The Magical Detectives and the Forbidden Spell – Extract
‘What I don’t understand is why Madame Sikursky is performing in Bridlington Chawley,’ said Otto Spinoza. He was twelve years old with floppy brown hair and clear blue eyes, and would have looked to most passers-by like a perfectly ordinary schoolboy. Only a handful of people knew that in his spare time he was a Magical Detective, dedicated to solving crimes with a supernatural origin.
‘I don’t think it’s particularly strange,’ said Juliet Pennington, Otto’s friend and fellow detective. ‘Madame Sikursky is a stage hypnotist. Giving performances is what she does.’
Juliet, who was a few weeks older than Otto, was a very sensible girl, not at all the sort of person you would expect to be involved in supernatural happenings. But she’d been accidentally caught up in a magical adventure with Otto the previous Summer and found to her surprise that she enjoyed it enormously. Now she was staying with Otto for a few weeks because her parents had gone to Cheshire to look after her grandmother
The pair of them were standing outside the Belsham Theatre in Bridlington Chawley at seven o’clock on a rather damp November evening. They were waiting for Maximillian Hawksmoor, the founder of the Magical Detective agency to which they all belonged. He was the one who had bought them tickets to see the world famous hypnotist.
‘Yes but she’s been on tv,’ Otto pointed out. ‘She’s appeared in London, Paris, New York, Rome and now… here. It simply doesn’t make sense. I mean Bridlington Chawley isn’t exactly the showbiz capital of the world, is it?’
‘Here’s Max now,’ Juliet said. ‘Why don’t you ask him?
Striding briskly along the street in their direction was a tall man with jet black hair, very bushy eyebrows and a hooked nose that made him look a little like a bird of prey. He smiled when he saw Otto and Juliet. ‘All ready for an evening’s entertainment?’ he asked.
‘Yes but what’s going on, Max?’ Otto asked. ‘How come Madame Sikursky is performing in Bridlington Chawley, of all places?’
Maximillian shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s a mystery,’ he said. ‘But mysteries are what we specialize in, right?’
‘True,’ Otto agreed.
‘So let’s go inside and see if we can solve it.’
The Belsham Theatre was already packed as the trio made their way towards their seats. Everyone was obviously looking forward excitedly to the show and a buzz of eager conversation filled the auditorium.
Everyone except Juliet. ‘I’m not sure about hypnotists,’ she said when they were sitting down at last.
‘What do you mean you’re not sure about them?’ Otto asked.
‘Well, I’ve seen one on tv who made people believe that their seats were red hot and stuff like that but I think it was all fake.’
‘I just think there are some people who will do anything to be the centre of attention and when the hypnotist asks for volunteers, they’re always the ones who go up on stage. Then when they’re up there, they just play along because everyone is looking at them.’
Before Otto had a chance to reply, the house lights began to fade and a hush fell over the auditorium. A few moments later the curtain came up, and the audience began clapping enthusiastically as a striking-looking woman in a long black dress walked onto the stage. She was nearly six feet tall, with shoulder-length dark hair, high cheekbones, and a very white face in which her lipsticked mouth stood out like a red gash.
‘She looks like someone from a vampire movie,’ Juliet whispered.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ Madame Sikursky began, speaking with a heavy foreign accent that Otto could not place, ‘tonight I am going to show you the power of true hypnotism. There will be no tricks, no stunts, no cheap laughs. Just a demonstration of the hidden powers of the mind. Powers that we all possess but which in most people are buried so far below the surface that they never learn to use them.‘
From the moment she opened her mouth it seemed to Otto that there was something compelling about Madame Sikursky. Her voice drew him in, so that he felt as though he was listening not to a woman talking into a microphone on a stage, but to a voice inside his head.
‘Most of you gathered here tonight probably think that your life started on the day you were born,’ Madame Sikursky continued. ‘You assume that you cannot possibly have experience of anything that took place before that day, except perhaps by reading about it in history books. But you would be wrong to make such an assumption. The truth is much more complicated than you think. I am going to prove to you tonight that each one of us is born with the memories of our ancestors locked up in our minds. Tonight, through the power of hypnotism, I am going to unlock those memories. And to help me, I would like to ask for a volunteer from the audience.’
Hands were raised throughout the auditorium.
