This is the second round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, you can read about it HERE and HERE. For them interested, the title voting results are found HERE.
As a quick summary, we solicited titles, readers voted on a favorite, we each wrote a story using that title.
The winning title was Something Gained.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Gary’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Gary’s:
Most of us love to hate politicians. Meet Senator Paul Debage (pronounced with a French accent), and you will find that he has no redeeming factors—save one. He is a runner. As a runner myself, I feel that makes him almost human. I invite you to run along with the ambitious Senator Debage as he attempts to finagle votes and solve a nagging mystery. Meet the vengeful Rush Spiegel and make up your mind for yourself. Saint or sinner? Sane or crazy? Justified or Just nuts?
Copyright 2022 — R. G. Broxson
(3,330 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
With still one hundred yards to go, Paul raised his hands in victory like Philippides following the battle of Marathon. He furtively glanced left and right, constantly wary of heel-biters intent upon stealing his 10K thunder. Paul Tiger-pumped his fist and emitted his customary mantra as he crossed under the ballooned arch and over the bib-sensor mat. “Vote for Debage!” he exclaimed, accenting the French interpretation of his surname while beaming his ivory veneers.
Running was Paul’s thing. He had been running for something since sixth grade: Cross-walk cadet; Hall monitor; Class President; Eagle Scout; Anchor leg on the1600 meter medley relay; Captain of the Cross Country team; Boston Marathon contender; School Board boss; County Commish; then big time as Georgia State Senator. The Peachtree Classic 10K Road Race in Hotlanta, however, was his favorite run, and he always found a way to ace his age group. At 58 years young, he was finding it easier and easier to beat the old burnouts and hippies he had grown up with. His doctor had assured him that the special supplements and hormones he prescribed would help keep Paul one step ahead of any contemporary competition.
Glad-handing, back-smacking, and baby-smooching, Paul worked the sweaty, hunched and heavy-breathing crowd after the biggest 10K race in America; 50,000 runners strong, all despite the real ravages and Fauci fantasies of Covid. The southern state felt they gained more than they lost by fighting the pandemic with common sense rather than government paranoia. This huge gathering was Georgia’s middle finger to Covid and to its conspirators.
At 11 AM sharp the race director announced via bullhorn that it was time to present the awards. He started with the females,” Ladies first,” he condescended, starting with the lowest age groups ascending to 80 and up; three deep. Then came the males. As the 50 – 54-year oldsters smiled for the photographer and stepped off the podium, Paul readied himself to take the vacated top tier.
The director started with third place, announcing the man’s name and race time. Paul was patient as he clapped coldly for the old loser. The first place trophy exalted a peach at its peak and, Paul thought, would make a nice addition to his shrine, an elaborately lit shelving assembly varnished with vainglory.
“Paul Debage!” the director announced, snapping Paul out of his reverie.
What the…? Paul thought, Seconnd place? almost growling. But he pasted a practiced smile back across his clenched jaws and bounded onto the middle-step of the podium.
A small ribbon was hooped over his head by a Southern bell in full antebellum regalia. “And first place for 55 – 59-year-old men goes to Rush Spiegel.”
Paul scanned the crowd as the director announced the name again. The Southern bell placed the peach trophy on the top step. “Well folks, we’ll just box this beauty up and send her to Mr. Spiegel. No, not you Elizabeth,” the director joked as the Southern bell clutched her pearls and dramatically fanned her face. The crowd laughed affably, all except Paul. The fake smile remained frozen on his face, even as molten lava seethed beneath.
The campaign trail took Paul all over the great state of Georgia. He made promises in Plains, made concessions in Columbus, took bribes in Brunswick, sold out in Savannah, and told bold-face lies in Ludowici. Georgia had become a purple state in the parlance of politicos, and Paul decided to pit the donkey against the elephant at every whistle stop.
Along with Paul’s innate talent to tip toe the tight rope between Dems and Pubs, Paul could run. Paul Debage’s campaign manager, a cute little honey that he had personally hired, scheduled his stops around local 5K’s and 10K’s where Paul could show off his speed and endurance, qualities he parlayed into his stump speeches.
Paul would begin these speeches by extolling the virtue of family, lamenting the fact that his lovely wife and seven children couldn’t be by his side as he barnstormed across the South. But, alas, his tow-head children were in school (he never mentioned the elite private schools in which they were enrolled), and his doting wife was seven months along with baby Debage number eight, back in Buckhead.
