The smell of chocolate chip waffles permeated Searlit Callaghan’s senses. It must be Friday, she thought as she rolled over in her bed, knocking over her schoolbooks still beside her. She sat up and retrieved them, collecting together her book report and article for the school paper. She blinked several times due to the sunshine streaming through her lavender curtains. She grinned. Sunshine was always welcomed in her world.
She began to get ready for her day. As she was pulling on the gray skirt that was part of her school uniform, she heard her mother call. “ Searlit? Colin? Eamonn? Desmond? Anyone? Breakfast!”
She bounded down the stairs, meeting her brother Colin on the way down. “ I love Fridays,” he exclaimed as they entered the kitchen, where their mother had laid out her usual Friday smorgasbord of fun breakfast foods. Searlit nodded in agreement, and they both sat down and began to scarf down the food.
“ Lord,” their mother said. “ You would think I never feed you kids the way you’re eating that food.”
“ You never feed us like this,” Colin replied through the waffle in his mouth.
“ Only every Friday,” oldest brother Eamonn said dryly, as he sat down beside Searlit. “ Hey, Kiddo, you finish your article?”
“ It needs a good edit, but I’m sure Mr. Hennessy can handle it,” Searlit said, grabbing another waffle off the platter. It was at this moment her father prattled into the kitchen.
“ Good morning kids. Maeve, “ he said, planting a kiss on his wife’s cheek. He had The Mondale Citizen in his hand.
“ Morning, darling, please eat something today.”
Desmond Callaghan sighed heavily. “ We’ll see,” he muttered as he opened the paper to read it. The headline said it all:
Government Police Round Up Thirty Traitors to The Leader For Questioning On Latest Terrorist Acts
“ Dad, what’s that about?” Searlit asked.
“ Hmm. Oh, nothing, just some rebel group needed to be asked some things,” he answered absently.
“ Are you going to be working on it?”
“ No, no, I’m working on the stories about the celebration stories on the Leaderships Fiftieth anniversary,” he replied.
For a moment, Searlit thought she saw an odd glance exchanged between her brothers.
Maeve saw it too, and shushed them with her eyes. They both returned to their breakfasts.
“ I would think that the police raid would be more exciting,” Searlit told her father.
He smiled at her. “ I reckon to a fifteen year old it would seem more exciting,” he said. “ But the celebrations are exciting in their own way. I mean, everyone likes balloons, right?” There was an uneasy laugh from the boys. Maeve shushed them again.
Searlit looked at the wall clock. “ I’m going to be late if I don’t go now. I’ll see you tonight,” she exclaimed, kissing both of her parents as she grabbed her books and raced out the door. After the door closed, all four remaining family members breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“ You know, Mum, one day soon we’ll have to tell her,” Eamonn said.
Maeve shook her head an emphatic no. “ She needs to be kept in the dark. It’s for her safety and for the good of the family. She is still too young to know about any of this.” She turned to her husband, her blue eyes flashing with anger. “ Who is it this time, Desmond? Who do they have?”
Desmond took off his glasses and pushed his longish auburn hair out of his face. “ The Dalrymple family, all six of them. Taken from their home in the dead of night. Charlie Farnsworth. David Powell. Sharon Hodges and her son. Apparently her husband turned them in. The rest were minor players. Frank Dalrymple is a huge loss to us, though. He’s been running our pamphlets out of his basement. They discovered his computer with the Internet connection, so he’ll certainly be put to death.”
“ Barbaric,” Colin said angrily.
“ Certainly, Col, but the law of the land. I warned Frank that the computer was risky and what would happen if he was caught, but he said that the risk was worth it. The leader doesn’t like the outside world permeating our citizenry.
“ Do you want me to say anything at the meeting at school today, Dad?’ Eamonn asked.
“ Cancel it. With Jason Hodges in custody, you’d better lay off for a few weeks. We don’t know what they will find out.”
