Paper Magic

Our annual village fair was always a magical place for me, but one year, I should witness some real magic.

The fair wasn’t as big as others, but to a kid like me, it didn’t matter.

A variety of stalls lined the road through our village. One of the local warehouses was refurbished as a festival hall, and the meadows were used for various activities.

Many of the attractions were aimed at us kids, but I was most interested in the various stalls. Some sold candy and snacks while others presented you with games, such as the lottery stall or the shooting range. The latter was always my favorite. It was awesome to use an air gun, and I often burnt through all of my monthly allowance within a few short hours.

I’d just finished another round against my best friend Johann when Martin showed up. Martin was our local troublemaker. He was a year older than us, and not exactly our friend. For some reason, though, he often hung out with us, if only to torment and annoy us.

“Well, did you two dorks win anything?”

I showed him a little key chain while Johann held up a pack of cards.

The moment he saw our meager prices, he burst into over-exaggerated laughter.

“It’s not about winning prices anyway, it’s about the shooting,” I brought out.

“Yeah, right, looser, let me show you how it’s done!”

With that, he stepped up to the stall, put down his money and stared the owner dead in the way.

“What do I have to hit to get the big price?”

The owner pointed at a little pyramid of metal cans.

“You’ll have to shoot down all of those cans with six shots or fewer,” he said.

“Heh, piece of cake!” Martin said, grinning.

The owner was quick to get the gun ready, handed it to Martin, and stepped aside.

Martin put the gun against his shoulder, leaned forward and put on a serious expression, most likely trying to look like a badass. Then he began shooting.

He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t exactly good either. He hit four out of his six shots, but at the end, more than a third of the pyramid remained standing.

“Well, too bad, young man, but you did pretty well for your age.”

Martin didn’t reply. Instead, he turned around and began walking away.

“I thought you were going to show us how it’s done?” Johann teased him.

Martin jerked around with an angry expression on his face. I was sure he’d hit Johann, but he shrugged.

“That guy’s cheating. He glued the lower cans to the bottom, so there was no way I’d win. Let’s see what else is around.”

“Yeah, right,” I whispered to Johann. “He just can’t admit that he sucks.”

“What did you say?” he asked, turning around once more, staring right at me.

“N-Nothing,” I brought out. “It was just a stupid joke.”

He looked at me expectantly, and after a few seconds, I just told him the first joke that came to my mind.

Once I was done, he looked at me for a few more seconds before he shook his head.

“Your jokes suck as much as your shooting, Muller. How can you suck so much at everything?”

I sighed, but said nothing. God, why’d we have to run into him today? He could be so annoying.

As he marched in front of us, looking for new victims for his overlarge ego, I poked Johann. He looked at me with an annoyed expression on his face and was about to poke me back. I stopped him and instead pointed to our right.

I mouthed the words ‘Let’s get out of here,’ at him. Instead of nodding, as I’d expected, he just stared at me with a confused look on his face. I tried again, but once more he didn’t get it. When I tried a third time, he cut me off.

“What the hell do you want, Stephen? Just say it, dammit!”

“What are you two idiots doing back there?” Martin called out and stepped up to us.

I groaned. Right at that moment, I couldn’t say who the worse of the two was.

“I don’t know. He kept doing some stupid sign-language stuff,” Johann brought out.

“It wasn’t sign-language, you doofus, I was trying to…”

My voice trailed off when I saw a stall I hadn’t noticed before. Just to our right, hidden behind a few others, stood a brightly decorated stall. It looked more like a tent, sprouting a multitude of colorful pennants and ribbons.

“Hey, what’s that over there?”

Martin and Johann had been arguing if sign-language was only used by deaf or mute people, but now they turned to where I was pointing.

“That looks stupid. It’s probably just a fortune teller or something,” Martin said, but I could see that even he looked slightly interested.

Johann, however, seemed confused.

“Wait, I was at that stall over there before, the one that sells candy, but that other one wasn’t there. It was like half an hour… ouch!”

He turned to Martin, who’d slapped him across the back of the head.

“What was that for?”

“For talking nonsense. Stalls don’t just appear out of nowhere.”

“But,” Johann started, but Martin raised his hand again.

I sighed as I watched their interaction.

“Let’s check it out,” I finally said, and without waiting for them, I made my way to the stall.

“Hey, Stephen, wait… ouch! Cut it out, Martin!”

Once I was closer, I couldn’t help but stand there just staring at the strange stall. This was crazy. All those ribbons, pennants and bows. All of them were so different, yet so detailed. One was shaped like a rose, while the one next to it was shaped like a jewel. Others looked like animals and creatures from mythology. It was a phantasmagoria of colors and shapes.

