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 Asylum, Stuck in the Pages, Party with the Stars, To 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. It’s time for part 2, written by M.T. Fontaine, the author of Carved Amidst the Shadows.
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 continue!
Writing has been a part of M.T.’s life since the moment she penned her first word. If she could feel it, she wrote it. Born and raised in the Grand Canyon State, M.T. now lives in Spain with her husband, two kids, and two dogs. Whether it’s morning or evening, while she’s reading or writing, she’s binging on tea and planning hikes to landscapes she and the family have yet to visit. Whether or not she goes on those hikes is another matter entirely…
Connect with M.T. Fontaine
Ezri stifled a chortle. “That’s worse than a bear.”
His condescending smirk did not even twitch, and her good humor wilted. He always did have a way of unsettling her. It was the intense look in his eyes that he often kept unchanged, the quirk of his brow, and the way he curled his lips with equal measure disdain and satisfaction.
Long seconds passed. Ezri scratched her shoe beneath the rug and into the dirt as she waited for him to amend his request to something more feasible. To something more tangible at the very least. Bacchus simply stared in return with his signature, cavalier look that screamed his proficiency in the mystical arts.
“Oh, you’re serious.”
Another quirk of his brow had Ezri chewing on her top lip in worry. She had asked him to challenge her, for the money he paid, of course – he was her best customer – but also for the training. She needed the practice to improve her craft – what with her problems in creating what she did not fear – as clients, for some odd reason, always wanted bears.
“My nightmare or yours?”
If he said hers, then he had lied when he said no bears. Ezri shivered as she imagined her tent piled with a dozen of them, growling with drool dripping from their teeth, their claws glistening with the remnants of eyeball jelly, their breath reeking of old meals. Sweat beaded on Ezri’s temple because the glint in the illusionist’s eyes was now twisted with wry amusement.
“I’m not looking for predictable. Yours would be just that.”
“Always the charmer.” Ezri cracked her neck as her nerves settled. “You definitely shouldn’t try selling customers on your compassion.”
“I don’t,” he said flatly.
“Snippy, aren’t we, this morning? If you’re looking for something complicated, then that would be double the normal rate.”
“The usual, or nothing at all.”
“Bacchus…” Ezri massaged the bridge of her nose. “You know how it works. The harder the task, the longer it takes, the fewer side jobs I can accept, and therefore the higher the fee.”
He bent over her closest rack of wares, his suit jacket creasing around his waist and into his hips compared to the shape he had last visited her in, and yet every disguise was a perfect fit as if he molded himself in posture and demeanor to conform to each one. Ever elegant and distinguished. Not a crack in the illusions to be found, and Ezri had searched, if even just for the slightest imperfection. No wonder he was sought after for his talents while she was…well, she strove to survive on her meager earnings from her corner booth at the carnival.
“If you cannot do it,” he said, “say it and stop wasting my time.”
As if to mock her, he glanced at her over his shoulder while swiveling around a jar of failed forget-me-nots conjurings that looked more like melted wax than flowers. That had been her first attempt at dreaming everlasting flowers for a client. It had taken the fear of almost losing the commission and starving for a few days to get the flowers to shape correctly.
“I can. I will, but even your help is not worth wasting away over for.” She raised her chin and narrowed her eyes in defiance. “I’ve done quality work for you before. I deserve the pay that fits the commission.”
Now he was grinning. “Good. Pride in yourself and your work is finally a lesson you’ve learned.”
A groan from the collapsed heap of a man on the floor stole the rebuke right out of her.
“How about this? I add in three extra silvers and the disposal of this one at the ‘Pin the Tail’ booth.”
Ezri didn’t smirk at the Illusionist’s poor attempt at a joke. The muscle man’s legs twitched, and Ezri grunted her upset because there was no other way about it. She had to accept Bacchus’ offer. Dealing with the ringmaster’s violent moods if he discovered the assault would put a worse damper in her day than going hungry.
“Fine. Just tell me what you need before he wakes.”
Bacchus clasped his hands behind his back and donned his classic smirk. Gravel crunched beneath the rug as he scoured the length of her small booth, scoffing at the contents of some jars.
“I want a nightmare worth notice. Something that is not inherently frightening but will haunt you into a cold sweat the more you think of it. Something breathing and cognizant.”
She waited for him to say more, but Bacchus simply gazed at her expectantly.
“That…that’s all?” she sputtered. “What kind of direction is that?”
“Where’s your imagination?”
“Shriveling with the lack of detail you’ve given.”
He sighed. Even to Ezri’s ears, it sounded forced. “Ah, yes. I worried you wouldn’t be up to the challenge.”
“Don’t you start with that.”
Cheers and laughter wafted from the other end of the carnival along with the oily stench of corndogs while his taunt hung in the air. His back was to her now. He rapped a nail against a container of jumping wart-biters – she had accidentally dreamed the insects to life the night after one had landed on her head.
“Perhaps I should’ve gone to a master dreamer.”
She knew what he was doing, and darn him, it was working.
“At least with one of them, I know my requests would be honored without contest.”
That arrogant, oversized twat. He had gone there. Oh, she would show him. “Fine. A nightmare that’s not a nightmare. Alive, intelligent, and will knock your socks off. Got it. I’ll have it by tomorrow.”
She turned her nose up at him, daring that upsetting quirk of his brows to denounce her claim.
“Now, off you go if you don’t mind. I’ve got work to do.” Ezri turned away from the master illusionist and headed for her tent’s entrance to wave him out. “Leave the advance of three silvers on the table and take that lump of a man with you.”
“Tomorrow then, little Ezri.” Coins clinked. “And if you can’t deliver, my next request will be a triple-headed bear.”
She shivered as the telltale crackle and light smoke in the air spelled his disappearance act. What had she gotten herself into? Well done, Ezri, she thought. Agreeing to some non-descript idea with a deadline this close, and without even asking him what he wanted it for. How could she be so amateurish? She rubbed her temple with aggravation.
Well, there was nothing for it now. The silver of Bacchus’ advance deposit gleamed on her little table. She had a job to do. An idea to gather, before she used one of those precious coins for a well-deserved meal.
Ezri tugged the flaps of her tent shut and tied the straps together. Then she slipped into her cushioned pallet, hidden behind a set of shelves. Time passed. Still, she stared at the swirl of red and white canvas above. Not a single concrete idea had come to her.
What was frightening yet not? With the tight deadline, it needed to scare her enough for its shape to be true, both inside and out. Outside to resemble what was needed. Inside to survive the pump of blood through its veins and the need for intelligent thought. Did he want it to speak? In what language? What accent? How deep pitched? What kind of a request was all this?
He was toying with her. He had to be, especially with his threat, and she wanted to return it in kind without turning his ire on her. The mastery of his abilities was terrifying enough, and he knew it, without him focusing them on her. If only she could dream something up to turn his arrogance on itself.
“That’s it.” She sat up, the blankets pooling at her waist. A large grin scrunched up her nose. “Oh dear Bacchus, you’re going to meet your match.”
He was going to have a fit tomorrow because tonight, she was going to dream to life another him.
To Be Continued…
M.T. Fontaine‘s SPFBO 9 entry is Carved Amidst the Shadows. Make sure to check it out!
For more To Be Continued… stories, check out this page!
If you don’t want to miss any of our posts, please consider signing up to receive email notifications or follow us on social media:
You can also support us on Ko-fi so we could keep maintaining the Asylum!