The Trick – a short story for English reading comprehension

This is a little tale about a magic trick that turns out to be a con.

I think most English students of Intermediate level should be able to read this and follow the story.

I wrote this to help teachers and students. Teachers can use it as part of a reading lesson plan. And students can use it alone when practising their reading skills in English.

I would really like to know what you think of it—so please tell me in the comments below!



The Trick


It was a quiet day in Tom’s Toy Shop.

Tom sat on a stool behind the counter. He was going through all the sales for the last month. Things were not looking good.

He had promised his wife that it would work out. Since being made redundant he had put all of his time and their savings into the shop.

It will work, he told his wife. Please believe me.

And she did. She always believed him.

After the first few weeks, the number of customers dwindled down. Now he was lucky if anyone came in at all. He had no idea what to do.

Tom tapped at more keys on the computer. He took a sip of the near-cold coffee and let out a long sigh. This was hopeless.

Lost in deep thought, the bell above the door pinged and brought him back to the present.

A man came into the shop. He was dressed all in black. A large felt hat on his head and a pair of tinted glasses.

The man raised his hat in an old-fashioned style. The way people would greet each other many years ago.

“Good day to you, sir,” said the man. “My name is Orloff. May I come in?”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, sure. Come in, take a look around.”

One look at this man and the way he had greeted Tom and he knew he was not a customer.

The man approached Tom at the counter. He had a broad smile on his face. “You seem like a very busy man,” he said. “I hope I am not troubling you.”

Tom shook his head. “No, no trouble.” He closed the lid of his laptop and returned a smile to the man.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?” he said.

The man raised a palm. “I am not looking. I am here to offer you something.”

Tom’s stomach tightened a little. A salesman. Just what he needed.

“I’m very sorry, Mr Arkov…”

The man smiled back at Tom and shook his head. “No, please don’t worry. I am not here to give you trouble.”

“It’s just that I’ve recently restocked and I’m not looking…”

The man put his hand inside his coat pocket and produced a pack of cards. With one deft movement, he pulled the cards from the box and began to shuffle them. His hands moved with great speed, the cards flew from one hand to another, a blur of flashing white and blue.

“I want to show you these cards,” said the man. He had a heavy accent. Tom could not place it. Eastern-European? And his mannerisms and gestures — they were like something from long ago.

He continued shuffling the cards. He flicked them through his fingers, fanned them out before closing them again and flashing the cards from one hand to another.

“Tell me,” the man said. “May I know your name?”

Tom moved his mouth, unaccustomed to being asked who he was in such a respectful manner. “Tom. My name is Tom.”

“Tom,” said the man. “It is a good name. Tell me, Tom. Do you like card tricks?”

Without waiting for a reply, the man fanned the cards out.

“Pick one,” he whispered.

Tom took one.

The man raised a hand. “Don’t tell me the card. Now put it back.”

Tom did as he was told.

The man shuffled the cards again, this time at lightning speed. Then he started to go through all the cards one by one, like a child, picking one off the top of the pack then placing it on the counter.

“Is it this one?” he said at each card.

Tom shook his head, apologetically each time.

The man continued and each time he was wrong. Finally, he stopped.

“Oh well,” he said. “I think I have forgotten how to do this trick.” He pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped his face. “I think I am too old.”

He nodded to the shelf behind Tom. “What is that?”

Tom turned and there on the shelf, balanced between two action figures collecting dust, was Tom’s card. He snatched it from the shelf.

“How did you…”

The man smiled again and shook his head.

“Never ask a magician how he does his tricks,” he said.

Tom gazed at the card. Back at the man. He had never seen such a thing before. On TV of course. That was all special effects. But this. Right under his nose.

“That’s incredible,” said Tom.

The man pulled a few packs of cards from his bag. “I am selling some of these special cards,” said the man. “Good price. If you want.”

“I don’t know,” said Tom. “I have some cards already in stock…”

“Just a little,” said the man. “I give you a good price.”

Tom stared back at him. He felt sorry for the old man, wandering from shop to shop. Performing tricks that could easily be explained. There was a perfectly good reason why that card was on the shelf.

“How much are your cards?” Tom asked him.

The man told him a price. They were cheap. Next to nothing.

Tom thought about it. He could pay the man for two packs of cards, maybe three, then get rid of him. He needed to figure out what to do to get real customers in the shop.

“Hang on then,” he said. “I’ll take three packs of cards.”

He opened the till and pulled out some money, handed it over to the man. The man passed three packs of cards to Tom.

“Tell your customers,” he said. “You met the Great Ordov.”

Then he tipped his hat at Tom and left.

Tom smiled to himself. A magician. Such nonsense. No such thing.

He spent the rest of the day going through the sales, the things he had spent money on. All the incomings and outgoings. None of it added up to what he wanted.

Time drifted by and Tom’s stomach complained to him. It was lunchtime. The sandwich shop down the road beckoned.

Tom grabbed his jacket and pulled it one. He opened the till to take some money for his lunch but he could not believe his eyes.

The till was empty. Every last note and coin gone.



Reading Comprehension


What is Tom doing at the beginning of the story?

What does it mean—things were not looking good?

How much money has Tom invested in the shop?

Does he have many customers?

Describe the man who comes into the shop.

What does he bring out of his pocket?

What does he do with the object from his pocket?

What does the man show Tom?

Where was Tom’s card? How did it get there?

How did Tom pay for the packs of cards?

What is the man’s name?

What does Tom want for lunch?

What did he find to his surprise?





Go through all the story and find any new or difficult words and phrases.

Look these words and phrases up in your dictionary and make a note of them in your vocabulary notebook.

Write down the meaning of all the words and phrases.

Now try to use these words and phrases in sentences of your own.



Discussion Questions


Who is the man do you think?

Is he a real magician? Or just a con- man?

How did he get the card on to the shelf do you think?

Why is the till empty?

Was the man really from an Eastern-European country as Tom imagined? Where do you think he was from?

Do you believe in magic? why/why not?

If you met this man in real life, what would you think of him?

Why was he dressed the way he was? Was this part of the trick?

What do you think Tom did next in the story?

What would he tell his wife? How do you think she would react?

Do you think the police are looking for him? Will they catch him? why/why not?

Have you heard of any clever tricks like this in your own country?



Did you enjoy this short story? Was it helpful in your English class or self-study?

Please tell me in the comments below!


Join my mailing list and I will send you this complete lesson plan and others for free – ManWrites Mailing List

Or if you prefer, you can buy it here – The Trick/gumroad

4 thoughts on “The Trick – a short story for English reading comprehension”

  1. It is refreshing to get stories showing personalities and real life problems. It makes a more interesting reading than a boring impersonal textbook passage. This story was sad and leaves the reader wondering what would happen to Tom.

    1. You can do it! All the answers are in the story… a big thank you to your lecturer for using the story in class!

Leave a Reply