Read The Boundless Online

Authors: Kenneth Oppel

The Boundless (7 page)

A hush has fallen over the parlor car, so Will can feel the thumpety-clack of the track like a startled heartbeat in his chest. He knows firsthand how real the sasquatch is, and some of his father's letters mentioned these other mysterious things—stories told from other people's stories. He never knew how much to believe.

“Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mr. Dorian continues, “the wonders of our world are many, and I have seen things that would startle and terrify you. But let me share with you now a marvel of a different sort.”

After pausing dramatically, he walks closer to the audience.

“Mesmerism, the art of hypnosis, is one of the world's most powerful forces. Monsters and armies mean nothing compared to the power of one man's eyes, and the power of one man's voice, and the power he can muster when people listen to him of their own free will—listen to his voice, and look at his eyes, and let themselves accept an invitation to listen and then to listen once more. . . .”

Will wonders if the light in the car has dimmed further, for it's as if Mr. Dorian's face has grown brighter. And Will is aware of the man's fathomless black eyes, and his mouth, inviting him to do something, he doesn't know what because he can no longer hear what is being said, until—

He looks around the car, which seems brighter suddenly, to find himself standing along with everyone else in the theater. He has absolutely no memory of moving at all, and everyone else seems just as startled as he is. Nervous tittering and a few gasps erupt.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, forgive me,” says Mr. Dorian with a smile. “Most rude of me, but I merely suggested that you all stand up, and you did so most willingly. Please sit down, sit down. . . . You've been most kind.”

Everyone sits, grinning foolishly.

“It's a trick,” grumbles a stolid man through his whiskers.

“Not at all, sir,” says Mr. Dorian. “It is the power of mesmerism. Would you care to help me demonstrate?”

The whiskery fellow waves his hand grumpily, but others are eager to volunteer. Will watches, amazed, as one after another, people go to the front and Mr. Dorian puts them into a kind of trance. One woman chirps like a canary, another sings a lullaby from his childhood, a third fellow thinks he's climbing a ladder, huffing and puffing with every imaginary step.

Whenever Mr. Dorian asks for another volunteer, Will wishes he were not so shy. He likes the idea of being hypnotized—what would it feel like to not be himself?—but can't imagine being watched by so many people.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” says Mr. Dorian, “as I said, I do not believe in magic but only the power of the mind. And we have, I believe, in our audience a very great mind indeed. Mr. Sandford Fleming, am I correct?”

“You are,” says a gentleman.

Will cranes his neck and recognizes the “excessively bearded man” Mr. Van Horne introduced him to on the company train. If anything, Mr. Fleming's beard is even more massive, fanning out sharply over his collar so he seems to have no neck at all. Will notices that the man's wife sits a good distance from him.

“Sir, I applaud you,” says Mr. Dorian. “If you did not know, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the genius who invented the notion of standard time and time zones. In this age of lightning and steam, we move at such great speeds that it's necessary for us to adjust the time, hour by hour, as we hurtle across the continent. It's remarkable, isn't it, that within the space of a single second, it can be ten o'clock, and then the next second, nine o'clock! And if I'm not mistaken, we are about to pass through one such time zone, are we not, Mr. Fleming?”

“We are indeed,” he concurs.

“Have you ever wondered, Ladies and Gentlemen, what happens when we pass
through
a time zone? Do we truly lose or gain an hour? Does it appear or disappear? How can time be altered? Surely time does not really change. And I believe, Mr. Fleming, you've also invented the term ‘cosmic time,' which is the same all over the world.”

“True again,” says the gentleman.

“So we have standard time, constantly changing as we move, and cosmic time, which remains steady. Now, here is a curious thing. It seems that when we move with speed through time zones, there is a moment when reality catches up with cosmic time. I invite you all now to look at your timepieces.”

Will, along with all the men in the room, dutifully takes out his pocket watch.

“Now observe the second hand as it makes its way around the clock. And remember that we're about to gain another hour! You will travel back in time an entire hour. Is it true? Of course not, and yet . . . behold.”

