Seth watches from the back of the room as the cloaked figure on stage chooses his volunteer. The entertainers are here to cast their temporary spell over the village and there are plenty of seated occupants to select from. “You there! Join me!” he commands, sweeping the fabric across his shoulders to display the sleeves of the dark suit beneath. He points at a fair haired man a couple of rows from the front, who puts a “who me” hand to his chest, before moving slowly towards the stairs. Seth knows him, of course. Jon Tate. He is smiling slightly as he looks at the man, she thinks, casting a sideways glance at the tall, black box towards the rear of the stage. His smile fades at the corners as he does.
The magician – who does not name or otherwise introduce himself – all part of the act, a magician must retain his secrets - unhinges the box from its moorings, turns it inside out, black velvet interior displayed to all and sundry - nothing to see here – before reassembling the walls on three sides to leave the foremost section open for entry. Jon is guided with a gesture towards its centre. Seth thinks he hesitates infinitesimally before he takes the steps which will place him within its confines and the door to the box is closed again with him inside and away from sight.
It is dark in the nothing. “Hello?” a voice calls. Jon looks into the pitch without seeing. Places a hand in front of himself, seeking some form of orientation to no avail.
“Hello?” A voice speaks again. It is male, no way to gauge an age. Jon stays silent for a moment.
“Hello?” There is a tremble in the word this time. “Is anyone there? I’m Aaron. I can’t find my way home. I think I’ve been trying for over a year!”
Another voice joins the first. “I’m Bethany. It’s been four weeks and three days since I’ve been here – I think.”
Then another. “I’m Richard. I don’t know how long I’ve been here in the dark.”
A cavalcade of introductions. Too many to count, all together, yet alone, in the dark. Jon finds himself hugging his hands to his knees as the names emerge from nowhere and everywhere; the names of those locked in. They are nothing and yet everything in the dark.
The hinges to the box are removed once again, slats pulled from one another, before he takes his bow and the curtain falls. There is nothing behind the walls, amongst the black velvet, as the sections are held aloft and displayed to the appreciative audience. No sign that it was ever occupied or trace of Jon remains. There is a buzz, then silence from the seated mass, as the box disappears from sight behind the fabric post denouement.
Seth keeps her eyes on the magician as his own sweep the wood of the stage, then raise themselves towards the crowds, though they are too far apart to exchange a proper glance. She nods an acknowledgment, before turning to depart, hidden amongst the others who are leaving their seats now they appreciate the act is genuinely finished. The murmurs begin once they move through the theatre doors into the open spaces beyond them. Seth does not wait to hear what it is they say. No need to. She knows all too well the secrets the act has concealed. It is what comes of dancing with the devil and arranging Jon’s introduction personally. She suspects if he had known where it would lead, things wouldn’t have ended so badly between them.