They were all busy loading up the props at the time, so no one saw her come in. She stood and watched them work for a few seconds before loudly clearing her throat. “Excuse me,” she said, watching as they all turned in her direction. “I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your show this evening.”
From where she stood next to Paul, Hollie carefully checked out the woman that had come in. She was blonde and tall, at least 5’9 even without the heels she was wearing. A short black sequined dress covered her well-proportioned body. But it was the woman’s eyes that held Hollie’s attention. Something in them immediately put her on her guard.
If Paul shared her apprehension, he didn’t let it show. Smiling, he bowed at the woman. “Thank you, so much,” he said, as he stood back up. “We work very hard to please.”
“Yes,” the woman nodded, without returning his smile. “I’m sure you do.” She let her eyes roam around the backstage area for a few minutes, taking in everything, including Paul and his five assistants. “I found the finale particularly interesting.”
“Ah, yes,” Paul said, turning to give Hollie a smile. “The Halloween Showdown. Just a little something special to celebrate the holiday tonight.”
Despite her concern about the intruder, Hollie had to return Paul’s smile. After all, the Showdown finale had been her idea. At first, she had been hesitant to suggest anything to Paul at all. It wasn’t that he wasn’t open to her suggestions on ways to improve the act. He was. This was just the first time she’d actually come up with a whole routine by herself. Still, she figured that being his lead assistant for three years — as well as their other relationship — earned her a certain amount of leeway. She was quite surprised, not to mention very happy, when he jumped at the idea.
It was a pretty simple idea really. Hollie had played the part of a young woman out walking alone on Halloween night. The other four girls all played the parts of various monsters that attacked her. Paul was the hero that kept coming to her rescue.
First, Kristina came after her dressed as the Mummy. Paul stopped her by catching a loose end of her tattered costume in some machinery, wrapping it around a turning axle. The audience was amazed when, after all the wrapping had been pulled into the machine, there was no sign of the girl inside.
Next, Crystal came on as the Frankenstein Monster. Paul stopped her by literally taking her apart. In full view of the audience, he pulled a wrench out of his hat and used it to separate her arms, her legs and, finally, her head from her body. Parts of Crystal were left all over the stage, seeming to move around on their own.
Tiffany was the next attacker, playing the part of a lady vampire. Paul had defeated her by producing a giant sun-lamp out of thin air. With a squeal of horror, Tiffany disappeared into a pile of ash on the stage floor, which Paul then cleaned up with a Dust Buster. The audience, by this time, was practically on its feet. But the best was yet to come.
Michelle was the final villain to be faced, a beautiful young witch. She was also the only one to actually get to do anything to Hollie, turning her into a frog. Coming to her rescue, Paul traded flashy spells back and forth with Michelle for a few minutes. Suddenly, Paul stumbled and it looked like Michelle was going to get the upper hand. She threw a final spell at him, but Paul managed to pull a handheld mirror from his sleeve, reflecting the spell back at her. This time, the audience erupted into applause as, before their eyes, Michelle was turned into a statue of solid stone.
But the show wasn’t quite over yet. There was one more thing to be done. Walking over, Paul picked up the frog from the floor and kissed it. Instantly, Hollie was restored. The two held the kiss as Paul magically levitated them up into the rafters. From there, they could hear the riotous ovation as the curtain came down, letting them know that their show had been a big hit.
As she listened to the applause, Hollie wondered how the audience would react if they found out that everything they had witnessed wasn’t the result of tricks and illusions, but of actual real magic instead. No doubt they would experience a combination of fear and excitement. After all, that’s the way she had felt when Paul had showed her the truth three years before. At the time, he had explained that he came from a long line of magic users. His family used stage performances to hide their abilities, while still allowing them to practice their skills. Paul had decided it was time to start his own act, and he wanted Hollie to be his assistant. Since that time, they had toured clubs and legion halls around the country, slowly earning a reputation as their show grew. More assistants were hired over time — each filled in on Paul’s secret — and now, they were one of the most popular magic acts in the country, performing in casinos and large auditoriums from coast to coast.
“Yes, it was very nice,” the woman said, bringing Hollie back to the present. She couldn’t help but notice that, even with the compliments, the woman never smiled.
“Again,” Paul said, with another bow, “we thank you.”
