The throng which gathered for the event was in collective good spirits, in spite of the bank of storm clouds which had gathered overhead. The prevailing mood was: if it rains and we get soaked, so what? The joy of just being there, of hearing his sweet melodic voice, of seeing his lovely face, at once stern yet somehow also possessed of an apple-cheeked innocence, made it all worthwhile, and then some.

No prior registration was required for attendance, so entrance was “first come, first seated.” The hours leading up to the rally were chaotic indeed, a “logistical nightmare,” in the words of one Phazer Stadium manager, who, along with her fellow employees, had the task to ensure that the facility was not filled to overcapacity (to the point, that is, where anyone would be in danger of  getting trampled or otherwise harmed), while at the same time meeting their contractual agreement with the Crumple campaign, to the effect that no one would be turned away unless capacity were truly achieved. Crumple’s lawyers had played hardball on that last detail, and the clout they wielded (Crumple himself having amassed such a passionate following across the country) meant that Phazer could get some serious bad press, and possibly a lawsuit or two, if they didn’t honor Crumple’s demand that “the people not be denied or prevented from attending the event, barring circumstances which would seriously hamper their safety.”

No specific number was given regarding what constituted “capacity.” The stadium seated around 80,000, but those who chose to stand on the field (to be closer to the object of their adoration) accounted for an additional 25 to 30,000. Thousands more gathered outside of the edifice to watch their beloved leader communicate his message of “justice through unity” to his faithful adherents.

As “showtime” approached, the skies correspondingly darkened, until faint peals of thunder could be heard in the echoing distance. One couldn’t escape the sensation that the heavens themselves were providing an orchestral introduction to this, a visitation from one sent from the starry climes, paying a visitation in order to remind the assembled seekers of the way back to that which had been lost. In each individual mind of those in attendance, this “lost” quality assumed a different aspect. For most, it was something entirely inchoate, something they could scarcely grasp, much less articulate to themselves, much less explain to others. But it remained there, deeply rooted in their consciousness, waiting to be summoned to the surface at the given time.

The “opening act,” as it were, was an unassuming acoustic guitar playing crooner, clad in a Dylan-like ensemble: vest, overcoat, and stonewashed jeans. The crowd applauded politely through his first few songs, covers of standard upbeat rock and folk numbers, with a couple of gospel numbers thrown in for good measure. But then a subtle shift occurred, barely perceptible at first. The singer’s aspect became somehow bigger, more imposing, and more commanding. He spoke for the first time:

“We’ve heard a lot about the ‘good old days.’ Are y’all ready for some good new days? How does that sound to y’all?”

A hearty cheer went up at this sentiment, “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” one gathered. Immediately the minstrel launched into a rendition of “G.O.D. (Good Old Days)” by Fastball, and his voice assumed a wailing, even melancholy tinge:

“I’ve been thinking of the good old days

Decorated in a candy glaze

I’ve been climbing up the walls again

Living with a memory that might have been

So pick me up on a weekday night

We’ll get together and ride around in the black and white”

These words, general though they were, aroused in nearly every spectator the same familiar longing. Many a tear duct moistened obediently, and numberless sighs involuntarily heaved within thousands of breasts. Then, upon concluding this tune, the jester in jeans smiled impishly and shouted, “So are y’all finally ready to meet the man?” This utterance, met by the expected roar of the assembled throng, prompted the minstrel to launch into another tune from the same album, whose lyrics seemed especially charged with significance for this specific occasion:

I got a warm fuzzy feeling when I saw you on TV, you were wearing a piece of me

And it breaks my heart to look around and see the unimpressed

Who can’t believe the emperor is dressed

But with you up there to light the way, I can wear a smile as I survey

Their faces in the dark, waiting for you to hit one out of the park!

What are we gonna use to fill these empty spaces?

When they see her in the crowd, will you make your momma proud?

She can turn around and see the faces looking at her son

Climbing his way up to number one, scratching his way up to number one!

Then: “Ladies and gentlemen, the mother of the next president of the United States, Eveline Agatha Crumple!”

