Fiction

The Great Carlak's Bitter Magic

JOHN I. KEASLER October 1 1955
Fiction

The Great Carlak's Bitter Magic

JOHN I. KEASLER October 1 1955

The Great Carlak's Bitter Magic

Fiction

The wonderful magic secrets lay in Graydav Carlak yearned and schemed for tli am, to be shared only by one who believed. rets aiid at last he found one

JOHN I. KEASLER

CHARLAR SAT cold on the curbstone at dusk in this city only thirty miles from his goal. He was ragged now, and mumbling, a ^ thin man whose black eyes glittered with the obsession to reach his goal. After all this distance and time he was but thirty miles from John Paulo, his goal. He knew John Paulo would believe him. He fought to keep from losing control again, for that would only mean further delay, but he felt his control going.

He had bought wine with money stolen from a news vendor’s box, even knowing the wine would shatter his control. He drained the bottle, felt the hot wine drown his will, and the bottle fell from his hands—the strange hands, the cursed hands of Carlak.

He leaped to his feet, lost now, and shouted, “Ho! Behold! Witness the Great Carlak, marvel of the ages!’’

Passers-by stared at the apparition, the ragged man standing on the sidewalk, his expression one of kingly aloofness. “Observe!" he shouted reaching oui with a flourish and removing a coin from the ear of a startled pedestrian. “Watch closely!"

He pulled a coin from the ear of a dowager waddling by. She screamed in fear. The watchers were alarmed now. Carlak took three coins from the ear of a blind beggar in a doorway. Then he moved toward the gathering crowd—it moved back, afraid.

A policeman strode up to check on the disturbance, but could not subdue Carlak alone, for Carlak was frenzied now—he kept shouting that it was all real, all real, no trickery. When the other policemen arrived he fought frantically. They quieted him the same old way.

He awoke the next morning in the cell and the lump on his head from the billy throbbed painfully. Tears coursed down his thin cheeks and fell on the front of his ripped and dirty shirt where they mingled with the dried blood. As always, Carlak felt hopelessly in his pocket to see if by some chance some of the coins had remained in existence. But none of them had, of course. They never did.

Carlak cursed. Then he prayed for a short sentence.

In the past he had prayed he would be let off entirely by the judge, let off with only a warning, but experience had shown him this hope was unrealistic. Now he merely asked for only ten

Continued on page 43

The Great Carlak’s Bitter Magic

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 24

*¡ys instead of thirty or more. He was lit sure if he could withstand even an Jditional wait of ten days before findig John PAUIO, who would believe him. r»d he had to be believed, very soon. i-A compromise was struck. Carlak )t fifteen days on the work gang, ©leased, and frantic now, because his |low prisoners had not believed him ¿her, he took up his journey to find |g one man in the world who would iiderstanc him—-John Paulo.

THE events leading up to Carlak’s ^ desperate journey had begun some tee years previously, at least directly -indirectly the events started the day

1 was born, with those particular ¿ids, and perhaps the events began es before that.

On that night three years previously irlak, like a thin coyote, turning his ad scavengingly from side to side, uffed along through the dirtv sawdust the carnival midway. He sought opixtunity. He had not eaten that day. ow it was near midnight and he ught something to steal.

The carnival lights had attracted m because the possibilities for theft dinarily increase in direct proportion the amount of garish neon. Carlak d worked this law out himself.

He was a lean man with a long narw face, ageless, and his clothing ap>ared on him like mangy fur rubbed in in spots. He would rather beg an steal but his appearance was ainst him and he was not a success as beggar. At infrequent intervals he d done well as a pickpocket, for the nds had natural skill. The hands ire unlike the rest of him. They were pable, well-structured and aristoatic; hands that seemed to be at ched to Carlak only through some ror in distribution.

He could not make a living as a ík pocket, however, for he had fear ickly in his soul and a successful ;kpocket must have courage of a ther specialized sort, plus the dedica>n of the professional man.

As a thief, Carlak was a poor hack.

2 slipped between two tents and »Iked into the darkness behind them, i small eyes darting from side to side, was a damp night and the smell of ¿m pled, wet dirt was cheerless. The rbled, insistent sounds of the midway led the air and up in the black rolling >uds a sliver of pale moon gleamed ïakly. Carlak had no precise plans, ly some vague idea of finding someing of value in the dark, where the tline of the carnival vans loomed. Standing there in the gloom, he felt mebody watching him. He turned ickly. He saw a form seated on the îps of a van. Why do I feel this chill

my back? Carlak wondered. I am ill y of nothing tonight, yet.

