21 ERASED By Barbara Rayne ~ Sample Chapters ~ ~~~ Publisher’s note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. ~~~ Editor: David Moadel Book and cover design by © Marraii Design Background image: "Before the city" © Rolffimages Copyright © 2011 Barbara Rayne All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. Published by Barbara Rayne www.barbararayne.com
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE ALSO BY BARBARA RAYNE
1 People were walking fast, without looking back, avoiding direct eye contact, being careful not to touch anyone. You could feel rage gushing out of every being on the street at that moment. Danger was raving in every accidental touch by a passerby, in every unintentional look, in every careless move––as if hundreds of dangerous beasts were waiting for you to make a mistake. I didn’t dare to look up at those dark faces, I almost didn’t dare to breathe, couldn’t risk one wrong move, suddenly bumping into or grazing someone. You could smell hate—it was breathable, touchable. From the corner of my eye, I saw people being boarded into trucks––I think there were five trucks––they were scared and tired, some were crying, some just numbly staring into nothing. Nobody was particularly interested in that scene––nobody stopped, glanced, or maybe, just like me, they registered it secretly. To me, they appeared uninterested, angry and evil. A cordon of armed police oversaw the truck boarding, and the occasional barking of a police dog didn’t seem to catch anybody’s attention. Almost every day you could see the same sight of maladjusted people being boarded and transported to the Adjustment Centers. When they were building those Centers, we, the public, were told that they were for pandemics control, so people welcomed them with relief––their country was looking after their safety. As hunger and poverty became our everyday life, hygiene levels dropped, and all kinds of infectious diseases spread throughout the country, making it easy to believe the reasoning behind the need for Centers. Soon, after
Centers were a common thing, an unusual twist happened. The sick were left to die on the street, because they had no health insurance, and some other people were being taken to those Centers. Hunger turned people into predators, ruthless snatchers of food, assets and everything that could be sold. Winter, which lasted for the second year in a row, whipped out spring and summer, and turned everything into cold, awkward puddle. We were not allowed to talk about how the climate has changed—officially, it was referred to as this winter being a bit longer than usual. The media told us what to think, what to say, and reassured us that everything was normal. People accepted the hope they offered about winter being temporary and stuck to it as if it were a promised land, or some future heaven. They couldn’t allow themselves to admit that there was no end in sight, because of the horror that would overcome them. Sometimes, in a conversation, I would bring up how we couldn’t possibly know how long this would last, and others would be so enraged that they would attack me verbally with the worst insults, as if I were some kind of public enemy. Soon, I realized that I mustn’t shatter this dream they had—it was their hope, this media lie was something they grabbed onto as if their lives depended on it. They would probably have a mental breakdown; they would dissolve like an ice cube in a glass of warm water. Sometimes the sun would shine, but it wasn’t warm and pleasant. It burned our skin, fried it, scarred it, yet it couldn’t warm up our cold apartments and houses, and then it would disappear again. State borders were closed, so that those unemployed couldn’t flee across the border. From TV screens, we were told stories about normal living
conditions and climate all around us. It was local, they said, not global. Was it so? We didn’t know. I was afraid. Afraid of other people, afraid of the government, police, teenage gangs, Adjustment Centers, hunger, sickness, death–– the list went on. People I knew were not the same as they were before. It was as if the need to be civilized and kind had disappeared, more exactly, as if that kindness before was fake, and now it was made easier for them to show their true faces of hatred, and not act civilized. Now they could throw you on the floor if they wanted to, and kick you while you’re down. It seemed as if love and respect never were a part of human existence.
2 I entered the Government Building half an hour before schedule, crossed my hand over the code reader, and, looking straight ahead, fast-paced to a small dressing room to put my cook hat on. Everyone had a microchip implanted in their hands, and with it, opened doors, mail, paid taxes, and purchased food and clothing. I worked as a cook, but I also carried coffee to offices of the government I worked for. I was a multi-verified person, so if a high government official wanted coffee or some other beverage, another cook would immediately jump in to take my place, so I could leave my post and deliver it. On the wall in front of every office, there was a round code reader, and only after my code would be approved, heavy doors would unlock letting me enter. My friendâ€™s mother who was a judge, found this job for me, and the only requirements were not to mention my level of education, and to finish a cooking course. I was an architect, and cooking wasnâ€™t my stronger side. Now it is, though. I was tested, checked, double-checked, followed, bugged, interrogated, and finally employed. There were so many unemployed people, so I considered myself to be the lucky one. The rich socialized with politicians, invited them to their parties, and visited them in their Government Building offices, while we, the poor, were invisible, quiet, and employed only as help. Those who were hungry were never talked about. The people were worn out from the cold, had no money for heating, and temperature throughout the year was constantly below 40Â°F.
