Monday, October 11, 2010

Into the Shadows - Chapter 15

Chapter Fifteen
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The mood at home was solemn. As bad as her first day back to school had been, she hadn’t even thought about what things had been like for Torsten or her parents.

Torsten’s day had mirrored her own, with the added bonus that the junior high students were more than prepared to hassle anyone who was slightly different. He had to endure shouts of ‘Freak!’ as he walked down the hallway, to pennies being thrown at their ‘special’ table at lunch. The ATC guards at Torsten’s school made no effort to stop his harassers.
Mrs. Anderson was informed upon arriving at the St. Andrew Public Library that she was still permitted to work there, but only at the front desk where her supervisors could watch her. Her workday was shortened, as she wasn’t allowed to take a lunch break anymore, due to security reasons. Aside from the new policies, Mrs. Anderson found her co-workers to be extremely kind.

Mr. Anderson wasn’t so lucky. Upon arriving at the St. Andrew Police Station, he was escorted by a pair of burly ATC agents to the police chief’s office. The chief didn’t say much, but the ATC agent wasted no time in telling him that he was a security risk and furthermore, a disgrace to his badge. They led him to his locker, forcing him to clean it out, showing them everything as he removed it.

Afterwards, they took his badge and gun, and showed him the door, telling him never to return. Aside from a few pitying looks from his former co-workers during the last two hours he spent in the Police Station, no one spoke to him. He was surprised to see, however, that some of his colleagues were wearing ATC badges as well.

“If you can’t work, what are we going to do for money?” asked Paivi, looking around at their comfortable kitchen and family room. “Are we going to have to move?”

“No,” said Mr. Anderson. “Not right away. We have some savings. I’m going to go to the bank tomorrow. But just be forewarned, no spending money on anything but necessities. Right now that means food and bills. Nothing else.”

Paivi and Torsten nodded silently. Mr. Anderson rubbed his face with his hands. Paivi noticed he looked tired and much older than he had just the week before. Their new status as Enemies of the State posed further problems. They needed groceries, but because of the curfew and the shopping restriction, they couldn’t go. Mrs. Anderson called the neighbors they had always been friends with, the Cardinellis. Mrs. Cardinelli agreed to run to the grocery store for them after dinner. Paivi was relieved, as was Torsten, as they both had a feeling they wouldn’t be getting a chance to buy lunch at school after their experiences the first day back.

The next few days were more challenging at school. The students began to hear more from their parents and from news reports about what the EOS badges meant. The media wasted no time, reporting on what kind of crimes the Enemies of the State might possibly have committed, such as murders of innocent men, women and children and aiding the terrorists by not going to the police. They even speculated as to whether or not they could be responsible for other crimes, from robberies to assassinations. What were curious stares on the first day became worried glances. Most students tried to avoid her, but some felt the need to say things to her, shouting at her in the middle of the hallway.

“Terrorist!”

“Murderer!”

Paivi would generally just put her head down and keep walking. Luckily, she was almost always with Jason, Michaela or Aimee, who seemed to make it their mission to protect her. They would link arms with her and pull her down the hallway, shooting deadly glances at anyone who dared shout at her. On more than one occasion, Paivi had to pull Michaela back as she moved to silence Paivi’s harassers. She didn’t want anyone to get into trouble because of her and felt lucky enough to have friends that backed her up. Some of the girls, like Jenn Hernandez and Paulina Kaminski, were still nice to Paivi, but didn’t seem to want to be seen with her. Crystal Harris, who shared Current Events with Paivi and Jason, explained to Paivi one day after class that her parents had told her under no uncertain terms was she to talk to or hang out with Paivi or any other EOS kids anymore. Not that Paivi was shocked by this news.

“It’s okay Crystal, I understand,” she said quietly.

Jason arrived at her side, having overheard the exchange.

“Well I don’t. Nice friend you are,” he snarled at Crystal. “Come on Paivi, you don’t need this.”

He dragged her off down the hall toward the cafeteria.

“Jason, you don’t have to get so mad. It’s going to happen,” offered Paivi grimly.

“That’s the point. It shouldn’t happen. Not to you, not to any of these people! I just can’t take it! People are so stupid!” He was fuming.

Paivi didn’t know what else to say. She had just lost a friend. She didn’t feel like losing two. Jason glanced at her and registered the sad look on her face. He put his arm around her.

“Hey, hey, I’m sorry. I know this stuff is hard for you. I’m just so angry that you all have to deal with this garbage. They have no proof that you did anything wrong and yet you’re treated like a criminal. And everyone just goes along with all of this blindly, believing whatever their parents say, or whatever they see on T.V.,” he paused, “but I have good news for you! Well… maybe.”

