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Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by Gordon Rowlinson

Metamorphosis and Magic


Gordon Rowlinson

The Great Vladimir and his Spectacular Magic Show


The wording on the small, cheap flyer that my wife handed me jumped out at me. The last time I heard the name “The Great Vladimir” was a lifetime ago. The sight of his name sent a chill through my body. Waves of childhood memories of raw fear and revulsion flooded over me. How could it be? How could he still be alive? How could Vladimir be here in New England?


“Are you OK?” Marilyn said. “It's just an advertisement for a magic show in Salem.”


“Yes,” I lied to my wife. We had come from New Hampshire with our granddaughter Judy on a trip to the Boston area. The goal was to give Judy a fun day in Salem to reward her for getting a good report card. Things had gone very well until Marilyn picked up that damned flyer at the lunch restaurant. I quickly handed the flyer back to her. Just seeing Vladimir's name creeped me out. I didn't want to touch the thing.


“While you were in the men's room, I called and bought tickets,” she said. “The advertisement says that the magician will recreate Houdini's greatest trick, Metamorphosis. Are you sure you're OK?” Apparently I was doing a poor job masking my disgust.


“Yeah,” I lied again. I nervously ran my hand through my balding hairline. Now I was going to expose my granddaughter to something far more terrible than a poor report card. I could scarcely believe that Vladimir was still doing magic and by the look of his flyer, he hadn't changed his act! 55 years ago, he closed his show with Metamorphosis. It was as if a nightmarish childhood memory had transported itself through time and across the country.


I had never told my wife about my childhood nightmare. How could I? It was so long ago that part of my mind pretended that the whole thing never happened.




I grew up deep in the farm land region of Kansas. John was my best friend. We were both 13 years old—which was about halfway between youthful innocence and knowledge of the real world. The county fair was the most exciting thing to happen to our town. In fact, it was the only exciting thing to happen to our town.


We were both bored and I easily succeeded into talking John into going to the county fair. This year I had a special reason to run off and go to the fair. I read that it had a magic show. Magic was something I lived for.


We walked four long miles to the fairgrounds, but it was well worth it. We had the time of our lives. Near the entrance we found some food vendors. We quickly scarfed down a dinner of five hot dogs, and two cokes each. After which, we rode the scrambler and John barfed up his dogs and coke on my new sneakers. Then we plunged into the loud excitement of the midway and tried to win some prizes. John spent about $5 on a shooting game, winning a stuffed bear that was worth about $1. But when we went on the Ferris wheel, the bear fell out of our chair and we lost it. John wanted to go back to the midway to get another bear, but I had a better idea. I made him go to the magic show. I just had to see it!


We got there early so we could get front seats in the magic tent. The magician was a strange, tall man named the Great Vladimir. He was dressed in a spooky all black outfit and spoke in a thick European accent. He started off with a few so-so illusions. I, being a big magic fan, was able to guess how he performed most of his tricks and told John, who kept telling me to “shut up.” Just when I was thinking it was a mistake coming to the show, the Great Vladimir announced that for the finale, he was going to recreate Houdini's greatest trick—Metamorphis!


My jaw fell open. Harry Houdini had been an idol of mine all my life and I had read all about his Metamorphis trick. In this trick, Houdini had his hands handcuffed behind his back and was placed inside a large bag which was tied shut. The bag was placed inside a large trunk, and strapped closed. Then the curtain would close. After several suspenseful minutes, Houdini would draw open the curtain and appear triumphant. When the trunk was opened, Houdini's pretty wife and assistant would be inside the bag with the knots and seals unbroken and her hands secured in exactly the same way as Houdini’s. It was a great trick and always mystified audiences leaving them guessing how it was done.


However, because of my hero worship of Houdini, I had already read how Metamorphis was done. When the curtain was drawn and the audience couldn't see what he was doing, Houdini, who had the keys, removed all the locks and chains. Then he slipped out of a secret panel in the trunk. His wife would simply switch places with him.


However the Great Vladimir announced that he was going to do what Houdini couldn't do. He would perform the trick with the curtain open and the box in full view.


I watched with starry eyes as the Great Vladimir’s assistant wheeled out a huge truck. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to escape from a locked trunk in front of the entire crowd. When the magician asked for volunteers, I quickly stood up. He motioned for me and two men in their 20s to come on stage. I almost ran onto the stage. With a learned eye, I watched as the two men handcuffed Vladimir’s hands behind his back. Then they wrapped thick chains around the trunk. I carefully checked the chains and the trunk. There was no way anyone could get out of those handcuffs and I saw no secret panel in the trunk. What Vladimir was attempting was impossible.


