Maybe it was the Mohawk that pissed them off? Maybe it was the metal studs on my denim jacket? Either way, they assumed I was guilty. I knew it was only a matter of time. I didn’t believe like they did. I didn’t prescribe to their way of thinking. I was being arrested for a murder I didn’t commit, but my biggest crime was changing my mind. I used to be like them. I used to think like them. And now they hated me for it. But the sentries clamping cuffs around my wrists didn’t know that. They didn’t know who I was or what I believed. What they did know was that Mary Flatell was dead, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As the second cuff snapped tightly around my wrist, I watched a sentry push another suspect through the crowd. With a painful shove, they made me follow. Prodding me every few steps, I was forced past sneering faces that shouted indecipherable insults and spat on me as I passed by.
I tried to resist as they attempted to cram me into the backseat of the sentry cruiser. Unfortunately, my defiance only paid off temporarily. The sentry’s eyes widened at the challenge. Then in one quick motion, he raised a nightstick and struck me behind the knees. Stunned, I collapsed face-first onto the back seat, nearly landing in the lap of the guy they’d already seated inside. I scrambled to sit up as the officer slammed the door shut.
As the cruiser pulled away, I could see where the edge of one crowd ended and another began. The signs of hundreds of protestors, decked in animated colors, were now strewn on the ground, while their holders were poked, prodded and otherwise coerced into long lines. At the head of each line were more sentries, arresting and processing each protestor on live TV—just as they had done with thousands of other college students, staff, and community members around the country in the last six months. But what I found most disheartening was the lack of resistance. The protestor’s heads were now bowed, their arms limp at their sides, and they followed along in line, like herded sheep. Their efforts had failed, and collectively, it appeared they had given up.
I sighed, and my chest ached from pain unrelated to the injuries sustained during my arrest. The last public university was now closed. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.
* * *
They wouldn’t take me to a police station. I knew that. Those too had been phased out. No, I would go where all the heathen element went: Conversion Camp.
Even though I’d known about the camps since they were first implemented two years ago, I hadn’t seen anyone ripped from their lives and taken to one until it happened six months ago. I was in Dr. Heidi Ananse’s Ethics in Journalism class when they came for her. She told us they would. She said they hoped that if they arrested enough teachers, the schools would shut down on their own accord—and many did. There’d been countless raids on universities, arresting teachers and professors. And since she was also a journalist, Dr. Ananse was high on their list. They considered her un-American. A dangerous threat to democracy. To freedom. To liberty. To God. She knew her time was limited. And she knew where they would take her.
It was impressive to watch as they hauled her away. She didn’t resist like I did or like any of the thousands of college professors arrested that same day. She went quietly. She’d understood the risks of showing up to teach. It was almost as if she wanted to get caught.
I took her arrest personally. Dr. Ananse was odd, but she made class interesting, told me I had talent, and didn’t care that I had a tattoo. Maybe that’s why I considered her my mentor?
The cruiser slowed as it pulled into the drive at the Central Ohio Conversion Camp, drawing my thoughts back to the present. Crowds of onlookers had gathered along with trucks full of government-approved journalists ready to capture images of us being locked inside. They appeared to be focusing a great deal of attention on the guy seated next to me.
His name was Jace Davis. He was well-known because his father was once a Senator and because two years ago, when the Armageddonists took control of the House and Senate, his dad was removed from office and sent to a Conversion Camp. I’m sure Jace knew it was only a matter of time before they’d find an excuse to arrest him too. But like me, I doubt he ever imagined he’d be accused of murder.
The walk from the cruiser to the back entryway was long. The cobblestone pathway was decorated with a haphazard assortment of autumn leaves. I could feel the dried, dead things crunch and collapse beneath my shoes, but I couldn’t hear them over the crowd—my last moments of pleasure stolen from me.
The spectacle of spectators spat vicious accusations. Some were armed with rotten fruit, twigs, and pebbles, which they used as projectiles—repeatedly. I was zinged in the back of the head with what must have been a pebble, but before I could react, a nightstick was jabbed in my ribs. The crowd cheered as they watched me buckle in pain.
Jace fared worse than I did. Just as we approached the long-awaited entranceway, a tomato splattered against his forehead. I watched as its guts slid down the side of his cheek and onto his shoulder. And I could see the sadness, the humiliation, the moment of utter defeat on his face. He tried to wriggle his shoulder so the remains of the tomato would drop to the ground. But as he did, his sentry escort pulled out a Taser. I watched as the sudden jolt forced Jace to collapse. It was a sickening sight. But again, the crowd cheered.
Moments later, just before we were escorted inside, I twisted my neck to try to take in what was possibly my last moment outdoors, when someone all too familiar caught my eye. He was average height; thin; completely bald; with the brightest, whitest skin I’d ever seen; dressed in a bizarre, multicolored, patchwork business suit. We made eye contact, and as we did, he smiled.
Whoever he was, he was responsible. He killed Mary Flatell.
Want more? Read Chapter 2: Confession