Thursday, 10 August 2017

HouDiniVD - Flash Fiction

The illusionist clasped his hands together at his diaphragm in ham piety, as two black-clad stagehands brandished a straitjacket at him like bullfighters. His glamorous gold bikini abettor snatched his wrists and wrenched his hands apart with a flourish, as if she was performing a conjuration of her own so a dove might fly free. The two assistants strapped him into his restraints. Miss Direction then circled him with a wrap of chains, sinuously bending down to apply the keys in the padlocks. She then gave the links a yank to test their resolve, with a relish that prompted conspiratorial stage whispers in the stalls that the pair carried on the same relationship beyond the spill of the footlights. 

He ascended the steps with confined gait and pivoted one leg over the rim of the water tank. He swivelled his torso to turn and face the audience, took an exaggerated breath, before swiftly swinging his other leg and sinking to the bottom of the tank.  A lid was placed over his indoor Davy Jones Locker.

His body started to gently writhe, like the fronds on a coral reef wafting in the undertow. The chains bucked and twisted like metal seaweed on the tide. 

“They’re pumping oxygen into the tank for him!”
“How does he breathe it in without equipment then?”
“Look, you can see the bubbles!”
“You must have 40-20 vision to see that from up here in the gods”.

The PA was playing a heartbeat, perhaps they had mic’d up the illusionist in the tank. The tempo started to increase, suggestive of an urgency to the heart’s pumping. The movements from within the white canvas shroud were more spasmodic though with greater amplitude, causing a greater swell of the water. The audience began to serrate their own breathing as they watched on. 

The torso in its tethers had stopped moving. Only one the legs intermittently convulsed. The two black-clad assistants sprinted over to the tank. One scaled the steps, worked off the lid and handed it to his partner. Then he dived into the water while the other took up position on the top step. Between the two of them they levered the illusionist out of the water and manoeuvred him back down to the stage floor. The audience was hushed as they saw the water rivulets forge from the illusionist’s still body. The woman ran over and threw herself down to her knees and started mouth to mouth resuscitation. No one now dared to speculate about this being an extension of their lives beyond the theatre. 

“If he was still alive, wouldn’t he be shivering?”
“Not if he’s gone into shock maybe?”
“That’s not very convincing heart massage. This is all part of the act”.
“How can they possibly do it properly with the chains still on him?”

The water had stopped flowing from his body. There was no rising chest to impel it down inclines of his inert body. The stage curtain started shuffling across. Only one foot peeked out from under the drape, utterly, utterly still. Had they stopped working on him on the other side of the material? 

“Wow, that was something!”
“That’s what you call a real showstopper!”
“You’re joking aren’t you? I want my money back!”
“Why? He most definitely gave us a show didn’t he?”
“Gave it everything he’s got. Had”.
“Dying on stage? It’s the way to go for anyone in show business”.
“Not comedians”.
“You’re awful the lot of you. A man just died out there. For our entertainment”.
“It’s what he would have wanted”.
“It’s what his agent and publisher would have wanted at the least”.

The PA system announcement began, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to have to inform you”. The audience picked up their coats started filing out all abuzz. Too busy opining to finish their drinks or their toffees. They swarmed over the stairs as the volume rose beneath the high vaulted ceilings. They flowed into the foyer, whereupon they were confronted with the sight of the illusionist. Not two-dimensional on the giant panels on the billboards, but stood there in the flesh. Wet, shivering, shaking hands and handing out leaflets. 

“Thanks for coming tonight… Hope you enjoyed the show… Thanks you so much… Had you going for a bit there right…? Don’t forget to buy my DVD from the stall over there… Yes all my best illusions are on there… You can spend as much time as you want playing it over and over again, you won’t spot how I do the tricks… Thanks for coming out tonight…”

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