Gromet's PlazaPackaged, Encasement & Objectification Stories

At the Charity Dinner

by Vaughan

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© Copyright 2018 - Vaughan - Used by permission

Storycodes: M/f+; magic-act; stage; event; volunteers; headbox; chair; illusion; arrows; board; bench; stock; jigsaw; steel; insert; boxes; cuffs; shackles; encased; challenge; padlocks; switch; reveal; cons; X

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am your magician for the evening," the guy on the small stage announced. "Most of the evening I shall be doing small tricks for people at their tables, but if anyone wants to see or volunteer for any of the well known stage illusions or even request something that has not been seen, you will find small note pads on your tables; just write me a note and hand it to your waitress and I'll see if I can oblige. I hope to do two or three items of magic on this stage for all this evening."

The charity event was looking up; I had been dreading sitting through a night of do-gooders being awarded for things I had never heard of and second-rate comedians and singers filling the gaps. Now I had hope that my secret magic fan would at least be able to find something of interest.

The magician seemed to start at the other side of the room, visiting the bar between performances at each table. At the bar, he would have a quick word with the head barman, who would just shake his head.

On his trip to the bar between the table two tables ahead of us in his itinerary, the barman handed him a note, with a smile. Having read the note he returned to the third previous table and had a few words with large gentleman and the lady he was seated next to, before returning to the table two ahead of our's.

When that performance was complete, he strode up to the stage and disappeared briefly behind the curtain, returning moments later with a chair and a wooden box. The chair he placed centrally on the stage, but the box he positioned at the opposite side of the stage from the small set of steps that gave access to the platform.

The lights dimmed a bit and a spotlight picked out the magician. "I have had my first request." The magician said, looking at the sheet of note-paper in his hand. "The request is from Dick Archer and volunteers his wife, Jenny, as the assistant; which she has agreed to. So, please welcome the lovely Jenny Archer to my little stage."

Amid scattered clapping and a few shouts of encouragement, Jenny made her way up to the stage where the magician helped her up the steps and guided her to the chair. He asked her to get comfortable. After a bit of fidgeting and adjustment of her teal green satin dress, she said that she was ready.

"Jenny, do you know what I'm going to be doing with you?" the magician asked.

"Er, no, but when you asked if I was OK with Dick volunteering me, you said I wouldn't be harmed, so I'm OK with this, besides it for the charity and Dick did say he'd donate an extra thousand if I did it." Jenny spoke confidently into the microphone that the magician held in front of her. From the way her husband reluctantly stood and bowed to more applause, I'd guess she was one of the function's organisers or patrons and using this as an excuse to extract some more charity funds from her hubby.

"In that case, we'd better get on with it." The magician went to the wooden box and withdrew two pieces of wood. The first was a square plate about a foot on each side with a deep 'U' shaped slot. The second was a smaller piece that was wide enough to slot into the other and leave a round gap. He went behind Jenny and with a bit of fiddling placed the larger piece so that her neck was in the slot. "Would mind holding the front corners, please Jenny?" Jenny complied supporting the front corners while the magician brought round the other piece of wood and slotted it in place. He then returned to behind the chair and after some adjustments told Jenny to release the corners and put her hands in her lap. The wood stayed in place, evidently anchored to the back of the chair. Jenny was looking a little nervous, I expect she had seen the dagger head box illusion enough times to know what to expect next (I know what I was expecting).

The magician returned to the prop box and came back with a frame, which was soon placed on the wooden stock round Jenny's neck. It seemed to take little bit of positioning, because the frame did not seem to be much bigger than Jenny's head (if Jenny had had a big hairdo it would have been a big problem).

After another trip to the prop box, the magician returned without expected panels to slot into the frame, but a roll of cling film. After finding the end he began to wrap the film round the frame until it was totally wrapped on all four sides and the top. At this point we could see that Jenny's head was within the frame, but not discern any details.

"Are you OK, Jenny?" the magician asked. He then positioned the microphone to receive a slightly muffled, positive reply.

The magician returned to the prop box and picked out a hand full of bowie knives, "I would usually use these for what I'm about to do next, but in honour of Jenny being Mrs. Archer," he paused, dropping the knives back into the box with a clatter that made Jenny jump in her chair. He then reached into the box and continued, "I'm going to use these." He took a handful of arrows from container and went back to stand beside Jenny. Each arrow seemed to be 18 inches long, with a sharp triangular point and multicoloured feathers on the other end.

"Are you ready, Jenny?"

"As ready as I'll ever ... ", she did not get to finish that sentence properly, because the last word was replaced by a screech as the magician stab an arrow through the middle of the top of the box.

"How are you feeling now?"

