“Let the show begin.” Kyle was dressed as a stage illusionist. He wore the tackiest tuxedo he could find rented from the store not very far down the mall. It was white, with tails and a sequined blue vest, cummerbund, and tie. The shop theoretically rented for proms and weddings. Kyle wasn’t certain which event the suit belonged at, but whichever it was it wouldn’t have been a tasteful affair. Clipped to its lapel was a small microphone that broadcast to the speakers Jessie had set up. The speakers came from his home entertainment system. Kyle had already set up his RealDreams board by the fireplace.
He eyed his surroundings looking for a place from which to make his dramatic entrance. The fireplace; that was the ticket. He punched some buttons on the RealDreams and it cast the spell with which he’d become so familiar in the direction of the unlit fireplace. They’d spent about a week working on this particular illusion. Quick, by normal industry standards, but it was also the longest Kyle had ever spent on a single piece. He was pleased to see it take shape neatly. A ball of light swirled just softly in the center of the glass front of the structure. It was dim and a quick glance at the food court suggested no one had seen it. He intended to change that very soon.
He stepped between the glowing ball and the fireplace. Jessie took his place in front of the RealDreams and advanced the macro it was running. The illusion responded by changing until, from the perspective of the food court, it seemed that flames filled the fireplace. They were soundless, but the sudden conflagration was enough to catch the attention of a few dinners.
Kyle flipped on his microphone, “Welcome ladies and gentlemen! I am so pleased you could all make it to our show.” With him stationed behind the fire it looked like the illusion itself was speaking, and the loud call had been enough to catch the attention of nearly everyone in the food court. None of them reacted very sharply. A few dozen people watched the show wondering if it was going to be anything good. Kyle felt butterflies swarm in his stomach and he had to wipe his palms on the side of his tuxedo. I should have stuck Jessie in a Vanna White dress and made her do this part while I ran the board, he thought. Next time.
The flames swirled and formed a head. It was bald, nearly as tall as Kyle, and frankly a bit of a rip off of The Wizard of Oz. Though where that one had been threatening this one wasn’t; it had broad kind eyes, with obvious laugh lines at the corners. They flickered more brightly than the rest of the illusion. Its mouth was synced to the script Kyle had developed over the past week, “Of course, some of you didn’t know we were having a show! But we thank you for coming anyway and we’re sure that you’re going to enjoy it just as much as if you waited weeks in advance!” The head laughed; its lips spreading wider and wider until it had vanished leaving a seemingly open corridor through the illusionary flames. Kyle stepped out through that. There was a light round of applause from the food court.
He took a quick half bow, “Today, courtesy of K&J Paranormal Communications, we’re going to have an illustrated reading of ‘The Pink Dragon’. This show is free and should be suitable for all ages. So, children, parents, feel free to gather around and we’ll get started.” Kyle thought his delivery was pretty good. He was nervous, but his voice wasn’t shaky, and he remembered to smile as he made his speech which made the words sound warm.
Kyle held out a hand. That was Jessie’s cue to advance the macro. She did, and a large, leather-bound, book with a fanciful depiction of a dragon on the cover seemed to appear and drop into it. Kyle thumbed it open; his fingers mostly managing to sync up with the scripted movements of the intangible “book”. That had taken a lot of practice. He began to read. The Pink Dragon was a kid’s story old enough to be out of copyright and exciting enough to perform for a transient crowd in a public space.
It told the tale of a lonely princess, the ward of a rather despicable regent who was secretly also a sorcerer. Being in such dire straits the princess didn’t have many friends. However, it as her good fortune to be leaning out her window one day when a pink dragon flew by. The dragon, being friendly, coiled itself about the girl’s tower and asked her to explain what the problem was. When she did, the great beast was so moved that they instantly became fast friends.
Kyle wove all of that into an illusory stage and set like something that might have been built for a play only vastly more realistic. The dragon and the princess had an impressive assortment of adventures: they rescued a handsome prince- and promised to keep in touch. They did battle with a giant sea serpent that showed up in the mall fountain. They flew to the moon, but found it rather dull and empty. Finally they returned home to confront the evil stepfather. The throne room was beautiful. Illusion transformed a section of mall floor into gold and marble. Three semitransparent walls were conjured up to frame Kyle and the story’s action; on those walls hung dozens of rich tapestries. The mall’s illusion wrapped ceiling looked to be composed of tens of thousands of glittering diamonds because of the chandeliers that hung from it. The tyrannical regent and the princess shouted at one another in their own voices courtesy of the CD Jessie and Kyle had burned earlier that day. Kyle found it gave him a great opportunity to watch the crowd.