“Of course, you know,” the woman went on, ignoring the gesture, “if a magician ever came up against a real witch, he’d never stand a chance.”
The girls all shared looks among themselves, but Paul just smiled. “Well, if I ever run into a real witch, I’ll just have to test that theory.”
Now, for the first time, the woman smiled. It did nothing to relieve Hollie’s uneasiness, however. “Accepted,” the woman said in a matter of fact way.
Instantly, Paul’s demeanor changed. Gone was the playful showman. Instead, he stood up straighter, and faced the woman with a look that was so serious that Hollie couldn’t help but get even more worried. She looked around at the other girls and saw that she wasn’t the only one feeling that something serious had just taken place. She turned back to him and started to ask what was up. “Paul…”
His hand on her shoulder stopped her short. Paul didn’t look at her, but continued to face the woman. “Standard rules?” he asked simply.
“Of course,” she replied, the creepy smile never leaving her lips.
“Paul?” Hollie said again, this time more urgently. She could feel the other girls moving closer, though she wasn’t sure if it was to offer support or because they were seeking protection.
“A moment?” Paul asked the woman with a slight nod. She gave him one in return, and he turned to his assistants. “Hollie,” he said. “Girls. Do you trust me?”
Hollie turned to look at the other assistants behind her. All were all looking back at her. Apparently, they were waiting to see what she was going to do. As lead assistant, they would follow her lead. She turned back to Paul. “Paul, what’s going on?” she asked. “Is she really a witch?”
“Yes,” he replied with no hint of humor. Hollie heard one of the girls behind her gasp. She really didn’t blame her. “There’s a long standing rivalry between them and magicians. But I assure you all, no matter how…” He paused for a minute, looking for the right word before going on. “…strange things get in the next few minutes, none of you are in any danger. So, do you trust me?”
Hollie again turned back to the girls behind her. Again, it was obvious that they were waiting on her decision. “Okay, Paul,” she said finally. “We trust you.” The other girls nodded in agreement, though she could see that a couple of them weren’t so sure. She turned back to the magician. “What do we do?”
“Nothing,” he told her. “Well, nothing on your own, at least. Just follow whatever instructions you’re given. Everything will be alright.” He turned back to face the witch, who had stood quietly waiting with no sign that she was worried in the least. “As the challenged, I have the first move,” Paul said to her.
“I know the rules, Magician,” she said with a note of controlled anger. “Proceed.”
Paul turned back to the group of girls huddled next to him. “Tiffany,” he said, causing the girl to jump. He smiled to assure her that everything would be okay. “Would you fetch my hat from the trunk, please?”
“Your hat?” the tall auburn-haired assistant repeated.
“Uh, okay,” she said.
With one more look to her compatriots, she turned and walked across the open stage to the wardrobe trunk where they kept the various costumes that they used in the act. It was still open, as some stuff still needed to be packed. She searched around for a second before pulling out a standard-issue magician’s top hat. She held it up to make sure she had what Paul wanted. With a nod, he moved away from the other girls, waving for Tiffany to follow him.
Paul stopped about half the distance between the girls and the witch. He waited for Tiffany to come over with the hat. After handing it to him, she turned, intending to rejoin the other girls. Before she could, Paul caught hold of her arm and stopped her. With a mixture of confusion and fear, she eyed him. Seeing his confident smile eased some of her trepidation, though. With a deep breath to steady herself, she turned back to stand with him.
“Oh, please.” The witch’s voice, suddenly breaking the silence, was almost enough to make Tiffany change her mind. She looked up and saw the tall woman move a few steps closer. “Don’t tell me that you’re going to pull a rabbit out of your hat.”
Tiffany cut her eyes to the side to see Paul’s expression turn serious. He placed the hat onto her head. “Not exactly,” he said, taking hold of the brim. A second later, she was plunged into darkness as Paul pulled the hat completely down over her head.
It happened so fast that the rest of the girls let out a collective gasp. Michelle even started forward to help her friend until Hollie stopped her. The small blonde looked over at the head assistant, ready to argue. Hollie wasn’t sure if it was because she was so short or what, but the girl always seemed ready to fight. “Trust Paul,” Hollie said, cutting her off.
