I’m an amateur magician. I’ve performed at children’s parties and done some touring. I wouldn’t class myself as an expert, but I am in the magic circle. I love to see professional magicians perform, there is nothing better than when you see a trick and you have no idea how it was done.
I read a forum post a month ago that had a link to a YouTube video, 10 times magic went wrong. I checked it out, and as you can imagine, the contents were quite horrific. Two of the clips were of the Nail Under the Cups trick. If you are from England, you may have seen Derren Brown performing this. It’s a good one, if the magician is qualified. If they aren’t, then you end up being at positions seven and three of this video.
A magician mixes up some cups, under one is a piece of wood with a nail pointed up. The others are weighted, so they all feel the same. The magician puts on a blindfold and gets their volunteer to guide them over the top of the cups. The magician then pushes the volunteer’s hand down, crushing the cup. It’s usually when there are two left that this trick goes wrong. And when it does it’s very bloody.
The clip in question though, is of a man sawing a woman in half. We’ve all seen this. But in this grainy footage, the woman screams, the box is brought apart, blood drips from the opening and the legs of the woman slip out. The bloody bottom half slams on the floor with a thunk, the legs spasm, then stop. The curtains are hastily brought across and the show ends.
There are comments after the video, people calling bullshit, until someone posted the full trick in question. At the end of this video, the woman can be seen on stage, whole again, nothing wrong with her at all.
People argue with each other that the woman must have been in the upper box and the lower box contained some prosthetics. The thread ends with someone saying that they swear it’s real, they’ve seen it in person.
I commented saying, “I’m skeptical, magic is illusion, no one gets sawn in half; incredible footage though.”
The next day, I get a direct message from someone with the handle Tricked4Life.
Hey Baz1987, the man from that video is performing next month. He’s called The Russian, it’s invite only. I can arrange tickets if you like?
I replied, Totally, I’d be up for that, please!
While waiting to hear back, I went to watch the video again. The link didn’t work, a message came up saying it had been taken down due to copyright infringement. I tried the top 10 one too, that was also gone, just a 404 page.
It was a Saturday, so I was already on the whiskey and watching Netflix. I think I was binge watching Breaking Bad for the third or forth time.
Tricked4Life replied with a link. I browsed to the site. It looked like something from 1997. There was a still from the video and a form below. Slightly drunk, I filled out the details and continued to the payment form. I had to pay in BitCoin, what the fuck was that?
I messaged Tricked4Life, “I don’t know what BitCoin is.”
“PayPal me the money and I can buy it for you.”
“How do I know this isn’t a scam?”
“You don’t, but as a magician, you should see through a trick a mile off ;)”
It sounded like he was baiting me.
“Christ, that’s heavy.”
“It’s worth it though.”
“Have you seen him before?”
“No, this will be my first time. I know some people who are going. They said he’s incredible. You have to see it for yourself.”
I left the computer and continued watching TV, though I couldn’t concentrate. I really wanted to know how the trick was done. I drank more whiskey and got more drunk.
I woke in the early hours. Confused, I took in my surroundings and realised I fell asleep in front of the television again. My head pounded, so I went to the kitchen and drank some orange juice, before throwing the best hangover cure, bacon, into the frying pan.
As the meat sizzled, I checked my phone. I had an email with the subject, *Ticket Confirmation*. My heart sank. I opened it up to see a confirmation number and an address… in the Ukraine.
I’d bought things while I was drunk before, but not a ticket to a magic show in Eastern Europe. Not only was I out £540, I’d need to book plane tickets and a hotel.
I gazed at the whiskey bottle, to see it almost empty, not even as much as a shot left. I felt embarrassed.
I logged into the forum and read the messages I had sent.
Fuck it! was the first. The second my details and a third saying I’d PayPalled the money over, with a reply saying to buy a Tuxedo if I didn’t have one.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I had to beg my manager to give me the time off at last minute, suffice to say I had to agree to perform at his daughter’s birthday. I was surprised and relieved with how cheap plane fare was to the Ukraine. That was the only ray of light I had in this stupid ordeal. I rented a Tux from a local business and I was ready to go.
