Fiction: Nick Kocz’s “How It Ends”

Under the radar was how Cole Wilkinson flew, publishing a second-tier alt-right news site that was all but unknown to those cucks who followed only mainstream media sources. However, in the year after he urged his readers to elect a narcissistic sociopath to the presidency, the website grew in popularity, almost overnight becoming fringe conservatives’ clickhole of choice. He was the new Drudge, simultaneously more cerebral and more unhinged than Alex Jones. Implied violence and the politics of intimidation were his stock in trade, insinuations and apt-placed fake news items the modus operandi by which he manipulated an easily excitable target audience of don’t tread on me white males. Rarely was he seen without his trademark woodsman camo outerwear and a working replica of a medieval crossbow slung over his shoulder. Men, especially, loved how he growled into the cameras during his livestream videos, for it reminded them of the virility they imagined for themselves.

Wilkinson operated out of the refurbished hayloft of his Nebraska barn. Pinned to one wall was a list of prominent liberals. Lethal was his crossbow. Its string, a historically accurate composite of linen, sinew, and rawhide, and rubbed smooth with beeswax to protect it from moisture, required a steel lever to draw it back into a shooting position; when it fired, the sound thrummed in his ears for minutes thereafter, vibrating. Each Monday, he livestreamed himself loading a titanium-tipped bolt onto the crossbow. He’d pace back ten paces from the list of names. Pivoting to shoot, he’d smell the scent of beeswax emanating from the crossbow’s string, and feel the weapon’s destructive tension when his finger touched the trigger. Unlike a rifle, the crossbow offered no recoil. Instead, after shooting, there’d be a slight push forward as if he, too, were being propelled toward his target. Upwards of forty thousand people reliably watched Wilkinson’s livestreams, and many more read about them on reddit feeds. Whichever liberal’s name had been pierced by the bolt would implicitly become the person Wilkinson’s audience was expected to harass for the rest of the week.

In truth, Wilkinson wasn’t the most accurate shot. The medieval crossbow fired easily and with tremendous force, but he lacked the patience to go target practicing. On Christmas morning, 2017, Wilkinson’s bolt thwacked into the name of a former Vice President who, nearly two decades after leaving office, still mercilessly prattled about climate change. Wilkinson had been aiming for that Vice President for weeks and when he yanked the bolt out of the splintering wall, he let out a satisfied sigh. The phone in his hayloft rang, which was unusual. He let it ring for a moment, and when it did not stop, he cringed with the suspicion he finally stepped too far: targeting a Vice President, who presumably still received Secret Service protection. Was that something that could wind him up in jail? He gulped, picked up the phone and immediately recognized the caller’s voice.

“Help me make America great again. Let me tell you, that’s what you need to do. Work in my Administration. Director of White House Communications. That’s what you’re going to be. A very, very amazing Director of White House Communications, I might add. Am I great or what?”

Wilkinson tried to laugh off the narcissistic sociopath’s offer. He earned too much money with his newly lucrative website to give it all up for a government job. The narcissistic sociopath was erratic and vengeful, famously uninterested in fostering a warm working environment within the White House. The various legal probes and independent counsels investigating him had seized control of the narrative surrounding his presidency. Although he still enjoyed a cadre of vigilant supporters on the grassroots level, mainstream Republicans had largely abandoned him.

“Sir, you and your staff are doing a wonderful job advancing the cause of liberty,” Wilkinson said. “You don’t need me. I’m not as good as the people you’ve already got helping you.”

“Are you telling me I don’t know what’s best for this country? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“No, sir. That’s not what I—”

The notoriously thin-skinned narcissistic sociopath erupted in a tirade, but Wilkinson desisted. Over the next hour he inundated Wilkinson with so many tweets, emails, and text messages that Wilkinson couldn’t believe they all originated from the hand of one man. Did the leader of the free world have nothing better to do than troll him? One of his tweets urged others to call Wilkinson and demand he accept the offer. The calls began instantaneously thereafter, forcing Wilkinson to power off his phone lest he’d be up all night chattering with the nabobs ringing him up. The next morning however, the narcissistic sociopath sent out another tweet:

“Am I a gr8 negotiator or what? I just convinzed Coal Wilkinson to join my Administration! Coal Wilkinson! Amazin! #MAGA”

Wilkinson brought his hands to his face. He had agreed to no such thing. Wilkinson’s hiring was portrayed as a done deal, a high-stakes gambit should Wilkinson contradict him, and yet the narcissistic sociopath must’ve known Wilkinson could never bring himself to invite ridicule and embarrassment of the alt-right president he helped elect. The following week, Wilkinson flew to Washington as the narcissistic sociopath’s second year in office began.

