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

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Em sat quietly at one of the small tables on the dining terrace and ate her macaroni and cheese in the dark. She watched the serene, pastel beauty of Mystica beneath its blue skies. One of the rocket launchers sat soaking in a bucket and she intended to clean up the others later. The polished terrace was stained with burn marks and Em was embarrassed by the damage.
“Em, the Light Bridge got destroyed. Don’t worry about it,” Buck said. He and Shade were discussing “Land of Adam” among themselves. Em wasn’t interested in hearing any more about Ray Buster Higgs’s work. All she needed to know was whether or not Pip saw her signal.

* * *

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!!” Pip was yelling at her host. She was hopping up and down in Mr. Wit’s canopied boat, making it bob and rock in the water. Mr. Wit hurried down the pier, the boat keys in hand.
“All right, all right,” he said. He stepped into the craft and started it up. “What does that mean, ‘Wadjet?’”
“It’s the serpent goddess, associated with the Eye of Horus. Sometimes Em wears her eye make-up shaped like the Eye of Horus, and sometimes she wears the sign of Wadjet, here,” Pip said, pointing beneath her left eye.
“You girls of the theater,” Mr. Wit ruefully remarked as he brought the boat around.
“Excuse me?” Pip said in a frigid tone.
“I apologize.” Mr. Wit grinned, but his smile was hardly apologetic. “Now, please, I beg of you, be patient while I negotiate these dangerous waters, all right Philippa?”
“All right,” Pip said, returning her attention to the sky and the smoky word that still hung there. She squealed again.
True to his word, Mr. Wit was a cautious negotiator of the surface of the lake. Once clear of the dock, he cut the motor and launched the kite. The boat glided quietly with Mr. Wit checking over the sides now and then.
Pip gazed up at the giant, bustling kite and sighed.
“That’s quite an invention,” she said. A flying boat, in her opinion, would have been a better choice.
“Yes, ingenious. I’m quite proud of it,” Mr. Wit said.
She looked down at the dark waters. “You’re following the bridge’s path.”
“More or less. I’m assuming that since the sea beast has already been here it will have moved on.”
“You said you never saw the bridge submerge itself before.”
“Correct.”
Pip looked at Mr. Wit at the wheel of his boat. “Maybe it only does that when someone tries to walk it.”
“That would sound right.”
Pip stared out over the water again, searching the skyline of Astraopolis. She imagined what it would be like, trapped in a sunken bridge with an overwhelming fear of drowning. Mr. Wit, finding his guest again uncharacteristically silent, gave her a considerate glance.
“My dear girl, I’m sure your sister is all right. She did launch those signal rockets.”
A dark cloud descended over Pip and she didn’t answer. She continued to keep Em’s fear of water a secret, though what she had already deduced weighed her with worry for her twin’s mental health.
An unusually large wave rocked the boat.
Pip and Mr. Wit looked at each other.
They heard a thump and felt the boat lift. When the boat sank down again, water churned up the sides.
“I don’t like that,” he said in a low voice, and returned his attention to the wheel. There was another thump and the boat tilted higher. This time when the boat fell it landed with a huge splash. “I don’t like this at all!” he said through gritted teeth. He held on to the wheel.
Pip heard something massive rise, the water cascading. A shadow fell over her.
“Mr. Wit!” she shouted as the sea beast’s scaly tail suddenly descended. Mr. Wit growled and gunned the engine.
The tail clipped the roaring boat, sending Pip sprawling and the boat’s canopy flying through the air.

* * *

Em thought she saw distant movement out on the sparkling water and abandoned her meal. She went to the view scope on the terrace and fed it a nickel from her coin purse. She swung the scope around until she found what she was looking for. There was the disruption she’d noticed. She watched the head of the sea serpent rise above the water. It had found new prey.

