Julie sat down at a table close to the stage. She had already seen Dire perform before - several times before, in fact - but tonight would be different. Her interview was right after the show. She would be watching his performance tonight knowing she might be up there on stage with him, perhaps even as early as tomorrow night.
She knew she had the right stuff. Now, all she had to do was convince Dire, but she didn’t think that was going to be too difficult. All he really had to do was just look at her. It was a gimmick older than vaudeville, she knew. A man walks into the average magic show. What’s the first thing he sees? What probably most catches his eye?
The girls, obviously.
There’s the stage, of course, and the props, not to mention the magician himself, sure, but in all likelihood the first thing noticed will always be the magician’s female assistants, clad in the most revealing and exotic costumes imaginable. That was the whole point. The girls drew attention away from the magicians performing their acts. The less attention paid to them, the more they could get away with. It was a standard, even traditional part of the show, and Julie knew she could do it. She had never had problems capturing a man’s attention before.
Of course, aside from the girls, there was very little else traditional about this particular magician, but that didn’t worry her. Julie had arrived early to see him live and in action, and, like all those other times she had seen his act, he was, in a word, unique.
Dire the Decadent, he was billed sometimes. Illusionist Malevolent.
Dire the Dangerous.
He was setting himself on fire tonight.
Julie watched, as completely absorbed in the performance as every other member of the audience. The lights dimmed first. The band started playing low, dreamy music. From the ceiling above the stage, a narrow cage was lowered on thick chains. Its bars were blackened and smoke-stained, and seeing it, the audience erupted in spontaneous applause. Even Julie, a professional in the business, couldn’t help clapping.
There was no one stage yet, but the crowd was going wild. Dire’s reputation was all that was needed. The “Inferno Cage” had helped establish his fame, or infamy in this case, in the first place. No one knew how he did the trick, not even other magicians in the trade, and no one else quite dared to repeat it. In truth, no one wanted to.
The curtains in back of the cage parted slightly, and then the man himself was there. The applause grew even louder. Dire walked up to the front of the stage and did a slight bow. He was dressed casually; the standard tuxedo or skintight costume was simply not his style. In a way, Dire was a sort of anti-magician. He rarely spoke when he was performing, and his manner gave the impression that he really didn’t care whether or not the audience was watching, though they always did. He gave only one performance a night, and in that performance he did only one trick, chosen randomly from a large repertoire. He ignored his audience, horrified it more than once, and in general seemed to express nothing but contempt for them overall. And the people loved it.
Dire turned his back to the crowd and began testing the fire-blackened cage. He gripped the bars and gave them a strong shake. He took a key out of his pocket, fit in the lock, and, grunting with effort, managed to finally turn it. The cage door squealed in pain as he opened and closed it.
He was centerstage. From either side, Dire’s trademark girls finally made an appearance, and once again the audience cheered. A bevy of beautiful young women they were, dressed in red pantaloons and other assorted harem fashion. Their exposed skin was bodypainted a bright shining silver. They gleamed like liquid metal.
Julie clapped loudly. She hoped to be among their number soon, a “Dire’s Demon-Girl” herself. She knew she had it in her.
She watched, fascinated. The girls moved mechanically, like machines built to exacting, and lovely, standards. No expression crossed their faces. They were emotionless.
It was a great act. They ignored the audience as much as their leader did.
Julie was looking forward to her interview.
She hoped Dire would be around to make it.
Dire came to stand in front of the cage on a small pile of blankets. He closed his eyes and held his nose. Julie’s eyes wandered back and forth between the illusionist and his collection of silvery assistants as they began pouring gasoline all over him. The smell was overwhelming in the small theater. No one could mistake the fluid for anything else.
The magician had made his first appearances in small West Coast clubs less than two years before, most of which catered exclusively to young people. The goth crowd, the rave parties, they really didn’t care for the traditional illusionist’s bag of tricks. You had to be different in order to get their attention, and, if nothing else, Dire was different.
