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Houdini shall not die (short story)

Harald Renner

Karl-Heinz is my charming older brother. He’s thirteen. He goes to high school. Everybody thinks he’s great, not me. He can’t do magic like Aunt Hildegard can. But he tricks in such a way that everyone screams and gets scared that he cuts himself in the tongue or slits his stomach.

When his performance is over and no blood has been sprayed and everyone has clapped, then Daddy pats his head and asks the audience, “Isn’t he magical, the boy?"

He uses razor blades to do magic when his colleagues visit my dad. The trick is this: My brother opens a box with new blades. Anyone can see they’re sharp. You can even cut cardboard with it. Then he swallows the blades. It then bites off a thread from a reel. He’ll swallow it afterwards. Then he drinks a glass of me in a train. He puts his hand in his mouth. The razor blades all hang on the thread, which he pulls out. He shows his tongue so that everyone can see they do not cut it and that nothing bleeds.

I don’t know if the trick interests the visitors as much as they do. They pat my brother on the back and say he will be a second Houdini. You say that because my father is her boss. He is happy and laughs when you say something like that about Karl-Heinz. Last month we went to the movies with the whole family. There was an old movie going on. His name was Houdini, the King of Variety. I often dreamed about the movie afterwards. It was so scary, how the magician hung with his head down bound in the aquarium. He couldn’t free himself because his appendix had burst. The fire department smashed the glass of the aquarium. But then the magician was unconscious and died.

My brother was the only one who told me the trick with the razor blades. But I can’t tell anyone. The only thing I can tell you is that he doesn’t swallow the sharp blades. He takes blunt ones in his mouth, which are already threaded on the thread. It’s also related to the thread spool. It’s hollow in the middle, and the blades with the thread fit in there. He does not swallow the sharp blades, but spits them into the milk. That’s how the trick works.

My aunt Hildegard can’t trick like Karl-Heinz. But she is an enchanting witch and knows how to cast a spell. She’s a salesgirl at a toy store around the corner from us. When she looks at our photos, she closes her eyes and invents creepy magic stories. They’re not so scary they scare you. They’re more like fairy tales, where everything’s fine again.

A month ago I found my picture with the bitten apple in my cigar box. There I also keep 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. She said she could do a spell with a magic apple. It uses ban spells against evil spirits, or against epidemics or against misfortune on journeys.

She cut the apple in two. Then she took fresh mint from the garden. She rubbed both halves of the apple with it. After that, I had to say out loud what I wanted to banish. I thought about what was important. I told Fifi not to climb the curtains anymore. If you don’t notice it after a few minutes it plops from the top onto the floor and hurts. I also don’t want Karl-Heinz to mix up the razor blades and swallow the sharp ones. That was my second spell.

Third, I wish I didn’t have to dream about Houdini at night anymore. I’d much rather dream of the red remote-control car. It’s an old Borgward Isabella coupe. A month ago, it was in the window of Aunt Hildegard’s toy store. Now he’s disappeared. I wanted Borgward so much for my birthday. When I was finished with the spells, my aunt carved a match at both ends into a small skewer. She reattached the apple halves to it. Then she wrapped a green ribbon around the apple. I had to bury him in a place only I know. The spell only works when the magic apple has rotted.

The spell works well. I don’t dream about Houdini anymore. Fifi’s still climbing up the curtains, but I can always tell. Karl-Heinz does not swallow razor blades, but spits them into the milk, as is right. It’s my eighth birthday today. The red Borgward Isabella Coupé with remote control is on my gift table. Nobody else has him in class because Borgwards isn’t around anymore. Karl-Heinz is like Count Koks from the gas company. 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 that you can do real magic without tricks and cheating. But only if you’re a magical witch.

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