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The First Page

You lay flat on the dark green, pine-needled floor of the forest, your chin on your folded arms, and high overhead you can just barely hear the wind blow in the tops of the pine trees. The dark green boughs hang low, like skeletal hands, grasping at each other. And you. The darkness is omnipresent and inescapable. You can barely see five feet in front of you, yet you look up and can just see the light of stars millions of miles away poking through the branches. And so your journey begins. You think on the stories. They have to be real. If they're real, you remind yourself, everything changes. Instead of being subject to the system, you can become the system. You get up and continue deeper into the impenetrable forest of southern Maryland. Time passes. You continue your journey. More time passes. You lose all track of any semblance of time. You might have been out here for months. Years even. Or maybe but a moment has passed from the time you disappeared into the folds of the dense foliage to now. It is impossible to tell. One fateful evening after hiking to the point of feverish exhaustion, like in a dream, the thick rolling fog that drapes like a heavy curtain over the trees, as if commanded, parts, and a clearing finally reveals itself to you. The crackling fire and the symphony of crickets are the only noises that dare to break the silence. You force your feet forward. You can just make out a man warming himself by the small fire. His flickering shadow stretches far behind him, back into the thorny wilderness surrounding the campsite. He turns his head to look at you then beckons, with thin bony hands, for you to join him. Your throat tightening, you do. As you sit down next to him you notice his skin looks old and his eyes hold an eldritch insanity behind them. Could he be the one? His mouth opens in a jagged smile and you notice more than a few teeth missing. The dirt and grime on his face is only rivaled by the dirt and grime on his raggedy cloak draped over his hunched back. His voice is like an artistically tasteless cross between Yoda and an evil car salesman, but with a far more reverberating, ethereal even, undertone. A bubbling cauldron hangs just above the grasping flames. The curved arm of the wooden ladle hangs over the lid, the lone escapee of the foul substance inside. The man's eyes lock onto yours and bore into your soul. You can hide nothing from him. In turn, you know he will hide nothing from you. Thus speaks the man:

"Yes, my little schneeble, yes. It is I, former President George W. Bush, the arbiter of all political power in these lands. I have been expecting you for some time now. Yes, Yes." His eyes shine with a feverish intensity in the reflection of the fire. Clearly retirement has been less than kind to him. "I can only assume you've heard the whispers around D.C."

Your eyes widen in excitement and despite the miles of wilderness around you, your voice becomes shushed. This is what you came for. The hushed tales shared around the low fires in District taverns, the askance rumors, the odd implication with a subtle mannerism, the secret gatherings in Michelle Obama's garage, they all pointed to something. A dangerous something. It seems as though that dangerous something may be sitting before you now. The words rush to your tongue.

"In ancient Greek mythology there was a man named Achilles. He was dipped in the primordial River Styx of the underworld by his mother, Thetis. When he emerged, he was invulnerable to the weapons of warfare. The swords, spears, and arrows of his enemies merely shattered like glass on stone against him." Your voice continues shakily.

"Legend has it that the depths of the Potomac river, too, are hiding something. People come out of these woods, but they're not quite 'people' anymore. They're something different. They're... bureaucrats." Your skin crawls. Your face is gaunt and your voice is barely a whisper at this point. "In some exclusive circles of the capital, there are those who deign to speak of a ritual. They have said that if one could be blessed by a former president three times removed and dipped into the river, allegations of sexual misconduct, incompetence, racism, drug abuse, collusion with foreign countries, embezzlement, and dementia glance off of one's reputation and conscience with Achillean impunity. No matter what you do, no matter how low congressional approval ratings plummet, you will have well over a ninety five percent chance of reelection. Legend has it that one could even quite literally be caught on video smoking crack in a hotel room, spend six months in jail and easily win reelection as Mayor of the nation's capital in hilarious fashion. The only hypothetical alibi needed would be 'bitch set me up!'."

"Marion Barry was quite the fucking legend." George W. Bush muses nostalgically as he takes off his hood, his eyes still shining in the reflection of the fire. "In the domain of politics, rumors have more power than reality itself. The whispers are true my little schneeble. A politician is not born like other human beings. As a matter of fact, they aren't born at all. They are created, refined, perfected, in a crucible of egotism. I can help you on your journey, but beware, the the transformation into a complete cunt is painful, agonizing even." A flash of pain streaks across his face. "But the power you receive is," George pauses and closes his eyes "...unmatched."

"Show me. Show me everything," your voice says before you can stop yourself.

Bush looks at you and a smile begins to dance on the pale ballroom floor of his lips. "Yes, my little schneeble, in time. But first, you must understand something. The ancient art of modern politics is a two-sided coin, yin as well as Andrew Yang. There is light, but there is also darkness, terrible and powerful darkness. The Light Side is the road hardly travelled. To choose the Light Side is to work hard and never sacrifice your ideals for the sake of power. The Dark Side is far more popular. To choose the Dark Side is to clasp the true essence of kleptocracy in your hand and vigorously french kiss it. It is a temptation few have been able to resist. Which side do you embrace?"