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

ACT I

CHAPTER ONE

“ONCE upon a bygone time when a century ended and another began there lived a Carny Man. His shows and creations were so fantastic they astonished young and old alike. He built a legendary fantasy park with methods secret and arcane, and named it WIT’S WORLD. People came from near and far, lured into his realm of mechanical dreams and wondrous illusions.
“When the Carny Man mysteriously disappeared, his son took over his creation, and when he, too, disappeared, Wit’s World entered a new era and became merely AMAZING.
“Enter and experience SPOOK TOWN, ASTRAOPOLIS, AMAZING LAND, and MYSTICA. Enter, and be AMAZED.”
“As long as they leave our little home alone, Amazing World can be as amazing as it wants,” Pip said, picking up a castle piece from Mystica. She glued a tiny flag to one of its towers.
Her sister Em quietly set aside the paper puppets representing the Carny Man, his son, and the flock of guiding white doves she’d used to tell the story. They had been busy building hand-drawn models of the fantasy park that stood near their home. At seventeen, the sisters were never too old for such pastimes, and unlike their usual play interests, this one served a purpose. A camera was set up on a tripod to take stop-motion photos of their models. They were making a short documentary film about the history of their home. Through their attic bedroom window an eruption of white doves could be seen in the distance arcing in the morning sky, circling the flagged towers of Amazing World.
“Em, it’s the doves!” Pip exclaimed. She went to the window seat to admire the sight. “You captured them beautifully.”
Em picked up her messenger bag and shouldered it. She gathered her school books. She touched the locket at her throat, a black coffin with a tiny white cross.
“Time for school,” she said. Pip skipped from the window seat and hurriedly gathered her own things. She made erratic choices as she tried to remember what she needed. She quickly opened and closed the magician’s trunk. She grabbed a pile of leaflets before following.

* * *

Silver City High School, like many places in the city, lay within a short distance of Amazing World. The fantasy park created by the notorious illusionist, Witland Wally, Senior, dated back to the turn of the century when it had suddenly appeared overnight on the edges of the then young and promising town. The park had been called Wit’s World. Now the park resided at the town’s center, with the downtown buildings and tourist haunts spiraling outward from the park’s walled borders. Even before Wit Wally, Sr. performed the sensational trick that made his Wit’s World appear, Silver City had been a thriving theater town. World-renowned magicians opened in Silver City’s fabled halls while circus performers and scientific experimenters staged performances and technological stunts.
The fantasy park’s sudden appearance gave Silver City a supernatural allure. Tourists poured in by trolley and by the newly invented transport, the motor vehicle. Local residents wisely set up businesses that either supported or imitated the provocative new presence. A visitor could have tea in a shop shaped like a giant tea kettle, shoes repaired in an over-sized boot, or have a fanciful overnight stay in fairytale cottages. Wit’s World consisted of four different lands: Dark Town, Astra City, Mystica, and the Lost Lands. All promised fantastic experiences. Silver City’s residents built their own imaginative buildings in response.
After the Second World War the park’s success inspired more local novelty buildings. It was the age of space travel fantasies and technological phenomena like the television set, which Wit Wally, Jr. invented. Astro-motels and space hotels popped up. Coffee shops and restaurants treated customers to the more exotic and wild side. The Venus Grotto, the most successful nightclub of its time, lured patrons with beautiful mermaids in life-sized aquariums. Under Wit, Jr.’s control, Wit’s World became Amazing World, and renamed its lands Spook Town, Astraopolis, Mystica, and Amazing Land. The company re-purposed itself for renovation and expansion. 
    Then, like his father, Wit, Jr. mysteriously disappeared. Three of his best park Builders, Edward Dently, Ray Buster Higgs, and Conrad Duncan vanished. Wit, Jr.’s twin, Wayne Wally, took over stewardship of Amazing World.
Under Wayne Wally the park became more successful, more powerful, and developed an influence in the politics of Silver City. The time soon came when the park’s tolerance of the surrounding tourist businesses and attractions ended. Amazing World wanted more.

