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Last episode taken from The Wizard issue: 1185 September 11th 1948.

Two of the world’s greatest masters of magic are face to face in a challenge that means death for one of them!


NORTON SILVESTRE, an eccentric millionaire has taken refuge on “Z” or Zodiac Island, a lonely island of the Scillies, from Tibetans, who have sworn vengeance on him. These Tibetans are Yogis from the Shiaba Monastery in Tibet. Silvestre has appointed as his bodyguard TIM DUGAN, who tells this story.

Silvestre is an expert illusionist and his main interest is magic. From his house on “Z” Island he issues four challenges to conjurers and magicians of the world. He has offered ten thousand pounds to the magician who can perform the Indian rope trick, ten thousand pounds for a trick that baffles him for more than ten minutes, ten thousand pounds to anyone who can perform the levitation trick, and twenty thousand pounds for what he considers the best trick he has ever seen. Various magicians answer the challenges but fail to win the prizes.

An unexplained mystery of the house is that people from time to time say they see the ghost of MYSTIKOS, a famous illusionist, who disappeared after the theatre in which he was performing was completely destroyed by fire twenty years previously. Mystikos is thought to have perished in the fire.

Yogis, three in number, land on the island and make several unsuccessful attempts on Silvestre’s life. Then finally, posing as Arab illusionists answering Silvestre’s challenge, they succeed in kidnapping Norton Silvestre. Dugan escapes, but Dr Fu, a Chinese illusionist, who is also on the island, is injured.

ELGAR T. DAMPIER, another illusionist, has already gone to the mainland for help before Silvestre is kidnapped.


The man-hunt was on for the Tibetans. I wanted to join it but could not leave Fu in his present condition. I went for first-aid kit and set about dressing his injury. I was putting the bandages round his head when he opened his eyes. “Dugan—the marabout!” he whispered.


“Yes, I know. He wasn’t a marabout at all, but the Shiaba Yogi. Did he strike you down?” I demanded. “No, Adu did, but as I dropped I saw the marabout tackle Silvestre,” replied Dr Fu. “Have they got away with him?” “I hope not,” I went on. “I have sent every available man to the foreshore to stop them. As soon as I can leave you I want to join them.” “Then go quickly,” said the Chinese illusionist. “I shall be all right now.” I left the house. When I reached the beach I found that Sakli, one of Silvestre’s servants, had spread out the men to cover both of the possible landing-places. He had also posted a look-out who had a complete view of the sea round the island. Then as we scanned the sea in the direction of St Mary’s, we saw a craft approaching through the mist. It looked like the trawler that brought our post. “This will be it! The Tibetans have arranged for it to come at dawn. Perhaps they have accomplices who’ve mastered the crew and taken over the ship,” I thought. We lay down and waited. I was determined that the scoundrels would never get Norton Silvestre away on this ship. The trawler came slowly towards the beach. The mist was rolling away, the sun was rising and we could see more clearly now. Sakli was the first to recognise Elgar Dampier on the deck, and beside him a police-sergeant from St Mary’s. The boat was not carrying Tibetans, but the help that we had been hoping to receive. On the trawler there was also a constable and a crew of three. The trawler made fast in deep water, and the police and the crew came ashore in a dinghy. I walked forward to meet Sergeant Troubridge, who demanded: “Has anything else happened since Mr Dampier left? He told me all about the previous happenings.” “Yes, plenty has happened,” I said. “Silvestre has been kidnapped, and Dr Fu has been injured.” I quickly told him what I could. The sergeant gave the constable instructions to remain at the landing stage with half my men and the crew of the trawler. The rest of us headed for the house, and by the time we got there the sergeant had a full account of what had happened. “Then you don’t think they’ve left the island already?” demanded the sergeant. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “For one reason, there’s been no time, and for another their vessel would still be in sight. You can see for yourself there’s no other craft about.” “Then, as they’re still on the island we’ll search it until we find them. It’s only a small place,” said the sergeant. The sergeant first of all insisted on searching the house from top to bottom. We drew a blank. The sergeant was not perturbed, for he hadn’t really expected to find anyone in the house. “Once that’s settled, we know they must be outside,” he said. “We’ll go over the island systematically. We’ve plenty of men. I left things to the police, and the search was a thorough one. As we worked towards the other end, I could see that the police were getting more and more puzzled. Finally we arrived at the extreme point of the island, and looked down into an empty sea. Sergeant Troubridge took off his hat and mopped his forehead. “That takes some believing!” he said, “we will search back through the island again.” I did not intend to take part in the second search, for I knew it would be useless. I returned to the house to see how Dr Fu was faring. When I entered the room Dr Fu was sitting in an armchair and staring out of the window. He saw by my face that the search had been fruitless. “Do not worry too much, my friend, for those police of yours will settle the mystery soon,” he said. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “They’ve never been up against men of this type before. I can’t make out what becomes of these men. You come from the East yourself. Do you believe the yogi can make himself and his companions invisible?” “No!” was Fu’s immediate reply. “Then do you believe that he can transport his prisoner over the water, or has done so, without a boat?” I asked. “No!” Fu again replied. “We know that yogis can travel vast distances over land and mountains in far less time than ordinary human beings, but there is no record of them being able to travel over water.” “And he couldn’t hypnotise all us to believe that he isn’t here when he really is?” I persisted, trying to cover all the points that had occurred to me. Fu shook his head. “They are clever, and they understand things that we do not understand, but they cannot perform miracles. They can find great strength when needed, can go into trances, can stand heat and cold, and can fast for weeks on end, but they could not influence us all to that extent. No, Dugan, there must be some logical, ordinary explanation that we have overlooked. Most of our stage illusions are possible because people overlook things. If they did not, we could not deceive them.” I racked my brains for an explanation. Through the window I could see the sergeant again spreading his line across the island. There was something we were overlooking, something that we had not observed, or remembered. I asked myself again and again what this could be.


