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The Fourth Wish: Chapter 3 - The Great Mondo

...At last Mondo spoke into the microphone, his voice resounding throughout the theater. “Good afternoon, everyone.” He paused. “Ready to have some fun?” Shouts of “Yes!” echoed from every corner. Mondo held his hands to his ears in pretended surprise. “You are? Well, then....” He stretched his arms out to each side. “Let the magic begin!” A new drum roll was followed by a clash of cymbals...

Eleven-year-old Melanie McCormick, her brother, Cory, and their little sister, Erin. are at the Majestic Theatre to see a magic show. Things are not going exactly as they should. Could the wish granted to Cory by Mrs Seraphina have something to do with this?

For the opening chapters of Elizabeth Varadon's magical all-age novel click-on The Fourth Wish in the menu on this page.

The theater was rackety with voices. It seemed like every kid in Sacramento had come to see The Great Mondo. Melanie spied center seats six rows from the stage. She and Erin scrambled past knees and over feet, followed by Cory and Arthur. They pooled their change and the boys went back to the lobby for popcorn.

“Look!” Wide-eyed, Erin pointed at the purple silk banner pinned to the red velvet curtains.

“Uh-huh.” Melanie glanced briefly at the silver letters spelling out THE GREAT MONDO, then scanned the crowd to see who else had come. She spotted her friend Jenny seated midway up the aisle on the left with Victor and the two cousins, and waved. Jenny waved back, pointed at the boys and rolled her eyes. Melanie grinned and gestured toward Erin. Both friends gave sympathetic nods.

“When does Mondo do his magic act?” asked Erin.

“Soon,” promised Melanie, glad they'd made it on time.

The boys returned, and Cory gave Melanie a bucket of popcorn to share with Erin. He and Arthur were just starting on their own bucket when a sudden drum roll offstage made the movie house go silent. The overhead lights dimmed.

“Oohh,” Erin cried. Purple stage lights blazed on, turning the banner letters glittery lavender. From the back of the theater, two ushers strode down the aisles and up the stairs, then folded their arms and waited at each end of the stage.

Arthur leaned forward. “That’s tight!” He stopped munching his popcorn. “That’s the Great Mondo?”

A stout man had just walked onstage, carrying a microphone. He set it down, his bald head glistening under the strange light.

“Good afternoon, boys and girls.” The smile he flashed at the audience suggested his face didn’t normally work that way. “As you know, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for.”

Disappointment rumbled through the theater. “Psych,” someone yelled. The man glowered.

“I'm Mr. Cottler, the theater manager,” he resumed. The grumbling stopped. “And I want to introduce our very special show. The one, the only...THE GREAT MONDO!” he bawled into the microphone.

Everything went dark as a new drum roll thundered. A spotlight flashed on. A series of pleased gasps filled the air. Mr. Cottler was gone. In a pool of white light under the glowing banner stood a tall skinny man with a purple cape and silk top hat. His eyebrows and thick mustache matched a thatch of reddish hair sticking out from under the brim. The Great Mondo grinned at the clapping audience and tipped his hat.

Melanie felt Cory nudge her right arm.

“See?” he muttered. “The hat thing.”

Maybe it was her imagination, but Melanie thought The Great Mondo frowned, even though he could hardly have heard Cory’s comment from so far away. He motioned with his hand to one side of the stage, then the other, and the ushers went off into the wings. Returning, one wheeled a folding table covered by a purple cloth. The other carried a small purple trunk and set it upright with the hinges facing the audience. As they walked offstage, Mondo started taking things out of the trunk.

“Where are the ushers going?” whispered Erin.

Melanie turned put her finger to her lips. “Shhhh.”

“The ushers will be back later," the magician said into the microphone. He stopped, a look of surprise on his face, then shook his head quickly, as if shooing away a fly. Looking flustered, he returned to his unpacking, holding up each object to the audience before he put it on the table: a metal tray, a gigantic blank card, a larger envelope, a huge pencil, a spray bottle filled with yellow fluid, and a giant deck of cards. The theater grew quieter and quieter as everyone watched.