Between self-immolation, the Iron Maiden trick, and other sinister and painful looking illusions, with lots of simulated blood and gore, and the Demon-Girls, of course, Dire was being compared to a young David Copperfield in overall potential. He was youthful, handsome, and single, and he performed magic like no one else did anywhere.
He was a rising star. Julie hoped to attach herself to it.
Dire climbed into the lowered cage. One of the Demons closed and locked it. A couple of audience member were invited up to inspect. Julie had raised her hand to be picked, but she was ignored. The volunteers demonstrated that there were no false bottoms or mirrors or any other stage props involved. The cage was exactly that, a cage, and once locked it was locked. Julie had worked with other magicians in the past, and she thought she had a pretty fair grasp of the fundamentals of stage illusory, but this . . . she didn’t see how the trick could be done.
While the others guided the audience member down off of the stage, another of the Demons walked over to the metal and fireproof platform Dire’s cage was hung over. She carried a lit torch. Everything was done in dead silence. Dire had his mouth closed and hadn’t spoken a word. Dire’s Demon-Girls never spoke. That was part of their mystique.
They truly didn’t seem human in a way. The lights reflected off of their metallic shading and made them look like giant hood ornaments brought to life. They were glossy. They shined. It was uncanny about how they moved, too. All of their actions were perfectly coordinated. The lift of one girl’s leg was matched by corresponding movements in another girl across stage, with no apparent communication. It was as if they were actually machines and were being controlled by one exterior force. It was spooky.
Not to mention sexy.
The Demon gently touched the torch to a long fuse attached to the platform. A fiery spark flew up the cotton strand, and a moment later Dire’s cage was engulfed in flames. The audience gasped, many rising instinctively to their feet, some to help the burning man, others getting ready to flee. Julie remained where she was sitting.
A column of fire rose up from the platform and through the locked cage hanging over it. Dire’s body was clearly seen burning inside for about five or six horrifying seconds before the smoke and flames obscured everything. The Demons stood in a semicircle around the sudden inferno, their silver skintones turned a shimmering red in the blazing radiance. They were as still as statues, their faces unreadable. The scene was surreal.
And then the fire just died. Snuffed out. Doused as completely as if drowned in water.
The cage revealed was black and smoldering . . . and completely empty.
“And Death shall hold no Dominion . . . ,” an amplified voice carried out across the clubroom, and suddenly there was Dire again in the backrow! Unsinged. Unmarked. Alive. He bowed, and the audience erupted in clapping and yelling.
Julie watched, fascinated, clapping as loudly as anybody else.
She had just witnessed a miracle, she knew, perhaps better than anybody else in the room. Dire walked back to the stage, audience members furtively touching him as he made his way through them, possibly to confirm for themselves that the man was unharmed, and rejoined his Demons waiting there for him.
“Thanks,” he said simply once he got there. “Remember . . . there is no such thing as magic. There is only Life, and there is only Death. All there is in-between is Illusion.”
The audience continued clapping. Dire and his Demon-Girls bowed again and left. The ovation went on for minutes.
It was amazing. Simply amazing.
Julie knew she had to be a part of it.
She would do anything to be a part of it.
“So, Ms. Trent . . . how long have you been performing?”
It was an hour after the show, and the two of them were backstage. Julie paused in her appraisal of the Inferno Cage, standing beside it now and still wondering how it worked.
She smiled at Dire. “A couple of years. I did a little work with Materblanc the Magnificent at the Magic Club, and then I was with Lance Burton in Vegas for a while.”
Dire nodded, then reached into a trunk beside him and took out a yellow fold of cloth. “Show me collapsible flowers,” he said and tossed the bundle to her.
Oh, that’s too easy, thought Julie. Give me something that takes a little effort. Still, she went through the act and began pulling flower after flower from the special handkerchief. While she did so, Dire took a moment to consider his new applicant. Early twenties, he judged. Slim figure, brunette, good eye-hand coordination . . . and very attractive.
“How’s that?” she asked a minute later, and he nodded.
