Tam was fully submerged, dangling upside down, bound hand and foot for execution and, according to the clock that ticked nearby, her air had run out thirty seconds ago.
Darkness descended, the light dwindling away as her feet twitched their last frantic spasms until only a flickering, choked pool of illumination remained.
Then the first sparkler light, followed by another, and then dozens more, bathing the stage with a brilliant showering of radiance.
Before the audience’s eyes, the dark cloak that lay discarded on the stage began to rise.
The form below the cloak stood slowly, by inches, as a drumroll built to a crescendo. A constellation of small fireworks bloomed across the stage as the music reached its highpoint and the Tam whirled the cloak off herself, no longer chained in the Tank of Inescapable Doom but instead clad in the sparkling green and gold armor the Sovereign of the Seven Seas.
With stabs of her trident, she sent pyrotechnics out over the audience to burst at the edges of the theater, each flash of light revealing one of the pirate crew members she’d managed to “misplace” through the course of the show. Gone were their billowing shirts and cutlasses, replaced instead with iridescent sea fairy costumes.
At her behest, the Sea Fairies then scattered “golden doubloons” in the audience’s outstretched hands, returning the Pirate Booty the show had been themed around to the guests so they could carry its magic out into the world with them.
Tam was In her dressing room, scrubbing off the layers of stage make-up when Anna and Val arrived.
“There is no way you weren’t cheating out there,” Val said. “James totally hooked you up with some special glamour for this one didn’t he?”
Tam just shook her head and smiled.
“This is the same show I’ve practiced every night for the past two weeks,” she said. “Do you really think James would let me fritter away the real stuff that much?”
“This is what you’ve been working on for the last year isn’t it?” Anna asked. “I recognized some of the effects from your last show but it seemed like most of the work up there was new.”
“I’ve been trying out bits and pieces of it in the smaller theaters,” Tam said, putting away her costume and changing into her more usual street clothes. “With the small shows there’s usually there’s only time for one significant effect and some lead up to it.”
“I’m impressed with the overall narrative flow you achieved,” Anna said, hanging Tam’s costume on a hanger for her.
“Yeah, you had the audience in the palm of your hand from the first effect,” Val said, packing away the trident Tam had carried as her final prop. It still had the smell of gunpowder on it from the pyro she’d shot off.
“Your assistants seemed well trained too,” Anna said. “Some of the later sequences couldn’t have been easy to coordinate.”
“Thanks, we worked pretty hard on the lead up to this one,” Tam said, locking down the last of her specialized gear. “It’s a larger cast than I normally get to use, but I think they really came together.”
“Are you going out with them for an after party?” Anna asked.
“Normally yes, but a bunch of them are heading off to work a few other shows,” Tam said. “We’ll all catch up after the last show next weekend and have a big bash then.”
“Cool! That means we can take you out!” Val said, offering Tam her coat.
“Indeed. We must thank you for the tickets to your opening night somehow,” Anna said.
“Aww, you folks don’t need to do that,” Tam said. “It’s nice just knowing there’s some friendly faces in the house.”
“With the kind of applause you were getting, I don’t think that’s something you ever need to worry about,” Val said.
“You know, the funny thing is it’s still really hard to take that first step onto the stage,” Tam said.
“For big shows like this?” Val asked.
“Nope. All of them,” Tam said. “You’d think after a few successful shows the stage fright would go away, but that’s not a thing that happens. At least not for me.”
“It is very common, what you describe,” Anna said. “But you manage to perform anyways.”
“There’s all the other people counting on me,” Tam said. “That’s what usually gets me behind the curtain before it rises. If I don’t go out, there’s a ton of people who don’t get paid, and in entertainment that can mean they don’t eat.”
“Wow, that’s pretty harsh,” Val said. “How about for the smaller shows where it’s just you?”
“For those I usually try to talk to the crowd beforehand,” Tam said. “If I can find someone who’s eager to see the show, I look for them in the audience as an excuse to force myself on stage. If not, I think about whoever’s running the venue. Or the next magician who’s going to have to play that spot after me, and how hard it would be on them if I bailed. I know this all probably sounds ridiculous, because I really do like performing, it’s just a weird thing I go through.”
“I think it’s amazing,” James Baughsley said, joining them outside Tam’s dressing room with a bundle of show merchandise in his arms.
“Did you leave any for the rest of the patrons James?” Val asked with a chuckle.
He looked at her in confusion.
“Why would I do that?”
“Thank you James,” Tam said. “But you didn’t have to buy all that. I could have picked you up some swag from whatever was leftover once the shows ends.”
“I think not,” James said. “I collect opening night posters. Waiting for yours would be an insult I have no intention of ever giving.”
