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Beyond the Grid

Beyond the Grid

Written by: Diana Strenka

Publisher: Diana Strenka

Year Published: 2015

Shakespir Edition, License Notes:

Thank you for downloading this eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite eBook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

Note: Characters and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

About the Author

Chapter 1

The Armed filled the gloomy landscape, their machine guns pointed in our direction. I stood in line, which stretched for miles with no end in sight. We were all worn down with exhaustion and hunger, and the wails of the frightened among me echoed between my ears.

I watched as an elderly woman collapsed, dead. A young boy touched the lifeless corpse in front of him and began sobbing. “No!” he cried, holding her close. “Get away!” the Armed commanded, tearing the grief-stricken child off his loved one. They quickly dispatched upon the dead body, dragging her away like yesterday’s trash. And she was just one person of many to die that day.

There would be many more in the Descent Beyond the Grid, as the Armed liked to call it. As for me, I considered it a Trail of Tears, where we were forced from our homes into exile. I am Scarlet, and this is my story.

Chapter 2

Under the harsh fluorescent lighting of this prison, I could not tell how much time had passed. All I knew was that my feet, wrapped tightly in cloth rags, burned like they were on fire. I reached into my pocket, and took out a small portrait of my parents. They had been taken by the Armed many days ago, and I hadn’t seen them since. My heart throbbed in the center of my chest. I could only hope they were okay.

“Next,” muttered a gruff-looking man in a grey suit. He and several others sat along a long table, studying us like lab specimens.

“Name?”

“Scarlet Calaber,” I responded, my voice shaking in fright.

A man with grey hair scribbled some notes on a pad of paper. “Your new name is Xenan Xeaon.” I shuddered. Xenan Xeaon, or XX for short. All the women were given the initials XX, and all the men were given the initials XY. It was a reminder that we were nothing more than a random assortment of chromosomes.

“Prepare now for your Descent Beyond the Grid,” instructed one of the men, as one of the Armed approached the door.

Chapter 3

It creaked open, revealing a dark abyss. As soon as I stepped through, the door slammed shut behind me. I was trapped. I noticed the faint glow of some nearby wall torches, which stood a slight contrast among the catacombs. I took one cautious step after the other. I felt a dizzy spell overtake me, and paused to regain my senses.

I was completely alone in this stairwell. I could scarcely imagine why I was abandoned here. Was it psychological torture of some kind? I could only wonder what my parents had to endure as they, too, had to walk these same steps. Where were they being kept now? Would I ever see them again? I took a deep breath to stifle the sadness buried deep inside.

The silence in the stairwell was deafening. I could hear the screams from those who waited in line still rattling in my brain. The loud thuds of people collapsing from expiration. The scuffing sounds of bodies being dragged away. The noiseless cries of those who endured their trials by maintaining their stoicism. The fear of what was to come attacked me like a tidal wave. What could I do to quiet the chaos inside of me?

I gripped the railing tightly with my hand. It was the only thing supporting me on my journey downward. I felt reassured by its presence.

My legs robotically trudged on as I descended this never-ending set of stairs. My thighs resisted emphatically, clamping up underneath my garments and causing me considerable distress. I quietly endured the weariness of my body in the hopes that it would all be over soon.

Relief washed over my body as I had finally dismounted the final step. At the bottom of the stairs, there was an expansive room which was far more illuminated. The smell was the first thing I noticed. Rotting flesh permeated every inch of this space. The torch lights revealed the added horror of bodies mounted on top of each other in a heap. The realization of the sheer number of people who did not survive their descent was overwhelming. Some had fallen to their deaths, while others had simply collapsed under the strain of the exertion. Men and women, young and old, gathered together in one equalizing act of dehumanization.

There was a gathering of the Armed who were overseeing this space. One of them approached me. He nodded in the direction of the steel door. I grasped the knob, which felt cold and uninviting. As I opened the door, I was startled back into reality. Then, two hands forcibly pushed me into this space before the door closed behind me. Trapped.

Chapter 4

I pounded on the door. “Let me back in! Let me in!” I cried. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. All I knew was that this room was even more terrifying than the last.

Two hands squeezed my shoulders before forcibly turning me to face forward. I was led to a simple white table which was filled with people dressed in unusual costumes. Their faces were obscured by heavy silver suist, so I could not identify any individual human features. It felt very alien and foreign.

I just wanted to go home.

“Xenan Xeaon, you have arrived. It is time for you to begin your new living assignment.”

“Wha-what assignment?” I stammered.

“You are assigned to Living Area A. You are not permitted to go behind your area’s boundaries, nor are you permitted to leave the Beyond the Grid at any time.”