Jenny's voice was a little unsteady, but she replied, "I'm not really sure. I feel weird. I'm not sure how I feel. It's like pins and needles in my head." Some of the audience laughed.

"I'll see what I can do to alleviate that." He then proceeded to stab another arrow through the film covered box from left to right. The head of the arrow emerged from the box as did a quieter squeak.

In quick succession two more arrows penetrated the top of the film covered frame; the only audible result was sound of the heads hitting the wood of the base. These were followed by several arrows shoved in from the left and coming out of the right. The last four arrows went through the rear of the frame and pierce the film on the front. Each of these insertions seemed to register with a twitch of Jenny's body and nothing more.

"OK, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to see what I have achieved here." He returned from the prop box with a Bowie knife and carefully cut the film from the front of the film head box. To everyone's amazement, but the surprise of few, the only contents of the box were the shafts of the arrows. Each of the arrows was removed, "so you can all get a better view", and casually tossed at the prop box; they all landed straight in the box, except one which dug into the rim of the box and was knocked in by the following arrow. It was now evident that the film box was empty and with a rapid bit of knife work, he cut the bits of cling wrap that anchored the frame of the box to the base and lift it clear. Below the base board was most of Jenny, up to her neck, with her hands folded calmly in her lap; Above there was nothing, but the magician didn't bother to make the usual sweeps through the space where Jenny's head had been, instead he peeled the remaining film from the frame and tossed it into the audience (it just so happens it landed on the table I was on).

The magician pitched the frame into the props box along with the knife he was holding. He retrieved the note from his pocket and read, "Could you make my wife stop talking for a couple of minutes." He went on, "I don't think that's quite what you were expecting, sir." As he pointed at the headless Mrs Archer. "But, you have to admit it is quite effective."

"Now to return Jenny unharmed to her 'loving' husband." He picked up the prop box and gave it a shake; there was a clatter of knives and arrows. Back behind Jenny on her chair, he inverted the box (nothing fell out) and lowered it over the base and her shoulders. When the rim of the box had nearly reached down to her elbows, he began raising the box again. Once the box rim reached shoulder height, it became obvious that the base of the head box was no longer present, but also that Jenny's head had returned.

The magician put the box down and invited Jenny to stand and take a bow with him; which she did to enthusiastic applause. Before leading her back to the steps he produced a huge bouquet of flowers as a thank you for being such a good sport and getting the ball rolling.

It was about 5 minutes after that I saw Jenny heading for the ladies' room, so I followed. I wanted a first hand account of the illusion I had just seen. I hung around while Jenny used a stall and when she came to wash her hands, I asked the question.

"What was it like having your head vanished?"

"Er," she looked at me suspiciously, "Why do you want to know?"

It was my turn to pause, "Well," I said while I gathered the thoughts behind the impulse to follow her here. "I was thinking I might volunteer for the magician to do something to me and I wanted to know if it was worth a thousand (you do realise you set a precedent there?)."

She looked at me assessingly, "You want to be the victim of a magic trick? It takes all sorts, I suppose, but I shan't discourage you, especially if you are prepared to make a donation for the chance to do it."

"So what does it feel like?"

I waited. She eventually realised I genuinely want an answer before I would commit my money to the charity and my body to the magician.

"At first I was terrified (no it wasn't the audience; I spoken to enough audiences as the charity's spokesperson), it was the unknown, but just being seated and him going about his business with that calm assurance helped calm me down. Once that stock was round my neck and my hands were folded in my lap, it felt perfectly natural, which I suppose is a bit odd. I felt myself relaxing more as he put that frame over my head. The only bit that marred that was he scraped the edge of the frame down my ear, but he did apologised. As he was using that film stuff, I suppose I ought to have been worried but I almost felt sleepy, in fact, I'm not at all sure I didn't go to sleep. I do remember a sharp tap on my head, which caused me to start." She tapped her head about where I would have guessed the arrow would have hit her if her head had been in the film wrapped box. "And now I come to think about it, there was another lighter tap here." She indicated a point on her cheek. "But after that I don't remember much at all; maybe I did go to sleep, it was certainly quite relaxing. The next thing I remember was him lifting that box off my shoulders; don't even remember the stock being removed. And before you ask I don't know where that huge bouquet was hidden. So, all in all, it was a pleasant experience, but I haven't a clue how he did it."

Jenny continued, "The people at my table told me that it looked like my head was stabbed with lots of arrows and then vanished; did it really look like that?"

"Yes, that's exactly what it looked like. If I'd known there was going to be a magician, I'd have brought my camcorder and I could have shown you."

She pondered, "Maybe he's a real magician."

I replied that I doubted it and thanked her for her time.

