The dressing room was damp, cold and filled with mismatched furniture. A dusty mirror sat on a cluttered desk next to a chair piled up with clothes. The room was silent.
Suddenly the door handle rattled and a muffled voice came from outside.
“Locked,” said Sir John. “Looks like our luck has run out.”
“Let me try,” said Marie. There was a pause and something muttered in French. The door handle turned and the door swung in. Sir John and Marie went into the tiny room.
“How did you do that?” said Sir John. “I was sure it was locked.”
“Oh, it turned the French way,” said Marie absently. Sir John immediately lifted his modified opera glasses and moved around the miserable room.
“Nothing, nothing,” he muttered. “It’s the same as before. It seems like anything paranormal was coming from that box. Perhaps we should go and look there.”
“It might not be safe to confront something powerful,” said Marie. “We should look around here first and get some clues about this thing of mind control.”
“Mesmerism,” said Sir John and Marie let out a gasp. Sir John turned to look, and saw she was surprised by the stage mesmerist. He had come into the room without making a sound.
“Can I help you?” he said, a half smile on his face. “I’m afraid the show has finished and you’ll have to leave.” He waved his hand quickly in front of his face, his eyes not blinking. Sir John continued to stare through his opera glasses and came close to the man. He stared intently through them at the man’s face then down his body to the hand he had just waved.
“Fascinating,” said Sir John. “You’re utterly normal.” The mesmerist looked crestfallen.
“Who are you?” said the mesmerist. “There’s supposed to be a man to stop people getting back here.”
“We had a bit of luck there in that he didn’t notice us,” said Sir John, who had gone round the back of the man and was examining his hat. “Can you tell us how you do it?”
“The show? No I cannot, it is a trade secret of mesmerists. I am sworn to the darkest of oaths. It would be more than my mortal soul is worth to whisper even a scintilla of the craft.”
“…and, you’re not really a mesmerist, are you?” said Marie.
“I say!” said the mesmerist, whose sinister aura was evaporating by the second. “That’s a bit much.”
“Can you tell us about who is in the box?” asked Sir John. The mesmerist looked shocked.
“Look, steady on. Blimey, you’re a strange pair, aren’t you. Chaps gotta earn a crust you know. We can’t all be, you know…” he indicated Sir John.
“Dire,” whispered Marie. The man gave a sigh, his shoulders sank and he spoke.
“The man in the box is…” Then he stopped suddenly, stood up bolt upright and said, “There was no-one in the box.”
“I’m sorry,” said Sir John. “That was a little confusing.”
The mesmerist’s shoulders slumped again and he said, “The man in the box is…” then he stood bolt upright as before.
“There’s no-one the box.” He face convulsed and twitched. “No-one in the box. No-one. No-one. No-one…”
Marie and Sir John backed away and out of the room as the man kept repeating the words over and over, a trickle of blood falling from his nose.