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Change is Coming

Change is coming


Estimated reading time — 27 minutes

Magic was in the air, you could breathe it in and let the sharpness fill your lungs, so intoxicating it would leave you breathless. You could taste it on the crisp air, feel it in the cool kiss of the autumn breeze, hear it in the faint murmur of the wind.

Change was coming.

In a small nameless town, an ordinary town, just like every other unincorporated in America, the magic breathed new life. It was All Hallows Eve and the small-windowed storefronts downtown, were draped in spiderwebs accented by rusty, orange pumpkin displays. The aging porches of the neighborhood’s townhomes were dotted with grinning jack-o-lanterns, remnants of each pumpkin’s insides dangling across their hollowed-out eyes. Tacky, garbage bag ghosts, fashioned from the hands of tiny children, fluttered in the wind, haphazardly swinging from homemade nooses in each front yard tree.

Bags of endless treats were being deposited into candy bowls, and a variety of comical and macabre costumes were being proudly ironed and laid out on beds, ready for expectant children to slide into upon arriving home from school.

But it wasn’t the spooky skeletons perched in trees, or the fake Frankenstein hands protruding from churned up front lawns that was the most unsettling…. These were ordinary Halloween spectacles all shadowed by the haunting sight of crimson yard signs with the name LIVED plastered across each one in sharp block letters.

The wind rattled the yard signs, perfectly positioned in each lawn and storefront, and it ruffled brazen leaves out of each tree sending them scampering across empty sidewalks and streets, settling at the feet of the visitor.

He had arrived. No one quite knew where he had appeared from, or how he had gotten there, but he stood at the entrance of this non-existent little town, dark black Lucchese standing parallel with the centerline of Main Street. The fading afternoon sun gleamed off the handsome man’s dark aviators, and it glistened over the top of his perfectly styled, dark hair. His broad shoulders and muscular figure were elongated by the sun, as his monstrous shadow cast itself over the quaint metropolis. His heavy jaw shifted as his lips upturned into a perfect smile.

Beside him stood a beautiful woman, so fair that her white complexion nearly matched her snowy hair. Her unmoving lips bowed into a perfect red line. Around her, her dark trench coat flapped in the wind. On the visitor’s other side stood a man of similar stature, who also had stark blonde hair, nearly translucent in the fall sunrays.

Change was coming…. The wind seemed to whisper the words as the dark trio glided down Main Street towards town square, the heels of their boots barely connecting with the asphalt below them.

Where Main Street and Center Street intersected, resided a beautiful gothic town square, patented with weathered cobblestone walks, mossy brick buildings, and an ominous town hall with a steeple that pierced the gloomy, autumn sky.

A couple young men gathered outside the Town Hall, hurriedly assembling a wooden stage before its entrance. Beside them young women, all adorned in striking red LIVED T-shirts, draped decorative red cloth along the stage.

Among the busy workers was Jack, who was covered in a fine spray of sweat that had accumulated after hammering the final pieces of the stage together. Wiping his brow he stooped to his feet, catching a glimpse of the dark trio rolling into town.

“They’re here! They’re here!” He cried more out of nervousness than excitement.

Everything had to be perfect, but it wasn’t, they weren’t ready yet….

“Julia do you have all the flyers in boxes ready to go? Tom are all the extra signs placed around the perimeter for people to grab?” Jack looked down helplessly at his watch.

“Our surrogate speakers still haven’t arrived,” he murmured with dread.

Julia, a pretty young twentysomething with glowing red hair, and high school sweetheart to Jack, came up behind him placing a hand gently on his shoulder. “They’re scheduled to arrive in 10 minutes,” she said soothingly; however, her gaze was distant. She was unable to tear her eyes from the three figures that had appeared at the foot of the stage.

Snapping his head towards them, Jack greeted them with hands outstretched. “We’re so honored to have you all here today,” he welcomed with a wavering voice.

“Nice to meet you Jack, I’m Eve… we spoke over the phone….” the blonde woman purred. Her features, hidden beneath the cover of her huge dark sunglasses, turned up into what he imagined was a warm smile. Her blood red lips curled up to reveal perfectly chiseled teeth.

He clasped the woman’s thin hand in his sweaty palm, enchanted by her familiar, deep voice, and enticed by her slender hands that nearly crushed under the weight of his strong hold.

“This is Mr. Lived…” she wriggled free of his grasp and gestured towards the largest, most handsome visitor.

Despite the fact Jack led the entire LIVED team in the state, his confidence dissipated into thin air. Jack felt like a helpless boy meeting his sports idol for the first time. He swallowed hard and bowed before Mr. Lived.

“Such an honor sir,” he said without meeting Mr. Lived’s eyes.

Even though Mr. Lived towered above Jack, his shoulders went slack and his entire body rumbled with laughter.

“Please…. No need to call me sir,” he waved removing his aviators to reveal startling, icy blue eyes.

“You’ve really outdone yourself Jack, the place looks wonderful we’re very grateful,” Mr. Lived relished as he assessed the town square.

Jack’s already sweating cheeks grew warmer. He wanted to correct Mr. Lived and explain this scene was nowhere near finished, but he bit his tongue.

