Where I come from, no one locks their doors. We don’t even have locks. It isn’t that they feel particularly safe, or kind to strangers. We don’t have those either. Strangers, that is.
You see, I come from Harmony. Yes, that Harmony. Before you ask, no, I don’t have a third arm growing out of my shoulder, scales on my skin, barbs out of my spine. I mean, my skin gets dried out if I spend too much time in the sun, but I think that’s true of anyone, even Beyonders.
I wasn’t alive for the beginning, but I’ve heard it told enough times that I’m pretty sure I can give you His version of the story verbatim.
The world beyond had fallen into sin. It had been sliding in that direction for years and years, but the forces of evil had grown hungrier and advanced their attack in the hearts of men. The signs all pointed to the end times. And one day, time ended and began again. Judgment came and purged the sin from the world, sparing only Harmony. Harmony lives on in the shade of the Creator’s hand, offering George as his guide to the Believers left behind.
Who’s George? Still crazy to me when people don’t know Him. Sometimes I forget that He means everything to the Believers and nothing to the Beyonders.
Well, George is the alpha and the omega in Harmony. After the judgment, George led the flock of thirty-six through the desert to Harmony years ago. He provides for the people of Harmony; no food, water, clothing, or, well, anything goes to anyone without His blessing. He maintains the balance in Harmony: when new life comes into Harmony, George decides who is ready to reunite with the Creator in the next life. George cares for the Believers and protects them from the Beyonders. He’s the founder and savior of Harmony.
He is, well, everything.
But see, I used to believe that too. I was born in Harmony. Actually, I’m the first person born in Harmony. Everyone else came there with Him. I found out later that an old man named Carl had gone away with Him when I was born, and our number stayed at thirty-six. My earliest memories are running around on the third level, where I lived with the other children.
There were five of us down there, back then. More came, some left. One girl fell down the ladder. Her arm and head were not right after, so once the next one was born, the broken one went away with George.
Oh, the levels? Right. Harmony is a mining facility. Way back when, some sort of industrial accident happened there, and the surrounding area was closed off for miles around. When a series of storms hit a few towns in the area, folks were left with nothing. And that’s when George came.
He started in Elmwood and gathered the handful of survivors there. They walked together to Bristow, Hollow Hill, and Corville, picking up those left along the way. Then, with only what they could carry, they marched into the desert hills, thirty-five of them behind Him. After a couple of hours, they came to the perimeter of Harmony.
I never figured out how George knew about the place, that it was livable or that its lower levels contained enough supplies to provide for a small group for decades. He wasn’t young, yet He wasn’t that old. Maybe He knew someone who worked there before the accident. Anyhow, He led the people inside the fence and down into the lower levels, and they’ve been there ever since. The only new people are born of the Believers—that’s what George calls the people of Harmony. Beyonders are the people left behind, beyond the fenceline and beyond salvation. No one had seen a Beyonder since the day of judgment, when the storms came.
Well, until I saw Sal.
I don’t know how old I was when I saw her. We didn’t really keep track of those things there, and I’m guessing that I’m around sixteen now based on how my body looks compared to the people I’ve met.
Anyways, we could only go above when He allowed us. The first time that I saw above, I cried. I saw darkness and countless stars, and the wide-open space all around. I had spent all my life in the levels below. I don’t know why I cried. Maybe I was scared. Maybe it was too beautiful. Maybe both.
George explained that the Creator had given us Harmony as a reward for our faith, the safety of the levels and the beauty of the sky. But He warned us that the battle was never over, that evil lay in wait for us to lose our faith. If we strayed from our path in Harmony, judgment would once again rain down on us, and we too would be lost to the beyond. At first, He would watch us whenever we went above, guiding us away from the fenceline and warning us against temptation. He only took two at a time up above, and later, when He no longer supervised us, He sent us up in threes to guard each other against temptation. If someone drifted too close to the fenceline or tried to stay longer than allowed, the others would alert Him. I never felt the need to warn George. I guess I was too drawn in by that temptation myself, curious about what was beyond.
