The flashes of ghoulish light illuminate the semi-possessed doll scribbling missives about death and the past, while the medium calls out into the darkness.
“Whatever you do, do not break the circle!”
The massive table bucks and creaks, and our hands — flat against its surface — ride along.
Harry Houdini’s ghostly voice booms, charging the unseen, molesting demonic force with despicable misdeeds, ordering it Out! Out! — like Lady Macbeth’s damned spot.
A tambourine whizzes past my head, crashing into the wall and settling among some of Houdini’s belongings. Bits of light reflect in Little Emily’s eyes, dancing downward along her porcelain hands.
And then, silence. The table drops. Collective sighs melt into the darkness. Light returns.
Earlier in the evening, I’m watching magicians rouse the crowd with their parlor tricks — sleights of hand veiled by Cheshire Cat grins. And I clap my hands along, sloshing my spent lime wedge with the last bit of vodka.
Bows are taken, hats are tipped, and everyone pours out of the Palace of Mystery, straight to the bar. We weave through the crowd with our friends, attempting to find other mystical corners within the labyrinthine castle. Turning down a packed staircase, I brush my shoulder against a man mumbling about the crowd. It’s Casey Affleck.
I stare at Andy. He raises his eyebrows. We keep moving.
Soon enough, we about-face, winding our way back up to the bar for sliders, truffle fries, and cake. Which is exactly what I’m eating when I turn and see Neil Patrick Harris ducking inside the same chamber we’d left minutes before.
More raised eyebrows. More food to eat. We keep going.
Because we can’t exactly have a seance on empty stomachs.
The medium enters through a side door, his demeanor serious, his voice calm but direct. He regales us with stories of the castle, and the man whose name this room bears: Houdini. Relic locks and barrels and sideshow props adorn the walls and fill glass cases. And I wonder which of these hide the peep-holes, the pulleys, the bits and bobs that’ll be used to scare the bejesus out of us.
He concludes a story, and asks me for a time — any hour of my choosing. And I tell him; and he shows the pocket watch in his palm reading the exact hour I’d mentioned. My vision fuzzes from amusement and incredulity.
And just how did he do that?
More volunteers are given little chance to remain seated and quiet.
Trinkets are dumped onto the table. Selections are made. Doll hands and boots are left on the table, like the tragic leavings of some playground toy tussle. More names are elicited from the group, and chalkboards write out the answers dancing around in the confused heads among us.
But we all know it’s smoke and mirrors, with a bit of imagination and a little luck — all vital ingredients combined to form the glue that holds the whole show together.
Because without one, cracks form. Silences aren’t filled. Answers aren’t given.
We must keep to our craft. Adding this and that. Changing spells and writing new ones.
All of us — magicians, conjuring.