‘The young lady in the third row,’ Madame Sikursky announced.
A young woman stood up and made her way up onto the stage.
‘And what is your name?’ asked Madame Sikursky, towering above the volunteer.
‘Lucy,’ the young woman replied. She sounded nervous.
‘Tell me Lucy,’ Madame Sikursky continue, ‘have you and I ever met before?’
‘No,’ Lucy replied.
‘And do you speak any foreign languages?’
Lucy shook her head.
‘Good. Now I want you to forget all about the audience. Just close your eyes and concentrate on my voice. Begin by breathing in deeply. Breathe in and out again. Now in and out, in and out. You are beginning to relax, Lucy. Your arms are hanging limply at your sides. You feel as if your whole body is gradually melting away.’
It still seemed to Otto that Madame Sikursky was talking directly to him, not to the young woman on the stage, and he felt his body relaxing as she spoke. He felt a great temptation to close his eyes and drift away. But he forced himself to keep them open so that he could see everything that was going on.
‘I am going to help you reach far back into your history,’ Madame Sikursky told Lucy, ‘much further than you have ever been before, back to a time before you were even born. In order for that to be possible, you have to believe in my powers completely. Do you believe?’
‘Yes, I believe,’ Lucy replied and Otto found himself repeating the same words in a whisper.
‘Your mind is like a tunnel of light,’ Madame Sikursky went on. ‘And you are travelling along that tunnel, slowly at first but getting faster all the time.’
Otto found himself envying the woman on the stage. He wanted to be travelling along that tunnel of light.
‘As you travel through the tunnel the years slip past you,’ Madame Sikursky continued. ‘One year, two years, ten years, fifty years, a hundred years, two hundred and fifty years. And stop! You have travelled back to a time before you were even born, to the life of one of your ancestors. You are no longer in a tunnel Lucy. You are in the past. Look around you and tell me what you see.’
‘I see a young girl standing in a field,’ Lucy announced.
The audience gasped and Otto gasped with them. This was no fraud, he was certain of it.
‘Do you know this girl?’ Madame Sikursky asked,
‘Yes I do.’ Lucy sounded genuinely surprised. ‘Her name is Marie-Claire.’
‘And where is this field?’.
‘Do you know what language Marie Claire speaks?’
‘French, of course.’
‘Can you speak to Marie-Claire in her own language?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Then will you please ask Marie-Claire what year it is?’
Lucy said something in French. Then she paused, as if listening and Otto listened too, straining his ears for a response from Lucy’s invisible companion.
After a short pause Lucy announced, ‘Marie-Claire tells me that it is seventeen fifty-nine.’.
‘Thank you Lucy,’ Madame Sikursky said. She proceeded to suggest several more questions, all of which Lucy relayed to someone she could clearly see but who was invisible to the audience.
After Lucy’s invisible ancestor had described what she had eaten for breakfast, what the weather was like and how she had spent that morning, Madame Sikursky decided that the audience had heard enough. ‘Now we are going to say goodbye to Marie-Claire,’ she announced. ‘So just concentrate on my voice once more. You are back in the tunnel of light, and you are travelling along that tunnel, slowly at first but getting faster all the time. The years slip past you. One year, two years, ten years, fifty years, a hundred years, two hundred and fifty years. And stop! You are back in your own time once more. When I click my fingers you will open your eyes and you will find yourself standing upon the stage of the Belsham Theatre in Bridlington Chawley.’
Madame Sikursky clicked her fingers and Lucy gave a little shudder, then opened her eyes and looked around her in confusion, like a person who has just woken up from a very deep sleep.
The audience clapped and Otto joined in enthusiastically.
Juliet refused to clap, however. ‘If you ask me, that young woman was a plant,’ she said dismissively. ‘She probably gets paid by Madame Sikursky to go up there and spout all that stuff. What do you think, Otto?’
Otto made no reply. He was scarcely even aware that Juliet was addressing him. His mind was full of Madame Sikursky’s voice, so melodious, so attractive, so inviting. He wanted to hear her speaking his name. It seemed like the most exciting thing that could possibly happen to him.
‘Now I would like to ask another member of the audience to join me up here on the stage,’ Madame Sikursky said.
Immediately Otto raised his hand.
