Magic and Illusions
"A Harry Houdini Story"
"Shhh. Not a sound!" He whispered, his voice echoing throughout the theater, which had been acoustically modified to bounce his voice from one area to the next, amplifying it until it vibrated the bones of the ears of everyone listening. That caused their very bodies to vibrate, as if a gentle massage were being applied, and calmed them.
He needed to calm them. His next stunt was dangerous, even for him. He thrived on danger, not reckless danger, but danger that involved him mastering a challenger, or taking on a challenge he had yet to face and grow from.
Harry Houdini was the consummate escape artist and magician. He used his various skills to manifest an act of such profound terror and awe that the audiences sat spellbound through every minute, every second of it, some of them even fainting from holding their breath too long. Others piling on the popcorn, candy and teas that the vendors who moved silently throughout the theater and sold.
That very side job was what truly paid him, not the theater tickets. Most of that paid for his helpers, the light engineers, the stage workers, the ticket takers, the manager and the rent of the theater. He owed it. It was named "Magic and Illusions" after the very acts that he produced throughout the year.
Since he was as likely to go on an adventure or assignment with his Baker Street friends, he had created a career that could be hot sparked at a moment's notice to create more income for him and his people relished the time off they had in between job assignments, as he didn't hold back on sharing the monies freely with them. There were no poor people working for him, at least not after they had been employed for a time.
He hated poverty and its lack of medicine, the snide remarks, the dark consequences of mixing in with those of more. He had endured all those things until he had built a career that was magnificent enough he could rise from his own poverty and then begin to spread his own abundance around to alleviate the suffering of others.
While he was wealth in laymen terms, he was not onerously wealthy. He didn't have a home that was ten stories tall as some of the wealthiest did, nor have expensive imports and portraits painted by the greatest artists of his time. No, his home was a single story dwelling with enough room to sleep in, plan his acts in...a cellar basement for that with two rooms for storage and invention...and four bedrooms, a dining room, a library, an exercise room and a kitchen. It would seem like a lot to the very poor of London, but not to a middle class citizen, of which he was not. He prided himself on the simpler abode, for he often had guests, so the extra three bedrooms were as likely as not to be filled with either family or friends, or both.
His near Baker Street friends such as Watson and Holmes came to visit, but rarely stayed, but some of those who lived under the sea such as Captain Nemo, or in the clouds like Wells and Verne, they would come and stay sometimes for weeks or even months if they had an adventure together in London.
It kept his life full and rewarding. He had no woman in his life, he didn't think it fair to involve them in the risks he constantly took on stage and in the battlefield of crime and adventure. Though he did have a sweetheart he saw infrequently, who someone kept true to him and steady in his affections, whom one day he just might settle down with and have little Houdini's.
He smiled at that as he clasped one muscular hand and arm after another on the rope and climbed into the gigantic bottle that looked like an enlarged wine bottle with a narrow neck he could only get through with great effort. This was the sale of his act this time. He would submerge himself within the well of water of the giant bottle, have three chains tied to his ankles and feet, five metal balls, and his hands padlocked behind his back so he couldn't work his personal magic.
Oh yes, he smiled. He could do REAL magic, but he preferred the stage magic for the excitement of it, keeping the more ethereal magic for his adventures with the Baker Street fellows, or the occasional research he would do in the Orients for little known magics and fantasy elements he could incorporate into his act.
He would only use real magic when his life or that of another's was in danger. Though he and Conan would sometimes use it to defraud charlatan psychics and wizards who claimed powers they didn't in order to fill their bank accounts at the expense of those with broken hearts. They didn't bother the ones that read palms and predicted marriages, and such, for they never overcharged, but the ones who claimed to be just somewhat short of gods, they had to be accountable. One way or the other.
So in the course of time and years of learning he and Conan had made many friends, saved many a poor soul the loss of their fortunes, and been scorned as heathens and worshippers of the devil by the very people who actually did so.
Harry laughed inwardly as he reached the top of the bottle and turned to face the crowd. He waved his hands as he delicately balanced on the edge of the bottle to the cheer of the crowd, then waited as his crew hefted the balls and chains to the top of the bottle, in preparation for plunging them into the warmer waters and then he as well.
Outwardly he exalted at the pleasure he brought the audience, but inwardly, he was a bit nervous, for he had seen an old enemy in the audience this night. One he had not seen perhaps for five years. Time had not been this man's friend. He had never been a looker before, but on this night he looked as dark as a devil. And no doubt as malicious and dangerous as before. The last time they had met, the man had tried to stake him in the heart, mistaking Harry for a demon of the night...a vampire.
He laughed inwardly. Vampires were not demons, but modified humans with a touch of magic mixed into them from Elven heritage.
