Enter the realm of Zumbia, an ancient oriental city like in the tales of Arabian Nights.
With all its stories about 1001 nights, flying carpets and djinns trapped in lamps, there are some untold.
One of these oldest stories, which was never meant to be told for its terrible dark magic, was almost lost in time.
The tale begins when on a fateful day the Mistress of Zumbia got in possession of a wondrous looking-glass from a devious merchant called Alrak.
A mirror, which grants its owner a second childhood.
For some a blessing, for some a curse, such gift comes with a price.
Whoever shall walk into the magical mirror shall emerge a child and from the other side the adult’s reflection, ready to take the place of the adult’s former life.
Chapter 1 - The Secret of the Mirror
Alrak was not superstitious. He did not believe in bad omen. He did not believe in evil spirits. He did not even believe in gods.
But there was one thing, the only thing Alrak believed in. And that was money!
And he knew were to make some, by disturbing the dead and to rob their grave goods.
So it was for him no problem to break into godforsaken tombs.
Somewhere in the Everbold Mountains, a barren landscape which had nothing but rocks and sand, he went to enter into one of these forbidden resting places.
On his way beyond the mountains, he lost the orientation. However, lucky in his attempt to find a way back, he found a hidden path which was not marked on his map. Alrak followed its trail, maybe his luck would lead him to the tomb he was looking for. But instead of finding the tomb, he found something completely different.
It was hard to describe. These catacombs, which matched this weird construction best, led deeply into the mountain. Along the passage were rooms left and right.
Although all had iron doors, they were all gaping wide open. For Alrak they reminded him of prison cells The rooms were huge but the furniture’s size looked liked they were made for children. Those inhabitants must be very small folks. Besides some weird stuff like chains on the wall, the interiors were rich in complicated wall reliefs and gorgeous statues, probably worth of a fortune indeed but all too heavy to carry for one man. But Alrak was not after art of unknown value, but for gold and jewels he could find in none of these rooms. So he kept searching.
The hallway led straight deeper and deeper into the mountain.
Alrak decided to follow the path and leaving those distracting rooms alone, whatever purpose they once might have served.
He didn’t walk long, but Alrak’s torch seems to lose its brightness. Not that the torch would turn off, but the walls seem to absorb the light, limiting Alrak sight as much as he would hold a candle.
The deeper the thief walked into this hallway, the colder it became.
To Alrak’s surprise he found himself into a cave. Drop by drop water fell down from the stalactites. These drops covered the floor with frozen water, making it hard for Alrak to move and to keep his balance.
In comparison to the rich decorated rooms from before, there was nothing in this dead end. Although Alrak could see with his torch barely his own feet, he saw that there was something. Something big, a golden gate, maybe?
No, it was a golden mirror frame as Alrak approached closer to this thing.
Alrak stood in front of a mirror, but even at that dim light he couldn’t see his mirror image. There was nothing but blackness, the reflection surface was dark and empty like this cave.
So far this golden mirror was the only valuable thing he found on this place. And he was sure that he could make with this man tall mirror a fortune. This gold alone would make him a very wealthy man.
With such money he could gamble every day in taverns or get the best women. By all the thoughts of pretty women, his wife came into his mind. Well, she didn’t need to know about that, he shrugged those doubts aside.
Curious he reached his arm and tried to tip the surface of the mirror, if there was one.
Instantly waves danced on the center where he has touched with his finger. It was the same kind of waves a lake would do on the surface if someone had thrown a pebble.
"What kind of witchcraft is that?" wondered Alrak.
Was it dangerous? Could it harm him?
Alrak made a step forward to observe this weird mirror closer, but he slipped on the icy floor and fell right into the mirror.
The fall was like a dive into a lake, but instead he dropped on the icy floor. To Alrak’s surprise he and his clothes remained dry.
However, the fall on the ground was painful, but he needed some time until he recognized that something was wrong. His clothes felt loose. Too loose. Before he could make any sense, someone picked up his torch. Alrak stood up, but this stranger was bigger than him. A giant!
Scared he felt back on his bottom.
"Who … who are you?" Alrak asked frightened.
The giant knelled down to him. The torch lit up his face.
"I am you!" the giant spoke.
It took Alrak a few moments until he recognized the face in the torchlight.
It was his own!
"What happened?" he asked clearly astonished.
"I’m your mirror image. When you stepped into the mirror, I’ve stepped out of it, while you become a child again, as you have seen in the mirror."
"I saw no child in the mirror!" the boy protested.
"That’s because you haven’t looked downward." The giant explained him calmly.
"How old am I? And why are my clothes so baggy and yours not?"
"You must be about five or six summers now. I’ve stepped out like you have stepped in; that’s why I’m wearing exactly the same clothes like you. And since clothes don’t get younger, you shrunk into them."