As I returned to my table, the magician was just leaving. I must have looked a bit disappointed, because he gave me an apologetic smile as he passed on the way to the bar to check for further notes. He must have received one as he went and had a word with a young lady at the previous table before moving on the entertain the next table on his round.

I asked what he'd done to entertain the table and was told that he had done a couple of find-the-card tricks (one of which had the card found in the purse of a lady on the other side of the table from where he had stood), a trick where he seemed to stab a large knife through my friend's jacket and one where he had linked and then separated the wedding rings of the older couple on the table.

When he had finished entertaining the table adjacent to ours, the magician went on stage and vanished back stage for a bit longer than before and returned with a prop box which he deposited where had put it before and went back out of sight, returning with three small trestles and a board. By this time there was some anticipation of what the magician might present next. He placed the trestles (which were about 18 inches high) in a row across the stage and settled the board on them, but not before I noticed a slot in the board about two and a half feet from one end (the board being a little over six feet long and a little under three feet wide)

As the lights dimmed and spotlight on the magician brightened, the noise in the room faded. "Hello again, I've had a second request, so please welcome to the stage, Angela Wells." The girl he had spoken to, got up from the table next to ours, somewhat hesitantly, and only started to make her way towards the stage, when her friends (a group of other girls of a similar age, I'd guess late teens) cheered her ( I also heard something about welching on a bet, which would not have been generally audible).

"It seems Miss Wells is a little reluctant as a volunteer. Perhaps we can make it worth her while; who would like to donate something on Miss Wells' behalf, to swell the coffers?" It took about as long to raise the donation of a thousand from various sources as it took the young lady in her little black dress (which was almost certainly silk-satin) to make her way to the stage, where the magician greeted her and helped her mount the steps.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Angela?"

The answer was a less than positive "Yes." She could hardly say "no" after the pressure of being notionally responsible for a large donation to the charity had been added to the evident peer pressure.

"Do you know what's going to happen to you, Angela? I may call you Angela?"

She nodded assent to the latter question and answered the first with, "I've volunteered to be sawn in half, but I don't see a sawing in half box."

"That's, because I left that at home. So, you'll be helping me, in fact, assisting me, with a different version, usually called 'Sawing through a lady'." Angela seemed to brighten up when she heard that the sawing in half box was not there, only to have her hopes dashed by being told what he had planned as an alternative. "If you wouldn't mind, please take your shoes off and sit on the bench."

Angela sat on the board and slipped off her shoes, exposing bare feet and waited for the next instruction. "Ok, now I would like you to put your feet up on the bench over here," he said, indicating the end of the board nearer the steps. Angela complied, while he went to the prop box and took out a slim piece of wood about three feet long, two inches wide and half an inch thick, which had a dowel peg through each end and a inch diameter round hole a couple of inches in from one end; this he gave to Angela to examine and then produced a marker from his jacket pocket so that she could write her name along it. He retrieved the marker and the wooden piece, which she had examine and signed. The marker returned to his pocket and the wood was placed on the board behind Angela with the hole away from the audience; with a small adjustment the pegs on the underside seemed to locate in some unseen holes in the board.

"I'm nearly ready for you to lie down, but could move a couple of inches this way, please." Angela shuffled an inch or so; she was now sitting directly over the middle trestle. "Hold my hands and I'll help you lie back." When she had lain back he apologised that her signed bit of wood might be digging into the small of her back. She responded that it wasn't that uncomfortable, but seemed grateful he seemed to think about her comfort. Another trip to the prop box; this one brought out an arch like stock, typical of jigsawing illusions. Along with the stock came a jigsaw with a coarse blade. The magician inserted the jigsaw into the guide on the top of the stock and run it along showing that the blade was a bit longer that the stock was deep. He then laid the jigsaw down on the board next to Angela's stockinged feet, before positioning the stock over her middle and locating it on pegs in the end of the wood that went under her back. "You are a bit slimmer than some previous volunteers, so I'll pack the gap so you don't see something nasty, like the saw ripping your dress." Matching his actions to his words, the magician got a bundle of white fabric and packed the gap between Angela's belly and the stock.

"Are you ready, Angela?"

A rather nervous Angela replied, "I think so." She seemed far from ready.

"Sadly, I'm not quite ready," he said, extracting an extension cable from the box and venturing behind the curtain to plug it in, followed by plugging the jigsaw's power lead into it. He picked up the jigsaw and said, "Now I'm ready." He gave the trigger a squeeze and the familiar noise of a jigsaw was heard, along with a startled squeak from Angela.

He stopped the jigsaw. "OK, Angela, try to keep still."

Nervously Angela asked, "What will happen if I move?"

