MAIYA FLAMMER: Hello, and welcome to FYI. I'm Maiya Flammer, and I'm here to talk to the man who has revealed the shocking truth behind the series of deaths that has been plaguing escape artists and magicians for the past several years, including the famous on-screen death of none other than David Copperfield himself. His name is Chun Chelsberg, and he has come forward to us after staying silent for years. Hello, Chun.
CHUN CHELSBERG: Hello, Maiya.
MAIYA: Chun, you claim to have been a witness to all but one of the deaths of escape artists in the last decade.
CHUN: That's right, Maiya. I was even there in the studio when David Copperfield met his tragic demise.
MAIYA: Had you ever noticed anything strange before that?
CHUN: Well, Maiya, my dad was an escape artist. He told me stories about Houdini and other magicians--so many others I can't remember them all. He died when I was quite young, though.
MAIYA: How did that happen?
CHUN: He was doing one of his favourite tricks. He was manacled to a table, and there was a slab above him that came down after a certain amount of time. It used to be a long time, but as he got better he'd make the time shorter and shorter. Well, this time he didn't make it. He couldn't even get one arm out--he kept trying, and trying, but he couldn't. I remember the look of panic in his eyes. And then the slab came down. And he was dead.
MAIYA: Well. That was a long time ago, though.
CHUN: Yes. I didn't go to see magicians for a long time after that. But I still kept reading about them, and I practiced some of the tricks my dad showed me. I was never good at too many of them, but I could do card tricks pretty well.
MAIYA: Would you like to show us some of those? I'm sure I could find a deck of cards around...
CHUN: No, I'd rather not.
MAIYA: All right.
CHUN: But about ten years ago I started going to them again. I saw that one was in town, one that my dad had really liked. I thought of it as a way to remember my dad again. He was getting old, since he'd been around when my dad was young, but he was still as spry as he used to be, he claimed. And he certainly seemed to be.
But the big climax of the evening was The Pendulum. You ever read that Edgar Allan Poe story?
MAIYA: I don't believe so, no.
CHUN: Huh. Well, anyway, there was this pendulum with a blade on the end of it. It started up about ten feet above him, just swinging back and forth real quickly. But with each swing it slipped down about an inch. It came down quite fast at first, and it looked like he'd never escape in time. But as it got down farther, it went more slowly. I've read up on that since, and it's not supposed to do that--it's supposed to keep swinging at the same rate. But maybe he thought that it looked better if it spent longer on the wider swings, and of course it gave him more time.
But that night, he got some sort of cramp. I'd seen some signs of it earlier in the evening--he kept shaking one leg a little bit, and walked as if it were a bit stiff. When he tried to escape from the Pendulum, he didn't quite move out of the way in time, because of the one leg. He was just free and rolling off the table when he stopped and kicked that leg up, and the pendulum just came down and sliced it right off, at the knee. You know how they always ask if there's a doctor in the house? There wasn't one that night. Can you figure it? They get one in, takes about ten minutes, but by then he's lost so much blood that they can't do anything for him. Nobody even thought to tie the leg off--it was just a total panic.
MAIYA: So that was the first.
CHUN: The first of many. It was a few months before I saw another one, but he was another of the older ones my father had talked about. He was doing Houdini's old barrel of milk trick, only he didn't get out in time, or he wasn't as good holding his breath as he thought. Some people thought he had a heart attack, but they never said. They just came and got him out after his time limit had expired, and he was dead--his lungs full of milk, probably. They pumped his lungs out, trying to revive him. It looked--well, I've never drunk milk after that.
So I started to watch the newer ones. The up-and-comers. But none of them were good enough. They weren't quick enough, or couldn't handle the locks, or whatever. But they all died. Even one who hadn't set up a deathtrap or anything--he strangled himself on one of the chains he was locked up with--it got caught around his neck and nobody noticed until it was too late, because he was covered with a sheet.
MAIYA: When did you start to perceive a pattern to this?
CHUN: I think it was the David Copperfield show. The televised one.
I'd always liked his stuff. He was good, not like the others. I watched his specials on TV, and always marveled at how he managed to escape. So I saved up my money and bought a ticket to see the studio taping of one of his shows.
There was the big tank, I remember. A big tank, about a ten foot cube, filled with water. Glass sides, and a big dark cloth of some kind that covered the whole thing. And above it, the big spike. It was set so that he had five minutes until the spike dropped into the tank through the top, and the blade was wide enough and long enough that it was pretty much guaranteed to get him no matter how much he scrunched up. But he was going to be out of the tank by that point, so it didn't matter.