The flight was bumpy. We flew through a thunderstorm and for the first time in my life, saw the lighting hit the tip of the plane. People startled and children cried. I was nervous myself. It wasn’t long after the Russians shot down a passenger jet over the Ukraine. I was very happy when we landed.
I sat in silence in the taxi to the hotel. When I got out, I saw it was a dump. I asked the driver to wait, he nodded. I had no idea if he understood me or not. Three stars was supposed to be the rating, but it looked more like an abandoned office building than a hotel.
I checked in and changed. I was glad I was only staying for the night. My rushed plans meant I didn’t have more than a few hours until the show started.
Thankfully the taxi was still outside when I returned. I handed him the printout of the address and we drove off into the night.
It was an odd city, nothing like the London that I’d known all my life. It was as if it wasn’t planned, that it just sprawled in every direction when the need for more buildings were required. We stopped at the end of an alleyway. He pointed down it.
“Are you sure?” I said.
I expected us to be somewhere posh.
“Is right,” the man said, finally breaking his silence.
I got out. Almost as if the driver was in a hurry, the taxi sped off. Suddenly I felt all alone, in a foreign country I knew nothing about.
The rain poured down and soaked through my Tux. The woollen material grew heavy with the water. I wondered if I’d get my deposit back.
I jogged down the alleyway. Light leaked out from a door underneath a fire escape. I thumped on the frame and waited.
A man wearing paint splattered jeans and a body warmer opened it.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know where I’m going. I’m looking for this.”
I handed him the printout.
“I’m supposed to see some Russian magician…”
He lifted his chin and opened the door wider. I was glad to get out of the rain. Inside had the appearance of a factory service corridor.
“Through there,” he said pointing to the end of the hallway.
Visions of me entering some basement out of the film Hostel filled my mind and I wanted to turn back and go straight to the airport. The outside door clunked shut.
I took a deep breath and walked forward. My shoes echoed around the small passageway and I felt vulnerable. I pushed on the metal bar at the end and hoped for the best.
I was shocked. The low murmurs of hundreds of voices filled the large room I entered. It wasn’t as I expected. It was cavernous. It looked like a palace. Large marble columns rose up from the floor and held in place an ornate ceiling, from which hung intricate chandeliers.
Dozens of men in suits drank from Champagne glasses, all deep into conversation. No one turned to stare at me. It was as if there was nothing odd about me entering via a back door. For a magic show, I found it kind of fitting. Standing there though, I wasn’t sure if I felt more out of place here or in the alleyway.
A waiter approached and I panicked.
“Drink, sir?” he said, offering me some Champagne.
I took the crystal flute and resisted the urge to down it in one.
I sipped and tried to blend in.
“The show will start in thirty minutes,” was announced over the tannoy in an Eastern European accent.
The guests looked up as if watching the person making the announcement.
Another waiter offered me some canapés. I grabbed one and thanked him.
“Baz?” someone shouted and I peered around.
I locked eyes with a man I didn’t recognise.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“I’m Dan,” he said offering his hand.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recall.”
“Tricked4Life? I ordered your ticket.”
Confused, I said, “How did you recognise me?”
“Your avatar, man,” he said smiling, “Good to meet you in person. I wasn’t sure if you’d come.”
“£540, I wasn’t going to stay at home.”
“Are you excited? I’ve seen some famous magicians around.”
I was nervous. Dan didn’t appear to be.
“Oh shit, is that <name redacted>,” I asked.
“Hell, yeah,” he replied, “<name redacted> and <name redacted> are also here too.”
“That’s crazy, this is the real deal then?”
“I think so,” he said, taking a large gulp of his drink.
“What’s his real name?”
“I don’t know, no one does.”
