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Rated: 18+ · Prose · Sci-fi · #1925479
Part of a longer piece about a President who survives a nuclear war.

But sleep was only a habit, a part of the survival routine, like waking, or walking. Moving from room to room. Bending, crouching, looking in windows, looking out of windows. Killing the paper-thin man. The nerves did what they did almost despite him, as if the President had no mind any longer for his body to be overly concerned about. The body had become roach-like, responding only to stimuli, but rarely to thought.

And so sometimes he slept a troubled sleep that provided no rest, and often started out of some clumsy dream with the suspicion that he had been in a bed, a soft bed with black feathers and some sort of heavy, overhanging canopy, but had been dropped here during the night, to furrow at glass and leach after watery tracings. To lick puddles to quench his parched throat.

A suspicion -- even a sensation -- that did not hold with the rules, being outside them. A kind of intuitive terror of the real, that however horrible, it was in fact imagined, the bent thought-processes of some maniac in a rusty bin. And the President living a kind of false, fantastic life -- a life possessing not even the solidity of a life of the mind, but as thin as a cold wind passing over a bent page that had yet to be constructed.

After all, the world does not really end; the whole proposition, his stumblings, various injuries, all the piled dead and passed over bones, and even the man he had just killed, and even the cat that was following him, all were absurd, a product of fictional fantasies in the land of dollars and cents and rising and crashing stock markets and cars.

Muttering in his sleep (which was dangerous, he knew it was, but was helpless to prevent it), then slipping between dream and waking, falling out of the bed and back onto the concrete, or back between the falling-down walls, or worse, woken shivering and moaning by the insects.

Always the insects. Who knew that it would not be the meek that inherited after all, but the bug? He who would be the new king had wings. He sheltered in the President's ears. He nestled beneath the useless fruit that dangled between the President's legs. He dined the dirt in the daubed lines of the President's hands: those same that brought the pathetic paper-man, the thin-as-paper-man, low, that hurt the harmless cat's poor little orange heart.

How he blinked at the President now, from the other side of the twilight room, from the country of incomprehending pain and boundless, accusatory want.
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