Everything was in place. The parade was about to pass through the square in any minute. Everyone was in position. Ben stood by the fountain, near the makeshift stage in the middle of the square, looking at the people milling about. His family was there and everyone was completely buzzing.
“Isn’t this exciting?” Mrs. Cairns asked her son.
“Yeah mum.” All boys answered. “Really exciting.” said Michael. He was grinning from ear to ear. “Aren’t you excited Ben?”
“Completely.” Ben replied. “I wonder what’s taking them so long.” He eyed one rebel as he passed by.
A horn blared and everyone turned to the sound. A percussion of instruments joined the horn and pretty soon a marching band was passing by Ben’s eyes. The procession continued on and finally came the Speaker. The Speaker was a man with cold eyes and lips permanently set on a grim line. He regarded everything that passed him including Ben and his family. The Speaker locked eyes with Ben for only a microsecond but it felt like an eternity. The Speaker passed without a word of acknowledgement to anyone until he made the stage.
“He looked at me.” Michael exclaimed. He was reddening at the pride of being noticed. “Did you see that mum? The Speaker looked at me.” Their mother nodded.
Anna appeared at Ben’s side. “So far so good.” Ben muttered.
Anna shushed him. “Don’t jinx it, Ben. The good part is coming.” She was frowning and Ben didn’t bother to ask why.
The microphone switched on and the Speaker’s voice blasted from the speakers. “Hello.” He said smoothly. “And a few years ago, I became the first ever speaker of Relegion. People flocked to wherever I stood to hear my teachings.” The Speaker’s eyes swept the eyes of the whole audience watching him. “The beginnings of Relegion weren’t smooth. There were many people who protested the eradication of their gods and being forced to believe in ours but they were soon swayed to our side.” You could practically hear a pin drop from the silence as everyone hanged on the Speaker’s words. Anna gripped Ben’s arms tightly in suspense. “But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who aren’t still fighting. I am here to convert the last rebel to Relegion.” The Speaker’s eye landed on Ben and stretched his hand towards him. “Why don’t you join me up here boy?”
Ben was frozen to the ground. The Speaker was talking to him. He started to move away but Anna’s hand gripped him tighter. Michael gripped Ben’s other arm and they began to lead him up the stage. Ben’s eyes widened and he began to struggle from their grip. Pretty soon, everyone was helping to subdue Ben enough to get him up the stage. He stumbled up the steps and looked out. Everyone was staring at him. There were people from the meeting yesterday pointing guns at him.
“Surprised?” The Speaker asked him his, eyes cold and calculating. “Did you actually think you would succeed in whatever plot you had prepared for me today? Your name is Benedict Cairns right? Well, Benedict, I have a piece of advice for you: trust no one. Not even your family.” The Speaker gestured to them and Ben couldn’t help but feel betrayed. His own family betrayed him? His eyes found Anna’s. Anna betrayed him too.
“Make him kneel.” The Speaker ordered. Police went up the stage and tried to force Ben down. When he didn’t obey, one officer punched him in the stomach and Ben went down easily. “You see, Benedict. What a nice name. Do you know that a Christian pope had that name also? Of course, Christianity is obsolete. So is Islam, Judaism, and pretty much every other religion. Why are you rebelling from Relegion Ben?”
Ben was still on his knees. The betrayal was unbelievable. Everyone must have stayed with him just to listen to his plans. He briefly wondered if they ever laughed behind his back at how foolish he was to trust them. “I want to be free.” Ben answered, looking up at the Speaker. He stood up and the police officer who punched him moved closer. Ben glared at him but he also eyed the gun the officer that the officer was holding.
The Speaker smirked. “Free? You don’t understand freedom then. Benedict, can you enumerate any wars or crimes happening due to conflict of religion ever since Relegion? That’s right there are none. How much freedom do you need?”
“No, you don’t understand,” Ben said. He was facing the crowd. He barely looked at their faces, only the top of their heads. “You’re not free. You’re dictating people to follow this stupid religion and you take care of anyone who has other opinions. Freedom is when everyone can believe what they want and still live peacefully from people who think otherwise. This is not freedom.” As fast as he could, Ben grabbed the gun from the surprised officer. He pointed it at the Speaker. He didn’t know how to fire a gun but there was no need telling him that.
The Speaker stared at him with disinterest. “Please. What are you going to do? Will you shoot me? I know you can’t do it Benedict because you have nowhere to go. No one is going to help you. Everyone is your enemy. ” The Speaker inched closer to Benedict. “You’re all alone.”
A loud bang echoed in the square and Ben flinched. The Speaker stepped away. Blood was pooling on his front shirt. Ben dropped the gun in shock and the Speaker dropped to the floor. Ben ran to him, the Speaker was barely breathing.
He couldn’t believe what he just did. He just shot the Speaker. Ben backed away and ran down the stage. No one bothered to pursue him. They were as shocked as he was at what happened. They made a big enough gap for him to pass through. When he reached the outskirts of their town, Ben gasped for breath. He was shaking from the adrenaline and shock. He started coughing.
“Are you alright?” Ben whipped around. Anna had followed him and she was looking at him with concern.
“I’m not anything.” Ben said trying to catch his breath. His words came out in a wheeze.
“Aren’t you asthmatic? Do you need help?” Anna took a step forward.
Ben regarded her coldly and she stopped in her tracks. “I don’t need anything from you.”
Hurt registered on Anna’s face and Ben immediately stuffed any guilt he felt for making her feel that way in a box. She betrayed him. “Ben,” She began.
Ben didn’t want to hear it. He spat out a “Don’t follow me.” and ran away from her. Away from the town and everything he ever knew.
He didn’t look back even once.