Now Carol and Johnny must join a group of merfolk and travel into the deepest chasms of the Pacific Ocean to stop him and his monstrous army with their savage magic.
About the Author
David Bowles is a product of a Mexican-American family and has lived most of his life in deep South Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, most significantly the ALA Pura Belpré Honor Book, The Smoking Mirror. Additionally, his work has been published in venues including Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Metamorphoses, Translation Review, Concho River Review, Huizache, Journal of Children’s Literature, Asymptote, Eye to the Telescope and Newfound.
Read an Excerpt
Pablo Limón was a recent immigrant, short and very dark-skinned. The perfect target for a loser like Cody Smith, who stood looming over the kid in the main hall of Veterans Middle School, just outside the library, on the last day of classes before the Christmas break.
"I'm sorry, what was that, you dirty mojo? Learn freaking English, punk. You're in the US now."
Johnny Garza shook his head and walked up, throwing his arm around Cody as if they were best friends. "Hey, guys, what's up! Pablo, my cuate. ¿Cómo te va en las clases?"
Pablo looked up at the taller boys. A smile crossed his face. "Bien, Johnny. I do fine."
"Órale, pues. Why don't you head on to class, buddy? Don't want Mr. Torres getting on your case. Social studies is holy to him."
Pablo nodded, trembling with relief, then hurried toward the sixth-grade wing.
"What's your freaking problem, Johnny?" Cody asked, trying to pull away.
Johnny leaned in close to his rival. "You need to stop picking on the little ones, you jerk. Feel me? And the next time you throw around racist remarks ..."
"What? You'll beat the crap out of me? Whatever. My dad's the mayor, you freak."
With a smile, Johnny reached up and snatched a strand of hair from Cody's head.
"Ow!" the other boy hissed, rubbing his skull. "The hell did you do that for?"
"I need a strand of your hair for the curandera I'm going to hire to jinx you, moron, if I ever hear you call someone a mojo or wetback again."
"Yeah, you and your crazy family, you all probably know a ton of witches and weirdoes like that. No wonder your mom got kidnapped by the cartels. Just stay away from me, dude."
Johnny watched Cody stamp off down the eighth-grade hall. Deep inside, beastlike ferocity squirmed, hungry to leap out and exact justice.
Juan Ángel "Johnny" Garza, like his mother and twin sister, was a nagual — a shapeshifter capable of transforming into a jaguar. Right now the jaguar within wanted to pounce on the stuck-up blond jerk, give him the scare of his lifetime. But Johnny calmed his tonal, his animal self.
I've got a better idea.
Johnny could use the savage magic available to him as a twin shapeshifter to assume the shape of any creature if he touched its DNA — even a human. Ducking into the boys' bathroom, he stepped inside a stall and concentrated on the strand of Cody's hair, coaxing his tonal into taking on the new form.
A flood of confused emotions staggered him — he could feel the popular boy's insecurity, his parents' lack of affection toward him, his unrequited crush on an unexpected mutual friend. The cadences of his speech, his sneering way of looking down at everyone; these things were instantly accessible. If he wanted, he could dig deeper. But that wasn't the point of this particular prank. He had no desire to get to know the mayor's son any better than this.
After winking at his disturbing new reflection in the mirror, Johnny sauntered out, heading toward the portables on the far side of the school, where he would very likely bump into Aniceto Sainz, better known as "Hot Cheetos." Sainz had taken over the position of chief bully vacated by Miguel "Mickey Mouse" Maldonado, who had finally been promoted to high school after five years at Veterans.
Sure enough, Sainz was smoking a cigarette in the shadow of an empty portable classroom, sheltered from the light December drizzle by the rotting eaves.
"Hey, loser," Johnny called in Cody's higher, more grating voice. "Nobody smokes any more. It's pretty ghetto."
Hot Cheetos snapped his head up, glaring at Johnny/Cody. "Pinche gringo. You want me to rip your face off or something?"