Will stares at his watch face. The second hand moves smoothly.

Tick . . . tick . . .

“Watch carefully now,” comes Mr. Dorian's deep voice. “Making its steady way. Watch now . . .”

Tick . . . tick . . .

“It moves and it moves; it knows its path,” Dorian's voice says, as if from a great distance. “Keep your eyes on it, Ladies and Gentlemen.”

And then Will's eyes widen as the second hand leans forward but doesn't move, only stutters in place—for how long, he doesn't know, for he can't take his eyes away. Will is dimly aware of gasps around the room, and a few people muttering, “Impossible!”

And then the second hand begins to move again, and Will blinks and looks back at Mr. Dorian.

“What happened, Ladies and Gentlemen? I shall tell you. Your bodies, all the matter in this room, were simply readjusting to the new reality, the new time. But what if I were to tell you that in this small stutter of time, I slipped from the front of the room and walked amongst you, and took some things, without your even knowing?”

“Outrageous!” calls someone.

“Is it?” he says. And he pulls from his pocket a wallet. “Sir, I believe this is yours, is it not, with the monogrammed initials HD?”

“How in the devil . . .”

“And a pair of jade cuff links from you, sir, there!”

“Incredible!” says the man, looking at his loose shirt cuffs.

Will laughs with his father, until Mr. Dorian points at them.

“And from the gentleman over there . . . an important-looking key on a chain.”

Will's smile fades when he sees the concern on his father's face.

“Now, if I can ask you all to come and collect your things, please,” says Mr. Dorian. “Oh, and please do remember to set your timepieces back an hour!”

“Go on,” his father says quietly. “Take it back.”

Will's heart thumps.

Impatiently his father says, “Now, Will.”

Will stands, and as he walks toward the front, he feels his heart give a few panicked thumps. It doesn't help that Mr. Dorian seems even taller as he draws closer to the platform. The ringmaster smiles as he hands Will the key, and he shakes Will's hand but doesn't release his grip. Is there a hint of recognition in his eyes?

“And since you're already here, young sir, perhaps I might prevail upon you to assist me in the final act.”

Will finds he cannot speak.

“Excellent,” says Mr. Dorian. “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Zirkus Dante's unparalleled escape artist, the Miraculous Maren!”

A girl emerges from behind the screen like an exotic bird, her clothes bright and extravagant. Will has never seen anyone so vividly made up, her lips rouged, eyebrows lined with charcoal. Her legs and arms are bare. Will feels the heat in his cheeks.

“No lock can hold her! No chains can bind her!” proclaims Mr. Dorian.

She carries with her a length of rope and several heavy chains.

“Now, I know you think there will be some trick to this, my friends. Which is why I've asked this young gentleman from the audience to fasten these chains and this rope in any way he sees fit.”

The girl holds out the rope and chains for Will.

“Examine them first,” Mr. Dorian instructs. “Make sure they are strong.”

Will tests them, but he's distracted by the girl, who smiles at him. There is a narrow gap between her teeth. Her eyes have a lively angle and a light that doesn't seem to be a mere reflection from the gas lamps.

“What shall I do now?” he asks.

“Tie me up,” she replies.

Nervously he starts winding the rope around her body.

“Tighter, young sir, tighter!” cries Mr. Dorian.

“I don't want to hurt her,” Will says.

Laughter rises from the audience.

“You won't hurt me,” she says, just to him. “Go ahead.”

“It's you, isn't it?” he whispers.

She gives a quick, almost imperceptible nod.

He knots the rope many times. “You have my sasquatch tooth,” he murmurs.

“I know.”

Will winds the chains around her and fastens them with heavy padlocks, then tests the locks to make sure they are secure.

“Thank you, young sir. Now if you will step to one side . . .”

Her eyes meet his once more before she turns her attention to the front.

With a flourish Mr. Dorian throws an enormous silk scarf over her, and she's transformed into a giant cocoon, wriggling about to the sound of clanking chains as she tries to free herself. Will can hear the steady sound of her breathing.

