A red-eyed, sweaty madman burst through the pub doors, wiping his brow as he shouted incoherent demands to two dark-skinned servants. They hustled in as far as their leashes allowed with their gazes locked on the floor. Their owner mopped his frazzled, oily mound of hair to the sides around his massive bald spot and adjusted his round bifocals – an invention he wouldn’t patent for another nine years.
“Ah, Mr. Franklin,” the head serving wench announced with a curtsy. “Back for your afternoon bender?”
He laughed, “The name’s Benjamin, you withering cunt.”
She countered with a wink, “Struck by lightning again, you drunk sack of syphilis?”
Franklin coughed. “Where’s old Thomas?”
A frilly, effeminate hand waved from the back of the large tavern, past powdered wigs and gentlemen playing refined games of chance.
“He’s over there, Mr. Franklin,” she smiled, too used to his gruff demeanor and aware that her tolerance of his caustic remarks always earned her a coin if she persisted. “If you haven’t smoked away your sense of direction, that is.”
Franklin tossed a copper piece the barmaid’s way. “I’ll see you outside in twenty minutes then. Pull your hair back on your own time.” He turned to the open room and stepped over to Jefferson’s table.
“Thomas, you old pole-smoking fruit,” Franklin barked for the entire pub to hear. “How goes the treason business?”
Jefferson shushed his friend as he sat, his wig and ruffles flittering with anxiety, “Ben, be cautious! There are loyalists everywhere!”
“Don’t be a shit, Thomas,” Franklin snorted, pulling out his pipe and lighting the bowl. He inhaled deeply, held the air in his chest, and then exhaled a plume of blue smoke across the table. “So what’s wrong?” He coughed,” Do you need help writing or did your fat wife stroke out again?”
“Franklin, I need your advice.” Jefferson sneered, “I’d prefer you weren’t entirely baked for this.”
“You know that publishing’s dead, right? Only farmers read these days, and you want to know something? Not that literate. They only bought my Almanac when I started putting tits on the cover.”
“Seem’s that all the money’s in Jesus and bullets these days. Fuckin’ liberals.”
“This is not about business or profit, Franklin!” Jefferson leaned back, aghast. “This is about the future of our society, of mankind! The triumphant moment when we state that the people are to be governed by themselves, that the era of kings has ended, that no man is–”
Franklin laughed, pushing out billows of smoke from his nostrils. He winced and slammed his fist on the table, “Bullshit.” He dropped the pipe in his pocket.
“I said bullshit, because that’s what it is. Have you been listening to that queer, Hamilton, again?”
“It’s 1775; don’t be a bigot, Franklin,” Jefferson grimaced, unfurling a scroll of parchment. “I spoke with him last night while I was drafting up this Declara–”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well, this first part, where I say that ‘all men are created equal,’ it just doesn’t ring true. You know, here.” Jefferson pressed his hand over his heart.
“Because it’s not.” Franklin open-palm punched his slave across the face, “See?”
Thomas stifled his frustration that had been building since his friend arrived. Franklin’s glib attitude towards their country’s future was one of the aspects of their relationship Jefferson hated the most. “If we are going to found a nation on the principles of fraternity and unity–”
“Jefferson, let me tell you something.” Franklin retrieved his pipe and stirred the bowl around, flicking grey ashes on the floor. His servants dutifully swept the flakes away. “We are all equal in that we are all slaves.”
“Excuse me?” Jefferson looked at his friend’s slave with the empathy one has for a spurned child or a youthful love extinguished. “The central premise of our complaint against the British is that no man is subservient to another!” He pointed at Benjamin’s slaves but kept talking about them as though they weren’t there. “How can you talk about equality?”
Jefferson stood, vaingloriously booming to the uninterested pub at large. The few patrons who didn’t habitually tune him out after years of his blathering simply rolled their eyes. There goes that poof Thomas, ranting about brotherhood and liberty again. For the love of fuck.
