We’re almost there!” Dennis cheers.
“Finally, we’ve been driving around for almost a whole day!”
I throw my hands up in relief. If there’s one thing I absolutely can’t stand it’s doing nothing for a whole entire day. The worst kinds of days are the ones that consist of doing nothing but sitting around in a musty tour bus just to get to our next show. The five of us, Dennis, Celeste, Jaleana, Alfie, and I, call ourselves the Enigmatic Illusions, traveling magicians who perform all over Europe. Once we arrive at our destination, we start setting up while I go out and try to rake in an audience.
I tap my suitcase with my foot while I think of which magic tricks will work the best on the street to get them all begging to see us later on. The trick is to do something that makes people believe that I’m able to make magic out of anything. It all depends on the crowd’s expectations. If I’m able to do the opposite, they’ll be dazzled.
I remember how last week I was able to tell that our volunteer from the audience was expecting me to pull a rabbit out of his hat when instead I took his wallet instead. His smirk probably gave him away as well as the way he kept shifting his feet like he was waiting to get off the stage. Smiling to myself at the memory, I take out a notepad and pen to write down an idea that forms.
As the bus comes to a stop, Dennis pulls out our schedule for tomorrow.
“O.K., tomorrow we’re performing after the Cryptic Conjurors at 7:30 sharp. They’re also performing tonight and the rest of the week. I thought we might want to go out tonight and see them.”
“That sounds like a good idea if you want to see loads of blood in all their tricks,” Celeste remarked.
“Blood? Isn’t it all part of the show?” Dennis asked.
“Supposedly. I know that a few years ago they did a trick that everybody thought killed the assistant, but they told everybody that it was all a part of the show. The next day she showed up to stop all of the rumors about her death. Since then they’ve been performing magic tricks that leave the audiences shocked because all of their assistants appear to be lifeless by the end of the show.”
Despite telling her that nobody actually died, I feel a twinge of doubt as the words come out. It’s possible that it was just because I’d never been too fond of gore, but every time someone brings them up I can’t help but draw back a bit. Usually I let everyone else talk about it while I sit back and listen, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give Dennis some information about the strangely macabre “magic” show he would see. Dennis raises his eyebrows and gathers his suitcases. He’s not sure now that it’s something we’d all enjoy, but he’s not willing to admit that. I take my suitcase and follow him, hoping that I won’t need the contents inside.
When we finally finish setting up our hotel rooms, we review the parts of our show that still need work. Being a group of traveling magicians doesn’t always give us much time to fix everything until we reach our destination. Practicing on a moving bus is difficult, but over time we’ve learned how to memorize our new material pretty quickly. Brushing up is just another before-show ritual.
After going through my card and spoon bending routine, I move on to the one thing I’ve never had to worry about messing up: magic tricks of flexibility. I stand on my hands and swing my feet over my head to the floor in front of me, trying my best to make it seem like that’s what I need to practice most. No one needs to know that its more of a ruse than a necessity. I can’t stop thinking about the show we are about to see tonight. The thought of possibly getting blood splattered all over my clothes is not a pleasant image. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s time so I decide to keep my mouth shut when it comes to my intense distaste for seeing people chopped up like meat in a butcher shop.
On the way to the show, I distract myself with the scenery passing us by. The little houses and apartments in the neighborhood all have flowers in the windows and wrought iron railings as well as pastel colored walls that glimmer in the light of the streetlamps. Each window has white shutters, opened to display many different plants. I look down at the pavement a moment later and realize that it has recently rained, with water and mud still occupying the cracks in the walkway. As we approach the venue, I look out to the lake on the other side of the street. It’s covered in a thick layer of ice—a flock of tiny black birds land on the railing overlooking it. I can’t help but feel as if they are staring at me. I look away. The line grows shorter and shorter by the second, and before I can redirect my attention to ordering the tickets we are at the front.
“Aderyn, can you ask? I don’t know how,” Dennis whispers.
“I told you how to ask in Italian. Why don’t you do it?” I whisper back.
It took a lot to make sure my voice didn’t show any sign of insecurity.
“Well, we can’t learn and remember a hundred different languages like you can.”
I turn to the man in the booth.
“May I have tickets for five, please?”
The ticket holder does a double take and raises his eyebrows at us.
“You’re the Enigmatic Illusions, aren’t you? You’re performing after these guys tomorrow!”
“Yes, we’re curious to see what we’re following. We’re looking forward to it, actually!”