“Where should we go to prepare?” Mr. Lived glanced over his shoulder at the stoic blonde-haired man who hovered behind him.

“Go-go around the side of the townhall….” Jack stammered. “Inside there’s a dressing room and snacks.”

“Alright thank you,” Mr. Lived nodded, flashing a dazzling smile. He beckoned at Eve and she followed close behind as they disappeared into the decaying building.

“Do you have any fishing line?” The blonde-haired man asked.

Confused, Jack looked around.

“Yes actually we were using it to hang some of the curtains….” Julia appeared an eager servant at his side with an extra spool.

“That will do the trick,” he snatched the fishing line from Julia and started walking away.

“I didn’t catch your name,” she called after him.

“Adam….” he responded without even a backwards glance.

Jack tried not to roll his eyes at Julia’s fascination. After all they lived in the Modern Era where women were allowed to enjoy anyone they wanted, but he still felt a pang of jealously.

Women didn’t get married anymore. They didn’t have boyfriends or partners. They weren’t supposed to stay tied down to one person, but Jack loved her. Even after going to college worlds away, they still came back to work on the same team in their hometown. They still spent long nights alone together enjoying one another. He knew the secret she kept concealed under the baggy LIVED T-shirt she wore as a uniform every day. It gradually grew tighter and tighter, a change so subtle that nobody noticed, but when they’d tuck themselves in next two each other at night, she would place his large hands across her swelling abdomen, and he could imagine the life growing inside her.

He might not be Adam, but he would forever be the father to her child and that set them apart.

The sun was starting to set, the air growing cooler, and a small crowd started to form in front of the stage.

The show must go on… Jack thought, realizing they had fifteen minutes until Mr. Lived took the stage.

LIVED was plastered across the stage. But the red and white balloons still weren’t tied in place, and he still couldn’t hear the music that was supposed to be emanating from the speakers. To make matters worse, the town mayor hadn’t arrived yet, and she was supposed to make the introduction.

As each minute ticked past, more and more people trickled into the town square. Parents crowding together, shoulder to shoulder, with their little trick-or-treaters clasped in hand. A crackling was heard over the loudspeaker as patriotic music finally flooded the plaza.

Julia bobbed through the crowd passing out LIVED signs with a smile you couldn’t refuse, and back in the corner of the public square, the TV station from a couple towns over set up camp.

Suddenly, Jack’s frustration turned to joy…..This was going to be huge.

It was two minutes until kick-off. Panic returned, leaving Jack in a sheen of sweat as he realized their mayor still hadn’t arrived….. He would have to make the introduction himself.

Shuffling towards the stage, Jack clumsily grabbed for the mic.

“Uh….. thank you for coming tonight folks….” he was out of breath as he gazed out at the faces of nearly the entire town, gathered together for this. Masked and painted faces of children stared back at him impatiently, achingly awaiting the hour of trick-or-treating and parents eagerly waited to hear Mr. Lived, nervous grins on their faces. The only ones missing from the crowd were the older generation… like his grandmother… not a single gray-haired head in sight.

“As you all know this is a pretty special night. This is the first time in history that we’ve had a presidential candidate make a stop in our town,” Jack spoke triumphantly. “Alright I will just get on with it, “ he laughed nervously. “I present to you… Mr. Lived!”

The crowd erupted into cheers and applause as the handsome visitor stepped on stage beaming. As he waved at the crowd, each person felt a special sort of pride in the fact that he was there. The thought that they were so special that a presidential candidate would pay them a visit…. Small town America…. A week before the election… Was incredible. And here was the top candidate asking for their vote.

Jack hurried off stage, standing awkwardly next to Mr. Lived’s entourage. He couldn’t help from grinning ear to ear as he watched Mr. Lived fire up the crowd. He was handsome and charming… and smart so smart…. In awe Jack looked out again at all the faces of his friends, family, and neighbors staring back up at Mr. Lived inspired. He saw the magic light up their faces as they nodded along. Mr. Lived spoke to the heart and soul of every individual there, making them feel as if they were the only ones who had showed up in this town square tonight, as if Mr. Lived tailored the message to each and every one of them.

That Mr. Lived was a special guy…. That Jack was certain. As Mr. Lived concluded his speech and the crowd raved and roared, he felt so endeared he couldn’t help but chime in. Eve and Adam stood motionless next to him gazing on in disapproval from behind their large, dark glasses, but Jack didn’t care. He was damned proud. He helped make the magic happen.

That night Jack had returned to his childhood home to find his grandmother still perched in the rocking chair near the front door with a bowl of Halloween candy in her lap. He could tell by the weariness in her eyes that she had been worried about him all night. The TV was on in the background, but the sound seemed to be muffled against the back and forth of her rocking chair creaking against the floorboards.

“Nana,” he murmured, pulling her in for a hug gently. “Did you have a lot of trick-or-treaters?”

“Yes, yes I’ve seen plenty,” she waved her hand as if to dismiss the small talk entirely.

“What’s got you so worked up then Nana?” He asked gingerly, rummaging through the back kitchen as he prepared her medications for bed.

