The Day She Saw the President

I caught a WordPress blog about writing a story in 24 hours, and they referred to a short story contest as an opportunity to test out their suggested course of brainstorming and writing. “Sure, why not,” I thought. And so I paid my $5 entry fee, got the rules, and awaited the start of the contest, wondering what the writing prompt might be. Here’s what we received:

Holding the sleeping infant on her shoulder, she
gazed peacefully at her surroundings. Tourists
wandered in and out of stores, an old man was
setting up his easel by the lakeshore, and a
child’s balloon escaped into the breeze. A
moment later, she looked up as shouts startled
her and the baby. Everybody was running in
her direction…
– and the max word count: 950 words.

With that in mind… here’s my entry.

THE DAY SHE SAW THE PRESIDENT

The future:
Two figures stepped through the war-torn radioactive Midwest ash fields, their helmet lamps bright in the haze. Dust hung in the air behind them near the cracked edge of a dry lakebed, the only significant change in scenery for miles.
Dane peered into the chronoscope and surveyed Chicago from twenty three years earlier. The viewfinder centered on a woman holding a baby near Millenium Park. Dane handed the scope to his companion. His comm crackled, “You sure this is the moment, Z?”
She checked the device. “That’s the day. That’s her.”
Z doffed her pack and drew out three silver cylinders. She planted their bases in the ground. A triangle of blue light glowed between them. “You sure these will work?”
Dane adjusted controls on his pad. “It’s like jumping out of a plane into a tornado with a bow and arrow, trying to hit a paper target on a board at a hundred yards… with a thousand other boards whipping around in there too.”
“So… no, I’m not sure.” He stretched out his hand. “You coming?”
“Yeah. Let’s fix this mess.” She took hold and they vanished.

The present:
Holding the sleeping infant, Melanie McCullough gazed at her surroundings to pass the time. Tourists wandered in and out of stores, an old man set up his easel by the lakeshore, and a child’s balloon escaped into the breeze.
Melanie patted her baby’s back and listened to her soft snoring. “You’re missing out, Lins.” A sterling silver bracelet on the baby’s arm clinked in rhythm. A soldier’s face looked out from the photo in the bracelet. Her husband Gavin had been gone four months, killed in Afghanistan. It felt like decades.
“Your daddy would’ve loved to be here,” Melanie whispered with a sniff. “This was where he asked me to be Mrs. McCullough.”
Shouts startled her and the baby. Everybody was running in her direction. “What’s happening?” she called out over the child’s cries.
“He came early,” an elderly man replied. “The speech is about to start.”
Melanie joined the stream flowing toward the stage. “Come on, sweetie, today you get to see the President.”

The past:
Dressed in thrift store clothes, Z and Dane crossed Monroe Drive to join the audience. Z checked her gear; Dane scanned the crowd.
“President’s on in two minutes,” he said. “Care to identify my target?”
“Woman in a red blouse holding a baby, on the bridge.” Z reached into her neckline and drew out dog tags with jewelry on a chain. “She yelled last time I came here, made me miss my shot.”
“Lovely.” Dane searched for the woman as they approached. “All we need is another Kennedy incident.”
“You’re going to stop her,” Z said. “So that won’t happen.” She paused, then held out her tags and chain. “Give her these.”
“Will do.” Dane fiddled with the jewelry on the chain. “Art Institute, Sharp Building. Twenty-eighth floor.”
“I’ve got this.”

The present:
Melanie squirmed between clusters of people for a better angle, but the crowd pushed her back. Viewers waited all morning to keep good spots on the lawn and would not budge.
“We need to get closer, Lins,” Melanie said. “I can’t see a thing.” The baby cooed, unconcerned.
Secret Service agents stood at the stage corners. Others lined up before the audience. “Hail to the Chief” blared from the speakers. Applause and cheers swelled in anticipation.
Melanie backtracked to the serpentine pedestrian bridge over Columbus Drive. People packed the railing, but Melanie found a view between those in front of her. She sighed. “Better than nothing.”
The President strode to the lectern and waved. “It’s the President, Lins,” Melanie said, clapping with affected joy. The baby clapped too.
A woman on one knee at the east edge of the amphitheater’s lawn caught Melanie’s eye. The stranger ignored the speech, but watched the nearest Secret Service agents intently. Dirty brown hair and baggy clothes masked the woman’s appearance. She thrust her hand into her backpack as if rummaging for a missing belonging.
After two quick glances, the stranger checked her watch and stood. Gunmetal shone. She raised a bulky pistol and took aim through its scope.
Melanie opened her mouth to scream when a hand clamped over her face.

