Election day, Tuesday 8 November 2016. Warm and sticky, despite the time of year; in Louisiana, at least. The sense of a gathering storm. Henry Carter sat outside the building that housed the ballot boxes and reflected on what was taking place within. He would put his X on the paper later that day; shift ended at 4pm. It was only 11.23 now and lunchtime wouldn’t come until 1. His stomach had been growling since around 10. What he could say so far was not much: a few people had commented on the events of the day, or other related matters, and he’d done his best to respond sympathetically. A fairly even division, for now, as far as he could tell. Something was bothering him, though. Not something he could exactly put his finger on, but the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. Seemed to Henry there were less people coming out than going in.
* * *
It was the darndest thing. Danny was ready, decided, sure of himself – that’s what he did. He took a decision and stuck to it. Ever since he was a boy, when his daddy taught him it was right and good to think things through, make a choice and stand by it. This time was no different. Even through all the scandals and bad press, he’d stuck by his man. Not that it’d been easy; as a churchgoer and a loving father and husband, Danny had had problems with the “locker room talk”, but his man was his man. He trusted he’d had his reasons at the time for saying those things, and the reasons Danny had taken his decision in the first place held true: he wanted change. He wanted someone who’d stand up for the little guy. He wanted someone who would stick it to the city slickers. He’d lived enough years watching the decline of his once-prosperous town; strong families going from stability and comfort to breadlines and broken homes, and no-one giving a darn until now. He had to hope that when his man said he’d do something for depression in the Midwest, he meant it. By our good Lord, they needed that hope. All of which made it harder to reason this unshakeable feeling telling him he absolutely definitely should NOT vote for Trump this day.
* * *
Inside Trump Tower, the atmosphere was buoyant with anticipation, but calm. Donald had taken his usual breakfast with his usual appetite, dispatched the morning’s tray of papers, magazines and urgent correspondence, and was now enjoying a coffee while watching the news on silent. Melania watched him, watching. Something was bothering her.
“Your suit, it’s clean?”
“Yes, of course. Maria brought it up from the cleaners first thing this morning, why?”
A note of peeve crept into Donald’s voice. Melania had this way of avoiding an issue; a sort of cold clamming up that he always blamed on her eastern European roots, although if he was honest, he knew full well that there must be women of all nationalities who employed the same trick. He knew better than to push it; whatever it was sounded insignificant anyway. If there were a wardrobe malfunction threatening, she would tell him in good time.
Donald turned back to the television and Melania squinted again at his shoulders. It had looked like dirt, or dust, at first, but now she was not sure. There was a slight sparkle to it, a glimmer, and whatever it was, sitting there on her husband’s expensively clothed shoulders, it had taken on more or less the colour of the carpet in front of him. čudno, she thought. Strange.
* * *
The kitchen was a confusion of bustling women and children.
“They should have been back an hour ago!” fussed Augusta. “What in the world can be keeping them?”
“Maybe Huey and Joe sidetracked the gang into the Crocodile Shoe?” suggested Laura-Anne.
“Not with Betty-Sue and Carly along. They all went together to vote, I don’t see the girls would have let ’em get away with any sort of lollygagging, excitement or no.”
“Gramma, Gramma!” said Marylou, five years old and the youngest of the cousins.
“What is it, honey child?”
“I wanna go find Daddy!”
“Well, honey, that might be exactly what we gone have to do. Lemme think a minute here.”
“You stay here, Augusta. I’ll go check up at the polling station, and cast my vote at the same time. You can go do yours when we’re all back safe and sound.”
“Well alrighty. You take care now, Laura, honey. Don’t need no more missing persons around here. Sarah, Delilah, Johnny, I’m gonna need your cooperation while everyone is out. Don’t want no monkey business now, you hear?”
* * *
Ten to one, and Tyrone wandered over to the security desk to relieve his coworker.
“How’re you doing, Henry?”
“Oh, good. Ready to eat!”
“I bet! Well, that’s what I’m here to facilitate.”
“Thanks brother. Listen…”
Henry hesitated, but the openness in Ty’s face encouraged him on.
“You notice anything… funny about the process in there?”
Ty’s look darkened as he spoke.
“You know, I didn’t want to say anything, but… yes.”
“Seems… like less people are coming out than going in?”
“Well, yeah! Now how do you figure that? It’s busy in there, hard to keep track of every individual behind the screens, but it really seems like a portion of the folk are simply… not coming out.”
* * *
Back at Trump Tower, Melania was getting antsy. Donald was striding about being Donald. She tried to creep up behind him and dust his shoulders off, but he was getting irritable now, and avoiding her hand.
“Darling…” she started.
“Oh for chrissakes, Melania! Enough already! I’m going out.”
