The twins lent their parents a hand on the nights the part-time help did not come in for the evening shift. Pip served the guests and took orders while Em helped their dad in the kitchen. Waffles at night with chicken, corn, greens, and potatoes made for a decent dinner that still brought regular patrons. Though its revenue had become modest through the years the restaurant still drew loyal customers who loved the novelty waffles and the nostalgic atmosphere.
Em heard the laughter and the clatter of the kitchen and decided it was another good night for the Wizard. There was a camera flash, and through the orders window she saw smiling tourists posing with the Great Daringi’s top hat and magician cape that was displayed in a case against the wall. Magic fans often found their way to the restaurant in order to appreciate its photo memorabilia and conjurer props.
“Em!” Pip called when she popped up at the orders window. She was still wearing the winged tiara. “Someone wants to take pictures with us!”
Em checked to see if her dad was all right, then removed her apron and let down her hair. When she emerged from the kitchen her smiling sibling stood with an older female couple.
“Oh, she looks just like Dawn Daring; how extraordinary!” one of the women exclaimed.
Em smiled but grasped her locket. Pip went to her side and put a reassuring arm around her.
“Mrs. and Mrs. Dot and Renee Duffy used to watch us do the pantomimes with Auntie, do you remember them?” Pip asked. “They moved away from Silver City and are back visiting. We’re glad you enjoyed our plays,” Pip said, addressing the couple.
“We loved everything your aunt did,” Dot Duffy said. “What an incredible young lady. She would have had a wonderful career in the movies.”
“Or on stage,” her wife added. “The world lost a beautiful performer.”
Em only nodded.
“And you girls will be magicians, as well, carrying on the tradition?” Dot asked hopefully.
The question caught Em by surprise. She and Pip still practiced the tricks. It was a discipline they could not ignore and was among the many they loved to do that included weapons handling, stunt training, and acrobatics. The Wizard’s courtyard stage was where Pip and Em experimented, trying out ideas, over and over. It was only since Aunt Dawn’s death that the twins ceased to perform publicly and Em had never been sure when they would seriously do so again.
“Em is the magician,” Pip said proudly. “I assist her. And she would have received granddaddy’s hat, too, if it weren’t so big.” She nodded towards the men’s top hat in the display case. “So Em has Auntie’s hat.”
“The hat of Enigmatic Dawn,” Renee Duffy said, beaming. “That’s wonderful.”
Pip urged Em into the photo with the Duffys. Em shyly smiled for the camera while their mother took the picture. She tried to muster the brightness that Pip easily projected, knowing Aunt Dawn would have liked that, but mention of their resemblance and her inheritance of the magician mantle had unsettled her. Em chose to dye her hair dark to emulate their black haired Aunt and her Dark Girl ways, but that had been even before Aunt Dawn’s sudden death. She had not realized how well she had succeeded.
When the photo was done Em put her hair up again and headed to the kitchen.
“Em,” her mother called. Dutifully, Em changed course.
“I see Pip is wearing an interesting tiara tonight,” June said with a smile as she handled a bill at the register. Em simply inclined her head in agreement. “I know she’s planning something, she has that look in her eye. Your dad and I have an appointment tomorrow, so make sure she doesn’t get into trouble, okay?”
When Em nodded again, her mother kissed her forehead. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
Em returned to the kitchen in a jumble of feelings. However, even as she distractedly donned her apron she noticed an error her father had made with one of the outgoing plates.
“Dad, this person wanted cowboy waffles, not Indian chiefs,” Em said.
“That’s the third mistake I’ve made tonight!” her dad said. “I don’t know where my head is.”
“I’ll eat it, Mr. Daring,” the bus boy said as he placed more dishes in the washer. “I eat all the mistakes.”
“You do, Joey, thank you,” Daniel said. Joey had suffered brain damage in a freak collision while skiing competitively. June sympathized with Joey’s loss, having been a pro athlete with a very short career herself, and hired him immediately. When Aunt Dawn began performing in the courtyard and engaged the twins in her routines, Joey was also there, making sure the curtains and props operated on time and correctly. He always took a bow with them on stage.
“Daddy,” Em said quietly, looking at him. Her dad rubbed his forehead wearily, removing his glasses.
“Your mom is seeing our lawyer tomorrow. And she thinks I need to come this time, too,” he said.
Em hugged him as tightly as she could.
x x x
Buck and his friends did not arrive until it was almost closing time. The Darings were happy to accommodate them; it was a Friday night and they didn’t mind keeping the kitchen open late. It was a tolerable spring night, as well, not too cool, so Mrs. Daring ushered the group to the long table in the courtyard where festive lanterns hung.
