Author’s Note: It has been a long time since I posted anything! I tackled a bigger writing project during the Winter Break and neglected to write any articles for the website. Now that I’m back in law school, I’ll likely gravitate towards smaller and more manageable works. I hope you enjoy this addition. The ending “might” stray into fiction, but most of it is (unfortunately?) inspired by true events.
In Eugene, the new year arrived like the pop of a solitary firework. A sizable portion of the city’s population, students and staff at the five local colleges, had fled the area for the month-long winter break. For those that remained, the skies were overcast and the streets were bare. The festivities were reserved for January 16, the start of spring semester. As that dreaded day loomed ever closer, students began filing back to the city in hungover and homesick droves on the limited flight options available at Eugene’s small airport. The studios and shared common areas felt cramped and foreign after time with family. They dreamt of home before the alarm clocks on their phones heralded the first class of the semester. Like zombies, but more abject, they trudged towards their respective colleges and suffered through the unrelenting drone of tenured professors long accustomed to the school cycle.
I too joined the weary, downtrodden crowds. The afternoon couldn’t come soon enough as we spilled out of classrooms and began our treks home. I stood at the Agate Station platform and watched as the approaching bus shifted into its reserved lane and came to a stop in front of me.
I blinked hard at the teeming crowd of faces staring at me from inside. it appeared that a lot of students were more inclined to utilize the free city busing after a full semester of being confronted with the reality of living expenses. The Emerald Express was at standing room only, a rare phenomenon. The door opened and I forged forward with the others, pushing and jostling to open spaces.
The transition from crisp outdoors to the cramped humidity of too many people in too little of a space was comforting until the doors shut and the confined smells settled back in their places, only momentarily disturbed by the fresh air. The usual players–sweat and wet–were there. However, a new contestant permeated the air. They were a familiar smell, but to find them so heavily entrenched in this arena was a novelty. It was the sour stench of alcohol. The source made itself known with a booming, slurred voice.
“All la’board! All la’board!”
The man was seated and a brightly colored aluminum can was perilously balanced in the palm of his outstretched hand. The man’s eyebrows were shaggy blue caterpillars. Thick blue curls of hair fell below the edges of a black top hat. His eyes were dark brown framed in red, bloodshot sclera. Dark stubble covered his jaw and pointed chin. His entire outfit was a shadow–black trousers, black jacket, black shirt, and black dress boots. As the bus lurched from its stop, I marveled as the can remained upright despite the shaking bus and the swaying man.
“Who wants ta see a magic c’show?” the man asked.
A few of the passengers paid him a glance before returning to their cellphones.
The bus pulled into the next stop, Dad’s Gate Station in front of the University of Oregon’s east entrance. A crowd of students on the outside platform looked dejectedly through the windows of the crowded bus. The driver, with a malicious glint in their eyes, opened the doors and the students surged forward, desperate to find a space out of the cold. To no avail—the maximum capacity had been met at the last stop. The driver let them struggle feebly at the doors a few moments before his voice projected over the loudspeaker.
“Alright, back away from the doors. You’re going to have to wait for the next bus.”
All of the students were wearing earbuds. They continued pressing against one another futilely.
The doors began to close on despairing fingers and despondent arms.
“Let ‘em on! Let t’em on! Let them see the show!” yelled the magician.
An older man sitting in the seat behind the magician leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially.
“You’d better be careful. These drivers will call the transit officers for any reason.”
The magician quieted for a moment and considered this sage counsel.
“Everybody gather round! Gather round!” The man’s voice was firm and self-assured now.
A few of the passengers looked up. The advice-giving older man leaned back in his seat and shook his head. The magician held the beer can in front of himself. The can was utterly still in his palm. With a whimsical flourish of his free hand, the magician thrust his pinky into the opening of the can. The sound of scraping aluminum could be heard over the rattling bellows of the bus. With pinky firmly lodged in the opening, the magician gazed around at his crowd with droopy eyelids and let them take in the act.
“Witness true magic!”
The magician withdrew his pinky from the opening of the can and a pigeon burst forth in a gray sputtering of activity. The pigeon’s flight was erratic, and it slammed against the windows and roof with wild abandon. The people closest to the pigeon’s trajectory furrowed their brows against the powerful stench of alcohol emitting from the bird. After a particularly hard impact against the roof, the pigeon relieved itself on the man sitting behind the magician.
“Now, for my next act!”
Again the twist of the wrist and fingers of the free hand. A cold draft swept through the bus. The windows were closed.
“Come forth, Excalibur!”
The interior of the bus darkened as if someone were adjusting the brightness on a rotary knob.
The sun was high in the sky peeking through the clouds.
Pressure was building. Unseen hands squeezed lungs. Nobody took a breath. All the bus passengers’ eyes were affixed on the magician now. The bus driver looked nervously in the rearview mirror; the two-way radio was clenched in his hand.
The man with the blue hair brandished his pinky like a sword and thrust it into the opening of the beer can. He didn’t extend the moment to build suspense, there was none left to be had. He immediately began drawing his finger back out. This time, the magician’s hand moved slowly as if withdrawing itself from quicksand. There was complete, suffocating silence.
The glimmer of a golden hilt, unfathomably larger than the aluminum can, began to draw itself out into the open.
The bus braked hard. The world shifted. Noise returned as distracted passengers cried out as they toppled into one another. There was the sound of an empty aluminum can clattering on the floor. The sliding doors of the bus opened to reveal the grim face of a Lane Transit Officer. He didn’t flinch as the pigeon flew past his head into the open sky. He leaned forward and had little difficulty identifying the person responsible for the frantic assistance request dispatch. They were old acquaintances after all.
“Come on, Merlin. The show is over.”
“Awww, shit,” mumbled the magician as he staggered to his feet. He towered above everyone in the bus.
A handful of passengers, whether it was their stop or not, quickly exited ahead of the magician. Those left stared at him with slack-jawed expressions and shifted out of the way as best they could.
“Nobody appreciates magic these days,” muttered the man as he stepped off.
The bus driver closed the doors and accelerated like a fleeing animal.
I looked down at the floor and saw the aluminum can not far from my feet. It rocked back and forth. Back and forth. The top of the can was plain and silver. The tab and opening were unremarkable. I bent down to pick the can up, half hoping that it would be implausibly heavy.