Paul then railed on about his opponents’ records on crime, poverty, education, borders, vaccinations, masks, gas prices, and overall inflation, never mentioning his own vague viewpoints on these subjects, merely mocking his opponents’ supercilious stances. For the cameras and crowds, Paul pointed a well-manicured finger at his opponents like a sniper rifle while effectively deflecting blame with a Teflon tongue. This smoke-and-mirrors strategy seemed to work well as the latest Pew polls showed Paul 6 points ahead of the competition. Another easy win, Paul thought.
His thoughts of winning another term soured instantly to losing. Paul recalled the mysterious second place he had suffered at the Peachtree Classic 10K. Curious, he deftly thumbed the keyboard on his phone and pulled up the results of the recent race. He scrolled down to his age group. There it was. The top three 55-59 male runners. He recognized his name at second place, then studied the number one runner. A Mr. Rush A. Spiegel had only finished seconds ahead of Paul. What kind of name is that? Paul thought. And why hadn’t he spotted the same-age runner during the course of the race? He had only been an arm’s-reach away. Fifty-thousand runners, that’s why. Paul shook it off and cut himself some slack.
The Army Ten-Miler was the creme de la creme. This race was only a month away from the Primaries. Paul ran this race to win and to rub elbows with political elites. Billion dollar back-door deals were brokered at the pre-race pasta party and Paul, one of the few serious runners and a perennial age-group champ, might just catch the eyes of the old king-makers. Here, he was in his element.
Early October in Washington, DC, the weather was cool and crisp and was perfect for running. Politicians and high-ranking military types checked into the Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Street. This was the not-so-secret watering hole for all sorts of animals, Donkeys and Elephants included. The Lincoln ballroom was reserved for the upper echelon and Paul got there early to check out his competition and possible connections.
Paul also enjoyed the scenery. At the bar, he noticed a leggy brunette, no doubt a runner, and perhaps much more. He pasted on his pickup smile and sidled up beside the woman. “Carbs,” he announced to the bartender in a stentorian voice, who in turn, canted a frosty mug under the tap. When the barman offered it to Paul, Paul gestured to the woman beside him. “Ladies first,” he bowed ever so slightly.
She took the bubbly brew and drained it without a belch, her pony tail flipped as she slammed the empty glass onto the bar. “Impressive,” Paul shouted, raising his fresh mug to her.
She wiped a frothy mustache away with the back of her hand and exhaled, “Good head.” Then she turned and walked back to the pasta buffet. Paul followed, helpless to do otherwise.
“I know who you are, Senator,” the woman cut him off, putting a finger to his lips.
He puckered, kissed her finger. “Then I am at a disadvantage,” Paul said meekly. “Perhaps I can buy you dinner and we can get to know each other better.” He clasped her hand and kissed her finger again.
“Politicians,” she snatched her hand back and rolled her eyes. “The pasta bar is complimentary. You want to buy me free spaghetti?”
He laughed, then became more serious, whispering, “I can have room service bring up spaghetti for us…extra meatballs for you.”
“You are a bold one,” she smiled for the first time.
“Nothing gained,” she finished.
Paul handed her one of several extra room key cards he always requested at registration and whispered to her the suite number. “Oh, I expect something,” he finished.
At 10:00 PM, there was a clinking sound outside Paul’s door. The ‘something gained’ was happening, Paul thought. He identified the woman through the peep hole and let her in as the back of his mind searched for a 70’s movie. The beautiful woman held one of two beer bottles out to Paul. “Carbs,” she said, and took a swig of the other beer. Paul took the proffered bottle and drank deeply as well. Warriors, Paul suddenly remembered. That was the 70’s flick.
Paul awoke to the buzzing of his cell phone. He groped for it and swiped the green telephone icon. “Where the hell are you?” the frantic voice of his campaign manager shrilled. Paul looked at the time on his phone. “Shit!” he said to himself.
“I’ll be right down.” He almost swiped off, then punctuated: “Coffee!” He switched on the bedside lamp and gazed at the vast ocean of blue, crumpled fabric like choppy waves across the king-sized bed. A king without a queen. Paul’s brain struggled to piece together the broken puzzle from the night before as he drowned himself in the steaming shower.
