A cautionary tale of how power corrupts one's mind and soul.
|They say the devil is in the details, and that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Two lessons that the main character of our next story is about to learn the hard way. He wants what’s best for his country, but also thinks he should be the one to decide what’s best for it. Which reminds me of another old saying, that hubris goeth before a fall. (Please note, I wrote this story years ago, before the covid pandemic. This story is not intended to be a reflection of actual events.)|
Hero. Tyrant. Genius. Madman. President Thomas Walters has been called all of these things and more at one point or another in his career. Not that it really matters now, as he stares out of the Oval Office window at the utter chaos that is sweeping the streets of the capital. Gunshots, explosions and shouts of fury and pain fill the air, sending a chill of fear down the president’s spine. He knows what’s going on. He knows they are coming for him.
But at this point, he has nothing really left to lose. He’s lost his supporters, his loved ones, even his soul. Not necessarily in that order. No, it was his soul that he lost first, the day he met her, the day he signed that contract.
Five years ago, he was just a low-level politician who had never held an office of any real importance in his life. Hell, he wasn’t even that, he was merely an assistant to a politician, and the only reason he even had that job was because his rich father had bribed a bunch of officials to get it for him.
Since middle school, he dreamed of becoming a senator like his father, but then he thought, why stop there? Why not go all the way to President of the United States? For years he aspired to be something greater than his father ever was, but he was never able to ascend above his present position. That is, until he met her.
One day he was in his office, which was so small it was really a broom closet more than anything, when there was a knock on his door. Before he could even say “Come in.” The door opened and there stood a woman with long dark hair that cascaded down to her waist, dressed in a business suit and skirt and carrying a briefcase. “Who are you?” Thomas asked, and the woman smiled “I think the better question would be what is it I can offer you, Mr. Walters.”
Without even being invited, she strode into the office as if she were expected and sat down in front of Thomas’ desk. “Look, who do you think you are?” Said Thomas, beginning to get more than a little ticked “You can’t just waltz on into my office and expect me to…” “Oh, spare me your delusions of being some all-important politician, Mr. Walters.” Said the woman. “You and I both know you’re nothing more than a glorified desk jockey, but you could be so much more. You want to be like dear old daddy, no, bigger and better than daddy ever was! Well, I can make it happen, Mr. Walters.”
Thomas crossed his arms and scowled. “Really? And just how would you do that? Or better yet, why? I don’t even know your name!” The woman smiled again, which for some reason gave Thomas a feint feeling of uneasiness. “If you really must know, my name is Barbara. As to why I would help you, let's just say I have my reasons. Don’t believe me? Then let me give you a small taste of how I can help you achieve your ultimate goal.”
Barbara then stood from her seat and began to leave. “Wait!” Thomas called “Where are you going? I thought you were going to help me?” “I am.” Said Barbara “By this time tomorrow, you will have already risen above your current station. I’ll see you later, Mr. Walters.” For several moments, Thomas just sat there and stared at the door through which the mysterious woman had exited his office, feeling confused more than anything else. Was this Barbara woman really capable of helping him realize his dream? And if she was, what was it she wanted in return?
He put the thought out of his head and returned to his work, sure that this must all be some sort of joke orchestrated by one or more of his higher ups, those bunch of stuck up, pig headed big wigs. But as Thomas lay in bed that night, he was awoken around four in the morning by the ringing of the telephone on his nightstand. He answered it in an irritated tone, unable to believe that anybody would be making phone calls at this time.
But shortly after answering the call, he dropped the phone onto the floor, unable to comprehend at first what the person on the other end of the line told him. His boss, Senator Gibson, had just died of a heart attack, and his position was now open. The phone call was to ask Thomas if, as Mr. Gibson’s assistant, he would like to run in the election to replace him.
After recovering from his initial shock, Thomas quickly picked up the phone from his bedroom floor and replied " Yes! I will run to replace Senator Gibson. Thank you.” Hanging up the phone, he lay back in his bed and stared at the ceiling, a million thoughts racing through his mind at once. This was it! Finally, he would have his chance to take the first step to achieving his life’s ambition. Despite working for the man, Thomas couldn’t say he knew Senator Gibson very well, so he didn’t really feel sad that he was dead. All he had to do now was win the election.
Later, as Thomas entered his office, he found Barbara sitting in front of his desk, waiting for him. “How did you get in here?” He said, knowing full well he always locked his office door when he left every night. Barbara shrugged. “That’s not important. What is important, is that I’ve proven that I can help you achieve your dream and am still waiting for an answer on whether or not you accept my offer.”
