Svengali

Joe and Tom are journalists. They are investigating the mysterious performer named Sven Gale after numerous disappearances surrounding him.

When they investigate, their lifes are in more danger than expected and their disappearances more creative than realised.

Will they make it out alive?

“This flower can both kill and cure. Its scent can revive you but if you eat it, it will kill you,” said Sven darkly, as he paced around the room. He was an evil man who radiated darkness.

Joe Thorne and Tom Longstone trembled as he spoke.

“Grub’s up? Nope? This can be saved for later,” he added. He delicately placed the flower on a shelf to the side of him which was in the eye-line of the fearful journalists. “What you see now is a façade. This is my kinder and more considerate side. When I return, the darker side of me will be released. And so, pick a card.” He retrieved two identical playing cards from his jacket pocket. “One of them says “Trick” and the other says “Treat”. Whoever chooses the “Trick” card…I’ll leave that to your imaginations.” The dark figure placed the cards face down in the centre of the room which was directly between his two hostages. “Or you could just kill yourself.” He sneered at them and winked as he left the room.

Joe looked at Tom and Tom looked at Joe. They stared at each other for a few seconds and did not break eye contact. Tom couldn’t stand the pressure and looked away. “I, for one, will never lower myself to commit suicide,” stated Joe. A silence echoed around the room. It was a florists shop and surrounding them were numerous baskets of colourful plants with enchanting scents but because the room was darkened, they could not distinguish their features. “He’s bluffing. There is no such thing as hypnosis or power of the mind. If there were, we would be a blubbering mess. Okay? It’s just not possible.”

Tom quivered. Joe simply looked at him with pity. In the other room, they could hear the sharpening of knives and a faint chuckling.

“It’s ironic that I was only reading through my research on him last Tuesday. Dates back to the 1800s,” said Joe thoughtfully. It felt like he was not entirely present, as though his mind was working quickly but not responding. “I should have guessed. It was obvious! But that’s what performers do; they are confidence tricksters. What’s in a name?”

Tom was now confused and this made him even more frightened; what he didn’t know, scared him.

Joe laughed but it seemed desperate and crazy. “Sven. Mister Sven Gale. He’s not even Swedish, for Christ’s sake! Svengali!” Joe blurted out.

All of a sudden, a voice came from the other side of the wall. “Tick tock, tick tock. Time’s running out!” shouted Sven playfully. Tom panicked and began to shake violently with a stream of tears running down his face.

Joe just shook his head. “I knew from day one that I should have never had an apprentice. The responsibility is on me. Look at you! You’re pathetic.” Joe remarked.

Tom looked at the shelf which held the flower and Joe looked at him and then to the shelf. Tom made a dive towards the flower and grabbed it in both hands. “NO!” shouted Joe but it was too late. Tom had swallowed the flower whole.

A whistle echoed around the room to the tune of the Funeral March. Footsteps pounded against the floor and it felt like the entire room was moving. Sven entered with a wicked grin on his face. “The Sorcerer and the Apprentice. I usually love journalists but you guys are different. You are actually journalists who tell the truth. Now you understand why I must dispose of you,” taunted Sven.

Tom cried, “Why am I not dead yet?!”

Sven just laughed. Tom realised it was yet another conjuring trick; the flower was a placebo.

“I need a volunteer! Ah, Mr Longstone, you will do perfectly. Please reveal your card to the audience,” commanded Sven in a theatrical voice.

Tom slowly selected a card from the two beside them; his hands shook when he did this. It felt like much time had passed when he turned the card round and it revealed his fate. In dark red ink it stated, “TRICK”. At that moment, all the colour ran from his face.

“And SLEEP,” ordered Sven and as he said those words Tom slumped down into a trance. “As you hear my voice, I will be talking to your sub-conscious. When you awake, all the oxygen from this room will be removed and you will choke to your demise. 3 2 1. And RETURN.”

As Tom awoke from his trance, a sense of panic crossed his face. He was gasping for air. He tried to speak but couldn’t do so. His fingers clawed at the floor and he was choking.

“Think Tom! Why isn’t it affecting me? There is plenty of oxygen in the room! Breathe man! It’s all suggestion!” cried Joe in desperation but it was falling upon deaf ears. Tom was twisting and turning in agony and suddenly, he stopped and collapsed. He was dead.

“It’s such a shame that this wouldn’t work on you but you’re an intelligent man, Mr Thorne. You know all too well that hypnosis is play-acting and the power of suggestion. Turn over your card,” Sven sneered.

Joe found the remaining card and flipped it over. It was neither a “TRICK” card nor a “TREAT” card.

“Okay. I lied. That’s the confession of a conjuror, I’m afraid. But at least I’m honest about my dishonesty.” The card was a Joker card. “I don’t understand,” Joe mumbled quietly.

As Joe looked up, the street lights outside and the lights of all the buildings, including the florists, turned off abruptly. They were in complete darkness. Joe sat in the same position for a few seconds in anticipation. The silence was deafening.

From inside the florists, Sven boomed, “PLAY-TIME!!!” and Joe knew that his life was about to end.

The End

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