“These guys are insane! Just about everyone who leaves is practically speechless! They’ve never seen anything like it.”
The man in the ticket booth hands us our tickets and we enter what may be the most ghastly show we’ve ever seen. The lights are already dimming as we sit, and a man in a shimmering gold suit appears from behind the curtain. I brace myself in order to translate everything being said so my group can understand.
“Hello, and welcome! It is truly a joy to be performing for you all tonight!”
He sounds like he is trying to get the introduction out of the way to get on to the show.
The show itself consists of the assistants losing their heads during the ‘disappearing’ act, which leaves blood running down their necks and glazed eyes when their heads are returned, the survivors of the sword cabinet freeze with terror after the boxes themselves are reopened to show the audience; a shark tank completely fills with overflowing blood and a few body parts; a woman writhing and screaming in desperation before being sliced to death with a saw in one quick motion; and a number of assistants having fire forced down their throats. Before each assistant takes part in an act, they attempt to seem as confident as possible, but being unable to stop shifting their feet and sweating profusely does nothing but make me believe they aren’t able to escape the element of fear. Almost all of them turn white as they take part in their acts, and their breathing becomes faster and faster right before they turn into mutilated corpses. Translating the performer’s words into English is impossible to do with a straight face. At intermission I stop in the restroom to take a good look at my face, which is starting to turn green. I throw some water on it wishing I didn’t give away my distaste for the show.
“Hey, you look a little pale. Are you feeling okay? You know, you don’t have to translate for us. I think we get the gist of what’s going on,” Dennis assures me when I rejoin the group.
“Thanks. I wasn’t expecting such a bloodbath in the first few minutes. Watching it for two hours is-”
“What’s this? Look, there’s one on all of our seats!”
He pulls out what looks like a calling card and reads the inscription at the bottom.
“It has a translation at the bottom. It says, ‘Come see us backstage after the show to learn the secrets of our magic and receive a surprise you’ll never forget!’”
“There are only four of them.”
Celeste runs her fingers along them and looks in my direction.
Alfie turns to me and taps my shoulder.
“How come you don’t have one?”
There’s nothing on my seat but my bag. I shrug and focus my attention on the group again.
“I guess it’s just the luck of the draw. I’m not sure if you should go right backstage. The way the assistants act makes me think the tricks aren’t just a part of the show,” I admit at last.
“Really? They all seem fine to me. This show is a little odd, but I doubt that the performers would really do something drastic to those assistants,” Alfie says.
“I don’t know. The assistants looked like they were getting ready to take their final breaths.”
In the middle of my sentence the curtain rises and the lights dim again. I sit back and exhale deeply. Maybe there’s nothing to worry about, I think. Just in case my suspicions are right, though, I decide to try and listen in on whatever is happening backstage after the show. I keep reassuring myself that if anything bad happens, the contents of my suitcase can help me develop some kind of plan of action. If I’m lucky there will be no need for it, but I’m prepared if necessary. The man in the gold suit rises from a trapdoor onto the stage and greets us again. I bite my lip and silence my thoughts of the upcoming slaughter show.
I stop holding my breath when the curtain finally closes, and I walk to the backstage door, which is already open. One of the showmen is waiting for us with his hand extended and a large smile on his face.
“Ah, I see you’ve come for the surprise you were promised! Come right in!”
He ushers them in and shuts the door behind him.
I press my ear to the door and remain as still as possible. I can barely make out what’s being said but I hear one thing that confirms my suspicions from earlier.
“…You’ll be the assistants for tomorrow’s show! Isn’t that wonderful? If you can solve this puzzle by tomorrow morning, I’ll tell you how to survive the show and give you six million dollars.”
A door shuts from inside and footsteps fade away. Without thinking, I pull on the door. The lock appears to be broken. The rooms of the walls are painted different colors and the lights are dimmed down. Nobody is in the room anymore. I see one door with what looks like a map inscribed on it and a sign next to it. The sign reads: “This door leads to mysterious ends… Only one with the symbol of the Cryptic Conjurors may access.” There’s a picture that matches the one on the calling cards we found earlier. The door itself is made of steel and can hold its own against any force, but it provides a map that gives me the incentive to go.
