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Emma Newman's Split Worlds story #36, The Drinking Problem

Iain Broome
Iain Broome
6 min read

This is a guest post from the marvellous Emma Newman. Emma appeared on episode 17 of season two of the Write for Your Life podcast to talk about her fantastic and unique route to getting a book deal. In this post, she talks about her Split Worlds novels and gives us a short story set in the Split Worlds…erm…world.

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-sixth 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 Drinking Problem

“Something’s definitely wrong with Jack.”

Frank tutted at his daughter. She was peeking round the edge of the net curtains like his wife used to. “Where’s my cup of tea?”

“I’ll get it in a minute. He’s talking to those lads again.”

“So he’s made some friends, can’t you be happy about it?”

“I don’t like them. At least he hasn’t been out with them for a couple of days. It looks like they’re trying to get him to go with them.”

“Where’s my tea?”

“He’s said no. Thank God for that. He’s coming in.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got to go.”

“But what about-“

“I’m going to be late for work – I’m on nights, remember? Your tea is in the oven, make sure Jack eats too. And Dad,” she put her hands on her hips and frowned at him, looking just like her mother. “No whisky tonight, okay?”

“My house, my rules,” he banged the arm of the chair. “You should be grateful, not telling me what to do. If it wasn’t for me-“

“I know, I know,” she held up her hands. “Once the divorce is through I’ll be able to afford our own place again. I don’t want Jack to be here too long anyway.”

“It was good enough for you when you were growing up. If you’d married an honest man who did a proper day’s work you wouldn’t be in this mess and that boy would be learning a trade. “

She sighed. “We’ve been through this. I’ll see you in the morning.”

No kiss. No tea. He scratched under his vest and listened to her fussing over the boy in the hallway. He wasn’t being brought up right. Fifteen years old and no job, not even a paper round. Soft as shite.

“Hi granddad.” Jack poked his head round the door.

“Make me a cup of tea for God’s sake,” Frank said but the boy was halfway up the stairs before he’d finished the sentence. The door slammed and the music went on.

Frank shuffled into the kitchen. He looked at the kettle then got a glass and the whisky.

The boy was mollycoddled, that was the only problem he had. When he saw him sneaking out a few days before he’d hoped the boy was off getting into trouble with the local boys instead of looking down his nose at them like his mother. But since then all he’d done was skulked about clutching his bag like it had the crown jewels in it. Frank hoped it was a dirty magazine or two. Then there’d at least be hope.

The whisky went down like milk and was soon running low. “Jack!” he yelled.

The boy came downstairs and stood in the doorway with hands in pockets and shoulders hunched, looking at him from under a mop of hair that would be more at home on a girl.

“Get down the shop and buy me a bottle of whisky,” Frank held out a warm twenty pound note from his pocket.

“They won’t sell it to me. I’m too young.”

“Bollocks they won’t. Tell Amir it’s for me, he knows who I am.”

“Won’t make no difference Granddad. It’s against the law. Anyway, Mum said you shouldn’t drink so much.”

“Come ‘ere.” When Jack was close enough he clipped him round the ear. “At least try, you good for nothing little git. I’m thirsty.”

He tucked the note into Jack’s pocket and pushed him towards the door. Jack glanced up the stairs and left.

What was he hiding? If there was a dirty magazine up there he wouldn’t mind a look. Frank panted his way up to the boy’s room. There were posters of comic book heroes on the walls. Where were the women? Where was the calendar full of models in bikinis? There was something wrong with that boy.

The bag was on the bed. Frank found an old metal box inside, heavy enough to be made of iron, with bands of copper riveted around the outside. There was a keyhole with a bent paperclip in it. Frank opened the box but dropped it on the bed when he saw the contents.

“What are you doing in my room?” Jack said from the doorway. He hurried to his bag and saw the box on the bed. “That’s my stuff!”

“What’s wrong with you?” Frank shoved him and the boy was as easy to knock over as his wife had been. “What kind of boy keeps a doll in a box? What’s it supposed to be, a fairy? You queer, boy?”

“Shut up,” Jack reached for the box but Frank struck his hand and tried to pull the doll out.

It was fixed to the bottom by one of its tiny arms, held fast by a copper band and rivets. Frank could see other bands in the box had been broken. The fairy doll felt soft and Frank let it go, disturbed by the way its skin looked so real.

He slammed the box shut. “This is going in the bin. Anything else in here need throwing out?” He looked at the nearest poster, one of a man in a green costume, all muscles. He ripped it off the wall. “No queers in my house!”

Jack lunged for the box and Frank backhanded him. There was no strength in the boy – that was his mother’s fault. But Jack got straight back up and barrelled into him like a rugby player. Frank crashed into the wardrobe, dropping the box.

Jack stepped over him and opened it with the speed of a boy who loves dolls too much. But then he yelped as something flew out of it. The last copper band had detached in the fall and the doll looked like it had come to life. Frank squeezed his eyes shut against the hallucination.

“You freed me!” said a tiny voice.

“You’re real!” Jack replied. “I knew it!”

“What a horrible old man,” the fairy couldn’t possibly have said. “Shall I turn him into a newt for you? Or make his eyelashes into thorns? I could make him bray like a donkey whenever he speaks – whatever you wish!”

Frank kept his eyes shut, waiting for the funny turn to pass.

“No,” said Jack. “He’s just a sad old man. I just wish he wouldn’t drink anymore.”

There was a delighted giggle and then a tingling at the end of Frank’s nose. He tried to ignore that too. “Bye-bye, sweet boy, I’ll remember you.”

Frank heard a small popping sound and then the door to the bedroom slammed shut. When he opened his eyes he was alone with just the crumpled poster next to him. The box – and its doll – was gone. He shivered and sat up. Even after all that had happened, for the first time in years he didn’t fancy a drink.

Thanks for hosting, Iain!

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I'm the author of the novel, A is for Angelica. Every week, I send Draft Mode, a newsletter full of tips and tools that help you improve your craft and promote your writing.