Chapter 20: Changes
Arnold and Lucidia get into the elevator as dizzy trombones blast from Arnold’s pocket. The elevator stops suddenly and the emergency exit on the ceiling slams open. The woman with thoughts streaming out of her head jumps down from the ceiling door and grabs Arnold from behind. The man in shadows jumps and holds onto Lucidia.
‘You fools!’ The woman says. ‘We have you now!’
The man in shadows behind Lucidia grabs Arnold’s shoulder and throws him against the wall.
A lightening flash crashes from the ceiling and freezes them.
‘Up here!’ Vialba reaches down for them. Arnold tears free from the woman’s frozen grip and they climb out of the emergency exit. Ice cracks below them.
‘You need to get out of here!’ Vialba says. ‘I’ll hold them off.’ She shoots another lightning bolt down into the elevator.
Arnold takes the elephant out of his pocket and they dive into the ground. After a few minutes, they rise up into the library near Jed and Lance.
‘Arnold! Lucidia! How did it go?’ Jed asks. Him and Lance sit at the conference table.
‘Tina has her voice back,’ Arnold says.
‘And the two sides of Two-Way Town need a few days to talk,’ Lucidia adds.
‘Great to hear!” Jed says.
‘Good job, guys!’ Lance pats Arnold on the back.
‘Thanks,’ Arnold says, ‘but it ended with a close call.’
‘What happened?’ Jed asks.
‘An evil witch found us! Vialba kept them off long enough so we could get away, but I’m worried she may be in danger.’
‘Who are they?’ Lucidia asks.
‘There’s nothing in the books about them, which tells me that they are relatively new mutations in this world.’ Jed leafs through a book on the desk as he speaks.
Lance stands up and hands Arnold and Lucidia a mask each.
‘What are these for?’ Lucidia asks.
‘This is to conceal your identity. The way that this next task is undertaken is very important, Lucidia, so I have educated Lance and have given him the instructions.’
‘Okay.’ Lucidia nods.
‘You can use these masks twice to look different, but then after that it makes you invisible. Lucidia, you can’t be invisible for this, so make sure you only put the mask on before you go. And don’t take it off and put it back on. Arnold and Lance, you need to be invisible, so please put your masks on a few times.
Arnold puts his mask on and turns into a flock of seagulls. He takes it off and becomes himself, puts it on and turns into a bicycle and then back to himself again. When he puts in on again, he disappears.
‘Perfect!’ Jed says.
Lance puts his mask on a few times and turns into a woman and then an ant hill before becoming invisible.
‘Alright,’ Jed says. ‘Lance will explain some things on the way. Make sure to listen to his instructions, Lucidia. He’ll tell you what to say if you need to speak. You and Arnold will be the only ones who can hear his voice.’
‘Okay.’ Lucidia’s voice is shaky. She puts her mask on and shrinks slightly, morphing into an elderly woman with dyed auburn hair. Her clothes make her appear to be a banker.
An invisible Arnold pulls the elephant out of his pocket.
‘To Tirinodo,’ Lance says.
Lucidia sinks into the ground, seemingly alone on the elephant’s back.
In Tirinodo, hover cars rush between gold-plated sky-scrapers. Sap clouds droop like molasses down the tallest buildings, while metallic ragtime provides a mechanical heartbeat of the city. Arnold, Lucidia, and Lance arrive outside of a museum beside a hot-air yacht club.
‘We need to go into that museum,’ an invisible Lance says from Lucidia’s right.
They climb a staircase that resembles the entrance to an amphitheatre and open a door made of glass. Natural sunlight pours through the windows of the main entrance and a plaque is mounted on the wall.
‘Donated by the Banker Family.’
‘Where to, Lance?’ Lucidia asks.
‘The museum’s connected to the old Banker family’s house. We need to find it.’
Lucidia nods and makes her way through the glass hallway, catching her 70 year- old banker disguise’s reflection in the glass. At the end of the hallway are two doors. The left one says ‘Artifacts’ and the wooden door on the right says, ‘Banker Family Home’. Below it reads:
‘Donated by the city after The Banker Family passed on. Let the Banker family teach us the value of our financial goals and remind us that straying from the Tirinodo ideal will bring tragedy to those around us.’