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. “What will I eat? Where will I sleep? ”

“That is up to you,” he answered. “Food is available there. Goodbye.”

I sighed. I didn’t like the sound of it, not one bit.

It didn’t take long until I was, once again, shoved into a vast unknown.

Chapter 5

It was dark as midnight, other than the bonfires that dotted the horizon. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke. The air was so icy and dry that I had to rub my arms to try to warm up. Shadows scurried along the fire’s glow like demons. It truly was like hell on earth.

Only, I wasn’t on earth. I had no idea where I actually was.

I reached down and touched the ground. It was cool to the touch. As I walked in the direction of the bonfire, I quickly realized there was rock beneath my feet. Where was I that no grass can grow? I wondered.

Under the glow of the fire, I saw an elderly woman wearing a scarf over her head and warming her hands. “Excuse me madam; where am I?” I asked her. She laughed and shook her head. I instead approached a younger man on the other side of it. “Where am I?” I asked him.

He gave me a standoffish look. “Where I come from, it’s customary to introduce oneself before asking such questions!” he retorted.

“I apologize. My assigned name is Xenan Xeaon, but my real name is Scarlet,” I replied.

“Xyler Yonae, but you can call me Brad,” he responded, saluting me.

“Oh! Were you in the Armed?” I asked him.

He laughed. “I was a Lieutenant, of course! Lieutenant Bradley Weaver. I was discharged from service when I refused to cater to their mind games any longer.”

I went silent. It was dangerous to speak badly about the Grand Society. To do so was to be guilty of treason, punishable in the eyes of the law. Or so, it would seem.

“You really ought to be more careful,” I urged him. “You know what happens when people speak badly of the Grand Society.”

He laughed. “Yeah. They end up here! Real shame, isn’t it? So, what did you do to get yourself here?”

“I have no idea! I have done nothing that would offend Grand Society,” I insisted.

“Someone turned you in, or you would still be on the Grid with the others,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Right, so I am ‘Beyond the Grid.’ But where exactly is ‘Beyond the Grid?’”

He laughed once again, his beard twitching under his movements. “They don’t want us to know where we are. They are afraid we will try to escape. If I ever find out, you will be the first to know.”

I nodded, then took a seat on a large rock beside him. I desperately needed to rest.

Chapter 6

That night, I had a dream. I was back in my pottery shop, making ceramic plates. I smiled in recognition of my creations which hung on the wall like masterpiences. As I placed the plates inside of the kiln, its warmth soothed my nerves. Here, I was home.

The old woman’s coughing jolted me back to my current reality. The young man stood over me, throwing wood chips into the fire. “Morning,” he chuckled.

“Morning, Brad,” I answered him. I rubbed my eyes, which burned from the fire’s thick smoke. I was going to have to get used to this. “Brad, where did you find the trees to get those wood chips? The ground is made of stone!”

He chortled. “That doesn’t stop the trees!”

Puzzled, I asked him to lead me to the place where the trees grew. I held onto his arm as he guided me through the eternal night, with only a torch to light the way. “Here we are,” he announced. Cautiously, I reached out and touched the bark. It was bumpy…and brittle. Just touching it was enough for it to fall apart in my hands. It was barely clinging to the tree, decorating it like a series of ribbons.

“This bark is brittle!” I commented.

“Yes, of course! If it weren’t, the Grand Society would have to give us tools like hatchets and axes. We live Beyond the Grid. Do you think they would want us to be able to defend ourselves?”

I dropped my eyes. “No, I suppose not,” I whispered. My mind wandered to the weeping willow trees, oak trees, and evergreens that existed on the Grid. I would never again get to experience their beauty and wonder. I wiped away a stray tear that had managed to roll down my cheeks.

“Time to make our way back,” he declared. “We can’t be away from the group for too long.”

“Are there dwellings here? I would hate to have to sleep out by that fire every day.”

“No. When I was sent here, I asked that very question. I was told that it was not permitted as Grand Society would not be able to monitor our actions in there. It’s too private of a gathering place, apparently.”

I shuddered. It reminded me how the slaves in the Civil War in the 1860s were not allowed to congregate, either. Was I deemed to be an equal to a slave in the eyes of Grand Society?

Chapter 7

As we found our place near the bonfire, I felt something sharp poking in my pocket. I pulled out the portrait which I had hastily stuffed in my pocket the day I had been sent to live in exile. Though the fire’s glow was very dim, I could faintly make out the details of my parents’ faces. I tried to stifle the pain I felt inside. I didn’t want Brad to think I was weak.

Brad sensed what I was feeling. “Is this your family?” he asked. I nodded. “Yeah, I understand. Did you leave them behind on the Grid?”