“How may any of us speak of such things as liberty…or, or even brotherhood when we willingly own other men – and women! – as objects to be traded and tossed aside like scrap paper?!”
A stray bottle flew from the crowd and shattered across Jefferson’s head. A voice shouted, “If you don’t like it then go back to Britainstan, faggot!”
Franklin stared. “Jefferson, I was in the middle of a very important meeting with the Freemasons and the Lizardmen Ambassador. Stop prancing with your hands and get to your point.”
Jefferson rubbed his scalp. His hand brought back shards of glass dipped in fresh blood. He winced. “Oh, how is George? Did the wooden dentures hold?”
“He doesn’t actually need wooden teeth. Lizardmen don’t have teeth.” Franklin tapped out more ashes. “Well, it depends on your definition. But trust me, anything you hear about George is probably just propaganda by the Satanists. They’re trying to push so we’ll elect Monroe when the revolution’s over. The Freemasons have everything planned around it, don’t worry.”
Jefferson sat down. “Ben, the Satanists aren’t real. Monroe just likes goats.”
“I assure you, they’re as real as these shackles,” Franklin joked, tugging at his slave’s neck chain. The slave grimaced but remained silent.
“That’s exactly my point, what good is our new world if we do not adhere to its guiding principles?”
Franklin shrugged, “What good is a newborn baby?”
“But if we continue to purchase slaves from–”
“Jefferson, stop mincing.” Franklin took another hit. This time, he sputtered out chunks of saliva and char when he finished. He wiped his chin with his sleeve and plodded on, eyes watering, “What’s wrong with profiting from a little civil war now and then?”
“The damage we’ve done to them may never be rever–”
Franklin pretended to sob and whined, “I’m shad, inequawity is so mean. Slavewy dwies my vaj, Fwankwin.”
“Slavery,” Jefferson glared, “is immoral.”
“Slavery,” Franklin somberly leaned in, “is probably the only way in which we are all equal.”
Thomas shook his head, “Franklin, you’re stoned. Why don’t you–”
“Sure, these guys get the brunt end of it,” Franklin jerked the neck chain down again, pulling his servant to the floor. “But why not consider the curious case of that serving trollop over there.” He waved to a plump young serving wench, tending to an order of ales and rolled tobacco.
“Is she really any different? Do you think she wants to be here, serving drinks at the pub and mouth jobs around the corner? She has to! She’s just a slave to her wage. Or him, over there.” Franklin leaned to the side towards a lawman in the corner, puffing away on a stick of tobacco. “And then there’s you, Jefferson.”
Jefferson grew worried, “What about me?”
“Aren’t you just a slave to your wife? Doesn’t she own everything you have?”
Jefferson was silent.
“We’re all slaves to something in some way, Jefferson. And anyone can be a slave! We just do this to the dark ones because it makes us feel really fucking awesome about ourselves. Remember when we did this to the gingers? And the jews? And the–”
“Franklin, this is preposterous. Why, I’d wager that the hearty negroes of our fair nation,” Jefferson began again, ignoring Franklin’s servants as one ignores children or pets, “deserve a wage and their own free lives no more or less than we Caucasians!”
“Thomas.” Franklin pointed and leaned toward Jefferson, grinning. “What is it with you and cocks?”
Jefferson sighed, cradling the bridge of his nose, “Why must you insist on boorishly–”
“No, no, let’s all hear about the noble Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, the kind slave owner. Jefferson, who pays his slaves a wage, as if that makes a difference. Jefferson, who hasn’t even forced himself on a single slave his entire life.”
A voice in the pub shouted out, “Pussy!”
“I have a wife, Franklin.”
“So did I! So does Burr! Never stopped us. It doesn’t count and you know it.”
“Pussy loves his wife!”
“I would never!” Jefferson stood, this time to leave. He began rolling up his parchment, “Clearly you’re in one of your moods again.”
Franklin choked, “It’s this ditch weed you sold me last week.” He wiped his chin, “Is this the grass you make rope with?”
