Chapter One


Currently Listening To: "Life in Technicolor" by Coldplay

Not taking the Purge anymore is easy once you know how to do it properly. But controlling your emotions is a lot more difficult without breathing in the meds.

Kicking the Purge habit requires trial and error, like trying to quit smoking. You try out itchy patches or nasty-tasting gum as substitutes for nicotine, only to discover that you need something more effective. Breaking free from the Purge is very similar, although patches and gum are not involved. Neither is nicotine.

Instead, some kind of device that prevents you from inhaling the Purge will do the trick. Simply covering your mouth won't cut it, as the gas will seep through any hole in whatever material you use. Your hand. A piece of cloth. Even duct tape. It doesn't matter. Plugging your nose doesn't work either. Trust me. I had two old pencil erasers stuck up my nostrils for three days the only time I tried that little experiment.

A sure fire method is to purchase a mechanical filter on the black market. But these little gadgets are very hard to come by since they're as rare as a Buddhist monk with hair. They're also illegal and the demand far exceeds the supply.

If you lack funds or can't locate a shady dealer, there are other options. Most require basic tech skills and a bit of ingenuity, which most people lack in today's society. As a Messenger, I sometimes explore the northern ruins and stumble across items suitable for homemade gas masks—filter canisters, fabric harnesses, plastic goggles, rubber hoses, bathing caps, tin cans, and a few handkerchiefs. Combine all of the items in the correct way and you won't have to inhale that awful gas ever again.

Warning: No longer taking the Purge will arouse feelings of euphoria, despair, and other emotions almost simultaneously. This is unavoidable, as your body will naturally release emotions that have remained dormant for a long time. And oh, what a wonderful sensation you'll feel. It's like opening your eyes for the first time. It's a freedom like you've never imagined. To have your emotions finally run rampant, fighting each other for dominance, it's the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.

When this happens, I encourage you to enjoy your newfound bliss, sadness, affection, boredom or even anger. You deserve it for doing your part to fight the system. However, I have one piece of advice to offer you first—

Lock yourself up somewhere for about a week or you'll end up in prison.

Until you're in control of your emotions, the cops will be all over you the moment you step foot out in public. Informants of the White Agency are everywhere and when you're fresh off the Purge, you tend to stick out like a porcupine among badgers. One smile outside closed doors and you might as well handcuff yourself. That's why you need at least a week to get a handle on your emotions. People are different, so I imagine that sometimes it may take a little longer. The first day will be the easiest and the third and fourth days will be the worst. That's when you start to suffer a withdrawal from the Purge.

Headaches aspirin can't cure. Itching everywhere that you can't scratch. Chills not associated with flu symptoms. A depression bordering the lines of suicidal. If you can endure the sickness for a couple of days without returning to the Purge, then you're one step closer to living a drug free life.

For the past two years, the Purge hasn't tainted my body.

And I plan to keep it that way, which is why I'm currently leaning over a sparkling clean toilet bowl, pretending to hurl.

Every morning at sunrise, the government releases the Purge onto the streets. The gas forms a thick pinkish cloud that every citizen on the island must step outside to inhale. At home, it's easy for me to pull on my homemade gas mask to protect myself from the fumes. My neighbors usually pay me no attention and the patrolling cops are mostly idiots. But this morning, I had to come to school before dawn. I'm failing history and I have to take a stupid remedial course every Saturday morning for the next six weeks. Today marks the first session and here at school, it's a lot harder to slip on a gas mask without someone noticing.

So, I pretended to be sick right before the Purge trucks showed up outside the building. As a handful of students and teachers filed out into the quad, a school nurse escorted me to the girl's room. If she was allowed to, I believe she would show signs of annoyance for missing the Purge. I almost smile at the thought as I retch again.

Staring at my reflection in the toilet water, I check my watch. The gas cloud always lingers for ten minutes before vanishing. I have less than a minute before it's all over. I heave for a final time and spit the hugest wad of saliva I can. Then, I pull myself slowly back up to my feet and flush my fake vomit.

When I turn around and exit the stall, clutching my abdomen for good measure, the nurse is finishing off a pink substance from a plastic bottle—the Purge in liquid form, given to those with a valid excuse for not joining everyone else outside. I watch her down a shot of the nastiest substance I have ever tasted. She has another bottle reserved for me. Oh goodie.

