Magician’s boy, stuffed his mouth with nylon scarves. He stood in front of the bedroom mirror, a ten-piece beginner’s set strewn across his desk. Hat askew, fifty-cent bow tie cinched tight around his Adam’s apple, he sucked on what tasted like burnt plastic and whatever backwater oriental factory the kerchiefs were made in. He already felt like his body might pop from the starchiness of his shirt and the tourniquet around his neck. Then he felt a tickle rising in his throat and before he knew it he was retching, gagging on the fabric. And so he spit them back up.
He made a run for the sink. He stubbed his toe on the doorstep by accident, but he had more pressing concerns. Hunched over the counter, he pulled the line of handkerchiefs from his mouth one by one, like drawing water from a well. Every knot scraped his front teeth. They felt slimy on his lips, the bright colors dampened by his spit.
Maybe he should have stuck to cards, he thought. His toe throbbed, alight with pain.
After a few more days of practice, his trick was ready for an audience. He called his brother to his room. They sat across from each other, a cardboard box in between them.
“I can’t watch another card trick,” his brother said. He’d seen him do the amazing aces, the pick-a-card, the blind three card monte, and seven types of coin flips.
“I’m done with that kid stuff,” the boy said. He accidentally left his card deck in the pocket of his good trousers and they were ruined in the laundry. “I’ve moved on. I’m working on something else.”
“What happened to your toe?” His brother said, not hearing him.
The nail was jaundiced yellow, purple under the surface where new nail had begun to push through the bed like spring flowers.
“Stubbed it,” the boy said. “Is it bad?”
“Pretty bad, man,” his brother said. The nail wiggled like a door on a hinge. “I think you’re gonna have to pull it.”
“Just rip it off like a bandaid,” his brother said. “It’s dead, anyway.”
The boy paused. He leaned forward and pinched the tip of the nail between his fingers. It felt foreign. The nail lifted easily, barely connected to the cuticle. “Ow,” he said, though it didn’t really hurt much.
“Hurry up, dumbass.”
He did, but it didn’t come loose. “Hey, does it look longer to you?” He tugged again, and this time felt a distinct sliding sensation within his foot.
The nail slid forward, revealing more dead nail that came out from under his cuticle.
“How are you doing that?” His brother asked. “That’s amazing.”
“I don’t know,” the boy said. He pulled harder, and the yellow, tough nail was extended by a foot then, appearing endless. He felt a tug in his navel like something grabbed his insides and yanked. He felt nauseous but reluctant to stop all the same. His brother came forward, then, and grabbed his hand.
“Bravo!” his brother said, and pulled with all his strength. The last of the nail was pried free, pooling along the floor in putrid coils. The plucked nail stem uprooted a white cottony protrusion from within his toe. The boy grabbed the thing by the ears—warm, pulsating with breath—and gingerly, gently unearthed a pristine white rabbit.
Young is a 21-year-old undergraduate student that writes to satisfy his fascination with the bizarre and the uncanny. He currently studies English and Psychology at Tufts University. His short story, “When Words Fail”, received a gold medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.