It was only 7:15 when Keelie arrived at Graham’s house. The night was so dark already that she could barely see her own hand in front of her face. It wasn’t a normal night without all of the stars looming over their heads. The night was so unusual and almost scary it made Keelie feel even more excited to attend the circus with her friends. They went every year the circus came to town, they made it an annual thing. Keelie, Graham, Carver and Hope. Who knew that they would all end up dating each other by senior year? Carver and Hope started dating first. Adam Carver the ultimate ladies’ man had fallen for Hope. Who wouldn’t? She was tall, slim and had the tan skin every girl died for. But with Keelie and Graham it had been much different. They liked each other for years, but neither had the nerve to ask the other out. Finally last summer as they walked together on a nightly stroll he asked her out for dinner. That was that. Now the four did everything together as couples. So that is what made this circus trip even more exciting. That and the new circus event called, The Illusionist. Keelie loved magic tricks and anything to do with disappearing acts. She had once been on a cruise and saw a woman disappear on stage right in front of her. The magician then had been really good and she hoped for an even better show tonight.Graham opened the door once Keelie reached it. His blue eyes looked her up and down and he stroked his chin, “Looking very nice tonight Ms. Hayes. I think I may have to take you upstairs for an impromptu make out session first.”“No way! We are not going to be late picking up Carver and Hope,” she admonished. Though Graham looked pretty hot himself tonight, Keelie had to remember Hope told her to be on time. She didn’t want to miss the acts and Keelie wanted to see the new show.“Fine, but may I have a little kiss?” Keelie jumped in his arms practically knocking him over and planted a big kiss on his lips.“How is that?” she asked as he set her down.“Makes me only want you more.” He grabbed his coat and they got in the car. Luckily Hope lived a few blocks away. Once they pulled up she noticed Carver and Hope looked upset with each other. Hope stood with her hands crossed across her chest and Carver sat on the grass.“Uh oh I guess they’re fighting again,” Keelie said.“Great what a way to ruin the night,” Graham sighed.Hope got in the car and Carver got in a few minutes later looking sullen.“Is everything okay?” Graham asked Carver.“Yeah I suppose. Someone I knew died today,” he mumbled. “Olivia Grant, she was battling cancer remember?”They all knew very well who Olivia was and that she was sick. Carver and Olivia had dated sophomore year. It was a sore subject because Hope was jealous of their closeness. She felt awful for her having cancer, but it seemed Carver spent a lot of time by her hospital bed lately. Keelie knew it wouldn’t be long until she passed once the cancer got to her bones. It wasn’t something any of them hoped would happen but Hope still looked upset. The car ride remained quiet until they reached the circus entrance and the guys got out.“So what’s wrong Hope?” Keelie finally asked her. Hope unfolded her arms finally and tears spilled down her cheeks.“It’s like life for him is over now that she’s gone. He acts like I was nothing and she was his one true love.” Hope wiped her face and sighed. “He said he wants a break after tonight. That he needs to mourn her loss. Keelie they only dated for six months.”Keelie reached across the seat and held her friends hand. She knew Carver was taking this hard, but it was true, Olivia and he only dated for a short time. But then again when someone passes it can be hard to focus on anything else. Keelie knew this all too well. She herself had lost her brother two years ago. He had disappeared seemingly into thin air. And they never found him again. She and her parents knew in their hearts he was dead.“Come on Hope let’s see if we can’t cheer you both up. The circus is our thing, and it’s the last time we will be here all together.” It was true they all would be off in college by fall. Hope and Keelie got out and meet the boys by the entrance to the tent. By the end of the circus show the girls were exhausted from laughter and the boys were ready to move on. Carver’s mood had gotten a little brighter but not enough to improve the nights now ruined plans. Keelie wanted to see the illusionist badly but the others wanted to check out the new Fat Lady show. “Fine,” she said finally. “I’ll go check his show out and you go see the fat lady then.” She left them all and walked off. She wasn’t mad at them more disappointed. Especially with Graham he knew how much she loved that sort of stuff. Sitting and making fun of an overweight lady wasn’t fun to her.“Hey Keelie wait up,” Carver called to her. “I want to go see the magician with you.”“Really?” She was happy he came along and all, but he didn’t seem like the type to like a show like this.“Yeah why not.” He smiled. They walked across the grounds and looked for the tent. They spotted it in the far corner finally and made their way to it. Once they got close enough they noticed it was surrounded by an odd fog. A fog that only lurked around the tent. Keelie got goose bumps across her arms and Carver pulled his coat tighter. It wasn’t that cold outside but for some reason they both felt a chill. No one stood outside to accept tickets nor was there anyone waiting for the show. They were the only two people there.