Below is a sneak peek of Chapter Two of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion—a dystopian suspense for young adults and millennials now available through Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, Smashwords, and paperback via Amazon. In honor of its release, I will be publishing the first few chapters FOR FREE on my blog over the coming weeks.
Andrew made me promise I wouldn’t say a word—not a freakin’ word—about the Wall and our encounter. So now, as I sit in my World History class, I’m frustrated.
It’s a boring general requirement course at the University of Apollo, but on the up side, we’re reviewing the history of the Wall for our final exam. I always found it ironic that merely discussing the Wall with friends or family is a misdemeanor crime, but the moment you’re within the confines of a classroom, it’s free reign.
“The Wall was built in 2075, to do what?” my professor asks.
The Asian girl to my right raises her hand, and the professor calls on her.
“To protect us,” she says.
I don’t know her name, but I’ve seen her somewhere before—perhaps in my Spanish Literature class? I think this somewhat odd, since most of the students I meet of Asian descent prefer to study a language such as Korean, Chinese, or Japanese. Usually, their great-grandparents spoke one of those languages when they immigrated to Apollo, long ago.
“That’s correct,” the professor says. “And what else of note happened in 2075?”
I’m staring at the classic novel resting on my desk, which I plan to begin reading during lunch: The Kite Runner. I’d give anything for this class to finish so I can lose myself in yet another story, one which challenges me to imagine a world other than this.
“The State of Apollo was established,” I answer, without raising my hand.
The professor glances my way, visibly annoyed at my refusal to follow protocol. “Very good, Flora,” he says, his voice flat.
I know the whole story. It’s something every Apolloan learns in grade school, because that’s when they teach you how “the Wall is forbidden to discuss, or venture beyond.”
Of course, they never tell you why.
Their response usually resembles something like, “There’s evil on The Other Side.” For my entire life, it has been the elephant in the room, and I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who wants to scream, deck someone in the face, and shriek, “C’mon, think!”
Perhaps this is where my love for books stems: the urge to seek truth or to explore other realms beyond my own. One can often find me wandering like a ghost through the towering shelves of the Apollo Library. The library is filled with ancient books, yellowed pages and decaying leather-bound covers; I’m fascinated by them.
My professor continues reviewing the history of Apollo, and I force myself to stop my mind from wandering, instead following the familiar plotline inside my head:
Long ago, before our “Great State” was established, the Central Commerce Hub of Apollo was known as Flagstaff—a quaint college town in the northern mountains of Arizona, a state from the former United States of America. Although the majority of citizens live within the Central Commerce Hub today, Apollo’s territory stretches across the entire northern part of Arizona’s former terrain, including the Grand Canyon and Oak Creek Canyon.
In 2075, that land was incorporated into the newly formed state of Apollo, and two years later, the Wall was completed to protect us from evil. Now that it’s 2150, we are celebrating Apollo’s seventy-fifth birthday.
“Who knows the origin of our state’s name?” my professor asks the class.
I know the answer to this question too, but decide to let someone else respond. The professor glances around, and I catch him eyeing me, but I refuse to my raise my hand, so he answers. “It’s named after the Greek god, Apollo, who was the god of light, truth, and knowledge.”
There is a momentary silence in the class, before a deep and noticeably angry voice breaks it. “Because that’s what we’re all about, right professor?”
The remark comes from a shadow stuffed into the back corner of the classroom. My professor saunters toward the half-hidden desk, and a boy about my age reveals himself. I’ve seen him in class, but he’s never spoken until now. His dark, black-rimmed eyes challenge our instructor, and after further observation, I realize he wears eyeliner.
“Excuse me, Donald?” my professor says.
“Yeah, it’s Don.” The kid’s voice is snide, sarcastic. I can tell it riles the professor. “I said, because that’s what we’re all about, right? Sharing truth and knowledge with the world?”
The professor pauses and pulls a white handkerchief from his front pocket, coughs like a gentleman into it, and returns his attention to the boy.
“Well Don,” he says, his voice cool, “I think any historian would agree, that yes, the State of Apollo was established to represent just that.”
“Then how come they never talk about what’s beyond that damned Wall?”