“What are you talking about?” Said Thomas “You haven’t proven anything. All you did was walk into my office, say you could help me, then leave. How have you helped me?”
Barbara smiled, a sort of half gleeful, half wicked grin. “I helped you by disposing of your predecessor, Senator Gibson.” Thomas could only blink and stare dumbfounded at Barbara upon hearing this news. “That’s impossible! Gibson died of a heart attack!” Barbara chuckled. “Yes, well, I had to make his death believable. I could have had him die in an accident or murder, but then you would probably be one of the most likely suspects. No, it was much better to have him die of a heart condition, no suspicion, no evidence, just an open position on the Senate. Now all you need to do is replace him, and I can guarantee you that and more, if you just sign this.”
Barbara opens the briefcase at her side and pulled out a contract written in red ink on paper that looked to be ancient, with torn edges and yellowish-brown stains. Thomas couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This woman just appears out of nowhere, offers to fulfill his greatest desires, and says she killed his boss by somehow causing his heart to fail.
He just stared at her for several moments of silence before finally saying “Just who are you, really? How can you do what you’re offering to do for me?” Barbara smiled that same, unnerving smile from before and said “Alright, you got me. Barbara is not my true name, it’s more of an alias. In fact, I have many names. Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, take your pick.” Thomas’ eyes practically popped out of his head when she told him this “So you’re really…” He started to say, before she cut him off. “The Devil, yes. I know, I know, hard to believe, but is it really? I’ve been in politics since the days of the Roman Empire. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of my clients? Cleopatra, Caligula, Nero, Vlad Tepes, just to name a few. Now, shall we get down to business?”
“Let's say that I do accept your offer, what do you want in return?” Said Thomas, quite sure he already knew the answer. “It’s all detailed right here, in this contract.” Thomas took the contract and tried to read it, but it was in some language he had never seen before. “Basically, it states that I shall guarantee your victory in the election for Senator, then afterwards a presidential election, and it return, I get exclusive rights to your soul upon your death.”
“So, I’ll win the election for the senate, and become president? You can do that?”
“Of course. How do you think Obama got elected twice?”
Thomas mentally weighed the choice presented to him. Here he was with the opportunity to be granted his greatest desire, but on the other hand, he would literally be selling his soul. Then he remembered why he wanted to be a politician in the first place, to actually do some good for his country. Unlike the majority of the fat cats in Washington, he would actually care about the people he governed. The time had come to put an end to the petty squabbles of the left and right. He would form his own party, a party for the people, a party for true patriots.
Even if it cost him his very soul to make it a reality, he was just one man, who was doing it for the good of an entire nation. In the end, he thought, it would be worth it. Taking out a pen form his pocket protector, he signed the contract, and handed it to Barbara, who put on a pair of spectacles and quickly looked it over. “Okay, everything looks to be in order, Mr. Walters. I’d wish you good luck in your future endeavors, but that would be redundant, now, wouldn’t it?” Chuckling to herself, Barbara placed the contract in her briefcase, closed it, and bid Thomas farewell before exiting the office.
Countless emotions swept over Thomas at once. Excitement, euphoria, and a tinge of fear to name a few. Here he was, guaranteed to win two major elections that would change his life and the course of American history, no matter what he did. Most in his position would probably abuse this situation, but he had more dignity than that. He may not have had very much to begin with, but he still had some. No, he would stay on the straight and narrow, and set an example for future leaders to hopefully follow in his footsteps.
Still, there was a small, nagging thought in the back of his mind. A little voice that chastised him for selling his immortal soul in exchange for advancing his position in life. He silenced the voice by mentally responding that the country had been going down the toilet for years because of the constant strife from the Republicans and Democrats endless bickering and corruption. If he had to literally sell his soul to make things right, then so be it. Even if it meant going to Hell in the end, he would go there proudly and nobly, knowing that he did what was right for the country and its people.
Over the next couple months, Thomas attended rallies and gave public speeches all across the state, getting people on his side for his election. He knew it was pointless, that he was going to win regardless, but even so, he wanted the people behind him for the future, when he was commander in chief. After all, a leader is only as good as the people who support him.
