We Are Living in a Dystopian Fantasy

What if the Trump administration was just the beginning of a Young Adult Fantasy story?

•••

Naomi felt like a baby in a blanket. She was swaddled, covered in drool, warm and safe. It took her a moment to realize she was wearing a straight jacket and that stiff surface beneath her wasn’t a crib, but the floor of a padded cell.

Naomi eyes took time adjusting to the light. The fluorescent fixtures had rainbow auras, they shined so bright they cast sunspots on the walls. The shadows swayed back and forth as her pupils shifted in and out of alignment. Finally the chamber revealed itself.

The cell was lined with a canvas with two tones: white on the top and stained at the bottom. Its cushions were lopsided from years of use. At this point the padding looked like it would do a better job protecting the walls than the patients.

Naomi’s head throbbed. It felt like a rat had burrowed beneath her brow, curled up, and started kicking the skin. It took all her strength to wrench herself up off the floor.

•••

Joyce was pressed for time. Post election checkins had filled the Gilliam NorthWestern’s modest mental health wing and Joyce’s psychiatric services were in high demand.

She walked as she skimmed the police report. Police referrals were never easy, the patients were prone to self harm, violence, and the accounts of how they were dumped off were filled with inconsistencies. The patient Joyce was about to see was no exception.

The arresting officers’ notes were filled with secondhand quotes and incoherent ramblings. Based on the officers photographs of the bookstore, the patient flew in with a tornado.

Joyce took a deep breath at the threshold of the Calming Room.

A large orderly nodded. “I’ll be right here if you need me.”

Joyce nodded back.

•••

Naomi sat up in time to watch the padded wall swing open. A woman in her forties stood in a doorway that hadn’t been there a moment ago. She wore a pastel blue cardigan, a floral broach, and thin spectacles. Her greying hair was up in a bun. She seemed nervous, but she had warm sympathetic eyes. Everything about her said she crocheted in her spare time.

Naomi craned her neck to the visitor. “What’s going on?”

The woman waved. This was not the kind of wave one might expect from a visitor in a padded cell, but the kind of wave one would expect from a concierge at a resort hotel, bright and welcoming.

“My name is Joyce. What’s yours?”

Joyce held a folder in her hand. It read JANE DOE.

Naomi tried to see the world beyond the door but it shut too fast. “My name is Naomi Hoffman-Arts, you may have heard of me. Why am I here?”

“You are in the psychiatric unit of Gilliam NorthWestern. This is the Calming Room: a safe space for guests to work through things.”

Naomi arched an eyebrow and looked to her restraints. “Guests?”

Joyce gave that diagonal nod. “This is a popular suite these days. You’re lucky you got in without a reservation.”

Naomi’s eyes went out of focus. She blinked until they came back in. “What did you give me?”

Joyce opened the file. “A little Chlorpromazine to take the edge off.”

Naomi’s head was heavy on her shoulders. “Right. There’s always room for horse tranquilizers.” She raised her bound hands to draw attention to the straightjacket. “And this?”

“Our friends at the fifth precinct thought it would be best if you spent sometime in our care.”

“The cops brought me in?” Naomi’s words slurred as her head rolled from shoulder to shoulder.

Joyce scanned the notes. “You don’t remember the incident at the bookstore?”

Naomi shook her head until her eyes finally opened. “Incident?”

Joyce reviewed the file, tilted her head back forth to soften the text. “You expressed some grievances with the government. There was some property damage, and you sustained an injury.”

Joyce stole a glance at something on Naomi’s brow.

Naomi looked up to see a bump, as purple as a plum, jutting out from her forehead “Where did that come from?”

Joyce surveyed one of the photographs in her file. It featured a pile of hardcovers, planks, and splinters scattered at the foot of a cracked panel. “You dove into a bookshelf.”

Naomi gave that the slow nod of comprehension. It was all coming back to her. “The Teen Fantasy section, yes. I was doing a signing. I have to get back.” She shot up but the straightjacket kept her tethered to the floor.

Joyce put her hands up. “It’s okay. You’re safe here.”

Naomi jerked at her restraints. “I’m not. No one is. This place was never meant to be safe.”

