Kate Woodward is telling tales again


Flash fiction

Ta Dah! The Ultimate Guide to Being a Magician’s Assistant

Chapter 7: Leave the Arguments Backstage

Although it can be entertaining, and have comedic value, to have the audience take your side against the magician, remember that any on-stage tension must be an act. Even if you are partners off-stage, with all the inevitable irritations that that brings, leave those things backstage. This is especially the case when the act to be performed includes fire-eating, knife-throwing or the classic sawing-a-person-in-half routine.

An Illustration:

A notable example is provided by the case of Magic Circle member, Joe Derbyshire, alias the Great Stupendo, and his assistant and partner, Ms Ava Kopowski. An argument had begun before the performance, of all things, about football. Audience members later testified that the couple had come on stage, ‘daggers drawn.’

The performance started well but deteriorated quickly. The couple were said to be sniping at each other throughout. One woman, interviewed later, said that she had heard Mr Derbyshire say that Ms Kopowski looked like a warthog in spangles. Ms Kopowksi retaliated by threatening to boil Mr Derbyshire’s bunny.

In court, the Judge heard that the sawing-in-half routine, had not been rehearsed recently and was not intended to form part of that evening’s performance, but the linked rings had been set about with bolt-croppers, and the doves had been plucked and drawn. With the audience already demanding a refund, Mr Derbyshire wheeled his apparatus on stage and, using bodily force, placed his assistant inside it.

The audience, used to the spectacular theatrics of master illusionists, assumed that the blood and screams were part of the act, and roared Mr Derbyshire’s efforts on. Fortunately for Ms Koposwki, the theatre’s sharp-eyed sound and lighting man, noticed her increasing pallor and raised the alarm.  The amputation of her leg was completed later that evening under more hygienic conditions. At the time of writing, Mr Derbyshire remains under the care of the mental health services.


As an assistant, you are part of a team. There are extreme dangers in some illusions and trust is essential. Never go on stage in the heat of an argument. A baying audience can be a powerful influence, but remember that you are there to help manipulate them, not the other way around.

The Sixth Egg

The sixth egg lurked in the fridge for weeks. When there was nothing else left to eat – when the cupboards were bare and the pantry picked clean – she cooked it. Its contents fell into the simmering water – foul, green, musty, crinkled like a walnut. In the pan, shreds fell from it until only a nugget remained at its core. She drained the pan and allowed the contents to cool.

It weighed only a quarter of an ounce, but gold was trading high that year.

The Peculiar Case of Rochelle Gayle or Oops!

Rochelle painted her nails with two coats of Flaming Rose, whisked away a stray hair on her big toe with a razor, powdered her chin and discovered a whisker. Grabbing tweezers, she took hold of it and tugged. The hair kept coming. One inch, then two. Twisting it around her forefinger she pulled again. Her foot lifted from the floor and her big toe disappeared inside her foot. With three feet of hair wrapped around her hand she was half gone but she didn’t stop pulling until all that remained of her was a long, long, dark-brown hair.

A Love Story, Manc Style

OK, this chap says, go and take a photo, come back and write about it. So I did.
If you don’t like bad language, stop right now, thank you.


