She had one hell of a smile. That’s what first drew me to her. In fact, that’s what gave me my first indication that I might be a little more than casually interested in other girls. I first saw her on one of those late night talk shows that mom and I would stay up and watch together. She was witty, charming, and gorgeous: long black hair, eyes that sparked, and a mischievous smile that made me tingle in new and interesting ways. I think a lot of girls probably had more obtainable first crushes, but for me it was always Charlie Winters, Mistress of the Theater of Magic.
It would be a decade before I got to see her perform live. And I had my fair share of sexual experimentation and development with a friends and partners. But somehow, late at night, whenever I lay back in bed and felt a little lonely, it was Charlie on my mind as my hand moved between my legs.
And then, one day, my I got my chance. When I first saw the poster tacked up on the wall of one of my usual hangouts, I my heart skipped a beat. My friends looked at me like I was nuts. These days stage magic is pretty much a thing of the past, and I’m sure I came off as a huge dork. Not that I cared. The woman in the glossy photograph had been haunting my fantasies for the better part of my life, and she didn’t seem to have aged a day. All those nights of teenage desire came back with force as I stared at her picture: high heeled boots, stockings, a black miniskirt, a tight white blouse stretched across a practically perfect chest, and it was all capped by that teasing, knowing smile.
She was playing at the casino downtown. It was a limited engagement, three nights only. Of course my friends lamed out on me when I offered to score tickets. By the time I finally got a ticket for the last night of the show, it was clear I’d be going alone. Honestly, I wasn’t too upset. Even I knew that I was going to spend the night being an insufferable fangirl. I spent far too long getting ready: cute, chunky heeled boots, little black dress, dark red nails and lips to match, and so much time getting my short auburn hair to behave. I knew there was basically zero chance that she was going to notice me, but…if she did…well, you only get one chance to make an impression!
A ride share later and I was dropped off in front of the casino. I killed time playing slots, accepting free drinks, and deflecting poorly thought up pickup lines from boys barking up the wrong tree. Basically, I just tried to burn off nervous energy, goodness knows I had enough. When the doors finally opened, I was as giddy as if I was on my first date. I filed in with the first part of the crowd as stragglers trickled from across the casino floor to join us. There’s something about theaters right before a show begins. It’s a cool stillness, almost heaviness, like the moment before a rainstorm. I found a seat a couple rows back from the stage and didn’t even attempt to tamp down my excitement.
After what felt like ages (but I’m sure was actually only around ten minutes) the house lights blinked a few times and music began to play. I looked around and was pleased to see the place packed. It was nice to know that even if my friends turned up their noses, Charlie could still draw a crowd. Though I couldn’t help but wonder how many people here were drawn here more for the person than the show. She was a beautiful creature from another time, sustaining her art almost solely based on her charisma.
The lights dimmed and a rather mediocre emcee opened the show. He introduced the act, made jokes that were more annoying than funny, and touted the other shows that were coming and going from the theater in the following weeks. And then, it was time. The music stopped and the lights fell until the entire theater was plunged into darkness. The place was silent except for the murmuring and giggling of nerves in the dark.
I’ve never been really afraid of the dark. I mean, when I was a kid I was as uncomfortable in it as anyone else. But in that moment I felt something different. It started ever so slowly and grew to a stomach churning, visceral fear. It was primitive, almost instinctual. I felt as though there was something in the darkness with us, moving between us, washing over us. And whatever it was, it was…hungry. I could feel myself beginning to sweat, seconds seemed to stretch and distort, and I squirmed in my chair and wished for the return of the light.
But then a seductive voice echoed from the theater sound system, cut through the darkness, and made me forget my fear: Welcome to the Theater…of…Magic!”. Each of the last three words was punctuated by a loud click and a spotlight coming on, trained on the center of the stage. Under the cover of darkness, a large trunk had been moved to center stage. The top and sides appeared to be made of solid wood, and the joints were cast in iron. The chest was closed tight by a large built in lock, and a heavy looking chain was wrapped around it several times and shut by a separate padlock. But the most remarkable thing about the chest was that the front was thick, transparent glass, and Charlie Winters was hogtied inside.
She looked every bit as good as her promos: from the dark head of hair that spilled down her shoulders to the tips of her booted feet. Her arms and legs met behind her back, contorted and tied yet showing an impressive figure clad in a sultry take on the traditional magicians outfit, right down to a top hat that rested at a jaunty angle on her head. She pretended to struggle for a minute, but then grinned and winked conspiratorially at the audience as if to say: “Hey, it’s a living!”
As the opening theme of the show began to swell over the speakers, Charlie got to work. What happened next was a combination of obvious skill and athleticism coupled with moments of “what the fuck?” and “how did she…?”. But she did. In less than a minute the ropes were off, the lock was sprung, and a delicate white gloved hand was coaxing the padlock. As the music reached its crescendo, out she stepped, boots clicking on the stage. Top hat and modesty both intact.
As a pair of black clad stage hands, a blonde and a brunette, removed the trunk, as the star smiled and addressed the audience, “Sorry to keep you waiting folks! I got a little tied up before the show.”
