SD Short Story Contest Finalist: Empirical Miracles – James Ph. Kotsybar

Empiracal Miracle

The magician on the television invited his audience to discern how he worked his prestidigitation. Lying on his stomach in front of the screen, Little Timmy propped himself higher on his elbows. He was eager to learn.

The magician said, ”Belief is the key.”

So Timmy sat up and drew close to watch belief. The magician had already told him that the hand was quicker than the eyes, so Timmy took this as a clue and decided to pay attention to eyes of the magician. He knew magic happened quickly and he had seen close-up magic before and never learned anything about how the trick was done by watching the hands of a prestidigitator.

This time, however, he learned the vital secret, he thought, to the performance of magic. By watching the magicians face and eyes, Timmy realized what this performer was actually doing. He was acting! All his dramatic gestures were actually just helping him to get into the role he was playing. Showmanship, he realized was just convincing yourself that what you were doing was real. The magician was just a kind of actor who claimed to possess abilities, until he believed it, even if, at first, it was a lie. He could hypnotize his assistant into floating in midair, and he could hypnotize himself into making things appear and disappear.

Timmy began to practice belief, hypnotizing himself into a strong state of pretend. Then he originated his own flamboyant gestures for revealing the results. He thought that this probably helped the audience believe the lie as well. If everyone watching also expected magic to happen then it would. He was like a lightning rod that then channeled all their belief into a result.

The first step was to hypnotize himself into a strong state of pretend. Then he found that his dramatic gestures actually made things happen.

The first time Timmy attempted the trick, he found that he could restore something torn. He practiced for polish, to make it slick, to stand up to potential sibling scorn.

Although he and his brother got on well, he and his sister were at constant war. To “show her,” it would have to be, “real swell,” but this was magic that she couldn’t ignore, or so he thought, but when he went to her with his magic, she wouldn’t even look, until he tore the candy-bar wrapper.

Then, all she asked about was if he took the candy from Mom’s special hiding place and warned he’d be in trouble and disgrace.

And then she ran off to tattle on him.

He should have known this was what Donna would do, that his chance of impressing her was slim, but there was something, right now, that he knew was going to happen unless he could get rid of the candy-bar confetti. Donna would make sure he’d “get punished good.” Theft from Mom’s hiding place was not petty.

He closed his eyes and focused his belief that he could make the pieces disappear, then sprinkled them like a crushed autumn leaf. They fell from one hand to … no longer here. Though Timmy couldn’t say where they had gone, it was a lifesaving phenomenon!

He lied, of course, and said she’d made it up. Since Mom could find no evidence, he won; but Donna was entirely fed-up and vowed revenge upon him “for this one.”

“It’s your fault for being a tattletale,” he told her, “and you missed the magic trick.”

But Donna insisted she wouldn’t fail to make him suffer, if it made her sick.

Timmy took his magic act on the road to his brother’s room where he thought there’d be at least a less dramatic episode if not a better audience to see all the tricks that he was learning to do and this wisdom he’d begun to accrue. Though busy with term papers, Don agreed to watch a few minutes of Timmy’s tricks. Don loved Timmy and knew how he could plead and how relentlessly he could transfix. His experience with Timmy taught him, if he gave-in quickly, work resumed. Besides he needed the break, so he thought, and this would be amusing, he assumed.

So little Timmy, unaided by props or magical apparatus, performed a magic act that took out all the stops and left his older brother quite transformed.

“I don’t believe my sanity is gone; the kid’s performing real magic,” thought Don.

A thousand thoughts at once inside his head made him feel both euphoric and dizzy. He recalled what their Dad had always said:
“When you feel overwhelmed, just get busy.”

First, he’d have to think through priorities, and calming down was his first choice and then maybe he should call the authorities. But, might Timmy be made a specimen? This, assuming anyone believed him – either crazy or a comedian is what they’d prob’ly think. No, it looked grim, unless his brother could do it again. That’s it! He’d have to gather evidence before he’d get anyone’s confidence.

He’d need another witness, and why not drag Sally into this, since she possessed the video equipment he did not. Besides, she was his “Damsel-Never-Stressed.” If anyone could calmly reason out a situation this bizarre, surreal, it would be Sally without any doubt. There wasn’t a thing he couldn’t reveal to her. She’d always react calmly and rationally and in perfect control – all of her emotions kept well in hand.

“Who am I trying to fool with this rigmarole?” he thought. “When she hears, she’ll scream, suspect alcohol, or worse. Even she’s not that calm a soul.”

