Last week’s Chuck Wendig challenge wasn’t to write a story, but rather to come up with a three word title for a story. Chuck randomly selected ten of those titles, and this week’s Challenge, Ten Titles From You, the objective was to pick one of those titles and give it a go, staying under 1,000 words. I picked “The Last American” and came in at 791 words. I’m not entirely sure it’s that great of a story, but the title brought an image into my head so I wrote the story to get to that image. Please to enjoy.
THE LAST AMERICAN
Lonnie Barksdale, the last American, stood between two of the towering white columns, staring up into the great stone face of Abraham Lincoln. He read the words engraved on the walls. One sentence in particular caught his attention: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.“ He chuckled, a wry laugh that he liked to think Lincoln would have shared had they ever spoken.
He descended the steps, remembering the famous speeches he had seen, Martin Luther King and Forrest Gump, wondering what it must have been like to look out over so many thousands of people. He shook his head. It beggared description.
He walked down the Mall, stopping at each of the monuments and memorials to reflect on their meanings. He ran his fingers over names on the Vietnam wall. They were names of soldiers long dead, many of whom had died to defend an ideal that they hadn’t believed in.
Lonnie could relate.
He stood at the base of the Washington Monument and looked up, up, up, to where its four sides met, hundreds of feet in the air. George Washington had been a great man. He had given Alexander Hamilton his shot, made Hamilton his right-hand man, and together they had battled the Democratic Republicans to a standstill until Washington had gone home to Mount Vernon.
A few minutes further walking led Lonnie to the base of the Capitol stairs. He looked up at the balcony where so many great men had given speeches full of hopes and dreams and aspirations of greatness for themselves and for the nation. Lonnie stood there, and he remembered.
He did not go into the Capitol. The dome rose high into the grey afternoon sky. The building was too large, too imposing, too intimidating. He had seen it on television so many times, seen so many debates and discussions and briefings and news reports. He didn’t need to see the Capitol. He felt like he knew its hallways by heart.
There was one final place Lonnie wanted to go, though, before he finished.
He made his way up Pennsylvania Avenue, past many great buildings, seeing names that he knew, addresses that he recognized. The National Gallery. The Archives. He considered going inside to see the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence but remembered that they had been moved to a more secure location. He shrugged and kept moving.
He came to the South Lawn. He looked through the bars of the fence for a few minutes, then clambered over. He crossed the wide expanse of the lawn, once so immaculately maintained. He had seen scenes from so many ceremonies and events that had taken place there. It didn’t even look like the same place any more.
Lonnie walked around the grounds for a while, and came around to the West Wing. He wandered through the Rose Garden, looking at the remnants of some spectacular horticulture, then he opened a door and walked inside. Just down the hall was his goal: the Oval Office.
The door was ajar. He entered the room. The gloomy day outside had darkened the room considerably. Lonnie wanted to see it, and on instinct he turned, found a light switch, and flicked it up. To his surprise, the lights came on. They must have had their own generator, he thought.
He walked across the rug with its giant seal to the monstrous mahogany desk and sat down behind it. The chair was comfortable. He leaned back and put his feet up, and picked up the telephone. On a whim he held it to his ear. Nothing. Not that he had expected anything. He hung it up again and started rummaging through the desk’s drawers.
It felt good sitting there. I wonder if it felt this good to Reagan? Or Obama? Did David Palmer ever feel this way? Now there had been a president. Nobody messed with America on David Palmer’s watch. But if they did, Steve Rogers and Clark Kent had been there to deal with it. Damn good Americans, thought Lonnie, smiling. He remembered reading their stories when he was a kid. He’d always wanted a shield like Cap’s.
He dozed off, having put his feet up on the desk. When he woke up, it was dark outside. I need to get home. He had several miles to go. He considered sleeping upstairs since it was so late already, but no. He’d head for home. This wasn’t his house. He could visit, but he didn’t live here. He went out into the night.
As he left the Oval Office, Lonnie Barksdale, the last American, turned out the light.