Guest Post

 

My story, “The Rains Come Down,” is featured over on the #amwriting Blog today. It examines the theme of grace and dignity in the face of adversity. I hope you’ll go over to read it.

~jon

Photo, Four Mule Team, from the OSU Special Collections, via Flickr Creative Commons, no known copyright restrictions.

 

A hedgehog dog toy with red eyes“Well, he got Hedgehog out into the yard today.”

“Did he bury it yet?” For whatever reason, Abe felt compelled to take his favorite toys outside. If he tried to bring them back in before they were covered with dirt, we’d give in and allow him to bring them back in. If they were buried and nasty, he’d just have to put up with them becoming outdoor toys. I hoped Hedgehog was still clean enough to come inside. It might be starting to lose all the fur on one side, but Abe had used it as his favorite for longer than any other toy. I was hoping we’d find an identical replacement before he got it out so he wouldn’t miss it as much. Sure enough, the dog was already searching desperately for the friend he forgot wasn’t hidden in the house.

“I don’t know,” said Mom. “I haven’t seen any sign of it.” As if on cue, Abe turned his big, brown eyes toward me as though he thought I knew where his buddy was. He stretched his neck forward and wagged his tail expectantly.

I sighed and walked to the back door. “I can let you out to look for it, but if it’s too dirty, it stays out.” Abe trotted into the yard, sniffing the air. When I let him back in fifteen minutes later, the beagle still did not have his toy.

By suppertime, Abe was pacing around. He always carried the ratty old Hedgehog around in his mouth for half an hour or so after he ate, looking for the best place smack in the middle of the floor to hide it. He nosed Bunny and Skunk but didn’t pick either of them up. It was his own fault for forgetting he took his buddy outside, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Dad let him out, but the dog still returned empty-mouthed. The moisture in the October air was not a good sign. If it rained tonight, Hedgehog would probably be too muddy to bring back inside, whether it had been buried or not.

“You always bury the ones you love,” I said as Abe nudged my knee with his snout for attention. I scratched him behind the ears, which flopped around in reaction to my hand motions. He panted, temporarily satisfied, until I withdrew my hand and he prodded me again. He whined and looked at me.

“I know what you want. But you’re the one who knows where it –” A loud thump against the back door cut me off. It obviously wasn’t Abe asking to come in because he was here, pressed against my leg. I squeezed my way out from the chair and walked to the back hallway. I looked through the glass on the door’s window and saw nothing but the empty porch. The wind picked up as I stood there and pulled the screen door ajar for a moment before it dropped back into place with a bang. Well, that explained it.

Clouds covered the sunset as I let Abe out once more before it could rain. He did his business and returned to the shelter of our home, still Hedgehogless. The first brown marks of raindrops dotted the porch behind him. Oh, well.

I had trouble sleeping that night. I threw the covers off because it was too muggy only to reach for them again as a chill set in. Thunder rumbled in the distance, just loud enough to disturb my attempts to drift into dreams.

As I should have expected, my dog was soon standing by my bed, whimpering. He hated storms. I gave up on sleep and reached over to pet Abe between the shoulder blades. He clung to my left leg when I got up to get a glass of water from downstairs. Careful not to trip on the shivering body beside me, I looked out a window to see a steady downpour. What leaves had been struggling to remain attached to the trees were being dragged to the ground one by one by the rain and wind.

Poor guy, there was no way his favorite toy would be in any condition to be brought back in by morning.

Another thud shook the back screen door. I knew it was just the wind again, but I decided to look anyway. A black and brown stuffed toy lay on the porch. Other than a dead, brown leaf stuck to its matted fur there were no signs it had been buried. It was even sheltered from the rain by its location under the awning. I couldn’t imagine how we’d missed it the last time we let Abe in.

I decided that waiting for morning would only cause the wind to draw the rain onto the remaining dry areas on the porch, leaving Hedgehog soaked and undesirable as an indoor toy. I fumbled for the keys and unlocked the door. I stepped back when a flash of lightning lit the sky.