“That’s a bit ominous.”
“He’s the best of the best, who cares what he’s called.”
Dan checked his watch.
“We should go take our seats.”
The house lights went down and cheers erupted from the crowd. A spotlight lit the red velvet curtains. They waited for the crowd to die down before they opened.
I was disappointed when I saw him on stage. His hair was grey, not black like the video. He was so much smaller in stature than how he appeared, too. Assistants wheeled in a large tall box.
The magician led one of the assistants inside and proceeded to lock the padlocks on the front of the box. He counted down from three, and on the beat after one, fireworks exploded at the front of the stage and the walls of the box collapsed in on themselves. He approached and spun the box around showing it was now flat. The remaining assistants rolled it off stage and the crowd clapped.
“That’s easy,” I said turning to Dan, “Fireworks – textbook misdirection and trap door underneath.”
Medieval wooden stocks were now brought onto the stage. The magician asked for a volunteer from the audience. A young lady stood up (the only female in the whole crowd) and was invited on stage. The magician mimed claps, and the audience obliged. The woman was secured into place. He threw some eggs into the crowd and offered her as a target. Most missed, except the last that hit her square on the face. Laughter erupted. An assistant arrived with a melon. The magician picked up a sword, its blade flashed in the bright spotlight. He lifted it overhead and brought it down, slicing the melon in two with ease.
He approached the woman in the stocks and with one swift blow, her hands and head fell into the baskets below. The crowd roared with approval.
“Impressed yet?” Dan said to me and to be honest I was vexed.
No sudden flash of light to hide the switch of body parts with fakes, but no blood either.
“She was obviously a stooge, are there any other women in the crowd?”
More helpers joined on stage, mopping the floor as if to clean up blood that wasn’t there. A chuckle fluttered through the crowd.
The final illusion was the classic *Chinese Water Torture Cell* made famous by Harry Houdini.
A large tank of water sat centre stage. The magician took off his clothes to reveal a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century bathing-suit, a beige number that covered his body and upper legs. He placed on a nose clip and rubbed his hands in anticipation.
He ascended the ladder attached to the tank and jumped in. Water splashed over the sides and an iron lid was slammed into place. Padlocks were locked around the top and a curtain drawn in front. A man started a stopwatch and gazed at it in earnest.
Time passed. I checked my watch, he had been in there for ninety seconds. The curtain was removed, to reveal his hand poking out the top trying to pick the locks on the outside, then the curtain was replaced.
Another minute passed and banging could be heard from within. The man with the stopwatch brought his hand across his throat, signalling to end the performance.
Someone ran on stage with an axe and the curtain was pulled away. The locks were still in place, but the tank was empty. The audience gasped.
“Hallo,” rang out around the auditorium.
I turned to see The Russian in the stalls above, dripping with water.
Wild cheers erupted and everyone clapped.
“How did he do that then, Mr Smart Guy?” Dan asked, clearly pleased with himself.
“I have no idea,” I said, clapping without even thinking about it.
The house lights went up.
“There will be a ten minute intermission before the second part of the show, will guests with tickets…” the announcer said, listing off numbers, “… please make their way to the door at the side of the stage.”
“That’s me?” I said to Dan confused.
“Me too, are you excited?”
“I don’t understand?”
He grinned and grabbed my hand.
He led me along the row.
“What’s going on?”
“Didn’t you wonder why it was so expensive? We’re part of the show!”
A silent dread filled me.
“I don’t want to do it.”
“Come on! You’re a magician, don’t you want to know how it’s done?”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to be on stage.”
“You’ve done that before, though.”
“Of course, but mostly in front of children. At most fifty people. Not in a theatre with over four hundred containing some of the most respected magicians in the world.”
“Too bad, you’re going,” he said, tightening his grip.
We waited at the back of the line of eight people. A man checked tickets and one by one they were led backstage.
Dan passed his ticket over, letting go of his grasp. I thought about leaving, but before I could, the man asked for mine and like a robot I handed it over.