There was no need to ask Sergeant Troubridge when he returned, if the search had been successful. “Not a sign of anyone!” he said, gratefully accepting a cup of tea which I handed him. “They must have left the island before we arrived.”

I shook my head. I was convinced that this was not the case. The Shiaba yogi, his two companions, Smith their manager, and Silvestre were hidden somewhere. Five men could not be hidden easily. It would take a small room to hold them. Something clicked within my brain. A small room. “Got it!” I cried, whirling on Dr Fu. “The only place we have not searched is Silvestre’s secret room. That’s where they’ve gone!” Sergeant Troubridge looked at me. “Secret room!” he demanded. “If there is one we’ll go and see at once.” “It’s not as easy as that,” I told him. “I know roughly where it is, but we can’t get into it. When I say it is secret, I mean the entrance is secret. Only Silvestre knows it.” “Then how could these Tibetans find a way in, if that’s where they are?” he demanded. “That I can’t understand,” I replied, “but these are not ordinary men. The fact remains that the secret room is the only place where they can have gone to. I’m certain of it.” I was getting excited. All the time we had been seeking elsewhere, Norton Silvestre had been in the hands of these Asiatic fiends who had some terrible grudge against him. I made for the room. Dr Fu, the sergeant, and Sakli followed the upstairs and along the corridor which ended in a blank wall. Impatiently I pulled aside the black curtain which hung about fifteen inches from this end wall. The sergeant inspected the wall from side to side. “There’s no door there,” he pronounced. “There is!” I said. “But it’s so cunningly hidden that we’ve never able to find it. Silvestre passes behind this curtain, and in five seconds he has vanished. I’ve seen him do it time and again. It must be some simple secret, but secret it is. We have examined these walls before. They’re made of steel. The only way in as far as I can see, is to use an oxy-acetylene burner. The top is the same, for we have had up the floorboards of the room above. It is like a huge safe, with an airshaft to the roof as the only visible communication with the outside world. Dr Fu ran his fingers over the surface, moving from side to side, requesting a chair so that he might stand on it and reach to the top. “I know the principles used in the construction of supposedly impregnable boxes without openings,” said Fu. “I have possessed several such boxes myself, but this box appears to be something quite different. If I remember rightly, many years ago, there was a challenge issued by Mystikos regarding a chest that he constructed. It was of steel, and he would defy anyone to find the way to open it, although he himself could do so. Silvestre was a great friend of Mystikos, on his own admission. Therefore it is possible that he learned the secret from him, in which case we might spend a month trying to get in.” In a moment or two Dr Fu turned away, admitting defeat for the present. Suddenly I had an idea. “That night when the Tibetans blocked the ventilator Silvestre became unconscious in the secret room, but they drugged him first so that he would not have a chance to leave the room when he found it becoming stuffy. Can’t we do the same, and make sure they don’t harm him while we’re trying to get in? Have you anything, Fu, that you could put down the ventilating shaft to knock them out?” The Chinaman thought for a moment. Then he turned to one of his assistants who had joined us, and gave out an order in his own tongue. The assistant hurried away, and a little later returned with a small pipe and a small role of coloured paper. Fu sniffed the packet, and nodded his head. “Yes, I think we can do that. Come along,” he murmured. We followed Dr Fu to the roof of the house. The sergeant by this time seemed considerably bewildered.


