If you lived in a world of fear, where even breathing on someone could mean certain death, what necessary item would you always wear? If you guessed a respiratory surgical mask, you might be one of the Cleans in my book Daystealer. In fact, if you live fifteen years in the future surrounded by the Virus and left your home without it, you could be arrested by your neighbors and brought before the law–if they didn’t hang you first.
Especially in a dense population, the respiratory surgical mask–a face mask (some say bubble mask) used most recently by people afraid of the swine flu–does little to keep you healthy. Some say the mask and gloves have a placebo effect. It comforts you because you feel you’re doing something to prevent disease. But actually, it doesn’t help one bit. It can, however, prevent the spread of disease through coughing and sneezing if the wearer has the disease. (Surprisingly, the nurses and doctors wear the masks in hospital and the patients don’t.)
During the 2009 swine flu scare, people from other countries donned fashionable masks in their effort to stay healthy. And in my story, the Cleans who live outside the safety of the dome believe they will keep them safe. The Carriers, who can spread the disease, don’t wear the masks. They’re isolated–yet we see in the opening scene they can escape. What they wear is a cheek brand, signifying their dangerous state.
Inside the dome, the Select are safe, but they wear masks of a different kind. Their masks are fashion statements. Like the opulent masks of the Carnival of Venice, Italy, they don masks of gesso, leather, or glass covered with gold leaf, feathers, and gems. (Another post to come about these marvelous masks.) Their masks boast status, mocking those on the outside who struggle to stay healthy and alive. As we see in the Stealersaga novels, they wear more than a facade. Their entire existence is fake and only Trinidad dares to unmask them.