‘Otto, what are you doing?’ Juliet whispered. She grabbed hold of his arm but it was too late. Madame Sikursky was pointing in his direction.
Otto got to his feet.
‘Sit down, Otto!’ Maximillian ordered – but as far as Otto was concerned his friends could have been in another room. Their words seemed faint and indistinct; they meant nothing whatsoever to him. The voice of Madame Sikursky was all he wished to listen to. She had issued a summons that he could not possibly ignore. Shaking off Juliet’s grasp, he made his way to the end of the aisle and walked boldly up towards the stage.
Up close, Madame Sikursky was even more imposing than when seen from afar. Her skin was almost unnaturally pale and her hair was jet black apart from one pure white lock at the front. But it was her huge, dark eyes that utterly transfixed Otto. Looking into them was like gazing into the depths of a fathomless lake.
She asked Otto his name and began to repeat the process she had been through with Lucy. Otto felt his breathing slowing down, his body relaxing and in his mind appeared a tunnel of light just as she described it. Travelling along that tunnel was pleasant enough at first. Otto could feel the years passing, one after another; and he could hear a great tapestry of sound - people speaking, babies crying, the hum of car engines, bursts of music, waves crashing. Then, as the speed of his passage through the tunnel began to increase, his awareness of each individual year was lost and the background sounds blurred together in a great whoosh of sound and he was hurtling backwards through time like a piece of debris flung far out into space by a powerful explosion.
‘Stop!’ Madame Sikursky’s voice cut through everything and the tunnel of light vanished as if she had flipped a switch in his head.
‘What can you see around you, Otto?’
He was standing in a circular room. The walls were of stone though in places elaborate tapestries had been hung showing animals being hunted and battles being fought.
At intervals narrow openings in the wall offered a view of roof after roof stretching as far as the eye could see and somehow he knew with certainty that those roofs belonged to the ancient city of Babylon.
Reclining on a couch at the other side of the room was a plump, bearded man. He was dressed in a long white robe and sandals. A purple cloak hung over his shoulders, held in place by an elaborate golden clasp. He was looking in Otto’s direction but it was clear that Otto was invisible to him.
Just as the man in the purple cloak could not see Otto, Otto could no longer see Madame Sikursky or the Belsham Theatre for that matter. Indeed, he had entirely forgotten the theatre’s existence. But he could hear Madame Sikursky’s voice inside his head.
‘What is the name of the man in the purple cloak?’ she asked.
Otto was about to say that he had no idea but then he realised that he knew the man’s name perfectly well. It was Balshazzar. When he reported this to Madame Sikursky he could feel the level of her interest rising. It was as though the air surrounding him had suddenly got warmer. But he knew that it was not really physical warmth he felt, it was Madame Sikursky’s excitement.
‘What is Balshazzar doing, Otto?’ she asked, eagerly.
Balshazzar was thinking. A frown creased his forehead and every now and again he would look down at a flat, oblong clay tablet covered with markings that looked like writing. Otto had a strong conviction that he would be able to understand that writing if he was just given time enough and he was about to report this to Madame Sikursky when an urgent clamouring noise began to fill his head. He had no idea what was producing this noise, only that it was impossible to ignore.
Louder and louder the noise grew and at the same time the room in the tower began to tremble as if it were merely painted upon a piece of silk that was rippling gently in the breeze. A moment later the tower and its bearded inhabitant was gone. Otto was standing on the stage of the Belsham Theatre once more.
A man in a bow tie and tuxedo was speaking into a microphone. ‘… so I must ask you all to vacate the building in an orderly fashion,’ he was saying, ‘And please remember, there is absolutely no need to panic.’
Madame Sikursky was glaring at the man as if she would have liked to hit him. ‘This is ridiculous!’ she declared angrily. ‘I’ve never had anything like this happen before and I can tell you I’ve performed in almost every major city in the world.’
‘I’m very sorry madam,’ the man replied, ‘but we can discuss all this later. For now I must ask you to vacate the theatre along with everyone else.’ He turned to Otto. ‘And you, too, please,’ he added.
‘I don’t understand,’ Otto said. He was still in a daze from his hypnotic experience and his mind was unable to grasp what was happening.
‘It’s a fire alarm,’ the man explained. ‘That means everyone needs to leave the theatre right away. Now there’s an exit just behind the stage, if you go down the steps and turn left, you’ll see it right in front of you.’