Joyce appraised the room. “That’s the only thing this place was meant to be.”

Naomi sneered. “Not the cell. This place, this reality. You think 2016 was bad. It’s about to get so much worse.”

Joyce skimmed through the noise of the admitting physician’s report. Donald Trump’s name jumped out at her several times. He’d been turning up on a lot of her papers. Joyce recited her prepared speech for just such an occasion.

“Many of our guests have expressed anxieties in the wake of the election. Rather than focus on the things we can’t change it’s important for us to focus on–”

Naomi cut her off. “You’ve seen a dramatic spike in LGBT, female, and minority admissions since Trump won, right?”

Joyce nodded. “Some communities are scared.”

Naomi cackled. “A whole lot more are about to be when they see what I’ve got in store for them.”

That put a crack in Joyce’s sunny disposition. “What do you mean what you have in store for them?”

Naomi scanned the battered wall. “Where I’m from Trump is a benign figure, a mouthpiece for misinformed memes. He says things like Obama wasn’t born in the US, or that he saw Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, and we all get a good laugh out of him. He’s the guest entertainment programs call on slow days, a fixture in their Billionaires Say the Darnedest Things segments.” Naomi smirked. “I reimagined him as a populist presidential candidate.”

Joyce raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You worked on his campaign?”

Naomi snickered. Her smirk stretched into a Cheshire Cat smile. “I wanted to see what would happen if a reality TV villain ran for president. My picks came down to Gordon Ramsey, Simon Cowell, and Donald Trump. I settled for Trump because he was the only natural born citizen. I figured he’d dial the Reagan era rhetoric up to eleven. Hence the slogan: Make America Great, Again.

Joyce listened with her best poker face, giving the noncommittal nods of acknowledgement. Best not to play into her patent’s delusion. Best not to challenge it. Better to listen and try to understand the delusion’s dimensions.

Joyce tented her fingers. “Do you mind clarifying what you mean when you say you wanted to see what would happen?”

Naomi searched for the right words in the buckles of the straightjacket. “As a writer, people are always asking me where I get my ideas from. I tell them my ideas always come in the form of a question: what if? What if the Capital forced poor districts to offer tributes to compete in Hunger Games? What if there was a test that divided society into factions but one girl was rated Divergent? What if a boy woke up in a walled off glade and the only way out was to run through a maze?”

Joyce smiled. “My daughters devoured those novels.”

Naomi nodded. “Then maybe they’ll like this one: what if a reality star became president? What kind of girl would it take to topple his regime?”

Joyce leaned back. “What kind of girl? You weren’t planning anything drastic, were you?”

Naomi shook her head. “I’d outlined the tyranny of Trump, but I was a ways away from fleshing out its opposition.”

“What do you mean by fleshing out its opposition?”

Naomi sighed. She was going to have to walk Joyce through all of it.

“In a young adult fantasy story you come up with the oppressive dystopian government first, then you write about the resistance. I spent months outlining Trump’s rise to power, from the escalator announcement to the storm troopers outside of Trump Tower. I had to build up my super villain before I could introduce my heroine.”

Joyce dared to draw out Naomi’s delusion to see how deep it went. “So this entire election was just the setup for your young adult fantasy fiction?”

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Naomi rolled her eyes. “Obviously.”

Naomi took a deep breath. She’d have to start earlier. “Where I’m from there’s a lot of push back against political correctness. Progressive bloggers get outraged at the use of the word ‘girl’ when the writer means ‘woman.’ Meanwhile misogynists are getting outraged with them. Trolls are dolling out death threats to journalists, leaking home addresses, and promising rape. I thought it would be funny if a chauvinist superstar, like Trump, built a platform on fighting political correctness. Why else do you think I had him say he grabbed women by the pussy?”

“So you put those words in his mouth?”

Naomi shrugged. “Where I’m from Trump is a public figure. It’s not slander if it’s satire.”

“So he’s not the 45th president over there?”

“Of course not. He’s the guy that tweets relationship advice to Robert Pattinson at three in the morning. Do you think anyone would take that guy as a serious contender for the highest office in the land?”

Joyce caught herself chuckling, raised a fist to her lips, and tried to play it off like she was coughing. “Stranger things have happened.”

