Wit’s World: Never Was, Chapter Eighteen by Elizabeth Watasin

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

A restlessness ran through Pip and a few rounds of sword maneuvers and aerials did not alleviate the extra energy. She went to further explore the grounds of Mystica. Perhaps the constant daylight was a deterrent to her taking a respite like her sensible host. Whatever the reason, she jaunted around the castle walls, sword on her shoulder, and walked off her frustrations. Godfrey, the mustached waiter Puppetron, rolled after her.
One of the courtyards that faced the constant sun had heavy doors set into the stones of the castle. Pip had seen such doors here or there during her previous tour. Their handles were iron rings and their surfaces had no apparent keyhole.
“Strange that a castle should have so many entrances. Sort of counters the purpose of living in a fortress, don’t you think?” Pip had remarked to her host when they came across them.
“Those are traps,” Mr. Wit had said, his tone solemn. “And none are locked. Never enter one, Philippa.”
“Traps? In your mother’s castle?” The idea made Pip think of chutes that led to dungeons.
“Courtesy of my father. I’ve checked each one, thinking I might find a way home.”
“Since you’re still here, I guess you didn’t,” Pip had said. “What did you find?”
“I would ask the Puppetrons I had sent in, but none came back.”
Pip, who had been on the verge of asking Mr. Wit to open one of the doors, then refrained.
“Why would your father put things like that in a nice place like this?” she had demanded.
Mr. Wit led her away from the doors and their danger.
“Who knows what a madman thinks?” he had said. He drew in smoke from his dwindling cigarette until it was only ash.
Madman, Pip recalled, gazing at the thick, wood doors that were neither locked nor blocked. To hear the Carny Man called that by his own son made the old, lurid reputation less myth and more ominous. She looked for a hidden keyhole, one that might fit her nameplate, and found none. The plain-looking doors were not labeled. Mr. Wit could have at least marked the doors with a warning, she thought. It seemed irresponsible to do otherwise. She poked one with her sword. She took hold of the iron ring and gave it an experimental pull.
The door was snug in its stone frame and very heavy. With leverage and all her strength, she was able to pull the door open. It creaked on its hinges but moved smoothly.
Through the gap, Pip peered into a deep, impenetrable darkness that radiated chilling cold. It felt like a place bubbled, without breathable air. She shivered.
“Don’t worry,” she said to Godfrey who stood behind her. “I won’t send you into it.” She found a sun-warmed pebble on the ground and tossed it into the dark. The blackness sucked it in and any sound the pebble would have made. Pip used the flat of her foot to push the door closed. It flew away from the pressure of her boot and slammed itself shut.
Pip jumped back, startled, and collided with Godfrey.
Four doors later (each with a deep sword scratch on their surfaces), Pip abandoned the idea of checking each door. One had contained blinding light and heat; another billowing clouds and lightning. After witnessing the swirling, sucking vortex that spun within one door, Pip had to conclude that all the doors contained nothing but danger. She wondered what kind of portal Wayne Wally was using to return to their own dimension.
“I don’t appreciate these bits of insanity in an otherwise perfect place,” Pip said to the silent Godfrey. She left the courtyard with its scratched doors for the terrace below. “I haven’t yet seen the Misty Gardens, the Mirage Gardens, or the Panoramic Theatre. All those old places of Mystica that we don’t have anymore at home. Show me a part of this dream that’s not corrupted. Where can I find something of Evelyn Wally?”
Pip stared expectantly at her Puppetron companion. After a moment, Godfrey raised a limb and pointed a metal finger at the ground. Pip looked down and saw only the path they were standing on, paved with sheets of stone. Moss covered them and little tufts of grass and tiny flowers grew in the cracks between.
“That’s helpful,” Pip said. In answer, Godfrey abruptly spun on his one wheel and rolled away. He sped back up the path for the castle.
Bemused, Pip dismissed Godfrey’s sudden departure and kicked thoughtfully at the moss beneath her feet. She knelt to admire the tiny flowers in the cracks, wishing she could show them to Em, and then realized what was different: The path on which she stood had not been cleared and polished. For all its apparent beauty, the terrace gardens had a perfection maintained through control and order. It was all symmetrical hedges, artfully shaped bushes and trees, perfect lawns and geometric mazes. A puppetron on the terrace below her was industriously trimming one of those perfect hedges. Pip could appreciate the artistry to a point but she preferred some exuberance. She often broke monotony with a scattering of clothes in their bedroom or a sudden series of flips at school. This Mystica demanded a more genteel behavior but Pip had always left good manners to Em. Even while dressed as the shining symbol of the utopian Astra City, she was not inspired to rise above what Em had often referred to as her barbaric nature.
“Could you please not put your fingers in my food?” Em had requested through clenched teeth when Pip had poked at her twin’s hideously black gelatin desert; a gift courtesy of one of the Dark Victorians. She had only been trying to get at the hidden treasure ring. Pip laughed out loud at the memory and patted the rebellious, tiny flowers.
“Let’s see if there’s more like you,” she said to them. The path ahead led to more disorder; untrimmed bushes allowed roses to grow in riotous color on each side of the pathway. The air was heavy with their scent and Pip took a deep, appreciative breath. Noticing a painted gold line on the stone path, Pip decided to follow it. She hefted her sword and cocked her Sun crown forward. Like any barbarian, she was easily led on by shiny things.
The line led her to a Gold Gate draped with ivy, set in a massive stone garden wall, daunting in its impenetrability. Two of her doves joined her while she studied it. When Pip used her sword to part the ivy and look into the mysterious courtyard beyond, she could almost discern gold markings on the moss-covered paving stones. Here, the vegetation was unkempt and free. She was immersed in the pungent scent of wild flowers. Godfrey had not led her astray; he had pointed the way to Evelyn’s garden. Pip offered some seed to her inquisitive doves. When they accepted, she placed one dove on her shoulder.
“I guess I could use my Gold nameplate to unlock this Gate,” she said out loud to her bird companions. “But I’m suspicious of what unpredictable things might happen if I step foot in there. So . . . ”
She glanced up.
She sheathed her sword and began to climb the ivy-covered castle walls.
She took a break in an open window about two stories up, and finally looked down. Her doves joined her.
A painted, life-sized statue of a woman stood among the moss-covered stones in the enclosed, round courtyard below, eyes closed and hands outspread. She wore a long, sweeping dark dress with tight, long sleeves, her bejeweled belt hanging low. Her dark bodice twinkled, as if it held tiny stars. On her brow was a circlet of silver and stars.
“Queen of Night,” Pip said, and clapped her hands in delight. This one was much like the Queen in Em’s retelling of the stories from Aunt Dawn’s old childhood storybooks. Inspired, Pip plucked a hanging flower and flung it as far out as she could. It landed a few feet short of the statue. She hoped the Queen liked her offering.
She briefly recalled the Wit’s World stories she loved hearing Em recount, of how the Queen of Night, the sovereign of Mystica, was also the Queen of the Carny, Wit, Sr.’s wife. Moon the Ash Maiden and Sun the Maiden of Tomorrow were her daughters. One resided in the Dark Town Edward Dently had originally created while the latter protected Astra City.
The blossom had fallen upon one of the thin, gleaming, gold lines and Pip studied it, noticing a pattern. She took to the ivy again and climbed higher. Her birds flew up with her.
When she looked down again she saw that the gold threads were precise drawings, spreading from the Queen out into Mystica’s grounds and, if Pip guessed correctly, probably out to the lake and beyond. If Em were sitting with Pip at that moment, her very observant twin would have probably deduced the purpose of the lines already.
Pip took a moment to study the lines and envision their possible design. After a while, she had to shake her head. With the lines going every which way and trailing to inexplicable dead ends, it made no sense to her at all.
She heard Mr. Wit’s voice and, intrigued, climbed across the ivy for the closest window. She peeked into the castle room. Because of the echoing acoustics within the castle she could not make out any of his words. The room was fully furnished but appeared to not be in use. The stone doorway ahead revealed only a hall hung with tapestries. Mystica’s castle in this reality, Pip observed, really was meant to be a dwelling. She had to get used to the idea of this elaborate and grand castle as a livable domicile, and not as a huge fantasy prop meant to house dark rides and gift shops. Mr. Wit did enter the building to retire, she reminded herself. She could not see her host but still heard his agitated voice from somewhere deeper in the castle. Whomever he was speaking to did not respond.
Pip flattened herself back on the ivy when she saw Godfrey roll quickly past the doorway. Mr. Wit continued to speak in a demanding tone. She had to conclude that he was on a phone, and he was not happy with whomever he was speaking to.
Pip, from her vantage point, could still see where the glass bridge had been. Astraopolis, on the distant shore, was darkening into nightfall. Soon, its skies would match Darque Towne’s. Mr. Wit had said that only happened when someone was present in that part of the park, she recalled. Perhaps her host was talking to Mr. Higgs right then. She glanced at her doves on the sill who looked inquisitively back at her.
“Hmm,” she said.

