In New Hampshire, when the leaves begin to change, the trees appear to be alight with flame, the somber bronzes and ambers glinting in the falling sun. The peaceful atmosphere–with the gentle hoots of waking owls and the muted whine of the cicadas–contrasted the panic and chaos soon to occur within an inn far from the hustle and bustle of Rochester. The air, cool with the premonition of oncoming winter, would soon be filled with tension, as a group of men led another through the dimly lit halls of this majestic old manor.
The failing daylight streamed through the windows of an old dining room, where one could imagine an old governor sitting with his colleagues talking about local government. The light caught the dust particles swirling through the still and silent room. Long shadows were cast by the dark mahogany table and chairs, their seat cushions wrapped in crimson cloth, a paisley pattern giving them texture. Two doors, one to the north, another to the south, stood as great portals leading deeper into the old manor, their crystal knobs twinkling in that dust filled light.
The door on the south side of the room boomed open. A group of men in black suits filed in, pistols drawn and pointing in every direction. There was a man in their center, unarmed and looking frantic. The man absentmindedly smoothed his ruffled jacket, adjusting the star-spangled pin on his lapel.
The room was chaos for a mere sixty seconds. The room was echoing with cries of, “Clear!” as the armed men sprinted around the room, pulling open cupboards, pulling back curtains, checking under the table. A loud screech as one of the men dragged one of the heavy chairs to the man they had escorted. The man sat, running a hand through his once neat and tidy hair.
"Room is secured!" one of the armed men announced as the final cupboard door was closed. No sooner were the words out of his mouth that the northern door was thrown open. The men, in the process of holstering their weapons, drew them once more to aim at a young woman in a similar suit to their own.
"Dammit, Johnson!" one of them shouted. "We almost killed you!"
"Sorry, sir,” Johnson squeaked. “What’s the situation, Mr. Smith?”
"A Rift has opened," Smith responded. He was standing beside the sitting man, checking his cell phone. "We need to get the President to safety.” He looked up from his phone, pocketing it. “Johnson, track down with the Secretary of Defense. We need all the help we can get with this."
Johnson, looking to her President, felt nervous. She had never seen the man look so shaken. Nevertheless, she was a trained professional, and so she donned her sunglasses and rushed from the room, back through the northern door.
"My wife and daughter," President Arthur McGann said, clearly in shock. "They're still back there!"
"We have a team escorting them here, sir," the Secret Service agent told him.
"Thank you, Mr. Smith," McGann said, his shoulders relaxing slightly. He ran his hands over his face, letting out a rather petulant groan. "How could this have happened?"
"There are a number of reasons, sir," Smith said, checking the chamber of his gun. "Technical mumbo jumbo I don't understand."
There was a flash from outside the windows, and Smith turned.
"Jesus Christ!" He shouted. "Martin, close the shades. We can't let those monsters know he's in here!"
One of the men charged forward and closed the thick crimson curtains.
"Out of every charity event this could have happened at," the President said, "it had to happen at this one."
"We'll get this resolved, sir," Smith said. "On my life I swear to you, this isn't over."
Martin listened to his radio.
"The First Lady is incoming," he told everyone. The doors opened, and in stepped the First Lady.
She ran a hand over her auburn hair, the once prim and proper bun becoming disheveled, strands hanging down over her teardrop face. When she looked up to see her husband, her eyes widened and she rushed to him. McGann stood tiredly and wrapped her in his arms. She pulled away from him, hand on his cheek, staring into his eyes.
“Arthur, what is it?” she whispered. “What’s happened?"
McGann opened and closed his mouth, unable to bring himself to tell her. Smith stepped forward, his voice tender.
"I'm afraid another Rift has opened, ma'am.”
The First Lady put her hands to her mouth, her eyes swimming in tears.
And then, a tiny voice spoke from that door, and the President turned to see his young daughter, Emily. The six year old was in the arms of a Secret Service agent, and she squirmed from their grasp to rush to her father. Arthur squatted before his daughter, hands on her shoulders and looking her up and down.
"Emily," he said, forcing back tears.. "Everything is going to be alright."
Martin, who had been peeking through the curtains, looked back at the President, his voice urgent.
"Dear God!" He shouted. "The Rift is expanding!"
The President leapt up, and everyone looked on in hopes of some leadership.
"We need to do something," Arthur McGann said desperately. "We cannot allow the public to be exposed to this. Not now, not after all we have accomplished."
Smith had his hand to his ear piece, listening intently.
"It'll be alright, sir," the agent said. "The Secretary of Defense will be here soon."
Arthur dropped into the chair he'd been sitting in and sighed.
"Why now?" He asked no one in particular. "I only have six months left in office! This could have been someone else's problem."
"Arthur," his wife said sternly. "If there were any president better equipped for this situation, it's you. You've done so much for this country. This is just another obstacle."
McGann jumped up. "Dammit, Martha, don't you understand? This isn't signing a peace treaty with Russia or signing off on a marriage equality bill. This is a God damn rift!"
"Arthur," Martha said softly. "Listen to yourself! This isn't as bad as it looks. No matter how this turns out, people will know how brave and how great of a leader you were throughout your two terms! It will be okay."
The northern door burst open again, and the Secret Service whirled, their guns drawn.
"Dammit, Johnson!" Smith bellowed. "We thought you were one of those crazy sons of bitches! You need to warn us before barging in! Where's the Secretary?"
Johnson looked disheveled. His hair was in shambles and his suit was torn. In his left hand, he held a briefcase with a snapped cord attached to it.
"The Secretary," Johnson muttered. "We were surrounded. He cut the cord attaching him to the case and told me to run. He held those greedy bastards off, and I ran here as fast as I could."
"Were you followed?" Martin asked from the window.
Johnson shook his head. His free hand trembled slightly.
"No," he said. "No, I don't think..."
There was banging on the door behind Johnson, and the young agent jumped.
"Shit!" Smith said. "Give me the case, Johnson, now!"
Johnson tossed the case, holding the door shut behind him.
The senior agent caught the leather-bound briefcase and placed it on the table.
The President stood. "You're sure the Spare is in there?"
Smith's voice shook. "If it isn't, then God help us all." He unlatched the clips and slowly opened the case.
"Thank God Almighty," he muttered. He reached in and pulled out the Spare. "Sir," he said, a weight lifting off of his shoulders. "Drop your pants."
The President unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants. He handed them to Smith, who inspected the hole in the seat.
"Rift neutralized," the agent said into his radio as McGann pulled on the Spare pair of pants. "I repeat, Rift neutralized."
"Jesus H. Christ," Martin muttered, holstering his pistol.
President McGann stepped toward the young agent holding the door shut.
"Son," McGann said, puffing out his chest. "Step aside. I can handle these monsters."
Johnson nodded nervously and stepped aside. The President pulled open the doors and was momentarily blinded by light. When his eyes focused, he was faced with a swarm of reporters. With them stood the Secretary of Defense.
"See?" the man asked. "I told you he was fine. Nothing to worry about!"
"Mr. President," a reporter called. "Why did you rush from the benefit in such a hurry?"
President Arthur McGann looked around at the men and women and gave his well-known grin.
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That was hilarious. Well written.
Thank you so much!
I didn’t read the prompt and was literally on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was about to happen. I laughed so hard at the ending!!! Very well written. Great job Chris.
Ha! That did not go where I expected it to :) Good setup with the ominous "Rift". It really felt like some sort of end-of-the-world scenario. Likewise the guns, hints of enemies, and the Secretary of Defense "sacrificing" himself -- it all added to the tension.