The past:
Dane wrapped one hand over the woman’s mouth, cradling the baby with his arm. Almost too late, he thought. He pulled them from the bridge’s railing. The woman kicked and struggled against him as he shushed her in vain. Bystanders turned to see what was happening.
“It’s okay,” Dane said to the woman as much as to the others. He pressed Z’s chain into the woman’s hand as he released her. “She said to give you this.”
Down below, Z pulled the pistol’s trigger. The silent laser light was invisible in the sun. Someone shrieked. Agents responded. Two shots rang out and Z crumpled to the ground bleeding. Then everyone screamed.
The sniper rifle that once took the President’s life never fired, because Z hit her mark first.
World War Three never happened.
Dane moved to the rail to see Z as she faded out of existence. The woman gasped behind him. Then Dane faded too.

The future:
Two women sat on a blanket in the grass across from Lake Michigan. The amber sunset reflected off the shimmering water. Melanie smiled and took her daughter’s hand. “Oh, your father would’ve loved to be here, Lins.”
Then she pulled out the beaded chain with a tarnished silver baby bracelet and its duplicate, next to dog tags from a war that never was, marked Lindsey McCullough. “Let me tell you about the day you saw the President…”

Ephebic

Word of the Day: Ephebic (1,200 words)

Military Postal Inventory: Inspected contents of manila mailer

1. Miscellaneous photographs:

High school football team picture, “Class of ’09,” signed by coach with caption, “You’re a beast!”
Subject with mother and two younger male siblings
Glamour Shots portrait of brunette, “Joey” written on back with heart replacing the ‘o’

2. Hallmark card in unsealed envelope addressed to ‘Stacy’
Picture on front of a pug cuddled up on a teddy bear. Inside caption says “Miss you.”
Handwritten note inside, undated:

Stace,
Sending this so you know when I’m back safe and sound. Thinking of you every day. Six more months, that’s all. Soccer games and passing out candy, and a little keeping my head down. Then I’ll be home in your arms.
We can do this.
Joey

3. Gideon New Testament, with Psalms. Cover in camo pattern. Post-It note marking Psalm 91, page smudged with fingerprints.

4. Black leather notepad with elastic strap and silver Cross pen clipped to it:

Dec 28, 2011
On the flight from Ireland… 7 hours to go before we get to [REDACTED], so I figure I have time to get this started.
We landed after dark in Shannon, but we took off a couple hours after dawn. The hills were such a rich green, no wonder people talk like the land is alive. Hopefully we’ll stop here again on the way back. I’ll turn 21, so I can drink with the guys and celebrate coming home.
Tom’s drunk already. His third trip out. If an old guy like Kaz can do three tours- can’t be too bad, right? And things are winding down.
Can’t wait to see Stacy again. Maybe I can save up the money and take her to Ireland for the honeymoon.

Jan 3, 2012
Settled in, pretty much. Found a camel spider in the tent. Those things are wicked fast! And huge! I jumped, and it dashed seven feet or so before I landed. Ran right under me while I was freaking out. I tried to stomp it but it scurried out the door. Creepy, but still pretty awesome.
Happy new year.

Jan 24, 2012
FOB [REDACTED] is along a hillside. There’s a little ridge by our tent where I can watch the sunrise after my shift. Streaks of red and orange, violet shadows fading as dawn takes hold.
I didn’t get to watch yesterday… we got shelled several times. Hard to sleep after that. [REDACTED] got us a position on the mortar team and one of our patrols wiped ’em out.
This can be a beautiful country. Too bad people are trying to kill us.