“Pip, you’re wearing the crown of Sun, the Tomorrow Maiden,” Buck pointed out as his friends perused their menus. Pip, who had stepped outside after her mom had left, did a pretty spin and bow.
“And I intend to wear it to bed! Hello Buck, Mr. Dangerous, Ben Case, Dutch,” Pip said, greeting everyone gaily. She turned her head elegantly and arched her arm in presentation. “My twin, Emma Daring.”
Em entered. Her skirt swept behind her as she slowly curved in her path across the courtyard. She had just released her hair and was adjusting the fall with a toss of her head.
“Moon, Ash Maiden of the Dark, our Queen of the Carny,” Mr. Dangerous proclaimed. With his fedora and already-graying beard, he looked to be the oldest of the group.
“He means you are Moon, Ash Maiden of Dark Town, before it was renamed Spook Town. The Queen of the Carny was Wit Senior’s wife, who was once known as Queen of Night. She’s currently represented by a fortune telling automaton in Spook Town,” Dutch said in a monotonous tone. He was a large, soft-bodied, college-aged young man with a crew cut and small eyes set closely together. He didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular.
“Some people say that’s still her, her soul channeling through the fortune teller,” the smiling man next to him added with a spooky waggle of his fingers. He rose to offer his hand to Em. “I’m Ben Case,” he said warmly. “I’ve eaten here on occasion, and watched your shows. I’m happy to finally meet you.” He looked to be a man in his thirties. His pale eyes behind his glasses were friendly.
Em only fluttered her dark lashes and demurely held his hand. Ben grinned.
“I liked what I said better,” Mr. Dangerous said.
“Let me take your orders, and you can explain everything to Em,” Pip said.
With Pip away in the kitchen, Em sat down and gazed at the foursome. It was obvious that she was not one for preamble, so the others looked to Mr. Dangerous. He cleared his throat.
“From what I hear, you children grew up in this town,” he began. “So you probably know what I’m about to tell you better than me.”
“And Dutch will be sure to correct you,” Buck said.
“I’d rather he didn’t,” Mr. Dangerous said. “Think on this,” he continued. “In the beginning, there was a park, a fantastic park, that appeared overnight by supposedly supernatural means. That’s the park of the Carny Man, Witland Wally, Senior. The second era of the park happened during the space fantasy age, the age after our Second World War, when Wit Wally, Junior took control.”
“We know all that,” Buck said.
“Well pretend you didn’t,” Mr. Dangerous said. “So here we are in the Age of Space Dreams. Right after Junior invented the television he disappeared, just like his old man, and with Junior went three of his best builders. All vanished. Where they are and might be doing and if they’re still alive, God knows. Now we have the present-day park, Amazing World. That park is run by Junior’s twin brother Wayne and it’s a park that’s grown so rich and powerful it’s a bloat that blots out Silver City.”
“I’ve always hated your articles in our magazine,” Dutch said in a flat voice. “Your metaphors are horrible.”
“Shut up, Dutch,” Mr. Dangerous said. He returned his attention to his audience. “One of the changes Wit, Jr. made to his father’s park was to remove the mechanisms that led into Wit’s World. I’m talking about the admission gates. The old gates required a metal key, which, when inserted, triggered the correct sequence of gear shifts to unlock the turnstile and allow a single paying patron through.”
“Yeah,” Buck interrupted. “You can see why Wit, Jr. removed the old gates; it took too long for customers to move through and Wit, Jr. was all about the money.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ben said. “I think he was about innovation, vision, potential. His twin, Wayne Wally, on the other hand . . .”
“As I was saying,” Mr. Dangerous harrumphed. When the others quieted he crossed his arms thoughtfully and continued.
“One old entry gate was the Gold Gate, where patrons who had bought a year’s worth of unlimited admittance could pass through with a Golden Key. With this Gold Key you could get into all the lands within Wit’s World, including the inner fortitudes of Mystica. None of the regular keys could do that. Today, only one Gold Gate still exists at the entrance of Amazing World.”
“A gate,” Buck said, “that not only admitted gold patrons, but also park actors.”
Pip appeared, giving the grateful foursome their meals and drinks amid appreciative sounds. She looked at Em with an expectant, bright expression and sat down beside her. As the club members ate, Em ruminated on what she had heard.
“A publicity stunt,” she finally surmised. The men nodded in agreement. “You want Pip to enter the Gold Gate at Amazing World as Wit, Sr.’s Tomorrow Maiden. Why?”
