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Beyond the Red Line
Beyond the Red Line
July 18th, 2213
I woke up this morning and it was raining cats and dogs outside. Water pooled on the window sill by my bedside table and flooded our driveway. Mother had to cancel our annual trip to the beach house in Florida because she didn’t think it would be worth the money! This rain is ruining all of the plans I had for the summer. Father even claims that it could snow in a few days. What a miracle that would be! My 13th birthday is in exactly one week and I pray that the sun will come out for my party.
# # #
I placed the diary gently on the coffee table and looked wearily at my little sister, “I think that’s enough reading for now, Abby.”
“No! Please, one more!” Abby stretched her arm towards the coffee table and handed me the diary.
“Alright,” I sighed, once again giving in, “but just one more entry. Which one would you like me to read?”
Abby knew every entry by heart, yet she still begged me to read the pages to her. At age eleven, she was very capable of reading the diary herself, but I suppose she didn’t want to let this tradition go. It was a little past dinner and Abby was in her pajamas, ready for bed. For the past seven years, I had sat on the couch with my sister every evening and read her a passage of our Great Grandmother Avery’s diary. Abby had only been 4 the first time and I had thought she should learn a little bit about her past. I had thought I would only read to her that one time, but here I am seven years later on the same couch, at the same time of day.
“Read March 4th, 2214.”
I gave Abby a funny look, “Why that specific entry? Why March 4th? You are so weird sometimes you know that?”
“I want to read that specific entry because it is the last journal entry in the diary and we have never read it before.”
“Sure we have! We’ve read all of them!”
Abby shook her head, “Nope, not that one.”
“And why is that?”
A sheepish smile formed on my sister’s face, “Well, because, um. Okay, this is kind of silly so don’t give me a hard time. It’s because I felt that if we read the last journal entry in the diary this tradition of reading on the couch would end.”
“What do you mean?”
Abby sighed, “Oh I don’t know. It’s just that I love reading the diary so much that I never wanted us to finish it. So by not reading the last journal entry we technically haven’t read the whole diary yet.”
“Then why today?”
“Because I turned eleven a week ago and I feel that I need to leave my childhood behind, including childlike traditions. I am finally growing up, Liv!”
Although I tried to hold back, I burst out laughing.
Abby scowled, “What? I’m serious? I have decided that I am too old for this diary tradition. Therefore, this will be the last night that we ever sit hear and read Grandma’s journal.”
I wiped my eyes, “Really, Abby? Are you serious?”
“Yes. That’s why I want to read the last entry in the journal. It will be like a graduation ceremony or something.”
I shrugged, “Well, okay. If you really want to I will read you the last journal entry.”
Abby nodded and I began to read aloud:
# # #
March 4th, 2214
A hand grabbed me by the collar and pushed me down the icy driveway.
# # #
I looked up from the entry, “Whoa! Okay yeah. We have definitely never read this before!”
Abby grinned, “See? Now keep going.”
# # #
I crumpled to the ground and a shiver ran through my body as the cold snow found its way underneath my linen pajamas. A few Moments later, mother fell next to me. She had tears in her eyes and her terrified countenance caused me to start crying as well. The man, whose hand had mercilessly grabbed the collar of my pajamas, forced me off the snow and slung me over his shoulder like a sack. Although I had the urge to scream, I knew that I should remain silent. Father had gone over with me many times what to do in a situation like this and I knew that I should not scream. Screaming showed a sign of weakness and fear. It showed that you did not want to leave your house and Father said They didn’t like that.
I still don’t understand who They is exactly. After a while I thought it a common term, but every time I used it Mother would give me a stern look and I eventually decided against speaking the word. I once asked Father what They was and why I couldn’t say it. He grunted, signaling that he didn’t want to talk about it. I suppose he still thought that I was too young to learn any “adult concepts.” But to my surprise he did say one thing. Not what I was hoping for, but something. He told me that the word They had a different meaning than in the past. Before a few weeks ago when people were not aware of They, everyone used the word to their hearts content, just like any antecedent. However, things changed. I still didn’t know why They was so horrible, but as a strange man carried me away from my home I think I had a pretty good idea.
With great effort, I was able to hold back any noise that was begging to erupt from my mouth. I lifted my hand and waved to Mother, who remained in a ball on our driveway. She was screaming something that I couldn’t hear, but I knew it was about me. Father and my brother Sam had been taken yesterday when They came for the males in the town. Mother and I had cried the whole night and then cried some more when we realized that we would be next. We would never see our home again; we might never see each other again. We stayed together on the couch all that last night and never got up, worried that They would see us and take us away early.