Naomi scoffed. “No they haven’t. Not with all the baggage I lauded on. Do you think a serious candidate would pick someone who advocates gay conversion shock therapy as his running mate?”

“So Mike Pence was your doing?”

“I needed someone who’d signed a law that let bigoted bakers deny wedding cake to gays.”

“And Jeff Sessions was your nominee for attorney general?”

Naomi shrugged. “I needed someone was already denied a position in government for making racist comments. Sessions had called a white attorney a race traitor for taking black clients. He said the only problem with the KKK was how much chronic they toked under their bonnets.”

Joyce raised her chin. “And where did you find Steve Bannon?”

Bannon was a founding member of Breitbart News, an obscure far right website. He’d been a fringe figure until Trump had tapped him to be his campaign chairman and then the White House’s chief strategist. He was not a name a writer, like Naomi, would just pick out of a hat like that. Joyce wanted to see how Naomi would rationalize his inclusion in her fiction.

Naomi smacked her lips. “I had a homophobe and a racist. I needed an antisemite to complete the cabinet. The problem was that most of them in politics are too covert, but when I searched the conservative publications I found someone on page one. When I saw that Bannon had called a conservative commentator a ‘renegade Jew’ I knew he was my man.”

Joyce was entranced by her patient’s mental gymnastics and her face was starting to show it. Her eyes lit up like a toddler during story time. “So why fill the cabinet full of bigots?”

Naomi looked to her restraints. “Readers measure the strength of their heroes by the strength of their villains. The cabinet had to be stone cold evil if I wanted readers to root against them. That’s why the moment I cast Bannon in my story I had him say, ‘Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.’”

Joyce chuckled. She rubbed the bridge of her nose. It was getting harder to hide her amusement. Naomi seemed composed in this moment, crazy, but composed. Perhaps it was time to challenge her patient’s delusion to see how much of the news cycle she was willing to take credit for.

Joyce lowered her spectacles, covered her mouth to suppress her smile, and took a deep breath. “There have been over 900 hate crimes in the weeks since the election: hateful hashtags in bathrooms, swastikas on playgrounds, and death threats on cars. The children of immigrants are being harassed in class, some even beaten. Do you really want to take credit for all that pain?”

Naomi shrugged. “I was just foreshadowing the fascism to come. Hail Trump, right?”

Naomi swished her tongue around her mouth. That last part left a foul taste. “You know now that I hear ‘Hail Trump’ out loud it sounds a little too on the nose. It sounded funnier when I imagined Tila Tequila saying it.”

Joyce realized she’d struck a nerve. She had to be careful. It was clear that Naomi’s fantasy was the only thing helping her cope with the election. Joyce decided to change tact, to highlight the positive aspect of the delusion, the part that might help her patient heal in the months and years to come.

Joyce pushed her spectacles back up. “Tell me Naomi, how long have you been a writer?”

Naomi bit her lip. She tried to count the years on her fingers, but her hands were buried beneath the straightjacket. “I’ve been a writer for fifteen years, and I’ve been an author for five.”

Joyce’s face lit up. “So you’ve been published? What was your first book about?”

“Oh that. That was a whole different thing.”

Joyce perked up. Different was good. “Tell me about it.”

Naomi looked back into the recesses of her mind. Her expression softened as she took a trip down memory lane. “I imagined a scenario where newscasts were no longer loss leaders but ran 24/7 and pulled down incredible ratings. Eventually these news networks ran out of information and started broadcasting opinions. Each stations ran editorials that catered to their demographic’s worldview. Millennials got to see the world through a progressive lens while baby boomers saw through a darker one. One news network raised so much fear in these old timers they sparked a misinformed revolution, until a brave anchor raised a series of sexual harassment claims against the CEO.”

Joyce made a time-out gesture. “What did you call this one?”

Fox News.”

“I thought you said this was a whole different thing.”

“Its a different story in the same shared universe.”

Joyce closed her eyes and shook her head. “Of course it is.”

Naomi noted the cracks in Joyce’s cool exterior. At any moment the psychiatrist would knock on that wall and leave Naomi alone to do the worm until an intern came around with baby food and a bedpan.

