The next day I found myself following obscure instructions texted to me by the Truth Teller.
The venue ‘The Tower’ didn’t come up on any searches I made, and I certainly couldn’t find it on Google Maps, so I followed what I was given and hoped for the best.
Fortunately, my hopes weren’t squashed. The Truth Teller’s directions led me down a few alley-ways, through a lot of twists and turns. I had to go back on myself a few times and at one point I was told to stop and wait for three minutes on an empty street before I was allowed to continue. I should have felt more afraid than I was, but the Truth Teller’s promise of more shows like the one I had seen seemed to trump any fears I might have had about being robbed and murdered.
Finally, I found what I was looking for in the form of a large, dark, but extravagant looking building. It looked like an old opera house; it definitely had the design of something from another century. On the front of the building in mismatched neon script a sign declared the building as THE TOWER. I’d made it.
I entered the venue with a group of other people. A lot of them seemed to be upper-class, their clothes and jewellery expressing their wealth. They’d probably come in armoured limos to get here without being robbed, but they were here, holding champagne glasses and laughing amongst each other.
There were a few people that suited my pay grade a little better. They wore discount suits and dresses and scavenged from the complimentary peanut trays at the bar. I wasn’t sure what to say to anyone, so I just bought a drink and found a place to myself. I watched the people around me as they talked excitedly with each other. A lot of them had come in groups, but I noticed a few people just like me, stood alone, waiting in the shadows. Some of them didn’t even have drinks; they just stood there impatiently, waiting for the show to begin.
Finally the wait was over. The bar tender rang a bell and everyone started milling over towards the golden doors at the far end of the room.
As I followed the group, I noticed that there were two people in red waistcoats posted by the doors. They held what looked like a stack of auction bidder cards, and they were handing them out to people who asked for them. The woman ahead of me took one and her friend turned to her with a grin.
“You’re placing one tonight?” she asked with a wary smile. “How much you got to spend?”
“Enough,” the woman said, gripping the card firmly. “I’ve been saving up all month for this chance.”
“What a rip off,” I heard a guy mutter from behind me.
I heard another guy chuckle just next to him. “Not gonna bother?”
“Why should I?” the first guy said. “Have you seen the jewels sparkling off some of these people? Of course they’re gonna place one. We won’t be shy of entertainment tonight.”
“Got that right.”
They both started laughing and I tried my best not to show my confusion. Instead, I shook my head when I was offered a card and walked in with the rest of the audience.
When the Truth Teller said the card would help, he hadn’t been lying. I was whisked to the front of the audience, priority seating right by the stage. I also realised just how out of place I was. Almost everyone else sat there were dressed in extravagant clothes, smelling of liquor and expensive perfume. I only saw one other person like me at the front, and they were gripping a card not dissimilar from my own like it was their only lifeline.
I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. Surely I was the only person that the Truth Teller had spoken to yesterday. Had there been others? Did he do this often? Had our conversation and casual exchange of phone numbers been nothing but a ruse to sell more tickets?
I took my seat and waited for the lights to go out. The second they did, that swell of electricity came back, surging inside of my stomach with a frenzied warmth.
The Truth Teller skipped his way to the centre of the stage. He wasn’t wearing a magician’s costume tonight, in fact he was in something similar to what I’d seen him wearing at the bar yesterday evening. He grinned out at the audience, his eyes scanning every face in the crowd. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but I could have sworn his gaze lingered on me just a little longer than everyone else.
He took a theatrical bow, sweeping his arm out in front of him.
“Welcome, welcome!” he enthused. “As most of you know already, I am the Truth Teller and this is the Tower!”
The audience ruptured into applause. I joined in along with them. The excitement inside of me only escalated with the crowd’s enthusiasm and I found myself grinning along with everybody else.
“To those of you who are new to this show, I am a very different kind of magician,” the Truth Teller said. “I don’t perform tricks to confuse you; I perform them to entertain and more-so to teach! All tricks performed here tonight will be explained for your convenience. Now,” he leaned in towards us conspiratorially, “do we have a fair trade?”
