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

ACT II

CHAPTER SEVEN

Pandemonium ensued at the ornate entrance gates of Amazing World. Em desperately stretched across the gold turnstile and reached out, trying to feel for evidence of a magic trick. The Gold Gates began to close.
“Em!” Shade yelled. He pulled her away from the turnstile and jumped it himself. Passing through the shutting gates, he spun around, as if trying to trip over Pip.
“Look for something!” Em called through the lattice.
“What? There’s nothing!” Shade said, his hands open in confusion. He had stepped over nothing, passed through nothing. There was nothing.
Em found Buck in the chaotic crowd. She grabbed him.
“Did you add an illusion to the stunt? Why hasn’t Pip reappeared?” she cried to him above the din. Her bewildered friend fiercely shook his head.
“We can’t do magic, Em! I swear we didn’t plan this!” he shouted.
Em realized that Pip would not have added a vanishing act on her own, especially without her sister’s help. Pip’s goal had been to talk to the media right after the stunt.
She reached into her messenger bag. Em had made sure her sibling was carrying her phone, tucked behind the cloak and in the belt of her Tomorrow Maiden costume. She looked at her own phone and realized Pip was calling her.
“Where are you?” she demanded, pulling herself away from the maddening crowd.
“I’m still here. Where are you?” Pip cried.
“Pip, don’t make fun.” Em was close to being angry.
“I’m not. I’m still standing here on the other side of the gate and all of you have vanished!” Em stood still as Pip continued. “And it’s different over here! It’s not daylight and it’s not Spook Town at all! I think I’m in Dark Town!”
“It’s . . . not daylight where you are?” Em asked.
“Like it’s night! But what’s weird is that I can see the plaza beyond the entrance gates and it’s day on the other side! And Em —”
“What?” Em said, staring back at the Gold Gate where she still couldn’t see her sibling.
“The other side is entirely different. I don’t see you. I don’t see anyone; no vendors, not even the Art’s that we know —”
“You’re all alone? Completely?” Em interjected.
“Yes! Em, there’s no one here! But the other side, there’s a sign and it says it’s the Town of Tomorrow.”
Em tried to imagine what Pip was telling her.
“And I think if I tried to go home it might not be there!” Pip then whispered frantically.
“Em!” Shade interrupted, coming to her side. He looked down at her anxiously.
“Pip is on the phone. She says she’s in a place that resembles this but is entirely empty of people. What’s in Underground? Is there a duplicate of this place? She says she can see the Town of Tomorrow.”
“That’s crazy,” he said. He may have been gone a year but in that time even a prop facsimile of the park couldn’t be assembled in the underground facility below. Em returned her attention to the phone.
“Don’t leave to go to the plaza side, and don’t you dare move,” Em said. “When you went through the gate did you fall through something?”
“No, I’ve fallen through our trap door enough times to know. I just stepped through and I was here. And Em, are you sure you don’t want me to move? Maybe to a brighter place? Dark Town is kind of scarier than Spook Town.”
“Is that Pip?” Buck said, joining Em and Shade. A security head followed him. When Em confirmed it, Buck nodded. “Figures. She always calls you when she’s in trouble.”
“My sister says she’s trapped in another place just like this one, except she’s in Dark Town, not Spook Town, and she can see the Town of Tomorrow,” Em told the security host. He looked at her like she had two heads.
“Young lady,” he said, “I know you and your sister come from a family of illusionists. I suggest you tell her the trick’s over and to return now.”
“We did not do this,” Em said. “My sister really is somewhere else and she doesn’t feel safe!”
“I think you should come with me,” he said.
“Wait a minute! I’m Witland Wally the Fourth,” Shade said, placing himself between Em and the security host. “And I demand to know about this secret duplicate park!”
“Witland who?” the man said, exasperated. He made a curt motion that would bring more security. Suddenly, Mr. Dangerous and Ben Case joined Shade, harassing the security host. Mr. Dangerous picked Em up and placed her behind him. She grabbed Buck’s hand and pulled him from the altercation. She ran swiftly across the Plaza and away from the admission gates.
“Pip,” she said into her phone as she ran.
“I got us into trouble, didn’t I?” she answered resignedly.
“Doesn’t matter.” Em glanced behind her as they rounded Woot’s Five & Dime for the main thoroughfare. Buck puffed valiantly beside her. Their friends’ interference appeared to have worked; no one followed. She kept running to make sure, putting as much distance between themselves and Amazing World as possible. “If you want to move to someplace safer go ahead.”
“Tell her,” Buck panted, “look for rest of park —”
“Buck wants you to see if the rest of the park is there,” Em said. She turned to run down one of the many back alleys of the tourist district where she and Buck could contend with less traffic.
“If I’m in some weird simulation then there has to be an end somewhere!” Pip answered excitedly. “If they have the magnet train I’ll take it and see where it goes!”
Em’s phone beeped. She saw that their mother was trying to call.
“Mama’s calling, I have to talk to her,” Em told Pip.
“Don’t tell her what I did!”
“Media,” Buck gasped. “Live coverage.”
“Buck says she might have seen what happened on the news.”
“Then tell her I’m okay.”
“Are you?” The stress showed in Em’s voice.
“I am. I’m fine. I’m alone and it’s creepy, but all I have to do is find the exit. And I’m famished! I was too nervous to eat this morning.”
“Just stay in the park and I’ll call you right back.”
She finally came to a stop. Buck collapsed on the asphalt next to her.
Em thought about what she had seen in Duke Schwartz’s office, that tight aura of energy around Pip.
“Buck,” she said as she placed the phone at her ear to call her mother. “We have to find your friend Dutch. Now.”