Thomas’ eyes narrowed to frigid little slits, “You know I would never sell my rope stash.”
Franklin tapped the pipe and took another hit. He set the pipe down and exhaled a thin vapor. Disappointed, he smacked his lips, scowled, then yelled, “EMPTY!”
His slaves, eyes wide with panic, scrambled for the pipe. Before they could open the cloth bag containing the rest of Franklin’s pre-ground “Walking Around Stash,” their enraged owner pulled a jeweled dagger from his breast pocket. A valued treasure stolen from a prostitute’s corpse in the Parisian alley-markets, the silver blade plunged into the slave’s gut.
Franklin locked eyes with his victim and screamed, “EMPTY!”
The slave howled and crumpled to the floor. His chain clattered to the ground as he cupped both hands over the bleeding wound. The other snatched the pipe and tamped a green wad into the bowl.
Franklin stood over his slave, knife dripping on the dusty floorboards. Jefferson stepped between them as Franklin raised his dagger again.
“Jefferson, stand down,” he warned.
“No, Franklin, this is madness, this is–”
“This is my parlay!” Franklin leaned backed and roared, “EMPTY!”
“Franklin, I don’t…think you know what parlay means.”
Franklin readied his knife for two more victims when the unwounded slave brought the pipe to Franklin’s lip and struck a match. He inhaled slowly then exhaled. His tense and aggressive stance slackened.
“Yuh welcome, Mistuh Franklin.”
Franklin smiled then stuck his dagger into her chest. He winked, “Uh-uh-uh! You speak when spoken to, Number Six-Twenty-One.”
She gulped and fell to the floor, almost spitting out a, “So sorry, Mistuh Franklin.”
Jefferson stood over the bleeding servants in horror. He shouted, “Franklin! What are you doing?!”
Franklin wiped the bloody dagger on a cloth napkin. He shook his head, “For fuck’s sake, Thomas. Don’t make a scene.”
Jefferson looked around the pub. It appeared none present were the slightest bit surprised or even took notice. There goes that Ben Franklin again, stabbing another slave, running naked through the streets, covered in hooker blood and feathers, just like last week. I wonder if he can spot me a dime bag?
Jefferson stared at the slaves, one twitchy from blood loss and the other irreversibly dead. He lowered to his seat, “Well now what? What do you do the next time you’re empty?”
Franklin chuckled, “Oh, you haven’t seen my latest invention!” He pulled out a long, smooth box covered in silk cloth. Franklin unfolded the little package, revealing a shiny, metal rectangle with squares holes on both sides.
“I call it,” Franklin puffed away dust, “the slave whistle.” He blew a dull, flat note from the harmonica and then trilled out a scale of brassy chords. Three slaves, shackled and haggard as the first two, shuffled in to replace their owner’s broken merchandise; their names “622,” “623,” and “624” smeared on their burlap tunics with white paint.
While Six-Twenty-Four dragged the wounded and near-dead away, Six-Twenty-Two and Six-Twenty-Three took their positions at Franklin’s left and right. Jefferson shook his head with feckless guilt.
Franklin grinned, “So which one do you want?” He pointed to the slaves at his side, “I could use some help breaking these girls in.”
Jefferson stood, this time certain that he would leave. “Never… in my wildest days did I ever imagine this. I may as well support the King before I–”
Franklin wagged his hands about, snidely jeering, “Oh, look at me, I’m Thomas Jefferson. I don’t rape slaves because I have a wife. I’m a good slave-owner.”
Jefferson grimaced, “That’s not why, Benjamin.”
“Oh what, moral dilemma? Do you seriously think being kind to your slaves makes you a better person for owning them?”
“Yes! …well, I…that is,” his words and parcels fumbled together. “Of course it does!”
“Bullshit. You still own them, they still work for free.”
“I pay my employees.”
Franklin chuckled, “Oh so that’s what he calls them?” He nudged Six-Twenty-Two with his elbow. “Employees, can you imagine?”