When the time came for the votes to be counted, it of course was no surprise to Thomas that he had beaten his opponent in a landslide. The next day, as he admired the view of the capital from the window of his new, much larger office, a voice from behind him said “So, enjoying your new job?” He didn’t even bother to turn around, because he knew who it was.
“As a matter of fact, I am enjoying it very much.” Thomas said “But there’s one little thing bothering me. Just how is it exactly, that you’re able to ensure I win these elections? How can you control the outcome?” Barbara smiled “As I said before, I’ve been in politics for a very long time, so let’s just say I have a lot of connections. I can’t tell you the exact details, that’s a trade secret, but I assure you, it’s nothing you need to concern yourself with.”
Thomas turned to face Barbara “Can you at least tell me one thing? Why are you really helping me? What would you have to gain from me becoming president? Don’t tell me you have your reasons, either. I want an actual answer.” Barbara shrugged “I suppose you could say that I see something in you. You could call it potential, if you like, enough to change the world, in fact.” Thomas wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or afraid that the devil thought he could change the world. But he figured that what he had planned would bring about a glorious new age for the country, so it must be a good thing. For a brief instant he wondered why the devil would want such a wonderful thing to happen, but he pushed the thought from his mind, and asked “So, you’re still going to keep to the second part of our deal, right?”
Barbara smiled again and nodded “Of course, Mr. Walters. I always give my clients exactly what they signed for. Speaking of which, I have others I should check on, so I’ll be seeing you again soon.” Barbara turned and left the office, while Thomas sat in his chair and thought what his next step should be in reforming the country.
He thought back to when he signed that deal with Barbara. How he thought he would form his own party for true patriots, one that the people could count on, rather than be exploited by it. Yes, that would be what he would do next. Thomas would spend the next three years leading up to his inevitable election building his own political party, which he fittingly named the Patriot Party. Much to his surprise, he actually gained support and followers to his cause much quicker than he thought.
He didn’t know for sure whether or not that was due to the deal with Barbara, or because most of the citizens were genuinely fed up with the system of bureaucracy and corruption in Washington. Probably a bit of both, he thought to himself. When the time had come to elect the next president, Thomas announced he would run for office as a third-party candidate. The two main parties laughed at him and thought he had lost it, since third parties had never won the presidential race in the history of the United States. But even so, Thomas persisted. He ignored their mockery and jeering, because no matter what promises they made to the people, whether they intended to keep them or not, he knew that he would emerge the victor in the end.
Sure enough, come Election Day, President Thomas Walters found himself celebrating with his supporters as it was announced that he had won the race for president by a landslide. He soon took the oath of office and was sitting in the Oval Office, having achieved his dream at last. But he knew his work was far from over, that this was only the beginning.
A few days after taking office, as he was looking over a bill from congress, a voice from nowhere said “So are you satisfied, Mr. President?” He looked up, knowing who it was, and lo and behold there stood Barbara. “To answer your question, yes, as a matter of fact I am.” He said, to which Barbara smiled “Then I guess I won’t be needing to stop in on you anymore. No more unexpected visits from me, seeing how our bargain has been fulfilled.”
“Wait!” Said Thomas “Before you go, I don’t have to worry about being assassinated or anything like that in office, right? That’s not why you helped me is it? So, you can collect my soul shortly after our contract is met?”
Barbara chuckled “Mr. Walters, give a little more credit than that. It wouldn’t be fair for me to collect on our agreement just as you achieve your lifelong goal. I may be the devil, but there are rules that even I must obey. No, you will not die while in office. I will come for you in due time, until then, have fun running the country.”
For the next year or so, things went rather smoothly, not just for President Thomas Walters, but America as a whole. Unemployment was at an all-time low, the economy was booming, and even the illegal immigration issue had been solved by Mexico being annexed into the United States. Of course, not everything was all milk and honey.
For one thing, there was still issues in the Middle East, plus in the process of his rise to power, Thomas had all but abolished both major parties in Washington, which of course made him more than a few enemies. On top of all that, shortly after annexing Mexico, a group of Mexican nationalists, calling themselves the “Mexican Freedom Federation” began attacks on government facilities in an attempt to “Liberate Mother Mexico”.
This in turn lead to a good chunk of the American people, many of whom were former democrats and liberals, to sympathize and even join the MFF, mostly out of hatred for Thomas Walters and how he’d robbed them of their power. In the second year of his first term, rumors of an alliance between the MFF and ISIS began to circulate, and President Walters, deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, initiated the Homeland Security Detainment Act, which required all citizens of Islamic or Mexican descent to be relocated to internment camps in western and central states of the country.