The two openings of the ventilator were not very large. Through one of them fresh air was sucked in. Through the other, the used air escaped. Fu asked me to block the outlet, then filled the pipe with a black dried herb which he took from the roll of coloured paper. When the pipe was tamped down to his liking, he lit it.

“It is possible that I may fall asleep, too,” he said. “If so, please see that I am carried below.” With that he began to draw and puff. I got windward of the smoke, and Fu squatted cross-legged close to the ventilator and blew the smoke in through the opening. It was at once sucked down below. “We’ll guard the corridor by that wall, in case they try to come out,” I suggested, and ran down into the house and gave instructions for the corridors and stairs to be watched. When I returned to the roof, Dr Fu was still blowing smoke into the ventilator. His eyes were closed, and he was swaying from side to side as though he was struggling against sleep. The smoke was having an effect on him. With all his care, he could not help drawing some of it into his lungs. I spoke to him, but he did not reply. Five minutes passed, and the pipe was nearly empty when he suddenly keeled over to one side and lay motionless. “Now what?” asked Sergeant Troubridge, as the Chinese assistant retrieved the pipe. “We’ll get him down below to one of the beds. If the stuff has worked in there as well as it has on him, Silvestre will be in no danger for the time being. That gives us a chance to tackle that wall again.” Between us we carried the Chinese illusionist to a bedroom. Dampier by this time had joined me. We decided to tackle the room again from the corridor entrance. But we had no more success. My only hope was that the occupants were all unconscious as a result of the efforts of Dr Fu. What I wanted was time, time to discover the secret entrances, or time to give the trawlermen instructions to return at full speed to Penzance and to bring back equipment for drilling through steel and men to work it. It would be at least eight hours before the trawler could be back. While we were working at the wall, Dr Fu, who had recovered, joined us. The fumes would still be effective in the room, as I had blocked the outlet. Two hours elapsed, and we had made no progress. We stopped for an hour’s rest, and Dampier and Fu compared notes about trick boxes and cases which they had known. They both agreed that the principle employed by Silvestre with his room was probably that which Mystikos, the illusionist, had used in his famous challenge box. They began to talk again about Mystikos, and about the doubts that had arisen about his death when he had vanished in the fire. There had been rumours that he had been seen in Colombo some six months later, but in twenty years he had not returned to his friends or his usual haunts, so it was generally accepted that he had perished in the fire. “Then what was it that we saw here in this house?” I demanded. “Something resembling that picture of Mystikos in the lounge has walked this house more than once. You had an idea Fu, that perhaps Mystikos was hiding here all these years, but I would have known if there had been anyone besides Silvestre living here. There must be some other explanation. They could not offer any, and when Sergeant Troubridge returned to say the trawler had left with his message, we decided to tackle the wall again. We marked the wall off with chalk into small squares, and examined every one of the squares closely. By the time we had finished we were certain that the wall was nothing but one solid sheet of steel. There was no crack in it anywhere. “I don’t think Silvestre or anyone else ever passed through this wall!” declared Elgar Dampier flatly. “But I tell you—” I began, then went forward. “I’ll show you exactly what happened. Normally the black curtain hung in front of the wall like this, about fifteen inches from it. He would step through the centre like this—” I imitated Silvestre’s action. “Then he would draw the curtains after him, so—and then—vanished!” I had gone backwards, and was facing the curtain as I talked. There was just room for me to move sideways without touching the curtain. A sudden impulse made me move to the right, against a fifteen-inch strip of ordinary wall. My shoulder came in sharp contact with it, and the next moment I nearly lost my balance, for the wall had opened inwards. It was obvious what had happened. My shoulder had pushed at the right height to release a catch. The fifteen-inch strip of ordinary wall was a dummy, and it swung backwards revealing a narrow opening round the end of the steel plate. Here was the secret of entry to the hidden room. Silvestre had never passed through that steel wall. It was an ordinary wall on one side which contained the means of entry, and we had not even tested that. In the side wall of the steel room there was a twelve-inch gap about five feet high. Through this a man could squeeze himself and be inside in a matter of moments. As I reached the opening there was a click which told me that the trap in the wall had closed again. In the end there had proved to be no secret about the room at all. It was very simple, so simple that we had overlooked it. A solitary light blazed overhead, and as I stared at the five huddled figures, I felt my senses reeling, for the air was still heavy with that drugged smoke.