Ben wiped his mouth. “Well, I think it draws attention to our goal. We want people to be more aware of the park’s golden era and of the destruction of Wit, Sr.’s heritage. People would then make the connection to Amazing Company’s persecution of landmark buildings like yours. We’ll have the media there in force: TV stations, newspapers, radio.”
“And you have permission for this?” Em asked.
“Sharp young lady,” Mr. Dangerous said. He wiped his beard. “No,” he admitted.
Pip chuckled and hugged Em, putting her head on Em’s shoulder. Em suppressed a roll of her eyes at Pip’s attempt to placate her.
“You know Pip can do it, Em,” Buck said encouragingly through a mouthful of waffle. “She can make it happen for us.”
Em took a deep breath and placed a hand on Pip’s hair. She thought about her father.
“Anything would help,” she finally said.
Pip squealed with delight, clapped her hands, and hugged Em. Mr. Dangerous wiped his beard again.
“Glad you agree,” he said.
“But where is Pip’s key?” Em asked.
The members of the Astonished Enthusiasts of Futures Unknown Club looked at Dutch, who mechanically ate his meal. When he finally tired of their stares, he reluctantly stopped eating.
“When Wit, Jr. destroyed his father’s work, all park actor keys were gathered up and melted down as metal scrap,” he said flatly. “So were the casting molds. Those rare keys were the specially engraved nameplates that were worn by the park actors. What’s in the museum and on display in Amazing World are fakes. They’re not cut with any of the correct designs to unlock the Gold Gates.”
“You said ‘gates,’” Em noted.
“A Gold Gate was part of each turnstile entry leading into each land of the park,” Ben explained. “In the old days, you needed your admission key to get into Dark Town, Astra City, Lost Lands, and Mystica. Today, no more turnstiles exist except in front, and one paper ticket lets you roam through all four lands.”
While Ben spoke, Dutch had continued eating.
“Dutch,” the other men said patiently. Dutch ceased eating with a snort. He retrieved his backpack.
“Dutch is one hell of a collector,” Mr. Dangerous said. “And what he has is ridiculously valuable.”
“It’s beyond valuable,” Dutch snapped. “It can open worlds.” He held a black leather case in both hands. He pressed the sides and the case opened.
A metal nameplate gleamed within the red satin of the box. One edge was cut in a pattern that Em recognized as the teeth of a key. The name stamped on the plate read: “PHILIPPA.”
“You made this?” Em said in hushed surprise. Pip reverently took the case from Dutch’s hands.
“No,” Dutch said flatly. “It’s original, just like the outfit.”
“Remarkable, isn’t it?” Ben said softly. “A Philippa from that bygone age now has her clothes and her nameplate worn by a Philippa of our own time. It’s like providence or . . . fate, somehow.”
“And the costume fits,” Pip added happily. She offered the box to Em.
Em picked up the nameplate and inexplicable warmth suddenly entered her fingers and rapidly enveloped her body. Surprised, she glanced at the nameplate but the sensation was gone. With everyone watching her expectantly, Em turned to her sibling and carefully secured the badge to Pip’s top.
Buck, Mr. Dangerous, and Ben huzzahed and thumped the table while Dutch sat stonily.
“So, Dutch,” Buck said as he resumed wolfing down his chicken and waffles. “Didn’t I tell you that the Wizard’s waffles were way better than Wit’s Waffles in the park, which stole the idea?”
“I wish I’d eaten here before,” Mr. Dangerous said. “Now I know that the Wondrous Wit Waffle Machine is a rip-off of the Waffle Wizard’s. The Darings’ machine will always be considered the copy, unfortunately.” He shrugged.
“I was here when they stole the design,” Buck declared. “Some people in dress shirts and ties came in to eat and all they did was take pictures of the machine. They were Amazing Builders. They had to be.”
“Amazing can’t copy what’s at the heart of the Waffle Wizard, in my opinion,” Ben said. The twins had already walked away from the table, Pip leading her sister to the small, ornate theater stage that sat dormant in the courtyard.
“What’s that?” Mr. Dangerous asked behind his napkin.
“It can’t steal the Darings, their magic shows, or whatever wonderful things these girls may come up with.” Ben glanced back at the twins. “Amazing can never take that legacy.”
“Sure they can,” Buck interjected. “They can do it by taking their home.”
x x x
“So what do you think?” Pip asked as she enticed Em to mount the stage. She slowly spun her into a graceful dance.
