Leo the Leper and the Senseless World

by Matt Terrill

Leo the Leper and the Senseless World by Matt Terrill In a society where people are sorted into castes based on which senses they don’t have,16-year-old Leo is in the lowest tier for being nose-blind, taste-blind, and partially numb. What’s worse than being called a leper? The nonstop sensism is wearing him down.

While researching a plague that caused sense-loss for 95% of the world, he discovers a strange spot on a map where everyone is unaffected. He’s convinced they’re hiding something.

With few supplies, his pal Sam and their off-and-on friend Hux join him on a thousand mile quest for a cure. Along the way, they must also avoid leper hunters, sneak through hostile elite cities, and sidestep the chaos of leper shantytowns.

What could go wrong? Just about everything.






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Chapter One

End-of-the-year caste rallies are the worst part of high school, and that’s saying something. As I trudged by the football field, I saw Sam at the top corner of the bleachers with the other lepers. There were just a couple dozen of us on campus, but we still barely knew each other. We didn’t interact much with anyone. I waved to Conor and Amy. They gave indifferent nods and shrunk down a bit. When we found ourselves at these events, we were more comfortable hanging out under the stands. Hiding out is more like it.

I took a seat by Sam. He grinned as he noticed my apparel. “Nice jacket,” he said. “You look hot.”

“I am hot. Mr. Hayes just gave me his old ski jacket since I’ll be homeless soon.”

Sam cocked his head to the side in confusion. “We still have a couple years of high school before that, don’t we?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

With beads of sweat running down his dark skin, a jacket was probably the last thing he wanted. “Kinda baggy on you, huh?”

“Everything’s baggy on me,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. I could wear a tailored suit and wouldn’t impress anyone.” Conor laughed. I took off the bright red jacket and folded it across my lap. My back was sweaty. “Mr. Hayes thinks there might be a cure out there.”

“For what?” asked Sam.

“The suckiness of life.”


“You know, ‘leprosy.’ The Extinguishing.”

“What’s the cure? Fire?”

“Yup,” I said. “Just grab your flamethrower.”

Sam rolled his eye. Even without his patch, Sam probably wouldn’t be mistaken for an upper-caster. He’s shorter than me and a bit pudgy. He kept his hair drawn back in thick locks, which looked really cool to me, but they weren’t exactly in style. He couldn’t have cared less. Dark t-shirts and ripped jeans filled his closet.

“Anyway,” I said, “let’s hope this rally flies by. They’re so boring that I’d rather watch a football game.” Not that I went to those. In fact, this was the first time I’d been at the big, outdoor stadium all year. They held the caste rally here because it had a track.

“Football’s okay,” said Sam. “It’s baseball I can’t stand. Now, that is the world’s worst sport!” For some reason, Sam always had to put down baseball whenever sports came up. I just shrugged and agreed with him.

Some cheerleaders were attempting—and failing—to start the wave.

“I don’t want to be here,” I said.

“No one does.”

I looked at the front seats by the track where the elites were cackling. He followed my gaze. “Okay, the gold medal kids are having fun. But I don’t need a trophy to tell me I’m smart.”

“They tell others that,” I said. Before the rally, our school gave out gold medals to the A students and silvers to the A/B kids.

“Notice anything about the awards?” I asked, gesturing across the bleachers.

“Oh, everyone knows they’re rigged.”

The gold medals fell neatly with the top caste. Virtually every elite had one. Not because their work was better, but because the teachers were intent on treating us like the real world would after graduation. Elites, the five percent of the population unaffected by the plague, had all their senses and all the gold medals.

Sitting behind them, the upper-casters (who were only nose-blind or taste-blind) had silver medals. Higher up the bleachers were the deaf. Then the blind sat in front of us. There were a few silvers sprinkled among them. Beside the bleachers in folding chairs were the numb. No medals there. Or here. It didn’t matter how well we did in class; a passing grade was the best we could hope for.

Sam laughed. “You know, I could go down there and sit on the front row if I wanted.”

“You didn’t get straight A’s, though,” I said. “Straight C’s maybe.”

“Sure, but there’s no rule saying that we can’t mix. I could sit down there, and elite kids could sit up here if they wanted.”

I glanced at our sad, little section. Greg picked at a scab. Amy yawned. A few, whose names I didn’t know, looked straight ahead with zombie stares.

“There’s no seating chart,” said Sam. “It’s weird, right?”

I looked again at those laughing elite heads. “It’s not that weird.”

Cash, from my history class, was our student council president. He took the podium, waving and showing off his perfect teeth. “Hey, Welker High! It’s race time! One representative from each caste will do the honors. Let’s have those lucky reps head on down!” His gaze raked across the top bleachers. “Even the leps need reps!”

It bothered me that he said “leps.” I’m not afraid of the word. In fact, I use it all the time, but it’s weird when non-lepers use it, especially at an official school function. I glanced over at the administrators, but they were just standing there talking to each other.

“Representing the top-casters, he has just one weakness: being too good-looking! Achilles Carter!” A buff guy in the first lane smiled at the front rows.

“And in the second lane…not quite elite, but quite the athlete, Julian Harris!” A sophomore with a chip on his shoulder, he had an intense look in his eyes.

Cash continued his well-rehearsed intros as the cheers got noticeably quieter.

“And...wait. No lep rep? C’mon, we need one down here ASAP! It’s not a caste rally without you guys holding us down!” he said. I was so disgusted by what he’d said, I looked around to commiserate with my fellow bottom-casters. They were all staring at me.

Oh, no.


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