Thursday 4 October 2012

Guest Fiction: Compensatory Behaviour

Most of my regular readers will already know Emma Newman. She's a great writer, she's recently been signed to Angry Robot (how exciting is that!?), and she's an extremely lovely person. So it's a real pleasure that I'm hosting a story of hers. It's the first of a two parter, so you'll have to track down the second part next week (and, believe me, you're going to want to...), or I'll add a link at the bottom, when I know where it is! ^_^

Over to Emma:

This is the thirty-first tale in a 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. This story is part of the build-up to the release of the first Split Worlds novel "Between Two Thorns" in March 2013. Every week a new story is released. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here where you can also sign up to receive each story free in your inbox every week (starting at the very first one).

Compensatory Behaviour

Derek had considered murder, sabotage and theft but none of them could be committed without someone finding out. He watched the CSI programmes; he knew what they could piece together from a bit of belly button fluff and CCTV. Going to Bernard's house was the most sensible option. He just wished he'd come to that conclusion earlier.

He opened the garden gate and winced at the hinge's squeal. It set off the dog which lived next door and its barks woke the baby across the street. Lights flicked on and windows shut as the need for fresh air in the summer night was superseded by the need for quiet.

Derek tapped on the door using the duck-shaped door knocker. His wife had brought it back for them from Cornwall years before. They'd argued in the gift shop, Derek knowing that Bernard would hate it. "But Maureen loves ducks!" Sue insisted.

She won the argument and Maureen did love it. "Don't ever tell anyone you like an animal," Bernard said to him over a pint. "The buggers won't stop buying them for you. The Mrs had ten bloody ducks last Christmas. We're running out of places to put them."

The light in the hallway was switched on and revealed the stylised duck in the small stained glass panel set into the front door. Poor Bernard.


Bernard was in his dressing gown and it made him feel guilty. "You were in bed. Sorry."

"It's nearly midnight. What's wrong? Come in, come in."

"I didn't know what else to do," Derek shuffled in and Bernard closed the front door as quietly as possible.

"Who is it?" Maureen called down.

"Only Derek," Bernard replied.

"Is everything all right?"

"Yes, yes, go back to sleep, love." Bernard looked at him. "Come through to the kitchen, I'll put the kettle on."

Derek scratched his stubble as he followed Bernard. Now he was there, talking to someone else, he realised he must look a mess. He hadn't changed his clothes for three days and he still wasn't sure he'd made the right choice. And leaving the house for this long surely wasn't-

"Tea?" Bernard looked at him more critically under the fluorescent kitchen light. "Or whisky?"

"Whisky," Derek nodded.

Bernard went to a cabinet in the living room, poured two generous measures and came back to sit at the kitchen table. He pushed one of the glasses across to Derek who sat heavily, all too aware of the ache in his right forefinger.

"Is it Sue?"

Derek shook his head. It had all started with her but she wasn't the reason he was there. He took a long gulp of the whisky and then a deep breath. "It's the show. The flower competition."

"What about it?"

"I need to win." Derek took another gulp and stared at the duck on a nearby tea-towel, unable to look his friend in the eye. "I'll give you a thousand pounds if you choose my roses."

"Blood and sand!" Bernard straightened. "Are you trying to bribe me?"

"Of course I bloody am! You're one of the judges aren't you? And you're my friend aren't you?"

"Well, yes, but that doesn't mean I'll accept a bribe."

Derek felt a sharp stab of pain in his chest. This was what he'd feared the most. "I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

"It's just a flower show for goodness sake, what on Earth are you so worked up about?"

Derek banged a fist on the table. "It's not just a bloody flower show!"

The next door neighbour's dog started barking again. Bernard stared at him until he looked back down at the whisky. "Derek, I know things have been hard lately. I couldn't believe it when I saw your name on the entrants list… is this… I think this is something you've thrown yourself into as a way to cope. Like me and my shed. I go down there, potter about when the Mrs is driving me up the wall, it's my space, my thing. And there are no bloody ducks. It's natural. But it's gone too far if this is what-"

"Are you going to help me or not?" Derek cut in. He didn't want amateur counselling, he wanted a guarantee he would win!

Bernard's lips became a thin line and he shook his head. Derek stood and swayed a little. He hadn't eaten all day and the whisky was doing its job well. "I'll be going then, and I'll remember this the next time you're in trouble."

"What kind of trouble could winning first prize in a flower show possibly get you out of? Is this some silly bet with someone at work?"

"No," Derek headed for the door. "I can't talk about it."

"I want to help," Bernard said as he followed him. "But I'm not going to compromise my principles."

"It's only a bloody flower show, you said it yourself!" Derek opened the front door and left without looking back. He had to get back to the garden and make sure no-one interfered with the flowers.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Bernard said. "Hopefully you'll come to your senses after the contest."

"Will you keep the bloody noise down!" A neighbour shouted from a bedroom window as Derek hurried away. He should have spent the evening finding out where the other entrants lived so he could kill their roses instead of depending on a man who didn't even have the guts to stand up to his wife.

Now all he could do was go back to his garden and his shotgun and wait until dawn.

to be continued...
Part two is now up here.

Thanks for hosting, John!

No problem, Em!

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