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, but felt suddenly uneasy. “You should know, John, tonight you’ll get a phone-call from all the former Presidents, in order. It’s tradition.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said John. “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 John 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 notes. He had a page of questions for each living former President who should be calling tonight, starting with Jimmy Carter.
He chuckled at the notes for current President Joe Smith. Did he mean it when he said all the former Presidents would call tonight? John considered what he’d ask 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 chance to ask about life beyond the grave? John laughed aloud. “Hey, Georgie, is the cherry-tree you chopped down with ya in the hereafter? You’d better not lie!”
His smartphone rang its default ring-tone.
John had all the living former Presidents in his contacts, with personalized ring-tones.
The caller was unidentified.
John, trembling, put the phone to his ear. “…Hello?”
Three hours later, John had loosened his tie and finished all the liquor in the mini-fridge. His phone rang again, and he jumped, but the ring-tone, Georgia On My Mind, told 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 shuttered. “Well, like that.”
“I’m gonna vomit.”
“Go ahead. I certainly did.”
John vomited. He aimed for the toilet, but mostly missed.
“John, you’ve got a few more calls coming, 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, Ronald Reagan. John couldn’t wait for Bill Clinton’s saxophone ring-tone.
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