I somehow don’t think she even cared if that got laughs or groans.
“I’m Charlie Winters, welcome to the show! Thank you for giving me and my crew the chance to thrill, delight, and amaze you! And I promise you: before this night is through, at least one of you will experience something life changing!”
We burst into applause. How could we not?
The show went on, as they do. Trick flowed into trick and act fell into act all linked together by her seamless patter and a collection of jokes that would bomb for anyone else. Rings, levitation, rabbits from and to places rabbits had no business being, etc. And then, we hit the bit where she asked for a volunteer.
My hand shot up without hesitation, along with about half the crowd. But strangely, I had the feeling that she was looking at me before I’d even moved. And that look…it made my heart beat a little faster and my thighs clench. Her smile widened as one white gloved hand lazily raised and pointed my way.
“You,” she said with a smirk of those full, red lips.
I swear my heart almost stopped then and there. A lovely squirming took up residence in my belly. Standing, slowly and awkwardly I pointed at myself. “Me?”
She shrugged dramatically. “That’s right, gorgeous. Though, I’ll pick someone else, if you don’t hurry.”
I like to pretend the whole theater didn’t hear me whimper. I was extremely self-conscious as I hurried my way down the aisle. My heart hammered in my chest. This felt like a dream come true. No, literally, I’d had this dream before…though I was less clothed…
I was snapped from my internal rambling by Charlie reaching down and grabbing my wrist with one gloved hand. I grabbed hers back and she helped me up onto stage. Then I found myself staring straight at the woman who had been the center of far too many masturbatory fantasies. Only two thoughts were left in my head: 1) she was shorter than me, I hadn’t expected that, and 2) she smelled amazing.
“What’s your name, doll?” She said.
For a moment I just kind blinked. “Uh…Vivian”
“Well Vivian, it’s a pleasure. “ She grinned, “but…I don’t suppose I could have my wrist back?”
I flushed and the audience giggled as I let her escape my grip.
“Thank you! Now, Vivian, have we ever met before?”
“No.” I said, feeling myself blush.
“Aaaaand since we’ve never met , there’s no way I could have paid you, instructed you, or in any other way prepared you to be my sucker- uhh…I mean, assistant for this next trick?”
The audience got a good laugh as I managed a “No” with a bit more conviction.
“You’re a woman of few words, aren’t you Vivian?” she said, gently patting my on my back, “Let’s hope you’re more generous with your screams.” And then she turned and shouted: “Bring it out, girls!”
The stage hands were back and between them they wheeled an odd looking cabinet. It was clearly old, but hard to tell how old. The material was deep ebony, but it wasn’t clear if it was wood, stone, plastic, or something else entirely. Designs were traced in silver up and down its sides, but their significance was as mysterious as anything else. I had a churning feeling in my stomach just at the sight of the thing, but Charlie gave my shoulder a squeeze of encouragement before turning back to the crowd.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and those otherwise inclined, you are in for a treat.” She said, “Tonight you’ll see a special version of this trick that I only pull out once every couple of years.” She gestured at the cabinet. “Believe it or not, but I suggest you do, this cabinet was recovered from a ruined monastery in the south of France. It was apparently once belonged to a very twisted woman. She was a sadist and a practitioner of the dark arts. Put simply: a monster. But, despite the disposition of its owner, as the legend goes, this cabinet holds the secret to eternal life, eternal youth, and invulnerability!” She leaned out and put one hand up pantomiming a whisper to the audience while giving me a wink. ”Let’s hope that last part’s true, at least for Vivian’s sake!”
When she opened the cabinet with a flourish, a cold stirring of the air made my skin crawl. Inside, the cabinet was pretty plain except for four silver cuffs, two high and two low, set into the back wall. It might have been my imagination, but the inside seemed a little darker than it should been and a faint, sweet, musky smell slowly drifted out.
As Charlie continued to talk, the blonde stage hand presented her with a sword that gleamed beneath the stage lights. Knowing less than nothing about swords, I have no way to know how much of the patter Charlie was dishing out was true. All I knew was that it looked sharp, and I was seriously beginning to question what I had gotten myself into. Though truthfully, I was having trouble focusing on much behind the yawning entrance to that cabinet. The brunette stage hand silently took my arm and led me towards it and helped me step up into the box. It was definitely at least a few degrees cooler in here and as the girl began to strap me to the back wall, I hoped she didn’t notice how nervous I was.
“Hey,” I murmured as she had finished strapping me in and began to pull away, “I’m gonna be okay, yeah?”
She looked me straight in the eye, and ever so faintly, to the point that I’m not even sure I saw it, her head shook a quick ‘no’.
And then the door closed leaving me alone in the dark.
Sound inside the box was muffled. I could vaguely hear Charlie talking, the occasional ‘oooh’ from the crowd, but it was hard to tell just what was going on. Then things got quiet except for clack of her boots on the stage. I really didn’t know how to process it when the point of a sword slid straight through the side of the box and skewered me through the chest. But Charlie certainly got her wish: I screamed at the top of my lungs. The crowd reacted with shock and a little bit of applause. Then everything felt right and the whole world fell away.