Wear Your Mask: An Excerpt from Filtered
We are excited to announce the release of Filtered, a dystopian sic-fi novel perfect for young adults, on Tuesday, November 17th.
Evelyn Brennan, the 17 year old protagonist, is on a journey to discover exactly what the Great Society is hiding. Determined to find the truth, she begins to challenge the status quo of her regimented life. Disregarding new filters and venturing into parts of the city she has never been, Evelyn probes the boundaries of the Great Society. Trusting in newfound allies, she finds herself entangled in a brewing revolution – her entire world, and her very identity, are called into question. Pressing on, even as her own world unravels, she ventures into the unknown and unlocks the secrets held within a mysterious device hidden deep beneath the city.
Here’s an excerpt from Ch. 4 of Filtered
The music, muted from behind the door, hits me with its full voice and vigor as I step across the threshold. There is no air lock. It is a moment before that sinks in. As I begin to try and figure out what that means, I realize the people dancing are mask-less. Eyes closed, the throng of people jump and thrash about wildly. Sweat beads on their skin as they press together in an organic, undulating mass. Nevertheless, they do not appear to be rhythmic or orderly, but syncopated and chaotically individual. Their clothes, too, are not the trench coats, stained black from daily use, but bright, revealing clothing. It is close, hot, and uncomfortably alien to me, but I cannot leave. This is worlds away from home and exactly what I wanted.
Pushing through the dancing bodies, I work my way toward the back. Every footfall is labored with the suction of the sticky floor. Pressing deeper and deeper in, I feel awash in a sea of music, light, heat, and humanity.
I spot a bar to my right serving drinks of every color into tall thick glasses, undoubtedly the culprit for the sticky floors. I continue on. Pressing deeper, I emerge from the pack and find, against the back wall, a row of empty tables. It seems everyone is dancing and no one feels like sitting.
Sitting at a table in the corner, I take a moment to better survey the room. Across from the dark wood bar is a stage lit up in bright orange lights. A man stands behind a musical input device, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. His fingers sweep, dodge, and weave through the projected light and I immediately recognize its connection with the ebb and flow of the rhythms within the music. I close my eyes and let it wash over me. I sway silently, letting the beat drift me away.
The tranquil blissfulness is disturbingly interrupted with the forceful sting of my mask being ripped from my face. Panic pulls me back into reality and I clutch at my mouth and nose in a pathetic attempt to keep the poisons out. A pungent aroma of alcohol, sugar, and sweat overwhelms my nose. I know I should have nothing to fear, all these people are dancing wildly, gulping deep breaths of air, but I’m so conditioned against the idea of breathing in buildings without an air lock that my hands remain over my mouth. Turning around to see who pulled off my mask, I come face to face with a woman not much older than myself. She is striking and her eyes burn with the reflected orange light from the stage.
“If you’re going to try and fit in here you might want to at least look the part.”
She practically shouts to make herself heard over the thundering noise of the music.
“But there’s no air lock.” They are the only words I can think to reply and I immediately regret them.
The woman tilts her head back and roars with laughter.
“You are definitely not from around here. How old are you? I bet you’re still in school.”
“Neptus Memorial. I only have a few months left before graduation.”
Her face turns up in amused understanding.
“Rich kid. I don’t think mommy and daddy would like to find out that you’ve been hanging around a place like this.”
“My parents don’t care what I do.”
“Tell them you’ve been here and I’m sure you won’t have that smug look on your face.”
I notice my smirk and drop it from my face. As we shouted to hear each other, the conversation escalated faster than I think either of us intended.
The woman takes a deep breath and relaxes the tense look on her face.
“I’m sorry kid, what’s your name?”
“Evelyn. Evelyn Brennen. And you are?”
Her face lights up with a smile.
“Delia. Pleasure to meet you, Evelyn.”
She extends her hand toward me. I pull the glove off of my right hand and grasp her hand, firmly shaking it. We release hands and the music overtakes the silence growing between us.
“If you want to talk, there is a quieter place.”
