This story is by Raymond Lowengard and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Stephanie pulled the curtain aside, like a melodramatic magician about to perform the greatest trick of all: democracy. She sat at the bleached white table, ballot in one hand, pencil in the other. Time to vote.
Stephanie put the finishing touches on a ‘Stronger Together’ cardboard sign.
“Here you go.” she said, to her dormmate Elle.
“You’re not supposed to use cursive.”
“It’s distinctive. Where’s my two dollars?”
Elle had promised Stephanie cold hard cash in exchange for wasting her time.
“You have to try again.”
“I don’t even care about supporting Hillary. I’m done with this election. It’s just a big show.”
“Yes, but what a show it is.” Elle mused.
“Not to me,” said Stephanie, “It’s empty and hollow. After the Democratic primaries, nope, I’m done. I’m not going to vote.”
“Ah… I see.” said Elle. “You’re a Bernie Sanders fan. You loved his little antics.”
“So you’ve bought into their lies too, Elle. The mainstream media was sooo keen to call him a lunatic for wanting reasonable things! We’re the only nation on Earth without decent health care. Except maybe Tasmania. I don’t know.”
“You’re really not voting?”
“No. Hillary and Drumpf… it’s like fiddling with the taps in the shower. I think ‘Ouch! This Drumpf is too hot’, and I fiddle with the knob, but then, ‘Ugh! This Hillary is too cold!’, you know what I’m saying? They drive me towards me one another. Who’s worse? I don’t know!”
“You seem confused.” Elle observed.
She picked up the cardboard sign.
“I like this after all.” she said. “Come with me, I want to show you something. We’ll go in my giant white van.”
“Eh… I have studying to do?” said Stephanie.
“Please, Steph. I’ll pay you.”
“You want to pay me to get in your van?”
“Yes.” smiled Elle.
The van really wasn’t that bad, but it was filled with massive paper mâché heads.
“You know.” remarked Elle, as she drove them towards a location she still had yet to disclose, “I was never really a Bernie supporter. More of a Ben Carson supporter. I know you probably feel unsafe being driven by me now, I know, it’s weird for a Bennington student to like Ben Carson… I just think it’s time for a neurosurgeon to be President.”
“Uh huh,” Stephanie said, trying not to look as alarmed as she felt.
“Remember how I got an internship at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop?”
“Well, we’re going there.”
It was at this point Stepanie thought of escaping.
But she didn’t escape. She was too curious.
At last, they arrived.
“Please sign this NDA.” mumbled the secretary. “Nice to see you back, Elle.”
Elle didn’t smile back.
“He’s so annoying.” she said, under her breath.
“Cursive signature…” said the secretary. “Impressive. Go on in.”
They entered a gray-blue corridor with pictures of the Muppets lining it.
“I always forget how much I love the Muppets.” said Stephanie.
“I never forget. It’s my life.” said Elle. “We’re almost there, Steph.”
They approached a door marked ‘Staff Storage Closet’. Pretty strange, if you thought about it.
Elle took a red, white, and blue striped key from her pocket.
“They gave me this for performing a puppet while holding my breath under water. I can only show one person what I’ve seen. And I chose you.”
“Thank you.” said Stephanie, taken aback a little.
Elle opened the door to an expansive room. In one corner was a stage with a podium. The other side had art desks littered with electronics and metal scrap. Silhouettes of puppets. People were milling about too much to see things clearly.
Someone came up to Elle.
“Hey there, I’m Jake.” said Jake. “That’s my little intro I like to do. Okay, is this your confidant, Elle?”
“Yeah. She’s not even going to vote.”
“Oh, what a shame. Come with me, let’s get you straightened out.”
He walked over to the podium.
“Ready, Hillary!” he pointed at a puppeteer in the corner.
With a rumble of mechanical parts, Hillary Clinton rose from a trapdoor and clicked into place behind the podium. Except it wasn’t Hillary Clinton.
“That looks exactly like Hillary Clinton.” breathed Stephanie. “But it’s an animatronic, right?”
Hillary blinked and looked around, like a real person.
“Very good, uh, whatever your name is.” said Jake.
“Good, Stephanie, you’re right, but you’re a bit wrong too. That IS an animatronic, but it is also actually Hillary Clinton. That’s because Hillary Clinton is an animatronic.”