‘That’s kind of eerie,’ Lucidia says.
‘Once we get in the house,’ Lance says, ‘pretend you’re alone, Lucidia, and repeat what I say if we encounter anyone.’
‘Okay,’ Lucidia pushes the door open and they enter.
‘We need to find the basement.’ Lance says.
The smell of mothballs fills the air and Lucidia breaks through cobwebs as she enters. Splinters of light shine through wooden boards that cover the windows. The house creeks as she explores the front living room. Her breathing is loud and shallow. She makes her way through the living room and spots a door next to the kitchen entrance. She opens it to reveal a staircase leading to a basement.
Feeling for a light switch, she finds one beside the bottom of the staircase and flicks it on as she walks down. A dim light appears in the far corner and she begins to explore the basement. The metallic ragtime music crashes and thuds out from the furnace at the back of the room.
A cloaked woman emerges from behind the old furnace. A loose hood conceals her face, but she appears old and frail. ‘Who goes there?’ Her weak voice says from under her hood.
‘A curious tourist,’ Lance whispers to Lucidia.
‘A curious tourist,’ Lucidia says aloud with her voice trembling.
‘Hmm,’ the lady in the shadows says. ‘I ‘m obligated to answer any questions you may have.’ She speaks as though a slave to this remark, absent of kindness.
‘Who are you?’ Lucidia asks with a voice that matches her old-lady disguise.
‘Mrs. Banker!’ The lady says from the darkness. Her face catches a brief beam of light from a window and Lucidia can see that she is no more than a skeleton with patches of hair on top of her head. Her face retreats back into the shadows.
‘Why are you here?’ Lance whispers to Lucidia.
‘Why are you here?’ Lucidia keeps her distance from the cloaked Mrs. Banker.
‘I won’t leave this world until I know she can’t undo what we’ve done!’
‘Who?’ Lucidia asks before Lance’s instruction.
‘My nasty daughter,’ Mrs. Banker says. ‘She ran away and shamed our family! They say she’s dead, but I won’t believe it until I see her corpse!’ Mrs. Banker gets closer to Lucidia. ‘I must guard the crank and if she comes to turn it, I can kill her myself.’
‘What’s the crank?’ Lance whispers.
‘What’s the crank?’ Lucidia asks.
Mrs. Banker pulls a dusty blanket off of a circular metal crank. It’s handle is connected to a large wheel of gears.
‘This is the crank that our family turned to make the three levels of this city. It can only be turned by us, so when we’re gone, Tirinodo will remain how it is. But if she were to come and crank it, all would be lost!’ Mrs. Banker pulls out a rusty scythe. ‘Silly little thing would probably think she could come alone!’ She laugh and leaves the shadows.
The ragtime storms inside the furnace, pulsating the deep ground of Tirinodo and rising. Mrs. Banker gives a slow and long whiff through her nose, picking up Lucidia’s scent.
Lucidia’s teeth begin to chatter and Mrs. Banker strikes at her with the scythe. Lance’s unseen arm blocks the attack and Mrs. Banker bursts into dust and falls to the floor. Lance becomes visible as he screams and bursts into dust as well.
Arnold takes his mask off and becomes visible. He and Lucidia stare at the ground where Lance just was, stunned by the tragedy. The Elephant comes out of Arnold’s pocket and blows a trombone blues song from a New Orleans funeral march.
But the furnace is too loud. It shakes and commands their attention, ready to blow.
‘The crank!’ Lucidia yells. They run to the crank and Lucidia begins to turn it. The walls catch fire as she gains momentum. As it passes one full rotation, the crank breaks and an earthquake erupts.
‘Let’s get out of here!’ Arnold yells as he coughs in the smoke.
They run up the stairs and find a side door in a hurry. The earthquake knocks them off their feet and they fall onto the ground. Looking up, they see the sap clouds dripping down from the sky and becoming more transparent. The furnace explodes from the basement, and then there’s silence.