* * *

The boat swerved and spun around. “Mr. Wit, that way!” Pip cried, pointing towards Astraopolis.
“The head of the beast is that way!” he shouted from the wheel. Pip stood up unsteadily. The sea monster roared and turned its head. Pip saw its cracked and broken eye, with a familiar knife handle at its center inscribed with the name DAWN.
She screamed in rage as its head approached, jaws open. With a clang of metal upon metal, her drawn sword sparked on its fangs. It lunged again and Pip stepped aside, bringing her sword down as it passed, ripping her blade across its damaged eye. Electricity danced but Pip was too angry to feel the shocks to her body. When it reared its head she jumped and held on to Em’s silver dagger still embedded in its pupil. She brought her sword down again and again on the beast’s neck. It thrashed but Pip refused to let go. She clung with all her might and dug the small knife around in its eye until it came free. The head came down and hit the boat’s deck, entangled in the rope of the kite spiraling in the sky above.
“Philippa!” Mr. Wit shouted. He grabbed her by the waist and dragged her back. Before it could rise from the damaged deck she pulled away and brought her sword down hard on the creature’s hacked-open neck. Her frantic attacks had exposed the circuitry and wires beneath; her blade had made a complete mess of the interior. The sea beast pulled up and away, its machinery grinding. The kite line snapped. An explosion erupted from its exposed neck and from its nostrils. The beast gave one final screeching cry and listed to one side. Smoke rose from its head as it began to sink.
“FOR EMMA!” Pip shouted, jumping to the damaged stern. “DIE! DIE!! DIE!!!”
She nearly fell into the water as the boat roared to life and Mr. Wit drove it away. The beast’s cracked eye burst into flames. Through the smoke, Pip saw Astraopolis grow smaller as Mr. Wit’s kite floated down. She stood shakily with sword and dagger in hand and felt defeated.
“You must love her very much,” Mr. Wit said quietly.
“Of course I do.” She was shaking from adrenaline. Aunt Dawn’s throwing dagger was tucked beneath her blue cloak before Mr. Wit could comment on it. “She’s my twin.”
Mr. Wit looked back at her in surprise. “You never mentioned that before.”
“Well, now I have.”
Mr. Wit suddenly cursed and spun the wheel. The boat swerved around and Pip tumbled back into the damaged deck.
“We’ve attracted others!” he shouted. The water churned around them.
“Go back to Astraopolis!” she cried.
“We’re surrounded!” he said, spinning the boat again. A large-jawed fish rose from the water and bumped the boat. Pip was too busy staying in the boat to counter-attack.

* * *

Em’s view scope went dark and in frustration she searched for another nickel. She heard the scream and whir of a vehicle launch far behind her. When she looked up, a strange aircraft, fat and sleek, rose from the vicinity of the resort hotel, firing thrusters. She saw the rockets beneath each wing and realized they were weaponry. The plane glided into position overhead. The air thrust from the engines sent the ends of Em’s sheet flapping. She didn’t smell burning fuel. She put a hand to her wildly blowing hair and stared up at the bottom of the hovering craft. Its embedded lights revealed a pin-up painting: A red-haired space mermaid. With a whoosh, the battle plane shot off and roared for Mystica.

