The Seventh Shuffle by Kenny Vee
The magic show started out simply enough. A coin from behind the ear, flowers from his sleeve, a seemingly endless streamer from the mouth. They were all simple tricks, which every kid has seen dozens of times.
Later in the act, “The Astounding Ronaldo” brought out some of the better tricks…a “haunted” deck of cards that cut itself to a chosen card (through the use of a string that Cory decided to pretend he didn’t see), a floating dollar bill (this time the string was hidden a bit better, but Cory knew the trick — he had performed it himself), and then a dollar bill penetration that actually did leave him wondering how it was done for a few minutes before he came up with a plausible means of creating the illusion in his head (he’d need two identical pens, a knife, some glue, and a couple of strong magnets to test his theory).
Cory applauded with the other kids at the end, though, and went to have a slice of birthday cake. He was the youngest kid at the party by about six months; but even though the other kids were still talking about how awesome the magician was, Cory felt like he was too old for magic. He either already knew how the tricks were done or easily figured them out.
His grandfather had bought him a magic set for his fifth birthday, but he had stopped doing magic tricks several months ago because he couldn’t see how anyone could be fooled by them — even though he had just seen another example of people being baffled by the simplest of badly-performed tricks.
“Cory, your mom is here to take you home.”
He’d been lost in thought again. He had a habit of zoning out. He wasn’t asleep, or unconcious; and he knew that his mind was busy during these times, but he could almost never remember what he had been daydreaming, or thinking about, or envisioning, or whatever he was doing when he “went all spacy,” as his mom put it. Sometimes there would be just a hint of remembrance, but it was always fleeting.
The rest of the kids had gone outside to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, or hit the piñata, or whatever party games that Larry’s parents had set up. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting alone in the kitchen. He also wondered whether Mrs. Lawrence had called his mom after he vegged out, or if she had just shown up early to take him home.
As he went to the living room to get his jacket, The Astounding Ronaldo was almost all packed up. He looked at Cory for a few seconds, remembering his bored face during the show. He’d seen it before.
“You didn’t seem too impressed by any of my tricks. I take it you dabble in magic yourself?”
“How’d you know?”
“It’s always hardest to impress fellow magicians. But I do have one more trick I can show you…one that I can guarantee you won’t be able to figure out. I usually save it for special ocasions, or when I feel the need to impress someone.”
Cory gave Ronaldo his attention. He still liked magic, but was bored by most of it. Once you knew the secret, it stopped being entertaining. He thought that magicians’ assistants must be incredibly bored with their jobs.
Ronaldo dug into his carpet bag, and pulled out a deck of cards. Cory rolled his eyes.
“I know what you’re thinking, young man,” said Ronaldo as he crossed the living room and took a seat on the couch next to where Cha stood, putting on his jacket. “Trust me, this isn’t your average trick deck.”
Cory hated being called “young man.” It always sounded so condescending.
Ronaldo pulled out the cards. “These aren’t gimmick cards, kid. They’re not your average Svengali deck, rough-smooth deck, stripper deck, or anything like that. Here, take a look.”
Cory took the deck. On the maroon case was a golden imprint of an eye. He opened it and took out the cards.
There seemed to be the right amount of cards: four Aces, four Jacks, four 7s, etc. But there were no hearts, spades, clubs, or diamonds. In fact, there didn’t seem to be four consistent suits at all. He looked closer and couldn’t pick out any two cards that used the same symbols for pips. There was a six of skulls, a nine of school buses, a two of rats, a ten of daggers.
“How do you play cards with a deck like this?” He knew it was a silly question as soon as he asked it. It wasn’t a deck made for games, it was a deck made for magic. “Forget I asked that.”
“Of course, young sir.” Cory kind of liked “young sir” — it sounded more dignified.
“So what happens, I shuffle these, and pick a card, and you tell me which one it was in an entertaining way? Been there, done that. You’re pretty good, but this isn’t going to impress many other magicians.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself, Cory. You’ve got to let me show you the magic before you critique it.”
Cory tried to remember if he’d given his name to Ronaldo. He was pretty sure he hadn’t, but maybe Mrs. Lawrence, with the unfortunately named son Larry (he couldn’t imagine going through life as Lawrence Lawrence) had told him.