“Sure,” I reply.
Standing up as I speak, I follow her out of the dancehall through a door that I didn’t notice on the way in. As I close the door behind me, the music muffles and I can hear my thoughts again. I follow her farther into the room looking around at the walls. They are draped in bright fabrics. Covering the floor are similarly bright carpets dotted by pillows of assorted sizes and wild patterns. Taking us to the back, toward a particularly large and comfortable looking set of pillows, she plops down and beckons me to do the same on the one across from her. She turns my mask over and over in her hands.
I fall onto the pillow. It wraps around me in a soft embrace. I relax for a moment then realize I still have my filthy overcoat on. Hastily I unbutton it and pull it off. Standing back up, I look at the now soiled pillow.
“Don’t worry about it kid, happens all the time.”
Sighing, I sit back down onto the pillow.
“It’s just so beautiful. I’ve never been any place like this or seen…” My words trail off as my mind struggles to take in the radical vibrancy of the room.
“I figured as much. I was much the same way the first time I ventured off the beaten path.”
“I just can’t fit the two places together. The streets above and this place here are as different as night and day. There’s life here.”
“Uncomfortable, isn’t it?”
“It gets better, but you’ll always have that nagging doubt that this place is wrong. That it shouldn’t be.”
“But it should—it has to be.” I reply. The passion in my voice startles me.
Delia smiles. “Agreed. But sadly that’s just not the way things are.”
I pause for a moment. The way things are. The Caretakers, our Great Society. Regimented, isolated, dark, terrifying. “But why?” I reply. My words sound pathetic, but I feel their meaning deeply.
Delia’s face stiffens. “Maybe we should change the subject. How did you find this place?” Her tone is more somber and serious than before.
“I was wandering around and heard the music. I followed it down here.”
“Wait, you weren’t invited? You could hear it on the street?”
Delia jumps up from the pillow with alarming speed and dashes back through the door. For a moment, the volume rises, then recedes as the door slams shut. Instinctively, I stand and begin to put my overcoat back on. The muffled music stops. As I finish the top button, Delia returns. She hurls my mask at me. I catch it, stinging my hands.
“Come on. We need to get out of here. Follow me.”
She breaks into a run back toward the dance floor. I don’t hesitate and quickly catch up. Following closely behind her, we press through the frantic swarm of people making it for the door. I fight not to lose sight of her vibrant green shirt.
The front door is swung wide open from people mashing against each other to get out. The atmosphere, so inviting before, is now electric with terror. Seeing the open door, and the falling ash outside, my heart sinks.
With trembling hands, I haphazardly pull on my mask. My hair snags painfully on the rubber straps. Shaking, I’m overrun with fear. I don’t know what’s happening.
As I begin to shut down, a hand firmly grasps my hand and pulls me toward the exit.
“Come on, Evelyn!”
Delia’s voice is clearly audible over the panicked murmur of the crowd. Coming into the doorway, I am pressed from all sides and struggle to remain standing. Clawing hands and pressing bodies send waves of pain rippling through my body, but I don’t let go of Delia’s grip. I struggle until I’m free.
We race up the stairs with reckless haste, keeping each other from falling with our hands’ death grip on the other’s. At the top of the stairs, Delia leads us straight into the street. The automobiles there are at a full stop.
Weaving, sliding, and jumping we pass through the congested street. The motorists honk angrily. I keep my eyes fixed on her shirt to guide me through the sea of grey and black.
Emerging from the traffic jam, we dart into the first alley. The sound of sirens begins to echo in the claustrophobic space.
“Keep moving; we need to keep moving.”
Delia leads us through the confusing maze of alleys. Darting left and right into connecting branches, we quickly lose sight of the street and rapidly increase the distance between us and the rising roar of sirens.
My lungs burn from the effort. Outside of the gym there is little place to sprint, and I have never done it in my mask. My strained, carbonized breaths feed a growing feeling that I’m going to hyperventilate, but Delia’s unrelenting speed propels me forward and strengthens my resolve.