Politicians kept telling us how we had to be grateful, because they were taking care of us, and how it was not easy for them either in that tough economic situation. People believed them. Two years of constantly low temperatures in a country with beautiful beaches, used to warm summers and mild springs, with agriculture that vanished because of the cold; and with the poor population waiting for a better tomorrow– –the government manipulated effortlessly and with ease. At the workplace, we didn’t talk at all. Only during our lunch break we would all sit together and discuss a movie or a TV show while eating a sandwich. “Last night I almost fell asleep before the prayer,” whispered Emily in my ear. “What?” I shrieked, “Are you out of your mind?” “I know,” she said even quieter, barely opening her mouth. We both went silent in shock. My head was filled with the horror she would go through if that indeed had happened. Television ended the program with joint prayer, after which you would put your hand on the code reader and then—only then—you could go to sleep. It meant that you were home on time, that you were a loyal citizen, and that you shared your people’s faith and common commitment to God. If you didn’t do it, the police would be on your door in no time to take you away to an Adjustment Center from which no-one ever returned. In no way could you ever allow yourself to turn off TV before the prayer, or to leave it on afterward. You were suspicious to your government, not because you were not at home or you fell asleep, but because you
didn’t share the common love for your country, for your people, for God, the love that was manifested through that ritual. The government told us so. The fact that you were literally on a curfew––as if it were wartime– –was considered sacrilege if said out loud, and every one of my friends would fiercely oppose it. “It’s not true that it’s a curfew. It’s a unity thing, like raising a flag; it’s as if you’re not respecting your national anthem, your country. It’s not coercion; it’s an honor!” One of my acquaintances said to me during one such conversation. “And what about having to be at home at a certain time?” I opposed. “Is that so hard to do for your country? Is it a sacrifice for you?” He continued, angrily. “No, I’m just saying…Maybe I’d like to stay a while longer at my friend’s house,” I defended my case. “Ooooh, but you can––until 9 p.m. Are you that arrogant that you would stay until 10 p.m. when the prayer starts? Shame on you!” One of the others joined in, provoked by my arguments. I backed off. I had to. It was too dangerous trying to explain, there was no way to make them understand the concept of liberty when they deliberately refused to see. Over time, it was clear to me that people believed those promises politicians made; they believed their lies and didn’t want to see the limitations.
Carrying coffee around the offices of those politicians who decided our faiths, I overheard them making fun of the poor, ridiculing those things that were sacred to us, the very things they taught us to hold sacred. Children were taken away from parents at birth. They could visit their children four times a year; that’s how many state holidays we had. The government decided that––because we overpopulated our beloved country––every child had to have proper care and education; and as we, the people, were too poor to give that to our children, she would, noble as she was, do it for us––invest in those kids to help parents in their upbringing. Parents, in return, would not interfere with that noble cause, would not obstruct the government in the upbringing of their future geniuses. Those parents who didn’t want to accept that decree were publicly ridiculed and humiliated on TV. Their poor pathetic lives were shown in all their despair, and compared to what the state could offer, emphasizing what those selfish parents were allegedly trying to withhold from their children. After that, they would dig out anything they could find in those desperate, poor lives–– from small, immoral deeds to criminal and other offences, any excuse that seemed fit—and would take away their children, diligently filming parents’ apologies through tears, along with their “voluntary” departure to the Adjustment Center. Always, in every possible situation, our liberty and democracy were emphasized as the most sacred things everyone should strive to; the very things that were supposed to guard our vested rights. Our country was democratic, free and righteous. Laws were passed by the majority in Parliament, but mostly it would happen unanimously. Everything
was discussed on TV and in published media, and every need of our government to send our troops to liberate some other country of their dictatorship, or merely to bring democracy to them, was celebrated for several days. Soldiers were both men and women. Their codes were different from ours and were blue. Ours were black. Blue meant honor. Besides the military, police, and secret services, some politicians had them, too.
