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THE TWO MAGICIANS
From Nowhere To Forever

by Zelda Leah Gatuskin
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Prologue:
Somewhere in the Rockies

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Personally, I had never been opposed to the Harmony Convention in Piper Canyon, which is the only reason it got to be an annual event. I had the job of keeping an eye on the Loophole, and sending unwitting trespassers back to their side of the Spiral, and so the other Minders allowed me the final say. I enjoyed the convention, actually. Made for a busy week, but I had the most interesting slice of the Alternate World coming right to my doorstep.

That's where I went wrong. Allowing myself to be amused by this "New Age" business. Dancing and drumming. Amateurish fortune-telling and bogus, hocus-pocus spells. The participants were like children to me, harmlessly playing at games they knew nothing about. I loved them and pitied them. Poor souls had no idea how many turns of the Spiral lay ahead before they would turn the corner to reclaim this world of magic they vaguely remember and deeply desire. They felt close to it in Piper Canyon, and indeed they were. Uncomfortably close.

There are such places in the world where the thread of Time, winding as it does in a continuous spiral into the center and then out again -- two alternating coils having no beginning and no end -- elaborates on its path with many offshoots and curlicues that very nearly touch other, unrelated pieces of the Spiral. The sensitive ones feel out these places and gambol about in Nature hoping to magically cross over. They don't (that is, they shouldn't), but they benefit from mere proximity so that word gets around, and the next thing you know someone has put up a resort nearby with a sweat lodge and whatnot. And there is not a thing wrong with that, except when it happens right here in the Goathorns, one of the most magical of all the magical places in my magical world, where the five sisters took residence many a spiral-turn ago and have cast so many spells that the curlicues of Time have tied themselves into one big Knot on the one side and frayed thin enough to make a Loophole on the other.

In part because of my own knotty past, I was given the Knot and the Loophole to mind. It suited me -- but, as I said, I was lax. Midway through the recent Harmony Convention, I realized that it would have to be the last in Piper Canyon. It wasn't anyone's fault, that's just the way the Spiral works around these parts. Every glitch and snag in the fabric of Time gets pushed along until it hits the Knot, where all lost and lapsed spells are trapped and teased out and hopefully tamed, or at least contained.

Wrangling old spells is the sisters' rent payment, you might say. Did they think they could appropriate the Goathorns for themselves without offering something in return? Not to mention that much of the magical flotsam that has washed in of late is the result of their own mischief. The chickens were coming home to roost, in other words.

Brunagwa herself created the Loophole by pushing her way through the merest small flaw in the Spiral at the outermost edge of a dead-end detour. And who espied her on the other side but young Robyn, shuffling around in the woods while on a family vacation. You might say that was the very beginning of things there in the Alternate World, and that despite the sisters' memory-blocking spells, the girl's life was changed forever and inexorably, so that all things lost out of our world would land on Robyn's doorstep ever after -- the cat, the Gypsy, the fiddler, and finally the rugs -- and it was only a matter of time before she, and all these others, found their way to Piper Canyon.

Round and round we go. Some things have happened twice already. Before we risk another doubling of the Knot, I take the unprecedented action, for a Minder, of recording the tale. Not that anyone stumbling into the Knot will be better able to follow the tangled thread safely out again on account of having read it. No, we won't even contemplate that. The only hope for this particular fraying strand of Time is to protect it from further strain of any sort, and that means keeping the New Age kiddies out of Piper Canyon henceforth and forever. For that I need cooperation and assistance from someone trustworthy in the Alternate World, and I suppose you can guess my choice already.

Charming girl, but she drives a hard bargain. Our agreement is this: She is helping to get the Harmony Convention relocated and this property sold to A.G. Brooks, who will forbid future trespass. I am supposed to be writing up my firsthand account of life on this side of the Spiral, everything I know about the Gypsy and her crew, and the true nature of Time. (Nothing to it, right?)

Robyn is looking for proof that magic exists. She has deduced correctly that I myself am witness to a tremendous amount of evidence, me being a Minder -- that is, able to see and hear with great acuity even at great distances and even into the souls of living things. Add to that the Knot, with its repetitions and disjointed crossings, and the Loophole, that ratty passage across the Spiral -- the whole of it lying within the circle of the Goathorn Mountains, where the five sisters corral broken spells from all Times and both worlds -- and you may begin to comprehend how very many far-flung episodes and secrets I have been able to observe, one way or another.

Truly, now that I spell it out I have to agree that no one is more qualified than I to recount the circumstances leading to this fateful collaboration. It will be up to Robyn to convince the imaginative but skeptical Alternate World of my veracity (my very existence). I expect (indeed I hope) this chronicle will be perceived as fiction. Yes, even by those who have been here with us at Kestrel Lodge, for the Summer Solstice Harmony Convention, Fifth Annual and about to be last, in Piper Canyon, in the Alternate World, somewhere in the Rockies...

The lead dancer of The Time Winders twirled so fast and so long that she seemed to disappear. Some of those who were present for the elimination round of the belly dance competition at the Fifth Annual Harmony Convention at Piper Canyon claimed she had actually dematerialized. Yasmine laughed it off at the party afterward. She explained to a cluster of adoring young dancers and a few jealous competitors that a well-executed Turkish Drop will have that effect.

"First, there's the spinning, which creates the blur. Then, if you can keep it going long enough, the audience gets tranced out and sees all sorts of things. And when you drop suddenly, you really seem to disappear -- only the first few rows see you hit the floor, and they're usually too surprised or distracted by the veil to notice."

