Between Worlds by James Rumpel
Between Worlds by James Rumpel
“Watch this,” announced Eli Braun as he placed three pieces of silverware on his empty dinner plate. He waited until he had the full attention of the elderly man sitting across from him in the booth. He quickly waved his hands and arms over the porcelain plate.
“Tadaah,” he shouted, leaning back to reveal a plate that was devoid of silverware. All three pieces were nowhere to be seen.
“Very good,” laughed the older man. “Though I did catch just a glimpse of the blade of the butter knife as it slid into your sleeve.”
“Well, you’re the master magician. I bet nobody else would have caught it,” replied Eli. His feelings were moderately hurt that his employer wasn’t more impressed with his sleight of hand.
The experienced magician must have read the disappointment in Eli’s expression and understood his young apprentice’s need to impress. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take anything away from your close-up magic. You are very good. You have learned a lot in the last two years.”
“Thank you, Magico. The day you took me on as a stagehand was the best day of my life.”
“For the thousandth time, call me Bob. We’re friends. That’s why I want to ask you something: something very important.” Bob looked around the sparsely occupied diner.
Eli did the same. It was well after midnight and the only other people in the greasy spoon were the waitress, who was sitting at the counter fighting to keep from nodding off, and the short-order cook. A stream of off-pitch singing drifted in from the kitchen where the cook was belting out show tunes while washing up the night’s dishes.
“What do you want to ask?” Eli could barely contain his excitement. He had been anticipating Magico asking him to join the stage portion of the act for the last few months.
“Magic is a dying form of entertainment, Eli. It’s going to be the 1970’s soon and people are starting to think they are too sophisticated for simple magic. They have television shows with witches and genies. They see camera tricks that make things appear and disappear. I don’t know how much longer magicians like me are going to be able to make a living.”
“What do you mean?” interrupted Eli. He was not certain he liked the way this conversation was starting to go. “You are the best. You have made more things disappear and reappear than any other magician and no one knows the secret to your trick.”
Bob, once again glanced about the establishment. He appeared nervous about something. “That’s the thing, Eli. It’s not a trick. It is actual magic. I have a talisman that allows me to open a doorway to another dimension. I have been dropping things through that opening for years. That is how I make things disappear.”
Eli smiled and waited for Bob to do the same. The older magician never did. “What are you talking about?” asked the young man.
Magico ignored Eli’s query. “I need to step up the act. I need to do more than make things disappear and then bring them back. I need to do something that’s new and different. That’s where you come in. If I place you in the other dimension, you can switch what I pass for other objects. I could give you a dog and you could return a cat. It will be amazing. The audience will love it.”
Eli slowly shook his head. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Even if you aren’t pulling my leg and there is this other place, wouldn’t it be dangerous for me to be in it?”
Bob looked Eli directly in the eyes. “It is perfectly safe. I got the talisman from an Indian mystic in New Delhi years ago. I have been to the void many times. I go after each act and set up for the next. I have a table that I place things on. Nothing has ever happened to me.” As he spoke, Bob twisted the ornate ring he always wore on his right-hand pinky.
“I still don’t know if I believe you,” stated Eli. “However, you have been so good to me. I owe you a great deal. I trust you. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
The next day, Eli and Bob began preparations for Magico’s new and improved act. The magician explained how the mysterious talisman worked. When Magico held the ring above his head and spoke a simple incantation, a pitch-black square would appear. Anyone or anything passing through the four-foot by four-foot area would emerge in a totally different location. As long as he held the ring above his head the portal would remain open.
“When I started using the talisman,” explained Magico, “I took a table with me to the other side. I have been placing things on that table and retrieving them in order to perform my tricks.”
“How do you know it’s another dimension?” asked Eli. “Maybe it’s just someplace else on Earth.” He had passed through the portal with Bob earlier. While what he had seen on the other side was definitely odd, he had not witnessed anything that convinced him that it was otherworldly. He had found himself in what appeared to be a dimly lit tunnel.
“Oh, I know it’s not Earth. The mystic who gave me the talisman told me about it. The other side of the portal is a place between worlds. A braver man than I would be able to use the talisman to open similar doors into other worlds from there. I’m happy just to do my magic; I don’t need to explore. I don’t want you to get any bright ideas about exploring either. Moving away from the doorway can be very dangerous.”
