Saddam was dead, dead as a doornail costing several thousand dollars used in the construction of Haliburton's new headquarters in Dubai.
Old Ebenezer Scrorge (who was oblivious to the wincing his clumsily shoe-horned name induced in all who were made to hear, read or pronounce it) swaggered along a corridor on Christmas Eve, his cocksure gait reflected in the marble floors buffed to a high gloss in the vast, long since abandoned White House. Save for one small, murky garret in which Scrorge slept and to which he was now headed, the elegant, porticoed mansion was ablaze with inefficient incandescent light. He whistled a jaunty version of a song he'd always called "Them Roastin' Chestnuts or Somethin'" as best he could, as he had never really gotten the hang of whistling; indeed, his father, a man now considered relatively respectable relative to the sub-dust-bunny level standards set by his son, had hired a battery of tutors for Scrorge when he was at university (and where he was known as "The Tippling Stripling") but to no avail. This left Scrorge with few hobbies and fewer creative outlets other than the mindless clearing of brush. "Bah, Humvie!" he muttered as he wrestled with a particularly tricky arpeggio.
Upon reaching the entrance to his dim cell he was met by the one remaining copmpatriot that hadn't flown or been kicked from the coop: the brainy, moist-eyed, pianist-cum-Secretary of State Condolleezza, whom Scrorge nicknamed "Condolleezza-peeza-poova-toova".
"I've just left you your nightly Coke and peanuts, Mister President." she said.
"You mash 'em up good in the bottom of the mug before you poured the Coke?" he asked, one brow raised in amused challenge.
"As always, sir."
"Thanks, Condolleezza-peeza-poova-toova." he replied, playfully punching her shoulder as he slipped past.
"Oh," she added, "your brother Jeb called to invite you to Christmas lunch tomorrow. They're going to waterboard for apples!" she said, her moist brown eyes widening for emphasis.
"No time fer fun, Condolleezza-peeza-poova-toova. I gotta burn the midnight oil while there's still some midnight oil left to burn. Well, g'night!" he said.
"Good night. And a Merry Christm---" said Condolleezza, the door closing in her moist, hopeful face.
* * *
As he sat cross-legged on the rug in front of the plasma screen which bathed Scrorge in the flickering glow of The O'Reilly Factor, he chugged his Coke and peanuts, masticating the brackish mash and absorbing what "Ol' McWhup-ass" (as he nicknamed O'Reilly) was preaching. Scrorge liked Ol' McWhup-ass. He was big, didn't suffer pussies and (as he liked to say) unflinchingly held the nation's balls up to a mirror to stare into the eyes of the face of its conscience.
The signal began to pixelate into tiny black squares, causing Ol' McWhup-ass to stutter uncharacteristically.
"Shitballs," Scrorge said. "Must be that Chinese paint eating through the satellite dish." He looked into the digitized bloviator's eyes and searched for a soul within. Then O'Reilly's tree stump of a head disappeared altogether, accented by the whammy-bar reverb twang of an electric guitar.
"The hell...?" Scrorge sputtered, sending desiccated peanut fragments onto the macraméd eagle upon which he squatted. As he pondered staying the course or cutting and running, the pixels began to reassemble, forming another face, this one vaguely familiar to the vexed POTUS. When it was completed the face smiled:
"How you doin'!"
Scrorge's brow knitted and his lips pursed, which indicated strongly that he might be thinking. Then it hit him like his mother's hair brush on his backside when he was eight and was caught using the family cat for a bong. "Lee? Lee Atwater?"
"You got me, brother!" Lee said.
"You're dead, ain't you?"
"Depends on how you define 'dead'." he said with a wink. "I've been assigned to help others make up for their misdeeds. To see to it that folks such as yourself don't end up dead without having contributed something positive to life, to prevent their buried remains from ironically becoming over time one of the essential ingredients of the very petroleum your family's built their fortune on." They stared at each other for a long time.
"Lee? Lee Atwater?" Atwater looked perplexed. "Gosh, Pappy loved you", Scrorge continued. "Said until you went nuts recantin' on your deathbed, you were as ruthless n' mean as a starving Islamo-fascist wearing a matzah-filled burka!"
"Yeah, I did do some pretty crappy things. But I was served up a steaming dish of mortality that made me understand the pain I'd caused in the service of a cruel and hard ideology...". Scrorge blinked.
"Heh", he responded.
"So listen up, Dubya: you've made a real mess of things. You've upset the imperfect but fragile balance that constitutes the global geopolitical structure. And before you wake up tomorrow, you're gonna be called on by three spirits where you'll have a chance to see the error of your ways and make amends."
