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Sleight of Hand

by undeadfortune


I've always had a fondness for magic, one might say; it's always been a part of my life. Everything about it has always enticed me... from the eccentric performers to the spectacular feats they put on display.

      What's worst is I feel like a child whenever I'm near a magic show! I feel myself caught up in the excitement of it all, the lights and sounds. I stare helplessly towards the stage where they perform, taking in their every movement, trying to decipher their tricks.

      But I can never figure them out, sadly. They make Neopets disappear with a flash, or escape from impossible situations, and I can't for the life of me understand where I blink... where I lose focus long enough for the magicians to get the best of me.

      Take the performer tonight, for instance. An Eyrie I've seen on stage numerous times before, with tricks much like his act this evening... He'd randomly select someone from the audience, always at random, of course, and ask for their assistance on stage. I always wave my hand first, and constantly try to sit near the front for him to see me, but I'm continuously overlooked.

      He always has someone new, which makes me wonder just how he does it! At first I thought they were a plant, but I'd seen the act five times now and it's always been someone new. A Yurble. A Grarrl. Always someone new, so there could be no means of planting them ahead of time.

      The Eyrie would ask them on stage, extending his hand and helping them on stage, as he'd done every night before. He'd ask them to step into the large container that stood erect on stage, plastered with stars and strips of different colors, and then close the door behind them.

      Without warning, he'd begin to spin the container, clockwise, always clockwise, and commence chanting some words that I could never make out. He'd spin the container faster and faster until you knew the poor Yurble or Grarrl had to be sick to their stomach and the container couldn't possibly take much more. It was at that point the box would explode in a monstrous BANG, sending its four walls sailing around the stage in every direction, and we'd be left staring at an empty wheeled platform.

      Cheers would erupt from the audience and I too would find myself giving a standing ovation.

      Then I'd stop.

      It was about this time they'd announce my act and I'd make my way to the stage, case in hand and a handkerchief dabbing against my forehead.

      "Ladies and gentlemen... Neopets of all ages, I proudly present to you tonight a ventriloquist with no equal. The master of the double talk! Rolling in the dough, and his handler isn't so bad himself... the one... the only, I give you, Yazid, and his dummy, Barry!" The voice would boom through the room, and a roar from the crowd would drown my thoughts.

      I'd make my way to the stage and place my case next to the stool and set down a glass of water on a neighboring table. The crowd would always silence themselves in this process and allow me to gather my nerves as I unpacked my trusty dummy Barry.

      Barry was a unique dummy, in the sense that he was truly one of a kind. He was a brown Yurble and looked eerily life like, from his blue eyes that seemed to stare into yours, and if you were tired enough, or been out late that night, you'd swear you'd see him wink. He was crafted with realistic feeling fur that sprouted from his head and ran down his back, and sometimes I swore it felt like petting a living creature.

      A finishing touch that I added long ago was Barry's glasses, which sat just on the tip of his noise, and added depth to my creation. Audience members found themselves sometimes staring from their seats, wondering if the glasses were going to fall off every time the Yurble's head would swing in a different direction.

      I'd prop the dummy onto my knee away from the water table, allowing my free hand to reach for the glass at any time during the show. The audience was at complete attention now, and I could feel the tension in the room, and could guess at what they were thinking. It always came down to my first joke and my opening lines. If they laughed then, the show would be a breeze, but if they continued to sit and stare... I knew I was in for a long night.

      It was in that opening line, that first joke that I created a little magic of my own, and if I did it just right... the audience would love me forever.

      "Barry, I noticed you have new glasses after breaking your old pair, how are they working out for you?" I asked in my normal tone of voice, smiling to the Neopets sitting closest to me and then to Barry.

      It was then my alter ego voice would kick in. Barry, the Yurble sitting on my lap would come to life, so to speak, and I'd have my one shot at magic. Get it right, and I'd bathe in cheers by the end of my act. Get it wrong... and it'd be another night without a meal.

      "Well they're working just great, Yazid, thanks for asking," the Yurble would reply, his lips moving to my words.

      "Barry... Barry! You're looking the wrong way, I'm sitting to your left, and right now, right now you're talking to my glass of water!" I quickly exclaimed, turning the Yurble's head as I did so.

      "Oh, well, that explains a lot, I was about to point out I've seen more facial expressions from a Spardel there, Yazid," at which point the Yurble's head would begin to turn towards me, taking the long route. "Don't move... I'll find you."

      "Barry, Barry! These glasses don't work for you at all... in fact," I'd take them with my free hand, "there's no lens in them... Barry!"

      "No wonder they gave me a discount..." Barry replied.

      "Didn't you notice they didn't improve your sight? I mean, why else would you go to get glasses, Barry?"

      "My sight? Well I thought I was getting a check-up from my dentist! I thought 20-20 meant I wasn't missing any of my teeth!"

      The audience erupted into laughter and I couldn't help but join in as my natural self. It was going to be a fine night.


      I bowed to the audience as they gave me a standing ovation, whistling and cheering as I began to make my way off stage.

      "Thank you, thank you, you're far too kind!" Barry called to them, doing a half as he played to their applause.

