From time to time, the writers over on writerlot.net challenge each other to step outside their comfort zone and write something in an unfamiliar genre. This first chapter of Double Up and Manage was a result of that challenge, and originally appeared on Writerlot in Spring 2012. Readers were kind, and the original story has now been worked up into a full-length novel, to be published as Tales of Revolution in autumn 2014.
The sun was sinking fast. Hana tried not to look behind, but to focus instead on the path through the trees. In daylight, with the sun shining and the lawns full of students, this was the friendliest place in the cities. At twilight the green trees turned black and the trimmed lawns began filling with shadows.
Hana glanced at her watch. Night school started in half an hour; which meant that the night students would start arriving any minute.
‘I’m not scared, I’m not scared,’ chanted Hana under her breath.
‘Well you should be,’ said a voice at her elbow.
Hana gave a startled cry and put her hand over her heart. It was Rido—of course. She’d seen the Nocturnal head boy a few times before when she’d accidentally stayed on too late, lost in a book or her homework.
‘Don’t sneak up like that!’ she squeaked. ‘You took me by surprise.’
‘That’s the whole point,’ he drawled. His voice was impossibly deep and soft. ‘I’ve warned you before, haven’t I? More than once. You won’t ever hear one of the night students approaching. You’re lucky it’s me.’
‘Oh for goodness sake!’ Hana tried to sound dismissive; she even tried a little laugh. ‘You make them sound like monsters or…’ She looked up into Rido’s face and her words died away. He was unspeakably handsome, with dark, almost black eyes, pale skin and long dark hair.
He smiled down at her and his teeth shone in light of the rising moon. ‘Not monsters,’ he said. ‘But not angels, either.’
‘Vampires?’ suggested Hana, fingering her long brown plaits.
He grinned more broadly. ‘Of course not.’
‘That’s really not your business, Hana. Your business is to be off the premises before nightfall, and my business is to make sure that you are.’
He put a hand under her elbow and a shot of electricity passed between them. Rido gave her a look of surprise and proceeded to escort her towards the gate.
‘Don’t you get tired of peering through the dark?’ asked Hana.
‘Don’t you get tired of squinting into the sun?’
He was laughing at her and she was piqued. ‘Are all the night students like you? You’re very arrogant, Rido.’
‘And you’re very late, Hana. If I find you on school premises this late again, I’m going to put you on report.’
Hana shuddered. Kids on report went missing; it happened all the time. Long ago, before the Western Wars, the kindly City Fathers had promised to clean things up. Back then the cities were dangerous and people were grateful for strong government. Within a matter of weeks the streets were clean again. No vagrants, no criminals, no questions asked. There was no hierarchy of misdemeanours. Rules were for obeying—all of them. She’d learned all about it in history lessons.
‘You won’t put me on report,’ said Hana, but her voice wavered.
‘No,’ said Rido. ‘You’re a good kid, you work hard. Too hard. But listen to me. Don’t let me catch you here again so close to dark.’
‘Rido!’ came a voice out of the shadows. ‘Can I borrow your homework?’
Rido’s grip on Hana’s elbow tightened as a golden youth appeared out of the trees. ‘Akira!’ called Rido in his lazy drawl. ‘You’re a slob, did anyone ever tell you that?’
‘All the time,’ said Akira cheerfully. ‘Well my word, what have you got there? Is that—is that a day student?’
Rido put Hana behind his back and took a step towards his friend. ‘Now, what would a day student be doing here after dark? It’s just Suzi Hamasaki.’ Under his breath he said, ‘Run home, Hana, as fast as you can.’
Hana took her chance; she turned tail and ran like the wind. She raced out of the school gates and down the streets, dimly aware of figures emerging from the shadows as she passed. She didn’t stop until she reached the front porch of her house.
Her parents were there, anxiously peering into the twilight.
‘Hana!’ said her father in an urgent undertone as she mounted the steps to join them. ‘How many times?’
The door to their house opened, and three figures stood in the doorway: a man, a woman, and a girl around the same age as Hana.
‘Good evening, Mrs Hamasaki,’ said Hana’s father, with a polite bow. ‘I apologise for detaining you.’
‘Not for the first time, Mr Takahashi,’ said Mrs Hamasaki in a voice like silk.