“You’d better appreciate this, dogface,” I muttered as I pushed the screen door open. Abe stayed put as I walked out into the rain to pick up the ratty old toy. The thunder from the latest flash echoed across the sky the same instant my hand touched the soft form of Abe’s buddy. I jumped at the sound, letting go of the stuffed animal.

Surely I must have imagined Hedgehog walking on its own through the propped open door. It just bounced in because of the way I dropped it, right?

I locked the door behind me and picked up my glass of water from the counter. Abe stuck to my leg again the whole way. Maybe he’d be more appreciative of his rescued toy once the thunder died down.

I’m certain I only misinterpreted the beagle’s suspicious glances over his shoulder toward the motionless Hedgehog on the way out of the kitchen. He was only worried about the storm.

Right?

© 2012 by Emelie E. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo  ©  by J. M. Strother, October 26, 2012.

 

Badge for The Split Worlds, an urban skyline under stars with the text "The Split Worlds it begins..."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.
~jon

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.

If you would like me to read part two 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.

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?”

“Good point.”

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.

“Which one?”

“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

Author Emma Newman peeking ove the top of an open book

www.enewman.co.ukTwitterFacebook

 

Tonight’s #FridayFlash is a guest post by my daughter, Emelie. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ~jon

Helping Hand

He felt a hand grab the back of his coat and pull. His body jerked backwards. Spared from certain death, he quickly looked around in hopes of spotting his savior. A bright flash of color was all he caught. Was the individual with the orange scarf the one? He ran after the person as fast as he dared in the ice. In retrospect, he decided, it must have made it look like he was fleeing the scene.

He had barely had time to catch his breath when he was told to “Freeze.” He froze. A pair of policemen glared at him. How was this possible? He had not intended to commit a crime. He had only slipped. He frantically looked for the person who pulled him back, but the person with the orange scarf evaded his sight. If he could just find his rescuer there would be no problem.

“Are you aware that it is a crime to receive services without payment?” asked one of the policemen after he had been read his rights. “To take without giving something in return is theft.”

“Please, I don’t even know who to pay,” he protested. He thought back to the incident, trying to remember everything he could. He saw himself slipping on the ice, remembered the screech of breaks as the car skidded to a stop. It would have been too late, except for the stranger who reached out to pull him back onto the sidewalk. But no memory of the stranger’s face came to mind, just the color orange. He was no longer even sure whether the color had been on a scarf or gloves.

“Do you see yourself as entitled? Your life was spared by the hand of another, and you don’t even have the decency to acknowledge his kindness by pretending you don’t know who he is.”

“But it’s true. I never got a good look at him. I’m not even sure it was a him,” he pleaded. “Whoever it was left the scene before I could offer my thanks.”

“What a cheapskate,” said one cop to the other, “I have half a mind to push him back into the street to see if anyone would be willing to pull him back a second time, knowing that they’ll get nothing for their troubles.”

He felt the color leave his cheeks. He was about to protest again when the other officer interrupted.

“No need to threaten the man, Mike. We just need to figure out who he owes and get their statement.”

“But I’m telling you, whoever it was left. They saved my life and left without asking for anything in return.”

“Why on earth would someone do something like that?” asked Mike. His partner thought for a moment.

“Maybe he’s on the run himself, and didn’t want to hang around waiting for this guy to give him his due?”

“Only thing that makes sense, if this guy’s not making the whole thing up,” agreed Mike. He turned to the bewildered man. “You wouldn’t be lying, now would you?”

He swallowed hard before responding, “Of course not. If I knew who saved me I’d gladly pay. But all I remember is the color orange. Some orange clothing.” He fumbled with his wallet, producing a credit card to demonstrate that he would have been able and willing to pay had his rescuer stuck around.

“Please. Isn’t it possible that whoever it was just reacted out of instinct to spare me? No one likes seeing someone’s guts splashed across the pavement. Maybe they just didn’t know I needed to repay them and took off because they thought not seeing the gore was enough?” The officers considered this for a moment. To the man’s relief, they did not reject this explanation.

