I felt the urge to bring the latest Split Worlds story home this week, I have no idea why. In case you haven’t come across it before, for the last 12 weeks I’ve been releasing an urban fantasy short story every Tuesday. They’re part of a year and a day of stories up to the release of the first Split Worlds novel in November 2012 (runs off screaming).
They’re not serialised, so you can dip in and out where you like. Usually they’re hosted at a different blog each week, but like I said, this week, I’m hosting. You can find all the stories so far here.
As with all of the stories, there’s an audio version if you’d prefer to listen to me reading it. I have even attempted a Lancashire accent. I apologise to everyone from and living in Lancashire, including the paternal side of my family.
A brief aside…
People have asked me whether the characters in these stories will be in the novels (it’s a five book series). Some of them will be, yes. The Split Worlds is an urban fantasy setting, one I’ve been developing for over two years, so I have a lot of things that won’t fit in the books that I can play with in the stories. I’m also seeding some of the plots for the book series in these tales too – it’s my hope that someone who has read all these stories will read the book and feel a secret glee at knowing the back story to an obscure reference, a character’s past dealings or even just feel more at home in the Split Worlds.
Without further ado, here is the latest story.
The Woman in Pinstripe
Charlie puffed his way up the hill, for the first time in years he was excited about the day ahead. He felt like a wax-jacketed steam train panting plumes of breath into the winter morning air.
“I’m depending on you son,” his father had said earlier. “You’ve got to stop that suit showing up and talking big money.” He felt like someone from a film, someone with a mission.
A few minutes after reaching his look-out point, Charlie lifted the binoculars to watch a black car winding its way down the hill on the other side of the valley. It was a BMW, its big city shine spattered by country mud. He watched as it slowed for a sharp corner, held his breath as it drove over the tacks where the road straightened, the punctured tyres bringing the car to a stop. He punched the air, then pulled out his mobile, texting; “BMW on south road stopped.”
“Good lad, meeting about to start.” Dad texted back.
Mission accomplished, Charlie unwrapped a toffee. He chewed as he watched the man get out, inspect the tyres and pull out his mobile, but there was no signal down there. By the time he made it up the steep hill and down the other side to the nook Fernbridge sat in, the meeting would be over and the decision about the land stalled for another month.
A flash of silver to his left made Charlie freeze mid-chew and swing the binoculars round. He glimpsed a Mercedes on the eastern road. Sweat prickled under his collar. Which one was the company rep? It slowed to go over the small humpbacked bridge but then stopped before it reached the tacks he’d laid. He watched, toffee wedged in the roof of his mouth as a woman in pinstripe got out and looked at the tarmac. How could she have seen them?
He didn’t expect her to just get back in the car and drive on. He zoomed in as best he could, thinking he could make out the nails rolling out of the way of the tyres. The toffee broke free, slipped down his throat the wrong way and his spying was interrupted by a brief choking fit. By the time he recovered the car had passed the first defence.
There was a back-up plan; he jumped onto his mountain bike and hurtled down the hill, through the trees to where the Land Rover was parked. He skidded to a stop, chucked the bike into the trailer and drove out of the layby to block the narrow road. He cut the engine and leaped out, the sound of a distant car getting louder as he lifted the bonnet and sabotaged the engine.
He heard the Mercedes stop, got his hands as filthy as he could and then peered round. “Sorry love,” he said to her as she got out. “It’s buggered. Just conked out, nearly crashed I did.”
She looked at her watch, he guessed she was in her late fifties but with her slick suit and neatly tied back auburn hair she didn’t look like any of the doughy middle aged women in the village. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Not sure,” he shrugged as she came round to look. “Know about engines do you then?” he asked sarcastically.
“I’m going to be late,” she muttered, slipping off her jacket and draping it on a nearby branch. She looked him up and down as she rolled up her sleeves and then rooted around under the bonnet. “Seems I know more about engines than you do,” she said. “Try it now.”
