Paul R Hardy's story 'Harry Weiss Meets the Devil' won third place in June 2013's short fiction contest.
HARRY WEISS MEETS THE DEVIL by Paul R Hardy
Appleton, Wisconsin 1880
Rabbi Weiss realises his son is not with him.
He turns, exasperation mixing with worry: the boy is six years old and curious about the world around him, far too curious for an immigrant child who should mind his own business in a strange country.
But he has not gone far. The Rabbi finds young Harry Weiss staring up at a poster on the side of the town’s little courthouse, oblivious to the carts rattling along the dirt street behind him.
“Harry!” he calls. The boy glances at his father, but the poster holds his attention in spite of his father’s hollering. “Harry, we must be at temple!”
Does the boy not know it is Saturday?
Rabbi Weiss goes to his son. “Harry!” he snaps at him. “What will it look like if the Rabbi is late to temple? Eh? The people will think I have run away. Is that what you want?”
Harry ignores his father’s remonstrations. He’s heard them far too often. So his father grabs him by his collar.
Pa, he calls him. Pa, like an American boy.
“What? What should make the Rabbi late for temple?”
Rabbi Weiss looks up. Apparently there are shows coming to Green Bay, and there is advertising to draw in those who are gullible enough to waste their time on thirty miles’ travel. Why should this draw his son’s eye?
But then he sees it: among all the acrobats and lions and exotic horsemen, there is a man in a tuxedo, looking like he is at some New York party.
A party for the Devil.
The man in the tuxedo links arms and sips champagne with a crimson-robed fiend whose face is dark in shadow, but whose wickedness is apparent to all. And below this hideous image, there is a name: KELLAR.
“Oh,” says the Rabbi. He looks back down at his son, and sees that he is not only fascinated. He is scared, too.
“It is just a magician,” he says to his son.
“But pa… that’s the Devil…”
“The Devil? What nonsense! There is only a man. He is called Harry Kellar. He does magic tricks on a stage in Green Bay.”
“Magic tricks?” says the boy, eyes going wide.
“Yes, he does tricks. He puts a devil on the poster so people think he is in league with darkness. But he is not. He is only a man. They are only tricks.”
The boy looks back up at the wall, weighing his father’s words against the poster.
“He is a charlatan, Harry. The poster is only for the gullible ones. Are you gullible?”
The boy shakes his head.
“Good. Then we will go to temple. Come along.”
Rabbi Weiss pulls his son away before any more ideas find their way into his head.
Harry Weiss grew up to be Harry Houdini. He exposed fraudulent magicians whenever he could, inspired by the guidance of his friend and idol, Harry Kellar.