Still not sure, Michelle turned back to see Paul holding Tiffany by the shoulders to steady her. He bent forward and whispered something to the obviously frightened girl. Whatever he said seemed to calm her down. With a sigh, Michelle nodded. Seeing that she was going to stay put, Hollie relaxed and turned back herself.
Just as she did, Paul again took hold of the hat brim and gave it another yank. This time, it went all the way down to Tiffany’s waist. The hat never bulged or stretched in the least to suggest that the upper half of a full grown woman had been shoved into it. It just rested on top of Tiffany’s hips and legs as they stumbled around a bit.
Paul, meanwhile, took a breath to steady himself. With a quick glance at the witch, who had taken a couple more steps toward the two, he dropped down to one knee and took hold of the brim for a third and last time. With one more powerful yank, he pulled the hat down over Tiffany’s legs until it sat flat on the stage floor.
Releasing the brim, he watched the hat quiver slightly. He took a moment to glance over and make eye contact with Hollie. With a wink, he turned back to the hat, and gave it a couple of taps on the top. Then, he lifted it up quickly with a typical showy flip.
On the stage under it, where Tiffany had been standing, was a small bunny rabbit. As Paul picked it up, Hollie noted the coloration of its fur. Tiffany had still been in the black dress and white body makeup she’d been wearing to portray the vampire in the finale. The rabbit in Paul’s arms maintained that color scheme. It even had a tuft of reddish brown fur that matched the girl’s hair color between its ears.
Coming over for a closer look, the witch closed the short distance between her and Paul. She eyed the little rabbit in his arms, even taking a second to scratch behind its ears. “Not bad,” she said with a nod.
“Thank you,” Paul said, returning the nod.
“May I?” she asked, taking hold of the hat in his hand. Paul released it, and she moved to one side. She looked over the remaining assistants with an expression that made them all uncomfortable. Finally, she pointed at Michelle. “You,” she ordered. “Come over here.”
Hollie turned to share a glance with Michelle. While obviously a bit nervous, the shorter girl wasn’t about to let the witch know it. She gave Hollie’s hand a quick squeeze, then headed off. As she went, Hollie wondered to herself why the witch had singled out Michelle. At first, she figured it was because the girl had called attention to herself by trying to rush to Tiffany’s aid. But then, it hit her. Michelle had portrayed the witch in the Showdown.
Michelle stopped when she reached Paul. Her eyes automatically dropped to look at the rabbit cuddled in his arms. She had no doubt that it was actually Tiffany. It had the girl’s deep green eyes. Petting her friend softly, she looked up at her boss. “It’s cool, right?” she asked with just a hint of nervousness.
Paul just nodded with a slight smile.
“Okay,” Michelle nodded back and continue over to where the witch waited. Only being five four, the woman practically towered over her. “What can I do for you?”
The witch smiled down at her. Unlike Paul’s, the smile didn’t reassure Michelle. “You don’t have to do anything, my dear,” the woman explained, sitting the hat on her head in much the same manner as Paul had done with Tiffany. “Just wave bye-bye to your friends,” the witch continued, her voice dropping a degree or two.
Michelle’s eyes widened at the implied threat and got ready to defend herself. She never got the chance.
Without another word, the witch placed her hand on top of the hat and shoved it down over Michelle. She didn’t do it in stages, like Paul had with Tiffany. Dropping to one knee — in a move that Hollie found amazing in that tight sequined gown and three inch heels — the witch forced the hat straight to the floor with a single push. Just as smoothly, she rose back up to a standing position, lifting the hat in her hands. Then, again without a word, she turned on her heels and walked away.
Michelle was no where to be seen.
“What the hell?” Hollie heard Kristina say from her left.
“Where is she?” Crystal added a second later from her right.
For her part, Hollie remained quiet. Instead, she looked to Paul for an answer. He didn’t have one. He just looked back at her and shrugged. Together, they turned to the witch.
The woman stood a few feet away, facing them with an evil smile on her face. She lifted the hat up and placed it on her head, taking a few moments to adjust it to her liking. Then, her eyes turning to take in both Paul and the girls, she gave the underside of the brim a light finger flick.
A pair of big blue eyes opened on the front of the hat. The eyes blinked a few times and looked around in confusion. Finally, they focused on Paul with an expression that, to Hollie, could have been either pleading or condemnation.