But before Otto could move, his arm was seized in a vice-like grip. He turned to see Madame Sikursky towering over him. ‘Not before you tell me your full name and address,’ she insisted. ‘You and I have a great deal of important business together.’
Until now Otto had found Madame Sikursky utterly fascinating, as if she were some wonderful, kind and trusted friend. But suddenly she seemed to have changed. There was a steely, determination in her voice and a dangerous glitter in her eye as if she would not tolerate disobedience of any kind.
‘Your full name and address,’ she repeated.
Otto opened his mouth to reply but before he could do so Juliet and Maximillian appeared on the stage beside him.
‘No time for that now, Otto,’ Maximillian said. ‘We have to leave the theatre immediately.’
He quickly steered Otto behind the stage curtain, down a flight of steps and out into the street. ‘My car’s parked round the corner,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you both a lift home.’
‘What about the fire?’ Otto asked as they made their way towards the theatre’s car-park.
‘There wasn’t a fire,’ Maximillian told him. ‘I set the fire alarm off, that’s all.’
‘Because you were standing up on the stage telling everybody and his uncle that you are descended from one of the most powerful magicians ever to have walked the earth, that’s why,’ Maximillian replied. ‘What on earth possessed you to go up onto the stage in the first place?’
‘I don’t know,’ Otto said. He tried to remember what he had been thinking when he got up from his seat and headed towards the stage. ‘It was her voice,’ he said finally. ‘I couldn’t help myself.’
‘Hmm! That sound more like magic than hypnotism,’ Maximillian observed.
‘Do you know those men, Max?’ Juliet interrupted. She had been quietly walking along on the other side of Otto pondering what had happened but now she was staring straight ahead with a look of alarm on her face.
Maximillian took no notice of her question. ‘You know I’ve got a feeling that this is why Madame Sikursky was performing in Bridlington Chawley in the first place,’ he continued. ‘I should have thought of something like this. What a fool I am!’
‘Max, I said do you know those men?’ Juliet repeated, speaking more urgently this time.
‘I suppose she could have set up some sort of magical search that directed her to Bridlington Chawley,’ Maximillian continued, still completely oblivious to Juliet’s question, ‘but why, that’s what I’d like to know.’
‘Max!’ Juliet repeated, grabbing him by the arm and shaking him. ‘I said, do you know those men?’
‘What men?’ Maximillian replied. He sounded more than a little irritated at being interrupted in the middle of a train of thought.
‘Those three men standing next to your car,’ Juliet said.
Maximillian stopped in his tracks. In front of his gleaming red sports car three muscle-bound men with shaven heads were standing, their arms folded across their chests. ‘I think perhaps we’d better…’ he began
But it was too late. Two of the men put their hands in their breast pockets and pulled out guns.
Otto stood rooted to the spot, too frightened to even blink.
The third man was dressed in a suit and tie, unlike his fellows who wore jeans and casual jackets. Somehow this made him look even more menacing. Now he stepped forwards and treated them to an icy smile.
‘Maximillian Hawksmoor, I believe,’ he said. ‘And this would be Otto Spinoza and Juliet Pennington, unless I’m very much mistaken. You’re earlier than we expected.’
‘Who are you?’ Maximillian demanded.
‘You’ll find out soon enough,’ the smartly-dressed thug replied. He pointed with his thumb towards an anonymous white van that was parked beside Maximillian Hawksmoor’s car. ’In the back of the van, all three of you.’
‘What if we say no?’ Otto said. He tried to sound brave and defiant but he could hear his own voice shaking.
‘Much better if you didn’t,’ the man replied, shaking his head. ‘We don’t want any bloodshed, now do we?’
‘I think we’d better do as he says,’ Maximillian suggested.
‘That’s more like it,’ the man agreed.
He opened the rear doors of the van and they climbed inside. There were no seats so they were obliged to sit on the floor with their backs against the side of the van. The two armed men climbed in after them and sat directly opposite, their guns still held out in front of them.
‘And please don’t try any of your magic tricks Mr Hawksmoor. My men are trained to shoot the instant anything unexpected happens.’Then he closed the doors of the van. A few moments later the engine started up and they were in motion.