"I'm just saying, homie. Don't get all salty on me. Think about your health, Hot Cheetos."
Tossing his cigarette aside, Sainz balled his hands into fists. "Güey, ahorita vas a ver que your health ain't all that good, neither."
Rounding the corner came Ms. De Los Ángeles, a special education teacher. She crossed her arms across her chest and shook her head. "Aniceto, you know I come have tacos out here with Mrs. Paz during first period. Every day. How many times do I have to bust you smoking before you learn your lesson?"
"Chale, miss. I ain't smoking." He stepped on the cigarette, which had put itself out in the damp weeds already.
"Sure you're not. Get on to class, sir. Now."
As the hood grumpily complied, the tough but kind teacher turned to Johnny/Cody. "Mr. Smith, your father may be the mayor, but that certainly doesn't give you carte blanche to skip class and get into fights with dangerous boys. What were you thinking?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. De Los Ángeles. It won't happen again."
She raised an eyebrow. "Impressive. Your Spanish pronunciation certainly has improved. Just last week you were struggling with my last name."
"Yes, well, practice makes perfect, ma'am! Mrs. Paz is a great Spanish teacher, too. But, uh, I'm really late for class now, so I'll see you, okay?"
He turned tail and hurried back inside the building, only to bump into his sister Carol beside the gym.
"God, Cody, watch where you're going!"
Without a word, Johnny kept walking, hoping she wouldn't suspect anything.
Johnny turned his head slightly.
It's you, isn't it? Carol said in his mind.
Telepathy was one of the other advantages of being twin shapeshifters.
Busted. How did you know?
Cody buys designer polo shirts for his uniform, not the cheap Old Navy stuff you prefer.
She caught up to him and grabbed his arm, whispering hoarsely, "This is the stupidest thing you've ever done, Johnny. Shapeshifting at school? Into another human being? I don't remember any of our training mentioning that as a particularly good idea."
Johnny glanced about. Seeing no one, he let his own human self come forward a bit.
Ugh. You look like a computer-morphed composite of Johnny and Cody. Come all the way forward, please.
"Could be useful," Johnny said aloud in a voice that also blended his and his rival's. "Dude! Crazy."
Before they reached the back hall and its cameras, he had returned to his normal form. He quietly explained what had happened with Pablo and his plan for vengeance.
"Johnny, I know it seems brave to you — heroic — but we made a deal with Mom and Dad. We're not supposed to use our magic unless it's absolutely necessary. You could've just as easily reported Cody."
"Or punched his lights out."
"Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, moron. Anyway, shush: the door's open."
Mr. Zamora paused, his hand pointing at the smartboard. "So you found him, did you, Carolina?"
"He's been feeling sick. He was still in the bathroom."
People giggled or smirked throughout the classroom. Johnny clutched his stomach dramatically. "Yeah, I may have to run back all of a sudden, sir. When duty calls, duty calls."
He made his way to his desk amid the laughter and annoyed redirection of his teacher. Hot Cheetos had made it back before him, and the boy was meticulously carving a gang symbol into his desk.
"Hey, Aniceto," Johnny whispered.
The hood's hollowed eyes glanced up at him.
"I just bumped into Cody Smith. He told me to tell you to remember his advice. Whatever that means."
The older boy muttered a string of obscenities in Spanish, and Johnny smiled to himself.
Justice is a dish best served spicy, Cody old friend. Kind of like Hot Cheetos. Merry Christmas, dude.
When the last bell rang, there wasn't much time to enjoy that special feeling of freedom that comes right at the beginning of the holidays. Johnny slowed his hurried pace for a moment as he passed the front office, smiling impishly at the sight of a hangdog Cody Smith, slumped in a chair beside Hot Cheetos. A security guard stood over them, gesturing toward the principal's office. Cody reached into his jacket for his cell phone, but the guard snatched it away.
Your privilege doesn't mean jack today, buddy. That'll teach you.
