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Rated: E · Other · Horror/Scary · #1857095
Master magicians around the turn of the century (1900 AD) Some secrets can be deadly.
Trade Secrets

By Christian Powers

It looked like a simple butcher knife.

Jon plucked it off the table and examined it, looking for triggers, pins, hinges or any abnormal signs of wear. Some magician's props were complicated little devices, but his ability to spot their most intricate workings was honed by years of experience.

He shot a glance toward Samuel Houseman. The master magician was leaning deeper into the closet. He was rummaging through his junk, tossing swords, torches, manacles and other various articles out behind him. He rummaged feverishly, griping and cursing as he tore the closet apart.

"It's in here somewhere, I tell you. Dang it all, I just... mmmf! Ow!" he cried, his whole body suddenly appearing. He looked down at his finger, shrugged and put it in his mouth. He sucked on it intensely for a moment or two, scanning the interior of the closet. Then he forgot about the wound and dove back into the clutter. His voice muffled once again, he called out, "I just saw it--not even a week ago."

A cape, several stacks of black cloth and some oversized red curtains flew out to land on top of the growing pile behind him.

Thankfully, he hadn't noticed Jon studying the knife. Compelled to discover its secret, Jon pressed the prop against the table. He applied pressure from several angles, but the knife remained rigid. It was amazingly solid, top notch construction all the way around. There was no doubt about that.

So how had Houseman plunged it through his own forehead only minutes before? How had he performed such a simplistic and impossible illusion?

The blade had disappeared in a slow deliberate fashion. That was the most incredible part. Not three feet away from him, Houseman had pushed this knife into his own forehead, let go of it and shifted his head from side to side with the handle protruding out like a rhinoceros horn. Then he had pulled it out again, just as slowly and without leaving a mark.

Jon was stunned at the time, then he was perplexed and now he was frustrated. How had the sneaky bastard done it?
"Ah! Here it is!" Houseman emerged from the closet.

Jon tossed the knife back onto the table and spun around to face his greatest competitor. He was holding a small, black marble in his hand.

"I'm sorry?" Jon said, "What is that again?"

"It's my masterpiece!" He tossed it up and snatched it out of the air, striding forward excitedly. He pulled up next to Jon at the table and paused. He squinted and tilted his head, perceiving or guessing that something wasn't quite right. His eyes darted between Jon and the knife on the table.

Jon sighed and gave him his blankest stare, trying to act bored.

"Did you figure it out?" Houseman asked. He indicated the knife with a curt nod. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He knew Jon hadn't figured out anything.

He was so damned arrogant.

Jon feigned surprise. "Oh! That," he said, dismissing the knife with a wave. "I haven't bothered trying, nothing more than a stunt really. First, tell me about this so-called...masterpiece of yours."

Houseman's eyes widened. The wild look of a stage performer or an escaped lunatic, Jon didn't know which. He guessed it was a little of both.

"This, Mr. St. Pierre," he paused dramatically, holding the marble between his forefinger and his thumb, "is what I call the Dancing Dot."

"The Dancing Dot, eh?" Jon asked. "Not a very awe inspiring name for a masterpiece, but I'm sure a better one will come along."

"Au contraire, Monsieur. It is the one illusion no man will ever duplicate." Houseman looked down at the marble in his hand and blinked. His expression of sheer delight changed to intense worry in that instant. "Wait a minute!" he said, "Come to mention it, I don't even think I can duplicate it."

He pulled the marble closer to his face and closed one eye. With the other eye bulging out and the eyebrow raised, he scrutinized the black sphere, peering deep into the orb as if trying to read some microscopic text on its surface.
"Oh, please, Houseman," Jon scoffed. "Spare me the theatrics."

Both eyes opened wide to stare at him. "Very well then," he said, letting go of the marble. He put his hands to his sides and smiled at Jon, never breaking eye contact.

The marble floated in place.

Jon felt his mouth fall open.

"Would you like to see it dance?" Houseman asked.

Something unintelligible issued from Jon's slack jaw.

"I'll take that as a yes."

The marble danced. It bounced up and down and from side to side.

Jon searched for strings, some movement from Houseman, some explanation to how this marble moved in mid air.

There was none.

"Why don't you grab it?" Houseman urged. "You know you want to."