He turned to her, holding both her hands in his. Her heart fluttered as he looked into her eyes and smiled.

“Paivi, would you go to the Winter Dance with me?”

She looked at him. Her heart was bursting she was so excited. Then realization set in.

“I would love to, but how can I? I can’t be involved in any after school activities or anything, plus, there’s my curfew.”

“See, that’s just it, Michaela was able to grab one of those handy little EOS Rulebooks and we noticed that while you can’t be involved in clubs or sports, there was no rule about dances. So we went to see Mr. Carson to make sure it was all right, and he said yes. You just have to be home by nine for curfew, but we can still hang out afterwards, if you want. So you can go! Isn’t that great?”

Paivi stared at him, stunned.

“You guys did all that and even went to the principal for me? I…uh…I don’t know what to say!”

“Saying yes would be a start,” he laughed.

“Yes,” she sputtered. He squeezed her hands.

“Now, come on, I have to get you to your table before Agent What’s-His-Face notices you’re missing!” he said as they ran down the hallway, barely clearing the cafeteria doorway as the bell rang. The agent at the table gave them both a dirty look as they walked up. Jason looked at him and smiled. The agent looked disgusted at the sight of them together.

“Have a nice lunch, Paivi,” he said, waiting for her to sit down before walking away.

After lunch, Michaela ordered Paivi to go dress shopping with her on Saturday. After all, the dance was only two weeks away, so they had to hurry. Michaela was going with Dan, a guy in her English class, who she described as ‘dreamy.’ The rest of the week passed quickly, despite the daily torment at school. With Jason and Michaela at her side, she felt relatively comfortable. Her teachers were still nice to her, mostly just giving her pitying looks. Dr. Hasenpfeffer made every effort to treat Paivi normally, continuing to insist that she stay in her old seat.

As they sat in class on Friday, Dr. Hasenpfeffer discussed the European economy. Paivi doodled in her notebook and thought about her lunch.

Ugh, she thought, not turkey again. What I wouldn’t do for some chicken nuggets or a slice of pizza.
The door to the classroom was thrown open, startling everyone out of their daydreams. Agent O’Higgins stormed through the doorway followed by two more agents.

“Can I ask why you are disturbing my lesson, sir?” Dr. Hasenpfeffer inquired curtly, unfazed by the intrusion of three burly agents with their glowing badges and guns.

“We’ve had a report about this class,” stated Agent O’Higgins as he strolled through the aisles, looking at all of the students closely.

Dr. Hasenpfeffer remained silent, but looked extremely angry.

“These two students,” he pointed at Paivi and Tyler Matthews, “why are they not at the table they are required to sit at?”

“I do not segregate my students, Agent O’Higgins,” she answered evenly. “These are their seats and that is where they will sit.”

Paivi quickly gathered up her things and started to get up from her seat. Tyler, however, was frozen in his chair. He looked too scared to move an inch. Dr. Hasenpfeffer was staring at Agent O’Higgins, locked in a defiant gaze.

“Paivi, you sit down in that seat,” ordered Dr. Hasenpfeffer, not breaking her lock on Agent O’Higgins.

Paivi plopped back down in the chair.

“EOS students are required to sit at these tables and these tables only. Teachers are not allowed to alter those requirements on a whim,” he responded coolly. “Now go to the table.”

Paivi jumped up and this time so did Tyler. They didn’t move more than an inch before Dr. Hasenpfeffer returned fire.

“You will stay in your seats!” she shouted. “That is an order!”

Paivi and Tyler dropped back into their seats, confused and wide-eyed.

“And as for you, Agent O’Higgins, leave my classroom at once.”

Agent O’Higgins chuckled. He spoke slowly, but clearly.

“I’m afraid you don’t quite have the authority you think you do. One has to appreciate your passion regarding this…trash.” He waved his hand in Paivi and Tyler’s direction. He gave a nod to the two other agents by the door. They moved swiftly towards Dr. Hasenpfeffer.

“You have broken the law by violating the policies regarding Enemies of the State. The government is forced to believe that you have some reason for protecting EOS students, who are considered criminals. Thus, you must be a criminal as well,” he concluded.

He began to read her her rights.
 “You have the right to remain silent,” he began. The other two agents grabbed Dr. Hasenpfeffer by the arms and forced her to the floor, face down. The class looked on, jaws dropped, frozen in shock and fear.

Paivi jumped up out of her seat, turning to Agent O’Higgins.
“Please let her go! I’ll go sit at the table! Please!” she pleaded.