Mercifully, a few yards ahead, Delia leads us to the left and into a small blind alley which is partly obscured by a dumpster. She releases my hand. Blood and sensation rush back into it. It throbs a little. I fight to catch my breath with the short gulps the mask allows me. Delia presses her back to the wall and slides to the ground. From a small pouch on her waist she pulls out a gasmask and places it over her face.
“Are you ok? Do we need to get you to a hospital?” I say panicked. I have never seen anyone outside without their mask. You’ll die. It’s that simple. Or at least it was until a few moments ago.
“No, I’m ok. Plus I can’t be seen right now. I’m a dead giveaway in this green shirt.”
Delia looks down at her green shirt steadily turning black in the falling ash.
“What now?” I ask.
“I need to wait until dark before I can get out of here. And you need to get home. Your parents are going to be worried.”
“They don’t worry about me,” I say indignantly. My resentment toward their fight last night clearly shines through.
“You know that’s not true. Plus, with all the Peace Officers swarming around you definitely don’t want to be here.”
“But I can’t go. Your mask, I mean you didn’t need a mask. You know things. Things I want to know. I need to know the truth.”
Delia lifts her head locking her eyes with mine.
“That’s a dangerous path kid. You think you want to know, you think you’re ready, but you’re not. You should go home and forget everything you saw.”
“Impossible,” I say.
Delia’s head drops. “I know.” The sorrow in her voice sends a shiver down my spine.
“If you want to learn more,” she continues, “ask yourself this. Why have you never seen someone die on the street? Where are the corpses of rats and birds? Once you’ve started to peel those layers back ask yourself, what’s hidden in the silver trucks?”
I gulp hard. Fear radiates in my body. Silver trucks? What is she talking about? With every passing moment more of the world is revealed to me, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I understand it less and less.
“Where do I even start? Can’t you tell me?”
“I wish I could kid, but this is one journey you have to make by yourself.” She pauses for a moment. Taking in a deep breath she continues, “Blend in, cover your tracks and don’t make waves.”
Her warning sinks home. Peace Officers don’t take kindly to abnormal behavior. It’s beat out of us at school to the point where it becomes unimaginable. I care not to think about what happens to the people who cut their own path.
Delia pushes herself up from the filthy alley floor. The conversation dies. Only the movement of falling ash breaks up the stillness. Delia looks exhausted. Not from the sprint, but from being on the run. The woman who approached me in the club is gone. Her vibrancy has faded, her face now stoic in resolve. I imagine, for a moment, that I’m looking at my future self. The thought sinks into the pit of my stomach. Delia locks eyes with me. I see something there, familiar, yet I cannot express it. Like the look my mother gave me all those years ago, this too will haunt me. She turns away from me and begins taking long strides down the alley. I panic; she can’t leave yet. This has been too much too quickly, and I still have so many questions.
“Where are you going?” More of my anxiety seeps into my words than I would like.
“I don’t know, kid. Now go on, get home. And remember, tread carefully.”
I stand frozen as I watch her turn the corner and disappear. Minutes ago I didn’t know her world existed and now it’s slipping away from me. I think of crying out to her, but decide better of it. But the gnawing remains. If I let her get away now, I may never find the answers I seek. Forcing my muscles to move, I run after her as fast as the slippery cobblestones will allow.
The alley forks and diverges. I pick paths on impulse, then double back when they, too, turn up empty. My lungs rasping, mouth tasting of copper and ash, I slow down to a walk. Tears well in my eyes. I found what I was looking for, I found her, and I let her slip away. Sliding down the wall behind me, the adrenaline fades away and my heart slows. Heavy tears stream down my face, pooling in the inner seal around my eyes obscuring my view. Slowly, I pull all the emotions this encounter unleashed back into place and rise from the cold, stone alley.
I wind my way back to the main street. Instantly, I slip into the crowd and disappear. As I walk, I know that I’ll never see Delia again and that my life will never be the same. Sadness and eagerness fight in my heart.