"Well," he started, "there's a good chance that you will spoil the climax of the trick for everyone in the audience. So, please put you hands on your chest, so they're out of the way of the saw, and try to hold still."

Before she had even started to move her arms, he squeezed and locked the trigger on the jigsaw. Angela rapidly hugged her arms to her chest and went rigid, possibly with terror.

The magician began to insert the blade of the running jigsaw down the side of the stock away from the audience. When about half the blade had been inserted, Angela let out a scream and went even more rigid. He finished inserting the blade before asking what the matter was. She said she thought she had felt the blade against her side, while shouting over the noise of the still running jigsaw. He apologised, saying that he had not intended her to feel the blade so soon; this did not seem to calm the tense Angela at all, if anything it escalated her state of terror.

"Take a deep breath and hold it," he instructed in a calming tone. She took a deep breath. "And now release it, slowly." She looked slightly less frightened.

When Angela had just finish her slow exhalation, the magician started to push the jiggling saw towards the audience. I did not hear the noise the Angela made, but she also winced and again went rigid. It took about 30 seconds to slowly drive the saw from one side of the stock and Angela to the other. The magician seemed to be concentrating on moving the saw at an even speed and muttering somethinge, not audible to the audience.

Once the saw reached the other side of Angela, he switched it off and she visibly relaxed. "How was that for you?" he asked with a wink as he pulling the saw from the stock, unplugging it and returning it to his box.

"Probably the most frightening experience of my life." She sighed thinking it was over. "At least it didn't hurt."

Angela started to move as she was going to sit up, the magician said, "Please stay lying down, Angela, I want to show your friends that you really got sawn through." She lay back down, resigned to, but quite evidently worried about, what else he was going to inflict on her.

He returned to the bench with a sheet of metal and a hammer. The hammer he used to tap the metal, to assure us of its solidity, then placed it on the board by her head. The metal gave a dull thud, because it was fairly thick and the magician was holding it against his body. He took the metal sheet and rested it on top of the stock. "If I had truly sawed through Angela, I should be able to do this." He moved the metal to slot in the top of the stock and allowed it to descend through the stocks and Angela, until it was visible below the board, emerging through the slot in the board I had spotted earlier.

Angela was wide-eyed with shock and her eyes went wider when he reached under the board and jiggled the metal sheet up and down. The magician took up the hammer again and used it to tap the portion of the metal that was still above the stock. The metallic tapping was accompanied by Angela giggling, when she realised that she had giggled, she seemed to make an effort not to, but the suppressed giggle found vent as a snort.

The magician pulled the metal sheet back out of the stock. He then removed the stock and asked Angela to sit up, while he deposited the two items in the box. He came back and removed the piece of wood that had been under the Angela throughout her ordeal; it looked much the same as before, except that it now had a slot cut down its length from the hole towards, but not reaching the other end. She was asked to verify that the writing she put on the wood was still there; she did.

The magician guided Angela to once more sit on the bench with her feet on the floor, before offering his hand to help her rise to a standing position. When she had stood it became obvious that the lower half of her dress was hanging down (held up by narrow uncut section on her left). The edges of the cut in the fabric of Angela's dress were jagged and looked crudely cut (not like scissors, but more ripped). Angela gave a shriek and started to try to hold up the torn cloth (possibly afraid that it might fall off and leave her exposed).

The magician looked shocked too, possibly panicked, as if he had not expected this outcome to his magic, but he recovered quickly and started by apologising to Angela for the damage, before promising to compensate her for the cost of the dress if he could not repair it there and then. He went to his prop box and brought out a reel of brown parcel tape. Before the worried Angela could object, he had drawn the gash in the material together and wound a length of the tape round Angela's waist; he did not seem to take any care about whether the sides of the tear were positioned adjacent to the formerly connected part on the other side of the gash. Angela's horror increased as he tried the smooth the fabric and tape. "This doesn't seem to be working out. I'd better remove the tape before I cause more damage", he said (despite it being apparent that the dress was ruined any way)

He pulled the loose end of the parcel tape and there was a ripping noise. Against all expectation the dress did not return to its prior sagging condition, but now seemed pristine. The magician guided Angela in a pirouette and then a bow while encouraging us, the audience, to show our appreciation of his "brave volunteer".

Angela returned to her friends at her table a little unsteadily and the magician went back to entertaining the remaining tables. When he had done all the tables, speeches and awards began. A short while later, I spotted Angela heading for the ladies' room and followed.

Again I waited until she was washing her hands, before asking what it was like being the victim of the magician's magic. Angela looked at me as if was talking a foreign language. I quickly added, "I'm thinking of asking him to do an illusion on me, but I don't want to if hurts or something like that."

