The following manuscript was found in a cache of stolen documents, nestled between execution orders and ledgers detailing illegal funds siphoned from international aid programs.
I tried every trick I knew to get to sleep ... more port, nearly half of bottle number 2 ... sleeping pills from the State Pharmaceutical company ... they had my scowling face on the capsules, a neat marketing trick I thought would bring in more sales in 2009 ... it didn’t work, and neither did the pills. The visitations had been too disturbing ... imagine a supreme leader like me being scared by a few fanciful images, hallucinations in all likelihood, nightmares ... maybe a sign of decay ... was I getting soft, or too indulgent?
Still under the covers, I slid my fingers over my body, taking comfort in the feel of my solid frame ... arms and legs still there, my penis was definitely still there, and sadly the belly was still there too ... I was real, palpable, and not some figment of a ghost’s imagination.
I slowly began to feel a little less afraid. Why not get out from under the sheets?
Inching my face out from under the duvet, I sniffed the air. The residue of a fire, its steaming embers, and nothing more. Perhaps it was safe.
On my nightstand my clock started blinking ... midnight.
The light from the clock transfixed me, and I stared, until the glow seemed to illuminate the bedroom.
The realization came to me then ... something else was blinking.
So I turned and saw him. And immediately felt better.
Ghost number 3, if that was him, was a little underwhelming. For one thing he wore a shiny teal tracksuit ... I always said the clothes make the dictator, and his were definitely not up to snuff. Where were the medals, the crisply starched olive drab pants and military tunic? Who ever heard of any self-respecting dictator without them?
Ghost 3 was also short, probably as tall as I was, with the slack posture of a man in late middle age. This made the tracksuit all the more incongruent. Points for stylish sunglasses, true, but they were less intimidating than I liked. The mustache was trimmed but almost square shaped ... and not up with the times, to be honest.
The most distinctive things about him were a pair of large and curious earbuds ... clear plastic mushroom shaped devices, linked by wires to an unseen instrument, they blinked bright green in rapid sequence, shining off and illuminating his glasses.
“Richard,” he said, “I am the ghost of Dictators Future.” He had a hollow, tired little voice that seemed strained from over-talking.
“I figured that out already, but thanks for the reminder.” I said. “Actually, why you don’t just turn and leave, and let’s call this spectral invasion a night, shall we? Frankly you and your friends have upset my plans for a quiet evening at home -- normally that’s something that I could never forgive -- but, seeing that technically the night is over, I think I can let this one slide. There, I did it! Don’t let anyone ever say that I’m not compassionate! You can go your own way, you are free to leave, I won’t try to hunt you down, promise. Just go and leave me alone. I want to sleep an undisturbed sleep.”
I expected a response of some kind but the ghost simply stared at me, the blue plastic of his sunglasses revealing nothing. The smart buds blinked faster for a moment, then slowed to their usual rhythm.
“Oh,” I said, “you must be the stoic one. Nothing to say? Or have you ghosts run out of tricks?”
Still nothing, not a word.
“Usually at this point I have my goons bring in a pair of pliers and a ball-peen hammer, but I am in an indulgent mood. You’re in luck, Dick Future (mind if I call you that?), because Richard M. Tater is rarely (well, never) in the mood to indulge anyone. In fact I will make a deal with you: take off now, scram, get lost, and you can take anything of value from my mansion. See that ancient Greek black-figure vase? A gift from a fascist colonel, worth millions! It’s yours! Or that solid gold sphinx paperweight. Hosni was very generous that night, but hey, I paid for the hookers. Take that too -- just get out of here.”
Still, the ghost said nothing.
I was about to offer him the rug I’d stolen from the last Shah’s final orgy when he moved. He raised his arm and pointed to the wall directly behind me, the earbuds blinking furiously.
I looked. The wall seemed normal, completely ordinary ... but as I stared it changed, appeared to dissolve, it swirled and opened like an aperture, and revealed a cold, rainy and raw day on a city square ... I recognized it, my capital city, the main square, Richard M. Tater Plaza. A wide field of concrete and marble I loved more than any other neighborhood in that entire slum-ringed metropolis.
And it had gone to hell.
My statues thrown down. My son’s statues thrown down. A crowd of my subjects ... laughing! Jumping! Shooting off rifles in the air ... singing and hugging each other in a grotesque spectacle! Ugh! I was going to be sick again! There! Someone was taking a jackhammer to the square, right where I had imposed my face on a wide marble promenade! He chipped at my nose, kicking away debris and dust! My eyes and forehead were next. Hands reached down to grab the broken bits of marble and soon my face was gone, in its place a gaping hole.