* * *

At Silver City High, the crisp, spring morning was chilly. A demolition crew was already at work in the dappled sunlight, tearing down a building across from the school grounds. The Venus Grotto’s green and blue walls crumbled against the slowly swinging wrecking ball. Emma Daring sat on the stoop of the school’s entrance under a budding tree and painted a watercolor of what remained of the Grotto. The nightclub’s roof had been shaped like a giant foaming wave that sheltered coral walls and round, vault-style doors within a tunnel entryway. A collector had bought the round treasure doors and had them safely removed, but Em decided to paint the doors back in from memory.
Em was dressed in black, as she always was, her boots elegantly crossed beneath her long skirt. She sat with her slender figure erect, her brush quickly touching the page of her small sketch book. Black fingernails accented the movements of her white hands. Long black sleeves of patterned lace hugged her limbs and covered her wrists. Her straight hair was long and black, her skin very pale. Her green eyes were outlined in kohl. A delicately drawn design of a tiny hooded cobra curled at the corner of her left eye. This day she had chosen to wear a dark red shade of lipstick.
Pip Daring, unlike her twin, had remained blonde and chose never to wear black. Pinks, light blues, and pale yellows were her colors and Pip preferred her outfits trim and slim, just like herself. She liked to move, and she liked to do so easily, and that often meant short skirts and tops with no sleeves. While Em’s makeup was dramatic and dark, Pip’s colors were lightly applied and touched on the lips enough to show off her bright smile. The twins were known to be notoriously close, to the point where their alliance was considered formidable, but it was quite clear to the other girls in school that the great failing in their relationship was that they could never share a wardrobe.
Pip and their friend Buckminster were at the school gates, handing out leaflets protesting the destruction of local landmarks by Amazing. Buck’s impassioned, earnest voice could be heard, intermittently drowning in the din of the wrecking ball. Em worked quickly and calmly to capture the colors of the mermaid marquee. A collector had not been found in time to buy the mermaid. The sign was already broken in two.
A motorcycle added its low thrum to the sounds of the morning. Shade drove up the dewy grass to the school building and stopped, leisurely dismounting. The young man in slim black pants and studded belt threw his dark gaze around. His eyes were smudged with black and his black hair was tousled. He casually walked up to Em and looked down at her.
“The light,” Em said in a quiet voice, her brush quickly dabbing.
When he remained, a thumb hooked in his belt, Em raised her eyes solemnly.
“Please don’t block it,” she said, politely.
He obliged, keeping his blue eyes on her.
“That’s nice,” he said, referring to her painting. He didn’t bother to look at it.
“It was,” she said, but now that Shade was no longer blocking her view, she noticed something by the school gates. She left her paints and walked over. Shade watched, perplexed.
Ted, a young black man in a varsity jacket, had angry eyes for Pip. “Leave her alone,” Buck said, but his much larger adversary shoved him aside.
Pip stood firm.
“I don’t appreciate being hung up on like that,” Ted said. “You said you’d go out with me again.”
“Well, I changed my mind,” Pip said.
“You bitch.” He grabbed Pip’s arm. “It’s true what they say about you. You really do go from guy to guy like some dumb airhead. You think you can keep acting so cheap? You should – ”
His voice faltered. Em strolled casually towards them. Pip glanced over. When she returned her attention to Ted, Pip’s smile was smug. “I should what?” she asked.
People noticed that when Em approached her paths were not direct; she swept slowly in a curve like a half moon. She was coming to the end of her curve now, her eyes on Ted. One of her hands remained in her messenger bag.
Ted guiltily let go of Pip’s arm and stepped back when her sister came close.
Em took Pip’s hand and led her away. One hand was still in her bag. She looked back.
“I’ll see you the same time,” she said quietly to Ted. She led Pip back through the school gates. Buck followed.
Pip squealed once they were away from the crowd that had gathered. She gripped her twin’s hand. “I love it that you tutor boys like Ted,” she said.
“Yeah, and Em should have used her mace on him,” Buck said as he hurried past the girls. “You gotta swear off these varsity guys, Pip. Their steroids are gonna kill me.”
