Carole Turner did not know she was claustrophobic until the day she found herself bound at the wrists and ankles, and locked in a box.
Her prison was a cheap, wooden structure that fit snugly around her body. Stretching her bare foot as far as the restraints allowed, her big toe nudged plywood, and rough wood grazed her bare arms on either side.
Just like a coffin without the fancy folds of satin, thought Carole. Which was appropriate, as she felt like she was going to die.
She’d been inside the box for no more than a few minutes but every second felt like an hour. It didn’t matter if she closed her eyes or kept them open, she could only see a blanket of darkness. She was aware she was panting – short, quick bursts like a woman giving birth. Her heart pounded in her ears and sounded like the staccato bursts of a machine gun.
Outside the box, she could hear the muffled sound of footsteps pacing back and forth. Straining to hear over her thumping pulse, Carole could just make out his odd, high-pitched voice. He was explaining exactly what he was going to do to her.
• • •
Carole had known immediately that Ray was not like the others she’d been out with. That’s what had attracted her to him, that he was different. Her usual type was slow-witted bullies with fast fists. Ray was tall and skinny, had dyed black hair and skin so pale you could almost see through it. He’d asked if he could buy her a drink. She’d opened her mouth to say ‘no’ but said ‘yes’ instead and that was how it began.
It didn’t take long to realize Ray was just as controlling as the others, in a completely different way.
“I don’t like your name,” he told her one day. “Carole.” He spat out the word like it was a piece of rotten food. “It’s too ordinary.”
He thought for a moment.
“Christine!” He’d actually snapped his fingers. “From now on, you’ll be known as Christine.”
Changing her name had just been the start. He paid for expensive blonde highlights, encouraged her to wear red lipstick. Dumped her sweaters and jeans and replaced them with skimpy dresses and high heels, made her practice walking in them until her feet were swollen and blistered. But she’d do anything to make Ray happy.
• • •
And that’s how she’d ended up here in this box. A loud roar broke into her thoughts, the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw motor sparking to life. It was time to act.
Christine wriggled free from loosely-tied ropes, pulled back the false wall with a shaking hand, squeezed through the tight space and crawled behind the velvet curtain to the side of the stage. There, she smoothed down her dress and slipped into heels.
Hidden from view, Christine watched as Ray tore through the wood like a madman. The audience gasped as the structure fell apart under the merciless blade to reveal nothing but two small piles of rope inside. Music boomed from the speakers, signalling her cue.
Christine fixed on a dazzling smile and glided onto the stage the way Ray had taught her. The audience whooped and cheered. It was only a town hall and the trick was rubbish, but Ray was elated as he drank in the acclaim of the crowd. And as long as Ray was happy, that was all that mattered.
• • •
With black kohl-rimmed eyes, smart tux and red satin cape, Ray felt invincible. He was no longer the loser who couldn’t hold down a job. On nights like this, he really was the Great Raymondo. He looked at Christine and felt a thrill course through him as she flinched slightly, her smile faltering. She’d done well for her first night and might just last longer than his last assistant. But if things didn’t work out, it would simply be a minor inconvenience.
He glanced at the now motionless chainsaw in his hand and smiled. That was the good thing about being a magician, he thought.
It was easy to make people disappear.