Harry had ended up in the hospital for a month from the wound, which only the skilled hands of Doctor Watson and the dear Madame Curie had been able to preserve him.
He had discovered the whereabouts of the scoundrel, then used his real magic to send him off to a side realm...a parallel world where his kind could prosper with fellows of a like mind. Some might call that cruel and unusual punishment, but he didn't think it was cruel to offer a man who had attempted to murder him because of his misguide religious beliefs a way to redeem himself. He had given the man a path back to their London, but only if he were to change his ways.
But tonight as he looked out into the audience for the man, and remembering that look, he knew the man had not truly changed at all. Which was unfortunate. For both him and Harry.
No matter. Each challenge on its own merits he thought as he slid into the water feet first, the balls and chains collapsing to the bottom of the bottom and pulling him to follow.
In moments bubbles of air began frothing to the surface of the bottle as he squeezed through by squeezing through its narrow neck. He would not be able to come out as easily, for the pressure of the water and its viscosity would cause his body to swell somewhat because of its warmth and he would have to painfully squeeze back out after unhinging his shoulder blades, which would cause him remarkable pain...at least until he moved them back into their proper orbits once more.
His crew corked the bottle with a jazzy looking cork that was sparkly and gorgeously decorated to offset the danger of what he was doing. For it was dangerous. Extremely.
He heard his announcer, Jacob Marley, tell the crowd. "From the moment we corked Harry Houdini into the bottle he will have only seventy seconds to escape the bottle. His ability to hold his breath is no more than seventy seconds.
We pray he shall prevail so we can all applaud him and come again for another night of thrills and chills in the House of Magic and Illusions."
Harry's cue had been spoken. He began twisting and pulling, unhinging his wrists so he could slide the padlocks from them. Once dropped, he carefully began to raise his feet one at a time and working on the balls and chains. There were three on each leg, so it took him another twenty seconds to do each leg. He had used fifteen seconds already for the announcement and removing the pad locks. He now had twenty seconds of air left and already he could feel his lungs straining to not let go what precious oxygen he had left and suck in the water for air instead.
Outside Jacob announced, "Nineteen seconds. Eighteen Seconds."
Harry kicked free the last of the balls and chains, straightened up and hinged his arms and legs properly again as he wriggled towards the cork to free it.
"Nine seconds. Eight seconds." Jacob's voice droned outside the bottle.
Harry smiled. Piece of cake. He lifted his hands and pummeled the cork. It had taken him five seconds last time, and he still had seven.
Harry pummeled the cork again, but it didn't budge.
Must be the extra curry I had for breakfast this morning he thought to himself, then still smiling pummeled the cork again, even harder.
He could feel his lungs on the verge of exploding.
Spots were beginning to form before his eyes.
The cork wouldn't budge.
The crowd in the theater rose as one in horror, hands holding each other, clenched to mouths, looks of horror as Harry appeared to be unable to get free.
Harry started to panic. He was out of air.
The old enemy in the audience rose from his chair, a look of satisfaction on his face as he saw Harry's look of terror and his thrashing to get out.
"Good-bye, old friend." He muttered as he turned to leave.
As he did so he came face to face with Sherlock Holmes and Watson, behind them was Inspector Bloodstone.
Harry suddenly froze in the bottle, closed his eyes, then as effortlessly as a seal sliding through a hoop, stepped through the glass of the bottle onto the stage, his whole body dripping water. He began gasping for air. His crew rushed forwards to drape him in warm cloth, then lead him towards the backstage as the audience broke into thunderous applause.
"You are under arrest for the attempted murder of Master Magician and Illusionist, Harry Houdini." Inspector Bloodstone said sternly.
The old enemy snarled and broke free, running for the stage, drawing a pistol as he fled the law. "Die Harry! You foul heathen and offense to God!" He cried out and fired, the same time as Watson and Holmes fired their own weapons.
The old enemy snapped backwards, then collapsed.
On the stage, Harry dropped the cloths about him, turned around smiling and revealed a smoking bullet in between his fingers.
The audience, thinking the death was staged, broke into thunderous applause, yelling and screaming their love for him.
Harry, however was not happy. He had tried to save a soul and it hadn't worked. Some just would not change no matter how many chances they were given.
He dropped from the stage and felt his old enemy's throat for a pulse, then motioned to his helpers, who came down and covered him with cloths.
"Magic and Illusions." He uttered to the dead man. "That's all I am. Magic and Illusions. But you had life and breath. Now...not even that. May God have mercy on your soul."
He turned around and climbed back onto the stage to prepare for his next act. His friends had used his act to help him catch the man, but instead all had gone wrong. He had much to think about where he had gone wrong in his own actions, to allow this soul slip through into a self made hell.
Sadly, he left the stage. Sadly, he went to his stage room to ponder the meaning of his life. Such was the life of Harry Houdini that night.