Indictments, internecine back-stabbing, and the narcissistic sociopath’s penchant for staff purges decimated the ranks of those working at the White House. Gone was the Chief of Staff, who had absconded to Moscow to avoid prosecution on treason charges. Gone too was the narcissistic sociopath’s closest advisor, his son-in-law, who bit into a glass ampoule of liquid cyanide hours before he was due to be arraigned on obstruction of justice charges. Both houses of Congress were investigating what was becoming increasingly obvious: Russians had hacked into the electronic voting systems of several key states during the 2016 election, stealing the election on behalf of the narcissistic sociopath. Nearly twelve billion dollars had been transferred from Crimean financial institutions into bank accounts controlled either by the narcissistic sociopath or his deceased son-in-law. When asked about this under oath, the narcissistic sociopath threw up his arms and huffed. “How am I supposed to know about the money? I didn’t put it in my account. Maybe the banks made an error. Maybe that’s what happened. Or maybe Crooked Hillary put it there to make me look bad. You ever think of that?” Nearly eighty percent of the nation favored impeachment, a direction the narcissistic sociopath’s staunchest Republican Congressional supporters now viewed as inevitable.

Behind closed doors, the narcissistic sociopath fell into dark rages. Increasingly isolated, he trusted no one. His eldest daughter refused to return his phone calls and his current wife, his third, had moved back to New York and filed for divorce, citing emotional abandonment. Outside his core constituency of illiberal white males, no one supported him.

“What the hell do you want?” the narcissistic sociopath barked when Wilkinson stepped into the Oval Office on his first day at his new job. Normally self-conscious about physical appearances, the narcissistic sociopath had let his thinning orange hair grow long and unkempt. White frosting smeared the corners of his lips. Six empty Dunkin’ Donuts boxes sat atop narcissistic sociopath’s desk, which had been constructed out of the oak timbers of a British Arctic exploration ship and given to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880. Portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, George Washington, and a bare-chested Vladimir Putin hung on the gold and cream-striped walls. The narcissistic sociopath was jowlier than in recent photographs, binge-eating donuts doing nothing to tidy down his already considerable girth. His eyes darted herky-jerky between the six jumbo-sized televisions lining the opposite side of the office. Each television was tuned to a different news network, and each television was silent. The narcissistic sociopath had been up all night in a white-hot rage staring at those television sets while tweeting incoherent typo-ridden rants about how the “deep state” was conducting a “whichhunt” against him (“Totally unfair! Sad!”).

Rumors of advanced neurosyphilis had dogged the narcissistic sociopath for months. Wilkinson saw now what should’ve been obvious back when the narcissistic sociopath first contemplated running for the presidency: he was unfit—morally, intellectually, spiritually, and psychologically—for the office. Millions of his countrymen and countrywomen already reached the same conclusion, but Wilkinson and the alt-right had been blinded by ideology and animosities. Far better candidates existed even within mainstream Republican circles. One of the nation’s most respected actors declared that “America was no longer an inspiring, uplifting drama.” The narcissistic sociopath had caused this to happen. Protestors marched down Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House gates. Wilkinson saw the protestors on the television sets, and heard their shouts though the Oval Office’s windows. He and the narcissistic sociopath were alone, not a single Secret Service agent sitting on any of the room’s antique armchairs. The narcissistic sociopath reached for a gilt-bladed letter opener and slit it through an envelope’s sealed flap. Had he wanted, Wilkinson could become a national hero by grabbing the letter opener and slicing it into the narcissistic sociopath’s corpulent neck. He envisioned a parade held in his honor, a national holiday, Congressional medals of Freedom, and worldwide adulation. Unless someone did something, the narcissistic sociopath would destroy the country, and, in the process, irreparably damage the alt-right brand.

The narcissist sociopath followed Wilkinson’s gaze to the letter opener. His dull blue eyes were tired, bloodshot, but as he instinctually ascertained the thoughts racing through Wilkinson’s mind, his eyes widened. He sucked in a breath, straightened his posture, and glowered. “Don’t even think about trying. You’re not a brave man.”

Wilkinson blinked. “How do you know I’m not brave?”

“Because I hired you, didn’t I? A wise man knows better than to surround himself with brave people.”

Wilkinson’s jaw quivered. With startling clarity, he understood the narcissistic sociopath had allowed only spineless sycophants into his inner circle throughout his entire career. He was too small of a man to tolerate suggestions that he might occasionally be wrong. He didn’t demand excellence—or even competence—so much as he required fawning obsequiousness. People with backbones or independent moral compasses need not apply.

“Take you, for example,” the narcissistic sociopath said. “If you were a brave man, you would’ve told the world you never agreed to work for me. That’s what you would have done.”

Two burly men—Secret Service officers, Wilkinson surmised—entered the Oval Office and stood at attention at either side of the massive oak door through which Wilkinson entered ten minutes earlier. Wires ran from under their navy blue suit jackets and up their muscular necks to electronic devices in their ears.  Wilkinson felt his stomach buckle: the opportunity to kill the narcissistic sociopath had long since passed.