The map has a line running from the top of the frame down to the middle of the door. The letter “E” is carved at the top of the line next to a crude drawing of a building and the letter “M” is carved at the bottom of it underneath of a drawing of a railing and a lake. There’s no telling what the letter “M” stands for, but I know that we passed a lake on our way to the show and that “E” most likely stands for entrance next to the building we’re in. I take a second to try and remember which direction the lake is in and think of the railing and the pastel colored houses we had passed. I remember the railing starting halfway down the path of those houses and the crows staring at me before. Yes, that’s where the lake was and the crows looked like they were guarding it from me. I can’t say that was true, but that’s what it felt like. I bolt out the door and head back for the hotel as a million thoughts hit me.
The assistants are afraid because they have no idea how to navigate around the performances. Whatever puzzle the Cryptic Conjurors set up must be impossible to solve and they are never given a way to escape. Knowing that I had just watched a few dozen people murdered right in front of me makes me feel like hurling my guts onto the street. I shake my head and swallow any semblance of nausea, focusing myself on the task at hand. I can’t stop running until I get to the hotel, I repeat to myself. As much as I wish against it, the contents of my suitcase will be needed in order to conceal my identity and fulfill their duty.
I think about everything relating to what’s in my suitcase. I flash back to when I was about five years old and my parents finding a mysterious plant in their garden. I think of how they decided to put it in the display window of their flower shop and how I decided it would make a wonderful snack. After that I had noticed I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore because I could see everything clearly when the lights were off. I could control how hot or cold I felt just by thinking and snapping my finger and how I could warm up a cup of tea just by holding it in my hands.
A few years after the effects had changed I could almost always tell what someone was feeling just by reading his or her body language, even if it was something as simple as blinking faster than usual. I could look at something and feel as if the image hit me faster than I myself could blink and I could tell what was cooking in the back of the local bakery from the slightest whiff as I walked by it on my way to school.
I was able to contort my body without any pain to the extent of a trained professional and could learn just about any language from my many trips around Europe during my teenage years just by hearing it for a few minutes and even to this day I never forgot any of them. I remember another one of those strange plants being found in a cavern in Bulgaria and the scientists declaring that it may have been from an another planet. Only very few of them had been found and once consumed granted one superhuman powers by altering different parts of the brain. Two more had been eaten since then and the rest had been collected for research. The other two were consumed by two people who had taken on the lives of superheroes and were soon made into icons of their cities.
At a young age I developed a keen interest in stage magic and focused on using my superpowers to make everyone who saw me believe that whatever I was doing was truly a work of magic. The art of dazzling them and seeing them light up took up all of my time and soon enough I joined the Enigmatic Illusions.
Although I had never used my superpowers for the same reason that a superhero might, I fantasized about it and designed a costume for myself in the case of ever becoming a superhero that would have to fight evil. I once spent an entire day brainstorming superhero names for myself and in the end decid to call myself “Teithio Tymheredd,” or “Traveling Temperature” in Welsh.
The only person who had ever found out aside from my parents was my closest friend, who happened to have a talent for designing clothes, and created a real version of the costume and gave it to me as a birthday present. She believed more than anything that the powers I had would one day be desperately needed, and I, too, would need to become a superhero. Since then I have never traveled without it and keep it in the suitcase back at the hotel.
In the hotel room I glance at myself in the mirror with my costume on and wonder why I designed it with such bright, clashing colors. I can’t remember what I was thinking back then, but it doesn’t matter at this point. This was the moment I had feared would come to pass for the past several years, even though I hadn’t revealed my powers until about two years ago.
Imagining this moment has been both a dream and a nightmare—coming to the rescue, but possibly never coming away from it alive. I’m not only coming to the rescue, but I’ll be faced with situations that may or may not require using violence and shedding blood. I have no way of predicting what kind of situation will need the powers that I have, but this is one situation where I don’t think I have any other option.
I take to the lake and climb over the railing overlooking it, noticing the crows still there staring at me, as well as a few bystanders. I ignore them and slip a bit closer to the center of the lake. I push down hard on the ice and channel all of my energy to sending heat downward. In a matter of a few minutes the ice unfreezes and I plunge into the water as fast as one would into a dunk tank. I increase my body heat as much as possible and swim several feet down into darkness before spotting a leaking pipe and a large building connected to it.
I dart to it. The hole where it’s leaking is barely large enough for me to fit through but by contorting myself a few times I’m able to squeeze through. The water fills up the pipe and almost floods my destination, but I send enough cold to freeze it in time.
