SLEIGHT OF HAND • by Oonah V Joslin

The audience was silent, the auditorium hushed. Amidst the velvet blackness of the stage, a single white glove appeared, its supple fingers slowly unfolding a fan of playing cards. A second glove emerged from the darkness and the fan, thrown towards it, disappeared. The gloves proudly displayed their empty palms to the delighted crowd. As the hands came together and rose, a pure white dove materialized, then was released into the rafters, to the sound of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.

Astonished gasps followed the visitation of a third hand. Try as they might, the watchers could see no one on the stage let alone someone possessed of three hands. A jeweled goblet, lit with an eerie flame, was held aloft in the cupped gloves, while the single glove drew a knife from nowhere and heated the sharp blade in the fire. The dagger lunged into the empty space before it and in its stead, a blood red scarf appeared, swirling round and round with graceful ebullience. A fourth hand joined the other three on stage, all four engaging in a kind of dance, continually meeting and parting, producing showers of silk scarves of every hue.

Finally the gloves on stage ripped away the black hoods hiding the faces of their animators, and then the black robes, uncovering dazzling costumes of red and gold underneath. The stage lights revealed no mechanisms or mirrors; no chicanery of deceit. It was a perfect illusion. Removing the gloves and casting them to one side, The Great Dexter and his beautiful assistant Sinistra took deep bows to appreciative applause.

In the dressing room, Tom Dexter and his wife Eliza fought like cat and dog. The furious arguments rang through the endless corridors and stairways that made up the backstage of many a provincial theatre, and were always about the same things–billing, venues, tour dates, cheap hotels, missed anniversaries.
“It isn’t as if we can’t afford better,” she complained.
“We could afford better if you’d stop squandering money on fancy jewelry and entertaining your bloody entourage!”
“Well, maybe if I got some attention from you!”
Why was he such a slave driver, she wanted to know, demanding endless rehearsals and forever adding some old, tired trick to the act?

Most of their performance involved the standard trappings of any magician’s trade–prestidigitation, vanishments and mind reading. This latest departure, into what amounted to mime, had been Eliza’s idea and she was never slow to point that out. There was even talk of them breaking onto the London circuit because of this innovation. Their agent had suggested a new poster:

Dexter & Sinistra
With their
Astonishing Magical Gloves.

Tom regarded it as a waste of money, and didn’t quite see how she deserved equal billing. Furthermore he wasn’t damned well sharing the bill with a pair of gloves. Thus it continued, night after night, week after week; on stage, harmony–acrimony off.

And so it was, there was no mention of the gloves on the billboard that eventually hailed their London debut. On the opening night, a packed house applauded the usual tricks, and awaited with anticipation the final act of the show–the by now greatly acclaimed, astonishing magical gloves.

Inky blackness fell on the stage. A glove appeared, showing off a deck of cards; a dove was released and flew high into the wings; empty palms manifested from deep obscurity, and in the occult stillness, a third white glove appeared almost floating towards the first two. The ritual goblet’s bluish flame once more licked the edges of the dagger. As it lunged forward, the breath was forced out of the performer’s body, and lurching into prominence, Dexter, in his frenzy to live, urgently tore at the black hood that covered his head and neck, ripping it apart. Few who saw that contorted expression ever forgot the terror and disbelief that they saw on his face, nor the frothing gurgle of blood that pumped from the victim’s throat, choking his dying words.

Several stage hands rushed to centre stage, but to no avail. Beside him on the boards, soaked in blood, they found but a single discarded glove. Its partner was discovered only later, still in the dressing room, its stainless fingers limp around the neck of she who should have worn it.

Oonah V Joslin lives in Northumberland, England. Winner of the Micro Horror Trophy 2007. Most read in EDF, Jan 2008. Guest judge in the Shine Journal 2008 Poetry Competition. Bewildering Stories Quarterly 4 2007 and 1 and 2 in 2008. She has had work published in Bewildering Stories, Twisted Tongue 8 & 9, Static Movement, 13 Human Souls, Back Hand Stories and The Pygmygiant, Lit Bits, The Linnet’s Wings, The Ranfurly Review and Boston Literary Magazine. The list is growing every month, which pleases her immensely!

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