“ Jason wouldn’t spill secrets, Dad,” Colin said.
“ But sometimes torture will do strange things”, Eamonn told his younger brother.
“ Yes, “ Maeve said, “ I’ve seen many who were loyal crumble at the thought of pain and death.”
“ That is not ver encouraging, “ Colin muttered.
“ No, it’s not. But it is what it is, Col. It’s the same through every struggle mankind has had through out history.” Desmond stared at the front page of the paper. “ Walter would have a field day with this.”
“ He probably is, Desmond, where ever he may be.” Maeve put a loving hand on her husband’s arm. The tweed coat felt comforting under her palm. He smiled at her.
“ I must go now and undermine the propaganda machine again, dearest. Boys, off to school. Remember, that school-“
“ Always teaches lies. The leader did not stop World War Three on his own. We know, Dad, you’ve had us recite this everyday of our lives,” Eamonn laughed as he and Colin got up from the table. Colin grabbed another waffle for the road.
Maeve watched her sons leave, then turned to her husband. “ Des, maybe Colin had a point.”
Desmond looked at her thoughtfully. “ He does, but you are right. Searlit is too young to know the truth. If she gets caught, we are all doomed.”
Maeve’s forehead wrinkled as she thought about what she had said earlier. “ I know. But according to the story- the prophecy that Raymond Fortinbras wrote-“
“ I know, I know, Maeve, but it’s not supposed to be an issue for another three years. Let it go for now. If there is anything misconstrued in the prophecy, Walter will let us know.” With that, he kissed his wife goodbye, fingering her red hair as he whispered into her ear “ I love you.”
“Oh my- icky,” Searlit exclaimed as she stared into the mirror in the girls lavatory at Wellesley Academy Mondale.
She heard her best friend giggle behind her. “ It’s not that bad, Shar.”
“ Yeah, well, we all can’t look like you, Tatiana. Stick thin, perfect teeth, blonde hair that never, ever does anything wrong-“
Tatiana smiled. “ Yeah, well, what do you want from me?”
Searlit ran a brush through her red hair again. It still wouldn’t cooperate. “ Maybe I should shave it off.”
“ Forbidden by the dress code.” Her other friend, Francoise LeGrande, grabbed Searlit’s brush from her hand. “ Remember what happened to Daphne Collinswood when she showed up with the wrong shade of black tights? Well, they would do worse to you.”
“ That’s encouraging,” Searlit sarcastically muttered.
“ You’ve got freckles. I’ve always wanted freckles,” Tatiana whined.
“ Oh, shut up,” Searlit glowered as the bell for classes rang. The three girls marched out of the lavatory and straight into history class.
Mr. Kerr was already standing at the head of the class. “ Ladies, please find your seats,” he sneered.
Searlit slid into her seat in the front row and opened her notebook.
“ Now, class, we are studying the Great Revolution. Today, I am going to talk about the great leader, Mr. Francis Wellesley.”
Searlit began scribbling notes as Mr. Kerr’s voice monotonously told the story of one Francis Wellesley, the boy who grew up in an impoverished home after the terrorist attacks that crippled the great world powers. It was a tale meant to be told as melodrama of a kind.
“ President Wellesley was beaten by his alcoholic father and ignored by his depressed mother. When he was six, his older brother Zachariah died in a tragic fire in the family barn. Francis became determined that he would always help the ones in need after that incident, when he witnessed his father refuse to help Zachariah escape the flames. Francis left home at sixteen and joined the military. There he learned the discpline to be a great leader.”
“ When he was twenty seven, he was made the youngest general in history. He used this position to gain more power inside the government at the time. Then World War Three hit. He fought gallantly in many battles, but his greatest triumph came at home, when he was appointed Vice President at thirty. His decisions eventually won our side the war.”
