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Chapter One There are legends in nearly every walk of life. But there aren’t many people who deserve a description in front of their names. Oh, sure, there’s “The Not-So-Bad” Mickey Douglas, the man who first discovered the index finger. And there’s “Less-Than-Awful” Anita Pretz, author of more than seventy thousand books, composer of more than sixty thousand songs, and painter of more than three portraits. But if you want to talk about magic and are going to mention someone special, someone truly unique, someone who was absolutely the best at his craft, you can’t just say the man’s name. You have to say “The Great” Harry Houdini. You have to. Really. It’s just the way it is. Because if you do leave out “The Great” when talking about him, strange things happen. Seems mystical, almost crazy, to be sure. But recent history shows that if you don’t add “The Great” to his name, you might have trouble talking, or even typing. Watch this: This book is about Harry Houdini. Fgsla, sabadoo swud skjasda skissel!!! Dowmybe slos axexixux dosy. Asid haggo, skijj, mimimigo, & phegra??? Wow! Powerful stuff!
In the interest of keeping the spirits happy without boring you, the reader, I will say “The Great” each time I’m about to type the magician’s name. That should cover it. Okay? Te rrific.
Chapter Two “NO CHILDREN ALLOWED WITHOUT PARENTS!” said the sign outside the circus that had just come to town. “Oh boy!” cried the little kid who couldn’t read or write but knew there was a circus in town because of the horrible smell coming from a large steaming pile that the elephants had just dropped off. “A circus! My dream come true!” said the lad, not realizing that the sign said he couldn’t get into the show. “No children allowed without parents!” screamed the extremely tall man with the red-and-white striped suit and the beard down to his knees. (He didn’t work at the circus —he just dressed that way and liked to boss people around.) But the boy didn’t hear him. See, by the time his words floated down to the ground, the boy had vanished from his spot outside the circus. Suddenly, he was inside the circus. It was truly a case of “now you see him, now you don’t.” Or rather, it was a case of “now you see him, now you see him somewhere else.” Either way, it was pretty amazing. Once inside the circus, the boy said, “Boy, oh boy, there’s so much to see and do!”
And the extremely tall man with the red-and-white striped suit and the beard down to his knees said, “Man, oh man, how did that kid get past me?” The boy had magically vanished and reappeared—right before everyone’s eyes. And he’d even left a shiny quarter on the ticket box when no one was looking. After all, young Heiney Houdiney was a magician, not a crook.
Chapter Three On April 31, 1874, Heiney Houdiney was born without clothes. Concerned that he’d catch cold, his mother and father quickly bought him something to wear. Heiney was quite an active baby. While his eleven brothers and nine sisters spent their days reading books to each other —all at the same time, which was noisy and confusing—or playing Keep the Dust Ball in the Air (a game that was quite popular in the nineteenth century), Heiney was always looking for something new to do. In fact, his first words were, “Let’s find something new to do.” Heiney was also something of a troublemaker. Not content to just sit and watch the others, he’d often climb out of his crib and start swinging from the chandelier or sliding down the bannister. His mother, who always walked on tiptoes for no apparent reason, would pluck little Heiney from these dangerous spots and plop him back into his crib. But the plucking and plopping didn’t last long, for as soon as Heiney’s magical little tushy would hit the mattress, he’d again zip out of the crib. And that’s the way baby Heiney spent his early years . . . zip, pluck, plop, zip, pluck, plop, zip, pluck, plop. And so on. It was remarkable.
It was amazing. It was also remarkably, amazingly annoying. After awhile, Heiney’s twenty brothers and sisters started taking turns watching the little guy. But as soon as they’d turn around, zip . . . he was gone again! Only Heiney’s seventh-oldest brother, Wooba, found joy in the tot’s escape act. In fact, Wooba made a chart of all of Heiney’s “darling daring baby tricks,” as he called them. Wooba carried that chart in his back pocket for his entire life, just in case someone wanted to see it. But no one ever did. Even before age two, Heiney had a wide variety of magical skills. There was, for instance, the night he turned the dining room table into a moose, then turned the moose into a box of one million pencils, then turned the box of one million pencils into the dining room table.
No one saw these amazing feats, but everyone in the family knew Heiney had done something, because the dining room table had never had antlers before.