She clucked her tongue. She made the sound for a while until Jack finally returned from the kitchen, pills in hand. She clucked her tongue and wagged her finger accusingly at him.

“You don’t invite strangers into my town young man,” Jack saw how wide her pupils were and it startled him. Genuine fear glittered behind her watery eyes.

“I know you don’t approve of Mr. Lived Nana,” Jack’s feeling of accomplishment was finally starting to dwindle, he couldn’t wait for his head to hit the pillow, and he didn’t have the energy left in him to argue. Not tonight.

“Don’t approve? Don’t approve?” Her feeble voice continued to climb an octave at a time.

“Did you hear what he said on stage?” She cried hysterically. “It’s hideous….”

“I know… I know Nana…” He rubbed her shoulders comfortingly and passed her medications. With a shaking hand she set down the candy bowl and opened her palm to receive her pills. That’s when Jack noticed the white knuckles of her opposite hand clenched tightly around a discolored bible.

“Nana give me that,” Jack insisted trying to grab the outdated book from her reach, but she hissed in his direction.

“Did you hear what the great Mr. Lived said on stage tonight?” She shouted again, this time actually looking for a response. “Did you hear the evil, evil things he said?”

Jack sighed in dismay. He was so fond of his grandmother. She’d raised him. She was a witty and hardworking woman, not to mention a wonderful cook… who had slowly lost her mind. Just like most people her age she was terrified of change… too conservative to accept the positivity of this new progressive wave.

“Everyone living in poverty, children being murdered in their sleep, rich people being executed at the hands of poor folk for reparations?” she shrieked again.

“Shhhh…” Jack pleaded with her. “Nana you know he didn’t say that.”

“He did… he did! How can you support that monster?”

“He’s not a monster Nana… he’s a true leader.”

Suddenly the old woman threw the book at her grandson’s feet. The pages flapping wildly as it flew through the air and landed on the floorboards with a thud. The gleaming letters “Holy Bible” staring up at him.

“I used to read it to you before you went to bed when you were just a boy,” she whispered, clutching the arms of her rocker with trembling hands. Her eyes fixated on something in the distance. “You don’t read it anymore.” Wet tears accumulated in the corners of her eyes and her thin lips began to quiver.

“And you read it too much,” Jack snapped. “Nana please don’t cry….” He begged hugging her tightly as he coaxed her to her feet…it was wayy past Nana’s bedtime.

They hobbled together, her arms propped up in Jack’s, as they made their way towards her bedroom door.

“What did he say tonight that makes you love him so much?” she whimpered as he plopped her down on her bed, removing the slippers from her purple feet.

“What specifically?” she prodded.
Suddenly, Jack realized he was so caught up in the excitement of the moment that he didn’t even really listen to what Mr. Lived rambled on about. Jack had been so caught up in the magic of the moment, and the look of hope on the crowd’s face. It was electric. Besides, he had heard the stump speech so many times over the course of the campaign, he knew what Mr. Lived stood for. He believed in it, even if he couldn’t recite word-for-word what Mr. Lived had said tonight.

“That change is coming,” Jack murmured looking into his grandmother’s eyes pitifully. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, tucking the blankets around her snugly.

As he exited the room, he flipped off the lights and he could hear her cry herself to sleep quietly. The sound was heart-wrenching, but what was he to do?

When society talks about grief and loss, the primary narrative centers around sudden death. The unexpected, but nobody ever talks about how painful it is to lose someone gradually… to love somebody so deeply and watch as the creeping monster of time slowly wears down the gears of the brain and the body to the point of no repair… to the extent that the person you loved so deeply isn’t even there anymore. Parts of them might still linger, but they will never again be as whole as when you first loved them.

Father time was a bastard. Jack cursed old age as he undressed and went to sleep.

The next morning Jack shivered outside the campaign office located in the town square. He fumbled with the keys to the old church, popping his collar to shield his face from the harsh wind.

His grandma should be proud. Each and every morning he arrived religiously at 7:30am at this exact spot, the town’s converted church. What a churchgoer this politics game has made me… Jack snorted at the thought, knowing how upset his Nana would be if she ever found out that the local chapel which the government had shut down, was now being recycled as a campaign office.

The bell hovering above the doorjamb chimed to announce his arrival and another sound pierced the silence of the dark office. The phone was ringing.

Lunging for the line Jack snatched up the phone.

“Hello?” he answered breathless.

Behind him Julia entered bundled up behind layers of a knitted scarf and a matching peacoat, holding two steaming cups of coffee.

“Thank you, thank you!” Jack exalted. “You won’t be disappointed!”

“Jack what is it?”

“Last night went so well that they’re coming back here for Election Night….” Jack couldn’t contain his excitement. Julia gasped in disbelief, setting down the coffees and rushing him into a hug.

“We did it…. We did it Jules….” He grinned from ear to ear, leaning down and kissing her.

This was the moment every politico dreamed of. His career was finally taking off. He and Julia would be rewarded for their diligent service with jobs in the Lived Administration, and he was so fulfilled knowing the world he was about to bring a child into. This was their big break. Change was coming.

A week later the autumn leaves and browning grass had grown hard with frost. The goading jack-o-lanterns smirks had sagged into weepy frowns. Though the air had a wintry nip to it, it still carried the same thrill of excitement. Change was coming.