“What mace?” Pip asked with pretend-innocent wide eyes. The object in question was discreetly held between her and Em’s clasped hands. Em let go, palming the small canister. She put it back in her messenger bag. It had been in her left hand all along, while her right had remained in the bag, misdirecting Ted’s attention from the real danger. It was a classic magician’s trick.
Buck grinned at them, his fliers crunched under his arm. He pulled a camera from his pants pocket. He took a quick shot above their heads. He was a small guy with light-colored hair and clothes that always looked rumpled, as if he woke up in them. His glasses sported a tape repair on one side.
Buck was always busy with something, whether it was building radio-controlled rockets, collecting comic books, or working for the preservation of the last of Silver City’s heritage architecture. He was a junior member of the Astonished Enthusiasts of Futures Unknown Club, an eclectic group of fans and collectors who had an obsessive interest with anything of the Wit’s World era.
“Buck – thanks,” Pip called out. Their friend was already hurrying ahead, pausing to take another picture. They heard the wrecking ball making contact behind them. They passed Shade as he leaned on his bike, watching them go by.
“You shouldn’t have gone out with him,” Em said.
“He’s Mayor Atlas’s son,” Pip said, clasping Em’s arm. “Ted just didn’t understand what I needed from him. I explained it, I really did. He bought me a shake and fries on our date. He’s mad because I ate all the fries. I thought maybe he could do something.”
“Ted is like another privileged son we know. Activism is a foreign language.” It went unsaid between them that Em was referring to Shade. Pip chose that moment to turn to the boy on the motorcycle and wave gaily. Em smiled but she didn’t turn around.
“He’s surrounded by girls already, and so early in the morning,” Pip observed. She watched eager girls approach Shade.
“Funny, that sounds like a description of you,” Em said as they approached the school stoop.
“Oh stop. I haven’t been paying much attention to girls lately, because none of them seem to have important mothers and fathers. None who could help us anyway– oh, hello Kate!”
The attractive, irate girl who had determinedly approached now stood before them. Em, wide-eyed, chose to remain by Pip’s side though she clearly saw what would come next.
The slap to Pip’s face could be heard even above the sounds of demolition. Shade broke out into laughter.
“Ow!” Pip said as she held her face. She stared at Kate in dismay.
“Never speak to me again!” Kate cried. She turned and fled, her face betraying her worsened unhappiness.
“You should go talk to her,” Em said with concern. She stepped forward. Pip held her back.
“Even when she said not to? And don’t go. You don’t know what this is about,” Pip said guiltily. “First Ted and now this. I should join Shade. We’re having a lot in common today.” Pip laughed and then held her cheek again.
Em sighed. Kate was from the popular crowd and not a very nice person. Dark Children and the popular kids with whom Pip easily mingled did not mix. It was true that Em did not know what exactly happened between Kate and Pip but Em also recognized the subtle warning her sibling had given. Kate would not welcome any offer of comfort from a Dark Girl.
Pip had an ability that Em could never muster, and that was the cheerful tolerance that made spending time with not very pleasant people endurable, just so her curious sibling could learn something more about them. Em wouldn’t be surprised if Pip went as far as to kiss Kate. The girl might be unlikeable, but she was pretty, and Pip did not resist many pretty things.
Em retrieved her sketchbook and showed her new painting of the broken Venus Grotto to Pip. Pip, who was not one to dwell long on her troubles, especially those she caused for others, found the painting a welcome distraction. Pip immediately smiled despite the flaming hand print on her cheek.
“So pretty!” Pip said, touching the watercolor. “Look how she stands, like she didn’t know she was going to be destroyed.”
“Yes. Timeless yet gone, like us.”
Pip smacked her arm. While Em put her paint box away in her bag, Pip arched an eyebrow, noticing Shade openly staring at them despite the girls who sought his attention.
“What do you think of Shade since he’s been back?”
“Being sent away to Europe hasn’t changed him. He’s still a jerk,” Em said. She was making sure her painting was dry.
“Yes, but he could be your jerk.”
Em didn’t grace this with a response.
Before Em could head back into school Pip touched her arm.
“Now that I know that going out with Ted was a waste of time I think I’m going to try something Buck suggested,” she said.
“Pip – “
“This isn’t like my last idea. Or the one before that. Since it’s not my idea it’s probably really good.”