“Fine, Mr. Amazing, what’s the trick?”
“Well, you were part right. You’re going to shuffle the cards. As you do, the cards will read your innermost thoughts. As for what happens next, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
There was a honk outside. Through the window, Cory saw his mom’s car pull to a stop. He thought about giving the cards back, since he was still pretty sure this would be yet another trick that he saw right through, but he was curious. He decided to play along.
As he shuffled, there was a tingle in his fingertips. On the next riffle, his whole hands tingled.On the next, his arms up to his elbows. He was a little nervous about the feeling, but kept going. After all, it wasn’t painful, and he looked at each shuffle of the cards as another chance to try to figure out what was causing it. So far, he was baffled.
He would go up to seven shuffles, he decided…that was the perfect amount of shuffles to completely randomize the deck, and more than that would risk his mom getting impatient while she waited for him. But he still had a couple minutes to see what Ronaldo had up his sleeves, pun very much intended.
On the fourth shuffle, the tingle reached his shoulders. The fifth encompassed his upper body, neck to waist. Shuffle six brought numbness everywhere below the neck as his legs joined the party. Cory was amazed. He wasn’t sure if this was the whole trick, or if there was something else. Either way, he was impressed. It really was a rather amazing sensation.
He shuffled the cards together for a seventh time. For a moment, he felt his head starting to tingle and then…
Cory looked around. He was standing on an airport runway. A plane was taking off in front of him, pulling away as it rose into the sky. It was low enough that Cory thought that it would have had to have occupied the space that Cory was now occupying just a few moments ago.
Cory knew that something was wrong. The plane seemed to lose momentum. The engines went silent. But it didn’t just lose altitude; it came to a gradual stop, then fell backwards along the same trajectory, flying backwards to where Cory stood. Cory ran. The plane landed on the spot where Cory had been standing, and exploded into a fireball.
Cory saw this, even though it happened behind him. He didn’t question how this was possible. He felt no heat from the explosion, even though the sight and sound told him that he was too close to it to escape uninjured.
When Cory finally did turn around after running for a while longer, he saw the entrance to a supermarket. He walked in, and cars were driving through the aisles. A Cadillac exiting through the store’s extra large sliding glass doors barely missed him. He ran.
He found himself on the freeway, but he was running as fast as the cars were driving…not that the cars were driving slow; he must have been running at about 60 miles per hour. Each stride covered about 50 feet, and came effortlessly.
Cory realized that he was in a dream.
He decided to stop running. Traffic also came to a stop. A car door opened on his left, and Ronaldo got out of the car. He was applauding.
“Congratulations, Cory, you have become lucid. You know what that means, right?”
Cory had read about lucid dreaming…when you realize that you are dreaming, and can sometimes even control what happens in them.
“Not exactly. You’re not asleep, Cory. You’re standing in Mrs. Lawrence’s living room it’s another one of your…episodes. You did know that your mind kept working during them, right?”
“Sure, but I never remember it when I come back. I do get a feeling that I like it here, though…but what was with that plane crash?”
“I can’t explain how your mind works, Cory. That is for you to discover. What I can do, though, is present you with a gift…the ability to stay here as long as you want. Use the fact that you can control things. Make this world yours. Enjoy it.”
Cory decided to test out the theory. He tried to make a cake appear. Nothing materialized in front of him, but when he turned his head to look around, there was a cake on a table sitting on his right side.
He tried to imagine himself in a field of grass. When he looked up from the cake, he was sitting on a blanket in the middle of a field, with a nearby tree shading him from a pleasant sun. There was a ring of gardenias. He could smell them on the light breeze.
“This is fantastic,” Cory said, turning to face Ronaldo…only Ronaldo wasn’t there. Cory looked all around, and couldn’t see him anywhere. He tried to imagine Ronaldo into being, but he was on his own now.
Still, he felt free. He decided to spend some time exploring his world.
In real life, he didn’t go to school. His episodes were calleda “distraction” by the school board, so Cory was homeschooled — which mostly meant that while his mom was on the phone, he was watching The Science Channel (making him an expert on Karl Pilkington’s travels and how factories worked) and The History Channel (educating him on aliens and guys who drive trucks on icy roads).
