It Takes One to Know One
“Welcome to Mystic Mountain!” calls the man in the top hat and tails, hanging upside down over the entrance, across the heads of the crowd.
A cheer goes up and the people surge across the sawdust, tickets in hand, all intoxicated on alcohol, sugar or excitement.
I adjust my costume. Spangles aren’t really my thing and you don’t get much more spangly than the silver sequinned outfit I have to wear each night. I must say though, it does make me look like human quicksilver and, with the veil hanging over my face, entirely like something from another world. Someone who walks with the dead.
I have a little more respite than my fellow performers, the contortionists and illusionists that make up the rest of Mystic Mountain. The crowd always rushes to see them first, to marvel at their inhuman feats and spend an hour being dazzled. After that, subdued, the curious come to my tent.
My fame is spreading; I am very good at what I do. I talk to my customers’ dead relatives and lovers. Cross my palm with silver and I’ll see into your past, your future and your heart. I am never wrong.
This is a sham, of course. I can no more speak to the dead or read minds than I can give the circus’s prized elephant a piggyback. I am no medium. What I am is a fantastic guesser, possessor of an exceptional intuition, an adept interpretor of body language and a very fine actress.
Tonight I see the recently bereaved and a few regulars. These are all easy work – the bereaved fall over themselves to give me all the details I need to construct a plausible message from their deceased and I know so much detail of the regulars’ lives that making predicitions of the future feels like reading from a familiar script.
Just at the end, when I have lifted my arms to remove my veil, a tall, slight man, very formally attired, enters the tent and sits down without being asked. This is annoying. In my mind, I am already back in my tent with a hot cup of tea and a late dinner. I pull myself back and reignite my persona.
I go through the spiel of introducing myself by my stage name, giving my colourful history, welcoming him to my presence and asking what I can do for him.
“You can revert to your natural accent for a start. That silvery voice does nothing for me.” I start a little but recover myself. I occasionally have rude, drunken patrons.
“I know you. Your name is Sarah Twigg and you are a fraud.” He goes on to outline his theories as to how I know what I do about my patrons. It is clear that he has spoken to a great many of them who I have seen this week. And his theories are right.
“Who are you?”
He laughs. “Surely, with your great powers, you do not need to resort to such earthly banalities as asking questions? I will tell you exactly who I am if you agree to drop this sham, take off that veil and join me for a drink. I have a business proposition for you – if you are going to deceive people, Miss Twigg, you may as well make an obscene amount of money out of it. I have been looking for a wildly intelligent, unscrupulous woman for some time.
“So will you stay here and peddle piddling little mind tricks? Or come with me and learn how to make your fortune?”
He stands at the entrance to the tent, half inside, half out. There is no whiff of magic about him, no shred of glamour…and yet he seems to offer more mystery and excitement than anything within the walls of the circus. Wordlessly, I follow him outside into shadow.