Teen End of Summer Reading — Excerpt from Beyond The Red Mountains
By Greg Johnson –
– Prologue –
A cloud of dust exploded from the stack of books as Kelvin set them down with a bit more force than necessary.
Kelvin Drake was a strong young man of average height with brown hair. Within the past year, he had finished his formal education, and it was time for him to learn the trade that would become his career.
Backing away, he coughed as the dust entered his lungs. I can’t take this anymore, he said under his breath. I can’t stay here and work for my father.
Kelvin’s father, Carl, presided over the ruling assembly in Triopolis, and Kelvin had been an apprentice under him for the last couple of months.
In the beginning, he was excited and thought he might be able to make a difference working in government, but it turned out his father only gave him meaningless jobs like this one. He was tasked to clean the archives in the basement of Town Hall. Kelvin often wondered if his father really wanted him working there or if he simply felt obligated to employ him because they were family.
Kelvin and his father had a distant relationship. With Carl’s successful career in politics, he rarely had time to spend with his son. Even if Carl was home, his time was usually spent in his office addressing the seemingly unending issues of the day.
Kelvin loved and respected his father, and he very much enjoyed the times they spent together, though they were few. He just wished he had more of them.
The sight and sounds of his father hard at work behind the desk in his study were some of the most common memories from his childhood. The door was regularly left cracked open to give the impression of an invitation to enter, but he knew his father had more important things to do than listen to his questions.
Kelvin’s mother had died in childbirth, which meant he was raised primarily by their housemaid, Ms. Parkinson. Carl stayed out of her way and let her run the household, which also meant taking care of Kelvin.
The basement was dark and smelled like musty old books. The only window was at the far end of the room. It was near the top of the wall, which was at ground level, on the exterior of the building. The placement of it was why Kelvin began his undertaking on this end of the room.
The small amount of light that penetrated the dirty window, combined with the light from the oil lamp, gave him an acceptable work environment.
Relics of Triopolis’s past were stacked in front of shelves filled with books lining all four walls. Over the years, pathways had developed between and around the piles of historical items. Eventually the stacks had grown too high and fallen over, creating mountains in the basement. Everything Kelvin touched was thick with the dust of hundreds of years of storage.
As the day went on, he grew more and more bored, and it was very warm in the confined space. His sweaty body was coated in dust, and he was miserable.
Walking over to the small window, he stood on the wooden bench just beneath it. Looking out, he watched the crowds of people walking by and wondered about the interesting conversations they were having. Everyone’s life seemed so much more interesting than his was.
I bet their jobs aren’t as boring as mine is, he muttered.
Most of the people working around Town Hall were involved in the governing of the city. In his younger years, he had often thought, What could be more interesting than affecting the laws of Triopolis?
His interest, no doubt, had come from overhearing his father’s conversations.
Parents teaching their children history were also intermingled in the crowds of professional men and women. They were easily spotted because of their casual dress and by the way they pointed at the buildings and sculptures of the government center.
Looking at the position of the sun in the sky and feeling the pangs of hunger, Kelvin determined that it must be lunchtime. Jumping down from the bench and sitting on it, he opened the brown canvas sack that held his midday meal.
Bread, beef jerky, and an apple were what he had packed today. He preferred to eat jerky for lunch as opposed to fresher meat. The only other way to preserve it was to cover it in salt, which made it last, but all that salt also made it unbearable to eat.
As he finished eating, he heard footsteps descending the stairs. There was only one person who knew he was in this miserable place. As he suspected, it was his father, who now stood in the entryway.
Carl Drake was a short man, mostly bald, with a wisp of gray hair on his head. In his younger years, he was well built and strong like his son, but the years in government had taken their toll on his physique.
In his youth, he had been an accomplished boxer, winning many bouts, but it had been years since he had seen the inside of a gym.
How’s it going? he asked, looking around the room at his son’s progress.
Not bad, I suppose. Look at what I have done so far. Kelvin pointed toward the small clean corner to the right of the window.
