Today it is my pleasure to welcome Emma Newman (@EmApocalyptic), story-crafter and wearer of awesome coats, to the blog with the latest story in her Split Worlds series. These are so much fun!
This is the thirty-fourth tale in a 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.
The tinkling bell above the door made the shopkeeper smile as he returned. The smell of the Emporium of Things in Between and Besides,made new and interesting once more by a day out, released the tension in his shoulders. It was good to be back.
“Thank goodness!” his assistant darted out from behind the counter. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
The shopkeeper frowned at the assistant’s loosened tie and general fluster. He examined his face for wrinkles and his hairline for any signs of further receding but was pleased to find none. He had been too focused on his day trip to check that morning.
“Hmm,” he said, looking at the assistant’s shirt. “We’re developing a little paunch.”
“And whose fault is that?” the assistant folded his arms over it. “Not mine; I’m not the one who eats the cream cakes. I’m just your shadow.”
The shopkeeper scowled. “What’s made you so out of sorts?”
“See for yourself.” The assistant led the shopkeeper to the back storeroom and unlocked the door. “The items on the shelves on the far wall have either been refunded or exchanged today.”
The shopkeeper tapped the lantern just inside the door and the sprite within woke with a start. It burst into a bright, embarrassed glow which illuminated the stock. He stopped a couple of steps into the room, stunned by the amount of items lined up (neatly, he had to admit) on the shelves. Scrying glasses, bottles of various potions, magical gloves and items of extraordinary jewellery, all linked by a common motif; they were lilac.
“What were the reasons given?” he asked, once he’d taken it in.
“Simply ‘it’s lilac’, each and every one.”
“No Sir. It seems that lilac is strictly out of fashion. But we have no idea why.”
The shopkeeper frowned. “For people to care so much, it must be one of the most prominent bloodlines in disgrace. Considering the colour,that narrows it down to the Lavandula or Wisteria lines.”
“Three members of the Lavandula family came in today,” the assistant offered, “But none of the Wisterias.”
“Then it must be them,” the shopkeeper said.
“They must have done something absolutely terrible,” the assistant straightened one of the bottles. “So terrible that every one of the Great Families knows, judging by the amount of returns.”
“If every family knows, then the source of the news has to be the Royal Court,” said the shopkeeper. “Wisteria would never mention a mistake made by one of her family and she would be perfectly capable of preventing another from gossiping about it.”
“So it must have been Wisteria herself who made the mistake!” the assistant blurted, reminding the shopkeeper never to get so excited with other people around; it was most unbecoming. “But what did she do?”
The only sound was that of the Sprite banging his head against the inside of the lantern lid. “Stop that,” the shopkeeper hissed. “Stupid thing, you know you can’t get out.” The sprite curled up at the bottom of the lantern.
“It’s unlikely that Wisteria would make a mistake in Exilium,” the assistant continued. “She’s too accomplished.”
“It must have been in Mundanus,” the shopkeeper said. “I have it!” he cried with a snap of his fingers. “I heard that an Arbiter posted a fairieback to Exilium a few days ago – it must have been hers! It was caught trying to steal a mundane boy using the golden ball trick. That must be it! It would be the scandal of the season!”
“Excellent deductive reasoning, sir!” They shook hands energetically, until the shopkeeper realised how truly odd that was.
“Indeed,” he said, breaking away to hang the lantern back up and lock the door. “Now that’s solved I’ll review the ledger and then we’ll put you back.”
“Thank you, sir.”
As the shopkeeper checked the sales ledger, he directed his assistant to hang up his coat, taking the opportunity to palm a thumbtack he’d prepared that morning. “It all seems in order,” he said. “I just want to check that this one here is accurate.”
As he peered at the entry, the shopkeeper pushed the tack through the edge of the assistant’s jacket and pinned it to the counter, smiling when the assistant confirmed the detail.
“Excellent. All that’s left now is to unravel this glamour and stitch you back into place.”
The shopkeeper whispered the unravelling charm beneath his breath and searched his doppelganger’s hair line for the tell-tale sparklingstrand. Once found, he pinched it between thumb and forefinger tightly and pulled.
His double began to unravel like an elaborate three-dimensional tapestry. A shadow was left in its place, standing like a man but with no features of its own, just an upright silhouette. Once the glamour had been completely unravelled the thread disappeared. There was the faintest scent of orchids in the air.
The shopkeeper’s shadow lurched towards the door but the thumbtack held it in check.
“You are so predictable,” the shopkeeper sighed, retrieving the enchanted needle and thread pinned inside his jacket. He crouched down and stitched the shadow to the tips of his shoes, murmuring the appropriate charm as he did so. As he tied off the last stitch the shadow stopped wriggling and fell like an inky cardboard cut-out. It flattened, reassuringly still, on the shop floor.
The shopkeeper sighed and wondered, as he did every year, whether he should find a real assistant rather than casting a complicated glamour over his shadow. It was always so tiresome to reverse and meant that his annual day trip into Mundanus could only be enjoyed on cloudy days. But then he realised that there was no-one else; he could barely trust his own shadow.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his souvenir; a receipt from the Savoy. ‘High Tea, for one’. He crushed it. A reminder that he had no-one to share tea with had lost its appeal.
Thanks for hosting Mhairi!
It was my pleasure!
About the author:
Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres.
Her debut short-story collection From Dark Places was published in 2011 and 20 Years Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults, was released early 2012. The first book of Emma’s new Split Worlds urban fantasy series called “Between Two Thorns” will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2013. A year and a day of free short stories set in the Split Worlds are available at www.splitworlds.com
Emma is represented by Jennifer Udden at DMLA. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.