The magician decided not to do any of his tricks that night – he wanted everything to be real, and visceral, and he was tired of two hours of lies every night, of faking a twinkle in his eye when people asked him to dinner parties and then spent the evening demanding to know how he did his tricks. A magician never reveals his secrets, a magician never reveals his secrets. Once, he stopped at a mall kiosk with shirts that you could program to display a marquee, and he was very close to purchasing one, just so that his shirt could flash annoyingly what he was so tired of saying.
I’m not going to do any illusions tonight, the magician said. I’m just going to show you what happens. His body was shaking from nervousness and excitement, a feeling he hadn’t felt since he first mastered the rubber balls trick and went to go perform in front of his father. His legs were trembling even now, even though that part of his patter had always been there. He had always said, I’m not going to do any illusions tonight. People always laughed, and tonight was no different.
He started small, as usual, but he did not commit his usual flourishes. Instead of a single white scarf becoming a long string of increasingly garish scarves, the magician just let all the scarves fall from his sleeves. Then, quickly, he pulled another ten feet of connected scarves from his collar, a trick that usually appeared to be scarves appearing from his throat.
The crowd still applauded.
Two doves flew from his jacket, four rabbits came out of their hidden area in his hat, sixteen red foam balls fell from his pockets, seven trick coins clanked to the floor from a cufflink gadget. The levitation device he invented flew off with his fake toupee and then, with a final shake of his body, and with a tiny bit of added theatrics, he pulled his skull cap from the secret pocket in in the back seam of his coat and threw it to the floor. His first thirty minutes of his act were compressed into about 45 seconds.
His assistant came out then, and he didn’t smile at her like he usually did. He hated her. He divorced her years ago when she slept with his lighting technician, but she leveraged her knowledge of his tricks into a permanent position on his staff and then spent her life making his existence hell. She stayed because she loved him, and tried to tell him so, but he never listened to her after she had gotten so drunk that fateful night. The magician was so ready to accept everything as sleight of hand, even when it wasn’t sleight of hand at all.
I hate this woman, he said to the crowd, so I think I’ll saw her in half. The crowd smiled and laughed and clapped. I get to live out every man’s fantasy! I get to cut my ex-wife in half! More laughter. More applause. This was also no different from the usual patter. His assisstant smiled broadly and got into the coffin, which was not a trick coffin this time. He pulled out a chainsaw and started it with a malevolent glint.
Do not try this at home. Your own wife might not live to tell the tale. The roar of the chainsaw did not overpower his microphone, but it came close. He cut the coffin lengthwise, starting from the top, so that the audience would not hear his wife scream. He finished severing the coffin in two and did not pop the top to show she was still alive. Instead, he pushed the gurney offstage, listening to the liquid inside.
Next, he took out a gun and did some trick shooting, which did not have any tricks involved at all. He was just an excellent shot. He missed his first bullseye, which was a plate that shattered into gold glitter – an invention of his own design – because he was shaking so much from the real vibrations of the real chainsaw that he just used to really murder his ex-wife. But he steadied himself, and breathed in-between shots, and soon the stage was washed in gold glitter, and he had another assistant come over and shoot him, which was his usual act one finale.
The assistant usually did some sleight of hand, replacing the real gun with a fake gun, but the magician had changed the fake gun for another real gun, so the assistant did his bit of “magic” for nothing. Six shots into the stomach was what the trick called for, but when the magician stumbled after the first shot and then bled profusely from his chest after the second, the assistant stopped shooting. The curtain came down, and the magician died with a smile on his face, happy that he would never have to keep secrets again.
The crowd leaned forward in shocked and titillated silence. Eyes were wide, no one was breathing, no one was looking at their watch. What a trick! What a show! It looked like real blood that came spurting from the wound. And maybe they didn’t get to see the sawed-in-half-woman wiggle her feet, but this was miles better. It looked so real! 83 of the 6,000 men in the audience thought they knew how the trick was done. 46 women thought they knew the same thing.
No one, but no one, thought the magician was really shot. Four friends with balcony seats stayed seated, like their pants had been glued there by some prankster. They all wanted to know what happened next, after the death scene. They all wanted to know how he died, or how he didn’t die. They turned to each other for comfort. What’s the secret? they asked each other. How does he do it? They all felt very mortal just then, and held hands, waiting for whatever happened next.