May I help you?” the form asked. íe voice was pleasant, therefore a aspect, for imposition.

Carlak said, "Sir, I am alone in this ange city and T have not eaten for o days and work is impossible to find, /onder if—.”

Certainly,” the man said. "Come ;o my home.”

Carlak followed the man into the n. A lantern flared. The man was fall, old. He wore a turban of rich Saison and he wore a long black coat. |B hands were stark white and inconBously large. On one finger was an ierald. Carlak eyed it. The old man •8 staring intently at Carlak’s hands, »en he said quietly, "I have not seen

hands like those for twenty years.”

Carlak had never paid any attention to his hands and did not now. The old man looked at him, with unsaying eyes like deep black water in a lonely lake at night.

"I am Graydawn the magician,” he said.

"My name is Carlak,” Carlak said. "I am ti-ying to get back to my home. I left with great ambitions but I know nothing and have no trade.”

Carlak was being frank and openfaced. Actually, he had not been home for thirteen years, having left with a week’s wages from the pocket of the coat of his drunken father. He also took the coat.

"You are hungry,” Graydawn said, and gave him bread and ham and cheese and wine and said nothing until Carlak had eaten and was phrasing in his mind a request for money.

"You wish to leaiT» a trade?” the old man asked.

"I do,” Carlak said, lying.

"Are you honest? With yourself, at least?”

"Yes.” Perhaps, Carlak thought, I can sleep here for the night also if 1 humor this old man. He looked Graydawn straight in the eye, honestly.

Graydawn put his hand to his turban, thinking. He said. "You have the hands I have looked for so long. I sense that you have the brain. 1 cannot tell if you have the heart and I will have to chance that. Do you wish to be a magician?”

"A magician?” Inside himself, Carlak asked.

"Think on it,” Graydawn said. "You may sleep on the cot. I will not urge you, even seeing those hands. I am an old man and I must pass along my knowledge soon now, but I will not urge you.”

Carlak slept. When the carnival moved out the next morning Carlak went along because he had nothing better to do. Because the duties outlined by the old man were light, he remained. He hoped eventually to steal the emerald.

"You will receive your meals and a small pay,” Graydawn said. "I can teach you many things if you can learn. I desire to do this, for I have little time left. Before I have found hands, some almost as wonderful as yours, but each time something else was lacking. This has saddened me more than you can understand at present but you will learn, if you care to.”

WITHIN a month Carlak had learned to do simple sleight-ofhand tricks a»»d the result pleased him inordinately for the skill gave him an identity for the first time in his life. In the taverns he found he could amuse the barmaids with his tricks.

His transformation had begun, for he had learned the delights of applause— experienced the first heady thrills. His shriveled, dead ego ballooned and grew fat on the applause and he became an addict to applause, an addiction few ever break. With winnings from a dice game with the roustabouts he bought clothing to fit his garish taste.

With his clothing and his tricks he found that the women in the dingy cabarets he automatically went to flocked around him instead of drawing away at his approach. As he learned more from Graydawn he came to know the pleasure of snobbery and ceased to speak to the carnival people who were not an act with bigger billing than his. Ambition was born the day he suddenly resented being the magician’s helper and wanted to be the magician.

Despite his new façade, police officers still looked at him with instinctive suspicion but their instincts had nothing tangible to nourish on. They

could only watch and wonder.

Graydawn, Carlak saw, was hj pleased with this transformation, lak came to understand, to a ce degree, the hope Graydawn place him and capitalized on it in any ac ways he could in matters of privi and salary increase.

"Ah, young Carlak,” Grayc' sighed happily one day, "do not w about the money—it is not impôt and, furthermore, I have little, you are learning! Learning, and: day perhaps I can begin to teach the real magic.”

Magic, Carlak thought, and siW inwardly. When he had learned tk man believed in "magic” Carlak immediately classified him as se1 But he always listened with appj interest to what he considered dawn’s ramblings, for he knew he :i learn everything the old man knew' must know all the illusions. Het wring everything from the old mai only then would he be able to bt best possible magician.

But he could not rush Grayc and this made him furious althou? concealed it. Carlak merely askec casionally, offhandedly, if he coul; learn the more startling illusions-j to grow flowers on the little wq stage, perhaps, or how to put his, through apparently solid objects, felt the old man was stupid to i such skill, and such well-hidden sa on a second-rate carnival audience^ When I know the secrets I will: them to luxurious night clubs, t silken women watch, he would thin huge halls where applause shake very rafters and the lights will spell:. t-H-E G-R-E-A-T C-A-R-L Aj How long, how long before thiq be? His impatience grew as the caq moved along its never-ending rou.