I run the rest of the way down the fairly large pipe until I reach another door. I kick it open after a few tries. I look into a giant hall of mirrors. The floor, walls, and ceiling are all mirrored with little gold lights hanging from the ceiling. Everything I see looks like a giant kaleidoscope. After walking into a few mirrors and hitting a number of dead ends, I gather this is a maze. No wonder no one can find their way out of this thing.
The Conjurors must have this whole maze memorized to be able to find everyone in time for the next show. Finally, I know what the ‘M’ stands for; I mused. It’s also no wonder why I haven’t found any of my friends yet after walking around for a good fifteen minutes.
“Alfie! Jaleana! Dennis! Celeste! Are you guys in here?”
I don’t hear anything, but I continue calling out their names while running through the maze. The faster I run the more I feel like I’m getting lost. My energy is starting to wane so I slow myself down to a walk. The more I call their names the more hoarse my voice sounds and the more I feel susceptible to being overcome with panic. If I were to panic in a place like this I would most likely start to break the mirrors out of desperation to try and find anyone during this endless pursuit.
Wait, if I break down the mirrors I might be able to keep track of where I’m going! My panic suddenly subsides and I drive my fist into the mirror in front of me. I’m surprised that the result doesn’t leave my hand completely shattered. I walk again and force myself to focus on coming up with ideas to track my steps. Without much thought I run my hand along the side mirrors and transfer heat to them—then a burst of coldness.
When I look to the side I see a line of handprints fading away where I have been walking. The solution to my tracking problem had literally worked itself into my power of sending heat and cold to anything, and I begin to walk a little faster, still calling the names of my fellow magicians. I can barely talk but that won’t stop me from trying.
After another half hour of walking I hear Alfie answer me.
“Aderyn! We’re right around the corner!”
He sounds exhausted. I turn the corner and see the four of them sitting down against the wall. My eyes widen as I realize that I have inadvertently revealed to them my superhero costume and given away my identity. I can’t believe that I never put any consideration into the most important part of my superhero transformation. I shift myself behind the corner.
“Hey, wait a minute. Why are you dressed like that? Did you buy a new costume for our show or something? You don’t have to be shy about it, let us see it,” says Celeste.
I’m not sure what to say. After all of this I won’t lie to them. They’d have to know at some point and it’s a wonder that I’ve been able to stay out of a situation that needed a hero for so long. At least it won’t be a wonder to my friend who brought my drawing to creation. This won’t only cost me my career, but it could also drive a wall between me and the group. I inhale deeply as I prepare to speak the truth.
“No, no. It doesn’t look much like something she would wear for a show. It looks more…” Dennis adds.
At his silence I exhale and walk to the group.
“It’s not for the show. The truth is that it’s actually something to complement my talents. This is the first time I’m using it and it’s the first time I needed to use my talents in such a dangerous situation. I was able to track my steps by sending heat and cold to all the mirrors and making handprints on them. I was able to unfreeze the lake and see the pipe leading down here because I can see in the dark, and I’ve been using my ability to contort my body and read people well to enhance our shows and make the audience believe in the concept of magic. I’m able to translate different languages because I can learn them in the blink of an eye without ever forgetting them. They’re not really talents as much as what you might call superpowers and I hoped I wouldn’t have to use them to save anyone let alone saving you from this maze of mirrors.”
I’m not expecting them to believe me; rather I expect them to think I’m making it all up. If they do believe me they won’t be happy about me using my abilities for the shows and making them believe I just had a knack for stage magic. I’m not nearly as afraid of them becoming angry with me as much as losing their trust in me. I decide to make it certain they don’t think I’m making it all up, and I send heat and a burst of coldness to the mirror next to me to make another handprint. Their eyes widen and they exchange glances at each other, clearly at a loss for words. At last, Jaleana speaks.
“How long have you had these… superpowers?”
“I’ve had them since my childhood. I know I’ve been cheating at all of our shows and it’s an unfair advantage, so I understand if you’re all angry with me.”
“Angry? We’re not angry, just surprised. I can understand why you wouldn’t tell anyone about all of this, everyone would think you’re crazy!”
The others nod in agreement.
“We can’t blame you for using your powers to make our shows better. It’s helped us out a lot to be honest. The talent of other magicians probably isn’t far off from your ability to contort yourself or how well you’re able to read people. Believe me, there are lots of others who have developed the ability to contort themselves just as well as you can and there are a lot of people who are charismatic enough to always know what to say to get what they want. Just don’t plan on using them to give you a leg-up in competitions.” Celeste adds.
