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The Vanishing Girl

Michael Banker writes from Queens, NY. This is his second story published in Daily Science Fiction. More of his stories have recently appeared in Albedo One, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Flash Fiction Online.

There's something about the Vanishing Girl.
I watch her from the Presto Portraits booth of the county fair. A man in a cowboy hat is painting my portrait with punchy, animated strokes; if he's not finished in six minutes, the portrait's free. He tells me to angle my head left, and that's when I see her. The Vanishing Girl, her sign proclaims her. I allow myself to stare. After all, I'm posing for a picture; I can't look away.
The girl leans drearily forward, sucking on a strand of muddy red hair. Give me something of yours, her sign reads, and I'll make it vanish before your eyes! No tricks, just magic. Only two dollars. But one look into her flat hazel eyes and I have a hard time imagining her mustering the energy to paint the bright red letters of that sign.
As I watch, a customer approaches, corralling her young son beside her. "Oh look, Patrick, magic! This should be fun. What should we give the lady?"
The boy shrugs up to his ears.
"Well, let's see..." the woman reaches into her purse and pulls out a pair of blue-handled scissors. "I can get these back at the end, right dear?"
The Vanishing Girl's eyes widen slightly, as though she doesn't understand the question. "No," she breathes. "I can only vanish."
The woman seems to consider arguing but then sighs and produces two dollars. "Well, here we go then. Patrick, can you see?" She bends down to pick up her son just as the girl reaches out her left hand and touches the scissors.
They disappear.
The woman didn't see it. She thinks she was duped and complains loudly. The girl merely looks at her like she's a troll spouting toads instead of words.
I saw it, though.
I'm distracted by my cowboy-hat-guy telling me my portrait is done, and with twenty seconds to spare. I thank him, making pleased sounds about his work, and find a new vantage to watch the girl.
She's already got two new customers. This time, they both see the plastic cup vanish, as though it never existed. But while they watch the cup, I watch the girl, noticing mostly a lack of things: no pride, no guile, not even boredom colors her face. Perhaps a trace of agitation. She's like a rabbit in a wolf's den, trying not to smell delicious. With her left hand, the apparently magical one, she vanishes pens and sticks and a sock too torn to mend. Her customers leave blinking, equally impressed and discomfited. With her right hand, she makes their money disappear as well.
The girl glances my way, worry lines wrinkling her brow. I'm actually excited she notices me and think about giving her something to vanish myself.
But a dog barks, making us both jump. A little Jack Russell, unleashed, vigorously wagging its tail at her feet. The girl jerks out her left hand and touches it.
It disappears.
I gape. Where there was a dog a moment ago, now there's none. It happened so fast, I don't think anyone else noticed; its single bark still hangs in the air. The Vanishing Girl's eyes meet mine once more, then slide away. She settles back into her slouch, waiting for the next ordeal of the day.
I stumble forward, not sure I believe what just happened. Her depthless eyes almost convince me--there couldn't possibly have been a dog there a moment ago. Who is this girl, who is so beleaguered that she must vanish the world around her, piece by piece? Did her hand inspire her attitude, or was her ability born of some deep-rooted trauma? I find I want to rescue her, and yet am not sure that she is capable of being rescued.
I realize that her wraithlike voice is directed at me. I'm just another trial to her, and a particularly stubborn one at that. All illusions of helping this creature vanish, leaving only a craving to understand.
"What do you want from me?" Her voice shudders as though she could cry. As though this is all too much to handle. Why won't I just give her two dollars and let her vanish something so I can go away?
If she seemed to be lacking in expression before, the fear that she radiates now is decidedly human. What force on this Earth made you this way, I wonder. My heart is pounding, as though I've witnessed something intimate in her watery hazel eyes. I try to pull myself away, to end this unintentional torment that I am causing her, but first I need... something. A human connection, an assurance that she hasn't already jumped off the cliff, falling before my very eyes just waiting to hit bottom.
I compose myself, make a conscious decision. I'll only do something small, something she's probably not used to: I smile. Genuine, unaffected. Nothing like a smile to coax out a smile.
Instead, she reaches out her left hand and touches my cheek.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Author Comments

This story originated at the Codex Forum's annual "Weekend Warrior" contest, where the participants are challenged to write a prompted flash fiction story every weekend for 5 weeks. The prompt that inspired this story was: "You're starting a new magical business. What is it?" Whenever I get a prompt I love to twist it and run in unusual directions with it. I started to get excited about this one when I realized that the magical business was a window into this character's psychology. She is the worst showman imaginable, but the viewpoint character is captivated by her. For me, the story is about trying to understand her from afar.

- Michael T. Banker
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