Lost & Found – A Minor Houdini

Grim-faced and determined, he passes the tools of his trade amongst the crowd that is gathering at the end of the pier. He offers the devices of his entrapment for their careful inspection; he doesn’t want there to be any question that what he is about to attempt is merely some street corner chicanery, some cheap and cheesy sleight of hand. He allows the skeptical audience to closely examine the cage that will soon be lowered beneath the waves. They run their hands over the inflexible bars fashioned of Reinforced Fears. He lets them hold and heft the thick chains, with their heavy links wrought from the Steel of Denial, each and every inch tempered in Furnaces of Hate. He insists that they peer closely at each of the strands of the Ropes of Failure and Disappointment.

Some amongst them hold the Blindfold of Self-Deception up to their own eyes, and they eagerly confirm that no light can possibly pass through. Straining until his face turns a dark shade of purple, the strongest man amongst them confirms that the leather and wire Gag of Lies is as sturdy as it appears. With a flourish, the pale and thin minor Houdini passes around a magnifying glass so that each of them can minutely examine the workings of the dozen fiendishly clever locks that it seems will inevitably seal his fate.

Satisfied with the Apparatus of Confinement, the crowd becomes slightly impatient. They shift from foot to foot as two eager, fresh-faced volunteers wrap and tighten and test every aspect of the Trap of Death. Civilized and polite in the way that all crowds are, for a limited time, the onlookers don’t want to appear impatient. Nevertheless, they have only a limited amount of time to spare for this curious but minor distraction. They have meals to prepare and knives to sharpen. They have children to berate and beds to set on fire. They don’t necessarily want to unduly rush this performer, but they do want him to succumb to the depths. They want to see bubbles of desperate breath rising to the surface, to imagine the silken sacks of his lungs irreversibly filling with brackish sea water. They want him to die a watery death, and sooner, if you please, rather than later.

Themselves sensing the rising impatience of the crowd, the two volunteers (as instructed) use the winch to lower the cage containing the bound, gagged, and blindfolded man into the ocean. In moments, the whole contraption disappears silently underwater.

Below the waves, the man is in a room filled with bilious green light. He knows that the throng gathered above are waiting for his final exhalation. He knows that the tricks of his trade–the ropes, the chains, the cage–are not tricks at all; they are serious and they are real. But he also knows, as the crowd does not, that there is a golden key hidden in the top pocket of his shirt, pressed close against his heart. He knows that if he can reach this key, then he will once again cheat his fate, and come rising, majestic as a swordfish, to the surface. Staying as calm as he can, he tries to achieve some loosening of his bonds, tries to gain just enough freedom to allow his long, sensitive fingers to pluck the golden key from where it sits . . .

For what seems a long time, the crowd stands on the edge of the pier, staring down. Some of the younger and more sentimental amongst them harbour half a hope that the man will reappear, triumphantly gasping for breath.
Surreptitiously, many of them sneak glances at their watches.

Eventually, as darkness begins to fall, all but one of them turns and heads for home. The only one left there, a woman who has known the escape artist from past performances, dangles her feet over the blackening water, and drops red flower petals, one after another, on the unbroken surface.