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'There is magic,' Peter insisted. 'It's with us all the time. You just have
to look for it.'
'Rubbish!' Alice snorted. She was three years older than her brother and
thought herself much wiser. 'It's true what Mum says. You're a hopeless
dreamer. You should wake up, instead of filling your mind with nonsense.'
'No,' Peter replied stubbornly, 'All sorts of strange things happen that no
one can explain.'
'Such as?' Alice yawned. Conversations with her 12-year old brother usually
ended with Alice yawning loudly and walking away.
'Well,' Peter stalled. Then with sudden inspiration, he suggested, 'Like the
Indian Rope Trick'.
''Never heard of it,' Alice replied dismissively. 'Look at that rain! Why
does it always rain when I'm on holiday? I'm so bored.'
'The Indian Rope Trick is something that no one can explain. A journalist
saw it and published an account in his newspaper. Since then, millions have
heard about it and no one can explain it, although it happened ages ago.'
Peter fell silent until Alice, as he expected, demanded in an exasperated
tone, 'Well, go on then! What's this silly trick all about?'
Concealing his smile of triumph, Peter continued, 'It seems a journalist was
once came to a remote Indian village where he found a crowd gathered in the
square. In the midst of the crowd was a fakir - a holy man.'
In truth, Peter's recollection of the story he had read was hazy. In his
imagination however he vividly pictured the hot and dusty square, the
turbaned men, the sari clad women and the fakir, squatting in the chalk fine
dust wearing only a loincloth: an emaciated man but with a calm and noble
face. So infectious was Peter's conviction that Alice lost for a time her
habitual scowl and sank down comfortably into the sofa.
'Beside the man was a basket - tall and made of wicker. As the crowd
watched, he removed the top and plunged his right hand deep into the basket
to draw out…'
'A cobra,' Alice finished with a delicious shudder.
'No, Smarty-pants,' Peter said. 'A coil of rope.'
'Rope! That's boring,' Alice laughed.
'No it wasn't, because as soon as he threw the coil on the ground, it began
to grow. One end of the rope stood and began to stretch. It past one storey,
then a second, until it was far above the rooftops then disappeared in the
sky while most of the rope stayed coiled on the ground.'
'A rope doesn't stand up by itself.'
'This did and the journalist checked there were no hidden wires.'
'Then the fakir must have hypnotized the crowd.'
'The journalist wrote that no one appeared in a trance.'
'This is silly,' Alice shrugged.
'For heaven's sake, stop interrupting! After a minute or so, the fakir
called for a volunteer: someone willing to climb the rope. Among the crowd
was a small boy watching with his mother. When the fakir called for a
volunteer, he darted forward before his mother could stop him and began
shimmying up the rope as swiftly as a monkey. His mother kept calling for
him to return until, fearing he might become distracted and fall from a
great height, she fell silent. High up in the sky, the boy disappeared.
First his head vanished, then his shoulders, arms, chest, legs and feet.
'The crowd was stunned at first, then went wild, cheering and turning to
each other demanding if each had seen the same miracle. The minutes ticked
by and the mother's anxious expression deepened. After a while, she began
calling piteously to her son, begging him to return, but there was no sound
from or sight of the boy, only the rope stretching up into the sky.'
'Creepy,' Alice breathed, impressed in spite of herself.
'Ten minutes of silence passed and the crowd grew restless. A man demanded
that the fakir bring the boy back. Other voices agreed. Soon all clamoured
'The fakir stared back as though in a trance, then roused himself and
dipping into his basket drew out a scimitar, the keen blade of which glinted
wickedly in the sunlight. Placing the blade between his teeth, he seized the
rope and drew himself up, soon disappearing into the sky.
'There was a pause, then to the crowd's horror a bloodied, severed ear fell
to the ground.'
'Yuck!' Alice exclaimed. Peter hid a smile. He knew his sister was far more
bloodthirsty than he could ever be. One Saturday, two years before they had
gone to a film matinee. The local cinema was filming 'Bhowani Junction'. As
two hungry lions crept up on the tent where the white hunters were
carousing, Peter had shrunk into his seat. 'Let's go, Sis,' he had pleaded,
'You go,' she muttered fiercely, 'I want to see what happens.'
As the lions burst into the tent and the screen erupted in gore, Alice sat
entranced, her fist full of popcorn paused halfway to her mouth.
Peter continued his story. 'After the ear, another ear followed, then the
boy's nose, hands, feet, his headless torso until finally, the mutilated
head plummeted down, bounced and rolled across the ground to the feet of the
boy's mother who shrieked in terror and grief before fainting.
'The fakir emerged from the sky climbing down the rope, his body streaked
with blood, clenching the knife between his teeth. The crowd erupted in
anger as he reached the ground. 'He's mad!' 'A murderer!' 'Seize him!' 'Kill
the monster before he kills all of us!'
'The fakir placed his knife back in the basket and stood up, staring back at
the threatening crowd edging closer to him, a slight smile playing on his
'Peter. Alice. Come to lunch. It's on the table,' the children's mother
called from the next room.
'Shall I leave the story till later?' Peter teased. 'You know how cross Mum
gets when we keep her waiting.'
'No, keep on,' Alice insisted in an agony of impatience.
'Alright. So the fakir picked up one of the severed arms and attached it to
the torso. He took the other arm and did the same. The torso seemed to
tremble as though life was returning to it. He kept attaching pieces until
the boy was complete. As he did so, the spilled blood seemed to fade away
into the boy's skin. Then the boy's chest heaved, he gave a tremendous sigh
and his eyes flickered open. Seeing his mother lying in a faint, he leapt up
and ran to her. You can imagine her joy when she revived to see him
miraculously restored to life!'
'I won't call you again,' the children's mother called and there was no
mistaking the annoyance in her tone.
'Coming!' Alice and Peter chorused.
After lunch, Alice found Peter. She was carrying a large red book.
'So much for magic,' she commented scornfully. 'This encyclopedia says that
the Indian Rope Trick never happened. It was written as a hoax story by John
Wilkie, a reporter for the 'Chicago Tribune' in 1890. Anyway, everything you
said was wrong. The boy was his assistant and…'
Peter nodded indifferently. The magic to him was that for a few minutes he
had conjured up an exotic world of mystery and terror far from his dull
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