Jon reached for the marble, but it bounced away.

Houseman laughed.

Jon clenched his teeth in anger. He stepped forward, lunging for it, but he missed it.

"You almost got it that time, Jon!" Houseman laughed again.

He chased the marble around the room, trying to snatch it up, flailing his hands and tipping over a lamp. The marble surged into ever new directions and Jon grunted with effort. He pounced at it. He thrust himself headlong across the room, clawing and snatching at it, but always missing, always just one step behind, just one inch away.

Houseman laughed and laughed.

Jon stopped. He was back where he had started, trying to catch his breath and sick of Houseman's laughter, sick of Houseman altogether.

Houseman continued to laugh at him. Jon's face grew hot, the humiliation unbearable.

The idea of Jon St. Pierre as a master magician was a joke. All of his ambition, all of his hard work and his only desire for as long as he could remember was nothing more than a farce, a flight of fancy to be laughed at by Samuel Houseman.

He realized then that his dream was crushed and his life was over. As Houseman's laughter trailed off, Jon's embarrassment turned to rage. It erupted out of him in an explosion of hate.

He grabbed the butcher knife. "I'll kill you!" he screamed.

For once, Houseman did not gloat. His expression changed to horror and his hands came up to defend himself, but Jon was too hot with anger to be stopped.

The knife plunged deep into Houseman's chest, shattering bone and cleaving flesh. A gushing spray of red sprang forth and Houseman cried in shock and pain. He cried for mercy, a mercy he would not get, a mercy Jon would not give him.
Jon plunged the knife over and over again, following the collapsing Houseman to the floor, reveling in the slaughter, full of glee at finally silencing this pompous show-off.

When his energy was spent, he stood over the corpse of the master magician, gratified, elated. He stared down breathing heavily, recovering from the frenzy. Houseman stared back up at him, eyes wide-open in a dead man's stare, the horror of his demise frozen there forever.

Then, impossibly, his dead lips moved. "How did murdering me make you feel, Jon?"
Jon dropped the butcher knife and backed away from the body. It was dead. He was dead. There was no way this corpse could have spoken, no way those lips could have moved. The puddle of blood beneath him was still spreading.
"Well, tell me. How did murdering me make you feel? My blood is on your hands."

Jon screamed, "Shut up!" He put his hands over his ears. "You're dead."

The corpse, never moving, chuckled. "I will spare you any more of this nightmare, Jon. Watch the Dancing Dot."
The marble danced into focus. Jon could not help himself. He stared at it as it danced. The dance slackened. The bouncing slowed. Then it wavered in place and vibrated to a halt.

"You are now fully conscious, Mr. St. Pierre."
As if a veil had lifted, his gaze broke away from the marble. It was held delicately between the forefinger and thumb of Samuel Houseman, a very much alive Samuel Houseman.

"I--I don't, " Jon stammered, "I don't understand."

"My illusions require complete control over a person's perception, Mr. St. Pierre. You were mesmerized. Your perception, everything you saw and heard was controlled by me."

With a sharp jerk of his arm Houseman tossed the black marble across the room, sending it hurtling back into the depths of the closet from which it came. He sneered at Jon, not a trace of his former good will and hospitality present.

"So now you know my secret, Mr. St. Pierre. I am nothing more than a hypnotist. I hope you are satisfied." Houseman picked up the butcher knife from the table where it had been sitting all along. He pointed it at him. "And now I know your secret as well, you envious, murdering scum. Please leave my home immediately." He wagged the butcher knife in the direction of the door.

Jon was dazed. He followed the master magician's command as if he were still under his hypnotic spell. Outside the door he turned and faced Houseman one last time.

"I'm so very," Jon began, faltering, "I don't know what came over...I'm just so very sorry, Mr. Houseman."

"Save it. There is no apology strong enough."

Before he fully closed the door Jon spoke up again. In his confusion he asked, "So there was never a Dancing Dot?"


"And that knife, Mr. Houseman, that knife doesn't do anything at all?"

"Actually, yes, Mr. St. Pierre, I must admit that it does." He glanced down at the butcher knife, raised an eyebrow and frowned. Looking back up, he said, "It cuts meat."

He slammed the door.

© Copyright 2012 Christian Powers (cpowers at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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