At last Mondo spoke into the microphone, his voice resounding throughout the theater. “Good afternoon, everyone.” He paused. “Ready to have some fun?” Shouts of “Yes!” echoed from every corner. Mondo held his hands to his ears in pretended surprise. “You are? Well, then....” He stretched his arms out to each side. “Let the magic begin!” A new drum roll was followed by a clash of cymbals.

Cory nudged Melanie again. “No accent,” he pointed out, in a low voice.

“Just watch the show, okay?” she whispered back.

“I don't do accents,” said the Great Mondo. He froze, then gave an embarrassed chuckle. “Er...that is...I mean....” Quickly he took a gold baton from the trunk.

“That's his magic wand!” breathed Erin. They watched him lay it beside the huge deck of cards. Next he removed his hat, setting it beside the baton, brim down.

“See?” Cory murmured.

“Will you stop being Mr. Detective?” Melanie said.

The magician wore a brief puzzled expression. He gave his head another little jerk, as if shaking away a disturbing thought. “Could I have a volunteer?” he asked.

Suddenly the theater was full of voices and waving hands.

“Me.”

“Me!”

“Me!”

“Oh, please,” cried Erin. “Pretty please with sugar on it?”

But Mondo pointed to someone in the front row, a boy who looked about Cory’s age, with dark hair in a tiny braid down his neck. He ambled up to the stage, his sweatshirt halfway to his knees, his walk suggesting this was no big deal.

“What's your name?” asked Mondo. “Speak into the microphone so everyone can hear.”

“Ernesto Ramirez.”

“Ernesto, has anyone ever read your mind?” The magician handed him the long pencil from the table.

Ernesto shrugged. “Not really.”

“I'm going to read your mind,” Mondo told him. He picked up the card and envelope, holding them high, rotating to make sure everyone in the audience could see clearly. “Would you write a short message on this card before I put it in the envelope?” He gave Ernesto the card.

Ernesto tugged at the small braid on the back of his neck. “What kind of a message?”

“A short one. Just don't show me what it is. Print it. And con-cen-trate.” Mondo drew the word out. “That way I can pick up the vibrations.” He turned to the audience and hissed into the mike, “We need utter quiet so that my mind can read the words.” There had only been a faint rustling before, but now the theater went completely silent.

Ernesto fingered the pencil, lost in thought. Then he leaned over the table and began his message, the long shaft of the pencil waggling up and down as he wrote.

“Now....” Mondo closed his eyes. “Give me the card,” he intoned. Ernesto did so. Holding both away from his face, Mondo slid the card into the envelope and handed them back. “Ernesto, would you seal the envelope before I open my eyes? That way everyone can see there are no tricks involved.”

Ernesto licked the flap. “Okay, I’m done.”

The magician opened his eyes. He grabbed the bottle with yellow fluid from the table, took the envelope from Ernesto, and began spraying it. “This is lighter fluid,” he explained.

“How come you're doing that?” asked Ernesto.

Without answering, Mondo pulled a lighter from his pants pocket and set fire to the envelope. The theater filled with squeals and gasps. The envelope burned down to the magician's fingertips before he dropped the fragment into the metal tray on the table. He held a hand to his temple, as if going into a trance. “I...think...I'm...getting the message,” he announced.

Cory leaned over to Arthur and mumbled something Melanie couldn’t hear.

“No, I don’t have anything in my hair,” snapped Mondo. “Or up my sleeve either.” His eyes widened. A panicky look spread across his face.

“That wasn’t the message,” said Ernesto.

“I know it wasn’t,” Mondo replied. “You said you like corn chips better than potato chips. I do, too,” he added distractedly.

“Man! That’s exactly what I wrote!” Ernesto gave him an admiring stare.

The magician nodded, bowing to the applause that broke out. “Years of practice,” he told the audience. But his forehead crinkled up, as if something worried him. “May I have another volunteer?” he asked.

