It is precisely twenty two seconds past four in the afternoon, and the weather is as overcast as the British stereotype demands. Today is one of those miserably insipid kinds of day when it seems to everyone in the country that the sun didn't bother to get up out of bed this morning. And, to be fair to everyone concerned, it probably didn't.
There is a grey-dirt gravel path that twists alongside the library; it's an ongoing trail of silken sludge that doesn't seem to end. As far as anyone can see, it leads to the graveyard - but even the very bravest haven't had quite enough nerve to check.
No one normally goes into the graveyard, but today a boy is hurrying staunchly down the path with no apparent thought to turn back. The boy is just above average height and has curly dark hair that sits like a small but portable hedge on the top of his head. It is not entirely clear why he is going to the graveyard, but the figure following him resolves to find out. The figure's features cannot yet be documented - not because they have none, for it would be absurd if they didn't - but because under the silken shroud of the silver-streaked sky they are entirely indistinguishable.
Maybe that's for the better.
It is precisely thirty seven seconds after five past four, and the boy has reached the graveyard. Instead of continuing down the path that will eventually take him through the new estate of houses, the boy abandons the route and perches on a tomb stone. The engraving reads:
DIED TRAGICALLY DEFENDING THE HIERARCHY OF OUR SOCIETY ON 19TH OF APRIL,2038
A LOVING MOTHER, WIFE, AND DAUGHTER
SHE WILL BE SORELY MISSED
ALSO HER WIFE
PASSED AWAY ON 28TH NOVEMBER, 2045
SHE WILL BE REMEMBERED BY ALL OUR FOND HEARTS
The boy does not read the tomb stone. He doesn't have to, because he already knows the gist of what it will say. They all say the same kind of thing, after all. He bites his lip, then clambers off the grave and goes to sit on the grass. It is wet, and the day hasn't quite burnt away the dew yet, but it is better than the grave.
The boy is waiting.
The figure that followed him lurks between the earth and the air. And the figure is watching.
The time is exactly twelve and a half minutes past four. The boy’s name is Basil Anderson. It seems important to point out that Basil is only fifteen, and his school finished for the day at least half an hour ago. This means that if Basil was Straight he would not have been able to divert from his usual walk home and follow the path to the graveyard. Luckily, Basil was given the all clear at birth when they tested him with the sensors and discovered he was Gay. Basil gets allowances, as a Gay. He is allowed to stay out late after school. He gets priority in the lunch queue, and gets the best education the government offers. He is allowed things that people tested straight aren’t.
Basil is not allowed to go to the grave yard. No one but officials can go to the graveyard. Basil is not an official.
According to his teachers and his parents and his history books, there are no other options but Straight or Gay. Exceptions don't exist, in the parallel lines that make up society. They never have, ever.
When Basil looks at his watch, the time now says quarter past four. He is still waiting. He pulls at the grass in annoyance, twining the long green stems round his fingers like wedding rings. Maybe, he thinks to himself, he should just go. Maybe there isn’t any point in waiting any longer. He scratches his head, before pulling himself to his feet. He will wait five more minutes, and then he will leave.
If he waits here much longer he might get caught.
Basil is paranoid someone is watching him, and for good reason.
Twenty minutes and three seconds past four, Basil grits his teeth, blinks back tears and resolves to go back the way he came.
Forty-six seconds later a girl strides along the crushed-rock path and collides with Basil. He is dragging his feet along the ground like a spoilt child, and it's fitting, because that's all he is - a spoilt child.
The girl jolts back, her eyes automatically squeezing shut. Her cheeks blaze red and then white as the colour drains and leaves a mist of gilt-edged horror.
She's frightened she's bumped into an official but she opens her eyes slowly, facing up to her fate. They bulge, and in another time or another place she might seem comical or melodramatic. Basil lifts his fingers to tilt her chin up to face him, and she inhales with a sharp relief as she recognises him as her lover. It cuts her body into slithers, her relief, and then it winds it like string across the graveyard, decking the dead with all the ecstasy and expectations of unrequited love.