The moment Johann reached me, he, too, marveled at the sight. Even Martin was quiet.

“What do you think it is?” Martin asked.

“Probably a fortune teller like you said,” I answered.

For a while longer, we just stood there before we made our way to the entrance. The moment I touched the curtain to pull it aside, I looked up. I’d thought it was cloth, but it felt different. As I crinkled it between my fingers, I realized what I was touching. Paper.

I let go of it in an instant and stared at the small crinkle I’d caused. Then I carefully reached out for a ribbon. It, too, was made of paper.

“What are you doing? Are you scared?” Martin called out from behind me.

“It’s all paper,” I mumbled.

He looked at me in confusion before he reached out and closed his hand around one of the many ribbons. What had been a cat became nothing but a crumbled up ball of paper.

“That’s weird.”

By now, even Johann was holding a ribbon between his fingers.

“Why don’t you come in, young gentleman,” a voice echoed from inside the tent.

I was so surprised, I stumbled back a step and bumped right into Martin. He swiftly pushed me forward again.

I tripped over my feet, stumbled right through the opening and into the tent made of paper.

When I got my bearings again, I found myself in a short, colorful corridor. After half a dozen meters, it opened up to a small room in which I saw a man standing behind a table.

He was dressed as a magician, wearing weird, brightly colored clothes. As I stared at him, something seemed strange about his clothes and I soon realized why. They, too, were made of paper.

“Welcome, young gentleman. Might you be interested in some paper magic?”

For a moment, I didn’t move, but then I crossed the corridor and approached the man.

Once I was inside the room, I couldn’t help but look around. The entire room was decorated with paper crafts. Paper planes were dangling from the ceiling and the walls were covered in magical creatures made of paper. Even the table the man was standing behind seemed to be made from nothing but paper.

“Paper magic? Sounds boring,” Martin announced when he’d joined me.

A weary and quiet Johann followed him after a few moments.

The man in front of us smiled, but replied nothing to Martin’s condescending remark.

“My young friends, paper magic is the greatest magic of them all, for paper can become anything you want it to.”

With that, he revealed a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors. He folded the paper a few times and, with a few delicate snips, transformed into a cut-out paper flower.

“Holy shit, that’s awesome!” Johann brought out, and I was quick to agree.

Martin, however, wasn’t impressed.

“Yeah, that’s nothing. We did that in first grade.”

He folded his arms in front of his chest, pushed his chin as high as possible and tried to look down on the man in front of us.

“Of course, of course, I wouldn’t think I could impress you with just that,” the man laughed.

The flower vanished behind him and he revealed a new sheet of paper. When I glanced at him, Martin was rolling his eyes.

I front of me, the man was folding another sheet of paper, then plucking at it for a bit. Finally, the scissors flew over the paper again.

He closed his hands before he rose them high and threw whatever he’d created high into the air.

In an instant, a plethora of tiny paper planes shout out from his hands and flew across the room. There were so many, you felt like you were standing in the center of a mosquito swarm.

While I stared at the tiny planes, trying to catch one of them, the man in front of us was already preparing his next trick.

“But of course, there’s much, much more to paper,” he brought out while he worked meticulously and delicately at yet another sheet.

Once he was done, he put his palms together. When he pulled them apart again, I saw a chain of tiny paper-figures spread out between his hands.

At first, I wasn’t impressed, but a moment later the tiny paper-figurines began moving their tiny legs as if they were walking.

In wonder, both Johann and I leaned forward, staring at them with wide eyes.

“That’s so cool, mister. Can you teach me how to do this?” I blurted out without even thinking about what I was saying.

The man laughed.

“Well, young man, paper magic is not something that can be taught easily,” he began, but was cut off when Martin stepped forward.

“You guys are such babies. It’s a trick! I bet there are some invisible strings between his hands. There’s no such thing as stupid paper magic.”

“Oh,” the man brought out. “Well, maybe there’s a way to prove that it’s indeed real.”

His happy, cheerful smile vanished and was now replaced by an excited grin.

“Now, how about you write your name on this sheet of paper,” he said and presented Martin with a pen.

Martin stared at him for a moment before he shrugged.

“This is going to be so stupid,” he mumbled before he put his name down.

“Now then,” the man brought out before he picked up the scissors again.

After a few swift cuts, he’d created a little paper-man with Martin’s name right in the center of his chest.

“Now, why don’t you come forward to see if there’re any tricks or cheats?”