‘Very sorry,’ said Hana’s father again, making a deeper bow.
Hana and her parents shrank against the wall of the house as the Hamasakis glided out into the night air. Then the Takahashis hurried inside and closed and bolted the door.
Hana’s mother turned on her. ‘You risk too much!’ she said, and slapped her daughter hard across the cheek.
‘Now now,’ said Mr Takahashi. ‘The child is only trying to improve her grades. Work hard, little peach, but don’t be late again, hmm?’ He looked around the house. ‘Immaculate, as always. Set the table, mama, and we will eat and pretend it is the old days.’
But Mrs Takahashi had burst into tears. ‘I can’t stand it,’ she said. ‘I can’t stand this sharing. This is my house—my house. I hate that woman!’
‘Now, mama,’ said her husband, leaning over her. ‘Everything must be shared. It’s only right. And after all, we drew the long straw, remember? We have the daylight while they must creep around in the dark. That could have been us.’
He went over to Hana, who was silently crying at the stove, stirring the pan that Mrs Hamasaki had left bubbling there. ‘Smells delicious,’ he said, stroking his daughter’s red cheek. ‘We must leave them a nice breakfast in return.’
‘They grow more powerful by the week, these Nocturnals,’ said Mrs Takahashi through her tears. ‘When people live in the dark, they eventually turn to the dark. They have taken precedence in the workplace. How is it at school, Hana?’
‘The night students score better in all the tests,’ admitted Hana. ‘And…’ She faltered. ‘Well, Rido says it’s dangerous to be on site after dark.’
‘Of course it’s dangerous,’ snapped her mother. ‘The night makes them wild. Another of our Diurnal janitors has gone missing—can you imagine? The third in a month. They were all warned: clean up and get out before dark. It’s their own fault.’ She started pulling dishes out of the cupboard and setting the table for dinner. ‘And I’ve seen those Hamasakis, the way they stare at us. They want this house for themselves. Shared jobs, shared houses, shared schools—how much longer must we live this way?’
‘The Western Cities are nearly defeated,’ said Hana’s father soothingly. ‘Soon there’ll be plenty of room again. Then we’ll have our own house, day and night. Until then, we must double up and manage.’
Double up and manage: it was the government slogan. When the City Fathers split the population into Diurnals and Nocturnals, they split neighbours, friends, even families. Every citizen had his or her own Mirror. If you were a Diurnal schoolgirl, like Hana, your Nocturnal Mirror took your place at night. During the day Suzi Hamasaki slept in Hana Takahashi’s bed; during the night, Suzi took Hana’s place at school. Every life in the city was a twenty-four hour life shared by two people. Days were no longer divided into weeks and months; there was only Time. The City Fathers had doubled productivity and solved the space problem at a stroke.
Disadvantages arose. A Mirror couldn’t be found for the Takahashi’s neighbours, a family with six children, so the family had been split. The mother and three of the children became Diurnals, and the father and remaining children were assigned to the night. They met twice a day for only a moment, at dawn and dusk. They shared everything, except time.
‘The Nocturnals grow wild,’ grumbled Mrs Takahashi, as they sat at the table to eat. ‘I’m afraid.’
Hana thought of the shadows on the school lawn. Would Akira really have hurt her? Rido seemed to think so, and he should know. Then again, Rido was a Noct himself. Why would she trust him?
‘Who’s Rido?’ demanded her mother, as if reading her mind.
‘Who?’ said Hana.
‘You mentioned Rido. Who is he?’
‘He’s the head boy,’ said Hana.
Her father raised his head from his soup bowl. ‘I thought the head boy was Governor Shin’s son. Surely you don’t mean… head boy of the night school?’
‘Hana!’ cried her mother. ‘You’ve been mixing with Nocturnals? Tell me you’re not that stupid!’
‘Of course not, mother,’ said Hana. ‘Rido helped me to get out of school tonight, that’s all.’ She swallowed hard. ‘He was kind.’
‘He is a Nocturnal,’ said her father, his eyes narrowing. ‘They are all the same. We do not mix.’
‘I know that father. I have no plans to mix with Rido.’
Even if I had the chance, she thought.
Chapter 2: coming 24 June 2013
© Janet Allison Brown, 2013