“It just looks like a hallway to me,” replied Eli. “What else is in there?”
“I don’t want to find out,” was Bob’s answer. “I do know that when the portal is not open, time passes much differently within the void. Have you noticed that I kept my arm raised and the portal open when we went over there?”
“Of course, I did. I had to set up the cages and do all the work while you just stood there.”
“Once, when I first started to use the talisman. I closed the portal so I would have both hands free to set up the table. It only took me a minute but when I reopened the portal and returned to this side nearly two days had passed.”
Eli thought about the meaning of this information. “But, won’t I be over there with the portal closed while you begin your act?” The plan was for Eli to wait in the void and give the magician the necessary props to perform the transformation tricks.
“That won’t be a problem,” explained Bob. “Remember, time flows differently over there. The hour that you wait for the act to begin will seem like an instant. You won’t even notice. When I open the portal to pass the cat through time will sync up and you will be able to give me the puppy.”
“I guess it makes sense.” Eli hesitated. “I trust you.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you.” Bob smiled. “This is going to work out great. Now grab the parrot.” He raised his hand above his head and recited the magic word to open the portal. “We have to practice the exchange.”
The main stage of The Magic Palace was sold out once again. Nearly a thousand people were packed into the recently constructed theater. There was not as much cheering as you would expect for the amazing performance that was being witnessed. Most of the audience was too awestruck to applaud or cheer.
“And now, Ladies and Gentlemen. I, the Great Magico, will do something that only I am able to do. You will not see this on any other stage. I am about to bring a creature back from the dead.” The tuxedo-clad magician pulled a stuffed parrot from a small pine box. For effect, he dropped the bird, letting it hit the floor with a loud thud.
“It’s OK. He doesn’t feel anything.” Magico moved to a picture frame that was suspended from the ceiling by a single rope. The wooden frame did not hold a picture but was filled with a piece of black felt. Audience members had inspected the item earlier in the show and confirmed that the ebony cloth was solid.
The magician spun the frame three or four times. He finally stopped it so that the audience could only see one narrow side of the prop. Holding the lifeless parrot in his left hand, he raised both arms in the air. He slowly moved the carcass towards the frame. As the bird was about to touch the frame, Magico yelled “Dimonica” and inserted his hand into the frame before quickly retracting it.
The parrot fought to free itself from Magico’s grasp. It squawked loudly. The magician deftly placed the angry bird into a waiting cage. This time the audience erupted in a standing ovation.
Eli sat on the stool that he had brought with him into the void. He stared intently at the point on the wall where Magico’s hand would randomly appear. While the portal was open, he could not see through it, but he could hear the magician clearly. Listening to the act could be disconcerting. Whenever Magico closed the interdimensional doorway the portal would blink, almost imperceivably, and the act would jump forward to a different trick.
Magico’s new act was a hit. For the last two months, the theatre had been selling out every night. Word of the wonders performed by the magician had spread far and near. Each night Eli would spend an hour in the void helping Magico perform his act. His job was relatively easy. He simply needed to follow the script and have the correct object or animal ready to pass when his friend reached through the portal. His only challenge was to avoid being bitten or scratched by the cat or one of the birds. In between tricks, he had very little time to let his eyes wander. The nature of his surroundings remained a mystery though his curiosity grew with every show.
In the weeks since the act had been upgraded, Eli had spent a great deal of time trying to understand the essence of this location. His best guess was that it was some sort of buffer zone between dimensions.
Eli seemed to be seated in the middle of nothing more than a long, doorless corridor. A faint glow seeped through cracks in the ceiling, illuminating parts of the passageway. The randomly dispersed dim lighting gave the corridor an eerie incandescence. Ancient slate-gray walls seemed to extend to infinity to Eli’s right and left. They were solid and impenetrable, though tiny fissures blotted their surface. To Eli they resembled a classical painting, cracked and faded.
The hall was about twenty feet wide and the opposite side was identical to the side Eli was stationed at. The only things that distinguished his position from the rest of the never-ending corridor were the stool, the trunk of props and assorted caged animals gathered around Eli.