“Maybe we missed it,” Keelie suggested.“It says the show starts in ten minutes. Maybe we are just early that’s all.”Keelie shrugged and got closer to the entrance hoping to sneak a peek inside. But as she got closer she noticed a sign in front; What is the real illusion? Come inside to find the answer.It was alluring that was sure, but by the looks of the tent it screamed darkness. Sure she saw the ones on T.V. who did daring acts that would scare her. But this wasn’t a freak show it was a family circus in the suburbs. This only made Keelie want a look inside even more so. She got closer and closer to the opening. Her breath catching in her throat as she touched the velvet rope holding the curtains closed. “Stop!” Carver shouted.She turned to a frightened Carver, “I only want to peek inside Carver calm down.” When she turned back around a woman stood in front of her holding a burning cigarette in her hands ever so delicately. She looked like she came from another time and place. Her hair was glossy black and pulled up on the sides by clips with black roses on them.“Oh sorry, nice costume,” Keelie said nervously.“It is not a costume. Boy aren’t you pretty, what are you doing here?” The woman asked as she took a drag.“I came for the show,” Keelie answered. What else would she be doing here?“And you boy, you came for the show too?” she asked Carver. He nodded and his mouth fell open when the woman smiled and winked at him. She was beautiful in a gothic sort of way. Keelie eyed her suspiciously. There was something strange about her for sure.“Once you enter there is no going back the way you once came. I need to make that clear,” the woman said.Keelie laughed and rolled her eyes. She knew this was a trick to scare her and it wasn’t going to work. She wasn’t some little kid entering a haunted hayride. She knew there was an exit just like there are ways out everywhere. It was dark and eerie outside, but she knew this had to be part of the act.“Do you understand?” The woman asked again. They both nodded and the velvet rope fell to the ground and the curtain opened. Keelie strolled in with Carver right behind her. Once she saw the stage in front of her she was shocked. The inside was almost as big as the circus show tent. The stage in front of her was lit dimly by a small light on the center.The gothic woman circled them a few times looking them over. Carver stood tall while Keelie shrunk in her nervousness. There was something about this whole place that didn’t feel right.“You know maybe we can come back to another show, I think we need to find our friends,” Keelie lied as she grabbed Carver’s arm.“I believe I just told you that you must stay. By the way I am Arianne. Please find your seats.” Arianne gestured towards the rows of seats that circled the stage. Keelie let go of Carver and turned to walk away. “I’m out of here something’s not right. This isn’t the Ringham’s Circus. You are totally fake and I am not staying here.” Once she turned around to walk out she noticed the curtain they just walked through was gone. All that was there were velvet walls. She reached out to find the exit and Arianne laughed wickedly. She searched but couldn’t not find a way out of there.“What brought you here? A flyer perhaps? Not a sign on the Ringham Brothers Circus entrance, am I correct?” Arianne pulled another cigarette out and lit it gracefully.“Yes a flyer I saw. I don’t even remember where I saw it,” Keelie admitted. “What does that mean? You’re not part of the circus are you?” Arianne’s shook her head and snickered.“You’re here for a purpose aren’t you my dear? And you boy, you came to find answers about the dead girl you hope to see again. Every breath you take makes you feel guilty about her not being able to do the same.”Carver’s eyes welled up and his fists clamped down. If she wasn’t a girl Keelie was sure he would have hit her. One thing she knew about him was do not press his buttons.“How do you know about Olivia? Who told you?” he spat. Arianne only shrugged and turned towards Keelie. “And you,” she pointed to Keelie. “You don’t feel bad about the brother you lost. You may mourn him sure. But you were ignored before he died. No one cared about you or your accomplishments. Now without him here you get the college money that was meant for him and the brand new car too.”“No that’s wrong. You don’t know that!” Keelie screamed. “This isn’t a magic show this is something evil.”“Your right, this is no magic show. The illusionist does not deal with magic. He brings back those we wish we could see once more. He has the power to raise the dead. But you don’t want to see your brother again, right?”“I want to leave,” Keelie cried. Arianne laughed at her expense.“This isn’t a show or trick of light. This is real. And you’re here for a reason. Now sit and wait for the illusionist.” she pointed to the seats in the front row that were now lit up by light. They watched as a single candle lit itself on the edge of the stage. Once it was lit several candles ignited themselves all the way around.