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We don’t often do guest posts and such, but when we do, we always aim to bring you the best content we can. In that same spirit, we have author Emma Newman, one of Angry Robot’s latest acquisitions, stopping by to give us a special exclusive short story set in the Split Words, the setting for her upcoming novels. Enjoy!
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-eighth 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.
by Emma Newman
Barry flipped through the magazine rating the women in the adverts. He paused on one for make-up, imagining what it would be like to have her at home waiting for him, then tossed the magazine back on the pile.
Being there was a mistake. He stood up and took a step towards the exit as the door he’d been waiting to open finally did.
“Mr Jenkins?” The slender woman had long black hair and was far more attractive than his wife.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I’m Dr Tate,” she shook his hand. “Come in.”
He checked out her backside in the smart suit as she turned to go back into her office. “I was having second thoughts actually.”
“That’s perfectly natural.” Her voice was soft and rich, the kind that could sell chocolate and lingerie. “You’ve come this far, why not try it?”
“You made the appointment after seeing the advert, didn’t you?”
“Then you’re struggling. Otherwise it wouldn’t have spoken to you. Come and sit down Mr Jenkins. I can help you.”
He went in and she closed the door. The office was minimalist and clean. She gestured towards a large sofa and he sat down. There was a coffee table with a box of tissues on it and a small wooden box. She sat opposite him on a wide leather chair, crossing her legs and leaning forwards slightly. He could see her cleavage.
“So, tell me why you made the appointment.”
“I was at work and the advert just… popped out at me when I was having my lunch.”
“Do you know why?”
He shrugged. “It said something about help for people hiding things from their family. I am. And it’s killing me. It said it would be confidential.”
“Total confidentiality,” she smiled. “You don’t even have to tell me the secrets you’re keeping.”
His shoulders dropped as the fear of confession ebbed away. “Really? But I thought you were a therapist.”
“So don’t I have to tell you everything and talk about my mother and stuff?”
She shook her head. “I practise a very different approach, one that achieves remarkable results in a much shorter time-frame than psychodynamic counselling. I don’t want to focus on the secret, or the reason you’re keeping it. I want us to focus on the effect it’s having on your life.”
“Secrets,” he said. “There’s more than one.”
“You said it was killing you, keeping them.”
He nodded, feeling a sudden lump in his throat. “It’s getting so I don’t want to go home of an evening. I don’t want to spend time with my wife and kids. I have to keep it all in, all the time. I get chest pains…” He stopped, fearing he was about to cry.
“I’m so glad you came. Now, I’m going to ask you to open that box and take out the marble inside. It may sound strange, but I want you to put the marble under your tongue and hold it there.”
She smiled. “You’ll see. It’s just a marble, Mr Jenkins, but it will help you see the effect these secrets are having on your life.”
He did as she asked. The marble was smoky blue inside and larger than the ones he played with as a boy, but he could still hold it under his tongue.
“Good. Now, I want you to think about the way keeping these secrets makes you feel. I want you to think about the reasons why you’re hiding these things from your family.”
He nodded, feeling his chest tighten.
“Tell me how it makes you feel.”
“Obobobo…” He shrugged and pointed at his mouth. The marble was too large.
“Exactly,” Dr Tate spread her hands. “Imagine that marble holds all your desires to keep these secrets inside you. It holds all of that effort you spend every moment of your waking day keeping things hidden from them and look what it does; it prevents you from speaking clearly. It’s getting in the way of clear communication and that’s stifling your relationships with your wife and your children.”
He nodded, closing his eyes and really trying hard to do as she’d said. And she was right; he hardly spoke to Barbara any more, as if he’d built a wall to hold the secrets back and accidentally kept everything else behind it too.
“I want you to imagine that marble filling up with that desire to hide and when it feels heavy and hot I want you to drop it back in the box straight from your mouth. Don’t touch it; spit it out and imagine all those feelings, all that pressure being spit out with them.”
It landed in the box with a heavy thud and he wiped away the line of drool that followed it with the back of his hand. He felt lighter, like he’d been holding his breath for years and finally sighed.
She took the box away, they talked more, he paid and left.
The lights were on when he got home. First to greet him was Ella, dragging her teddy bear by the ear behind her.
“Hello pickle. I have to tell you that Mr Snuggles isn’t really Mr Snuggles. Your bunny died because I forgot to give it water when you and Mummy were at Grandma’s so I bought another white rabbit to replace him.”
He hung up his coat as she ran squealing for her mother. His son came to the top of the stairs and frowned down at him. “What’s going on?”
“Tim! I have to tell you I’m not your biological father. I was in Thailand when you must have been conceived and I know your Mum was sleeping with another bloke, so it must be him.”
Feeling even lighter – and not in the least concerned by the slam of his son’s bedroom door – he went through to the dining room where his wife was cuddling the sobbing Ella.
“Barry! What were you thinking?”
“Barb… I have to tell you that I’ve been sleeping with your sister. The younger one. It’s been going on for about a year. Two years ago I had a fling with your eldest sister.” He chuckled. “I suppose that’s a hat trick.”
Barbara stood up, clutching Ella to her, as pale as the offending rabbit. “Get out of this house. Right now.”
“Okay,” he said and smiled. “I stopped loving you a long time ago. Wow, I feel so much better now!” He went back to the hall, put on his coat and left, so grateful he’d gone through with the appointment. Even though the marble thing had seemed stupid, he hadn’t communicated so clearly, nor felt so free, for years.
Now that’s something isn’t it? I can say that I’m personally very excited about these novels. We will be doing a special giveaway as well, courtesy of the fine folks at Angry Robot, when the publication time rolls around so keep an eye on these parts in the near future.