3 Today was the third of the month; today I had to take the pill. From the third until the fifth, everyone in the country would have received the pill that was mandatory for both the healthy and the sick. Refusing the pill meant the Adjustment Center or prison––those employed would get it on their workplace, and those unemployed would get it at home, delivered by the people in charge of the country’s security. Two years ago, the government passed a law making the pill mandatory, because it meant protection of the population from infectious diseases. That meant the adults, of course, as the children were out of our sight. Some believed that the pill made us sterile, but as some (rarely, but still) had children, the government used that as a proof that those were fairy tales that had nothing to do with the reality. So the pill was something you had to take or be punished. After I’d take the pill, I would always feel nice, happy, satisfied, and that would last for five days. Not more––always exactly five days. During those five days, surprisingly, the sun would emerge and the temperatures would climb up to 52-53°F. That sunshine people linked to good mood and it didn’t leave any room for noticing the strange coincidence of the pill and the sun’s timing. Something else would happen during those five days, as well. The government would pass laws—the important ones—and nobody would have any objections to them. Nobody saw the sun-pill link! I was puzzled by the change of the weather during happy-days, the pill that caused happiness; and, of course, laws took away our freedom bit by bit. How is it possible that
the sun shines always on those days and not others; are they masters of the weather? Are we having this cold for two years because they are making it? Are they manipulating the weather?––I kept asking myself. The winds ranged from severe to terrible. The sun shined only during those five days, and then a whole month of gray skies, rain, cold winds, and temperatures below 40°F. Depressing. Meteorologists always announced this five-day weather change as something new and unexpected, and the show was always the same while people played their zombie roles, accepting those events as normal. Sometimes I couldn’t wait for the pill to get me out of that depressive state, but I was constantly intrigued by those strange connections and the fear that we were being manipulated. It seemed to me that I was the only one thinking about it, or at least I didn’t know other people that did. I was worried about my car, too. How come all the cars had the same pre-programmed features? Stop the car if the driver is tired, play the music according to driver’s emotions, talk shows according to driver’s mood, put an automatic seat belt on as soon as the driver sits, stop the car at the sound of police siren––and all that without the driver’s consent. I felt helpless and had a strong desire to stop it all. I was convinced that this pre-programmed stuff encouraged my pathetic mood; that its goal was to keep me quiet, obedient, and depressed. And why is music cheerful only those five sunny days when we take the pill?—I contemplated. Everything turned on against my will, and I couldn’t stop it. Despite all that control, people were angry, hateful, and scared. Or was it because of it? The unprivileged––those without a car to calm
them down, without food and heating, without medical insurance, without TV (they had to listen to the prayer outside on a big screen, verifying their attendance with their code)––would disappear for the smallest incident. They were proclaimed as danglers that wanted to exploit the country, because they were lazy––even though there were no jobs they could apply for. They were considered as enemies of the state for refusing the pill––while in reality they were begging for it just like addicts, because they subconsciously needed those five days of happiness. They were pointed out as outcasts, because they have neglected their property––the property that was actually foreclosed by the state and no longer in their possession. The unlucky ones whose children had been taken away were shown as selfish, irresponsible bastards––if they cried and refused to give their children up, of course. ***
I was coming back from work cheerful, filled with some quiet happiness that was repeatedly caused by the pill and the choice of music by my smart car. While I was holding my hand on the code reader in front of my apartment, I heard screams and glass breaking next door. I didn’t even manage to grab my doorknob when the door slammed opened, and two armed policemen came out, staring at me. Quickly, I ran inside my home and leaned my back against the door. My heart was hammering; fear overwhelmed me. I took the pill, I didn’t do anything. They are not here for me. Why am I scared? My brain was boiling. I quieted down and listened, but no voices could be heard, no sound from the outside. Maybe they left. But why were they here? Mr. Norton is a nice guy. I stepped away from the door and sat down. I felt
fear mixed with joy. How is that possible? What power does this pill possess; what is its goal? I don’t want to know, I’m happy, I’m not afraid. Five days later, I noticed an older married couple moving in next door to Mr. Norton's apartment. They introduced themselves, but shock made me forget their names. Shock caused by suddenly realizing that I had forgotten about the police and Mr. Norton for five full days. After that night, I didn't ask myself what were the police doing at his place, didn't even look back at that day as if it never happened. How could something that freaked the soul out of me disappear from my memory? How many things slip me by when I'm on the pill?—I wondered. "Do you know where Mr. Norton is?" I asked the couple while trying to look not particularly interested. "How could we know that?" The woman glared at me. "You were his neighbor…" She has a point––I thought.
