Disappearing was probably Leven Allsop’s best trick. It was the highlight of his performances, usually performed at the end. He would pack out music halls and theatres under the name ‘The Master of Unseen Roads,’ hundreds of men and women there to watch him pop out of existence, only to appear at the back of the audience, step out from behind a curtain, or descend down from the rafters on a rope only moments later. The set up to the trick was the same each time. The magician would make a long speech, performing small sleights of hand as he did so, explaining to the audience to the ways in which one might enter one of the many ‘waurst ways’ which criss-crossed the City, and more importantly how one might exit them when they had reached their desired location. At some point in this speech, he would turn on the spot, as if turning to address an audience member, and he would disappear. On this day, 1884, he disappeared and didn’t come back.
It was an astounding trick, but a trick all the same. Three weeks after his disappearance, Allsop’s lover, a stage hand called Irinius Quern, desperately declared that he would reveal the trick if Allsop did not return. When Allsop continued to be missing, the method became common knowledge (a complex setup of mirrors, trap doors, pulleys and distractions that varied from theatre to theatre. Magicians are luck-obsessed creatures, Allsop included; every time the magician performed the trick he insisted that Quern stood ready to have a kiss stolen as the magician ran to the next position after the initial ‘disappearance’. This added a crucial second or so onto the trick, but Allsop wouldn’t perform the trick without it, citing a premonition he’d had that a terrible misfortune would befall him if the two men’s lips did not touch during the performance. According to Quern, on the day of the disappearance the magician did not come to steal his kiss.
The place of the disappearance was the The Heinbrow Circle, the largest space the magician had ever worked in. It was to be the crowning moment of Allsop’s career, and perhaps the pressure was getting to him. According to Bertha Jackson, a self-proclaimed Allsop ‘superfanatic’ who had seen almost every one of his performances, the magician was visibly ‘off.’ He was unshaven, and his hands shook a little. It’s was to see why he may have been nervous; not only was the crowd much larger than he was used to, but the space is enormous compared to many other venues, and would have required even faster than usual travel to be successful. In fact, it would appear that the trick is near-impossible to be completed properly, a fact which can be attested to by the many magicians who try to perform it every year, in Allsop’s memory.
Yet this yearly return to the theatre, this yearly attempt to repeat the past, is more than an act of remembrance for a much-loved magician. Plenty of people went missing five years later, when the Traitor King staged his coup, but none of them in the way Allsop did; out of thin air, in front of hundreds of spectators. Today’s festival is a pseudo-scientific study, an attempt to create those same conditions and see if the results are the same, to understand what happened to the magician, why he never made it to his ‘reappearance’ position in the rafters, or to the lips of his lover. It seems reckless, dangerous even to some, to tempt fate in this way, to mess with waurst roads in the same way that Allsop did, but for others the risk seems justified, especially after the finding of the Tevlam Marks.
The magical investigators who ritualistically attempt to copy the original performance from eyewitness accounts alone ensure that small details, such as the temperature of the air and the exact seating arrangements and number of the audience are unwaveringly accurate, but for the most part they are unable to actually complete the performance itself. The one year another magician succeeded in seemingly to disappearing, the Tevlam Marks were found on the woodwork struts underneath the stage by Boris Tevlam. The marks are strange shapes and glyphs, scorched into the wood. According to those who believe in the waurst roads, the shapes have been found elsewhere that the alternate plain of existence has been breached, but others see them as a hoax that would have been spotted in the original investigation.
Those who believe that these marks are a hoax point instead to the change in Allsop’s patter on the night. He seemed very agitated, and kept stating to the audience that he had something ‘very important to share,’ in a manner that was not his normal self-assured way of speaking. They also note that the man disappeared mid-sentence, again a change in the normal order of things, one which gained a smattering of laughter from the audience, in those first minutes before they realised something was wrong. He was abducted, the non-esoteric critics say. He had found something out that he was not meant to find. Eyewitnesses report seeing strange figures dressed in foreign clothes leaving the theatre early, before everyone realised he wasn’t coming back.
Whatever the truth of the disappearance, it’s unlikely that treading over old ground, the two groups arguing as they try to complete some esoteric pattern to disappear a modern magician, will teach anyone anything new. By now, Allsop is likely long dead, his knowledge of waurst roads or whatever else he was preparing to reveal onstage gone with him.
Other festivals happening today:
- I’ve Been Waiting Patient for You to Come to Me Day
- The Festival of Translating All Your Scrawled Notes
- The Sea is Hungry Festival