In my own defense, I had virtually no experience waking from a coma and staring into the face of a Presidential candidate.
So I said, “What the hell?”
I actually think I said it several times. Maybe it was because I was getting no answer. “What the hell?”
“Stop saying that and answer my question!” The face said.
I reached back and felt the back of my head, which had a nasty lump, and which I could tell was crusted over with dried blood. “What question?”
The man sighed impatiently. “I asked you, what would it take for you to get me out of here?” He looked around him in every direction. “And if you can leave the others here, then all the better.”
I sat up and surveyed our surroundings. Lots of sand, for sure—a few trees in the distance. An ocean was behind me.
“We crashed,” I said.
“Doesn’t answer my question.”
“Wait, I’m starting to remember. There were five of you on the plane. Which one are you again?”
He was irritated. “Senator Blake Bennington, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee!”
The senator got out a comb and ran it through his hair, I guess thinking his somewhat disheveled appearance, rather than the gash on my head, was why I hadn’t recognized him.
I made an attempt to get to my feet, but a rush of vertigo promptly vetoed my decision.
“Now, my question please,” said Senator Bennington. “I am not a man who is used to waiting.”
I looked around once again at the environs. “Okay, three reasons why I can’t get you out of here. One is I have no idea where ‘here’ is. As I recall, we were on a flight from D.C. to Charleston, South Carolina so that the five of you who are running for President could view the hurricane damage, and I may be wrong, but this doesn’t look like either place to me. Two, you see that large piece of twisted metal about fifty yards off shore?”
The senator nodded.
“I believe that is what is left of our plane. And three, I was not your pilot, I was your flight attendant.”
At that point I saw six other people coming our way, and I struggled to my feet. I recognized the four other candidates. The remaining two had press badges. One was a man whose paunch and balding head made him appear older than his more youthful gate and the other a beautiful young woman with green, though vacant, eyes and short-cropped blonde hair.
Apparently Senator Bennington saw the press badges at the same time I did. “Some of the press corps survived!” Senator Bennington gave his hair another once-over with his comb.
“Only two of ’em,” said Senator Johnny Sanders from Alabama, “and Ah got so many little gems in mah brain that mah words alone is keepin’ ’em busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kickin’ contest!”
“Speaking for myself and for all of the teeming masses I represent as Representative from the great state of New York,” said James Franklin, wedging his words in before Senator Bennington could speak. “I am thrilled that the press is here with us today. Marooned in a land that is not of our own choosing, we stand as symbols of the black people of America, who came to this country shackled and shaken, defeated, yet never robbed of their hope—”
“Hot damn!” injected the white-bearded Sanders. “This ain’t yer fricken’ Black Caucus, Franklin! An’ these reporta’s ain’t even got microphones. Hell’s bells, brotha’, you think the sun comes up jes to hear you crow? We gotta stop this bickerin’ amongst auselves and unite agaynst the real enemy heah!”
“That’s right!” said several of the others.
“An’ we all know who thet enemy is!” continued Senator Sanders.
“That’s right!” said the male reporter, who I discovered was named Warren. “Uh … who again?”
“The Arab terrorists, thet’s who,” said Sanders. “They hate Americans. And what betta way to get at us then to bring down a plane full of Presidential contendas? Well, mostly me and Senator Bennington, but you otha’ folk are kinda in it, too—“
“Of course, there was the storm we were in,” I said, not sure if a flight attendant should be inserting himself into a conversation between famous politicians, but doing it anyway. “The plane was getting pushed around pretty good, and some of those lightning bolts—“
“Bermuda Triangle!” said Warren.
“I don’t think we were anywhere near—“
“I heard that it moves around now!” Warren continued. “This psychic I go to told me it is being moved by the spirit world. You never know where it will show up next!”
“Hell’s bells!” said Sanders. “No sech thang! Git yer head outta y’er fat, ugly ass!”
“Stop! Stop!” I said. “None of this is going to get us off the island—or whatever this place is.”
“It’s an island,” said the female reporter, while she worked on her nails. “I saw it just before blacking out on the way down.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I know what an island is. I watch all the Survivor episodes, and I even watched Lost when it was on, except my boyfriend had to explain it to me, because I was like totally lost myself, especially when…Oh, my God! Maybe this is the same island, reappeared in time!”
