This is a weird little story I wrote a while back in response to a writing prompt on the Sci-Fi Roundtable. It’s WAY outside my normal genre, but for some reason I felt the need to dust it off and put it here today.
I did not, however, feel a need to put on a stovepipe hat.
Hope you enjoy it.
It was a good day. The first in a long time. The warm spring sun filled the room and the view from the office windows was peaceful. Dogwood trees bloomed and the scent of flowers filled the air.
It truly was peaceful. And quiet. Both of which had been rare in the White House for as long as Lincoln could remember. The war had finally reached its end, and although they still faced the complex struggle of rebuilding, the Cabinet Meeting today gave him hope that they were on the path out of darkness.
Enough lives have been sacrificed. It is over. Now, together, we can begin to stand again as a nation.
Grabbing a scrap of paper, he jotted his words down for a future speech. He had a habit of tossing off extemporaneous lines, but once in a while his thoughts were worthy of posterity, and he committed them to writing. He smiled and put the note onto a pile of books that cluttered his table.
His assistant, Edward, had told him that the Vice-President arrived before lunch but decided to go for a stroll while he waited for the Cabinet Meeting to end. Enjoying the brief respite before Andrew’s return, Abe sat back and laced his fingers behind his head. Pushing the stack of books away from the edge of his table with a foot, he crossed his long legs on the corner and closed his eyes.
Somewhere in that moment sleep took him.
Jerking his feet down and sitting up with a start, he realized he wasn’t alone.
A person sat in the chair across from him. “I need your help,” the man said. His voice had the hollow sound of the wind through leaves, and his skin had a near translucence that was hard to gaze upon.
A ghost? Am I still asleep?
“Who are you, and who let you in?” For most of his early Presidency, Lincoln had maintained an open-door policy, but as the war stretched on, Edward had done an excellent job of slowing the crush of the Beggars Opera. Obviously, once in a while, someone still got past him.
“I am sorry I startled you Mr. President,” the apparition said, lifting an emaciated arm and running a fingertip over the ridge of a scar that shadowed what might have been an eye. “We need your help.”
Abe balled his fists and ground sleep from his own eyes, hoping to clear his vision and wake from the dream. “I am not sure I follow you,” the President said when the spirit refused to vanish. “What do you want from me?”
“Where I come from, we are facing what you have just overcome. My people live in slavery and have for many generations,” he said. He spoke slowly with a voice that sounded like he’d spent most of his life screaming. Or crying.
“I am sorry for your people’s plight, but why do you think I would be able to help you?” Lincoln looked around the room, trying not to stare.
“We know you brought these changes to your people, and perhaps you could inspire my people to do the same. We are truly desperate.”
“I understand how that can be. Slavery is an atrocity,” the President said. “But I don’t know who, or even what, you are. No offence to you personally.” Abe instantly regretted his words.
“None taken,” the man said, leaning forward slightly in the chair. “I am sure my unannounced arrival, and my appearance, are quite unsettling to you.”
“Perhaps a little,” Abe admitted, forcing himself to make eye contact with the person. “I am still not sure what you think I can do for you.”
“If you would consider coming back with me, you would be able to see how similar our situation is,” he suggested.
“Surely you aren’t proposing that I travel to wherever you live?” the President said. “This is a troubled time.”
“Time is often troubled, but your battles are through,” he said. “Your destiny has been achieved.”
“I will not abdicate my responsibility,” Lincoln said. “I took an oath to serve the people. Those were not empty words.”
“I understand your feelings, but there is much at stake,” the ghost said.
“My own nation is not yet back on its feet, and the ruptures we have in our society are nigh onto insurmountable.” He shook his head. “I cannot abandon my country now that the war has ended. Rebuilding peace is only just beginning for us.”
“Mr. Lincoln, you are such a charismatic figure. Surely you see how you could be influential in helping my people regain our freedom. We need someone like you. No, we actually need, you.”
“I am afraid my answer must be an unequivocal no,” Abe said.
“We expected you would say that. Perhaps, if I explained what the end result of your refusal may be?”
“No amount of persuasion will change my mind.” The President rose from his desk and nodded politely toward the door. “Now if you will excuse me, I have an appointment with the Vice-President.”
The specter refused to rise.
“Please do not make it necessary for me to have you removed,” Lincoln said, lowering his voice and reaching out for his call rope.
“Please do not do that, Mr. President,” he said, pleading.
As the ghost stood, the president saw for the first time how crippled he really was. One arm hung limply by his side, and his face had burned to the point where the skin seemed to be no more than a mass of scarred flesh.
In spite of having witnessed so many of his own troops maimed by the war, Lincoln’s mouth fell open in shock.
“I am sorry,” he said, apparently reading the President’s horror.
“No, it is I who should be sorry,” he said, casting his eyes down, ashamed to look into the face of the man. “Your people have obviously also suffered through a war.”
The apparition shook his head. “This is not from a war. It is the result of the atrocities our masters heap upon us. These are the ravages of monsters beyond your imagining.”
After several seconds Lincoln shook his head. “I cannot. Please, you need to leave now, before Mary comes in. She does not need to—”
“See the ugly truth?” he finished, bitterness clear in his hissing voice.
“Please. Just go.” Abe’s voice ground out the words slowly, dragging chunks of his soul with them. His hand touched the call rope, but he could not bring himself to pull it.
He struggled to clear his mind. I need to wake up now.
“You would not abandon your own people to slavery. Why would you expect that of me?” it asked.
When the President looked up, the specter stood there with an expression that might have been sadness. He watched as it made a gesture with its good hand.
Behind him another figure appeared, not quite visible through a suddenly blinding light. This one seemed to be solid, and far more human. Abe blinked several times in confusion before he collapsed forward unconscious over his desk.
The new person stepped around him, picking up the stovepipe hat that was sitting on the edge of the table. He set it lightly upon his own head. It fit perfectly, but of course it would.
Clearing his throat, he turned to face the apparition. “Take him home before he wakes.”
With another blinding flash, Lincoln vanished, leaving the new man in his place.
“Thank you, my friend,” the first one said. “Because of what you do here today in his place, he will finally have the chance to set his people free.”
“And perhaps this time it will last,” the newcomer said. “Do not let them forget again.”
Nodding, the ghost faded as the connection thinned. “Try to enjoy the play tonight, Mr. Lincoln. Primitive as it is, I understand that Ford’s Theater was a wonderful venue.”
Staring into the now empty space of his office, he sat down and picked up the paper the original Lincoln had set on the books.
“In its time.”