Hail to the Chief
Jerrod stepped into the fuselage with watchful reverence. There were spirits here. He could feel them watching from among the broken seats and tumbledown detritus he reasoned had once been in the compartments above them. Wan winter morning illuminated the wreckage through holes in the metal and he exhaled a cloud of vapor into the air, just to make sure there was no breeze inside. It filled the space in front of him, then dissipated.
Good, he thought. Anything that moves in here is a spirit and I’ll handle them as they come. If they come.
“I’m not here to disturb your place, spirits,” he called out. There was no echo but there was a whisper, like wind through dead leaves. “I’ve come for one thing. It is a thing you do not need. It is a thing of the past that will aid me today and into the many tomorrows. May I search?”
After a moment, answers came back from dozens of different places. The spirits of those who had died in the crash spoke — some low and quiet, some more loudly and insistently. Jerrod listened carefully for the shrill voices of the broken — spirits who had lost their humanity altogether, who had become Ravers. They would be the most immediate dangers. They could rend flesh from bone and tear the spirit right out of a living man. They created the Roamers, the ones who walked without souls. They wouldn’t stay empty long up here, though. This was Wendigo territory. The hunger demons would fill them soon enough and…
Jerrod shook himself back to the here and how. Careful, he reminded himself. Watch out. The voices were closer now, surrounding him. Some were confused — they slept as the flying machine came apart and died without waking. Some were sad — most of them, in fact. They had messages for their loved ones, who were also long-dead. Some were angry and those got most of Jerrod’s attention. He listened as best he could and gave back words of what little comfort he could provide. He was no priest, but for these restless dead, he was the closest they would get. They went away in ones and twos, back to their places in the large cabin or beyond, into the cabin that had been when the plane was whole and wondrous.
Except one. Jerrod could feel his presence, imposing and full of authority. The voice that came to him was not deep nor booming, but he felt its power nonetheless.
“I see you, young man,” it said. You don’t have to worry. We’re all okay here, or as okay as we can be.”
Jerrod nodded. “Thank you, sir. I am sorry I must disturb you, but I’ve come for something that was entrusted to you. It’s important.”
“I’m…sorry? What did you say?”
“The football. You came for a suitcase, made of something that looks like leather but isn’t, that is heavier than it looks like it should be. We called it “the football” back when I was alive — we were alive.”
“Football.” Jerrod tried the word on for size and smiled a little bit. “Yes. I think they will like knowing what you called it, President Sir.”
The air in front of Jerrod shimmered for a bit, dust motes dancing a little in the cold air. He felt amusement from the spirit before it spoke again. “President Sir? Well, that’s certainly respectful, young man, but not necessary. Call me Tom. And you can have it.”
“I…what, S-Tom?” This is not what he had expected. He had expected a long negotiation or some sort of exchange of information or a riddle contest or, failing all those, a meeting of brute force eldritch strength. The spirit that has been the President of the United States had simply given him what he wanted. That made him curious. Before he could ask a question, though, the spirit filled the wreckage with a low, pleasant chuckle.
“I said you should call me Tom. That’s my name. Or it was when names were useful, which they don’t seem to be now that I’m dead. And you can have The Football. I certainly don’t need it here, and I don’t imagine you’ll be able to use it. But…let me ask you. How long has it been since…”
“Almost five hundred years,” Jerrod filled in the blank. He help himself still and quiet. This was the moment. Spirits didn’t always mark time the way mortals did. Out here, away from everyone and everything except the occasional scared animal and the howling hunger demon, a week might feel like a year.
He felt the deep sigh more than he heard it. Tom seemed to move closer to Jarrod and spoke again, his voice low and quiet. “Do me one favor, if you don’t mind.”
Jerrod kept the tremble from his voice. “I will try.”
“That’s about all I can ask in my condition, right? Or, maybe not. I can feel that you are wary. You’re expecting a fight now. Well, you won’tget one here, Jarrod of the Western Shores. At least not from me. What’s happened, happened. We can’t change that. But I think I might be able to do some good right here. Am I right about that?”
“Yes, Tom. You can. I think you figured some of that out already. I think you are more than you let on when I first stepped in here. How else would you know my name?”
He heard the shrug in the reply. “Yes, well. Best not to give away too much too soon. I figured it had been a good, long while since our Crash. I’ve kept busy here with everyone here and the occasional…hunger demon? Yes, that’s what they are exactly.”
Jerrod relaxed now, and not just a little. There was no threat here. In fact, there was quite the opposite. This man had once weilded authority but it seemed he was very nearly An Authority in himself and wouldn’t that make this crash site an interesting place to visit?
“Anyhow, enough of my rambling. What you want is about twenty paces out from the biggest opening. The snow covered it up, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. The favor I ask is that you be careful with it. There is more in there than valuable history or a claim to authority. Be wiser than those who came before you, okay? Good luck Jerrod”
“Yes, Tom. Sir. We will do our best. And thank you. I’ll come back, if you allow it.
He felt the spirit smile. “Please do. You might like the changes I think I can pull off around here. Bring a friend or two also, would you? I’d love more company.”
Jerrod smiled back at the spirit he could not quite see but which had become very real to him. “I will. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mister President, Sir.” He saluted, turned, and jogged back out into the winter morning, headed for home.
This is less a story than a little sketch of a meeting in a world I think would be interesting to explore. I’ve been fascinated with stories that push post-apocalypse settings and fantasy settings together for a long time. The interest probably goes back to my childhood and the peerless Thundarr the Barbarian. Later on, I discovered the original Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which was more fantasy than post-apoc but there was enough of the second to make me wonder what more there could be. Then…that’s kind of it. I didn’t find anything else that really stoked the fires of my interest until recently.
My friend Moe Lane is telling wonderful stories in his “Fermi Resolution” world and it’s probably the best “mashup” of the two genres I’ve read in years, if not a couple decades. I love what he’s doing and he’s set himself up for a LOT of stories, which makes me very happy and has gotten me thinking more about working in that mashup zone myself.
I’ve kicked around ideas here and there but very few of them have ever come out in story form. This is a rare appearance. There might be more. Who knows?
Oh, and subscribe to my newsletter, would you? It’s free and not annoying and I manage some pretty good words there most weeks.
(Photo Credit: mollyroselee on Pixabay)