Tuesday, 5 May 2015

FREE SHORT STORY: Vote Change!

A little flight of electoral whimsy by author Leo McBride...




“They say he's really quite something,” said Callie as she stood by the dresser, getting ready to go out.
John ruffled the sports pages of his paper, studiously disinterested. Callie kept talking but he tried to pay no attention. Then it grew quiet. Quiet was not always a good thing. He lowered the top of his paper.
“Are you listening to me?” Callie said as she looked at him with narrow eyes.
He grunted. “You were talking about that fella running for the council.”
“Bit higher than the council, love, do keep up,” she sighed. “Jenny said all her friends are raving about him. Vote Connor, Vote Change, that's his slogan.”
John harrumphed again. “Change. Hmph. They all promise that. Politicians. Then they get in and it's as you were. If he's so good, then why isn't he on the telly?”
Callie paused in her preparations. “That's a good point, I'm surprised he hasn't been.”
She shrugged. “Anyway,” she said. “Jenny's off down to one of his meetings tomorrow. She said she'd let me know what he was like.”
His interest exhausted, John put his nose back into the newspaper and let his wife finish getting ready for the night out without any more word of politics.

It was the next morning at work that the topic came back up again. He was flat on his back under a customer's car when suddenly he became aware of the customer standing a little too close by his feet. He slid out and looked up at the man.
“Is there something I can help you with?” he said, with the kind of edge to his tone that implied he wanted nothing to do with helping anyone. “Or can I just get back to figuring out what's wrong with your car?”
The man sniffed at that, but didn't back away.
“Actually,” he began, “I was wondering if I might ask you a question.”
The man already looked at an odd angle to John but he still tilted his head further.
“Sure,” said John, his voice thick with sarcasm. “Go right ahead, I've got all day. Nothing else to do at all.”
The man took no notice of the sarcasm. John reflected that sarcasm was the worst thing in the world when people didn't notice.
“I was wondering who you were going to vote for,” said the man, with a sniff.
John sighed and rolled back under the car.
“I doubt I will,” he said and resumed looking for the problem the customer had insisted was there.
“Might I ask why?” said the voice from down by his toes.
He only said a question, John mumbled to himself, not a whole bunch.
“Do you want me to fix this car or not?” he asked.
Again the man sniffed. “Only making conversation,” he said. “Sorry.”
Silence. John went back to work. The silence didn't last.
“But why won't you vote?”
The question lingered in the air. John sighed.
“Because they're all the bloody same, those politicians, that's why.”
It was a peculiar sound that the man made when he heard John's reply. He almost purred. I don't know what's wrong with this fella, thought John, but by damn he's getting charged full price and a bit extra for this.
“I couldn't agree with you more,” said the man. “Aren't you tired of them all? All those false promises? All those people who never deliver on what they say they will? Who don't realise that being the leader of the pack means actually caring about the pack?”
John considered this, grudgingly accepting that he could hardly be too disagreeable with someone who was agreeing with him.
“Sure I am,” said John. “Who wouldn't be?”
The man crouched down, leaned close.
“What you need to do is to vote for something, someone different,” he said. “It's time to vote for change!”

It was past dark when he got home that night. It had been a busy day, and one of the guys had been out sick, so John was glad to finally clock off. He hoped Callie might have dinner ready when he arrived. She wasn't home, but a takeaway sat on the kitchen counter along with a note saying “Gone with Jenny to Connor meeting. Enjoy food! Xx”.
A bit of peace and quiet might just do the trick, he thought, grabbing a fork and settling down to tuck into his meal. He flicked the television on in the background while he ate.
“...and we're here outside the meeting hall where everyone is buzzing,” said the voice of a TV reporter. “And the name on everyone's lips is Connor.”
John looked up, that was the meeting that Callie was at. He watched as he ate, in case he caught a glimpse of her. She'd love to hear if she'd been on TV.
“...now the candidate didn't want our cameras inside tonight,” the reporter was saying, “because he says it's about connecting with the people in person, not putting on a show for the cameras...”
John grunted. That was different. Normally, the candidates will rush to be in front of a camera to kiss babies and shake hands.
“...but this reporter was allowed into the meeting, and I can tell you, when Connor says change, he means change!”
The news anchor seemed to be a little taken aback at that and sought to interrupt the reporter, bring a little balance to proceedings, but the enthusiastic reporter plunged on.
“...in all my time covering political events, I've never seen someone so devoted to change! For anyone wanting to know more, there's another meeting tomorrow night, here at the same hall.”
The camera cut away then, back to an anchor who looked a little annoyed.
“Ah yes, well, we're back here in the studio now. Mr Connor is of course one of five candidates in the field. Now coming up, we have a spotlight on the fashions on the red carpet as we enter movie award season, and joining us..”
John thumbed the remote over to the sports channels. Callie was better off not being on the news if it was that rubbish, he thought.

