I SCUFFLED ACROSS the road towards my fate. Whether or not I would be persecuted for my actions remained to be seen. There were no cars entering my city, and for good reason.
Once you got in, you couldn’t get out.
It was right smack-dab in the thick of the night; no one would venture out unless they had somewhere to be. The dangers of being caught were not too high. I was completely alone. No cars hurriedly departed from the city either; they were too smart for that. Anyone who tried to leave would be imprisoned. No one dared take that chance. I had tried on too many occasions, I recalled, looking back on the path from which I came. I managed to cross a brook, pass through an aristocrat’s perfectly landscaped back lawn, and over the only highway in Barrens, my home city, all without being caught.
Barrens was anything but what its name sounded like. Since the old days, the small village had flourished and grown into a very sophisticated and orderly civilization. The city was pristine; citizens managed to get along well with one another or not at all; there was no crime. It was the perfect vision of a utopian society. At least, that was what the brainwashed locals thought. I was a local, born Barren and bred Barren, but I wasn’t blind to their schemes. The city board was up to something. Had been for at least thirty-three years, perhaps longer, but that was all the memory stored up in my family.
I lived with my great grandmother, who, up until recently, lived a perfectly normal life. She told me stories of the olden days, before we were forced to wear masks straight out of the womb. How life wasn’t always this way; people didn’t always live in fear, or so she said. When the board found out she was putting these so-called “lies” in my head, they locked my poor Grandma Harmony away in an insane asylum known as The Edgar Allen Poe Home for the Deranged, what others in school referred to as the Wasteland. No one knew exactly what happened to the patients in the hospital but it was common knowledge that whoever went in was changed forever. Every case was different, however. One girl in my seventh-grade class told us that her mother was committed into the asylum and when she came to visit her, after just one week of treatment, her mother had no idea who this girl was. Others said they replaced the patients’ brains with chicken brains, but we were children when we spread those rumors, none of us ever thought we would be put in there or someone we loved. I didn’t know it then but it would soon become more relevant to my own life than I realized.
That was the reason for my excursion this evening. I needed to plead for my grandmother’s safe return one more time. The past attempts failed miserably. Neither jury nor board of executives would listen to a seventeen-year-old girl who hadn’t even gotten her “new face” yet – what the superiors called the one act of kindness towards us undesirables was giving them a new face. As long as I was trapped behind my mask, I would not be heard. I was tipped by a friend at school that the “privileged” were having a party in Madame Budrow’s, one of the board members, exquisite mansion. Only those without masks were invited, as were all social events.
There was a share few of us – the ones forced to wear masks to guard our supposed hideous faces – a race, if you will, of people with some phenotypic gene that was passed down hereditarily giving us grotesque, shockingly repulsive appearances; a race that was cut off from the rest of the divine society. The unmasked individuals got better jobs, were respected, and had more liberties than the masked folk, my people. No one questioned it. We weren’t supposed to question anything the superiors did. People accepted it long ago. We weren’t to be associated with, according to the law, the one Madame Budrow helped to establish. But I just had to get in. All of the board members would be in attendance; surely one of them would listen to my plea.
I slid along the brick side of the Budrow Manor. My head circled around as I checked the perimeter. No sign of anyone anywhere. I let out a sigh of relief. That meant a: no one would see me sneaking around, and b: no one would be getting arrested tonight. All the masked citizens had a curfew. Anyone caught out of bed after nine o’clock was to be severely punished. Jail had been abolished many years before my birth. Now, the punishment was much worse; it lengthened the amount of time one of my people were to wear our masks, which – I was sure – were far more gruesome than our actual facades. But how was I to know? I had never seen my true face before.
Two superiors climbed up the majestic stone steps and rang the Budrow doorbell. I examined them closely. I never understood what was so great about them. The woman was thin; she had curves in all the right places. Her hair was a reddish gold that stretched down to her backside in long, straight locks without any stray hairs, kinks, or imperfections in sight. Her skin was flawless, reflecting a soft, golden tan that glowed under the porch’s chandelier light. The man, however, had light blonde hair that feathered out perfectly – none like any boy’s I had ever seen. All the masked boys I knew had tousled, wild hair that hardly ever stayed in place. The next thing I knew, the large doors opened, the guests faces lit up, and they glided with effortless grace of a superior inside.
The time was now.
I hurried around the corner and up the steps. I squeezed behind the couple through the doorway. The grand hall was extravagant. Dozens of superiors lined the marbled floors. A classical string quartet’s music echoed throughout the room. The unmasked people were laughing and dancing without a care in the world, just the way they handled everything. I instantly felt all eyes on me, when in reality no one was giving me a second thought.
That is, until one of the Budrow’s security guards noticed my presence. I watched him start over to me. My eyes widened underneath my mask and I ducked out the door. I ran as fast as I could, careful not to step on any of the superior’s lawns or any sidewalk triggers that would alert the authorities that an undesirable was out of bed. The sprinklers on what I was sure to be the Ysons’ lawn switched on, barely pelting me with stinging water droplets. I dashed out of the superiors’ secluded subdivision and came upon the undesirable neighborhood.
It was like stepping back in time. The flawless paved walkways turned into dusty roads leading to rows of shack-like houses all scrunched together on the left and right sides of the strip. The cameras watching the every movement of the citizens disappeared with the modernized look. Here in the Plum Downs, we could be ourselves. We still could not remove our masks – they were specially ‘glued’ onto our skin – but we could live what would be seemingly normal lives. Not a soul roamed the street, and only three shacks had lights on. On the left side of the street, I noticed my lowly shack’s yellow lights were flickering on and off.
That was my signal.