“Good. Of course, it’s not really a part of my act, but I like to make sure all my ‘Demons’ know the basics. What else can you do?”
“Oh, lot’s of different things,” Julie said. She was prepared to go all out on this interview. All out. “I’m skilled in any number of . . . tricks. Call me Julie.”
She smiled seductively and moved closer to the young magician.
He seemed to take the hint. Dire leaned over, reached up to Julie’s face with his right hand . . . and suddenly there was a deck of cards in it.
“Show me,” he said.
Julie sighed softly and began to go through a routine of some of the classics. The Packet Prediction. The Royal Wedding. Color Counts. They talked while the cards flipped between her nimble fingers.
“I seem to remember you from my audience a couple of times. You always watched so intently. I felt like I was being judged.”
Julie laughed. “You were. You’re the best illusionist to come around in the last ten years, I think. I want to be one of your Demons, Dire. You’re going places.”
He watched her fingers work. “So, you want to be a Demon, huh?” He laughed. “It takes a lot of skill to join my girls. A great deal of preparation too.”
“I’m sure.” A bridge of cards flew from one palm to the other. “Where’d you get the idea for the silver paint? It’s really . . . distinctive.”
Dire looked at her. “From an old family friend. He used to run a magic show himself a long time ago. I patterned my act after his, kind of.” He paused. “That’s pretty good card work.”
“Thank you,” Julie said. “I can do a lot with my hands.” She let the comment hang in the air of a moment. Then she asked, “What was your friend’s name? Maybe I’ve heard of him.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Dire replied. “He and his partners have been out of the public eye for a long time. But the bodypaint sure is pretty, isn’t it? It’s a unique formula.”
Julie finished with the deck. “Anything else I can show you?”
He nodded. He had made his decision.
“There’s a dressing room down to the right,” he said, pointing. “I want to see you in costume . . . in full makeup, too. I’ll have one of the girls bring you everything you’ll need. She’ll help you prepare.”
“You want me in the bodypaint?” Julie was looking forward to that. Once Dire saw her as a Demon-Girl, that would go a long way toward getting her the job. Besides, she was curious. Dire’s assistants were beautiful in their silver coating, and Julie wanted to know what it felt and looked like on her.
“Yeah. Consider this an audition, albeit a strange one. We’re in a strange business. I’m going to tell my assistant to stay in character.” Julie looked at him questioningly. “She won’t speak, in other words. She’ll act like she does on stage, and she’ll report back to me about how you react. You understand?”
Julie shook her head. “No, but I’ll do it anyway. Which way again?”
He pointed to the right. “Right along there.”
Julie picked up her purse and left the prop area. “The next time you see me,” she said, leaving, “you’ll want me in the act, you’ll see.”
Dire watched her go through the dressing room door.
“I already do,” he said quietly. “I already do.”
Julie didn’t have to wait long. Dire’s assistant came in after about five minutes and pointed Julie in the direction of the shower. She didn’t say anything, and her face was calm, smooth, and expressionless. Julie took the hint. She took a long shower, and when she came out the costume was ready for her. It was identical to that which the Demon there was already wearing: scarlet billowy trousers drawn tight with bands at the ankles, silky and transparent, and an open vest for a top, also mostly scarlet red, though with black trimmings and gold leaf along the sides, drawn tight over and just barely concealing the woman’s full plump breasts.
The contrast with the silver skin was remarkable. Julie couldn’t wait to match her.
Not speaking, the assistant handed Julie a large jar. Inside it was a silvery gel, not precisely the kind of paint Julie had imagined she would be putting on, but not unwelcome either. The gel caught the light like quicksilver but was not runny in the least. It was creamy, in a way, and taking a scoopful in her fingers, Julie found it cool and oddly soothing.
Not being a modest person at all, Julie dropped the towel she had worn out of the shower and stood before the Dire’s Demon totally nude. The assistant’s expression didn’t change at all. After a moment, and, truth to tell, a little disappointed from the lack of a reaction, Julie sat down at the makeup table. Using the contents of the jar, she began coating her hands and arms with the silvery material. It spread easily, and only a few drops went a long way. Within minutes the lengths of her whole arms were glistening silver, the coating making them seem slimmer than natural, highlighting them the same way long opera gloves sometimes can.
