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  • Writer's pictureEva Nel Brettrager

Running Out of Time

I never thought I’d see the day that the White House - one of the prime symbols of our nation - was burning to the ground.

Let me rewind a little bit. I am a recent political science graduate, and by some insane grace of the universe, I landed an internship in the freaking White House. It’s fairly difficult to describe my position because everything inside that place is way more secretive than I ever possibly imagined it would be, but basically I’m the intern-to-the-senior-intern-to-the- assistant-to-the-assistant-to-the-assistant-to-the-assistant-of-the-senior-assistant-of-the-vice-assistant-to-the-vice-president. None of the positions are actually real of course but if I had to explain some crazy chain of command, that is how it would work.

So the day started normal enough. I showed up with my knapsack full of half completed paperwork from the night before that ‘had better be ready on my desk, so help me’. I had two carry out trays full of coffee precariously balanced against my chest and under my chin, with my basic white girl iced mocha latte in hand. 

I could tell something was off as soon as I walked in the building. It was in the air. Of course, getting in the building itself took almost an extra hour, because for some reason there were extra security precautions in place today. This didn’t happen too often, so I was told. It hadn’t happened once since I had started a few months ago. They almost didn’t let me bring in the coffees until they tested them for… something. Everyone who was usually bustling about was huddled into small groups, very spread apart, speaking in hushed voices. I received a few quick glances from people over their shoulders, but then I immediately went back to what I was doing.

I made my way through the now familiar hallways and dropped off the coffee orders and various paperworks (still incomplete, but at least they could be reviewed) as I made my way towards my cubicle in one of the intern wings. I grew increasingly concerned, almost a bit spooked, as I started to notice a pattern that not only was each office that I stopped at empty, but they also seemed somewhat deserted. Water bottles sat with their caps off, a few even tipped with water spilling out. Paperwork, some top clearance, sat carelessly left out. One office even had a still burning cigar, and a liquor cabinet unlocked and open. It wasn’t unknown knowledge that some of the politicians in the building did these things behind closed doors, but it was certainly something we didn’t speak about. And they worked hard to keep it quiet.

I found my way to the intern’s office. We had our various cubicles set up and I weaved my way through the maze that was gray padded half walls until I found mine. I was shocked at what I saw.. My computer screen was cracked, my keyboard was broken in half, the cord on my mouse was cut in half, and the CPU tower I had looked like it had been smashed with a sledge hammer. None of my personal belongings had really been touched, except I did notice one thing. I had a few various framed photos on my desk with a few well known politicians, and in each photo, their face - not mine - was smashed where the glass was. I just didn’t understand.

I set down my bag. I looked up to see how many other interns were in the office. There were a group of five standing in a hushed huddle near a corner, like I had seen in the hallways when I arrived. Then there was one girl, Linda, sitting at her desk, seemingly unmoving. I walked to Linda first, and I noticed that the group in the corner had stopped whispering and just turned to watch, like they were waiting for something to happen.

Her hair was excessively disheveled. Her desk practically mirrored mine. She wasn’t rocking or acting crazy at all like that. But her eyes were wide, and she was unblinking. I noticed that she was scratching her fingers slowing across the palm of her hand and after watching for a time to figure out what was wrong with the image I was looking at, I realized it was because she had scratched tears into the skin. The constant scratching back and forth was just slowly smearing the blood everywhere. I immediately reached out to grab her to stop her and it was the first time she snapped out of her trance like state. She finally looked at me.

“Linda,” I said gently, “What happened?”

She spoke in a barely audible whisper. “Don’t look at the news. Don’t look at the news. Then they’ll know. You’ll be next.” It occurred to me that I hadn’t looked at the news today.

“What is wrong with the news, Linda?” I kept my voice as gently as I could. “Why is everyone on such a high alert? I can’t find anyone that I’m supposed to report to.” I pulled out my phone and noticed I didn’t have service to even try and reach them. “Damn.”

“If you look at the news, you’ll become like me.” She just sort of blandly gestured towards her desk.

“Linda, Linda, listen. I don’t understand. My desk already does look like that. I think all the desks here look like that.” 

She looked at me like she was very scared. She slowly pushed herself away from the desk. She stood up. She walked toward the other side of the room. Then before I even had enough time to process what was happening, she was running at top speed towards the window next to her desk. I yelled out to try and stop her - she was hoping it was going to break. She was trying to kill herself. All the windows in this building were bulletproof - top grade. There’s no way her small frame would break it if high grade bullets wouldn’t. She was still pretty new here, maybe she somehow didn’t know this yet. Before I could stop her, she slammed head first into the window with the loudest, wettest thunk I could imagine.

The girls in the corner yelped. I just stood there, feeling hollow. She sort of swayed in place for a moment, blood spilling down her front, and then slumped to the floor, folding in on herself. 

I turned numbly. The girls in the corner did not turn away. I slowly approached them. 

Suddenly as I reached them, my numbness turned to anger. I felt like I was the only person unaware of what the hell was going on around here.

“Look. I don’t know what is going on around here. I don’t know where my advisors are, I have no service to reach them, and my personal work space has been wrecked. You all seem to have some sense of what’s going on so for the love of God will someone please tell me what the fuck is going on before I lose my shit?” I realized I was yelling. I composed myself as best I could. “I’m sorry.”

After a few exchanged glances, Monica, once of the more experienced interns spoke up. “Um, apparently last night there was an… incident.”

“Incident?” I pressed.

“Yes,” she continued. “The President was… out… with a… friend… and after ingesting some sort of substance during their encounter, he… changed.”