The portal quickly flashed out and then into existence. The indicator that the next trick was about to be performed. Eli deftly exchanged the puppy for the cat being passed through the portal. He stuck the cat into its cage and grabbed the potted plant. He needed to be ready to pass it onto the magician in exchange for the package of seeds that would be coming through the opening. He heard the crowd’s applause for the cat-to-dog transformation. Eli had to be ready, as soon as Magico dropped his hand and closed the portal it would reopen for the plant exchange.
The black square disappeared. After a second, Eli realized that something was wrong. It should have simply blinked and reappeared. A minute passed and the portal remained shut. If Eli understood the paradox of time in the void, hours could have passed on the other side of the void. What had happened? Why hadn’t Bob reopened the portal?
Eli sat staring at the place on the wall where the portal should have been. He had no idea how long he waited. For all he knew, it was weeks later on Earth. He started to fear that the portal would never be reopened. With each passing moment, his focus on the wall faded. He glanced at the cat which was curled up in its cage.
“Well, Mr. Whiskers,” he said, “I think we have a problem.”
The cat did not offer any suggestions.
A high-pitched scream drew Eli’s attention. Bob had warned him to not stray from his spot and he did not want to disappoint the man who had helped him so much. However, when a second shriek ruptured the usual silence of the void, Eli relinquished his post and took off running down the slate gray passageway toward the sound. Someone was in need of help.
Eli had no concept of how long he ran. The walls of the corridor were nearly identical. Once, he noticed a symbol of some sort painted on the wall to his right. He stopped to examine the markings, but the sound of another, less frantic, call for help drew him onward. He was about to abandon his search when he spied someone huddled on the floor in the distance. When he got close enough, he realized it was a young woman, garbed in a long dress. Eli heard sobs as he approached the apparent source of the earlier screams.
“Ah, can I help you?” he asked. He had no idea what to say in this situation or what he could do to help.
The sobs stopped and the woman looked up at Eli. Her eyes glistened in the dim light, coated with the moisture from her tears. She quickly stood, straightening her dress as she did so. Eli was struck by her appearance. She was pretty, though she did not have the type of artificial beauty that most of the showgirls and dancers of Vegas displayed. Her looks were plain, but her face was appealing, proportioned just as it should be. She appeared to be working hard to regain her composure.
“Who are you? Where am I?” she asked. She spoke English but had a strange, unidentifiable accent.
“I don’t know for certain. I believe it is a void beyond worlds.”
Her distress was suddenly replaced with anger. “So, Mikkael went through with his threat and has banished me to the netherworld. You must return me to my kingdom.”
Eli held out his arms in a gesture of helplessness. “I can maybe get you to Las Vegas. Where is your home?”
The woman had regained her composure. Her face once again displayed the strength that Eli had initially noticed. She stood tall and confident. “I am Queen Allimar, of the Northern Realm. I have never heard of this Las Vegas.”
“I’ve never heard of the Northern Realm. Is it in Europe?”
“You speak of places I know nothing of. Please, send me back to my homeland.”
Eli thought about the situation. “Do you know where you came through the wall? Maybe if you wait there someone will reopen the passage.”
“I am not exactly certain,” she answered. “I have walked a distance looking for help.”
“Are there any markings on the wall where you came through?” Eli was beginning to realize that finding the location of Allimar’s doorway may be as impossible as the prospects of opening it.
“Not that I am aware of. Why is that important?”
“I want to help you, Your Highness, but it may be impossible.” Eli explained everything he knew about the void to the beautiful queen. He described the odd passage of time within the void. He told her how he knew of a magician with a talisman that could open a passageway, but that he was in Las Vegas: a city in what Eli suspected was a completely different world than the one to which she hoped to return.
To Eli’s surprise, the Queen was very accepting of his tale. “Mikkael had a gem on the end of his staff. He must have used it to open the portal when he pushed me through.”
“I think we are in the same predicament, Queen Allimar. We are both stuck here waiting for someone to reopen a passage to our home. The problem is that we do not know where your opening is.”