“ A year after becoming Vice President, the President was assassinated by socialist terrorists. He became President Wellesley, and decided that as long as we are fighting these socialist forces, there must be complete control by the President. Enemies to the government were sought out and removed from government positions. All of this was done for national security reasons. He made the choice to lead this nation in a time of war. He was the bravest man to have ever lived.”
“ Last year, after forty nine years of rule, our great leader died of natural causes. He was eighty years old. The Vice President, his son Drayton Wellesley, has replaced him. He is proving to be as great as his father.”
Mr Kerr began to launch into more details as Searlit sat in her seat quietly, taking notes as she thought. Her mind kept drifting to the story on the front page of that morning’s paper. Too think that there still could be these socialist terrorist groups out there. Why would one put themselves in such danger? Sure, sometimes living in this country was hard, as every move one made was observed by the government. Books all seemed to espouse the line that the country had solved every problem in human history. The news always reported that the country was a “ Shangri-La”, whatever that was. Why would someone fight such perfection?
“ Miss Callaghan? Are you even listening to me?”
Searlit looked up at Mr. Kerr. “ I am sorry, Sir.”
“ As I suspected. Answer me this, Miss Callaghan. Why would anyone try to kill our leader, who is truly wonderful and benevolent.”
Benevolent? She thought, remembering the headline. But something told her to not say that out loud. “ Sir? I don’t understand that, sir.”
A smirk crossed Mr. Kerr’s face. Searlit felt her chest tighten with anxiety as her stared her down. “ Of course you don’t, Miss Callaghan. That is, of course, the leader is wonderful to us all, isn’t it? We need him to save us from ourselves, correct?”
Searlit’s head began to swim. “ Of course, sir.” She wasn’t feeling well.
“ You’re father, he works at the Corporation, doesn’t he?”
“ Yes, sir.” She was sounding mighty repetitive.
“ Naturally, he has met the great leader.”
“ I really- I couldn’t tell you, sir.”
Mr Kerr stared at her, his face darkening. “ He must have.”
“ I’ am sure he has, but I have never heard about it.”
Her teacher stood up as strait as an arrow and grimaced. “ If he had, wouldn’t he have told his family? The single greatest moment of his life?”
Searlit felt her heart pounding and her shallow breath. This was not good. She felt her mind racing to find an explanation why her father would fail to mention it. “ Maybe he was so overcome with awe he couldn’t dare even speak for fear of dying from joy.” Her voice was squeaky.
Mr Kerr kept staring. “ Maybe, Miss Callaghan.” He turned to another classmate. Searlit felt the anxiety leave her body as he began to use similar questioning on Cyrus Wallerton. She turned to her right, where Tatiana sat with a worried look. Searlit began to take notes again.
Tatiana pulled Searlit into the lavatory again after Mr. Kerr’s class. “ What was that about?”
“I don’t know, “ Searlit whispered. “ I mean, I know there was some big crackdown on some terrorists last night, so maybe they’re using the teachers to find out some info, but my father has always worked for the Corporation, so I don’t-“
“ Breathe, Shar, breathe.” Tatiana looked around furtively. “ Maybe they’re after your brothers.”
“ Eamonn and Col? Why?”
“ College campuses are notorious for enlisting terrorists.”
“ No, my father would die if that happened. He works for the leader. He wouldn’t allow my idiot brothers to destroy a lifetime of work.”
Tatiana shrugged. “ Maybe they used Kerr because they know he petrifies you. Maybe Mr. Halley will do the same to me in literature class.”
“ Something tells me, T, that Halley will yell at you for not reading the book before that happens.”
“ How’d you know I hadn’t read the book?”
Searlit smiled at her friend. “ Come on, T. Have you ever read a book?”
“ Well, no, but I might have.”
Searlit laughed as they exited to headed off to their physical education class. “ Honestly, T, you would think I would know you like you know me, right?”
The rest of the day was uneventful. Tatiana did receive a grilling in literature, but Searlit felt Mr. Halley went easy on her. Mr. Lowell questioned Francoise rather aggressively in mathematics. The theology teacher, Mr. Gregory, questioned even the meek Elise Duchamp, a mousy little thing that hardly squeaked.
