This comes from Jack and Doug's first meeting, early in the story.
He entered with a hand stand and sprang to his feet, capered around a moment and then spoke a single syllable. The music muted to much less that the ear-splitting shriek while the noise from the other box seemed to pick up, both in pitch and volume.
Before Doug could wonder what came next, a swarm of knives shot out of the mysterious box. They seemed as thick as a bunch of killer bees and all flying straight at the man who had stopped abruptly, going dead still.
The whole audience gasped. A woman screamed. Doug could not see the scarlet and gold clad man move so much as a muscle yet somehow not one knife actually touched him. Some seemed to halt in midair for a blink while others swerved, bent, changing course a degree or two before thudding into the wall. It had to be pretty solid because not one went through.
This’s got be a trick. Doug blinked a couple of times, sure he was not seeing reality. How in hell did he do that? And what the fuck was that? While Doug sought to wrap his mind around what he had just seen, Jack calmly gathered the knives and pitched them back toward the humming box. After that he pulled a much longer blade from a hidden spot in the stage side of the box. He ran a fingertip up and down the blade and then extended it to a kid in the front row.
“It’s real,” he said. “Touch it, run your finger along the edge—slow, real careful now or it’ll cut ya.” The child did. Doug could not see the lad’s face but he could imagine the awed expression. Then Jack took the sword back, lifted one leg and laid the blade across his knee. It sure looked like he bore down hard. The sword bent very slightly but did not break. When he released the pressure it emitted a high pitched sound.
By now, Doug was mesmerized. He had no idea how this stranger managed but the guy was damn good, whether a trickster or as magical as he appeared.
The redhead straightened, held the sword vertical as his lips moved, seeming to chant some silent mantra or spell. Then he pulled a lighter out of a hidden pocket in his flashy costume. He sparked it and then ran the blue flame up and down the cutting edge of the sword. Blue flame tipped in red and gold sparkled to life along the blade. Again he held the sword aloft. He flipped it to change his grip on the pommel which looked to be wrapped in dark red leather beneath the huge red stone that twinkled at the apex.
Then without further theatrics, he tipped his head back and to all appearances took a good half the blade into his mouth and down his throat. He pulled it up and did the same thing again. This time he ran a fingertip down the sword’s length which made the flickering flames fade and vanish. As he lowered the blade to his side, he seemed to speak a single syllable although Doug could not hear it.
As had happened earlier, a cluster of short daggers shot forth from the humming box. This time they sang too, with shrill tremolo sounds, whispery yet keen. Again they all came close, some even making some of the dags and tatters of his costume flutter. One clipped a single lock of hair as it passed him. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause. Coins rattled and a few bills fluttered toward the stage and settled around Jack’s feet.
He smiled, bowed and vanished back through the partition without a glance at the money. Once again the wall, solid enough to stop knives, did not deter his exit at all.
Doug stood with the rest and followed them out of the tent. He might have been able to stay and watch it again but it was too late now. He’d have to get another ticket to go back. On impulse he went back to the gate where a blowsy blonde dispensed tickets from a big roll and stashed the money in a noisy old cash register.
“Good show, ain’t it? That Jack is groovy. Here ya go, darlin’. There’s a lot more to see and great games to try your skill and luck, though. Hang around, there might be even more fun to be enjoyed later.” Her bold wink left little question as to what kind of fun that might be but Doug was not interested.
He wandered around for awhile, watched a couple of other shows which were obviously faked and not well done. Then he got a couple of corn dogs, a sno-cone that tasted like the scent of cheap cologne and a serving of funnel cake. Finally, as he had known he would, he went back to Jack Flash’s tent. This time he sat through the whole performance twice. He still could not figure it out. If the red headed carnie was a fake, he was a damn good one. The sword swallowing part was probably done by some mechanism that collapsed the blade by sections although it certainly looked seamless, catching the light without one ripple or distortion.
How Jack managed to elude those knives, though, was something else. The blades belched out of the machine in clusters and did not spread very far yet they hit the wall behind Jack in many places. He did not seem to move. Was there some clever distortion in the light that tricked the eye? Doug felt a compulsion to find out. The third time he moved forward and took a seat right in front, just behind and to the left of the humming box from which the knives emerged.
This time Jack noticed him. He went through the whole routine and disappeared behind the wall only to emerge again as soon as the rest of the crowd had left. He came back through the partition which Doug had decided was subtly divided, this time without a handspring or any capers. He stopped a long arm’s length from Doug, and planted his fists on his hips.
“What’s with you, Dude? Do you get off on steel or something?”
Up close, Jack was a striking looking man. His face was tight and clean, more angles than curves. When he parted his lips in a mocking smile, he revealed even, white teeth. His eyes were a changeable mixture of colors flickering from blue to gray to green. When he shook his head, Doug would have sworn the ears that peeked for an instant through the wild red locks were as pointed as Spock’s.
For a breath, he hesitated, not sure what he wanted to say. “I can’t figure out what you do, how you’re doing this, the knife thing. I’m pretty sure the sword folds in on itself but this other—it’s the weirdest trick I ever saw.”
That was when Jack grinned, an honest but mischievous grin that made him look like some kind of elf. “I move things,” he said. “No trick, really. It took some practice and refining a talent I guess I was born with but it’s easy. At least for me it is. A mechanism in the machine lines them up and then shoots them out by pneudraulic force—that’s compressed air power, actually.”
“But they don’t stay in a cluster and they don’t fly straight.”
“Nope. That’s ‘cause I make them move.”