The stage lights were brighter than normal, limiting my vision of the sold out crowd. My nerves were on edge, knowing that my peers were salted in among the enthusiasts. The annual award competition between local magic clubs was always intense and provided great entertainment for fans, and this night was no different.
I had just taken another bow, extending the applause a bit longer. My assistants flanked me, so I gave them the signal. The house lights came up and the women made their way into the audience, seeking volunteers for my final act.
The escape routine was straightforward to impress fellow magicians. I had no gimmicks or failsafe levers, just a simple timer release and a guillotine blade that swung down to slice open anyone seated on the wooden chair. The failsafe was removed to heighten the tension and capture the highest award possible from the show.
I had done the escape numerous times and typically got out of the chains and ropes within the first thirty seconds. This gave me ninety seconds to daydream before jumping out of the blade’s path a fraction of a second before it swung past the chair, which always generated applause.
But something didn’t seem right during this performance. There were too many volunteers bombarding my assistants for their attention. My assistants normally had to beg a few people to join me on stage, which works out well, as hesitant people seldom tie good knots and rarely figure out how to immobilize me with chains and padlocks.
Six volunteers followed my assistants to the stage. One looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. My memory raced to figure out who the man was. In the meantime, my lead assistant demonstrated the power of the blade. She manually released the guillotine lever, which was followed by five quick clacking sounds and the blade swinging down hard and fast, slicing a watermelon that was set on the chair. The blade was so sharp that it split the watermelon in half without splattering any of it.
Once the assistant reloaded the blade into its cocked position, I took a seat on the chair and signaled the assistants to have me constrained. The assistants held up boxes of rope, straps, chains and padlocks for the volunteers. Within seconds all four limbs and my torso were secured. Then it dawned on me who the man was, but it was too late.
The volunteer tied my neck to the chair with a rope. His technique suggested that he knew exactly how to immobilize me. As he pulled his last knot taut, he whispered in my ear, “I’ve tied a knot that will tighten with every attempt to escape.” He walked away with a crooked smile. He was from the Elmhurst Magicians Club.
As one of my assistants helped the volunteers back to their seats, the other set up a four-panel dressing screen in front of me to block the audience’s view of my escape work. The lead assistant then hit the timer and the 2-minute countdown began. I immediately shifted my neck to determine the man’s ability and found that every move pinched the rope deeper into my skin. His assessment was accurate.
Thirty seconds into the routine, my lead assistant stepped back and glanced at me. Instead of daydreaming, she found me in the exact same position when the screen was set in place. Shock filled her face and the audience started whispering.
Since time was of the essence, I started to untie my hands, waist and legs. My right foot was freed, but my left foot was still in place. By shifting my weight around and twisting my torso, I was able to find the slack in the chain, freeing my right hand to work on the knot holding my neck to the chair.
The timer clicked down to sixty seconds remaining. My lead assistant nervously glanced behind the screen and gasped. The crowd’s murmur grew louder, driving the curiosity of my second assistant. She left her position and glanced behind the screen. A shriek bellowed from her mouth, causing one of the competition judges to stand and ask, “Is something wrong?”
My assistant quickly moved back to her position and tried to calm herself. The din of the audience increased. Another judge stood, not knowing what to do. My lead assistant noticed there was only thirty seconds left on the clock and glanced back at me. Our eyes connected. I wasn’t free. Her eyes welled and she turned abruptly to the timer. She grabbed the hand on the timing clock and tried to stop it from moving.
My other assistant turned pale and ran off stage in tears. Someone from the audience yelled out, “Don’t let him die!” My assistant returned to the stage with an axe to cut the ropes, but the clacking paralyzed her.
I stood and yanked my left foot from the ropes, twisting the chair slightly from its position. The rope’s chokehold was significant, but I lunged forward, knocking over the dressing screen as the swinging blade shattered the chair into pieces. I stood up and reached out my hands to both assistants.
We stepped forward into a grand barrage of applause, as the rope around my neck fell to the floor. The third judge stood with the other two applauding our climatic ending. Within seconds everyone was giving us a standing ovation. Both assistants were eating up the applause and reflecting their gratitude back to the audience with broad smiles.
My one assistant leaned toward me and whispered, “You know we won the competition.” I smiled and took another bow. My lead assistant turned and looked me in the eyes. “You’ve just retired that escape,” she quipped. “You’ll never be able to recreate such a memorable performance.”
Years later as I reflected back on that night, I remembered the incredible adrenaline rush in the final two seconds. It was during that specific moment when God’s grace allowed me to stumble forward out of the rope. I could hardly believe it.
The odds of my left foot slipping out of the rope in the exact moment the blade splintered the chair was amazing. It was something that could never be planned or recreated. It was greater than the awe brought about by any illusion. It was a magical moment in reality that was perfectly orchestrated by God’s grace.
Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers
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