This time he chose a girl named Cindy Saefong with shoulder-length dark hair and bangs. After she introduced herself, he took the giant deck of cards from the table and laid them in a stack near the edge, his motions smooth and practiced.

“Cindy,” he began. She nodded eagerly. “These cards are face down so that I can’t see them. Choose a card, will you? Then show it to the audience and put it back in the deck.”

Arthur peered around Cory at Melanie. “See?” he whispered. “Pick a card...”

Cindy combed through the cards. Finally she pulled one out and held it up. It was the nine of clubs. She replaced it and waited, watching the magician.

Mondo closed his eyes, one hand to his temple. “I’m concentrating.”

“See?” muttered Cory. “The head.”

“Will you two be quiet? I can’t think!” said Mondo.

“Excuse me?” said Cindy.

Mondo opened his eyes, the massaged his forehead. “I can’t think!” he repeated. “All these thoughts interrupting....” He broke off, shaking his head.

Arthur leaned around Cory again and eyeballed Melanie. “X Files,” he whispered.

“X Files,” said Mondo in a hollow voice.

“Why’s he talking to himself like that?” asked a boy behind Melanie.

“It’s his act, dummy,” said the girl next to him. “He's really a good actor,” she added. “He looks so upset.”

But the rest of the audience didn't seem as impressed. A restless muttering swept through the theater, reminding Melanie of a school assembly.

“Hey, let's have some rabbits out of the hat,” called a boy from the back wall.

“Yeah, rabbits!” agreed a girl’s voice.

The boy behind Melanie started chanting, “We want rabbits! We want rabbits!” Soon the audience had taken it up like a cheer. Arthur and Cory joined in.

“Stop that,” Melanie scolded Cory. “Right now. Some Scout you are!”

But that didn't seem to bother Cory. “We want rabbits,” he yelled.

“All right!” the magician shouted from onstage. His face was livid. Cindy hurried away from him and ran down the stage steps.

“You want rabbits?” cried Mondo. “You get rabbits!”

He snatched the purple top hat by the brim and turned it over. With the other hand, he knocked three times on the crown from below, then reached in and pulled out a large brown-and-white spotted rabbit.

“Ooohhh!” The delighted sigh ran around the movie house.

Mondo beamed, looking at ease again. “Boys and girls....” He gave a happy smile. “Meet Lucky. She’s happy to be here, aren’t you, Lucky?” He patted the rabbit’s head and stroked its ears.

“She’s so cute,” cooed Erin.

“Lucky loves carrots,” Mondo announced. “I’ll bet you want a great big carrot right now,” he crooned to Lucky. Once again he knocked on the base of the hat again, then reached inside. Expectant laughter rippled through the rows.

Mondo’s eyes bulged as a second rabbit leaped out. “What!” he gasped. Another rabbit popped out. Then another.

“Al-right!” someone shouted from a side aisle.

“Way to go!” yelled the boy behind Melanie.

Voices all over the theater started cheering. More rabbits appeared, black, brown, spotted and plain. Out they hopped, bounding across the stage, then down the stairs and up the aisles, the ushers chasing after them. Kids in the front row ran up to the stage, grabbing and screaming. “I want one! I want one!” Sobs and giggles filled the air. From somewhere a small child wailed, “I want to go home.”

“I knew Mondo was a real magician,” squealed Erin. She bounced up and down in her seat. “Knew it, knew it, knew it!”

“This can’t be happening!” Mondo’s voice echoed over the microphone through the chaos.

Mr. Cottler marched onstage, his face furious. He pulled the magician to one side, near the side curtain. His hands made jabbing motions in the air as he and The Great Mondo talked, away from the mike’s range.

Melanie tried to push away a guilty feeling that was settling over her like a heavy blanket. She tried not to think of Cory’s wish, but his words came back to her: Look, Erin, I wish he could read minds, pull rabbits out of hats, and....

Beside her, Cory had become very quiet. She glanced over and found him gazing at her, his gray eyes troubled.

“Are you thinking what I'm thinking?” he asked.

Before she could answer, the air suddenly filled with excited shrieks.


© Elizabeth Varadan 2006

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