Dedicated to the voters, the victims, and the immortal Edgar Allan Poe.
The Orange Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or hideous. Bile was its avatar and seal – the madness and horror of the orange bile. There were sharp pains and the inability to breathe. Coughs and fevers wracked the body, with the bile that manifested from the lungs spewing outward from the victim, shutting them out from the aid and sympathy of their administration. And the whole infection, progress and termination of the disease were the incidents of over an agonizing two weeks.
But the Prince Drumpfero was snappy and dauntless and outrageous. When his dominion was half-depopulated, he summoned to his presence many of his hale and hearty courtiers that heeded his Twitter (a parrot who served as his most constant companion and was prone to obnoxiously shouting his master’s innermost thoughts). With these he retired to the deep seclusion of his grandest, whitest house, one of many opulent palaces he had acquired or built in his lifetime. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, recently accented by additions based on the prince’s own eccentric, garish taste. Several walls, yuge walls, girdled it in. These walls had gates of iron. The courtiers, servants, and guards, having entered, welded the bolts on the prince’s orders. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the folly of despair or altruism. The outside world could take care of itself, at least until the last dregs of ACA were extinguished.
The castle was amply provisioned, with such precaution that the courtiers might withdraw any bids to defy their sovereign. In the meantime it was folly to reprimand, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure: There was gold. There was golf. There were hamberders, there was covfefe, there were steaks with ketchup and wine. There were rappers with egos the size of Mount Everest. There was the YMCA. There were prostitutes, there were toadies, there were apologists. There was fake news. There were Russian spies. There were Puritan evangelicals. There were conspiracy theorists. There were degenerates. There were very fine people on both sides. All these and security from prosecution was within.
Without was the Orange Death.
It was on the close of the fourth year of the prince’s rule, and the seventh or eighth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged so furiously around him that the Prince Drumpfero entertained his friends and followers at an un-masked ball of the most unusual significance. I say un-masked because while the point of a traditional masked ball is to dress in costumes and masks to make merry, the prince and his company were vehemently opposed to wearing masks of any kind, even going so far as to shame the few wise enough to adhere to the rules.
It was a meretricious scene, that un-masquerade. But first, let me tell you of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven, an imperial suite, encircled by an uprooted rose garden. In many palaces, such suites form a long straight vista adorned with streamers, balloons, lights, banners, decorative fauna, and other joyful accoutrements. Here the case was very different, as might have been expected from the prince’s third wife’s bizarre loathing of interior decorating. The apartments were irregularly displaced, highly priced – one had to pay an exorbitant amount to enter – and there was a sharp turn every twenty feet and to each turn a novel effect: in the middle of each wall there sat a tall and narrow stained glass window, its color in accordance with the prevailing hue of the chamber they presided in. That in the eastern extremity was gilded in, for example, red, and blood-red too were its windows. The second chamber was gold throughout – the third pure white – the fourth, a timorous yellow – the fifth, a rich green – the sixth, royal purple.
The seventh apartment was closely carpeted in blue, with tapestries of the same material and hue hanging from the ceiling down to the floor. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the setting. The panes here were orange, and tiny, yet they were embedded in the walls in random clusters so that they took up more space than that of the brick and mortar used to build the chamber.