“Sadly you can’t prove that. How about this? We’ll take you down to the station to get your statement and keep an eye out for the rescue-and-run guy. We’ll contact the media to let them know you want to pay. If someone comes forward, we’ll question them about why they fled the scene. If we like their excuse or find that they dashed because they’re already on the run, we’ll let you off the hook.”

“Really?” He could hardly believe this. He started calculating how much this kindness would likely amount to.

“What d’ ya say, Mike, does that sound fair?”

“As long as he actually pays the guy, I don’t think there’ll be a problem. We’ll just have to deal with the one who pulled a rescue-and-run, in that case. Honestly, those guys are almost worse than the cheapskates, making it hard for us to tell when we have a thief and when they honestly couldn’t pay back a service.”

“I’m sure I’d recognize them if I saw them again,” said the relieved man. “I’ll make sure to help you get the right guy, too. The trouble he put me through.”

© 2012 by Emelie E. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

I wondered why he had placed me there. Usually my sort is treated quite badly, in my humble opinion. I mean seriously, it’s not our fault that we exist. We are the remnants of what others consume. We are victims of circumstance and mass-consumption.

Nevertheless, there I was, ruminating while waiting for discovery. I’d heard of these types of shenanigans before. Some find it funny to trap us and put us in sacks for this sort of thing. I’ve heard of tales from the old ones, we call them “Black Bananas” since I was a youngling.

We all come from the same place. We call it, “The Land of Unending Turns.” Then the day comes when we are pushed forth to enter the watery depths in the cases of those poor unfortunate keester cakes. Though I’m told they have found ways to thrive. I was hoping to land beside a tree, so that I could find out what life is like on the outside.

The Black Bananas say it is wonderful.

Instead, I am here inside this sack with the oddest of smells around me. I am somehow aware that I am not alone, and whatever is out there makes me feel faint from their scent.

It’s horrific and it is my only hope that it is not what I think it is, because if that’s the case, then I am doomed to oblivion.

But tis, all too true, for when my bag was opened, the odor was undeniable.

“What in God’s name were you thinking?” she shouted.

“April fools? You know, a joke.”

Humans.

There were to be no trees for me, only the sound of my own retching as I was flushed down to the watery depths.

© 2011 by Rachel Blackbirdsong, all rights reserved.

April Fools! The story you just read appears here on my blog as a part of the Great April Fool’s Day FridayFlash Blog Swap, organized by Tony Noland. You can find my story for today, Brown Bag, at Rachel Blackbirdsong’s website, Ravenwood. To read all the dozens of stories swapping around as a part of the GAFDFFBS, check out the GAFDFFBS index over at Tony’s blog Landless. For hundreds of thousands of words of fantastic flash fiction stories, check out the FridayFlash hashtag on Twitter. It happens every Friday!

 

I turn on my light and glance over at my sister. She doesn’t stir, already deep enough asleep that the sudden illumination didn’t register. Good. Just because I’m too excited to sleep doesn’t mean I can interrupt hers. I glance at my books, wondering which story would be best for taking my mind off presents. It is impossible to sleep with thoughts of new toys running through my head, so maybe a few pages of – a noise downstairs interrupts my thoughts and gives me a better idea.

I switch off the lamp and slide to the floor as quietly as possible. The door squeaks a bit as I opened it, but not enough to alert “Santa Clause.” I’ve suspected – no, known – for a while that Mom and Dad were the ones placing presents below the tree, but I’ve never caught them in the act. From the doorway of my room I can see the lights on downstairs. I don’t have to go far, just to the edge of the steps.

As quietly as possible I settle into the spot at the top of the stairs. The way the house is laid out is perfect. From my angle, I can see the pictures hanging along the wall going up the stairwell. More importantly, I can see the reflections of my parents stuffing stockings in the glass.

