The Young Illusionists

By Jim Gerrish
2022, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved.

Derek was very young when he developed his love for magic tricks. Many youngsters get magic sets for Christmas or for their Birthdays. Not Derek. His parents gave him practical gifts: like clothes, shoes, socks, books on every subject except magic, pens and pencils and paper.

Derek found out about magic from a magician who came to his school one day and put on a magic show. Derek was only in kindergarten, but he watched enthralled as the magician made birds and rabbits appear and disappear. After the show, he sneaked into the line of older kids who wanted to get the magician’s autograph. Derek didn’t want an autograph. When he got his turn with the magician he asked him, “How can I learn to do magic like you?”

The magician gave him his business card and autograph anyway. His magic name was Presto. Then Presto said, “Because you asked so nicely,” and handed him a small book on how to do magic tricks.

Derek thanked him and opened the book. He learned the first trick right away – how to tear up a piece of paper and then put it back together again. Presto the magician was still packing up his show while Derek was busy tearing up newspaper and restoring it in the back of the auditorium.

“Not like that,” said Presto as he watched Derek learning his first magic trick. “If you want to do a trick, what you are doing is fine. But if you want to do magic, then make it magic.”

Presto took a piece of newspaper and tore it up, then he wiggled his fingers over the torn pieces and said “Presto!” He unfolded the paper to show that it was back together again and that his hands were empty.

“Where did the pieces go?” asked Derek.

“That’s the magic part,” said Presto. “Go ahead and try it again.”

Derek took two pieces of newspaper like the book said and folded one sheet up into a small package that he stuck to the other sheet with a bit of tape.

“Do it without the tape,” said Presto. “Now show me that your hands are empty and turn the paper all around before you begin to tear it.”

Presto picked up a sheet of newspaper and had nothing else in his hands. He turned the paper all around. Then he stopped and showed Derek where he was holding the folded-up paper and how he changed it from hand to hand as he showed both sides of the paper and showed that each of his hands was empty while keeping the extra paper hidden.

“That’s not in the book,” said Derek.

“The book is for a beginner,” said Presto. “It shows you how to begin to do a magic trick, but you have to turn it from a trick into magic in the minds of your audience.”

Derek followed Presto’s advice and this time he restored the paper and was able to get rid of the torn pieces to be able to show both his hands empty just like Presto had showed him. Derek thanked Presto for helping him and Presto promised to continue to help him with magic in the future, just by calling the phone number on Presto’s business card.

Before school was over, Derek had learned five magic tricks from the book, and looked for ways to make them seem more like magic than just tricks. Kindergarteners don’t usually get detention after school, but Derek’s teacher saw him doing magic tricks off in the corner and scolded him for wasting his time and gave him a demerit and an hour of detention after school.

It was Derek’s first time in detention. That was where the bad boys and girls were sent and he was terrified of having his parents learn that he had been bad in school. But the teacher in charge of detention, Mr. Hanson, asked him why he had misbehaved in kindergarten, and Derek showed him all five of the magic tricks he had learned from the magician’s book.

“You read this book?” asked Mr. Hansen.

Derek nodded and looked ashamed.

“I’ll have a talk with your teacher about this,” said Mr. Hansen. “I’m tearing up your demerit and your detention will not go on the record. Go learn some more magic tricks at home, but it’s probably best to leave the magic book there and stick to the school books your teacher gives you to read.”

The next day, Derek came to school with a piece of rope and no magic book. He spent recess tying the rope into various magic knots that appeared and disappeared and formed different patterns.

After recess, Derek had swimming class at the school pool, but the teacher was absent and the substitute didn’t know what to teach them, so she gave them free time to play in the water. Derek got some of the other students to tie his hands behind his back with the rope and throw him into the pool all tied up. In seconds he was free of the rope and waving his hands from the water as the kids cheered him on.


The substitute teacher was horrified that she had allowed a kindergarten student to get tied up and thrown into the pool, so back he went to detention with another demerit that day.

The detention teacher, Mr. Hansen, listened to Derek explain what he had done and started laughing as he tore up the detention and demerit papers. “Now, I looked at that magic book of yours yesterday and it didn’t have anything about getting tied up and thrown into a pool of water in it,” he said.

“That was in a book I found in the school library before I went home yesterday,” said Derek. “It was by a magician named Houdini.”

“The school librarian let you take out a book for adults?” he said.

“The librarian was busy, so a student helper signed me out with the book” said Derek.

“And you read it?” asked Mr. Hansen.

“Not all of it,” admitted Derek. “But there were pictures of how to tie the knots and I could read the parts I was interested in.”

“Even so, that was a very dangerous thing to do, to allow yourself to be thrown into a pool of water while your hands were tied behind your back,” said Mr. Hansen

“It was the ‘Kellar Rope Tie’[1] that I used,” said Derek. “My hands were out of the tie before I was thrown in the water. And I'm a very good swimmer. I've been swimming since I was three years old.”