The Grotto collapsed. The spectacle elicited exclamations from the surrounding students. Where there had once been an attractive, aging nightclub, only a rising cloud of dust remained, billowing slowly to the sky. The Venus Grotto was gone.
The sisters watched silently.
“We have to do something,” Pip said. “We have to save our home.”
Amazing World’s plan was to buy out and remove the coffee shops, eateries, and novelty buildings that had their time to thrive in the shadow of the fantasy park when it was Wit’s World. Their replacement was an idealized urban plan inspired by the vision of Wit Wally, Jr. before he disappeared. It would be called the Town of Tomorrow.
The plan’s title had a quaintly dated sound to it, considering that Wit, Jr. conceived of his Town when the Venus Grotto was in its heyday. It inspired the right kind of support however, calling upon the nostalgia and enthusiasm people felt for Wit, Jr. and his creations. The ones who did not support the plan, surprisingly enough, were members of the Astonished Enthusiasts of Futures Unknown Club. Others who were also unhappy with the plan were, understandably, those whose lives depended on the old buildings.
Em did not hear anything more of Pip’s latest plan, nor of any further aftereffects from her sibling’s romantic troubles, and Buck could not be stopped long enough for a query. With her usual patience, she put her curiosity aside and attended to her school day. Their parents were doing what they could to keep their home in the face of Amazing’s persistence. She and her sister did not understand all of the legalities, but they knew that a company of such overwhelming power and presence would not easily give up and go away.
During lunch she attended a brief gathering of the local chapter of the Dark Victorian Society. After the polite greetings, the Dark Children settled down to business. Em enjoyed the Society; it suited her tastes with its emphasis on manners and genteel behavior. Though her friends were the most informal of the Society members, being the youngest and having grown up together, they still aspired to the airs and decorum set by the senior Dark Victorians. On that day, Em’s friends were deciding on the time and place for a reading of Edward Dently’s works.
“Em, you’ll be happy to know that the subject will be Mr. Dently’s storybooks, and not a discussion of his work on the Dark Town of old Wit’s World,” Thorn said. She had a gleam in her eyes that spoke of triumph in the decision. She was a plump girl with dark makeup and long, blood-red hair. Em loved Thorn’s corsets. Em desperately wanted one to complement her own outfits but she was not allowed to have such garments until the twins were eighteen.
“I just thought it would be appropriate to read about Edward, the Builder of the original Dark Town, just because of all the Town of Tomorrow renovations,” Poe said peevishly. He was a very slim boy in skinny black clothes and dark hair in his eyes. “The Venus Grotto is gone,” he said. “It’s depressing.” The small Japanese girl next to him sniffed. Rain was not as tall as Em but made up for the height difference with a little black top hat. Rain favored dark spectacles and even wore them in the classroom.
“I voted for the storybooks because I’m depressed enough,” Rain said. “And besides, I want Em to perform one of Mr. Dently’s Vampyre picture books, like ‘Fey Dently’. Won’t you, Em?”
“I would love to,” Em said. “Edward Dently is my idol.”
“And would you bring Shade?” Thorn asked. The gleam in her eye turned impish. Two of the other Dark Girls behind Thorn politely hid amused smiles behind their hands.
Em’s lips parted, but she said nothing. After a while, the other Dark Children shifted self-consciously.
“I apologize, Em, I didn’t mean to make you mute,” Thorn finally said.
“Oh,” Em said. “It’s all right.”
“You can talk,” Rain said in relief. “Thorn, be nice, you know they aren’t together anymore.”
“Shade just came back to school yesterday,” Poe said. “It’s not like they had time to work out all that stuff he did in Europe.”
The Dark Girls immediately shushed Poe, but the effect of his careless words on Em was apparent. She stood with wide eyes and said nothing.
“Sorry,” Poe said, sheepish. He muttered something about seeing Em next week and quickly kissed her on the cheek.
The girls followed suit and Thorn kissed her last. She wiped a bit of lipstick from Em’s face.
“Are you all right?” Thorn asked, watching Em carefully. “We don’t need Pip mad at us.” Thorn’s eyes lit up with mischief once more.
“I’m fine,” Em said. “I’m sorry. I’ve not given Shade much thought.”
Thorn looked at her sympathetically.
“Then I hope you figure it out by tomorrow. He’s not going away this time.”