"Lee? Lee Atwater?"
"Jesus, this is gonna be tough" Atwater sighed. He twanged the Stratocaster, slung low and sexy at his hip, and Scrorge fell asleep.
* * *
He awoke in his bed, his face creased from the bunched fabric of the pillow. Although basically rotten to the core, his features still retained their fratboy appeal, unlike the ravaged physiognomies of Dick Cheney or Ann Coulter, whose twisted, pinched or otherwise distorted features betrayed the pitiful depravity coursing within. No, Scrorge was decidedly less cognizant of his own inherent malevolence and was therefore insulated from its withering effects. Convinced he'd dreamt the last exchange with the deceased former Republican political strategist, he picked a crumb of sleep from his eyes and examined it, fighting the urge to eat the mucoid morsel but suddenly distracted by an amorphous emanation.
"Ebeneezer..." it said.
"That's my name, don't wear it out!" Scrorge niftily retorted.
"I am the ghost of Christmas past. Are you ready to follow me?" Scrorge squinted.
"Can't quite make you out, oh, spirit guy. Howsabout turrnin' up yer gain." The spirit became more defined and once again Scrorge had a vague recollection of the identity of the vision before him.
"Barry Goldwater?" he asked. The spirit adjusted his horn-rims.
"You bet your skinny ass it is. Never thought I'd live to see the day when I'd be considered relatively moderate. Actually I haven't lived to see the day when I'm considered to be relatively moderate, as I'm dead. You done a helluva job, kid, taking tried and true conservative values and cheapening them like they were made by impoverished children working at an assembly line in a sweatshop in Indonesia."
"Aw, come on, Barry. We do that with toys, pharmaceuticals, basketball shoes and vehicle armor but we do not do that with our conservative values." Barry shook his head and stretched out his arm.
"Take hold of my fist, son, and look at your television." Scrorge did. The images on the screen seemed as though they were pre HD, definitely from The Before Time. It seemed to be a sitcom of some sort.
"That 'Ozzie and Harriet' or something?" said Scrorge. He squinted, trying to divine meaning from the archetypal scene: well-to-do Caucasian mom and dad, a houseful of rambunctious boys, all gathering around the breakfast table, their heads bowing in prayer. "Oh, wait a minute. I remember this. This was breakfast at our house!" He seemed thrilled to watch as the onscreen image of his father intoned thanks to the Lord, while one of the brothers -- whom Scrorge recognized as himself -- unzipped his fly, pulled his pecker out and, using a black Flair pen, drew a happy face on it, much to his brother Jeb's barely contained amusement. The young Scrorge then manipulated the urethra to mimic his father's nasal prayer, "lip" synching perfectly. The present day Scrorge, amused and proud, elbowed Barry.
"What an inspiring moment for us all." Barry said acidly. He took his glasses off and wiped them on his flowing white tunic. "Our future two-term president defacing his glans with a pen to make his brother laugh." He put his glasses back on. "The gods of history tremble."
Scrorge laughed at his old breakfast table antics but stared at what he saw next: Pappy was glaring at young Scrorge, his eyes narrow and unforgiving.
"You, son, are a moron", he said. "You embrace mediocrity in all you do. You would rather be a loafer than a leader. You are a shiftless juice head and a gormless embarrassment to our family and you'd better try to improve your attitude or you will one day find yourself without friends, without family, without a moral compass to guide you to what is rightfully yours in this world. In other words, you will be one of them--" Pappy pointed through the frost covered window to the battery of immigrant gardeners who were hanging Christmas decorations around the Kennebunkport compound. The young Scrorge, cowed, lowered his head.
"Yes, Pappy", he muttered contritely. But the present-day Scrorge was staring at the dark, joyless faces as they strung endless strands of tinsel and lights.
"Yeah, I recollect that day. That..." He searched for the right words. "...bit."
"Uh huh. And for you, as well, I suppose." said Barry. Scrorge turned, but just as he was about to lob a retort he realized that the scene had abruptly changed. It was now dark, dank and there was the distant echo of what sounded like low chanting.
"Look familiar?" asked Barry. Scrorge squinted his close-set eyes. Then: "I reconnize this place! Skull and Bones! Yeah! Heh!"
"Correct. One of the secret society's inane initiation rituals."