Mar 9
Got shelled a couple times last month. I slept right through one of them. We took out three teams… every time they shell us, they give away their position. If they’re not quick enough, we get Reapers overhead to drop a Hellfire on them. One team is pretty good. They take potshots at us and then scatter.
Orders came down, we’re going to head east. There’s a small village about an hour from here. We have some building projects to complete, and they need eyes on. Materials keep disappearing in the night. So much for locals providing security.
I think I’ll miss our little hill.

June 6
Forgot about this thing. We’re prepping for morale leave in a week. Can’t wait to see Stace! We skyped a couple days ago and made plans for a special weekend trip to Dad’s cabin.
The school is coming along fine. So far no opposition out here. [REDACTED] is going to be the new teacher, and he assures us that the girls can attend classes too. It’s good to see us making a difference. The kids are excited. They play soccer with me when we visit… one of them ran up and hugged me yesterday. His eyes lit up when I told him my name. His name is Yusuf, which is close enough, right?
We’re giving kids like him something to look forward to.

Sep 20
OMG Stace thinks she’s pregnant. I don’t know how to tell Mom. I don’t know what to think. I can’t believe I’m going to be a father! I feel queasy, I feel awesome, I feel like this could be the most amazing thing. I can’t wait to talk to her next week. She’ll know for sure by then, and we can figure out what to do next.
The new chaplain stopped by our base making his weekly rounds. Maybe I’ll talk to him, but he seems a little too fire-and-brimstone for me.

Oct 19
Our old FOB got hit hard. They used a [REDACTED] and we think it was [REDACTED] helping them. Seven dead, nineteen wounded. One of them went through boot camp with me. They hit the mess tent. We’ve had other attacks out this way over the last week, so security is tight here.
Haven’t had time for soccer. Hope the kids are ok.

Nov 24
Happy Thanksgiving. We got a visit from [REDACTED], who flew in country last night. He served us sliced turkey that melted in my mouth, and we had green bean casserole. No MREs, thank God.
Stace looked distracted on Skype, but we had a good talk. Picked some possible names. She suggested Bella, I said “Hella no.” Screw Twilight.
There’s rumor that we might get home before Christmas. That would rock!

Dec 12
[REDACTED] told us we get another SIX MONTHS. Kaz says we get a flight home and two weeks for the holidays, and then we’ll be right back here watching the country tear itself apart. Now [REDACTED] says he won’t teach the girls anymore, and we hear that [REDACTED] have been threatening the locals. We rolled up an enemy position and found some of our relief supplies. [REDACTED] are living off our own freakin’ supplies, stolen from the village.
Man, screw this place. [REDACTED] can suck it.
Missed Stace on chat the other day. She’s been really cold lately. Chaplain gave me the “all things work together for good” line. He can suck it too.

5. Folded sheet of 8.5×11 inch paper. Handwritten note:

Mrs. Kendricks,
My company heard the news today, our first day back in country. Please accept our heartfelt condolences. We are shocked and saddened by Joey’s passing. He was our battle-buddy and brother-in-arms. And I miss him dearly. I wish we could have been there for him that night, to quiet the demons, to keep him from such a permanent choice.
I collected these personal belongings in his locker, and I thought you would like to have his thoughts about what we accomplished here.
The school he wrote about started its first semester.
Yusuf and the boys talked to [REDACTED] and he agreed to name it after Specialist Joseph Kendricks. A school in [REDACTED] is dedicated to the memory of your son’s sacrifice.
No words can take away the loss or answer the questions you must have. I don’t know why Joey made that decision. I just wanted you, and one day his child, to know that his accomplishments live on.
A grateful nation remembers.

First Sergeant Thomas “Kaz” Kaskiewicz

Contents reviewed, approved for forwarding to Home of Record.

