Master of Mirrors
Death Roll I
stood on the banks of the Caledon River, halfway around the world from my new home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Brown mountains loomed in the distance while bright exotic birds shrieked as they flew by in a burst of color.
I was wearing a purple bathing suit covered with yellow ducks. Oversize flippers clung to my sweating feet, and an orange diving mask was strapped tightly around my head. It would’ve made for a laughable picture if not for the fact that this was the most important magic repair job I’d ever been asked to do, and if I failed, a young boy would die.
I bit my lip as my stomach flip-flopped like I’d swallowed one of the large fruit bats hanging in the surrounding trees. Yellow crocodile eyes stared at me, unblinking, from the reeds, but these crocodiles weren’t who I was looking for. In just a minute I’d use my magically altered reflection to lure a ghost crocodile, Buhodu, from the murky depths of the river, in hopes that he’d take the bait and lead me to his underwater lair.
The only problem was that there was a very good chance I wouldn’t make it out of the water alive.
“You don’t have to do this, Maggie,” my friend Raphael said quietly as he stood just behind me on the bank. “No one would blame you if you didn’t, and don’t forget that a crocodile’s bite can inflict five thousand pounds of pres-sure. Who knows what a ghost croc could do?”
“But it’s just my reflection he’ll be biting down on. It’ll be fine,” I said, trying to sound braver than I felt. Really, I was scared to death. I’d never used my reflection to tempt anything, let alone a ghost crocodile. Things like this just hadn’t happened before I’d discovered that I come from a long line of magicians.
Now they happened all too often.
In the past weeks I’d been attacked by a parade of wild animals, and my rabbit, Hasenpfeffer, had almost been killed by a shape-shifter. Not to mention the fact
that I was hearing a strange voice coming out of mirrors, and I was sure the crazed magician Milo the Magnificent had something to do with it—even if no one believed me.
I shook my head. Milo was the least of my troubles right now.
The point was, since discovering the magic repair shop, my life had been a series of magical mishaps with no sign of letting up. Just twenty minutes before, Raphael and I had been in the shop grumbling about homework. Before we knew it, we’d been accidentally whisked away through the magic mirror to South Africa, where Mr. McGuire was working on a job. Mr. McGuire had apologized profusely as we’d been dragged out of the crocodile-infested river, but that didn’t change the fact that my life was in danger— again.
“I know Mr. McGuire and Mosa will be following you,” Raphael continued, “and you’ll take that potion to make your reflection taste bad so that spooky croc will spit it out if he tries to eat it, but this is serious business. Business better handled by a grown-up.”
I nodded, and turned to see Raphael brushing dark curls off his forehead, his large brown eyes pleading with me to reconsider. When I’d met Raphael three weeks before, he had been green with envy that I had magical powers and he didn’t. But now that he knew how dangerous the magic
business was, he was constantly suggesting I should retire at the ripe old age of twelve.
I peeked over my shoulder at the small figure of a boy, Aitan. He was sitting as still as a statue with eyes rolled up, unseeing, in his head. He’d been like that since Buhodu had stolen his reflection five days before.
Mosa, the old tribal conjure woman who had summoned Mr. McGuire, now tended the boy—wiping his forehead with a damp cloth and then squeezing drops of water into his mouth. Aitan’s mother wept silently at his side, and I knew I would go through with the job even though every fiber of my being was telling me to run.
I jutted my chin out, deciding to at least look like I was feeling brave, and I kept searching the muddied water for any sign of the large ghost crocodile. Mr. McGuire had found a spell that would magically tether someone’s reflection to their body, like a hook on a fishing line. He and Mosa weren’t powerful enough to pull off the spell, so as much as my legs quivered and my heart raced, it was up to me to help Aitan, or watch him perish.
“How much time will I have to find Aitan’s reflection once Buhodu takes the bait?” I asked.
Mr. McGuire walked over to me and scanned the river. “No more than five minutes.”
Raphael threw his hands up into the air. “You can’t
seriously let Maggie do this! It’s crazy!” He gestured wildly at Aitan. “If the tether breaks, she’ll be just like him and at the mercy of the live crocodiles in the water— if she doesn’t drown first!”
“I’ll be following,” Mr. McGuire said. He held out the large sea sponge he’d enchanted to act in reverse and allow him to part the water. “You know I’ll do everything I can to make sure she’s okay.”
Mosa rose and stretched her spine straight. “I will go with you too,” she declared as she took a twisted stick out of a pocket in the front of her patterned dress. Sparks shot into the air as she held it above her head. “I am deadly accurate with my aim. No crocodile will get close to Maggie!”
“I—I guess we’re ready, then,” I said.
Mosa scrambled across the sand and searched through a large woven basket sitting next to a makeshift hut that had been erected near the riverbank so she and Aitan’s mother could stay close to Aitan. She came up with a jar of red powder and poured some out onto her hand. She smiled and then spit onto the powder and came back to me. “This is a mixture of horseradish root, hot pepper, and magic dust—with a bit of spit to make it stick. Swallow it quickly so it has time to settle. If Buhodu tries to take a bite of your reflection, he will get a hot surprise!”
“After that,” Mr. McGuire said, “you can cast the tether spell, and then we’ll cross our fingers that Buhodu takes the bait. Let’s get started.”