4 Sunday was my favorite just because I didn’t have to go to work. I could stay in bed for hours, locked safely in my apartment, away from that dreadful tension and fear of the bullies on the streets or in front of malls, distanced from my superiors' yelling. The phone startled me. “Hallo, Sarah,” a friend’s voice said, disturbingly asking me to meet her. “Okay, but why the panic?” I asked her not knowing what all the fuss was about. "We have to talk," her voice trembled, "Urgently!" "Okay, come on over. I'll notify the doorman to let you in." When she arrived, I was the one in panic. Her face––if you could call that a face––resembled a skeleton in some places. The skin on a bigger part of her face was nonexistent; it was burned away, and the bones were literally sticking out. The nasal bone was clearly visible and, around the eyes, there were still patches of some skin. A terrifying creature. “What happened to you?” I almost cried, wasn’t even sure it was her. Frankly, I would have screamed in horror when I opened the door if she weren’t covered up. She started crying.
“I don’t know. For days, I noticed changes on my face. Then the skin started falling off, it itched and swelled. The doctor told me to get a mask––they have them in stores––and that I’m not the only one with this skin problem. Oh, and there is no cure,” she explained through tears. “But did he tell you what it is? Which condition? How you got it?” “No…He said something about it being an allergy,” she said. “To what?” I waited impatiently, but she just shook and bowed her head. I used to see women with masks on their faces, but I didn’t think about why they wore them. I thought it might have been the cold. For heaven’s sake! “People are disgusted. My husband is disgusted. What should I do?” She was heavily sobbing. I was truly shocked, and it really did look repugnant, horrifying. I didn't know how to comfort her. “Immediately buy a mask!” I said. "Surely, they will find a cure soon." “I did buy it! But I have to take it off in order to eat and sleep. It’s difficult to speak as well, and you know I have a runny nose, so I frequently have to take it off to wipe it,” she paused for a minute and then continued. “My husband…he’s trying very hard, but he feels disgusted, and he can barely hide it. Please, help me.” “How? How can I help you when I don’t know anything about it?” I wanted to help her, but I felt powerless. “You work for the government—find out what this is.”
“I’m the cook, for crying out loud! And you call it work for the government, you poor thing.” “Please,” she cried like a child. That broke me down, so I said: “I’ll try, but I’m begging you, don’t expect too much from a cook.” She kissed my hand, and that shook me more than her looks. She covered up her head, and I saw her out of the building. Upon returning to my apartment, I closed the door and stood frozen from fear, wondering what was going on. The media, the people––no-one talked about the women in masks. As if we didn’t see them. Even I didn’t ask myself until now. What if it happens to me? Is the sun destroying our skin? Why only women? Is it the pill, the food? I searched the Internet, but not one word about the masks, burned faces, new skin disease––nothing. The Internet was heavily controlled, all topics were either fun or games, and you could browse only locally– –global browsing was a thing of the past. Hunger, unemployment, and Adjustment Centers did not exist online. Other countries were mentioned only when we were visited by their politicians or movie stars. How will I help my friend when I don't even know where to start? ***
In the morning over a sandwich, I started a conversation about the women in masks with my co-workers. Only a young woman accepted the conversation; the rest kept quiet. “I heard that’s how you protect yourself from the cold that dries our skin,” she said to me.
“My friend has scars and burned skin,” I continued. “Oh…I didn’t know. My neighbor says her daughter has a face cream allergy and wears a mask because of it,” she mumbled after a small pause. "The cold would make it worse, so she has to protect her delicate face with a mask." After that, we went silent––not a word until the end of the shift. Later, after serving coffee in the office of the Minister of the Police, his secretary suddenly stopped me. “I heard your friend has skin cream allergy and that you’re trying to make a story out of it,” she said menacingly. I just stood there for a few moments, confused, and then replied politely, “No, I was just talking to my colleagues to see if they knew anything about a cure or something that could help her.” “The doctor told her there is no cure, and you know it! Stop poking into things that do not concern you,” she glared at me, and the evil in her eyes prompted me to a swift reaction. “Yes, of course,” I said like an obedient puppy. They know everything––I thought and was angry, because I felt scared. I live in fascism, and nobody sees it, but me. After work, I stopped in a nearby mall to buy a gift for my brother. His birthday was the following day, and I promised I’d stop by. The mall was empty. Cashiers with sullen faces, tired from all the standing around with nothing to do, watched my every move. Quickly, I found a nice sweater and went to pay for it. As I was crossing my hand over the code reader, someone grabbed the sweater off the counter. The cashier
yelled, but the security guard had already kicked him on the floor. He took him out of our sight and gave the cashier my sweater. As I went outside, I tucked the sweater under my coat, so that no one could rip it out of my hands. Nobody dared to carry a bag or a purse, because gangs lurked around malls. If you bought groceries, the security guard, heavily armed, would walk you to your car, and wait until you placed it all in, and started driving. Shoppers were a rare thing, anyway. When I got home, I was so tired that I couldnâ€™t wait for the 10 p.m. prayer to be over, so I could go to sleep.