It was quiet backstage.
“Oh shit, is that <name redacted>?” I said as the man approached.
“Hey,” he said excitedly, “I’m…”
“I know who you are,” I said shocked that <name redacted> was talking to me.
“Are you boys excited?”
“Very,” Dan said, “Baz here’s a little nervous.”
“Don’t be nervous,” <name redacted> said, “this is what we are’ll here for, right?”
“I have no idea what’s going on,” I blurted out.
“Don’t listen to him,” Dan said, “he’s just scared.”
“And you should be, it’s not very often that you’re in the presence of a *real* magician.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, someone who performs real magic.”
I scoffed, “There’s no such thing as real magic.”
“Is this guy for real?” <name redacted> said pointing his thumb at me.
Dan shrugged his shoulders.
<name redacted> balked at me, “Then why are you here?”
“I wanted to see it for myself.”
“And that you will, son. Be part of it.”
“I don’t think I want to.”
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said gesturing with his hands, “it’s what we all dream of.”
We heard a roar of applause.
“It’s time,” <name redacted> said, getting in line behind the queue that had now formed.
“I don’t know about this Dan,” I said.
“It’ll be fine, I promise.”
I watched as the first of us was taken on stage. A round of applause, then silence. A minute or so passed, then I heard a blood curdling scream and my heart raced.
“What the hell was that?!?!”
“Shhhh,” Dan said in deep concentration.
Then the next one was taken and then the next. With each one, a silent time passed, the end of the trick punctuated by a scream.
“Dan!” I said in a whisper, “That man has blood on him!”
I stared at the stagehand as he exited stage right. Blood flecked his shirt and face.
“It’s all part of the fun,” Dan said, slapping my back.
My stomach lurched, as one by one, the line got shorter.
“Wish me luck,” <name redacted> said as he was led on stage.
The man was now drenched in blood, but it didn’t seem to bother Dan.
“We have a special guest tonight, please welcome <name redacted>,” bellowed out on the tannoy.
We were almost at the top of the stairs now. Dan watched the performance, his face lit up with pure joy before he grimaced and looked away.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Holy shit, that was intense. I’m not sure I can do this,” Dan said.
But it was too late, the stagehand had already grabbed him and dragged him up. I ascended the last few steps and could now see the wooden floor. I gasped as Dan walked through the blood than now pooled. His shoes left yawning, sticky stalagmites in the congealing liquid.
A horizontal box was opened and he was placed inside. From my angle it was obvious there was no-one placed in the leg side. I watched his feet poke through the holes at the end and the box closed on top of him. The magician picked up a chain saw, pulled the cord into action. Blue-grey smoke billowed out of the side as he revved the engine. Without a second thought, he brought it down, through the box. Dan’s face contorted as he shrieked in agony.
“Stop, stop!” he shouted.
The magician ignored him. Blood sprayed out, covering him and launching a mist of bright, red liquid onto the crowd, who cheered in response.
The chainsaw idled. The assistants pulled the box apart and just like the video, Dan’s legs fell out of the other end of the box. It was then I noticed the box had been purposefully sloped to allow this to happen. That was the trick. I felt sick and ran.
There was nowhere to go. A large man stood at the door I had entered. Luckily he hadn’t noticed I’d panicked. I slowed to a walk and took the stairs down into the basement. As I descended, I heard the muffled tannoy then a rapturous applause.
I paused at the door at the bottom. I assumed it was the fire exit. I tried to turn the knob but it didn’t budge. I could hear voices on the other side. I placed my ear against the metal, flinching at the cold. It was a chant. Low tenor voices repeated the same line again and again, in a language I didn’t understand. They switched into a more sing-song chorus, then returned to the original verse.
I banged on the door and the voices stopped.
“Mister, you can’t be down here,” the large man from backstage said.