When Thorn left Em noticed the girls of Kate’s circle hovering in the hall. One of them imitated the mannerisms of the Dark Victorian Society.
“Oh, she’s gone ‘mutie’ again,” the girl said with a mocking gesture of concern. The others laughed.
Em turned quickly and left. She was known as the girl who had stopped talking for a while. It was why her friends sometimes thought she had become mute again, when Em’s silence was just an extraordinary long pause where she was taking the time to think. Though the event was several years passed her period of silence was still fodder for general school ridicule. “Mutie” continued to be a cruel nickname.
Before lunch ended Em went to retrieve her pinhole camera. She had discreetly positioned it on one of the second-floor classroom windowsills to take a long-term exposure. She sat on the sill and leaned out, carefully removing the tape that secured the tin camera to the edge, when Shade’s voice from inside startled her. She nearly dropped the tin to the first story below.
He helped Em inside, her tin firmly in-hand. She stared up into the blue eyes of a boy who stood too close.
“Wit,” she said. She moved back.
“It’s Shade, Em,” he corrected, letting her go. He nodded to the small tin box that once held baking powder. On one surface a pinhole had been carefully punched. “One of your little art things?”
“Yes . . . a little art thing,” she softly confirmed. She slipped it into her messenger bag. She felt the need to say something that would be very difficult and sought for words.
“Shade,” she said hesitantly. “About Wila —”
“No. Em, not here.”
Em said nothing more. The rule of never talking about his twin sister publicly was apparently still enforced. Shade’s family had been very protective of Wila, and news of her had been suppressed.
“You look the same, Em. You even still wear this,” he said, changing the subject, and gestured to the small coffin locket at her throat. Em’s fingers went to it, as if to protect it.
“I missed you. Just wanted you to know. A year is a long time to be gone,” Shade said. His abrupt frankness surprised her. He was still like Em remembered — moody and fiery with just that air of badness and rebellion that had him sent away in the first place — although perhaps even taller and more attractive. If Wila’s death and his exile to Europe had affected him at all, Em could not see it.
“It is,” Em finally said. “And I’m sure Cindy missed you, too. And Andrea, and Denise,” she added, unable to stop herself. Shade laughed.
“Em, c’mon.” His smile broke up the darkness in his face and made him warmer, handsomer.
Em slowly moved around the student desks, putting distance between them. She kept her back to him, hiding her eyes.
“I heard you used that mace I gave you on Todd.” The grin was evident in his voice. “I really liked that.”
Todd was another football player on the varsity team. Pip had made the mistake of going out with him, as well, and his reputation for a volatile temper turned out to be true. When he struck Pip at a party Em had to act. Shade’s gift proved the most effective way.
“I had forgotten my rapier,” Em said. “So the mace had to do.” Shade’s laugh made Em’s heart hurt. It never occurred to her that she would miss the sound of it.
“I know you can take care of yourself,” he said. “But when it comes to girls, I didn’t think you’d do what you needed to do, especially if I wasn’t there.”
Shade was referring to a stalker incident she had before he unexpectedly left for Europe. That girl had been in the photography club and even Pip had a hard time making her leave Em alone. Her relationship with Shade didn’t deter her admirer either.
Em nearly turned around to look at Shade and stopped. He was being too nice and she knew that was a mood that didn’t last with him. She realized an opportunity was before her that should take precedence over whatever had happened between her and Shade. That “whatever” was really not much of anything, anymore. She set her jumbled feelings aside.
“Shade,” she said, changing the subject. “Do you know about Town of Tomorrow?”
Shade snorted. “Town of Whatever. You know I don’t follow what the company’s doing, Em. It has nothing to do with me.”
Em only nodded. She did not look back as she made her way to the door. She left, heart thundering, leaving Shade to watch her in perplexity once again.
Perhaps Pip should have tried going out with Shade instead of Ted, Em wondered. Her sibling would not have given up so easily. The only reason Pip had not approached Shade for help with their home was because Em and Witland Wally the Fourth had such stormy history.

(end Chapter One)

©Elizabeth Watasin 2011

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