Jack’s little town was overflowing with residents from neighboring counties, all sandwiched shoulder-to-shoulder in the town square, huddling together for warmth and brandishing radiant smiles. On each winter coat was a red, white and blue sticker announcing, “I voted.” As camera crews from local and national TV stations panned the scene ravenously, the audience would screech with cheers and frantically wave their LIVED campaign signs at the camera. The energy was invigorating. “He lived for us, he lived for this, vote LIVED!” Canvassers cried marching the Main Street sidewalks and bombarding any passersby’s with red LIVED hats and T-shirts.

Flood lights were stationed around the town square, and speakers blasted more than a mile out playing Mr. Lived’s favorite rock and roll hits. Positioned in front of the Town Hall with its menacing steeple was a similar stage. This time it was much taller, and it had a long set of wide, thick, wooden steps hugging each side. There were red balloons and banners everywhere. Jack could already imagine the sprinkle of confetti that would fall through the cold air like snow when they announced Mr. Lived’s victory.

The campaign office was directly across from the Town Hall, Jack could barely see the progress on the setup from behind the bobbing heads of the crowd. Julia clasped his hand, giving it a friendly squeeze. She giggled with anticipation.

“I can’t hardly believe it,” she gulped craning her head to try to see what all the commotion was outside the window.

A heavy gust of wind billowed through the town momentarily making the speakers blare with static and the lights shudder out. The roar of the crowd was stifled by the cold as they cowered behind the lips of scarves and jackets. For a moment, the only solitary sound was the clicking of heels against asphalt as three alarming shadows stalked down Main Street. When the lights and the music resumed with a flicker, the crowd parted in two as a familiar trio waltzed into town.

Mr. Lived had arrived.

“Right on time,” Jack whispered. He smoothed his black suit. The entire campaign staff had been instructed to abandon the tacky campaign attire and instead dress in all black. Rolling his shoulders back Julia and him both took deep breaths and nodded at each other before stepping out into the night to meet their fearless leader.

The crowd had gone absolutely mad, chanting, and cheering, and waving. Jack ushered Mr. Lived, Eve, and Adam to the side of the Town Hall again, where they were shielded behind the curtains of the stage.

“Absolutely incredible work Jack,” Mr. Lived applauded. Eve yawned boredly behind her oversized sunglasses. Adam remained stoic under his reflective aviators.

“Do you have a changing room by chance?” Mr. Lived inquired, turning towards the familiar side door of the Town Hall.

“Yes, everything’s been prepared for you,” Jack nodded, watching him duck to enter the low-ceilinged building.

For a moment the four campaign staffers stood in silence, hands folded across their chests stiffly. Eve and Adam stood guard on opposite sides of the door, barely even breathing. Jack stared at the ticking hands of his watch, anxiously witnessing the last thirty minutes of open polls whiz by.

Mr. Lived popped his head out the side door. “Do you have any extra fishing line?” he inquired, fidgeting with the crimson tie around his neck.

“Yes of course!” Julia trotted off to find some as the other three waited.

Eve broke the uncomfortable silence.

“Ugh…..” Eve groaned in disdain. “I’m just soo hungry…..”

“Oh there’s snacks inside the dressing room actually,” Jack was eager to be accommodating, but before he could direct her, she reached up on her tippy-toes to the nearest tree, plucking a nearly frozen, rotting, apple from its branches.

“Mmmmmm…” she moaned with pleasure as the apple crunched like ice beneath her sharp teeth. Jack’s jaw dropped in confusion. In one swift motion, Adam swooped in, stole the apple, and tossed it behind the decrepit building. Jack’s eyes could barely follow the half-eaten fruit as it sailed off into the darkness.

Without even a scold, Adam waved a finger in warning at her before returning to his post outside the dressing room door.

Before Eve could protest, Mr. Lived’s voice carried out from the crack in the door. “Eve darling, could you come help me with my tie?” he sing-songed. Reluctantly she followed him inside not even bothering to wipe the apple juice that dribbled down her chin.

One of the other field staffers appeared beside Jack in a panic.

“Sir…. we have protestors…. What do we do?” he looked at Jack helplessly, clutching a walkie-talkie, ready to phone in the other campaign volunteers for back-up.

Suddenly, Adam’s curiosity was peaked. “What kind of protestors?” he drawled.

“A local church group. They’re shouting a bunch of nonsense about how Mr. Lived kills children and they’re right in front of the press pen.”

A beguiled smirk flickered at the corner of Adam’s lips. “I will handle it,” and with the rustle of the stage curtains he was gone.

Suddenly Julia reappeared out of breath, fishing line in tow. “I’m going to go pass this off,” she nodded at Jack. “Fifteen minutes until polls close!”

Curiosity got the best of Jack. He learned over grabbing a fistful of curtains, peering out into the crowd. His eyes couldn’t pinpoint protestors, everyone in the audience looked perfectly at ease. He didn’t hear the war cry of any rival chants either.

Withdrawing a walkie-talkie from his pocket, he circled back with his team, checking the last few items off his list. Fifteen minutes had passed in the blink of an eye….. Polls were closed…. It was show time.

