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Authors: Roderick Townley

A Bitter Magic

BOOK: A Bitter Magic
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The Door in the Forest
The Blue Shoe
The Red Thread

The Great Good Thing
Into the Labyrinth
The Constellation of Sylvie


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2015 by Roderick Townley

Cover art copyright © 2015 by René Milot

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Townley, Rod.

A bitter magic / Roderick Townley. — First edition.

p. cm.

Summary: When twelve-year-old Cisley's mother, who controls real magic, disappears during a magic act, Cisley is left with her cold, distant uncle and a great mystery which will only be solved if she can summon her own magic.

ISBN 978-0-449-81649-3 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-449-81650-9 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-449-81651-6 (ebook)

[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Missing persons—Fiction. 3. Mothers and daughters—Fiction. 4. Uncles—Fiction. 5. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.T64965Bi 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014013601

eBook ISBN 9780449816516

Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.



For Wyatt

sharing the mirror

Thirty Feet of Wind
Chapter One

Her eyes had that special glint they get when she's about to do something she shouldn't. I've learned to be careful with Mother. Not argue. Just be careful.

It was her idea to put me in the audience—way up in the balcony—instead of backstage, where I could be useful. My only problem is sitting still in this dress with the ridiculous ribbons that tickle my neck. Does she think I'm still a little girl?

Look at those fancy ladies down there, and the stiff-backed men beside them with medals on their chests and wax on their curled mustaches. They have no idea what goes into a show like ours.

We don't want them to, of course.

The sea starts moving. Waves of evening gowns rise. Applause surges through the hall.

“Cisley!” Miss Porlock hisses. “Stand up! He's coming!”


My tutor nods meaningfully at the box seats. After a moment, the great man himself—the archduke—ducks his head and steps in, a severely thin person with thick eyebrows. Beside him stand two armed attendants and a woman in an enormous gown. I can guess what they're thinking:
Amuse us, peasants

The audience subsides into their seats, lights dim, and Uncle Asa bounds to center stage. I have to admit he looks snappy with his slicked-back hair, pointy beard, and toothpick-thin mustache. He bows and makes his little speech. It's his show after all: the Amazing Thummel, Illusionist, & Co.

Mother and I are the
& Co

Then comes the part I can never understand, as many times as I've seen it. It kind of drives me crazy. The theater goes dark, and tiny points of light float out over the audience. Mother once told me they were “elementals,” whatever that means. Now hundreds drift through the hall, glimmering dimly. Even the know-it-alls let out an “Aah,” as if a swarm of fairies has filtered among them.

Onstage, a single spotlight comes up, and there stands Mother, looking—Well, a German newspaper once called Marina Thummel the most beautiful woman in Europe. I couldn't tell you; I've seen her in too many ugly moods. But just now, in her ice-blue gown, she looks out over
the audience with that secret not-quite smile of hers that makes grown men squirm. It's true. I've seen it happen.

I glance down at my hands, struck again by the awful truth: I'll never have that effect on anyone.

Mother holds open a beaded purse. She makes a gesture to the floating lights, and they begin circling toward her, then around her. Finally they enter the purse, which she snaps shut with a triumphant smile. Her look says, “Wouldn't you like to know how I did that!”

The audience breaks out of its trance to applaud wildly. I applaud, too. Proud and embarrassed. You'd be, too, if it was your mother up there.

The trick is her secret. She won't tell anyone, including Uncle Asa, how she does it. “Magic,” she snapped at him during one of their spats, “is not a recipe. It's a
. One you'll never have.”

Next comes the part I'm usually in; but Mother said tonight she'd let Benny, the stagehand's young son, fill in.

“But he's only eight!”

“Cisley, dear,” she cooed. She was staring into the vanity mirror, applying mascara at the corners of her eyes. “You were eight when you started.”

It's true. But I was good at it. Luckily, this particular trick is simple: just stand there with your arms out, and rise into the air.

Sure enough, up he goes, a foolish little boy floating a dozen feet over the stage.