The audience started clapping. A very enthusiastic guy at the back yelled “HELL YEAH!” The audience laughed.
“Very well,” the Truth Teller said. “Then without further ado, let us begin!”
The show took on a similar turn of events as before. The Truth Teller would introduce us to his tricks and then explain how he performed them. Some of them were the same as before, some of them were brand new. With a larger stage at his disposal he was free to wander around with more elaborate apparatus. He performed a ‘teleporting’ trick and then exposed us the secret tunnels beneath the stage. It was entertaining, but the buzz inside of me was craving something more.
And from the general feeling in the crowd, I knew they were waiting for the same.
That’s when he began his ‘escapist’ section of the show. The stage hands for his personalised show were different from the ones yesterday. They all wore the customary black clothes, but each one was outfitted with an identical grey expressionless mask. They looked like something out of a Greek play. I guess it was sort of fitting for an old opera house.
The stage hands would tie up the Truth Teller, cuff him to objects, create sets around him, all with an emotionless grace that felt somewhat unsettling. He performed his water tank trick again and even a few similar to it, disconnecting and reconnecting his joints to get out of tricky situations.
Every time the timer wore thin, every time he was caught gasping for breath or bent out of shape in pain, the audience came alive. And so did I.
It was when the target board was brought back that everyone started to bristle.
“For this trick,” the Truth Teller announced, “I’ll need a volunteer.”
Thinking back to the assistant he’d had yesterday, I was expecting almost no one to raise their hand. Almost no one was correct, but some people did. A flurry of arms burst out from the audience from a number of different places amongst the crowd. The mask wearing stage hands appeared again, creeping out into the audience to stand alongside the rows where people had offered their service.
The Truth Teller inspected them all before nodding to one of the further stage hands. The mask bobbed up and down in a robotic nod before they reached their hand out to the volunteer.
The volunteer was male, and I thought I might have recognised him as one of the people pilfering peanuts at the bar. He seemed unexceptional at best, but eager enough to offer his help on one of the Truth Teller’s more dangerous tricks.
After seeing what had happened last night, I was on the edge of my seat.
The Truth Teller began with the usual theatrics. The stage hands gave him his knives and he prodded his finger with one of the blades like he had done the night before. I don’t think he needed to, there was no doubt that we all believed they were real.
The Truth Teller threw one practice shot without the blind fold, missing the man by several inches. The audience deflated slightly, and I felt it in myself too. The unexceptional man in front of the target didn’t even look afraid, just eager.
That’s when the Truth Teller turned back to the audience.
“Maybe I need a little more… persuasion,” he announced, pressing a finger to his lips as people began to murmur their excitement. I didn’t understand what he was talking about.
Before the Truth Teller could say another word, a woman from the front row stood up with her bidding card. “Four hundred!” she yelled.
“Fuck off!” someone called out from two rows behind. They stood up with their bidding card. “A thousand!”
“Two thousand!” someone else cried.
I glanced about me in bewilderment as more and more people stood from their seats, proclaiming higher and higher numbers with their bidding cards outstretched in their hands.
The Truth Teller didn’t stop anyone, he simply waited until the numbers wore thin. People stopped yelling around the five thousand mark, although two people from the first and fifth row had been bartering ten at a time for several minutes before row five admitted defeat.
“Five thousand?” the Truth Teller asked impishly. “Sold!”
The woman whooped her excitement as she stood from her seat. Obviously, she knew exactly what she was doing because she walked straight over to the stairs at the corner of the stage. She walked up to the Truth Teller, perusing the blades before picking out an exceptionally large throwing knife.
“This one,” she said, just loud enough for the crowd to hear.
“But of course.” The Truth Teller bowed.
“You do it,” she said again, handing the knife to him.
The Truth Teller looked exceptionally pleased.
I watched as the Truth Teller took his blind fold and wrapped it around his eyes. The woman who had just paid five grand to pick out a knife stood next to him, her eyes hungry for what she was about to see.