* * *

Pip heard a strange aircraft approach and saw it swoop down towards their boat. She watched in bewilderment as it fired a missile. She leaped away just as the rocket struck the monster fish at the stern of their boat.
“That fool!!” Mr. Wit cried as they were inundated. Pip barely dodged a piece of Puppetron fish. “Shoot at me, will you?! I’ll show you!” he cried, shaking his fist, and gunned the boat. “I’ll show you, by God!”
“Mr. Wit!” Pip shouted, looking again to Astraopolis and the clear path that now lay before them. She screamed in frustration as Mr. Wit headed determinedly back to Mystica. More cascading water poured into the cracked deck as a second rocket came close. Another sea beast, shaped like a giant lobster, rose stiffly and then sank in their wake.
“He’s just shooting at —”
She could say no more when yet another rocket exploded far too close, drenching her in a shower of water.
“You jerks!!” she sputtered, completely fed up with the antics of the two men. The boat struck the pier at Mystica. Mr. Wit jumped out and ran frantically up the hillside for the castle, hurling curses up at his foe. The aircraft circled. A burst of various small rockets suddenly shot from the castle. Pip gaped as she watched the missiles roar for the sky and explode around the circling plane. One struck the aircraft and a wing burst into flames. It flew away. Pip watched the black smoke of its path as it headed towards Darque Towne. Since it was night on that side of the park, Pip saw nothing more of the plane except for the small fire of its wing which finally winked out. She stood in Mr. Wit’s sinking boat, utterly baffled.
Wait, she thought. Sinking—
She leaped for the boat’s cabinets and opened everything until she found a large flare gun and three of its shells. She jumped for the pier. As she sloshed across the landing Mr. Wit’s head popped up over a terrace wall and peered down upon her.
“My dear girl, are you —”
“Get out, get out!!” Pip screamed up at him, ragged and drenched in her askew Sun crown. “I don’t want to see you, at all!!”
“Philippa —”
“GO,” she commanded, and pointed her Gold Sword of Tomorrow at him.
Mr. Wit acquiesced and promptly disappeared.
Pip wiped wearily at her wet face. If hot tears mingled with the moisture she rubbed away, she didn’t acknowledge it. She familiarized herself with loading and unloading the flare gun three times and once she understood how it worked she faced Astraopolis. She raised the gun straight above her head.
“Em, I’m okay,” she said quietly. “Three signals for Pip. One Pip Emma, Two Pip Emma, Three Pip Emma, Four —”
She pulled the trigger and the gun kicked back. The shell shot high into the air, bursting in the sky.
“One Pip Emma, Two Pip Emma,” Pip counted as she loaded the gun again and aimed above.

* * *

Em saw three evenly timed red flares burst in the sky above Mystica. After the sporadic rocket fire from the isle that brought down the Mystery Man’s airship, she wasn’t sure what to make of the events that had unfolded. This signal, however, had to be her sibling’s.
“Okay, Pip,” she whispered. The flares slowly died away. Her tears began to fall.
“Hey, Em?” Buck said softly.
“I’ll explain later, okay?” she whispered, her voice slightly rough.
“Okay. Your mom called. Shade’s been talking to her. You want to talk to her next?”
“Yes,” she said, wiping her face.

* * *

Pip found the castle’s cascading wading pools and broke into the bath house. She took as many towels as she could carry and a bathrobe. She tied the whole lot to her back and climbed the ivy of the castle walls again. Her body was reaching its limits but she was determined to get to the isolated castle balcony above.
When she finally stepped over the parapet, shaking with fatigue, she saw many of her doves already nestled in various crevices.
“Hello, my darlings,” she said, and laid out some seed for them. She unloaded the towels and began to pull off her wet things. Her crown, sheath, sword, phone, and Aunt Dawn’s dagger were all laid out to dry. She hung her wet clothing on the parapet.
After drying off she placed a pile of towels in the window seat of the small balcony she’d claimed for herself. Over the parapet, she could see the night of Astraopolis. Various searchlights played in the dark sky, but she knew they didn’t originate from Em. She pulled the robe over herself and settled down in her nook.
“Sleep well, Em,” she whispered, looking at that dark night. “I’ll see you soon.”
To Pip, that was a definite promise. She closed her eyes.