“No; my family was sent to live Beyond the Grid several days ago,” I admitted. “Do you think they might be here?”

“Give me that picture. I’ll let you know,” he said.

Brad leaned forward towards the fire and squinted as he looked at the image. “No; I’m sorry, I’ve not seen anyone that looks like this. It is possible that they traveled farther away and are living with another group. Or…” He paused.

I nodded sadly. He didn’t have to finish his sentence. I didn’t want to think that they had perished, but unfortunately there was a chance.

“Do you have a family?” I asked.

“I lived alone with my father. He was killed by the Armed when he refused to be taken to exile. I have no other family,” he informed me.

“I want to help you find your parents,” he said, resting his hand on my shoulder. “I think there’s a good chance they are alive.”

Chapter 8

My stomach gurgled in desperation. “Hungry?” he asked, smiling. I nodded emphatically. “Don’t worry. We are about to have our dinner.”

Dinner? What could it be? There were no edible plants to speak of, and I couldn’t see any animals. Would we have to resort to eating the stones off the ground? Or worse: each other?

An older man dragged a large carcass over to the bonfire. “Put it on the spit,” Brad requested. I watched as the older man and a few other men in the group hoisted the large animal on a wooden spit. I studied it carefully under the fire’s glow. I had never seen anything like it.

It had jagged white teeth that hung out of its enormous mouth. Black, beady eyes stared into the abyss. The gray skin loosely hung over its bones. Something forked at the bottom caught my eye.

“Fins,” remarked the old woman, her eyes wide as saucers. “These are fins. We have dubbed this creature a sharkan, which is a relative of the shark. The sharks live in the ocean. Have you heard of the ocean, young lady?”

“My grandparents, when they were alive, used to tell us different stories about that. Something about how they had to ‘keep the ocean out.’”

“Yes! That’s exactly right. The governments around the world had to construct walls along the coast. They told us how the ocean water was rising and would flood us all unless we did it. Walls as high as 5 miles stand along each coastline in our world. It was deemed a national emergency, and we were told it was no longer feasible to sail boats or fly airplanes.”

“I wonder how a creature that is related to an ocean-dwelling one ended up here, in this barren land,” I remarked. “Strange coincidence.”

“Strange, indeed!” replied the old woman. “I am Elsa. I wanted to wait and get to know you a bit before I introduced myself.”

“Scarlet,” I acknowledged, waving.

Strange smells overtook us as the sharkan began to cook. When it began to smoke rapidly, they removed the spit and set it on the ground. “It’s still too hot!” Else commented, feeling the animal’s flesh. “Let’s wait a moment.”

After a time, she checked the sharkan again. “All ready,” she announced, as various members of the group tore at the flesh like vultures. I watched in shock as the sharkan was reduced to mere bones.

“Eat up,” commanded Brad, handing me a large piece of the carcass. I chewed it carefully, its rubbery meat sticking between my teeth. It wasn’t the most appetizing of dishes, but in my hungry state I would have eaten anything.

“Where do you find these animals?” I asked him. “I want you to show me.”

“Later,” he replied. “First, we have to finish our dinner.” After everyone had eaten, I watched as they picked the bones apart. “What are you doing?” I asked them.

“The bones are used as tools,” they answered me. “We will use them.”

Chapter 9

I had another dream that day. I was back on the Grid, reading a history book and admiring the sunshine. Birds outside were singing from the willow trees. How much I had longed to go back there!

Life on the Grid was simple: wake up, go to the plant, and come home. I worked at a light bulb factory, which was only a mile away from my tenement house. When I asked Grandmother what a light bulb was, she explained how people in Grand Society had access to light when it was dark. How wonderful it would be to properly see at night! Grandmother said it wasn’t possible for us, as Grand Society deactivated the national power grids after some devastating “cyberattacks” in 2017. Grand Society had access to their own power grid, which was always under heavy guard.

Brad gently shook me awake. “Come, Scarlet. Let me show you where the animals are.” I opened my eyes slowly. The rest of the group was still asleep when Brad and I headed out. He handed me a lit torch and some kind of thick braided material. “What is this?” I asked him. “This is called ‘rope,’” he answered. “Now, follow me!”

My feet ached with all the walking. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. Once I felt ready, we resumed our journey.

Animal grunts, trills, and squishing noises could be heard nearby.

“Can you hear that? We are close!” he answered. He took a few more steps, then stopped. “Take that torch, and tie it to that tree using the rope,” he instructed. Using its illumination as a guide, I located the tree and quickly tied it in place. My hands felt sore from the raw material, so I rubbed them to ease the pain.