Now, as I bounced up and down on the man’s shoulder, my eyes began to droop. I hadn’t slept for 25 hours and in spite of my efforts to stay awake, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep with my diary safely tucked away in my parka.
I awoke abruptly when the man dropped me into a truck. The truck was parked next to an endless row of trucks, each of which were full of other people from my town. Children and adults leaned on the walls of the truck and lay sprawled out on the floor. I sat with my knees to my chest on my coat, trying to take up the least amount of space as possible. I looked around me and recognized a girl a few years younger than me from the local school. Her name was Linda and her parents were the richest in our town. My family was not poor, but we weren’t luxuriating in material comforts either. Linda, on the other hand, had never experienced a middle class life. She was, to be frank, a spoiled brat. Her parents gave her everything she wanted and all the children hated her for that. It is not that I have anything against the rich, but Linda was so stuck up. I remember one time she got a new dress for her birthday. The hem was speckled with real rubies and she was only seven years old! Linda had strut about the elementary school, flaunting her dress wherever she went. I have despised her ever since.
Seeing Linda now, as a river of tears streamed down her cheeks, I felt guilty for judging her so harshly. I decided to console Linda as an apology for my prior insults. I crawled across the truck to her, dragging my coat under me as I went. When Linda noticed me, she shamefully turned away. I patted her back, “Don’t worry,” I said, “We’ll find our families.”
This made Linda cry more, “Go away, Liv. I don’t want to talk to you.”
I tried to hide my irritation, because I knew Linda was upset. “Um, if you haven’t noticed there really isn’t anywhere to go. This truck is pretty small.”
Linda turned towards me and scowled, “I am not in the mood for your stupid sarcasm. Just go away.”
Before I could respond, someone poked me on the shoulder, “Name please.”
I turned around and saw a dark haired man staring down at me expectantly. He had bushy eyebrows and an evil looking mouth that curled upwards into a crescent. I did not respond to the question and the man asked me again, “Name please.”
Again, I did not respond. I did not feel comfortable talking to this stranger.
The man grabbed me by the collar, “I need your name, girl!”
Linda screamed, “Liv! Tell him!”
I shook my head, “Why should I? It’s none of his business.”
The dark haired man’s face turned red and he picked me up by the armpits and shook me. I remained silent, stubborn as always.
The man slung me over his shoulder just as the other man had and carried me around to the front of the truck. “We can’t go until you give me your name.”
Being the impudent girl that I was, I crossed my arms and said in a lofty manner, “Maybe I don’t want to go. Maybe I want to stay here.”
The man put his head in his hands, “Well, I’m afraid that that won’t be possible.”
“Why not? Are you part of They? Do you want us out?”
“Um, it isn’t that simple.”
“Oh really?” I was on a roll now, “Because it seems pretty straight forward to me. Cart everyone out of this town and take it over with your people. You’re taking over our home!”
To my surprise, the man began to laugh, “Is that really what they have been telling you?”
# # #
“Okay. That’s it.”
“What?” Abby cried, “How can that be the end? Why would Grandma just trail off like that?”
I sighed, “Okay, the journal entry doesn’t actually end there. But look.” I pointed to the diary. “Someone drew a red line under the last sentence that I read. Someone doesn’t want us reading anymore of this journal entry.”
“So?” Abby smiled mischievously, “Let’s keep going.”
I gasped, “What? No! Absolutely not!”
“Oh come on Liv!”
“But there’s a red line! That must mean trouble.”
“I thought you liked trouble?”
I hesitated, “Well, I…Oh alright!”
Abby grinned, “That’s what I thought.”
“That’s what I thought,” I repeated in a mocking tone and began to read once again.
# # #
“What else could they have told me?” I asked.
The man smirked, “They could have told you the truth.”
“What? What do you mean?”
The man lifted his head from his hands, “Alright, alright. You know what? I’ll tell you. I will tell you the truth. You’ll regret hearing this, but I have to get it off my chest. I have to tell someone, even if that person is just a little girl. But you do have to promise me two things.”
“One, you can’t tell anyone about this conversation and two, you have to tell me your name.”
I sighed. Learning about They was definitely worth a measly name. “Fine. But this better be good.”
“You were right before, I am a part of They. But They is not bad. We are trying to protect the uncontaminated part of the world. The United States of America.”
“What do you mean the uncontaminated part of the world? Father told me that They is a Communist organization from North Korea that is trying to take over the world and drag everyone into Communism! He said that somehow They got help from China and got stronger and dangerous and now everyone is afraid of Them.”
The man shook his head in disgust, “Please don’t be offended for I’m sure that your Father is a very nice man, but that is absolute bogus! Where on Earth did your Father hear that?”
