20 Tales of Terror – Day 13: Misdirection

“You’re an assistant! Your job is just to assist and look pretty!”

Carmen cringed. She hated it when Ernesto went off on her like that.

“You smile, wave at the crowd and flash your legs, but at the end of the day, they’re coming to see me! Ernesto the Magnificent! Don’t ever forget that!”

Ernesto jabbed a finger at her. His lean face was contorted into a scowl unlike the dapper smile that beamed from the poster behind him.

“Y-yes, Ernesto,” she whispered.

“I’m the star of the show! It’s my face on all the billboards, not yours! Try to steal my limelight again, and you’ll end up doing a permanent vanishing act!”

With that last word, he picked up one of the swords that he used in his act and threw it at Carmen, missing her face by mere inches as it embedded itself into the wall behind her. It wasn’t a prop. She screamed and shrank farther back.

Having satisfied his rage, Ernesto relaxed, adopting the sly charming smile that Carmen had first fallen in love with. He picked up his top hat and placed it on his head at a slight angle.

“Now wipe those tears and fix your makeup. We need to prep everything for the show and I can’t have you looking like a mess.”

With a flourish, he turned and walked out of the green room, leaving Carmen quivering.

As she always did, Carmen set up all the props for the evening’s performance, including the ones used in Ernesto’s greatest trick, The Resurrection.

Ernesto would step inside a large trunk. Carmen would lock it and demonstrate the strength of the lock by attempting and failing to pry the trunk open. She would then bring out a table lined with a row of swords. An audience member would be called on stage to verify that the swords were real. Carmen would repeatedly stab the trunk, running the swords all the way through, causing jets of blood to spurt from the holes, and drawing gasps and screams from the crowd. In reality, there was only one real sword, which the audience volunteer examined. The rest were all props. Carmen would remove the swords and open the trunk, revealing traces of blood but no body inside. More gasps would follow, and the audience would break out into an uneasy murmur.

That was when a completely unharmed Ernesto made his grand appearance from the back of the auditorium, to thunderous applause and cheers of delight. It was a true showstopper.

Carmen finished inspecting the trunk and was satisfied. Everything was ready for the show.

“Ladies and gentlemen! We have a most spectacular performance for you tonight! An astounding sorcerer who has honed his craft among the mystical monks of the Himalayas and the shamans of the African jungles – I give you, Ernesto the Magnificent!”

The crowd erupted into applause as Ernesto stepped onto the stage, dressed in a dark silk tuxedo with a flowing cape. He was never short on showmanship. More applause followed as he ran through his usual tricks: producing a flock of doves from his hat, making Carmen levitate and seemingly changing outfits in the blink of an eye.

At last, it was time for the main event, the trick that everyone had anxiously been waiting for since the curtains parted.

Carmen wheeled in the trunk, which was stood upright, while Ernesto started on his usual patter. He warned the audience about the heart-stopping nature of what they were about to see, and trotted out the old line about the Himalayan monks and what they had taught him. Then he proceeded to show off the trunk, its mundane and non-mystical nature. He gestured to the prop swords lying on the table next to it and demonstrated, using the real sword they mixed in with the group, the sharpness of the blades. Carmen stood off to the side and smiled, hands on her hips and bosom thrust out.

As the crowd watched, their breath collectively catching in their throats, Ernesto stepped into the trunk and gave Carmen the signal to close it. She shut the lid, locked it, and turned to face the crowd again. She walked over to the table with a big smile on her face and picked up one of the swords. With an exaggerated show of force, she plunged it through the upper part of the trunk, where Ernesto’s head would be. The blade came out the other side, slick with blood. The audience was already squirming.

She bowed, smile frozen in place, and went to fetch another sword. In total, sixteen swords were stuck into the trunk. After taking a moment to show off her handiwork, Carmen set about removing the swords, one by one. They slid out with a soft squelch, drawing at least one scream from the audience.

Now came the moment of revelation. With a big theatrical gesture, Carmen flung the trunk open. It was covered in blood, but otherwise empty. Everyone gasped in amazement. There was a small smattering of applause and Carmen took a bow.

Some of the audience members who had seen the show before immediately turned to face the back door. Others followed suit, and soon the entire auditorium was facing the back, waiting. Nothing happened.

The crowd grew uneasy. Where was he? This was the big finish, where he would show up again, unharmed. But he never came. Nobody saw him again after he stepped into the trunk that night.

Carmen was interrogated about his disappearance by the police, but they had to let her go. There was no evidence of any wrongdoing and since disappearing was a part of Ernesto’s trick, they couldn’t charge her with anything. Carmen walked away, sobbing into a large silk handkerchief.

Later that night, when the auditorium was empty, Carmen snuck in and opened the carefully concealed trapdoor on the stage. It led to a small chamber that she and Ernesto had installed months before the show; they were the only ones that knew about it. She pressed her handkerchief against her nose tightly as the smell hit her. Lying on the floor of the chamber was the body of Ernesto the Magnificent, covered in stab wounds and rusty, caked blood. Carmen would use the stage riggings to lift his body out and deposit it in the trunk, which she would dispose of some place far off. After that she would rigorously clean the entire stage area until no trace of blood was left. She would also get rid of the real swords that she had used in place of the props (and that she had carefully switched before the police investigation).

Fastidious as ever, Carmen had taken care of every detail. No one would ever know that shedding genuine tears over the disappearance of Ernesto the Magnificent was the greatest trick she’d ever pulled.


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