When we went above, I got in the habit of walking out as close to the fenceline as I could without tipping off George, then circling the edge of Harmony from a little way off the fence. I would just walk under the stars. At first, the desert surface seemed as bare and smooth as the metal plates that shaped the levels below, but as I walked the edge, I got to know the desert more intimately. I counted its shrubs and debris, although, at the time, I just saw them as dark patches against the starlit sand. Shrubs and debris… I didn’t have those words yet.
George would guide us back into the levels below after a while. I would lie in the darkness with my eyes closed. Behind my eyes, I would walk the edge again, picturing the sands and stars, the shrubs and debris. I came to know everything within eyeshot of Harmony as well as I knew the levels below.
So one night, when I saw a new dark shape against the lightened sand on one of the hills, I stopped walking. I squinted and confirmed that a large patch of darkness had shown up where none had been before. Looking back at the two other Believers above with me, I saw them both sitting alongside the ladder well, the older one tracing her finger in the sand while the younger one watched and tried to copy her. I turned back to the new dark patch, and it had moved.
I kept walking and did not make any noise. As I walked the edge, I passed by the other two, who were focused on their sand traces. Coming back to the edge with the dark patch, I lifted my hands above my head as I walked and watched the dark patch.
The dark patch stretched taller against the sand.
The dark patch was Sal. From the moment I saw the dark patch moving, I had to know what it was. I didn’t want anyone to alert George; I didn’t want to lose my time above. So I kept walking. Sal knew that first time that I had seen her because I froze. For some reason, I was more curious than scared. Again, maybe this was the temptation, the evil waiting to spoil my faith, but I felt like the dark patch was safe.
After the first night of the dark patch, all I could think about was my next time above. Sal wasn’t always there. I thought I might have imagined the whole thing when I went up the next time, and the dark patch was gone. But the time after that, I saw it again.
So much has happened since then. Eventually, Sal came up to the fenceline. Watching us during our time above, she figured out that I was trying to keep the other two from seeing my hand motions. She found a way to get to the edge beyond their sight. She’s clever like that.
She spoke, and I cried again. Except for the Believers in the levels below, I had never heard any other voices, and never a voice like hers.
We found ways to communicate. She came from a town a few miles out—turns out the world hadn’t ended on the day of judgment—and had heard about the abandoned mine in the desert hills. She had heard stories that ghosts haunted the mine after the accident, and she, like me, was a curious person. She had snuck out of her house in the night. At first, communication was hard and slow: I didn’t even know what night was.
I told her about Harmony. About the thirty-five people living with me below. About George. She didn’t believe me until she saw how scared I got the times I almost was caught too close to the edge. She asked why no one was ever out in the daylight. I didn’t understand the question, but she pieced together that no one came above during the day.
One time above, she waved me to a safe stretch of the fenceline. She told me that she had come during the day and had found a piece of the fence that was weaker than it looked. She paused and then asked me if I wanted to leave Harmony. I had said yes before I had time to consider the question.
The next time above, I saw a bit of ribbon tied to the fenceline. The shape of the fence had shifted from the last time above. Out of sight from the others, I crept towards the edge and pushed against the fence.
A gap large enough for me to climb through opened.
I stepped through, and for the first time in my life, I ran. My legs stumbled beneath me, and I fell to my hands a few times in the sand. But I kept moving as quickly as I could to the place on the desert hill where I first saw the dark patch. I kept moving and moving and moving until I reached the part of the hill where I could no longer see Harmony behind me.
Sal was waiting there.
I looked behind me at the stars over the desert hills and walked towards her.
It has been one hundred and eighty-four days since I left Harmony. I have a new life now. Sal’s family took me into their home. I have learned what a family is, and what a home is. I’m still learning every day. There are so many words, so many names, so many people. Sal showed me my first sunrise on day three after Harmony. Yes, I cried then too.
Some nights, like tonight, I go back to the desert hills with Sal. And from here, on Sal’s Bluff, I can see just how small and scared Harmony is. I can see three small shadows poking around in the sand. I see them come up the ladder well and I see them go back down. Maybe someday I’ll go back and tell them what I have found beyond the fenceline. But not tonight. I have a lot to learn.
When I left, one of the women had grown large, and we were about to get a new Believer. I like to think that someone avoided disappearing with George when I ran away.
That’s how it went in Harmony, where I come from.