* * *

Pip looked up at the night sky. There were far-flung star patterns that she didn’t recognize. If she could shoot a rocket she was certain it would go as far as it could and still not hit anything. She didn’t voice her fear to Em, but she was a little more certain that she really was someplace else and not in some prop set-up where a glowing exit sign would appear. The huge full moon and clouds seemed too real for fantasy park trickery. That, and the night air smelled fresh. She looked through the entrance gates. While she stood in night, bright sunshine illuminated the park’s plaza entrance and the silent, empty plaza strip. Art’s was there, along with Dexter’s Drugstore, but they had a sheen and newness to their facades that was unfamiliar and artificial. Pip doubted that a living person had ever been inside them. Again, she read the cursive letters of the welcome sign that had alarmed her:
TOWN OF TOMORROW
Pip didn’t like the look of outside, especially if she really had no home to go to in this version of Silver City. She hoped Em and Buck could figure out what happened to her soon.
She would have preferred to remain on the phone with Em until she could get out of there, but the first thing she’d noticed was her phone’s power level. Her twin had made her carry it but it wasn’t Em’s responsibility to fully charge the device for her, too.
Pip heard something and spun around. The cobbled streets of Dark Town were still empty. If there was any doubt as to where she was, another welcome sign was present to inform her as it gently creaked on its chains and post:
VELCEM TO DARQUE TOWNE
“‘Darque Towne’,” Pip repeated. There was obviously a significance to the different spelling, other than the fact that she was in a very different kind of ‘Dark Town,’ but only Em might know. Edward Dently, the creator of the original Dark Town, was Em’s idol, after all, and the meaning might be hidden in his lesser-known history.
Pip turned to regard the dark street and concluded that this place was no Spook Town. That part of Amazing World was scary, but in a child-friendly way. In Spook Town, storybook Victorian facades with cobwebs and bats housed harmless Puppetron witches and monsters. Dark doorways led to mildly scary dark rides and haunted storefronts sold ghost candy and coffin trinkets. Pip did not believe she was looking at facades but at the fully habitable homes and businesses of an actual creepy town. The gloomy post-and-beam buildings towered above her at the correct storied height for full grown people; none of them were deceptively altered or brightly painted for the accessibility and amusement of children. If she opened any wooden doors or peeked into any of the latticed or shuttered windows, Pip was certain she would see real, furnished rooms. She found it strange that she felt more spooked in this replica of an empty Victorian town than she ever had as a small child in Spook Town. Even the hazy lights of the gaslamps seemed sinister. The Nightmare Clock gave a deep, ominous strike and startled Pip. From her vantage point she could not see the clock tower, but it had sounded more powerful and more real than the Nightmare Clock she was familiar with. Ground fog slowly rolled on to the cobbled streets and Pip decided it was time to move before that fog reached her feet. She needed to find the magnet train. Despite her great unease, she was impressed with the design of this Darque Towne and would have enjoyed it more if she weren’t alone.
Pip moved down the street. She was cautiously admiring the darkened windows of a sweets shop, a bakery, and a haberdashery, when a black cat rose among stacked coffins in a shadowed alleyway. Its back arched. Pip jumped when it screeched at her. She drew her short sword.
“I am Tomorrow Maiden!” she said with a gulp. “And I have a sword!” The cat stared balefully with red eyes and hissed in response. Pip realized it was a Puppetron. It looked very realistic but she had never known a real cat to have completely red eyes with no irises. Two more red-eyed cat automatons rose beside it and yowled at Pip.
“Okay, bye!” Pip said, and ran down the street.
If Pip had the chance, she would have stayed to admire the workmanship of the mechanical cat. Things seemed more beautifully crafted there than in Amazing World, so much so that Pip fully expected the cat to perform more surprising actions than just yowl. She heard the forlorn whistle of a train and stopped. A coal-burning train approached, running along the ridge above her. It was not a magnet train, but it was one form of transportation out of that part of the park. The lights of the train’s passenger cars flickered like they were damaged and Pip spotted more Puppetrons in the form of grinning ghouls in the windows. Pip hefted her shining gold blade and looked at it.
“I am Tomorrow Maiden,” she said decisively, and hurried up the steps to the station landing.

