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Sheldon learned his first card trick at age seven, and by fifteen, he considered himself an accomplished magician. Obsessed with learning more than simple sleight of hand, he spent his nights reading from books and practicing magic tricks on anyone and everyone. Like a drug addict, Sheldon needed progressively fancier tricks to fuel his passion. After a month of unsuccessful attempts to swallow swords, Sheldon turned to fire breathing in hopes of wowing his adolescent audience.
Small and socially awkward, Sheldon was an academic underachiever. As his math and science skills continued to disappoint his parents, he worked harder at magic, trying to gain approval, and even awe, from his peers. He hoped that breathing fire was a cool enough trick to boost him up the high school social ladder at least a couple of rungs.
Surprisingly, Sheldon picked up the art of fire breathing in no time. All he needed was to score some butane lighter fillers, mainly composed of isobutane. That was easy. He saved up his lunch money, and the next time his dad asked if he wanted to tag along to Home Hardware for windshield washer fluid and other household crap, he said sure. Then, in the store, he wandered around on his own.
How hard could it be, he thought, patting the lighters he had safely stowed in a bulge in his jean pocket under his sweatshirt. “A mouth full of lighter fluid, a lung full of air and I’m an instant dragon.”
After a few weeks of practicing in his garage, singeing a few walls and burning some trash in the process, Sheldon was gaining popularity. After school, he was dazzling his new friends by swallowing small amounts of lighter fluid then morphing into a dragon before their very eyes. Flames leapt from his mouth in all directions.
“More fire breathing today?” Lester asked Sheldon as he passed him in the hall.
“Same place, same time,” Sheldon said, referring to the alleyway a block east of Colton Junior High. He smiled, but his stomach hurt. Sheldon hadn’t felt right for weeks. He was pale and nearly constantly dizzy. Even his parents noticed how sickly he had become. At first, he had treated himself with antacids with milk but in the last week or two, the concoction seemed to have lost its effectiveness.
When the bell sounded the end of the school day, Sheldon gathered his books from his locker. Standing with his combination lock in hand, he had to bend over as pain flashed through his belly, gnawing at him from the inside.
“You don’t look so good,” said Les, who was waiting to walk with Sheldon to the alley.
Lester, like Sheldon, was a bit player in the social games at school. But Lester’s stable home life grounded him in confidence. The week he started ninth grade, Lester picked up on the stupidity of trying to look cool by abusing alcohol and drugs. A math whiz, he calculated that by staying straight and sober, his chances of addiction, teen fatherhood and early marriage would be far lower than that of his designer–clothes–wearing, beer–sneaking, unsupervised peers. And, of course, his dedication to karate helped him avoid the peer pressure that was closing in on some of his pals. The cool crowd knew better than to mess with Les. He confounded them with his quiet air of superiority, and of course, there was that darn black belt.
“It’s this fire breathing stuff. I think it’s dangerous,” Lester told his friend. “Why bother with it? I mean it’s all show. You and I both know the real skills are in your hands, and you’re a great magician. You could get real paying gigs, man. Birthday parties, corporate events. Come on, buddy. It’s time to put an end to this show–off stuff.”
“That’s what they told Houdini, Les,” Sheldon replied, catching his breath. He stood up straight and managed a smile.
Posted November 11, 2011
Short stories are well written and incredibly bizarre and interesting. It says 49 of 50 are true and one is false, but seems like 40 cant be true. All in all, a great book and terrific read.
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Posted December 13, 2011
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