This story was originally published in 2009 in Golden Visions Magazine.
Bell sailed down the curving stairway of the Court of Mages. If she were a magician, she would’ve celebrated her victory with sparkling fireworks. As she was a mundane, she smiled and hummed with joy.
At last, she was free of her husband’s unfounded jealousy and his punishing illusions. For his abuse of magic, the Court had sentenced her husband Josh to a lifelong confinement in the Tower. Nobody escaped the Tower. Josh was locked up for good.
What if he escaped? He was inventive and crafty, the best magician-illusionist in the city. That’s why she had fallen in love with him in the first place, before his jealous illusions almost killed her. She had never cheated on him, but he didn’t believe her. He had said she was too beautiful to be faithful. Jerk.
She opened the door to her house, and a whiff of Josh’s cologne drifted out. Bell shrugged off her unease. Of course, the house would retain Josh’s scent. Tomorrow, she would institute a major cleanup, from the attic to the cellars, and throw away all his belongings: clothes, boots, art supplies. And cologne.
Putting a teapot on the stove to boil some tea, she wandered into the library. Should she also get rid of all the books illustrated by Josh? Absently, she leafed through a novel on the library desk. Josh’s magical illustrations stood up from the pages, colorful and vibrant, and Bell’s lips curled in a smile. She had posed for this book.
That was before Josh had sunk into the morass of jealousy. Bell’s smile faded as she recalled his disciplinary illusions, painful and terrifying in their intensity. No, she wouldn’t keep his books near her. She snatched her fingers off the page, snapped the volume shut, and stumbled back into the kitchen. Why was that book lying on the desk? She always put things away.
Bell’s feet grew cold. Her shaking hand closed over the wooden handle of the teapot. Frozen, unable to lift the pot, she stared at the red bricks of the kitchen wall. Josh. He was in the house. He had escaped.
Her fear boiled like the teapot in front of her, steam rising and turning into a huge, hairy troll, a revolting, pimply thing, horribly realistic like all Josh’s illusions. Bell squared her shoulders. He wouldn’t frighten her again.
“Josh—” she started, steeling for a confrontation. Suddenly, the troll tensed, bloated, and sneezed into Bell’s face. His hot yellow snot, cloyingly sweet, clogged Bell’s nose and mouth, squeezed her throat, and covered her eyes with a film of yellow tears. It also blocked her muscles. She could neither talk nor move.
“You thought you’ve gotten rid of me?” Josh’s bark penetrated the yellow cloud, scratching at Bell’s nerves, setting her aquiver. Her locked muscles shrieked in protest. His black beard and deranged eyes suddenly sprang into view beside the grimacing troll, as surreal as his illusion. “You thought you’ve won, you freaking whore. Ha-ha.”
Bell couldn’t say a word. Even her struggling breath came in as short, painful gasps. It was happening all over again. He was mad. His jealousy had driven him over the edge. He was set on killing her.
“You glamorous slattern,” he yelled. “I’ll show you.”
She trembled inside, her stomach churning. Panic welled up, hot and black like tar. The teapot boiled tempestuously, the dough-colored steam fueling Josh’s ugly troll. Stuck to the handle by magic, her hand red and stinging from the rising steam, she was completely paralyzed. What could she do?
“You wanton hussy. Ha-ha.” He jumped from foot to foot like a broken puppet.
Bell’s eyes cleared a little, although her ears rang from Josh’s shouts. He lifted his arm, and the troll tensed again, spewing out a thousand red zigzags, each one like a tiny lightning. They pierced her body in an endless cascade of fiery needles. Her mind writhed in agony, while her body stood immobile, glued to the teapot’s handle.
She wouldn’t panic, she vowed silently. He wouldn’t intimidate her again. No way. She would fight and she would win. But how? How to block his darn illusion? When they were in love, Josh had once told her that if she didn’t believe the illusions, they would lose their potency. Her breathing intensified. She wouldn’t believe this madness.
“I don’t believe!” she screamed inwardly. The multitude of illusionary lightnings still bit into her flesh, but she persevered. “I don’t believe. I don’t believe. I don’t believe. There’s no spitting troll in my kitchen. There’re no red lightnings.”
The pain subsided. She was successful. Bell stopped listening to Josh’s prattle.
“I DON’T BELIEVE!”
The illusion shimmered, wavered, and finally ripped off her mind, the troll’s muzzle dissolving back to steam. It hurt, but she was free. She grabbed the teapot handle tighter despite the burning blisters, whirled, and splashed the boiling water into Josh’s leering face.
He howled and collapsed.
When the police arrived to take Josh back to the Tower, they found Bell in the kitchen, her blistered hand plunged into a basin of cold water. Josh’s unconscious body lay limp at her feet, tied with his own belts. His scalded face was red and swollen.
The police officer lifted his eyebrows.
Bell’s hand stung and she wasn’t inclined to be polite. “He made an illusion of a troll, and it spat at me,” she snarled. “I didn’t believe it.”
Original cover art by Henry Guillaume Schlesinger