“Here’s the deal,” said Mr. Hansen, when he got finished laughing. “You go to the school library and take out any books they have on magic and bring them to detention with you, only for you it’s a study hall for learning magic by reading. Tomorrow bring in the Houdini book and you can start with that for study hall. Anything you don’t understand, bring the book to me and I’ll help you read it. Is that a deal?”

Derek held out his hand and shook Mr. Hansen’s hand. “It’s a deal! Thanks, Mr. Hansen!”

By the time Derek was ready for high school, he and Mr. Hansen had gone through every library magic book in both the school library and the town public library. Derek used his shop class to build magic props and illusions of all types. Each summer, he ended the year by performing a brief magic show at the school assembly where students showed what they had learned that semester. Derek was able to display his science projects, chemistry projects, astronomy projects, and other things he had accomplished, as well as perform his magic and illusions.
By eighth grade, Derek had a helper. Barry was a class behind him but was just as much of a magic enthusiast as Derek, and the two worked well together, with Derek as the Illusionist and Barry as his trusted assistant.

For his final magic show on being promoted to ninth grade, Derek and Barry performed all of the illusions they had built that year in woodshop.
Barry pushed a tall, curtained cabinet onstage, showed it all around, lifted up all the curtains and dropped them again. Suddenly the curtains fell to the floor and Derek appeared inside the skeleton frame of the cabinet.

Barry brought him four brightly painted wooden planks. Derek showed each one and fitted the four planks into a rectangular tube. Then Derek began pulling yards of bright colorful silk handkerchiefs from the tube, aided by Barry. Derek ended by making a large rabbit appear from the tube. The rabbit was a puppet, but both Derek and Barry were so skillful in operating it, that most of the audience thought it was a live bunny. When the bunny had finished showing off the tricks it could perform, Derek put it back inside the tube and then suddenly took the tube all apart to show just the original four planks… and no bunny!

Next, Derek pretended to hypnotize Barry, who stiffened up and closed his eyes before he began lifting up from the floor so he was floating in the air. Derek passed a hula hoop down over his levitating body, and then made Barry turn horizontal so he appeared to be floating on his back as Derek passed the hoop over him and around him. That got a lot of applause.

Their final trick was when Derek made a six foot square silk handkerchief appear from his hands. Barry draped the handkerchief over Derek and it covered him completely. Suddenly Barry grabbed the handkerchief and whisked it away to show that Derek had disappeared. At the same time Derek reappeared at the door to the auditorium and shouted to let the audience know he had flown from the stage to the door. That got even more applause, and Derek came back to the stage, took Barry’s hand, and they bowed together as partners in magic and illusion.

After the show, Derek spent some time signing autographs from his growing number of magic fans, now to include those in the high school which he would be attending next year. In the line for autographs, Derek recognized Presto, the magician who had launched his magic career back in kindergarten. Now, nine years older, Presto was getting a little gray hair, but he still had the magic moves when he shuffled a deck of his own business cards and tossed one 10 feet through the air right to Derek’s hands.

“Presto!” yelled Derek. “Everyone, meet the magician who got me started when I was in kindergarten! How did I do today, Presto?”

“You have grown into a splendid magician,” said Presto. “I wrote some notes while I watched your performance, with suggestions for new magic illusions you could perform based on your growing skills as a magician.” He passed the notebook to Derek. “I brought along a friend to see your show,” he then said. “This is Avant Garde. He runs a summer camp and is looking for someone to teach magic to his campers.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garde,” said Derek. “My partner and I were planning on spending the summer building up a new magic show before I have to start high school.”

“Call me Avant,” said Avant Garde, “That won’t be a problem for us, because you could always use our woodshop to teach campers to build their own magic tricks, and work on your own projects at the same time. Your partner can also have a job as your assistant and get paid for it, too.”

Barry was standing behind Derek nodding his head up and down vigorously when he heard that it was a paying job that included him. That got a laugh from everyone and Avant gave them both some papers for their parents to sign and some information about the camp.

“Triple Zombie, here we come!” said Derek excitedly to Barry.

“What’s that about a Triple Zombie?” asked Presto.

“It’s a new magic trick based on the floating Zombie ball,” said Derek. “Barry and I have been working on making three silver Zombie balls float around my head and body with no cloth cover or anything else. Here’s a picture of me rehearsing with it that we made for using as a poster.”

“Let me know if I can help you guys out with anything,” said Presto. “That sounds like a great new magic trick no one has thought of before.”

What? Still Reading? You may want to continue reading as Jim continues to write the story of Derek and Barry while they learn to become magicians and illusionists.

Chapter 1 - The Illusionists
Chapter 2 - The Levitationists
Chapter 3 - The Escapists
Chapter 4 - The Mentalists

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2022, Imagineering Magic. All Rights Reserved.