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Disappearing Penny

by | longer works | 0 comments

The office of the small town newspaper was always abuzz with something. Gossip, local dramas, sometimes even a real story that trickles down from one of the big cities. Latham was a sleepy New England hamlet. A travel guide once wrote that it was “a community that seemed completely composed of bed-and-breakfasts.”

Penelope wore about four different hats at the Latham Ledger. Being the youngest person in the office by nearly twenty years, she would review any movies deemed “targeted to young people.” She also kept track of scholastic news for the local high schools and the small junior college, as well as working the phones and taking down things like classifieds. It was in this last capacity that she met a most interesting fellow one autumn morning. 

The phone rang at nine, which was unusual for a Monday.

“Latham Ledger, Penelope Miller, speaking,” she cheerfully answered.

“Good morning. I am sorry to trouble you, but I wish to place an advertisement in your classified section,” said a crisp voice on the other end. He pronounced “advertisement” in the British manner, and that made her smile for some reason.

“Of course, sir. Can I have your name or the company’s name?”

There was a slight pause and a short sigh.

“Might I ask you, young lady, if you are a trustworthy sort?” The man seemed suddenly serious.

It was Penelope who now paused.

“I suppose? I mean, this isn’t a—I mean—what is the manner of this classified ad?”

The man scoffed loudly.

“I assure you, my intention is not to request something perverse—though some might argue.” He drifted off for a moment. “Magic, miss. Magic. I am a magician: illusionist, mystic, prognosticator, hypnotist, and escape artist.”

Penelope smiled as she jotted down these facts.

“Well, I hope you aren’t planning on advertising all of those titles, or it will cost you a pretty penny.”

“A pretty penny? Perhaps you’ve been called that? Penelope, Penny, eh? Ah, but that is neither here nor there. I am called Asmirac. The Astonishing Asmirac, or so my former manager dubbed me. As I’m sure your newspaper is familiar, alliteration is an arrow into memory; but we have digressed. My name is Ambrose, Ambrose Anderson, and I only asked if you were trustworthy because I don’t tell my real name to many.”

“Oh, well, I’m honored then, Mr. Anderson. Now how can I help you?”

“I procured a one-page ad in your periodical for my show, which is a fortnight from now at your civic center. I also need to run a classified ad to find a new assistant. I’m afraid my current one has taken ill and is returning to her home in the west.”

Penelope was intrigued. A magician in their little town? He must have been doing a tour of the little New England towns.

“I can help you with that. Do you have a specific wording you wanted for the ad, Mr. Anderson?”

“Of course. Oh, and please call me Anderson. And you are, as you said, Penny?”

“Penelope, sir.”

“Penelope? Never Penny? Pretty pennies placed on drug store counters can purchase precise if piquant peppermint pleasures; no?”

“I-I’m sorry?” She was confused by his little poem, though the images of childhood and innocence made her smile a bit.

“Never you mind, just another alliteration lingering in my thoughts. Anyhow, the ad should read thusly: ‘Wanted: Magician’s Assistant. Must be female, early to mid-twenties. Fit, attractive, fearless, and able to take direction. A background in drama is a plus. Must be willing to travel around the country and possibly the world. Pay is abysmal, and you will sleep in a cramped trailer or, when the pay is good, a dingy motel, but it will be the adventure of a lifetime.”

Penelope typed it out as he repeated it, and then she read it back.

“I’ve got it, Mr.—I mean Anderson. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to get many takers in this town, but good luck to you.”

“We will see. It is always surprising, those flowers that grow in hidden fields. Some people would jump at the chance for an adventure.”

Penelope shrugged, but found herself still smiling at the man’s charismatic nature.

“The most fragrant and festive flowers are found foremost in frightening and forlorn fields, don’t you find?”

Every word was enunciated perfectly, and Penelope was left silent on her side of the phone. 

“Isn’t that true, Penny?” the magician asked, pointedly.

“Um, I suppose,” she whispered.

“Isn’t it time you had an adventure, Penny?” His voice was deep, but melodic.

“I—I would like to go on an adventure, but I’m not an actress,” she said, now picturing a life of travel and fun. She imagined the roar of a crowd and her face illuminated by spotlights.

“Poor pretty Penny. Perhaps pondering, pensively, a particularly precarious and provocative job preference—Tell me, Penny, are you fit and attractive?”

Her instincts told her to say no, flat out, but this was serious. This was a job interview. She blushed a little as she looked at herself in her slight reflection in the chrome of her typewriter. 

“I’m—I mean, I’ve been told I am attractive. I’m relatively fit. I mean, I’m not overweight. I’m a bit curvy, though, I’ve been told I’m finally getting out of my awkward phase—” she trailed off, realizing she was babbling on. 

“Perfect,” was the only reply.

She felt decidedly odd, but the idea of adventure suddenly thrilled her. She was sure she couldn’t do it. She was taking library science correspondence courses, and her mother counted on her far too much.

“Penny, you may have saved me the cost of a classified ad. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you hold off on the ad for a day and you can meet me for a drink tonight, and we can see if you are right for the job? Yes?”

Penny looked down at the notes she’d taken. She nervously shuffled papers as she held the phone to her ear with her shoulder.

“Oh, I couldn’t, I mean, I have a job, and I’m very busy-”

“One drink couldn’t hurt, could it? Could a curious chat, a compendious little conversation, really confuse your calm and collected life? Surely it couldn’t hurt to talk about it.”

She wanted to say no, but the barrage of words left her dizzy for some reason.

“I suppose—”

“Excellent, I’ll see you at six. The pub next to my lodging seems to have a well-stocked bar and a fairly competent cook. The Pig and Whistle, I believe it’s called? I’ll meet you there. I will be the man with the red handkerchief in his pocket. If nothing else, you’ll get a free meal!”

With that, the Amazing Asmirac hung up the phone, and Penelope blinked a few times, trying to figure out what had just happened.

After the call, Penelope’s day seemed to fly by. Her mind was focused on getting through the monotony so that she could be her best, make her best impression during the strange interview she had coming up. She even went to the length of rushing home at lunch so that she could change her clothes. She opened her closet and rummaged through everything she owned, looking for something that looked “adventurous” or “daring.” Anything to stand out in this boring little town.

When she returned to work from lunch, there were a few disapproving nods and a few whispers at her low-cut and form-fitting polka-dot dress. She didn’t mind, though. She was young and beautiful. “Fit and attractive” as the magician had said, and who knew, if she got the job, she could leave the newspaper altogether.

The Pig and Whistle was an old stone building on the corner of Main Street. The interior was dark wood and large thick tables that gave Penelope the feeling of being back in time in some old-world inn. A few people were sitting at the bar, mostly older men relaxing after work. A couple in their 80s sat at a table, looking half asleep. It was certainly not hard to find the magician, no matter what color his handkerchief was.

Sitting in a booth was one of the most curious men Penelope had ever seen. She couldn’t exactly place his age, though she estimated it must be around forty. His hair was mostly black with bits of gray in his neat and strangely angular sideburns. Asmirac’s hair was up in a rather elaborate hairdo she had no name for, combed back and slick with two peaks in the front that gave him an almost wolf-like appearance. He had a pointed nose and an equally pointy little beard that only covered the bottom of his chin.