“You and the other one will go sit at the table,” he said coldly.

Paivi and Tyler rushed to the front of the room and sat down.

“However, she’s still going to jail. She broke the law.”

Jason jumped out of seat, getting in front of Agent O’Higgins.
 “You can’t do this! We have rights! This is illegal!”

“Not any more. Now if you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up and mind your own business, or you’ll end up like your courageous teacher.” He laughed as he pushed past Jason.

Dr. Hasenpfeffer was still struggling between the two agents, who had put her in handcuffs.
Jason turned to face Agent O’Higgins’ back.

“She is courageous. And you’re nothing but a coward with a badge and a gun.”

Agent O’Higgins turned around quickly, his arm moving in one fluid motion with the rest of his body. His fist landed on Jason’s left eye, throwing him sprawling across the desks and students. Dr. Hasenpfeffer flew into a rage.

“You can’t do that! You can’t assault our students!” she screamed, kicking the larger agent in the shin.

Agent O’Higgins turned towards Dr. Hasenpfeffer. His fist connected with the back of her head, sending her into a crumpled heap on the floor, unconscious. A few of the girls, including Paivi, cried out, but were too terrified to move.

“I think you’ve all learned a valuable lesson today.” He motioned to the other agents. “Let’s go.”

They picked up Dr. Hasenpfeffer’s limp body off of the floor and dragged her out the door, which slammed shut behind them. The students all sat silent for a moment, staring at each other, not quite sure what had just happened. Jason was lying across a desk, holding his face. When he pulled his hands away blood ran from his nose and down his chin, spreading a bright red stain across his shirt. His eye appeared to be swelling fast. Paivi ran over, helping him off the top of the desks. Crystal helped her get Jason into a seat.

“We need to get him to the office. Paivi, he needs the nurse,” said Crystal frantically.

Paivi didn’t answer. She helped Jason to his feet and pushed him towards the door. She could hear the class muttering, some kids were still crying, but she could hear the others.

“…all their fault.”

“…maybe they shouldn’t be allowed in school…”

“…I can’t believe we have to be in class with them. It’s too dangerous.”

“Wait until my parents hear about this!”

She stopped at the door and turned back, seeing Tyler still sitting at the table, staring off into space. She couldn’t just leave him there. It was too hostile.

“Hey, Tyler, come on, I could use some help.”

He jumped up, startled and joined them at the door.

“Let’s go.”

They walked quickly down the hallway towards the main office. Paivi had her arm around Jason, and Tyler was on the opposite side, not sure what to do.

“Why did you make me come with you?” Tyler asked.

“They were pretty mad and I was worried what they might do to you if you stayed.”
They turned into the main hallway.

“They blame us for this, you know,” she added.

Through the main entrance they could see black cars parked in the front drive, with numerous ATC agents milling around. She didn’t see Dr. Hasenpfeffer anywhere.

At that moment, Principal Carson came storming through the front doors. Ms. Merriweather rushed behind, trying to keep up.

“I will have that man’s badge, I tell you! Assaulting and arresting one of our most senior teachers! It’s bad enough we have to put up with them milling around and enforcing their ‘policies’, but they have to behave like tyrants as well?”

He spotted Paivi, Jason and Tyler stumbling down the hallway. Noticing Jason’s bloodied face he asked, “And what happened to him?”

“Agent O’Higgins,” Paivi answered.

“That’s it!” he shouted, causing Ms. Merriweather to jump. “I want that man out of this building! He’s a menace! Now he’s attacking the students! Get that boy to the nurse’s office and when he’s taken care of, I’ll see you three in my office.”

Paivi and Tyler rushed Jason past the startled secretaries and into the nurse’s office. The nurse, Mrs. Moeller, jumped up from her desk, dropping her copy of Glitz magazine, and ran over to them.

“Oh my, what happened to him?” she asked, helping him to the nearest chair.

“Agent O’Higgins punched him in the face,” offered Tyler.

“My word! All right, let’s move your hands out of the way, I need to see what you’ve got going on here.” The nurse lowered his hands. Jason’s right eye had swollen completely shut and was a bright purple. At least his nose had ceased gushing blood, leaving a trail of dried blood behind. Paivi gasped and looked away.

“Oh my,” Mrs. Moeller clucked. “You’re going to need to go to the hospital for an x-ray. I want them to make sure nothing is broken in there.”

Jason groaned and looked towards Paivi.

“Am I really that hideous? You’ll still go to the dance with me, right?” he attempted to crack a smile.
She almost smiled, but then remembered the events that had put them in the nurse’s office.

