The Guidelines: Must be 600 words or less and revolve around a U.S. President real or imagined.
Pale fingers clutch at the silk tablecloth, dragging everything off in a single ripple as the dining room chair lurches backward, a limp body now prone on the ground. There is the sudden smash of crystal-cut stemware, chandelier light glints off flying cutlery, and a thousand gasps suck the air out of the room.
Secret service agents in penguin tuxedos appear from behind curtains and palm trees to descend upon the scene. They push the elegantly dressed crowd back, whisking me away to an underground bunker before I can take stock of the situation.
Moments ago I was staring down a slice of chocolate cake. I had managed to avoid food all night, but now I was starving.
I debated with myself, “Would it be so far out-of-line to require a food taster?” Just to take a few nibbles of my food and drink in order to confirm it contained no poison?
“Snap out of it,” I reasoned back. You are not a Roman emperor or Henry the Eighth. There are no velvet robes and golden goblets here, no turkey legs, no slaves, nor court jesters.
In fact, in my slim navy suit and powder blue tie I stand for quite the opposite.
I flew jets in the Air Force just like my father and grandfather before me. I graduated top of my class from an Ivy League college. I debated the fate of democracy on live television. I’ve looked tyrannical dictators – the kind who should have their food tasted – dead in the eye.
I am the very definition of adept, agile, and adroit while handling any situation thrown at me as the President of the United States. Some have even called me cool.
But then there is this matter of the dessert. A drop of sweat threatens to slide down my forehead.
I never thought my Achilles heel would be paranoia, but I’ve become obsessed with the possibility of an assassination attempt on my life.
It all started last year when a kid, not even twenty-one, shot a couple rounds of ammunition in the direction of the Oval Office. They later caught him in pajamas, filling up his Volvo at a gas station outside of Pennsylvania. He claimed to be Jesus in cahoots with Oprah via Twitter, and that I was the anti-Christ that had to be stopped.
I wasn’t even in town, in China for the economic summit. But later an agent pointed out a knick in the thick, bulletproof glass of the window situated just behind the Resolute Desk. That’s when the threat became palpable: there are people out there who want me dead.
I now imagine my neck snapped in half like a twig by a karate-kid operative with hooded eyes, lying in wait among a crowd of supporters at a re-opened industrial plant in Indiana.
Visions of Jackie O in her pink pillbox hat, of gaunt Lincoln in box seats at the theatre, of young Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver; they run through my head in a loop as I stoop down to kiss the baby that has been thrust at me expectantly. Adorable cooing and rosy cheeks aside, I see a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The Vice President is smiling at me now; his perfect rows of teeth are Shark white. I eye him warily. The very definition of his job is wanting my job. The slice in front of him is carrot cake.
“Hey Phil,” I ask with a strained smile, “Would you mind trying the chocolate out for me to see if it has peanuts in it? I can’t stand peanuts.”
p.s. i had a lot of fun with this.
p.p.s. the winner can be read here.