On edge, Jack caught glimpse of his watch in time to determine Mr. Lived was running late.

Impatiently Jack launched himself through the dressing room door.

“Mr. Lived….” he hollered. “Polls closed ten minutes ago. Results are starting to come in.” Startled Jack jumped, sending his walkie-talkie clattering to the floor.

In the dimly lit dressing room, Mr. Lived was settled in a town hall bench. An antique mirror, previously hidden in storage underneath a white sheet, was out on full display. Mr. Lived was poised in front of the dust covered glass, readjusting his tie and wincing. Behind him Eve yanked at his scalp, weaving fishing line and a sewing needle through his hairline with nimble, bloody fingers.

“Bloody hell Eve….” Mr. Lived grunted, clapping a hand to his forehead. Despite the shadows, Jack could just barely make out Mr. Lived’s bulging eyes and the unnatural lumps of skin that seemed to be pulled unevenly over his face like saran wrap.

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With a loud exhale and a doglike shake of his head, his perfect skin seemed to snap back into place like an elastic waistband.

“I’m sorry… so sorry…” Jack clapped a hand to his mouth regretting his intrusion as he shuffled backwards.

Without even attempting to be discreet, Eve stared at him from behind her large, dark sunglasses, securing a final knot of fishing line and biting it off with her teeth.

“No worries, we’re finished.” She gave Mr. Lived a stiff shove, sending him springing to his feet.

Was Mr. Lived… the world’s most perfect man…. Bald? Jack wasn’t sure how hair transplants functioned, but he certainly wasn’t convinced that was how it worked.

Jack stumbled backwards into the doorway. With a roll of his shoulders Mr. Lived’s features softened into a hypnotic smile, as if business as usual. With a nod he strode right past Jack, backstage. Eve sauntered behind him, stopping toe-to-toe with Jack. He loomed over her with unease. She leaned close to him, so close he could barely see his enlarged reflection in her glasses. With an insolent smirk she raised her thin, alienlike hand and waved. He watched as droplets of blood trickled down her white hand…. Without hesitation she thrust her fingers in his mouth.

He tasted the thick, metallic sting of blood against his tongue. Mesmerized he found himself subconsciously sucking on her sweet, sticky fingers.

“It’s wicked good,” she mused, removing her hands from his mouth. Staring up at him blankly, she sucked her hands clean of all evidence, licking her lips.

Jack realized he’d been holding his breath. He felt his face flush red with embarrassment as he watched her stroll away.

What the hell?

He was in a daze, but desperately needed to clear his mind. He spit the taste of blood out of his mouth, rinsing his throat with a drink of water. Julia was nowhere in sight, but Jack wanted to at least ensure his campaign staffers were armed and ready with signs and cameras to capture the moment. Yet when Jack buzzed them, none responded. Luckily his friend Tom was walking briskly at the front of the audience.

“What the hell are you doing? Where are the signs?” Jack demanded grabbing Tom by the elbow. Tom looked back at Jack impassively, two yard stakes almost as tall as Tom, clenched in either fist.

“Adam’s doing signs…he just told us to grab stakes,” Tom shrugged.

Surveying the scene Jack saw all of his other campaign staffers poised at the perimeter of the audience, all toting the same yard stakes.

“Whatever,” Jack spat in annoyance and envy of Adam, snatching his leadership responsibilities from under his nose.

Mr. Lived bowed his head, hands clasped in front of him, waiting patiently backstage, as the Mayor concluded her powerful introduction.

It was only an hour now after polls had closed. Jack’s walkie-talkie kept beeping, broadcasting election results. It was already a clean sweep. It had been one of the fastest election tallies in history. While he had no doubt quick results like that would be challenged by the opposition, that didn’t mean they couldn’t celebrate tonight.

“I present to you… the next President of the United States, President Lived!” The crowd roared so loud it drowned out the rock music blaring over the speakers. With a nod from Eve, Mr. Lived took the stage. Both Eve and Jack appeared at corner stage, now watching the spectacle from plain sight.

Confetti swirled like snow dust, glittering Mr. Lived’s slicked hair. He hugged and kissed the Mayor before throwing both arms up in the air and waving triumphantly at his fans.

“I lived for you, I lived for this,” he mused into the microphone. “It’s all because of YOU!” He shouted gleefully pacing the stage. The crowd screamed in raw anticipation, many even crying.

“America has been drowning under our current leadership. Hardworking folks don’t have a shot anymore. The rich get to enjoy all the success while the poor are murdered in broad daylight in the streets. Not everyone can afford the healthcare they deserve, instead countless Americans are dying after being refused the care they desperately need. And women, who have been ignored for so long, have been completely stripped of the ability to choose their life and capitalize on their rights. Well I tell you what America….. All of that changes tonight!” He raved.

“The time is now…. The time is here…. It’s about ALL of you! None of you will be ignored! Each and every one of you deserves equality. You deserve to have everything you’ve always wanted, everything you’ve always dreamed. Because that’s what America’s about right? Dreams coming true. You deserve freedom! Freedom from the traditional ways of an old-fashioned, outdated America. You deserve freedom from the hateful, narrow-minded religion of rich folks. You deserve freedom from the socioeconomic molds that society has trapped you in. You deserve, good health, happiness, and wealth…. And I’m here to not simply give it to you….. Oh no….” Mr. Lived came up for air, perspiration starting to bead on his brow, something mad glimmering in his eyes.