“Shut up! This is very serious.” She sat down next to him. “At least it’s temporary ugliness. Maybe it’ll look better by the dance.”

Tyler joined them, not saying anything. Mrs. Moeller returned with some gauze and antiseptic to clean the blood off of Jason’s face, and a bag of ice for his eye.

“Here you are, you poor thing,” she fawned over him, wiping his nose and chin. “Now put this ice on your eye, we’ve go to stop that swelling right away. I called your mother as well. She’ll be in to pick you up in a little bit and take you to the hospital.”

Jason groaned and Paivi wasn’t sure if it was because his mom was coming or from the pain of putting the ice over his eye.

Ms. Merriweather popped in the door, startling them.

“Mr. Carson wants to see you three right away.” She looked to Mrs. Moeller for consent. “Is he okay to go?”

“Yes, just keep that ice on your eye!” Mrs. Moeller ordered Jason.

He rolled his one good eye.

They made their way through the main office following Ms. Merriweather to the principal’s door. She knocked lightly and heard him answer.

“Come in.” Mr. Carson eyed them as they entered.

They took a seat in the chairs in front of his desk. He was no longer as agitated as before. Instead, he slumped in the chair and ran his hands through his thinning blond hair.

“Normally I would have you kids in here, ask what happened, you know, get both sides of the story,” he muttered.

“But it doesn’t matter this time. No matter what you tell me, we’re still wrong. No matter that an agent of a governmental department has been able to segregate my students, physically attack them, and assault and arrest one of my own teachers. Despite all of that, we are the ones who are in the wrong. We could possibly be punished. We are the bad guys!” he shouted, slamming a fist hard on his desktop.
Ms. Merriweather looked a bit shocked, but said nothing. Paivi glanced quickly at Jason and Tyler. They both looked as uncomfortable as she felt, unsure of what to think of Mr. Carson’s words.

“Now here’s what’s going to happen. Because of this incident, the ATC intends to send more agents to our school and allow some of our students to join a group called the YATC. The Youth Anti-Terrorism Coalition. They’ll be helping the ATC agents. As if we need more of these goons patrolling our halls. If there is another incident like today, they will kick us both out, Ms. Merriweather, and install Agent O’Higgins as the principal.” Mr. Carson leaned back in his chair, gripping the armrests until his knuckles turned white.

Ms. Merriweather eyes welled with tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.

“I really want to help you and protect my students, but according to the ATC, that’s against the law.” His voice got quiet again. He looked at them carefully, brimming with desperation. “I can’t help you. You kids are on your own against these people. All I can say is do your best to follow the rules and steer clear of those guards. I wish it wasn’t this way.”

“I’m really sorry,” offered Paivi quietly.

“There’s nothing to be sorry about, Paivi. I’m proud of you kids for standing up for what you know is right. At the moment, however, right is wrong, and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.”
He rose from his chair.

“You can go for the day. Pick up passes to leave the building from Mrs. Medina. Just try to stay under the radar here at school for the next couple of days.”

As they exited the principal’s office, they stopped by the stern looking secretary’s desk to receive their passes. Heading towards the front of the main office, Paivi noticed a woman with dark hair sitting nervously on one of the chairs in the waiting area. She jumped from her seat as they approached.

“What on earth did they do to you?” she shouted, rushing over to Jason and pulling the ice pack from his eye.

She gasped.

“Oh, my poor baby!”

She wrapped him in a big hug, which was difficult, because she was so much smaller than Jason. He looked mortified. After disentangling himself from the woman’s embrace, Jason turned to Paivi and Tyler.

“Um, this is my mom.”

“Hi there, you poor things. The nurse told me what happened. Thank you for helping my son.”

“Oh, it’s okay, really,” said Paivi. She worried Jason’s mother might be angry with them, but she did not appear to be in the least.

“We better get you to the hospital, I want them to make sure nothing is broken,” said Mrs. Santos.

“Fine,” Jason sounded exasperated. “Can Paivi come with us? It’s okay, we’re allowed to leave, the principal gave us permission.”

He held up his yellow pass.

“Yes, of course.” Mrs. Santos turned to Tyler. “Would you like a ride home, dear?”

“Um, no, but thank you. I just live down the block,” Tyler answered sheepishly.

The ride to St. Andrew Hospital was short and as was the wait in the emergency room. While Jason was taken for x-rays, Mrs. Santos made small talk with Paivi, mostly regarding the latest movies. Finally, they were asked to the small examining room where Jason waited with the doctor.