"Wasn't in Maine, Barry. Was in Connecticut. Had a lot of weird shit go down here. If these walls could talk they'd throw up buckets of Jaegermeister!" Scrorge said with glee. The chanting neared and sure enough a cadre of robed figures surrounding a central, bound hazee turned a dank wall and came into view. Those in the circle held torches, hoods obscuring their faces. "Go no further" one of the robes intoned gravely. The group stopped. "Pledge...divest yourself of the sacred garments of Odu" it said. After a moment's hesitation, the central robed figure threw off his cowled mantle, revealing a wiry framed, pasty complexioned student with tousled hair and a prominent proboscis. It was a young John Kerry.
"Oh shit", the present-day muttered Scrorge lowly.
"You know what's coming, don't you?" said Barry
Scorge swallowed. As he and the spectral Goldwater observed, the young Kerry was made to lie upon a stone altar, his genitalia bathed in a single spotlight emanating from the ceiling and looking something like an irradiated squid which had been stepped on by someone wearing a golf shoe. He stared upward, stolidly resolved to meet whatever fate lay ahead for him and/or his pet cephalopod. Then one of the robed menaces stepped closer. It spoke:
"Okay, plebey-reeby-dooby-dooby-do. You're about to experience a sacred Skull and Bones ritual, one that will make you a member for life, right down to the nucular level of your being...". Kerry's eyes narrowed. He turned toward the robe. "Scrorge...?"
"Hey!", the robe shouted. "Yer not allowed to ask me my name! Infidel!" And with that, the robed figure reached a rubber gloved hand and grasped Kerry's flaccid blood slug just below its collar. The others began chanting "O-du, O-du, Odu...". Kerry's jaw was tense and he turned his gaze heavenward once again. Then with his other gloved hand the robed figure produced a black Flair pen. He spoke:
"Oh lords of darkness! We gather at this moment to signify our loyalty to you and to sacrifice our most precious modesty in the service of your rule!" Gripping Kerry's spongeosis with gleeful authority, he drew two beady eyes just above the urethra. Then he put the marker aside and daintily pinched the opposing corners of the slit in his vulcanized finger tips, as if poised to inflict some slow damage on the vandalized helmet. A tinny gong sounded. "Pledge---" he bellowed. "Repeat after me: Owa..." Kerry winced but did as he was told.
"Owa!" The robed figure manipulated the tiny slit as though it were mouthing the words.
"Ta shmah!" Again, the robed figure puppeted.
"Ky-am!" The urethra was manipulated into a perfectly synchronized rictus and snorts of repressed hilarity were issuing from beneath the cowls of the other cloaked participants.
The robed figure continued. "Now put it all together, pledge!"
Kerry struggled to remember the foreign phrase. "Owa...ta shmah...ky-am!"
"Louder! Faster!" Kerry gritted his teeth. "Owa-ta-shmah-ky-am!" The robed figure worked his penile pincers expertly. Finally, when the young Kerry pieced the solemn invocation together ("Oh-what-a-schmuck-I-am!") the robed one gravely issued his edict: "Pledge! You are now humiliated! Welcome to our noble brotherhood!" And with that, he doffed his hood. It was indeed the college-age Scrorge. He popped a Newport into his mouth, bent toward a torch and lit it up. The other hoods turned and receded into the murky catacombs, laughing and high-fiving. Kerry sat up and covered himself with his hands. "You're a real douchebag, you know that?"
Scrorge smirked and exhaled the blue smoke. He leaned back against the wall. "Yeah", he smiled. "Heh heh heh!"
"I've seen enough, Barry."
"That makes about 6 billion of us. Well, luckily for me and my digestive tract my time is up. Think on what you've witnessed Scrorge and know that the true test of greatness lies in how men seek to right the flaws in their character." Scrorge was about to ask "Huh...?"
But Barry was gone.
* * *
Scrorge's haunches were arched toward the TV screen, his face flattened against the floor like lava cooling in mid flow. "Aw, criminy..." said a jolly voice. "Dropped my jelly beans..."
Scrorge's gooey, red eyes opened. He knew right off who the voice belonged to. "Uncle Pappy's-Boss?"
"Well," Ronnie twinkled, "one and the same."
"Guess you're gonna take me on a soul searching tour of my past, eh, Uncle Pappy's-Boss?"
"Well," the genial old dork replied, "not the past but the present. Sorta like Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life..."
They stood there for several minutes, Scrorge blinking and slack-jawed, Ronnie smiling and head-wagging. It was like watching two clumps of gelatin on a vibrating plate.
"Well, let's get a move on!" said Ronnie finally.