A nod was all he received from his father. Even though Carl was not a man to show his son appreciation or tell him he did a good job, the ever-optimistic Kelvin always tried to make him proud.
I have been dusting the shelves all morning, continued Kelvin. This place is a mess! The dirt on his clothes was proof.
No one comes down here very much anymore, commented Carl. It’s sad, really, because this is our history.
Kelvin listened without a word, but he wondered why his father couldn’t just have a servant do this menial job.
Did you have enough to eat? Carl asked, receiving a positive answer from Kelvin.
Oh, I almost forgot, said Carl, handing him the cup in his hand. I brought you some water.
Thanks, it’s getting pretty warm down here, replied Kelvin, taking a big, refreshing drink of the ice-cold water.
Before Carl turned to leave, he reminded Kelvin to arrange and organize the items by date. Carl was always particular about having things in order. Kelvin remembered how angry his father would become when, as a child, he put a book in the wrong place on the bookshelf.
Kelvin nodded in compliance, but he wanted to scream, Why are you torturing me with this horrible job?
The awkward exchange was normal between the two. Carl was not a bad person; he just never took the time to develop a relationship with his son.
After his father closed the door behind him, Kelvin wasn’t quite ready to get back to work. Standing up, he looked at the clean corner that had taken him all morning to complete. A sense of accomplishment filled his mind as he stared at the bare wood-planked floor.
Something interesting caught his eye. What is that? he asked aloud.
He noticed a small object wedged between the wall and the shelf. Slowly inching his way toward it, his eyes grew larger as he tried to get a better look. With the light not completely reaching the corner, it was covered in shadows. He continued his slow advance as if the thing was going to jump out at him.
What am I doing? he asked, laughing at himself. Straightening from his crouched position, he finished his walk to the corner in a normal fashion.
Six inches separated the shelf from the wall, and it was clear that the resident spiders ruled this area. The thick cobwebs would have deterred most people, but Kelvin was determined to reach the hidden object.
On his knees, he swiped a path through the web with his hand. Ugh! he groaned.
The pieces of silken web clung to him as he tried to shake them off. The spider’s adhesive was surprisingly strong, and he had to wipe his hand against the wall to free it from the disgusting, sticky string.
With the obstruction to his sight cleared, the hidden object came into view. It was the corner of a small book wedged between the wall and the wooden shelf support.
Reaching under the web and around the end of the shelf, he grabbed the corner and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. Trying to force it out was not working. He stopped when he noticed the frame of the shelf was digging into the cover, so he backed up to assess the situation.
I will have to clear the shelf, he concluded.
Kelvin removed everything from the corner of the bottom shelf, and then he was able to dislodge the book.
The dirty leather-bound book looked very old. Interestingly, it had no title. Kelvin thought this was strange because, even though this was only his third day, he had noticed how detailed the librarians of Triopolis had always been. Every book he had seen in the archives was meticulously labeled.
Kelvin could hardly control his excitement as he flipped the cover open. Inscribed on the first page was a note.
It is the fifth year of light, but it still feels dark.
Luther has gone too far. In case we are wrong, find the tablet, and you will learn the truth.
Could that be the Donovan who helped found Triopolis? he murmured.
This YA fantasy novel is a captivating tale of adventure, love and life’s lessons. What will happen when two young adults are taught that they are the last people to survive the Dark Days, but deep down they believe that others may exist? In Beyond the Red Mountains by Greg Johnson, teenagers Kelvin and Elizabeth grew up in different parts of the world, both thinking they were the last of their kind. When fate brings them together, it creates more questions than it answers. The author replays roles and lessons that young adults experience as they begin to explore their own life adventures which may include learning about love, loyalty, friendship, relationships, aspirations, dealing with emotions and other themes of growing up. Written with subtle language and compelling themes for young adults, this fantasy-themed book is set in a time that forces the protagonists to live their lives with very little technology and great resourcefulness.
Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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