“According to the X-rays, your son does not have any broken bones in his face,” the doctor said, holding up the black and white film. He smiled at Jason’s mother, but when he turned to Paivi, he looked straight at her EOS badge and his smile faded. “I am prescribing him medicine for the swelling and the pain, and he should probably stay home from school tomorrow.”

He wished them a good day and then left them to collect Jason’s belongings. Paivi looked at Jason’s swollen and bruised face. She felt so awful. This was all her fault. She couldn’t understand why Jason and Mrs. Santos were so nice about it. On the ride home, Paivi was quiet, just listening to Jason and Mrs. Santos talk as they drove across town. She spoke only to give them directions to her house.
It was dusk when they pulled up in front of Paivi’s house. She was happy to be home, taking in the wide, welcoming front porch. Her mother had left the lights on, which shone warmly against the red brick exterior. Paivi spotted something bright on the lawn, but it was blocked from her view by a large maple tree. She could see it was glowing, but from the angle, she couldn’t tell what it was. When they pulled into the driveway, she could see it clearly. A large sign, containing three glowing letters spelling out ‘EOS,’ and four sets of numbers, including a number she recognized from her own EOS badge, stood next to the front walk. She could feel her cheeks burning.

“I better go. Sorry about today.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. She grabbed the door handle to let herself out of the car.

“They really have gone too far,” scolded Mrs. Santos. “They should be ashamed of what they’re doing to good citizens.” She gestured to the sign. “Paivi, you take care of yourself,” she added.

“Okay,” Paivi’s voice squeaked as she jumped out of the car and headed for the front door. She pushed the door open and headed for the kitchen. Mr. Anderson was sitting in front of the television. Paivi added her EOS badge to the charging device on the counter, where three badges already sat, glowing in unison. The device beeped, and a small light next to the badge switched from red to green. Paivi figured Torsten and her mother must be upstairs.

She plopped down on the couch next to Mr. Anderson, hoping he wouldn’t ask her how her day was or why she was home so close to curfew.

“So, how was your day?” he asked.

“It was fine.”

It was much better to say that than to go through the horrid details.

“I happened to get a phone call from your principal today,” Mr. Anderson added nonchalantly, giving her a sideways glance.

Paivi groaned, hiding her face in her hands.

“He told me everything. How’s your friends face?” he inquired.

She lifted her head.

“Nothing was broken, at least.”

“Well, that’s good. What they did today, your friend and your teacher, was very courageous. Some might say stupid, considering the current attitude of the government. Those ATC agents run everything. And they’re everywhere—I see them trolling the neighborhoods and your mother said they are on patrol all over town. I hope that they go easy on your teacher. I wish there was something we could do to help her. Someday, when this all passes, I would like to shake her hand. She’s a good person, that Dr. Hasenpfeffer. Your friend Jason too.”

Paivi shook her head in agreement, not sure what to say.

“Now, Paivi, I haven’t said anything so far, but I just want to remind you to please be on your best behavior at school. Follow every rule in that policy book. I had the same talk with your brother, too. Those ATC agents seem to be looking for any excuse to harass people, and I don’t want them to have any reason to hurt you like they did to those nice people today.”

“Okay Dad.” Paivi was too drained from the day’s events to argue that she had done everything possible to avoid trouble.

Mr. Anderson stood up from the couch suddenly.

“Come with me, I want to show you something.”

Paivi got up and followed her father upstairs to the loft. The room used to be a playroom for Paivi and Torsten when they were younger and had since been transformed into a den with some overstuffed chairs and a wall of bookcases.

“I already showed your mother and brother,” said Mr. Anderson. “You know I’ve had a little time on my hands, being fired and all,” he added bitterly, “and with everything going on, I didn’t trust the ATC not to freeze our bank accounts. So I took all of the money out and I hid it here.” He gestured toward the wall of bookcases. “I want you to know where it is in case anything happens to us and you need it.”

“Oh, Daddy, come on, nothing is going to happen to you.” Paivi tried to hide her fears and forced herself to sound reassuring.

“I took a few books from the bookcase and hollowed them out. I hid the money inside.”

He pulled four hardcover books from the hundreds of books on the shelves. Heart of Darkness. The Scarlet Letter. Utopia. 1984. He opened the covers. Each book had a rectangle carved into the center. In the rectangle was a pouch, which he opened and showed her the bundle of cash it held. “I didn’t glue the pages together because I still wanted it to look like a normal book all the way around. Anyways, memorize the titles in case you need them, okay?”

He returned the books to their spots.

Paivi was impressed by her Dad’s workmanship but she hoped its purpose would never be necessary.

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