Of Curses and Penguins

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When a perfectly normal, albeit socially inept teenager becomes afflicted with an ancient curse, his life takes a turn for the strange. Fred is a reasonably normal teenager. His only problem is that he's the subject of a curse. Well, that's not his only problem. The fact that he doesn't know he's cursed is also part of it. And that he is not exactly sociable. Oh, and that, even before the whole curse episode, he had a habit of setting things on fire.

Age Rating:

Chapter 1: Genesis

“The one thing I enjoy as much as sex is a good hamburger. Or a burrito. Maybe some fries and a Coke, or…”

- attributed to Federico Schliemann

Let’s start at the very beginning.

The very beginning is March 1991[1]. It is a sunny early afternoon towards the end of summer in Buenos Aires. It is either Tuesday or Thursday. As we shall see, which day it was exactly is of no consequence whatsoever. Three teenage boys are walking with no particular hurry towards the blacktop of the school sports field. An observer watching from a distance would see them dressed in white T-shirts and white shorts, and think how much they look like a trio of effeminate badminton players.

If the same observer had gotten closer, for whatever dark and inexplicable reason, his thoughts would have been along the lines of “oh no, it’s even worse from here!”. These three definitely do not improve with proximity. Walking to the far right is a tall, thin, dark-haired boy with an air of enthusiastic stupidity. We shall call him Bondo, to maintain anonymity. On the left a shorter blond boy with more acne than can be counted in one sitting, henceforth to be known as Martin.

In the middle walks our hero.

Our hero is not anonymous: his name is Federico Schliemann[2]. He is currently fifteen years old, and is destined to have one of the most fascinating lives ever recorded. He is precisely the same height as Martin, as well as having been born on the same day[3], but is of stockier build with light brown hair. Blissfully unaware of what life holds in store for him, he is deep in conversation with his companions.

Like all young men of their age, they are free spirits, aiming high, disregarding the cynical wisdom of their elders and planning to take over the world. Like most young men of their age, they know exactly how to go about this, and have it all planned out.

“You’re also going to join the school play?” asked Martin. “Cool! That means that all three of us are in!”

“So, you’re joining too?” asked Bondo. “I thought it was just me and Fred.”

“There’s no way I’m missing out on this one. There are sixty people in the play, of which only about seven are men[4]. I can’t wait to get on stage with all the girls.”

“Actually, I want to be in the stage crew”, said Fred.

His companions looked at him as though he had suddenly sprouted an extra head. In his left armpit. With six eyes.

“Hellooooo… Fred… No babes in the stage crew.” History will never agree as to which one of them said it. “What were you thinking? It’s a good thing we got to you before you managed to sign up!”

“I’m already in,” Fred replied calmly, “so stop wasting your breath. Besides, it’s the best way to be around every one of those girls you’re so worried about without having to look ridiculous on stage. I will forever cherish the image of you two tap dancing[5].”

“But imagine the fame! The riches! The women! They flock towards the actors, not the stage crew,” explained Bondo. Suddenly, however, his expression changed to one of confusion, and then to panic. It was as if an unpleasant notion had crept up on his thoughts with glacial slowness. “What do you mean tap dancing?”

“Exactly what I said. This year’s play is Me and My Girl. It’s mainly tap dancing and singing. There are some parts with just plain acting, but you aren’t going to get those because they’re only for main characters, and have already been given out.”

Bondo and Martin looked at each other.

“Singing? We’re doomed[6]!” exclaimed Martin. “I haven’t been able to hold a tune since… Well, ever. And I’ve seen Bondo dance. It was awful!”

And on walked the three friends. They had an entire afternoon of volleyball practice to contemplate how their carefully laid plans had been shattered by the artistic community. They thought it was ridiculous to insist on staging musicals with singing and dancing, instead of just standing around looking cool[7], the way it logically should be.

The decision they arrived at, however, was to press on regardless. When talking about it with their friends, they explained that theater helps with self-expression and self confidence, and singing is good for the lungs.

As you can tell, Fred is already starting to show the qualities that makes him hero caliber material. Unlike his hypocritical friends, he never tried to justify his actions. He just admitted, from day one, that this was the only way he would ever get near any significant number of women. The rest of this book will reinforce this[8].

The school play would never be the same.

1 The Catholic Church states that the very beginning is about 4000 years ago and that some freaks even consider the universe to be billions of years old. The publishers ask that you disregard these rumors as unproductive and concentrate on the novel.

2 From now on we call him Fred. I have no idea how long this novel will be, and there’s no way I’m going to write that name out every time.

3 This is relevant. Be patient. All will be revealed.

4 Being theater, it is always difficult to make an exact count.

5 This is a controversial phrase, like saying “I enjoyed the second world war” or “I liked the movie “Titanic””.

6 In reality, this would be more applicable to anyone unfortunate enough to be in the audience.

7 Or, in this case, trying to look cool.

8 The bit about the women, not the “hero caliber” bit.

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