He decided that it was time for school. He walked over a hill a short distance away, and saw the elementary school straight ahead. He’d dreamt about the place before when he’d been asleep…usually he dreamt he was in his underwear, and embarrased.
This time, however, he was fully clothed. He saw himself sitting in classes, playing kickball during recess; he was living the life of a “normal” kid. He was a bit embarrassed, though, when the teacher told everyone to turn in their homework, and he’d had to say that he didn’t have his, since he’d never been in the class before. “That’s no excuse,” came the teacher’s reply.
Then he decided that it was time for Disneyland. He had been there once a couple years ago, and had always been sad that he wasn’t allowed to ride Space Mountain because he was too short. Suddenly he found himself standing in Tomorrowland, seeing the white conical building beckoning him. He walked into it, and found himself on a tiny rocket ship.
It started out like he figured a roller coaster would, but then a witch flew across the darkend room that the roller coaster was in. His rocket followed the track down a large drop, and Cory found himself sliding out of his seat. He hung on to the lap bar for dear life, legs trailing out behind the rocket.
Mercifully, the ride came to a stop. He wasn’t entirely happy with how things were going. Some parts of his fantasy world were great, but there were some wrinkles that made it a little scary. He decided that it was time to wake up.
But he didn’t know how.
He had never been self-aware during his episodes before. He didn’t know what brought him out of it. He decided to see if he could see his real self. He concentrated really hard, and he saw…
Cory lay in the hospital bed.
His mother sat next to him in the visitor’s chair. It was well past visiting hours, but nobody was asking her to leave. She had gone to pick him up at Larry’s party almost a week ago, and he had been spacing out. His mental breaks usually only lasted for a few minutes, and the longest had lasted for about an hour. For him to still be unresponsive after this long was unprecedented.
Cory was frightened. He didn’t know if what he was seeing was real anymore. Was he really unconcious in a hospital bed? Or was it just his imagination running away from him? He was tired of his dream. He just wanted to wake up and be a normal kid.
He wished Ronaldo had taken the zone-outs away instead of making them longer. And how much longer would it be? How long had it been? It didn’t seem that long, but his mother sure looked worried.
He decided to try calling Ronaldo to him. “Ronaldo!” he cried. “Ronaldo, this isn’t funny anymore. Come back here and fix this!”
Cory’s vital signs spiked. His heart rate had suddenly jumped up to 100 beats per minute. His eyes were moving rapidly under his eyelids. Then, just as suddenly as he became active, everything dropped back to what it had been for the past three months…a steady 58 beats per minute and his eyes were again still.
The doctor sighed as he turned to Cory’s mother. “Medically, he’s fine. Brain functions normal, no injury there. We don’t know why he’s not responding. We could try an exporatory surgery, but that’s risky.”
Cory was walking through a town that wasn’t familiar. It was like he was in an old western, except that there cars and televisions and other modern things along with the dirt roads and wooden buildings.
As he walked by the post office, a man walked out and stood in the doorway, looking at him. “Are you Cory?”
“Yeah, I’m Cory. What’s it to you?”
“Letter came for you today. Here you go.”
Cory walked up to the man and took the envelope. There was no writing on the outside.
“How do you know this is for me?” asked Cory. There was no answer. There was also no man standing in the post office’s doorway. There was also no post office. Cory was in his grass field again, where he returned whenever some other part of his imaginary world had become too much for him.
He’d been shot, stabbed, been in fistfights, been in and out of love with a woman on a horse that he didn’t think he knew in real life, and probably would’ve thought had cooties. Whenever he started to feel overwhelmed, he would think of this field and often everything else would melt away.
It was his happy place, but it seemed to be getting harder and harder to conjure it. H used to be able to go there whenever he wanted; now it seemed to take longer to appear each time.
The smell of gardenias was strong, as always.
Cory’s mother visited him today. She brought him a vase of gardenias. Her visits had become more infrequent over the years. She only came to visit once a month now. It had been almost a year since his last spike in brain activity. Still, today was Cory’s 18th birthday. It wouldn’t have been right to forget.