I turned to the ghost to ask the meaning of this image but he silently pointed to the wall again.
Now the scene was worse ... all the luxury stores around the square had been looted, columns of smoke rose into the sky (where were my security forces? What were they doing? It was nerve gas time, goddamnit!)
The ghost kept pointing.
Finally I saw what he wanted me to see.
At the far end of the square stood a makeshift gallows. One body swung from it, a few tendrils of smoke still rising around its sad, slow arc.
I tried to scream but my breath was gone ... I looked terrible hanging there, stabbed multiple times, burned, my face bruised and swollen in death, hair (my beloved hair) singed to a crisp. Those ungrateful bastards had finally done it ... they had turned on their leader and strung me up ... know I now how Mussolini must have felt at the end ... I watched my corpse swing like a pendulum, punctuating the revelry in the square.
And the fear returned.
I stammered ... I began to weep ...
“No,” I said, “please ghost, this can’t be my future. This can’t happen. I’ve taken so many precautions ... informers on every street corner. Highly paid double agents in all the western democracies ... control of the media, my fingerprints all over the internet.”
The ghost held his arm firm.
I fell at the ghost’s sneakered feet. I begged and sobbed, my forehead ignominiously scraping the floor.
“Please,” I whispered, “not like that ... it can’t end like that.”
The ghost dropped his hand. The image on the wall blurred and faded. I crawled along the floor and back into my bed. Breathing heavily, I retched and coughed and flopped into a mound of pillows. Sweat dripped into my eyes as the ghost stood silently watching ... I blinked and gasped for air as a slow, burning pain formed somewhere in my body ... was this what my torture victims felt? It grew worse as the seconds passed, I couldn’t breathe, then could for an instant and gulped air, only to labor again, actions that sustained me to the next moment. The pain blossomed then, an exploding tightness in my chest and arms ... damn the flab ... I flailed, I slid and flopped onto the marble floor, rolling down to the door that led to my golden commode ... no, no, no was this the end of Richard M. Tater?
Things went black. The pain faded. Was this death?
“Am I dead?” I said in a creaking thin voice I hardly recognized.
“Not yet,” someone answered. “But soon, though perhaps not soon enough for you.”
I froze, and saw three shapes approaching. Was it the ghosts returning to torment me again? I stared and shivered and strained my eyes to look.
No, it was even worse. This time I recognized them.
There was Gaddafi, mop hair flopping now that he’d removed the war helmet. He still held a spear, and in the other hand a bloody dagger, only God knew where that had been.
There was Stalin smiling his mustachioed smile, enormous, gripping a broken broom handle and patting into an open hand.
There was Hitler, blood oozing from the wound in his head and dripping onto the tracksuit. In his hands a plunger and sodden sniff rag, fumes rising.
“That pain in your chest?” Hitler said. “Angina pectoris. A pity, Richard. You made us all so proud for so many years. Sorry it has to end this way, but you can’t say you haven’t earned it.”
Stalin’s grin flashed red.
“Yes,” Hitler said, moving forward. “It’s all over, Richard. It’s not your time anymore ... but I think you know what happens next.” He gripped the plunger.
I screamed and tried to back away, but it was too late, I tripped and fell on my face and strong arms held me down, the plunger trailing down my back ... too late, too late.
Or was it? Whomever you are, dear reader (and chances are you are a member of the opposition), I hope that you enjoyed this little exercise in distraction. Oh yes, it’s a lot of fun imagining me strung up or sodomized by my illustrious predecessors, I’ll bet you got a big kick out of it in between free speech rallies and your civil society smokers, but that’s all you’re going to get, my friend. Because while you’ve been distracted here, reading about my terrible Christmas, your leaders have been hauled before hastily assembled military courts and summarily executed. Your subversive infrastructure has been pulled up by the roots ... the pubs doubling as meeting rooms have been closed, the theaters have been boarded up, and those radical campuses are on permanent lockdown. So by all means, go through it all again, dear reader, snigger at my expense, I don’t care, I have laughed and will be laughing long after my security forces extract your confession ... but it’s best not to think about that. In fact, I’d advise you to forget your troubles, they won’t bother you for long ... You don’t have much of a future, but if you did, I would advise you never to forget that there is only one book that teaches how to become a great dictator ... and I wrote it.
Oh, and if you hear an unexpected knock at the door, or think that someone is watching when you’re sure you’re alone? That’ll be me.