The Open Door
By R. S. Forste
This is a story I wrote to enter in National Public Radio’s Three-Minute Fiction contest. The rules were that it must be 600 words or less and revolve around a United States President.
Tip shivered under the heavy linen sheets. The dreamy haze of the opium was diminishing and the sharp pains in his chest began to reassert themselves. He moaned and blinked open his crusted eyelids. Where was he? This was not his home. Then he remembered. The brilliant, vigorous campaign, the epic inaugural address, the ceaseless flow of visitors, all of them wanting something – it all came rushing back to him. He was in the White House.
He drew a long, shuddering breath, triggering a fit of coughing. One of his doctors rose from a nearby chair to offer a tumbler of something. Tip hoped it was water, and not that nasty castor oil they kept giving him. He sipped apprehensively. An unexpected, but not unpleasant, burning trickled down his gullet. It was neither water nor oil; it was whiskey.
He shot a look of surprise from beneath his shaggy, white brows at his physician. A single black eye met his gaze the way a slab of black rock meets the torrent of a cataract. He knew that eye. It did not belong here in this room.
He had first seen that eye among the crowd at the signing of the Treaty of Greenville, his attention snagged by the scarred patch of skin where its mate should have been. It had glared down on him from a crag at the battle after which he had renamed himself. It struck Tip for the first time that he probably would never have been elected were it not for that eye and the wretch to whom it belonged – Ten-squat-a-way, the Shawnee Prophet! But he had been dead nearly five years.
The brick-tinted skin at the corner of the solitary eye crinkled as the cracked lips below it parted in a smile of derision. Tip could see that the Prophet had divined his thoughts. Tip turned his face toward the wall and squeezed his own eyes shut. When he reopened them, the eye was still boring into him, now flanked by two intact pairs of eyes in two faces that were nearly identical to the first.
“What are you doing here?” Tip wheezed.
“I am the Open Door,” Ten-squat-a-way replied. “I have come to help you through. How much whiskey did you give to my brothers and me? We have come to repay you.” He raised the tumbler again to Tip’s lips, but Tip pressed them tightly together. The thought of all he had given the Shawnee made him dread reciprocation.
“If you will not take the medicine from me, then take it from your own blood. Here, Marie.”
Ten-squat-a-way handed the tumbler to a Negro woman at the foot of Tip’s bed. Tip recognized his own features in the woman’s face, but how could his daughter be here? She had been sold down to Georgia, so that no one in Washington would ever know of her or her siblings’ existence.
Marie thrust the vessel to his lips, which were open in bewilderment at her presence. She was liberal in her dosage, flooding his mouth and dousing his bedding. He choked and spat.
“Help her, Brothers,” Ten-squat-a-way commanded. His two doppelgangers lifted Tip from his bed and held him upright with his head tilted back to facilitate Marie’s ministrations. The liquid, which was more than whiskey, flowed until he felt that he must vomit, but he didn’t. The medicine did its work and he saw into the future, all the far-reaching consequences of his own actions. Through closed eyes, he beheld in terror what awaited him beyond the open door.