She scowled at him and let him go, reasoning to herself, “His problem if he wants to go out with suit in bad condition.” Her eyes widened, though, as he opened the door: via a strange transparency in his back, the bright light of the hall shone right through him. Her lips parted and a small gasp came out as the front door slammed shut.
* * *
Laura-Anne surveyed Main Street with a growing sense of dread. Not only were Huey, Joe, Carly and Betty-Sue nowhere to be seen, neither were any of the other familiar faces she expected to see on voting day. The street should have been packed. They’d been talking about it for so long now, over drinks at the Crocodile, pot-luck dinners, coffees at Mae’s, water stands at work. The few people she saw were strangers, and they all had a peculiar, dazed look to them. Laura carried on up to the polling place. A security guard stood outside the door with the same glazed eyes as the strangers in the street.
“Hey. Are you ok?”
“Why, good afternoon, yes ma’am, thank you.”
“Um… Listen, you didn’t see two couples, about my age, the guys both with dark hair, the ladies one blonde, one redhead? Um, the taller guy would be wearing a Bulldogs cap?”
“Well, no; you know, I’m real sorry, I’m usually pretty good with faces but today, I don’t know, I just can’t seem to fix on them…”
“Well, thanks for your help anyway. Have a nice day.”
“You too, ma’am!”
Already forgetting why she had come, Laura turned and went home, not feeling herself, and no vote cast.
* * *
Sally Rogers sat at her desk and tried to clear her mind. This was most disconcerting. She was, she knew, what is politely termed an “older lady”, but her mind was as sharp as a tack; past kids, past the menopause, retired, and with all the health a late sixty-something could hope for. No, she had most definitely not been familiar with this level of brain-fog for several years. The queues had diminished and the seemingly inexhaustible supply of people waiting for her to answer their questions had finally eased. She swivelled around in her chair to see what was going on behind her, behind the screens, trying to work out who was voting for the opposition. Not many, that’s for sure; California’s liberalism had been one of the major attractions when she moved here, half a lifetime ago. Every so often, something flickered at the edge of her vision. A shimmer, so light and so brief she could have imagined it. And the most curious thought came to her: was there someone there when the shimmer happened? Someone who was then NOT there afterwards? It seemed to make her head hurt when she tried to fix on it. One thing she could say for sure, she was glad she’d gotten her vote in early this morning, before starting her shift. Hillary, of course.
* * *
Donald sat at the long boardroom table trying to get his eyes to stop swimming. What was wrong with everyone today? He’d gotten into the office and they’d started going nuts, babbling about problems with his suit, trying to brush off his jacket, something about glitter… He couldn’t see anything wrong, and they were giving him a headache, so he retreated to the cool peace of the boardroom. The glossy surfaces and clean smell always calmed him down. He got out his phone to check on the latest forecasts, maybe a bit of last minute Twitter campaigning. Consistency is key; be relentless, he thought to himself, just before falling into a dead faint over the shining wood.
* * *
Danny had been dragging his heels all day but it was time, he couldn’t NOT vote. He took a deep breath and went into the station, collected the papers and chose a vacant booth. The place was still pretty busy with the after-work crowd. Danny sighed, looking at the boxes. “NOT Trump, NOT Trump!” beat his heart. He quickly scratched an X in the box marked Clinton. As he did so, he heard a soft hiss from either side of him. A sensation of smoke, or vapour; there and then not. Just like the two people he was sure he’d noticed standing in the booths right next to his, not a moment ago. He left the polling station in a hurry, with the inexplicable and indelible sensation that he had had a lucky escape.
* * *
Ty’s shift had ended and he passed Henry on the way out to the parking lot.
“Well, that’s it then; I’ve marked the spot with an X, gonna get on my way home!”
“Not before time. Weather must be changing; I got this headache building under my temples… ”
“Yeah, same here! Irritating lil’ bastard, huh?”
“Sure is. Hey… you been able to pin down anything… concrete… regarding what we were talking about earlier?”
“Can’t say I have… My head’s been feeling so heavy, I had to use most of my attention on not blacking out. Weirdest thing.”
“I hear ya. Rest up well, see you tomorrow.”
Henry was sure, now, that something was going on, but the more he tried to focus on it, the worse the ache became.
* * *
The station phone had been going crazy. Missing persons reports coming in left, right and centre. At first Haley had tried to console them, saying it’s a big day, lots of folk on the streets, ipromptu drinks, nothing to worry about; this is adults we’re talking about here. But now it was dark, the polls would be closing imminently and people were just not getting home; not answering their phones and nowhere to be found. Haley thought it was probably time to rally a team and work on a strategy. But where to start? It felt like she’d taken over a hundred calls in just the last half hour.
