“Run through it one more time for me, Tom,” the President said, squinting slightly against the sun. The sky was clear, not even the contrail of a passing jet detracting from the pale blue firmament. This isn’t right, he thought, frowning as he watched a lone bird—a hawk by the look of it—soar quietly overhead. I’d always imagined this sort of thing to be done in the dead of night; certainly not in broad daylight…and certainly not with worldwide media coverage.
The reporters were held at bay perhaps a hundred yards away, lined up behind the cemetery’s high, wrought iron fence. The President knew they were there, but didn’t bother to look; he knew their cameras were likely focused on him, trying to catch a glimpse through the broad-shouldered throng of Secret Service agents. He knew that even from this distance, the cameras would see every detail of his face—his furrowed brow, the hint of tears welling up in the corners of his eyes, the downturned corners of his mouth—and broadcast it all to millions, perhaps billions, of television sets across the globe.
“Yes, sir,” Tom said. The advisor adjusted his tie—a nervous tic he hadn’t managed to overcome despite nearly four years in the public eye—and gestured to the coffin that had been exhumed several hours ago. “When you’re ready, we’ll open the casket. Secret Service will do one final security sweep, then all personnel will retreat to the ten yard perimeter. Once the perimeter is established, you will light the torch at each vertice of the pentagram…”
The President looked at the coffin as Tom ran through the procedure for the fifth time in as many days. He nodded slowly, only half-listening to his advisor. The polished wood gleamed brightly; either the concrete vault had protected the coffin exceptionally well, or someone had spent a considerable amount of time cleaning it after the exhumation. Surely the corpse within would not have remained as untouched by the ravages of time as the vessel in which it had been interred.
The President waited until Tom finished, then took a deep breath. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, shrugging off his suit jacket and handing it to an aide—Camryn, he reminded himself for no particular reason. He loosened his tie and watched as the sexton—the only person on the cemetery grounds who wasn’t part of the White House staff—opened the heavy coffin lid.
There was a brief, heavy moment as the sexton looked into the casket, his face ash-white, before the Secret Service descended upon the open coffin, visually inspecting the vessel and the remains it contained while two German Shepherds sniffed for explosives and hazardous chemicals.
This isn’t right, the President thought again, this is a desecration. He wondered if his predecessor, the first United States President to grant the ultimate pardon before leaving office, had felt the same way. No, he didn’t expect she had. He didn’t expect she had felt much of anything at all.
In seconds, he was alone. The Secret Service and the K-9 unit had retreated to the perimeter, along with Tom and Camryn and the rest of the President’s staff. He took another deep breath and hefted his old Bic lighter—a present from his father, of all people; his father who could not abide smokers. He ran a thumb over the worn emblem on front of the stainless steel, an American eagle whose color had been rubbed away years ago, and thought that this, too, was wrong. Surely he was not going to begin the sacred rite by flipping his Bic.
But he did just that, and the flame was as strong as it had ever been, barely guttering in the afternoon breeze. The President lit the first torch, nearly burning his knuckles as whatever concoction soaked the tip came ablaze with a soft whump. He crossed from the northern point of the star to the southwest, then to the northeast, then northwest and finally southeast, deliberately not looking at the coffin that lay in the center of the pentagram.
All five torches lit, the President snapped the lid of his lighter shut and dropped it into his right pocket, the weight a familiar reassurance. He took another deep breath and stepped to the side of the coffin, finally looking down at the body within. Time, as he suspected had not been kind. The face was drawn and desiccated, lips pulled back to form a grotesque grin around teeth that seemed too large for the sunken features. He was suddenly very glad of the arcane rules that governed this macabre proceeding: to be eligible for raising, the individual must have died while the President raising him or her held office. Four years had not been gentle to the corpse; he shuddered to think of how cruel forty would have been.
The President lifted a trembling hand and rested it on the wrinkled forehead. The skin was dry beneath his palm and felt so much unlike human flesh that he had to fight back the urge to vomit. My approval rating is bad enough, he thought hysterically, I can’t imagine how low it would plunge if I puked on national television in the course of performing my last official act as President. He almost looked up at the cameras he knew were there, at the members of his staff he knew were watching, but instead he blinked away fresh tears and took another deep breath.
I don’t want to do this. Oh, God, I do not want to do this.
But he had taken an oath, and whether he wanted to perform the ritual or not didn’t matter; only that he believed the ritual would work. And he believed. Oh, yes, he believed. On his inauguration day he had watched his outgoing predecessor perform the ritual herself. Had watched a dead man rise from a coffin much like this one. Oh, yes, he believed.
His voice cracked as he spoke. “By the power vested in me by the citizens of the United States of America, I release you from death. I welcome you to a new life.”
Again the President nearly vomited as warmth blossomed in the forehead beneath his hand. His breath caught in his chest and he staggered back, his fingers cramping and twisting, his palm burning with a cold fire that spread up his arm. The President fell to his knees, unable to breathe, staring as manicured fingers gripped the edge of the coffin and the figure within rose.
Tom didn’t look at the body on the ground as he stepped forward. “Madam President,” he said, smiling and extending his right hand. “Welcome back.”
The preceding story was inspired by Mur Lafferty‘s new project, The News From Poughkeepsie, wherein she plans to post a story idea each day for a year. Today’s writing prompt asks what would happen if the President had the power to raise people from the dead at the end of his term.
This is pretty much a first draft, though I did do some on-the-fly editing.