5 I arrived at my brother’s right after work. There were around ten people whom I mostly knew. I kissed my brother––it was allowed inside our homes––giving him my birthday gift, and then I was introduced to two of his colleagues that I haven’t met before. After a very modest dinner, we had some juice (alcohol was forbidden long ago), and talked about our jobs, cold weather, and other small talk topics. Steven, one of the two colleagues, sat next to me, and said: “Have you heard about the apples you shouldn’t eat anymore?” “No,” I replied. “As of today, apples are forbidden, because they are imported and cause sudden death. It’s all over the news. Allegedly, they were sprayed with some substances that are poisonous to humans. Around ten people died. Didn’t your car radio repeat that?” “I guess it did, but…I don’t know how I didn’t notice.” “Spirited away?” Steven laughed and so did I, and then he said: “It’s terrible how many bans we have. I cannot remember when it all started.” “Yes,” suddenly, he got me interested. Someone who thinks! Finally! We talked and talked, and I felt better and better. Steven thought just like me; he saw the fascism and its evil face. He was intelligent and interesting, so the time flew by for the first time after so long. We had
to say good-bye because the time for the prayer was nearing, and everyone rushed home. Reluctantly, I said good-bye to him, to my brother, and to the rest of the crowd. I had a great time. Immediately after the prayer, I fell asleep, and may have slept for about an hour when something shook me. I jumped up in fear. Next to my bed, two men were standing. My heart almost choked me. “Get up!” One of them yelled. “Who are you?” I stuttered and glanced for the phone as if it could help. How will I defend myself, what should I do? Panic took over me while I was getting dressed. “What do you want from me?” They said nothing. “Where are you taking me?” No response. How did they get in? Door opens only on my code. We have a doorman. How did they get in? Roughly, they grabbed me by the elbows and pushed me through the door. As we were passing the doorman, full of hope I waited for him to stop them or at least ask them where they were taking me, but his cheerful smile baffled me. Spitefully grinning, he threw a glance at me, and then greeted them as if he knew them well. They pushed me on the back seat, and we were off into the night. Hammering in my chest suffocated me. I was so scared––my hands trembled and teeth chattered. The men kept quiet the entire time. We stopped after about 20 minutes, maybe less. The Justice Building. They forced me in there, dragged me across long halls, all the way into a room at the end. We entered a small, dark room where they left me, ordering me to wait. For whom? The door closed, and there I was,
alone in utter darkness. I waited for so long that I wanted to sit on the floor, because my legs hurt so much. Just as I was about to, someone turned on the light. It blinded me with such intensity that I couldn’t see anything for a minute. A man in his fifties, I think, entered the room. He looked angry. I saw a table and two chairs in the room, and black curtains on the window. “Sit!” He glared at me, and I sat down. “Do you know why you’re here?” The man said brusquely. “No.” “You are here, because you are conspiring against the regime, because you hate your country, because you are a traitor. That’s why you’re here!” “I love my country. I’m working for the government as a cook, I’m multi-verified, sir.” “Yesterday, you said this was a fascist country, right?” “No, I never said that,” chills ran up my spine. “You said the population is manipulated by the media and the Internet. That we have barcodes as if we were objects for sale, and that the government is manipulating the weather.” Suddenly, I remembered Steven. Oh my God, what did I say there? How do they know it? That was a private conversation, not a political rally.