“I’m here to help you SEIZE it!”

Jack could’ve sworn the crowd was clapping so ferociously their hands would break off.

For a moment time stood still. It was like the beauty of a dark, blossoming thundercloud, roiling with potential. An ominous threat painting the sky before the lightning strikes.

Time seemed to be frozen and Jack’s brain took a mental photograph of the moment. Tears glistened across true believers cheeks, all faces in the audience upturned, looking mesmerized by the charm and hope that Mr. Lived radiated. Even the reporters stood in a dreamlike stupor, jaws dangling open, their mics clutched limply at their sides.

He saw it in each and every expression. Middle-class folks, who work unrelenting hours with no reward, families who are financially crippled by mounting hospital bills, or women who felt repressed, their futures stolen. This was the moment everyone had worked for…. The defeat of old America… and the rise of dreams and change.

The LIVED flags and campaign signs seemed to wave in the wind, announcing to the world that their new lives were about to begin.

Then Jack frowned, awakened from his daze to see a small bonfire, crackling and snapping at the center of the crowd. The flames lapped higher and higher, licking the night air, and smoke began to swirl.

He hadn’t authorized a fire.

Adrenaline started to course through his veins, as he grappled for his walkie-talkie to demand someone douse out the blaze until….. He saw the keeper of the flame. Adam staring point-blank back at Jack, from behind his dark glasses, haughtily guarding the fire. With a menacing amusement he ripped up old, weathered books. One by one ripping fistfuls of pages from their worn spines and throwing them like candy at a parade into the blaze. There was something sickening in the way the crackling flames incinerated each page. At his feet were stacks of books, all with well-worn covers and golden words etched on the front. “Holy Bible.”

Jack’s stomach plummeted.

“Change isn’t coming folks….” Mr. Lived bellowed into the microphone flailing his hands wildly. “Because it’s ALREADY ARRIVED!”

For a moment everything fell mute. Through the uproar and the movement of the crowd Jack’s gaze fixated on his campaign staffers who weren’t cheering. Instead some were fashioning what appeared to be life-sized crosses with their heavy-duty campaign stakes. The remaining staffers were taking frail, silver-haired protestors wearing rumpled “Jesus is King” T-shirts and binding their wrists with fishing wire to the makeshift crosses.

Ice shot through Jack’s veins, at a momentary loss for words he slowly brought the walkie-talkie up to his gaping mouth and attempted to comprehend what was happening.

“I didn’t fucking authorize this….” he murmured under his breath. “I didn’t fucking authorize this!” He exploded furiously shouting into the walkie-talkie, watching as his disobedient staff continued to wrangle struggling protestors, hanging them up by their arms from the wooden stakes.

Suddenly Eve’s stern grip enclosed around his hand, plucking the walkie-talkie from his grasp, and casually stomping it out beneath her heels.

Speechless, Jack stared at the destruction unfolding.

The music and Mr. Lived’s chants started to run together, becoming incomprehensible. Jack’s head grew dizzy as he watched some of his former football buddies, high-school classmates, fellow business owners, and community leaders take the stage before Mr. Lived.

Facing the crowd, half of the townspeople who had appeared on stage stooped to their knees kneeling, as the other half towered behind them solemnly.

There was a strange hypnotic smile, perfectly painted across each person’s cheeks, their eyes glassy and empty.

“Wait…” Jack muttered to himself. From his view of the stage he could see that all of his friends and neighbors on their knees were the wealthier community leaders, and all those who hovered behind them were lower middle-class. They stood and kneeled emotionless, all with hands clasped obediently behind their backs.

As Mr. Lived continued to rant and rave to a neurotic crowd, he paced the stage, tucking a gleaming, thin, blade in the hand of each individual who was standing.

“No, no, no folks,” Mr. Lived cried. “I’m not a man of empty promises. I keep my word. And tonight is the start of a new beginning for America.”

Mr. Lived halted at the center of the stage, a beautiful woman clutching his arm next to him……

It was Julia.

Jack’s stomach crashed to the coldest depths of the Earth. The numbness pervaded his body until he grew so cold it hurt. He couldn’t will himself to move, his limbs dangling uselessly at his side like lead weights.

Mr. Lived gently removed Julia’s black peacoat, revealing a form-fitting black dress that hugged her hips and accentuated the bulge of her stomach. Emotionless and unblinkingly she stared into the crowd, Mr. Lived prodding her forward. She stepped to the very edge of the stage with tired, heavy steps.

To Jack’s horror Mr. Lived came up behind Julia pressing his muscular body against hers, gathering her tightly in a strong embrace. His large hands rubbed her swelling abdomen affectionately. Something sinister flickering in his eyes.

Releasing her, Mr. Lived slowly unzipped Julia’s dress, offering a hand of support as she slithered out of it, like a snake shedding its dead skin.

