Cream's Curiosity Shop . . .
What? Ben stopped short.
He'd never seen Sebastian Cream's Curiosity Shop before. In fact he
didn't remember there even being a store next to Mel's. He
walked up to the window and looked inside.
All kinds of unusual items cluttered the window
display. Ben saw a golden dragon statue with glittering red eyes. There
were stacks of books, written in different languages, piled high.
Old-fashioned windup toys crawled and hopped along the top of a display
And then Ben saw it: An old, beat-up-looking box,
with the words DR. PRESTO'S MAGIC KIT.
Ben gasped. Every book about magicians he had ever
read had a chapter about Dr. Presto. He was a world-famous magician who
had performed some of the most incredible illusions in the business.
Then in 1922 he had mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from
Could this really be Dr. Presto's kit? The box's
front also had a small picture of a beared man with silk wrapped around
his head. It looked like Dr. Presto, all right.
Ben opened the door and stepped inside the shop.
May I help you?
It took Ben a second to realize that the voice was
coming from behind a counter in the back of the room. A man sat on a
stool behind the counter, writing in a book with a feather quill pen.
He looked rather short and round. A ring of white hair circled his
otherwise bald head. Two bright green eyes peered at Ben through a pair
of wire-rimmed glasses.
Sebastian Cream, at your
service, the man said, handing Ben a business card:
May I help you? Sebastian
Cream asked again.
Uh, yeah, Ben said. That magic kit in the window. Did that really belong to
Mr. Cream smiled. Ah, I see you
are a fan of the art of illusion, he said. Yes,
that kit did indeed belong to the great magicain.
How much it it? Ben asked.
Mr. Cream examined Ben for a few seconds. Thirty dollars, he said. Including
Ben couldn't believe his luck. That's exactly what
the had in his pocket. I'll take it! he
said. Who needed the Official Junior Professional Magic Kit when he
could buy a kit that once belonged to a famous magician? And now that
he had a magic kit, he could quit his paper route.
Mr. Cream took the kit out of the window and landed
it to Ben. Use it wisely, he said. His
green eyes seemed to see right through Ben.
Sure, Ben said, handing his
tghe money. Uh, thanks.
Ben ran all the way home before he realized he hadn't
even looked inside the kit. That was weird. It was like something had
come over him in the shop. He'd just known that he had to buy the kit.
Ben unlocked the back door and ran up to his room.
His mom and dad wouldn't be home for another hour, so he'd have plenty
of time to try out the kit. He just hoped there was something inside.
Ben sat on his bed and lifted the lid. A musty smell
reached his nose. The kit contained three items: a black wand with a
white tip, a black top hat, and an old book titled Dr. Presto's
Ben frowned. He had been expecting a lot more, like
some cool gimmicks to do tricks with. He picked up the book. He had
never seen one like it in the library. Maybe it had instructions for
Ben flipped open the book to a page titled "Pulling a
Rabbit from a Hat." The yellowed page was spotted with brown ater
stains, but Ben could make out most of the spell:
Hold the wand
over the hat and repeat these words thrice:
Then tap the hat with the wand.
It didn't make sense. Everyone knew that to make a
rabbit appear out of a hat you needed a live rabbit and a hat with a
hidden compartment. He examined the top hat from top to bottom. It
looked like an ordinary hat.
Still, the kit did belong to the great Dr. Presto.
Maybe there was some kind of magnetic device in the wand that released
a hidden spring in the hat. Then some cardboard rabbit would pop out.
It was worth a try, anyway.
There was only one problem: Ben wasn't exactly sure
what "thrice" meant. He was pretty sure it was a fancy word for a
number: But was it three or thirteen? He couldn't remember.
Oh, well. It probably didn't matter. It wouldn't
matter if he got it wrong --- or would it?
Say the magic words
Say the magic words