By Rodica Bretin
(Special collaboration for Máquina Combinatoria from Romania)
“You can do anything, be anyone!”
Russell Morgan spoke about the American Dream. And five hundred Canadians were listening, vibrating, stomping the ground at every word. Canadians? In the hall were nothing but immigrants, most of them young people, who didn’t know which roads to follow.
Russell Morgan was willing to choose for them.
He had appeared in Dartmouth a few years ago, spreading his charisma like cheap cologne. A traveling salesman, he wasn’t looking to sell vacuum cleaners, but illusions. His speeches only convinced, fascinated, and enthralled the disowned by fate: and the naïve − categories of people who were incomparably narrower in Nova Scotia than in the neighbors to the south. Save Morgan didn’t consider himself just a politician, but a crusader, sent by Uncle Sam to free the Canadians from the slavery of normality, of decency. To have a safe pension, a solid education, and free healthcare? Aberrations! To save one decade for a house? Frustrating and tedious. Not to change your TV set or car every year? Why wouldn’t you, if you can have it all in one credit? The Banks had the winning lottery ticket for everyone – and everyone could get everything they dreamed of. How?
“Hold out your hand and take it!”
In the hall, a thousand claw-hands burst forward to grab, to catch something, anyway they could. Once caught in the credit game, they became indebted for life, submissive, fearful, blindly following their boss, mayor, president, an amorphous mass to maneuver for politicians, for those who held true power, some like Russell Morgan.
I had a chill, even though inside there was a stifling heat. But no, I was in Canada, not Hitler’s Germany. I heard a sermon of slogans and platitudes, some downright hilarious: “You are what you choose to be” – oh, really? “Follow your instinct” – why not your talent, vocation? “In life, there is no second place. Only winners and losers” – here, I could not contradict him.
Morgan was throwing around lies and empty phrases like golden balls, and everyone rushed forward, trying to catch them. “Any lie becomes truth if repeated often enough,” Goebbels would have said.
The people stood up, cheered, offering Morgan a standing ovation. Everywhere I looked I saw transfigured faces, a legion of converted fanatics, to whom a miracle had crumbled their convictions, radically changing their view of the world and life. Russell Morgan had hypnotized them and now he was sending them to fall in line and apply all that they have learned. And, maybe tomorrow or in a few years, they would give him their humble offering: The Vote.
Was I the last sane person left in that room? Or was I the crazy one? Even Tania looked just about ready to march off to the Promised Land. Was Russia to blame, where she had grown in fear and slavery? Or the man with a million-dollar smile, who was coming towards us?
Quin. Denton Quin.
Tania introduced us and I stretched out my hand – a short gesture, which didn’t invite to any effusions. In turn, Morgan’s gladiator only held my fingers for as long as necessary, with an unequivocal message – he didn’t like me either.
After that, I met his gaze, cold and calculating. And behind his steely grey eyes, there was nothing. Sensations, emotions, memories? In their place was an empty chasm, a blank space, the ultimate abyssal void, completely unfathomable. What animated this Quin, other than the muscles Tania admired? Should I hazard to look further, deeper?
Even then, an impatient tremor overtook the hall: the moment of communion with the crowd had come, and Quin returned to his role as Cerberus before his master was surrounded, overwhelmed, and assaulted. Without his Dobermans in suits and black sunglasses, the audience would have bickered over so much as a handshake, an autograph, a motivational word, or just a touch. Each of them wanted to express their enthusiastic admiration and devotion towards the Great Man.
The minority of misfits in Dartmouth vowed to offer their support for Russell Morgan – they chanted in front of the photographers and cameramen, who stood ready to immortalize that moment for eternity.
Save one of the reporters appeared to have doubts.
“Will you run against Madame McCluskey?”
Gloria McCluskey was mayor before Dartmouth, Halifax and Bedford became a single metropolis, swallowed up in turn by the Regional Municipality. Madame McCluskey was adept of the Canadian way of life, while Morgan not so much.
