Heavy jostling like a soundless earthquake woke Cedric in a hotel bed, but not the one he’d checked into. It was one of those difficult mornings, his body three times as heavy as usual, his muscles sore, and difficulty moving at all. He forced himself to sit up and found his suitcase opened on a wooden rack, his best suit hanging in the open closet.
He must have drunk more than he thought because he had no recollection of getting there. Last he recalled, he was still with his colleague after entertaining some clients. A fun bunch.
They had gone to a place called Le Bain, supposed to be a high-class club in New York, but the crowd was a little more eclectic that night, enough so that Cedric didn’t feel his humble roots. Cedric’s partner, Joe, gregarious and funny, led the party. Got them in the door and to a table on the roof with no wait. They were schmoozing three guys from International Nanotech Applications. Teddy was a good old boy entrepreneur, Johntay was their R & D director, and Puzu—yes, that was his real name—was the VP of Strategic Planning. The selling was done, though Puzu had been reluctant. All we had to do was show these guys a good time.
It was an easy job, except with Puzu, who had this superior air about him, like he was royalty sitting with pig sloppers. He was the kind of challenge Cedric liked, and with a head full of steam and bourbon, he set to the task of getting some life out of him.
“Puzu’s an interesting name. Where you from?” asked Cedric.
“Cincinnati,” said Puzu.
“Seriously? I hope you’re not a football fan. Pretty depressing there.” Cedric laughed to convey his playful spirit. He expected some lively banter full of friendly competition. After all, Cedric was a Pittsburg fan. Instead he got a clinical reply.
“There is strength in our city that you do not fathom,” Puzu said.
“Don’t mind Cedric,” said Joe. “He’s just trying to be friendly.”
“Yeah,” said Cedric, maintaining has joviality. “I don’t mean anything by it. I’ve just never cared for Cincinnati. It smells like sewage, doesn’t it? They should put dirty dishwater in their snow globes.”
Cedric could tell Puzu didn’t like that, so he changed his tack. “Just ignore me. I’m always looking for the laugh, and sometimes I fail badly. What nationality are you?”
Cedric couldn’t remember Puzu’s response, though he remembered thinking it was evasive. With heroic effort, Cedric pushed off the bed and stumbled to the window, pulling the drapes back to look outside. Large, puffy snowflakes drifted by. He didn’t recognize the tall buildings around him, the blocky, imprecise lines of the buildings revealing how much last night’s drink muddled his perception.
Cedric showered and put on his suit. He intended to find the hotel restaurant for a respectable breakfast he hoped would clear his head and allow him to remember how he’d gotten here—wherever “here” was.
Cedric couldn’t find anyone in the lobby. No one attending the front desk, no concierge, and no patrons. What event would pull them all away? He puttered around, grabbing some coffee and a pastry from the buffet, then stepped outside, looking for the doorman and the valet. The streets were empty except for a light dusting of snow on the ground. No people. No cars. Not even street signs.
At that moment, Cedric thought he understood what it felt like to loose one’s mind. He blinked several times, trying to puzzle out this impossible situation. This is the kind of thing the mentalist Derren Brown would arrange, and Cedric’s knowledge of Derren’s tricks made him consider things a bit further. There was far too little detail for this to be real, yet he was certain he wasn’t dreaming.
What elaborate trick were they playing on him? Maybe it was that Puzu. Cedric would have liked to have left it on better terms with him.
Cedric had gotten pretty tipsy, even slurring his words, which was rare for him. Unable to reign in his disdain for Cincinnati, Cedric had said, “My wife always knows when I’ve been to Cincinnati. I stumble into the house with bruises on my face, the smell of vomit on my clothes, and a lack of any willingness to live.”
Joe punched Cedric in the arm, quite hard.
“You better be careful,” said Johntay. “You’re messing with a witch.”
Cedric locked his drunken eyes with Puzu’s. “Is that true? You Wiccan?”
“I am no Wiccan,” said Puzu. “Wiccans are fakes. Modern inventions drawn from vague druidic references. I’m a true witch, with a lineage I can trace back to the ancient witches of Sumer.”
“Really?” said Cedric, now four bourbons in. “I’m a Zoroastrian traceable to the priesthood of antichafing powders for Prince Caspian.”
“You’re a fool,” said Puzu.
“A drunk fool, and a happy one at that,” said Cedric. “Let’s see if we can get some of those models to join us,” he said, pointing to the next table.
They never even talked to the models, as Cedric recalled. He walked several blocks to get oriented, still not recognizing where he was. He ducked inside a few of the buildings, and didn’t find anyone, though the internal detail was much more realistic than the external.
Far down the street, things blurred into an indecipherable scramble of color, so he followed it. The street ended, at which point Cedric knew it was some kind of prank. Major city streets don’t just end. Looking beyond, he slowly interpreted what he could see. A giant cup full of pens, a desk speaker, a mouse on a pad. Normal desktop objects as large as city buildings. He tried to step forward, but ran into a glass surface that rounded upwards.
Cedric had tried to smooth things over with Puzu, but the damage was done. He obviously hated Cedric, and they’d be lucky if he didn’t withdraw his support for the proposal.
Joe tried to console Cedric afterward as he gulped down a few more bourbons. “He seemed like he had the best interest of his company at heart, so I think we’re still good,” Joe said. “Unless he puts a hex on you, I wouldn’t worry.”
The full realization of his situation pancaked Cedric like a Patriots linebacker. This wasn’t an elaborate prank—this was a witch’s hex. He ran around the outside, kicking up snow, following the glass, comprehending what it was. He was trapped inside a snow globe.
Cedric desperately pounded on the glass, calling for someone to let him out and save him from the spell. Why had he been so careless talking to Puzu? He could think of nothing so horrifying as being imprisoned in this souvenir, but then he caught sight of a glass filled with water on the outside. He could see the snow globe reflected in it, and at the black base of the snow globe in white lettering was the mirror image of the word “Cincinnati.”