It was midnight when Callie crawled into bed next to him and stretched out alongside him.
“Where have you been?” he mumbled into her hair as he pulled himself next to her.
“Out,” she said, her eyes sparkling in the dark. “After the meeting, Jenny and I were just so exhilarated. We had to just get out and feel the fresh air.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “That good, hm?” he said, still half asleep.
“It was amazing,” she said, half sitting up. “I've never felt anything like it. You have to come tomorrow night. You have to.”
He sighed. “Yeah, yeah, everyone seems to be saying that. There was a customer down at work today, couldn't shut up about it. Trying to get on with work with Billy out sick and he's just talking on and on and....”
“Billy was there tonight, I saw him,” said Callie.
That woke him up a bit more. “Off sick and he's out at that? I'll have his life, so I will!”
“Jenny said it was him who told her about it in the first place, told her she had to go along.”
“I don't care what he said, I've got better things to do than his work while he's running off playing politics. Didn't even know he cared about it!”
“Oh you'd care about it too if you heard,” she sighed. “I never thought that change could be so... exciting. Jenny and I, well I think we ran a little wild after that round town!”
She giggled when she said that.
“Wild, huh?” He smiled, tiredly. “You know I like that!”
She slapped his hand. “That's not what I mean!”
Then she turned to face him fully, looked him in the eyes.
“Promise me you'll come tomorrow night,” she said.
John stifled a yawn. “I don't know, baby, that's not really my thi...”
“But this would be different, really!”
“A lot of these politicians, they're just the same old, same old.”
She shook her head firmly. “No, Connor's different. Really, once you hear, you'll want to be part of it.”
“Be a part of it?” he said, skeptically. “Baby, all I want to do right now is sleep. Can we talk about it in the morning?”
Her eyes shone coldly for a moment and he could almost swear he saw her lip curl angrily. Then it was gone. She nuzzled his neck for a moment and then sat back up.
“You sleep, honey. I'm too wired. I'm going to go downstairs and look a few things up on the computer.”
He barely had the time to nod before she was gone.

Billy was off the next day as well, and the receptionist, May, too. Fortunately, the garage wasn't too busy or the day would have been hell. That didn't mean Billy wasn't going to catch some of that hell when he got back, John quietly promised.
Callie hadn't let up over breakfast. He must come to the meeting, she'd said. Honestly, he'd just tried to put her off. After the long day yesterday, he was just looking forward to getting to the weekend. But she'd fixed him with her gaze and asked her firmly to do it for her. And that was that. He had no way around that. So when he clocked off and got home, there she was, in front of the dresser brushing her hair and brooking no nonsense from him to give him a way out. He sighed, set down his bag and headed for the shower.

He dawdled in traffic a little more than Callie liked, but they got to the meeting hall 20 minutes or so before the meeting was due to start. Outside, the street was busy with people gathering. About half had the same excited look as Callie – maybe campaign workers or members of the party, thought John. The rest had the same look as John, that dragged-along-why-am-I-here look.
He was surprised to see the anchor from the previous night's news across the street with a TV van. The camera and lights were set up there, the lights almost blinding in the early evening dark.
The approach to the hall was filled with posters. Red, white and blue and all blazing out the words “Vote Connor, Vote Change!”
There was bunting too, little white flags around the edge of the hall, with the same words in red and blue.
Now that he thought about it, the decorations were new. There wasn't so much in sight in the TV broadcast last night. I guess the bigger crowds must be bringing money in with it, he thought. Figures. It's all about the money.
Callie let out a shriek and dashed over to where Jenny was waiting. The pair hugged and talked excitedly. John let their chatter carry the three of them along as they entered the hall, smiling and nodding whenever they included him in their conversation. This was beginning to give him a headache already.
Finally, they took their seats in the hall, where a backdrop of positive-sounding pop music played as people settled down.
John kept looking around. The news anchor was just coming in at the back, being led in by last night's reporter. No camera with them, just the reporter all excited-looking, the anchor half-checking his phone. The anchor had the same kind of skeptical look that John was trying to keep from his own face for Callie's sake.
Over on the other side of the hall, he noticed Billy, sitting with May, the receptionist, and her husband. He'd have words with them on the way out, John thought.
By his side, Callie and Jenny were cuddling up next to one another. He hadn't seen her this excited since... well, he couldn't think when. That concert last year, maybe. No, even more than that.
And then the music volume suddenly increased, and the people in the hall were surging to their feet as the curtain pulled back from the stage and the candidate came walking out, waving to everyone in the hall. Right then, thought John, let's see how much of a change you are.

