The Reverend - Part 1
Updated: Feb 20
I arrived in Victoria Square just after 3pm.
It has been 2 days since the riot at North Acheron High School. I’m not sure what I expected to find here, but it wasn’t this...
The city of Acheron is just over 375 years old. That doesn’t mean much by global standards, but in North America it’s ancient. Victoria Square is only slightly younger. The British crown realized the value of this location early on and dumped significant resources into developing the city in order to secure their own access to North American goods. Victoria Square was built as part of those efforts.
Originally envisioned as an open marketplace, the square is only a couple of blocks from the Olde Porte itself which still functions today despite the larger and more modern port that now exists on the other side of the island. Many of the original merchant buildings still line the square. They have all of the elegance and beauty typical of Victorian architecture, and yet somehow they feel more solid, more permanent even, than you would expect - as if even the richest merchants in the city knew they needed to be tough as nails to survive all the way out here.
At the far end of the square, separating it from the working class streets of Olde Porte, sits City Hall. This giant, brick monstrosity is beautiful in its own way, I suppose, although to me it feels more like a strange hybrid of military fortress and country estate than a municipal building. But perhaps that was the intention. City hall presides over Victoria Square the same way a king presides over his court, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that all goods traded in the square would have to pass directly by city hall on their way in and out of the city. Even so, Victoria Square is quite beautiful and it is easy to see how it became the center of life in Acheron.
It’s the life that is missing today. I felt it as soon as I arrived. Every image I have ever seen of Victoria Square showed it filled with life. Travel websites and brochures flaunt picturesque scenes of smiling tourists and al fresco diners laughing in the sun and purchasing souvenirs while locals push by in the background. When I arrived at the square this afternoon it was empty. The patios that should be filled with people enjoying the unseasonably warm, spring afternoon remain unused, their chairs still stacked against the buildings as if the owners knew no one was coming. Even the souvenir stands that come out in the coldest days of winter are missing. The entire square is empty and silent, and suddenly I realize just how imposing the square is without the color and life brought in by the people.
This stillness is a sharp contrast to the scene being broadcast last night. The square and surrounding streets had been packed to capacity with protestors, standing shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, as they demanded their children be released from D.S.F. custody. Even through the darkness you could feel the life oozing from those images. The people’s anger and the collective power of that crowd were just as formidable as the stone structures surrounding them, but today there is no sign of that crowd. The protestors are gone. The police barricades have been removed. Even the trash they left behind has been meticulously cleaned up. The square has been perfectly reset for the new day, but the people have not returned.
As a journalist, an empty square does not have much value, regardless of its beauty. What I needed more than anything at that moment was a breadcrumb. A source. A contact. Someone, or something, to point me in the direction of the action. But all I had was an empty square, and City Hall.
Unfortunately, one of the many consequences of abandoning my job with the press core is that I now find myself without proper credentials. As a member of the unsanctioned press, my chances of getting anyone from the city to take questions from me have become virtually non-existent. Still, a firm believer in due diligence, I decided to try.
I had entered the square from the west, opposite of City Hall. The distance isn’t much further than your average city block, but the surreal calm made it seem four times that at least. I felt sure I was being watched, and I had to remind myself repeatedly that the soft steps I heard behind me were just an echo of my own steps bouncing off the stone facades. As I strained my ears to confirm this assertion, I began to hear something else in the distance. It was singing.
I couldn’t quite make out the song, but it was gentle and melodic and full of sorrow. This was far more interesting than the inevitable rejection I was facing from city officials, so I diverted course and walked towards the ballad which seemed to becoming from somewhere on the South side of City Hall.
Not coincidentally, the South side of City Hall sits directly opposite the front entrance to the Domestic Security Forces Administration building.
Acheron was still Canadian territory when the Confederation of National Democracies was formed. The United States saw months of rioting that resulted in marshall law being declared nationwide for over 2 years. Canada stayed relatively quiet during that time, outside of a few hot spots in Toronto and VanCouver. They never had any reason to deploy Domestic Security troops out here. The people of Acheron were left largely to their own devices.
It wasn’t until Resettlement that this area became part of the United States. It was this change that brought D.S.F. troops into the city for the first time, despite there being no direct cause or need for them. (A fact not lost on the locals, who weren’t overly fond of Americans to begin with.) When D.S.F. announced their intentions take over use of city hall, the mayor resisted. He had every building on the square registered as historical landmarks, which, according to municipal code, may only be used as museums or for their originally intended function, and must be openly accessible to the public.
Domestic Security recognized the slight and retaliated by building their modern monstrosity right in the historical heart of the city - across the street from City Hall and 2 stories taller. This giant block of concrete and glass isn’t part of Victoria Square, but it’s garish bulk looms over the square screaming “remember who’s in charge” in a way that only prison architecture can. It’s an eyesore and a constant reminder that this isn’t Canada anymore. The people of Acheron may have no choice but to tolerate D.S.F.’s presence in their city, but they certainly don’t like it.
I assume that this tepid relationship is partly responsible for what I found as I rounded the corner. There were about thirty of them, I think. Maybe a little more. It was a diverse group with men and women, young and old. They were lined up in two perfectly straight lines, one in front of the other, on the City Hall side of the street. The front row was seated in folding lawn chairs with the second row standing just behind. Each of them were holding picture frames, mostly 8x10s, of what I could only assume are the children who were taken into custody following the riot at NAHS 2 days ago. On the ground around them are more picture frames - dozens and dozens of them - and every face was pointed directly at the entrance to the D.S.F. administration building. The people remained just as still and unwavering as those photos, defiantly staring down a line of armed D.S.F. agents as they softly sang songs of peace and love.
I could feel the tears fill my eyes. I'm not usually a crier, so this caught me a bit by surprise. The scene in front of me was amazingly powerful, from both a journalistic point of view and a humanitarian one. It was brave and beautiful and heart-wrenching, and it was exactly the type of story I wanted to show the world. I instinctively pulled out my phone, opened my camera and flipped it to video...but then I stopped. Something about this felt too personal to record. I felt like I was intruding.
Just then I felt a hand firmly grasp me by the shoulder. I don't know if it was the unexpected feeling of shame or the sudden break in the tension that startled me, but I spun around so quickly I nearly knocked over the small, silver haired man who now stood behind me. He was tiny, not much over 5 feet tall or 100 pounds, but he had a knowing expression and a sparkle in his eyes that suggested he was a force to be reckoned with despite his small stature. He was dressed in a modest black suit perfectly befitting the thin white collar that adorned it. He looked directly into my eyes and I felt my cheeks flush. I slid my phone back into my pocket and stammered for something to say, a new wave of shame washing over me. The old man smiled and took my empty hand in his. “Is there someone you would like us to pray for?” he asked.
The kindness of his gesture was unexpected. Previously contained tears broke free and I dropped my eyes to the ground to avoid his gaze. It's too late for prayer to help the people I've lost, and this was neither the time nor the place to get lost in those shadows. I wiped my cheeks with my free hand and summoned the composure to thank the reverend for his offer, explaining who I was and why I was there. I was afraid he would be angry and tell me to leave these people in peace, but he listened patiently as I apologized (profusely and at great length) for my intrusion. I was just launching into my promise to respect their anonymity when he reached up and put his small hand squarely over my mouth.
“You’ll never be able to tell the real story by standing over here watching. Come with me. There are some people you should meet.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “The Reverend” (Coming Soon)