Last year, I wrote a series of thematic flash stories for the WEP challenges, all sharing the same protagonist. I liked the coherence it brought to my WEP posts. I decided to continue the tradition, but with more focus. This year, I’m going to post chapters 1 through 6 from my novella Magic Senegalese. Originally, I thought it would be a complete short story by December, but the story ran away from me and became twice longer. It is also a fan fiction story, based on Wen Spencer’s Elfhome universe. I will post it in full on Wattpad.
Elfhome is one of my favorite fantasy (or sci-fi) worlds, and it needs a bit of an intro. According to Spencer, some time in the first half of the 21st century (very soon now), China built a hyper-phase gate in orbit over Earth, to allow spaceships to travel to other star systems quickly. The side effect of that gate was that the entire city of Pittsburgh, PA, was dropped into the parallel world of Elfhome, the planet the same as Earth geographically, but populated by immortal elves who have magic. They don’t have the Earth technology though, and they didn’t start traveling to the Americas until recently. Most of the American continent on Elfhome is still a virgin forest. Pittsburgh was dropped into the middle of it. One day a month, when the Chinese power down their orbital gate, Pittsburgh returns to Earth.
My story doesn’t use any of Wen Spencer’s leading characters, except peripherally. The plot happens (by the Elfhome timeline) a couple years before Tinker, the first of Spencer’s novels set in Pittsburgh, and about twenty-five years after the Chinese gate first went into operation.
Naomi Peterson clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a scream. Her horrified eyes met Bob’s astonished ones through the dirty glass of a small window inserted in the door. She just witnessed him stab a man to death in the alley, and he knew she did. It didn’t matter that they had been classmates at school. It didn’t matter that they had kissed once in eleventh grade. She just saw him commit murder in broad daylight. He would come after her. She was deep over her head in peril.
She saw the realization unfolding in his eyes too and didn’t wait for the inevitable. She whirled and raced for the front door. The locked back door of the club rattled behind her, as Bob tried to force it open. It would take him some time to circle the long building to the parking lot at the front, the time for her to escape.
Her fingers shook on the car key. It took her three tries to start the car, and her hands still felt unsteady on the wheel. She accelerated out of the parking lot. He would find her soon. He didn’t know her address, but he had the Internet, like everyone else. It was only a matter of hours until he found her. She needed to disappear.
She drove on autopilot, her mind numb with dread. Should she report him to the police? And then what? Testify in court? Was he with a gang? Mafia? They had never been friends at school, and she had known, vaguely, that he was into a bad stuff, but she had never been interested. She had been with the intellectual crowd in those days, set for university and a glorious dancing career. She had never dreamed that their paths would cross again after graduation, and in such a drastic manner.
She calmed a bit when nobody chased her on the highway. By the time she turned into the driveway of her house, she was almost back to normal, but she was glad to see the windows downstairs glow with light. Her father was home. He would know what to do.
She let herself in the downstairs apartment, where her father lived alone since she had moved upstairs during her freshman year. Her friends mocked her that she still lived at home, but she didn’t care. Both she and her dad had their privacy—the apartments had separate entrances—while still being in the same house, close enough if they needed each other. She needed him now.
“Naomi?” He just had his shower and was dressed only in sweatpants, with a towel hanging over his neck. His brown chest rippled with muscles, even though his short fuzzy hair was almost white already. It had still been mostly black when she met Bob last, at her prom three years ago.
Bob! She started hyperventilating again and leaned on the door to support her jellifying bones. She opened her lips to tell her dad, but no sound emerged. Her throat locked. She gazed at him in a mute appeal for help.
“Naomi, what happened?” He reached her in two long strides and clapped his big brown hands on her shoulders. “You’re trembling. Come, sit down. Tell me what’s wrong?” His strong grip was reassuring, his familiar round face a brown mask of serenity. “Talk to me, girl. Do you want some whiskey? No, you don’t like whiskey. Ouzo?”
He moved unhurriedly as he talked, fitting words to actions, his deep baritone a soothing balm for her frazzled nerves. By the time she downed a large splash of liquor, she was finally ready to talk.
He listened without comment, as he always did, nodding thoughtfully now and again.
“Should I call the police?” she asked uncertainly.
“If I were an upstanding citizen, I’d have said ‘yes’,” he murmured. “But I’m not sure the police is as uncorrupted in real life as it is on TV. I don’t want you to testify in court. It could be dangerous. I agree with your assessment: you’d better disappear, at least for a while. Until he’s arrested.” His eyes turned sad. “Maybe a long time. I’ll miss you, pumpkin. Was there anyone else at the club?”
“No. I rehearsed for a while. I was alone. Nobody was there. It’s too early.”
“I knew it was a bad idea for you to dance at the strip club,” he said without heat.
It was an old argument she had already won, but she replied all the same, as she always had. “At least I could pay for my schooling. No student loans for me. I wouldn’t be able to do that with any other part-time job.”
“You could’ve taught dancing at a community center. Much safer.”
“I do. Much less money,” she countered.
“I would’ve paid your tuitions.”
“I know. I wanted to do it myself. Besides, the girls are all safe at the club, you know that. The bouncers wouldn’t let anything happen to us during the night. But it’s daytime. No bouncers.”
He sighed. “Well, we can’t change the past. Go, pack, Naomi. We’ll leave as soon as you’re done.”
“Where will I go?” Naomi obediently stood up. Her hand draped around the door handle. “To your family in Virginia?”
“No. Anyone can find you in Virginia. We’re going… I’ll tell you in the car. We’re taking your Beetle. I’ll rent a car to return home.”
Naomi nodded and opened the door. It wasn’t like her father to be secretive, but it didn’t matter. She jogged around the house to the back stairs, leading to her second-floor apartment, while the cold sick fear in her stomach finally started to melt. Obviously, her father had a plan. He would tell her when he was ready.
An hour later, they were on the highway, heading west towards Pennsylvania, and Naomi started fretting again. Where were they going? They already made a couple of detours, to his bank and hers, and withdrew as much cash as the banks allowed from all their accounts. The money resided now in the backseat of the car, stuffed into her old backpack. Her father didn’t think she would have access to a bank wherever he was taking her. Did he want her to camp in the wild? For how long? Maybe he knew something about Bob that she didn’t.
“All right, Dad. Spill,” she said between her teeth. “You’re scaring me. Where am I going?”
“To Pittsburgh,” he said quietly. “Nobody would find you there.”
The image of the book cover is by Caique Silva from Unsplash, a free image website.