“Maybe it’s Haiti,” said Sandra Palmer. “I hear it’s one God-awful place.”
“Haiti, yeah…” said Carl Fuller. “That would be just like some terrorist to distract us from the good ole USA to some parasitic country on the other side of the world.“
“IT’S NOT HAITI!” I finally screamed. “Haiti is part of an island that is hundreds of miles to the south of here, and that island has millions of people on it. Do you see any other people?”
No one moved, as each of them seemed to be weighing my rationality, wondering no doubt whether I might in fact be the terrorist.
“… And do I hear any votes for Hawaii? That’s where Lost was filmed. Anyone?”
The female reporter raised her hand. “I do! Name is Rita … I mean, if you’re crediting a source or anything.”
“NO! Not Hawaii. Wrong ocean.”
“Yeah, well,” said Rita. “Never mind the credit then.”
“Honestly, haven’t any of you ever looked at a map?” I was way past being polite here.
“I use a GPS.”
“A GPS?” I said. “And what does your GPS say about where we are, and where we need to go?”
She pulled a little electronic box from the pocket of her jacket, and water drained from it onto my shoes.
“Oops,” she said.
“We have five of our national leaders,” I said, “and two persons undoubtedly trained enough in world events to be reporters—don’t any of you have an idea of what we should do here?”
“Take a poll,” said Warren.
“Take a poll?”
“Sure. We do it all the time. Whenever we aren’t sure what is true and what is false, we take a poll.”
“Oh, yeah, totally!” said Rita.
“I always do well in the polls,” said Senator Bennington, while waving and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“But we must have a representative sample,” said Senator Sandra Palmer. “There are eight of us here, but only two women. Therefore the two women should get three votes each.”
James Franklin then insisted on three votes as the only African-American, and Johnny Sanders and Carl Fuller negotiated three votes each as the only white evangelical Christians. Then all looked over at me.
Senator Sanders spoke. “Say somethin’ in Spanish, Pablo.”
“I don’t speak Spanish, and my name isn’t Pablo.”
“Uh-huh,” said Sanders again. “Gotta Green Card er a Birth Certificate, Pablo?”
“Again, not Pablo! My name is Alex Campos, and I am Puerto Rican. I have lived in DC all of my life.”
“So … no Green Card.”
It was decided I couldn’t vote.
The group decided on a series of polls. In the first one, the seven persons with votes decided 16-1 that the plane had been brought down by a terrorist. The lone dissenting vote was Senator Bennington who had decided that I had brought down the plane and that we had come down in Puerto Rico. I told them that Puerto Rico had over three million people, and it was probably over a thousand miles to the south, but it didn’t matter because they were already starting the next poll.
The second poll concerned the prospects of our rescue, and the group voted unanimously that we were not in trouble, since the country would certainly not abandon the search for five Presidential candidates. Remember, however, I had no vote.
They then took a poll on what we should actually be doing. None of the candidates wanted to announce their vote first and preferred instead to hear one of the others, before declaring what they would be against.
That’s when I knew I just had to get out of there. I saw what looked like a path into the woods, and I ran in that direction. The trees, which seemed to grow taller even as I ran past them, so overarched the path that a twisted tunnel formed and seemed to envelope me as I ran. Whereas the beach on which we had crashed seemed totally devoid of life, this path led past colorful birds, enormous green frogs, strange looking turtles and white rabbits. Then, finally exhausted, I fell to the ground and slept in a field of flowers beside a large bed of mushrooms.
* * *
For the second time in as many days I awoke to the face of a Presidential candidate. The conservative, though disheveled, business suit the woman had worn the day before had been replaced by a flowing white robe.
“Who-o-o-o are YOU?” Senator Palmer asked while lifting her nose into the air.
“I dare say,” said I, “I don’t rightly know. I knew who I was when I awoke yesterday, but I must have changed several times since then.”
“Ah! Then you must be Alice!”
“Alex, actually, now that I think of it.”
“Whatever.” She leaned over and whispered. “The others think I should cut off your cute little Hispanic head …” She looked around to see if anyone else was around. “But if you use your un-vote for me as President, I will promise to commute your sentence!”
I examined my immediate environment for the first time that morning. Indeed, it was important that I did, for while the flowers and mushrooms were still there, they had somehow changed, growing larger and taking on a rather cartoonish character.