Julie admired her arms and hands in the mirror. The paint did make them seem more attractive. Moreover, the gel on her skin was giving her a queer sensation. It was cool, yet almost electrically charged. She folded her hands together, and the feel of her painted fingers pressing down upon one another was quite . . . thrilling.
She shivered. The thin coating enhanced her physical sensations. Every touch was seductive. Julie couldn’t completely express in words how it made her feel, but she liked it, and when the assistant behind her began slowly spreading the gel over her back and shoulders, Julie didn’t complain or find it odd at all. Instead, she took another scoopful from the jar in front of her and began spreading it over her breasts.
Immediately, the cool sensation concentrated there, sending small currents of pleasure through her suddenly erect nipples. This is incredible, Julie thought. I’m getting all hot and bothered from a can of paint! And that woman behind her. She’s touching me . . . touching me like I’ve never let a woman touch me before. But she liked it, that touch, and she allowed it to linger.
The Dire’s Demon helped Julie to her feet and then got to her knees in front of her. Julie spread the silvery gel over her top, and the magician’s assistant worked on her legs from below. The feel of the paint over every inch of her body, from her neck down, with the assistant gently massaging the liquid there and suddenly there, was an incredible high.
She had never felt so good before in her life! If asked at that
moment where she was or why she was doing this, Julie wouldn’t have been
able to answer. It just feels so good, she thought
dreamily. She didn’t acknowledge the hands pressing onto her face,
rubbing the deliciously cool silver into her cheeks and forehead.
She just gave into the moment, the utter feeling of temporal ecstasy, and
it lulled her into a deep, dark sleep.
Julie woke up an unknown time later feeling . . . different.
She opened her eyes and immediately fought a moment of vertigo. I’m standing up, she realized. I was asleep on my feet. She bounced back and forth for a moment trying to regain her balance, and to either side she felt a cool body standing closely next to her.
She focused and found herself standing in the middle of a row of the Dire’s Demons, three to either side, all standing at almost a military-like stance of attention. She was in the same costume as they, red harem pants and open vest, her breasts pressed tight against the narrow textured fabric and exposed to either side almost up to the nipple.
And silver. She was as silvery in appearance as they. As inhumanly beautiful.
“Lovely. Perfectly lovely. A complete collection of seven.” Julie saw Dire standing off to the side. They were all backstage again, and he looked as if he were an officer inspecting his troops. “We’ll run through the Iron Maiden first, girls. Positions, please.”
Shimmeringly, iridescent almost, the girls to either side of Julie silently spread out in a circle. The surrounded Dire and the upright metal casket he was standing next to.
“Julie, you stand right over here, please,” he said, indicating the centermost space before the casket’s engraved face. “You’ll take the lead in this.”
“What . . . oh, okay,” Julie said, somewhat dreamily. Things were happening so quickly, and she wasn’t sure how she had got there. She moved and obeyed by instinct alone. Her movements, unnoticed by her, matched those of the other Demon-Girls, arm swing for arm swing, gait perfectly in time. From a distance it looked altogether choreographed, but Julie remembered no training or instruction. She just moved.
Dire opened up the Iron Maiden, revealing its ghastly interior of spikes. He turned around and climbed inside, his back pressed close against the razor-sharp tips. “We’ll skip the theatrics, I think. Julie, just close her up, would you?”
Still feeling like it was all an hallucination, Julie stepped forward, took each hinged half of the casket in a glimmering hand, and started closing them. She hesitated, though.
There was no false top or bottom, she saw, and the spikes looked very real. “Are . . . are you sure? I’m not sure . . . what . . . what’s going on?” She didn’t want to kill the magician. The situation felt all wrong. She couldn’t remember anything past putting on the gel on in the dressing room.
And there was something weird about her voice, she noticed too.