On the other side of the steel partition I could hear loud knocking. The two startled illusionists were looking for me. It was probably the most mystifying thing they had ever seen in their lives. But I was not concerned with them at the moment. Norton Silvestre, stripped to the waist, had been strapped to a bench, but as far as I could see, he was not injured.

On the floor lay the three Tibetans, now without their robes, which they had shed because of the warmth. Across a camp-bed in the corner lay Smith, their so-called manager. Smith was dead. He had been stabbed. Back through the slit in the steel wall I slipped, and fumbled behind the section of wall, which had opened under my thrust. I soon found a catch, pulled it down, and was able to open the flap again. Dampier’s expression when I stuck my head out beside him was almost comical. Both Fu and he were still trying to find a way through the steel wall. “This way,” I said. “We’ll wedge this door open to admit air. Bring that chair over Fu.” They were amazed when I showed them the way through the slit, and their eyes widened when they saw the scene before them. But Fu’s eyes at once went to the face of Norton Silvestre, and his finger trembled when he pointed. “That—is—Mystikos!” I started in surprise. I had not troubled to look at Silvestre’s face as I had tugged at the straps, which held him, but now I saw definite changes in it. The cheeks were gaunter, the nose less full; the hair had fallen back from a very high forehead, revealing the fact that a narrow strip of false hair must formerly have been worn there. The differences were small, but together they made an amazing change. I realised that this was the face I had seen surrounded by a halo of light in the doorway of the smoke room. “Never mind who it is!” I snapped. “We’ve got to get him out to the fresh air, and we’ve got to deal with these men before they come round. Shout for Troubridge. Here are the men who killed your servant, and who would have tortured Silvestre to death.” “You mean Mystikos,” muttered Fu, as he went out into the corridor to shout for Troubridge. Between us we managed to get my employer along to his own bedroom. There appeared to be nothing wrong with him except the effects of the drugged smoke. As I studied his face in the daylight, I realised that Silvestre and Mystikos were undoubtedly the same person. But there was little time to wonder about it. Troubridge wanted help to bring out the Tibetans. When they were brought out they were searched and handcuffed. It was late afternoon, and we were beginning to get anxious, when Norton Silvestre opened his eyes and blinked about him blankly. Then, his gaze settled on me, and he nodded, stared around the room, and realised where he was. “You—you got me out?” he whispered. “Yes, we managed to find you!” I replied. Silvestre nodded, and fingered his face, then sat up and looked at himself in the mirror. A faint smile twisted the corners of his mouth when he caught sight of Dr Fu and Dampier looking at him from the doorway. He appeared to be a much older man than the Norton Silvestre who had engaged me as bodyguard and secretary. “The Shiaba yogis—what happened to them?” asked Silvestre. “Troubridge is guarding all three of them. They’re well looked after. Smith is dead. They stabbed him.” He nodded again, then said: “Yes, I’m Mystikos, and as you have guessed, I did not perish in that fire twenty years ago. It was my disappearing from the world.” “But why did you have to disappear?” demanded Dr Fu. “You were the greatest illusionist in the world.” “And also the most frightened,” said Silvestre. “You will remember that I used to go on world tours at times, and