He wore a black pinstripe waistcoat and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She thought he looked very much like a vampire, if a vampire were completely non-threatening. As if he could hear her thoughts, he looked up and smiled at her brightly.

Penelope walked over to the table meekly, clutching her purse tightly and suddenly feeling ridiculous in the low-cut dress she had bought specifically for the first anniversary with her now ex-boyfriend.

Asmirac stood and looked her up and down, not in an appraising or lustful way, but just taking her in as a tailor would.

“Ah, you must be Penelope. A ‘pretty penny’ indeed, I must say!”

His tone was very theatrical. He enunciated each word with a crisp vague accent, like an old movie star. He motioned for Penelope to sit down across from him in the booth, and as she did, she saw he had playing cards in front of him as well as a newspaper and a small leather-bound notebook.

As Penelope looked down at the magician’s belongings, she saw his hands, palms up, fingers spread. He picked up the cards carefully, with practiced and fluid grace. He spread the slightly worn cards out in his hands and then folded them back into a neat pile. He cut the deck in half and showed her the ace of hearts. He cut again, fanned out the cards out and then plucked the ace of hearts out randomly.

Again, as Penny watched, he cut the cards, shuffled, shuffled again, his fingers moving fast, and Penny’s attention suddenly acutely focused on their economic movements. He opened his palm, inviting her to cut the deck. She did, and he turned the top card to show the ace of clubs. It went on until all the aces were discovered, making Penny a little breathless with amazement.

The waitress, who Penelope remembered also worked at the town’s only diner, seemed a bit out of sorts. She was usually boisterous and a bit cheeky with customers, but now she seemed almost demure as she placed a glass of amber liquid in front of the strange man.

“There ya go, Mister Asmirac, sir. I asked the bartender, and he said this was the best stuff we had. It’s what the mayor drinks. It’s real old. Single malt, like you asked for.”

“Excellent, I’m sure it will be wonderful. Penny, what would you like to drink?”

Penelope was only 20 and had only ever drunk Champagne at a wedding. Plus, this was a local pub in a small town. She looked nervously at the menu.

“Order any food or libation you desire, and it’s on me, of course. This is, after all, a business meeting,” he said in his deep and musical voice.

“Oh, I’ll just have a—French onion soup and some iced tea,” she said to the waitress, who frowned at her. Penelope got the feeling the waitress was a bit jealous.

Asmirac took a pocket watch out of his vest pocket and clicked it open. He examined the time and looked up at the wall clock to check it. He then smiled and proceeded to wind the watch as he looked over at Penelope, who stared at his timepiece with curiosity.

The watch was old, the sort of soft dull color gold got when it was touched over and over again. Still, it did shine. It reflected the light from the setting sun coming in through the window. It was quite lovely.

“Do you like my watch, Penny?” he asked without looking up.

She gazed at it, almost unaware of his words.

“I told you, Mister Anderson, it’s Penelope,” she corrected, her voice slightly dreamy.

“I am very sorry. It just slips off my tongue so well, I can’t help it. Penny. Pretty Penny. Pretty pretty Penny Penny. Watch watch. Tick tock.” With a tiny flick of his wrist, the watch fell from his hand and dangled on its chain, eye level with both of them. With another flick of his wrist, it swung back and forth in time with his little repetitive phrases.

“Pretty watch, pretty Penny, watch and see, listen close, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock goes the gold watch. Can you hear it in your head? Tick tock, tick tock?”

Her mouth was slack, her eyes following the golden circle on a chain.

“Tick tock, tick tock-” she whispered.

Asmirac smiled as he watched the girl’s eyes, unfocused and distant. He was very taken with her just then. The smoothness of her skin, the fullness of her lips, the light pink of them, and the bit of gloss she wore. He had to shake himself out of the spell she had put on him just then, to focus on his words.

“Let me tell you a secret, pretty Penelope; The world is nothing but this watch and my voice. You do understand that, don’t you?”

She nodded, her eyes like saucers following the watch back and forth.

“See it go back and forth and hear my voice say ‘back and forth’ and now watch as I start to pull the watch away from you. And still, it goes back and forth. As it moves away, you will feel yourself fall into a trance. I will pull it back, and you will be pulled deeper and deeper. I will pull it away, and you will feel your will ebbing away. You have no more control, no more will, only the ability to follow my commands. And when I put the watch back into my pocket, I will put your control away as well, but they will both be safe with me.”

As he said it all in his rich deep voice, he did it, and she drifted away following every step of his instruction. When his watch was finally away, he took a sip of his Scotch and a deep breath and then spoke clearly to the nearly sleeping girl.

“Now, we are going to have an interview, and you are going to answer every one of my questions with complete honesty. You understand that I am a worldly man, and I have heard just about everything, so nothing you tell me will surprise nor shock me. I may ask you very personal questions, but you will answer them honestly and forthrightly, and you will not think twice about it. Do you understand?” He spoke these words quickly, with practiced grace, enunciating each word as if he were reading them from a cue card.

She nodded slowly.

“Now, when I snap my finger, you will awaken, sit up straight and feel refreshed and relaxed. You will still be completely in a trance, but you will be fully aware of your surroundings and able to act normally, whilst still following all of my commands,” and with that, he snapped his fingers, and her eyes snapped open.

Penelope felt more relaxed than she could ever remember feeling. The tension in her neck from sitting in an uncomfortable office chair all day was gone, and suddenly, she was very happy about picking the dress she was wearing because it was so very comfortable. No tight slacks or clumsy sweaters. Her legs swung a little, and she felt the cool breeze from the ceiling fan on her skin.

“Penny, do you enjoy your job at the paper?” Asmirac asked in a steady tone, before taking a sip of his Scotch.

“No, sir,” she said in a sweet and casual tone, “not particularly.”

“Penny, do you have a boyfriend?”

“No, sir,” she said with a half frown.

“Are you a virgin?”

She flushes a little, and her eyes widened a little. “No, sir.”

“Would you say you are a particularly sexual person, Penny?”

She tilted her head and thought about the question, seeming very set on answering it honestly but not sure of the answer.

“Not really, I mean, I’m not sure. I don’t fool around unless I’m in love. I really wanted to save myself for marriage, but Paul was so pushy, and I thought we were going to be together forever.”

Asmirac took another sip of the mediocre Scotch and studied the girl more closely. He looked her up and down now that he was free of gentlemanly constraint. He let his gaze dip hungrily down into her cleavage and marveled at her creamy complexion. She was a classic small town beauty. Tall, perhaps 5’10”, very pale skin and striking red hair. She was certainly fit, as well as curvy, with wide hips and large breasts for her frame. She glowed with health, innocence, and freshness. 

“Would you like to travel the country?” he asked, though his gaze still lingered on her breasts.

“Yes, very much, sir.” Her voice was flat though tinged with some distant enthusiasm.

“Would you like to be on stage, performing and hearing applause?”

“I hadn’t really considered it, but yes, I think I would.”

“How many men have you been with?” He moved closer to her, looking around to make sure the waitress was far away.

“What do you mean?”

“How many men have you had sexual relations with, Penny?”

She considered this. “Two.”