Slowly, hiding his panic, he climbed back in and it started first time. She dropped the bonnet shut and wiped her hands with a handkerchief. As she put her jacket back on and went back to her car, he set about bodging his manoeuvre as much as possible. By the time she was behind the wheel he’d “accidentally” tipped the trailer into the ditch, twisted dangerously on its coupling.
“You idiot,” she yelled, getting back out. “For God’s sake get back in and put it in first gear.”
“Why, what you-”
“Do it! I’m going to be late!”
He watched in the mirrors as he put it in gear, she was moving round to the back of the trailer. It was ex-military and weighed half a ton. “What are you going to do?” he said to her reflection.
She seemed to fumble for a moment, then winced and looked at her finger. “Silly cow,” he muttered, seeing the blood drip from the gash. But she didn’t look angry, instead she was focusing on the trailer again and then crouched down out of sight.
He expected nothing but creaking from the coupling, but the Land Rover surged ahead so fast he stalled it. When he looked again she was marching back to her car, the trailer aligned and on the road behind him.
“What the b-”
She beeped the horn and he drove on, taking a short cut across the farm to beat her to the village hall. Once he was back in signal range he texted his father. “Incoming.”
He slipped in at the back, seeing Trevor the Traitor on his feet and his father glowering on the other side of the room.
“In two years that old bridge will be lying in the river, there’s no money to repair it,” Trevor was saying. “The young people are moving away, and if we let Dennis and his bloody Historical Society continue to hold us back, in two generations there’s not going to be a village here.”
“Rubbish!” Dad shouted.
“If the land held by the village trust is sold at the same time as mine,” Trevor continued, “it’ll be snapped up for a good price. Dig your heels in and you’ll make it worthless.”
“But who will buy it?” A woman called from the back.
Dad pointed at Trevor. “He don’t care, he’ll sell up and move to Chester.”
Trevor ignored him. “I want to sell to an adventure holiday company. Any minute now their rep’ll be here to explain why this is the best thing that could ever happen to this village, but only if you sell the land bordering the river, including the bridge.”
“They’ll pull it down and fill the place with louts!” Dad yelled.
“Yes, they’ll pull that rusting heap down,” Trevor said. “English Heritage don’t want it, the National Trust aren’t interested. And don’t tell me you’re waiting to hear from the Lottery people, because I know for a fact they won’t touch it.”
The door opened and Dad sat down, his legs giving way at the sight of the slick city suit and briefcase. The woman scanned the room and then walked slowly down the aisle to the front of the hall, the clip of her shoes ringing out in the silence.
“Is this the meeting regarding the sale of land held by the village trust?” she asked. The committee chairman nodded as she set the case down and adjusted the makeshift bandage on her hand.
“Are you from the holiday company?” Trevor asked.
“No. I’m here to represent the head of Coferrum Inc. I understand there’s some land for sale, possibly two lots, including a nineteenth century iron bridge.”
“That’s right. What do you want to build on it?” The Chairman asked.
“I’m authorised to offer two hundred thousand pounds for each plot, plus an extra one hundred thousand to secure ownership of the bridge. And to answer your question Mr Chairman, we might want to build a small visitors centre, once the bridge is fully restored.”
“That’s far more than the others have offered, what’s the catch?” Dad asked as Trevor grinned and rubbed his hands.
“It’s a bad offer if you don’t want to keep the bridge,” she said. “And I suppose it means there won’t be any kayaking.”
The cheer in the hall made Charlie’s ears ring, but he wasn’t joining in, still thinking about how she’d managed to get there. But then he saw his Dad, smiling for the first time since the land went up for sale and decided he couldn’t have seen the tacks roll away at that distance, she’d just been lucky. Maybe the trailer hadn’t been as far into the ditch as he’d thought. Charlie called for three cheers. Whatever had happened that morning, he’d never tell a soul about it.
I hope you enjoyed the story, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments (really, I would!). If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me here.