“You can check, I never publicly spoke against the government,” I muttered. The man stood up and hit me so hard in the face that I felt blood covering me entirely. I started crying; I was scared, I was bloody scared. The blood gushed from the wound tremendously. He hit me again with something metal, and the pain flashed in my head. “Don’t, pleaseee. Last night…I spoke to a man and said some stuff, but I don’t mean it! I was just blabbering. You can check me out, you know everything about me. I would never ever conspire against my government,” I begged him, hoping he would stop beating me. “You conspired!” He yelled viciously, “Hate speech against the very hand that feeds you, bitch!” He swung at me, but I instinctively bent down, so he punched me in the back. The pain threw me down on the floor as if lightning had struck me. My spine felt like it had shattered into pieces. I couldn’t get up. The metal thing he had on his hand had sharp spikes that dug deep into my flesh. Where he hit me, the spikes stabbed like hundreds of sharp, little knives, and the blood gushed out of every hole they made. That arm was behind his back while we talked, so I had no idea what was about to happen. “Please,” I cried on the floor, “please, as long as I live…I will never, I promise, never speak against the government. I promise! This was the only time I did, the only time. And I didn’t mean it. I don’t know what came over me. Believe me!” I knelt before him and looked straight into his eyes. Those eyes, emotionless pits, they stopped my heart. I knew
then and there that he had no mercy. I saw a machine. That was not human. There was nothing I could do that would affect him. No emotions—that defeated me more than the beating. The revelation that in front of me was something that looked human––but wasn’t––overwhelmed me in all its might. I had heard something about it a year ago. The government genetically or via mind control created protectors of the regime. The man under the bridge who was dragged by the policemen was yelling about it, until they shut him up with the electro-shocker. “Get up!” He smacked me. I tried, but the pain was enormous. I reached for the chair to help me up, but it somehow fell down. I felt a hit in the head…pain, buzzing, light…silence. ***
I opened up my eyes. The pain in my head and body was unbelievable. I was lying on a narrow bed in a semi-dark room, and someone was sitting next to me on the floor. I tried to sit up… “Be still,” said the female voice. “Where am I?” “In jail,” she said, and I glanced around expecting typical jail surroundings––cells, inmates––but there were none. “Why just the two of us?” I whispered. “Because we’re not done yet. This actually isn’t jail but…Oh, I don’t know either. I guess we’ll be transported to jail afterwards.”
I didn’t want to ask her why she was in there, and neither did she ask me. We were quiet for a long time when someone opened the door and called me up. I stood up and collapsed. I tried to get up, only to find myself back on the floor. The man nervously grabbed me and picked me up on my feet. We walked––more precisely––he dragged me to a door where we went in. The man who beat me up was in there. I was petrified seeing him again. I stood in front of him while he was typing on his nanocripter. It seemed like ages, and then he looked at me with those icy blue eyes. It felt as if he had pierced into my soul. He scanned me with his eyes––calculated, slow, and cold glare. I looked away, and he ordered me to look back at him. Horrible feeling of helplessness overwhelmed me. Mortified, I started to shiver. Indefinitely, as if he were dissecting me piece by piece, he stared at my eyes. “Take off your clothes.” With a cold, sneering expression, he looked at me as if I were something that made him nauseous. “Please...” Tears blurred my vision. “Please don’t.” “Strip.” He went toward me, so I started to unbutton my sweater with shaky fingers, and he stopped. I took off my sweater, then my blouse, and stood there in my bra. “All of it,” he growled and grabbed me by the hair. “Be quick! You’re getting on my nerves!” He hissed in my ear. As fast as I could, I finished taking my clothes off, and stood there–– totally naked, ashamed, and frightened; fearing his next move. He watched at me for quite a long time, cold like a beast, and then turned his glance to the nanocripter. He took pictures, turned the nanocripter
off, and walked out. I didn’t dare to move, so I continued standing there––naked and scared as hell. What will he do to me next? Hours went by and no one entered. I glanced around the room and saw cameras, so I knew they were watching me. My body started shaking from the cold, but I didn’t dare reach for my clothes. Suddenly, I heard footsteps, and abrupt opening of the door. I was stiff. “Get out!” Brutally, said the male voice. I grabbed my clothes and went for the door, breathing so fast as if I had been running for miles, but the man grabbed me by the hand so hard that my fingers turned white, and he took me toward the exit. He threw me out on the street like garbage. Naked. I started putting my clothes back on in haste, not thinking whether someone was watching me or not. Quickly, as fast as I could, I ran to the nearest bus station. Home––was the only thing I wanted. When I got on the bus, I started to calm down. It’s over. I’m saved. I didn’t dare to think anything else, as if they could hear my thoughts. Looking out of the bus, I saw my own reflection in the window–– blue forehead, slit eyebrow, cuts and bruises, and a closed eye. I licked my lips and felt a burning, swollen upper lip. The other eye felt swollen to the touch, as well. I couldn’t lean back, the pain was too intense. I got off the bus and rushed to my building. Immense hunger made me think about what I had in my fridge. I nodded at my doorman and went up. When I reached my door, it wouldn’t open; it didn’t function. I put my hand on the code reader again. Nothing. I tried at least a dozen times. What the hell? I went down to the lobby, and the doorman
behaved as if he were waiting for me. He laughed spitefully on my request to check what’s with my door. “Doors are fine––you’re not,” he said with a smirk on his face. “What?” “You don’t live here anymore, as far as I know. The rest is not my business.” “Who told you I don’t live here?” “The owner.” “Why did you let me go all the way up when you knew I didn’t live here?” “Well,” he laughed, “to amuse myself a bit.” “May I at least get my things?” “What things?" The lobby echoed with his laughter. "The flat is empty! Come along now, enough is enough. I’ll call the police to report you behaving disorderly,” he threatened. I looked at him, appalled, and a thought went through my head. I wasn’t at work today; what if I’ve been fired? What if I don't have a job anymore? “Where did you send my things?” I muttered quietly. “Central Warehouse for Lost and Found, where else?” He said triumphantly, and I walked out.