      "Come now Barry, we can't stay on stage forever, there's other acts that need to take place," I reminded the Yurble dummy, tugging him with me as I pushed through the curtains.

      "Then you can go on without me, I have enough material for another hour! Besides, two dummies don't make a right, Yazid," Barry shot back, and the audience laughed at the remark.

      At last I pulled Barry off stage and made my way to my room at the end of the hall. Slamming the door behind me, I tossed the Yurble onto my couch and took a seat in front of my desk mirror.

      "What a night..." I groaned and rubbed my forehead, sweat was beginning to form and I dabbed it off with my handkerchief.

      I glanced in the mirror at my dummy that won me the show, and he was still collapsed as I had thrown him on the couch, sprawled in a pile, facedown in a cushion.

      My door opened and a familiar Eyrie walked in, clapping as he did so. While he was always the stage magician to go on before me, Adeel was also my manager.

      "Good show tonight, Yazid, good show... you sure had them going there, especially at the end. Kept the show running right to the end, and then some," the Eyrie praised.

      "I can't keep doing this, Adeel... I'm getting sick to my stomach with these shows... why do you keep making me go out there when I told you how I feel about... about Barry," I replied, nodding towards the dummy.

      "Yazid, we've been over this thousands of times before and we'll be over it a thousand times to come if you don't snap out of it. That is an inanimate object. It's not alive! It does not create its own jokes and it does not think on its own! I thought you've been to the doctors..."

      "I have. They say I'm under stress. They say I need to go on a vacation one of these days, and just kick back. Relax. Easy for them to say. They pull in Neopoints like there's no tomorrow, and here I am barely scrapping by," I replied.

      "You're holding yourself back! You've got talent, Yazid, and you know that! I see you and I see myself twenty years ago, trying to decide between staying in the local clubs or hitting it big! Making my own show and pulling in the big bucks. Look at yourself, Yazid... you need a break. I don't care if you don't care if you quit after tonight, but you have one last show, and you'll do it. I expect in two hours for you to be out there, on stage, with Barry in hand, and I want to see what I saw for your first act. I want them rolling on the floor! I made the mistake of staying small time, Yazid, but I can live with that. Can you?" Adeel sighed and patted me on the shoulder.

      "Can't you cover for me?" I asked, glancing at my old friend.

      "Yazid, I've covered for you time and time again. A Neopet can only be kidnapped by Sloth so many times before people stop believing... You have two hours kid. I expect a show like I've never seen before."

      Adeel gave me one last concerned look and made his way out of the room, leaving me alone with Barry. I glanced towards the Yurble and found him propped up, sitting back in a calm position, smiling in my direction.

      "You've ruined my life, Barry... " I whispered at the dummy, but we'd had this conversation too many times before for me to feel serious anymore. "You've ruined me... you're like a curse I can't seem to shake."

      The dummy continued to stare in my direction, his blue eyes gleaming in the faint light of the room. His smile bored and confident, teeth, all forty of them as he joked, for everyone to see.

      "What is Barry! Just tell me! I know you can hear me and I know for a fact you can talk... regardless of what the doctors say. I know I'm not crazy and that's what counts! You make up jokes I've never heard of before, stories of places I've never been... you steal stage time just to soak in the audience applause, I nearly have to drag you offstage, and people say I'm crazy!?"

      The doll continued its broad, toothy smile accompanied with his empty stare.

      "Talk to me, Barry!" I leapt from my chair and grabbed the doll by both of his arms and shook him, but caught myself. "I'm arguing with a dummy..."

      "Look who's talking," Barry laughed back, winking.

      Starring at the dummy, it took me a moment to realize I really wasn't imagining it, as the dummy continued to look around and blink.

      "What, are we going to stand around all day or get some work done? Let's not forget we have another show tonight, and believe me, Yazid, we're going to knock them dead. You set em up and I'll roll them over, just like always," the Yurble announced, holding out his hands and demonstrating pins being knocked over.

      "But... but how?" I stumbled over the words, setting the Yurble down onto the couch and backing up into my chair.

      "What do you mean, old buddy? How can I talk? Oh come on, Yazid, you gave me life! Neopets leave a little of themselves in everything they come into contact with. You and me have a bond, Yazid, and you've given me life over the years... it was only a matter of time until I opened my eyes by myself. I think you'd be happy, Yazid, you're the only ventriloquist in Neopia with a dummy who'll talk on his own. Think of the acts we could perform!" Barry exclaimed, gleefully throwing his hands into the air.

      "This is just-"

      "Crazy? Yazid, your doctors think you're crazy. Adeel your boss thinks you're a tad crazy. But do you know what is important?" Barry asked.

      "What?" I wondered aloud.

      "You know you're not crazy. That's the only thing that counts in this world."

      "How so?"

      "Yazid, people can take away a lot from a Neopet. They can take away their favorite toy, or their Neopoints, but they can't take your sanity, not unless you're willing to give it up."

      "You've got to be kidding me-"

      At which point my door opened and Adeel stepped in.

      "Sorry to bother you, Yazid, but I need to know now, will you be able to make the show? We've sold out and they're expecting a hit." The Eyrie smiled, nodding to Barry.

