The Talisman

From the dawn of time until 2016, there were consequences. Particularly for politicians.

If you looked like a dweeb, and you donned a goofy helmet and climbed into a tank, you paid the price. If you tried to emit an enthusiastic whoop in Iowa, but it came out as a rattled pubescent shriek, your campaign gurgled down the drain. If you drew a blank in a debate and couldn’t remember the name of a government agency, and the best you could come up with was “oops,” you didn’t get to be president.

Now you can sympathize with Nazis and brag about sexually assaulting women. Now you can bankrupt the secret service by making agents haul around your golf clubs and make drinks for your friends.

Scholars are baffled. Strategists are confused. Metaphysicians are stumped.

It defies explanation. Unless…

First they opened the various golden chests, the mummified cats, and the ornate enamel jars. Most they simply smashed. Last, the workers crept toward the sarcophagus at the center of the room. Wading through clouds of dust in which motes of ancient but still virulent Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus wafted, they pried open the heavy lid. The mummified corpse inside was as hideous as its golden shell had been beautiful. It was impossible to tell if she had died in agony, her face frozen in pain for 4,000 years, or if the ravages of time had simply made her look like she was emitting an eternal, horrified scream.

The tomb held so many secrets about they way people used to live and die. But no one cared about that.

As the workers peered in, Dr. Haggard saw it. The talisman. Believed to bestow upon the one who wears it magical powers. A simple wind of breath, followed by a brief massage against the cotton of the archaeologist’s shirt, revealed its shimmering splendor. Something beautiful cloaked inside a covering of sepia-colored sandstone dust, the reverse of the coffin and the mummy.

In the corner, a paunchy, aging man, his stark orange hair cultivated into a comical trademark pompadour that only accentuated his bare, mostly hollow scalp, sat and and waited. He was gnawing on the remains of a fried chicken drumstick, and the grease on his fingers would make it difficult to tweet, he knew. But he was here for something more important even than that. He wanted the amulet.

Wiping the grease on his red power tie, his shoulders moving freely inside a rumpled, too-large suit, he stood up, tossed the fresh hen bone into a pile of ancient remains, and lumbered to the coffin. Snatching the talisman from Haggard, he hung it around his neck and tucked it in, deep in the folds of his fleshy, jowl-like bosoms, and turned away.

The archaeologist turned to him, undaunted by the way his movements and demeanor threatened her.

“That’s it,” she said. “That’s the one.”

“You’re sure?” he asked. “This one is the best? It’s very small…”

“But, if you believe those old stories, more powerful than any nuclear bomb,” she replied, looking up into the dark slits of his eyes.

They had sought it for years. He spent $3.8 million all over the world, in search of the magical trinket. Ever since he had heard the story one night, from a teenage prostitute in St. Petersburg. Whoever wears the amulet, she told him, could say or do anything. They received no magical strength, nor did they enjoy eternal life. What the talisman did grant was even more powerful; it allowed the wearer to say or do anything without consequence. They could lie, they could reveal the most rapacious depths of their soul, as twisted and malformed as the body of a mummy. They could shatter laws, rules of grammar, and age-old socio-political conventions. They could lay bare their racism, their sexism, and their general state of confusion to the world. They would never, so long as they wore it close to their flesh, be held accountable for the terrible things they said and did.

“According to the glyphs on these walls, this made her — a simple wet nurse — a pharaoh,” said Haggard. “Maybe it can make you president.”

He gave her a hard slap on the back, wiping the residual chicken grease on her sweat-stained t-shirt as he did, and walked out, his tangerine-hued skin glowing in the midday sun. This was huge, he thought, climbing into the waiting helicopter. Huge.

About the author: Matt Geiger is the winner of numerous journalism awards and a finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. He is a contributor to public radio, and the winner of exactly one ax-throwing competition. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, his daughter, two dogs, a cat, and a flock of chickens. His debut book, “The Geiger Counter: Raised by Wolves & Other Stories” was published in 2016.