"Well," began Angela, "I'm never doing it again, not for a million." She paused. "I was terrified, but now I come to think about it, it didn't hurt at all; in fact, it felt quite nice, but I wasn't in the mental state to appreciate it. You know, it felt like a very good massage, better than my masseur ever gives me, but in the situation of being cut through by an electric saw, I was too scared to feel good about it. And when I discovered he'd cut my dress, I was caught between impulses to run and find a corner to cry in and another to knock him out. The thing with the tape stuff was embarrassing, but in hindsight also felt good physically. But my dress is fixed." She gave a twirl and the dress seemed immaculate, not a thread out of place and no sticky residue from the tape either. "I'm going to get totally drunk, at my friends' expense (they bet me that I wouldn't volunteer for some magic; I don't know who added the bit about being sawn in half to the note, but if I ever find out, she'll owe me more than just a few drinks)." A little more reflectively, she added, "I suppose I've had a unique experience and survived (although there were moments when I thought I might not). I haven't the foggiest idea of how he did any of it; perhaps he's a real magician." I shrugged. "Well, I was nice to have met you and good luck if you do decide to volunteer to have him do to something to you."

I wished Angela luck with getting drunk and the rest of her life, then returned to my table. The magician was inviting another volunteer, who it appeared had offered fifteen hundred to be levitated.

While he set up a pair of chairs and a board across their backs, and the volunteer made her way to the stage, I wrote my note to the magician.

"I challenge you to:-
Chop me up into as many pieces as you dare, OR
Run as many sharp objects through me as you dare OR
Squeeze me down as short as you dare OR
Vanish me for a short while
Please do not damage my clothes (even temporarily)
I will donate 1000, if you succeed.

I also drew a smiley next to the pseudonym. I folded the note over, addressed it to "The Magician" and dropped it, unnoticed, onto the tray of a passing waitress.

By this time the magician had introduced the new volunteer as Karen, and assisting the women with a matronly figure to sit on the board placed across the backs of the two chairs. While he assured her that he had no intention of sawing her in half, I watched the passage of my note from the tray of the unobservant waitress, via a more switched on barman to the bar manager. He had a quick look before adding the note to the other two or three tucked beside the till he used.

By the time the drama of the note had played out, the magician had Karen lying on the board and was starting to wrap her in a cloth that was on the board "for her comfort and safety". He was soon making the stereotypical hand gestures over the horizontal Karen before removing the chair that had been supporting the foot end of the board under his new volunteer. As expected, due to the fact he was a magician rather than the laws of physics, the board and Karen remained horizontal, indeed she did not seem to be aware of the change in situation until the audience rewarded the magician with a round of applause.

The Magician soon had removed the board from below Karen, eliciting another round of applause. Karen now seemed to resting in the air wrapped in a red cloth that held her arms at her sides, with the only apparent support being the chair back upon which her shoulders rested. More applause as the magician reached behind the curtain to retrieve a large hoop, which he passed along Karen's horizontal length then down the chair supporting her, until it rested on the floor.

I expected him to pick up the hoop and thread it back over Karen, but instead he tilted the chair and Karen and nudged the ring with his foot, so that it passed under the lifted legs of the chair. He then tilted the chair under Karen the other way, before kicking the ring free of the chair legs. Once the chair was set back on all four feet, he bent down and picked up the hoop which he casually rolled into the wings.

With a bit of fiddling he returned the board and the other chair to their former positions below Karen, then unwrapped her. As he assisted her to dismount the board, he called for the audience's appreciation of Karen's generosity in volunteering.

He also announced that his next illusion would be the last of the evening, so it was the last chance for any ladies to volunteer.

He continued to do the rounds of the tables, while I kept an eye on Karen, looking for a chance to speak to her. The chance soon arrived as she passed our table on the way to the exit. I quickly rose and walk alongside her.

"That was a nice bit of magic he conjured up for you. It looked good to me; how was it for you?" I asked.

"I thought it went OK. I'm glad it was as tame as I'd hoped." She replied.

"Sorry, what was that?"

"I said I would donate the extra 500 if the magic didn't come with a twist, because I was nervous enough without worrying what else would happen to me," she admitted.

"So, how did it feel? I'm hoping to be picked for the last illusion."

"Actually it was quite comfortable; that blanket he wrapped over me seemed to be padded underneath. The only truly worrying moment was when he tipped the chair; I want to put out my arms for stability, but I couldn't because they were inside the cloth."

"Thank you Karen. I feel so much better about volunteering now," I said as we parted; me to return to the table to await the final illusion and her to meet a man, probably her husband, who was waving from outside the entrance of the hall.

As I returned to my place at the table, they were showing a video of the charity's successes over the past year. I spotted the magician at the bar looking through four or five notes that the bar manager had accumulated. He surveyed the room and pocketed one and selected another one and strolled off in the opposite direction to talk to a woman in her mid-twenties.

