Blimey, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I have about ten different things I want to blog about. However, I’ve got this week’s story right here to go up so it takes priority.
In case you’re new here, I’m releasing a short story every week for a year and a day in the lead up the publication of the first novel in the Split Worlds urban fantasy series on November 1st. Eighteen stories are already up, you can find them all here if you want to dip in.
This is the nineteenth 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.
She didn’t realise how much she’d missed him until she saw him again, strolling down the hallway of the great house, hands clasped behind his back as he nodded and smiled affably. He was a little thinner, but still handsome, wearing a linen suit with a colourful waistcoat and casual cravat against his throat, tucked within the open collar of his shirt. He was more pale than she remembered, but that was to be expected.
“Morning,” he said and at first she thought he was addressing her. She was initially insulted by the informal tone, but then she realised he’d stopped in front of a portrait. “You look very beautiful today, one might say radiant. Good to see you keeping up an effort. Helps the men I think, seeing a lady dressed in her finery.”
He moved on, she continued to follow silently. He nodded and smiled to all of the portraits he passed as he descended the stairs and crossed the lobby, his brogues clipping across the marble floor, bright sounds in the silence.
He headed towards the wing containing the ballroom and the dining room, she descended the stairs without making a noise, wondering when he would realise she was there and turn to greet her. He’d become eccentric during his punishment, she understood why, she’d seen so many of hers go that way eventually.
He went into a drawing room, she heard him greet someone within like an old friend and for a moment was concerned that someone had disobeyed her. But when she slipped into the room unseen, she found him talking to another portrait, only this one had acquired a body.
It looked like he’d stuffed one of his suits, rammed a broom handle up one of the trouser legs and tied the stuffed jacket to it. The scarecrow-like creation was propped against the portrait, the collar of the shirt just beneath the painted face of a distant relative of his. He was pumping the arm up and down in an enthusiastic greeting, she noticed the stuffed kid gloves tied at the end of the sleeves.
“Good to see you too Jack!” he said. “How are you bearing up?” He paused, listening and then nodded. “I see, yes, I understand, that must be difficult. But we have to keep our spirits up. What was that?” He tilted his head as if attending to the portrait and then shook his head. “Only the top brass I’m afraid, things will be discussed that are on a need to know basis. But I’ll come straight to you afterwards old chap and let you know the plan.”
He walked straight past her when he left the room, something that had never happened before. He was acting so strangely she didn’t feel insulted, more fascinated, and followed him to the dining room.
“Ah, you’re all here! Excellent.”
She slipped inside before he closed the door. Slumped in chairs around the table were a motley collection of stuffed suits with a variety of constructed heads. At least three had been made from stuffed pillows, their features painted on, another was an empty wine bottle with a paper face tied to it with string.
“Now,” he announced, failing to notice her. “As you know we’re in a desperately difficult situation and it falls upon me, as the only one here with any military experience, to brief you on the state of play.”
Military experience? Like every man in his family, he’d enjoyed a brief stint in a regiment to obtain a few photographs of himself in a smart uniform and have some entertaining tales to tell at dinner parties, nothing more. Not real experience of war, she’d never permit anything so vulgar.
“It’s clear something terrible has happened, both in Mundanus and the Nether. No new survivors have appeared in several weeks, so we have to assume we’re the only ones left.” He paused. “Well it’s difficult to be certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were some sort of virus or perhaps a catastrophic war, all of the survivors are too traumatised to describe what happened. These things we can be certain of: there is nowhere else left and no other survivors, be they from Society or from Mundanus. Gentlemen, we are the only ones left.” He planted his knuckles on the table. “We need to discuss the food situation, in particular we need to identify who is leaving the meals for us. Despite my best efforts I’ve been unsuccessful in determining who is behind it, and can only assume there is a survivor hiding somewhere in the house, hoping to win us over.”
She’d seen enough. “Harold,” she said gently.
He turned around, blinked at her, then approached. “Oh, come to sit in on the meeting? Jolly good, do take a seat.”
She bristled. “Harold Persificola-Viola, do you not recognise me?”
His frown melted, his eyes glistened with tears. “My Lady? Lady Violet? Is it really you?” When she nodded he dropped onto his knees and wept. “You survived! Oh, I thought you were lost with the rest! Oh I’m so relieved.”
“Harold,” Lady Violet said with a tap of her foot. “Stand up and look at me. You’ve become quite mad and whilst it was amusing at first, it’s become rather tiresome.”
“Mad?” he whispered as he stood, two patches of dust at the knees of his trousers. “How so?”
“The rest of Society, and the rest of Mundanus are perfectly well, you have simply been cut off from them.”
“I have? But… but what about the food?”
“Your meals are brought by a maid forbidden to talk to you, made invisible to you by a charm.”
“You don’t remember?” She sighed, leaned closer to him, kissed his cheek and pushed the fog from his mind. Perhaps fifty years of solitude had been a little harsh as a punishment. But he had made her so very angry.
He shuddered. “I’m so very sorry my Lady, thank you for forgiving me.”
“It’s time for you to return to Society, and to serve me as you once did.”
He looked at the stuffed dummies around the table, scarlet creeping across his cheeks. “It seems solitude does not suit me.” He followed as she left the room, clearing his throat nervously. “I remember the night well, my Lady, my behaviour was abominable. Not only will I always come as soon as you summon me, I’ll be sure never to invite a Rosa to any of my future soirees. Just to be certain.”
Lady Violet stopped. “You didn’t come to me because you were talking to a rose?”
“Not just any, my Lady, but Constance Gallica-Rosa, beauty of Londinium, daughter of the Duke himself.”
“A rose!” Lady Violet shrieked. “You valued talking to a rose above seeking my pleasure?”
She flicked out her hand, catching him under the chin and sending him sprawling, sliding to a stop in front of a suit of armour.
“My Lady, please!”
She didn’t bother to turn, didn’t waste her time in answering him, merely opened a way to Exilium and stepped through, leaving him behind. He clearly needed another fifty years to contemplate just how serious his crime had been.
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. 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