“These instructions are hard to read,” Dad complains as he puts a new play-set together. (Presents from “Santa” come unwrapped and set up: my guess is this is so my parents could avoid questions about Santa using the same wrapping paper as they did.) Mom laughs and leans down to help. I smile. I can’t see the toy from my position (at least I didn’t ruin the surprise!), but I can tell it’s big.

I sit and listen to Mom and Dad as they finish in the hallway and head into the living room to set up the wrapped presents around the tree. They’re enjoying themselves, eating the cookies we baked for “Santa.” Oh well, at least there are always some left over for us. From their conversation, I can tell they’re finishing up and planning on heading back upstairs. They’re in no hurry, so I take my time quietly sneaking back to bed.

I drift off happily, thinking of how much my parents seem to enjoy setting up Christmas as “Santa.” I won’t tell them I know. It’s best to let parents believe as long as possible.
~
© 2010 by Emelie E. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

“No way you saw a ghost-horse!” laughed Carrie.

“It’s true,” said Billy, “I saw a phantom horse with an eerie silver glow.”

“It could have been a white horse – ”

“It was glowing!” protested Billy.

“As I was saying, it could have been a white horse with moonlight reflecting off it.”

“That’s what I thought at first,” admitted her classmate, “but when I approached it, it ran off. That’s when I realized it was no ordinary horse.”

The way Billy lowered his voice intrigued Carrie, so instead of criticizing his skills with animals, she asked seriously, “What was so strange?”

“It was right close to me, so I should have heard it. But when it galloped away it didn’t make a sound. I looked where it was this morning before I came to school. There weren’t hoof prints either.”

“Sure you didn’t dream it?” asked Carrie. No noise was interesting but no prints probably meant no horse.

“I’ll prove it! Come to my house tonight and we’ll see if it appears again.”

#

The chilly October air was almost enough to make Carrie change her mind. Almost. But she knew Billy wouldn’t shut up about the ghost-horse until she came to see – or not see – proof with her own eyes. She shivered as a breeze rushed past, scattering dead, brown leaves everywhere. The old barn where they would be spending the night loomed up ahead. Even though Billy’s parents weren’t farmers and their family didn’t own any horses, they kept the old barn the previous owners had used. Mostly Billy’s father stored tools there, but about half of the building had been turned into a clubhouse for Billy and his friends. It had never seemed spooky before, but today Carrie wondered if it might be haunted after all. She remembered hearing odd noises the last few times she’d come to visit.

“You came!” The sudden shout caused Carrie to jump. Billy laughed.

“Scared already?”

“You wish,” replied Carrie. The two hurried to the old barn to set up their sleeping bags as their parents caught up on each others’ lives. Stupid adults, talking about ordinary things when they could be preparing to stake out a ghost’s haunt.

#

“Look, there it is!”

“Huh?” Carrie had almost fallen asleep. She moved over to the window and directed her gaze toward the field Billy was pointing at. Sure enough a faint glow caught her eye.

The kids ran to the field as silently as they could, making sure not to be spotted by their parents or the ghost. They crouched down when the silvery beast was in sight. A magnificent horse stood before them, shimmering with an unnatural silver radiance.

“See, I told you!” Billy’s whisper was much louder than he’d intended and the ghost horse froze. Carrie and Billy froze too. It may have been a horse, but it was a ghost too. Who knew what it could do? After a second that felt like ages, the silver horse bolted in the other direction, making no sound at all as it ran. To Billy’s horror, Carrie took off after it.

“Are you nuts?!” Billy stood as he tried to stop her, but he did not dare move closer. Carrie ignored him. She’d seen something that she had to be sure of. The phantom horse slowed and stopped. Carrie inched closer as it started grazing again. She glanced back to see Billy, still standing where he’d been when they first saw the ghostly creature. Good. If she was right about what she’d seen, the boy would only be in the way. She sneaked forward as silently as she could.

By the silver-white aura projected by the horse, Carrie could see a long, pointed spike emerging from the center of its forehead. Carrie smiled in awe at the single horn. She was right. It wasn’t a ghost after all.
~
©2010 by Emelie E. Strother, all rights reserved.

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