The men in black came for her father in the night.
Lily was woken by the sound of breaking glass, followed by the thunderous boom of someone kicking in the front door. She hesitated for a single breath, then rolled out of her sheets, dropped to the floor, and slid under the bed. In the darkness, she felt blindly for the lip of the secret door, the rough edges of the floorboards nipping her skin, leaving splinters behind. As several men hit the bottom of the stairs and barreled upward, Lily finally found the lip, and she quietly lifted the trap door and climbed into the narrow room beneath. Then she lowered the door back into place.
Not three seconds later, a group of men beat the door of her bedroom open, and then immediately started tearing her room apart. In the absolute darkness of the claustrophobic space, Lily could only picture the ruin they were leaving behind. Destroying all her belongings. Her volleyball medals and trophies denting and breaking as they hit the floor. Her clothing torn in the search for secret pockets containing illicit material; not that there was any to find. Her father’s instructions had been clear. He was the only one allowed to visibly dissent.
She had to pretend to be a good little supporter of martial law.
Someone dropped down beside the bed, rattling the trap door slightly. But it was well made and wouldn’t give itself away. The beam of a flashlight cut across the blackness, peeking through the tiny gaps in the floorboards. It swept from side to side as the man hunted for any sign of Lily. When he found none, he cursed and rose from the floor, saying to the others, “She’s not here. She either slipped out before we got upstairs, or he moved her somewhere else.”
Another man cursed. “She was supposed to be our leverage against Bauer. Now what? The wife’s dead. There’s no one else.”
“We’ll just have to convince him to recant the old-fashioned way,” answered the first one. There was a burst of static on a radio he must’ve had clipped to his belt. The man picked it up and said into it, “Is Bauer secure?”
A new person replied, amid crackling background noise, “Yep. He was broadcasting right up until the moment we yanked him from his chair. Fucker was literally describing us breaking into his house.”
“Did anyone hear?” asked man one. “I thought we had him blocked.”
There was a brief pause, and then a sigh, from the radio. “Think he might’ve circumvented our jamming.”
“Damn, so we’re looking at another ‘civil rights’ riot?”
“Great. Just great. Captain’s going to ream us out for this.”
“What’s done is done. Let’s bag Bauer and get out of here.”
Man two spoke up again, somewhere near Lily’s door. “What do we do about the girl? Put a warrant on her?”
“As far as we know,” said man one, “she’s had no direct involvement in Bauer’s activities. Just let her go. What’s she going to do? She’s sixteen. Can’t work. Can’t rent. She’ll end up on the street. No danger to us.”
“If you say so.”
The two men in her room marched out into the hall then, and after another cursory search of the second floor, they headed back downstairs. The entire time, Lily lay in her faux coffin, heart pounding, trying to pretend she hadn’t just heard her own town’s cops planning to torture her father to get him to renege on his beliefs that people deserved rights even in a time of great peril. That the men who used to act as crossing guards, who smiled at her when she was an elementary school student skipping across the street, had not turned into these awful beasts who broke down doors at midnight and dragged innocent people away to places they’d never emerge from again.
But when they were at last gone, and the house went silent, there was no more reason to pretend, and Lily opened the trap door to a grim reality: She was alone. The men in black had finally come to take her father away, as she’d known they would when his audience grew too large and his voice grew too strong. As she climbed out of the secret room and crawled out from under the bed, she reviewed the list of things she was supposed to do after her father was taken.
Grab her backpack, hidden in another floor compartment in the basement. Stuff it with all the survival supplies they’d squirreled away in the toolboxes in the shed. Head to the resistance safe house outside Leitchfield and let them send her away along the underground to whatever refugee camp they had set up in the scattered freeholds that had once been parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Because that’s what she was now, a refugee, persona non grata to the federal government of the “United” States of America.
There were tears in Lily’s eyes, but she didn’t let them fall. She was prepared for this. Her father had been preparing her for this since he first joined the network of radio pirates hijacking the airwaves to deliver the truth about the government’s lies and injustices to what remained of the American people. She’d known this day was coming for a long, long time. Ever since her mother died in the protest at town hall. Ever since school was permanently canceled.
Ever since the first bombs dropped and wiped half the major US cities off the map.
So Lily steeled herself and went to grab her things.