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…Sid could no longer drive, and even with his weakness for the supernatural Arlan loved his grandfather. But that wasn’t why he’d willingly positioned himself to accompany Sid to the seance that night, supporting something as illogical and impossible as communing with the dead. Arlan’s predilection for gambling on matters of wit and knowledge had got the better of him, and just as Sid said—Sid who’d long been trying to cure Arlan of his blind reliance on the corporeal—a bet’s a bet.

So in one corner was Sid—who proudly called himself a spiritualist, even listing that as his religion on a recent hospital visit, much to the colonel’s embarrassment—and in the other, Arlan—who was an Episcopal in name only (even joking that it was Catholic-light) and believed strictly in what could be perceived with the physical senses. Either Sid would prove to his grandson that the physical was often mere illusion, or Arlan would forever remain close-minded (Sid’s words) and his grandfather would never mention magic to him again.

But magic is our real history Arlan, Sid told him the day of the bet. It is more ancient that even the most entrenched religious systems, which have long admitted the existence of spirits. My own study of early ecclesiastical literature reveals accounts of plain psychic manifestations. Even the Bible there are demonic possessions, prophetic visions, spirits returning to warn of impending death and betrayal, and myriad angelic visitations—think of the many miracles Moses alone performed! Even in contemporary times I entreat you to think of Joan of Arc, the talismans worn by clergy and heathen alike, saintly—

When Arlan interrupted, insisting that they too were simply charlatans who preyed on the desperate, then puffed on his pipe and rattled the stem on his teeth with a sort of glee, Sid held his breath for a good pause, then continued undeterred.

Consider this then: think of the most conservative, uptight Englishman you know, and even he—or someone like him—would have no hesitation speaking of a ghost in the upstairs bedroom of his manor house, believing it to be completely real. At funerals, priests and mourners equally talk of the deceased hovering nearby to comfort those who live on—yet you still reject the very idea of spirits? Faith, philosophy, and even psychical research are based on the sincere belief in the veridical evidence that physical death is but the gateway to continued life.

It’s as impossible as perpetual motion, said Arlan his smirk disappearing. We are our minds and our bodies. When they die, we die, and that’s that. Puff puff.

Yes and we were once convinced the world was flat, said Sid. Allowing for the existence of life after death makes our time on earth richer than you give it credit for. One who loves life as much as you do should think about how much you are missing.

Rattle, rattle, went the pipe, and Arlan stood to leave.

And thus Sid proposed the bet, knowing it to be a sure way of regaining his grandson’s attention, and Arlan joined in with the terms. If he couldn’t convince his own grandson to open his mind to the possibilities of a world beyond the physical then his illusions, meant in part to reconcile the physical and the psychical, were truly for naught.

After all, a magician wants to amaze, yes, but his tricks do not invent something from nothing. No, like the writer’s stories, they instead reveal something that may not have before been visible, but was nonetheless present all along.

[Excerpt from “The True Believer,” a short story, © Christine Thomas]

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