The hot water helped. Paul remembered the girl in the doorway wearing a snakeskin hour-glass dress, smirking and salaciously clanking the beer bottles together with thumb and forefinger. She had said Carbs, or was it Warriors, and they had drank deeply and then…he couldn’t remember.
Paul shook it off. He was a professional. He shucked on his shorts and a singlet, his favorite one with a Superman sigil emblazoned on the front—his lucky shirt. When asked, Paul told the Press that the S stood for Super Senator. He bent to lace his Asics and felt a sharp pain in his posterior. It quickly relinquished. What the hell happened last night? Paul thought, as he dashed out the door. Paul’s secretary slash campaign manager, was waiting for him in the lobby with a hot cup of caffeine and supplements.
Fortunately, Paul was a VIP member and was allowed to pass through the thousands of stretching, stepping, stomping, and sprinting runners where he was ushered to the secondary corral, just behind the elite racers. The prescription coffee was kicking in and Paul was starting to feel the old thunder again. The raw energy of the expectant runners was electrifying and after a very deep sleep, Paul was pegging on 100% charge and ready to race—ready to win.
A uniformed bugler pursed his lips, crossed his eyes, and sounded the ‘prepare to charge’ call. A synchronized artillery battery blasted the signal to start from a remote hillock. Paul shot out of the chute like a sabot round from a Howitzer. He nipped at the elite runners’ heels for the first half mile, smirked at his haughty hubris, then settled back to a more moderate, sustainable, age-appropriate pace. This is not a sprint, he reminded himself.
The mile markers clipped by every six minutes flat. Paul was on a PR pace for this distance. He embraced his speed in every cell of his being. Nobody, nobody his age should be able to run and sustain this pace. He felt the thunder and the lightning—he was a running god, thanks to a little help from his pharmaceutical friends. But there was that nagging feeling that he was being tailed, trailed, stalked or watched. Paul glanced left and right as the straightaways and angles allowed. A few runners passed him, but only much younger, more athletic racers were in the windshield of Paul’s racing Oakleys; his age-group competition was in the rear-view.
Along with 30,000 “Hoorah” runners, Paul puffed his way along Independence Avenue, sporting his patronizing red, white, and blue. He spirited past Arlington Cemetery thinking, Losers; what the hell were they thinking? Two miles later, the Lincoln Monument loomed on his left—That’s what you get for being so stubborn, Mr. Liberator. Paul waved at the marbled myth and whispered as he smiled in case of cameras, How was the play?
With five miles remaining, Paul’s purview was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. It was the brunette with the pony tail, her name was…, Paul searched his busy brain. She had never given it. He was good with names, almost didactic. He now recalled that her anonymity was one of the things that attracted him to this woman. That, and her athletic body and beautiful face. He didn’t care much about her banter; Paul preferred to wade in the shallow end of the conversation pool.
“Senator,” she said, “you are a hard man to catch up to.” She theatrically puffed at his side.
Always ready for surprises, “I hope I was just as hard last night,” Paul quipped and queried, not actually recalling the entirety of the encounter.
The girl giggled and flipped her pony tail, not confirming or denying Paul’s insinuations. “What do you think about the scenery?” she asked, changing the subject.
Paul glared at the beautiful girl running beside him and said, “I like what I see. And I’d like to see more of you.”
“Senator,” she demurred, “I was talking about the Washington Monument, just over there.”
“Very phallic. I see why you like it.”
“What do you really think about these outrageous monuments and memorials here in D.C., Senator?”
Paul smiled like a large-mouth bass and took the bait. “That patch of land we just passed, back there—the Arlington Cemetery? So much wasted real estate. A few bulldozers and a team of undocumented migrants could build condos for living people there in no time.”
“So, you agree with the poem by Shelley.”
“I don’t agree with poetry at all.”
“Ozymandias,” she said, still running and breathing smoothly at Paul’s side. She gravely waved at the landscape and recited, “Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”
Paul laughed, not sure what his new side-kick was referring to. “Despair,” he said. “Not me. I’ve got bigger plans on Pennsylvania Avenue,” He pointed to the north—the White House. The two continued to run together in silence, only agreeing on the synchronicity of their pace and their breathing.
“There it is,” Paul noted, “the Pentagon and the finish line. I wish that American Airlines jet back in September ’01 had taken out those blood suckers. Always wanting more for national defense: bigger guns, Battle ships, and Star Wars toys.” He smiled, perhaps hoping his partner would join him in this civic discourse. Everyone loved to bitch about the government.
