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In 1911 M.R. J@mes published a story in which a priest is haunted and hunted to death by three wooden figures representing sin, pursuit and retribution; they are the figures that he finds carved in the stalls of his new cathedral—a cathedral that he has murdered to acquire.
Inspired by the M.R. J@mes story, ‘The St@lls of B@rchester C@thedral’, TRIPTYCH is in fact five (5) completely different effects in a single, authentic-looking prop.
This is the item’s description as it is related in the original story:
‘The archdeacon’s stall, situated at the south-east end, west of the episcopal throne . . . is distinguished by some curious ornamentation. The prayer-desk is terminated at the eastern extremity by [a column] featuring three small but remarkable statuettes in the grotesque manner. One is an exquisitely modelled figure of a cat, whose crouching posture suggests with admirable spirit the suppleness, vigilance, and craft of the redoubted adversary of the genus Mus. Opposite to this is a figure seated upon a throne and invested with the attributes of royalty; but it is no earthly monarch whom the carver has sought to portray. His feet are studiously concealed by the long robe in which he is draped: but neither the crown nor the cap which he wears suffice to hide the prick-ears and curving horns which betray his Tartarean origin; and the hand which rests upon his knee, is armed with talons of horrifying length and sharpness. Between these two figures stands a shape muffled in a long mantle. This might at first sight be mistaken for a monk or “friar of orders gray”, for the head is cowled and a knotted cord depends from somewhere about the waist. A slight inspection, however, will lead to a very different conclusion. The knotted cord is quickly seen to be a halter, held by a hand all but concealed within the draperies; while the sunken features and, horrid to relate, the rent flesh upon the cheek-bones, proclaim the King of Terrors. These figures are evidently the production of no unskilled chisel.’
‘Some late researches among the Chapter accounts have shown that the carving of the stalls was . . . executed by a native of this city or district named Austin. The timber was procured from an oak copse in the vicinity . . . known as Holywood. . . . [T]raditions still lingered [of one oak] in particular, which stood near the centre of the grove, it is remembered that it was known as the Hanging Oak. The propriety of that title is confirmed by the fact that a quantity of human bones was found in the soil about its roots.’
You relate this tale to your audience as you display a handsome wooden box, over thirteen-inches (34.25cm) tall by five-and-a-half inches (14cm) wide and deep. You open the sliding lid and extract an object wrapped in a beautiful crushed-velvet bag from which you draw the very column as described in the tale.
The wooden column depicts haut-relief sculptures of the cat, death, and the devil. Around the base of the column is carved an intricate, flowering vine that looks like grapes, but which you point out is in fact a depiction of Deadly Nightshade: its leaves, blossoms, and highly poisonous berries.
The clusters of berries are duly counted and the number written on a slip of paper. The paper is openly shown to the audience, and the spec who did the counting (who keeps control of the paper at all times) is allowed to confirm the number before putting the paper into her pocket or other secure location. Because, you inform the audience, the column retains its ability to confound the senses just as is depicted in the story—which we shall soon see.
The spec is next shown that someone has scratched a bit of graffiti onto the column at some point in its history. She notes it, agreeing that it is ominous graffiti indeed, and she is asked to remember what is written on the column because, again, the column will know and alter human perception—and time will work its will. For the moment, however, we leave this demonstration to Time and move to a new experiment.
The bag is placed back over the column, hiding it completely. It is then turned by the spec time and again until no one can know the orientation of the carvings. Nevertheless, the spec blindly places three Tarot cards (Death, Devil, and Hanged Man) around the covered column, only to discover that when she removes the covering she is precisely correct: Death faces the death Tarot, the Devil faces the devil, and the Cat faces the hanged man.
Next, the poem that appears at the end of the story is read aloud. The spec is drawn to one of the words in the poem without telling which word it is. The column (just as described in the story) is then broken into its three parts to discover the original poem in the center. When the spec examines this poem, she discovers her chosen word has been burned from the paper. Once more the column has demonstrated its ability to know the innermost thought of mortals.
Has it also been reading the spec’s sins?
To now demonstrate the unbreakable cycle of sin and retribution which the column embodies, the spec is instructed to turn each individual piece so the backs are to the audience. You explain that, in the ancient cycle of sin, the hunter pursues death, death pursues hell, and the devil pursues the hunter. It is, you demonstrate, similar to the hierarchy of the Rock, Scissors, Paper game in which one element defeats one of the others. However, in the cycle of retribution, the sinner may never escape his pursuer—and the column will demonstrate this ability unerringly.
Each of us has transgressed in one way or another, you explain, and to touch the column, (as the spec has done), is to reveal your most guarded guilt unto the Everlasting Judge. Because the column knows the spec’s secret vices, it will forever pursue her. She cannot escape.
To demonstrate this, various members of the audience are called upon to have the spec mix the three pieces on the table until no one except the spec can know which is which (because they each face her).
