This story is by Linda Slater and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
President Winthrop does not get to explain to anyone that the White House is haunted.
Sometimes, he feels it is ugly, frightening, and uncomfortable.
The main bedroom is darker than chocolate, matching his deep state of mind when he least expects it.
An old hurricane lamp has sat in the adjacent sitting room since the original construction of the first White House. It stood the time of all room renovations, even destruction, in a fire in 1814. Initially, he marvels over the antique. Now, its presence makes him anxious. When he tries to get rid of it or destroy it, it finds its place back. Its beacon light is a constant reminder of its power.
The President, in his boxers, painstakingly watches a newscast while lying on the right side of the bed in a fetal position. He swallows hard. His fingertips stroke the jagged wood grains of the side table. “Broken guitar strings.” He mumbles.
His wife answers him from the en suite bathroom, “Sorry honey, say that again?”
He closes his eyes to the red haze foaming the windowsill and falls asleep.
“Everything will be O.K.,” she repeats as she unbolts the door leading to the hallway and dashes to his side.
The syringe leaves President Winthrop’s hand, rolls off the duvet, and onto the floor.
The dark hurricane light beams brightly, watching intently.
Earlier that day
As the black suburban’s door closes, President Winthrop exhales a long breath he had been holding. He sinks deep into his seat when the vehicle and the accompanying motorcade pull away from the curb.
For his life, he can’t remember what he had said only moments earlier. He had delivered a shorter than usual contrived speech, focusing on the oak wood grains between the corners of the podium. The angles of the wood look like heaps of guitar strings waiting to be plucked. He could not wait to be yanked away from the cameras.
Tilting his pounding head onto the headrest, as angry as a metal rock tune, only the music is his own. He is suffocating. It’s so many years since he took a different identity, a different allure, a different hair color.
I’m an Associate Degreed, a non-groomed politician, a heavy metal bass player, and a recovering addict, and still, I am in this position. It seems surreal. Yes, it was over forty years ago, but I can talk the talk like the best of them, I suppose. I am a joke.
President Winthrop is his own worst enemy. Yet he is the United States leader. The flag pin on his suit lapel proclaims it. He tugs at the gold tack on his designer tie. He does not feel confident. His eyes are drooping, dry, and heavy.
“Mr. President, why do you close your eyes so early in the day? Are you not feeling well?” his assistant prods. “You have a busy schedule. We are on our way to….” The voice is a muffled sound bite.
A few minutes later, the motorcade stops at Arlington Cemetery. He watches the delegation awaiting his arrival. Holding the door handle, he replies, “I feel fine.” He sits up, preparing to put on the charm.
President Winthrop gasps. Black figures hover over the headstones. One holds a dark hurricane lamp. The President cannot be sure that it isn’t the same one from the sitting room. With a jolt to his heart, he looks away and focuses on something that keeps him happy and free.
“I won’t give in to the madness,” he tells himself.
As he exits the vehicle, the chrome on the Harley Davidson Gold Wing alongside the suburban blinds him. He squints and transfixes his eyes on the motorcycle while the barrage of Secret Service agents watches every move.
“Just one moment, please.” He walks towards the bike and shakes the hand of its rider. “Thank you for your service.” The President’s gesture humbles the police officer. Many smiles in agreement.
“May I?” Purposely hinting at sitting on the Gold Wing. The rider shut off the engine and applied the kickstand as he descended from the motorcycle.
Before anyone even flinches, The President jumps on it and starts the engine. His entourage is not amused. “Mr. President, I implore you to get off the bike now.” A Secret Agent moves quickly to the front wheel to intervene. The imposing official wraps his hands around the handlebars of the 900 pounds in his path.
Quite emphatically, President Winthrop announces, “Give me a minute.” And with expertise, he revs the engine, kicks it into gear, and takes off. The powerful engine of the bike stops the agent from securing him. He jumps away in fear of an injury to the Commander-in-Chief. If the bike falls, it could crush both of them. A bump of the front tire shears away the edge of his shoe. He falls backward. The President’s assistant stands nearby, gawking.
The trailing motorcade has no choice but to linger behind him on the busy street, creating havoc in Old Alexandria for the next hour. Many police vehicles join behind them. Aimlessly, The President rides through narrow roads in traffic. Other motorcycles teeter aggressively in front of him.
Those who had recognized the President reached for their cell phones. They flood social media sites with pictures and comments. His spontaneity creates an immediate public relations faux pas.
“It was a publicity stunt, for sure!”
“How irresponsible for President Winthrop to renege on his responsibilities. I am not surprised at all.”
“Charge him. He was not wearing a helmet.”
“I thought it was cool for us to see just how normal he is.”
“He looked ridiculous with his pant leg seam halfway up his leg.”
“Just another bozo decision he made this week.”
“Why not get some wind therapy? He has the hardest job in the United States.”
“I saw him plow through the busiest intersection in Virginia. Impressive!”
“Who knew he could ride a motorcycle?”
News outlets suggest that the incident tarnishes his reputation as a stellar leader. A celebrity news website releases photos of The President flipping the “Devil Horns” to teenagers. The photo-generates immediate death threats.
“He is a dark horse” is implied after the thrilling ride.
“Our citizens, nevertheless, have turned on him.” The Vice President expresses as he nervously prepares for a press conference. “His actions rendered such tragic consequences.”
The young girl who had entered the crosswalk to take a photo of her defender succumbed to her injuries. The music playing through her Beats headphones distracted her. Blasting screeching guitar riffs matched the ones created by the motorcycle’s tires.
Dark is the camera footage verifying the perpetrator who ran over Felicia Miles.
It is at 1:45 pm.
After the newscast, President Winthrop succumbs to the dark in the White House bedroom, no longer to be haunted by his actions.
The hurricane lamp’s beacon light shines brightly.