It makes me wince to see Benny grinning and flapping his arms as if he's done some great thing. In fact, of course, he's done nothing at all. Never left the ground. Uncle Asa's mirrors do everything, tilting his image upward, swerving him from side to side, and setting him down again.

Miss Porlock shoots me a look. For those who don't know her, that look can seem fierce—forehead bulging and mouth turned down—but it's simply the face God gave her. Dear, clumsy Miss Porlock, a danger at any tea party, but kind. She's a relative, I'm told, a distant cousin or something.

“I like it when
do it,” Miss P. whispers, and pats my knee.

The show goes on, and I wonder again why Mother wanted me out front. “Something special,” she said, with a white-gloved finger to her lips and her eyes bright as emeralds. “Don't say anything to your uncle.”

I have that grumbly feeling in my stomach again. I always get it when I'm nervous, which is a good part of the time, now that I think of it. I glance over at Miss Porlock and am surprised to see her gnawing her lip. Then I hear an undertone coming from her and realize she's muttering. She does that when she gets emotional. It's kind of embarrassing.

“You can tell me,” I whisper during the disappearing-cabinet act. “What's going on?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

I just keep looking at her.

“I don't know; they didn't tell me.”

“But you know something.”

“It's something to do with the last trick.”

“The new one.”

She nods. “After which I'm supposed to give you something.”

I shoot her my stare. “Give it to me now.”

“I mustn't.”

“Why not?”

But Miss Porlock has turned away. She knows perfectly well I'm staring at her. You can tell by the indifferent way she tosses her curls and gazes at nothing in particular.

Uncle Asa swoops back onstage. “For our final act,” he calls out, “we are proud to present an illusion never before attempted, one that's

He scans the audience, then turns his head to the royal box. “Tonight, for the first time, we dare perform it in honor of His Excellency, the archduke, and his lovely consort.”

His Excellency nods solemnly. The lovely consort raises one brow.

I'm used to knowing what happens next. I'm not used to being kept in the dark. I don't like it at all. Miss P. is muttering again.

The music swells. Mother appears in a pool of light.

In flowing silks and with a white silk scarf around
her shoulders, she stands perfectly still at the front of the stage, which has been built out into the audience. Behind her is a panel of black glass.

The crowd hushes.

The scarf begins to ripple, although there is no breeze. Then the little floating lights appear, swarms of them. She lifts her chin and stares into the distance.

I lean forward.

Slowly, the tiny lights orbit Mother. Soon I notice there are fewer lights than before. And less of my mother! Parts of her dress, her arms, her hair, are just not there!

More lights disappear. More of my mother disappears.

She's dissolving in front of my eyes!

The audience begins to realize what is happening. Ladies peer through opera glasses. The archduke, in his box across the way, gets abruptly to his feet.

The last points of light blink out. The place where Mother stood is bare. That's not quite true. Her white scarf flutters down and drapes itself on the edge of the stage.

An ovation erupts and continues for minutes. Asa returns, bows deeply, blows a kiss to the cheering audience, then turns, his arm extended toward the wing, welcoming his sister onstage.

His arm remains extended, but she does not appear. “Marina,” he calls above the tumult of the crowd, “come out! They want to see you!”

No Marina.

Miss Porlock and I glance at each other.

“What's happening?” I mouth.

No answer. She gazes at the stage with a strange intensity.

The applause dies down, but Mother continues not to appear. “I think my beautiful assistant is playing with us,” Asa says with a laugh. “Come now, Marina dear. Your audience awaits!”

No Marina Thummel. Murmurs ripple through the crowd. The archduke speaks to one of his aides, who nods and hurries off.

Abruptly, the stage curtain jerks closed. A moment later, I hear a loud crash, like glass breaking. I'm out of my seat and running, with portly Miss Porlock huffing along behind. I know my brain isn't working right, because the same crazy words keep churning inside me:
Mother! My mother has evaporated!

BOOK: A Bitter Magic
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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