Once the video had finished, the magician mounted the stage and began to assemble the equipment for the final illusion. He brought out two low tables, a pair of box frames, each about three feet in each direction, two sets of panels, one blue, the other red, and finally a box and the extension lead he had used during the sawing of Angela.

After a few minutes spent behind the curtain, the magician returned to the microphone.

"Sadly this is my last illusion for you this evening, so please give a hand to Monica and her friend Keisha. Monica has donated a thousand to take part and a further five hundred for Keisha to be involved."

The blonde woman I had noticed the magician speaking to stood up smiling and took the hand of an obviously more reluctant black woman with straight black hair. As they arrived at the stage, I saw that they were dress similarly in nicely cut trouser suits; Monica's was navy blue and Keisha's was ivory, both a contrast to their skin colour.

"Welcome to the stage, ladies. Ladies and gentlemen, your appreciation for my two brave volunteers, Monica," he said, indicating the blonde, who seemed ok with being there, "and Keisha!" he said as he directing our attention her friend, who was distinctly unsettled to find herself on stage. As an audience we provided what encouragement we could in the form of applause.

He turned to his volunteers and said, "What I have planned is an escape illusion. You each will be escaping from one of these boxes." He said picking up one of the light but rigid cubic frames. "These will be on the tables, so that our audience know that I can not sneak you out of the bottom, through a concealed trapdoor in this solidly constructed stage." He placed the frame in his hand on the table to our right, then put the other frame on the other table on the left of the stage.

"Of course, that is not much of a challenge, so I am going to put sides and a lid on these boxes." He picked a padlock from the box and a red panel. He then slid the panel down the back of the frame to our right and attached the padlock, thus securing it to the frame. This was repeated until both boxes had a back and two sides; red on our right and blue on our left.

"As you are our volunteer, Monica, please choose a box; Red or Blue."

"Red, I think," said Monica, beginning to show some of the nervousness that was more evident in Keisha.

"Good choice," complimented the magician, while implying to the audience that the choice would ultimately make no difference. "But no escape would be complete without some bonds, but before we get to that would you mind taking your jackets off.

While the young ladies removed their jackets, he went to the prop box that was still at the far end of the stage and pulled out a hat stand, which was too tall to have been stowed in the box. He placed this behind the prop box and accepted the two jackets, which he hung on the stand. Monica and Keisha looked quite sexy and vulnerable in their satiny spaghetti-strapped tops; they had definitely coordinated their outfits, because Monica's was ivory and Keisha's was navy blue.

The magician went to the smaller box and pulled out two pairs of handcuffs, "It's time to make this a more serious challenge." He went over to Monica and swiftly snapped one pair of cuffs onto her wrists. She looked mildly concerned, as if she had not anticipated this turn of events. "And what better challenge than a race?" he asked, as he turned to Keisha and snapped the second pair on to her wrists. Keisha looked alarmed. Both tested their bonds as if they could not quite believe. They seemed secure.

"Time to sit in your respective boxes, please." As they sat in the open fronts of the boxes, Monica in the red one, Keisha in the blue, the magician went to the box and extracted another two sets of cuffs. Both women looked shocked as these were attached to their shins just above their ankles.

As he returned to the small prop box, he said, "Please shuffle back in the boxes, so that you are completely inside the boxes." As they both complied, looking even less enthusiastic than before, he picked out two padlocks that consisted of separate hasps and bodies. Going first to Monica, he threaded the hasp through a couple holes in the table, so that the chain between her ankles was under the hasp, effectively locking her to the table once the body of the padlock clicked into place. Keisha was treated to the same procedure.

The magician attached the front panels to the boxes, showing that they had a four inch hole in the centre. Unlike the back and sides these panels were hinged to the base of the frame; he left them hinged down for the moment.

"OK, Ladies?" He paused, but did not get any response. "I'm going to tell you what you need to do." Another pause, "In a moment I will be placing bags over your heads; this will make little difference, because it will be dark in the boxes once I have closed them up. I shall close the fronts and put a lid on each box. Then when you are both ready I shall start the race. If you were magicians I might expect you to get out unaided, but because you are volunteers, I shall provide some assistance. I will be hanging the keys you need in front of the hole in the front of the box; they are tied to a ribbon so that when you pull a key into the box, the next drops into place."

He paused again to let the seriousness of the instructions sink in. "This is what you have to do." Another pause, to make sure he had their attention. "First, when I say 'Go' reach through the hole and grab the first key and use it to release the handcuffs. Second, once your hands are free, grab the next key and release your leg cuffs. Then you will need to turn in the box, so you can grab the third key and reach out to unlock the padlock holding the front of the box in place. The first one out of the box is the winner. Is that clear?"