Just then Rita came running down the path in what appeared to be a Playboy Bunny costume with a white fluffy tail.
“Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my!” she said. “I just have this awful feeling that I’m late for something!”
“Rita,” I said, “that’s hardly an appropriate outfit for a TV news reporter, don’t you think?”
“Well, it’s not hardly anything at all,” she said. “In fact, it’s quite soft.”
“I see,” I said, even though I didn’t. “But should a reporter be wearing such a thing?”
“They seemed to like it when I auditioned in it,” the bunny replied indignantly. “Why, when I recited the news in this, they attended to my every word, while they hardly attended at all to the old man in the blue suit.”
“But will the men—and women—who watch feel comfortable?”
“I shall take a poll!” she declared quite triumphantly. “Then we shall know whether it is hardly or softly inappropriate, whether it is right or wrong, and whether they like my tail. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. Wait! I believe I did! I did think of it earlier, and that is truly what I am late for!”
She ran off, wiggling her bunny tail.
“Tsk, tsk!” said the senator in her queenly splendor. “Such scandal! Were I to wear such a thing on the campaign trail, tongues would wag, and heads would have to roll. Or would eyes roll and tails wag? I’m never quite sure. But it would be a scandal nonetheless, and what a pity it is because I could truly pull it off, don’t you think?”
As she made this last statement, she turned her tail towards me, and looked down at it. I glanced at her behind, winked politely, then stood up and ran off in the opposite direction from Rita.
I soon came to a fork in the path. Ahead of me, up on a tree branch I saw a huge smile which I forthwith came to understand was Senator Bennington, even though he appeared more as a large cat.
“Excuse me, please, Senator,” I said with as much civility as I could manage at the time, “Can you tell me which way I ought to go from here?”
As hard as it might be to imagine, his smile got even larger so that it rather resembled a long neon canoe. Then with his left paw he pointed to the right, and with his right paw he pointed to the left.
“Does it truly make no difference?” I said.
To this he shrugged and said, “I find that those who go right, end up left, and those who go left, end up right, so I find it purr-fectly fine to stay in my tree and go nowhere at all!”
“Well, going nowhere makes no sense unless where you already are is where you want to be.” I said, and I ran off to the right.
I shortly came upon Senators Sanders and Fuller, sitting at a table. Or at least I assumed it was those two candidates, for Sanders had taken to wearing a funny top hat, like the one a person uses as a game piece in Monopoly, a tuxedo with tails and a bow tie, while Fuller was sporting what appeared to be a cross-dresser’s version of Rita’s Playboy Bunny costume. Walter the reporter stood to the side, furiously trying to write something down on a sopping wet writing tablet, which appeared to tear at every word.
The Senators were having tea. As difficult as the last two days had been, tea sounded quite pleasant to me and so I sat down.
“No room! No room!” both of them said.
“There’s plenty of room.”
“But you are not invited!” said the bunny-esque Carl Fuller.
“Nonsense! There are only three of you, with a table set for 20, and the reporter is not even sitting down!”
“And that makes plenty of room for us at our tea party, as it is,” said Senator Monopoly-Hat, strangely without his Southern accent.
“Who else did you invite?”
“What kind of party can it be with no one else invited?”
“Why, a TEA party, of course!” said Senator Sanders again, and then he leaned over toward his colleague. “They never listen, you know, these Mexicans.”
“You didn’t invite Representative James Franklin?”
“Heavens, no! Scary words! ‘Justice.’ ‘Sharing.’ It would disturb our tea!”
“You didn’t invite Senator Bennington?”
“Liberal! I heard he once said he didn’t like a war!”
“Does it matter?”
“But surely Senator Palmer—“
“Liberal!” said the Sena-rabbit. “The most deceptive one of all! You know,” he added in a confidential tone, “if you translate her name to Arabic, assign the letters numbers, add them all together, divide by the square root of the number of lobbyists in Washington DC, then multiply by Rush Limbaugh’s weight–“
“A vital part of the mathematics of the equation!” said the voice under the hat.
“Indeed,” added the rabbit. Then he just looked at me.
“We’re waiting for the solution!” said the man with the ten-gallon stovepipe.
The Sena-rabbit leaned in his colleague’s direction. “I fear they don’t teach advanced math in Mexico. Pity.”