“I fear it is worse than that,” added the Queen. “None of my people know of Mikkael’s talisman or how to use it. I fear I am stuck here forever.” Once again tears started to well in her eyes but she held them back. It was apparent to Eli that this was a strong woman who did not want to appear to be losing control.
“Well, if we have to wait. We can wait by my portal. If Magico opens it, maybe he will be able to help you.”
“But, how will we know where your doorway is if we can’t distinguish one from the other?”
Eli smiled. “That’s easy. My doorway is the only one with a pile of junk in front of it.”
“I will accompany you, Sir. I don’t see any other option and I would enjoy having someone to converse with. By the way, what is your name? Are you a knight?”
“I’m Eli and I’m just a magician’s helper.”
“And you may call me Allimar. I am not a queen in this realm.”
The trek back to the pile of magic flotsam took much longer than Eli thought it would, though in retrospect he had no idea how long either direction had been. Once there, the two lost souls could do nothing but wait and talk.
Allimar and Eli told each other about their worlds. Eli offered the queen food and drink. He always brought a sandwich and a canteen of water with him, just in case he got hungry during the performance. Allimar sat on the stool, absentmindedly petting Mr. Whiskers as they spoke. With nothing else to do, they found themselves sharing much about themselves and their worlds.
She told of a medieval land of knights and squires. A place where people earned their livelihood from the land. She told of being raised to be a ruler for the people. Her father, the king, had taught her well. He had made her live and work with the peasants as well as spend time with royalty. Her short rule had been exemplified by compassion and then betrayal. Mikkael, a confidant of her father, had turned on the kingdom and usurped the crown. It was because of him that she now found herself without a world.
Eli explained life in 1968 Nevada. He described automobiles and airplanes. He talked about television and movies. His world was a fantastic place. He also told of being raised by strict parents who sent him out on his own at the age of eighteen. He smiled when he talked about finding a mentor and a great friend. He bragged about his talent with sleight of hand, even showing her a few simple tricks.
In the end, they realized they had described drastically different places but there was some commonality to their tales, especially when they spoke of the history of their worlds.
“It is as if our worlds were once one, but have diverged over time,” commented Allimar.
“That explains why we both speak the same language,” added Eli.
Neither could comprehend how much time they had spent talking to each other but Eli appreciated the company and believed that Allimar felt the same. The grew closer with each conversation and found it easy to share their fears and emotions. Allimar had a stately beauty and carried herself like royalty, yet, at the same time, she displayed practicality and honesty. Eli admired this woman greatly.
A thunderous noise interrupted their conversation. Something loud was happening down the corridor.
“Wait here, I will go look,” announced Eli. “I will come to get you if it isn’t a threat.” For some reason, the harshness and the volume of the noise made Eli very wary.
When Eli located the source of the noise his apprehension was confirmed. Staying as far away as possible, he hid in an area of gloomy darkness and watched as a caravan of armed soldiers entered the void from an opened portal. The forces appeared to be dressed in battle gear and carried strange-looking weapons. To Eli, their guns looked like laser rifles from the old Buck Rogers series. Most disturbing was the fact that many of the soldiers seemed to be herding prisoners down the hall. Others carried large crates filled with gold and jewels.
When the last of the caravan passed through the doorway, a man wearing lavender robes lowered his right arm and the opening closed. The man placed whatever he had been holding into his pocket and proceeded to make his way toward the front of the army, away from Eli’s position.
When Eli returned to the location of his door, he told Allimar about what he had witnessed.
“It sounds like a raiding party to me,” was her conjecture.
“That robed man has a talisman. Maybe we could use it to open the way back to my world.”
“That may be true, but according to your description he does not sound like a man to be negotiated with.”
Eli nodded. Allimar was being logical and practical. He knew his idea was farfetched, bordering on impossible, but there had to be a solution to their predicament.
Two days later, Eli encountered the robed man a second time. Allimar had gone exploring, hoping to find some way out of the never-ending corridor or perhaps a source of food. The sandwich was gone and all that remained was an apple and a few sips of water. The prospect of starving to death in the endless corridor was not appealing; there had to be a way to escape. The two would often walk in a given direction and then turn around and continue back until returning to the trunk and chair. They continued to share engaging conversations as they searched.