He smiled. Even though she was entranced, she still blushed. 

“Did you keep the lights off?”

She paused. “Yes. Well, once we didn’t. One of my boyfriends was more adventurous, always trying to get me to do things, wear my cheerleader outfit; weird things like that.”

“Do you long to be sexually adventurous?”

“Not with the boys around here. With my husband, maybe. I mean, once I meet him. I like to think I will be enough for him, though, and he wouldn’t be the kind of man who would want all kinds of dirty games.”

It was strange, but her innocence made her even more desirable. Some dark seed blossomed in Asmirac’s mind, and he imagined perverting this pristine girl.  His hand moved from his drink onto her knee, and she abruptly gasped. He cursed under his breath. He knew he wasn’t being very professional and probably pushing the limits of his simple induction.

“Penny, if you were to be asked to perform in the nude, would you have a problem with that?”

She seemed to consider this, and she bit her bottom lip for a moment.

“I’m not sure. Probably not.”

“But you are not completely against it?”

“No.”

“Is the idea somewhat exciting?”

“It’s more frightening, sir.”

He smiled.

“One more question, Penny. How often do you masturbate?”

“Oh, um, not very often. Once every few weeks.”

He swallowed, watching her lips. These were the moments when he knew he should ask what he needed to ask and get on with it, but there was so much to know, so much loveliness in her blue eyes.

“And tell me, Penny, how exactly do you do it?”

“Sir?”

“Masturbation, Penny, what is your method? Please be—explicit.”

He watched her eyes, looking for wavering, but she only paused to think about how to answer before continuing in her chipper voice.

“I suppose the normal way. With my fingers, I mean. Usually before bed or sometimes in the morning. I lay on my stomach mostly, sort of on my knees, so my butt is a bit in the air. I put my hand between my legs and rub and rub and then when I’m about to have an orgasm, I put two fingers inside, and that usually does it.”

Asmirac took a hurried sip of his Scotch and nearly choked.

“I—see. And what do you think about?”

She shrugged. “Men, my ex-boyfriend sometimes, but he went off to college. I think of-” She thought more, her hand absently tracing the low collar of her dark blue dress with its white polka dots. She bit her lip as he watched her face, her eyes, as he watched her go back to quiet nights alone in her bed with hungry hands and all that youthful need.

“I think of hands and eyes on me. I think of men, lots of men, like a locker room or maybe a club somewhere. Older men in suits, watching me, touching me. No faces, just lots of hands and—you know-” she trailed off.

The Amazing Asmirac was now under a bit of a spell himself. Still, she had to say it, he had to hear it, every detail—

“French onion soup,” announced the waitress, putting down a little crock of melted cheese and broth for Penelope and then putting a large plate in front of Asmirac. “And for Mister Asmirac, the mutton chop!”

And with that, Asmirac laughed at himself and his dirty curiosity. He took his watch out of his pocket and held it up again.

“Excellent. Now, Penny, I’ve taken out my watch again and with it all of your will and control. I am going to snap my fingers and give you back all of your willpower and all of your control, because I see that your food has arrived. You will remember these questions and answers, but not remember my instructions or my use of the watch. You will believe that you were just being forthright and honest with me because I am a very capable interviewer. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When I snap my fingers, you will be awake and refreshed and very excited to start your new job, but before I do, I want to tell you something very important.” He started to swing the watch again, and her eyes followed it as they had before.

“Know that I hold the key to your will in this watch, and we have a bond now. You are going to be my ‘Pretty Penny’ and every time you hear the phrase ‘Pretty Penny’ or even think about it, the pop of those pees will remind you that I hold a little bit of your will with me in my pocket and you must always be honest with me and always take what I say as very important and very much the truth.”

With that, he snapped his fingers, and a bright-eyed and very happy Penelope was looking at him.

“So did I get the job Mister—I mean Ambrose?”

“Penny, I would be honored if you would be my new assistant.”

She almost jumped out of her seat with joy. She looked at him expectantly, and he feigned stuffiness as he simply patted her knee and then dropped his napkin in his lap to tuck into his meal.

That night Penny fell asleep the minute her head hit the pillow, and when she woke up, it seemed like her body was humming with energy. Before her shower, she lingered in bed, eyes fluttering as familiar images of thick masculine arms holding her down were mixed with stage lights and those sharp, piercing blue eyes.

The next day in the office was nothing but nervousness and impatience because, after work, she was to have her first rehearsal and training. At five o’clock she quickly filed the last of her stories, packed up all of her things, and scurried out of the office before anyone could say a word. 

She knew that if everything went as planned, she wouldn’t be working there much longer anyhow.

The first time she came to the circus trailer just outside of town, she was amazed that such a neat and fancy man such as Asmirac could live in such a place. It was certainly quaint looking, with a collection of old vaudeville and freak show signage making up the walls. 

“See the amazing lobster boy! Parisian ladies dance for your pleasure! The masked giant; his strength is almost disturbing!” Every statement was an exclamation, and every description jam-packed with adjectives.

As she got to the open door, though, she saw that the inside of the trailer was tidy and well decorated. She peeked in; not seeing the magician, she decided to have a look around.

There were many touches of Asian flair, such as red carpets and curtains trimmed with gold embroidery. There were black and red lacquered chairs and tables, and many trunks and suitcases that were open, showing costumes and props.

She jumped as she turned and saw the woman standing at the door. She was small, fragile, and remarkably beautiful. Her eyes were vivid green, and her hair was coppery red. She coughed into a silk handkerchief as Penny smiled and started to greet her.

“No, no, no,” rang Asmirac’s voice, sounding hard and angry.

“Rose, as I said, now is not a good time, you’ll have to go!” He grabbed the woman by her arm and carefully but forcefully pulled her out of the doorway and back outside.

Penny couldn’t quite hear the argument outside, but she saw from one of the porthole-like windows that Asmirac let the woman back to a car and then, it seemed, gave her a handful of money and pointed her back to the highway. With that, she was off.

Asmirac walked back with apologies and worry in his eyes.

“She’s a sweet girl, and dear to me, she is very sad to have to break up our partnership, but she is very ill—in her lungs—the particulars aren’t important. I’ve found doctors for her in California, where she is from, and she’ll hopefully recover. Still, she wants to work until the end. Poor little lamb.”

Penny was shocked at the loyalty. Wanting to be a magician’s assistant more than wanting to save your own life? She couldn’t imagine that. 

Asmirac watched Penny’s contemplation. After doing some thinking himself, he took a long, ornate pipe, packed it, and lit it, filling the trailer with an almost too-sweet smell of spiced tobacco. As he smoked, he took his watch out of his pocket, which drew Penny’s attention.

“Pretty Penny, the picture of health. I could tell from your voice, and then when I saw you, I was smitten, I admit, the red flush of your cheeks, your height and built, all good old-fashioned sturdy American stock. Just what I needed.”

As he spoke, her eyes were on the watch, which reminded her of something, she wasn’t sure what. It swung back and forth lazily, and her eyes followed it.

“This is my home, Penny. When you are here, it will be your home as well, and you should feel comfortable in it. Know that there are secrets in these drawers and trunks, though, and you should be careful where you dip your curious fingers.”