“What sort of place is this?” Keelie asked Arianne, but when she turned Arianne was gone. Keelie felt cold and terrified. She had not expected things to turn out this way. She had only merely been hoping for a good show, not to be scared. She grabbed onto Carver’s arm and yanked on his sleeve, “We need to get the hell out of here, now!”Carver’s now pale face read no expression. He had heard her but didn’t want to leave. He was enticed and Keelie could see it. She had no idea her friend was so in love with Olivia. If she had she would have told Hope to give him time to grieve. Hope! She remembered that she had her cell and pulled it out of her purse. The phone lit up once she touched it but read, no service.“How is that possible?” she asked herself. She dialed anyway and nothing happened. It was like she was in the Twilight Zone all of a sudden.“Cell phone’s won’t work in here my dear Keelie. And I do not allow them,” a voice from the stage grabbed her attention. “Be seated and I will let you out of here once you see.”“See what?” Carver demanded. But the voice did not answer him. Carver held Keelie’s hand and led her to the front row. She could feel his hands tremble slightly. He was scared just like she was, but he was interested, while she was not.As soon as they sat a man appeared on the stage. He had a distinguished look about him that drew Keelie in. His hair was an auburn brown mixture and his eyes were piercing green. He wore a black velvet coat with tails that he took off and laid over a chair that she didn’t notice on stage. He had an ivory shirt on now with suspenders. Keelie noticed he had a European look to him and she liked it. It settled her mind to be with him and to see he wasn’t scary. He looked kind and gentle but he still had an edge. He was of course older than Keelie, by far. But Keelie didn’t mind. She shook her head trying to think of anything else but wanting to kiss the man on stage. Her thoughts of him consumed her momentarily but she would have to get a hold of herself. It was easy to get lost in your thoughts in a place like this. The red velvet walls held the reflection of the candles and made a soft glow about the room. It helped to make her feel at ease.“I am Holden Dexter, the illusionist. The igniter of flames and deliverer of souls. I will play your mind and win its bet. I will show you how the illusions are met. Are you an illusion? One will find out, the other will stay and live in their doubt.” Once he was done Keelie was stunned and shocked. She didn’t understand. One will stay, one will leave? If that is what he was saying she couldn’t believe it to be true. Holden held his pose on the stage waiting for them to reply it seemed. Keelie clapped and Carver joined in, although neither one knew why they did.Holden bowed slightly then the room went completely dark. Keelie let a slight scream and the candles relit themselves and instead of Holden in the middle of the stage, there sat a fair haired girl with doe eyes. She wore a white nightdress and slippers. She looked terrified until she saw Carver. Once she saw him her smile rose and her eyes twinkled.“Oliva?” Carver asked stunned. Olivia smiled and waved but did not move from her spot on stage. Holden joined her and held her hand. It was impossible for Keelie to believe what she was seeing in front of her very eyes. But it in fact was Olivia. Keelie didn’t understand how Holden had done it but then she thought of his rhyme, deliverer of souls. Did he bring back the dead? Arianne had mentioned it earlier.“Now she is someone you know correct Mr. Carver?” Holden asked. Carver nodded vehemently. “She is yours to have. You know you love her. Come on stage and claim her.” Carver stood and Keelie grabbed his arm. “Carver, she’s dead. What are you doing?”“She may be dead Keelie but that’s her right there. I love her. I always have.”“What about Hope? Do you not love her? She’s alive and Olivia, well she’s not.” Keelie was desperate. She didn’t want to see her friend make a mistake and get his hopes up. Once he went on stage it wouldn’t be Olivia, it would be a mirage.“I am not in love with Hope. Not like I am with Olivia. If there is a way for me to be with her, I will.” He yanked his arm from her grasp and walked onto the stage. Olivia reached out for him and he reached for her. Once their hands met they disappeared altogether. Keelie shouted and Holden held his hands to his lips motioning for silence. Keelie was shocked. Where did they go?“Do not despair my dear Keelie. They are not gone forever. He will return shortly, hopefully.” Keelie was angry now. What the hell did all this mean? She grabbed her hair and pulled. She was upset with herself for bringing this on to her friend. How did this happen?“Why are you talking in riddles and where is my friend?” she screamed. Holden held his hand up and stopped her mid scream.“I am not talking in riddles my dear, I am only trying to assure you that your friend is not gone, he is merely, not here at the present time.” A grin spread across his handsome face.“That is the same thing!” Keelie raked her hands through her hair and felt the frustration flood her body. She knew something wasn’t totally right with this situation. Alarms had gone off in her head at the entrance of this tent, and now they were screaming at her, ‘Get out now’.“I want to leave, now. And I want my friend back,” she said boldly. Holden came down from the stage slowly and before she knew it he was standing in front of her. His hand reached out and softly touched her cheek. Strange as it was she let him. There was something very comforting about his touch.