"Feeling better, Miss Tatum?"

What an ironic inquiry considering I'm not supposed to feel anything.

"Yes," I reply simply.

We exit the restroom and she hands me the unopened bottle of liquid Purge. "Drink this," she orders me in a colorless voice. "I'll escort you to class. Everyone else should be coming back inside right about now."

I accept the bottle, keeping my hands steady and my silent panic in check. She stares at me, so I have no choice but to crack open the bottle and drink my fill. Only I don't swallow. I also hope that she doesn't ask me any questions that require more of a response than a nod or a headshake.

I give her the empty bottle while we walk down a vacant corridor. Dim sunlight spills across the polished floor through bay windows. I glance outside, anything to turn my head away from her. Gray clouds are rolling in and I anticipate rain by the end of the afternoon.

The nurse's high heels echo loudly inside the open space. Silence prevails for a long while. When we enter a new corridor, she finally asks me another question.

"Do you still feel nauseated?"

I shake my head without looking at her. The Purge sets my taste buds on fire with its horrible flavor. You know how Pepto Bismol and castor oil tastes? Well, mix those two together and that's the liquid Purge—only multiply the bitter, chalky, and utterly weird taste by ten. I hate it so much that I actually feel like I have to puke now.

"Do you feel anything?"

Again, I shake my head.

"The liquid Purge is not as concentrated as the gas form," she tells me, "but it does the trick just the same."

I listen silently, willing her to shut up. Fortunately, she does and we arrive at my remedial history classroom shortly thereafter. She watches as I open the heavy door and tells me that I can stop by her office again if my nausea returns. I nod to acknowledge her words and quietly slip back into the classroom. My teacher has already restarted her lecture. She's fiddling with the digital board, editing her lecture notes with her back turned towards the dozen students eyeballing her.

I return to my seat and instantly snatch up my half-empty bottle of water. Glancing around to ensure that all eyes are indeed on the professor, I spit out the liquid Purge through pursed lips. At once, it stains the water pink. I hastily twist the cap back on and stuff the bottle into my backpack to conceal the evidence. Facing forward as though nothing happened, I long for something to rinse the disgusting aftertaste out of my mouth.

The first time I tried the liquid Purge was during my withdrawal period. I assumed since it was less potent, I could learn how to keep my emotions at bay. Drinking one sip though was enough to convince me that there was a better way to fight the withdrawals and control my emotions.

I soon learned that music was the key. It made perfect sense, as I was already equipped with the necessary tools thanks to the special gift I received when I was five years old. Music plays constantly inside my head, so I guess you can say that I move to the beat of my own drum.

A few of my senses control the volume involuntarily, almost like a synesthesia stimulation. Whenever I touch certain objects or see certain things, the volume increases. Whenever I speak or hear sounds that interest me, the volume decreases.

Like right now, while I'm in school. I can listen to the songs from my neuro music player, as well as my teacher prate on and on about useless information. I sit at my desk in the back row, far removed from the digital board where she uses several computer screens to aid in her lecture. She talks about the Third World War. Boring.

Here's what she sounds like to me: "In the year 2012, blah, blah, blah, invaded the United States of America, blah, blah, blah, and managed to capture Washington DC, blah, blah, blah, by marching into the White House. Blah, blah, blah declared war on blah, blah, blah. United Nations officials hasten to blah, blah, blah . . . ."

I'm anxious to leave but I'm careful not to do anything that would betray how I feel. The last thing I need right now is to end up in the principal's office again. The principal is an evil little man who would turn me over to the authorities in a heartbeat. I don't want to give him that satisfaction. He has already tried and failed to suspend me because of my unusual attire, which somehow sparked a silent revolution at my school.

Most people wear plain, dark colors to symbolize his or her submission to our glorious laws. I, on the other hand, like to wear bright colors—brilliant reds, sparkling blues, dazzling yellows, and vivid purples. I never meant to start a trend.

But somehow I did. Other kids at school recently started dressing like me. Apparently, before emotions were outlawed everywhere, the youth in Japanese culture often used their clothing as a way to rebel against rigid social norms. That's what the other kids thought I was doing, so they literally followed suit. Someone even gave our little group a name, although I've never learned it.