“Surely that's long enough!” exclaims Mr. Dorian after only fifteen seconds, and he impatiently grabs hold of the silk scarf and yanks it off.

The audience gasps, for the girl is no longer there. All that's left is the rope and chains in a pile on the floor.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” cries Mr. Dorian with a tip of his hat. “The disappearing act!”

*   *   *

The applause is still going strong when Mr. Beecham, the conductor, takes Will's arm and says, “You can go back to your seat now, lad.” Will watches as Mr. Dorian strides behind the screen and is gone.

“I want to talk to them.”

“William!” his father calls. He turns to see his father looking at him expectantly.

“Where are they staying?” Will asks Mr. Beecham. In his haste he's forgotten to be nervous.

“They have rooms in second class for the night. Tomorrow they'll return to their own cars during our stop.”

“Will!” his father calls again.

More than anything Will wants to run after Maren and talk to her, but he reluctantly hurries back to his father.

“The key,” he says to Will.

Will fishes it out of his pocket and presses it into his father's hand. “I wanted to ask the magician something,” he says.

His father looks a bit surprised but then nods. “I'll see you back in the stateroom.”

Will's on the move at once, squeezing his way between people and chairs. When he reaches the Terrace car, the crowd
thins, but then thickens again near the dining car. She can't be too much farther ahead. Past the kitchens a child is sprawled on the floor, having a temper tantrum as his weary mother cajoles him to stand. Will jumps over him. He spots a steward.

“The circus man and his assistant?” he asks. “Did you see them?”

“Just a few moments ago.”

Will jogs through the hurtling train. He reaches the end of another carriage and opens the door to a gust of startlingly chilly night air. A brakeman in coveralls stands at the corner of the small platform, the tip of his cigarette flaring orange. He nods curtly at Will.

Through the next door—and he's suddenly in a garden, as warm as a hothouse. Tall plants rise all around him. Birds shriek from the high glass ceiling. It smells like summer. Fairy lanterns light a paved path. He rushes past a burbling fountain.

Will barrels on through the pungent fug of a cigar lounge. In the next car he slows down to cross the slippery deck of the swimming pool. The water flashes with color, and, startled, he looks down to see all manner of exotic fish darting about. Peering harder, he realizes they're contained in a shallow aquarium along the pool's bottom.

He keeps going, past a small cinema and the smell of roasted almonds and popcorn. How can Maren and Mr. Dorian have gotten so far ahead? The train is endless, juddering, shuddering, steaming along its steel road. He smells soap and bleach as he passes a laundry.

Damp with sweat, he's brought up short by a formidable door that says:
TO SECOND-CLASS ACCOMMODATION
. Eagerly he grasps the brass handle, but it won't turn. He tries again, looks about for a catch. A crisply dressed steward appears from a vestibule, pen in hand.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“I'd like to go through, please,” Will says.

“It's second class through there, sir.”

“Yes. There's someone I want to talk to.”

The steward tries to smile patiently. “Do you have a second-class ticket, sir?”

“No.”

As if he's trying to explain something to a small child, the steward says, “Then you can't enter the second-class carriages. The doors do stay locked. It's more comfortable for everyone that way.”

Will sees the ring of keys clipped to the steward's belt. “The circus man went through, didn't he?”

“Ah yes, he did, sir. But that was by special arrangement.”

“I have something I need to ask him.”

The attendant nods sympathetically. “It's train policy, sir. The doors between the classes stay locked.”

For a brief moment Will wants to tell him who his father is and demand the door be opened, but he can't quite do it.

“If there's a message,” says the steward, “I'd be happy to send it back.”

“It's all right. Thank you.”

What on earth would he write anyway? He shakes his head as he imagines it.

I would like my tooth back, please.

P.S. I've wanted to talk to you for three years. You did a tightrope walk. Then you disappeared. You are the most remarkable person I've ever met.

A complete idiot

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