Number Six-Twenty-Two opened her mouth to answer, but a knowing look from Franklin as he slowly pulled out his dagger silenced her.
“Ben, someday all of this will come back to you and–”
Franklin snorted, “No it won’t. I’ll have guys like you making slavery look nice, humanitarian, fair. The only thing a nice owner like you does is make them less aware of how unjustifiable their situation truly is. I, on the other hand, am a model slave owner.”
Jefferson stopped. “Excuse me?”
“Do you know how many people I’ve killed, Jefferson?”
“Slaves or just in general?”
“Okay sure, let’s just look at the slaves for now.”
Jefferson thought for a moment. “Six hundred and twenty-one?”
“This year; try again.” Franklin opened a small leather booklet and thumbed through the pages.
Franklin marked two tallies in his notebook, “Looking to beat my old record this year. Take it from me, buddy. You’re staying in town for the next couple of days – you must have brought a slave or two with you to Philadelphia. What’s your house girl’s name? Ubuntu?”
Jefferson glared, “Her name is Sally.”
“Why not toss her a fuck? I know she’s technically Martha’s but what’s she going to do, huh?” He chuckled, “Huh? Ah, you get it. Now follow me on this – no, sit down, don’t go. You go home, you force yourself on her.”
“How would I do that?!”
“Bring her flowers, tell her sweet little lies about being the only one, hell – just drop your pants and wag your dick in front of her. I don’t know how you get started up Jefferson, just do it. Tie her up if you have to, hold a musket to her temple if she resists, but you won’t have to. You’ll see, in time you’ll have your precious little slave uprising and everyone will be equal.”
Jefferson unrolled his parchment and read the words again, ‘all men are created equal.’ He looked up, “Do you really think so?”
Franklin shrugged, “Unless they just turn the table on us, which I mean really, who could blame ‘em?” He reached across the table and rested his hand atop Jefferson’s, “But really, Thomas, it doesn’t matter. Just put whatever you want on that thing. Even if the revolution works, no one will ever read it. Hell,” he added, holding up his pipe, “the dumb bastards will probably outlaw this too, eventually.”
Jefferson sighed and left the pub. He stepped onto the dirt road of Philadelphia’s main street, his mind a torpid whirligig of confusion. Liberty, tyranny, oppression – could Franklin be right? Was his fair and kind treatment of his slaves hindering the march of freedom?
Of course, he could simply free his slaves, but then who would raise his children? His wife? Jefferson laughed at the thought. Besides, if he did free his slaves, they would simply be captured and shackled by owners far worse than he, Jefferson rationalized. Satisfied that he was best off doing nothing, he nodded and tipped his hat to Franklin’s line of slaves waiting at the pub window.
None acknowledged him.
Jefferson walked down the road, passing horse drawn carriages and merchants peddling furs and ammunition when he came upon Hamilton and Madison. As usual, their debates over the proper structure of government had resulted in a raucous argument followed immediately by an intimate fisticuff. The two men slapped their hands together, eyes closed and heads turned to the side, aimlessly sidewinding through Main Street while bystanders placed their bets.
“You hate America,” Madison squealed.
“No, you hate America,” Hamilton wisely countered.
“Alexander, James,” Jefferson said with a familiar curtsy.
“Oh Thomas,” Madison replied, straightening his collar. “How goes the drafting of the Declaration?”
Hamilton spied an opening and slapped Madison across the face.
Madison raised a fist in anger, “Son of a bitch, Hamilton, I’ll–”
Jefferson sighed, “It… goes. I just spoke with Franklin on the matter, but…”
“Oh ho?” Hamilton grinned, “Brilliant man, that Franklin. We actually asked him to write it first, but he said that he wasn’t some ‘fairy author.’ That is… I mean, I’m sure you’ll do… you’ll do good… enough.”
“Yes, well,” Jefferson said, “I just spoke with him at the pub, but he seems to think that–”
“Franklin’s at the pub?” Madison asked. “I bet he could spot us a dime bag!”
