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Reality's trick

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Penn was sipping his morning tea when a thought came to mind. Penn and Teller often changed their acts or added a bit, but things were going slow as of late. Neither Penn nor Teller had come up with anything new to replace an old bit. It wasn’t old for the ever traveling tourists, but it was starting to get old for them. Penn started thinking. How would one go around and make a simple trick more exiting? He thought about it on his way to the theater for rehearsals.
He lost his train of thought the moment he stepped into the building. Backstage he quickly changed his attire and went up the stage to prepare for their rehearsal. Teller was a lousy driver which meant he took his damn time getting to the theater. When Teller finally arrived, Penn was shuffling around with a table for their cups and balls bit.

“Good afternoon, Teller.” Penn greeted absentmindedly, not seeing Teller nod in return. He vaguely noted Teller walking backstage to go prepare himself but otherwise let it pass. He could do this on his own. They both did their fair share in preparing the stage. Their respect for each other allowed them to balance everything out smoothly. Penn walked to the steps and sat down in one of the chairs on the front row.

“I think that looks fine.” He said to himself. Even after having done the same routine for so long, he still knew mistakes were bound to happen if they weren’t careful. As a juggler, as a magician or as a performer, mistakes were not supposed to look like mistakes. Penn nodded in approval just as Teller stepped out from behind the curtain.

“How does that look to you?” Penn asked his partner as he watched him suck on something he supposed was a candy or mint.
Teller went to the front of the stage and looked over to the table and the props behind it. They were going to do the cups and balls bit first and after that someone from their Penn&Teller crew backstage would carry it away. It made it easier for them all. Teller gave the all-ok sign and nodded towards Penn.

“Perfect.” Penn stated joining his partner onstage. Teller suddenly started coughing, seemingly choking on his candy. Penn frowned down at his partner before rushing in to help him. He slapped him on his back trying to dislodge the candy. Teller eventually spit out a blue candy. Penn shook his head at the close call. Teller gasped for air as he sat down on the stage cross-legged. Penn stared at the candy for a moment before a thought entered his mind. He looked back towards his partner with a bright smile tugging at his lips.

“That was excellent.” Penn said. He saw Teller look up at him with something resembling disgust on his face. Penn waved his hands out in front of him in defense.

“No no, not like that.” Penn said quickly. “I think we found something to add to our act.” Penn said still smiling. He was lost on his planning which made him oblivious to Teller’s growing anger. He missed his partner running out on him when he shouted,

“This might end up working!” Triumph marred his words, planning ahead. “Teller, go get more of these candies.” Penn looked around only to see an empty theater. He sighed as he kicked the 'life-threatening' candy, abandoned on the ground somewhere where no one would bother looking. Or ever find it for Penn hadn’t even seen it fly off.

Eventually, Penn found Teller in the monkey room with a bag of colored candies. One by one Teller was picking the blue candies out of the bag and throwing them in the trashcan. Penn decided to ignore the scene before him and proceeded to take one of the still wrapped candies out of the trashcan. He tore the wrapper and threw it away before settling down on the sofa next to his partner. Teller’s brisk movements all but suggested just how upset he was. Penn quickly chewed the candy in his mouth before speaking, of course he didn’t want to end up choking on the sweet killers as well.

“Alright, we won’t do it with candy.” Penn said knowing Teller had already figured out Penn had come up with something for their show. Teller stopped searching through the bag of candy and looked at his bigger, louder partner with a hint of interest.

“I know this is hardly something to joke around with, but we don’t do bullshit.” Penn started. “Asthma attack.” Penn stated flat out. Teller took his words in before shaking his head disapprovingly. He looked back down at the bag in his hands and shook it around. Penn reached out to take a blue candy, apparently missed by Teller’s gazing eyes. “You won’t have to do it. I will.” Penn told him. Teller stopped shaking the bag and once again turned towards Penn. The latter gave a curt nod questioningly, wondering whether Teller was alright if their parts were reversed for once. Teller nodded, if not hesitantly.

The rehearsals went on well and they got everything perfectly as planned. They would add their new bit in tonight. Teller was fidgeting around nervously and it didn’t go unnoticed by Penn who was getting frustrated with the tapping sound Teller was making with his fingers on one of the beakers they used for their first bit.

