The curtains drew open. The theatre fell silent. The show began.
Footsteps echoed across the dark stage. Then, a beam of light shot down from above, illuminating the magician.
There was a stunned silence. Nobody had expected the Great Norborus, Enchanter and Illusionist, to be so small. On the painted posters of him that had been secretly distributed throughout the small town, he looked much taller and muscular. His long and golden hair was the same, though, with the black hat on top, and he had the same little goatee and mischievous grin, too.
"Tonight," Norborus announced, "is special. It will be my last performance. It will be the last time anybody will see me on stage!"
A sad "Aw!" came from the audience.
Norborus raised his hands to quite them. "Yes, yes ... it's miserable. I've enjoyed my career. But the authorities hunt me throughout the land, sullying my name with fake stories of black magic and charlatanism! The Great Norborus, nothing more than a trickster! Think of it!"
He slapped his plump stomach, emitting a hollow laugh.
His face turned grave. "But you..." He made a semi-circle with his arm, pointing at the arrested spectators. "You have remained faithful. You know me for what I am! You came to see me despite all the controversies! Which is why I will reward you with an extraordinary show..."
"They say you've lived more than two hundred years!" someone called out. "Is it true?"
"Eternal life is within anyone's grasp if they are willing to pay the price," Norborus said enigmatically.
"Can you make a boy into a girl?"
"Can you bring my baby back?"
"My mother is dying!"
Norborus' mien darkened. "Silence!" he shouted. "I'll relieve you of all of your problems in due time. Now ... let us begin the show!"
He clapped his hands twice, and four heavyset men entered, carrying a wardrobe that had a door at the front and at the back.
They set it down in the middle of the stage and disappeared behind the curtain.
"The Maker!" Norborus said proudly. "A marvellous device. Who wants to volunteer?"
Several hands shot up.
"You! Come here!"
A young boy rose hesitantly from his seat.
The child climbed up on stage and placed himself awkwardly beside the magician.
Norborus patted his shoulder. "You're a brave, lad," he said. "What's your name?"
"Igor Sergeievich Arseny."
"Igor Sergeievich Arseny? Well it's better than Boris or Vlademir, I guess." Norborus grinned and threw the front door of the wardrobe open. "Well, step inside, Igor!"
The youth bit his lip. "What will happen?"
"Hah! What will happen, you ask? Now, that would give it all away, wouldn't it? Step inside, come on!"
The boy took two uncertain steps and then Norborus pushed him from behind and quickly locked the door. The audience held their breath. The magician hopped from one leg to the other, excited.
"Do you want to see blood?" he called out.
After a moment of confusion, the crowd clapped and whooped, taking it for a morbid joke.
"Do you want to see flesh?"
Again, frenzied cheering.
"Do you want to see DEATH?"
The crowd roared, stamping their feet to create a deep rumble in the theatre.
Norborus positioned himself at the backside of the Maker.