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I’m lucky enough today to be hosting the latest in E.J Newman’s ongoing “Split Worlds” story project, which happens to be a delightful twist on an ancient tale.  You can read it below, or if you’re busy, you can hop over to

http://soundcloud.com/ejnewman/the-golden-ball-trick

and let the delightful Emma read it to you!

Over to you, Emma.

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This is the sixteenth in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here

http://www.splitworlds.com/stories/

I hope you enjoy 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

The Golden Ball Trick

Montgomery blew into his cupped hands and flexed his booted feet. The March night was brutally cold. It had been over an hour since the parents had switched off their bedroom light, and there was no sign of activity in the farmhouse. Time to move.

The lock on the back door was easy to pick, but took him twice as long as it should, his numb fingers giving him poor feedback. The warm house smelt faintly of sausages, the only sounds were the ticking of the kitchen clock, and the steady wheeze of the sleeping dog. The drugged meat had worked well, but he wasn’t going to hang around. He knew which was the boy’s bedroom, it overlooked the fields at the back of the house and he’d been watching for a few days now.

The boy’s door was open, he stepped inside after pausing briefly by the parents’ door to listen to their soft dual snores. The landing light had been left on, he could see the boy clearly enough.

He moved closer to the bed, looked down on the partially lit child. His dark hair was rumpled, mouth open, head tilted back and he too snored softly. Montgomery studied the peace on the child’s face for a moment before reaching into his pocket to retrieve the scissors.

He lifted a lock of hair from the crown of the child’s head and snipped it away. The boy sighed and rolled over, taking the duvet with him and revealing the other reason why Montgomery was there. It was almost too easy.

He slipped the hair into a small Ziploc bag and tucked that into his coat pocket along with the scissors. Then he turned his attention to the gold ball nestling behind the child’s back. Whilst it didn’t look special to him, no doubt it would be flawless and sparkling to an innocent. So this is at the root of it, he thought.

He rubbed at the stubble on his chin. It was tempting to remove it now, test the child’s hair and then take any follow up action if needed. But he was too old, too ugly and too thorough for that. He needed to leave it with the child for now; the only way to identify the fisherman was to leave the bait and hook well alone.

***

The next morning found him back at the edge of the woods, watching the boy emerge from the farmhouse through his binoculars. Here comes the shiny little fish, he thought, and followed him through the natural labyrinth of ancient trees. The child started throwing and catching the ball once he was safely out of his parent’s sight, oblivious to anything else. Up, down, catch, giggle, Montgomery watched the cycle of play whilst keeping an eye on the rest of the wood. Nothing seemed out of place or sinister, but it rarely did until it was too late.

At the sight of the small pond ahead he stepped behind a tree and loaded his gun. Moments after he emerged, the golden ball slipped from the child’s hands and sploshed into the water.

He crept closer as the child cried out in dismay and ran to the edge, peering into the depths for a glimpse of his prized ball. As he did so, Montgomery scanned the pond for movement. He spotted the creature climbing out of the water to crouch in front of the child.

“Hello Mr Frog!” the boy said. It didn’t look like a frog to Montgomery.

“What’s wrong?” it asked, making the boy gasp in delight.

“My ball went in the pond,” he said, apparently still young enough to accept that, sometimes, frogs do talk.

“I could get it for you,” the creature replied. “But you’ll need to give me something in return.”

“That’s enough,” Montgomery muttered and squeezed the trigger. The tiny iron nail zinged past the boy’s head and into the creature’s shoulder. It gave a high pitched screech as the glamour dissipated.

“You’re not a frog!” the boy said, now able to see the faerie writhing in the mud as easily as Montgomery.

The boy followed its terrified eyes back to him and yelped at the sight of the man trudging towards him with a bizarre gun and a grim expression. He scrambled to his feet and ran. Montgomery nodded to himself; child witnesses were best terrified. They interfered less and were never believed anyway.

He holstered the gun and pulled out a copper net, not taking his eyes off the wriggling creature for a second. He tossed it over the faerie from a couple of metres away, making it whimper. Within moments he was holding it up in the gathered net, peering at it through the copper links.

“From Wisteria I see,” he said, identifying the shade of lilac in its glittering skin and the petals forming its tunic. “I thought she only used the Golden Ball trick for Princesses. A mundane farm boy is such a come down for her… I guess these are desperate times.”

“Please, dear Arbiter, please let me go,” it wept, feeble at the touch of the metal. “I’ll grant you a boon, no-one need ever know, please!”

“Not interested in bribes,” he replied, tying off the bunched edges of the net with copper wire and dropping it into his pack. He’d pull out the nail and banish it to Exilium after he’d written the report, paperwork was more important than its comfort. He rolled up a sleeve, retrieved the ball and watched the mud he’d disturbed cloud the water. “Lucky kid,” he muttered, and slung the pack over his shoulders. Job done.

Thanks for hosting Jo!

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If you liked that, why not look out for Emma’s post-apocalyptic YA novel “20 Years Later”, published by Dystopia Press (and reviewed on this blog on January 27th) which is available in high street bookshops and from Amazon :

http://www.amazon.co.uk/20-Years-Later-J-Newman/

Emma will also be appearing at BristolCon 2012, come and say hello to her!

http://www.bristolcon.org/

Thanks for the story, Em!