“Listen. I know this is hard to believe. You probably think I’m just putting a fanciful spin on a negative election. It’d be a easy thing to do given the amount of news content in this” Naomi scanned her brow for the right word, “dimension, but I can tell you things that haven’t happened, because they’re all part of my design.”

Joyce folded her spectacles and set them in her pocket. Naomi had forced her hand. She’d have to play along or risk losing the trust of her patient.

Joyce decided to start with the obvious question. “Does Trump build a border wall with Mexico in his first term?”

“Of course not, he needs it to be the centerpiece of his reelection campaign.”

Joyce made a face like she’d bit into something sour. That sounded plausible.

Joyce knelt down. She whispered, just incase the guard manning the door heard her. “Does he deport 3 million immigrants?”

Naomi shook her head. “Since 2009, more Mexicans have left the country than have come in. When the census data comes shows that Trump just takes the credit.”

Joyce ran with the questions, diving headlong into her patient’s delusion.

“Does he bring back waterboarding?”

“It never went away.”

“Does he break down negotiations with Cuba?”

“He threatens to, then preposes the exact same deal the Obama administration put on the table, and declares victory when Cuba accepts it.”

“What about with the nuclear disarmament of Iran?”

“Same thing. His diplomats go around the world, following Obama’s footsteps, taking credit for all of his accomplishments.”

“Does he sever his business ties once he takes office?”

“His first state of the union address plays like an infomercial for the Trump International Hotel. So no.”

“Does he dismantle Obamacare?”

“He lets people deduct their health insurance premiums from their taxes, which doesn’t help anyone who can’t afford insurance. So millions of Americans go without coverage.”

Joyce lowered her eyebrow. “None of this really sounds like satire anymore.”

Naomi leaned forward as far as her restraints would allow. “I’d love to tell you that Trump paints the White House gold or that he hosts a Miss America pageant on the lawn, you know, zany shit like that, but that’s not the scenario I outlined. I’d set out to write a story about the terrible things that can happen when hateful words go unchallenged.”

“And what are those terrible things?”

Naomi frowned. “There’s a surge of hate crimes against Muslims followed by a surge of lone wolf attacks in retaliation. Trump doesn’t see how his rhetoric fans the flames of violence, so he turns up the heat, and things blow out of proportion. It isn’t just his policies that threaten to burn down the fabric of civilization, it’s his lack of civility.”

“If all of this chaos is just the setup for your story, how did you plan on resolving it?”

“I told you, I hadn’t gotten to that part. I was thinking since Trump got his longevity from reality TV maybe a rising YouTube star should take him down, a young woman who baits Trump into a series of tweets that finally prove to be his undoing, but I have to get back to where I’m from so I can write that part down.”

Joyce remembered the folder in her hands. “You mean charge at another bookshelf?”

Naomi let out a long exhale. She knew how crazy she was about to sound. “I think that’s how I got here. I was at a book signing for the sequel to Fox News: Facebook News. I tripped on something and fell through a portal in the Teen Fantasy section. I woke up surrounded by magazines declaring Trump the president. The Art of the Deal was in the paperback top ten. James Patterson had a bunch of bestsellers. It was total madness. I figured I was dreaming. I leapt at the bookshelf to try to wake up.”

“But it didn’t work.”

Naomi shook her head. “I think I rammed my head into Teen Romance when I meant for the Teen Fantasy section. Those damn Twilight books threw me off.”

Joyce knelt down dangerously close to her patient.

“Do you seriously think charging headlong into a bookshelf will spare you from four years of Trump?”

Naomi nodded. Her expression was dead certain.

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That night Joyce crashed her van through the entryway of the bookstore where Naomi had been arrested. The security alarms blared.

Naomi and Joyce raced out of the wreck, dumped all the books off the Teen Fantasy shelves, and sure enough, found a portal on the other side. It was bright, bubbling, and shimmering like a hot spring in a clearing. Light shone through the waves like the sun upon the ocean.

Naomi and Joyce marveled at their reflections, joined hands, and dove in. They awoke in another dimension where the news was only on in the evening, where glass ceilings had already been broken, and Internet trolls would never be president.

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