More immediately, what should he say to the six-year-old wizard before him? He decided it best to gain delay from this blue-eyed, towheaded cherub grim, who’d suddenly grown burdensome, but was still his brother. He also knew he wouldn’t want to see the heart attack this would give their mother, if sprung upon her as surprisingly.

“Timmy, can I make a few suggestions? Your tricks are great, but your routine could be worked on. I want to get this on camera, with an interview. Can I ask you a few questions about what you can do and how, maybe? And would you mind waiting before you play magician for anyone else today?”

With promises that Timmy was to star in a video of his magic act, Don got agreement and dashed to his car, but Timmy had missed the spirit of their pact. He’d agreed there’d be no demonstration, but not that he wouldn’t continue to practice and indulge his exploration of his special talents and what he could do.

Because of her revenging persistence, Donna gave him the opportunity to use his powers with impunity – that is to say, it was in self-defense.

She tried to mount one of her sneak attacks, and Timmy simply froze her in her tracks.

“Hypothermia,” the doctor called it, “I’m glad we could successfully revive her, but I quite frankly have to admit that she’s very lucky to be alive.
“The cold source with which she came in contact was so quick that no ice crystals were formed; all her internal organs are intact. Don’t ask me how this could have been performed.

“And though we’d like to keep her overnight, just thank God,” continued Dr. Brady, “she should suffer only minor frostbite. Your daughter’s a determined young lady, and should heal very quickly without scar, but I’ve never had a case this bizarre.”

By the time that Don and Sally arrived, everyone at home had already left. Mom phoned to tell him Donna had survived.

Of senses, voice and wit Don felt bereft. “O.K., Mom, I’ll see you when you get home,” was the only response he could muster; his faculties went somewhere out to roam, his mouth was dry and his eyes went lackluster.

Sally shook him to tell her what occurred.

Don tried to accommodate her demand, but his breath was short and his vision blurred, and he found himself unable to stand. Although he had never fainted before, he next was being picked-up off the floor.


The social workers interviewed the clan and found no indications of abuse. Donna couldn’t recall how it began, and how she quick-froze no one could deduce. Though there was gossip in the neighborhood, it died out quickly since it made no sense – vague suppositions no one understood, outside the realm of their experience.

Since Sally hadn’t really seen a thing, and Don didn’t insist that it was real, she let it go — no point in worrying — just term-paper stress she thought, no big deal.

Don spoke about responsibility to Timmy on his new ability:
“I don’t think you realize what’s at stake, Timmy; this was more than just a scandal. I mean, what if Donna had died? For God’s sake, is that something you think you could handle?”

Don was new to this sort of tutelage. He’d learned this “scared straight” tactic from their Dad, but he didn’t consider Timmy’s age.

Timmy knew that what he had done was bad, and his tendency was to misconstrue. In all earnestness to Don, he forswore: “Until I grow up and get smart like you, I wish I can’t do magic any more.”

And as surely as if he had cast a magic spell, his paranormal powers bid farewell.


Faced with the bright blaze of birthday candles, Tim focused on his wish and, for its sake, took a deep breath, so that he could handle the
conflagration on his birthday cake. Twenty-one today, college undergrad, well-balanced, focused, mature for his age, he had worked hard for all that he now had, even his humor — fun-loving but sage.

Though he wouldn’t reveal what he’d wished for (since that’s part of what makes a wish come true), if his guests had guessed, Tim’s wish was far more than any would dare guess that he could do.

Past wonders he’d performed would soon seem tame. Tim knew that things would never be the same.

And from somewhere (or when), confetti fell – small bits of candy-wrapper, strewn pell-mell.

Chosen for special recognition by NASA, James Ph. Kotsybar is the first poet to be published to another planet. His haiku currently orbits Mars aboard the MAVEN spacecraft, appears in the mission log of The Hubble Space Telescope, and was featured at NASA’s Centaur Art Challenge at IngenuityFest, Ohio. He was featured speaker at the 2018 EuroScience Open Forum in France and invited to return to the next ESOF2020 in Italy.

Most recently he has had poems published in The Bubble, Askew, The Society of Classical Poets, LUMMOX Press, Sixfold, Mason’s Road, Encore and Scifaikuest, and has received honors from The State Poetry Society of Michigan and the Balticon 48 Poetry Competition. He especially enjoys science poetry, because of its extended shelf-life.

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