Chapter Four By the time he reached first grade, Heiney Houdiney was just about as famous as a first grader could be. When his teacher took attendance, Heiney would say “Here!” from his desk in the front of the room, and then—with everyone watching—he’d say “Now I’m over here!” and step out of the clothes closet. No one could figure out how he did it. No one could figure out why he did it. But every morning, they watched in awe and gave him a standing ovation—which is a rare thing to happen during school attendance taking. Needless to say, Heiney was the star of the first grade talent show. Oh, sure, people enjoyed hearing Alice Anderson make butterfly noises. And everyone was glad to see Jordan Johnson’s act of smashing eggs to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But men, women, children, and a few sheep waited in line overnight and paid up to $500 for tickets that were worth twenty cents—simply because they wanted to see Heiney perform. And Heiney did not disappoint. For his first trick of the evening, Heiney turned Principal Summers into a pony! They stopped the show so everyone could take a ride on the Principal, then the audience members took their seats and Heiney continued the act.
The audience watched breathlessly to see what would happen next. “Turn the pony back into Principal Summers!” someone yelled. “No! Turn the pony into an HDTV with a Blu-ray player and surround sound speakers!” another person yelled. “What in the world is all that?” everyone else yelled. But Heiney Houdiney didn’t have time to hear the answer. First, he turned the pony back into Principal Summers. The room shook with applause as the Principal took her seat and began munching on carrots.
For his second—and final—trick, Heiney Houdiney made the entire school float in the air. It actually left the ground and hung about two feet off the earth for almost ten seconds. Principal Summers couldn’t exactly be heard over her carrot munching, but those close to her were pretty sure she yelled, “Heiney Houdiney—you put this school down right this very minute, young man!” And that’s just what Heiney did.
Chapter Five On the day he turned ten years of age, Heiney Houdiney decided it was time to hit the road and start performing for bigger audiences. So he left fourth grade, hugged his sisters, shook hands with his brothers, and kissed his mother and father goodbye, grabbed his paper-bag suitcase filled with three pairs of underwear, five socks, and an emergency pickle, and walked out the front door in search of stardom.
“Don’t forget to write!” his mother yelled.
“Write what?” Heiney called back. “Write to us!” his mother yelled. “Write us a letter each and every day!” It seemed rather silly to Heiney, but he yelled, “I promise I will!” as he waved goodbye and munched on his emergency pickle. And indeed, Heiney kept his promise to write a letter each and every day. On his first day away, he wrote D. The next day, he wrote E. The following two days, he added an A and an R.
It was day four, and all Heiney had written was the word “Dear.” “My, oh my, it’s going to take a very long time to complete a note back home at this rate,” Heiney sighed. The ten-year-old figured he’d be able to mail the note in about sixteen weeks, which was terrible because it was so long to go without being in touch, but it was also a good thing, because it would give him about four months to save up enough money to buy a two-cent stamp. Now you might be wondering, where was this little boy heading in his quest to find fame and fortune? Well, Heiney was wondering the exact same thing. He took a left, he took a right, he took another left, he took a train, then a left, then a right, then another right, then another train, then he
walked straight for about three miles, then he took a left and another left and three rights and a left and a train and a left. And when he looked where all that traveling had taken him, he smiled. “MAGICIAN WANTED,” screamed the sign in the window of the very fancy building on the corner of Third Street and 912th Avenue. “Stop screaming,” Heiney said. “I’m right here.” And Heiney walked into that very fancy building to begin an amazing career that would take him to every state in America and every continent in the world (though not all on the same day).
Chapter Six “How could you possibly be a magician?” barked the man in the office. “Why, you’re not more than seven or twelve years old!” “I am so!” said the young man. “Which? Seven or twelve? A magician?” “I’m two of those three things,” insisted the boy. “I’m more than seven, less than twelve, and a magician.” “I believe you’re more than seven. I believe you’re less than twelve. But I don’t believe you’re a magician!” replied the man. Heiney waved his hand and there was a puff of smoke. The man looked down at his own legs and found he was suddenly wearing a tutu and feathery ballet slippers. “You’re hired, kid,” the man said. “Now get me out of this frilly getup and back into my regular pants!” “How much are you paying me?” asked the magical boy. “Five dollars a week,” said the man. There was another puff of smoke, and suddenly the man had long blond hair and a purple beard. “Eight dollars a week!” said the man. Another puff of smoke, and the man’s hands wer e lobster claws. “Ten dollars a week!” said the man.
“That’s better!” said the boy, who produced yet another puff of smoke and returned the man to exactly the way he’d started. “Wow, you drive a hard bargain, kid!” said the man. “Nice doing business with you,” said the boy. “You too,” said the man, who then added, “Um kid, wanna make another fifty cents?” “Sure!” replied the kid. “Gimme that purple beard back, will ya? I kinda liked it!” A puff of smoke later, the man had his beard, the kid had his fifty cents, and they were both on their way.
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