Central Warehouse was two blocks away, but there was no use going there. No-one ever got their things back––it was government possession now. I’ll buy something to eat and then I’ll… Oh, God, what am I going to do now? Panic and despair overwhelmed me. I barely stood on the ground. I cried so loud and wanted to die. This is a nightmare! This cannot be true! When the pain and self-pity finally subsided, I went to the supermarket in a building next to my former one, dragging my feet like an old, tired man. I lost my appetite, but was starving––confusing like everything that had happened to me. I took a yogurt and some bread just to kill the pain in my stomach as soon as possible. When I got to the register, the code reader wasn’t accepting my code. “Noooooooo...” I broke down in tears. The cashier gave me a cold stare, took the yogurt and the bread, and gave it to her colleague to put it back. I stumbled out and numbly stared at the floor. All this because of one private conversation! Damn you Steven! Damn my mouth. One conversation, and my life is ruined. Who is that man, that Steven? How do I get my life back? A tornado of emotions twirled inside of me. The bus accepted my code. Maybe it works on something; maybe it’s not entirely canceled. Oh, how I missed those days when cash still existed; nowadays we paid for everything with the code. How can I get some food? A place to stay? Does my account still exist? The only way to find out is to try to pay for something––and that I just did––so I guess not. The car…My car is here, maybe it works. I rushed to the parking lot, put
my hand on the reader, and held my breath… no, no, nooo! It doesn’t work. I have to eat, I have to rest, I’m hungry, I need a toilet, a bath… Despair washed over me. I sat down on the curb and urged myself to calm down, to ease that flash flood of incoherent thoughts and panic. "Calm down, Sarah and think!" I said aloud, holding my head between my knees in fear of it exploding. The code worked on the bus–– I’ll catch a bus to my brother’s! Sluggishly, I stood up and dragged my feet across the road. When the bus came, I scanned my code, but this time it wasn’t accepted. I wasn't even surprised, so I considered my only alternative– –walking six miles to my brother John's. In this state of lethargy I was in, walking seemed more like running away, so I started walking robotically, one foot in front of the other. ***
When I finally arrived at my brother’s, it was late at night. It took me a long time, because I was exhausted and had to stop a lot to sit down––my feet weren't cooperating with my mind. Deadbeat, I rang his doorbell... “What the f…” He grabbed my hand and pulled me in. “What happened to you, for God’s sake?” I started crying and couldn’t stop. Seeing a familiar face brought all those repressed emotions back to surface. He sat me down, brought a glass of water, and waited for me to calm down and start talking. “They took away everything,” I whispered hoarsely. “Who? Took what away?”
“All my belongings, my apartment… the code! When they take the code, you have nothing!” I started slowly telling him everything, and he listened open-mouthed. “Steven cost me my head. Who is he, some agent?” “Steven didn’t show up for work yesterday, or today. You know we’re not allowed to ask questions. When someone is missing, you just wait to see if he’ll show up, or if someone else will take over the job.” “I know,” our coworkers often went missing, new ones would come in, and we would all pretend as if it were normal. John gave me something to eat, to drink, and swatted my wounds. All of a sudden, I jumped up on my feet, and exclaimed: “Oh Lord, they know everything because of the TV!” It struck me. “That’s the only explanation!” “Come on sis, you’re talking nonsense.” “If Steven isn’t their guy… then it’s the only possible explanation.” “Wiretapping from TV. Insane.” “I’m afraid they’ll come for you; I might have endangered you by coming here.” “One conversation at my birthday party??? Public enemy number one,” he teased me. ”Honey, you messed up something else. Simply, it’s too crazy.” “John––” I didn’t manage to say what I wanted when I saw a couple of people in camouflage uniforms outside the window. I grabbed some
food, stuffed it into my pockets, grabbed my coat, signaled John to keep quiet, and snuck out the back. I rushed up the street, and when I thought I was far enough, I sat on a bench in a park. My poor brother, what have I done to him? I climbed up a hill even though I had no idea where I was going. Finally, I sat down by a tree, surrounded by bushes and darkness. I fell asleep. Terrible cold woke me up the following morning, along with unanswered questions. Why are they after me? Did they come looking for me at my brother's or did they know I was there? Is this really happening because of one lousy conversation?—I started laughing hysterically. They didn’t take away my freedom; they took away my life! How do I get it back, how will I live on? My scattered thoughts were suddenly replaced by survival instincts, so I started thinking about my next move. Where do hungry people gather? Where do they sleep? Million questions and no answer. Under the bridge, I used to see group fights, bloodthirsty clashes of angry, hungry creatures. Should I go there? Should I go to work? I knew going to work was nonsense, but still…I couldn't make peace with what had happened to me. It felt so surreal, incredulous. For hours, I wandered the streets. A payphone that was in my sight cheered me up for a moment. I picked up the phone and scanned my code… “Code not authorized, try again,” the voice machine kept repeating as I kept trying over and over in vain. After a while, I gave up and headed toward my workplace.