She clutched her hands to her chest reflexively. He smiled, adoring all of her innocent idiosyncrasies.

“First things first, before we teach and practice the tricks and flourishes, we have to prune and pretty up the wildflower before us. Shine up the pretty Penny,” he said, clearing off a tall chair that sat in front of a dressing mirror and offering the seat to her.

She sat, daintily, fixing her dress. He snapped a flowery sheet and let it settle over her chest and legs, tying it snugly around her neck before producing a pair of scissors and a comb from his pocket. 

The scissors were beautiful things, silver and copper and sharp as a razor. The warm sweet smell of his pipe made Penny’s whole body relax into the chair. She smiled as she watched the magician busy himself around her: his white sleeves rolled up, his neat pinstriped vest, his dramatic body language.

He placed his watch on the table in front of them, and Penny’s eyes stayed on it as Asmirac cut her hair far more adeptly than any of the small town beauticians. 

When he was done, he snatched up his watch, and she looked up, startled as if woken from a dream. She looked into the mirror in front of her and barely recognized herself. Her hair was sorter than it had been since she was a child. 

She looked up at him, and he smiled his devilish smile.

“Now, we need to measure you for your costume,” Asmirac said with a slight crack in his voice, taking her hand and leading her to the other side of the trailer.

Seeing a small circular platform in front of three mirrors, Penny walked over and stepped up, looking at three of herself looking back at her.

Asmirac was suddenly nervous, suddenly hesitant.

“Penny, Penelope, you are not a performer. I know this. I don’t say this to belittle you in any way, for you certainly have it in you to become a performer, but now, my sweet, you are but a small town girl.” As he said this, her face turned down a little, but he pushed her chin up slowly and made her face herself.

“What is a costume? What is a role? What is a performer? To change one’s self, to take on a role completely, one must let go of one’s ego, one’s very essence, and take on the form one is prescribed by the script, by the storyteller—or by the illusionist, even.”

He reached for his watch and then thought again. Instead, he brought over a small table and put it between the girl and the mirrors. On the table, he put a candle, which he lit. He then drew the blinds on the various windows so that the only light was the flickering candle and its triple reflection.

“Pretty Penny, my sweet, you are very much like a candle in a dark room. I’m sure you’ve seen how you can sparkle, how you can draw all eyes to you. My hope is that on my stage, you will be like this candle in front of a mirror. Your light will be multiplied, amplified, so that every flicker will cause the hearts of the audience to jump.”

As he said this, he walked around her, talking into her ears, his tone deep and strong, his eye-catching hers.

“Can you see yourself as the candle? Concentrate on it. Feel the warmth inside of your chest. Feel the light shining out of you.”

He placed a hand next to the candle, and the flame flickered and then seemed to be pulled to his palm.

“The candle is bright, and the candle is hot, but I am the one who lit it, and I am the one who controls it.”

Her eyes were on only the candle. His voice grew louder in her head until it was all she could hear.

“You will be my candle in the dark on stage. I will look to you for illumination. I will use you to catch the eye of the crowd while I work my illusions in your shadow. For who could not look at you and be enraptured?” He pulled the bow that tied her dress closed in the back. The dress came open, and the long line of her legs glowed gold in the candlelight.

“I must undress you and measure you and see to all my little details,” he whispered to her, now reaching for his watch even though she was already mesmerized by the candle.

“Once again, I have the watch and your will in my hands. Do you understand, my prettiest of pennies?”

Her eyes grew wider, and she nodded.

He hung the watch on the top of the mirror in front of her so that her eyes were on the candle’s reflection and the gold of the watch. Then his face darkened as he undressed her. The kind old magician winced at the softness of her skin. His hands shook as he unwrapped his stolen prize. She didn’t bat an eyelash as he undid her brassiere.

“I am an old man, and you must excuse me if I ogle. You must excuse me if I paw. Oh, my Penny, you must forget the lewd gropings of a wicked magician. Do you see my pretty watch and the flame in the mirror, pretty Penny?”

She nodded dreamily.

“And you will know that for the next hour, or so you and I are in the mirror world. We are in a dream. In this world, you will gift an old man with a kiss or two. You will let him have his way. You will let his too-eager hands take what they must from your pretty body. You will even desire it, do you understand?”

She looked at the mirror, her eyebrows furled a bit. With all his flowery words and self-deprecating prose, she actually didn’t understand.

He laughed at himself absently and put his lips to her ear.

“You’re going to be a good girl for the next hour and float in a dream. I’m going to have my way with your body, and you’re going to enjoy it. You know this is all part of the job. You know this will help us bond and make you the perfect assistant. For all the ways I touch you and kiss you and take you, you will be seduced by my words and my actions and, for the time, fall into the role of my lover. Do you understand?”

She looked into the mirror deeply and thought about it, then nodded her head in agreement.

He cupped her now naked breast and groaned like a man who had found water in the desert. He kissed her strong neck and freckled shoulders and was almost hypnotized himself by the fresh clean smell of her skin. 

He was surprised when she covered her other breast with her hand and looked up to see her face darkening. She was frowning and looking down. He wondered whether he had rushed his induction. Perhaps she wasn’t as susceptible as he imagined.

“Tell me what’s wrong, my Penny,” he whispered.

She was pensive. She said nothing. He examined her face. Her eyes were still drawn to the flame, but she was scared. He realized, like in the restaurant when he put his hand on her knee, that overt sexual overtures were just too far from her comfort zone, even under his spell.

“Penny, I want your full attention. Put your hands down.”

She did, but slowly. He pulled her dress back on, just enough to cover her, and she relaxed. He picked up his watch and put it in front of the flame. He let it start to swing, like a pendulum, in front of the flame.

“Watch the watch, tick-tock, back and forth. Those pretty eyes on only the watch. Knowing it is an anchor tied to your will, tied to your soul. Looking at the watch is looking into yourself.”

He let it swing and watched her whole body relax again.

“Let yourself fall deeper into the watch’s control, my control, let your own needs and desires float away. You want for nothing, Penny. Your only need is to do as I say and what I say is that you are going to be a great assistant. You are going to be a great performer. This is what I wish, and you will only be happy, you will only be satisfied when I get my wish.”

She followed his words and let their logic sink in.

“To be a great performer, you must take on roles. I am going to give you your first role, Penny.”

Looking around, he found a red scarf hanging on a coat rack. Taking it, he held it out in front of Penny.

“This red scarf is a dakini shawl. When you put it on, you will no longer be Penny, you will no longer be Penelope. You will be Mirela, the seductress. You will be wild and free, like the flame. The red scarf will let you take on this role fully, do you understand?”

She nodded.

“Mirela takes what she wants and fears nothing. Mirela knows her body is exquisite and revels in her beauty and sensuality. Mirela loves to dance and drink and make love. Mirela is untamed and unbound, and she only answers to one person in the world: the Amazing Asmirac. My magic is the only thing she truly respects. She is my wild mare, and only I can control her reins. Do you understand?”

She nodded again, her eyes wider. With that, he lowered the watch and put it back in his pocket.

“I’m keeping your will in my pocket. I’m keeping you here with me. I’m going to put this scarf on you, and Penny will disappear for a while. Only Mirela will remain. Only Mirela will be here with me when you have the scarf on, and all your body will know is Mirela’s wants.”