“Baz…” she whispers urgently. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be so late, but I had to climb out the freakin’ window to get here, like someone from one of those bleedin’ novels you love to read so much. God, Baz, are you mad at me? Don’t be mad at me, Baz, you have to understand how goddamn hard it is for me to be with you…”
Basil nods, and he is not cross. He tells her that he understands.
Except he doesn’t.
The girl is a registered Straight. She is in the minority group, the penalised group, and it’s written in Basil’s standardised Holy Book that she and all the other Straights will go to Hell. It's an unbelievable kindness, his parents tell him, that the babies aren’t killed the minute they’re detected by the sensors as hetero. His parents are doctors. They’re clever. They know things like that, and they’re usually right about them.
Basil is privileged. Basil is registered as Gay. He has been since birth, and he has no idea about what it’s like to be shunned by the majority of the population. Basil doesn’t know what it’s like to hate every part of yourself down to your core, not really.
He shouldn’t even be speaking to this girl. Minimum contact between Straights and Gays is compulsory. She is a Bad Influence, and if they ever get caught here together, she’ll be the one who is punished more harshly.
His brow folds in on itself like crumpled paper. At birth, babies are registered Gay or Straight. That becomes their label for life - and their label decides everything about them, from their income to their happiness. The labels never change, because, according to his parents who are doctors and know everything about everything, sexuality is not a fluid.
And yet Basil thinks it must be - he's never before felt anything like what he feels for this girl, not for any boy. Sexuality must be just the same as thoughts, or ideas, or movement - a shifting, changing liquid that glides from one state into another as seamlessly as tears flake into glass.
That, or he was incorrectly registered at birth - only, that's not possible because the authorities are the people that tested him, and the authorities are never wrong.
Basil sighs, and his anxiety drifts away as he looks at the girl - her golden hair falling languidly about her beautiful, heart-shaped face. Her lips are like crinkled cherries, or the petals that fall from the flowers of sunrise.
"I’m not mad at you, Cris. God, I could never be mad at you, not you, not ever,” says Basil, and then he doesn’t say anything else because he’s kissing her, wildly, and passionately, and as if they’ll never have this chance again, and maybe they won’t.
It is almost twenty six minutes past four o'clock, and a figure stands in the shadows of the graveyard. It watches a boy and a girl, who are kissing like the world is crumbling into dust around their feet and for them it might be. The boy is called Basil, and the girl is called Cris. They kiss like their kiss is going to shake the world. They kiss like they do not know, or do not truly care about the consequences.
The boy is a registered Gay, and the girl is a registered Straight. The figure is neither.
Time divides itself into the present and the future at halfway through the hour. It is half past four now, and the grey sky is gradually melting into a solitary black. The figure reaches what might or might not be its hand to what might or might not be its head, and flicks what might or might not be a switch by what might or might not be its ear. Its voice is cracked and hoarse - as if it had shattered into fragments long ago but no one cared enough to fix it with anything more than sticky tape. Its grating texture doesn’t seem to bother the figure, or maybe it’s just used to it.
“Location J35. Boy, registered Gay. Girl, registered Straight,” it says, in such a stilted, uncerimonious way it’s like it is delivering a line from a play rather than a death sentence.
In the near future a siren sounds; the signal of the Government blaring so loudly that everyone with ears knows that THIS IS WHAT WILL GREET YOU IF YOU DISOBEY SOCIETY’S RULES. Although the lovers will not hear it in time to run away, but the figure has already departed.
Even if they ran now, they wouldn’t be fast enough. The sad fact is, they are only human and the authorities are everywhere. Anywhere. Infinite.
They are more expansive than the sky, with its all seeing eyes. The girl and the boy will not escape, not from them.
Eight days later, the girl’s head lolls in the grip of a hang-man’s noose, and the boy’s screams can be heard across every unanswered ripple and smear in the time stream. He is now a registered Straight. It is a grace fuelled by their own weak will that they still let him into their home, his parents tell him.
He is lucky. The girl was not.
It is precisely twenty two seconds past four in the afternoon, and the weather is overcast.
Cris will never know the weather, or the time, again.