It sounded . . . metallic. Hollow, and very faint.
“Close it!” Dire suddenly yelled at her, and she did, his control over her immediate and unresisted. Blood squirted out between the slammed doors, almost spraying Julie. There was a painful grunt from inside, and Julie went cold, even colder than she already felt.
Ohmigod, he’s dead, she thought. I’ve killed him! She put her hands out - again, they seemed so silvery strange and so uncommonly lovely - and tried pulling the casket doors back open. They were locked, though, and impossible to budge.
Julie turned to the other assistant for help, but they just continued standing there, passive and impartial. “Help me,” she called to them, her voice tinny and now almost inaudible.
She tried running to one of them, and she actually did manage to turn in that direction, but finally she felt the control leaving her limbs for good. It had been happening all the while, Julie realized, but in her confusion she had never noticed how more and more she had felt like a marionette, her arms and legs guided by another’s will.
And then she felt a hand on her shoulder, near to the vest opening where her arm stretched through and the other side of her shimmering breast peaked out.
It was Dire, of course. Unruffled, and unpunctured.
“You were right, Julie,” he said. “You’ll make a wonderful Demon-Girl.” He put his hand on the swell of her breast and gently fondled her.
“What . . . what’s going on? What have you done to me?” Julie felt her arms, her silvery body, changing. The sensation of ecstasy had worn off and was being replaced by a deep, deep sense of coldness . . . like she was being pressed in against cool metal. Her fingers brushed against the sides of her thighs, her legs, and she was surprised to hear a slight tinkling sound, a soft ring of metal against metal.
“Why, only what you asked for, Julie,” the illusionist said. “I’ve made you a Dire’s Demon, just what you wanted. Congratulations.” He laughed.
She had no control left, she realized. And she could no longer speak. Her body felt “metallicized,” transformed to metal, though not metal. Her skin was still soft, but it was firmer too, and it reflected the lights above her as much as liquid mercury would.
Dire made a gesture in the air, and Julie felt herself responding. She moved forward against her will and bowed before her new master. When he walked down the corridor to the dressing rooms, all she could do was follow silently.
“Tonight we go on stage, and I introduce to the world the latest member of my collection.” Julie couldn’t believe what was happening. It was a nightmare. A creeping darkness was clouding her mind, choking off her thoughts.
“It’s a good thing you showed up when you did,” Dire said, going into a storage area. “Leslie here has been getting stiffer for a while now, and frankly Maria is no longer able to perform at all. See?” He gestured to the far wall.
A Dire’s Demon-Girl stood - leaned, really - against the plaster surface. Like the others, and like Julie herself, the beautiful silvery assistant appeared emotionless and coldly beautiful, a figure made of icy flowing metal. But there was a difference, too. Even the illusion of independent motion had ceased in her. Where the other Dire’s Demons appeared like living simulacra, robotic, this one was more like a silver-cast statue.
“They stiffen up, you see,” Dire confided to his new assistant. “I get control almost immediately, but after a few years my willpower just isn’t enough to keep up with the transformation. You just get increasingly more silvery, and then, eventually, you stop moving altogether.” He shook his head sadly.
Julie barely heard him. The world was narrowing into a dark corridor. Obey, she knew. All she had to do from now on was obey. How less simple could life get?
“Fortunately,” her master continued, “I can trade off my old assistants. It’s how I get my tricks, Julie, really. A very mutual arrangement. My old friends get elegantly beautiful statues, and I get their magic. Neat, huh?” He crossed the room over to Maria and tapped the tight, beautiful space between her breasts. Julie heard them ring hollowly.
“At least now I’ve a replacement. I was getting worried.” Dire walked back to Julie. She felt him exert his influence over her body, and she responded, approaching silently. She no longer thought about anything at all.
“You passed the audition, Julie,” the illusionist said. She went down to her knees before him. “Now, let’s see what other tricks you can do.” He dug his hand into her hair.
“But hurry . . . we’ve got to practice.”
They had a show to get ready for.