“Face it: you’re stuck with me. You might as well get to work,” the narcissistic sociopath said. Conventional wisdom said he had six weeks, max, in which to save his presidency. Unless he charted out some drastic new strategy, disgrace awaited him. “You can’t go off on your own. Washington doesn’t reward staffers who go rogue. I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”

Wilkinson had been brought aboard to be both the rabid attack dog of a failing administration and the shrewd mastermind of its hoped-for resurrection, but the narcissistic sociopath had pegged him right: he wasn’t a brave man. You can spout off a million hateful comments, harass every feminist on the internet, but hate never equated to bravery. At least not in his case. At night drifting off to sleep beneath satin sheets in his mahogany sleigh bed, he fantasized about leading a torch-carrying army of alt-right fanatics through great cities, their boot heels clicking in unison on the asphalt boulevards. He imagined terrified citydwellers peeking down on them through the windows of their high-rise apartments, fearful their lives were about to be upended. He reveled in the tension, the keen expectation that something great was about to happen. And then he’d point his medieval crossbow at a union hall, a black church, the white clapboard house of a problematic newspaper editor, and his army would descend about it, destroying it. Confined to his nocturnal longings, that was the extent of his bravery: flushing out defenseless targets for others to annihilate.

“What ideas do you have for my State of the Union address?”

Wilkinson sucked in a breath.  He had thought about this considerably. Back when his website was still under the radar, and back before his menacing growl and medieval crossbow made him an alt-right poster boy, he’d been an avid student of political psy-ops and the art of agitation. Now, here in Washington, he appreciated being asked about his opinions. The upcoming State of the Union address represented perhaps a last opportunity to shore up the narcissistic sociopath’s eroding popularity and make it politically unfeasible for lawmakers to impeach him. “Shake things up. That’s what you need to do. Your message can’t be built on a legalistic defense about why you fired the FBI Director. Nor can the message be some plausible deniability crapshoot about whether you actively solicited Russia’s assistance in your election. Both those routes feed directly into the impeachment narrative already laid out by your opponents.”

“So what’s my message?”

“Mr. President, you’re a very lucky man.”

The narcissistic glanced up at Wilkinson, perplexed.

“You’re lucky because no other president ever possessed such a rabidly loyal core constituency as you. Use that as your trump card. Your message must be that you have millions of rough-and-ready followers who turn out for your rallies come hell or high water. That’s your message,” Wilkinson said, and as he spoke about the alt-right’s fidelity to their president, the narcissistic sociopath’s mood lightened. He glanced out the window, misty-eyed at the suggestion his followers would gladly lay down their lives for him. Strength lay in numbers, not in the namby-pamby statutes lawyers and legislators drafted up over the centuries to protect the republic. Even the biggest coward yearns to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Electoral politics was an impotent vehicle compared to what could be accomplished with the blind devotion the narcissistic sociopath enjoyed. Even the biggest coward yearned to be a Brown Shirt. This was the real reason Wilkinson embraced the alt-right: the recognition that unity trumped diversity, that a mob amped up on testosterone and righteousness was better equipped to rule the nation than a bunch of hyper-educated ACLU hucksters.

“Make your core constituency be the argument for why Congress, and the nation, will be better off keeping you in office than impeaching you.”

“How do I do that?” the narcissistic sociopath asked.

“Hint at the havoc that might result should your millions of followers become outraged at the unfair treatment you’ve received ever since being elected President.”

 

The narcissistic sociopath broke precedent and scheduled the State of the Union address for a Friday evening, ticking off Congressmen and Senators accustomed to slipping out of town for weekend visits to their home districts, but in the days leading up to the address, Wilkinson grew concerned. The narcissistic sociopath didn’t return his calls. He submitted the speech’s final draft the previous week but received no feedback. Private defense attorneys for the President and White House staffers under indictment clogged the hallways leading to the Oval office, where, inside, nonstop contentious meetings had been going on for days. Wilkinson, too recent a hire to have yet committed an indictable offense, was frozen out of those meetings.

“He’s not accepting visitors,” a Deputy Scheduling Officer informed Wilkinson the third time he asked if maybe the narcissistic sociopath could spare five minutes.

“But I’m not a visitor,” Wilkinson said. “I’m vital personnel. I wrote the speech he’ll be delivering on Friday. I need to coach him on its delivery, point out the nuanceable moments he can milk.”

The Deputy Scheduling Officer glanced up from his clipboard. He looked thin, pale, an emaciated ghost-like figure. Bunkered into his cubicle and working twenty hour days like other staffers, he rarely ventured outside during daylight hours. Grotesque purple shadows hung below his eyes. He grabbed the can of Red Bull he’d been drinking. In Wilkinson’s three weeks on the job, they’d yet to be formally introduced. “Buddy, you’re not vital. A month or two from now, or whenever this all ends, you’ll be free to go back home and resume whatever cush life you’ve been leading. The rest of us? We’re going to jail. Everyone knows it. So do yourself a favor and keep your nose clear of our business. Freedom’s a terrible thing to waste, if you know what I mean.”

An hour before the State of the Union address, Wilkinson stood in the White House Press Room. Anticipation soared within the media that the narcissistic sociopath’s speech would be a disaster, a speculation fueled in part by the White House’s refusal to release, in advance, the text of the address. Wilkinson, under orders not to divulge what the narcissistic sociopath might say, fended off reporters eager for off-the-record background-only assessments of the speech’s contents. He hadn’t expected DC reporters to be so determined and persistent. They crowded around him, overwhelming him, sticking microphones in his face. Others tried the soft-touch approach, complimenting him for his calm demeanor and the fashionability of his simple red and blue striped necktie as they guided him into corners of the Press Room where they presumed the two of them wouldn’t be overhead. Wilkinson’s hands became sweaty. He loosened his apparently fashionable necktie, gulped from the bottle of water a reporter thrust into his hands. Publishing an alt-right website had not prepared him for the responsiveness and reciprocity these reporters expected of him. Somehow, word had gotten out he’d written the speech’s final draft. “Will it be an uplifting speech?” reporters asked. “Or is he going to turn nasty and lash out at the media again?”

