The ace of spades sown into the black stack of the magic hat slowly unraveled like a twisting clock ticking in reverse. Sarah and Barney held onto the brim of the hat as they spun counterclockwise to the desert floor. An ocean of sand stretched in every direction as far as their eyes could see. Both of them felt extremely nauseous after teleporting through space and time.
“I think we can safely let go now,” offered Barney. “I was listening to your story when you gave me the traveling top hat. Somewhere in time, you and I vanished.”
Sarah nodded, fumbling with the hat, then gave it to him.
When Barney wore it, his atmosphere changed. A steady breeze blew around him. Soon he and Sarah walked over too many dunes to count. They tried to fumble with the playing card to transport home, but nothing happened. Their desire for water was maddening.
Unexpectedly, an enormous bird flew overhead. “There’s a man flying on its back,” whispered Sarah.
As the phoenix descended, a green tip was visible on the horizon. The two of them headed for the speck. As they approached, the island grew larger, and before they knew it, they could smell fresh coconuts.
Something strange happened in the brambles nearby. Leaves took shape and blackberries became the eyes of a man. Vines wrapped around each other, coiling into the waist of a wiry magician. Thorns turned into toenails and leaves became locks of brown hair.
Romulus stood before them wearing a buckskin traveling cloak. His eyes were vacant. Looking quite mad, he drew a long stick from his inner pocket. “Where have you come from?” he asked suspiciously.
They tried to answer, but no words came out.
“You have recently known magic. How did you come across a powerful magic hat?”
“We were separated from our caravan several miles back,” whispered Barney.
“You lie,” snarled Romulus.
“We’ve come from a different dimension by extraordinary circumstances,” offered Sarah.
Romulus wasn’t sure why he believed her, but the truth was undeniable. “Conundrum is a master of magic. He may have grown an entire island in the desert so I could survive the journey.”
Sarah and Barney walked in front of the magician who held a wand at their backs. The groves grew randomly, creating mazes without any exit. Soon they reached a shimmering pool.
The magician sucked the water out with the tip of his wand. Standing up, he drank from it, knowing he had several gallons in reserve.
Romulus plucked the magic hat from Barney’s head, placing it on his own.
Suddenly, Sarah and Barney felt ropes binding their arms to their sides.
A moment later, Romulus vanished.