* * *

Em stared out over the dark waters of the lake to the sunlit edges of Mystica. She raised a hand in love.
“Mama and Dad say I love you, Pip,” she whispered to the castle. “I’ll see you soon.”
She turned to the brightly lit Automat and entered.
She placed two chairs at the sliding glass doors so that if something else came in they would fall. She did the same to the back entrance. She checked her drying clothes and boots, which were still damp. Professor Carny’s Death Killer Elixir was finally wearing off and Em could feel the trials of her day hit her weary body. Before she could sleep, however, she needed to empty her mind. She sat at the booth she’d chosen to sleep in, which faced the glass entrance, and worked in her sketchbook.
She drew several sketches of Pip, and though she knew the face resembled her own except with light hair, she’d always felt that her sibling’s expressions were uniquely hers. A happy Pip smiled back at her from the page. She did a small sketch of herself in the corner and wrote: You arc above. I arc below.
Remembering her terror underwater, she thought of Wila. She wondered if she had the same attitudes in her face as her brother. Shade had said that his mother and Uncle Wittie were such identical twins in manner and personality that they would share words, clothes, and switch places for fun and think nothing of it. She didn’t believe Wila was anything like Shade.
She found herself sketching him. She remembered how he smelled before he started smoking too much. She painted his troubled, blue eyes and strong wrists and hands. She placed one with a thumb hooked into his belt. When she couldn’t see the painting clearly she realized she was weeping. She tried to finish the belt buckle of his jeans. She wiped her eyes and drew the goddess from his lighter next to him.
Good bye, she wrote in small letters in the corner.
When the page was dry enough, she turned it and wrote and sketched about ideas that occurred to her while traveling through the park.
Animated paths, she wrote. She drew a rough cartoon of one of Astraopolis’ boulevards, trying to illustrate her thought. Light sculptures. Kinetic art.
Mr. Dently’s Darque Towne was a perfect creation in her opinion, but in comparison, Mr Higgs’ Astraopolis lacked something. Perhaps it was the emptiness, and she knew the overall design remained unfinished, but she couldn’t help noting what she thought would activate the rather staid, gleaming serenity of its streets with touches of beauty.
Finally, she could write no more. She rose and dimmed the bright lights. The boys were still chattering away from her phone where it lay recharging on the counter. Their voices were a soothing sound. She stood in the middle of the Automat and thought of where Pip was right then, and of Fey’s warning. Wit, Jr. did try to get Pip across the lake, so somehow he did not seem untrustworthy. Yet she didn’t want to rationalize a situation she didn’t fully understand, nor discount the Vampyre’s words and her own father’s directive to make certain she protected herself.
Em retrieved the black wand from the counter where the contents of her drying messenger bag were laid out. She was tired, but she would at least try one more trick. Concentrating, she tossed the wand up and it became a black cane. Catching it, she twirled it easily, testing the weight and balance. She brought it to a stop near her side, placed a hand on one end of the cane, and closed her eyes.
She pulled out a rapier-thin sword that swiftly sliced the air.
The long blade shimmered under the dim lights. She was not there to duel a rival magician or fight off his evil minions like it was in the storybook of the Magician’s Assistant. Her father’s words echoed in her mind. She still could not see herself using this kind of weapon to harm another.
She sheathed the cane sword and clicked it back into place. With a slow twirl she transformed it back into a black magician’s wand. Em put the wand away and checked to see if her mace was still tucked against her breasts.
“Good night, Buck. Good night, Wit,” she called out.
She laid down to rest. She pulled up a sheet and made herself comfortable.
A duet of good nights came back in reply. “Did you lock the door?” Shade asked.
“Yes.”
“How about the back?”
“Yes. Good night.”
“Night, Em. Dream of me.”
Em softly snorted. She remembered something, and reached for her coffin locket. She opened it.
“Good night, Auntie,” she whispered.