When we got back to our seats, some eerie music started playing as a spooky light mist flowed out off the trunk. After a minute, the mist stopped. Five minutes passed and The Great Vladimir was still trapped in the trunk.


“I don't think he can get out,” John whispered. “He made a fool of himself!”


Suddenly there was a shout from the back of the tent and on the Great Vladimir triumphantly walked down the aisle. The audience burst into a roar of applause. I was in total awe. I had no idea how he pulled it off. I thought he was truly the greatest of all time.


Now that I'm older and know the whole story, I know how the trick was done. How the magician performed Metamorphis was very simple. There was no magic involved. What he did was real.


It was after midnight when we left the fair and I knew we were going to be in trouble with our parents. There was a light night fog on the road as we rushed out of the fair’s exit. To save time, I suggested that we take the “hole in the fence path” that leads over the railroad tracks. On the edge of town, there was a hole in the fence where you could go on the railroad tracks. A few yards away on the other side of the tracks, there was another hole in the fence that led to the road that we lived on. We were forbidden to go near the railroad tracks, but it would save us about 20 minutes. We both decided the “hole in the fence path” was the best option. Our parents would never know we were on the tracks. We found the hole and easily squeezed through the hole and climbed onto the tracks. The fog was thicker now—giving the tracks a cold foreboding look. I could barely see the fence hole on the other side of the tracks.


Then it happened. We were on the tracks when it happened and both our childhoods came to an end. It was big. It came out of the night sky. This thing grabbed John and carried him for about 20 yards. It was all so fast I didn’t understand the fury of what had happened. The flying thing carrying John landed on the tracks. I looked closer and it looked like half man, half bat. Then the thing morphed and changed shape into a man. Like a deer freezing in the headlights of an incoming car, I just stood there and stared as I heard horrible sucking sounds as the man bent over and bit into my best friend neck.


Not knowing what to do, I finally yelled, “Hey stop!”


The man paused from sucking John’s neck and looked up at me with contempt in his eyes. I then recognized that the man/bat thing was the magician from the fair. The Great Vladimir was a vampire.


“I’ll take care of you too. You’re unfinished business,” Vladimir said in a mocking tone.


In a blind panic, I turned and ran to the hole in the fence! Diving through the hole, I tore down the dirt path in a mad dash. A tree branch clawed at my face.


In my horror, I saw a shadow pass over the moon. The vampire was in the air and almost on me! I tripped over a root and fell, smashing my face. I rolled down a small hill into the town cemetery. Feeling no pain, I picked myself up and dashed through the cemetery and the church clearing. Tearing into the woods on the other edge of the clearing, I headed to the creek. I knew of a place to hide.


At the creek, I glanced behind me and saw that there was no one chasing me. I realized that running across the church grounds may have gained me a couple of seconds. Vampires are afraid of the churches. I quickly ducked underneath some exposed roots near the creek. The spring flood had washed out a lot of the land next to the creek and left trees with exposed roots. The largest tree had enough space for me to hide under. It was the perfect hiding place as I was invisible from the air.


I felt something warm on my face and realized I had a bloody nose. I looked down and saw that my knee was also torn and bloody. I was glad I knew of this place. John and I had found this tree on our fishing trip last month.


“John was dead now," I thought. I started to cry. I cried until I dozed off. When the sun woke me up the next morning I was freezing. I walked home in my muddy jeans and snuck into my room. Ironically my parents went to sleep early the night before and didn't even know that I came home late.


The next day John was missing and the police came by and asked me some brief questions. I lied and said that John had gone home from the fair before me. I knew no one would believe me if I started talking about vampires. To this day, I’ve never told anyone what really happened. John's body was never found.




I somehow convinced Marilyn that we should get seats in the back of the Salem Theater. Those made me feel better. I didn't want to get too close. When I nervously glanced over at Judy, I saw she was excited at the prospect of seeing live magic. It led me to wonder why children are always fascinated with magic. It's as if magic is meant to be a child's pleasure and as we grow older, we cast off more and more of our love of fantasy as we are forced to face and understand the hard realities of the real world.