Other than uttering simple generalizations—“Tonight, the President will regain the nation’s trust”—Wilkinson succeeded in saying nothing of importance. However, fifteen minutes before the State of the Union was to begin, people began staring in shock at their phones. The narcissistic sociopath had just tweeted to his thirty-two million followers:

“Grab your friends & a few beers & be ready for action. Tonite I reveal secret truth why DeepState wants to get rid of me #WinningBiggly”

Staffers pulled each other aside. Everyone turned to Wilkinson. In DC, perhaps more than in any other town he’d lived in, knowledge was power. He authored the upcoming speech and presumably had knowledge of its contents. His fellow staffers stared at him, assessing him anew, and in their gazes, he sensed their rising esteem. Reporters narrowed their eyes on him. Their opinion of him was also in the process of changing. Penciling ideas into their notepads, they’d already begun to hatch story ideas about him. The first newspaper and magazine profile articles would bubble over with enthusiasm, proclaiming his brilliance. That was how the media would begin to demolish him: with an over-abundance of praise to draw out the jealousy of those rivaling for his degree of influence over the narcissistic sociopath. At some convenience point, the focus of the coverage would change. Unflattering words, sourced from unnamed colleagues eager to shove him in his place, would appear. Politics was blood sport and, for however long he remained in town, he’d be the ball with which one side or another would advance their egos and agendas.

To avoid the attention, Wilkinson wandered into a small private screening room to watch the State of the Union address. The monitor in the darkened room was already set to WolfNews, the one cable network that had yet to cave in to the impeachment logic that gripped the nation. Onscreen, a bowtied WolfNews anchor expressed surprise that the narcissistic sociopath had yet to arrive on Capitol Hill. Less than two miles separated the White House from Capitol Hill but, even with a motorcade, it would take at least ten minutes to transport the President there. The scheduled time for the speech to begin had come and gone. Decorum demanded that the legislators assembled in the House Chamber not leave until after the State of the Union address was complete. Ten minutes became twenty minutes. Congressmen and Senators fidgeted in their seats, none of them sure what to do, and yet, it made for riveting television. Cameras captured the tension and consternation in their faces. After an hour, the Wolf pundits stopped trying to come up with excuses for the narcissistic sociopath’s delay.

“Ha! Look at those losers squirm in their seats. They’re too afraid, too weak, to even go to the bathroom if they have to. Pathetic!”

Wilkinson turned around. The narcissistic sociopath had been sitting in the screening room’s back row all this time. How had he even not heard him breathe? The Secret Service and the Washington Metropolitan Police searched throughout the city for him, but rather than go out and deliver his Constitutionally-mandated speech, the narcissistic sociopath chose to hole up in this dark little theater.

“Aren’t you going to give your State of the Union address?”

“I’ll give it all right. Boy, will I give it to them.” Onscreen, the camera panned to the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, the one whom the narcissistic sociopath called ‘Pocahontas.’ Distress crinkled the Senator’s face. The narcissistic sociopath sneered. “God. Get a load of her. You know she’s gotta take a piss something bad, and yet she’s too afraid to get up and go to the potty.”

Wilkinson shuddered. Years from now, even if prodded by historians, he’d be too embarrassed to admit he once sat in a darkened theater with a man so sadistic and valueless as to mock a woman’s dire need to urinate.

“Did you like the speech I wrote for you?”

“Huh?”

The WolfNews cameras cut back to their in-studio anchor, whose full head of thick brown hair and boyishly-handsome good looks seemed at odds with his staid bowtie. Though the cameras were on him, he thumbed through his cell phone, unaware he was on-air. A smile of such delirious satisfaction took hold of him so suddenly that Wilkinson suspected he had just stumbled upon a wife or lover’s racy message. Or maybe it was an X-rated picture that set the anchor’s eyes aglow.

“I’d hate that bowtie twerp if he wasn’t such a useful tool. He eats up everything I say, so he can’t be that bad. Can he?” the narcissistic sociopath asked. “But, God, look at him. He’s a total lightweight. He’s nothing but a dumbed-down George Will for the stupid generation.”

“The speech that I wrote. Did you like it? Do you want to talk about it, Mr. President?”

“I didn’t read it.”

“But I thought-”

“Don’t worry—I’ll wing it. It’ll be great.” The narcissistic sociopath tapped his uncommonly short index finger to the top of his head. “I’ve got it all up here. Everything we talked about—about my outraged voters and the havoc they’ll cause—I’ve got it all up here.”

