Authors: Kassy Tayler
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In memory of Oliver Ray Hodge and Robin Rae Hodge
Writing a book
is a long and sometimes difficult journey. It always helps when you have someone who understands the process. And I am so blessed to have several someones. My wonderful agent, Roberta Brown, who believes in me and is always there no matter what the time or circumstance. My adorable editor, Holly Blanck, who immediately saw the potential for this story. My writing posse, the werearmadillos, who are always there to share the ups and the downs and the craziness that is the world of publishing. I love all of you more than dark chocolate and peanut butter combined.
And of course, my husband, who keeps asking me if he can retire yet. Maybe someday soon, my love.
The Bible teaches us
that the heavens and earth were made by the one true God. I have heard these things all of my life but I dare not ask the questions that the lessons have created in my mind. I am certain I know quite a bit about the earth, as I spend most of my waking moments within its clanking iron bowels. The heavens, however, are a mystery to me as my world is hollow and my sky is made of glass. As I lie on my back and stare up at the thick dome that covers my world, I still cannot help but wonder why?
Our history is taught in two stages. There is the before time, when man lived on the surface and roamed at will. He built great cities and sailed the oceans and conquered kingdoms. Then there is the after time, when man created the great glass dome to protect all he knew from the mighty comet that came in 1878 and burned up the sky. It is the one hundred and ninety-eighth year since the world became the dome, and I spend all of my waking moments trying to find a way to leave it.
Staring at the dome will not give me a way out. I do it to justify my wanting to escape. I am desperately seeking a sign that the earth has returned to what it was before the comet came. I need to know for certain that I will not be burned to a crisp if and when I do find a way out. Occasionally, in the morning light, I see a shadow cross over, but the glass is too thick for it to be defined. I never see the flames that are rumored to be out there, and I often wonder if the flames are just an excuse, given by the royals, who run our society, to keep us within.
“Hey now, get on wit ya.” I recognize the voice and know that it holds no threat, even though his words are harsh. “If the filchers find the likes of you up here they’ll be throwing you in the fires for certain.”
I am not supposed to be on the rooftops, and to be caught would be costly. Max is okay though. It is his job to clean this part of the dome from the constant buildup of ash and smoke. The rooftops, many stories above the smoke-shrouded streets below, are home to the gardens that supply the vegetables we need to survive. The gardens are placed there so they can soak up the meager light that shines through the thick glass, and also benefit from the condensation that builds up beneath the dome and falls back down like the rain that was said to fall upon the earth from the sky.
I’m in no hurry to go. Instead, I stand, stretch, and walk to the edge of the building. Below me, in all directions, the city lies, just now coming awake with the morning light. To my left is where the royals live, and as usual my eyes go there first. From my vantage point above, their tall and skinny houses look like miniature palaces with their small, neatly manicured lawns and fences along the sidewalks that are even now being scrubbed clean. I’ve never been in their part of the city. It is forbidden for workers like me to go to that side of the dome.
Lucy, who is a shiner like me, has been there many times. She works for a laundry and is often sent to pick up bundles and make deliveries. She’s told us about it, me and my friend Peggy, about the lawns painted a bright green so they will look like grass and the trees made of copper. They are too far beneath the light to grow real trees and grass so they pretend it’s as it was in the before time. I’ve never seen grass but I know the trees on top of the building. I’ve felt the bark and touched the leaves. I can’t imagine one made of metal. It has to be cold and rigid. It can’t sigh and sway with the wind from the fans.
To the right is the industry. The foundry and the stockyards, the butchers and tanners, all lie under a haze of smoke. Cattle, pigs, and sheep live their entire lives in small pens. Every bit of breeding is controlled and every part of the creature is used when their lives are done. Linking the two sides are the smaller businesses. The weavers, cobblers, laundries, and bakeries, all small businesses run by descendants of those who were chosen to serve the royals. We all work to preserve the bloodlines and way of life for the royals, so that only the best of humanity will continue. The best as was chosen all those years ago by people who have long since been gone.
The small businesses are housed on the street level, and above them are the homes of the workers, all living in as little space as possible so that the royals may continue on with their way of life as if nothing for them has ever changed. They walk their dogs on their pristine sidewalks and have their parties and the finest our world has to offer, while the rest of us survive on what’s left.
