lecture21 marucci

A bizarre magic tale, in memory of the late Gene Poinc, NLT


Among many card players, the Nine of Diamonds is called the Curse of Scotland. This is possibly because it resembles the nine diamond-like shapes on the coat of arms of the first Earl of Stair, who was generally loathed in Scotland for his connection with the Massacre at Glencoe and the union of England and Scotland in 1707. And, with that in mind, our story begins:

"Just outside a tiny village, a few miles from Inverness, lived a poor, old woman named the Widow Mackenzie. She had been a widow for so long that her first name had been forgotten by those in the village, and the title 'widow' was the only name she was known by.

One bitterly cold winter's night, the Widow Mackenzie was alone in her tiny crofter's hut. There was no money to buy peat to build a fire in the grate and, being a widow and alone, she had no one to cut peat for her. Even inside the hut, the cold crept into every nook and cranny and into the widow's very bones.

The Widow Mackenzie tried to ignore the weather by passing the time with one of the few pleasures left to her: playing solitaire, or patience, as it was known in her area.

One day passed, then another. On the third day, some of the villagers thought of her and realized that she had not been seen, even at the village well, for three days. So they went to her hut and pounded on the door. But there was no answer. Eventually, someone screwed up the courage to break the door down.

When they got inside, there they found the Widow Mackenzie, sitting at the table as if still playing solitaire. But she had left this mortal realm and was frozen solid from the cold. Still clutched in her hand was the last card she was about to play: The Nine of Diamonds. The Curse of Scotland!

The villagers removed her body and summoned Andrew McTague, a farmer who also acted as the local undertaker and gravedigger. After thawing out the widow's body, McTague placed it in a rude, pine coffin. At that moment, having heard of the tragedy from some of the villagers, the laird of the district, one John Buchanan, arrived to pay his respects. He was a man good in heart and considered wealthy by the destitute villagers. And, as was the custom of that area and that time, the laird took out from his purse a one-pound note; he folded it and placed it in the Widow Mackenzie's clasped hands; legend said it was money to pay the ferryman on the departed's journey across the river into the nether world. (The magus takes an old one-pound note from the Bank of Scotland, shows it around, and folds it up.)

After the laird had left, gravedigger McTague began to think about the pound note clutched in the dead hands of the Widow Mackenzie.

What good would it do her', he thought; 'I could use that money to buy food for my family, to buy fuel for the grate, to pay the rent on this home'. For, at that time, a pound would pay the rent on a hut like McTague's for almost a year; it could feed his family for months; and it could buy peat enough to heat his home over the winter.

So, before he nailed the pine box shut, McTague took the money from the Widow Mackenzie's lifeless hands and stuffed it in his own pathetically empty purse. (The magus takes the note and a small, leather wallet - which he clearly shows as empty - and puts the note into it, leaving the wallet on the table.)

After the funeral, McTague returned to his hut, thinking of how he would spend his new-found money. But, when he looked at the wallet that he had left on the ledge over the fireplace, he thought it had moved. And, every time thereafter that he looked at it, the wallet seemed to have moved again. (As he says this, the magus slightly shifts the wallet on the table with just one finger; he does not actually pick the wallet up.)

Finally, McTague could stand it no longer and was determined to move the money to a safer place. He reached for the wallet but an unknown and undefined dread kept him from picking it up. Three times he tried to pick up the wallet; and three times his courage left him. Finally, summoning whatever bravery he had left, McTague opened the wallet; and there he found - a playing card! The Nine of Diamonds! The Curse of Scotland! The very card that the Widow Mackenzie had been holding when she died.

(The magus opens the wallet - again using just one finger - and reveals the card. He then picks up the wallet, removes the card, and shows the wallet otherwise empty.)

The Widow Mackenzie had claimed her money, to cross the river into the next world. McTague cast the foul card into the smouldering grate, where it was consumed in flame. He survived his experience with nothing more than a horrible fright, but he never again stole from the dead, whose mortal remains were entrusted to him."

This is kept as simple as possible so that all your effort can be spent on the presentation.

The only things that are needed are an old Scottish pound note (you can get one from most coin dealers or, if necessary, print one out on the Internet and age the paper); a Nine of Diamonds (this should be from an old deck, well thumbed and even dirty, giving the impression that it was part of a deck that had been well used for a long time); and, finally, a switching wallet (I use a Z-fold in leather; if you use a wallet for the switch, please don't use one in plastic!).

The card is in the wallet to begin with, on the hidden side. The empty side is shown to be empty and the pound note is put into that side at the appropriate time in the story. The wallet is then slapped on the table and, in doing so, is reversed, so that the side containing the card is now uppermost.

At the climax, the magus flips open the wallet and shows the card, all with one hand so that there is no "hanky-panky" suspected. He then removes the card and shows the wallet to be empty. (The side with the pound note is, of course, kept hidden.)

Second thoughts:
The concept for this came from a piece that Ed Solomon (a.k.a. Denomolos) wrote for Brother Shadow's section in MUM magazine of February, 2002, titled the Coins of Molly Mack. The setting and handling of my story are totally different from his.

In Ed's version, a drawer box is used to reveal the Ace of Spades, which was switched for two coins that were placed over the eyes of the deceased. 

When I asked Ed about the story, he said it "has been around for years, I don't know where it came from originally but I elaborated on it to make it my  kind of story. Enough actual history from my early years in an old farming community in central Oklahoma to give it that folksy quality. My version was published in the MUM in about the second of the Shadowland series of Brother Shadow, February 2002 was the issue. I came across a version of this in a little book called More Scary Stories to tell in the dark. It is a collection of such fire side tales as this and is by Alvin Schwartz. His books are usually found in the book stores around Halloween. Originally published in 1981 as a sequel to other books of similar titles. ISBN #0- 3397- 32081."

As I said, the concept came from Ed Solomon. I changed the locale, because I liked the idea of the Curse of Scotland card better. (The superstition and historical information, by the way, is as accurate as possible.) In his version, Ed uses a drawer box for the switch, instead of the Z-fold wallet. Either one works, so suit yourself. If you can get your hands on the copy of MUM magazine, you might wanted to check out Ed Solomon's "take" on the story. Then decided for yourself which one best suits your style of performing and go with it.

Once again, a powerful piece of apparent magic using the simplest of props.

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All the material in this lecture is copyrighted with all rights reserved to Peter Marucci, 2002.