The Magic Quill No. 170: The Boudoir of Doom
Contest winner: Sir Read-a-Lot
Rigel stumbled along a dark passage for what seemed like ages. Soon his arms, legs, and head were aching with sprains and bruises from unexpected overhangs, sudden turnings, and a tumble down a flight of broad, shallow steps. His language became nearly incendiary enough to light the passage for him -- but not quite.
Presently he saw light ahead. After rounding a corner, he saw a room illuminated by a ring of high, narrow windows. The walls were papered in a pattern of bright stripes and flowers. A canopy bed, a dressing-table with a wide bench before it, a washstand, a wardrobe, and a large chest filled most of the space in the room, every item of the finest quality. The room carried the scent of the witch whose appearance had lately bewitched Rigel. He noticed an old school trunk poking out from under the bed. As he walked past, he kicked it so that it turned, revealing the name painted above the lock: "Sheherazade Jenkins."
Nice name, he thought, grinning at the memory of the way she had looked at him.
On the far wall were two doors, locked and bolted from Rigel's side, with a painting on the wall between them.
As Rigel drew closer, he saw that the painting was of two children with identical, freckly faces and long yellow hair. Their bony arms and torsos, arranged at uncomfortable-looking angles, grew together out of the same pair of hips. Their frilly dress robes gave them the look of an earlier century, yet without giving away whether they were boys or girls. Their painted eyes impassively watched Rigel as he approached.
"Who are you, then?" Rigel demanded after giving the painted twins a moment to look him over.
One of the twins gave Rigel a loud raspberry, spraying his face with flakes of paint. The other rolled its eyes and pointed downward. Rigel looked below the painting, only now spotting an engraved plate fastened to the bottom of its broad, dusty frame. Of course, it was written in Italian.
Rigel poked around in his pocket, for one moment reaching in up to his elbow, then brought out a lorgnette - like a pair of spectacles on a stick, designed to be held in front of the eyes rather than worn. This elaborate piece of jewelry had come encrusted with precious stones and flakes of gold when it had first come out of Rigel's godfather clock, along with a card hoping that he would enjoy his new "opera glasses." He had sold off all the decorative elements, one by one, for purposes various and nefarious. All that remained were two thick, blurry lenses mounted on a frame of tarnished brass. Rigel breathed on the lenses, polished them on the sleeve of his robe, then held them up before his eyes. The Italian words engraved on the silver plate blurred in the opera glasses, then became clear again... in English.
"Hmmm," said Rigel. Then he read aloud: "'Behold the Geminiani twins: Remo the good and Omer the evil. At the hour of their birth, an evil witch cursed them to live together in one body all their lives. Madness took them. One can only speak truth, the other always lies. Ask them what you will, they can only answer Yes or No. But beware what you ask them. For one of these two doors leads to deadly peril, the other to freedom and safety. And only the twins know which is which...'"
"I know this one," Rigel said to himself. "Let's see..." He addressed himself to the twin on the left. "You there. Can you understand me?"
"Yes," said the twin.
"How about you?" he asked the one to the right. When it waited for more, he added: "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"No," said the other twin, with just as little expression as the other.
"You're the evil one, then?"
"Yes," said the twin on the right. Its eyes widened as it nodded, as if pleading with Rigel to understand.
He scratched his head. "You weren't supposed to say that," he said. "Assuming that you lied when you said you can't understand me, you must be the evil twin. Right?"
"Yes," the right-hand twin said urgently.
Rigel closed his eyes and massaged his temples. "Right," he said. "But then, if you always lie, then you shouldn't have said Yes just now. You were lying to me, weren't you?"
"No," said the right-hand twin.
"So you're really evil, are you?"
"And you understand what I'm saying?"
Rigel puffed out his cheeks, then let forced the air out with a pop. "All right, let's go back to you." He turned to the twin on the left. "Still understand me, do you?"
"Yes," said the twin, nodding emphatically.
"You're telling the truth, then?"
Rigel rubbed his hands together. "Now we're getting somewhere. So you're the good twin, right, and..."
"Hang on, I wasn't -- what? Are you telling me that you're the evil twin?"
"But if you were the one that always tells lies, you would have said no -- right?"
"I thought so. And if you were the good twin, and I asked you if you always tell the truth, you would have said Yes, right?"
Rigel covered his face with both hands. "Aargh! Aargh! Aaaaaaargh!" He turned in a circle, running in place. He shook himself like a wet dog. Then he opened his eyes and gave the twin on the left a hard, cold stare. "All right," he said. "Let's start over. Yes or No: Are you the evil twin?"
"No!" Rigel screamed, tearing at his hair. "There's no way you could possibly say that! Because if you're the evil twin, you have to lie. And if you're the good twin, you have to tell the truth. So no matter which one you are, when I ask if you're evil, you're supposed to say no. Right?"