Sometime between midnight and 4:00 a.m., Simon formed a significant new relationship. He would be hard-pressed to be more specific about the time, but he’d looked at his watch just before twelve in the ‘Spoons and his arrest record showed that the officers of Greater Manchester Police detained him at 0400 hours. In the intervening period, he fell in love with a traffic bollard.
What surprised Simon most was not the adoration he had for an item of plastic street furniture, but rather the fact that the bollard appeared to be male. He was not good at reading upside-down, upside-down and drunk was pushing things too far. But, fighting for focus, he could see the bollard’s name printed across its base. ‘Hello Peter,’ he said, ‘pleased to meet you.’
Peter was delightful. He glowed. He was warm and cosy and shone like the sun. Peter had a lovely white arrow, beautifully set-off by a pretty, sky-blue background that pointed, helpfully, to the left. Peter – oh, dear – had crude, black vinyl letters defacing his lovely round belly. And Peter, poor Peter, was fastened – nay, bolted – to a crumbling pedestrian refuge.
It was too much. Simon imagined passers-by, buffeting Peter with swinging bags. He imagined cars, veering of course, mounting the pavement. He imagined late-night drunks – oh, the indignity of it – leaning on Peter. ‘Darling,’ he said, ‘let me take you away from all this.’
He loosened the first two bolts easily. The third – cross threaded – was cursed, kicked and jumped on. It gave, finally, when Simon attacked it with a window box he had borrowed from the Midland Hotel. Peter rocked on his plinth, but bolt four was holding firm. Bolt four wasn’t giving way. Bolt four was hanging, for grim death, onto the love of Simon’s life. Bolt four was a bastard. Bolt four was an effing twatting, effing bastard, effing twatting c__!
And that was what Simon was shouting, when he was disturbed by a young woman, dressed like his beloved, in yellow and blue. It wasn’t his arrest that bothered Simon, it was the parting. He wept in the police van, and carried on weeping until, with the dawn, he began to sober up. And then, he couldn’t believe how stupid he’d been. What a complete and utter tit! He recalled the events of the night with horror. What had he been thinking?
He walked out of the nick into a thin drizzle. He needed a good breakfast: bacon, eggs, toast, lots of toast, and tea, gallons of it. Then he needed an angle grinder, a power supply, and a can of WD40. Poor Peter was not going to spend another night on those vicious streets. Not if Simon could help it.

It was a short lived thing


You fall fast. Though seated, you know he’s tall. Long, strong fingers, pale against his dark suit, fair, with a hint of curl and that melancholy gaze. And the nose: that crooked, monstrous nose, and you, well, you’ve always had a thing for noses.
It’s rude to stare. You move on past, watch instead the other faces and rest your eyes on the older gentleman, the one with the complacent smile, the jowls and the grey whiskers. You look closer. He has the same name. Time, or the artist, has ruined your nose.
It wouldn’t have lasted. You walk on.

Death of an ordinary man

There, just across the square, sitting with two small boys and a bottle blonde wife – who’s washing down nachos with a jug of sangria – sits an ordinary looking man. He’s the normal age for a man with two boys, wearing the normal holiday shorts with the usual blue-checked, short-sleeved shirt. He’s clean shaven with a regular haircut; an unremarkable height and weight. There’s nothing, at all, to set him apart from the crowd. Unless, that is, you count the red dot of the laser sight that plays, sometimes on the left, breast pocket of that unremarkable shirt and sometimes, smack in the middle of that plain forehead.
Now you’ve seen it, nothing is normal. You toy for a while with the notion that one of the boys, in their long navy T-shirts, has borrowed, from Dad, the little gadget he uses when he’s making his PowerPoint presentations; but the boys are at some other game involving paper napkins, cruets and the lining up of knives and forks. You turn to the wife, but she’s somewhere, far away, enjoying her sangria fuelled fantasy. You start to look at the other diners, the black-shirted waiters and finally, you look around the shuttered windows that surround you at first and second floor height. All seems normal there too; until a moment of movement, west to your south. A first floor window opens – just enough inches for a nose and lips, and an index finger, held vertically against those lips. Now you’re silenced. The shutter closes, almost completely, leaving just enough space for the barrel of a weapon. Your ordinary man, in his ordinary shirt, slumps, only a little, in his seat, as his wife stares into her dreams and the boys continue their game.
A few seconds pass, maybe a minute, until returning from her brief sojourn, the wife spots the trickle of blood that runs from the hole in her husband’s skull and screams. The police are called, an ambulance. The boys are huddled away. A small crowd gathers, some peering over shoulders, some shaking heads before sneaking away. And just before the police seal off the square, with hastily called in officers and blue and white tape, you too slip away leaving a payment for your meal tucked under a half drunk bottle of Rioja.
You stroll back to your, efficiently small, hire car, making make a mental note to check the newspapers tomorrow: to blunder through the incomprehensible words of the Spanish press, until you find the couple of column inches that describe the unexplained shooting at 11.00 p.m. in the evening of the Day of the Festival of St James of tourist X, who was dining, at the time, with his beloved wife and twin sons at the Café Murada in the Placeta des Verdures. As you pull away from the kerb in the neat little car, that’s when you see, as your hands break the beam, the small red dot that plays across your chest.

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