Anyway, the story:
On Tuesday, we were in a state of Perpetual War. Enemies lurked behind every bush and tree, waiting for a moment to strike; they simply hated us because of our freedom, or so we were told. We had to stay true, we had to have no fear, we had to hit first and hit hard, otherwise they'd see weakness and hurt us, and hurt us deeply.
Again, so we were told.
I was part of the rather vocal group that refused to believe it. Some of us claimed that we had it coming, due to bad foreign policy. Almost all of us believed that a military answer wasn't going to solve the root causes, or would even create more enemies.
It became completely moot on Wednesday. I woke up that morning, checked the news, and discovered that almost all of the world leaders had vanished. The First Lady wakes up, and the President is gone. Prime Ministers, Senators, Lords, and members of the Knesset were all gone Wednesday morning. Captains of industry, and the billionaires that power the economy were all gone. The leaders of the terrorist organizations that sought to do us in couldn't be found, even by their followers.
First, there was a period of panic, which gradually slipped into confusion. And over the course of weeks, of months, we recovered. At first, some people, those who had been sycophants to the power brokers, tried to step into the same positions that had been vacated. There was no public outcry at this, but they rapidly found that no one listened to them; they were leaders without followers.
There was a five year period of realignment during which a great deal happened, but none of it really meant anything until we finally solidified the new design for society. And it worked great. Five years from that fateful Wednesday, we entered into the Golden Age- the Golden Age that's still going on, and probably will continue for generations.
There's a great deal of speculation as to what happened to the world leaders; they were now vilified as barriers to this glorious new world that we had created. Entire films and novels were dedicated to speculation as to what became of them, and those, in many ways, were more realistic than the scholarly examinations that would make wild claims ranging from a secret island fortress where they regulated things behind the scenes, to a plan to amass resources and conquer the weak society we had become.
I think I'm the only one who knows the truth of the matter.
I had been studying for my second masters in American History (the first was in Social Dynamics), pouring over old photographs of the Last President and his followers, pondering the mystery that they had left in their wake. I was planning to write my own paper on the topic, throwing my hat into the proverbial ring.
I was walking down the street, and came across a bum, lying in an alley, have buried in garbage. I would have never recognized him under the grime, weeks of stubble, and reek of alcohol. I didn't even really recognize him. Some part of my subconscious made me blurt out, "You're the Last President!"
He looked up at me, brushing aside some of the garbage as he moved. Tears were leaking from the corners of his eyes, washing away decades of worked in grime. "The 'Last President'... that's what you call me now?" The years had mostly washed away the laconic down-south drawl that had been both his trademark and a criticism of his intelligence. "No one really cares about the Last President though, do they? Just to write stories about. I saw a picture-film about me, running away into a jungle and creating a pocket empire to kill the hero..." He sniffled.
I knelt beside him, looking closely at the features of his face, so often lampooned by cartoonists of his time. I was so excited at this prospect that the reek of cheap liquor, garbage, and an unwashed human were lost upon me. "Will you answer me something? Why? You were the most powerful man in the world, and you just gave it all up. Why?"
He didn't answer for a long time. We stared at each other, two animals feeling each other out. But I waited. And waited. He gestured to the styrofoam cup that was propped up beside him; I dutifully dumped a handful of coins into it.
In the confines of the alley, they echoed against each other, like bullets ricocheting, and spent magazines falling to the pavement of a war wracked city.
"There's not much of a story," he began. He then stopped, wiping his nose on his sleeve, and then taking a long swig off of the bottle of Wild Irish Rose that he kept concealed in a paper bag. "Y'all," he choked out, "with your modern liberal history, the twenty-twenty hindsight, y'all paint me as a villain of the twenty-first century. The last of the great monsters." He sighed, and steeled himself with another great gulp of dime-store whiskey. "Okay, I'll admit, I might not have made the best decisions. But back then, you know, I was doing it all for you. I had daughters, and I wanted them to grow up safe and happy, and I thought... I thought I knew how to do it.
"But one day... I just got sick and tired of it. I got oceans of blood on these two hands, because I was trying to do the right thing, and all I ever got was people trying to tell me how I should do things, or people agreeing with my every command, or people spewing vitriol and disagreeing with everything I did. It hurt, all of that, it added up, and one day, I called all of my friends. And we talked.
"Turns out, we were all feeling it. So we coordinated, and on the same day, we all left. We did it to spite you all. We worked so hard, gave so much... we sent thousands of young men and women to their deaths, and took from so many of our people... we believed in it. So we left."
I nodded, knowing that there was more coming. I could feel it, he was on the edge of breaking down, of revealing everything, and more than anything, I wanted to know what he was thinking at the time.
I dropped another handful of coins into his cup, each a one-kilo-ton bomb striking the coins beneath with the force that leveled entire cities.
He choked up, the tears coming freely now, and then pressed on. "When we left... we were like children... 'We'll show them a thing or two,' 'they won't have us to kick around,' 'they'll be sorry that we're gone.'"
A deep growl started in his throat, slowly moving up into his mouth until it became a pained scream. When he spoke again, his voice was shaky but strong. "And you... you fucking bastards... imagine that child who runs away to teach his parents a lesson, and a week later, he peeks in the window, and sees that his parents are happier without him; they've stopped fighting, they're always smiling- how would that child feel?"
"I hate you. All of you. I hate you because you had the temerity to take care of yourselves. Because you didn't need me after all," he swigged off of the bottle one last time before he passed out. As consciousness fled him, the last words he said to me were, "You fucking bastards..."
I didn't work on my research that day. Instead, I went to a park, and I spent the day dreaming about a ghost from the past, sitting in a dark alley, sipping Wild Irish Rose, and hating the world because... as it turned out, the world didn't need him after all.
I'd hate the world too.
But he probably didn't want my sympathy.