“I suspect you intend to use this stunt to talk to the media about our home?” Em asked. Pip liked to lead, and Em let her, moving backwards to follow Pip’s steps.
“Would the Tomorrow Maiden do any less?” Pip said, arching an eyebrow. Em twirled away from her arms and faced her, taking a stance.
“Ha, Ash Maiden,” Pip declared, standing proudly as a Maiden of Tomorrow. Even without the winged crown and nameplate, Pip was an effective Sun with her heroic attitude alone. Em suppressed a grin and produced a silver mask and gleaming rapier hidden beneath a floorboard of the stage. She schooled her face to aloof coldness and, holding the mask to her face, Em approached menacingly, her rapier flashing.
The legends of the Maidens were created by the Carny Man to represent two lands within the park: Moon, the Ash Maiden of Dark Town and Sun, the Tomorrow Maiden of Astra City. They were the daughters of the Queen of the Carny, or Queen of Night, who was a symbol of the Carny Man’s own beloved wife, Evelyn Wally. Though the Tomorrow Maiden was changed during the Wit Junior era of the park into a spacefarer and her land into Astraopolis, the eternal opposition of the two Maidens remained the same.
When Aunt Dawn was the twins’ age she had played Moon the Ash Maiden for a season to earn her Actors Guild card. It was one of many accomplishments that had made her a Dark Girl idol. Em was happy to play Aunt Dawn’s first role.
At the Ash Maiden’s approach Pip thrust both hands out. Her foot discreetly triggered a pedal and bright flashes popped as if produced from her own hands. Em stepped back, cowed by the sudden bursts of light. Joey ran up from the kitchen to disappear behind the stage. A moment later the wobbly boom of thunder sounded. The members of the Astonished Club laughed.
The fight resumed. Em circled with menace and her rapier whipped through the air. Pip merely stood, her crown bright in the courtyard’s dimness, and threw balls of light at Moon. Joey timed his booms of thunder to Pip’s flashes. More lightning pops were triggered against the theater’s black backdrop. In the legends, Moon of the Night became aware of the futility of her battle and succumbed to the inevitable arrival of her sister, Sun of Tomorrow. Sometimes the Ash Maiden’s defeat was portrayed with noble and brave recognition of her fate. Tonight, Em chose Moon’s fear, smallness, and vulnerability. The mask dropped from Em’s hand and she flung an arm up to hide her face. In slow surrender, the Ash Maiden gave up her ghost to the brightness of Sun. The Ash Maiden shrank. The battle ended with a loud clatter as the rapier fell to the floor and Em collapsed in a final heap at Pip’s feet.
“So dies the Dark Maiden!” Mr. Dangerous said as he applauded from the table.
“Well, that wasn’t a death at the hands of a victor, per se, but more like an acceptance. A sacrifice,” Ben said.
While the men discussed the improvised skit, Joey joined the twins on stage. Em curtsied and Pip and Joey bowed.
“Thank you for watching!” Pip announced from the stage. “That will be the only performance of that skit because as you know, Amazing does not allow it.”
“We’re very grateful to have seen it then!” Ben said, beaming.
“You’re quite a fan of theirs,” Mr. Dangerous said.
“I can’t help it. I saw them on that stage when they were younger with Dawn Daring.” He paused in recollection. “She was something else.”
The trio cleaned up the stage and hopped down. Joey said goodbye to the twins since his shift was long over. Buck gathered his things. The back gate that led to the courtyard swung loudly, evidence of Dutch’s abrupt departure.
“Thanks,” Buck called to the girls as he walked to the gate. “I’ll see you in the morning!”
“Bye, Buck!” Pip said, but Em did not notice their friend’s farewell. She saw a lean figure in black lounging against the lit door that led inside. It was Shade, smirking as he watched her. Em went to the table.
“Now that the Venus Grotto is gone, where shall we go?” Mr. Dangerous asked.
“There’s still the Cannibal Grove,” Ben suggested.
“Not the same, man, not the same.”
The men departed in mild debate, Pip locking the gate behind them. She helped Em clear the table.
“He’s inside now, talking to Mom in the kitchen,” she told Em quietly as they gathered the plates. “Want to sneak up or come in?”
Em exhaled shakily. “I’ll come in,” she said.
(end Chapter Three)
Wit’s World: Never Was ©Elizabeth Watasin 2011
Em meets the Astonished Enthusiasts of Futures Unknown Club, and learns why Pip must dress as the Tomorrow Maiden in order to save the Waffle Wizard.