Adrienne Dylan skirted the drive in front of the high school where cars piled into a traffic jam. Parents frantically waited there to pick up their children as quickly as they could to get home before the roads closed. The principal had released all the students early, instructing them to go straight to their homes without stopping. Adrienne didn’t see her mother or father among the panicked group of adults.
As Adrienne moved away from the school building, she walked the flawless white sidewalk slowly and tried to ignore the unnerving stillness. On what had been a beautiful spring day, clouds gathered over the streets now empty of people. A heavy silence muted to her ears the usual trill of birds.
Adrienne startled when an olive green car abruptly pulled up to the curb beside her. Both of its occupants smiled broadly, their eyes shrouded by opaque sunglasses. The one nearest her in the passenger’s seat spoke to her through the partially open window. “What are you doing outside, miss?”
“I had to finish something at school. I’m on my way home now.” She continued to walk at a slow pace.
The man in the passenger seat smiled even more broadly as Adrienne answered him, as if he knew something that no one else did. The driver turned his head to survey the area surrounding the car. The man in the passenger seat looked out at the street, the lenses of his glasses too dark to make out his eyes. “You had to finish something? A school project?” The tone of his voice didn’t threaten her.
“Yes.” Adrienne lied, warming to him as he took an interest in her.
The car continued to follow beside her. “Did you finish it?”
“The project? Yes.”
The driver then leaned over the man in the passenger seat to speak through the open window. “Want a ride home?”
Her mother’s warnings about strangers snapped into her head. “No. I just live down there.” Adrienne pointed into the next bloxk.
“Okay. But we’ll stay with you until you get inside.” The driver moved back behind the wheel.
Adrienne walked further down the street and crossed it as the car pulled past her and up into the driveway. She ran to the door and rang the bell even though the front door key was lodged in her pocket. Quickly moving footsteps came from inside as someone approached the door. Adrienne waved at the occupants of the car, then turned back to see her mother standing in the doorway, her eyes fixed on the car, her face fading to pale. She quickly pulled Adrienne inside and shut the door behind her.
Seven years later, the temporary situation born on that springtime afternoon lumbered into another year of the “great crusade” and “the salvation of the nation.” The handsome face of the Colonel who preached this gospel still stared out at her from billboards and handbills affixed to buildings and routinely disfigured until they were replaced. He never aged.
Three years later, not long after her nineteenth birthday, Adrienne sat on the floor in a dark room where candles painted their ephemeral twilight across the wall. Stale damp air sank into the empty spaces. Adrienne pressed her back against the wall.
Across from her, Elena from another part of town finished the story she had hesitated before to tell of that same day in the spring. “In the middle of the night they came to take me and my neighbors on both sides. Pushed us all into buses with the rest of the people they picked up, even though there wasn’t enough room for all of us. The bus took us to the gym at the high school. Everybody cried and I could feel everybody shaking all around me. We couldn’t sit down. When we got there, I saw so many of them, so many people with guns.”
Adrienne knew without being told what Elena had not revealed before. The words perched on her lips slightly parted. “I never told anybody about what happened that night. I never said what they did to me.”
Elena wove her fingers tightly around each other. “I never did. And I never will.”