Things were going great. The original crowd had grown from a couple dozen to over a hundred and the food court was nearly filled with watchers. Children’s eyes glittered at the performance and adults, though perhaps somewhat less enthralled, were visibly impressed. More than a few held one of the business cards he’d set out earlier. Even as he watched a group of kids, a peewee soccer team by the look of it, came through the broad mall entrance and found themselves hooked by the story.
And now for the big finish, Kyle thought.
In the story, at the height of the argument, the regent calls his own dragon down against the girl and her pink friend. The regent’s dragon is neither pastel nor particularly friendly. It rips through the crystal skylight of the palace and falls to for fearsome battle. In the real mall, Kyle had left one skylight free of illusion. At the end of the macro an illusory dragon was formed above it. A great black beast “of fear and night”. Its false claws tore at the real skylight while rending and screeching sounds played over the improvised speaker system. There was a crash on the recording and an illusion replaced the real skylight. At a second recorded crash the skylight’s glass seemed to shatter. Thick chunks of it rained down on the tables from above. Anyone sitting under the display jumped, but accustomed to the show, no one actually dodged.
No one that was, except for one of the newly arrived peewee soccer players. He was clearly not ready for the excitement. “Monster!” He screamed, then took off at a dead run.
“Billy,” the coach yelled and set off after him. The other soccer players following the lead of their coach and teammate with various degrees of understanding and set off running. Then all hell broke. Some kids ran, some parents chased, and in short order the crowd had dissolved into chaos.
Kyle stood stunned, the end of the illusion playing out unheeded around him, until Jessie tugged at his sleeve to get his attention. “I think we should grab the equipment and leave before someone complains.”
* * *
Back at the office, Kyle leaned glumly on the receptionist’s desk. “I don’t know how it all went so wrong so fast. Now we’re back to square one, or maybe zero, or maybe somewhere in the negatives.”
“It’s not that bad; we got paid up front.”
“Someone could have been killed and it’s all my fault.”
“They could not have been. There was way too much space. At most someone might have fallen over and that didn’t happen. No one was hurt, it didn’t even make the paper. It probably just looked bad from where we were standing.”
Kyle’s frown deepened and he seemed to slump a little further,” If it didn’t make the paper, how do you know no one was hurt? If little kids fell they could have been trampled to death!”
Jessie sighed, “I think if a kindergarten class worth of adorable moppets had been trampled to death it would have made the paper. If anyone had been hurt it would have made the paper.”
“Yeah, probably.” He sighed again, “I wonder if we should change the name of the business. Hide from the bad press.”
“About that, we’re K&J Paranormal Communications now?”
“Well we were, but if we’re under some sort of cloud I may have to change it.”
“What do the letters stand for?”
He looked up in surprise, “Our names of course.”
“But I’m just the receptionist.”
That prompted Kyle to smile. “You’re badly paid, and that’s not changing, but I can get you any title you want. How’s Vice President of Sales? It’s more accurate given what you’ve done so far. Anyway, you’re the only other person here. ‘K Paranormal Communications’ would have sounded stupid.”
“In that case, keep the name. I like it.”
“I’m still an idiot.”
The phone rang. Kyle and Jessie reached for it at the same time. Jessie won and slapped Kyle’s hand out of the way. “Ouch,” he complained.
“Serves you right, it’s my job to answer the phone. K&J Paranormal Communications, how may I direct your call?” She said into the phone.
“The mall? That was us.”
“Let me check?” Jessie typed with her fingernails on the surface of the card table making a sound sort of like someone working on a computer keyboard. “You’re in luck! We have an appointment open tomorrow morning, would that be good for you?”
“Yes,” she paused, “well excellent. I’m setting you up for onsite consultation.”
“No, thank you very much.” Jessie set the phone down, “That, was a job. You have an appointment over at Ralph Taylor Honda at 10:30 tomorrow morning. Perhaps you won’t need to change the name after all.”
Kyle jumped in the air and whooped loudly enough that Jessie looked alarmed. He didn’t care.