"What! I’m a child again! And what exactly are you?"
"Like said before, I’m you. Or better said, I’m your mirror image. I’ll be your caretaker from now on and will replace you in your adult life while you can live like a normal child again. This is practical I think, since nobody would believe a child that he is actually an adult."
"But I don’t want to be a child again! People would laugh at me, if they knew what happened to me."
"Even for that I’m here. I can tell the people that you are a far away relative. I work and do your duties for you. Look how useful I am! I’m even carrying this mirror for you and make all the business to get the best price for it."
"I don’t need anybody who leads my life for me! I want to be an adult again. I never wanted to become young. It was an accident that I fell into this stupid mirror."
"Well, if you want to have it that way."
The giant dropped the mirror back on the floor.
"If you put it like that, you may step through the mirror. If we both pass the mirror simultaneously, then you will be your old self again and I’ll return to the mirror. Don’t worry about that. However, if you ever have the wish to be young again willingly, just walk into the mirror and I will take matters in my hands."
Like the giant had promised, Alrak returned back to normal. It took him a while until his clothes were in their right place again.
As he looked back, he could really see a boy in his way too baggy clothes. So the mirror image had really told the truth. With this youth mirror, Alrak imagined what kind of a fortune he could make with it. He would become rich and famous. Well, famous was maybe not such a good idea, since fame and gold always attracts envier and thieves. But he could make all his plans back at home.
As Alrak tried to lift the mirror, he had to use all his strength. Even after a few steps he was out of breath. This gold frame was just too heavy!
Alrak didn’t understand. For his mirror image, it was so easy to carry this mirror. Then again he wasn’t human but a mirror image. Was that the reason why he was so much stronger than him?
Well, Alrak didn’t intend to carry this heavy thing all the way through the mountains to his home. His mirror image should do this petty work. He could demand to be an adult again, just like he did before when they would be at home.
Alrak stepped through the mirror again. This time he didn’t fall down. The boy kept his baggy clothes tighter to protect him from the frosty cold of this cave.
"I see you have changed your mind." the adult him greeted the child.
"This mirror is too heavy! Carry it for me home." the little boy commanded his mirror image.
"As you wish." the mirror image replied politely and carried the mirror with no exhaustion.
This works like a charm! the boy thought. It’s good to have a servant.
Now Alrak had to face another problem. Walking in his clothes was almost impossible. First he lost his shoes and then his trousers.
Only his long thick shirt and jacket remained on his body. His arms were too short to leave his long sleeves.
While his upper body was still warm his naked feet began to freeze on the icy cold floor.
"Mirror, my clothes are too big for me. Do something!"
"I guess I can do nothing about them. If we are outside and warmer, I can cut your long sleeves and improvise some shoes for you."
"But my feet are freezing now. And I’m cold!"
"Then you better go ahead before you catch a cold. I’ll catch up as soon as possible."
This was the best advice his doppelganger could give him. So the boy ran ahead to the exit. He ignored the other rooms, they had nothing valuable anyway.
The sun was still high up and once outside it took not long until his feet were warm again.
The boy, however, faced now another problem. The sand was burning hot and the rocks pricked into his sole.
"Mirror, I can’t walk all the way barefooted. Do you really think that the sleeves will be enough to protect my feet from the noon’s heat and sharp-edged rocks?" the boy asked his mirror image, when he finally arrived.
"I’m sorry, but I don’t have any shoes in your size. And mine are too big for you. You have to deal with it!" the mirror image said while cutting the boy’s way too long sleeves.
At least his arms were free again.
"This is much better but I’m not sure if this really helps!"
"It can’t be helped, just watch out where you are walking, my boy."
"I’m not your boy!"
"Of course you are, or have you forgotten that you are a child now."
"Call me ‘Effendi’. I don’t want that people think that you are my father."
"Wouldn’t it be weird if I call a child Effendi? And besides, there are no other people around except us."
"Oh, forget it!" Alrak was not in the mood to start a discussion with his own mirror image.
He was no jinn but at least he did his bidding.
The mirror image was right; those sleeves gave his feet a little comfort. They were not as satisfying as real shoes but it was still better than carry the mirror all the way along.
Alrak wondered that by all the heat his doppelganger was not even dropping a sweat. He became a bit red from the sun but otherwise he shown no sign of exhaustion.
Later, when they were preparing their camp for the night, it turns out that the mirror image didn’t need any food, which was practical so Alrak hadn’t to share his ratios.
After a week they finally returned home. The narrow streets were full of busy people. Of course they had covered the mirror into a big cloth.
However, the mirror doppelganger had trouble to pass the crowd. When they reached the last street, Alrak was not in the mood to wait for him.
