THE GREAT CAMILLA
If this be magic, let it be an art
Lawful as eating.
-Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (V.iii.109-11)
The Great Camilla drifted out of her dream, sad not to have experienced the bliss of being neither here nor there a while longer. Even a mage like her needed a respite from all the shapechangings she was expected to perform.
At least she had discovered a universe in which magic was both a reality and a rarity, not just a bag of tricks. She took pleasure in astonishing audiences with her feats of transformation and displacement. Of course, if they knew beforehand that she was a true mage, not an illusionist, she would be feared instead of admired, perhaps even arrested. So the Great Camilla restricted her magic to simple yet amazing transformations like changing a goldfish into an angelfish or turning a scarf into a snake. She refrained from the bizarre. Once, she foolishly imbued a month- old infant with the ability to speak (“I will grow up to be a magician like the Great Camilla!” warbled the infant in its mother’s ear). The mother shrieked and dropped the infant, causing the babe to yell, “What the fuck?!”
“Simple ventriloquism,” explained the Great Camilla during an interrogation. “Anyone can learn to do it; it shouldn’t even qualify as an illusion, let alone sorcery.”
“Except that my baby spoke those words in my ear,” the rattled mother insisted. “And I heard her holler, “’What the f-word’”
“So what do you propose to do?” Camilla asked the mother’s attorney, “have me arrested on suspicion of extreme ventriloquism?”
“We’d like you to tell us more about your, uhm, act.”
“You want to know how I perform my tricks, in other words. Would you have interrogated Harry Houdini on similar suspicions?”
“Never mind.” She had forgotten which universe she’d wound up in.
“Look, Camilla, you can make this a lot easier on yourself if you’ll just cooperate.”
And so the Great Camilla was compelled to use even more of her genuine magic to keep herself out of the slammer—not that a jail cell could have held her, not even in this dreary universe where Harry Houdini never existed. She snapped her fingers, and the judge, attorney and child’s mother turned into little plastic game toys.
If only . . .
If only she hadn’t tinkered with reality-shifting. But that was the price she had to pay for allowing her wizardry to overrule her judgment. The greatest feat of magic she could accomplish would be to re-materialize into Houdini’s universe, assuming she could find it again, a universe in which magicians were no more than illusionists (although Houdini had been more than an illusionist). There she would be admired rather than scorned or feared. She might even engage in some major reality transformations: she’d heard about the atrocities committed in that reality—atrocities she could disrupt if not prevent with her magic—and no one would ever accuse her of sorcery.
Fred White’s fiction has appeared in The Brooklyner, Burningword, Confrontation, and Other Voices. White lives near Sacramento, CA.