Caution: this one is a little... action movie.
Audience chosen story elements: Set in the rainforest, a magician, amputation or an amputee, and a run down shack.
"Pick a card, any card," Omar says as he lays the deck out before me. It sounds funny in his thick Gabonese-French accent. I only understand what he's saying because I spent so much time in the Congo, of course that's not something I talk about. I wasn't really there. None of us were. There's no evidence that we ever were, except the one thing I will never forget.
I reach over and tap a card somewhere to the left with my prosthesis. The metal thuds against the table, but Omar doesn't blink. My gizmo doesn't bother him.
I wish it didn't bother me. I rest the metal in my lap and rub my upper arm distractedly as I watch the cards in Omar's hands. His fingers are so nimble. Mine hadn't been that good even when I had too hands. I suppose that's why he's an explosives man and I'm just a door kicker.
He's found my card again, and I spit, and readjust my chew while I give him one of my grumpy looks. "Again," I demand. I am determined to figure out how he does it, even if I'd never be able to duplicate it myself.
"You know," Omar says as he shuffles the cards like they are air and not paper, "I usually don't repeat a performance without something on the table to make it worth my while."
I glare at Omar. He knows as well as any of the others that I drink away my pay the minute I get it. That's why the boss holds back part of it, so he don't have to pay for my meals between jobs out of his own money.
Omar found that out months ago, when the boss took him on to replace Shifty, who decided some girl was worth living on a farm for. Idiot. I envied him. ^(& I envied him. I shoulda got out a long time ago, 'for it was too late.
Omar stares blankly back at my glare, and I had to admire his grit, not many men could handle my glares.
"Tell you what, my friend," he says to me. "I will do it three more times, and if you don't figure it out by then you tell me the story of how that happened."
I spit again, and use my tongue to tuck away a few loose strands of chew. "^()&)&* you," I tell him, but when he shrugs and starts to put away the cards I change my mind, "#$&%. Fine."
After all there's nothing else to do in the middle of this )&*)*%*&$ jungle, and were lucky we got a roof over our heads in all this rain, though what we're in is nothing more than a run-down old shack with vines climbing all over it.
Omar doesn't go so far as to smile but there is triumph behind his eyes as he pulls back out the cards and begins the trick again. I watch carefully, but I'm distracted by the phantom pain in my left arm. It does that when it rains, the arm I don't have no more just seizes up and I've got to fight the pain to concentrate on the job at hand.
The docs had all this technical mumbo jumbo to throw at me when I went to them about it. They threw some pills at me, then the boss took them away a few months later.
That man has saved my life more times, in more ways, than I can count.
Course... I've saved his at least as much. That's what this job was about, having each other's backs, no matter what @#$@ you get into. Getting in, getting the job done, and getting back out again alive, that's how we live, that's how we pay for that %*^* they pass off as a drink in these parts.
What I wouldn't do for a nice bottle of whiskey.
Before I know it my three shots are up and Omar's got his eyebrow arched at me from across the 'munition crate we're using as a table. I glare at him and spit. Then Storm breaks the silence that surrounded our exchange of glares.
"He lost it saving me," he said. I look over at him and wait 'till he looks my way again. The unspoken exchange between us brings back my memory of that night, how I was pulling him up, and just as soon as his weight transferred off my arm and to his feet there was a rat-tat-tat and he was holding my hand as the pain leapt up my arm and punched me in the gut.
That was when me saving him turned into him saving me. By the time we got me to a backwoods doctor it was to the point they had to take it off just below the elbow.
Storm and me aint been the same ever since, tight as a tourniquet, that's us. Sometimes I think he's tryin to get himself killed for me, but I ain't gonna let that happen.
"It was raining," Boss said. "They was right behind us. Storm was the last one up the embankment, but all the footholds were gone from the rest of us climbing up it. Guns pulled him up, but they got in a lucky shot."
I spit again, and the others fell into silence as Omar shuffled the cards and spread them out before me.
"What'cha want this time?" I asked Omar. "You wanna see my old hand?"
The others laughed. They knew I threw it to the crocs the next day. $@# thing wasn't any use to me, and better no one ever got a chance to print it. %^*&^ fine of Boss to carry it in his shirt for me though, %^*&^ fine.
"This time Guns, if you lose, you will do something for me," Omar said.The suggestions that the others shouted out were the kind you could expect from this kind of crowd.
"Or maybe I'll kill you for suggesting it," I said in a challenging voice.
"I doubt that very much," Omar said with a slight grin as he gestured to the cards.
Three more times he played his trick, and three more times I was unable to catch him at it.
By now no one was even bothering to pretend not to be following Omar's every move. He tucked away the cards, then told me, "Take that thing off your arm."
I took it off, it was uncomfortable anyway.
He reached over and grabbed a section of sheet metal we had propped up to reflect some light through the window and into the shack. Then he moved our crate over near the window.
"Come, sit," he said, and I knelt down where he motioned me too. He had me put my arms on the crate top and put the metal between them.
"Tell me when you can see your arm," he said angling the metal around. It was stupid, but I played along, stopping him when the reflection of my arm was placed so it looked like my stub was whole again. I wiggled my fingers, but didn't tell anyone how it felt to see that hand move again.
"I am going to perform an ancient magic known only to the Bantu, which my grandfather passed down to me before he died."
I laughed with the others, but he waited for us to quiet again, then told me. "I am going to chant the ancient words to drive away the pain, but you must hold onto it with both hands." He raised his clenched fist to show me how tight I must hold. "Very important, both hands, as tight as you can."
I nodded, and he began to chant. Every once in a while he would slip in some English, "tighter" or "harder" as he chanted. His chant rose in pitch from a murmur to the crazed warbling that one expects around a campfire on the Sahara. The more insane the chanting, the harder I clenched, both fists, my arms, my eyes, my whole body, clenched and fighting, the pain in my left arm screamed. The rain pounded on the roof, like a thousand drummers beating the rhythm to his crazed chanting. Fire ran up my arm, it was as if the pain was punishing me for holding onto it when the force of the magic was ripping it away. Still I struggled, fought to punish the pain that I have lived with so long.
"LET GO!" Omar shouted, and the soldier in me obeyed the order. I opened my hands and let the pain fall away, just slide to the floor like a dead snake.
"Holy *&%%*!" I shouted. "It's gone!" I yanked my arm out from behind the sheet of metal to stare at the stub in shock. "It doesn't hurt anymore!"
I looked around in joy at my comrades, who looked on in a state of shock.
Then emotions that men like us weren't supposed to have anymore broke through our hard earned shells, and we let the tears fall as we shouted our joy over the victory. Omar was slapped on the back and hugged off his feet, and the noise nearly brought down the roof.
Once we had calmed down Omar moved the sheet metal back to it's place on the floor and he took out his cards again. I strapped back on my prosthesis while he shuffled the cards again and laid them out before me.
From that day on Omar was one of us. We didn't call him that though, we called him Magician.