"'K..." said Scrorge. And the lights went out. Instantly they came back on and Scrorge found himself in the dimly lit Oval Office. He turned to Ronnie.
"What are we doing here, Uncle Pappy's-Boss. It's not time for me to be here to sign shit. Shit-signing time is in the day." Ronnie shook his head.
"It's not shit-signing time, son. Just watch." As Ronnie gestured toward the center of the office, the lights came up on several figures reclining in the plush couches and easy chairs that faced the large central desk. In the biggest of the chairs sat Cheney, wearing a beige fishing vest. Seated adjacent to him was Rummy, who thumbed through a copy of a magazine called "Grappler." And sitting on the desk was Wolfowitz, who was carefully using a cuticle scissors on his pink digits.
"Ouch", he whispered as a needle-nosed blade snipped too deeply.
"S'matter, Mary, hurt yourself?" sniggered Rummy. Wolfowitz glared.
"Those hemorrhoids of yours in their last throes, you old piutz?" he said.
"Knock it off, dickheads", barked Cheney. "We don't have time for that pantywaist pussy talk." He looked at his custom Breitling. "We got till mid next to gather the last of the swag then we shag ass over to HQ and it's golf on the Gulf." They laughed.
"Jesus on a stick, Dick" said Rummy."It makes me sick no one knows what a stitch you are. Like when you had Monkey Nuts tell the suckers to shop after 9/11. That nearly killed me!" The men exploded into laughter.
"Genius" said Wolfowitz.
"You mean 'evil genius'" added Rummy. Cheney smiled.
Scrorge was silent for a moment. Then he turned to Ronnie. "I'm hungry", he said, genuinely.
"Me, too!" said Ronnie.
They stood in the White House pantry. Scrorge rummaged through the refrigerator while behind him, Ronnie munched.
"Damn fine peanut brittle!" the fortieth president managed to say through the goober epoxy. Scrorge turned.
"That's not peanut brittle" he said. "Those are partial birth abortions. I felt kinda sorry for 'em so I put 'em in there to keep 'em, you know, safe." Ronnie stopped chewing.
"Damn," he said.
Scrorge went back to the fridge. "Nothin' to eat. I don't know, I feel all hollow inside. I thought it was hunger but I'm beginning to think it's something else." He waited for Ronnie to respond.
"Do you have any floss?" asked Ronnie. And the lights went out.
* * *
This time Scrorge was ready. He sat in front of the TV screen which was now uncharacteristically filled with old fashioned hissing electronic snow. Scrorge rocked a bit as he hugged his knees to his chest, trying mightily to divine meaning from this evening's encounters.
The TV flicked off, the only sounds being Scrorge's breathing and the low, lingering hum of the perpetually powered plasma. The room was dark, darker than it had ever been. The phosphenes danced as his eyes adjusted to the murk and in a moment he thought he saw a silhouette form from the swarm of swirling optic specks. He was scared now as indeed the form became increasingly opaque and distinctly eerie in that it had taken the shape of a person, yet without any discernible features.
"You a conservative icon come to set me straight?" Scrorge asked. The shape said nothing. Instead, it approached Scrorge who instinctively retreated back on his heels, causing him to tip onto the floor. The shape was nearly upon him and Scrorge uttered a small, feeble cry. He'd never been this frightened, not even when he saw his mother stepping nude from an ice pond in Reykjavik. There seemed to be a sort of standoff, where neither entity uttered a sound. Off Scrorge's periphery at a point impossibly far away in the small garret, a brightly lit stone structure could be seen. The shape pointed in the building's direction.
"You want me to go there?" he asked the shape. The non-response was taken as a "yes" and Scrorge stood and slowly walked toward the glowing edifice. As he neared he could make out words engraved above the entrance: The Ebenezer Scrorge Presidential Library. "Well, I'll be a sumbitch!" he said. "Library! Even I see the irony!" And he ran inside.
The interior was chilly and barren, devoid of any furniture, shelving or pictures. As he walked, the sticky perspiration of his feet echoed as each step peeled off the stone floor.
He saw a skinny column in he middle of the empty vastness and made for it. He got to within a few feet of it and saw: a half-eaten pretzel lay on the flat surface. A small brass plaque next to it read: Your Legacy. He smirked. He felt his throat, remembering the rough sensation of the pretzel lodged in his epiglottis, cutting off his oxygen. "That's it?" he asked aloud. "That's my legacy? Are you kiddin' me? After all I've done for this country? For this world?" Scrorge shrugged and rolled his eyes. "That's bullshit, kid!" And the shape turned and retreated silently. Scrorge looked at the pretzel, then to the receding specter. "Wait..." he said, and followed.