Stephanie stared blankly at him.
“I love this part.” he said. “Keep that blank expression going. It’s great.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Sure.” Jake looked to the puppeteer. “Have Hillary say something. About 60% out of touch, and give her voice a slight tremor, like she’s unsure of herself.”
The puppeteer nodded.
“I sure love Pokemon Go.” said Hillary, her voice wavering towards the end of the sentence, like she was unsure of herself.
“Oh crap. Hillary was a robot this whole time.” said Stephanie, her mouth agape.
“Yup. And here comes Drumpf.”
Stephanie turned to see Donald Drumpf stumbling towards them, his shirt unbuttoned at the top.
“Where’s my script?” he said.
“Donald, come over here.” Jake said. “I’d like you to meet Stephanie.”
“How do you do?” Donald Drumpf curtseyed.
“We thought we couldn’t quite pull off a character like Drumpf if he was a complete robot. So we hired an actor. The only puppeteering we do is on his tiny hand attachments. We modeled them after a baby.” Jake said, matter-of-factly. “It gives his opponents something unsubstantial to make a big deal about, so that nobody talks about boring stuff, like policy.”
“I actually worked as a clown.” Donald Drumpf said. He tapped his nose. “Boop boop.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Sure.” said Jake. “Well, presidential elections, generally speaking, have always been fake.”
“Okay, just going ahead and claiming that right out of the gate, are we?”
“Well, what would be the alternative? A huge bunch of people voting for the person who leads them? That’s stupid. What if the vote is split nearly 50/50? That’s 50 percent of the population unrepresented. A ‘President’ is just a made-up position to placate the masses. George Washington? He was a painted wooden automaton half the time, and an actor the other half. Lincoln? Portrayed by Daniel Day Lewis’s great-great-grandfather.”
“Ah… it’s starting make sense.” said Stephanie.
“The first puppet we tried was George W. The great thing about these puppets is, we can blame them for the government’s mistakes! Then there was this election. There were a few screw-ups. We have to be more careful nowadays.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was an incident where Hillary ran out of batteries, and she fell into her car. Someone got that on camera. We had to say it was pneumonia. Then, when we were staging Drumpf’s big presidential run announcement, our casting call for actors to portray his audience leaked. Whoops!”
“Oh yeah, I remember that…”
“Tell me, Stephanie — which character do you like more, Hillary or Drumpf?” asked Jake, excitedly.
“She likes Bernie Sanders.” cut in Elle, apologetically.
“Oh, there’s Bernie.” Jake pointed to a dark corner of the room. “His name is a clever joke — a combination of ‘Burt’ and ‘Ernie’.” Someone had carelessly dumped Bernie on the floor. His eyes were wide open, staring. His puppet limbs were splayed in odd directions.
“We tried, but people liked him too much. If people actually liked their president, we couldn’t blame them for the bad stuff the government does.” Jake explained. “He had to go.”
“You guys are the worst.” Stephanie snapped. “I’m still not going to vote. Why would I?”
“You should always vote.” said Jake. He pulled out an ‘I Voted’ sticker book. “Besides, Drumpf’s gonna win!”
“What?” Stephanie said, though at this point, she’d seen so much that it was a half-hearted ‘What?’ that didn’t really convey much shock. “Well I guess it had to be one of them…”
“It’ll be so interesting! And you get a sticker!”
“But the President isn’t going to be who I want.”
“Yeah, but it will never be, don’t you get it? That’s why you just have to go along with the ride! Have fun with it!” Jake enthusiastically slapped Stephanie on the arm.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Ah, you know what? Just for you, we’ll bring Bernie back next election, okay?”
“Really?” Stephanie lightened up.
“We were planning to anyway, silly!” said Jake. “He makes the show more fun! It’s the Muppet Shoooooooooow! Yaaaaeeeey!” He waved his arms in the air like Kermit. That was all the convincing Stephanie needed.
Stephanie looked down the list of names. Knowing the election was fake, and who was going to win, was sort of comforting.
She could have fun! She could vote for anybody she wanted! The best candidate of them all.
She wrote “Miss Piggy”, in cursive, and walked away.