It also wasn’t right, she thought, that this boy had missed ten years of his life. What would it be like for him when he woke up? How could she explain to Cory that he’d been gone?
And that was the thing…she realized that she had lost faith that he even would ever wake up.
Cory opened the envelope. Inside was a single card with a handwritten note.
Could it really be that simple? And why hadn’t he even thought to try it before? He wondered how long had passed in the real world. He hadn’t looked in on himself again since that first time, but it must have been several days now. His mother would be worried.
The judge came back with his ruling. Though there was no terminal illness, he agreed that there was a definite lack of improvement in Cory’s condition over the past 15 years, and that the prognosis was for more of the same for as long as he lived. Though Cory wasn’t actually being kept alive by machinery, and the only direct medical intervention at this point was an IV line feeding him nutrients, his mother had just received the court’s permission to have the doctors give Cory a different IV drip…one that would end his life.
Cory felt the cards in his pocket. Had they even been there this whole time? The answer was yes and no. He knew that in this dream world, usually all he had to do was to think it to make it so.
He pulled out the cards and looked at them. On the maroon case was the golden imprint of an eye, just as he remembered it. He opened the case, took out the cards, and began to shuffle.
On the first shuffle, he felt that same tingle in his fingers.
In Cory’s hospital room, Father McGinnis started the last rites.
“O Holy Host Above, I call upon thee as a servant of Jesus Christ, to sanctify our actions this day, in preparation for the fulfillment of the Will of God.”
On the second shuffle, his hands felt the tingle, just as Cory remembered it.
“I call upon the great Archangel Raphael, Master of the Air, to open the way for this to be done.”
Cory shuffled a third time. The sensation spread up his arms.
“Let the Fire of the Holy Spirit now descend that this being might be awakened to the greater world beyond and the life of earth and be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Cory had trouble with the fourth shuffle. His hands were having trouble controlling the cards. After a couple of attempts, though, he got the cards to fall together, and the tingling sensation moved up to his shoulders. He noticed that the smell of gardenias had gotten fainter.
Father McGinnis moved the gardenias so he could stand over Cory.
“O Lord Jesus Christ, Most Merciful Lord of Earth, we ask that you receive this child into your arms that he might pass in safety from this crisis. As Thou has told us with Infinite compassion: Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”
Cory knew something was wrong, but didn’t know exactly what. He just knew that he was barely able to keep the cards in his hand, much less shuffle them. He managed to force the two halves of the deck together. The tingle now encompassed the top half of his body.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And, whither I go ye know, and the Way ye know. So let it be done!”
Cory dropped the cards. As he reached out for them, the field around him began to fade. The cards did not, however, and he was able to pick them up again. He forced the ends of the halves of the deck together again with great difficulty.
The tingling sensation spread to his legs, and everything from the neck down felt like electricity flowed through it, but only for a moment before his whole body went numb.
“No, no, no!” cried Cory. “I’m so close, you can’t do this to me now!”
“By this sign thou art anointed with the Grace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and thou art absolved of all past error and freed to take your place in the world that He has prepared for us.”
Now Cory couldn’t feel the cards in his hands. He had to rely on his eyes alone to see where he was gripping them, and to cut the deck was nearly impossible. Cory palmed the deck, and placed the edge of the cards on the ground. Then he slowly pulled his hand away until roughly half of the cards had fallen away. Then he flopped the rest of the deck down next to them, and positioned them next to each other.
“Just one more shuffle. That’s all I ask. Just let me get through one more and get out of this nightmare!”
“And thus do I commend thee into the arms of our Lord of Earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, preserver of all mercy and reality, and the Father, Creator. We give Him glory as we give you into His arms in everlasting peace, to be prepared to return into the denser reality of God the Father, Creator of all. Amen. Amen. Amen.”
Cory pushed the cards together again. The cards just pushed against their counterparts in the other stack at first, but finally the cards began to push together. As the cards meshed together, the tingling sensation returned. For a moment, he felt his head starting to tingle and then…
The doctor looked up at Cory’s mom. “That’s it, Cory’s gone,” he said. “Time of death, 7:36 A.M.”
The doctor hugged her and wiped a tear from his own eye, and the wilting gardenias sat forgotten in the corner.