I didn’t understand until I watched the Truth Teller strike.
The movement was so fast I almost didn’t catch it. I only realised what had happened when the unexceptional man at the target let out a guttural howl of agony.
The knife had imbedded straight into his shoulder, a steady flow of blood was already blossoming beneath his cheap suit.
A jolt of electricity shot through my heart. For just a few seconds all I could do was stare.
Then suddenly I was up on my feet with the rest of the audience, clapping away and cheering with all my might.
The unexceptional man began to stagger, but two stage hands appeared from behind the curtain and held him up. One of them cuffed his arms to the target to keep him from falling.
The woman who’d just paid five grand whooped in excitement, jumping up and down in childish glee.
The Truth Teller strode up to the unexceptional man and grabbed the hilt of the knife sticking out of his shoulder. With one sharp tug, the knife came free, spitting blood onto the stage. The audience laughed and I laughed along with them.
It was oddly infectious seeing a man injured like that. I can’t describe it. Call it crowd psychology all you want, but the more excited the audience was, the more excited I was. The buzz in my chest and stomach tingled and burned. I’d never felt this energised before, this free. Everything seemed clearer and as the Truth Teller turned back to the audience, blindfold in hand, I suddenly wished I’d taken a bidding card at the doors. Not that I would have been able to pay for much of anything.
“Next!” the Truth Teller said. “Larger numbers means a meatier hit!”
And so it went on. Three or four people bid their way to the top, each taking their turn up on stage. The way I saw it, they were more than welcome to throw the knife for themselves, but every single one of them decided against it. Whether it was because they wanted their money’s worth from a professional knife thrower or if they were just too afraid to do it for themselves, I couldn’t tell, but I enjoyed the show either way.
As the money got more absurd, the Truth Teller took more daring shots. He threw a knife into the man’s leg, then his stomach and finally, straight at his dick. It was horrifying. But it was amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
By the time the Truth Teller was done, the man’s suit was slick with blood. He was slumped on the target, completely spent. Two of the stage hands took him and dragged him off the stage. It was only when the interval was announced that I began to wonder whether the man was okay.
The buzz in my stomach began to fade as we all milled out back to the bar for our fifteen minutes of self indulging. I took a stool before they were all taken and bought myself a double whiskey. I needed the fire, but I wasn’t quite ready to numb myself.
I felt… I can’t explain it. I’d just witnessed a man being impaled several times by eager audience members who’d quite literally bet on his life and… I felt good. Better than good. For the first time in my life I truly felt alive.
The rest of the audience seemed to be buzzing just as much as I was.
“I did it, I finally did it!” the woman responsible for the gut shot exclaimed to her group of friends. “A year of saving finally paid off.”
“Fucking pussy,” the guy responsible for the dick shot chortled.
“Well now he definitely is,” one of his friends countered.
The group ruptured into hysterical laughter.
I’d never seen a group of people this happy before. Even the peanut eaters seemed content with just watching the show. I know I was.
The voice was familiar and, as I turned around I saw a man stood behind me wearing a familiar expressionless mask. There was no mistaking the voice though, I knew it was the Truth Teller.
“Holy shit,” I said. “Holy shit.”
He guided me around a corner, a hallway that led off from the bathrooms. No one was around so no one would notice their entertainer for the night was walking amongst them.
“Holy shit,” I said again when we were alone.
The Truth Teller laughed. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it.”
“I’m fucking elated,” I said breathlessly. “I just… I don’t understand. How the Hell did you get that guy to come up on stage?” I quickly rethought my question. “Shit, I uh mean, is he okay?”
The Truth Teller’s smile widened. “He will be.”
“Shit,” I hissed.
“Are you familiar with stooges?” the Truth Teller asked offhandedly.
It took me a moment to remember the term. “Sure, people who work for a magician. They get placed in the audience and- oh fuck that’s clever.”
The Truth Teller grinned. “You really do wonders for my self-confidence.”
“How the Hell do you get a person to do that for you?” I asked. “Do you pay them?”