Carol was standing at the doors, gesturing at him. "Come on, Johnny. You can gloat later. Mom's already packed our bags. She's waiting for us."
As they stepped outside, Johnny rolled his eyes. Their mother was leaning against her friend Angie Rea's black Ford F450, checking the time on her smart phone.
Angie was an artist and usually hauled her massive upcycled sculptures around in the gas-guzzler up and down the state of Texas. But today, the Garza family luggage, even with their mother's ridiculous number of suitcases, seemed pretty meager in the large bed of the truck.
Carol kissed her mom and Angie on the cheek as they clambered in; Johnny smiled and gave a quick wave.
"Wow, your son, Verónica!" Angie exclaimed as she pulled away from the school. "Super tall and just a little stuck-up, huh?"
"Yeah, he dwarfs Carol now, doesn't he? Crazy growth spurts."
Trying to head off the probably embarrassing direction of this conversation, Johnny leaned forward and pecked Angie on the cheek. "Sorry, Ms. Rea. The other dudes. You know how it is. Middle school life is tough without them seeing you give kisses to your mom's best friend."
"No, pos, I understand, Johnny. You kids excited about flying to Manzanillo? I hear the beaches are better than Acapulco."
Carol gave a nervous laugh. "Well, I mean, except for the volcano erupting ..."
"... and the drug cartels shooting police helicopters out of the sky ..." added Johnny.
"... and all the hurricane damage along the coast," Carol concluded, "I'm sure it'll be fine."
Verónica Quintero de Garza craned her neck around to glare at her children. "And since we all are very excited to see Papá and hear about the discoveries he's making, none of those things are going to keep us away, ¿verdad, amores?"
Smile angelically, he muttered in Carol's mind. He put his arm around her shoulder, and leaned his head against hers, a look of innocence on his face. In unison, now ...
"Claro que no, mamá," they said together.
Their mother arched an eyebrow and laid a finger against her nose.
Other than their parents, no one else had any clue as to the twin's secret abilities, or how they had used them six months ago to rescue their mother from the clutches of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca in the bowels of the Underworld. Against all odds, working together and drawing on their family's deep love, the twins had foiled the god's twisted plan.
After they had returned to the living world, Johnny had refused to keep this secret from the man he admired most and he had become a jaguar in front of his father. Dr. Oscar Garza had been both surprised and relieved to learn that his wife and children were shapeshifters.
Then he had revealed that he, too, had been hiding something from them. At the age of seventeen, Oscar had been admitted into the Charter Palms Mental Health Center due to a nervous breakdown. He had spent more than a year institutionalized.
"I snapped," he had told them, tears on his face, "because I had been seeing things all my life. Hallucinations, I thought. Very real ones. After your grandfather abandoned us, things got worse. Weird visions plagued me. Supernatural stuff. And I knew, or thought I knew, that madness ran in the family. I ... Forgive me for never telling you, but your Uncle Fernando and I have another brother, the middle boy, Samuel. When he was little, my parents put him in an institution. I haven't seen him since. I'm guessing he's still there. Point is, I figured whatever he had was in me, too."
Verónica had hugged him tightly then, and the twins had clung to him as well. Johnny's heart had ached for the man, adrift without much family, believing himself crazy. He had understood in that moment just how lucky he was to have such loving parents and sister.
"When I got out, I had to be a skeptic, you see. I had to be very empirical in my dealings with the world. 'Everything has a rational explanation,' I reminded myself constantly. So when you disappeared, Vero, pues, how could I allow myself to imagine? It was easier to blame the cartels."
"Ay, amor," their mother had cried. "Forgive me. If only I had been honest with you. Maybe your torment wouldn't have been as bad."
He had shushed her with a kiss; in that instant, life for the Garza family was transformed.