This time Allimar had ventured out on her own. While waiting for her return, Eli stared at the wall, wishing for the portal to open. He missed Magico, and the life he had left behind. He also needed to find a way to help Allimar. She deserved a better fate than to die in an empty void.
Without warning, Eli heard heavy footsteps coming from the direction opposite to the one Allimar had taken. He quickly and quietly moved down the hall, away from whoever was approaching.
He hunched down close to the floor in one of the darker stretches of the hall. There were few cracks in the ceiling above to allow light to leak through. He prepared to stand and run if the interlopers got too close. To his relief, the three approaching men stopped by the pile of magic equipment.
“Well, this looks interesting,” said the leader, who Eli instantly recognized as the robed man who had led the army. “There is obviously some sort of technology and manufacturing in this world. They may have treasures worth obtaining.”
The other two men were soldiers. They both wore the same body armor and carried the weapons Eli had scouted earlier. One of them spoke with a gravelly tone. “But, Larmon, doesn’t this pile of goods mean they have a key?”
“All the more reason for us to invade. Think of the value of a second key.”
The other soldier added his objection, “There is almost no chance of us being able to locate their magical jewel.”
“I know that,” snapped the leader. “It doesn’t matter. If they try to follow us, they will never find our home portal. I think any world with knowledge of the keys will have treasures worth obtaining. Let’s make a quick scouting run.”
Larmon reached into his pocket and withdrew a small gem. He held the gem up and spoke a single word. “Omisoco.” Immediately a portal opened in the wall and the three men stepped through. The gateway closed behind them before Eli had any chance to think about following them.
Eli knew he wouldn’t leave Allimar behind even had the doorway remained ajar. Instead, he simply stayed in his position and waited for the raiders to return.
After what, to Eli, seemed like an incredibly short amount of time the pathway once again opened and the men returned to the void.
“We will do very well in that world,” commented Larmon as he closed the portal. “Let us go prepare our forces. I think we want to bring our largest battalion ever for this raid.”
“Shouldn’t we mark the location of the doorway?” asked one of the soldiers.
“I think the material stacked against the wall marks it pretty well,” responded the leader. “We will return as soon as possible.”
The two soldiers nodded in agreement and the trio headed back toward the point where they had entered the void.
As Eli watched them disappear down the corridor he jumped into action. They might be back soon and he needed to be ready for them.
When Allimar returned she found Eli sitting on the chair exactly where she had left him.
Eli hopped off the stool and raced to her. He stopped before her and took her hands into his. “I think I have a way to return to my world. It may be dangerous and I know it isn’t getting you back to your home, but I hope you will join me.”
Allimar surprised Eli by giving a quick peck on the lips. “Eli, I have been resigned to the fact that I am never going to be able to find my way home. If I cannot return, there is nothing I want more than to be with you and help you get back to where you are from.”
“Thank you. You are wonderful,” was all Eli could say. He felt color rush into his cheeks. He didn’t know what made him happier, the prospect of going home or having Allimar accompany him.
“Here’s the plan.”
Eli told the queen everything he had seen and done since she had left for her walk. He shared every detail of his risky scheme.
The sound of the approaching forces was unmistakable. When Eli and Allimar heard the advancing troops, they moved to a dark spot in the hallway.
They watched as the robed leader moved to one side, next to the stool and trunk. He extracted his talisman from his pocket and held it in the air. “Omisoco” he shouted and the passageway opened.
With trained precision and impressive speed, the soldiers immediately began entering the portal. Hundreds of armed invaders stepped through the gateway in rapid succession. The number of soldiers in the hallway dwindled while Eli and Allimar waited.
At the moment when the final two men, Larmon’s bodyguards, prepared to leave the void, Eli jumped up and ran towards the three remaining men. “Hey, hold the door. Wait for me,” he shouted. Allimar followed closely behind.
Taken by surprise, Larmon lowered his right arm, closing the portal. The two soldiers drew their weapons.
“Don’t shoot,” ordered the leader as he returned the talisman to his pocket. “I need to know who they are and be sure that killing them is to our advantage before doing so.” The soldiers lowered their guns.