I had no idea what number they were looking for, but ventured a guess nonetheless. “666?”
“Heavens, no!” said the Sena-rabbit. Then he looked over at his colleague and they said the answer together.
“The phone number of Planned Parenthood!”
“That’s the reason you didn’t invite her?” I asked.
“Well, that and she was strangely hesitant to remove your head,” said the Sena-rabbit.
The formerly Southern but now British-sounding senator smiled with satisfaction. “It is a rather good thing we didn’t invite you. If you can’t follow the mathematics of such a simple equation, how would you ever follow the math of our tea budget?”
I looked over at the reporter.
“Walter, have you been listening to what these two have been saying?”
“Yes, certainly. I’m writing as fast as I can.”
“And have you found a word of truth in any of it?”
“What is truth?”
“Do you not find it at all mad?”
“Then why don’t you just say so?”
Walter stopped writing and seemed to think for a moment. He slowly began to smile. “Oh, this is a nice feeling. What do you suppose they call this?”
“Thinking!” the reporter said. “Why, it’s not at all unpleasant! I wonder if our other reporters have tried this?”
“Liberal bias!” the tea partiers said in concert.
“But,” I said, “a free society needs to think!”
“Un-Amer-r-r-i-can!” the Sena-rabbit said.
Just then Rita came hopping down the trail once again, and she looked quite distraught. “Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my!” she said. “Whatever shall I do?”
“What is the matter?” said Walter.
“I cannot find enough people to poll, and so I do not know what to make of anything, and now all of the questions are simply jumbled up in my mind!”
“Have you tried thinking?” asked Walter. “I dare say, I just tried it myself, and I found it wonderfully stimulating!”
“Thinking?” she said, while screwing up her face. “My mother used to try to get me to think, which is of course why I have been mostly against it.” She looked at Walter with suspicion. “Did my mother send you?”
“Since I am a little unsure of how I got here, I don’t really know, but I don’t believe so,” Walter now spoke a little more shyly. “Perhaps we could learn to think…together.”
“Together? But I am hot, and you are ugly. Is that even possible?”
“I’m not sure,” said Walter. “But perhaps that should be the first thing we should think about!” Then he offered her his arm.
“Splendid!” she cried. “Oh, this is so exciting to be trying things I have never tried before!” She took his arm, and they walked down the path from which she had come.
“No reporters!” said the Sena-rabbit. “Oh my, oh my. Whatever shall we do? Whatever shall we say? How shall we have a tea party?”
“Now I am really MAD!” added Senator Monopoly-Hat.
“Yes, and since I am tired of going amidst mad people,” I said, “I shall take my leave.”
“But if you go we will be alone now,” said the Sena-rabbit. “Won’t you stay?”
“Can I share in your tea?”
“Heavens, no!” said Senator Monopoly-Hat. “That would be socialism! But you may SERVE us tea if you like.” Then he held out his empty cup.
I turned and ran. This would have been a much more effective tactic if I had actually known where I was running, which I didn’t. And just as I was beginning to think I was getting somewhere, the path I chose dead-ended at the top of a steep cliff. There I saw a fox handing out cocktail umbrellas to a line of rabbits, who would give the fox a coin, then take a little umbrella and jump off the cliff. With each jump there would be an awful scream, followed a couple of seconds later by a thud. Then the fox would say, “Next!”
“Whatever are you doing?” I asked.
The fox gave a sly smile. “Just selling a little protection, of course!”
“But a cocktail umbrella won’t give any protection at all against such a fall, even for a rabbit.”
The fox’s smile turned to a frown. “I did say a little protection didn’t I? You aren’t from the government, are you? Around here we hate government interference in our freedoms! And we care about the freedom of these poor creatures! Such poor, scrumptious—er, defenseless!—rabbits.” The fox pulled little hairs from his nose until tears formed at the corners of his eyes. “You must see how I care for them, do you not? They had no protection at all before I came along.”
“But it doesn’t help. They are all dying, and for no purpose.”
The fox gave another sly smile. “W-e-l-l, not exactly for no purpose. I have friends at the bottom of the cliff who even now are making sure their death serves a tasty … er … noble purpose.”
I turned toward the rabbits. “Run away, quickly! This fox means to do you harm!”