"There is time,” Graydawn «, say. "You are not yet ready.” "Teach me just the flower j now.”

"That is not one of the tricks j is one of the real ones,” Grayq said. "You must have the belief b, you can learn such things. The i, will come, if you try. You must nq to explain things for which you at have no way to find explanation. ¡ must not look for deceit where the none, and you must not consider; magic as a means toward an end. , Graydawn smiled understand! "Ambition in a young man is una» able, unfortunately, at first. Btii[ will learn. The belief is the, requirement.”

CARLAK, being a realist, setO give the appearance, then, belief. He knew he could fool thj man. Graydawn, so frighteningly ceptive in so many ways, had a b spot about his protege and Carlak quick to realize that.

Graydawn wanted to believe hf found honesty. Fie wanted to heli' so much that he believed it.

"Only once before have my I been so high,” Graydawn said, aí* year had passed. "Only once beforr a man come so close, only once sit started seeking my apprentice soi years ago.” ]

Carlak bowed his head modestly] his soul he lusted for the secret o: new trick he had seen that very n" the causing of roses to appear if hair of giggling, red-faced, rural hi wives among the spectators.

"Who was this man?” Carlak a# as he sat in the van with Gray0 drinking Graydawn’s wine, attend as always now, to convey the in'3 sion of his sincerity by every wort gesture— yet without hurrying. 1 "His name was John Paulo,” t dawn said, and the black old eyi*

“Hear me,” the old magician hissed. “A man who steals the magic is accursed!”

eak and lonely. "He had the hands, at he had no soul. And he is ac-

"He learned the magic?” Carlak Iced carefully.

"He stole from the magic,” Grayiwn said, very quietly. "One thing he ole, because I was blind and foolish.” "How so?” Carefully.

"He deceived me,” the old man said, dlv, wearily. Carlak refilled Grayiwn s glass, with a casual movement. He made me believe he—believed. I ive him, finally, a single thing, one t, and knew instantaneously it was irribly wrong. Ah, but his hands!” "What one thing?”

The old man did not hear. His right jnd caressed his crimson turban as it id. by itself, when he was thinking jeply. His face was drawn and set. Suddenly, his old face was full of ;ony rage and his voice was a hiss 5 the words fell singly like metal gilets onto glass: "Listen!” the words lid. "Hear me. A man who steals om the magic is accursed for all his me! Remember this for the truth is!”

And the chill was back on Carlak, >r the first time in many months. But íe old man was not speaking to Carik. The terrible rage slowly left •raydawn’s face.

"John Paulo,” the old man said. "I lould not hate him so because, all lese years, each day, ever day, he as been cursed and the punishment is is. 1 should not hate him so—but my opes for him were so very high and íe hate is in my heart.”

"He—what happened to him?” Carik asked.

"He is a rich man,” Graydawn said. Rich as the term is used to mean ïoney. A cursed and lonely rich man nd a thief. He inherited much money, ears after that night when I would ave killed him had he not fled.”

' This old man’s fixation could be a angerous thing, Carlak thought with >me shock; he was pleased with all is cunning in humoring Graydawn so cilfully.

"I should forget John Paulo,” Iraydawn said, the black eyes empty f rage now, only sad in the remember‘g

"You should,” said Carlak. Gently. "1 should forget John Paulo,” Grayawn repeated. He looked at his rotégé. He said, "I have my aprentice now ...”

"You do,” said Carlak, sincerely. You have your apprentice now. Somemes it seems I am very close to the elief.”

Graydawn smiled.

M X months later Graydawn was ^convinced. "The time has come, oung Carlak,” he said one night, and íe thrill played on Carlak’s back like ngling shock.

"1 know it has,” he said, skilfully. I have been waiting, however, for you '5 know.”

"You were right,” said Graydawn. You knew tonight I would sense it?” "I did,” lied Carlak. "Tonight I new.”

"All these many months—years now, NO or more,” Graydawn said, smiling little. "How long it seemed to you, oung Carlak, to wait. It has been ifficult?”

"At first,” said Carlak. "Until I new the waiting was part of it.”

All his replies were right.

"Two years—a finger-snap,” said

Graydawn. "You will learn that, too. You will learn the reality of the simple but effective magic you refer to as time. All these things you will learn, for now you have the belief. Sit down.”

Graydawn made the bottle of wine appear and opened it to pour in the glasses he materialized before them on the table.