“I’ll wager a moor on that,” Hamilton clucked, and the two walked to the pub. When Hamilton reached to open the door, Franklin stormed out followed by his slaves. With a snap of his fingers, they tromped single-file to Ben’s log-cabin mansion and underground barracks at the city’s edge.
Jefferson watched as Madison walked up, waving at Franklin. He tapped Ben on the shoulder.
“Hey, Franklin! How’s it going?” Madison asked. “I was wondering if you could spot me again for a–”
Franklin jabbed his blade into Madison’s thigh. He snarled, “You come with money or you don’t come at all, stump. Tonight you and your wig wearing fuckboy shall fap off wanting.”
Jefferson shook his head at that slow pace which justice swings. He was a fool to think Franklin was right. The man was a psychopath.
Martha Jefferson sat in her rocking chair reading Franklin’s latest edition of wise sayings, “Brother Benny’s Bon Mots.” A portly middle-aged housewife with a faded jaw, she always wore her dour mood as a scowl. Martha was a woman of thoughts and aspirations, the kind to devour the wealth of humanity’s knowledge yet never construct her own written wisdoms. To pen down an idea tainted the human wonder of imagination; the shackles of language chained thought to the earth.
And no imagination could fly freely without a tidied thought-space. Too busy with her high-minded endeavors, she employed a slew of house servants who earned a modest penny from her inherited wealth. This freed Martha from the duties of womanly labor and shackled her to the chair in which she sat, reading another of Franklin’s witty remarks: “The most exquisite folly is wisdom spun too fine.”
“Problem, Missus Jeffuhsun?”
Martha leaned back and hummed, eyes closed. She sighed, “I’ve been pondering physics again, Sally. You know that takes a toll on my psyche.”
“Ah, too right. You think too much, Missus Jeffuhsun.”
Martha chuckled. Could there be such a thing?
“It’s these damned electrons. If we merely know that their existence around the nucleus of an atom is all reducible to probability, then there must be an inherent probability that those electrons cease to exist. Could such a thing occur? Energy disappearing and reappearing in an instant?”
“I don’t reckon’ that’s what it means, Missus Jeffuhsun.”
Martha sighed, “Well I don’t suppose you would, Sally. We are all blind, some more than others it would seem, to the world in which we live. It is the limit of all human understanding. How can we ever truly know what occurs in the heavens, or beyond the stars, or even down the street past the walls in which we live?”
Sally looked out the window, “Massah Jeffuhsun’s a-comin’.”
Martha raised a pointed finger, “Ah yes, but do we know for certain that he is coming?”
Jefferson opened the door, “Martha, I’m home from the pub. Is Sally around?”
Jefferson and Sally’s eyes met.
“Hello Thomas,” she said.
“Sally,” Jefferson bowed. He shouted down the hall, “Martha? Martha are you here?”
“Thomas,” Martha called, not budging from her seat. “You’re just in time. I had stumbled upon an enlightened question, yet Sally’s mind seems as fertile as a rotting horse.”
Jefferson sighed, “Oh really.”
“Yes, Mistuh Jeffuhsun.” Sally curtsied back into the room, her voiced doubled-over in her ‘house speak.’ “We was debatin’ – well you tell it, Missus Jeffuhsun.” Sally laughed, shaking her head as she walked away, “I don’t seem to know what you’s sayin’ half the time.”
Sally whispered to Jefferson, “Goodbye, Thomas.” She walked further down the hall and muttered, “Fat bitch.”
“Yes, well, thank you Sally.” Jefferson cleared his throat and eased his way into the living room. The crinkling of Horehound’s hard candies wrapping paper followed an avalanche of colorful tissues as he waded through the living room. “Martha, what has you so concerned this early? You know it isn’t good for your health.”
“I was reading over this treatise on physics, and I was wondering: we only know by a certain probability where an electron will be when it is orbiting the nucleus of an atom.”