“Friend? Substance? Changed? Cut the crap, can we talk English here? There is clearly something going on that no one was exactly prepared for.”

Another intern, Julia, spoke up. She worked under the security unit. “He was with a woman, at a hotel. At this point they did what we assumed to be drugs, but during the night after he returned he started to… mutate. It’s been slow. He’s still cognisant last I heard, but his body... No one can quite explain what’s happening. It’s like he’s in some weird state of flux.”

“Flux…” My brain was having a seriously hard time comprehending this.

Julia spoke again. “I don’t know anymore than that. I haven’t seen him. I just know they have him locked up somewhere in the building. Our top scientists have the substance he ingested isolated. They were able to get close enough to him for long enough to get a blood sample. It’s not like anything they’ve ever identified, and it seems to be mutating at a faster rate than he is. But he is, nonetheless, mutating. 

With a silent agreement among us, we decided to try to move about the building to find others. We also had to find someone to alert about Linda’s untimely death.

We made our way back down the hall that I had come down making my coffee runs that were ultimately futile. I distinctly noticed that the groups of people who were previously huddled in the hall when I first arrived had dispersed and were no longer here.

We stood so silent you could hear a pin drop. We eventually heard a small amount of noise coming from a different corridor, so we followed it cautiously. We eventually came upon a gruesome scene, but that was putting it lightly. There were mangled body parts, just… everywhere. Blood, bones, ripped skin, sinew and viscera were just strewn across the walls. Precious historic artifacts were now ruined and could never be fixed. The few people left were just kind of standing, unable to speak, unable to explain what had happened. Eventually someone pointed down a hallway, towards the Oval Office. We all exchanged a glance. We exchanged glances, and many of us remaining interns turned and began running. They weren’t wrong to do so. Myself and Julia took each other's hands, took a deep breath, and headed down the hallway. 

About halfway down the hall, she stopped. 

“Maybe we should turn back.” she said.

“I don’t blame them for running,” I said, “But if no one is left to explain what happened here, then how will the world know?”

With a simultaneous sigh, we continued on. Before we got to the door of the famous Oval Office, a scientist, which honestly I wasn’t expecting, burst from the door, slamming it behind him. He was in a frenzied panic. I noticed for the brief time that the door was open, it was significantly… hot.

“What are you doing here?” he shouted.

“Someone needs to do something.” I didn’t really know what else to say.

He began shoving at us. I heard a weird, sloshy rumbling sound from behind the door. “GET OUT OF HERE!” he screamed.

We both pushed back against him. We were significantly faster than him, and strangely calm, but the combination of his frenzied size and sheer and utter panic made him a heavy adversary. It was not looking like a win for us. Suddenly, Julia grabbed a heavy vase that was nearby and smashed it against his head. He hit the ground, twitching a few times.

We slowly approached the door. I reached to turn the handle and quickly withdrew it, feeling that the handle was searing hot. Hot metal against a fleshy hand is not a good feeling. I wrapped my dress around my hand and tried again to turn the handle and was able to do so, but it had to be quick. The door came open.

“Oh, fuck.” Julia and I both said.

Parts of the room were in flames, but it was by no means consumed. The President himself stood before us. It took a long moment to adjust to what exactly I was looking at. He had nearly quadrupled in size, and not in a nice way. He was a massive lump of a... thing. His skin was hanging loosely from his body, but was also burned. It was almost like liquid lava, but still solid. It’s like it was constantly moving back and forth between a state of liquid and solid but in so smooth a fashion that it was just a horrifying light show of flesh. His hair was a white storm of electrified straw, which was billowing smoke, and yet somehow his suit had also adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, it took me a moment too long to take in everything I was seeing. He began stomping his sticky, clompy feet towards us.

“Mr. President, we’re waiting for orders, sir.” Julia said.

This halted him. He seemed very confused. It’s like part of him deep down knew he was supposed to do something, but another part was after nothing but the destruction of our human form. We stood attempting to be as calm and cool as possible, but the monster inside him won. He clamoured forward. After much club arm swinging, and blood spewing, and random goo that I honestly can’t even explain where it was coming from, we were cornered. In an oval room, nonetheless, but bare with me. Julia again thought quickly on her feet, grabbed a flag that was nearby and rammed it into his chest as he barreled towards us. He was delayed, but definitely not stopped.

“Holy shit. I just attempted to kill the President.” she said, a little in shock. She looked white as a ghost and I was afraid she was going to faint.

“Let’s worry about that later!” I said, grabbed her hand and we began running while he was subdued. I had a new plan.

We sprinted back to the interns office and I grabbed my bag. We made our way to the very front of the building. I, to my parents utter dismay, was a smoker. And I happened to think a cigarette was far more enjoyable with a Zippo than with a standard Bic. So I took out my small can of lighter fluid, sprayed it everywhere I could, flicked my Zippo, and tossed it. Julia and I exited front and center.

We sat down in the front lawn. It took a while, but eventually the building caught. No one was there to stop it, because everyone had fled. 

I never thought I’d see the day that the White House - one of the prime symbols of our nation - was burning to the ground. But here I was, with a woman I barely knew an hour ago, who was probably going to be my best friend now. Would I be in years worth of an investigation? Yes. Media? Yes. Hated by many? Yes. Loved by some? Also, yes. But I saved the people of our nation from a raving monster who ran the country that day.

I felt very hungry. I grabbed a snack out of my knapsack, and watched. A bag of Cheetos. Yum.

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