“Keelie, before you can leave you must answer the riddle. One must stay here and the other can go. I played your mind; do you have what it takes to play back?”His voice was velvety and thick. She felt entranced in his gaze, but the buzz in her pocket snapped her out suddenly. Her phone was ringing. She had to get to it, but how? It seemed like she was not allowed to be part of the outside, since she was trapped here in this lair.“I have to think, give me a moment?” she said as sweet as she could. In a breath he was gone and she was alone. She sighed heavily and ducked down in the dark to answer.“Hello.”“Keelie where are you?” It was Hope.“Hope I am in this terrible scary tent. It’s at the edge of the grounds. It was supposed to be the illusionist tent, but I think there’s something wrong,” she said in a rush.“What tent, Keelie? We walked the whole place and we can’t find anything. Carver said maybe you would come find us, so we are waiting by the car.” Carver? Keelie didn’t understand. How could Carver have told her that while he was here? Maybe he got out and he wasn’t trapped after all.“When did you see him?” Keelie asked. “Is he safe?”“What do you mean is he safe, Keelie? He has been here with us the whole time,” Hope said. “I am really worried about you now.” The phone went dead suddenly and left Keelie scrambling for her friend to save her. But one thing Keelie knew was Carver wasn’t with her. Then who was with her?This whole thing was an act! It was an illusion. She thought of the rhyme Holden had told her;‘The igniter of flames and deliverer of souls. I will play your mind and win its bet. I will show you how the illusions are met. Are you an illusion? One will find out, the other will stay and live in their doubt.’He was an igniter of flames that was how the candles were lit on their own. Either that or he was the igniter of her flame; he made her feel helpless with desire. As far as the deliverer of souls, maybe it was really Olivia standing on stage. She shuddered at the thought that he was able to bring the dead back. She kept thinking trying to solve the puzzle. If Carver wasn’t with her, then who was? An illusion no doubt, but how did Holden know so much about Keelie? He knew of her brother as well. Things she never told anyone. Was she an illusion? He had asked the question hadn’t he? Was she even real? That couldn’t be, he had her doubting things now. Things that were not real.One thing she knew in her heart, if she didn’t answer the question soon she would be stuck here. Forever maybe. “Time is slowly draining my dear, do you have an answer for me?” Holden asked as he was standing on stage, now accompanied by Carver and Olivia once more.“I do,” she said with ease. “You’re not an illusionist, which is clear. You are more than that. You said you’re the deliverer of souls, so you are either dead yourself or you have awesome power.” He nodded and a small smile spread on his lips. “But the question was am I an illusion. The answer is no, I am not, but Carver is. He is not the one standing on the stage with Olivia.” Holden applauded her and Carver’s shape started to turn. Keelie watched in awe as Carver turned into another boy, her brother Kevin. Keelie could not believe her eyes.“Why play this mean trick on me? I only came here to see a magic show. Why is my brother acting like Carver? Why is my brother even here?” she asked Holden.“You are very smart Keelie, I admire you for that. I really do. Your brother is here with me to do my bidding. You see I need more stagehands and my dear Arianne felt so alone. She saw your brother here two years ago and had to have him for her own.” Keelie watched as Arianne joined Kevin on stage and held his hand. “I feel alone too. I saw you on the street and I just had to have you for my own. I learned about you, over the last few days. Kevin told me all about you. I reeled you into my tent, so that I may have you for my own.” He trailed down the stage and meet Keelie as her knees grew weak. He held her by her shoulders tightly. “You have answered the question, but you cheated.”“No I didn’t! How could I possibly cheat?” she asked feeling sick to her stomach. There was no way out now. He gripped her shoulders tighter and his sweet breathe grew hot on her face.“You got a phone call. Phones are not allowed in the show. If your friends didn’t tell you he was with them you wouldn’t have known. So without their help you would not have answered correctly. One will find out Keelie, the other will live in doubt. You found out the answer now your friend Hope will forever live in doubt of what really happened to you.” She could throw up, she was terrified. The thought of Hope never really knowing what happened to her hurt more than anything. Her family, her friends they would all be looking for her. Keelie knew they would never find her. “No…I can’t stay here. Please…” she begged him now. But his eyes transfixed her and she fell silent. There was something about him that did that to her. Something magical in his stare.“But you must, you entered knowing once you did you may not leave the way you came. You will be leaving Keelie, but with me. We will travel the world my love and you will love every second of it.” And as he said it, he took her in his arms and she fell into the darkness with Holden Dexter, The Illusionist.