Needless to say that one kid wearing abnormal colors is a bad thing. But when twenty kids start doing the same thing, trouble is usually bound to follow. In our case it didn't; however, the school administrators spent about two weeks trying everything in their power to get us into serious trouble with the law. Their campaign got them nowhere as it's not against the law to wear bright colors. It's also not against school policy, although I'm sure that next term it will be.

All and all, school officials like to keep a close watch on all of these students, especially me. And I hate the smothering attention.

There's a girl in my remedial class who's a part of my unofficial "clique". I don't even know her name but she sits there with her long, flowing purple hair decorated with colorful hair glitter. She wears a pink and royal blue striped drop shoulder top and a pink pleated skirt. Everyone else in the class, besides me, wear clothes that are black, brown, gray, or dark blue.

The girl glances at me. She nods, acknowledging her support of my quiet rebellion. Either that or she approves of my purple hoodie and golden skirt that's brighter than sunlight. I pay her no mind but I wonder if we would be friends if the world was different.

When the bell finally signals the end of the two-hour course, I'm overjoyed. Like everyone else though, I quietly pack up my digital books. Then, I exit the class behind a cluster of students. A few of them speak in quiet voices about mundane topics, such as the weather or the lecture we've just heard. No one giggles. No one gossips. No one jokes.

I often imagine what school would be like if emotions weren't illegal. I picture kids running up and down the hallways, laughing and talking merrily with friends. I imagine girls discussing all of the cute boys and the boys trying to show off for their friends and the admiring girls. I imagine couples wandering the corridors, holding hands and making out. I have an active imagination because of the old novels I like to read, novels that are banned because they remind people of a past where freedom of emotions was allowed. I have a small library of wonderful books hidden away inside my secret place. If someone ever discovered them, I'd be at sixty before the state releases me from prison.

Alone, because friendship is not allowed, I stride with long legs towards the main exit. I have a meeting to get to and I'm already running behind schedule.

"Charlotte." Someone calls my name. It's not a yell but loud enough for me to hear, even with the music blaring inside my skull. I clutch my backpack tighter and walk on. I don't have time to stop and talk to someone.

I take a shortcut through the gymnasium, passing by the pool area where a dozen freshmen are receiving swimming lessons. I remember enrolling in the after school courses last year. It was the best few weeks of my life, gliding through the cool water and learning different strokes and breathing exercises. I was already off the Purge then, so my elation was heightened to a point where I had to work extra hard not to smile from sheer pleasure.

"Charlotte." The voice is closer now. In fact, right behind me. I hear rapid footsteps and then I feel a tap on my left shoulder.

I glance back but I don't slow my stride. It's the purple-haired girl from my class and she struggles to keep pace. I don't say anything.

"I tried to give you this after class," she tells me, brandishing a folded slip of paper from her backpack. "I have a message for you." She lowers her voice to a whisper. "The other members of the Free Spirits thank you for everything that you do to keep them safe."

Her words surprise me but I don't show it. "Thanks," I say. I absolutely have no idea who or what the Free Spirits are but I nod curtly and continue on my way. She hands me the piece of paper before turning away after a lingering glance.

I unfold the note and quickly scan it with my eyes. It reads—

14 N and 6 A

It's a code and I know exactly what it means. It's an address—the intersection of 14th Street North and 6th Avenue. The meeting has changed locations to a closer venue, which benefits me greatly since I'm already behind schedule. I drop the note into the nearest trashcan after committing the address to memory.

Then, I'm out of the school building. Shuffling among a crowd of pedestrians, I head to the monorail station two blocks away. The sky overhead reminds me of overcooked oatmeal—stale gray and soggy wet. The clouds form rolling clumps of sugar and the sun is barely visible, a silver orb with the dull metallic sheen of an old, dusty spoon. I pull the hood up over my head just as the clouds open up to spill a heavy rain.

I'm soaking wet by the time I enter the monorail station and purchase my ticket. I locate the same monorail that usually takes me home and climb up into one of the cars to find a seat. As I scramble into a comfortable chair, my eyes find him.

He's a fellow commuter, roughly the same age as me. Maybe slightly older, but I don't know for sure. I've never spoken to him. I've only watched him in silence.

He wears the pristine uniform of a White Agent—white of course, with purple lapel pins across the chest to signify rank.