Monica was the first to answer, "Yes, I've got it. Get the key, undo the handcuffs, get the next key, and undo the leg-irons, and use the third key to undo the padlock holding the front and get out of the box."

"Exactly, apart from being a bit cramped and blindfolded, it's that simple." He turned to Keisha, "are you ok with the instructions?"

Keisha took a moment before replying. "Yes, it seems straight-forward enough, but where's the twist? Every trick you've done had a twist. So what's the twist with this?"

"I'm glad you asked." The curtain at the back of the stage opened; what it revealed caused many to gasp. "You, Keisha, will be racing against Monica, but Monica, who volunteered both of you, will be racing against time."

He went back to the device that had stood behind the curtains and wheeled it forward to where Monica and Keisha could see it.

While they were taking in the machine, the magician plugged it into the extension cable.

The object that transfixed and shocked all that saw it was a pair of eight foot vertical tracks on a wheeled base. On a side of the track was a display which showed a bright '200', below which two buttons, one red and one green. The terrifying part was the bed of downward pointing three foot long spikes. As he manoeuvred this thing behind Monica's red box, he explained, "Once I have got the race started, I shall press this green button and the timer will countdown from the preset two hundred seconds. If something goes wrong, such as one of you drops a key outside the box. I shall press the red button to stop the timer, and once the problem is rectified, I shall press the green button again to restart the countdown." He stopped speaking for a short time while he locked the device to box trapping Monica, so that the spikes hung menacingly over her; for the first time, she more nervous than Keisha.

"In case anyone is in any doubt what happens if the timer reaches zero, the spikes drop. It occurs to me that you might think that 200 seconds is not enough time to escape, but I can do it without keys in less than thirty seconds and with keys in less than twenty. So Monica has about ten times the time required."

"Time for the final preparations. Monica, Keisha, may I suggest you try doing some slow deep breathing to calm yourselves. And good luck."

The magician fetched two black drawstring bags, putting the first over Monica's head and the second over Keisha's. In each case he drew the string tight enough that it was not going to come off and quickly knotted it. Next came the box lids each had an array of holes in; these were clipped to the tops of the boxes. Finally the fronts of the boxes were raised and padlock put in place. Before he closed this last padlock he added the ribbon complete the keys needed for the escape, so that it was held in place, hanging from this final padlock.

In a clear voice he asked, "Monica, are you ready?"

He held microphone to the hole in the front of the red box and we heard a muffled Monica say, "I think so. How did I get myself into this?"

"Keisha, are you ready?"

The reply, relayed by the microphone held to the hole in the blue box, was, "Ready as I'll ever be."

He stood between the boxes announce, "Begin on the count of three! One... Two... Three... Go!"

On that final word, hands shot out of the fronts of the boxes. In both cases the keys were knocked out of the way by the hands which spend several seconds grasping for the swinging keys. The magician took two steps backward and pressed the green button. The display brightened and as the figures changed from 200 to 199 there was an electronic beep. The beeps continued as the numbers shrunk.

At 195 both had captured their first key and pulled them into their respective boxes and as promised some knot undid and the next key swung into place outside the hole.

Shortly after that, at about 185, a swear word was heard from the blue box. The magician approached the box and asked, "Are you alright, Keisha?"

"I dropped the b***** key," came the reply.

"Pick it up and carry on!" he advised, "There's nothing preventing you from escaping."

The clock had beeped its way down to 150; the magician went to the red box and asked Monica, "How's it going in there?"

"I've nearly got my cuffs off. It's not as easy as I thought. Still plenty of time though?"

As the countdown hit 140, there was a clatter from Monica's box as handcuffs dropped off her wrists and two seconds later a white hand reached more cautiously through the front of the box to snag the second key. Unfortunately, not quite cautiously enough so Monica's hand drew the second key inside at the 130 mark, causing the third key to fall into position.

A further ten seconds later, a black hand emerged from the blue box and caught hold of Keisha's second key immediately.

Bumping noises emanated from both boxes as their occupants tried to access their ankles in the cramped boxes.

The timer ticked down through 100... 90... 80... 70... 60... with no further visible activity from either box. As the numbers displayed on the timer diminished, the tension in the room increased.

At fifty-six seconds, a whoop was heard from the red box and by fifty, a white hand had captured Monica's third key. Shortly, there were thumps as Monica repositioned herself to reach through the hole to undo the final lock. At forty seconds, Monica's arm emerged, key in hand, to unlock the final obstacle between her and freedom.