The minstrel hopped and skipped over to meet the majestically-robed woman who now emerged from the margins of the stage. He bowed, kissed her hand, and knelt before her in a comedic parody of extreme reverence. She returned the favor, wagging a finger at him, as if to admonish the minstrel for his sauciness, but with a wide grin all the while, indicating that she was indeed in on the joke. She embraced him like a long-lost friend, then as the latter leapt out of view, she assumed his former position center-stage.

The crowd’s applause, cheers, hoots, hollers, and whistles went on for nearly half a minute. But Eveline knew better than to let the adulation for her run too long, lest she seem desirous to steal the spotlight from her beloved son, who was, after all, the one whom everyone really had come to see. She put up a hand, indicating in a supremely regal gesture for the assembled throng to pipe down. The throng, as one, obeyed, and fell silent.

“Thank you so much for coming out tonight. What a crowd!” she enthused, eliciting another cheer as the assembled throng acknowledged its gracious acceptance her gracious words.

What happened next had to be seen to be believed. In some ineffable way, Eveline’s appearance transitioned from that of a beaming, ecstatic woman to that of a lady in mourning. Yet in this abrupt metamorphosis, she became positively radiant. Many in attendance sighed in awe, as if witnessing a divine apparition. Even those near the back picked up on this change, thanks to the Jumbotron screen; many a heart skipped, many a chest was clutched. With collective baited breath, they awaited her words:

“21 years ago, on this very day, I suffered the saddest, most tragic day of my life.”

She spoke into the microphone in little more than a whisper, but the now utterly silent crowd heard every word, articulated with meticulous precision. They more than heard, in fact; rather, her words resonated in their souls. They sat in awe, eager to consume every morsel of her message.

“Twenty-one years ago was also the happiest, most joyous day of my life,” she continued, though her face still signified sorrow. “It was the day… the day my dear departed husband, Evan Crumple, and I, made love and conceived my son…”

Shocking and intimate, perhaps excessively intimate, as this revelation was, nobody groaned or giggled with embarrassment. Instead, the assembled throng came to an identical understanding: they were indeed privileged to hear these words; sacred truth was unfolding before their eyes, something like a Nativity story was being related to them.

“Then, later that same day, Evan was…senselessly lost.” She little needed to elaborate; everyone by now knew how Crumple, a bright and shining star in the Senate who sought to bring decency back to government and to eliminate corruption, was killed in an automobile accident involving an aide who was a drunk driver, and who was later found to be an unstable, perhaps schizophrenic man. That aide’s name was now long forgotten, but the legend of Evan Crumple lived on; he was valorized as an idealist who was tragically plucked from the world in the prime of his career, just as he was on the precipice of doing much good. Statues of Evan Crumple had sprung up in many places across the country. In every image, the martyred hero was displayed as a man of profoundly wise character, with a twinkle of whimsy in his eye. Though not handsome, Crumple’s stout figure was usually rendered as avuncular; he was the sort of public figure who had been “relatable,” while at the same time seeming, paradoxically, “larger than life.”

“I said, a moment ago, that Evan’s death was senseless, but in truth, it was not at all senseless. It happened, it turns out, at just the right time. For before he passed on, he planted that needful seed into my waiting womb…” Here she paused, and sighed with great emotion, as if experiencing that moment of conception all over again. Her eyes closed and she shuddered with conspicuous delectation, recalling the sensation of new life awakening within her. Again, the rapt audience, far from being put off by the brazenness of her manner of expression, responded with a sense of awe: the tragic departure of the father coincided with the nativity of the one whose life would change everything indelibly.

Presently, Eveline opened her eyes again, her face animated with something like post-coital contentment. She ran her finger through her lustrous raven hair; she displayed no gray whatsoever and indeed looked nearly two decades younger than her 55 year-old frame. Many had remarked upon her remarkably youthful appearance and not a few had noticed her still quite potent sex appeal. What on Earth, or elsewhere, was her secret?

