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  • Writer's pictureElliot J Harper

Chapter One of New Gillion Street




I remember it like it was yesterday. The moon cluster had only just begun to brighten, the largest showing a sliver of her face in the twilight. The Street was awash with the sound of the residents enjoying themselves. Children played a game of ball from curb to curb, while their parents watched on. I waved a greeting before allowing myself a brief moment to revel in the beauty of the galaxy.

But I had pressing matters to take care of, and no amount of procrastination would prevent that. The evening was cool, so I dressed casually in trousers and a light jacket. Not smart as such, but careful to be free of any detritus from my garden. It was necessary to be taken seriously.

Dinner had been and gone, and our children were safely in bed, so I was now free to go and see Mr Zand. After some convincing, my wife, Lillian, had agreed to stay behind. I believed it was better that I go to speak to him alone. Despite my earlier anger, I was now willing to hear the man out. I set my jaw. Just across the road was my destination: Number 13.

New Gillion Street, named after the nation that had propelled humanity into the cosmos (following the great calamities that had befallen that formerly verdant world), appeared like an old-world street, or so my grandmother had explained when I was a child. The settlement had a pavement on either side of the road for access to each of the twenty detached two-storey dwellings. Streetlamps were dotted along the road for the dark nights, solar-powered, of course, much like everything else.

The Town Hall, home of the Committee, school, and medical facility, bookended the Street in the north. To the south was the Market, where the residents could collect food from the farm beyond, expertly cultivated by androids salvaged from the Crash. It really was a little patch of civility in an otherwise wild world.

When I arrived at the Odd side, I spied the inevitable twitch of the curtains of Number 19. I shook my head to show Mr Takashi that I wasn’t fazed by his meddlesome inspections. I continued north. A feeling of discomfort passed through me, that peculiar sensation of being observed. I walked faster and glanced over to my side of the Street, the Even side, for moral support, but I was also met with opened curtains. Clearly, I was the talk of the Street.

I came to Mr Zand’s house. The front garden was impeccably kept. The lawn was mowed to the right length, with brightly-coloured plants below the lounge window. I was impressed. I stepped up to the door, rapped twice, settled back with my hands behind my back, and waited. I tried to ignore my reflection in the small window of the door. I was a little more rounded around the waistline and a touch greyer at the temples. My auburn hair was a tad thinner and there were a few more lines on my forehead and eyes than I recalled, but then that’s life, I guess.


A minute passed and I considered knocking again, but the door abruptly swung inward to reveal Mr Zand, his pallid face beaming with delight.

“Mr Smith, what a wonderful surprise,” he exclaimed. “What can I do for you this fine evening?”

The quiddity of his accent threw me off. It was like no other on New Gillion Street. I’d never really thought to pry into his ancestry, but I had always wondered. He was ostensibly dressed for visitors, besuited in blue tweed with polished black shoes.

Not only had his shoes survived the Crash, but he had kept them spotless in the interim, which I had to say was quite the achievement. Still, it was a little formal for my tastes.

I’d not had much to do with the fellow, what with him being on the Odd side of the Street, but on the rare occasions I had spoken to him I had always found him a little peculiar. He seemed to have been one of the oldest residents of our colony for as long as I, or my parents for that matter, could remember. From what I could gather, he was well respected by the Odds... but there was something about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My first thought when I saw him that evening was that he must have excellent genes. His pale face was devoid of any meaningful creases.

I returned his smile and composed myself. “Good evening! I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time. You look as though you’re about to step out?”

Nothing that cannot wait, my dear fellow,” replied Mr Zand with a chuckle and then gestured into his home. “Will you please come in? I can fix you some refreshment.”

Before I could accept, Mr Zand turned on his heels and went inside. “Go into the lounge and make yourself at home, my good man,” he called over his retreating shoulder, “I won’t be more than a moment.”

I stepped inside. It was the first time I’d ever been in his house, and first impressions were agreeable. I could smell the faint but pleasant aroma of burning firewood, tinged with something else I couldn’t quite place.