* * *
In the cool night of Astraopolis, a goggled man popped out of a hatch in the grass across from Nebula’s End. His leather flight jacket was singed and blackened. He ran cautiously to the edge of light and saw Em within, focused on painting in a book. He paced and tried to rehearse what he wanted to say with his gloved hands.
“Hello!” he muttered in a hushed tone. “Let me introduce myself, I am he, and he is him, but I’m the real — No, that’s not going to work. Greetings! Who are you and how did you get here? Sorry I didn’t speak up earlier. I thought you worked with him. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? God, I have no idea how to talk any —”
He saw Em look up and dove back into the dark. As he lay still in the grass he watched her stare thoughtfully at the windows and then return her attention to her book. Chairs blocked the automatic doors. He struck his forehead as he tried to think of what to do without causing a fright. The lights dimmed within the Automat and Em stood with her back to the doors. The goggled man rose and stepped bravely for the Automat.
When he saw her whip a sword out of thin air, he dove away again. As he lay in the grass he clutched at his arm where a slice in the leather sleeve had been stitched together and silently cursed. He waited again, and when she was asleep he rose and dropped back down the hatch in the grass.
A hatch in the polished floor of the Automat’s kitchen quietly opened.
The goggled man peered around cautiously. Hearing voices, he remained stock still until he saw the phone and its recharging light. He crept silently up the stairs of the hatch and into the kitchen. The scent of burned leather followed him. After studying the tiny phone for a minute, he decided not to disturb it. He spotted Em. Lifting his goggles, he stared at her pale features and then noticed her open sketchbook lying on the table. He took it and quietly sat at another booth. He removed the gloves from his scarred hands and carefully turned the pages.
“Well, what are you saying?” said Shade, his voice drifting from the phone into the dining area.
“I’m not sure what I’m saying,” Buck said.
“Just say it.”
“Okay. Ever since you mentioned your Uncle Wittie, Wit the Third, I got to thinking.”
The visitor stopped perusing the sketchbook and carefully set it down. With wide, baffled eyes, he listened to the conversation.
“Wittie the Third was the adventurer; bright, charismatic, a really creative guy. He should have ended up running the company. Sorry, don’t mean to insult your mom. I mean, she was the same like him, but . . .”
“That’s okay. Mom would be the first to admit that he got the ideas and she just got the brains.”
“Anyway, Wayne Wally was like that in the beginning, too. He was the adventurer; really creative, really popular with the public. We remember Wit, Jr. as the charismatic one probably because of Town of Tomorrow and because he went out with all those women. But Wayne was always the Carny Man’s choice over Wit, Jr. to run Wit’s World. There’s that famous picture where he made that choice, when they were just little boys.”
“I know the one you mean.”
“Then Wayne went on his big adventure to look for Shangri-La in the Himalayas and disappeared.”
“Yeah, but he came back. After my grandfather disappeared. We’d be talking to my granddad now if it weren’t for all that sea monster stuff.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Do you remember this news photo?”
“What? That dead frozen guy? Weird clipping to keep in your collection, Bucky.”
“This guy was wearing your uncle Wayne’s family ring, Fourth.”
“He said it was stolen.”
“Well, after the discovery the body disappeared. No autopsy. When you talked about Wittie the Third something clicked. How come Wayne is such a tyrant now? Why so different from the guy who went looking for Shangri-la? I was trying to make some kind of connection, and it made sense in my head, anyway.”
“What? That Wayne’s not Wayne? If he’s not Wayne, then who is he?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m thinking.”
“Let’s turn in, man. No more thinking for tonight. The girls are sleeping so we should, too.”
“How do you know Pip’s asleep, too?”
“They’re twins. When Em’s asleep, Pip is, too.”
The man in the booth started in his seat at the mention of twins and leaned forward, listening intently.
“You don’t know that,” Buck said. “I’ve known them longer than you. You don’t know that at all.”
Shade just laughed.
The man in the booth tuned out the boys’ bickering. He breathed deeply, reeling in the emotions that threatened to overwhelm. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. He resumed looking through Em’s sketchbook. Many of the pages made him think, and he stared at her words and pictures for a while. When he carefully replaced the book he checked to see that she was sleeping well. The boys eventually stopped talking. The man returned to the other booth, a great many considerations crossing his mind. He quietly ruminated away the hours until morning began to break. He came to a decision and stood up wearily. He put on his gloves.
He left through the hatch in the kitchen and closed it firmly behind him.