With that, he wrapped the scarf around her neck and put his hand over her eyes.

“When I remove my hands, it will be Mirela that opens her eyes, do you understand?”

She nodded softly.

Asmirac, for some reason, was suddenly feeling his age, perhaps because his hand was on such taut and pristine skin. He leaned down and closed his eyes as well before letting the girl go. He remembered a time, a time that seemed like another life, when he had studied illusion with a master magician and had known his mentor’s daughter Mirela.

With his hand still over Penny’s eyes, he remembered the fiery Mirela and her lithe catlike movements. The way she crawled across the floor, hair wild, eyes smoky and intense, mouth hungry. He remembered her passion and her temper and untamed spirit. Thinking of her, he whispered these things to Penny. He described the way she walked, the way she spoke, all the things that made Mirela who she was.

When he lifted his hands, Penny’s eyes stayed closed for a moment. She breathed deeply in a steady rhythm.

The woman who opened her eyes was not Penny. Looking at the pale skin and red hair, she was not Mirela either. The girl who had once been Asmirac’s child bride was a golden-skinned sun worshiper. Still, past the freckles and Irish features, Penny was being possessed by the wanton Romany temptress he remembered.

Standing abruptly and twisting out of Asmirac’s arms, Penny stood and looked at the man. With a slow turn of her hips and a flourish of her hands, she pulled open the waist of her dress. Her fluid movements seem so different from Penny’s usual awkward self-consciousness.

The pale dancer spun and, at the same time, pulled at her dress. It opened, revealing her body, clad only in a pair of cotton panties, and the red scarf covering her breasts. Her hips swung, her hands moved in a pattern that seemed rehearsed and even ancient. With a twirl that would have impressed a burlesque performer, the scarf’s end was flipped behind her back, and her breasts stood high and bare as Asmirac’s breath caught.

He’d not expected the transformation to be so complete, but the woman before him was a wholly new entity. The pale dancer turned and spread her legs as she bent over, giving him a clear look at her round bottom and the tantalizing bit of cotton that separated his eyes from her sex. She leaned all the way forward and dragged her nails up her leg to her inner thigh and then up against that very inch of fabric. She slowly pulled her panties down, inch by inch, rocking her hips to unheard music.

She eyed him over her shoulder.

“I dance for you, my master,” she said in a strange new voice. She was not mimicking an accent, but there was a foreign tinge to her words.

Pulling the panties down to her knees, she reached back and let a single finger follow exactly where Asmirac’s eyes went. The patch of red hair was like some prize he’d hunted for. She rocked there, her finger doing what he wished his tongue was doing, then what he wanted his cock to be doing.

“My master, will you come and take me? Can you? My body is already hungry for you. Wet for you.”

She crawled to him, and when she got to his feet, she let her hands slither up his legs. She looked him in the eyes, and he could hardly see his pretty Penny. This girl was wild. In that moment, he saw the trick of it. He saw that Penelope could only be pushed so far beyond the borders of her life and her rules. Given a role, though, she would let herself be anything.

Finally, with the impunity his spell had given him, he slipped his hand down her alabaster shoulder and cupped her breast again. He swooned over her skin, the scent of her hair, and finally the taste of her lips. She kissed him and pressed herself again him, and he was in heaven.

Standing and leading her to a large Indian rug, he pulled pillows from the small bed and couch, and they lay down in lavish comfort. He explored the new girl he had created. He kissed every inch of her. He tasted the pink perfect that laid under the patch of red.

She was not the shy girl she had been when she arrived at his door. The spell did not stop when she was aroused; it only amplified her wild spirit. She stripped him and kissed and bit at his skin. She pressed her mouth and nose into his chest, and her eyes rolled back as she took in his scent. She knelt in front of him and took his cock into her mouth, and worshiped it as she sucked it.

Finally, she sat up and bit her bottom lip before asking him, almost begging him, “Now, will you take me, my master?”

If he were a painter, he would have spent the rest of his life trying to capture the fire in her eyes and her pouting lips. If he were a poet, he would write about it. Fortunately, he was a magician, and more than that, a thief. So he took it.

She turned and leaned over a chair and her back arched, and her ass rose for him, the lips of her sex showing between her legs. Asmirac was a man who never prayed, but in the face of this, he begged whatever forces were in the world for strength, then he slipped his cock into her.

Each thrust was punctuated by a yelp from the girl. She held tight to the chair and thrust back at the magician, the softness of her bottom pressing hard against his hips each time.

The rhythm of the coupling and the wet sounds of their sex echoed in the trailer obscenely. Asmirac, his hair disheveled, his chest moist with sweat, pulled at the girl wanting more of her. She looked back at him with her now-wild eyes.

“Fuck me, master, fuck me harder. I want to feel sore from you when I walk around tomorrow. I want you to take everything I have for you.” She spoke, but her voice was not her own. She was Mirela now. She turned and put her head down, and he tried, with all the strength his tired body could muster, to ride her harder. To bruise her. To take her.

When her body tightened, and her moans became almost animal as her orgasm overtook her, Asmirac was distantly but distinctly aware of the scarf. As their bodies moved, the scarf, which was the only scrap of clothing she still wore, had unwrapped itself and was dangling on her neck, each thrust of their bodies making it slip further off.

It became a race. Could he come before it fell? Just when he picked up his pace to try, the red scarf slid the final few inches and landed in a neat puddle on the floor.

She gasped. Her body tightened. She turned, and her green eyes were wide and scared.

“Mister—I mean—what?” She tried to form a sentence but couldn’t.

As for Asmirac, any plan his mind tried to form was destroyed by the fact that his body had already fallen into that familiar and exquisite and inevitable spiral. And so the magician came inside the confused girl.

She was stunned; she was trying to find words. She just stared at the wall, unsure if it was a dream or real life. As she tried to process it all, Asmirac picked up the scarf and wrapped it back around her neck.

Mirela returned, lithe, sensual, hungry. She stood and kissed Asmirac. It was a long lingering kiss, punctuated by a bite on his lower lip, which was just slightly too hard for his taste. He laughed.

“Sleep, Mirela,” he said, and with flair, he opened his hand in front of her face and covered her eyes. She sank back into a chair.

As he slipped the red scarf off, he spoke in a clear, strong voice.

“Penny, my pretty Penny, you will forget that little strangeness you thought you saw a moment ago. It was just a vague dream. Still, images may linger in your daydream memories. When that does happen, you will feel warm arousal flood your body.”

Over the next week, she woke up at six a.m. on the dot every morning and went to Asmirac’s trailer before work. He showed her his tricks and their secret truths. To be cut in half, she had to put her legs this way and that. To disappear, she fell through a trap door, or she ducked and rolled behind a curtain or a mirror. He taught her the little things, like how to smile brightly and open her arms wide when he needed people to focus on anything else but his hands.

Through her own hungry mind and with the aid of Asmirac’s mentalist tooling, she picked up everything quickly. Soon she was a bright smile and wide arms, a buxom diversion, and even an attraction in herself. Asmirac had her send for one of the newspaper’s photographers, who shot a picture of them in front of the trailer for a new poster for the upcoming show.