Wilkinson ploughed his head into his hands. He had poured his soul into the speech, crafting a piece of eloquence to rival FDR’s great wartime speeches and fireside chats. He thought of the disparaging newspaper articles about him that would appear after the narcissistic sociopath’s oration bombed. The narcissistic sociopath would be the first to publicly blame him for the poor performance, but there would be no shortage of White House staffers lining up behind him to stick in the knife.

“The speech is going to be huge. I’ll be terrific. Tremendous. And tomorrow, I’ll tell everyone you helped me write it.”

 

Two hours later, nearing midnight, the narcissistic sociopath arrived on Capitol Hill. Television cameras zoomed in on the interns rousing the Senators and Congressmen who’d earlier fallen asleep at their chairs. Despite the delay, the WolfNews anchor reported more people than ever were tuned to the broadcast. Throughout the night, a weird kind of expectation seized the nation. Something sublime or outrageous was about to happen, and no one wanted to miss it. The narcissistic sociopath’s faithful supporters were said to have gathered in prayer circles or taverns. Detractors meanwhile gloated that the narcissistic sociopath would go full-frontal cuckoo on live television while, online, forums sprouted up over the previous few hours to advise parents what to tell their children should the President pull out a handgun and take his life during the speech.

Lawmakers rose from their seats when the narcissistic sociopath entered the House Chamber, their tired faces showing relief but not joy in his arrival. No Senators reached out to shake his hand, as was customary on such occasions, no Congressmen leaned into him to exchange encouraging words as he stalked down the carpeted center aisle toward the rostrum. On television, you could hear his footsteps. He looked bigger, as if a layer of padding plumped his attire or he had donned a flak jacket beneath his charcoal grey cashmere suit coat.

The Speaker of the House, a trim Wisconsin-born Republican whose hair noticeably thinned out in the months since job-preservation dictated he adopt a pro-Impeachment stance on the question of the narcissistic sociopath’s future, introduced him to his colleagues. “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States.”

The narcissistic sociopath swiveled to face the Speaker. “High honor. You bet it’s a high honor. And don’t you forget it. Do you want to know where I’ve been for the last three hours? I’ve been talking to the people who voted for me. Hundreds, thousands, millions of people have been calling me long-distance today, and I spoke to every one of them. And do you know what they’re telling me? They’re telling me you’re a weak, pathetic loser.”

Wilkinson, seated two miles away in the screening room, let out an exasperated sigh. As soon as the speech concluded, he was expected to burst into the White House Press Room and, confronting reporters, proclaim it an unqualified success. At best, it would be an exercise in sophistry, the reporters not bothering to mask their incredulous smirks as he spun the narcissistic sociopath’s words to best possible effect. The damage control needed from him would be tremendous. The word ‘unwinnable’ seared through his mind. He was a professional and would do his duty, but he berated himself; against his better judgment, he shuttered a profitable website and left behind a comfortable life for this.

The narcissistic sociopath spun around and faced the cameras. The entire Senate and House of Representatives sat before him, frowning. He cracked his knuckles, pulled out a black plastic pocket comb and dragged it across his orange hair, bringing order to his messy pompadour. Every movement seemed designed to draw out the moment and suck in the attention of the millions of people watching the speech at home or in the nation’s taverns. He was a pig for attention, the high school bully who had grown more ballsy and pompous and imperious because no one was ever brave enough to punch him a time or two when they had the chance. There was no kindness or beneficence within him, only an abundance of self-regard and the Viagra pills he was reputed to ingest throughout the day.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your ears,” the narcissistic sociopath said. A few people in the House gallery laughed, prompting the narcissistic sociopath to chuckle. He smiled a smug smile. “You know, I’ve always wanted to say that. I really did. But now, friends—friends and enemies, I should say—I seriously need to talk to you tonight. I need to talk to you because the state of the Union is sad. Very very sad.

“You see, I won a presidential election a year ago. Maybe a year and a half ago. I won. Great, huh? And what happens? Ever since then, I’ve been treated to nothing but lies and innuendoes and allegations that make it impossible for me to govern. And the indictments! The subpoenas! That’s stupid. Will no one rid me of your meddlesome priests? Throughout human history, maybe even dating back to the dinosaurs, no one’s ever been treated more unfairly than me. Except maybe Jesus Christ. He got the bum shaft, too.”

For thirty excruciating minutes, the narcissistic sociopath railed about the slings and arrows he endured. No slight was too small for his recall, no snub of anything less than earth-shattering importance.

“You’ve attacked my family, drove my wife—a woman who happens to be the most beautiful woman in the world, I might add—to file for divorce on me. You’ve ridiculed my kids, made it impossible even for my brilliant daughter to make any money on her clothing line. And the respect! Or, rather, the lack of respect you’ve shown me. Oy! Even tonight, not one of you fine, courteous Congresspeople wants to shake my hand. Who does that? You invite me to speak to this Joint Session of Congress and you don’t even shake my hand? That’s crazy.”

The cameras panned the chamber. Napoleon once advised never to interfere with an enemy when he’s in the process of self-destruction. Congressmembers grimaced, caught each others’ eye, sighed, groaned and moaned, and shook their heads in astonishment and disgust, but were disciplined enough not to interfere with the narcissistic sociopath’s self-destruction.