My head and ears perk up at this. My professor pauses again. I can see him trying to collect his thoughts and re-gain his position as leader of the class. He adjusts his glasses, and I lean in, paying keener attention.
“Because what’s beyond the Wall is not important to Apollo and its movement forward in the world,” he says.
The boy follows his nod with a smirk. “Then how can we call ourselves the leaders of light, truth, and knowledge?”
The professor shifts his weight, and I can tell he’s ready to let this kid have it.
“Because, we are,” he says. “Apollo requires its students to study everything from Shakespeare, to a musical instrument, to calculus, and to master a second language. It provides free education for all its citizens, all the way through college. We believe in knowledge and community for all. And knowledge, my friend, is power.”
Class couldn’t finish fast enough. The moment we’re set free, I hurry outside, dashing through chatty cliques of students and flocks of boys and girls, trying to find this Don character―the mysterious recluse who sports black eyeliner and challenges professors during lectures.
As I travel down the university’s massive hallways, the words, “Light, Truth, and Knowledge” loom over the swarming pools of students below. The hallways seem infinite, broken only by periodic, circular courtyards that wind around central statues of the infamous Greek god for which we’re named. He is always holding a torch toward the sky, much like the famed Statue of Liberty in ancient New York.
Lose yourself in discovery. My mother’s words flash through my mind unexpectedly as I seek to find Don among the crowds. Don’t let those girls steal it from you, Flora. Your curiosity makes you unique. There’s no fun in normal.
For a moment, I can feel it again—the sticky hair spray gluing together my eyelids and stiffening my hair, dripping down my arms as they laugh, standing in a circle around me, all ten of them. Need some hairspray, Flora? Maybe this will help! Never so humiliated, I’d stopped my recess treasure hunts after that, until my mom reminded me why I shouldn’t.
Today feels like another hunt, I realize, and I revel in it. When I glimpse a black ball of grease scurrying toward the corridor that leads to the university’s mess hall, I grab my backpack and jog to catch up to Don.
“Excuse me!” I say, but he doesn’t respond, so I call his name. This time, the boy stops and turns around, scanning my features from nose to foot with a flicker of his black eyes. They remind me of obsidian stones: cold.
“What do you want?” he asks. His eyes briefly meet mine before jetting toward the ground again.
“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Flora.”
I’m rather shocked at his lack of manners. So? What kind of way is that to greet a friendly introduction? But I decide to let it slide this time. I’m too curious.
“So, I’m in your World History class. And I found your question about the Wall quite fascinating.”
For a moment, his mood seems to lighten. “You did?”
“What do you know about it? Have you actually seen it?”
Now he turns away and begins walking, as fast as he can. “No one has ever seen the Wall. You know that.”
I refuse to let him slip away so quickly, and begin pacing him. “But you’ve seen it, haven’t you?”
He shakes his head, and I can tell from the cornered look crossing his face that he’s hiding something. “No,” he says. “I haven’t. No one has.”
He’s lying, and I feel my heart leap. I imagine this is the way detectives must feel when they find a solid lead that could finally solve an elusive murder.
“You have seen it!” I quicken my pace as he speeds his steps and tries to lose me. “What do you know?”
Don’s head continues shaking, and he’s obviously growing more agitated. “I don’t know anything,” he says.
His refusal triggers a tinge of frustration inside me—what gives him the right to keep something this significant from a fellow explorer, a fellow outsider? But the frustration quickly transforms into something else … an urgency. Without thinking, I grab his shoulder, spinning him around to face me and our noses nearly collide. He smells of cigarette smoke, and the odor floats into my nostrils.
“I’ve seen it,” I whisper, and I can feel my hands grasping his shoulders.
He places a palm atop mine, and for a moment, we connect; I can sense he wants to talk and with my eyes, I coax him to speak.
“I – I’m sorry,” he says, and shoves my hand from his shoulder, turns around, and races down the corridor. As I watch him disappear into the crowds of hungry students, I know I must get through to Don. I must know what he knows.
This kid has definitely seen something.
Stay tuned for the next chapter, THE LOG CABIN, publishing this week on Thursday.