That Friday at lunch, she was surprised when a delivery man stopped by her desk at the newspaper and had her sign for a package. It was addressed to her specifically, not the paper. Opening the sealed parcel, she saw another smaller envelope that was square and about an inch thick. On the front, a flowery calligraphic hand had written, “To My Pretty Penny, an important note to be read in private. With breathless anticipation for our first performance, The Amazing Asmirac.”

Smiling at the sentiment, she picked up her sandwich and the package and went out of the office and across the street to the park she sometimes ate at. The place was empty and had a lovely fountain with benches around it. Sitting on the bench, she places the thick envelope on her lap and carefully opened it, pulling out a little booklet made of expensive-looking laid paper, copper rivets, and ribbon.

She opened up the thick card, wondering what it could possibly be. As the intricately folded paper creaked and opened, she saw that it was very much like the pop-up books she had as a child. There was a large piece like a clock tower that sprang up almost a foot high, but instead of a clock, there was a pinwheel of sorts on the top. The pinwheel itself was a red and white swirl design, like the peppermint candies she remembered from her childhood.

As she opened the card all the way up and started to read, she noticed the pinwheel picked up the wind and started to spin slowly. As she felt the cool autumn breeze brush her legs and blow her hair into her eyes, the wheel spun faster, and the red spiral spun and spun. Spun and spun and spun as a crisp voice echoed in her mind as she read.

“Tonight is very important, my prettiest of pennies. You must be well-groomed and well-fed, and pristine in all ways. This is a date with destiny. We will be having two shows, as I said, in the community center, but afterward, there will be a special private show in the mayor’s mansion.”

Penny’s heart was beating hard, and her skin tingled as she read on.

“This private show will be where you truly show the world all of your talents. I need you in top form. You will not be nervous in the least because you are my star. You will be brave and bold and charismatic as I know you can be.”

As if drinking a tonic, Penny felt herself grow stronger, tougher, braver, more beautiful.

“Leave work early, go home, and get some rest. Before the show I want you to take a long bath. Lavish yourself with affection and anoint yourself with every scented oil and soap you have. I want your body scrubbed and every hair removed from your legs and even the hair in between them. I want you perfumed and lotioned and smooth and perfect.”

Heat flooded her bloodstream as she thought of this all. The pampering and the shaving; she’d never shaved those secret places. The idea of being smooth and perfect for him, for the audience, for the craft, made her feel like a prize. It made her feel like an integral ingredient in a magic spell that had to be prepared in some new and occult way.

“Please be at my trailer at six on the dot, Penny. I have enclosed some funds for whatever you might need in the way of makeup as well as extra for a taxicab. Until then—The Amazing Asmirac,” read the large signature at the bottom.

For a moment, the words all rang in her head as the autumn leaves blew by, and the red and white spiral whirled and spun. When Penny looked up, almost a half an hour had passed, and she had to rush back to the office to finish her work and leave early.

A fresh-faced, impeccably dressed and made-up Penny arrived at Asmirac’s trailer the next day, nervous but ready to perform.

Asmirac greeted her warmly. His hug made strange butterflies start in her stomach as she remembered some dream she’d had the night before of his exotic cologne and skilled hands. He guided her to his dressing pedestal and fixed her hair a bit more, touching up her eye makeup and lipstick. He presented her with her two costumes: a sequined green dress and a flowing white gown made of layers of diaphanous material.

She looked nervously into Asmirac’s eyes, and his smile comforted her.

“My beautiful Penny, let’s prepare for our first of many spectacular performances.”

And as she took his arm, she knew that everything would be just that: spectacular.

The civic center was home to bad plays, boring city council meetings, and a variety of uninteresting community events. As Penny looked out at the full rows of folding chairs, she was astonished. She’d been out of the loop on gossip and news besides the paper’s rather impotent musings and couldn’t imagine the whole town lining up for a magic show, but there they were. The mayor was even in the front row with his wife. Penny’s heart raced.

“Ladies and gentlemen, greetings and salutations,” Asmirac said, standing in the middle of a spotlight, his topcoat and tails spotless.

“I have come to bring the skills and spells I have accumulated over my three decades of travel around the world. I come to show you wonders and delights and yes—magic!”

As he opened his palms to the crowd, the spotlight split and summoned Penny to the stage. She glittered in both smile and sequined dress.

“I am aided in my occult and foreign works by a local talent! I present to you my new assistant and muse, Miss Penelope Miller—My Shining Penny.”

She smiled brightly, her lips crimson and her eyes brilliant green. She opened her arms and her fingers spread in the light, dazzling the audience with her beauty.

The small town crowd was presented with a touch of magic that cool autumn day. The sight of a pretty girl next door, whom most of them knew and had watched grow up, exploding onto the stage in a sequined green dress with white gloves to her elbows, seduced oohs and aahs from them.

In a burst of smoke and pop of glitter, she was cut in half. She was transformed into a cloud of white doves, only to reappear at the other end of the theatre. She helped the Amazing Asmirac levitate a table and guided astonished helpers from the audience to and from the stage as they shook with delight at having their minds read or cards guessed.

When the curtain fell, Penny was glowing in the sparse backstage light. When the curtain rose again, there was a cheer the likes of which the little civic center had never known. Everyone was on their feet and roaring with praise.

Asmirac came out and took a bow, then he turned and clapped with the crowd for his beautiful assistant.

After the show, Penny and Asmirac had a late supper in the dressing room. Oddly, after the intensity of the initial experience, Penny felt the grip of nervousness tightening in her stomach. Asmirac noticed and had her seat close to him as he took her hands in his and looked deeply into her eyes.

“My sweet girl, you may not believe me, but that was one of the most breathtaking performances I’ve ever seen. You were marvelous, and after such a show, it is only natural to be afraid of not being able to repeat the,” he chuckled to himself, “magic, so to speak.”

She sighed and nodded, trying to force herself not to cry. Asmirac, Penny noticed, for the first time, looked nervous as well. His eyes were weary, and his grin forced.

“It will be a different show at the mansion, as I said. A smaller stage, we haven’t rehearsed there, but I assure you the tricks will be-” He looked away from her for a moment. “Easier.”

Penny felt a rush of caring for the man. He’d taught her so much, given her hope for another life. She reached up and touched his face and smiled.

“We’ll be amazing, just like the first show. More than amazing!” she said with a happiness in her voice Asmirac hadn’t heard before.

Somehow it didn’t make him feel any better.

“Penny, ah, Penelope—”

“No,” she said, covering his lips with her finger, “I’m Penny now! When I’m on stage with you, I finally do feel like a shiny new penny!”

He patted her hand. “I have a small gift for you to wear on stage,” he said a bit awkwardly.

He took from his pocket a small gray silk pouch. From it, he pulled a gold chain, and at the end of the chain was a ruby pendant. She was transfixed by the gem.

“Penny, you have been my assistant. You have learned to be a performer. With this necklace, I will help you take on your next role.”

With his hands trembling, he held up the necklace, as he’d held his watch so many times before, and he let the pretty thing dangle and move like a tiny pendulum back and forth. Without missing a beat, her green eyes followed the red gem.