A minute later I stared down at my reflection as it rippled in the water. My stomach burned—like an open flame was dancing inside it—from Mosa’s peppery mixture.
Mr. McGuire walked a few paces to get a bag from the shade of a tree, and he took out a small vile that shone so brightly, I had to blink and turn away. “This will brighten your reflection to attract the attention of Buhodu,” he said, bringing it to me. “I’ve added some freeze-dried fish heads so you’ll be able to hold your breath longer than usual, and otter hair so you can swim swiftly through the water.”
I stuck out my tongue. “Fish heads and otter hair? Lovely.”
Squinting, I held the golden vial up to my nose and sniffed it. Bile rose in my throat as the rotten fish smell turned my stomach. “Ugh,” I muttered, catching a quick glance at what I thought was an actual fish eye in the mixture.
“Hurry,” Mosa said. “There is no time to lose.”
I plugged my nose, dumped the contents into my mouth, and swallowed it in one gulp. A shiver of disgust ran through me, and then a glowing feeling radiated from my stomach to the tips of my fingers and toes. I felt
lighter—almost as though I was about to take off the ground like a balloon. I looked out at my reflection and gasped. It had moved out away from me on the current and was glittering like a sunbeam on the water.
“Quickly!” Mr. McGuire said urgently. “Recite the spell before your reflection floats away!”
I nodded and reached a hand out over the water, my palm facing toward my reflection. “Reflection of who I really am, go out and travel all the land. Roam the causeways but not too far. Never forget who we are.”
My reflection stopped on the water like someone had anchored it in place. I felt a tugging sensation in my chest as if my reflection was fighting the current to stay close to me, like a kite pulling on a string. I turned to Mr. McGuire. “It worked.”
He held out the large sea sponge in one hand and his shiny black wand in the other. “I’m ready if Buhodu should strike.”
I looked out over the water. Mosa had told me Buhodu would appear as a ghostly white crocodile, but all of the reptilian shapes I saw now were dark and most definitely living.
Suddenly the crocodiles lurking by the riverbank disappeared from sight one by one with loud splashes and flips of their tails. Fish skipped and danced out across
the water, sparkling silver in the sun, to evade some unseen predator.
“He comes,” Mosa cried.
A wave of ice-cold terror hit me as my eyes rapidly flicked back and forth on the river, searching for Buhodu. “Where?” Where is he?”
“There!” Raphael called out. “Downriver.”
I swallowed hard as an enormous white shape swam smoothly into view. There was no mistaking it for anything but a crocodile, but it glowed in the water like a full moon lighting up the night sky.
“Buhodu,” I whispered. I held my breath as he rapidly closed in on my glittering reflection. Mr. McGuire had warned me to brace myself for the bite, and I squeezed my hands into tight fists.
My heart raced as the beast increased his speed, and I screamed when he opened his ghostly jaws and snapped. The tugging sensation in my chest increased as Buhodu turned rapidly, taking my reflection with him. Feeling like an invisible line was pulling me forward, I was yanked off my feet into the river.
I thrashed around for a second or two, the tether to my reflection dragging me through the water. As the bubbles around me cleared, I saw the eerie glow of Buhodu ahead of me in the dim water—my reflection sparkling in his
jaws. I pushed my arms through the lily-choked river to follow him, marveling at the ease with which I cut through the water. Just like an otter, I thought.
The water around me swirled as though an ocean tide was rushing to the shore, and I saw Mr. McGuire and Mosa. Water sprayed away from them as they held the sea sponges. Mr. McGuire gave me the thumbs up as he and Mosa followed me. I turned and kicked my legs, effortlessly flying through the water after Buhodu. Sparks of blue light cut through the water to my right and left, and I knew Mr. McGuire and Mosa were busy keeping the living, breathing crocodiles away from me.
The creature with my reflection in his jaws slowed, and then dove deeper into a twisted maze of submerged trees. The water was cooler here, and I pulled myself through the branches. Suddenly I saw two brown eyes peering up at me from under a log. I gave a start, and then squinted to make out the figure of a small boy wavering in the water. I’d found Aitan’s reflection, but as I swam closer to reach out for it, the great white crocodile turned sharply—swimming between me and the reflection.
The dark eyes set in Buhodu’s ghostly white head seemed to bore into me—daring me to steal back what he had taken. My heart raced as my lungs began to burn.
I had to get to Aitan’s reflection fast. Buhodu opened his jaws and bellowed, my reflection dangling from his teeth.
You’re just a ghost, I said over and over in my head. Nothing more than a reflection yourself. With the air in my lungs running out, I headed directly toward the beast. As I swam through Buhodu’s ghostly presence and toward Aitan’s reflection, an arctic blast shocked my system. I grabbed Aitan’s reflection and held it tightly, my lungs desperate for air.
I turned in the water, wondering how I could grab my own reflection, only to see Buhodu snap down on it with five thousand pounds of pressure and start a death roll. I felt the tether snap, and I gasped. I closed my fist tighter around Aitan’s reflection as my eyes bulged and my lungs filled with water.
Help me, I thought as the water grew dim. I felt myself sinking to the bottom of the river, soggy branches scratching my skin.
Somebody help me.