Three Days

Editor's note: The following story was forwarded to me by a well-known and (previously) well-respected magi from "The Empire State" who would prefer to remain anonymous. I will respect his wish as long as the monthly checks are on time.

I don't know how so many of you can make light of Flash Mildew's act. Those of us who have seen his act have to deal with the emotional scars on a daily basis.

Some memories should stay locked away in the deepest recesses of the mind. If they do surface, it's best to talk about them -- at least that's what my therapist says. Since the new medication seems to be taking the edge off the pain, I'll try.

It started when I woke at 4 AM to flashing red lights and someone knocking on my front door. When I opened the door I saw a half-dozen police cars and several officers controlling an unruly mob. I heard "obscene," "perverted," "sexual deviate", and "duck pond." I realized with a gulp that several members of the police force had their guns drawn and pointing in my direction. The officer at my door said "Do you know anything about this?" So saying, he reached into the bushes and removed a vagabond with a duck-shape flotation device around his waist. Under the algae I recognized... Mildew!

"Yes. I know him. I can take him off your hands." The officer looked relieved, and the rest of the police force put their guns back in their holsters. They dispersed the crowd with some difficulty.

My luck had been running good recently, and I hadn't seen Flash for a few years. I suppose I was due. I asked him why he "blessed" me with his visit. He muttered something about passing on the mantle; teaching someone his stage act. Well, the subject of money came up quickly. The figure doubled several times, and we soon had agreement. Flash cackled, said something about sealing the deal with a meal, and headed for my liquor cabinet.

Perhaps I was over-confident. Still, I felt the price was fair, considering the alternative. Not only would he *not* teach me his act, but I wouldn't even be forced to *watch* it. I drank half of the glass Flash handed me before I noticed my legs was going numb. "What's in this?", I asked. He said he used whatever liquor I had, plus the contents of the medicine chest. I glanced over and saw bottles of rubbing alcohol, Calamine lotion, and Vick's Vaporub. The last I remembered before I blacked out was Flash tearing up my check, laughing.

I came to with a headache that felt like elephants wrestling inside my head -- elephants wearing cleats. I realized I was tied up. Duct tape was wrapped thickly around my arms and legs. The room was darkened. I knew what was next; panic gripped my stomach.

A light turned on, and Flash entered with his stage outfit. Plaid pants, pin-stripe jacket, clip-on Polka-dot tie and Hawaiian shirt. An involuntary groan escaped my lips.

He stood in front of a table, which had a grocery bag on top. He gestured with his left hand, reached into the bag with his right and, with a flourish, produced a bottle of beer. Which a magical pass of the hand over the top of the bottle, he produced a bottle cap. At this point, he performed his best effect. He turned up the bottle, and in a fraction of a second, the bottle was empty. I believe this was the infamous "Flash" vanish, and may be the real reason for his nickname.

He had a running gag between each effect; he pointed at me and said "Pull my finger." I knew better, and couldn't have participated even had I wished because my arms were taped to the chair. The first time he asked, he pulled his own finger and was baffled for a few minutes when his thumb tip came off. While counting fingers, the tip ended up on his thumb again, and this delayed the act for several more minutes as he counted again. About the third time he tried the gag, Flash stopped in the middle, saying something about "Grand Finale" and "La Petomaine". That name was familiar, but I didn't immediately recall where I had heard it before.

He continued with several classic Flash effects: "Linking Velcro Strips", and "Torn and Restored Silly Putty" (Except it wasn't Silly Putty. The color was wrong, and he had a head cold. Don't make me say any more. Please.)

He performed one effect I hadn't heard of before: he placed a large sponge ball in his hand, removed scissors from his jacket, and with a magical gesture, he opened his hand to show two oddly-shaped sponge balls." He repeated this, and opened his hand to show four balls, smaller still. Then with a very complex scissor flourish, he opened it to show a fist full of small sponge chunks.

After this sequence, and an number of "Flash vanishes", he moved to the "big stuff." He showed a industrial-sized plastic garbage bag, closed the top with duct tape, and then explained how he was going to escape from this "death trap." He then stared at the bag and turned it around a few times as he tried to figure a way to get inside the bag while it was sealed.

I prayed he would give up, but he reached for his scissors, cut the top off the bag, and climbed inside. Struggling, he managed to seal the inside of the bag with the duct tape. He then started the escape, which I suspected would take a long time -- the scissors fell on the floor before he climbed into the bag, you see. But the snoring that soon emerged from the bag proved to be the real tip-off.

I've experienced a variety of pain in my life, including a poke in my eye with a pointed stick (buy me a beer some day and I'll tell you more), but it was all a joyride compared to my tenure in the audience of this show. And the horror factory was just warming up...

I don't know why Flash didn't suffocate in the plastic bag. Granted, it was fairly large. I also don't think anyone's body chemistry is remotely like Flash's (lucky for them), but the magnitude of the ordeal should have killed us both.

I yelled over the snoring, but either the neighbors couldn't hear me, or they avoided the scene of Flash's last sighting. The first 24 hours passed like an eternity in Hell. Then I descended toward the next level.

Interspersed with the snoring was a sputtering, sizzling sound. Like the Chinese Water Torture, those sounds haunted me for hours. I suddenly realized that things could soon get much, much worse. The air supply in the bag seemed to be INCREASING. I screamed as loud as I could, until my voice gave out an hour later. La Petomaine! Oh no!

[Editor's note: those unfamilliar with the above referenced performer may inform themselves via this website: La Petomaine]

I've seen Flash empty a theater in seconds, and that was when he was in the audience, if you know what I mean. I struggled, trying to break free from the duct tape, which held me firmly to the chair. For hours I watched that bag slowly expand. I thought about Flash waking up and opening that bag. I longed for death.

Exhausted, dehydrated, and near death -- the third day of my ordeal was spent in free-fall toward the deepest regions of the underworld. Apparently Flash was starting to wake up. He began rolling around, dragging that bilious bag with him. Minor leaks occurred, leaving my eyes burning and my lungs reluctant to inhale. The end would come soon, I hoped.

And then it happened. With a sudden revival of energy, Flash rolled himself and the bag into a table and lamp. The lamp fell to the floor and lost it's shade as the bag continued to roll over it. I smelled plastic burning! With superhuman effort I overturned the heavy chair, and crawled with elbows and forehead toward the far end of the room. I remember a roar, and a bright blue flame.

I awoke in the hospital. The house was totaled. Insurance adjusters paid off quickly and encouraged me to build a new house on the site, but a certain "aroma" clung to the neighborhood and refused to go away. I sold the lot as quickly as I could. There were many new "For Sale" signs nearby.

They never found a body in the wreckage. I concluded that the bag became a jet-propelled ejector pod and blew Flash clear, because I still hear reports about him.

I'll miss that house, and the neighborhood. It's gotten an infamous reputation, but the facts are wrong. Perhaps you have heard of Love Canal? Forget the rumors. Now you know the real truth, and the real cause.

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