"Welcome back to the Theater of Magic."
You must login to vote
The electronic voice, coming faintly from the other end of the house, roused him. Christopher stretched, his back popping, and uncurled his legs. He looked to his left and saw Ella lying curled up against the wall, head pillowed on her arm. He stood up, shaking blood back into his legs, and went to where she lay. He knelt down, listening to her steady breathing, then scooped her carefully up and carried her into the living room.
She stirred in his arms and opened bleary eyes. "Hm? What's?"
"Nothing to worry about," Christopher said. He laid her down across the couch. "Go back to sleep."
"Sry." She lay back against the pillows, eyes slipping shut again.
"The basement is full of wonders!" A distant voice informed him. He straightened, popped his back, and followed the voice to Manuel's game room.
Manuel was inside, leaning over one of the machines, the flashing lights playing orange and green across his face.
"Shoot for the magic trunk!"
Christopher went and stood next to him. "How's the game going?"
"Not bad," Manuel said. "But too easy. I can keep one ball going for hours."
"Sorry you bought it?"
"Oh no. It's good fun. It will be a good novice machine, if we ever have visitors." He paused, lining up a shot. "Is Ella still here?"
"Sacked out on the couch." Christopher watched him play for a minute. "You know," he said at last. "I didn't want to mention this, but every time that voice says 'Shoot for the magic trunk', it sounds like 'Shoot for the magic drunk'."
Manuel laughed. "I know! It's great. Go for the drunk!" He took his own advice, sinking a shot into the little rotating box. The machine lit up.
"Decent voice work, though," Christopher said.
"Yes." Manuel paused, sending another shot into the magic drunk. "Christopher. What are your plans, now that you have re-formed the House? Do you intend to get others involved?"
"I hadn't really thought about it. Why, you think we should?"
"Yes." Manuel turned toward him, losing the ball. "If you are right, and I believe you are, something is getting ready to happen to the world. I feel we should be prepared when it does." He turned back and drew the plunger for the next ball.
"What did you have in mind?"
"We need to find the others."
"There will always be others. This is what we are for, if we are for anything. I don't think it possible- or even a good idea- to stop what happens, but if we can smooth the transition, so much the better."
Christopher frowned. "I haven't had much luck with groups in the past, you know."
"Of course I know." Manuel turned to him again, losing his second ball. "Any true thing is only true for one time and one place. This is not then. You are not who you were." He turned back to his game.
From the hall, the telephone began to ring.
"Tonight's performance is about to begin!"
Christopher and Manuel looked at each other.
"Now who could that be?" Christopher said. He held up a finger, forestalling their conversation, then left the game room and went out into the hall. The phone was still shrilling, the ringing sound bouncing off the walls and marble floor. It was an old Bakelite monstrousity with a touch-tone pad grafted onto its face. Christopher lifted the black receiver and put it to his ear. "...hello?"
"Christopher!" A rich, musical voice flooded through the earpiece. "I've been trying to get ahold of you."
"This is an unlisted number."
"I know. And you don't answer your e-mail either. I'm not really surprised."
Christopher put a hand to his face. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Midian. What can I do for you?"
"You need to come here. We need to talk."
"This is a telephone conversation."
"I mean in person. I don't want to do this over the phone." The voice paused. "Look, I know we didn't part under the best of terms-"
"No, in fact we parted under the worst of terms. I disapprove of your operation in every particular. You know this."
"If I could bring you to the Temple, show you what we're doing here-"
"Is this a rehearsed speech? Am I that predictable?"
"Look," Christopher said. "What you're doing. It's a cult. Not a temple, not a holy brother-and-sisterhood, a cult. And as much as you couch your operation in spiritual tosh, Bennett-"
"-you're still dominating the wills of others for your own purposes. We've had this argument. You don't have brethren, or even followers, you have acolytes. Do you know what an acolyte is, Bennett?"
Midian sighed. "No."
"An acolyte is an asshole looking for someone to attach itself to."
"Very witty. Anything else?"
Christopher was silent.
"Even so," Midian said. "I think you need to come. I make no pretense of convincing you of anything- forget that part. There are things you need to know."
"I hate this cloak and dagger shit..."
"Ooh, you cursed. And I hate talking over the phone. Just come down. I'll send a car for you. Come down, and we can talk, and if you don't like what you hear, you can leave whenever you want. I wouldn't go to all this trouble if it wasn't important. All right?"
Christopher looked up to see Manuel peering into the hallway, a questioning look on his face. He sighed. "...all right."
"Great! Give me an address to get you at. There'll be a limo to pick you up in-"
"You are not sending a limousine, Midian."
"No. Find a real car. I will not ride into Chicago in a ridiculous movie star car."
"This is a land line. You can get the address from that. I'll expect you in two hours."
"Two hours it is. See you in-"
Christopher hung up.
Manuel, still in the hall, raised his eyebrows.
"Apparently," Christopher said. "I'm going to Chicago."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.