But that in itself was not completely unusual.
After classes, Searlit headed to the school paper, where Headmaster Callow sat at his desk, grimly staring at the paper in his hands.
“ Miss Callaghan, please come here,” he said without even glancing up to see who it was.
Searlit came forward. “ Sir, Is that my article?”
“ Yes. Yes it is Miss Callaghan. I must say, you are quite a gifted writer.”
“ Thank you, sir.”
“ It’s just- I wish, Miss Callaghan, that you would use more…” Headmaster Callow placed his youthful face in his hands as he searched for the right words. “ It’s not the nicest article about the Great Leader I have ever read.”
“ It is a favorable article, yes?” Searlit asked nervously. She half expected the police to jump out from behind the typing desks.
“ It is, but I thought it could be nicer. You do have a habit of occasionally questioning the leader and his methods.”
“ I know.” It was Searlit’s turn to pick the words carefully. “ I just wonder why he chooses to do things that he does. I am sure it is all part of the great plan God has in place for the Great Leader, sir.”
“ Then we must not question it, “ Headmaster Callow snapped. “ From now on, keep the questions out of your work, or I will have to report you.”
“ Yes, sir, “ Searlit said quickly, as if she said it fast she would be forgiven even faster.
Headmaster Callow sat back in his chair. “ You know, Miss Callaghan, I might share your writings with the Leader and the Corporation if you can become as loyal as I am. You might even get a job on the Citizen when you graduate from Wellesley University Mondale.”
Searlit felt a little bit sick when he stressed the word loyal. Wasn’t she loyal enough? Did she have to completely turn over her free will? But she just nodded, knowing that he was probably anxious about terrorist infiltration among his students.
“ I will personally punch up the article you wrote, Miss Callaghan, and it will be published in next weeks issue. That will be all.”
Searlit thanked him and walked slowly out of the room. Her head was swimming. What on earth did he expect? Her mother often said when her brothers were younger that teenagers are meant to question the authority around them. That would have to be what the Leader believes if her mother did. Her mother certainly didn’t run around with terrorists.
She slowly walked to her locker, only to find it open. Routine locker checks usually happened at school, so it wasn’t all that unusual. She started to collect her books together, and she reached under her history textbook to grab her writing portfolio.
It wasn’t there.
Searlit felt the panic begin to rise in her. Who would want her writing portfolio? The government? No, what interest would they have in the ramblings of a fifteen-year-old girl. The headmaster might, but he had access to all her articles. It was not as though some inflammatory article was in there. But it troubled her deeply.
Maybe I left it at home, she said to herself, rather unconvincingly. She was certain she had it when she left her literature class. She thought about it hard, then sighed heavily. She was already late, and her mother would worry. She closed her locker and began to jog out of the school.
It was a pleasant day in Mondale, with a gentle breeze cutting some of the residual summer heat. She could here children laughing and playing as she walked along the tree lined streets. It was a lovely place to live, not too big like Wellesley City, but not so small as to be without a bookstore or a movie theater. She loved her hometown.
At about the halfway point between school and home, Searlit began to feel like somebody was watching her. She could feel a pair of eyes on her as she crossed Martin Road towards Wellesley Park. She began to quicken her pace. But the feeling didn’t leave her. Searlit began to look for a place to hide herself, and found a small gazebo. She ran and hid behind the wall.
After about five minutes of heavy breathing, she poked her head warily out from behind the wall. She gasped.
There was an older gentleman standing there. Her portfolio was in his hand. He was tall, with graying brown hair and dark eyes. He was shabbily dressed, and his glasses were slipping down his nose. He was wearing a friendly smile.
Searlit was stunned. She stood there, trying to find the words when his hand shot forward and his smile widened.
“ Hello, Searlit. My name is Walter Finley. I need to talk to you about something.”