I hung my jacket and went straight to the lounge. An open fire provided most of the light. The gyrating flames gave the room an eerie ambience, and its heat quickly warmed me. The room was elegant, with two chairs sat in the centre of the room, adorned with hemp cushions. They stood on a beautiful rug, a relic of Taldreel from our home world, Yuthea, with its twisting crimson and flaxen weave. Inevitably it was aged, having travelled such a great distance, and dull and frayed at the edges. Above the fireplace hung an old star map of our local galaxy, with our colony’s position highlighted in red. Curiously, there were other points noted, but ones that I was unaware of.

The fireplace and the map encompassed one wall, the front window another, while the remaining two were comprised of bookshelves. I inspected their contents, running my finger along the battered tomes. A few of them caught my eye, classics from Gillion, which had survived the journey here. Nirvana Misplaced by Reginald Maltby, Propaganda and Other Startling Ideas by Mittie Callan, and a particularly worn copy of The Master of the Deception by Gordon Burke. The list was endless, book after book, largely non-fiction with a focus on politics and philosophy.

“Admiring my collection, Mr Smith?”

Caught in the act, I turned my attention away from the bookshelf and found Mr Zand in the doorway holding a tray bedecked with a pot of tea, cups, and a jug of milk, all fashioned from ceramic. Framed under the jamb, I noticed how short he was. He was roughly half my size, with a bald head and white hair trimmed on the sides to match the neatly sculpted beard on his chin. He had donned some ancient silver glasses, which perched on the tip of his nose.

“Very much so, Mr Zand,” I remarked. “It’s still a wonder to me that so many books survived the Crash, but this is certainly an impressive collection by any standard.”

Mr Zand seemed pleased with the compliment and inclined his head. “Thank you, my dear fellow. As you can see, I’ve gathered them over the years and fixed them up.” He gestured towards the chairs. “Now make yourself comfortable by the fire, and I shall prepare you a spot of tea. How do you take it? Milk? Sugar?”

I sat on the seat nearest to me, the heat of the fire warming my face. “Just milk. No sugar, thank you. I’m sweet enough.”

Mr Zand chuckled, laid the tray down and poured two cups. He passed one to me, gathered his own, and sat down.

He took a dainty sip of his tea and smacked his lips. “Wonderful.” He crossed his legs and fixed his gaze upon me, slighting cocking his head. I took the cue and sipped my own beverage, lifting the cup in approval.

“So then, Mr Smith,” said Mr Zand, rather formally. “How can I help you on this fine Neo-Yuthean evening?”

I took another sip of tea and collected my thoughts before making my case.

“Mr Zand, we had a visitor today, Mrs Hughes from Number 11. She gave us a... shall we say, leaflet. In it, I read some very strong statements about New Gillion Street and the upcoming election. It talks about the Odd side of the Street and yourself. Now, I don’t want to appear rude, but some of these statements made this leaflet appear to be a kind of manifesto. I decided it would be best to speak to you directly about the matter. What’s this all about?”

There, it was done.

I had studied that manifesto, which had been thrust under my door by Mrs Hughes, with increasing alarm. It talked about the protection of New Gillion Street, about expansion, about prosperity. I didn’t have much to do with the Odds, and I made certain that I avoided Mrs Hughes in particular. She was a detestable woman.

Most disconcerting of all, that grubby little manifesto had talked about Mr Zand being an ‘inspirational’ leader, who would be integral to the ‘inevitable’ conflict to come. It was my opinion that the original inhabitants of Neo-Yuthea had kept to their word, and so should we. What was Mr Zand thinking? All that talk of protection, as though the indigenous were a threat. They had never given us any reason to fear them. A short silence passed as we each took another sip of our teas.

Mr Zand gazed into the twirling flames of the fire, and his eyes seemed to glaze over. He came back to life and fixed me with a grave stare. “Mr Smith, my dear fellow. I understand your concern, and I appreciate you coming to speak to me about this matter. You can rest assured that the Odds and I take these matters very seriously. Together, we can help protect New Gillion Street...”

“Excuse me, Mr Zand,” I interjected, “I’m not sure we’re singing from the same song sheet. It’s not the details of the leaflet, although they do worry me, but the leaflet’s very existence that’s causing me the most bother.”