* * *

To say that June Daring was unhappy was the least of it. Em’s dad had asked her if she had seen evidence of a magic trick when Pip vanished, to which Em had to reply in the negative. Her mother held to the theory of the secret duplicate park that might be in Underground.
“I don’t care how I do it but I will talk to Winifred Wally,” Mrs. Daring said. “I want Pip to call me.”
“Mama,” Em said hesitantly. “I don’t think Pip’s phone has much power.”
After Mrs. Daring had called Pip herself, who had apparently found a train at the duplicate park to ride in, their mother spoke to Em again. Em promised to keep her parents updated as to where she would be while the Darings went to Amazing to see about getting their other daughter back.
“Can I speak to Daddy again, please?” Em asked.
“I’m here, honey,” Daniel answered.
“For the book you’re working on, the history of Silver City’s magicians, you researched the magic of the Carny Man.”
“Yes. He was different from the others because he was a trickster. He wasn’t just a performer.”
“Trickster as in, you couldn’t trust things he made.”
“Yes. It’s old history that’s kind of covered up. People don’t remember that the attractions of Wit’s World were not all innocent.”
“Daddy,” Em said. “Pip was wearing a costume from his time, along with its nameplate. The metal was strange. It had an energy. I felt it when it was in my hand, and Pip said she felt it, too. I saw with my camera lens that the nameplate’s energy surrounded her.”
Her dad was silent, mulling over her information. Em continued, trusting her father to understand where she was leading.
“So she wore that badge and entered the Carny Man’s Gold Gate.” A tremor entered Em’s voice. “I’m sorry I let her go through.”
“No, Em, don’t think about that right now. No one’s at fault here. What are you trying to tell me? I’m almost following you.”
Em took a breath to collect herself.
“Wouldn’t you say that a trick happened?” she asked hesitantly. “A bad trick?”
“Yes honey,” Daniel assured. “Yes. It’s called a Carny Man Trap.”