A fold deepened between his eyebrows, contrasting with his wide electoral grin. Tania pulled me closer, and following her I noticed: someone was swimming against the current. Interesting. The watchdogs were waiting for a word to be set loose, and I could almost hear the furious growl coming from Quin.
The uncomfortable journalist was counting out the blessings of the system Made in the USA:
“Unemployment, bankruptcy, families evacuated from their homes confiscated by the banks, criminality record high, drugs, lack of culture, health insurance only for those with money, private pensions vanishing into nothingness at the stock exchange. What happened to the American Dream? Hasn’t it become a reality?”
Silence. The reporters turned off their microphones, the crowd appeared to be on the verge of having a stroke. That man had spoken truths that no one wanted, but everyone had heard them. And now? Would they disperse ashamed, finally awake to the truth? Would they turn their backs on the charlatan who sold them only blatant lies?
Everyone shouted, even though few knew the meaning of the word. But it was still the ultimate insult, a definitive sentence in America, and they sensed a certain hidden signification, abject and abominable. Only, instead of bending under the pressure of the accusation, the journalist smiled. But those in the conference room weren’t amused, nor did they have the patience to find out more. What followed was an uproar like a thunderstorm, a rush of bodies – and, for a moment, I was certain they were about to lynch him.
But Morgan was watching. He made a discreet sign and his men formed a wall around the blasphemer, stoically withstanding the threats, furious voices, and even some fists. Just as the unaware journalist opened his mouth again, the men in black picked him up by the arms and shoulders, escorting him out with an efficiency that proved their lengthy training.
The melee had separated me from Tania, and I had found myself pulled, shoved, and pushed by the tidal vortex that agitated the crowd, thankfully towards one of the doors.
Outside there was silence, empty sidewalks. Out of too much zeal, “the rescuers” threw the awkward reporter in the middle of the street. The stunned man picked himself up, shaking off the dust and the memory of the tragi-comic scene in which he had played the role of undesirable hero.
Neither he nor I saw the automobile speeding towards us before it was too late. A Cadillac sped meteorically straight to the journalist, who froze like a stag caught in the headlights. The driver did not intend to brake and I was still asking myself why, when suddenly, a steel gate closed in front of the rational part of my mind.
Everything happened within seconds – dilated unnaturally like in a slow-motion sequence from some movie: the steering wheel turning all by itself towards the right, the jerky rumble of the motor, the whistling of the tire tread across the asphalt. The driver’s astonishment turned to horror and he had open his mouth − to scream, to curse his fate?
The Cadillac slammed into a wall, ricocheted, and tumbled over. The car became a huge whirligig, turning once, twice − before coming to a sudden halt. Its wheels were still spinning empty, but there was nothing left but a pile of contorted metal, bubbling with blood and gasoline.
From the hall, curious people charged forward, eager to gaze at the event. This gave me my first rational thought. Had anyone seen what I had done? But save for the still shocked newsman and the driver who will never talk to anyone ever again, the street had been deserted.
Or had it been? On the other side of the sidewalk, Denton Quin – since when has he been standing there? − wasn’t looking at the deformed wreck, or the crowd pushing forward to feed their hunger for the sensational.
He was watching me.
Rodica Bretin was born and raised in Brasov, a town in Transilvania, not far from Dracula Castle. She began writing her debut novel at an early age, after obsessing over books about the mysteries of the world. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through the dark forests around his hometown. Currently, she lives with her cat Lorena in an old house next to a medieval fortress. She wrote her first book, „Holographic Effect“, in 1985. Since then, she is the author of over thirty novels and volumes of stories, all published in her country, on some favorite topics: time travel, paranormal, medieval times, the Viking Age, fantasy, and science-fiction. Rodica Bretin is a member of the Romanian Writers Union (USR) and published short stories in Cirsova Magazine, Aphelion, Gracious Light (SUA), Teoria Omicron, Maquina Combinatoria (Ecuador), Antares (France), Egophobia, Libris, Utopiqa, The time, Galaxy 42, Helion, Famost, Hyperion (Romania).
Photograph from: https://bit.ly/3jFriy4