Mr Zand lifted an eyebrow. “Its existence, Mr Smith?”

“Yes, its existence,” I continued, after another brief mouthful of tea. “It looks to me very much like a political manifesto. And it seems to be appealing to everyone in New Gillion Street with the upcoming Quadrennial Committee Election in mind. Is that its intention?”

Mr Zand peered at me over the top of his glasses. The fire crackled and spluttered to one side, briefly illuminating his inexpressive face. “That is correct,” he responded.

His blasé attitude was shocking.

“Mr Zand,” I said firmly, “never in the history of New Gillion Street has there been any kind of political manifesto. We have always voted to remain as we are, so that we can live in peace for the sake of the Committee and its continued compromise. Are you telling me that all those years were for nothing?”

Mr Zand took another sip, and I was sure I saw a smirk upon his face just as the ceramic touched his lips.

“Times change, Mr Smith.” I felt my fingers twitch.

“Need I remind you,” I snapped, “that we’re guests on this planet? We made agreements that we’ve maintained for many years. This... this manifesto of yours, casts doubt upon those agreements, and I, for one, will not stand for it. And I’m sure the other Evens will feel the same way.”

Such was my irritation that it all came out in a rush. Now that I’d finished my piece, I placed the cup and saucer back on the tray and stood. Mr Zand, his legs still crossed, slowly sipped his tea. I couldn’t believe the gall of the man.

“If you’ve nothing else to say to me, Mr Zand, I shall see myself out.”

Despite my agitated demeanour, he didn’t seem to care. He just remained where he was, so I headed for the lounge door, muttering. Before I could leave, Mr Zand spoke again.

“My dear fellow, you cannot stop what’s about to happen. Times change.”

He raised his cup to his lips, greedily gulping the hot liquid, some of it dribbling down his chin. When it was empty, he deposited the cup in the saucer in his hand with a clang, and returned to watching the swaying flames of the fire. Clearly, I had been dismissed. I strode through the hallway and departed his abode without another word.



Out on the Street, I resumed my incensed muttering. I stormed back home, ignoring the rustle of curtains. I found Lillian in our lounge quietly reading a book.

She looked up as soon as I walked in. “Hello, darling. How was your talk with Mr Zand...” she began, but her face immediately became a picture of concern. “I can see from the look on your face that it didn’t go well.”

“That man is intolerable,” I whispered furiously, so as not to wake the children. “He just sat there and told me times are changing. He didn’t even deny the existence of the manifesto, or his obvious involvement. He did nothing but drink tea and informed me, in that strange accent of his, that all our fears are true. What are we going to do?”

“Now, darling,” she whispered back, placing her book on the arm of the chair. “There’s no need to go flying off the handle. So far, we only know that Number 11 is with Mr Zand. For all we know, that might only be it on the Odd side. As for the Even side, I highly doubt they’ll buy into this nonsense.”

Lillian was, without a doubt, the bedrock of my family. She liked to speak her mind, usually for good. She was compassionate and affectionate and, of course, knowledgeable, hence why she was one of the resident teachers. I was lucky that she had taken a liking to me when there had been other, more handsome individuals on offer. I still really don’t know why she chose me.

She came to sit with me and put her arm around my shoulders.

“Okay, okay,” I grumbled. “I see what you mean. You should’ve seen him, though, dear. That smug look. I don’t know how you can be so composed about this.”

Lillian smiled. “That’s just what I do, darling.” She pecked my cheek. “Now, come on. It’s time for bed. We can deal with this tomorrow. I suggest that you go and see what the others think on this side of the Street. You know we Evens have always thought sensibly. I’m sure calmer heads will prevail.”

Although I didn’t disagree with her, I had the most curious sensation that a dark cloud had formed over New Gillion Street. “Okay, dear. You know best. I’ll go next door tomorrow and see what they think of this nonsense.”

 


I hope you enjoyed Chapter One of New Gillion Street. If this has piqued your interest, then click the links at the bottom of this blog.

 


Thanks for reading.

 


Elliot J Harper

 

Author of New Gillion Street, available to buy directly from Fly on the Wall Press, Waterstones, and Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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