He certainly had the voice for a politician, thought John. Or a preacher. As he welcomed everyone to the meeting, his voice was part musical, part roar.
“Come on in, everybody, come on, crowd in,” he said. “That's it. Come in, let's pull those doors closed, it's cold outside.”
The stewards at the back ushered the last few smokers and reluctant participants over the threshold.
“That's it, that's it,” said Connor. “Just like church, am I right? Don't leave a crack to let the devil through it. Am I right?”
There was some good-natured murmuring in response to that. Connor was pacing back and forth along the stage, microphone in hand. No standing behind the podium for him. Rather, he prowled the full length of the stage, making eye contact with people all along the front row.
“That's it, that's it,” Connor repeated. “Show me some hands, how many of you go to church?”
A good number of hands were raised, John's grudgingly among them. He glanced self-consciously to one side and saw Callie smiling back at him, her eyes bright and filled with energy.
“Good to see,” said Connor. “You know what that means? That means you all know something. Something important. Something vital!”
Back and forth, back and forth he went, John's eyes following him as he worked the stage and the audience with it.
“Do you know what it is that you know? Do you?”
A few half-hearted shouts of answers were called out but Connor shook his head to each.
“Let me tell you. It means you know what it means to be part of a community. To devote yourselves to one another. Am I right?”
A few shouts back to that one. A couple of hell yeahs, a few amens.
“And that's what I want to see happen,” he said. “Outside the church doors and outside all our doors. I want to see us all to be part of the same community. Let me ask you something else – how many of you know your neighbours? All your neighbours? Really know them. Come on, let me see those hands.”
A few hands went up, but not as many as before.
Connor surveyed the audience, nodding sternly as he did.
“Mm hmm, that's what I thought. Doesn't that feel wrong? Politicians talk and talk about making the world a better place, about people getting involved. How can we do that when we don't even know each other? How can we? Am I right?”
Voices of agreement spoke up. John was startled to hear Callie's among them. He looked at her again. The look on her face was so exhilarated, it was... it was almost fierce, he thought.
“Yup, I hear you. I hear you.”
Connor spoke softly now. He came to the centre of the stage, his voice low and quiet as he said: “Do you want things to be different?”
“Yes!” hissed Callie.
Louder now, Connor said: “Do you want things to be different?”
More voices around the room calling out yes. And louder still, the same question. And once more, as loud as can be until the room was roaring back yes to him. Even John found his mouth shaping the word.
“We live our lives in separation,” sang Connor's voice, “when if we truly want change, we must be together. When we have hard times, do we want to be alone or together?”
“Together,” shouted the voices in reply.
“When we want to improve our community, do we want to be alone or together?”
“Together!”
“That's right,” said Connor. “That's right. And if we're going to work together, we're going to need a change. Let me tell you something. All those of you who are here for the first time tonight, raise your hand.”
John raised his hand. Looking around, he saw about half of the people in the hall with their hands in the air. May's husband across the way, hand in air, smiling at his wife. The news anchor near the back, hand half-raised, not looking to draw attention.
“That's good, I see you out there. Good to see so many new faces. So many people wanting to be part of our community. Our family. So many people wanting to be part of the Change.”
Something about the way Connor said that last word sounded different this time. The extra emphasis.
“Now keep your hands up if you came here with a friend, a colleague, a family member who has been here before.”
John kept his hand in the air. So did most of the people with their arms raised.
“That's good, that's good,” said Connor. “You can put your hands down now. You see what that means? That means you're already part of our community, our family. Those people you came here with, they're already part of the Change. And they want you to be part of it too.”
John glanced across at Callie. She wasn't watching the stage now, she was watching John, eagerly.
“Are you ready?” shouted Connor.
The chorus answered yes. Yes. And yes.
Connor threw his hands in the air, as the audience howled its approval. “It's time,” he hollered. “Time. Become The Change!”
A few rows in front, someone tumbled over, John saw. But when he looked again, he saw that the person had been toppled by the person next to him. His eyes swung around the room. At first he thought that people were turning to hug those next to him but no, it seemed like something else, something more, something almost violent.
Towards the back, he saw the news anchor being pulled to the ground by his reporter, trying to push her off, a look of shock on his face. And there was something about that reporter, her figure seemed to be... changing? What the hell was going on?
He turned to grab Callie's hand, to pull her away, away from this place, this moment of madness. His hand found where she was, touched her hair. But no, no, not her hair. His eyes turned to her, as she shook away the last of her transformation. Gone was Callie, in her place, pushing towards him was the figure of a wolf. All around the room, people transformed into wolves as they pounced on their prey.
As teeth bit into him, the panic rising, he kept thinking “That's Callie's eyes! Her eyes!”
And then he felt the wetness. And before long, darkness.

When he awoke, he was many miles away from the hall, in the woods outside town. He was exhausted, but exhilarated, and Callie was curled by his side. He felt like he had run all night, and he had never felt more alive.

He sat up, rubbed the spot where the bite mark was swiftly fading. He couldn't wait for tonight. He'd call Donnie from the bar, get him to come to the meeting. He couldn't wait to tell him about it all. It was time. Time for Change.

A collection of short stories by Leo McBride, titled Quartet, is available for sale on Amazon. You can buy it here

Also available is Tales From The Tower, including two stories by Leo McBride. It is available on Amazon here. You can follow him on Twitter under the handle @AlteredInstinct. 

2 comments:

  1. And that's exactly why I don't attend political rallies...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry, you still have time to change...

      Delete