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It’s the second half of the Ray Bradbury Challenge of writing a short story each week for a year. After several attempts, this is the farthest I have ever gotten.

This week’s prompt:

A stage magician
discovers a secret talent
a hammer.

(spoiler – I forgot about the hammer.)

The Birthday Magician

Photo by Amina Filkins on Pexels.com

 You would think I would know better. This was my twenty-fourth birthday party, and I should have a clue that, well, I am not a kid person. So standing in front of a dozen or so eight years olds and doing my schtick isn’t not my happy place. But suburban parents had to keep up with Bobby Jones’s birthday party, and this was the summer of birthday party magicians. At 500 dollars an hour, let’s just say I was raking it in.

But this party was different. I should have sensed something was up when I was setting out my table, and a couple of the boys were peeking around the back. I shooed them away, pointing to where some of the other kids were making some kind of kid craft with paint and macaroni. 
“That’s stupid stuff, for the little kids. We want to see how this stuff works.” one of the little boys said.

“Yeah,” his friend piped up. “We are too old for macaroni necklaces. They could at least have Froot Loops. We could eat those.”

Kid one shook his head. “My mom says Bryson’s mom is crunchy. She would probably use fake, no-sugar Froot Loops. May as well eat the macaroni.”

Gotta say they had a point. “Sorry guys, but a magician never shares his secrets.” 

With simultaneous sighs, they walked away. Kid 1 glanced back, so I gave him a wave. Last thing I needed was a couple of nosy kids in my way. Jeez, I sounded like the villain of a Scooby-Doo cartoon – I would have had an award-winning magic show if it weren’t for those pesky kids. 

You ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s like you say something, and it comes true later, even though you didn’t mean it to. Learned about it from a podcast host after I told him about his particular summer and this particular party. 
The Macaroni craft was done, and the host mom herded all the kids to the media room (it was one of THOSE houses, which is probably why they paid so well.), where I had my backdrop, PVC pipes in a square with a curtain that say, Manuel the Magnificent. It looked like a regular curtain, but of course, it was really a double curtain with hidden pockets to hide the “magic.”

The kids were settled into the lounge chairs, so I pushed play on my phone and let the dramatic music and announcer ring through the surround sound system. Did I mention I loved performing in Media Rooms? As the disembodied voice called out my name, I flung my right arm out to the side, causing my cape to fly open, red silk lining contrasting with the black I wore. Magic, illusion really, is all about redirection. Making the kids focus on the cape, so they didn’t see what I was doing with my left hand. As I started to tell my audience about my first trick, a small voice came from behind my curtain.

“Oh, hey little bird, you’re trapped in here. I’ll let you out.”

It was Kid 1. Behind my curtain. Releasing my dove about 12 tricks too early. The dazed dove, free from the fabric pocket, flew up to the ceiling and promptly flew into the ceiling fan. My entire fee was going to go to clean the feather and blood from this room. And possibly therapy for the kids sitting under the fan. 

“Magnificent Manuel, maybe we can take the show outside? It’s such a beautiful day?” the host mom asked. 

How she was not screaming and throwing me out was beyond me. But, the little dove was cooing on some little girl’s lap. There were feathers all over, but the blood was just my worst fear clouding my vision. I grabbed a deck of cards and followed the party outside. There was a picnic table, so I sat down and set up shop.

They had an effing pirate ship in the yard, with ropes to climb, bouncy planks to walk, and slides for abandoning ship quickly. A guy with tired old card tricks could not compete with that backyard. But for some reason, those two nosy kids decided that I was more entertaining than the pirate ship. They sat down across from me at the picnic table.

“I see the extra card in you hand,” Kid 1 pointed out as I started my first trick. 
This was not going any better than the indoor performance. “What’s you name, kid?”

“Alex.” He looked over at his friend. “And this is Curtis.”

I shook my head. “Well, I can work with Alex, but Curtis, we are going to have to find you a better magician name.”

“Magician name?” Curtis’ eyes widened. “You’re the magician, not me.”

I pointed to Alex. “My father always told me, a good rule for life is, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. You two are way too smart to watch me do these tricks.” I tapped the deck of cards in my hand. “So, I am going to teach you, and in a little while, The Amazing Alex and, um…”

“Powerful Pablo!” Cutis yelled.

“Ok, Amazing Alex and Powerful Pablo will perform at this party for your friends.” I now had their full attention.

After forty-five minutes, the party hostess gathered everyone to come back inside and have cake and ice cream. As I walked into the house, she whispered to me, “We’ve got your bird in a shoe box. One of the dads put some holes in the top so he can breathe.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. He’s never gotten out like that before.”

She pat my arm. “So, do you have anything else magnificent, or do I get a reduced rate?”

“I still have a trick or two left. I have to run out to my car.” 

I could tell she didn’t believe me. I didn’t quite believe myself, but I had an extra cape and top hat in the car. My two apprentices were about to make their magical debut. 

***

“And that is how it started,” I said to Seth. 

“Kind of magical in itself,” Seth said, tapping his blue note cards on the desk. “So from that one birthday party….”

“Yeah, the parents loved the kids doing the magic. So from then on, it was party after party of teaching a bunch of tricks to the kids and then they would perform them. Like a talent show, almost.”

“I know my kids would like something like that.” Angelina Jolie was sitting next to me on the Late Night sofa. That is how surreal my life had gotten.

“And so you couldn’t keep up with the demand? That’s why you took it to YouTube?” Seth asked. “Your Magical Mentor Channel has over a million subscribers now.”

I could only nod. 

“And Mattel is partnering with you to make magic supply sets?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s just amazing, I watched some of your videos, and you teach so well, I can see why it’s popular. I guess you have no time for live classes now?”

“YouTube takes up a lot of time, that and creating new tricks to teach.” I just didn’t have the guts to tell the truth. I hate kids.