They walked as if in a dream, passing dioramas of scenes from Scrorge's tenure as commander in chief: sitting in the classroom reading The Pet Goat; standing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in his tailored flight suit; patting Michael Brown on the back in New Orleans; shrugging his shoulders after looking at photos of Abu Ghraib; staring at Cindy Sheehan through the smoked glass of his passing limousine. The line of images stretched on and on as far as he could see, receding into an unseen horizon. Scrorge halted, as did the shape, stopping several yards ahead...
"Who are you?" he whispered harshly. "Who are you to show me these things? All I've ever done has been for the good of the country! America is the greatest power the world has ever seen. Our enemies tremble at her terrible might, at her rightful place as the most god-fearing, productive, biggest, best, strongest. We deserve everything we've gotten, no matter how we've gotten it. It's nature's law. It's God's will. It's survival of the goddam fittest. Whatever it is, it's ours. Who the hell are you to say otherwise?"
The shape hesitated a few moments, then approached him soundlessly, until it was within a few feet of Scrorge.
And slowly the contours of its amorphous, shadowy "face" began to evolve and mold itself into more defined features, eventually suggesting a person of indeterminate ethnicity and gender, about twenty or so years old. The shoulders were slight but strong, the body lean and sturdy. A camouflage pattern could be made out on its clothing. A...soldier?
The eyes were the last features to manifest and once congealed they set their gaze on the president, who shivered slightly. And then the soldier spoke in a gentle, rich, almost sweet tone:
"Of all the natural resources you and your ideology ever plundered, I was the most precious. I stood at the ready waiting for my orders to defend our most sacred conviction, the only thing for which a soldier need ever exist: freedom. And you promised that it would be so this time. I believed you when you said the threat was at our doorstep. I believed you when you said our enemies were everywhere. I believed you when you said fear hung in air. I believed you when you said we were despised for our liberty. That is what I do, what I am born to do.
"But I became an unwitting slave to your imperialistic whims, a naive soul in the service of your unfathomable greed. You were right when you spoke gravely of fear. But you didn't tell me it was you we should be afraid of. And so you wrung from me my youth, my trust, my faith, my beating heart, all to feed your insatiable thirst for power. I believed you. You let me down. You wasted me. You lied."
Scrorge's lips parted but he could say nothing. He looked away, his eyes seeking more familiar, comforting sights than he had been forced to see in the surreal landscape. But there were none. He looked back to the soldier...but no one was there.
* * *
He walked the grounds of the White House, along the bars of its outermost fence. An icy, stinging wind whipped across the lawn and buffeted Scrorge but he didn't feel it. The sun had not yet risen but its imminence turned the eastern sky the color of plums. The constant din and fanfare that usually accompanied his every waking moment had ceased and the solitude was deafening. He knew he had been given access to a great insight, one that generations of political favors or partisan lobbying could never have granted him. He was, for the first time in his life, moved.
She walked briskly across the lawn, her galoshes squeaking on the dewy grass. Only her moist eyes were visible above the heavy cardboard carton she carried in her arms, the girth of her down parka making it difficult for her to maintain a good grip. Hearing her approach, Scrorge turned.
"Ahh! Cool! You get enough?" he asked.
"As much as they had in stock, Mr. President" Condolleezza responded. She extended her bundle as much as she could, expecting him to take it from her. Instead, he reached into the carton and took out an impregnably sealed fluorescent light bulb, its curlycue top causing a delighted smile to form on his lips.
"I've had a epiphany, Condolleezza-peeva-poova-toova", he said. "I learned that we're only here a short time and one should make the best effort he or she can to make it a better place for all concerned." He looked at her.
Condolleezza listened, hoping for a possible further explication but realized that it was not forthcoming. "What would you like me to do with these, sir?" she asked. Scrorge gestured expansively to the blazingly lit up White House.
"Start replacing the inefficient incandescent bulbs with these here super efficient fluorescent ones. Show the world we care!" She started to respond but once again bit her tongue. "Now git!" he said joyfully. She turned and squeaked back across the lawn. Scrorge watched her, barely able to express the fullness in his heart. The first drop of morning sun spilled across the plum clouds, turning them, the glistening dewy grass and his smiling face a pleasant, comforting orange. In the crisp dawn air, alone on the south lawn, he felt serene and embraced by a great warmth, a sort of global warmth, one that he hoped would embrace everyone. And goddam, it felt good.
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