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Houdini shall not die (short story)

Harald Renner

Karl-Heinz is my charming older brother. He’s thirteen and goes to high school. Everybody thinks he’s great, not me.

He can’t do magic like Aunt Hildegard does. But he tricks everyone so they scream and gets scared he might cut into his tongue or slit his stomach. When his performance is over and there’s no blood splattered and everyone has clapped, Daddy strokes his head and looks around the circle saying: “Isn’t he gorgeous, this boy?”

Karl- Heinz does magic with razor blades when colleagues visit my dad. The trick is this: He opens a pack of new blades. Everyone can see they are sharp. You can even cut cardboard with them. Then he swallows the blades. He bites a thread from a yarn reel. He’ll swallow it afterwards. Then he drinks a glass of milk in one go. The razor blades are all attached to the thread, which he pulls out. He shows his tongue so that everyone can see there are no cuts and that nothing bleeds.

My brother was the only one who told me about the razor blade trick. But I can’t tell anyone he doesn’t swallow the sharp blades. He takes blunt ones in his mouth, which also are threaded and connected to the yarn reel. This is hollow in the middle, and the blades with the thread slot into it. He doesn’t swallow the sharp blades, but spits everything into the milk. That’s how the trick works.

I don’t know if the trick interests the visitors as much as they pretend. The guests pat my brother on the back and tell him he’s a second Houdini. They must flatter him because my father is their boss. My dad’s face relaxes into a broad smile when you say something nice like that about Karl-Heinz. 

Last month we went to the cinema with the entire family. There was an old movie. Its name was “Houdini, King of the Variety”. I used to dream about the movie after that. It was so creepy how the famous escape artist chained head hung down in the tank of water. He couldn’t free himself because his appendix had burst. The fire brigade smashed the aquarium glass. But by then could no longer survive the impossible. The infamous escapologist was unconscious and later died.

My aunt Hildegard can’t perform tricks like Karl-Heinz. But she is a magical witch and knows how to cast a spell. She’s a saleswoman in a toy store around the corner. When she looks at our photos, she closes her eyes and creates creepy magic stories. They’re not so scary as the razor blade trick. They are more like fairy tales where everything has a happy ending.

A month ago I found my picture of the bitten apple in my cigar box. Alongside the photos of my golden hamster, Fifi. Aunt Hildegard looked at the picture for a long time. Then she stroked it with her index finger and said she could cast a spell with a magic apple. She says evil spells are only used against evil spirits, epidemics, or misfortune on the road.

She cut the apple in two. Then she took fresh mint from the garden. Rubbing both apple halves into it. After that, I had to say out loud what I wished to banish. I was wondering what was the most important.  I told her I wished Fifi would not climb up the curtains anymore. He climbs up so fast. If you don’t notice, he has started his adventure. A few minutes later, my hamster falls on the floor from the top of the curtain. One day it may hurt him. I also don’t want Karl-Heinz to mix up the razor blades and swallow the sharp ones. That was my second spell. The third thing I wanted was to stop dreaming about Houdini at night.

I’d rather dream of the red remote control car. It’s an old Borgward Isabella. A month ago, the toy car was in the window of Aunt Hildegard’s store. Now it’s disappeared. I wanted the Borgward so much for my birthday. After I had finished my spells, my aunt carved a match on both ends into a small skewer. With that, she reconnected the apple halves. Then she wrapped a green ribbon around the apple. I had to bury the fruit in a place that only I knew. The spell does not take effect until the magic apple has decayed.

The spell works well. I don’t dream about Houdini anymore. Fifi still climbs up the curtains, but now I feel fine when it happens. Karl-Heinz does not swallow the sharp razor blades, but spits everything into the milk, as he must.

Today is my eighth birthday. On my gift table is the red Borgward Isabella with remote control. No one else in the class has it because Borgwards doesn’t exist anymore. Karl-Heinz blows up like Napoleon. He says it’s stupid to bury apples. You’d better eat them. I don’t think it’s stupid at all. Because now I know you can do magic without tricks and bullshit. But only if you’re a magical witch..

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