“Your turn,” the witch said, never losing the smile.
“Yes,” Paul nodded, moving his eyes down from Michelle’s to those of the witch. “I guess it is.”
He slowly looked around the backstage area. Hollie noted that he seemed to be avoiding looking at his own magic props. Obviously, he felt that he was going to have to come up with something special to win this contest. His attention seemed to be focused on a corner area where the auditorium stored various types of equipment. With a slow nod, he turned and walked over to the girls.
“Hold on to Tiffany,” he said to Hollie, handing her the rabbit. He turned to Crystal and gave her a wink. “Ready to try something new?”
Crystal smiled back in response. “Always,” she said.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Hollie couldn’t help but smile herself. Of all the assistants, Crystal was the most adventurous. Whenever Paul came up with a new trick that was “out there”, she was the one that always volunteered to try it out. So, it really wasn’t a surprise that he picked her for his unknown idea.
Taking her hand, Paul led the girl out to the open space between them and the witch. Unlike the other girls, Crystal’s performance as Frankenstein wasn’t achieved with make-up. She had Paul use his magic to actually turn her into a living robot to be taken apart. Now restored, she was dressed in a black sports bra and a matching pair of stirrup pants. “Wait here,” Paul told her as he headed over to the corner he’d been searching a second ago.
He went straight to the large helium tank sitting on a roll-cart. As he examined it, Crystal turned to Hollie with a raised eyebrow. The lead assistant just gave her a shrug. She turned back to Paul as he rolled the tank over to her. “Well,” she said in a low voice, “this looks like it could be interesting.”
Paul stole a glance back over his shoulder at the witch. She didn’t seem too concerned. “Let’s hope so,” he whispered back to Crystal, as he pulled the rubber hose from around the tank. He stuck the end of the hose into the girl’s exposed navel. “Here we go,” he told her.
As he opened the valve on the tank, a strange expression came to Crystal’s face. Hollie saw her run her hand over the area around where the hose was attached. Looking closer, she saw that Crystal’s skin was taking on a smooth, shiny appearance, reflecting the stage lights around them. Even as she watched, the transformation spread outward, moving into the girl’s chest and legs.
Crystal looked up from her changing body to see Paul intently monitoring the gage on the tank. “So,” she asked with a slight grin, “how much is there?”
“Mmm?” Paul looked up with a confused expression, having only halfway been paying her any attention. “Oh,” he said, after a moment, “it’s empty.”
Her eyes shot open. “What? But I…”
At that point, she seemed to lose her voice. The shiny-skin effect had moved into her neck. A moment later, it spread over her head, freezing her face into its shocked expression. Crystal apparently lost the ability to move any part of her body affected by Paul’s magic. Her legs had already gone stiff, and the girl’s arms soon did the same, completing her transformation into a human balloon.
Paul closed the valve and looked her over carefully. From head to toe, Crystal’s body glistened from the reflected stage lights around her. Even her short crop of black hair had taken on the smooth shiny appearance. Paul reached out and gave her shoulder a squeeze. It gave off a sharp squeaking sound. He nodded, seemingly satisfied. “On to phase two,” he said, reopening the valve.
And Crystal began to grow. Hollie had halfway expected her to expand outward into a ball, but that wasn’t how it happened. Instead, the girl held onto her shape. She just got bigger, going from her modest five-eight to over six feet in a matter of seconds.
At seven feet, Crystal began to lift off the floor. She drifted upward until the hose in her belly button reached its limit. Tethered by the line, Crystal’s body swung over until she was horizontal to the stage floor. The whole time, she continued to expand. Hollie estimated that she had to be approaching a height of ten feet or more, when Paul again shut off the flow.
For a few moments, everyone just stared up at Crystal. The inflated assistant just bobbed at the end of the hose, looking like one of those balloons used in Christmas parades. The girl’s face never lost its surprised expression, though Hollie thought she saw her blink once.
After a time, Hollie turned her attention back to Paul, wondering what else he had planned. Past him, she could see the witch with the same expectant look in her eyes. Ever the showman, Paul waited a few moments for effect. Then, with a sly grin, he gave the hose a sharp yank. With a loud “pop”, it came out of Crystal’s navel.
