Emma Newman’s (or EJ. Newman’) Split World project’s aim “is to immerse you in the Split Worlds with a mixture of storytelling, live events and online interactive events culminating in the launch of a five book series.” The Split Worlds “is an urban fantasy setting with gritty noir, fantastical magic, evil faeries and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.” I’m happy to welcome Emma and the Split Worlds series on the blog today. Find out more and read the latest story.
This is the seventeenth 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 releasedhere.
Coming of Age
Even though his right leg was cramping and his neck was starting to really hurt, Coll was enjoying himself for the first time in ages. Emily was wearing the jumper he liked best because it was more holes than wool. He watched her long blonde hair sway from side, brushing the top of her jeans as she laughed with two other girls who faded into the background, all three peeling their own apple.
“Is it the right shoulder or the left?”
“The left Cassie, it’s always the left,” Emily said with authority. “Like when you spill salt.”
“To blind the devil so he doesn’t make trouble,” Lilly said.
“Does that make this something to do with the Devil?” Cassie asked.
“No, stupid, it’s just a bit of fun,” Emily replied. “But you have to peel the apple all in one go, if it breaks it means you’ll never marry at all.”
That killed the conversation. Coll smiled, imagining Emily’s making a nice fat ‘C’. He was the only lad with that initial, the twat sniffing around Emily had the initial ‘D’ – for Dave. And Dickhead.
It was Dave’s coming of age weekend, so they’d all been sent off to camp and help prepare him whilst the adults waited at the farm. The lads were off gathering food, he’d had the sense to sneak off to spy on the girls in their yurt, hoping for a glimpse of Emily’s underwear as they changed for the evening gathering. He was sick of being with the others anyway, they were all so desperate to prove how ‘manly’ they were. They were all running around pretending to be cavemen, he was tucked behind the logpile watching the totty. No prizes for guessing who was the most evolved.
Coll dreaded his coming of age, still nursing a desperate hope that his Dad would come to his senses and move them back to the real world before his sixteenth birthday. No way did he want Emily to see him wearing only clothes he’d made himself, bearing a bare chest and a shield – of his own making too. He was hopeless at that kind of stuff.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Emily said, cupping the spiral of peel in one hand as she abandoned the knife and naked apple. She waited for the other two to finish, then they stood in a row, spacing out as much as they could amongst their stuff. “One, two, three!”
They threw the peels over their left shoulders, Coll imagined a clear C made of apple peel landing behind Emily – and not the others.
The trio spun around, Emily gasped, the other two looked briefly confused, then all three gathered around the peel that had landed behind Emily.
“Coll!” Cassie and Lilly gasped in unison, Emily was silent and rather pale.
“That’s creepy,” Lilly said, looking at the others. “Don’t you think so? I threw my peel behind me, not over here.”
“Me too,” Cassie said. “Maybe the spirits are trying to-”
The two girls looked at each other and ran out as Emily stared down at the peel.
Desperate to see, Coll stretched his neck, trying to peep between two unevenly piled logs. He wobbled, sending the top ones spilling onto the ground. Emily’s head snapped up and looked straight at him.
“Coll!” she yelled. “That wasn’t funny.”
“I didn’t touch it, I swear,” he said, glad to straighten up, now able to see his name formed in perfectly spaced apple peel letters. “How could I have?”
“Spying on me too now? Perv!” She ran out.
“Bollocks.” He climbed out of the yurt through the gap he’d used to get in, not wanting to emerge from the doorway when others could be watching.
When he brushed himself down and made his way into the centre of the camp, Emily was huddled with the others a little way away and all three gave him the look of death. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets, pretended not to care and sloped off into the woods. Sod Emily and the stupid peel. Sod Dave and his stupid ceremony. Sod them all.
Coll walked, feeling better the further away he got, deciding he would find a hollow to spend the night in and then go back to the farm after the ceremony. He thought about dead trees blossoming, he thought about the peel, he wished he had a sane father and that his mother hadn’t died. The evening passed in a blur of trees and bitterness.
Coll woke, not aware he’d dozed off. It was dark, his back ached and something was crawling on his cheek. He brushed it off and sat up hurriedly, only then becoming aware of the figures stood around him. The moonlight picked out four belt buckles, four pairs of eyes and a spearhead.
“Coll, you perv, Emily told us what you did.”
“I didn’t do nothin’,” he stood up.
“You hid in the girl’s yurt,” Dave said, jabbing the spear tip towards him. “You broke one of the sacred rules of the camp.”
“Oh piss off Dave, this isn’t a sodding TV show. Go back to camp and play cavemen with someone else, I don’t give a shit about the fact you’ve lived with a bunch of hippies for sixteen years.”
“I’m head of the camp, you broke a sacred rule. You know what that means?”
Coll shrugged, disinterested.
“It means I get to beat the crap out of you and no-one’ll stop me.”
Coll was running before his thoughts could catch up with his legs. Dave was bigger, he had a spear and he fancied Emily; all the odds were against him. He could hear the others joining the chase too, and none of them would take his side, they all wanted to be the alpha male’s favourite.
The ground was uneven, he tripped and regained his footing countless times, the pursuit filling the forest with snapping twigs and guttural shouts. He had no idea where he was going, all he hoped for was a place to hide before he broke an ankle. Then he saw a light up ahead, incredibly bright, he wondered if it was someone with a torch walking their dog. He headed towards it, hoping the imagined dog-walker wouldn’t run away at the sound of a pack of teenagers on the rampage.
He came to a huge log at the edge of a clearing. The light was dead ahead, he vaulted onto the log and leaped off, hoping to gain a good chunk of ground, but when he landed, he wasn’t in a forest any more. The trees were gone, as was everything else, even the ground was obscured by a dense mist. There were no smells, no sounds. There was more light but it was diffuse, like winter sunlight through fog, and when he looked up the sky was silver. He spun around, goggling, then Dave and the rest burst through behind him.
They too stopped, gawped, but Coll started to run, not wanting to be close when they came to their senses. He risked one glance behind and then when he faced forwards again he was back in a black forest bursting with life.
He tripped and fell hard, rolled onto his back and lay there a moment, panting, as he took in the trees and the moon above him. The bright light was gone. He hid, expecting the others to reappear any moment, shivering as the hours passed. It was only when the sun rose, revealing the spearhead and four rusting belt buckles, that Coll stopped believing they would ever be seen again.
Thanks for hosting Alison!
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