* * *
“Don? DONALD!” Kellyanne had found her boss not only slumped over the table but looking strangely… faded. She shook him roughly by the shoulders, her panic overriding her reluctance to invade his personal space. Donald stirred and looked at her, confusion in his eyes. He seemed to be shimmering all over, somehow insubstantial. Kellyanne thought she must be seeing things, an illusion provoked by the emotions of the day, but as she continued to hold his bemused gaze, patches of his torso began to disappear completely. Donald held a trembling hand in front of his face and they both watched as it faded to transparency. Kellyanne became aware of a gentle hissing sound which accompanied the wisps of vapour rising from Donald’s shoulders; or rather, where his shoulders once were.
His last look was one of abject terror. With one final sibilant pssssshht!, the Republican nominee for president had vanished from the room.
* * *
Across America, general confusion has given way to a sense of acceptance. The people lurch homeward, zombie-like. Those looking for lost loved ones have given up; the rest complain of aches and pains so intense and dulling that they cannot think. All of them just want to get home and go to sleep for a long time. Most are too tired to comment on the weirdness of the day; it hurts to try. Across small towns and big cities, living room lights fade early and a chill wind whistles through the empty streets. They sleep.
* * *
In the holding chamber, the light is dim, the air is cool and the mood is expectant.
The murmuring is resonant; no one is speaking at volume but they are so numerous that even their soft whispers build to a roar, like storm-tide waves. They comment that they don’t know how they got here, how long they have been here. It feels like an eternity and yet they can’t remember a thing. They are so numerous.
A voice soothes out of the walls, then.
“We want to reassure you that you will not be harmed. You will wake up in the morning back in your beds, with your families and pets and home comforts. But we had to tell you. We had to let you know. Something terrible was on the cards. You have to understand. If your votes had won the majority, a great darkness would descend on your planet. The values that man represents are the worst of your race. Small, cruel, without respect for his fellows. So we set up the Trump Card trick. With each vote cast in his favour, he fades a little more, and the voter is brought to us for debriefing. Now here you all are.
“Some of you have chosen him in desperation – we understand. Some of you voted this way for the right reasons, believing him when he said he would fight your corner and make things better. But he was lying. The truth will be made clear in the next days, if you do not believe us yet. But we hope you will understand. We hope you will find the better part of yourselves, and act from that place. The candidate would have continued to sow hatred, resentment and vitriol. Please, try to understand: this will destroy you, your family, your race and your planet. Dividing and conquering the people serves only the ruler. Try to understand. Instead, help your neighbour, and your neighbour will help you. Sow love, respect and collaboration, and that is what you will reap. We wish you well.”
The rustling of the multitude had stopped completely when the soft, clear voice began to speak, and they remained mute, stunned into silence, when it stopped. The light increased, building in intensity until it was blinding, and obliterated all.
* * *
In the small chamber, Donald paced.
“Where am I? WHERE AM I?! SOMEBODY?!”
Angry at first, then scared, then resigned. He felt as if his emotions had been suddenly short-circuited, or removed altogether. He slumped down in the corner.
From the other side of the mirror glass, one said to the other:
“What are you going to do with him?”
A deep, gravel-voiced reply rumbled, “We don’t know yet.”
* * *
Melania clacked along the pavement in stilettos, impeccably turned out as always. She had been to meet Kellyanne, who had given an account of events in the boardroom. They agreed it would be better not to spread the details around; just file a missing persons report and have done with it. She was vaguely surprised to note that she did not miss Donald. She was also suprised and faintly amused by the thought that came to her next: Perhaps I will start campaign for women’s rights. Once the thought had entered, it immediately took root. She quickly discarded an initial insecurity about being an unlikely candidate for the job as she remembered all the small, barbed acts she had suffered at the hands of her husband. Yes, she thought. I am perfect candidate.
* * *
Danny switched on the morning news.
“Well, the results are in: Hillary Rodham Clinton has won in a landslide victory, defying all previous expectations. Outsider candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson received 5.4 and 4.1% of the vote, respectively. In an astonishing turn of events, zero votes have been registered for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Voter turnout has been unusually low, but despite thorough and ongoing investigations, no evidence of foul play has been observed.
“In other news, widespread alarm caused by missing persons yesterday has proven unfounded, with all persons this morning being reported present and correct in their homes. The one exception is Donald Trump himself, who appears to have gone to ground. No-one thus far has been able to contact him for comment on the results and those close to the family confirm that, at the time of going to broadcast, he had not returned to his New York home. We’ll continue to bring you updates on these stories as the day unfolds.”
He clicked off, and looked over the breakfast table at his own family. Once again, he shivered with the sensation that they had all had a lucky escape.
* * *