Illusion by Stephanie Elmas
Returning home from his travels with a stowaway named Kayan, Walter Balanchine is noted for the charms, potions and locket hanging from his neck.
Finding his friend Tom Winter’s mother unwell, he gives her a potion he learned to brew in the Far East. Lucid and free from pain, the old woman remembers something about Walter’s mother.
Walter is intrigued, for he has never known his family or even his own name – he christened himself upon leaving the workhouse.
Living in a cemetery with his pet panther Sinbad to keep the body snatchers away, word soon spreads of his healing and magical abilities and he becomes a sought after party performer.
During one of Walter’s parties, Tom is approached by Tamara Huntington, who reveals she is being forced to marry a man she does not love.
Will he and Walter come to her rescue?
Try as they might, sometimes all the best intentions in the world can’t put a stop to a bad thing, and she is soon married off to the cruel Cecil Hearst.
Drama and tragedy ensue, and Walter keeps his distance from Tamara.
That is until her stricken brother-in-law Daniel requires his magical healing, and he is forced back into her life.
With secrets beginning to emerge, Walter finds his mother may be a lot closer to home than he realised…
Filled with mystery, magic and larger than life characters, Illusion will keep you guessing until the very last page.
#Extract – Chpater Four:
Walter’s re-entry into [Tom’s] quiet life had given him an unexpected jolt. His friend’s grand plans, delicious and tempting as they were, sent rivulets of terror right through him. To risk all that he had carefully built for himself, for Ma, their small oasis of domesticity… It was terrifying, yes. But god knows it was exciting, too. Life with Walter was never anything but. And could his old friend, just possibly, be the one to make Ma better? It was almost too painful to hope.
He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and moved his chair an inch away from the raging hearth nearby. As if in response, Rosalind halted to pull a wrap a little further up her throat. She then flexed her fingers and resumed her battle with ‘Around the Pear Tree’.
And yet, he owed Walter. He owed him everything that he had now. Because if that gawky, strange named beanpole of a boy hadn’t taken him under his wing all those years ago, then Tom Winter would be dead by now. He’d be one of those small, starved, sackful of bones they throw into pits for people who have nothing to show for in this world. He’d be deep under the frosty earth, not sizzling by the fire in Rosalind Gallop’s parlour.
‘D’ya want to see something funny?’
Those had been Walter’s first words to him. Tom had found himself unable to respond. He was too cold and too hungry: a lost and shivering little boy of eight.
But the skull-like face didn’t seem to need his question answered. ‘I’m gonna count back from five and then you’re gonna smile, like you still know how to do it.’
They were sitting in the refectory: a hundred miserable, snot faced, filthy children, and Mrs Chester was serving out the slop that passed for their food. She heaved a gigantic pan up onto the table, clutching its iron handle.
‘Pigeon broth!’ she bellowed. ‘It’s burnt, mind.’
Walter winked and began to count down quietly. ‘Five, four, three, two …,’
The lid came up from the giant pot. Mrs Chester danced back, shrieking as the room fell into disarray. Because instead of emitting the odour of burnt, liquid bird, the pot unleashed three very much alive pigeons. They spiralled up from their prison, wings flapping a series of sharp slaps in Mrs Chester’s face, feathers cascading in the air. Everyone in the room bounced up from their seats, eyes wet with laughter. Pigeons swooped and chairs got knocked over as children took cover. Mrs Chester waved an old rag around her head, cursing loudly at them all.
At last the three birds settled, perching on one of the great beams that traversed the rectory ceiling. Calm descended and Mrs Chester was about to speak again when an impressive shower of bird shit suddenly splattered down onto one of the tables.
New gasps and squawks of hilarity rippled through the room. But Mrs Chester remained silent, dangerously so, and the laughter petered out.
‘Walter!’ she cried at last, her cheeks now streaked with lurid veins. She marched towards their table, grabbing Walter by the ear.
‘I got you smiling though, didn’t I Tom Winter?’ he said as she dragged him away, his gangly legs skimming in all directions across the floor. Tom trembled at the thought of what punishment awaited this strange boy. His own skin began to tingle sympathetically as he imagined the swipe of some vile instrument striking that papery skin, bruising those knobbly bones of his. But Walter had been right. Because when those pigeons came flapping out of that pot, he had smiled. More than that. He’d laughed, for the first time since his world had fallen apart.