To Be Continued... SPFBO 9 Edition: The Illusionist's Nightmare

The Illusionist’s Nightmare – Part 1 by Melissa Wright

For SPFBO 9 I’m returning to my old tradition, where I offer to the authors in our batch a spotlight on Queen’s Book Asylum. While in previous years I created a new feature, this year I let them choose between all of my available ones: What the Hungarian?!Tales from the AsylumStuck in the PagesParty with the StarsTo Be Continued…, as well as the regular author spotlight options of an interview, and a guest post.

To my delight, several of the authors wanted to take part in To Be Continued… So much so, that we don’t have one, but two stories for you, each consisting of 4 parts! Story 2 is titled The Illusionist’s Nightmare which is kicked off by Melissa Wright, the author of Beyond the Filigree Wall.

If you are new to the To Be Continued… feature, here is how it works:
  • the authors taking part have to write a short story based on my prompt, which for this SPFBO 9 Special Edition is illusion and dream in a carnival setting
  • the authors taking part don’t know about each other
  • each author has 2 weeks to write their part (after receiving the previous one(s))
  • each part is somewhere around 1500 words, although some tend to be longer

Fun fact: I based this prompt on two Poets of the Fall songs, Illusion and Dream and Carnival of Rust (which happens to be one of my favorite songs). I was super curious about what the authors will make of this prompt. The Illusionist’s Nightmare has a different approach to this prompt, one that’s closer to what I originally envisioned for myself. So, let the story begin!

Meet the Author
Melissa Wright

Melissa is the author of more than a dozen YA and fantasy novels including The Frey Saga and Between Ink and Shadows. When not writing she can generally be found talking about a book, painting something from a book, or tucked between headphones listening to a book. It’s kind of a theme. She loves reasonable heroines in unreasonable situations, noble–if brooding–heroes, slow burn and sweet kisses, a lot of havoc, and a little magic. Stay updated on works in progress at Instagram or contact her through the web at www.melissa-wright.com.

Connect with Melissa Wright
The Illusionist's Nightmare

Part 1

Ezri was only fourteen the first time she fought a bear. She lost an eye that day and it took her two months to dream it back. They kept coming out all wrong, blue-tinged and lumpy and not at all a good fit—the eyes that is. The bears came out right every time. That was owing the fear, they’d said. Terror brought the clarity a dreamer needed to really drive the life into things. She’d been warned it was a focus that wonderment could not bring. 

Who had she been to argue? After all, the normals clung to their nightmares harder than even the most gratifying dreams. Perhaps if she’d been more afraid of eyes, she’d thought, she could’ve dreamed a proper one faster. But dreaming things to life was a complicated process involving not a small amount of incense, cogitation, and decently brewed tea, and it’s hard to hold onto fear that long. Not that any of that mattered now, though.

“No bears.”

The grizzly man leaned further onto the counter, his fat-jeweled rings glinting in the lantern light. Three gold hoops looped through the base of his left ear, connecting the gold chain to a stud at the pointed tip, and a gold fob hung from the pocket of his brocade vest. “I need a bear and I need it now.”

Ezri tapped the sign.

His gaze followed to the hand-painted slat noting NO BEARS in common script. He did not appear to understand common text, could he read at all. He reeked of ale—and not the cheap kind. He’d been the ringmaster’s muscle for years uncounted and was not particularly known for accepting rebuffs, gentle or otherwise.

Ezri edged sideways in a manner she prayed didn’t signal retreat. Faint music played in the distance and the echo of laughter could be heard from the backyard wagons, but it did not seem as if a single soul waited nearby. She tugged at her collar and cravat. “If you want a bear, find an illusionist. This here is a dreamer’s tent.”

The man straightened, revealing the worn handle of a very long knife tucked into the leather strap he used as a belt. “I didn’t ask for advice. I asked for a bear.”

Crossing her arms, Ezri purposefully did not glance toward the exit. She was about to get thrashed, no question. Not a chance she was making it to the door. But she wasn’t backing down. All she had left was her reputation. She uncrossed her arms and said, “Better yet, glue your wife’s beard to your chest and slap a tutu over your hips. I’d lay odds no one will blink an eye.”

The brute’s only tell before he lunged was a brief flash of teeth. 

Ezri leapt over the counter, pulling a drapery cord as she went. The curtain came down, tugging a row of clattering copper pots with it, but buying her not a lick of grace. The man caught the hem of her trousers, then wrapped his giant fist about her ankle, stopping Ezri’s progress like an elephant on a tug rope. She oofed. Three good bottles of batsbane crashed to the floor.

With barely time to swear, she was hauled by both ankles to dangle six inches above the tent’s rug floor. Evidently, the man planned to shake a bear out of her pockets. There was nothing for it. She was going to have to take the bloody way out.

Ezri sighed, reached a hand behind her back to draw the cosh from her waistband, then swung it round to crack the brute on the shin.

He cursed, gave her a good shake, then spun to stomp out the door. The door, it turned out, had been moved. Directly in the center of the calamander wardrobe that held Ezri’s wares, to be precise.

She was dropped to the floor as the giant of a man hit the earth with a solid thump. He’d knocked himself out cold, sprawled beside her, limbs akimbo. The ale had probably helped.

Ezri rolled onto her back. It would take the man a while to come to, and even longer, she suspected, for him to figure out how he’d been tricked. Some of them never did. Truth be told, Ezri had borne the brunt of a few tricks she was still trying to untangle herself. 

Flat on her back, she looked up at the tall figure who stepped into existence—or at least appeared to. Just a few sparks in the dim corner of the tent, like the blink of fireflies in a summer field, and the man was suddenly visible. 

He stepped forward, his fine polished boots coming to a rest on the makeshift mat of the entrance floor, right beside Ezri’s temple.

A grin split Ezri’s face. “Fine work, that. How much to change him into a bear?”

The illusionist did not grin back. 

Clean-shaven and in his mid-thirties this time; not a bad look at all. The suit could use a spot of color, but who was Ezri to judge—she’d worn what she could get her scrappy little hands on. “So, what’ll it be?” She narrowed her eyes. “And don’t say a bear.”

The illusionist’s gazed flicked briefly toward the heap of a man on the floor, one brow lifting. He bent forward, offering Ezri his hand. “No bears. Not this time.”

Ezri took it, her senses warring in that strange battle of what they felt—warm palm, sturdy grip—and what they saw—long, elegant fingers so pale as to seem bloodless. “Illusion so skilled that it refuses to be denied.”

“Flatterer,” the man said.

“And what shall I call you this time?”

He gave her a long look. “Call me Bacchus, if you like.”

“Bacchus,” she repeated. “What precisely do you have planned?” Hand still in his, Ezri let her fingertip graze the inside of his wrist to feel the steady thrum of his pulse. Real, it said. Alive. The same as it had always been.

The illusionist slipped his hand from her grasp, dark eyes glinting with something dangerous.

“What do you want?” Ezri whispered.

He leaned forward, the faintest scent of smoke lingering on his coat, and something else, something a bit like treacle. In the distance, a bell tolled, and the music and laughter fell still. The illusionist said, “Dream me a nightmare.”

To Be Continued…

In Part 2 by M.T. Fontaine

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Melissa Wright‘s SPFBO 9 entry is Beyond the Filigree Wall. Make sure to check it out!

Beyond the Filigree Wall by Melissa Wright

For more SPFBO 9 content, please check out our SPFBO 9 page!

For more To Be Continued… stories, check out this page!

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