21 May 2010

"Nothing Up His Sleeve"

By Curtis C. Chen

Maurice saw Beatrice waving the no-rabbit signal behind her back. That was bad. No rabbit meant no real magic, and mere tricks and illusions weren't going to impress the potential investors in the audience.

Maurice stepped up and put his palm on Beatrice's upper arm, giving the cue for their first trick. She looked at him with raised eyebrows. He nodded. She inhaled through clenched teeth, then curtsied to the audience and exited stage left.

Maurice started slow, doing more talking than conjuring; he pulled handkerchiefs from a hidden pocket, lit a flash-paper button off his jacket with a concealed striker, compressed soft foam balls between deft fingers. The audience oohed and aahed, as expected, but these sleights of hand were not Maurice's true talent. They were merely a reliable warm-up, a way to stall for time while Beatrice prepared the apparatus and he prayed for his power to manifest.

All too soon, Beatrice wheeled a small platform to center stage. On the platform was a glass terrarium, and inside the terrarium was a single Venus Flytrap. The plant took up most of the rectangular space, half a dozen thick stalks topped by pairs of oval flaps, spiked at the edges and joined by a red membrane. Two of the traps were closed.

The audience murmured as Maurice explained the peculiar nature of the carnivorous Dionaea muscipula, how it trapped and digested its insect prey. He indicated the two closed traps and described how the plant had been fed shortly before the show—he did not specify how shortly, for Beatrice had done it only after his on-stage signal—and how he had to act quickly to perform his rescue.

Maurice gestured to Beatrice, and they each took one end of the terrarium, lifting it to show there was nothing underneath, no hidden compartment in the platform, no devices buried in the dirt. Then they put the glass case back down, and Beatrice stepped aside while Maurice waved his hands over the plant, loudly reciting gibberish.

After a moment, the Venus Flytrap quivered inside the terrarium, and one of the closed traps twitched open. Inside, a single fly righted itself, unstuck its wings, and rose into the air.

The audience applauded, and Maurice smiled at Beatrice with relief. His happiness was short-lived, as he saw her eyes grow wide.

Maurice looked down and saw more insects emerging from every open trap on the plant—flies, beetles, wasps, even spiders. They crawled over the green stalks, buzzed around the enclosure, collided against the glass walls and mesh ceiling.

The audience cheered. Maurice beamed at them and presented the spectacle with a flourish of his hands, as if it was all part of the show. He blinked away the sweat which had trickled from his forehead down to his eyes. The moisture and the stage lights blurred his vision into a multicolored haze.

"The rabbit!" he hissed at Beatrice. "Bring it out! Now!"


Photo: wizard at House on the Rock, Wisconsin, July, 2008