Today’s Story-a-Day May prompt asked us to steal something–a character, a world, a plot. Something from another fictional world and to have fun with it. Since this is fan fiction, I can’t have it published elsewhere or anything like that, so I’ll just post the entire piece here.
Coincidentally, I finished reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last night. I love this story so much! When you finish a book you love, do you have the unsettled feeling? Actually, maybe several feelings? I feel joy at the wonder I just read. I feel jealous that I didn’t write it. I feel despair that I’ll never write anything that will make someone else feel about my own writing as I feel about the book I just read. I feel loss that the book is over. I feel lucky that I got to read the book at all. I feel eager to find other people who loved the book and to read something else by that author.
That’s not too much, is it?
In any event, with Susanna Clarke’s novel on my mind, I decided to steal from her version of England–1806 to 1817. Every character I’ve mentioned in my theft is in Clarke’s work, and I have placed my story after the events in hers.
Another day done! Thank you for reading!
Flora Greysteel took another stroll through the London park. She took her daily inventory of the shadows and the birds, and everything added up as usual. Today wasn’t going to be the day.
Three children, five or six years old, dashed by, the youngest rushing through a puddle from the morning’s rain. Muddy water speckled Flora’s pale lavender pelisse, but she didn’t care. Instead of fussing, she stared at the water, which fell back into its mirror-like smoothness. A cloud drifted across the oval puddle as did a raven.
Flora looked up sharply. The raven was gone.
She stepped closer to the puddle and waited. Everything around her quieted. Even the birds ceased their singing. A step closer and her face gazed back up at her. She must’ve appeared odd to anyone passing by. What was a proper young Edwardian lady doing staring into puddles in the park? If any of those passers-by had recognized her, if they had heard about her time in Italy and knew of her friendship with not just one but two high-society ladies who’d been, for a time, dead, they wouldn’t have thought much of her peculiar way of staring at glossy puddles and twisted trees and pages of unsuitable books.
Her fingers tightened around her handbag. The reflected sky disappeared and shadows moved within the water, not truly in the water but far further away. Perhaps even a dot of candle light reached the surface. Was this the day?
Flora didn’t risk looking up. She’d learned that even the briefest glance in another direction could close the door. Not close, she corrected herself, but shift it out of view. Why did she want to go? What would she do when she got there?
Her friends had been, it was true, and the memories filled them with horror. Flora was a sensible young woman. If someone warned her a particular street housed bandits and blaggards, she took another street. There was no need to learn anything the hard way. But she was reasonable. Streets could change. New landlords came. Things could be tidied up and law and order could be put into place. If one street could go down in the world, another could go up.
The shadows took on the shapes of dancers, regal couples spinning around a ballroom. Flora presumed dancing would always be a popular pastime there. It was a shame her friends now hated to dance.
All she needed was to take one more step.
It was her choice.
Unlike her friends who’d been taken into that otherworld, she’d enter of her own free will. Didn’t it mean she could return home as she pleased?
A raven swooped by her head. Taken unawares, Flora screamed and jumped back. She’d felt the wings strike her cap. The bird flew straight into the puddle and vanished. Once again the puddle showed the sky. The door was shut.
“That’s quite all right,” Flora said to the now evaporating water. “You weren’t open for me at all, were you? I never should’ve fit myself through such a frightfully narrow door. It’s likely I’d have fallen a great way down, and that’s no way to arrive.”
It was a day like any other, London grey and damp. Flora straightened her cap. She’d return to her friends, but she wouldn’t trouble them with the story of the puddle and the raven. They’d express horror and watch over her every step if she told.
Flora exited the park. “There will be other doors,” she said. “But when my door opens, I shall walk boldly through it. I shall dance as I wish and depart as I please.”
She failed to notice the quiet of the street. “Dance as I wish and depart as I please,” she repeated, cheerful at her glimpse of the otherworld even if she’d have to keep it to herself.
“Your ladyship,” came a voice by her side.
She startled. “Yes?”
The gentleman bowed. “Would you care to dance?”
“In the street?” But she was mistaken. The street faded to mist and the cobblestone became a ballroom floor. A bell sounded in the distance and somewhere out of sight musicians played. This wasn’t London. She took the gentleman’s hand. “Dance?” she replied. “I’d love to.”
Arabella Strange and Lady Pole waited for their friend. They planned another trip to Italy. Perhaps this time they’d stay as long as Flora always wished to stay. “The place means so much to us both,” Arabella said.
Lady Pole didn’t smile. She rarely did; her happiness had been stolen alongside those years of her life. Perhaps, in truth, happiness didn’t think of returning. She and happiness had only ever been acquaintances, never friends. She didn’t much care. There were more important things, like justice for the victims of magicians. “I can not share your affection for Italy and its charms, my friend. But I can write my letters from there as from anywhere.”
“Absolutely,” Arabella replied. She turned her attention to the door. “Did Flora say what time expected to be home or where she was going?”
“No. Other than telling Jeremy she was going for one of her walks, she divulged nothing else.”
“She seems gone longer than usual, don’t you think?”
“I think she goes looking for magic and is afraid to say,” Lady Pole replied.
Arabella laughed. “You know as well as I do, she isn’t the least bit afraid. That’s why she looks.”
“We should put a stop to it. We know understand the danger.” Lady Pole picked up her cold tea and put it down again. She often let her tea grow cold before remembering it was there.
“Please don’t fret, Lady Pole. That horrible gentleman is dead. We’re free and shall remain so.” Arabella rose from her seat and went to the window. “I’m sure Flora is fine.”
Lady Pole stirred her cold tea disturbing the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup. “Of course.”
Arabella gazed outside. She didn’t remember it raining, but a rather large puddle covered the walk up to their door. In fact, she didn’t remember any rainstorm ever leaving a puddle on the walk as it sloped down to the street. She’d have Jeremy take a look before Flora came home. The young lady wouldn’t want to have to leap to her own front door.