It seemed to take her over fifteen seconds to locate the lock hanging directly above the hole through which her arm extended; and when she did she knocked it so it swung. She soon realised the problem and hold her hand to stop it swinging.

Meanwhile, at Keisha's blue box, as the timer dropped to fifteen seconds, a black hand popped through the hole and snagged the last key. As she began to position herself the clock hit single figures.

9... Monica had stopped the swinging of the padlock.

8... The key was repositioned in her hand point straight up.

7... The key made contact with the lock. For a fraction of a moment it looked like the padlock might be set swinging again, but the key had made sufficient contact to prevent this.

6... The key was being inserted into the final lock.

5... The key was firmly in place and the hand changed its grip ready to turn it.

4... The hand turned the key, which turned the padlock in the loop from which it hung.

3... The hand continued to turn the key until the lock could twist no further.

2... The key twisted in the lock and with a click the padlock came open.

1... The hand took hold of the padlock ready to unhook it from the loop, thus releasing the front of the box.

0... The hand was struggling to detach the open padlock. There was a long loud beep from the timer.

There was a shattering rush of noise as the spikes dropped to and through the lid of the red box. There were also many screams from the spectators.

The next second, the sides and front fell from the red box; showing the spike penetrated interior of the box. Missing from this scene of destruction was Monica.

After the shock of the descent of the rack of spikes and the collapse of the box, it seemed to take most people several seconds to process the absence of Monica, but they were soon applauding her vanishment. I was already looking round at the possible doors around the room where she could make her reappearance from.

The magician stepped forward and raised the microphone. The crowd went quiet.

"I guess Monica is safe, where-ever she is, so I had better let Keisha out of her box."

He walked round the blue box unlocking and unhooking the padlocks that held it together. He stood behind the box and lifted the lid. Instantly, all the sides fell off, and inside were both Monica and Keisha in a handcuffed and leg cuffed embrace.

While we went wild with our adulation, the magician lifted the frame that contained the friends, removed the bags from their heads and unlocked all the cuffs that held their arms and legs around each other.

Monica and Keisha disentangled themselves and stood up; while the magician went to the hat stand the retrieve their jackets. He went to hand the blue jacket back to Monica and the ivory one to Keisha, but then he did such a huge fake double take that a blind man would have had difficulty missing it.

With our attention drawn back to two volunteers, we immediately noticed that Monica was now in a blue top above ivory trousers and Keisha wore the ivory top and navy blue trousers. At this instant they also noticed their clothes had been switched; and showed evident surprise that in the midst of the drama they had participated in, this had occurred.

The magician switched the jackets round and handed the ladies the one that matched their trousers, which they put on as if it was common for them to swap clothes (I suspect it was, but not so publicly).

"Ladies and gentlemen, the wonderful Monica and Keisha." The applause increased in volume. "I would like to thank all my superb volunteers this evening and you all for being such a marvellous and generous audience."

He went backstage, while Jenny Archer came to the stage and thanked us all for attending and giving to the cause.

I finished my drink and looked for the friend who had brought me to the event. I could not see her, so I made a move towards the exit, expecting that I would meet her at there.

As I took my first step a restraining hand took hold of my wrist and a gentle male voice asked, "Where are you going, Smiler?"

"I'm going to find my lift home." I stated. Then it hit me that he had addressed my as 'Smiler'.

I turned to look at the man who still held my wrist.

The magician stood there and smiled. "Your friend, Linda, has already left, because I told her I would make sure you got home safely. That's one of the really nice things about being a magician; we are the most trusted liars in the world."

I just looked at him, he was handsome in an understated way, but was I going to trust a handsome stranger?

He sensed my doubt and let go of my wrist. "My name is Jack. What do you call yourself, when you are not calling yourself 'Smiler'?"

I smiled. "My name is Abigail, but my friends call me Abi."

"May I call you Abi?"

"That depends on why you sent my lift home off without me."

"It's because I can't resist a challenge," he said.

"A challenge?" I asked puzzled. Then it came back to me; the note I had written volunteering.

He reached into his pocket and flashed the note at me, confirming my realisation.

"I hope you aren't expecting me to donate."

"No, not at all. I have already donated four thousand hoping you will be up for the challenge too."

I looked at him and smiled. "Does this chat up line work often?"

"I don't know; I've never tried it before. But I am offering to take you to my place and perform magic with you." He hesitated and smiled, "There is one slight catch."

I raised an eyebrow.

"The catch is that it'll take me nearly half an hour to load my stuff into my van, so there will be some hanging about, unless you'd like to help."

"Well, I'm not exactly dressed for heavy lifting, lead on and see what help I can give."

He turned a threaded a path between the mostly abandoned tables; I followed hoping a good evening would lead to a good night.

to be continued...

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