I am pleased to be hosting novelist Emma Newman today. If you don’t know Emma, she is charming, very talented, and author of the novel, 20 Years Later, a post apocalyptic mystery set in London . She is now working on what she describes as “a quirky urban fantasy” dubbed The Split Worlds. In the run up to the novel she is releasing a new story every week on different blogs around the world. I am fortunate to have her here on Mad Utopia this week. So, with no further ado I give you, Emma Newman.
This is the twenty-sixth in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. It’s also the second part of ‘The Necessary Witness’ which you can find here if you need to read that first.
The Necessary Witness – Part Two
Martin regretted the decision to chase the runaway shadow two minutes after they’d left the house. His chest burned and his feet hurt; he’d picked the leather brogues for a day of sitting at a computer, not impromptu heroics.
Paul was starting to leave him behind, but then it was his shadow, he was more motivated. That and the fact he played football twice a week let Martin forgive himself for wheezing so much. He worked long hours. He earned more too.
They had no choice; they could hardly hail a taxi and ask it to follow a rogue shadow. As the twilight deepened it was getting harder to keep it in sight, on a couple of occasions Martin thought they’d lost it, only for Paul to shout, point and take off again. When he stopped outside a terraced Georgian house in Pimlico Martin nearly cheered.
“It went down there,” Paul said, pointing down the steps leading down to the lower ground floor, presumably once a servant’s entrance.
Martin just nodded, propping himself up on his knees as his traumatised thigh muscles twitched. “What do we do now?” he panted.
Paul looked down the steps. “We sneak in down there.”
“That’s breaking in.”
“You want to knock on the door and ask them if we can look for my shadow in their basement?”
They looked up and down the street, just like people who were about to do something illegal, then tiptoed down the stone steps. Paul tried the door, it was locked, unsurprisingly. Martin felt a surge of relief as Paul moved away from it. The urge to understand what was going on had been dampened by the fear of being caught.
Paul peered through the window then tried to lift the sash which only moved half a centimetre.
“Let’s go,” Martin said, ducking down as a car drove past.
“Hang on, there’s just the old catch, I can open it.”
He was getting a credit card out, Martin kept watch, feeling like he was ten years old again, stealing penny sweets whilst his best friend distracted the shopkeeper.
The window opened behind him. “C’mon,” Paul whispered and climbed in. Martin swore and followed him, not moving from the window until Paul had located a light switch and flicked it on.
The basement room was undecorated, cold but not damp, and filled with rows of bench tables like a school science lab. Shelves of bottles and small boxes filled one wall, there were test-tubes and beakers and round-bottomed flasks held in clamps on the tables, containing all manner of coloured liquids.
“It’s like that Hammer horror film,” Paul whispered.
“I dunno, the one with the mad scientist in it.”
“Look,” Martin pointed over at a large glass bowl at the end of one of the tables. The foot of Paul’s shadow was draped over the edge, looking like a lone sock hanging out of a bowl of darkness. “It looks like it climbed in there.”
The rest of the shadow’s form was indistinguishable. “What the hell is going on here?” Paul said, staring at it.
Martin went to the shelves, reading the labels on the bottles. ‘Self-loathing’ described the contents of an elegant blue glass bottle with a wax seal over its cork. ‘Bitter regret’, ‘infatuation’, ‘sigh of broken-hearted’ – all the bottles seemed to have emotional descriptions. He picked up one of the packets and read ‘powdered iris-reticulata petals’ before putting it back. He noticed a box full of small purple perfume atomisers and a piece of paper resting on the top. “Fifty bottles of “Love’s First Bloom” – 5000 of the Queen’s pounds” was written in the same fluid script as the label on the packet. “I think this is a lab for making some weird-assed perfume,” he whispered, then heard voices coming from the other side of the door leading out of the room.
“Dr Tate,” a man said. “You’re teasing me.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” a woman replied. “I’m too professional. Let’s just say I work very hard to get the quality of product you expect.”
“Someone’s coming!” he hissed at Paul and hurried to the window. “Come on!”
Paul wasn’t moving. “I’m going to ask them what the f-”
“Come on!” Martin already had one leg out of the window, the high heels clipping down stairs making him sweat again. But Paul wasn’t moving, instead he was trying to grasp the sock-like shadow, his hand passing through it again and again. “Twat,” Martin spat and tumbled out of the window onto the flagstones outside. It was dark and getting cold and his brother-in-law was going to be arrested with the worst excuse in the world for breaking and entry.
Martin crouched below the window-sill. He heard the creak of a door and a pause that seemed to last a year. “Not you again,” the man sighed.
“Again?” Paul said. “Who are you? Why is my shadow here? Why do I even have to ask that question?”
“This is the third time this has happened,” the man sounded bored.
“Really? How tiresome,” the woman replied. “You do realise only the deluxe fool’s charm works with a shadow severance subject, don’t you?”
“Well that explains it.”
“Excuse me!” Paul yelled. “Will one of you please-”
His words were cut off somehow. “I have an alternative solution,” the woman said and then after a few moments; “Go home little mundane, and sleep it all off.”
Martin heard footsteps approaching the window and slid sideways, pressing himself as flat against the wall as he could. Paul climbed out and headed straight for the steps. The window was slammed shut and locked, Martin waited as long as he could bear to then darted up the steps back to the street.
“Paul!” he called and hurried to catch up with him.
“Martin?” Paul smiled at him, all surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“We were looking for your shadow, don’t you…” Martin trailed off, Paul looked like he was stoned.
“Come back to my place for a beer, the football’s on tonight,” Paul said and started walking again.
Martin watched, his guts churning. He turned his collar up and followed, watching his brother-in-law’s shadow restore itself with every street lamp they passed. He didn’t know what he was going to do, or even understand what had happened, but he knew he wasn’t going to forget about it.
Thanks for hosting Jon!
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x