The fox now paced up and down in front of all the rabbits. “You have come here on your own accord, but this foreigner wants to take away your right to choose. Let him know he cannot do that! They can take away our lives, but they can never take away our FREEDOM!”
At this all of the rabbits yelled “FREEDOM!” and followed the fox as he ran toward the edge of the cliff—except the fox stopped at the edge, and all the rabbits kept on going. There were so many screams and thuds that I couldn’t help putting my hands over my ears. The fox looked over the cliff and then turned toward me.
“So good of you to come along,” he said, after I had removed my hands from my ears. “That was much more efficient!”
With my heart now greatly saddened, I turned back down the path and once again began to run. I ran so hard that it was quite some time before I even began to ask myself what direction I was seeking to run, and when I did, I found once again a great multiplicity of choices before me, with nothing to commend one over the other. I tried several at random, but all to no avail. And then, totally exhausted I fell to the ground.
* * *
I knew what I would find before I even opened my eyes, but as I had few other choices as to what to do with eyes closed from sleep, I opened them anyway. Sure enough, another Presidential contender was standing there looking down on me.
What was indeed strange was that this time it was the Honorable James Franklin, and at first he said nothing. In fact, when he finally did speak, what he said was that he would say nothing.
“You must speak, Representative Franklin!” I said. “It is your gift. You must speak against the madness.”
“Nothing, nothing, nothing—“ said the Honorable James Franklin. “And furthermore, nothing, nothing, and without qualification, nothing!”
“It does not help to say, ‘nothing’”, I said.
“It is what I told you I would say, and I say what I mean.”
“Better that you say something,” I replied, “and mean what you say.”
“Alright then. Something, something, something!”
I sighed in frustration. “Representative Franklin, what has happened to your words? You always used to have such beautiful words.”
“I did, didn’t I? But I’m afraid they have stolen them from me. Or perhaps I just lost them, I don’t really know, but I can’t find them anywhere. And I have looked! Under the mushroom caps, atop the trees, under my own tongue, down der in ma tonsil—“ He had shoved his hand down his throat to point to where he was talking about, and now couldn’t speak clearly, so he stopped.
I stood up and put my hand on his shoulder. “You can learn to speak out again, you know. Why the reporters are even learning to think!”
A tear came to his eye. “Really?”
“Most certainly!” I said.
He withdrew to the sanctuary of his mind, but still a whisper came forth. “Then perhaps we can all believe impossible things.”
Just then the earth began to quake. As I looked around I could see that there was now one path, a narrow one, which seemed to lead away from the land of madness. I yelled, “Let’s go!” and I ran with all my strength. I was not sure if James Franklin—or anyone else—followed, but I knew I must run, regardless of who followed. Still, it was extremely difficult, with the land still quaking, and the path seeming to swirl around me. I remember seeing the light up ahead. That much I do remember, plus one more thing—my head hurtling toward a large tree.
* * *
When I came to, there was no Presidential contender staring down at me, but also no cartoonish flowers, no tea parties and no rabbits jumping off cliffs. There was only a small band of US Naval officers standing around me.
“He seems to be regaining consciousness!” said one of them.
“Mister Campos! Mister Campos!” said another. “Can you tell us what happened, Mister Campos?”
I shook my head, which caused a pain to shoot down past my neck all the way down my back. I put both hands gently on both temples, but could not keep my head from throbbing. Still there was so much I just had to know.
“This island—have you looked…?”
“Yes, strange place!” said the first officer who had spoken. “I thought I had had some bad mushrooms until I saw the ones that are here, that is! You didn’t get into any of them did you?”
I sat up and thought about his question. A couple of blows to the head and bad mushrooms besides. Was that it? I tried to look around, thinking perhaps I would see something to confirm the reality of what I had experienced. But the beach had no answers. No Cheshire Cat grins; no demented men in big hats and bunny costumes. Still, as I looked down the path from which I had emerged, I knew.
“James Franklin … did he—“
“We found him,” said the more talkative officer. “He seems okay, though somewhat dazed and incoherent. As yet we haven’t found the other candidates. We are airlifting Representative Franklin, along with two equally disoriented reporters, to a hospital. I believe they should all be fine.”
I lay back down and shut my eyes. “Yes,” I whispered to myself. “But will WE? Will we?”