“You collect posters?” Val asked, trying to reconcile the very proper British gentleman James always comported himself to be with the notion of someone who collected something as lowbrow as a poster.
“Yes, from any concert I go to, particularly on opening night,” James said.
“Is there something especially magical about opening night posters?” Anna asked. James was their resident arcane scholar, and organized most of the magical support they required or requested.
“Not in a mystical sense,” James said. “I just find them charming.”
“What kind of posters do you have? I’ve never seen any hanging in your room?” Val said.
“They’re not meant for a work environment,” James said. “I keep them in my apartment and rotate the ones I have up occasionally.”
“Now I want to see your apartment,” Anna said.
“You are welcome anytime Ms. Ilyina,” James said, which was met with an answering smile from Anna. “Though I must temper your expectations. I feel my workspace in the Club’s aerie more accurately reflects who I am overall. I am at my apartment rarely enough that it is somewhat disheveled on most occasions.”
“God, now I want to tag along too,” Val said. “I can’t imagine you and disheveled in the same state, never mind the same room.”
“I assure you, I am no better than any other man in that regards,” James said.
“What did you think of the show?” Tam asked.
“It was spectacular,” James said. “I am at a loss for how you pulled off the vanishing escape at the end, especially since there was no hint of actual teleportation magic involved.”
“Thank you,” Tam said. “That one took a while to work out.”
“I must confess though I am somewhat puzzled by the closing effect,” James said.
“The Sea Faeries?” Tam asked.
“No, the glowing letters on the curtain,” James said.
“What glowing letters?” Val asked.
“The ones which read ‘Come Back to Me’. I thought they were an odd addition to the parting message with the doubloons,” James said, his words growing slower as he spoke and watched Tam’s confusion grow. “But none of you saw them, did you?”
He looked around between the Val, Anna, and Tam, searching for recognition in their eyes. There was none to find.
“That wasn’t part of the show,” Tam said, her eyes narrowing. “Where did you see these words?”
“On the curtains after they fell,” James said. “They were just a faint shimmer at first but the letters grew in clarity and brightness as the audience diminished.”
“I wasn’t looking at the stage once the show ended,” Anna said. “I was searching for a gap in the crowds to get back here.”
“Me too,” Val said. “Did anyone else notice the words?”
“No one mentioned them, but the flow of the crowd was out of the theater at that point. I was looking back towards the stage to see if I could see any of the setup work for the next performance. I thought it would help me puzzle out how the effects were accomplished.”
“Could the curtain words be something from the next act?” Val asked.
“No one else is going on tonight, and that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you’d setup early,” Tam said.
“We should go and have a look at these words,” Anna said.
The other nodded, and they moved as a group back to the stage. When they arrived there though, no glowing words were in evidence on the curtain. Only the stage techs were around, tidying up and putting away the electronics that had been used during the performance.
“I was standing over there when I saw the phrase appear,” James said, indicating the middle of one of the rows near the stage.
Val hopped down and walked to the spot James had pointed to.
“Nothing on the curtains anymore,” she said.
As she turned to look down at the chairs however, the lights in the theater died completely.
For an instant the dark was absolute and empty, but then the silence was broken by the moaning of the wind.
Except no wind was blowing in the theater.
Then the screaming began.
One of the techs started to freak out as words scrawled in pulsing red light were ripped into the curtain on the main stage.
“MINE” the first words read and, as it bled off the curtain, it was replaced with “cOme bACk to mE”.
That was more than the tech could handle. He turned and fled. Straight off the stage.
Val was too far away to save him from the fall.
Anna however was not.
Before he could reach the edge of the stage, she was beside him and managed to knock his feet out from under him so that he skidded to a stop before tumbling off onto either the first row of seats or the concrete in front of them.
That was good for the tech, but seemed to rouse the ire of whatever force had killed the lights and was fingerpainting on the curtains in glowing blood.
A light fell on the stage.
And then another.
Tam had to dodge the second one, and managed to pull James to safety before a third on crashed down on the spot where he’d been standing.
The shattered lights weren’t content to lay on the stage though. The wind which was roaring through the theater without any discernible physical presence was nonetheless able to send the broken shards of the lights swirling into the air.
The tech screamed louder as the hurricane of glass and steel whirled over them all, and Anna covered him with her body.
The intensity of the storm built higher until the darkness was split by a piercing light.
Standing at the center of the storm, Tam held her hands spread before her body, a ball of dazzling sunshine caught between her outstretched fingers.
The storm of glass diminished under the glare of the light and with a final howl, the winds rushed out of the building, and the theater’s remaining lights flooded the room with illumination.
“Sometimes you need more than just special effects,” Tam said, calling the raw magic she held back into her palms.
“Yes, and I believe we have our next case,” Anna said, rising from where the tech had curled into an unconscious fetal ball.