I’ve got something a bit special for you all today. Emma Newman is a great new voice in speculative fiction, and she’s got an intriguing project on the go. If you think you recognise that name, you’re right. A year and a day ago (isn’t that a nicely fairy tale thing to say) I reviewed her debut short story collection, From Dark Places after the publisher asked me to blurb it for her. I was happy to do so – it’s a great collection and you should get a copy. Anyway, now Emma has this very amibitious new thing going on.
Every week for a year (Tuesday November 1st 2011 to Thursday November 1st 2012), Emma is posting a new short story from her Split Worlds series of connected yarns. Each new story is hosted in a different place, and this week it’s my turn. So I’ll stop crapping on and let Emma explain:
This is the twenty-fifth 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.
The Necessary Witness
Martin opened the bottle of beer and passed it to his brother-in-law, studying the bags under his eyes as he did so. He looked awful, and whilst he’d been warned by his sister, he hadn’t really appreciated it until he saw him in the flesh.
“Thanks for coming,” Paul said and took a long gulp of beer from the bottle’s neck. He looked at the kitchen clock, then at his watch. “It’ll be any time in the next hour.”
“The thing I need you to see. The thing I can’t make Helen understand.”
“She said you’re having problems.”
“I think she wants to leave me,” Paul put the bottle down and rested his elbows on the kitchen worktop, letting his head droop. “I don’t blame her. I would leave me, if I could.”
Paul looked over his shoulder at him with bloodshot eyes. “Because I’m a fucking lunatic.”
Martin twisted his own bottle, out of his depth. He was an accountant, not a counsellor. “You um… you want to talk about it?” Please say no, he thought.
“I need to show you,” Paul said, straightening up. “Helen’s away at a conference, and it’s due to happen tonight, I need someone else to be here when it does. I need someone else to see it, because every time I try to talk to Helen about it, I can’t. I… I can’t even tell you.”
Martin put his hand on his shoulder, guided him through into the living room, trying to rein in the mental images of potentially embarrassing things Paul might want to show him, mostly a variety of bizarre growths in the nether regions. He resisted the urge to talk about the football or the latest idiocy the government had come out with, all the comfortable safe topics he usually depended upon with his family. “Something’s bothering you, I can see it,” he said, sitting on the sofa next to him. “Maybe it won’t seem so bad if you just tell me what kicked all this off.”
Paul downed the rest of the beer and dumped the bottle on the coffee table. “It started three months ago. I went for a drink with some friends from work, we’d finished a big project, we were ready for a break.”
An affair, Martin thought. Christ, what am I going to tell my sister?
“We’d been there a while, I’d had a few but not too many, and there was this woman there, she was… God, she was gorgeous.”
Martin began to panic. His sister would be devastated. They’d been together for ten years, married for six of them.
“She came over and said “I know this is a weird thing to ask, but I need a man’s shadow.” And we laughed and she explained she was an art student and that I had the perfect shape for this project she was working on.”
“That’s quite a chat-up line,” Martin said.
“But that’s the thing, it wasn’t,” Paul replied. “That’s not how I saw it anyway. Like I said, I’d had a few, she was hot, I said I’d help. She said the picture had to be taken outside, in natural light, so I left the pub with her.”
“Are you having an affair?” Martin couldn’t help himself, couldn’t listen to the build-up any longer.
Paul’s shock was reassuring. “Good God no! You think I’d do that to Helen? Bloody hell Martin, I’m not the kind of-”
“Sorry,” Martin said, patting the air. “It’s just… that’s what it sounded like. Go on, I’m sorry.”
“She took me to a quieter street, set up this camera on a tripod thing she had with her and arranged me, like a model I suppose. We laughed and chatted about it, it all seemed totally normal. Well, as normal as it could be. Then when she was happy with the way the shadow looked, she pulled out this… I dunno, test-tube full of powder and chucked it all over it.”
“For the picture?”
“That’s what I thought, it was all kinds of colours and it had some glitter in it. She was whispering when she did it, I thought that was arty, then she took the picture, said thanks and left. I didn’t think much of it, but now I look back, I did feel… I don’t know, a bit odd when she chucked that stuff all over the shadow.”
“So has she used your picture for something dodgy?” Martin could see it now; pictures of his brother-in-law all over Facebook, photo-shopped into doing something unspeakable.
“God, I wish she had,” Paul shivered. “Oh no… it’s going to happen soon, I can feel it.”
“What?” Martin gripped the beer bottle as he watched Paul’s eyes snap to his shadow. It was stretched out over the rug and looked completely normal.
“You can see it, can’t you? My shadow.”
Paul jumped to his feet and moved the two lamps in the room to one side, switched them on and turned off the overhead light. “Keep watching it,” he said, pointing at the shadow, now darker and stretched long by the newly focused light.
“Paul, you still haven’t told me what-”
Martin followed Paul’s pointed finger to see the shadow twitch. He glanced back at Paul who was standing still, sweating and pale faced but definitely not twitching. Then the shadow moved, one leg stretching away from the sole of Paul’s shoe, as if pulling itself away from something sticky. Before Martin had a chance to speak the expletives filling his mind, the shadow completely detached, now looking like it was cast by Paul running out of the room, even when he still stood there, shivering violently.
“Did you see that?” he demanded and Martin nodded dumbly. “I thought I was going mad, it’s the… sixth, seventh time it’s happened. I don’t know where it goes or-”
“Let’s follow it!” Martin said, abandoning the beer and heading for the door. A tiny part of himself felt like he was a child getting older again, frantically believing the fantastical at any opportunity as the world became more dull. Then he stopped thinking and burst out of the house into the twilight, his shadowless brother-in-law behind him.
To be continued!
Thanks for hosting Alan!
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.