Martin stepped forward, picked up the little paper-man, held it up to his face and turned it back and forth before he dropped it again.

“It’s just a stupid cut-out,” he said, annoyed.

“But is it?”

The man picked up what Martin had called ‘a stupid cut-out,’ held it between his hands and whispered something at it. Then he let go of it and let it fall back onto the table.

Instead of falling down, however, the little paper-man landed on his feet and remained standing upright.

Martin took a step forward and as he did, the little paper-man did the same thing. When Martin leaned forward to look at it, so did the little paper-man. And when Martin rose his hands to find the strings he thought were connected to it, the little paper-man did the same. Whatever Martin did, the little paper-man was copying all his movements.

“It’s another trick. There’s got to be strings here somewhere!”

His hands continued to move through the air hectically.

“Well, young man, do you have strings, too?”

Suddenly, Martin froze. The only part of his body that moved were his eyes, which were wide and terrified.

Then it happened. The little paper-man took a step to the side, and so did Martin. The little paper-man did a bow and Martin followed suit. It was exactly the same as before, only in reverse. Now Martin had to repeat everything the little paper-man did.

Finally, Martin began freaking out.

“What’s going on? How are you doing this?”

The man behind the table laughed.

“Oh, nothing much, just a little trick using strings.”

With that, the little paper-man broke into an embarrassing dance, which Martin had to repeat.

Under normal circumstances, I’d have laughed, but I was as terrified as was Martin.

“Now then,” the man began and picked up the scissors. “I wonder what would happen…?”

All three of us watched as the man brought the scissors closer and closer to one of the little man’s arms and began closing them.

I could see Martin. He was out of it, desperately trying to move and to run away before he screamed in terror.

And then the man behind the table dropped the scissors. A moment later, the little paper-man fell flat on the table and Martin could move again. In an instant, he cringed back from the table, staring at the man with wide, terrified eyes.

“What did you do to me?” Martin called out, but only after he’d pushed himself behind me.

“Oh, nothing but a little paper magic,” the man said, laughing. “But I hope, young man, you now believe that paper magic is indeed real.”

Martin nodded vehemently.

“Yes, yes, I believe you! Please, just let us go!”

“But of course, you’re free to leave, young gentlemen, unless you want to see a bit more of my paper magic.”

While Johann and shook our heads, Martin had already turned around and was on his way to the exit.

As we followed him, I could see how furious he was. A mixture of anger and frustration distorted his face. I saw him blink away tears and heard him mumble to himself.

The moment he’d made it to the exit, I could see Martin’s eyes. They were wild, and a devilish grin had appeared on his face.

“Let’s see how he likes that.”

With that, he pulled out a lighter and brought the flame close to the walls of the corridor. Then he did the same with some decorations.

In an instant, hungry flames licked over the paper walls of the corridor.

Martin watched them for a moment before he turned to rush outside. Before he could, however, the paper in front of him moved, contorted itself, and the exit was gone in the blink of an eye.

He began cursing and tearing at the paper, ripping it apart, only to find more and more paper behind it.

Then something began pushing itself upward from below him. Martin cringed and came to a halt a few steps in front of us. Mere moments later, the paper took on a form. It was a figure, a brightly colored figure, and we suddenly found ourselves face to face with the man we’d just left standing behind the table.

His face was angry now and filled with rage. As he stared us down, more and more paper was added to his body and he became taller, bigger, changing into an abomination made of paper. Johann and I were screaming, crying, huddling together, but Martin was frozen again.

“Having doubts is only natural, but what you’ve just done is inexcusable!” he bellowed at Martin.

Johann and I wanted to run, to flee, but the surrounding flames were spreading higher and higher.

In front of us, the paper monster brought for a long, dangling arm and opened its hand. On it stood the little paper-man with Martin’s name on it.

A moment later, Johann and I watched in horror as the little paper-man threw himself into the flames.

It caught fire right away, grew dark, and eventually crumbled. Right at that moment, Martin began screaming. It was an unnatural, high-pitched wailing, something more animalistic than human.

When I stared at him, his skin was red and blistering. What was red turned brown, then black, before he crumbled until nothing but ash was left of him.

And in that instant, the paper monster in front of us vanished. The exit opened up, and Johann and I escaped outside, coughing and crying.

When we turned back, the entire paper tent was on fire.

But then, an innumerable amount of tiny paper planes burst forth from it and rose high into the sky.

Within moments, every hint of what we’d just witnessed was gone.

The tent, the strange paper-man and Martin.

As we stood there, watching the last of the tiny paper planes vanish, both Johann and I knew that paper magic was indeed real.

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