“Of course, dear. It’s 1775; everyone knows that.”
Martha leaned over her armrest and shouted, “I guess some people don’t!”
“Where are the children?”
“In a moment; you never let me finish a thought, Thomas.”
“Yes, dear. Electrons?”
“And probability. Does that not imply that there is a certain probability that the electron ceases to exist at all?”
There was a silence in the room, pregnant ellipses punctuated by commas from the ticking of the clock.
“…Martha, I don’t think that’s what that means–”
A ceramic vase flew across the room, shattering against the wall next to Jefferson’s head.
“How would you know?!” Martha cried, leaping from her seat. Candy wrappings rolled to the floor from her lap. “What have you ever read or studied on the subject of physics? Hrm?”
Martha stomped to her husband and threw up her hands. She kicked a waste bin across the room, “You think I’m an idiot, don’t you? Well I’ll have you know that I’m–”
“Don’t patronize me, you fuckuseless dandy of a two bit treason queer! You’re just blind. We all are. You can’t possibly see the world beyond your own viewpoint. It’s always about you, which is why you can’t see the truths I see.”
Jefferson bunted, “Well if we’re all blind, aren’t you blind too?”
Martha smiled, straining her eyes out more as she shook a fist at the ceiling, “Of course! And I can see beyond because I know I am blind!”
Sally crept in to sweep up the broken vase, ducking under Martha’s limp, swaying arm fat as she spun in place, cackling.
“And when my work is done you will ALL see!” Martha stumbled back and collapsed in her chair. “You’ll all see,” she whispered, eyes closed.
“Martha, you should get out more.”
She chuckled, “Oh Thomas, you know my symptoms confine me to this chair.”
“I have diabetes, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia–”
Jefferson folded his arms, “Those aren’t real diseases, Martha. Those are just the symptoms of being fat.”
Martha’s face tempered to a glare, “How could you – you know obesity runs in my family.”
“Obesity doesn’t run in your family, Martha; obesity doesn’t run at all!”
“I can’t speak to you when you’re like this. You’ve been drinking with Franklin again, haven’t you?”
“We weren’t drinking.” Jefferson thought for a moment. “I wasn’t drinking.”
“Oh, Benjamin Franklin’s drunk and on the town? Alert the militia.”
“You know they won’t go near him, Martha. Not since that mangling he gave to John. It will be a miracle if he can ever write with that hand again.”
“The man is a beast, Thomas.”
“He just kept stabbing John’s hand, shouting, ‘Where’s the cock? Where’s the cock?’ But that was just the cocaine talking.”
“You can’t keep hanging around with those boys, Jefferson. Think of your career.”
“What career? We inherited all of this Martha; and what should a man with such luxuries do but fight for the freedom of his fellow citizens?”
“And it is why we fight, for freedom! For liberty! For truths we decided were self-evident–”
“That all men, and women dear my dearest Martha–”
“I’m leaving you, Thomas.”
“–are created – what?”
“You know,” Martha laughed, “I was so worried about saying that. I didn’t think I had the courage to do it, frankly. But now that I’ve said it… it’s so easy; I’m leaving you, Thomas. Wow, look at me!”
“But,” Jefferson stammered, “but Martha, why?
“I’ve met someone, Thomas. Someone who understands my vital needs as an intellectual and a woman.”
Jefferson grabbed a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his cheeks, “Who is he?”
“His name is Ashwin. Ashwin Downing-Beaver.”
“…You’re leaving me for an Indian?”
“He’s a real man, Jefferson; an unbridled, earthly Cherokee who kindles the ember of my loins, mind, and somewhere between those two, my heart. He’s not a pasty, half-assed statesman in a backwater English colony like some men I married.”
“Where is he?”
Jefferson looked around the room, “Where are the children? Patsy?” He shouted to the house, “Jane? Bellerophon?”
“Patsy and Jane left when I told them about the arrangement. Bellerophon went with them. Said something about leaving the tempestuous mediocrity of bourgeois life; educating that one may have been a mistake.”