The effect was instantaneous. Crystal took off like a rocket, propelled by the air escaping from her navel. She zipped up and down, left and right, making sudden turns and swoops all around the stage. There appeared to be no set course to her flight, but Hollie noticed that Crystal never once came into violent contact with a wall or a light fixture or any of the other obstructions around them. She did, however, make at least one dive at the witch, who was forced to duck out of the way.
Finally, Crystal’s flight seemed to be at an end, as she slowed to a stop directly above Paul. Looking up, the magician got ready to catch her. But what dropped into his arms looked more like a deflated child’s toy than a living young woman. Crystal was draped over Paul’s arms like a bed sheet, her flattened head hanging downward with its shocked expression intact.
Paul, seemingly happy with his routine, looked over to the witch with a grin. Based on her confused expression, the witch didn’t share his enthusiasm. “That’s it?” she asked with a cocked eyebrow.
Paul’s face fell. “Uh, yeah,” he replied weakly.
“Oh-kay.” The witch’s tone made it clear she wasn’t impressed.
Paul turned to look at Hollie, his face making it clear that he was looking for encouragement. And she really wanted to give it to him, too. But hard as she tried, and as much as she hated herself for it, she found herself in agreement with the witch. The trick just hadn’t been that much to get excited about.
It must have showed on her face, because Paul’s expression darkened. He turned his attention back to the deflated Crystal in his hands. His face pinching in anger, he suddenly took the helpless assistant and began to crumple her up into a ball. Before anyone had a chance to react to his tantrum, Paul took the balled up girl and threw her violently to the stage floor.
Hollie couldn’t believe her eyes. In all the time she’d been with him, she’d never known Paul to lose his temper so completely. And to take it out on poor Crystal like this was unacceptable. Despite her own advice to Michelle earlier, she found herself moving forward, ready to rescue the girl and give Paul a big piece of her mind.
She stopped dead in her tracks a moment later when, instead of smacking into the floor, Crystal bounced. Dumbfounded, Hollie followed the girl’s progress high above Paul’s head, losing sight of her in the rafters. A second later, something dropped back down and Paul caught it. With a grin, he turned it so that she could see it clearly. It was a black and white soccer ball with a rather unique design. Stitched into the pattern, she could clearly make out Crystal’s face. Hollie looked back up at Paul, giving him a suspicious look. Paul just gave her a wink before turning to show the witch.
The woman couldn’t help but smile. “Sneaky,” she said, genuinely impressed. Paul just nodded in reply. “So, my turn?” she asked. At another nod, she turned to the last remaining assistants. Focusing on Kristina, she said, “Come on. Let’s show this magician how it’s done.”
Kristina looked over to Hollie for support. As the newest of Paul’s assistants, she was the one who was still the most nervous about the whole real magic thing. It was obvious that she wasn’t too sure about taking her turn in the contest. Hollie gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile and patted her arm.
“It’ll be okay, Kristi,” she heard Paul say from beside her. With a slight start, she turned to see that he had come over to stand next to them. Her eyes dropped to the ball in his hand, Crystal’s eyes staring out at her. She looked back up with obvious doubt on her face. “I promise,” he added sincerely.
With a deep breath, she headed off. The whole time she was crossing the stage, the witch watched her with an appraising eye. Kristina felt like the mouse to her snake. That impression was only enhanced by the way the witch slowly circled the girl once she came up to her. Though the two were probably about the same height, the witch’s high heels gave her a distinct size advantage. “Well,” the witch said, “let’s see what we have to work with here.” She made one, then another complete turn around the frightened assistant.
Finally, the witch stopped in front of Kristina and stared down into her eyes. Kristina returned her appraising look steadily, which both surprised and impressed Hollie. While it might be true that Kristina was nervous about magic, it was obvious she wasn’t going to let herself be bullied either.
Apparently, Hollie wasn’t the only one that was impressed with Kristina’s defiance. A slow smile came to the witch’s lips. “Yes,” she said, “I do believe you’ll do.” She suddenly brought her hands up and place one on each side of Kristina’s head. “Now,” she said, bringing her face down, “let’s have no tongue, okay?”
“Huh?” Kristina gasped, caught off-guard. With no further comment, the witch took in a deep breath and held it. Then she placed her lips over Kristina’s, taking the girl completely by surprise, giving her no time to react. Before she could protest at all, the witch began to blow into her open mouth, and by then it was too late.
