The year is 20XX and generic US-President-Elect John Doe just nailed a press-conference. As he walked away from the cheering crowd and cameras, generic current President Joe Smith, now a lame duck, pat him on the back. “Take care of the country, John.”
“Oh, I will, Joe,” said John.
“John…” Joe Smith followed with his arm around John’s shoulders. John knew it would make a great front-page photo for the cameras behind them, but felt suddenly uneasy. “You should know, tonight you’ll get a phone-call from all the former Presidents, in order. It’s tradition.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I don’t agree with you on all the issues, but I’ll look forward to your call.”
“No, John.” The Presidential secret service closed doors behind them so the media couldn’t hear. “John, you’ll get a call from all the former Presidents. In order.” John Doe squinted. Joe Smith pat him on the back again, and he sensed it was not a congratulatory gesture, but a gesture of great pity. “Sleep well.”
In his plush hotel-room, with secret service outside the door, President-Elect John Doe flipped through his notepad. He had a page of questions for each living former President who should be calling tonight, starting with Jimmy Carter.
He chuckled at the page for current President Joe Smith. Did he mean it when he said all the former Presidents would call tonight? John considered what he’d say to George Washington if he had the chance. On one hand, it would be a historical opportunity to learn about the founding of the country—but on the other hand, wouldn’t it be a better opportunity to ask about life beyond the grave? He laughed aloud. “Hey Georgie, is the cherry-tree you chopped down with ya in the hereafter? You’d better not lie!”
His smartphone rang; his default ring-tone was some stupid meme from 2022.
John had all the living former Presidents in his contacts, with personalized ring-tones.
The caller was unidentified.
John, trembling, opened the call and put the phone to his ear. “…Hello?”
Three hours later, John had loosened his tie and finished all the liquor in the minifridge. His phone rang again, and he jumped, but the ring-tone, Georgia On My Mind, reassured him it was Jimmy Carter. “Jimmy! Is that you?”
“I’m sorry you had to go through that, John.”
“GODDAMN. All the former Presidents, in order. Grover Cleveland twice.”
“We don’t know why it happens, and we don’t know why all the dead ones sound like…” Jimmy Carter sighed. “Well, like that.”
“I’m gonna vomit.”
“Go ahead. I certainly did.”
John vomited. He aimed for the toilet, but mostly missed.
“John, Bill Clinton should be calling soon, to offer his condolences, so I can’t talk too long. But come to me if you need anything, okay?”
John flushed the toilet and fell into the bathtub. “Okay. Um… Okay.”
“John…” Jimmy Carter held his breath. “John, I’m gonna die one day. I’m gonna be one of those screams.” John wept. “John, hold yourself together. It’s okay.”
“It’s really not!”
“John, one day—“
“Don’t say it!”
“John, one day, you’re gonna be one of those screams.”
John hung up. His phone rang immediately. Reagan was next. He counted his heartbeats until Bill Clinton’s saxophone ring-tone.
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