“You guys are out of control. You know that, don’t you? But this isn’t about me. That’s not why I’m upset. I can take your insults. But I worry about the people who voted for me. More people voted for me than anyone else in the history of this nation, so let me spend a few moments talking to them, okay?

“To my supporters, I say: we’re under siege. You know that. And you know who’s doing it to us. We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. You know who said that, don’t you? ‘We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.’ I don’t know who said it, but it was one of the greats who said it. Benjamin Franklin, maybe. Or maybe it was Thomas Washington. Washington said a lot of smart things. Very smart things. But he never got hung. That’s for sure.”

The narcissistic sociopath unbuttoned his charcoal gray suit jacket. A length of rope was wrapped around his torso, hidden until now by his suit jacket, which he tossed aside.

“It’s either us, or them,” the narcissistic sociopath said.

Slowly the narcissistic sociopath unwound the rope from his body. Seeing the rope, alarm spread over not a few Congressmen and Senators, who would have heard the speculation that the narcissistic sociopath might take his life during the speech. The narcissistic sociopath raised the rope high, holding it by the center of its length in one hand, and fashioned a section of it into a tight loop. He coiled one end of the rope around the tight loop, coiling the rope again and again, doing so with more concentration expressed in his face than Wilkinson had ever seen. Practitioners of the magical arts were not unknown to resort to simple rope tricks to rescue a failing performance, but mere diversion wasn’t the narcissistic sociopath’s intention. He maneuvered the rope and its coils, tucking a loose end into and through the coiled portion, tightening it, until gradually a hangman’s noose emerged in his hands. Secret Service agents, tasked with protecting the narcissistic sociopath’s life, didn’t rush the rostrum and wrestle the noose from him, which surprised Wilkinson. Were they, like everyone else, too cowardly to risk a spectacle? Too cowardly to perform the duties entrusted to them?

The narcissistic sociopath raised the noose to his face and stuck his head through it. He grabbed tightly to the noose’s coils. He jerked it up. The noose constricted around his neck. His cheeks turned red and, under strain, stress lines etched over his forehead. He drew a breath, the air filling his paunchy cheeks, his eyes pinching shut. When he could hold his breath no longer, he opened his mouth and let the air explode out through his lips. His hand opened, releasing the noose. A moment later, he loosened the knot. Color returned to his cheeks.

“Friends, hang or being hanged. You know who the enemies are. Unless you do something, tomorrow morning they’ll come knocking on your door. They’ll take away your rights, take away your guns. They don’t believe in the Constitution like you and I do. They’re animals, and you know it. Shiria Law will become the law of the land. Don’t let thugs take away all you hold dear and sacred. You know where they live. You know where their so-called churches are, their inner city neighborhoods and bathhouses and gay rights parades. You know where their mosques are, their temples, their—what do you call them?—synagogues. Go over there. Confront them. Share your ideas. Tell them what you think.”

The narcissistic sociopath made a fist and walloped the rostrum. “As angry as you are, you’ll be forgiven. I promise you that. Tell them the jig is up. Tell them in no uncertain terms what you think of them.” You could tell that he hurt his hand, walloping the rostrum. He drew his hand to his chest, massaged it with his other hand, and winced. “God bless you, America. Good night.”

 

Wilkinson charged into the Press Room, every bit the warrior he’d been hired to be. The narcissistic sociopath had just concluded his State of the Union speech. Wilkinson was new enough to DC to feel a rush of self-importance when reporters flocked to him, yelling out questions. Did the President just called for a mass uprising? Had he promised to pardon supporters for the violence he expected of them? Wilkinson sucked in a breath, summoning his inner attack dog, and savored the moment. This would be the first event where he’d act as lead spokesman for the Administration. Other White House staffers gathered around him, listening, for whatever he said would instantly become the party line they’d be expected to parrot.

“Gentlemen. Ladies,” Wilkinson said, holding up his hand to silence the questions being shouted at him. By necessity, Washington followed the first thought, best thought philosophy. What you said was not as important as how quickly your statements entered the public realm via the media. Delays, second-guessing, and undue deliberation (besides being perceived as signs of weakness) allowed detractors an opening to seize control of the narrative. Media attention was a zero-sum game—the more media time you monopolized, the less was available for your adversaries. Lacking time to contemplate the speech, Wilkinson reflexively flew to the narcissistic sociopath’s defense. He had left his crossbow behind in Nebraska but he imagined his finger on its trigger, the badass tension in the moment before firing another titanium-tipped bolt into his hayloft wall. He was a blameless foot soldier in a war of ideas, the megaphone through which the leader of the free world barked his orders. “The President tonight put forth a very passionate plea to his supporters to not give up the good fight. He loves this nation dearly, and he knows the many millions of people who voted for him loves it just as much.”

“The good fight? Hah!” one reporters spat out. By and large, the media was a liberal lot that would shed no tears should the narcissistic sociopath be impeached. “The President told people to form lynch mobs.”

“Is that what you thought you heard?” Wilkinson asked.

The reporter nodded. Others spoke up, decrying the narcissistic sociopath’s inflammatory rhetoric.

