The Magic of the Moment
by K. S. Dearsley
"Make haste, Bea, we're all waiting," Mother called up the stairs.
"Coming!" Bea shouted back, hopping to put on her second shoe. They were her best ones, worn so rarely that they refused to bend. She took a quick look at herself. She had grown since last year so that her frock stopped halfway to her ankles. Although her rusty hair was unruly it shone like her eyes. Her hands were another matter; they were redder than her hair from all the scrubbing floors and dirty linen she had to do.
Hiding her hands in the folds of her skirt, she skipped down the stairs. A whole day free of chores and small siblings awaited at the annual fair. Outside the front door her parents, older brother Niko, younger sisters Suki and Tamm and baby brother Flipp were all waiting dressed in their Sunday finery and best behavior. Mother and Father led the way to the village green, which was also dressed for the occasion in gaudy stalls, a motley assortment of acrobats and entertainers and the kaleidoscopic movement of the village in holiday mood. The younger children's solemnity barely lasted until they reached the first booth proclaiming on its canvas banner the chance to see the world's strongest man wrestling a wild ape out of the dark continent. They began giggling and poking each other, and trying to untie each other's ribbons without alerting Mother. Bea tried to ignore them as she scanned the crowd gathered before a makeshift stage.
"Bea, do pay attention!"
She started at her mother's scolding.
"Look after your brother and sisters while I go and have a word with Neighbor Forn."
Bea protested. "But, I wanted... "
"You wanted. Really, Bea, you can be so selfish. How often do I get a chance to catch up on the news with our neighbors? And you know I have it in mind to buy cloth for a new frock for you--that one's getting too small."
Bea suddenly felt conscious of the way the buttons pulled every time she breathed.
"Why can't Niko take care of them for once?" she asked, realizing that he and her father had vanished.
"Because he's looking over the livestock with your father. It's important he learns how to tell a good animal from a bad one; he'll have to work his own homestead one day, and caring for the children is woman's work."
Bea glared under her eyebrows. "I wish I was a man."
"Well, you're not. Anyone would think you didn't love your family." Her mother stroked Flipp's cheek. The trio, who had moments before been trying to push each other into the mire of slops and mud, now stood angelically under their mother's caresses. "Be good for your sister, and she shall buy you some sweets."
Bea sighed as her mother pressed a coin into her hand and called a greeting to Neighbor Forn. They strolled off arm in arm and heads together in gossip.
"Candy! Candy! We want candy!"
"Later," Bea snapped, "If you're good."
There was little chance of having fun the youngsters in tow, all Bea's attention was taken with trying to keep one or other of them from drifting off, or helping themselves to the wares on display.
"Candy! Candy!" It was Flipp. He might only be three years old, but he forgot nothing that affected his stomach, and he was not easily distracted.
"In a minute, let me just watch this first." Bea's last words were almost drowned out by a fanfare of invisible trumpets at the platform outside the booth of Maximilian the Mysterious. A man erupted onto the platform and began weaving patterns in the air with a crystal the size of a duck egg. It had a rosy tint and was veined with gold.
"You see before you the magic Stone of Destiny. In the hands of an adept, the stone can find what was lost, make the invisible materialise, read the thoughts that are in your heart."
Bea shivered as the magician's ice-blue gaze rested momentarily on hers. She had been wishing that the crystal would magic the boy tugging at her sleeve to far off Lunar. The bearing of the magician with his grey hair tied back from his shoulders and regal gestures in robes of spangled velvet made him look as if he might indeed be able to see into her heart. Maximilian set the crystal in a brazier-like holder where it glowed as it caught the sun. Producing a wand from his sleeve, the magician tapped the stone, there was a fizzing noise and a pop, and a bunch of roses appeared. He handed them to one of the women in the audience. Her face lit up as she sniffed them.
A murmur ran through the audience. Bea watched, mesmerized by the flowing movements of the magician and the flashing colours as light glanced off the crystal. Oh, to have such magic, Bea thought. She would magic the pots and pans from the evening meal clean, tell the laundry to hang itself up and turn Tamm, Suki and Flipp into statues if they moved without her leave. A burst of cheers and applause brought her back to herself. Maximilian the Mysterious held the crystal up to his forehead like a third eye, bowed and vanished in another fanfare of trumpets.
Bea sighed and turned to the little ones. "Come on, then, let's get that candy."
Tamm and Suki stood wide-eyed still seeing the magic tricks. Bea experienced a rushing sensation of guilt remembering her wish.
Her sisters shrugged. The crowd outside the magician's booth was beginning to disperse. A three-year-old would be hidden by the milling legs. He could be anywhere.