Ricardo Montalban was the host. I'd never heard of him before that, but afterwards I started watching that show he did--"Fantasy Island"--a lot. It just seemed appropriate somehow, y'know? But anyway, he was nice. He chatted with some of us before the thing started--I was right up front, so I got to talk to him for a couple of minutes. He said he was glad one of David's big fans could come to see him.
So David got in the tank, eventually. He was wearing a kind of wetsuit, and he was all wrapped up in chains and manacles. They lowered him in somehow, and then they started the timer.
They had it set so they couldn't stop the clock after they'd reached the one-minute mark in the countdown. Ricardo started getting worried, and at one point got one of the stagehands to pull back the cloth. David had one wrist free--with only forty-five seconds left--and motioned for them to put the cloth back, which they did.
So the seconds tick down, and everyone's sitting completely still watching the last ten, except for Ricardo who's jittering like a mad fiend, and babbling about something or other. And then it's over, and the spike drops.
I guess what was supposed to happen was that David was supposed to slip out under the cloth and appear a few seconds after the spike dropped, to thunderous applause and relief. But that wasn't what happened. Instead there was a strange sound from the tank, a kind of scraping sound, then a whole bunch of bubbles. They pulled back the cloth, and the water was all pink. They put it back right away, of course, but we all saw. And you can imagine the panic. Heck, you were probably watching, along with millions of others.
MAIYA: And then you started your investigation.
CHUN: Right. I realized that this incredible series of deaths couldn't just be coincidence. There had to be something behind it. So I quit my job--I'd got a hefty inheritance from my uncle on Mom's side--Dad's family had always been poor--and retraced my path for the past ten years, tracking down all the escape artists whose deaths I'd witnessed. Starting with my Dad. I checked over all of his stuff, to see if it was tampered with or anything. I checked who had been in the theatre, that might have done something.
MAIYA: What did you find?
CHUN: Nothing. I didn't expect to find anything--it was a pretty cold trail. But it was a place to start. After that I went to check out the equipment and such from the others that I'd seen. A lot of times the equipment had been resold, and such. In fact, one particular set of chains had been sold to another escape artist who died. There I thought was a big clue, but it turned out to be a dead end.
So a few weeks ago I decided that there was no way all of the equipment could have been tampered with, and no way that it could all of been done by one person anyhow, or anyone except a large group of people. And there was no evidence for it. In the Copperfield case especially. That was the one that clinched it, and was worth all the trouble it took to finally get access to that equipment. Still nothing.
MAIYA: But I thought you'd said that you'd found a solution.
CHUN: Well, I've been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes recently, when I have time. Holmes' favourite maxim was "Whenever you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." So I said to myself, what is the one common factor between all these deaths? I was discounting the one death I hadn't witnessed, because that had been due to faulty equipment, and the company had been sued over it. And there was only one thing all those deaths had in common. I was there, watching them.
MAIYA: Let me get this straight. You're claiming that you caused these deaths simply by being there?
CHUN: By being there and watching. After I had arrived at this conclusion, bizarre as it sounds, I tested it. I couldn't really believe it--it was impossible--so I couldn't feel guilt. But the next one I watched after that--he was trying the hangman's noose. He'd escaped flawlessly hundreds of times, according to his record. But guess which night he failed? The second night I went. The first night I wore dark glasses, and kept my eyes closed the whole time--and he lived. The next night I watched--and he died. I had my evidence.
MAIYA: So you're claiming that watching these escape artists is a kind of jinx? They're fated to die that night if you watch them? That's hard to swallow, but I can see that you've researched this thoroughly. Tell me, does this happen with other people than escape artists?
CHUN: No, I can't say as any of the musicians I've gone to see have stabbed themselves to death with their violins or choked on a clarinet reed. Or the dancers missed a leap and broken their necks. Or even standard magicians that don't do escape tricks. It's only the escapes.
MAIYA: So why did you come to us at FYI?
CHUN: I thought the public should know. You see, I've become convinced recently that the government is showing an unusual interest in me. I believe they have followed my investigation, or done one of their own, and come to the same conclusion. I'm sure they'd love to have me locked up for their tame scientists to poke and probe. Well, I'm not about to submit to that.
MAIYA: I'm sure I can't blame you...
CHUN: So I'm going public. At least for now...after this, perhaps, I'll disappear. If I never go to the escape artist shows again, they'll probably never find me. And personally, I don't care if I ever see another, at this point.
MAIYA: Well, thank you, Chun Chelsberg, for sharing your story with us, and we here at FYI wish you all the best of luck in future. Coming up next on FYI--the update on that Hurricane forecast.
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