“You must have heard a different speech than I heard tonight,” Wilkinson said, eliciting a few laughs from the press corps. “Because I heard the President ask supporters to meet with those who disagree with him. ‘Share your ideas.’ That’s what he said. It’s a direct pitch for unfiltered dialogue at the grassroots level. Dialogue, that’s what he wants. Other presidents—Clinton, Bush, Obama—initiated dialogues on race. Why can’t we?”

“What about the noose?”

The noose was the elephant in the room, an outsized visual Wilkinson wouldn’t be allowed to escape. He’d hope to avoid talking about it, but there was no way politically correct reporters would let him avoid the subject entirely. Already, he suspected it would be a visual of lasting importance. Internet memes and viral videos would propel it foremost in the public’s consciousness over the next few hours. Newspapers and magazines would paste it on their pages for weeks.

“Noose? What noose?” Wilkinson said. “I didn’t see no noose.”

Reporters eyed him with suspicion.

“I didn’t see no noose. I saw a rope. A short rope. But I didn’t see no noose.”

 

Asked how he went bankrupt, a character in a Hemingway novel responded, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.” America’s political decline occurred in much the same way. Over the years, the ecosystem of democratic engagement was poisoned, the give-and-take bipartisan pastures of legislative debate allowed to go barren. We stewed ourselves in cynicism and distrust, let anger override our intellect. No one party, politician, or ideology was solely responsible for this slow transformation. By the time the narcissistic sociopath rolled along, we were cowards no longer in search of the truth, irrational pilgrims in active pursuit of a street brawl rather than salvation.

Located directly north of the White House sits Lafayette Square, a seven-acre parcel of land city planners originally set aside as a “pleasure ground” for presidents’ personal use. That vision changed substantially during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, who ceded back the land for public use. Although the square owes its name to Marquis de Lafayette, the French-born Revolutionary War hero who was one of George Washington’s closest friends, the square’s central feature is an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the nineteenth-century president who is today most remembered for his support of slavery and the forced exodus of Native Americans from their tribal lands.

Wilkinson stumbled out of the White House at 4 AM, exhausted from spin-doctoring the narcissistic sociopath’s speech for the past four hours. He’d done the best he could, monopolizing air time on the major networks and shouting down the on-air pundits and opposing politicians who differed with his assessments. Snow, that inconvenient proof climate change had yet to boil the planet to inhospitably hot conditions, swirled and eddied around the statue of Andrew Jackson. Temperatures had fallen drastically over the preceding hours, and ice glazed the sidewalk, making walking in his wingtips a tricky proposition, but something else caught Wilkinson’s attention.

“Hey, where did all the protesters go?” Wilkinson asked. For weeks, protesters encamped around Lafayette Square’s statues, erecting a tent city that sheltered dozens. Gone were their canvas tents and down sleeping bags, their Coleman camp stoves and metal lanterns. In their wake, a blessèd, peaceful silence bloomed over the surrounding city blocks, quiet enough for Wilkinson to hear icy snowflakes skitter over the park benches.

“Ha! The scum probably scrammed fearing the President’s mobs would swoop down and beat their asses something bad,” the Deputy Scheduling Officer said. He and Wilkinson had walked out of the White House for the night at the same time. “By the way, your line about ‘Noose? What noose?’ was hilarious. I’ve been laughing to myself about it for hours.”

“Thanks,” Wilkinson said.

“Don’t mention it.”

The New York Post, which the narcissistic sociopath considered the only newspaper that mattered, changed its front page headline throughout the early morning hours. Initial editions pressed immediately after the narcissistic sociopath’s speech proclaimed, Prez to Flunkies: Go Get ‘Em! Later, when Wilkinson’s characterization of the speech as a push for “dialogue” gained a brief traction within mainstream media outlets, the Post’s headline became, Prez to Flunkies: Talk to ‘Em! And then, superimposed over a picture of the narcissistic sociopath with his mouth hanging wide open, Prez: Let’s Talk!

The dialogue narrative lasted a good twenty minutes, or up until the first reports trickled in of the hundreds of black churches set afire by the narcissistic sociopath’s followers. Wilkinson argued that, until formal police investigations concluded on each incident—a process that could take months—it was unfair if not irresponsible to pin the blame on the narcissistic sociopath for those “mishaps.” “How do I know who started the fires? Maybe it was lightening. Maybe spontaneous combustion. Who knows? But I can tell you this: the President didn’t douse those buildings with kerosene. He wasn’t out there with a book of matches or a blowtorch.”

The Molotov Cocktail proved, overwhelming, to be the number one instrument of dialogue. Synagogues, mosques, gay bars, and Planned Parenthood clinics were vandalized, set afire, left to smolder. Smoke from burning buildings clouded the night sky, obscuring the moon throughout the land. In Tulsa, they rousted an Imam from his bed and beheaded him in front of his pregnant wife and four-year-old daughter. People pissed on the graves in Jewish cemeteries, desecrated tombs with Swastika signs and crude drawings of male genitalia.  They looted black-owned grocery stores, tore the doors off university women’s centers. Any establishment with a foreign-sounding name was fair game to the narcissistic sociopath’s supporters: Indian restaurants, Thai curry houses, Persian carpet dealers.