# # #
Abby tapped my shoulder, “Liv, this is really confusing. Like what is Earth?”
“Oh I learned about it in school once, but I don’t really remember. Let’s just keep reading. Maybe Grandma will explain.”
# # #
Okay, so, Father never actually told me that. As I said before, he refused to tell me anything about They. But I wanted this man to take me seriously, so I made that story up. Unfortunately, it back fired and now I was about to look like an even bigger buffoon than if I had told the truth. I decided to remain silent.
When I didn’t answer, the man continued. “For one thing, North Korea is….oh don’t let me get started on that one. Just, what you said isn’t accurate. They is a European organization that is trying to save everyone on Earth from something terrible that happened exactly three weeks ago.”
# # #
Someone opened the front door, “Liv? Abby? We’re home!”
I quickly dog-eared the page and shut the diary.
Mom entered the living room, “Abby! What are you still doing up?”
I smiled politely, “Abby begged me to read her another entry. I just couldn’t say no.”
Mom smiled, “Well, I guess that is alright, but it is getting late.” She checked her watch. “Oh my! It’s already 22:00!”
Abby jumped off the couch, “I’ll go to bed right away.”
“Good,” Mom replied and Abby ran out of the room.
I tucked the diary into my coat pocket, “I am tired too. I think I’ll go to bed. It is pretty late.”
Mom gave me a hug, “Good night Liv. Sleep tight. Don’t let the-”
“Bed bugs bite,” I finished the sentence for her and ran out of the room before Dad came in and talked my ear off for hours.
As soon as I was in my room, I took out Grandma’s diary. I knew it was rude to continue the entry without Abby, but I wouldn’t be able to go to bed without finishing it. I had too many questions that I was positive would be answered within the next paragraph of the diary and it was driving me crazy. For one thing, what was North Korea? What was Communism? Those words seemed so foreign to me, as if Grandma was from a different planet. And that dark haired man had been so appalled at her using them. It just didn’t make sense. Was Communism an old organization or something? This entry was so confusing.
I sighed. None of my questions would be answered if I stood here, pondering. I hopped into bed and flipped to the last page I’d read to Abby.
# # #
I gave the man a funny look, “But Father has been worrying about They for months! How could it just have happened three weeks ago?”
“They has been around for much longer than a few weeks. We were founded the summer of 2212 in an attempt to stop what happened three weeks ago.”
“I see,” I said, “And what happened three weeks ago that made They suddenly throw everyone out of their homes? And separate families?”
# # #
Then again maybe I should wait. I was obviously going to read the rest of the entry, but what about Abby? She was the one who wanted to read beyond the red line in the first place. I sighed. There was only one thing to do. I slipped out of bed, heading for Abby’s room.
I tucked Grandma Avery’s diary into my coat pocket once again and quietly opened my bedroom door. I nearly jumped at the sight of Dad in the hallway. Dad looked down at me and smiled, “Liv! What are you doing up?”
I shrugged innocently, “I had to go to the bathroom. What are you doing up?”
Dad chuckled, “It isn’t unusual for me to be up at this hour, although I was just going to bed. Do you need anything? Mom’s already asleep.”
“No thanks. Good night, Dad.”
Dad gave me a hug and retreated back into his bedroom.
Abby was sitting upright in her bed with the light on, as if she had been waiting for me all along. I shut the door and strode over to her. “I read a few sentences already, but I couldn’t keep going without you. Mom and Dad are both asleep, so we won’t get caught reading this. I mean they might now even know about the red line, but they would know something was going on if they saw in here together.”
Abby nodded and I began to whisper the entry to her.
# # #
The man leaned closer to me, “As I said, you cannot tell anyone. If you do, you will cause mass hysteria and it will be much harder for They to save everyone.”
“Save everyone from what?!” I demanded impatiently.
“Exactly three weeks ago, there was a terrorist attack in Moscow.”
The man put a finger to his lips, “Just let me finish. A few hundred years ago in the late 1900’s, a terrible disease was-”
“No, not quite. A vaccine for the disease was created and nearly everyone in the entire world was vaccinated. However, the disease was not fully eradicated. Two vials were saved in case a similar virus appeared and the vials could help in eradicating the new virus. This disease was known as Small Pox and for 250 years one vial has lived in Moscow and one vial has lived in Atlanta. Three weeks ago, the vial in Moscow was stolen.”
I gasped, “Are you saying that a terrorist stole a vial containing one of the deadliest diseases of all time?”
The man grimaced, “I’m afraid that is exactly what I’m trying to tell you.”