Now in no one of the first six apartments were there any lamp or candelabrum, but in the corridors along each suite marched a procession bearing torches aloft proudly. These torches projected their light and the visage of the glowering marchers through the mirrored tinted glass, and so glaringly illuminated the rooms; thus were produced a multitude of gaudy, distorted appearances. But in the western blue chamber, a single candle flickered behind each of the numerous orange panes. The scant firelight, clashing hues and dancing shadows produced an effect not unlike the vivid coloration of a creeping insect; it produced such a shock upon those who entered that there were few in the company who dared to step in at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock that the prince’s wife had been unable to dispose of. It was a beautiful thing, this clock, its ebony wood gleaming in spite of the years of scarring and abuse it had endured in that house. The pendulum swung to and fro with a heavy, monotonous clang, and when the hour was to be stricken, there came from the clock’s brazen lungs a sound which was deep and clear and loud and exceedingly musical – yet of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each hour, the musicians and dancers were constrained to pause momentarily to hearken the sound, even as the rest of the company strove to ignore it and carry on with their revel. When the echoes fully ceased, those who had attended the cry of the clock laughed to themselves and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, making whispered vows that the clock would not dare to make such an audacious chime again the next time. Yet after the lapse of sixty minutes there came another chiming of the clock more thunderous than the previous one, and each peal drew more attention and a greater sense of disconcert from the company than they would have admitted to.
But in spite of these things, it was a glittering assembly. The tastes and leadership of the prince were peculiar at best. He had ideas, many ideas, the best ideas. He disregarded the “decorum” of mere civility. His plans were fiery and all-consuming, and his conceptions glimmered with little understanding beyond his scope. There were many outside the palace who thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to insult and shout down and assault his dissenters to prove that he was not.
He had directed, in no small part with the party that he had so ensconced himself with, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers upon this occasion; it was his own guiding taste that which had given character to his auspicious company. Be sure they were grotesque. There were delirious fancies of the tyrannical fashion. There was little of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, and more than a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of schemes. And these – the schemes – writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms and the people within, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to echo in their steps, reverberate through the air, inhabit those who indulge them until they were accepted as the very nature of being, the only method of living.
And again, there strikes the ebony clock eager to be heard above the hedonistic bacchanalia. And for a moment, all is still and silent except for the clock and the boorish chortles of the ignorant prince as he turns his back to it once more. And now again the music swells and the schemes thrive. The hedonistic reverie lurches forward more boldly than ever; but to the westward chamber there are now none of the anti-maskers who venture, for the night is waning away and the wave of blue, the fleeting candlelight, and the emphatic sound of the clock appalls. The other apartments are densely crowded – no social distancing between two or twelve souls – and in these apartments beat feverishly the hearts of those who desperately cling to their own lives above all others.
And the revel went whirlingly on, until the sounding of midnight commenced upon the clock. Thus too, it happened, before the last chimes echoed into silence, that there were several individuals in the crowd who grew aware of the presence of a figure which had arrested the attention of few people before. And the rumor of this new presence, having spread itself around in whispers, arose at length from among the whole assembly a buzz, a sense of recognition, and a growing murmur of horror and revulsion.
There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Then there are those to whom a simple pin prick is equivalent to a stab through the heart. In truth, the masquerade license of the night had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the taste of any rational being’s decorum; garish displays of bloodied opponents, smears against races and creeds alien to their way of living, violent demonstrations of their feelings towards their regime’s critics. And yet the whole company seemed to deeply feel that in the costume and bearing of the familiar stranger, neither wit nor propriety existed.
The figure was tall and bloated, shrouded from head to foot in the stench of fast food and the grave. The simple cloth mask fitted over his nose and mouth barely concealed the visage of none other than the Prince Drumpfero himself; the resemblance to his swollen, corpse-like countenance was so eerie that the closest scrutiny would have difficulty in detecting the cheat. His wispy straw-colored toupee flew about his dome as he moved, appearing for all the world as if it were caught in a hurricane. And yet this might have endured, if not approved by the revellers in good jest if the pretender had not gone so far in assimilating the image of their dear leader with that of the Orange Death: his ill-fitting blue suit and drooping necktie was dabbled in orange – and his sloping, sneering brow with all other visible features of the face, were smeared with the tangerine horror. Only the cerulean blue mask remained perfectly spotless.
Every man, woman, person, camera and TV turned as one to look upon this intruder, and to the man whom he so wildly impersonated. When the eyes of the Prince Drumpfero fell upon this scornful imitation, he was seen to be convulsed with apoplexy. Then in the next moment, his bronzed brow reddened with rage.
