art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Alan Baxter
***Editor's Warning: Adult Tale***
"I need a volunteer!" Mephisto scanned the crowd, one hand shielding his eyes as if from a bright sun. His red-lined black cape whipped around as he strode from one side of the stage to the other.
Dozens of hands shot up, clamoring to be chosen. Mephisto squinted, heart hammering. He so hated this bit, but had little choice. There's always a choice, a voice whispered in the back of his mind, and he squashed it away into its dark corner.
His gaze fell upon a young boy, maybe eleven or twelve, smiling in anticipation. His hand wasn't raised, and of course, that made him perfect. Mephisto singled him out, one long finger bright in the spotlights. "What about you, lad?"
The boy's eyes widened and he looked left and right. One trembling hand rose, pointed to his own skinny chest.
"Yes, you. Come on, I'll make you famous!"
The boy's parents sat on either side of him nodding enthusiastically. Cajoling from the crowd drove the boy from his seat, up darkened steps and past voluminous crimson velvet curtains. Brass half-shells along the stage front cupped incandescent bulbs. Mephisto grinned over the brightness at the audience as they encouraged the boy along.
When the young man reached him, Mephisto laid an arm across bony shoulders. "What's your name, lad?"
Mephisto turned back to the crowd. "Matthew, ladies and gentlemen!"
Whoops and wild applause disgusted the magician, these easily entertained masses. To hide his grimace he made a theatrical turn, swept Matthew along to a tall black wooden box at center stage. It had a double door, split top and bottom like a stable, with bright silver tape marking edges that sparkled in the spotlight. The crowd oohed. Mephisto pulled open the two half doors. The box was empty. The crowd ahhed.
How he hated them.