Written by Michael Lagace, based on Alice Mattison’s “Two People Come Out Of A Building” writing exercise.

On a dreary September morning, two men in long, warm coats stepped out of Majestics, the country’s most renowned supplier of authentic magic, and into the swirling fog littering the street. Arthur, the taller of the two, with narrow glasses and a wide, well-kept moustache, asked his friend if he’d found anything interesting during their outing.

Mr. Starweather, who preferred to be called by his stage name at all times, reached into his shopping bag and pulled out a small box. It was plain and ordinary-looking; larger than a single di but smaller than two, with six sides all sparkling a peculiar blue.

“And what is that, exactly?” asked Arthur. He was very curious and poor at concealing it.

Mr. Starweather held the box up in his open palm. “This,” he said, “is a Sparrow Cube.”

“A Sparrow Cube, really? I expected it would be larger.”

“No, this is the precise size, shape, and colour of a Sparrow Cube, because this, old friend, is a Sparrow Cube. I ought to know, I’ve seen one before.”

“Have you really?”

“Well, sort of. It was described to me very well.”

“How much did it cost, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Actually, I do mind you asking, Arthur.” Mr. Starweather gave his friend a familiar stern look and Arthur pressed no further. He knew Mr. Starweather could be stubborn and temperamental, so, instead, Arthur asked him for a demonstration. At first, Mr. Starweather relented because he preferred to be sure he knew exactly how to use something before showing it to anyone. However, Mr. Starweather himself was becoming too curious to wait.

He closed his hand around the cube, shut his eyes, and concentrated like he was reciting a complicated series of instructions over and over in his mind. When he opened his hand, the top panel of the cube was missing and through it squeezed a little bird several sizes larger than the cube itself, chirping at the light like it had never seen before. It stood on the edge of the box , remembered it could fly, and then did. It flew into the air above them, circling them wildly and out of reach. Its chirp was shrill and irritating. Mr. Starweather closed his hand around the box again, and when he opened it, the box was sealed.

“Amazing!” Arthur exclaimed. “How is that done, then? Mirrors? Marionette? Something up your sleeve, maybe?”

“No tricks, my friend! Magic, authentic magic!” Mr. Starweather beamed, boasting over his purchase with a sharp, curling grin. His hair was short and neat, he was clean-shaven and had no wrinkles, but still couldn’t hide that he was clearly several years older than Arthur.

“Tell me how that trick was done. I must know!”

Mr. Starweather laughed and put the cube back in his bag, then had to shoo the sparrow away as it began to fly closer, trying to land on his head.

“Oh, you’ll never believe what I bought,” Arthur said after realizing that he wasn’t going to be asked. “A Tracing Glass.”

“A Tracing Glass? I’ve never even heard of that,” Mr. Starweather said. He had heard of a Tracing Glass before. “And what does it do? Nothing special, I wouldn’t imagine.”

Arthur took the case out of his shopping bag. Inside it was a perfectly circular piece of polished glass held in a sturdy black frame and looked an awful lot like a magnifying glass without a handle. (And without the magnifying.) Arthur held it out away from both of them, between his thumb and finger. He flicked it with another finger and it spun very quickly, until suddenly it stopped right in front of Mr. Starweather’s face. Mr. Starweather stared through the glass and watched it do nothing for a few seconds until Arthur gave the glass one half turn, and out of the air across from him appeared a perfect copy of Mr. Starweather, as living and breathing as the first! Mr. Starweather stepped back in surprise while the other laughed and enjoyed the clever trick. Arthur turned the Tracing Glass back around, and the laughing stopped and the second Mr. Starweather disappeared.

“Amazing!” Mr. Starweather exclaimed. “Is that done with a marionette? A double? Twins?” He scrambled to think, scratching his chin with his white gloves. “Do I have a twin?”

Arthur chuckled and told him that there was no trick, that this, too, was authentic magic. He put the case back in his shopping bag, and the two gentlemen walked down the street together, with a sparrow flying around them wildly. Mr. Starweather asked his friend what he’d use his Tracing Glass for.

“I’ll make a copy of myself. It would be nice to have someone around the house to cook and clean.” Arthur grinned. “What do you think you’ll use your Sparrow Cube for?”

“I’ve no idea. I’ve always hated birds,” Mr. Starweather replied, wondering how he was ever going to get the sparrow back in the cube.

They walked home through the swirling morning fog, perfectly in stride like an unspoken challenge, carrying their shopping bags full of magic and all the while never revealing their secret. It is, after all, authentic magic.