How maddening that one thing has been, Carlak thought, to sit here all these nights and see that wine bottle trick and not even be allowed to ask about it! But now, he thought, and gloating was in him like strong whisky, now I will know that and the rest. If I am careful and do it so very slowly—«ach little secret will be mine and all 1 must do is agree in the statements where the delusions of magic possess this old fool. This thought, ice-cold and lucid, guided Carlak.

"I know how difficult it was for you,” said Graydawn.

"I know you know,” said Carlak. "I felt you watch each phase—my doubting, my scoffing, even the pitiful attempt to feel I had the belief, and make you believe that, when my heart knew it was lying.”

"The difficulty, the waiting, the control in waiting, this is all part,” said Graydawn. "But now you know this, fundamentally, and I must give you something to sustain your belief. A faith, any faith, is dependent first on the belief without sustenance or any tangible sign; the wanting to believe is the seed that grows, that produces the faith which is then self-sufficient and boundless for it is its own cause and feeds on its own effects.”

"I know that 1 know nothing,” said Carlak and his performance, he knew, was far better than he had dreamed of in any of the countless rehearsals.

"You are fortunate,” said Graydawn. "What would you know first, the one first thing?”

Carlak, knowing he should begin small, said humbly, "Producing the coins?”

"Thusly,” said Graydawn, removing a coin from Carlak’s ear. He sipped his wine, then said, "Do this with your left hand at the first, so. Do thus and so. Take the coin.”

Scalding disappointment welled unbearably in Carlak’s breast. He had assumed that surely the old man would retain lucidity enough to actually do the trick; attribute it to "magic” perhaps, but actually do it and simply ignore the mundane aids, the hiding places, the props and all-important distractions of the observer’s attention.

"Do it,” said Graydawn, and obviously was going to reveal nothing of how to do it. "Go ahead, my son.”

Numbly, Carlak made the foolish gestures and removed a coin from the old man’s ear. Then, Carlak’s face broke Graydawn’s heart.

"It’s real ...” Carlak choked, pale and trembling.

The old man’s face was crumpled now and lost.

"It really happened!” Carlak screamed, and he threw the coin from him in terror, hard. There was no noise of a coin striking a wall or floor. 'Impossible, impossible!”

"You didn’t believe.” The old man’s words were hollow and had no life. ' All lies.”

"No, no,” said Carlak. still trembling but aware now and gripped with the awful knowledge that his chance for more was gone. "No, no.”

"Yes,” said the old man, and the

deep black eyes were old, old—futile. And stunned.

"Show me more,” said Carlak, whiningly.

"Get out.”

"More, more!”

"Get out.”

The old black eyes were blank, unsaying, as Carlak shook Graydawn furiously, a big and terribly strong hand gripping each old shoulder. Then Carlak was shaking a corpse. The old man’s heart had also stopped living and all the secrets were gone.

Carlak wept, for all the lost secrets. He let the old man go and cursed him for dying. He left him slumped across the table, with his still and broken silent heart, and his hands hanging limply—dead hands. Carlak took the emerald and staggered out into the night.

WHEN he could think again, Carlak thought: The one thing I have, the pure magic, will make me the greatest magician in the world.

Attempting to give outlet to a real or fancied talent or genius has driven many individuals to the brink of madness, or over, and in the case of the Great Carlak the process required some six months in all, which by comparison is relatively brief.

With proceeds from the sale of the emerald, which brought a very large price even in the criminal market, he outfitted himself with the trappings he always envisioned—the top hat, sweeping cape lined with red silk, and all the rest.

He obtained expensively engraved cards which announced T-H-E G-R-E-A-T C-A-R-L-A-K. They were of purple on crimson.

Then he went forth to give his genius to the world, or, rather, to sell it for whatever the traffic would prove to bear. He announced himself in the offices of various booking agents and, within a surprisingly short time, had a surprisingly widespread reputation as a more than usually annoying lunatic.

For, of course, nobody would believe him.

Oddly enough, it had never occurred to him that nobody would believe him —a note doubly ironic because he himself had never believed anybody.

Had he gone about his business of being a magician in a more realistic way he could have made a living, for the tricks he had learned from Graydawn were better than most on the competitive market—even those tricks he had learned with his hands.

However, he had to express his genius—the producing of coins from ears—but any parlor magician can produce coins from ears and this produced no stir whatsoever.

"So what?” asked the booking agents, busy men and unable to under-

stand why this journeyman magicia; was so preoccupied with an elementar trick.