The lights went low and the Great Vladimir walked onto the stage. I was stunned to see how young and vivacious he looked. It was as if the ageless monster stepped out of my childhood nightmares. Vladimir proceeded into the exact same old show of predictable illusions that I had seen at the county fair in Kansas. I couldn't believe he hadn’t changed his show in 55 years. It was an old fashioned, boring show until the finale. Vladimir announced he would perform Houdini's Metamorphism trick and asked for volunteers to handcuff and put him in the trunk.


Watching the Metamorphis trick was less wondrous the second time around as this time I knew how he did it. The way Vladimir got out of the truck was incredibly simple. Vampires are shape shifters. They can change into bats, wolves or mist. When the music started and the mist flowed out of the trunk, it was the monster leaving the trunk. There was no trick. He was simply getting out of the trunk right in front of us. It must have amused the monster to shape shift in front of a crowd and pass it off as stage magic. It also must have amused him to use his magic as a front. The magician appeared to be a respectable man. However, he must periodically cruise the night skies searching for victims to satisfy his blood hunger. The Boston newspapers were always full of missing people.


When the show was over, I wanted to leave as soon as possible, but the ladies wanted to use the restrooms. I eased my way through the small crowd in the lobby and waited impatiently at the door. I wanted to get out of there. I waited and waited.


When I impatiently glanced back into the lobby, I saw to my horror, the Great Vladimir talking to my wife and granddaughter. He had come out of the theater and was talking to fans and signing autographs. A small crowd gathered around him blocking my view.


To my relief, Marilyn and Judy eventually found their way through the lobby crowd and joined me at the door.


“Don't be in such a hurry all the time,” Marilyn scolded. We all turned to leave. I held the door and the ladies went out first. As I stepped into the door threshold to leave, I felt a hand with a vise-like grip on my shoulder stop me. I whirled around and was face to face with the nightmarish monster from my childhood.


“I recognize you from a few years back,” he said in a calm voice. His mouth and sharp incisor teeth were two feet away from my face.


I quickly reached into my pocket and took out a crucifix. I held it in front of me for protection. An annoyed look came on his face. The vampire released me and retreated a half step.


“Your wife tells me you’re from New Hampshire now,” he said, with a twisted smile on his face. “I'll be by to visit when I find out where you live. Maybe I'll kill your little girl too. You're unfinished business.”


I turned away and pushed out the door into the night. On the steps, I glanced back to see if he was following me. The door swung shut as Vladimir stayed inside. In my fear and clumsiness, I didn’t look where I was stepping and I stumbled on the stone steps. I fell and my knee smashed into the hard concrete. A sharp pain shot through my body.


“Are you OK?” Marilyn rushed over to me. She had missed the entire incident of Vladimir recognizing me and threatening us. It had happened so quickly.


“Yeah sure,” I lied. “Let's get out of here.”


I gutted it out and ignored the pain from my knee. I desperately wanted to hobble to the car and put as much distance between us and the theater as possible. Our lives were in danger now. Vladimir knew that I knew his secret.


We finally got to the car and I asked Marilyn to drive as my knee was killing me. As we headed back North, Judy and Marilyn kept raving on about the show. I phased them out of my mind as I had to think. An hour and a half later when we reached the New Hampshire border, I had completely worked out my perfect plan. I knew what I had to do.




Walking out of the real estate office, I had a smug smile on my face. The Great Vladimir was soon in for a great surprise. I was going to perform a trick on him. What the monster didn't realize was that young boys go through a metamorphosis too. As time goes by, frightened, easily intimidated boys become stronger and change into resourceful men. I was stronger now and was better able to protect myself and my family.


In my 50 years in Real Estate, I had accumulated more wealth than I could ever hope to spend in my retirement. I could pretty much buy anything I wanted to. The specific property I desired was the old theater located at 1000 Main Street in Salem. Vladimir’s magic show leased the theatre on 1000 Main Street. The owner of the property was adamant about not selling until I offered him double value of the property. Then he became very agreeable.


My plan was very simple. I would close on that property in one week. Once I owned the place, I planned to break in and go over every nick and cranny of that damned old theatre. Vladimir’s coffin had to be hidden in there somewhere. The next time I came face to face with the vampire would be in the broad daylight, and I planned to have a wooden stake in my hand. I knew what I had to do. The monster killed my best friend and threatened my family. He was unfinished business.

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2010-06-15 09:17:28
Very good and I'm not much of a vampire fan.....glad it didn't follow the fad right now!

2010-06-03 16:22:03
Well written, nice ending!

2010-06-02 06:08:00
Good tale.

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by Gordon Rowlinson