One long thoroughfare, called the promenade, goes from the royals’ side to the other. In the center of the dome the promenade splits around a huge fountain with statues around it, a tribute to the creators of our world. This is where we go for news and the representatives of each union meet with the city officials. The tallest buildings look over the fountain and the small businesses. They house the government of our world along with the great library and the museum, all places I’m not allowed to go but am expected to work my entire life to preserve. These are the rooftops I haunt every morning to watch the light come and wonder why.
The scientists who designed the dome all those years ago were the greatest minds of the time. Unfortunately they are long gone and we have become victims of a sedentary government who will look no further than the dome that surrounds them. They are caught up in the here and now with no plans for our future. All they care about is the rules and law that they hand down to us, without any thought as to how it impacts our lives.
Max is right in his warning to me. I do not belong on the rooftop, and if I am caught I will be punished. The filchers do not care about rhyme or reason; they only care about the reward. They use any infraction, even those imagined, as a means to their end. Shiners, like me, are their favorite quarry.
“You going to stay up here all day?” Max asks.
“I’m going.” I stand on my tiptoes and kiss him on the cheek. He rolls his eyes at me before going to work with his long-handled mop. I hear the squeaking of gears and pulleys that are attached to the huge iron girders that crisscross the glass. Men, riding the baskets that will take them to the uppermost part of the dome, call out to one another in greeting. Day has come to my world and it is time for me to sleep.
“I reckon I’ll see you in the morning,” Max calls out.
“Be careful down there, gel.”
“I always am.” I put my goggles over my eyes to protect them from the tainted air below. I could take the myriad of staircases attached to the side of the building, but instead I head to the downspout. It is faster, and there is no chance of me running into a filcher on the way.
“Wren!” Max comes to where I’m propped against the building, my hands on the downspout and my feet braced. An angry sparrow swoops around my head and scolds me for being so close to its nest. “The filchers are hungry. People have been disappearing, most of them young and pretty like you. There’s plenty of rumors afoot. All of them bad. Stay below where it’s safe.”
My heart pounds at his words. No one wants to mess with the filchers. They roam about the underside of the dome, a law within themselves. The bluecoats, our word for the security force in our society, turn a blind eye to their activities because they are useful to them. They do their dirty work for reward, and act as bounty hunters when someone is wanted for an infraction.
There are two sets of laws within our society. Laws for the royals, who because of their pure blood are held in the highest esteem, and laws for the rest of us, those who were chosen to serve. The laws are not the same, as we are not considered the same.
Max looks at me, his eyes expectant. He cannot see mine through the goggles I wear. I have no choice but to lie. “I will.” I descend into the smoke-filled air and hope that no one is waiting below to take me in for trespassing.
The penalty for trespassing is service. My grandfather has warned me against it many times. My mother was caught when she wasn’t much older than me. He does not want me to suffer the same fate as her and lose what little bit of freedom I have as a shiner. I only dare go as far as the middle of the dome, where the buildings are the tallest.
The streets, like the city, have come to life since I came above. I take the same path to the lift that I take every day. I pass the same people on the way to their tasks and the same vendors pushing their carts onto the street. Nothing has changed for the royals since the world became a dome, so nothing has changed for those of us chosen to serve. There is no way to aspire to anything above what you’ve been born to. Occasionally some escape it, especially a girl, if she’s pretty enough and smart enough to catch the eye of someone who can offer her more without catching the attention of the filchers.
As I have.
I see a filcher as I turn in to the alley that will lead me to the coal tippler. I duck under one of the heavy fans that keep the air circulating beneath the dome. The noise is deafening, but luckily for me, my senses are keen from the years spent living underground, and I turn to see him come out of the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings. He wears the leather mask that disguises his face yet identifies him as one to fear. It gives him the look of a monster without features while his eyes remain hidden beneath small goggles.
What does the mask hide? I never want to be close enough to find out. I run and he takes off after me. My mind races with my feet as I dash onto a busy street. How long have they been following me? Why are they chasing me? Max’s warning echoes the pounding of my feet. People scatter as I charge down the street. No one wants to challenge the filchers. Ahead, I see another one, waiting at the corner beneath the fan. Does he think I will stop?
I don’t. I put my arms out and shove him away as I run by. He crashes into a stack of wooden crates. The fan is so loud that there is no noise, yet I know he is screaming at me to stop. A cat dashes ahead of me, scared at the sudden loss of his shelter. His ears are laid back as he races ahead and jumps into a window well.