“WHO THE HELL,” he whined, pointing at the interloper, “WHO THE HELL DOES THIS GUY THINK HE IS?! Grab him! Get him outta here! Lock him up! And rip that mask off! Then I’ll know who to fire next!”
It was in the far eastern red chamber in which stood the Prince Drumpfero as he made his petulant demands. With little hesitation, the most loyal and bloodthirsty of his followers – his unwavering crimson-capped acolytes and the officers of the law – charged forth with all the ferocity of hounds at the climax of a chase. Through the red room they hunted their quarry – into the gold apartment – through the gold into the white – through the white into the yellow – through the yellow to the green – and through the purple. Knives and firearms waved about. The onlookers cheered. The air around the pursuers was thick with oaths and slurs thrown their target’s way. Yet the figure did not slow its course, nor did it hasten.
It was when the attackers came within three feet of their target that the latter turned to face them in the blue chamber. There was a sharp cry – a blast of gunfire – a spray of bullets – and the orange windows shattered as one. Where candlelight once guttered there was now the black night air.
And the prince’s mob laid on the floor, gasping for breath as orange bile spewed from every pore. The figure, who had remained untouched, turned its gaze from its victims back up to the prince, still standing agape in the red apartment. The gasps turned to faint sobs, then nothing at all.
Barely flinching, the prince pushed more observers in between him and the figure in blue. He called for courage, for action, for more supporters to stand back and stand by as others took up arms and, somewhat more reluctantly than the first, charged into the chamber ahead. Their fate was sealed exactly as the previous cavalry’s. Undaunted, the prince grabbed anyone unfortunate to be in his vicinity and shoved them forward: the unctuous courtiers, the grasping musicians and dancers, the barbaric sentinels, covetous sycophants, servile advisors, his petulant adult children and his own ghastly wife. All of them dropped prostrate and heaving in the blue room, their corpses spilling out into the hallway beyond.
The prince looked around. Everyone had given their lives for him, as he had made them swear to when he came into his power. Surely there was one more soul in this house willing to shoulder the cruel fate about to be bestowed on him, yes? He had never lost anything before; Prince Drumpfero was certainly no loser. It was a known law of the universe.
But now the masked figure weaved its way over the cooling, trembling bodies. Not a footfall touched the orange-stained carpet. The prince’s fingernails dug into the wall behind him. He yelped for aid, for comfort, for his mother, for somebody –
And the figure removed his mask.
The prince screamed.
And now was acknowledged the presence – and identity – of the true Orange Death. He had come not like a thief in the night but welcomed in with open arms, spreading his own sickness through the carelessness, indifference, avarice and wanton cruelty of others, until there was no one left to destroy but himself. He had been there from the very start; the form he took was merely his most recent incarnation.
And the last of the revelers died curled up in the filth spewed along the cold, orange-mucked halls. And the flames of the torches expired. And the life of the black clock did not expire with the throng but chimed out louder than ever, heralding the arrival of the castle’s future master who would, in due time, reclaim the faded white house on its once-shining hill and return it to a little of its former glory stolen by the vapid, vile prince.
And peace, and growth, and justice – and the reminder of what happens to those who condone the Orange Death – held dominion over all.
Well, that’s an interesting way to tell someone they’re fired, isn’t it? I do hope you enjoyed this on-the-nose spin on Poe’s timeless tale. I intended to post my own thoughts on the election outcome when news broke, but this overblown retelling came into my head and simply wouldn’t leave me alone. If you can’t already tell, I am beyond thrilled that by January we’ll have a competent and compassionate leader again, and the man responsible for so much anguish will be facing charges (that is if he doesn’t succeed in his obvious attempt at a coup first). Until then, let me know what you think, if I did a good job spoofing this story, and be sure to vote for what holiday specials you want to see me review in December! Stay safe, and special thanks to everyone who voted!