Are you the pursuer or the pursued? You ask her. She then is instructed to select any one of the three figures without indicating which one on the table it is. No matter which of the three she names, a random member from the audience blindly selecting any one of the hidden figures unerringly selects the very piece that pursues the one that the spec has chosen: if she should say ‘Devil’, the audience member will blindly be drawn to select the piece that, when turned, proves to be Death, which pursues the Devil. If the spec rather says ‘Death’, the chosen column piece will prove to be the Cat, which pursues that figure.
This is repeated with another member of the audience, and again the spec finds herself to be the quarry. The three pieces are next covered, hidden from all sight so not even the spec can know which is which after they are mixed. Nevertheless, no matter which figure she names, another audience member will unfailingly select the hidden figure that pursues the spec’s selection.
The cycle of sin and retribution cannot be broken.
Thus demonstrated, the three pieces are reassembled to form the column.
You will remember, you announce, that I showed the participant a bit of ominous graffiti. We will see now how this carved relic of the old Hanging Oak manifests its power. Some may read the graffiti to say one thing, some will see something quite different.
You write a phrase on a card, turn it over, and write a very different phrase on the back of the card, handing the card to a member of the audience. This person has a coin-toss choice: the front of the card, or the back. This is a completely free choice, but he unerringly selects the correct phrase as it appears deeply gouged into the wood.
However, the spec who originally viewed the column swears to have seen something quite, quite different in the graffiti—a third message that is neither the chosen phrase nor the other possible phrase. Yet, upon inspection, the image she swears to have seen is nowhere to be found on the column. On reflection, the audience realizes that the message she saw may well be a warning—and the activity of the presentation may be the beginnings of a darker retribution ahead (what was the spec’s secret sin?)
The ability to cloud and even alter memory is the greatest power of the cycle of sin and retribution, you announce. The sinner can often ignore and even forget having transgressed. The column has had a profound effect upon you, but can it reveal the ‘selective memory’ attendant upon a guilty conscience?
You now ask the spec to reveal, for the first time aloud, the number of clusters she counted on the column: The number she saw written down: The number she took control of, approved, and put directly into her pocket.
When she speaks aloud the number that she counted, the audience gasps, for it is not the number they clearly saw written on the exact same piece of paper that the spec put into her pocket.
You ask the spec to verify the number she has just spoken, the number that she would be willing to swear to that she counted as well as the number that she looked at immediately before putting it directly into her pocket. She swears it is.
She is then asked to remove that slip of paper and look at it. She does so. The paper has never left her possession even for an instant. No one has touched the paper since she read it and put it away. Nevertheless, the number on the paper is the one the audience remembers and very clearly not the one to which she swears.
Has her memory altered, as will the memory or the guilty, or is everyone simply playing a prank upon her? She is invited to count the clusters once more only to discover that the number is, indeed, the number on the paper—the number the audience remembers from before.
Handling the column has begun the cycle of retribution upon the spec. You may suggest a good church at this point, one with an effective confessional, or else welcome the spec into the company of human frailty—for to err is human . . .
This is TRIPTYCH—a single, self-working prop allowing the performer five completely different effects:
- A memory-confounding illusion (a phrase is either utterly changed or badly misremembered)
- Another memory-confounding illusion (a counted number, openly written down is either impossibly changed or badly misremembered)
- A mental connection feat (allowing the spec to identify correctly the orientation of the covered column)
- A predictive connection feat (in which the spec correctly selects the very word from a poem that has been eradicated on the original, hidden paper)
- A demonstration of pursuit feat (wherein the spec cannot escape her fate no matter how she tries)
Triptych comes complete with everything you need, including even the Tarot cards, for performing all of these wonders.
Completely angle-proof. Perform surrounded.
Nothing to steal, ditch, or hide. The piece is completely self-contained.
Nothing is ever attached to the prop. No springs, threads, adhesives of any kind. (The piece does include embedded permanent magnets for holding the three pieces securely together, but the magnets have no other function and do not assist in the presentation of any of the effects).
No electronics. No batteries.
Nothing to wear out or replace.
No moving parts to ‘give away the game.’ Triptych is exactly what it appears to be: a carved, simulated* wooden column that comes apart into its three component pieces.
*Although the prop is made of cold-cast resin, a wholly new technique has produced a piece that looks and feels most convincingly of ancient, polished wood. The pieces even make a wholly wooden sound when tapped against one another.
Yes, these presentations may be performed all in one act (as described) or else independently of one another, and you may use the Triptych prop for a one-off effect—any one of the five you desire. Or you may mix and match as you like, performing any one, two, three, or four in any order you desire: make your presentation unique!
Of course, Triptych comes with a FULL performance manual detailing how to perform each of these miracles. The manual includes a number of alternate handlings to allow for all ranges of performance possibilities and skill levels.
And, absolutely yes, the manual includes ideas and routines for using your GH*ST and MORE GH*ST in your Triptych performance, seamlessly integrating the various routines into a single ‘Evening with M.R. J@mes’ performance.*
*Note: while the different effects will work in merry concert with one another, you do not need to have GH*ST or MORE GH*ST in order to perform Triptych.