* * *

“Why are you so adamant about taking this Fey Dently’s warning so seriously?” June asked.
“What?” Daniel said. They were in their bedroom and he was finishing one more letter on the old computer book. He hit “send” and his message to their escape artist friend, the Impossible Ginny, was mailed. “Honey, Em had to fight a snake monster. She needs to be aware of the dangers in that place.”
“I think she is. I mean where this Wit, Jr. is concerned. He did try to bring Pip to Em, didn’t he? Maybe he’s not the man Em was warned about — by a fictional character, I might add — and, God, I can’t believe I just said that.”
“We’re not there. Let’s not jump to conclusions. And Em saw someone with Pip, but she can’t be sure who.”
June looked up from folding down the bed, realizing that her husband’s voice was coming from another room.
“Daniel?” she called. He re-entered their bedroom carrying a small photo album.
“Now don’t get upset,” he said. “This was before I met you.”
“What? Is this about Winifred? Or — Val Schwartz? Oh good God —”
“No! No no!” Daniel protested. He quickly opened the album. “I said it all wrong. I meant, look at this.”
June took the dusty album and stared at a Chroma color photo of a twelve-year-old boy clutching a tissue and standing next to a slim and very pale teen girl with long black hair and cat-style plastic sunglasses. Her black clothes with the long skirt looked peculiarly Victorian. She held a baby with similar sunglasses. The smiling baby wore a pink dress, white socks, and black Mary Jane shoes.
“They had Dark Girls back then, too?” June asked. “You were so cute before you hit puberty. Did you just have a nose bleed?”
“She was the first Dark Girl,” Daniel said. “And you’re right, that’s me, and yes, my nose had stopped bleeding, and that’s Dawn.” He pointed at the baby. “And the girl in black is Fey Dently.”
June looked at her husband.
“Yes.” Daniel nodded. “I met her when I was five. I wasn’t sure where she came from. Maybe she told us once, but it was easier just to believe that her dad, Mr. Dently, had some magical place hidden somewhere . . . like another tiny country no one’s heard of where someone as strange as Fey lived and that we could visit by plane sometime.” He looked at the photo wistfully. “I think she stopped visiting us when we got too old for her. But sometimes I suspected she came back and saw Dawn, even when Dawn was already a woman.”
“If she can come here,” June said. “She can help our children come, too.”
Daniel shook his head. “It only works for her. Her father, Edward, gave her a special key.”
June sat down on the bed with the album and gave him an exasperated look.
“You knew about this weird place all this time.”
“No, I, well,” he said. He sat down next to his wife. “We were just kids. Ever since Em said Pip was in another dimension, I kept thinking back to when we were kids and I really think it was never fully explained. Fey didn’t show up regularly, just now and then. Enough time to think you might have imagined her, or thought you had made up things about a girl who was just peculiar and dressed funny. She never aged. All of us never really talked about it.”
“You keep saying ‘we’, you mean . . . you, and Val, and Duke?” June said.
“Yes,” Daniel answered. “And their parents. I think Val and Duke’s parents knew everything. And maybe Winifred. Every time she saw Fey she had a knee-jerk reaction. She tried to run Fey down with that sports car of hers once.”
“But we kids didn’t know anything about where Fey really came from,” he continued as June looked at him, appalled. “And not because to be told would have sounded too fantastic. I think we weren’t allowed to know because no one was supposed to know. Ever.”
June shut the photo album. “Daniel, our children are in this confidential, top secret, nonexistent place, right now!”
“I know. And I wish I could talk to Fey,” he said. He took back the precious photo album and held it. “Fey once saved Val. After years of never seeing her and thinking we made her up, there she was, like in the nick of time when Val was in trouble. That was before you moved here. Then Mrs. Schwartz asked Fey to bring Duke back from the Southeast Asian Conflict. And she did. Fey went to a war zone and brought Duke back. Can you believe that? She’s a Puppetron,” he said in a hushed voice. “She’s a Puppetron and she could function here, in our world.”
June wrapped her arms around him. “I think if she could, she would help. But right now, let’s focus on what we’re going to do to get the children back. You know Pip and Emma can take care of themselves.”
He nodded. “We all can’t have magical people to help us,” he said. “I know Fey’s busy, maybe with more on her hands than we realize. But if I could talk to her I’d ask her to help.”
He remembered Dawn as a toddler, with Fey beneath an umbrella and walking slowly beside her, holding her tiny hand.
“Just in case,” he said.

end Chapter Nineteen

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