“Penny, you are in many ways a girl. A beautiful girl. An innocent girl. I need you to fall back into a trance for me. Can you do that?”

She nodded, slowly, eyes still fixated.

“You know I hold a watch in my pocket, and that watch holds your will. I hold your will. As much as I love you,” his voice cracked a bit, “you are mine to command, aren’t you?”

She paused, her eyes twinkling, reflecting the ruby, but finally, she nodded.

“As the watch gave me your will, this gem will take your passion. My soft sweet girl, your passion is but a little flicker. I see it grow as you dream of the world, but that flicker is still small, isn’t it?”

Penny’s eyes almost wavered, her lips pouted slightly, but she nodded.

“This ruby is kindling, Penny. This ruby is gasoline. This ruby is the fuel to turn that flicker into a flame. This ruby will turn that flame into an inferno.” As he spoke each sentence, his voice became louder, until it seemed as if the walls of the tiny dressing room were shaking.

“Do you understand, Penny? This ruby, once it touches your skin, will unlock all that passion you’ve hidden.”

She was almost cowering as he spoke, but her eyes never left the gem.

“Fall for me, Penny, deeper. Fall and fall again. Fall ten times deeper for me. Fall a hundred times deeper. Deeper than the deepest sleep. Deeper than unconsciousness. Fall until the only thing you know is my voice and my commands and this red, red ruby.”

Her eyes were saucers now, her mouth agape, her breath labored.

“When I speak now, I speak to your very soul. When I give you my command, I give it to your very core.” He swallowed. He took a deep breath.

“Tonight, when I put this necklace around your neck, your body will ignite with sexual desire. When the metal touches your flesh, you will be consumed by your desire. You will be mad for flesh and lips, and you will give in to the whims and needs of those around you. You will become wanton, a whore, arched back and open-legged. You will only be sated by surrendering to those who want you, to those who need you, to those who fuck you.”

When he stopped talking, he realized he was shaking. The corners of his mouth were wet with spittle, and his heart was pounding.

“Do you understand?” he said, trying to contain himself.

She was in a trance so deep it took almost a minute for her to nod in reply. Her pupils were dilated. Her face was white. She could hardly blink.

Asmirac stopped the swinging ruby and let the necklace fall into a neat puddle of gold in his hand. He took a deep breath and got to work, bringing his assistant back from the inky darkness of his spell.

The late show was a very different affair. Penelope had been both confused and delighted that a limousine had picked them up and brought them to the mansion of Mister Archibald Westminster, the current mayor and by far the wealthiest man in town. She’d seen the large estate before, but had never been past the rather imposing gates that guarded the huge lawns and gardens surrounding the many gabled castle-like manors.

Penny was ushered into the mansion so quickly she hardly had time to take in the extravagance of the place. She was brought to a guest bedroom of some kind and given her costume, which shocked her a bit. 

Trusting in Asmirac, Penny changed and then was lead to the small hill that was made up as a makeshift theatre. The room was huge, and the walls were lined with paintings and tapestries. There were tables arraigned in front of the stage, and Penny was shocked to see that there were a dozen or so women serving drinks, and most of them were almost nude.

At each table sat one or two dark-suited men and a  lingerie-clad waitress. The women were serving large snifters of amber liquid and handing out cigars. In the corner of the room was a full grand piano and a man in tails lightly played a familiar tune.

Asmirac found Penny looking at the room, and he smiled comfortingly.

“As I told you, this shall be a very different show, my sweet Penny. Worry not, I’m here, and we shall make it so that before too long, every eye is on us.”

Penny took a deep breath, wondering if this was how rich people lived. The decadence and obscenity of it was confusing and breathtaking. As Asmirac left her side and walked onto the stage, Penny noticed that the already dimly lit theatre was made even darker, lit only by flickering candles on each table. The stage was still well lit, but Penny saw that there was a large table with an elaborately embroidered red velvet tablecloth.

When the thick crimson velvet curtain rose, the cigar smoke and incense was almost as thick as the fog in her head. There was very little clapping from the audience. 

Asmirac stood in the center of the small stage, alone spotlight on him. The audience seemed unimpressed, as if they were waiting for him to do something to earn their attention.

“Gentlemen, some of you may have seen my earlier show. I assure you this will be quite another kind of magic.”

The piano player went into an eerie circus-like medley. It was very low, almost forgotten in the background. The light moved from Asmirac to Penny, who stood in a perfectly white gown, obviously a bit uncomfortable with the shortness of the dress and the makeup of the audience.

“Since Adam and Eve, man has longed to know the secrets of the female form. The mysterious puzzle that is her desire. The enigmatic landscape of her pink-petaled rose,” Asmirac said lyrically as he turned and with a flare of his hands commanded a second curtain to rise, exposing a seven-foot tree, complete with green leaves and a shining red apple hanging from one branch.

“Since the snake came to tempt Eve,” Asmirac said, producing a green handkerchief, “we have all been slaves to our passions,” and with that, he whipped the handkerchief with a flourish, and it became a green snake coiled around his arm.

There was an impressed murmur through the crowd, followed by some snickers at Penny’s face as she seems just as surprised as the audience as the appearance of the snake.

Asmirac walked slowly towards Penny, his arm pointing towards her with the snake’s head facing her, its tongue darting out threateningly.

“Pretty girl, alone in the garden, the day is hot, is it not?” he said as if speaking through the snake with hisses in his words.

Penny had her hand to her mouth, her cheeks were red, but she nodded.

“Something to cool your lips? Something sweet to sate your hunger?” he again said through the serpent, which seemed to be fixed on Penny’s face.

The crowd, which at first had seemed dismissive of the silly show, wanting something more salacious, was now rapt. Even the naked escorts of some of the men seemed both forgotten by their dates and equally entranced with the biblical tale unfolding.

“Come, my lovely young Eve, there is an apple upon the branch waiting!” Asmirac goaded.

The magician took the snake in both hands, and it coiled itself until it fit in both of his palms. With a flash and a cloud of smoke, a huge snake, a bright green boa constrictor, was wrapped around his shoulders and arm. This snake also reached out its head so that its tongue almost touched Penny’s cheek.

“Take the apple,” Asmirac said, though it seemed as if the snake said it.

Penny walked to the tree, still frightened. She reached up and took the apple. She held it in her hands, and with another puff of smoke and flash, she held the necklace.

“The ruby-red forbidden fruit. See how she eyes it. Feel how she wants it,” Asmirac said, moving in, the snake uncoiling from his shoulders and moving from his arm to her waist.

He took the necklace from her and slowly placed it upon her neck. Her eyes closed. The lights dimmed. The snake slithered and hissed as Asmirac moved in to kiss his Penny, his Eve.

There was a crack like thunder, and the snake was gone, yet Asmirac now wore a green suit, becoming the very snake.

It took the astounded men of the audience a moment to shake off the awe and start to clap. There was hooting and laughter of amazement, then the shuffling of chairs.

Two men, tall, in their late forties, perhaps former athletes, stood from their seats and joined Asmirac and Penny on stage, followed by two of the now nude escorts. Asmirac moved aside and pushed the tree off the stage, while unseen hands moved a large altar-like bed on stage.

