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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2279730
And his Unacceptable Sidekick Philomena. A tale of tricks and magic.
Many jobs have 'perks', with mine I get to pick a pretty girl to saw in half on a Saturday night.

My stage name is 'Maurice the Indelible.' Why? Because my act once seen is never forgotten, and it clearly says so on the show bills. Mind you, I wrote those lines, so it would do wouldn't it?

I perform a mixture of magic and comedy, which has proved so popular that I even occasionally top the bill. Strictly speaking that's only happened in some of the more provincial theatres, but it still counts in my book. I mock my own work mercilessly, especially when the trick 'goes wrong', and I instruct the audience to 'erase that from your minds'. Every error is perfectly scripted and expected, and pretty much always gets a laugh.

The highlight of my act is sawing a young woman in half. Now if you know anything about how this is usually accomplished, then you'd know that it requires an assistant who is 'in the know'. My own 'spin' on the trick is to invite someone in the audience to take the part of assistant. I'm a good picker, even looking down from the stage and over the orchestra, I can tell a gal with a sense of fun. There's a look in their eye, and to the expert, it's unmissable.

Usually the chosen young lady enjoys the act as much as the audience. I have her walking across the stage from one half of the box I cut in half to the other. As she crosses behind a curtain of black cloth that doesn't quite conceal her passing, I will 'notice' that the crowd has in fact seen her walk across, Then I bluster and tell them to "Scrub that from your memories." Guaranteed a laugh, and Harold provides a drum sting to make the point.

That said, last Friday's appearance at the Hippodrome created lasting memories for me. First up after the interval is a good spot. The audience was nicely warmed up, and the short rest had them fired up for more. After a brief musical swirl from Wilf and his orchestra, I'd sauntered out onto the stage.

"Oh dear me." I'd said, pausing and surveying the attentive faces, "Is this the best we can muster Wilf?"

The conductor turned and smiled benignly at the crowd.

"If you were a better magician Maurice, you could magic up a half decent audience." And right on cue, Harold snapped out a drum sting. The crowd roared, and we were off and running.

Normally as I ran through my tricks I'd be scanning the front rows for a 'victim' for the finale, making a bit of a show of it.

As I first saw her, my world changed. All that I could see was her beautiful face, framed in shiny black tresses. Somehow, she was brighter than anyone else in the theatre. Those around her receded into a shadowy background. As her dark eyes locked on mine, her expression was both amused and mischievous.

My usual patter was spilling from me automatically. My words sounded halting, too loud, and somehow as if it were another Maurice entirely who was saying these things. My eyes were reluctant to leave the banquet that was her beauty.

With difficulty, I pulled away, and worked though the rest of my act. Given how distracted I felt, it was a wonder it went so well. Considering how weirdly it went, it's a miracle I wasn't carried out of the dear old Hippodrome in a straitjacket.

For example, I pulled what should have been a dove from my top hat, only 'they' were parrots, and there were four of them. They sat on my shoulders and informed the audience that they should 'scrub this from their memories', then vanished in small puffs of colourful smoke and glitter. I tried to conceal my own shock as a rose then appeared in my hand. This was not part of my act, I might make a bunch of paper flowers pop out from my wand, but this was a real rose. I threw it out to the appreciative crowd, and a blushing young man caught it and gave it to his sweetheart beside him.

Another appeared, and in succession so did five others. Each of them I threw out into the auditorium, and each was caught by someone who seemed really glad to have received it. There was no intention behind this, at least on my part, for I wasn't even looking as I threw them. My gaze was inexorably drawn to the woman, and she smiled knowingly back at me.

"Now ladies and gentleman, for my next trick I need a volunteer from among you. Don't all rush at once." Various people offered their services, but not my beauty. Undeterred, I strode across and looked down to her.

"How about you Miss? Would you help a magician in need?"

"I'd be delighted." She replied in a clear voice, as she stood and made her way across to the stairs leading up to the stage. Her emerald dress was striped with black sequins, and trimmed with jet. A black fringe hung from the hem line, above Mary Jane pumps. Everything about her was stunning.

"And what is your name Miss?" I heard myself ask, my voice betraying none of the desperation I felt to know the name of this divine creature.

"I'm Philomena," she paused, cocking her head to one side as she appraised me "the Unacceptable." That got a laugh.

"Ladies and Gentleman, the Unacceptable Philomena." I announced, taking her hand and leading her to the box. They cheered, and I think more than a few had realised that this was a young woman with a mind of her own, that this was going to be fun.

"Have you seen my act before?" I asked Philomena quietly.

"Oh yes," she promptly replied, "I've had my eye on you for a while."

I'd been about to tell her that she should follow my directions and enjoy herself, but this reply stunned me into fish gaping silence.

The cabinet that I use to saw my victims in half was in place centre stage. Gathering myself, I opened it up and invited Philomena to inspect it and pronounce that it was sound, which she did. At my bidding, she climbed into the box and lay down. Her head, arms, and legs protruded through the holes, so that it was clear she was really in the box. I leaned forwards to speak quietly to her, whereupon she winked at me and said softly,

"Don't worry, it's all going to be fine."

Again she had disconcerted me, for I'd been just about to reassure her with those very words. I am really not sure how I carried on the act, which was getting increasingly strange, but I kept finding myself saying the correct lines, and doing the right things, even when the results were unexpected. Now I was showing the audience the outsized saw I was to use, tapping it and flexing it to demonstrate it really was a big metal saw.

Of course the saw never actually goes anywhere near the volunteer assistant, but it does look as if it has, which is the whole idea of the trick. I sawed away and Philomena gazed up at me. Suddenly she went limp. There was a gasp from the crowd, but then she twisted to face them and gave a cheeky grin, which got a loud cheer and much laughter. She was playing those watching at least as well as I do, if not better.

I opened the box, lid hiding what I saw from the rest. This was where I expected to instruct Philomena to swing around and take part in the obvious trick.

The saw had gone right through her.

She smiled at me serenely.

Her voice sounded as though she was stood besides me and whispering in my ear. Numbly I obeyed her instructions, closing the lid, then pulling one half of the box away from the other. Setting the foot end a good six foot away from the head end. Philomena kicked her legs about to show she was still alive, though I had just seen her with a sharp saw passing right through her.

I turned the pieces of box around, then, still following directions, I began to move the box ends about the stage. At one point Philomena was examining the soles of her shoes and passing comments about the state of them. Our audience was enraptured, I was in a state of shock.

Pushing the two ends back together, I withdrew the saw. With Philomena's voice still guiding me, I covered the box, and her, then tapped it theatrically with my wand, (not the one with the paper flowers). Pulling back the cover I opened the box. Out stepped a beautiful young man, immaculate in top hat and tails. The reaction from the crowd was tremendous, they stamped and wolf-whistled and clapped, and clapped.

Philomena, I was somehow sure it was still her, smiled at me and said,

"Meet me in the bar later, I want to tell you about The Magic Theatre. Oh, and, well done old chap."

With that she or he, or whatever it was, left.

Word Count: 1,559 words.
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