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The Entertainer and the Dybbuk

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman
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One night The Great Freddie, a young ventriloquist, is possessed by a dybbuk.

A what?

A Jewish spirit. A scrappy demon who glows as if spray-painted by moonlight.

The dybbuk is revealed to be the ghost of a twelve-year-old boy named Avrom Amos, a victim of the Nazis during World War II. In a plucky scheme to seek revenge, he commandeers The Great Freddie's stage act and entraps the entertainer in the postwar ashes of Germany. Behind the footlights, the dybbuk lights up the terrible fate of a million and a half Jewish children, including Avrom himself.

What tricks does the dybbuk have up his ghostly sleeve? Prepare to be astonished. . . .

HarperCollins; June 2009
192 pages; ISBN 9780061947858
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Title: The Entertainer and the Dybbuk
Author: Sid Fleischman

Chapter One

In the gray, bombed-out city of Vienna, Austria, an American ventriloquist opened the closet door of his hotel. Still in his tuxedo and overcoat, The Great Freddie intended to put away the battered suitcase in which he carried his silent wooden dummy. But there on the floor sat a gaunt man with arms folded across his knees, waiting. After a second glance, The Great Freddie realized it was a child, a long-legged child with the hungry look of a street kid. In the deep shadows the intruder glowed faintly, as if sprayed with moonlight.

"Well, well, howdy," said the ventriloquist, startled. "Waiting for a bus?"

"Waiting for you, Mr. Yankee Doodle, sir."

The entertainer, thin as a cornstalk from his native Nebraska, grinned and shucked his overcoat. Someone's idea of a prank, was this? "If you're under the notion that all Yanks are millionaires and an easy touch, you may go through my pockets. I'm just about broke. Tapped out. Down to bedrock."

"Feh! Who needs your money?" asked the intruder. "I once saved your life."

"You don't say."

"Would I lie to you?"

"You're a mouthy kid," the lanky American remarked. "I've never laid eyes on you."

"Want to bet, Sergeant?"

Sergeant? The Great Freddie's cat-green eyes narrowed as he peered into the closet. Confound this pest. How had he known that Freddie T. Birch, second-rate ventriloquist, had been in uniform? The big war in Europe had ended three years before. It was now 1948. Freddie's army haircut had long ago grown out. Now in his early twenties, he parted his hair in the middle and slicked it back, shiny as glass. What had tipped off this kid?

"Lucky guess," the entertainer said finally. What was it with the boy's eyes? They were unnaturally bright, as if lit from within. "Who are you, a kid actor from one of the theaters? I know makeup when I see it. You're painted up white as Caesar's ghost."

"I am a ghost," replied the intruder.

"Don't make me laugh."

"Am I cracking jokes, Mr. Yank?"

The Great Freddie, growing impatient, wanted to brush his teeth and tumble into bed. "Go haunt someone else. I can see your sharp elbows. Ghosts are wisps of fog."

"Sorry to disappoint you," said the intruder.

"Anyway, pal, I've never heard of a ghost in short pants."

"Excuse me, there are lots of us. Did they keep it a secret from you in the army? The Holocaust? Adolf Hitler—may he choke forever on herring bones! You didn't hear he told his Nazi meshuggeners, those lunatics, ‘Soldiers of Germany, have some fun and go murder a million and a half Jewish kids? All ages! Babies, fine. Girls with ribbons in their hair, why not? Boys in short pants, like Avrom Amos Poliakov? That's me, and how do you do? No, I wasn't old enough for long pants. Me, not yet a bar mitzvah boy when the long-nosed German SS officer shot me and left me in the street to bleed to death. So, behold, you see a dybbuk in short pants, not yet thirteen but older'n God."

The Great Freddie took a deep breath. He was dimly aware that Hitler, the sputtering dictator with the fungus of a mustache, had sent children to his slaughterhouses. But so many?

Ugly vote by vote, the Germans had elected a lunatic to run their country. Freddie wasted no pity on the once-proud survivors who had voted him into power. They had drowned democracy like a kitten, invaded Poland and France and ignited World War II. Now Germany lay bombed into a rubble of fallen roofs and shattered lives. Freddie had volunteered to do his part.

The former bombardier cleared his mind of the war. "So you're a ghost in short pants."

"A dybbuk."

"A what?"

"I said, a dybbuk. A spirit. With tsuris. That means trouble in my native language, Mr. Far-Away America. Think of me as a Jewish imp. I need to possess someone's body for a while, rent free. You're kind of tall and skinny, but I won't complain."

The ventriloquist cocked an eye. "Has anyone told you you're a sassy kid or dybbuk or whatever you are?"

"When you dodge Nazi soldiers for years, why not? When you hide in sewers and then knock around with dybbuks for more years, your tongue sharpens like an ice pick. You'd prefer baby talk?"

"I'd prefer you attach yourself to someone else," said the ventriloquist. "I've got no time for a snotty spirit hanging on to me like a leech. I have enough trouble of my own."

"And no wonder, Mr. Entertainer," said the dybbuk. "I caught your act. You move your lips like a carp."

"And I'll bet you snuck in the theater."

"Why not?" replied the dybbuk. "Don't I come from a family of actors?"

The ventriloquist wondered if the glass of dinner wine he'd had after his last performance had gone to his head. "Why am I talking to you?" he asked aloud. "I don't believe in ghosts."

"You want to know the truth," replied the dybbuk, "neither do I. but here I am, fit as a fiddle."

The Great Freddie kicked the closet door shut. He was hallucinating, wasn't he? Dreaming on his feet?

The ventriloquist pulled off his jacket and patent-leather shoes. Early the next morning he had a train to catch. He had been booked for a week across the border in Italy. He brushed his teeth, checked the sheets for postwar bedbugs, and fell into bed.

"Sleep tight," said the dybbuk through the closet door.

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