“Brad, there’s not enough light,” I declared. “I can only see shadows.”

“Don’t worry!” he called. “I have a plan.” Using the light source, he located a second tree and peeled off its bark. He rubbed the two together until a new fire had formed. “Ah, ha!” he declared, triumphant. “We have light!” He peeled more bark off the tree and threw it into the fire until a proper bonfire had resulted. “Victory!”

The animals looked like a freak show. One animal had eight spindly legs and a giant red head. It glided along the stone ground. Another animal was long, like a snake, but glowed faintly. It was so surreal.

Some of the animals were feasting on a green plant-material that stood up from the stone ground. “What is that?” I asked Brad.

“Elsa calls it ‘seaweed,’ whatever that is,” he announced.

“Now, watch. I am going to catch that sharkan over there.” He pointed to the gigantic sharkan, which was walking upright like a human. It felt very unnerving.

He took out a weapon he dubbed a “spear,” which was a long stick covered by one of the sharkan’s pointy teeth. “Please be careful,” I begged. I couldn’t watch.

I heard several grunts as Brad lunged at the formidable beast. Then, a loud wail which echoed through the area. I opened my eyes just in time to see Brad’s spear jutting out of the sharkan’s chest. Brad ripped it out of the wounded animal, and repeatedly stabbed it in an effort to end its life quickly. It lunged at Brad several times in self-defense, to no avail. It finally collapsed, expiring from its injuries.

I untied the rope from the tree, and carried the torch over to the deceased sharkan to inspect it. Brad wasn’t there. “Brad? Where are you?” I called into the darkness. It was then I saw him on the ground, dead.

Chapter 10

I ran over to him and shook him desperately. “Brad, wake up,” I pleaded. He opened his eyes and rubbed his head in pain. He had hit the ground hard. “He got me,” he exhaled, rubbing his shoulder. One of the sharkan’s teeth had broken off and was now lodged uncomfortably in Brad’s shoulder. I touched the tooth, causing Brad to grimace in pain. “Please, don’t do anything until we get back to the group,” he begged. “Please.”

“Alright,” I agreed. “Let me help you up.”

I wrapped my arm around his back and pulled him back up.

“Take your spear, too,” I reminded him.

Using the rope, we dragged the sharkan’s carcass behind us. As I embarked on the long journey back to the group, I realized that we had to stick together if we were going to make it.

“Are we almost ready to go search for my family?” I asked him.

“Soon,” he replied. “Soon.”

Chapter 11

My arms felt like they were going to fall off by the time we made it back. We dropped the sharkan in exhaustion as the group quickly gathered it. The trip had proved too much for Brad, and he collapsed. “Help me, guys,” Brad groaned. “Please.”

Elsa guided him over to the bonfire. “Oh, my!” she exclaimed, touching the tooth gently. “We are going to need to remove this tooth. Edwina, go gather some seaweed from the medical kit so we can cover it afterwards.” She grasped the large tooth with her palm. “Okay, ready Brad?” Brad closed his eyes tightly, squinting them shut. “Yes, do it. Do it now!” With that, she pulled the tooth out in one fell swoop.

Brad cried out in pain as the blood rushed out of the wound. Elsa and Edwina squeezed the seaweed, releasing a rush of water onto it. Then, they wrapped it up tightly like a tourniquet. “Put out your hands, Brad,” soothed Elsa. As he did, she poured water into them. He drank eagerly. He sat back on his rock, exhausted, and closed his eyes.

“These plants are able to hold water?!” I asked, surprised. “How? There’s no sunlight!”

“It’s one of those mysteries,” Elsa said, smiling. She placed the tooth on the ground. “That reminds me. Cup your hands. It’s time for everyone to get a drink.”

The group members lined up like ducklings as Elsa poured water into everyone’s hands by squeezing the seaweeds. When it was my turn, the water tasted remarkably pure. It was certainly better than the chemical-laden city stuff I was used to drinking.

“We need some cups,” I declared. “Do we have any clay here?”

“Not that I am aware of,” replied Elsa. “Not to say there isn’t any.”

“I’ll see what I can do for us,” I answered. “Thank you, Elsa.”

I sat in silence as the others talked amongst themselves. I laid back on the stone and stared up at the dark sky. I thought about Brad. I thought about my old life. But most of all, I thought about my family.

“Hang in there, mom and dad,” I whispered. “Wherever you are. I’ll find you soon.”

About the Author:

Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer? Thanks! Sincerely, Diana Strenka

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Beyond the Grid

  • ISBN: 9781310196034
  • Author: Diana Strenka
  • Published: 2015-10-11 21:05:07
  • Words: 3944
Beyond the Grid Beyond the Grid