~ a short story
Mr. Smith gritted his teeth as the glove was affixed to his soft knuckles. The inner material braced against his fists roughly, shimmied there by silent public servants. Unforgiving was such equipment, its harsh cushions fitted to the soul that wore it. Or rather, the soul eventually shaped itself closer to that which befitted its hallowed profession of unabashed violence.
Mr. Smith would never wear the boxing gloves comfortably. He was not a boxer but a Congressional representative. He was not a fighter, but a talker. A lawmaker.
And yet, he currently sat sighing in the corner of a cage, sweating in one of eight notches and opposite his opponent on the other side of the mat. Barefoot on stools, each man stared the other down. Punches were yet to be thrown.
From Smith’s perspective, two red stones affixed to a golem of a man beckoned him. Sheening light reflected off a well-sculpted body, all biceps and triceps and deltoids and pectorals. The golem grinned while the pencil pusher heaved with anxious madness. One was not here by choice. Rapturous unconsciousness was on its way for both men in starkly different fashions.
Unrobed save for a strangling set of tights around the groin, sweaty and already scabbing in a dozen spots on his doughy bod, Mr. Smith was near the end.
Mr. Smith was in the octagon. And Mr. Stone was his opponent, a professional mixed martial artist. Boxer. Black belt. Communist. Each man is 39 years old, though with much different shapes to their form. Weight class was irrelevant to the bout, and the gap was wide. Each man was elected to be here. And soon, they’d engage in the ritual combat of their ancestors. Not mortal and not just for show.
This final stage of “The Gauntlet” was, in fact, democracy made manifest.
Mr. Stone was about to beat the living hell out of Mr. Smith. Their constituents were watching in the crowd and through the TV. Live and unedited, the match was about to begin. The legendary Bruce Buffer walked to the center of the ring with a hanging microphone in hand.
The crowd at last quieted its din of excitement and bloodlust. Mr. Smith peed a little as the lights went low, centering the Congressional octagon at long last.
The year is not so far away and the American government is humming along like a well-oiled machine. Congress acts in the best interest of her people. The House and Senate unite to establish life-preserving infrastructures and allocate resources to the communities most in need of them. The laws of the land, perhaps for the first time in this young country’s history, provide to the people.
Not fast but efficient, not reckless or means-tested but deliberative and meaningful in its action — the small mass of elected U.S. lawmakers understand their job is to protect their people. And they do it.
You may ask: “What in the hell changed?” What apocalyptic conditions brought such an about-face in America’s previously greedy, inept, cruel, foolish, and downright evil governing body?
You would think: many, many accumulating circumstances and altering material realities, new generations of blood in the system, sweeping demographic and ideological shifts in the voting base. An overthrow of the economic order?
No. It was one thing. The American political system was saved by a simple, singular new law. Every elected representative, from the local district representative in a small Iowa suburb to the Commander-in-Chief himself, was beholden to said law.
This law was “The Gauntlet” and no one quite understands how it came to be. But every American relishes its existence. The positive change it wrought and the entertainment it provides cannot be matched.
Written in shadow and passed into law in a mere fortnight, The Gauntlet abides a mythic new dimension to the body politick: accountability. Hard and fast, concrete and gut-punchingly visceral accountability. Fear. And in fear, came a strangely responsive service in avoidance.
The Gauntlet is everyone’s favorite media. And though it’s an increasingly rare series borne upon a failure, no American — a constituent of the county or state from which the latest episode arises — would ever find themselves missing it. Or at least, recording it for future viewing.
With the institution of The Gauntlet, pride in the homeland surged. Americans believed in their country again, they believed in themselves once more; Americans believed in the future now.
Many historians would go on to say The Gauntlet saved the United States of America.
Mr. Smith’s whole body screamed. This was the last leg of a hellish journey. Bruises and cramps covered every inch of him. His heavy bum shivered on the small wooden stool. No one stood by him in his corner of the ring. The trainers had made their preparations upon him already. He was alone.
His voters and haters each watched him from a matrix of cameras broadcasting every inch of his despair to a global livestream.
Over the last few hours, many of his muscles had seen action for the first time in years. Stressed to the brink of total exertion, there were many moments over the last 24 hours where Smith thought he was witnessing THE light at the end of the tunnel. His death. Final, heaving breaths to spell his coil at long last. He welcomed them, to end the nightmare.
All this for what? That pharma kickback and a few insider trades. The missile deal. A few backrooms here and there…
Mr. Smith had taken a chance. And then, the light of public discovery dictated his first trip into The Gauntlet.
Hopefully my last…
Mr. Smith represented the state of Texas and in the last 23 hours he’d been subjected to an obstacle course of running, jumping, swimming, random acts of nerve-rattling violence, psychological stressors that brinked at-times into sheer torture via a sick combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. He’d resided in an endless haze of bewildering, humiliating, and subjectively dehumanizing measures meant to prevent his approval rating from ever falling below 40% again.
The bell rung. Mr. Smith rose and saw that Mr. Stone was already standing with arms up. Two lethal weapons bore down upon the Senator.
Mr. Stone was smiling; Mr. Smith was shaking.
The Gauntlet would have its finale now. This was Senator Smith’s midterm.
There was no fear of displacement from his office as of yet, that’d come in two years time during reelection season. But there was the perfect realization of pain, built upon the anticipation of it landing upon his skin and limb, something the small, estranged man of rhetoric had not yet been able to conquer. And never would, even as the blows landed and reshaped his body in swells of redness and righteous proletarian fervor.
Mr. Stone was also elected on the same day as Mr. Smith. Each man had stood on a pedestal to give a speech two years before and each representative reported to the same office at least once a month.
They’d met that day but didn’t really “know” each other. And at least one of them hoped to never have to.
For the next five rounds, Stone and Smith would finally meet as their voters cheered their rendezvous on. Altogether, the blood leaked down onto the mat of the octagon from the violence between these two elected reps was the consummation of a new, fresh-faced brand of democracy.
The people cheered around the ring and at home. Even Mr. Smith felt it in his heart as his face was battered by Mr. Stone’s well-trained, tightly-gloved knuckles.
The Gauntlet was on TV and America was back. ~