'PARALLEL CIRCLES'

The following is the opening chapter from 'PARALLEL CIRCLES' - a 'Gorjis' digital audio release for immediate download. Click the PLAY button and read along.

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'PARALLEL CIRCLES'

CHAPTER 1

It hadn't snowed in December for decades. The last time was before the 2017 English civil war. Tonight, however, the sky was heavy. Thousands of independent flakes fell in swirling, silent circles and formed a unified white blanket that smothered all below.

A girl, in an elegant warm coat, emerged from a bright city centre doorway and stepped out on to a cold and dark, relatively remote and secluded Manchester square. It was 803pm and, like every state controlled bar in the capital, obeyed the 8pm alcohol curfew and had promptly closed for the night. Although she thought otherwise, she wasn't the last to leave.

As she moved out from the doorway and in to a dark Christmas Eve night, the sudden disparity of temperature between the warmth of the bar and the cold of the square made her cheeks red and tinged her lips light blue.

The December snow was so unusual that, entranced, she looked up into the night sky but soon needed to wipe her distinctive round glasses with her gloved left hand. As she circled the glass with one finger, the left lens remained stubbornly smeared. To exacerbate her blurred vision, her focus shimmered from the champagne.

As a consequence, even though the falling snow was heavy, it was difficult to clearly make out the white of the flakes against the black night. They took on a sinister, near invisible presence of vague movement.

The girl vacillated from one foot to the other trying to keep warm. She hadn't felt this cold in December since she was 7 when the relentless annual winter rain finally forced her father to migrate the family north to the new capital from the southern wetlands.

After much political manoeuvring, Manchester became the capital of England as a symbolic gesture not long after the civil war ended. Of course, the fact that much of Southern England was consistently flooded during winter played its part too. Parliament had little choice. It had to relocate.

Situated at the corner of a small square and circled by high imposing buildings, the heavy door behind the girl slammed like a prison and reverberated like a church as if to audibly signal they had obeyed the law. The slam was quickly followed by the light from the door's frosted glass being snuffed out as its curfew blind was pulled down like a closed eyelid. It was as if whatever happened outside in the night would be ignored.

Despite her continual circling on the left lens of her glasses with her gloved finger, it remained smudged and, consequently, forced her to focus with her right eye. She squinted in to the snow dark night looking for a 'Light-Your-Route' pay machine that, once paid for and programmed with an address, would map out and illuminate the necessary lights on the six streets she would walk on her way home. The quickest route was only three streets but wasn't safe after the curfew.

She saw the familiar blue 'LYR' logo on a machine across Cameron Square but, as she approached it, realised it had been vandalised. Oddly, it had only been damaged. There was none of the ubiquitous anti-government graffiti. Only the card payment slot had been damaged. Something had been jammed in it to stop it working and there were no further 'LYR' machines within sight.

'Oh well. It'll save me €195!' she mumbled to herself. So, with a champagne fuelled self-reassuring nervous sigh, she resigned herself to walking home on the unlit snow covered roads. Anyway, it was possible someone else would have used a different 'LYR' to light his or her route home and coincidentally illuminate some of the same six streets.

She was apprehensive but the champagne had reduced her nervousness of walking home on her own. Nevertheless, despite willing to pay €195 for an 'LYR' machine, she was reluctant to pay €800 for an 'AloneDrone' to fly above her. Yes, it would record her movements with one camera and search ahead with its other camera but she felt a day's pay was far too expensive for the 3km journey. Besides, it was very rare these days to hear about incidents with the type of person her father's wealth and position had taught her to stigmatise.

She shuddered as she started to walk and crunched and compressed the snow beneath her feet whilst shielding her face from the cold with her gloved right hand. It made conclusively identifying her from a distance difficult, more so in the dark.

That said, even up close, it was hard to tell the girl's age other than she was in her twenties. In fact, she looked like any other politician's daughter. She was expensively dressed and her hair, short and dark like the winter solstice, was now sodden from the swirling snow.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket. After removing her left glove, she slid the phone from the warmth of her cashmere coat to view a Christmas Eve video message from her father.

'See you tomorrow,' he said. 'Bring a nice red. But make sure he's blue.' She grimaced at how her father never tired of making the same joke. 'And if you're out, please use an 'LYR'. Put it on my expense account - the PM is too distracted at the moment to notice!'

She smiled and continued the journey home whilst clutching the phone tightly in her left hand. She used its battery to provide partial light as she pointed its torch at her feet. The snow fell faster and even harder now and made walking in her expensive but impractical boots increasingly difficult.

As she crunched along the penultimate street, she was distracted by a text message. She drew the phone up to eye level to read it as she continued walking. It was from Sebastian. In the dead December darkness, the phone's faint light reflected in her glasses and momentarily illuminated her face. She dug deep into her cashmere coat to keep warm.

Unaware, she approached a man in a wet anorak. As each distracted step brought her closer to him, he watched her intently whilst hidden in the darkness of a doorway half way along the other side of Freedom Road.

He held a photograph of her at eye level in ungloved hands. His eyes flicked between the photograph and what he could see of her across the dark road. The glasses and hair and coat were right. But why wasn't she limping? He couldn't be certain it was Emily Hatton and, consequently, pushed himself further back into the doorway and watched her pass.

 

CHAPTER 2

To ensure Emily hadn't been inadvertently followed by other revellers whilst he had taken the shorter route to get ahead, 43 year old Daniel Code shivered in the doorway and waited. He futilely pushed his now numb hands deep into his wet anorak pockets, pulled his hood tighter and stood slowly rocking from one foot to the other for over 20 minutes before retracing his steps back towards Salford Toll Bridge.

If he was to have another opportunity on New Year’s Eve, Code needed to be certain of not having been seen. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve were the only two days of the year Emily couldn't make use of her father's chauffeur.

By the time Code felt confident he had waited long enough not to have been followed - or accidentally filmed by a free, Google sponsored data mining 'AloneDrone' - in the distance, he heard St Margaret's church clock chime 10 times to indicate midnight and headed towards it.

Even after all this time, Code didn't like days being divided up in this manner. 'Decimal Time', in his opinion, was an idiotic initiative idealistically introduced to symbolise equality after the civil war ceasefire. It wasn't that Code thought making an hour 72 minutes long instead of 60 minutes confusing. After all, he had once been a maths teacher. It was simply that he felt it was another facile concession drawn up by out of touch politicians that promised much but delivered nothing of any value.

It was now 1003 and the relentless falling snow had eased a little. Code pulled down his hood as he approached the unmanned toll bridge that charged only those on foot or, in other words, those who could least afford it - the unemployed.

Code knew he would need to attempt casual respectability for the remotely operated camera so he rubbed his numb fingers through his hair, short and dark like his temper, and pulled out his Unemployed Debit Card.

Code realised later the mistake he made was not noticing his numb fingers also pulled out the photograph of Emily from his wet anorak pocket and it had dropped into the snow where it remained buried until the first week of January when the ice finally started to melt.

CHAPTER 3

With her gloves removed in preparation, Emily stepped up to her doorway, lightly pressed her right thumb against the scanner and entered December's four digit pass code. The door clicked open and light flooded out from within and momentarily illuminated the 200 year old oak tree across the road that, during the hot months, obscured the view from her bedroom window towards the run down suburb of Warrington around 30km to the west.

The security door gently closed behind her trapping and cocooning the heat and light once more. Emily carelessly flung her coat over the bannister and shouted up the stairs 'Anyone home? Are you in? Sebastian?'

There was no answer from her younger brother so, drawn by the aroma of Mexican chicken in the slow cooker, Emily walked into the warm kitchen. She hadn't eaten since before 4pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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