Eli and Allimar stopped a short distance from the enemy trio. “We just want to go home,” proclaimed Eli. Allimar, ever so slightly, inched towards the center of the corridor.
“Who are you?” asked the robed man. He began to reach into his pocket. He, evidently, did not wish to leave the portal closed any longer.
“I am Magico, the ruler of the plane of Earth,” said Eli in his most grandiose tone. He waved his arm in front of himself and bowed as low as he could. “Now,” he shouted.
Allimar took off at a dead sprint, passing the guards and racing down the hall in the direction the invading forces had originated from. Eli came up from his bow and charged into Larmon, knocking the enemy leader back and to the side. Eli quickly regained his balance and joined Allimar in her mad dash.
Larmon regained his balance and shouted to his men, “Get them. I want them alive so I can figure out what they are up to.”
The two soldiers hesitated before beginning to pursue the escaping pair.
An irritated Larmon reached into his pocket. To his dismay, the pocket was empty. He glanced around the floor beneath him but did not see what he was searching for.
As they sped down the hall, Eli kept his eyes focused on the line of intersection formed by the wall and floor. Allimar ran beside him, glancing over her shoulder. “They’re gaining on us,” she screamed.
Eli spotted his objective. Sticking out of a crack in the base of the wall was a green parrot feather.
“Stop here.” Eli lifted his right hand which tightly grasped the jewel he had pulled from Larmon’s robe during their collision. Holding up his arm, Eli said “Omisoco,” while silently praying that the portal would open. Hopefully, with the exception of needing a different spoken enchantment, everything operated the same as Magico’s talisman.
To his great relief, a portion of the wall turned black. The pathway was open.
“Quickly, through here,” He continued to hold the talisman up as he ushered Allimar into his world. A bolt of energy fired from one of the soldier’s weapons stuck the solid wall just to the left of the opening. Eli rushed to escape the corridor. As soon as he left the void, he lowered his arm and the portal closed as desired.
Allimar grabbed Eli in a bear hug. “We did it. We got out.”
Eli smiled and waited for her to release him so that he could breathe once again. “Yes, and we have them trapped inside the void. And their raiding party is trapped in whatever world they got sent into.”
Allimar now gave Eli a quick kiss. “Moving the stool and trunk was a brilliant idea.”
“I’m just glad it worked and I was able to spot the feather we used to mark my world’s doorway.” For the first time, Eli looked at his surroundings. In the dim light created by a couple of emergency exit signs, he was able to recognize the main stage of The Magic Palace, but it was, somehow, different.
He was about to suggest leaving the stage when the lights came on in the auditorium. An older man, wearing a gray work shirt and blue jeans called from the doorway. “What are you two doing in here? Did you hide in here after the show? You have to leave.”
In the bright light, Eli could now see what was different. The audience seats, which had been brand new when he had last been here, were faded and threadbare. The stage was scratched and worn.
“Did the Great Magico perform tonight?” shouted Eli toward the janitor.
“Oh, so you’re one of those ghost hunters. Everyone knows Magico died of a heart attack during a performance over fifty years ago. His ghost does not haunt this place. Now get out of here before I call the police.”
Eli remained frozen in place for a moment. Allimar grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the exit.
Once they were in the lobby, Eli slowly came to grips with what the janitor had told him. The reality was driven home even further when he saw the poster for the week’s performances. “HAIR BANDS OF THE 1980’s – AUGUST 10-16 2020.”
“Are you OK?” asked Allimar, still clutching his hand.
“Yes, I guess, you aren’t the only one who has to get used to a brand-new world.”
“We can do it together.”
“Yes, we can,” agreed Eli. “We can use the talisman to get you back to your world. We can open one doorway at a time until we find it.”
Allimar smiled. “That is something for a different time. Right now, I am very hungry.”
Eli reached into his pocket and pulled out his billfold. Inside there were five one-dollar bills. “You know, there used to be a hamburger place called McDonald’s. I wonder if they are still in business. Let the adventure begin.”
Hand in hand, the couple headed out into the brightly lit streets of Vegas.
Copyright James Rumpel 2020