"No," said the twin on the left.
Rigel gnashed his teeth. "What about you? How would you answer that same question?"
"No," said the other twin.
"AARGH! We're getting nowhere! Forget it -- let's talk about the doors. You on the right: does one of these doors lead to certain death?"
"Aha! That's a lie! It says so right here on the plaque that one of the doors leads to deadly peril. The plaque does tell the truth, doesn't it?"
"And so you're the liar, right?"
"Now we're getting somewhere. But didn't you deny being the liar a minute ago?"
Rigel scowled. "Now look here. You're supposed to stick with one or the other, lying or telling the truth. This isn't going to work if I can't trust you absolutely. Or distrust you, as the case may be. So let's lay it on the line. Are you, or aren't you, Omer the evil?"
"But if you were Omer the evil, wouldn't you have to lie about that?"
Rigel clenched his fists and just restrained himself from punching the painting. "No, no, no, no, no! Can't you see -- No, hang on, don't answer that."
He did some deep breathing for a minute or two. Then he approached it afresh. To the twin on the right he asked, "Do you always tell lies?"
"Were you lying just now?"
"Would it be safe for me to go through the door on the right?"
"Would your brother want me to go through the door on the right?"
"But he would be lying to me, right?"
"Because he's the evil brother?"
Rigel roared with frustration. "Just when I thought I was getting somewhere with you!" He turned toward the twin on the left. "If I asked your brother which door I should go through, would he tell me to go through the door on the right?"
Rigel pondered this answer for a moment, then shook his head. "That doesn't help. He did say Yes, but I don't know any more now than I did then. Oh! I've got it!" To the twin on the left he asked: "If your brother could tell the truth, would he tell me to go through the door on the right?"
"Do you think I should go through the door on the right?"
"Is that because it's the safest door?"
"Drat, fiddlesticks, and riddle-me-purple! You want me to go through the door on the right because it isn't safe?"
"Does your brother think I should go through the door on the right?"
"Does he want me to come to harm?"
"But he told me to go through it!" Rigel held his hands out toward both twins pleadingly. "You've got to give me some help here! Am I supposed to believe that the evil twin is the one who always tells the truth?"
"Yes," said the freckly face on the left.
"No," said his twin on the right.
"This one's for both of you. Are you lying to me?"
"No," they said in unison.
"But one of you is lying to me, right?"
"Yes," said the twin on the left; "No," said the one on the right.
"Are you the liar?"
"No," said the twin on the left; "No," said the one on the right.
"Do you want me to come to harm?"
"Yes," said the twin on the left; "Yes," said the one on the right.
"Does your brother want me to come to harm?"
The answers, from left to right, were "No" and "No."
"Do you want me to go through the door your brother says I should go through?"
They both answered "Yes."
Rigel shivered. "This doesn't make sense. You both want me to go through the same door?"
This time the answers, from left to right, were "No" and "Yes."
"So if you don't want me to go through the same door, but you would both tell me to go through the same door, then one of you wants me to go through it because it's dangerous, and the other can't help it because he's got to lie. And so the good brother always has to lie, and the bad brother always has to tell the truth. Isn't that so?"
Both brothers answered glumly, "Yes" on the left and "No" on the right.
"Blimey," Rigel said, shivering again. "That's one hell of a curse. I don't know how you could live with each other. You didn't... you know.... kill each other, did you?"
Oddly, both brothers said No. But there was something in the look the brother on the left gave the one on the right that made Rigel's flesh crawl.
"All right," said Rigel. "Freedom and safety through the door on the left. Right?"
"Yes," said the brother on the left, rather bitterly, Rigel thought. "No," said his brother, though his heart didn't seem to be in it anymore.
"Right-o," said Rigel. "I believe I've got it know. I'll just be going on with my adventure, then, and you chaps can have a nice day."
And forgetting that the faces in the painting defined "left" and "right" differently than Rigel did, he unbolted the door on his left and marched confidently through it. It closed by itself (naturally) -- even the bolt (magically) moved back into its place. A moment later, the door only partially muffled Rigel's voice as he screamed, "Oh, bollocks! AAAaaaaargh..." His bloodcurdling scream faded rapidly into the distance.
The boy on the left side of the painting smirked. His twin sighed, rolled his eyes, pulled out a deck of cards, and began to deal a game of patience.
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #172 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) at this blog answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.
SURVEY: Which "Magic Quill" character or group of characters are you most impatient to hear from again?
CONTEST: What city on modern-day Earth should make a brief appearance in Chapter 172? Indicate a few points of interest that should be included.
If you'd like to contact Robbie (or the Magic Quill itself), you may do so here.