The Truth Teller winked. “Remember what I told you before. There are all sorts of people out there. Some of them volunteer for this kind of work.”
“Sure.” I laughed. “Bet it doesn’t have to do with the fuck ton of money they get for it.”
The Truth Teller only continued to smile.
We chatted for a while longer before he had to retreat back to the stage for the second half of the show. He warned me in advance that things got more intense, but I was ready for it. I wanted to see what would happen next.
I entered back with the usual crowd, my excitement already overflowing as I took my seat in the dark.
The lights came back on stage.
“The last act is always the shortest,” the Truth Teller spoke from an unknown source.
I glanced around the stage but it was empty of people. The only thing I could see was a large block roughly the size of a bed placed centre stage.
That’s when the Truth Teller reappeared.
The audience broke into a hasty applause and I followed suit. The Truth Teller bowed once before throwing his arm towards the audience.
“I’m in need of another volunteer.”
Now I knew the Truth Teller’s game, I was less confused about the amount of hands that went up. Most of them were probably stooges, maybe a few people who knew about them had put their hands up too just to be edgy. Who knew? Maybe there were a few true masochists in the room.
A woman was picked from a few rows back. She looked rich, wearing a long red dress and expensive looking gold jewellery. She definitely looked more interesting than the first guy. The Truth Teller was right, there really are all sorts of people out there.
A stage hand walked her to the stage with their strange jittery walk and left her in the hands of the Truth Teller. He pointed to the block.
“Lie down,” he said.
The woman complied.
As the woman lay on the block, the stage hands got to work. They brought out more apparatus from backstage, including what looked to be three thin but incredibly sharp-looking blades. They were attached to the apparatus that now hung above her. Now, it gave the impression that she was laid under three guillotines. One above her knees, one above her stomach, and one above her neck.
This one… unnerved me.
I’d seen this trick done a bunch of times. I knew how it worked from inside out. But for the trick to work properly…
The stage hands came on with one final surprise. They placed three black blocks over the woman’s body, only separated with thin incisions where the guillotine-like blades could slice through.
If this had been a trick… no, it was a trick. Surely this one was a trick. But a part of me said that it wasn’t. No… a part of me hoped that it wasn’t.
The Truth Teller gestured to three strings, each tied to different parts of the stage, each connected to one of the blades. He pulled out a pair of scissors.
The audience began to talk excitedly.
“This is a trick I’m sure a lot of you have seen over the years,” the Truth Teller said, winking to the audience. “Of course I’m sure you also know that this trick has been modified for the show.”
The Truth Teller walked forward, spreading his arms out towards the audience. “What a lot of you wouldn’t have known is that during the interval, I walked amongst you in a stage hand’s mask. I spoke to a few of you, and I exchanged bids with a few more.” He smiled wickedly. “Seeing someone injured for sick entertainment is one thing, but this is my finisher, my big finale. Tonight, depending on the few lucky bidders I spoke to tonight, this trick may work as expected. Or it might fail.”
The Truth Teller reached one arm back to point at the woman laid out on the block. She seemed perfectly content to be lying there, staring at three blades that could quite possibly kill her.
“Shall we find out?” the Truth Teller asked.
The audience cheered like mad. Again, the second their energy picked up, so did mine. I cheered as loudly as I could, even when my hands hurt from clapping and my throat stung from screaming, I only let up when everyone else did.
“Which string should I cut first?” the Truth Teller asked with an innocent smile.
“Her neck!” someone screamed.
“We have a winner!” the Truth Teller announced.
He didn’t even wait for the audience to stop talking. He drew the scissors and with a finite snap, he cut the string.
The blade fell, slicing down through the centre of the woman’s body.
A few people shrieked in glee. Everyone else watched on in fascination. I stopped breathing.
The woman opened her eyes, body shaking in terror as she looked at the blade severing her torso from her legs.