The piano grew louder. An eerie version of “Entrance of the Gladiators” played as a new and possessed Penny opened her eyes and was encircled by two nude women and two hungry-looking men. 

They descended on the girl slowly, walking around her as Asmirac faded into the darkness. The audience hushes as Penny’s eyes grew wider. Her body seemed to bloom. Her cheeks reddened, almost matching the ruby she wore. One of the women pulled at the belt tied around Penny’s waist, and as the four continued to circle her, Penny’s dress opened.

The music continued, broken melodies which brought to mind freak shows, houses of mirrors. The crowd leered, leaned in, some even stood as the four men stripped the red-headed girl and took turns pulling and teasing and dragging their nails over her pale skin until her back and breasts and firm legs were maps of red lines.

Once their hands were finished, their mouth took their turns. Penny had transformed from a blushing victim to a wanton idol. She laid on the table, legs open, like a sacred whore. She writhed and moaned and lifted her hips as each of her lovers took turns burying their faces between her legs.

Finally, each man coupled with her. Asmirac heard the moans from backstage and the cheers of the audience, and it was all too much. He went out into the courtyard for fresh air until the illusion he created had run its course. 

Days later, in the green just beyond where the colorful trailer was set up Asmirac, stood with his hands behind his back. He watched squirrels frolic and lope around and listened to the birds chirp sweetly.

Penny was almost sad to interrupt him, but he seemed like he wouldn’t notice her unless she did.

“As-I mean, um, Chase?”

The man turned, his eyes were red, and he looked tired and older than she remembered.

“Ah, my Penny. I’m glad you came. We have much to discuss,” he said, looking back up at the birds in the trees.

She smiled brightly. She remembered feeling wonderful the night before, bright and alive. Though she didn’t remember much of the second show, she’d awoke sore and aching from the effort.

“We do have much to talk about. More shows in town? Where we are heading next?” she said, almost hopping with excitement.

“Hm,” Asmirac sighed.

“Penelope, I’ve been less than honest with you,” Asmirac started.

Her face dropped. Her eyes grew large.

“About–about traveling the world?” she asked with quivering lips.

He smiled a half-hearted smile, “no, not about that. There is a world still waiting for my beautiful assistant.”

“Then what?” she said, her eyes now wet.

Asmirac looked down, trying to find the words.

“Oh, my sweet girl. How can one say it? Throughout my life, I’ve wondered how to have this conversation. Sit, sit, and I will tell you the sad tale and my unfortunate choices,” he said, guiding her to two large rocks, which he motioned for her to sit on with him.

“I was a young and brash man once. I traveled the world, I had adventures, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I understood many things, but people always confused me. Women, especially, confounded me. It was only when I met a master magician that I was given the tools to overcome my fumbling tongue and inept charms.”

Asmirac took from his pocket the watch.

“You see this, Penny? This may look like a watch, but from the first moment you laid eyes on you, it has been the portent of my moral decent. I cast a spell on you, Penny. Not like the tricks we play at on stage, but a real spell-”

She gasped, “you mean, you hypnotized me? Like in a movie? With a pocket watch?”

He eyed her. He looked at her beautiful face. He looked at her lovely body. He looked at it all and then his watch.

“I did. I did indeed. I trapped your will in this watch and then had my way with you. And more, I made you into a trick on stage. I trick which you will someday remember.”

Tears ran down her face as her mind tried to recall these things. She wondered how it could be. She wondered if it was all a joke or perhaps if he was mad. There was no way a man could really do such things.

“And now what? Now you are telling me? You feel remorse? I-”

Asmirac’s brows curled.

“Remorse? Hm. No, I don’t think I feel that. It’s just that you are so lovely, so perfect, such a find, that to see you on stage made me angry. I’ve never felt that sort of jealousy. I also realized that you are too far, too lovely, even too curious and intelligent. You would slip out of my spell eventually,” he said, standing now and walking back in the direction of the trailer.

Penny followed quickly behind him, still crying and still confused.

“So–so, you’re going to leave me here then? You’re going to tell me this and not even ask me feelings?” she shouted for the first time.

As he got to the trailer, he turned on her.

“Ask you?” he asked quietly.

“Penny, I’ve made a mess of this all. I’ve tried to make you into a sultry assistant, and I realize that will not work,” he slammed his fist into his hand and then turned to open the door.

She looked even sadder then. “I tried to be sultry,” she started.

He laughed loudly.

“That’s not it, silly girl. You are living sex. You’ve grown up in a town unaware that they had a goddess among them. No, no, my mistake was not in gauging your sultriness, it was making you my assistant. You are not my assistant. You are my love. You are the one I’ve searched for all of my life. It just took me a bad step to realize it,” he whispered the last few words to himself.

She was taken aback. She was so fond of the old magician. He was kind, up until now, and brilliant and made her feel like a new woman, but in the end, he was an old man. He was perhaps a charlatan. He was so many things but her love? Perhaps at some moments, she thought he could be her lover, but the love of her life? No.

And he saw the “no” in her eyes.

“You will never love me the way I love you, Penny. I know that. That’s why I’m telling you this all,” he swallowed and opened the door.

“So I will say goodbye to my pretty Penny. I will say goodby to Penelope. And I will give you one last gift,” he opened the door and, with a flourish, guided her in.

Inside the trailer, all of the trunks and desks, the bed, and the tables had been removed. The walls were bare, and she saw that they were mostly lined with faded posters.

“Asmirac and his Beautiful Ophelia! Asmirac and his Lovely Linette!” on and on a dozen names. A dozen beauties.

In the center of the trailer was a large sphere, covered in mirrors. She saw the on the ceiling were more tiny mirrors. There were also speakers in the corners of the room. They were old, beaten up, but as she noticed them, they all sparked to life with a crackle. As they did, the ball in the center of the room started to slowly spin.

“Goodbye my lovely Penny. I have loved you. I will go on loving you, but since you will never love me, I’m afraid I am going to have to start over. A new Penny. A new girl. I can’t bear to waste your lovely eyes, your hair, your spirit, so I am going to wipe you clean and build a new Penny. A shiny new Penny who is fit for me. A Penny I can keep in my picket forever.”

The strobe lights started and almost blinded her. She didn’t know where they came from because the mirrors’ reflections sent them in all directions. The music started in time with the lights. A broken tune, over and over, like a toy piano. Somehow she was on her knees.

“Penny, Penny, we have a long day ahead of us. This will be my greatest trick, Penny. I am going to make the part of you that can’t love me disappear. I don’t care if I take your whole personality with it, because frankly, I have enough personality for both of us. If I can’t have your charm, I will settle for your body,” he let out a long sigh, and then his voice became low and almost musical.

“Penny, Penny. There is no more Penny. All your memories are fading away. Your parents, your friends, your loves, your hates. It’s all drifting away. It’s all disappearing. In that empty canvas of your mind, there is nothing. There is nothing but my voice. Now, I will tell you a story. I will tell you a story, and my story will be all there is. I will tell you a story, and it will be all you are. The story starts with love. I love you, and you love me. That is who you are now.”

She screamed but couldn’t hear herself over the music and his voice.

Soon even those things became distant as she felt herself float away into a trans unlike any before.

And with that, the spell had begun.

And with that, Penny began to disappear.

END

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