“So, ‘Let’s roll’ then, Senator,” the girl countered, echoing the battle cry of Todd Beamer on Flight 93, just before they overwhelmed the terrorists at the cost of their lives and untold others. Always up for a challenge, Paul picked up his pace to stay alongside this intriguing woman. Soon they heard the cheers of bystanders as they turned onto the off-ramp and sprinted onto the Pentagon’s vast parking lot where the race had begun and would now finish.
As they neared the inflated arch, Paul noticed several cameras swing toward him. In a cheesy display of chivalry, he motioned for the girl beside him to take the lead into the chute, grunting out, “Ladies first.” His motive was not a concession to good manners, it was more about making sure the photographers got a clear singular shot of him, his hair, his smile, and the pronounced ‘S’ on his chest. This was publicity gold and he didn’t want some chick fucking up his frame. Besides, she was not a threat to his locked-in position as number one for his age group.
“Vote for Debage!” he hailed, waving V’ed fingers as he surged across the electronic mat. Paul was ushered through the chute by volunteers where he was assailed with water bottles and well-wishes. As customary, Paul merged into the masses. He signed autographs, posed for selfies, and chatted with constituents until the bullhorn signaled the presentation of awards.
As usual, Paul was forced to applaud politely as the ‘ladies’ got first mention for awards. What a stupid tradition, he thought, never flinching behind his senatorial smile. Perhaps I could slip a bylaw into the next bill that would eliminate such genderism, he mused. The lefties would love it. His smile widened. And then the race director began announcing male age groups.
This was a shoo-in, Paul decided. He had watched carefully along the out-and-back course and had not seen anyone near his age group as competition. The trophy would be his.
When Paul’s name was called for second place for the second time in a month, his fake smile slipped like melted wax. Paul, however, smirked and stepped onto the second pedestal where he received an ornate ribbon and gaudy medal. Rush Speigel was again called up as first place. Paul looked anxiously for the usurper, almost daring him to step out of the crowd.
And then he did. It was the girl Paul had run with, the one he had slept with; it was her. She stepped up to the podium, made a production of tucking her pony tail under a ball cap and then reached theatrically into her race pouch. The crowd silenced as she produced an ebony patch of hair, resembling a black caterpillar, and pressed it under her nose. Bearing this absurd mustache, she boldly stepped onto the top tier while deftly taking the trophy out of the stunned race director’s hands.
“Just wait a minute, here,” Paul protested.
The champion pointed to the military backdrop behind the podium—the black and gold Army Star and its ever-catchy motto ‘Be all you can be’, then she turned to the crowd and said, “Today, is a day of choice, and I choose to be a 58-year-old male.” The crowd murmured, some hissed. “Sounds crazy right? I get it. I’m no different than you…or maybe I’m just crazy.” The crowd didn’t revolt; they listened.
“Not so long ago, I identified as an Olympic athlete, a runner, a medal contender, until a transgender woman was permitted to compete at the University of Georgia. Your alma mater,” she nodded to the senator. “I lost my place on the track team and some will tell you that I lost my mind.” She laughed at herself and the crowd tittered with her. “So here I am; I’m here; I’m me. I’m 58-year-old Rush Spiegel.” She raised the trophy and the crowd cheered.
The champion whispered to Paul, “Your policies did this. You legislated this crap, and now you get to feel the fate of your choices, like I did. I will follow you to the ends of the earth and will steal your passion at every turn, the way you stole mine. You will never win a race again, as long as Rush Spiegel is at your heels.”
“I will forever be a pain in your ass.” She smiled and winked and waited for him to consider.
“What do you mean by that?” He somehow knew, but he felt he had to ask.
She reached into her runners pouch again and plucked out a thumb-drive. “We got it all on video—me and all my LGBTQ plus friends. After a drink or two, it seems that you actively identified as our bitch. If you would like this,” she waved the tiny stick, “to go viral…I will gladly introduce it to the World Wide Web.”
“But what could you possibly expect to gain from this…this stunt?” Paul asked.
“That’s your problem, Senator. You are always looking for something gained. There will be nothing gained here today, not until Americans return to a time of common sense. My only gain, if there must be one, is your loss,” she finished.
The girl snatched off her fake mustache and held up her trophy; she stepped off the podium. The crowd parted as she walked away mumbling to herself: “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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