"Did he go looking for candy?" Bea demanded of Tamm. At eight years, she was the older of the two. The girl shrugged again. "I'll have to go and find him." Bea wagged a warning finger at the girls. "You two stay here. If you've moved when I get back, there'll be no sweets--understand?"
The girls nodded. Bea had to find Flipp before Mother returned. She headed first for a stall whose aroma of melted toffee drew people to it like an enchantment. No one remembered seeing the child. From there she scouted the other stalls and booths in a widening and increasingly desperate circle. If she did not find Flipp soon she would have to call out for him, or worse still, enlist her mother in the search. Her ears already burned with the ticking-off she would get. She turned back towards Maximilian the Mysterious' booth. It would not do to lose her sisters too. As Bea approached the canvas stall, she thought she saw a small face peeping out of the flap at her.
"Flipp!" she called.
The face disappeared inside. Bea ran over and plunged through the canvas opening. For a moment the dim interior blinded her, then her eyes adjusted. A rosy glow came from the magic Stone of Destiny in its brazier. Its light made the canvas walls seem to move, and Bea could not be sure that the corners did not hide a small boy until she had searched them all. The booth was empty; no naughty brother, no scary magician, only Bea and the crystal. She found herself reaching for it. Her palm pricked as she picked it up and its light warmed her face. For a dizzy moment, she saw herself covered in jewels, commanding some luckless servant to tend to her troublesome siblings. She held the crystal further away from her, breathing hard. Perhaps it could help her find Flipp; the magician had said it could find what was lost.
A shaft of sunlight trapped Bea in its glare as the canvas flap was pulled back. Maximilian the Mysterious stood in the opening. His eyes took in Bea and the crystal in her hand, and she felt her cheeks turning crimson. He kept his eyes on her, saying nothing as he entered and drew a chair up to the brazier. Only when he was settled did he speak.
"I... I'm trying to find my brother," Bea stammered.
The magician's eyebrows raised. "Really? I thought you were trying to lose him."
Guilty tears flooded Bea's eyes. "Please help me."
"You think magic will fetch him back." Maximilian shook his head. "You're all the same. None of you understand the true nature of magic. It isn't paltry tricks or a way to riches."
"But... you said... the crystal... " Bea held it out before him.
"Ah, this." He took it from her. "Crystals can't do magic, and neither can magicians. It isn't something that can be summoned to order. Who can even say what it is? One day you'll hear a thrush singing its heart out and your soul will soar, another all you'll hear is a whistle. Magic's in a loved one's smile or the color of a sunset, but never the same twice. Recreate the exact circumstances and they'll fail to stir you." He leaned forward. "You see, magic isn't out there, or in a crystal, it's in here." He tapped Bea's chest. "In your heart. Magic is in what you bring to the moment."
The magician's face cleared of its frown and he smiled. "Here." He wrapped her fingers around the crystal once more."Take it. It'll help you remember. Whenever you see it, your magic moments will come back to you."
"But what will you do?"
He waved a hand. "Don't worry, I have plenty more." He pulled a similar crystal, this time veined with silver, from a pocket in his robe. "Nowgo and find that brother. I think I saw a youngster near the pig pens."
Bea clutched the stone to her, calling her thanks over her shoulder as she ducked back out into the sunlight. She headed for the smelliest place on the green. At first all she could see in the pen was snouts thrusting in the mud, and the fat pink haunches of the pigs shoving each other out of the way. Then she heard a stringy wail.
The wail grew louder. Crouched in the far corner, wedged in an angle of the troughs, was her brother. His frightened eyes found hers and he held out his arms to her.
"Don't worry, I'm coming." Bea picked her way around the edge of the pen, giving any pig that strayed too close a whack with the flat of her hand. By the time she reached Flipp her shoes were ruined. As she lifted him close he wound his arms tightly around her neck.
"Flipp sorry. Bea still love Flipp?"
The lump in her throat melted into a chuckle, and Bea pressed her cheek against the small boy's.
"Course I do. Come on, let's get that candy." She scrambled out of the pen with him, and sat the child on her shoulders. The crystal in her pocket knocked against her as they trotted over to the place where Tamm and Suki waited. Maximilian the Mysterious had said the crystal held no magic, but as Bea's laughter swelled and her spirits danced above the muddy green she knew that it would always conjure up the magic of this moment.
K. S. Dearsley's stories have won competitions and been published in numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic including in Dark Tales, Time for Bedlam and From the Asylum. She lives in Northampton, England, where she is learning to ride a bicycle and dreams of one day having a chauffeur.