“Will you stop that?” Penn asked straining to remain calm. Teller tapped one last time before standing up and leaving to take his place at the other end of the stage. Penn sighed but he understood Teller’s unease. It wasn’t only a mean joke for the audience but it was also, Penn had noticed, something that frightened his silent partner. He’d seen Teller panic when he was choking and the first time Penn mimicked his movements during rehearsals, he saw Teller wanting to reach up to him and help him, forgetting it wasn’t real. It made Penn feel slightly guilty and the temptation to cancel that one bit was enormous, but he didn’t.


The cups and balls went well enough to call it a success. The next trick went smooth as well, Penn managed to find a kid in the audience and did the silk bit. He saw Teller calming down tremendously the moment they stepped on stage and were greeted by loud applause. The third bit was when Teller tensed up, hardly noticeable as it was, Penn took note.

“The next trick involves a deck of cards.” Penn said as Teller stood by his side looking at nothing in particular. “Teller will choose someone fro-“ That’s when Teller closed his eyes briefly. Penn saw him as he pretended to choke on his words. He tried to cast an assuring glance until he realized that he really couldn’t breathe. He tried to inhale but found it was impossible. His throat constricted, swelling up enough for him to make unmanly sounds. Teller’s concern seemed sincere, during rehearsals and now onstage. It made the small guy a great actor but also a great partner for his concern was indeed genuine. Penn motioned panicky towards him, a movement they hadn’t used when practicing. Penn saw Teller’s eyes darken when his partner realized he really was in trouble. He was panicking right along with Penn when he saw him turning blue. Oh, he was starting to loath that color. Teller was right out frightened as Penn started to fall down on his knees. Something they hadn’t done during rehearsals either. Penn should have shouted something towards the audience by now, telling them he was fine and that it was just one insignificant life lost if he had really died right then and there. Teller pulled at his hair, a blind panic making him turn towards the audience. He shot them a forlorn look.

“Please, someone help him.” Penn heard someone next to him yell out. He could vaguely make out the audience gasping at both him and Teller as he fought for air. Teller begged for help next to him with teary eyes. They must have looked quite the picture together. When his world started to fall away, he relaxed his body. He saw how Teller fell down next to him, saying something. The irony. Penn was deaf to Teller’s words as his once silent partner just kept talking to him. Penn being the one who, for once, couldn’t say a single word. Everything went black, his ears allowing him to hear one last panicky “No.” From Teller.

Penn woke up to an all too familiar room. He was in the skull room right next to the monkey room. He lay on the sofa as he opened his eyes to greet the fish tank right in front of him. He breathed in sharply before his breath caught in his throat, remembering what had happened. He sat up with a start.

“Easy.” Someone said right next to him. It was Mike, their piano guy. “That was one severe asthma attack. I didn’t know you had asthma.” Mike said with concern as he helped Penn up. Penn sat, his head a pounding mess.

“I didn’t either.” Penn said with a sigh. He was glad for the air filling his lungs without having to do much effort. “Very unpleasant experience.” He said as he looked around. Mike smiled at him. He handed him a bottle of water and stood up, stretching stiff limbs.

“How long was I out? Where’s Teller?” Penn asked taking the bottle with gratitude. He uncapped it quickly.

“A few hours.” Mike said before heading for the door leading to the monkey room. “As for Teller, you gave him quite a fright. He was practically having a panic attack right after you blacked out.” He said opening the door, allowing a light snoring sound to enter the room. “We kinda overdid it on the sleeping pills though.” He said sheepishly. He smiled as he watched Penn shake his head with…amusement? Mike couldn’t tell. Penn stood up slowly and looked towards his sleeping partner. They were both alright and Penn was eager to forget the whole thing. He certainly wasn’t going to do that again. Not for a trick and not for real. He obviously couldn’t control the latter though. Penn looked at Teller once more. He was smiling in his sleep, it made Penn return a sleepy smile before motioning for Mike to leave the room. The pianist left without another word as Penn seated himself in the leather arm chair. He was lulled back to sleep by the soft, monotonous snoring. Caught in a dreamless sleep.