He had Pontius Pilate’s hands, dripping with guilt. The President-elect had failed to avert the disastrous confrontation that his opponent had forced. Deep in the labyrinth, he looked upon the opponent, the ousted President. The opponent hugged the bloody symbol of his defeat in his arms. When Special Forces had burst in, there had been a brief gunfight; the First Lady took two bullets in the chaos, one of which had stolen her face.
The President-elect’s wife slipped to her knees at the horrific sight of her fallen counterpart, her legs unable to support their burden. “God,” she whispered, “we beg forgiveness and mercy. Please find the mercy to forgive us all.” She lowered her gaze and stared at the concrete bunker floor before her, as if trying to find answers in its flat, featureless surface. It offered no such comfort.
The President-elect did not see a defeated enemy; he saw a man who had lost his wife. He thought of the children and having to explain to them what had befallen their parents. They would ask difficult questions, like why. It was a small price to pay, perhaps, as a part of him felt thankful that the positions of victor and vanquished were not reversed.
The opponent looked up. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, cheeks that were dashed with the war paint of the First Lady’s blood. Almost a whisper, he said to no one in particular, “There is nothing left now.”
The President-elect had to respond to the man’s convenient conversion to empathy. “You refused to back down. What was I supposed to do? Why bring us here?” At this particular moment, the President-elect despised the opponent. Not for the deaths of hundreds, but for making him feel so guilty.
Defiant, the opponent shouted directly at the President-elect, “Who is to say which one of us is to blame, agitator? You provoked confrontation and now people are dead!” A body in his arms, he surrendered again to loss and repeated his last words to himself, “People are dead.” He scrunched up his eyes and wailed, his mouth an open, screaming pit of despair.
“I am sorry,” the President-elect said, unable to ignore the opponent’s torment. His apology felt inadequate. “I’m sorry.” His repetition, unlike that of the opponent’s, only seemed to emphasise the impotence of his words, but then his emotions flipped again and he wanted the opponent to stop making him feel guilty. He wished to silence the man and his pathetic squealing. Of what you sow, a harvest you shall reap.
After the lament subsided without intervention, the President-elect noticed that his wife’s prayer had changed. “What did we do?” she was mumbling to herself.
The opponent opened his bloodshot eyes again. The President-elect perceived the glare of a trapped animal, pretending to be subdued while actually waiting for his captor’s guard to drop, so that he might pounce and rip out his captor’s throat. He said, “Free trade reduced conflict. It gave us stability. I hope you understand what you are about to break.” He blinked more tears.
The opponent was still fighting, even in what would be his last moments. Was there no end to this man’s sinful defiance? The President-elect was indignant and the bees of his anger stirred in their hive again.
The President-elect said, “This is a democracy, not a plutocracy. You should have accepted defeat instead of dragging us into civil war. The damage you have done in these three weeks will take years to repair. I appreciate what free trade has done for us, but it has gone too far. God has told me that it has to stop. We have to stop them before it is too late.”
“And do you not understand that God had also told me to play my part?” came the livid response.
The opponent could not hold the President-elect’s gaze, though, and his words began to fall apart. “It was said, don’t you see? This defeat was not meant… it was supposed to… it is the nothing that is… it was said. So it was said.” The opponent rocked the remnants of the woman in his arms, as if helping her to sleep. The man was disintegrating before the President-elect’s eyes. “Did what was told. Won’t let you get away with this. Won’t let you get away.” The opponent shuddered.
“We all have our God,” the President-elect answered, feeling more comfortable in his position as victor. “Only some of them are real. How many people have we now lost because you listened to a false prophet? You were listening to your own voice, not that of God.”
The opponent looked up sharply at that final remark, the embers of his own dwindling fire glowing bright under the hot breath of the President-elect. His composure had returned. “So sure of himself is he with the simplistic beliefs of the black and the white, riding on his grand horse of smug righteousness. How loved the vainglorious man is.” Every word was doused with gasoline, Molotov cocktails hurled at the President-elect to shatter and explode upon his religious armour.
He took the voice of a crooked preacher, quoting distorted verses that would not be found in any religious codex. “Oh thou who art victorious dost carry the light of Jahweh, ‘tis no mistake. Praise the one who leadeth us against our fallen angels. With armies of believers, strike down thy enemy with blade and fire! Fill the chasm of damnation with a deluge of thy believers’ bodies and build ye a bridge across it to Zion!”
The President-elect was unmoved. “I stand here, triumphant. You crouch there, crushed, lost. Which one of our gods, would you suppose, is the real one?”
The opponent was now shouting. “Upon thy bridge of slaughter, thou wilt discover that thy faith hath crack’d. Then, thou shalt tear thy belief asunder with thine own hands. Thou art not the shepherd.”
The President-elect had no desire to listen to such foolish words. Once he had helped his wife to her feet, they left the chamber together under armed guard, the opponent still yelling behind them. They kept on walking until the ranting could no longer be heard.
The soldiers then asked the President-elect to confirm what they all knew had to be done, because the country demanded it. It was out of the President-elect’s hands. The blood would not even touch them because there was nothing he could do. Cause and effect were united and inseparable, their divorce beyond the meagre abilities of a mortal man.
Beneath a bloody twilight sky that summoned the stars, the execution squad pulled their triggers and killed the President. The squad would later tell their husbands and wives, their children, their friends and any strangers with time to listen, the story of how the President died grinning.
One of them was also sure that he had seen a shape beside the President blink into existence for an instant. He was unwilling to share that story, however, for many years.