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Flash Fiction Friday: The Leader

by: John Wayne Comunale
Jonathan Switz was loved and renowned by his people as much if not more than he was loathed and reviled by them. Such is the plight of every leader, but Switz remained unaffected. He couldn’t feel the love, hate, or indifference of his people because he lacked the capability. Something had turned that part of him off.

He thought he remembered what love and hate felt like, but couldn’t be sure if he was only convincing himself the memory existed. Switz had no idea how long he’d been in The Isolation, but he knew he was a leader and not much past that.

The who and the where escaped him, and while he felt constantly on the cusp of remembering, he never did. Most days he received a message he was to make a speech or declaration of some kind. The message wasn’t written or dictated but came in the form of a buzzing tingle at the base of his brain. A spotlight would appear. Jonathan would stand in it and begin to recite words as they scrolled through his mind like a psychic teleprompter.

Two holographic symbols appeared in front of him at least four or five times a day. The symbols, a red triangle and a yellow circle, represented a different difficult decision for Jonathan. To make this decision he simply had to reach out and touch one of the holograms. That was that. The shapes would disappear and return later with another decision for the great leader to make.

Switz never knew what the decisions were or how they affected his people. All he knew was the shapes would hover before him until he reached out and touched one.

Jonathan tried to glean some context as to what may be going on from the speeches he made, but they were mostly non-committal political rhetoric or vague, sweeping answers easily applicable to a myriad of problems. The words flew through his head so fast he didn’t have time to comprehend what he rattled off.

He made the shapes wait once. He wanted to see if after a certain amount of time the options changed or more information was given, but no such luck. The red triangle and yellow circle simply hung in the air and followed Switz around glowing dully, silently pressuring him to make a choice until he did.

He wondered if the amount of time he waited before choosing had any bearing on the outcome or if everything stopped frozen in time until Jonathan Switz touched a glowing shape.

When the shapes appeared again, Switz decided he just wasn’t going to touch them forever. Maybe if he waited long enough the outside world would be thrown off balance and free him from The Isolation, allow him to feel something again.

Jonathan vowed to himself if and when he ever got out he would step down as leader immediately. Even if through some twist of fate the blind choices he’d made created the perfect utopian existence and he was haled far and wide, he would still walk away.

Days and days went by, or what Switz was able to perceive as days, but the shapes remained present with no change.

Jonathan stared vacantly at the shapes floating silently in front of him and was struck with an idea. It seemed so simple, and he felt foolish for not thinking of it until just then. He would touch both of the shapes at the same time. It sounded easier than he knew it would be, but it was something he’d never tried before.

He stepped as close as he could to the shapes without touching and put his hands up in front of them. He did his best to put the same amount of space between each hand and its corresponding shape, but had to step back and try again several times before he could stop shaking.

Switz took several deep breaths, shook the trembling from his hands, and stepped back up to the shapes. He put his hands as close as he could to each shape without touching, and then quickly thrust them forward at the same time.

The triangle and the circle disappeared leaving the space noticeably dimmer with the absence of their dismal glow. Jonathan stood still; his hands out in front of him, and waited for something, for anything to happen. When it didn’t he lowered his hands and clenched them into fists.

He didn’t feel the tingle in his palms at first until the sensation intensified rapidly forcing him to recognize the burn. He unclenched, looked down at his palms, and saw his hands had turned the color of the shape they had touched. It was more than just color though, his hands had taken on the low-level luminescence of the shapes as well.

Jonathan turned his hands over a to see the strange phenomenon completely covered them, and a prickling sensation shot across his wrists as the glowing colors started to work their way down both arms. It moved slowly at first, like thickly applied paint dripping down the wall, but quickly gained momentum and was to his shoulder in a second.

Colored light exploded across his vision as if he’d looked directly into two suns. Light was all he could see for several seconds until it faded into an unsavory, inky, thick darkness. Jonathan shook with spasms as the foreign substance enveloped his body and plunged down his throat.

Through the darkness Switz saw bright spirals of light that reached out with an invisible force to pull him into them.

As he got closer, Switz began to feel something. It was hard for him to make sense of it at first because the ability to feel was a faculty he no longer possessed. His synapses latched onto the odd sensation and flung it back into his system, reactivating the long-atrophied sensors.

Something changed inside of Jonathan, and he was flooded with feelings to the point of being overwhelmed. He felt the pain of his people from all the decisions he’d made that hurt them, but he also felt the joy from when he’d done them right. Love overtook him so intensely, he was confused and unable to derive its origin, but he was comforted nonetheless.

The choking darkness of hate and envy fell upon Jonathan the heaviest and sank its fangs deep into his neck. Switz flailed against the foul emotion but found it impossible to break from the invisible force holding him in place.

Jonathan Switz had figured out a way to make himself feel again, but there was a side affect of his successful experiment. He felt everything at once. The intense love, hate, and all that comes in-between hit Switz in one single gigantic wave.

The intensity broke him and Jonathan’s his frazzled brain shut down, but not before he remembered why he’d come into The Isolation. Not before he remembered none of this mattered.

The swirling orange and yellow light pulled Jonathan into it, and he was gone. A crack ran down the black, wet sky of The Isolation like long, lazy lightning. When it struck the ground, the sky crumbled and fell to reveal the same sky right behind it.

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John Wayne Comunale lives in the land of purple drank known as Houston, Texas. He is a writer for the comedic collective MicroSatan; the author of The Porn Star Retirement Plan, Charge Land, Aunt Poster, and Scummer; and the writer/illustrator of the comic-zine: The Afterlife Adventures of johnwayneisdead. If that’s not enough, he also tours with the punk rock disaster: johnwayneisdead. If you’re in Williamsburg, Virginia tonight, you can see him reading live at Scares That Care. If you miss that, you can still listen to his podcasts here and here.

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