The Truth Teller strode forward, grabbing the two blocks that covered those parts of her body. In one motion, he drew them apart. The woman separated, but in the typical magician’s style of the trick. No blood, no gore, the woman was fine. The Truth Teller pushed the blocks together.
“Which one next?” the Truth Teller asked. This time when he spoke, his voice was harder, harsher.
He didn’t even wait for a reply from the audience. He lunged to the string closest to him, the one connected to the woman’s legs, and he cut.
The blade descended.
The woman screamed.
And she kept screaming.
There was a sickening crunch of bone as the blade imbedded itself into her legs. Blood began to ooze out of the cracks, seeping onto the floor. Someone started to clap, someone else began to laugh. The Truth Teller leant over the two blocks by her legs and with a much harder pull, he separated them.
Blood poured onto the floor. From the knee downward the woman had been severed. The bone was clear through the flesh and sinew, dripping from vicious tears through the muscle. A vein was openly gaping and pumping more blood onto the floor.
“And what about the final one?” the Truth Teller asked. He sounded out of breath, I couldn’t tell if he was happy or angry, or maybe both.
He cut the string.
The blade descended and in typical guillotine fashion, the blade sliced into the woman’s neck and severed her head.
It bounced onto the ground, the woman’s mouth and eyes working like a gaping fish for a few precious seconds before they both grew still. Blood continued to flow from both wounds, pattering on the ground like a light rain storm.
And we ruptured into applause.
The electricity inside of me was like a fire. I couldn’t get enough. I stood from my seat and clapped as hard as I dared. I whooped just as loudly as the rest of the crowd. I was in pure bliss.
I don’t know why I did it, I truly don’t, but it was amazing. Seeing the woman’s stomach being spared had instilled in us a false sense of security. We hadn’t expected it like we’d expected the blades, hadn’t openly bid for anything at all. No one knew who had paid for the woman to be killed, but we all cheered just as ferociously. In many ways that night, it didn’t matter who had paid the money, we’d all gotten a taste of the entertainment.
I remembered the two men who’d spoken behind me as we’d gone into the auditorium that evening. Suddenly, what they had said made sense. Looking at all the rich people in the crowd, of course they expected the night to go this way. Maybe they’d been to several of these shows, maybe they’d seen various results.
Oh God the various results. Every night the same satisfaction followed by a different outcome. A finishing act that could end in death or nothing at all. Suddenly, as the Truth Teller announced the end of the show, I felt something inside of me twist and change. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to go back out into the real world after what I’d seen. I needed another hit. I needed to see another show. As soon as possible.
The Truth Teller found me at the bar. It wasn’t hard all things considered; I’d waited there for almost three hours until everyone else cleared out.
“Someone’s eager,” he said in that same lightly amused voice.
He bought me a whiskey on the rocks.
“Tell me,” I said, holding out the tarot card. “Is this only good for one show?”
The Truth Teller grinned. “The venue changes often. We always call it the Tower, but unfortunately, yes, I’m afraid the card will only help you tonight.”
“How much are tickets?” I demanded.
The Truth Teller’s smile grew even wider. Something sparked in his dark eyes. “Expensive, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll pay,” I insisted.
“Starting price is five hundred,” the Truth Teller said. “Although the seats aren’t nearly as good.”
“I’ll pay it,” I repeated, taking a swig of my drink. “What’s the price for front row?”
“Thousand?” I shook my head. “Okay, okay, what about something under a thousand?”
“Eight hundred will get you a little closer.” The Truth Teller shrugged. “But not much.”
“What about another tarot?” I tried. I knew I was getting dangerously close to grovelling.
“They’re for first timers only, I’m afraid.”
“Not even for me?” I knew it was a stab in the dark.
Surprisingly, the Truth Teller’s expression shifted. He mulled over my words thoughtfully before tapping the counter. “Eight hundred for the middle row,” he conceded. “That’s as best as I can get you.”
“When’s the next show?”
“When can you get me the money?”
A laugh caught in my throat. “Soon.”
The Truth Teller’s smile was cat like as he finished his drink. “Then, soon.”
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