His stomach was a ball of ice, solidifying and hovering in his gut cooling his insides, pushing the heat of his body outward. It was if beads of sweat were cropping up under every hair follicle, collecting and forming one long drip rolling down the back of his neck to the nape, pausing there only to be released. A tendril of now cool body water formed a steady flow down between his shoulder blades agitating over his faded tattoo working its slow yet steady path to his lower back.
The tension was rising as he went over the speech in his mind. The dead were piling up and he wasn’t about to be one of them. The opening anecdote which he had come up with himself he was pretty proud of. Funny but not too funny. He wasn’t about jiggle the trigger-happy crowd. From there he would go into the pressing issues of why he should be kept in office. The death of the former leader was still so new, wet with blood and spreading. From the side of the small stage he could hear the clicking and mumbling of the press, (press? is that what we were calling them?) and feel the harsh lights like a menace just off screen. Skip hated public speaking. But this was the only way he was to stay alive. What had we come to as a society he thought again for the umpteenth time.
His handler Kai was to his left going over the bullet points and what to focus on should there be questions. Questions. If he got that far he felt he would be in the clear. But Kai’s words were a muted mumble as his brain dulled everything around him. Skip’s palms were damp and felt like his skin would reflect a sickly sheen in the lights just above the podium. He was on in five minutes. What had the former leader said that brought upon her demise? With his senses on high alert he could still smell the blood. When it happened he could not see former Head Raina Worrell being shot full of holes. He had only heard her speaking and in mid sentence it began. So many gunshots. All he was able to see from his position was the curtain behind the podium being ripped apart by gunfire and her blood spraying abstract death art across its dark blue pleats. The scene played over and again in his head as sweat creek continued to run down his back.
He had assured the council that he was fully reformed. He had not chosen this path it was chosen for him. Sure he had slaughtered his family but that was ten years ago and they weren’t his family anymore. It was self defense. Being in the system as long as he had he never thought he’d be picked for this. A chance to be the new leader. Nobody wanted this opportunity. Not anymore.
Kai was telling him it was time. He could hear more of that clicking. The press readying for his entrance. He felt frozen and was nudged by his handler who was letting him know that he had this, just remember what they went over, as he took a call and stepped away from Skip. Probably a run up candidate just in case, Skip thought deep down beneath his crushing fear. It was time.
He walked the slow path to his destiny and approached the stage. The clicking had stopped and a deafening silence gripped the room. So this is what deafening silence sounds like he thought and snickered to himself.
As he walked across the stage he trained his eyes on the podium. To his right he could feel the eyes looking at him. Were they excited? And if so what were they excited about? His failure? Did they want him to tank this? Skip felt his nerves tingle and his body began to shake. He hoped it wasn’t noticeable to anyone but himself. He made it to the podium and looked out at the crowd. All he saw were the silhouettes of heads and the tall outline of the Ward standing behind the back row on the ready. The clean up crew had disappeared. He looked off stage to his right and saw that Kai was gone. He was on his own. He gripped the wooden structure in front of him and noticed the grooves from past failures running his thumbs over them. The teleprompter flickered on and there it was. His speech. This was it. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He missed his wife. His wife before the change.
The lights in the room came on with a low thunk and he gave a nervous smile as he looked out into the room. There in the third row to the left was Lisa. Not the Lisa he married all those years ago. A different Lisa now. She leered at him in her insanity, a tear running down her cheek as she raised the gun toward his face. They all raised their guns. His anecdote glowed at him and the timer wound down. 5, 4, 3, 2, scroll.