Today I’m hosting a story for the wonderful Emma Newman. I’ve been following her since one of the early stories were posted and I’ve fallen in love with her work, so I offered one of her stories a place here. She accepted and here it is, along with an explanation of what this is all about.
In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and is called “Between Two Thorns”. This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra tit-bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It’s also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the thirty-seventh tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
Bob double checked the address on the envelope and looked at the house in front of him. He had to get this one right. The leafy Bath street was on the edge of the city, the building predictably grand and Georgian. When he was certain it was the right one – and that no-one else was around – he strode towards its driveway purposefully, whispering the melodious Charm of Openings. The air rippled in front of him, he took a deep breath and stepped through.
There was a tickling across his face, as if he’d just walked into a cobweb and the traffic noise disappeared. The reflected Nether property stood before him and he let go of the breath.
He walked up the path. All of the windows were shut, reflecting the pale silver sky. He walked round the house until he found the servant’s entrance and pulled the bell chain. There was no barking, howling or screeching. Marvellous; he’d be back at Burger King within the hour.
A man opened the door; thin and crooked. “Yes?” he sighed.
”Delivery from the Emporium of Things in Between and Besides,” Bob rattled off quickly, showing his left palm and the shop’s marque sparkling across the creases of skin. “It’s a letter I have to deliver in person.”
The butler nodded. “Come in. You can wait in the morning room.”
He was led into a cosy room with an impressive collection of wooden hearts mounted on the walls, some large, some small. Bob hoped the house owner was a sculptor.
The door was shut behind him and locked. That was standard practice in these houses. They couldn’t have delivery boys poking around whilst the servants went to find masters that might be hundreds of miles away. He dropped into an overstuffed chair next to the fire and relaxed.
Something landed on the floor next to him and he peered over the arm of the chair to see one of the mints from his pocket rolling across the wooden floor. He leapt up to hurry after it, but it seemed to speed up and rolled under the door of a small cupboard in the corner.
Bob bit his lip. Should he leave it there? What if the parlour maid found it? She’d report it to the Housekeeper who would complain to the shopkeeper and he couldn’t risk that, not after the last mistake.
He listened for any sign of the butler but there was only the sound of a ticking clock. He opened the cupboard door. The mint wasn’t anywhere in sight, but the light of the fire didn’t penetrate far in.
He stooped and leaned further in; still no sign. A step further, then the door slammed shut behind him, hitting him hard on the backside and sending him tumbling forwards. He landed on a pile of books and coughed as dust filled the cupboard. He took a moment to orient himself by looking for the crack of light from under the door. Bob was surprised to see it to the left of him. Convinced he must have pitched sideways in the fall, he struggled to his feet and hurried out as quick as he could, the mint forgotten.
There was grass beneath his feet. His head snapped up to see a bright blue sky with plump white clouds above him. He span around in time to see the door click shut and then fade into the tree behind him. He hammered on the trunk and desperately dug his nails in the bark’s crevices but there was nothing left of it. “Stupid, stupid!” he yelled at himself.
He was in Exilium.
Bob turned and pressed his back against the tree, panicking. Beautiful meadows, alive with dancing butterflies stretched all around him as a warm, gentle breeze caressed his cheek.
It didn’t seem so bad.
He saw a copse of trees ahead, sprinkled with poppies that bobbed merrily in the breeze almost like they were fingers beckoning to him. He walked towards them, recalling the sight of a poppy in the shop only that morning. Perhaps the shopkeeper knew someone here who could help?
The poppies snaked in a haphazard line through the trees, forming a natural path for him to follow. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and began to whistle. He felt the letter and struggled to remember what he was supposed to do with it. It didn’t seem important any more.
He glimpsed a figure in a clearing and headed towards him, wondering if he might be able to find… find what exactly? He couldn’t remember, but continued anyway.
A tall man with long black hair was watching his approach. He was dressed in elegant clothes like the men in the Great Families wore in the Nether. The poppies clustered about his feet and some were twisted around the man’s cane.
”Ah, delivery boy,” he said cheerily. “Here at last.”
Bob nodded and held out his left palm out of habit. The man waved it aside with the dismissive air of an aristocrat.
”You have a letter for me I believe?”
Bob frowned, that didn’t seem right. He pulled the letter out and peered at the words. “Lord Poppy” was written on the front in the shopkeeper’s hand. Was that what it had said that morning?
”Are you Lord Poppy?”
The man nodded, taking the note. Bob waited as the seal was broken and the message read.
”Well done, boy,” Lord Poppy smiled. “You’ve just made your last delivery; a new slave.” He pointed at Bob’s feet and the poppies wrapped their stems about his ankles, making him yelp. “That shopkeeper really is a marvel. He always has exactly what one is looking for.”
Thanks for hosting, Kayleigh!
You’re welcome, Emma. I hope you all enjoyed the story, because I know I did, and I would suggest going back to read the earlier stories.