pick up new tricks and illusions. Five years before I disappeared I was in India, and visited Tibet. I went to the Shiaba monastery, where because of my illusions, I was accepted as an equal by the yogis, and was shown many of their secrets—secrets never before shown to white men. I incorporated some of those secrets in my most famous illusions. Evidently they considered I had betrayed my trust, for they threatened me with death by torture. They followed me everywhere. They hounded me day and night, until I could stand it no longer. I had a fortune hidden away, and decided to retire and take another name, but as I knew they would still pursue me if they know I lived, I decided to die in a fire—as far as the public. That is what I did. The Great Mystikos, and Norton Silvestre, eccentric millionaire interested in illusions came into being. I brought this island, built the House of Magic, and did a lot of travelling in search of new tricks. Then I heard that the Shiaba yogis had got wise to the fact that I was not dead, and I retired here with Tim Dugan as my bodyguard. The rest you know. I offered prizes to tempt magicians to come to me and that must have guided the yogis here.” “Then the ghost of Mystikos whom everyone saw—” I exclaimed. “Was myself. At night time I got rid of my disguise, and to keep the visiting magicians from prying into my secrets I roamed the house as a ghost. And then the Tibetans also started to move about the house by night.” “How did they get in to begin with?” I asked. “There are things about these yogis that can't be explained,” said Silvestre. “It is a fact that they can perform genuine levitation. They probably came in by the roof or an upper window.” “Well, yogis or no yogis, they have gone too far now,” I said. “They killed one of Fu’s assistants, and they killed Smith. They’ll pay the penalty the same as anyone else.” “I doubt that,” said Mystikos gravely. “I cannot understand about Smith. I suspect he was some Englishman whom they hypnotized into obeying them, merely because they needed someone to play the part of their manager. Having finished with him, they disposed of him. But I doubt if they’ll ever be taken to the mainland alive. When they discover they have been caught, and there is no escape, they’ll die.” “I’ll see that they don’t take poison!” snapped Sergeant Troubridge, from the corridor. “They’ll need no poison,” murmured Mystikos. “You’ll see!” He proved right. The three Tibetans recovered their senses little later than their victim, talked earnestly for several minutes, then closed their eyes. Troubridge made frantic efforts to rouse them, but when he crossed to the mainland the next day he took three corpses with him. They had willed themselves to die, and had done so. Nothing in the world of medicine or surgery could have saved them. Both Dr Fu and Dampier were rewarded for their trouble by the millionaire illusionist, but up to the time of his death some six years later, nobody had been able to claim the reward he was offering for a performance of the Indian rope trick, and only two of our visiting magicians were able to mystify him to any great extent. When he died he left me a large sum of money in recognition of my services, with the request that I should burn all his secrets and the contents of the steel room. This I have done, and many of the illusions practised by the Great Mystikos will probably never be shown on stage again.



4 CHALLENGES FROM “Z” ISLAND 8 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1178 – 1185 (1948)

4 CHALLENGES FROM “Z” ISLAND 8 episodes appeared in Rover and Wizard issues April 10th – May 29th (1965)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007