I hold my breath for a second and process what they had just told me. Astonishment takes control of me and I can’t help but stare at them with my mouth wide open. Even with quick senses I need a moment to realize this. Of all the ways they could have reacted this wasn’t one I would have considered. After collecting my breath I gather myself again and breath a long sigh of relief.
“Trust me, I won’t. Now, let’s find the way out of here.”
We walk onward to find ourselves seemingly closed in a particular area where all four directions appear closed off. I can’t figure out why we aren’t able to come back the same way we came until I send heat and cold bursts to three sides of the mirrors and find that by trying to send heat to the fourth side my hand went right through the mirror.
“I can’t send heat to this one. My hand just went right through it. I think it’s a hologram,” I say.
I step forward and succeede in walking right through it.
“They must be using something to make it look like there’s no way out. That’s why everyone’s been getting lost. They might not have even reached the point where the mirrors become holograms since the entrance to the maze is so far away,” I think aloud.
Throughout the rest of the maze we navigate ourselves by finding which mirrors we can walk through and track our steps with my handprints. It takes us over an hour to find the exit. When we finally do we all run towards the door.
“Wait! If we open this door the maze will be flooded with freezing cold water. First we have to make sure that we won’t die of the cold just by trying to get to the surface,” says Dennis.
“I can make you all warm enough to survive going up, but we’re about twenty feet underwater. I think the way to get up is if I lead the way up and all of us hold hands or something so that we don’t lose each other since you won’t be able to see anything,” I say.
The others murmur various sounds of agreement. I touch each of their hands and send enough heat to them without burning them up, although I am positive that for the next few weeks or so they won’t feel cold at all. We all grab hands as I pull the door open and we’re hit with what feels like a tidal wave sweeping us from our feet and pushing us against one of the mirrors. I fight against the current and pull us to the door and out to the darkness. I focus on moving upward and kick my feet as hard as I can. The weight of my friends eases up as they follow me up to the surface. I crack the ice above us and I immediately hear someone shouting.
“Look! Someone fell into the lake!”
People gather at the railing and point at us, calling for help to get us out of the lake. I push myself onto the ice and walk towards them.
“Listen, there’s something you all need to know about the Cryptic Conjurors. We were stuck underneath this lake because of them.”
I told them everything that happened to us, revealing to them my superhero identity and the deeds of the Cryptic Conjurors. Fifteen minutes of explaining later, a reporter shows up and asks us questions about what we had gone through. I translat the questions and our answers back and forth.
“What happened when you all went backstage,” the reporter asks.
“They told us that we would receive six million dollars if we got out of the maze and they would tell us how to survive the show the next day. We were the first ones to get out of the maze after we found out that some of the mirrors creating dead ends were really just holograms,” Dennis said.
The reporter writes something on his notepad and a few other reporters take pictures of us for the newspaper. One of them asks me a question.
“You were the one who saved them, right? You used what you called your superpowers to do it, right? How did you get these powers?”
“Well, it’s a pretty long story, but I ate a mysterious plant that can change a person’s brain to give them superhuman abilities. I used my superpowers to get under the lake and help my friends figure out a way to track our way through the maze, and then we just opened the door and swam up ten feet to the surface.”
“Woah, that sounds like a wild ride! What do you call yourself?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a superhero with a name like that! O.K., thank you!”
She writes something down and walks back into the crowd of people around us. We spend the rest of the night trying to answer all of the questions until the reporters finally decide they had gathered enough information. I wanted to go and find the Cryptic Conjurors and bring them to the police, but my friends had insisted that we all try to get some rest. The police were probably already after them, and if they escape, there’s not much damage they can do before we go out and catch them the next day.
When I read the paper next day, my name is on the front page with the headline, “Newly Discovered Superhero Saves Magicians from an Underwater Maze.”
I skim it, hoping to find something about the Cryptic Conjurors and whether they had escaped or not after being exposed. At the very bottom of the page I read, “The Cryptic Conjurors attempted to escape the city last night after being exposed, but the police had them cornered and arrested after discovering the group attempting to illegally board a cruise ship.”
I stop holding my breath and reread the article. I take a second to take in the fact that being a traveling magician won’t be my only job anymore and my identity is now split into two. This won’t be so bad. At last I’ll have the full experience of being a force against evil in my everyday life just like superheroes in movies. I think of my friend who had told me that all of my superpowers would lead up to something big and she just happened to be right.
Now I use my superpowers to make people believe in more than just magic.