When I entered the Government Building, as usually a doorman was sitting in his booth, reading newspapers. He glanced at me and continued reading. I put my hand on the reader and waited. Nothing! The door did not open, but two guards got up, and were already approaching me, so I rushed out. Luckily, they didn’t follow. Now, what? Worried sick, I walked the streets without any direction when Steven approached me on the left. “I knew you’d try coming to work. I waited for you,” he said. “Go away,” I replied with venom, “or I’ll make a scene!” “Turn right, there are no cameras there. Don’t be foolish. We’re both victims.” I was reluctant, but it felt so good to have someone in this mess, so I turned right. Quickly, Steven walked over to a newsstand, and hid behind it. I did the same, and then I noticed his face. My anger stopped me from looking at him earlier, but now I saw he had bruises around the eyes, and a long cut toward the chin. He has been processed, too. “What’s happening to us?” I whispered. “What happened to so many before us. Fascism. And we let them get away with it.” “But what are we going do now?” “Don’t you realize? We don’t exist anymore. No one can help us.” “Just because we badmouthed the regime…that’s insane!”
“Because we see what’s going on, not because we talked about it. They need puppets and they have them. We revealed that we noticed that.” “They came in camouflage uniforms at my brother’s. Were they going to imprison me? They had a chance somewhere between beating and humiliating me. And guess what––they didn’t!” I said, visibly aggravated. “The only purpose of that is spreading fear. For your brother and you. You’re no longer a threat, you were erased.” Steven explained. “I’m afraid,” I confessed. “Me, too,” Steven said, and it felt comforting. We exchanged a few understanding glances, shivering from the cold, scared, and desperate. “Where do we go now? What will we live off? So many questions and I don’t see a way out,” I was thinking out loud. “There’s a tunnel where people like us gather,” Steven shared. “How do you know that?” I asked baffled by his knowledge on the subject. “A friend whose son went through this told me about it. He works in this newsstand and that’s how I know there are no cameras. We’ll wait for the night and then head for the tunnel.” “How will we live without a home, food, hygiene?” I was inconsolable. “We’ll get by and, if we’re lucky, we’ll die,” he laughed sarcastically.
At nightfall, we headed for the tunnel. Steven thought we should be present for the prayer, so the cameras would film us there. Afterwards, we reached the tunnel relatively quick and went in. We saw nothing, except absolute darkness. There were no people, no candle light or fire, nothing that would imply someone was there. We continued to walk slowly, keeping next to the wall. I don’t know how long we were walking, but the only sound I had heard was the sound of our footsteps. “We went in far enough,” I whispered. “We can’t see; let’s stay here and wait for the morning.” He agreed. We shared that slice of bread and cheese I had in my pocket, and fell asleep leaning on each other.
~~~ End of sample ~~~
21 Erased Out on Kindle ~~~
ALSO BY BARBARA RAYNE
21 Erased, (dystopian novella) Kindle Edition, October 30, 2011 21 Erased, (dystopian novella) Paperback Edition, November 8, 2011 Evolve, Kindle Edition, January 11, 2012 Evolve, Paperback Edition, January 17, 2012 Nette, Kindle Edition, March 12, 2012 Nette, Paperback Edition, March 21, 2012 Barriers of the New World, Kindle Edition, 2012 Barriers of the New World, Paperback Edition, 2012
See more about the author and forthcoming books at www.barbararayne.com