Thursday, January 28, 2016

"The Element of Superstition Is One of the Most Fundamental Features of Modern Civilization"

"Mysteria, The Mind Reader."
By E(dward) Albert Apple (1891-1963).
First appearance: The Popular Magazine, April 20, 1918.
Short short story (6 pages).
Online at Comic Books Plus HERE (set page selector to 214).
"From the first, Mysteria was a knock-out and 'hung 'em on the chandeliers,' as the enthusiastic managers said of her drawing capacity—but she proved too impartial in her second sight."
One of the most successful showmen (or conmen, there being little difference in this case) of recent times, silver-tongued Marmaduke Slocum, expresses to the house manager his desire to . . .
". . . get back in some legitimate graft—managin' a mind reader, say. I know all the best codes an' have some new bunk of my own up my sleeve. The mob always fall for second-sight stuff. But I can't find the right woman.  . . .  I want some one that'll pass as an Egyptian princess or a Hindu priestess or a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. There's a lot in the looks. She's got to know her grammar an' walk like a head waiter."  . . .
"I know the very person you want," says the house manager:
". . . She's stage-struck. Been hanging around my office for a month. I tried her out one morning; she can't act, she can't sing, she'd look like bad news in a sketch. But she's got a voice that makes you think of black cats and talking with the dead, with green eyes as big as overcoat buttons and wild blond hair that shoots out albino in every direction like a bonfire."  . . .
Marmaduke approves: "We'll bill her as Mysteria, the Mind Reader. The name's been on my mind for weeks."

And things are going along smoothly, with Marmaduke and his "mind reader" bamboozling the suckers at every performance, until one day "Marmaduke Slocum—gazing at the conquered worlds that lay about him like fallen pears—grew ambitious," in anticipation of an even Bigger Score—but the Human Element, the thing it's really impossible to allow for, intervenes . . .

Comment: If you've ever wondered how those bogus "mind reading" acts are pulled off, this little story should satisfy your curiosity.

Resources:
- Curtis Evans has an article HERE about E. Albert Apple cruising under his more common pen name of "A. E. Apple" and his numerous stories about Mr. Chang, a Fu Manchu clone, and Rafferty, a Raffles counterfeit (for which a FictionMags listing is HERE, while there's a shorter list for his other nom de plume HERE).
- The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has more about Apple's other series characters HERE and HERE.

The bottom line: "For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat . . ."
Edgar Allan Poe

2 comments:

  1. I do love phony mind reader/fake psychic stories. I'll have to check this one out.

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    Replies
    1. A good little story, Allan, but the ending is something of a letdown - not quite dramatic enough.

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