Across the stage, Hollie watched as Kristina stiffened at the witch’s forwardness. Expecting it to be just a temporary reaction, she was surprised when the girl remained motionless. It took her only a second to realize why. Starting at the top of the blonde’s head, a change began to take place. Just like Crystal before her, Kristina was taking on the shiny look of a balloon. Unlike the other girl, however, as the change moved downward, Kristina’s body was changing, compressing into a smooth tube-like shape.
As the strange transformation reached her waist, the witch lifted her head. Taking another deep breath, she returned to blowing into the girl’s mouth, not stopping until it was over. When she was done, all that remained of the young assistant was a long pink balloon.
Once more, the witch lifted her head, smiling at the lips at her end of Kristina’s new form. Smiling, she pinched them together to keep the air from escaping. “So, tell me, Sweetie,” she said breathlessly. “Was it good for you, too?”
Obviously not expecting an answer, she turned her attention to Paul across the stage. “Now, how did you put it?” She made a show of trying to remember. “Oh, yeah. On to phase two.”
Holding the end of the balloon that was Kristina’s head with one hand, she used the other to slide down her body to her feet. She gave the whole balloon a slight tug, stretching it a bit. In a motion that was almost too fast to see, she brought the two ends together. She didn’t stop there. Her hands continued to twist and turn the transformed assistant rapidly. After a few moments, she stopped, holding out her work for inspection.
In her hands, she held Kristina, whose balloon body had been twisted into the shape of a pink poodle. Her sealed lips were positioned where the mouth would have been, while her eyes could clearly be seen in the “head”.
For several moments, Hollie could only stare at Kristina’s twisted form. She had seen plenty of amazing things while working with Paul for the last three years, but turning someone into a balloon animal had to be one of the most original. She wondered what Paul could possibly do to top it. And with that thought, she realized exactly who he was going to have to top it with. Suddenly nervious, she let her eyes drift over to the man standing beside her.
To her surprise, Paul didn’t seem to be thinking about what to do next. Instead, he was grinning from ear to ear. He brought his hands up and applauded. “Ooh, nice trick, Corrie. Dad would be proud.”
Hollie couldn’t believe her eyes. And then, what Paul had said registered. “Wait a minute,” she spat out. “Corrie? As in your sister Corrie?”
Realizing his mistake, Paul turned to his lead assistant with a forced smile. “Uh…” Seeing the look in her eyes, he knew he was in trouble. He swallowed, and turned back to the “witch”. The other woman was coming across the stage toward them. She held Kristina down by her side, while her other hand was on her hip. Her expression made it clear that she wasn’t very happy with him either. “Looks like she’s on to us, Sis,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Only because someone’s got a big mouth,” the woman pointed out. She stopped in front of them.
“Oh,” Paul told her, turning back to Hollie, “she would have figured it out eventually. Hollie’s no dummy.”
Hollie knew that he was trying to get himself out of trouble, but wasn’t about to let him off that easy. She was just about to tell him so when the other woman cut her off.
“Yeah?” Corrie used a finger to touch Hollie on the nose. “Well, she is now.”
Still angry, Hollie started to turn on the other woman, only to have her entire body freeze up on her. Try as she might, she found that she couldn’t move a muscle. In fact, unless she was very much mistaken, she wasn’t even breathing anymore. She was left staring into the mischievous face of Paul’s sister, who turned away from her without so much as a second thought.
“So, how’s my little brother been?” Corrie asked, throwing her arms — Kristina still held in one hand — around his neck.
Paul returned the hug. “Doing okay,” he told her, looking over her shoulder at Hollie. “Uh, Corrie,” he said, breaking the hug, “was that really necessary?”
“What?” she inquired, also turning to look. “Don’t you think she makes a good mannequin?” Paul just narrowed his eyes in reply. “Oh, come on, Little Brother,” Corrie said, going over to give Hollie a closer inspection. “She’s an assistant, isn’t she? She should be used to this type of…”
She stopped as something seemed to catch her eye. From her vantage point, Hollie watched as the taller woman stepped even closer. She was staring intently at something in the area of the frozen girl’s waist, but she couldn’t be sure what. She knew that she was still holding Tiffany in her hands, but surely that wasn’t it.