* * *

Night had fallen in Astraopolis. Em stood inside the brightly lit Automat, wrapped in her sheet, and considered the rows of little illuminated windows with their dishes of food, debating between shepherd’s pie and macaroni and cheese. She was surprised to find comfort food in a place called Nebula’s End, where exotic extraterrestrial fare seemed more suitable.
“I still don’t know about this,” Shade said.
“They have perfectly working rockets, why shouldn’t there be perfectly working food?” Buck said.
Em decided on macaroni and cheese. She fed the appropriate slot its nickel and listened to the successful clinks of the coin’s descent behind the little door. She turned the handle to open the glass window and pulled out the piping hot dish. It smelled deliciously of melted cheese.
She took her dish with a glass of milk to the outside dining terrace where she had set up the six rockets. She checked all the toys again. They were angled to shoot as far beyond Astraopolis’s night as possible, hopefully into the day of Mystica.
“I’m going to launch now,” she said, breaking into the boys’ argument. She placed a fire extinguisher nearby.
“What will you spell with the signal rockets?” Buck asked.
“Something Pip would know could only come from me.” She twisted her damp hair up and out of the way. “Give me a countdown, Buck.” She lit a match.
“On one,” Buck said excitedly. “Five, four, three, two —”
Em lit the fuse and the first rocket launched with a roaring boom that shot it far into the sky.
“Five, four, three, two —”
Em launched another. Then another. In all, six rockets roared far into the air until they were tiny dots. They zigzagged to a programmed pattern. Each rocket formed its own letter of the alphabet in flaring light trails and billowing smoke.
“I guess I spaced them well enough,” she said. She watched the Tomorrow Man’s Signal Rockets slowly write her word in the sky.

* * *

” . . . never mind about him, he’ll have to come home at some point.”
Pip, high up on the walls of Mystica’s castle, edged closer to where Mr. Wit seemed to be. She could hear his voice more clearly. “Go to their home. Yes. I want you to go there and find out more about them.”
She heard the distant scream of fireworks. She looked behind her towards Astraopolis, and then rapidly climbed down the ivy. The descent was dangerous but she ended up on her feet, on solid ground.
She ran for an observation terrace. There, above the nightfall that bordered Astraopolis, were letters written in smoke:
W A D J E T
Pip screamed and jumped and screamed some more. She kept screaming until Mr. Wit, completely alarmed, came running to her side.

end Chapter Eighteen

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