Something different today! The wonderful E.J. Newman is on a short story tour, and I’m thrilled to be hosting one of her stories. (I also recommend signing up to get her stories straight to your inbox; they’re always a great read and a nice break from the usual run of emails!)
In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and is called “Between Two Thorns”. This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra tit-bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It’s also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the thirty-seventh tale in the 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 released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
The Delivery Men
Kevin shuffled from foot to foot at the side of the road, listening to his stomach growl.
“Blimey Kevin,” Jez said. “The Mrs not feeding you?”
“I’m the cook at home, you Neanderthal,” he replied. “I just didn’t have time to eat today s’all.”
“How is your wife?” Tony asked. “Did she land that contract?”
“Yeah,” Kevin replied with a grin. “She’s the Don.”
“Don’t you feel… I dunno, less of a man?” Jez asked. “Being a house-husband and all?”
“Don’t wind him up,” Tony said before Kevin could think of something offensive enough to say back. “Tell us what happened to your neighbour.”
“What, the one who left his wife and kids?” Jez shrugged. “Never came back. She put pictures of him all over the estate, like he was a missing person. Silly cow didn’t realise he’d just run off with someone else.”
“Maybe he didn’t,” Kevin said. “Maybe he got knocked over. Or maybe he went doolally and decided to travel the world.”
“I would if I could,” Jez said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I’d go to Las Vegas.”
“I’d go to the Canadian wilderness and fish for salmon,” Tony said.
“That’s mean, that is.” The two of them gawped at Kevin.
“Don’t tell me you’re a bleedin’ vegan now,” Jez jabbed at him in the stomach.
“It’s not that,” Kevin replied. “You fish for salmon when they’re on their way back upstream. Imagine, the only time in your life you get to have a good shag before you die, and some git with a hook whips you out of the river before you’ve had a chance to get your end away.”
“Gosh,” Tony said. “Never thought of it like that. If I ever do go, I’d have to throw them back afterwards.”
“My little’un told me this joke yesterday,” Kevin said, grinning. “What do you call a fish with no eyes?”
“Shh,” Tony held up a hand and all three listened. “That’s our cue.”
Kevin could hear the low rumble but the mists were so thick nothing had come into view on the road yet. “Whose turn is it to drop off the package?”
“Yours,” Jez said. “I did it last time.” He gave him the small canvas bag. “It’s your turn to start off, Tony, remember?”
“Bollocks,” Kevin said as he rolled down his balaclava. “I’ll miss the Man U match.”
“I’m recording it,” Tony said as the horses emerged from the mists, the carriage clattering behind it. “Come over after and we’ll have a couple of beers and watch it.”
Jez farted and all three laughed, then Tony whispered the Charm as he rolled the stone into the middle of the road. The roar of the galloping hooves was the only sound now. Kevin pulled out his pistol, cocked the hammer and released the safety catch with his thumb as the scent of flowers mingled with the mists. They all crouched low as Tony finished and a puff of purple dust burst from the stone as the horses reached it.
The pair of stallions reared up as if they’d arrived at the edge of a cliff and then froze, looking like they were a museum display rather than living creatures. The driver was almost thrown off his perch but was frozen by the Charm too before he could tumble forwards.
“Sixty seconds,” Tony whispered and the three of them leaped up and ran to the carriage itself.
As Jez pointed his gun at the head of the footman who had been thrown onto the cobbles, Tony ran to the other side of the carriage and Kevin opened the door closest to him. He thrust the pistol in front of him and caught his first glimpse of the victims. A man and a woman dressed in their regency finery, looking like they had just left the set of a period drama his wife watched.
“Jewels and money in the bag!” he shouted, holding it in front of them with his left hand.
The woman was rigid with terror and the man looked like he was about to choke on his own disbelief. Kevin gave a nod to Tony who fired a round into the mists.
“These are pistols,” he said when the couple’s screams were dying in their throats. “They’re like flintlocks but they don’t miss.”
There was a frenzy of activity; earrings unhooked, bracelets and necklaces pulled off by the husband with no care for the clasps. The wife started to sob as the man dropped her diamond rings into the bag and then began to pull at the last one.
“No wedding rings,” Kevin said. They weren’t worth the trouble. “Watch and chain,” he added and the husband reluctantly complied. The last things to go in the bag were always the most valuable and always belonged to the husband. “Done,” he called to the others and backed away to the edge of the road with the gun still pointed through the doorway at the husband.
Jez was getting the footman back onto the carriage, a damp stain on his white breeches.
“You’ll be hunted down and-” the husband began but the charm was wearing off and the horses lunged forwards, throwing the driver back into his seat. Jez slammed the doors of the carriage shut and Tony pointed his gun at the front.
“Go!” he yelled at the driver. The man got the horses back under control and they set off at speed.
Kevin put the safety back on and grinned at his colleagues. “Not a bad haul. The Mrs is going to get her conservatory I reckon.”
“So what’s the answer?” Jez asked. “What do you call a fish with no eyes?”
Kevin holstered the pistol and slung the bag over his shoulder. “Fsh.”