Goosebumps prickled Julia’s skin in the bitter nip of the winter air, but she didn’t shiver, unphased as she stared blankly into the audience, Mr. Lived keeping a solid grip on the nape of her neck.

It was grotesque watching Mr. Lived fondle the love of his life in front of the entire country. She failed to react to his caress, or the noise, or her nakedness. In his shock Jack couldn’t will himself to move.

The world was mute. The sound of the protestors squealing in agony as they were mounted on stakes, the thunder of the rock music still playing in the background, the monotonous clapping of the smiling audience, and the cadence of Mr. Lived’s impassioned talking points, all snuffed out. The only sound Jack heard in his ears was the rumbling of his heartbeat, the loud pitter-patter that struggled against his chest.

Before him Mr. Lived unsheathed a silver dagger and rested the point, ever so carefully, against Julia’s growing belly.

Jack winced imagining the flutter of his racing heart was the sound of his son’s, helplessly pleading for life.

“No…” Jack’s lips desperately formed the words, but nothing audible came out.

“It’s time we make a peace offering to our nation’s oppressed,” Mr. Lived sing-songed, brandishing that perfectly white smile.
“Our poor who have been left behind….. They deserve better, don’t you think?” Mr. Lived prompted, and the crowd howled back in agreement.

“Our women who have so often been told they come in second to men, they deserve better don’t you think?” Again the audience clamored in agreement.

“Well let’s finally give our poor a step up, let’s finally give our women the option to succeed. Tonight, we’re starting the movement. TONIGHT, these generous men and women before you are going to give up their undeserved ranks in society, so that some of their less fortunate neighbors and friends can resume their places instead.”

The maddened applause was deafening.

“TONIGHT, we’re going to give this young woman a chance to run my team, a chance to be more than a mother,” Mr. Lived drawled wickedly. You could barely hear his menacing laugh above the cheers and chanting.

“TONIGHT, we’re setting America free!” Mr. Lived shouted at the top of his lungs, clenching the dagger tighter in his sweaty palm. He gestured towards Julia and she compliantly took hold.

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Horrified, Jack realized the audience and those participating on stage all had the same eerily, cheerful countenance and something distant and unknowing was obvious in their eyes.

“Change is here!” Mr. Lived bellowed.

As if on cue, the individuals standing on stage withdrew their blades, running the cold metal under the throats of all those who knelt before them. With fluid slashes, one by one their bodies hit the stage platform with a thud, their glassy eyes rolling back into their heads as dark blood spewed form their beneath their chins.

“Nooo!” Jack finally found the words. He propelled himself forward, arms outstretched, aiming to tackle Julia right out of Mr. Lived’s arms, but with one swift kick Eve knocked his feet out from under him. His head ricocheted off the wooden steps.

With theatric effect, Julia plunged the dagger into her belly, at the same moment Mr. Lived let go, releasing her thin frame. She took the dagger and carved in further dragging a vertical cut down the center of her stomach.

Jack squeezed his eyes shut in agony, unwilling to watch the horror unfold. Julia didn’t blink, she didn’t scream, she didn’t even flinch, but Jack cried out helplessly as he heard the sound of her body crumbling to the floor.

“But that’s my son!” He screamed, fighting against the pressure of Eve’s heel poised precariously against his jugular.

“It’s not your choice,” Eve chided climbing over him, ready to mount the stage. Like a magician unveiling her next trick, Eve removed the crimson drapes from the broad, oak stairs.

With familiar fingers, Eve began to pry open the top of each stage step, propping it open like heavy, swinging doors. Beneath each step was a human-sized bed filled with money.

Jack’s gut twisted with the realization that they weren’t stairs, they were coffins.

Still bellied up to the ground, Jack careened his head up to watch as campaign staffers, not just any campaign staffers, but his recruits, mindlessly lined up and started slipping themselves into the caskets that were embedded into the stairs.

Eve towered above the closest one, staring down into its green contents somberly. With resolve she undressed, wearing nothing but a silky, black slip and her sunglasses, as she climbed into her grave.

Only a couple feet away Jack watched, hearing the slow crack of her head as it swiveled around to face him in silence.

Jack almost could’ve sworn that wet tears glistened down her sallow cheeks. Leafing through the coffin she let the crisp hundred-dollar bills fall from her grasp and settle back into her bed.

“I just want to go to sleep….” she whispered to Jack, her depleted body shaking.

“My work is done and I just want to go to sleep,” she pleaded, raising her voice to Jack.

“I’m so fucking tired,” she droned on. “I just want to go to sleep!”

In a fury, she snatched one of the bloody blades from the stage that had been used to sacrifice Jack’s neighbors, and she began thrusting it through her chest.

The blade made an ugly, wet sound as it slid easily in and out in and out of her ribcage.

“I just want to go to sleep!” She screamed hysterically, flailing her arms and legs in a mad frenzy. “I just want to go to sleep!” There was frustration in her agony, as she continued to impale herself to no avail.

Then Jack choked for air as her empty gaze pierced him. Her large, designer sunglasses had toppled off the crook of her nose. Where her beautiful, shiny eyes should have been, were dark empty eye sockets. Her soulless body stared back at him challengingly.