      "I don't know, Adeel," I started. Everything that happened recently was just so overwhelming and now my boss wanted to know if I'd be in the right mindset for a public appearance... some timing.

      "Yazid, you can't do this. I'm not covering for you tonight and to tell you the truth, I don't expect you to come into work tomorrow, looking like you are right now." He pointed to the mirror and I turned to look at it.

      He was right; I looked like I had seen a ghost, and I was sweating as if I had recently run a marathon.

      "You need help, Yazid, help that a doctor and a lecture can't fix. You need a break, and I'm giving it to you. You could be big one day, kid, if you get over your paranoia and wake up in the real world one of these days. Don't make the same mistake I did, Yazid, as these small time clubs will only hold you back. Good bye, old friend," Adeel smiled a sincere smile he had mastered long ago in showbiz, that even if he completely disagreed with the situation, he'd never appear like it. "I expect a show tonight. A ventriloquist show."

      "Adeel, did you ever believe me?" I asked, hoping to hear a real answer.

      "I believed you once, Yazid... a long time ago... but the proof is against you. In this case, I'm siding with the doctors. After tonight's show, go home, and go to sleep."

     Barry called as the Eyrie was making his way from the room.

      Adeel stopped and looked at me, and then at the doll, and laughed.

      "That's the spirit, Yazid, good to see you'd come through for me." The Eyrie continued to laugh as he made his way from my room.

      "Why did you do that!" I shouted at Barry, rising from my chair and approaching the dummy.

      "Ha, you really think that old Eyrie would believe your stories. In his mind you've cracked, gone off the deep end, my friend. He looks at you and sees a Spardel looking back," Barry joked.

      "I really do need a break..." I muttered.

      "What are you talking about!" Barry snapped at me. "You've been practically gift wrapped the perfect key to your career and you're simply going to throw it away without looking at it?"

      "Barry, I became an artist because I wanted to create, not have someone do my work for me..."

      "Yazid, I'm your muse and you're turning away from me. Frankly, I don't like it. You're a selfish Neopet if you don't want to go out there tonight and share what you've been given," the Yurble dummy sneered.

      "What are you going to do about it, Barry? I mean seriously?" I laughed mockingly in his direction.

      "You shouldn't mock what you don't understand, Yazid..." Barry continued to sneer.

      I couldn't take this anymore. Adeel was right in what he said; this entire situation was simply madness. I needed to escape... and it was clear Barry was holding me back. I moved to the candles in the middle of my room and blew them out, sending everything into darkness.

      "What are you doing, Yazid?" Barry shouted from the shadows.

      I tried my best and grabbed in his direction. Taking a hold of his body I felt myself tearing his fake fur apart, thrashing him around as I did so. I was destroying a part of myself... and Barry was right... I was destroying my muse... Finally, exhausted, I dropped the pieces I still held in my hands and relit the lights, and waited as my eyes adjusted to the world that came into view.

      I glanced at the pieces of Barry and my heart stopped. I had destroyed my couch pillows and a wig prop I used with Barry in a show a few weeks back.

      "Missed me, Yazid," Barry chuckled from my desk chair. "And to think, I thought we were friends."

      "Heh... we are friends," I coughed out, catching my breath.

      "Friends don't try and do the other in, Yazid..." Barry's smile faded and a serious look took his face. "If we're going to knock em dead tonight, Yazid, we're going to have to try a few changes. No more trying to kill the other, Yazid... that's not a healthy friendship..."


      I've always loved magic. It was the entire pizzaz of it all. It was the bright lights and the music that carried your attention, and never for a second let you go.

      I found myself sitting in the audience, waiting for my cue as I watched Adeel perform his favorite trick with a masterful precision. It went off without a problem and the crowd loved him for it.

      "Bravo!" They cheered and clapped to his bows.

      That was my cue.

      "Ladies and gentlemen... Neopets of all ages, I proudly present to you tonight a ventriloquist with no equal. The master of the double talk! Rolling in the dough, and his handler isn't so bad himself... the one... the only, I give you, Yazid, and his dummy, Barry!" The voice would boom through the room, and a roar from the crowd would drown my thoughts.

      I laughed at the joke... it never got old.

      Making my way on stage I took my seat on the knee of my Yurble friend and peered anxiously out into the crowd. It was a full house tonight... the perfect crowd that every artist hopped for.

      "Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to start by saying it's an honor to be here tonight," Barry announced to the fresh crowd. "Tonight, I have a show like no other, and I hope you'll enjoy the ride. Let's give a round of applause to my dummy Yazid here, whom without this little brown Lupe I wouldn't be who you see before you."

      The audience was eating it up... I couldn't wait for Barry to start the show.

      "And lastly, I'd like to say, I love magic myself, and if you just sit back in your chairs, you might see a little magic tonight. Some say ventriloquism is a lost art, but if they saw the magic in it, they'd really have something to talk about," Barry finished with a wink.

      The crowd continued to clap, and then quieted down, awaiting the show. Barry smiled to me and I felt my lips forming a smile on their own, returning the gesture. It was going to be a fine night...

The End

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