So he went ahead. Walking through all these legs was a weird feeling, making it hard for him not to lose the orientation. The boy was so glad to be at home again after this long journey, that he completely forgot his wife.
"Who are you?" asked his woman, who kneeled on a small table. She was sticking when Alrak stepped through the door.
"It’s me! Your husband, woman." The boy replied confidently.
"My husband isn’t a boy." the woman set straight. After these words Alrak’s wife had to smirk. This though was too funny and she couldn’t be mad at the boy’s remark.
Secretly she imagined her stubborn and troublesome husband as a boy. Yes, too fondly would she like to teach him a lesson.
"I admit this is a funny prank. But I can’t play with you. Please leave now my house. And next time knock before you enter the homes of strangers."
"No, I’m really your husband. I’m just a boy now. Just look closer, don’t you think I look like my adult self?"
Alrak’s wife played interest and pretended to take a closer look at him
"No, not at all. I don’t think that there are any similarities."
She is not even trying, the boy thought.
Suddenly his wife said something:
"Husband, I don’t understand. Why does this boy claims to be you?" his wife asked the doppelganger who just entered the door with the heavy mirror.
"That’s because he is Alrak." the mirror image answered truthfully in his polite way.
"It’s this mirror. It has made me young again. I’ve just had my mirror image carry the mirror for me. But once we are walking though this mirror, I’m big again."
"So you are really young now." his wife asked again in disbelieve.
"Like I’ve told you. You haven’t recognized me, right? Do I really look that different?"
"Here is the money you wanted for the market and some other things." the mirror image reached the woman a big pouch of money.
Anger spread through Alrak’s mind as he saw that.
How dare he to give her the money he intended to gamble in the tavern tonight?
"Hey! That’s my money! Have I told you to give it to my wife?"
"I’m sorry, but as long as I’m your replacement, she is my wife. Children are not allowed to be married."
"Arg! Return to your mirror, before you are doing more damage. This silly logic of yours has given me enough headaches."
Can this boy be really my husband? the woman thought, if so then it was too good to be true.
Young Alrak intended to go through the mirror as his wife grabbed his arm and pushed him back to her.
"You are going nowhere, my little boy!" she sternly shouted at him, for she hasn’t forgotten the humiliation when her beloved husband has gambled all the money. When she scolded him for his irresponsibility, he threatened her; sometimes he made them even true.
Often she had to beg the neighbors for some leftovers, while he went spending all the money the same day he had earned them. But not today.
"What are you doing?" the boy asked unnerved.
"I think that your feeble mind has found its right body. And I already get used to the thought that you become a boy again. I even imagined what I could do with you, for the little brat you are. Your little prank gave me just the right idea."
"Very funny. And I wasn’t playing any tricks on you."
"I’m also not playing. I’ve decided to keep you like you are. And you stay a boy!"
"Let me go, you can’t do that to me!" the boy pushed and pulled on his arm when he realized that his wife was serious.
"Yes, I can. And I forbid you to become an adult again. I have you right now where I always wanted you."
"You can’t make me!"
"Yes, she can." the mirror image interfered. "I’m sorry, but I can’t let you become an adult again if she forbids it. Children have to listen to the elderly."
"What are you doing? You are my servant! You have to listen to me!"
"I’m your caretaker and your replacement in your adult world. As your representative I have to take all your duties and responsibilities. And one of them is to be a good husband and respect my wife’s decisions. It is for your own best if she insists that you shall stay as a boy. Otherwise she would have commanded me to make you an adult again."
Amazed Alrak’s wife looked at him. She really started to like this new husband. He was friendlier and more caring for her than this brat ever was.
"And what are we doing with this boy?" she carefully asked the doppelganger, who seems to have an answer for everything. "How do we explain where he is from? We have no other relatives."
"Well, you always wanted to have a slave who is giving you a hand."
"No! You can’t do that to ... " the wife slapped the boy to keep him silent, holding his arms still mercilessly.
"You behave or I’ll sell you to the slave traders." she threatened while the boy sobbed.
"No!" the mirror image rejected. "The boy has to be here. After all I’m his caretaker."
"Sounds good enough to me, but what are we doing with this mirror." the woman pointed at the golden loot.
"I’ll sell a good price for it. And then you have never to worry about money ever again."
The woman grinned. This mirror would disappear and grand her a wealth while her former husband wouldn’t see a single coin of it and be known to all as her slave. And she intended to treat him with the same kindness as he has treated her.
The woman heard the sobbing and pleading of the boy, but it was too late to beg for forgiveness and simply ignored him.
Alrak’s wife has always believed in good fortune, in the weird mercy of the gods and that live would repay her for all her hardship.
She was happy that this day has finally come!