Pride

This is probably the story of mine that has received the most attention and response. With everything in the news about the upcoming Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage, and with my effort to funnel the creative writing component of my main blog into this more focused page, I thought Pride would be a good start to this site. It captures my intent and heart for writing stories.

I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted here on June 13, 2012. This version has been edited slightly.

Disclaimer: This is a fictional story, not an actual personal experience. I hope to do something like this some day, and to live out love like this every day. But this is just a short story.

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” – James 4:6 MSG

I step out of the van and ignore the immediate hostility of passers-by.

Two cross-dressers glare at me as they head toward the parade route. A man is in leather chaps has a leash around his neck, and another man is ‘walking’ him. They swear at me and turn away.

These are among the more tame participants. It strikes me as odd that in such a crowd, I am the one who gets strange looks.

If I am embarrassed at all now, well… it’s going to get a lot worse.

Pride Jesus by D. L. Anderson

Based on the argument that Jesus never directly addresses homosexuality in the Gospels.

I make my way to the edge of the crowd and try to squeeze through to the front. I need to be visible if this is going to be of any value. When people turn and see me, they assume they know what I’m here to do. I get jostled and shoved a few times as I gently push my way through. “Bigot,” one person says. “Homophobe! Go home!”

“Get out of the closet already, Bible-thumper.”

The police are out in force. Pride parades often get a lot of attention, not all of it good. That one church from Kansas is lined up farther down the street. Some local churches have put up their own signs, not willing to be outdone by these famous out-of-towners with the “God hates fags” posters.

The cops are busy keeping people marching in the parade from getting into fights with the various protest groups. None of them notice when I finally reach the rope that marks the edge of the parade route.

I stand at the edge and lean out, a Jesus in Teva sandals, a wig, and a polyester white robe with a red sash I borrowed from our church drama team. The beard is mine, scraggly but full enough after two months of growth.

The first few people to see me react in anger, swearing, shaking fists. “You don’t belong here,” they yell, along with some other choice words. People in the crowd throw half-empty Starbucks cups and large sodas and McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Ketchup and mustard splatter across my white sleeve.

No one throws rotten fruit any more. It’s not readily available, and it’s too expensive.

The folks marching in the parade are not happy to see me, either. Rainbow signs with witty slogans are shoved in my face. I don’t know if they’re meant to block my view with their message, or block the view of the other marchers so that no one else has to see another religious jerk condemning everyone in sight.

“What’s another name for the Crucifixion?” one guy asks the girl next to him, loud enough for me to overhear. She shrugs.

“A good start,” he says.

She laughs, and glances my way, her smile turning into a sneer.

I reach out a hand to those marching, and someone spits at it. The next person ignores me, stepping away.

“I am sorry,” I say, and he looks back, brow furrowed. But he’s too far past me now.

Mostly all I get from the faces in the crowd is the strong sense that I am unwelcome–a defensive posture and wounded expression that demands to know, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. This is our moment. Go away.”

I catch another guy’s hand, someone in a leather jacket, boots, and briefs. He recoils in disgust, but then I say, “I am sorry for how we have hurt you,” and he pauses.

Someone else spits on me. “Go back to the tomb, Jeebus.” His partner winks at me and says, “Hey, man, I’ll nail ya if you really want it.” They walk away laughing.

The man in the leather jacket, whose hand I grabbed–he simply nods to me, and I think I see his eyes glisten as he turns and continues in the parade.

A thin guy explodes into a rant with more f-bombs than actual words, arms waving, fists clenched. “What the f’ing f are you f’ing trying to do, f’er? You f’ing f’s think you’re f’ing doing any good with your f’ing ‘God hates fags’ signs and your f’ed up little white dress? Do you really f’ing think I give one good f’ing G-D what the f you f’ing have to say to me? F!!! I f’ing hate you, I f’ing hate your f’ing book that does f-all to teach love and tolerance, and I f’ing hate the f out of the f’ing God you represent! What now?”

He gets in my face.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and a tear runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry for how we have hurt you.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

I think of the recent news stories I’ve heard, the angry sermons on the Internet, the callous defenses of indefensible statements.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve let people say we should ‘smack the gay out of children,’ or put them behind electric fences.”