Then, as if on cue, a peal of thunder roared forth from the heavens. All was still. Eveline remained unfazed.

“Nine months later, he came forth. From the first time I was set alight by the spark of his being, I knew that my son was special. When he was born, and I saw him, looked into his bright little eyes, my initial feelings were only confirmed. And for every single moment of his life afterwards, the way I felt, when I first felt him quicken inside me, then when I witnessed his arrival into the world, I have become all the more convinced that this boy, this man, this extraordinary person, my son, will change the course of the world!”

The crowd roared in avid agreement, and another peal of thunder rang out, indicating the seeming enthusiastic consent of the heavens.

“If every tongue were still, the stones themselves would cry out!” she declared. “The Earth itself would yell for our next leader, my dear son, the fruit of the sweet loins of my dear, departed husband, Mr. Evan Aaron Crumple Junior!”

A few discerning observers of the proceedings were struck by Eveline’s choice of words: “leader,” rather than “president.” Yet even those who applied discernment to this event (and there were but a few who were not overcome by a frenzy of emotion which approached enrapturement) would have guessed that Eveline Agatha Crumple, widow of the late Senator Evan Crumple and mother of presidential aspirant Evan Aaron Crumple, had baldfacedly lied in the intimate details she had shared. None, not even the most skeptical, would have guessed that, shockingly enough, the man now taking the stage to an explosion of full-throated cheers from thousands of followers, in fact possessed a wholly divergent paternal origin than that which had just been professed by his lovely, passionate, and devoted mother.

Evan Jr. now strode into view, dressed in an elegant sweater vest and charcoal-colored corduroy trousers. Unlike his ostensible father, Evan Jr. was tall, slender, and arrestingly handsome. He flashed a killer smile, which dazzled even as it disarmed, for it betrayed both confidence and a sort of secret shyness, a half-hidden vulnerability. At age 20 (around three months shy of 21, as had been earlier established by the less than delicate revelations of his mother), he was in the full flower of youth, a glorious specimen to behold. Women sighed and swooned, while men saw in him the son they wished they’d had, or the brother they’d always wanted.  He waved jovially to the throng, as if happily greeting close friends after coming home from a long trip. Eveline hugged him hard, kissed him briefly on the lips and kicked a stockinged leg into the air with a sly, mischievous smirk, before sashaying off into the wings. Evan winced comedically at his mother’s unrestrained and indulgent gesture, and a supportive laugh ripped through the packed colosseum.

“They said we couldn’t do it!” he declared. “Were they right?”

“Noooooooooooooo!” yelled nearly 100,000 strong in immediate response, knowing instinctively the context meant by the adored speaker.

“They said, ‘He’s too young! The law says it is forbidden. The law says he must be 35!’ Did that stop us?”

“Nooooooooooooo!” came the lusty response.

“Fuck no, that didn’t stop us!” Evan exulted. “We just got them to change that stupid law, didn’t we?”

The crowd roared, and another thunderclap rang out.

“We showed them just what ‘We the people’ means, didn’t we? It doesn’t mean, ‘They, the government,’ it means ‘We the people.’ WE, not THEY!”

Now the throng ecstatically launched into an extended parroting of this newly-minted phrase: “We not they, we not they, we not they, we not they!”

As this mantra echoed through Phazer Stadium, its coiner nodded, flashing a mischievous smile quite resembling that of his mother.

“And speaking of ‘they,’” he went on. “And we all know who ‘they’ are, don’t we? They are the ones who think they have the right to rule the rest of us. They want us to stay in our place. They want us to sit down and shut up…and they sure have run us through the ringer, haven’t they?”

His jaw had now set in that flint-like expression of anger and disgust. Handsome and elegantly dapper though he was, at moments like these Evan Jr. looked positively terrifying, like a beast stalking its prey in the wilderness. His adherents, however, were not put off in the least, for they knew he stalked on their behalf, and hunted those whom they hated, loathed, and feared.