I enjoy looking at him and I don't know why. There's no standard for beauty but I assume he's handsome. His black hair is low-cut and slicked back, giving him a sort of regal look. His blue-green eyes remind me of the pools of which I enjoy swimming. And his uniform does nothing to hide his chiseled physique.

Besides his physical qualities, there's something about him that intrigues me, even though I should dislike everything about him. I don't know what it is that reels me in, so I often stare at him to find out. Maybe it has something to do with the volume of the music in my head rising to a deafening crescendo whenever his eyes sweep over me. I wish I had the courage to say something to him. I would love to learn his name at least.

The monorail lurches forward all of a sudden and shoots out of the station. Suspended over the city, it takes off for its next destination.

I pull my eyes away from the boy and peer out the window. The rain pounds against the glass like the lashes of a whip. From a bird's eye view, I watch the tiny specks of people far below. These people bustle to various places, uninterested in one another. I sigh quietly so that none of my neighbors will hear it—just another humdrum day in Paradise, the rotating island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where I reside.

The monorail thunders on and soars west through the downtown area. We make several stops along the way. Passengers disembark and other passengers replace those who have left the tram. I occasionally spy my watch, keeping my anxiety at bay. I have less than fifteen minutes to make it to the harbor or the job is off.

For several reasons, with the most important being my life, I have never become an official member of the underground anti-government movement trying to disrupt our apathetic existence—the Society of Action for the Freedom of Emotions. Members of the SAFE rebellion have taught themselves how to conceal their emotions. They lead normal lives while meeting in secret places to plot the eventual war against our totalitarian government. Anyone sitting next to me could be a rebel. I'm sure my agent friend thinks so too, as he's always scanning faces, searching for something hidden behind blank facades.

Although I'm not an official member of the revolution, I do my part by performing odd jobs for SAFE. I'm a Messenger, nothing more than an errand girl. I'm afraid to devote me entire life to SAFE because I can't imagine how my father or younger sister would survive without me. My father's barely hanging in there already and my sister, Abigail, looks up to me. If they ever lose me . . . .

At long last, the monorail pulls into Paradise Harbor Station, three stops away from the one that leads to home. I clamber to my feet and join the queue to exit. The agent boy looks at me. It's only a casual glance but he's probably wondering why I'm leaving the tram three stops too soon.

It takes forever to get off the monorail and out of the crowded station. Does anyone drive anymore? I glance at my watch again. Five minutes.

I walk up the sidewalk and disappear around the nearest corner. Once I'm out of sight, I race along dark alleys and backstreets until I see ships lining the coast. I long to take my shoes off and run through the glistening white sand. I want to dive into the ocean and swim until I reach a place where emotions are not regulated by the government—if such a place exists anymore. But I have an appointment to keep and so I turn away from the shore and continue down another dark alley.

When I emerge, I slow to a walk. Clutching a stitch in my side, I stroll up to a black car with tinted windows that's parked with its engine idle. The alarm on my watch beeps. I've made it on time. I breathe a sigh of relief and taste the liquid Purge yet again. I had to endure constant reminders of its lingering essence during class.

I halt outside the rear door on the driver's side of the vehicle. Something clicks and the window rolls down halfway.

"You are nearly late," a voice says.

I can't see the owner of the words. Shadows conceal his face and his true identity remains a mystery. He's known as the Entity and he's an information broker. I've performed jobs for him before but this is the first time I've ever met him in person. He typically prefers to hand out assignments through intermediaries. But for some reason, he decided to personally give me this particular mission.

"Sorry," I apologize, trying to figure out what I did to deserve this honor. No one, except for a select few, ever receives a personal visit from the Entity. I should feel proud. Instead, I feel nervous. "School ran over a bit."

He doesn't respond. He only pushes an envelope into my hands. I stare down at it. It's blank on the outside. Untraceable. Seemingly unimportant. But it's concealing something, as it's locked with a digital cipher. I unzip my jacket halfway and stuff the envelope inside.

"You know the drill," the Entity speaks again, his voice distorted by a voice modulator. "Don't open the envelope. The recipient's address has already been uploaded remotely to your Digi-Nav. You will receive more intel later, detailing what you must do to get this package to him. When the job is done, you will be paid your usual amount."

I nod and he rolls up the window without saying anything more. I watch the car drive off. Then, I turn away and backtrack to the monorail station, imagining what's inside of the envelope tucked away beneath my jacket.