"But this is real!” Carlak woul shout. "Watch! This actually happem Can’t you tell the difference, you fool Watch!”

There are few things that irritate booking agent more than an at-libertv unknown magician plucking coins fror the agent’s ear on a day heavy wifi appointments plus the normal allot ment of private worries which bookin: agents and others have. Soon he wa barred from all the offices on sight.

From being surprised that nobod would believe he possessed magic Cat lak became, progressively, enraged then utterly frustrated, then obvious! dangerous in his rage and frustratio: The arrests began, and at times he wo: strait jackets in various institutio: until he regained control and was sat again in the opinion of those who hoi the keys.

The emerald proceeds diminish: and vanished. Carlak took on his oi appearance and now, instead of being hack thief, he was a drunken and ine herent gutter bum. The coins fc produced had no staying quality; tht returned to whence they came : matter how he clutched them and trie to make them real. The big at marvelous hands could not hold the no matter how the hands tried.

Carlak became one of those ragge men on the sidewalk who, with the glittering eyes, attempt to press truth on the hurrying persons who pass at forget the ragged truth-sayers as sot as they possibly can, for they are di turbing, all of them.

Sometimes Carlak thought mayfc the coins weren’t there at all . . .

Carlak’s life became a constat search for belief and, shortly before tb burning need destroyed him utterl; he thought of John Paulo. This ga' him a reason for life, else hope an reason would have died. Paulo! h

thought—Paulo will believe me, for k knows. About the magic.

HIS obsession to find John Pan lent a certain control to his mov ments, except when the need to co: vince people overpowered him, an miraculously, after months of seekin and questioning, he found where h goal was.

An old carnie, adjacent to Carlak an alley one morning when they awok knew the city where Paulo lived; kne nothing else, only that Paulo had on been with the carnival and now was very rich man, having much mone Carlak’s journey to the city, a tho sand miles away, began. He was in ar out of jail; sane or not entirely sane he went, and the trip took a long ar tearing time.

Carlak was a shambling wreck as!

stumbled up the long gravel pathway to Paulo’s home, a large residence, obviously the property of a very rich man. It lay far out in the country, on land rolling and unpopulated. Carlak was exhausted when he got there and the fear no butler would let him in—he knew how he looked—was a killing thing. He let the heavy knocker fall.

But it was no butler who answered the door. It was a portly man, a dignified man in a silken dressing robe. He held a drink in one white hand. Carlak looked at the hand—saw the hand.

"Look, Paulo,” Carlak said, in a cracked voice, and he took a coin from Paulo’s ear. "It’s real. I learned it from Graydawn.”

The portly man raised a controlled eyebrow. But the hand holding the glass moved slightly, once, emotionally. The other hand of John Paulo touched his smooth-shaven jowl, thinking.

"I believe you,” John Paulo said to the Great Carlak.

The force that had held Carlak erect so long gave way then, and he collapsed across the threshold. Paulo looked down at him, and sipped his drink. The house was silent.

Carlak’s eyelids flickered.

"You slept a very long time,” said the voice of John Paulo. "I gave you a sedative. Later, I will feed you.”

Carlak’s eyes half-opened, groping for reality. He mumbled, "You believed me?”

"Yes,” said the voice of John Paulo. "Certainly. Now please don’t shout for there is nobody to hear you.”

Carlak, trying to sit up, screamed when he found he was strapped to the cot. His eyes widened in fear.

"Shhhh,” said John Paulo. His eyes were placid as he looked down at Carlak. Carlak’s gaze jerked around the room. He was in a basement. "Shhh, do not make such noise—I merely strapped you down so you couldn’t leave. You can't leave, you know.”

"Let me loose!” screamed Carlak.

"Relax,” said John Paulo. "You will understand I cannot let you leave —not after I’ve waited all these years. You will understand that, won’t you? Please don’t struggle—you wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable if you wouldn’t struggle so.”

Carlak looked at John Paulo in terror.

"Watch now,” said Paulo, sweeping back his opera cape, lined with red silk. He removed his top hat. "I thought you never would awaken— shhhh, be quiet, and watch. Ho! See?”

Paulo pulled a large white wriggling rabbit from the hat. He held it aloft and bowed.

"Watch closely now,” Paulo said, and his eyes were ecstatic after all the pent-up years. "See? Later on I’ll build you a comfortable cage. Then you can applaud. Watch, now!”

Outside the lonely house the night was damp and silent and the restless wind moved ceaselessly in the trees, like the rustle of many rabbits. ★

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