“What have the past two decades brought us? Phony pandemics? Wars? Food shortages? ‘Oh, we’re doing our best,’ they say. ‘Just do as we say! First they say, ‘stay indoors until we tell you do come out, the virus is too dangerous!’ ‘Then they say, ‘Get this shot, even though it’s an experimental vaccine that might kill you, or else you will lose your job…’ then, ‘Send your sons and daughters off to Eastern Europe or Northern Asia to fight in wars that have nothing to do with them, or you, and anyone, other than the obscenely rich criminals who run this corrupt system. Then they said, ‘Collect these rations, or we will not permit you to feed your family, because the economy has crashed and we can do nothing about it…nothing they could do about it? The economic downturn sure wasn’t hurting them, was it? We all saw the videos of them, those obscene oligarchs, indulging in their fancy parties, sailing their luxury yachts, gathering in filthy profligacy at their conferences to discuss their plans for the fate of humanity, while the rest of us struggled to pay our bills, struggled to put gas in our cars, struggled to eat, struggled to live!”

By now, the throng’s collective psyche had been catapulted into an orgy of anger and indignation. They roared, they snarled, they stomped, they booed and whistled, all to signify their hatred and contempt for the nefarious machinations exercised against them by the forces invoked by the man who strode before them like a ravening lion out for blood.

“They!” he exclaimed. “They want us at each others’ throats. They want us devouring each other, every election season! Every four years, they set us against each other…they want our anger to be expressed laterally. But we must grow wise, friends. It is misdirection. They strike us from above, then induce us to point fingers at one another, to attack and even kill each other. But it is they that should pay, not us! They, not us!”

“They, not us, they not us, they not us, they not us, they not us!” The throng had once again been provoked to engage a lusty, full-throated, vigorous chant. Evan let them carry on for nearly the span of a minute, then, as soon as the roar began to show signs of dying down, he essayed forward.

“But we, not they, shall prevail!” he declared. “Because they know by now that their time is running out!” He turned his head up, seeming now to address a hidden group of fearful eyes watching him from various places of prominence. “Do you hear my words, Phazer?? You, the very ones who named this stadium, who are responsible for forcing millions of people to go to their deaths, along with the rest of your pharmaceutical robber baron cronies. You will pay for your crimes! We, the people, will see to that!”

The crowd again roared, hooted, and hollered.

“Do you hear me, military-industrial corporate complex, you who have sent so many of our young into the meat grinder of eternal war? Do you hear us? You will not divide us any longer. We are united, and we are coming for you! All you sitting in high places, it’s all gonna fall on you!”

Evan in fact improvised the last statement, the known lyric from a once-popular song, still alive in the consciousness of the masses, or at least what was left of the masses following the catastrophes that had engulfed so much of the nation (as well as the world) in the past few decades.

“You tried to replace us, you ghouls, you thugs, you demons. But you have failed. We are still here! You won’t replace us, we will replace you!”

Another thunderclap issued forth at that moment, followed by a flash of lightening. But the men and women present in the stadium did not quail or cringe; instead, the on-cue heavenly pyrotechnics only served to set their souls ablaze with wrathful determination. They now chanted, “We will replace you, we will replace you, we will replace you!” The frenzy of the throng had by now exploded forth like a supernova of hyper-focused hatred; this fire was not in the least dampened when seconds later the skies finally opened and dumped a fateful deluge upon the faithful in assemblage. The downpour did not diminish their enthusiasm one whit: though soaking wet within seconds they continued to chant and cheer, their eyes smoldering with unquenched wrath.

“The storm… is here! Thank you my friends. Onward to victory!”

Evan, now drenched himself, stood unashamedly before his fans and followers. He smiled with determination and defiance, and raised his arms high with each fist tightly clenched, displaying uninhibited verve. His tall, lean, lithe body stretched inexorably heavenward; to those in attendance, he seemed to be the true rainmaker, the orchestrator of the storm, the one for whom the thunder enthusiastically clapped and the lightening appreciatively flashed.


This is an excerpt from Andy Nowicki’s new novella, The Rule of Wrathcoming this Friday from Terror House Press.