The New York Post changed its headline one more time, declaring the night, America’s Kristallnacht.

The violence elated the narcissistic sociopath. With glee, he asked to be kept appraised of the mounting death toll. The speed in which his fingers whisked over his cell phone’s keyboard, tweeting, left no doubt in Wilkinson’s mind that it was the narcissistic sociopath himself, rather than a subordinate, who had inundated him with tweets and IMs a month earlier, urging him to come to DC. Unlike Wilkinson, who already gave up the pretense that dialogue was the evening’s objective, the narcissistic sociopath continued to tweet about “dialogue,” as in,

“America! Tomorrow I’ll give names and home addresses of the most dangerous Congressmen and Senators who need your dialogue!”

“They’ll never be brave enough now to impeach me.” The narcissistic sociopath smiled, his face a plump peach bisected by the grin of a Cheshire cat.

Wilkinson knew this was true, for he had theorized about the politics of intimidation in an influential series of YouTube videos. If asked to choose between physical safety and an act of moral courage, people overwhelmingly opted to preserve their safety. Congressmen and Senators, being a sub-species of people, would be no different. As long as this period of dialogue continued, the narcissistic sociopath need not fear impeachment.

“Are you going to issue pardons right away for everyone who helped you tonight?” No word, as of yet, existed as to how many of the narcissistic sociopath’s supporters were arrested so far for their misdeeds. “Or can we wait until tomorrow to get to work on that, Sir?”

“Let ‘em wait,” the narcissistic sociopath said. “If I pardon people now, what leverage will I have over them if I need something more from them?”

In the days that followed, the narcissistic sociopath’s supporters became bolder, their acts more brutal. No longer did they wait for night to fall before marching en mass to terrorize, rape, and pillage. The surprise however was that they didn’t have a monopoly on politically-motivated violence. An armed resistance formed quickly. The day after the State of the Union address, a mob descended on a Georgetown clothing boutique, shattering its windows. The narcissistic sociopath’s daughter was inside purchasing a pair of leather Capri pants she could wear on an upcoming jaunt to Ibiza. The mob tore the pants out of her glossy shopping bag, slit her throat, and mailed her dismembered body, piece by piece, to the White House. The narcissistic sociopath himself opened the bloodied parcel containing her heart. Never before had he been known to weep.

No one realized how precarious a democracy could be, or how quickly a republic could crumble when governed by a felonious narcissistic sociopath. In Chicago, a luxury high-rise apartment building owned by the narcissistic sociopath burned to the ground while city police and firefighters watched, doing nothing. Nearly a million protestors filled San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to call for the narcissistic sociopath’s resignation. Still weeping over his daughter, the narcissistic sociopath ordered soldiers to fire into the crowd. To their credit, the soldiers laid down their arms.

European leaders, still harboring grudges over how the narcissistic sociopath belittled their nations early in his Administration, openly gloated that Americans had become, almost overnight, a failed nation state. One by one, the power grid, cell tower, and telecommunications services failed, depriving the narcissistic sociopath of his ability to tweet. Schools closed their doors, municipal bus lines stopped running, and, when it snowed, no one shoveled their sidewalks. Fear ruled the streets. Few people ventured outside even to go to work, such was their fear of the roving gangs the sprouted up around the nation to take advantage of the prevailing anarchy.

Walking through Lafayette Square hours after the State of the Union address, Wilkinson didn’t know these things were about to happen. Nor did he know he’d die within days, victim to sniper fire while hailing a cab outside the White House after another long, excruciating day on the job. Instead, he looked into the night sky, smelled the smoke from many distant fires. The Deputy Scheduling Officer continued walking toward his own apartment, leaving Wilkinson alone in the Square. He bent down and fingered the divots in the ground where the protesters had abruptly pulled up the stakes of their tents hours earlier. They’d bundled their trash in plastic garbage bags, stacking a tidy pile of them next to the trash cans so city sanitation workers could easily remove them the next day.

The falling snow was cold and bracing, and Wilkinson let it dust the shoulders of his water-resistant camo hunting jacket. Looking back, he saw his boot prints in the snow. They all led up to where he was standing now. He wanted to believe this was the much-fabled calm before the storm, but he’d seen the news reports, the photographs, fielded the calls from governors imploring the narcissistic sociopath to activate National Guard units to restore order in their states. Throughout the night, death tolls mounted. It wasn’t just the Imam who died, but dozens if not hundreds unlucky to be trapped in torched buildings. Innocent bystanders were shot on street corners from passing vehicles, apparently for sport. In the moments between on-air interviews, Wilkinson scanned the headlines and wire reports. His medieval crossbow had catapulted him to alt-right fame. He searched to see if anyone had been killed by a crossbow. Finding none, he convinced himself he was blameless.

 

 

***

Nick Kocz is the winner of the 2016 Washington Square Fiction Award. His stories and essays have appeared in a number of magazines, including Atticus Review, Mid-American Review, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Pinch. He holds an MFA from Virginia Tech and is the past recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship.

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