Back in the Rio Grande Valley, Verónica had done all she could to train her children in their new abilities, even though their magic was well beyond her own. And Johnny's father had returned to his studies of pre-Columbian Mexico with a new perspective and dogged determination to learn what he could to protect his loved ones from sinister plans, even with the hope of discovering powerful ancient artifacts.
So, when an amateur archaeologist had discovered a strange network of stone-lined tubes under the ancient ruins of El Chanal in the Mexican state of Colima, Dr. Garza had jumped at the offer to be part of the scholarly research team investigating.
He had been there three weeks already. In his email to his family, he had described the excitement of discovering that the tubes apparently linked an underground pool at the heart of the ritual complex to nearby rivers and lagoons.
"I'll explain more when you're here," he had written. "And then we'll enjoy some sun and surf, heh."
First, of course, came the plane ride. Angie dropped them off at the McAllen Miller International Airport, where they boarded a plane for Houston and then — after a ridiculous layover that gave Johnny time to watch a bunch of kitschy old cartoons on his tablet — another for Guadalajara.
"Flip you for the window seat," he told Carol as they struggled down the aisle. Luckily for him he won, and soon he was staring out over the glittering wing at the patchwork land, broken only by the twisting ribbon of the river, which connected distant mountains to the sea like a massive version of the tubes at El Chanal.
The plane touched down in Guadalajara after 8:00 pm. Though their father urged them over the phone to stay there the night, he should have known better. Carol's mom was a determined and highly impatient woman used to getting her way. She dug her designer heels in.
"No, Oscar. I don't care how late it is. We haven't seen you for almost three weeks. I don't plan on waiting any longer than I have to, so I've rented a car and I'm driving down tonight. It's just three hours or so, anyway. That's right. Mm-hmm. Just make sure the other room is ready. And ours better not be a mess when I get there. Sí, yo también te quiero, amor. But I'm on my way, got it?"
Carol was still smiling at this exchange when she cried "Shotgun!" and slid into the passenger seat of the Nissan X-Trail.
"Take it," Johnny replied with a yawn. "I'd rather stretch out in the back, catch some zees."
"If you fit, you mean, giant boy." She tried to hide her jealousy with these sorts of jabs, but it did irritate her that her twin now had about ten centimeters on her.
Bet I could shift myself some shorter legs if I tried. You could probably stretch your bones, too, Short Round.
I'll have you know I'm the second-tallest girl in eighth grade ... Oh, wait. That was a doofy reference to some old TV show or something, wasn't it?
"Mom, Carol doesn't know anything about Indiana Jones."
Starting the car with a wry grin, Verónica shook her head. "It's no fair if you're going to have telepathic conversations around me. I miss the jokes. Pero, ya, with the dad you've got, Carol? You should watch those films."
Once they were past the city limits, it was generally too dark to appreciate the countryside. But as Johnny slipped into a light sleep, Carol let her tonal edge slightly forward, just enough to benefit from the night vision of her wolf eyes.
Even the impressive countryside couldn't erase her exhaustion, and Carol soon found herself in the midst of a strange dream. Her father was standing inside of some stone chamber carved with what seemed ancient Mesoamerican pictographs. At the center of the room, a dark pool of water began to bubble and overflow. Soon her father's shoes were covered, and the level kept rising.
When it had reached his waist, Dr. Garza looked right at her, but his eyes were wrong. The hazel had gone all glittery green. It took her a second to understand.
They were Tezcatlipoca's eyes, staring out at her from her father's face. He smiled a twisted smile and spoke in that cool, sociopathic voice.
"Are you ready, child? It is now your turn. Let us see how far you can be bent, Carolina."
The word echoed, mockingly. Carolina. Carolina. Carolina.
Carol snapped awake. "What, what?"
"Look out the window, honey. It's the volcano — it's active again."
There in the north the silhouette of Volcán de Colima was backlit by an orange glow, and narrow streams of lava oozed down its southern face.
Excerpted from "A Kingdom Beneath the Waves"
Copyright © 2015 David Bowles.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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