So, maybe it was only a Turkish Drop, but it was still a hell of a Turkish Drop. Everyone wanted to get a look, and the crowd for the semi-final round on Thursday night was huge, as big as they had seen at past conventions for the Saturday night finale. The Time Winders were the last group on the program, and the women backstage -- all relative beginners -- were as irritable as the audience, wondering if the wait would be worth it.

Finally the stage manager gave the cue. The Time Winders lined up in the wings with their props while the elegant Mustaphas took their bows. The curtain closed, the Mustaphas jogged off stage. Now the five costumed Time Winders and a male helper hurried to arrange six smallish oriental rugs into one big square of carpet in the center of the stage before the curtain opened again. The Time Winders took their places: four lined up across the carpet, their leader off to the side. The helper squeezed this one's hand, then hurried back into the wings. A techie cued up the troupe's sound track. Out front, the emcee quieted the audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention tonight. I am pleased to present our final contestants. A very original group. Please welcome, from Caliente, New Mexico, Alizia, Shanna, Ursula, Fatima and Yasmine -- The Time Winders!"

Gentle music dubbed over the sound of ocean waves crashing to shore rose in volume while the curtain opened and the lights slowly came up. The four women center-stage swayed and undulated in unison. Their costumes were modest compared to others that had been on stage that night, consisting of harem pants with short vests and matching gauzy veils hemmed with sequins. Cheap stuff bought out of a catalogue and customized with strands of beads and feathers. Kelly green, royal blue, crimson red and vivid purple. The tall leader, who had stepped forward to the emcee's microphone on the front corner of the stage, wore bright yellow.

A few unkind snickers bubbled out of the audience. But if the troupe looked at first like a garish, dancing crafts project, their graceful movements to the snaky solo melody of a double reed flute, along with Yasmine's curious narration, quickly brought the audience under The Time Winders' spell.

"Imagine, if you will," Yasmine chanted, "that Time is a spiral." Her dancers began to circle, sweeping their veils behind them. "It winds in... And it winds out again..." The dancers spiraled into the center and then out several times in a hip-dipping line dance. "The center of the spiral is the place where the Past meets the Future. And the tail of the spiral, where it turns back and scrolls inward again, is where the Future meets the Past. And in between..." Each dancer began to turn slowly on her own while swishing her veil this way and that. "The two paths of the endless spiral lay side by side, creating the alternating worlds of the Spiral Map of Time..."

Here, the music, which had been growing gradually louder and faster, broke into a heavily rhythmic Middle Eastern melody. The crowd seemed to take a collective breath and push forward in their seats.

"And if you know how to dance..."

The music escalated to an up-tempo rendition of an old Arabic tune, a favorite in the belly dance world, and the troupe went through a brisk choreography of shakes and shimmies. The audience clapped along softly, eagerly, waiting for Yasmine to complete the incantation and explode into dance herself.

"Do you know how to dance?" she challenged the auditorium, and a cry went up, "Yes!" then quickly faded to let her continue. Every word and pause was perfectly synched to the music and the troupe's precision camel-walks and belly-rolls.

"Then, if you know how to dance," Yasmine sang out. "You can dance your way to anywhere and any Time. You can dance your way across the Spiral, right into... The world where Magic lives. All you have to do is..."

The crowd buzzed with anticipation.

"Vibrate!"

The four women center stage lowered their veils and began to shimmy. The audience cheered. Yasmine seemed to fly on yellow wings to the middle of the carpet, where she led her dancers through the final drum solo. It was the standard fare -- chest lifts, hip drops and belly flutters executed with rhythmic precision to a medley of drum patterns. With Yasmine front and center, the troupe was more confident. Energy sparked between them. Their smiles inspired the audience to clap along. When the piece ended, they accepted their applause with a small bow and then took two more steps back to sway in a row behind their leader, creating a rippling rainbow backdrop for her with their veils.

Yasmine's routine began with a traditional taksim to the skillfully plucked strings of a solo oud, in which she showed off her control and grace with sinuous movements of arms and torso, and teasing flourishes of her veil. Next came a display of foot- and finger-work. Troupe members relieved Yasmine of her veil, and provided little cymbals for her to slip onto her fingers. She clacked along with an Arabic orchestra of strings, horns and drums, performing a jiggly folk dance to a medley of standard four-four and eight-four rhythms -- the walking Wahadi, hip-dipping Beledi, and bouncy Chiftetelli.

When the music changed again, moving north to Armenia with the addition of one quirky beat, Yasmine reclaimed her veil. She swirled around the stage while the troupe clicked through variations of the nine-eight Karshlima on their zils. With each repetition of the melody, the tempo increased. Yasmine's circles became faster and smaller until she was spinning in the center of the carpet. She held her veil behind her back so that it flew out like a sail as she whirled. Head thrown back and long blond ponytail snapping around her, Yasmine dervished into a golden blur. The crowd was on their feet cheering. All eyes upon her, Yasmine twirled until the patterns in the carpets were set in motion, creating a whirlpool of color that expanded outward from her toes, and lifted her above the surface of a fulminating cloud, a blur of yellow... that suddenly collapsed to the floor...

The audience gasped as one and surged toward the stage...

...

She was there. The yellow veil was, anyway, lying in elegant ripples on the patchwork of rugs, on the very stationery stage. And then, with the crowd roaring, it took form, fluttered, and fell aside to reveal the trembling dancer. Yasmine slid up to her knees, did a few undulations, then reached back to her troupe, who danced forward and raised her to her feet. The audience collapsed back into their seats in wonder.

from THE TWO MAGICIANS
© 2016, Zelda Leah Gatuskin

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