I obeyed him without a struggle. He let me back into the theatre. The crowd didn’t acknowledge me. Waiters patiently walked through the punters offering more Champagne and canapés.
Without thinking, I screamed out, “He’s killing them! All of them, they are dead!”
The audience silenced and looked at me.
“<name redacted> is dead, everyone’s dead. I saw it. It’s not a trick!”
“Sir,” one of the waiters said holding his hand up for me to stop.
“I won’t be quiet, it’s a fucking abattoir up there! Didn’t you all see?!”
People started to panic. I raced for the exit. The doors were camouflaged from this side. I ran my hand down the seam trying to find a hidden latch.
“Calm down, sir.”
I turned to see the large security guard.
“Fuck that, that man is insane! Let me out of here.”
He grabbed my arm, stopping me from leaving.
The house lights went down again and the audience settled.
“Please show your appreciation to your magician tonight and his wonderful volunteers.”
The man held me tightly, and I gave up trying to leave and gazed at the stage.
*The Russian* appeared front and centre, bowing. His assistants from the night joined him. Everyone clapped.
Then one by one, the people who were in the line ahead of me walked on stage, wearing pristine white suits.
<name redacted> waved as he walked on, the audience cheered. The last to enter was Dan. I was shocked.
The crowd stood and clapped.
“Let’s not forget our friend at the back there,” *The Russian* said, as the spotlight travelled over the audience, stopping on me.
I froze. The security guard let go of me and joined in the clapping. I ran my hand through my hair and feigned a smile.
“I hope to see you all again soon,” *The Russian* said for one last time and the house lights came up.
Instantly murmurs broke out around the theatre.
“Great job, really added to the finish,” one man said as he exited past me.
“Thank you,” I said without thinking.
Everyone wanted to shake my hand, but all I could do was stand in confusion and unexpected awe.
The last of the people left, and so did I. As I entered the large hall I was in earlier, I saw Dan. He held a cardboard box under his arm.
“Great job you did,” he said grinning from ear to ear.
“What the fuck just happened?”
“I’m sorry,” he replied.
<name redacted> was standing next to him.
“I admit it, I didn’t think it would work, but your friend Dan here said it would and I trusted him.”
“Is anyone going to fill me in on what happened?”
Dan put his hand on my shoulder, “They needed someone to cause a fuss, you know, to make it seem all the more real.”
“Dude, I saw you get chopped in half! What did you expect me to do.”
“It was really great,” <name redacted> said.
“I thought you were dead.”
He tried to smile, but I could see the guilt in his face.
“Really sorry, man. It was a shitty thing to do. If we told you though, it wouldn’t have looked believable. *The Russian* doesn’t like to use shills.”
“What about the woman in the stocks?”
“That was only the warm up. Hey check this out!”
Dan opened the box and revealed his Tux, it was ripped to shreds.
“Glad I didn’t rent,” he said laughing.
“It was great to meet you,” <name redacted> said, “here’s my card. If you ever want to see me perform, let me know, I’ll get you backstage passes.”
“You’re not going to try to kill me too?”
“I’ll see you around,” he said, leaving through the backdoor.
We followed a few minutes later.
A row of limos waited to pick up people as they left.
“You go first,” Dan said.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“Nah, I’ll get the next one.”
I told the driver where I was going.
I slept badly in the hotel, my dreams filled with corrupted visions of the night before. I flew back to England in the morning.
I stayed away from that forum for a while, but curiosity got the better of me. There was a post about <name redacted>, saying he’d cancelled his tour. I read the comments, they were filled with the expected bile of people pissed their favourite magician had flaked out on them.
There was a direct message. I clicked. It was from Tricked4Life. It contained a single photo. It appeared to be of someone’s torso, a purple-pink bruise ran horizontally along its stomach, blood seemed to leak as if it were some sort of wound. Underneath the photo was a comment.
“I need help, I think the magic is wearing off.”
I replied and told him to go to the hospital. That was 48 hours ago and I’ve not heard back.