Suddenly, Corrie turned and handed Kristina off to her brother, who was so surprised that he almost dropped her. A second later, his sister had turned, taken Tiffany from Hollie, and added the rabbit to her brother’s burden. “Sis?” Paul cried out, trying to juggle the two animals — one fake, the other real — he suddenly found himself with. It wasn’t easy, considering he had still been holding a soccer ball in his hands. “What’s…”
“Someone’s been ignoring the rules,” she said, cutting him off.
She had turned back to Hollie, who was starting to get worried. Whatever had Corrie upset was obviously directed at her. Having seen what the woman was capable of when she was playing around, she really didn’t want to think about what she might do in anger. If she could have, she would have run for her life when the woman reached down out of her line of sight. A second later, she felt a sharp tug at the end of her arm. What was that?
Corrie turned back to her brother, holding something up for him to see. Over her shoulder, Hollie saw that it was her own plastic left hand. She knew it was the left one. She could clearly see her engagement ring on her finger. “What have you got to say about this, Little Brother?” she heard Corrie ask.
“Uh,” Paul stammered. “Well…”
“You know the rules, Paul,” she accused, not letting him explain. “No married assistants. You should have let her go as soon as you knew she was engaged.”
“Trust me on this, Corrie,” Paul told her plainly. “Hollie isn’t the type of assistant that you just ‘let go’.”
“Really?” his sister said. She turned back to Hollie again, obviously not happy.
Paul rolled his eyes at her back. “Really,” he confirmed. “Besides,” he went on, “you know as well as I do, that it’s more of a guideline than a rule anyway. Not to mention, I seem to recall there being a small loophole...”
“Sure,” she said, turning to look at him over her shoulder, “if she was marrying…” She stopped, as Paul smiled at her. Her head jerked back around to the plastic statue in front of her, obviously seeing Hollie in a new light.
Hollie almost felt like she would melt under the intense scrutiny she was now getting. Considering that she was currently made of solid plastic, she wasn’t entirely sure it wouldn’t happen anyway. But after a moment, Corrie smiled. Not that it made her feel a whole lot better.
“Okay,” Corrie announced, turning back to her brother. “New plan.” She plopped Michelle onto his head.
“We had a plan?” he asked, obviously confused.
“We did,” she nodded. “Well, actually I did. I was going to let you take me to dinner to celebrate our reunion,” she explained. She turned back to Hollie yet again. “Now, though, I think I’ll let my future sister-in-law take me instead. That way we can get to know each other better.” With that, she reached out, touching the mannequin on the nose. Without another word, she turned and headed across the stage.
Instantly, Hollie could move again. It happened so suddenly that she almost lost her balance, taking a few seconds to regain her footing. When she did, she turned to watch as the former witch reached behind the curtain. A second later, she pulled out a handbag that went with the gown she was wearing.
Hollie turned to Paul. Seeing the distress in his fiancée’s eyes, Paul spoke up. “Uh, Sis, can’t I come along?”
“Of course not, silly,” Corrie replied, coming back across to them. “This is girl-talk-time. Besides, you’re going to be way too busy getting the rest of your girls back to normal.” She stopped long enough to give him a quick peck on the cheek. “You might want to leave the hat the way she is for awhile,” she whispered in his ear. “Based on the look in her eyes, I think it’ll be safer.”
She turned back to her new girlfriend. “Well … Hollie, was it?” The other girl nodded. “Well, Hollie, let’s get it in gear, Hon. The night’s not getting any younger, you know?”
“Uh, yeah,” Hollie said, biting her lip.
Corrie gave her a questioning look. “Is there a problem?”
“Well, it’s just that…” Nervously, Hollie held up her left arm, showing the smooth wrist with no hand attached to it.
“Oh,” Corrie said, looking down at the still plastic hand she was holding. “Right. Well, here.” She handed it over to its owner. “Now, come along. I want to get a good seat.” With that, she headed for the stage door.
Hollie looked at the solid appendage in her working hand. She turned to Paul to once more plead for help, but found him busy, trying to figure out how to untie Kristina. With a sigh, she went over and picked up her own purse. She slipped her plastic hand into it before heading off to join the woman waiting impatiently by the door.
Oh, Lord, she thought to herself. What am I getting myself into?
Continued in... Party Toons