Free Write Friday #8: The Illusion of Power

The revolution will not be televised, the revolution will be live. And therein lies your predicament, because you're the one that has to tell the mob that just stormed the capital that everything they fought for was a lie.

Power, the butler reflected, was an illusion and The President had been a master of it. He was waiting patiently in the President's office for the mob to arrive. This wasn't going to go well, he knew, but someone had to tell them the truth and the President had decided that the butler was the perfect man to do it. He was in his late 60s, his hair silver, his face wrinkled with age. His suit was immaculate, as it always was and he had been a faithful servant to the President and his regime for nearly three decades. So, with a wave of a hand, the old man had said, "You tell them. You tell them the truth."

And then, of course, the bastard got into his helicopter- the plain, unadorned, green one- the real one and not the shiny white one he used for photo ops and flew away.

The butler went over to the sideboard and, picking up a glass, poured himself a measure of brandy and took a sip. The President hadn't been a bad boss. He was always perfectly polite and pleasant- he went out of his way to treat the servants with utmost courtesy, it's just that he felt the need to keep up the illusion of power as part of the prestige of the office. And at first, that sort of made sense. The people responded to it. He would be in every parade, resplendent in his military uniform, smiling and waving, handing out candy to the children, shaking hands with anyone and everyone he met. He would go to the most obscure towns in the most backward province in the country and dazzle them all with a speech and a smile and would leave to rapturous crowds cheering his name.

He was a genius at this stuff. When there was an earthquake in the capital, he opened the palace grounds to house the homeless. When there was a famine in the south, he loaded up trucks full of food and water and spent weeks distributing aid to the people. He was beloved. But the economy couldn't get better- in fact, it got worse. The legislature became more and more corrupt. The President got older and fell out of touch with the people and what they wanted. His son was killed in the brief border war with their neighbors. His daughter ran off to the mountains and joined the rebels. His wife died. The streets had become emptier and emptier. The palace had become more and more deserted. The last few years had been sad to witness.

But now, the end was near. The butler strode over to the double windows that lead out to the balcony that overlooked the Avenue of The Motherland that ran the from the very outskirts of the capitol right up to the Presidential Palace itself. The mob was getting closer, but they were taking their sweet time about. Someone was directing them somewhat. They were chanting something indistinct and with a sigh the butler went back over to the President's desk and sat down in his opulent chair and kept sipping his brandy.

The crowd noise grew closer and closer and then he heard them hammering at the metal gates that lead to the palace. He heard them crack and a deafening cheer told him that they had breached the gates. Minutes later, he could hear them starting to smash and destroy things down below and there were the sound of footsteps on the stairs and then the doors to the President's office burst open with a thunderous crash and they were finally here.

They stared at him in puzzlement.

"Well, it's about time too," he said. "I've been waiting."

"Who are you old man?" The young man at the head of the mob looked angry and was carrying what looked to be a cudgel of some kind with nails hammered into it.

"I'm the butler."

"The butler?"

"Yes, the butler," he replied.

"Where's the President?"

"I'm afraid you missed him," the butler replied. "He flew away."

"You're lying!" Someone behind the young man with the cudgel shouted. "Yeah! Bring us the traitor!" Someone else added.

"I assure you I have no reason to lie," the butler said. "He wanted someone to remain behind and tell you all the truth."

"The truth is that he's been hoarding the wealth of the Motherland while his people starve!" The young man with the cudgel said. "We're going to ransack this place until we find it and then give it back to those that he stole it from!"

"That's where you're rather amusingly wrong," the butler said.

"Wrong?"

"There is no money," the butler said.

"Liar! Where did he hide it?" More and more of the mob came into the room, crowding to the sides of the President's desk and forming a half-circle around it.

The butler sighed. "It's an illusion." He pointed to the books that lined the bookshelves at one end of the room. "Those books? They're fake." He pointed to the windows that overlooked the grounds. "Those windows? Not at all bulletproof." He pointed to the floor. "Even the marble is fake."

The mob greeted this with silence.

"But, the cars, the parades," the young man with the cudgel said. "He drove around in a Rolls Royce while the rest of us were starving."

"My dear boy, that was a Lincoln town car that was over fifteen years old. A little paint, some new decals and it looked a great deal like a Rolls Royce, I'll grant you that."

"You're lying."

"Liar!"

"He's a running dog bootlicker of the regime!"

"Have you found anything?" The butler said. "Anything at all? If he's been hoarding the wealth of the nation, it has to be somewhere, right?"

Silence again. The young man with the cudgel looked around. "Does anyone have a gun?"

"I do!" Someone called.

"Shoot the window," he said.

There was the sharp report of a gun and the window behind the butler shattered. There was a stunned silence.

"The President believed in maintaining the illusion of power. He didn't want the prestige of the office to suffer. He had about as much money as you all do by the end," the butler said.

"But he fled! He left! He transferred the money overseas!"

The butler chuckled. "Wouldn't you leave?"

"Why didn't you?" The young man with the cudgel said with a curious look on his face.

The butler drained the last of the brandy. "Because he wanted someone to know the truth. Not that I convinced you."

There was another long moment of silence, before someone shouted, "Seize him! We'll get the truth out of him one way or the other!"

With a sigh, the butler stood and mob rushed forward, seized him and dragged him away.

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