He says nothing now, but he continues staring at me.

“I’m sorry for how we’ve pointed the finger at all of you, instead of preaching against our own arrogance, our own pride, our own prejudice and hatred. I’m sorry for how we act like you are less than human.”

“I came to say I’m sorry for my people and what we have done.”

His friend grabs his arm and pulls him away. “Come on, man.” But he keeps looking back, and I see him mouth the words, “Thank you.”

Another person spits on me, and a big guy just happens to hit me with his elbow. “Bigot,” he mutters.

This pattern repeats itself for an hour and a half, some people accepting my hand in friendship, many slapping it aside at first, some of them turning back to acknowledge the apologies I offer.

One of the people in the crowd behind me tugs at my shoulder. He’s holding a black leather Bible, with the gold edges on the pages and a little fish over a monogram in the corner of the cover. “You’re in the wrong place, brother. We’re all protesting at the other end of this block.” He points to where the angry people are waving their signs and shouting Scripture like a battle cry.

I nod and remain in my spot on the street.

Two women walk by, arm-in-arm. The blonde says, “You want us to confess our sins, pervert? We’ve been verrry naughty.”

They giggle as they approach. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bible Guy watching.

“I would like to confess my sins to you,” I say.

“Ooooh,” the other coos. “Kinky. Yeah, do it.”

“I am sorry for the double standards we use to judge you,” I begin, and the smiles disappear.

“I am sorry for acting like one sin is worse than any other, for acting like our sins don’t matter to God as much as yours. I’m sorry for behaving like we’re better than you.”

They are quiet, holding hands, waiting as I continue. Bible Guy storms off to rejoin his protest.

“I am sorry for treating you like you don’t deserve our love–like you don’t deserve God’s love.”

The parade marches on behind them. I look at them through tear-clouded vision.

“I love you. We love you. I am sorry for how often we fail to show it. We shouldn’t see you only as what you do. But I know we’re also guilty of that. Please accept my apology on behalf of my people.”

I extend a hand after wiping it off on a clean spot of my robe. They hug me instead, ignoring the chopped onions and ketchup and diet Dr. Pepper.

We stand there, hugging, for about a minute before they thank me and move on.

Bible Guy is back with friends, and they’re not happy. “Don’t you know Leviticus says homosexuals are an abomination and the Bible says it’s a sin?”

“I know,” I reply.

“Yeah, well, maybe you need to get your Gospel straight before you come out here supporting all these queers.”

“I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, and so does the rest of the world,” I fire back. “What they don’t know, what they aren’t seeing, is what the Bible says about loving others!”

“Hey Jimmy,” Bible Guy says to one of his friends, “What do you think we should do with false Christs?”

It takes a couple minutes for the police to respond to the situation and break up the fight. I’m the freak in an offensive costume, so I end up in the handcuffs. “For your protection, bud,” one of the cops tells me as he drags me away from the parade.

Sitting in the back of the paddy wagon, I pull off the wig and rub a bloody jaw.

“Not the smartest move ever for the Son of God, eh, bud?”

“Yeah, I guess not.” I answer. I don’t believe that, though. I felt the hugs, I spotted tears, I saw the faces change from rage to respect. “Then again, things didn’t go so well for Him either, so it’s nothing new.”

The cop laughs. “I thought I saw those punks head back over to the protest after we grabbed you out. You sure got them riled.”

“They’re mad because I used to be one of the ones holding signs.”

“Oh… yeah, I used to hate dealing with this parade each year, too. And then my son started marching in it.”

He offers me a cup of water. ”Take it you get beat up by Christians a lot?”

“You’d be surprised.” I take a drink. “It was the religious leaders that wanted Jesus dead, not the so-called sinners.”

“Feh.” The cop looks back out to the crowd. “I just wish those guys would go back to their caves sometimes.”

“They can’t help it,” I reply. “They kind of belong here. The event is all about celebrating pride. They’re just full of a different kind.”