Needless to say, the bill was rather controversial, despite reports that those who were being detained were actually treated well and properly cared for. This in turn caused some members of the Patriot party to resign in protest, while others left the country all together. But that wasn’t even the worst of it.
The true disaster came when members of the former Democrat and Republican parties made an attempt on the president’s life. They had bribed the White House head chef to poison the president’s dinner. But the chef was no expert assassin, and hadn’t used enough to actually kill the president, but it did make him extremely sick.
Upon inspection and questioning the chef, who admitted he had been paid to commit such a traitorous act, this was the final straw. Nobody was really exactly sure why the events that followed happened in the first place. Some said that President Walters had gone mad with power after his failed assassination, while other said he was just plain mad, that his resulting sickness had done something to his brain.
Nevertheless, it marked the beginning of the end, not just for the presidency of Thomas Walters, but for civilization in general. After having the people responsible for his attempted poisoning executed for treason, Thomas had become rather paranoid of the people around him. All he wanted was to serve his country, and this was the thanks he got? It was clear to him now that he couldn’t trust anybody, especially those closest to him.
He became distant and uncaring to his former friends and family members. His wife in particular, who after getting into an argument with him and saying, “Your father would be ashamed of what you’ve become!” was told to get out and never come back. Shortly after this, there had been more reports of attacks by Islamic extremists and the MFF. Thomas decided that it was time to put an end to this problem once and for all. He had recently been informed by his secret service that the CIA had been developing a special kind of bio engineered virus that would only affect a selective group of hosts, depending on their ethnicity. It had been created as a last resort during the Iraq War, and in his mind right now, the situation called for a last resort solution.
The virus was first released into the water supply of the internment camps holding the suspected ISIS and MFF supporters. For the first few days, nobody showed any symptoms. Then one day, everyone being held in the camp was found dead in their cots. The virus, which had been dubbed Silent Death, attacked the brain, specifically the parts that controlled the hearts and lungs while the host sleeps, shutting them down and killing the infected person.
The test having been successful, Walters ordered Silent Death to be released all across the America and the Middle East. Since it would only effect those of Hispanic or Islamic ethnicity, everyone else would be fine, and both ISIS and the MFF would no longer be a problem.
But there was one thing, one fatal mistake Thomas Walters did not count on. Silent Death, or as it would go on to be known as, Walters Syndrome, began to spread to water supplies across the globe, as well as mutate to not only effect certain humans, but all humans in general. With Silent Death spreading rampant over the Earth, and wars erupting over control of clean water sources, it was only natural that sooner or later somebody would let the cat out of the bag, and reveal it was President Walters who had ordered it in the first place.
So now the President finds himself standing in front of the Oval Office window, watching the chaos in the streets of the capital as what supporters he has left battle the hordes of angry surviving citizens hungry for his blood. He knows they are coming, he knows what’s going to happen to him. They want him dead, but how will they do it?
Will they hang him from a tree on the White House lawn? Or will they put together a firing squad and shoot him like a dog? Perhaps they will simply tear him limb from limb with their own hands like a pack of wild animals. As he contemplates his eventual fate, a familiar voice speaks from behind him. “So, at last it all comes full circle.” He immediate turns to face her, a look of sheer rage on his face. “You!” He snarls “You tricked me! You told me I wouldn’t have to worry about being assassinated!” Barbara grinned that same, wicked grin from all those years ago “I told you the truth, Mr President. I said you would not die while in office, and you didn’t. Although, seeing as your country and soon the rest of the world has been reduced to anarchy, I’d say that part of our contract is now void.”
“But you said I would change the world!” Thomas said, and Barbara grinned even wider. “And you did exactly that, Mr. Walters. I just never said it would be for the better, did I? You wanted to become leader of the free world, and that’s exactly what you got. Bet you didn’t think you’d have a hand in bringing about the end of the world too, eh?”
With a cry of fury, Thomas rushed at Barbara in an attempt to strangle her, but before he could get a grasp on her throat, she vanished into thin air, and his fingers closed on nothing, as though he had been trying to grab smoke. Then came the sound dozens of fists pounding on the Oval Office door. The lynch mob had gotten inside the White House, and they were just outside, eager to get at him. Just before they broke inside, Thomas Walters heard the voice of Barbara seemingly from nowhere one last time. “Be seeing you soon, Mr. President.”