“But everything will be okay because everyone still gets the Small Pox vaccine when they are born right? Everyone is still immune to the virus…” I stopped speaking, interrupted by the dark haired man’s cries. He was sitting on the passenger seat of the truck, bawling.
“Um please stop,” I said, my mouth wide open, “You’re scaring me. And besides, you don’t want any of your colleagues to hear us right?”
At the thought of his colleagues, the man stopped crying immediately. He wiped his eyes and stood back up, poised as if nothing had happened. “I’m sorry about that, but I couldn’t help myself after hearing the innocent questions you just put forth.”
“What do you mean?”
The man took in a deep breath, “We don’t.”
I gave him a funny look, “We don’t what?”
“We don’t get it.”
“We don’t get what?” I prodded in an exasperated tone.
Once again, a tear escaped from the outer edge of the man’s watery cornea. He quickly swept it away with his hand and whispered, “Don’t ask me why, but we don’t get the Small Pox vaccine anymore. We haven’t for nearly 100 years and we don’t have enough time to recreate the vaccine. The epidemic has already spread throughout Asia and into the outskirts of Europe. It won’t be long before it spreads to Africa. Small Pox is so deadly that it has already killed one billion people in the past three weeks. 1/10th of the world! And no one knows where or who the terrorist or terrorists are, but we assume that they are on their way to Atlanta. That is why everyone needs to evacuate immediately. If we don’t, the entire human race could be wiped clean from this planet.”
I felt sick. How could this be happening? What kind of a sick person would ever want to kill off their own kind?! My body began to shake and I slid down the side of the truck, desperate for a place to sit.
The man knelt down beside me, “I have to remind you not to tell anyone, okay? You must act as if you are oblivious to everything that is going on. It would be a catastrophe if people started to panic. And I am afraid I need to know your name. We really must be going.”
I nodded, “Liv.”
“My name’s Liv.”
“Just Liv? No last name?”
I blushed, “Liv. Short for Olivia Elaine Avery.”
“Thank you,” said the man, “Now, give me your hand and I’ll escort you back to your place in the truck.”
I obediently took the man’s hand and with much effort was able to balance myself on my wavering legs. As the man walked me back to the truck I asked, “But where will we go?”
The man shook his head, “That I cannot tell you.”
“Um, okay. But what about my family? Are they alright? Where are all of the boys?”
“They’re already on their way to the Station.”
The man slapped himself, “Forget that I said that and trust that you will see your family again. They isn’t trying to pull any loved ones apart.”
I climbed into the truck and the man waved, “Thank you for giving me your name, Olivia.”
I didn’t respond and the man returned to the front of the truck.
I crawled over to my coat and Linda jumped on me, “Liv! Where were you?”
I waved her off, “None of your business. Go away. I haven’t slept in over a day.”
Linda returned to her coat and I closed my eyes. It was too hard for me to process what the dark haired man had told me without feeling sleepy. It was all so bizarre, as if it were all a dream. How could an epidemic be overpowering the human race? What happened to all of our high tech medical equipment? I thought we could ward off anything! Apparently not.
I took a deep breath and forced a sleepy smile. Mother once told me that you would always feel better if you smiled. And she was right. I did feel better. Just better enough to be able to fall asleep and relish the ignorance of my subconscious.
# # #
I looked over at Abby, “Are you alright? Maybe this was a mistake. Oh shoot, we really shouldn’t have read-”
“No!” Abby suddenly came to life, “It wasn’t a mistake. We would have learned this some other way anyhow. I don’t understand it. Does Grandma survive?”
Despite what I had read, I grinned, “Well, if she didn’t survive then we wouldn’t be here either you know.”
Abby didn’t smile back, “Yes but where does Grandma go? I mean she can’t live on that Earth place anymore-”
“Shhhhh,” I silenced my sister, “Don’t wake Mom and Dad.”
“I know but-”
“Abby, you have to prove to me that you will be okay. You have to show me that reading this to you was not a mistake, because right now you seem seriously disturbed. I mean you’re shivering for goodness sake!”
Abby pulled her comforter up over her shoulders, “That’s just because it is cold in here. It has nothing to do with the entry.”
I patted her back, “I want you to remember that everything does turn out alright. If Grandma didn’t live, we wouldn’t be here right now. Right?”
“Now, would you like me to sleep in your room with you tonight?”
Abby nodded again and I placed the diary on her bedside table and turned off the light. Abby fell asleep almost immediately, but I couldn’t help but stay up. How could I have known that a squiggly red line between two paragraphs in the diary was an actual warning sign? All I could say was thank God for the Moon. If not for this white little sphere that we called home, Grandma Avery never would have survived.