“I just want to go to sleep!” She screamed, those gloomy pits for eyes, devoid of any life, searing into Jack.

Around them, the flames from the bonfire had continued to spread. The greedy flames drawing nearer to the stage.

Jack could decipher the screams of children, and the hideous, malevolent laughter of adults. The sound of spilling blood, the smell of burning flesh, the snap of human bone, the image of chaotic violence flashed before Jack. The crowd had morphed into a mob.

“I just want to go to sle-” Eve’s screams were silenced as Adam swooped in, gracefully swinging a rusty axe and slicing off Eve’s head with a crack of bone and the mushy sound of severed tendons.

“Stupid bitch,” Adam huffed indignantly, wiping his brow and dropping her mutilated head into her lap. Her body lay flopping and twitching in its grave, like a beheaded chicken expelling its last ounces of life.

With a disgust Adam kicked Eve’s coffin, sending its cover rattling shut.

Overstepping the other campaign staffers tucked away in their coffins peacefully, Adam resumed his rightful post alongside Mr. Lived. With satisfaction the two looked upon the carnage with glee. Adam finally removed his aviators, revealing the dreaded horror of soulless, empty eye sockets.

As the flames started to eat away at the crimson drapes of the stage and the durable cardboard of the campaign signs, it almost appeared that Mr. Lived began to melt with it.

His smile never faded, but his skin began to weaken, softening and distorting the once taut features of his face. The top of his hairline began to slide off the back of his head, revealing long slender horns where his dark locks should be.

As his skin eroded away, he licked his lips devilishly revealing a forked tongue. Adam and Mr. Lived began dancing in delight.

Jack couldn’t bear to witness the flames eat away at the lifeless heap that was once Julia, laying disheveled and bloody on stage.

He looked out into the crowd that had occupied themselves with smashing in storefronts, lighting fire to nearby homes, and beating each other senselessly.

Jack desperately needed to escape.

Over the glow of the blaze and the dark plumes of smoke, Adam could see Tom, fast at work, placing another makeshift cross into the flames. Jack began to sob when he saw Tom’s wide, brown, puppy-dog eyes had been replaced by lifeless pits that were seared into his skull.

Content, Tom watched as another churchgoer tried to wriggle free of the fishing wire that bound their legs and wrists to the cross, screaming as they shied away from the flames that were devouring their clothes.

There was nothing else to do but run.

Jack forced himself to his feet, pummeling through the violent audience, breaking away from their angry chants and their predatory grasps.

He let the fear overtake him, feeling nothing else, but the urgency of flight.

For no more than half a second, Jack caught glimpse of his campaign office, with jagged shards of glass glinting in the moonlight. The storefront had been demolished with bricks. Between the crooked, hanging lights, the upended chairs, and the piles of paperwork strewn across the lobby, he could still see the glow of multiple TV screens from the press room.

With disappointment and alarm Jack saw the press coverage of the Election from different states. The news updates revealed similar coverage with nearly identical rallies all across the country, featuring a wild Mr. Lived and the sacrifice of a pregnant woman and rich people.

Before another wave of hopelessness could cripple him, Jack propelled himself forward trying to blink away the undeniable truth. That Mr. Lived was infinite.

There was nothing but the welcome of cool winter air on his face, the pounding of his feet against the cobblestone sidewalk, and the relief of dark, empty streets.

Finally, Jack came crashing through his front door, tripping as he entered the house in a panic, fumbling with the keys as he deadbolted the door behind him.

“Nana!” he frantically called. The last thing he was clinging to was the hope that his grandma hadn’t been ravaged by the angry mob.

“Jack! Jack is that you? Thank God!” she cried from her bedroom. Jack could hear her gentle murmurs of prayer. She was praying the Rosary and crying to herself.

Escape…. escape… they needed to escape.

Jack’s body was in full survival mode as he tore through the kitchen on the hunt for his Nana’s car keys.

He was going to save them if it was the last thing he did.

“Nana…. You were right, I’m so sorry!” he called through wet, hot tears. He ran to her bedroom, her jacket and keys in hand, and hurried to her bedside.

She was sitting upright in bed, desperately fingering a rosary, her eyes forced shut in concentration.

“Nana….” he whispered, gently grabbing her arm. Her eyes fluttered opened and she screamed in raw terror. It was the kind of soul-piercing scream that curdled your blood.

Jack’s knees buckled and he clapped his hands over his ears, wincing.

“Nana… Nana it’s okay I’ve got you,” Jack stammered, rushing to comfort her, but watching in dismay as her eyes rolled back into her skull in defeat. Her head rebounded against her headboard.

“Nana?” he questioned. “No, Nana!” Jack shook her limp body in denial, reaching a hand up to neck. Her skin was still warm, but he realized…. Her heart had stopped.

“Nooo!”Jack screamed, his pulse quickened in terror. He whipped around to face the door, but there was nobody behind him.

Instead he caught a glimpse of himself in his Nana’s dresser mirror.

Jack watched reluctantly as his reflection reached up a trembling hand to touch the empty, soulless pits where his eyes were supposed to be.

It was too late.

Change was here.

Credit: Emelia Rohl

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