* * *

“Wow,” Buck said. “Wow.”
Em and Buck had boarded a trolley to ride the short distance to Dutch’s place. Tourists filled the seats and interior standing spaces, so the two stood on the sideboards outside. The metal wheels rumbled beneath them.
“It kind of makes sense,” he said in excitement. “A Carny Man Trap. I mean, we heard about these things but you’d think it was all made up to make the park more interesting, like the Ash and Sun Maiden myths. And when Wit’s World became Amazing, the company wanted to leave the old, scary image behind so we all forgot about it.”
He looked at Em suddenly, with a dawning expression.
“How could we forget about that?” he blurted. “We’re the Astonished Club. We’re supposed to know this stuff. The old Wit’s World legends said: Board the rides and it may not end the way you expect. Beware strange entryways because you might step out to somewhere entirely different. Em — “
“Buck,” Em interrupted. “Dad said I shouldn’t feel bad and neither should you. Or the rest of the Astonished. When the Carny Man disappeared all the strange stuff went away. It was before our time and Amazing World is what we know. We’re not to blame.”
Buck nodded, but his face was grim.
“People said he’d return in secret to add a trick or two to his park,” he said. “Maybe this is one of them: an old, forgotten trick. We just don’t know what it’s supposed to do and where Pip went.”
Em didn’t answer. She was busy ringing Pip.
“Are you all right?” she said when Pip answered.
“Yes. Mom called me; she’s going to Amazing to look for me.”
“Buck is with me and we’re looking for you, too. Pip, I need to tell you about your nameplate.”
After Em shared what she knew she cautioned her sibling to never lose her badge.
“Do you think if I’m separated from it I’ll get lost again?”
“Maybe more like you’ll remain trapped there. Perhaps the nameplate is what can lead you out.”
“I can go back to the Gold Gate. Since I’m wearing the nameplate I could go through the ‘out’ turnstile and try exiting that way.”
“Don’t do that,” Em ordered. “Who knows where you might end up next. If Daddy thinks this is a Carny Man Trap I don’t think the solution is that simple. Where are you now?”
“I’m on a train. At least it was a train when it was in Darque Towne. Now it appears to be a light rail.” Pip sounded a bit strained. The change had happened in a dark, scary tunnel while she talked to her twin. One moment she was seated in a rumbling, flickering train car with tattered drapes and creaking floorboards and the next she was in a smooth, glass-canopied silver car, complete with blue lights running along the floor. The sleek train emerged to the sunlit sight of a futuristic panorama. The flowing, shining buildings were paneled in reflective surfaces and gently pulsed lights. Sky bridges arched between the buildings. Pip’s car zoomed among the suspended, glass pathways and passed swirling planets the size of houses, slowly orbiting around the building tops.
“Well this park has an Astraopolis,” she told Em. “One that makes ours back home look like a cartoon.” She turned to take in more of this side of the park and spotted its border. The orderly suburbia of generic houses, lawns, and streets beyond the park walls went on for miles. Pip’s heart went to her throat. She really wasn’t in her Silver City anymore.
“Pip, your train instantaneously transformed?” Em asked.
“For this place I’m passing through, a coal-burning train doesn’t quite match,” Pip said with a laugh. “I’m looking back inside the park. The sun’s at an angle but I don’t know if this place has the same east or west as ours. You know what’s strange, Em? The stars in the night sky of Darque Towne aren’t in any familiar pattern and the sun here has a star next to it, a very fast star. I can see it right now when the buildings block the sun. It’ll be gone soon. I really don’t think it’s Venus.”
“It’s moving quickly? Maybe it’s an orbital,” Em said.
“Exactly! It must be a satellite. Or a space station! I’m in Astraopolis, after all,” Pip said. Her light rail car had stopped at a train platform and was departing. She returned her attention to the windows. “Other than being really big with different stuff, it’s pretty much the same park. The lands circle the center lake. Darque Towne’s the entrance and Astraopolis is one side of the lake. The other side is the ‘natural’ side. I can see the tops of what looks like jungle, so that means there’s an Amazing Land here, too. From here I can see the castle towers of Mystica on its island in the middle of the lake. And. . . oh my goodness. The sign . . .” Pip’s voice died away.
“Pip?” Em said. The trolley came to a clanging stop and Em took advantage of the pause to let go of her handhold. She used her freed hand to cover her other ear so she could hear Pip.
“I see the great sign of the park,” Pip continued. Her car was passing the proud letters mounted above Astraopolis. “It’s the old Wit’s World logo. But someone painted red words on it. They say ‘Never Was.’”
“Wit’s World . . . Never Was?” Em repeated in a low voice. Buck came into her view, trying to catch her words above the sounds of the people disembarking and boarding.
“Yes,” Pip said. “Never Was.”
The call had to end again to conserve Pip’s battery.

end Chapter 7

Wit’s World: Never Was ©Elizabeth Watasin 2011

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