“And the girls?”
“Ashwin is with Lucy One and Lucy Two now. They should be back any minute.”
“Martha, this is absurd. Let’s talk about this before either of us does something we’ll regr–”
The door opened and the Jeffersons’ two remaining daughters scuttled in, followed by a barrel-chested Indian wearing an ascot and feathered headdress. Deer bones sewn into his three-piece suit rattled with his steps.
Jefferson hugged his daughters, “Lucy One, Lucy Two. Where were you?”
Lucy Two burbled, “Hulloo Duhddy!”
Lucy One chimed in, “We went to see the Chief Duhnce, Duhddy!”
Jefferson arched an eyebrow at Martha, “The Chief Dance?”
Ashwin stepped forward and shook Jefferson’s hand, “Ashwin Downing-Beaver. You must be Thomas, Martha has told me… much about you.”
Jefferson grimaced, shaking Ashwin’s hand as a reluctant gentleman would. “Likewise.”
“See?” Martha pled from her seat, nudging away licorice sticks and wrapping foils. “I told you about his unsavory temper.”
Jefferson bent over to look at Lucy Two, “What’s this Chief Dance, Lucy?”
“All the tribes were thuhre, and they were singing and duhncing.”
Jefferson grinned and reached for an air of multiculturalism by belching out, “How rustic.”
Lucy One bounced up and down, “Then the strongest men cuhrried the Chief uhround in a chair, and the ladies all cuhrried ribbons and gourds.”
The two girls grinned and declared, “Then they burned uh lady uhlive and ate her heart!”
Jefferson quacked, “They did what?!”
“It’s a beautiful ceremony, actually,” Ashwin said for the girls. “It marks the unity of all tribes of man as one.”
“…so they burn a kid alive and eat her heart?”
Martha sighed, “You’re fighting a losing battle, Ashwin. My husband…,” she smiled, “…former husband, is just too petty and narrow-minded to grasp the intricacies of earthly living.” Martha rubbed her loins, wriggling with ecstasy.
Jefferson countered, “It simply isn’t right for the girls to witness such… things.”
“It’s okay Duhddy,” Lucy One assured her father.
“Well, I suppose you girls are wise enough to handle these affairs.”
Lucy Two added, “Yea, I wuhs afraid to eat her heart uht first but when I saw everybuddy else doing it, I–”
“Why don’t you girls take Ashwin around the town?” Martha cooed. “Your father and I have more to discuss.”
“No, Martha I don’t think we do,” Jefferson said as he walked over to the stairs. “If you’re leaving I can’t stop you.”
“No, that isn’t it, Thomas.” Martha waved the girls and Ashwin goodbye, “I’m not leaving.”
“But you just said–”
“Yes, I’m leaving you. So now you are leaving Monticello.”
Jefferson stepped back, “What? But I built–”
“The land belonged to my father. And where would Ashwin and I raise the girls? Would you want your own daughters to live on the streets, Thomas?”
“No…that is I,” Jefferson stopped. “…fine. I’ll be back for my things in the morning.”
Jefferson stepped out, but before he could close the door Martha shouted, “Thomas, wait!”
Martha spit, hurtling a glob at Jefferson’s cheek. It landed as she snapped, “Let’s see your long-haired fuckbuddy help you now.”
Jefferson wiped the spittle from his face and sighed, closing the door and stepping back out into the bustling village of Philadelphia. A stagecoach passed and he wondered if they might grant him a ride to the woods where Franklin lived.
Then Jefferson realized: he was planning to go to Franklin’s, to march headlong into the inferno of Skyfather’s Deist Hell. But he shrugged off that concern. Sure, Franklin was a heartless, uncouth demon in the skin of a man, but he couldn’t turn out a friend in need.
“Thomas, wait,” Sally called from the door. “Are you really leaving?”
“Sally,” Jefferson sighed. “Yes, it appears I must.”
“Then take me with you.”
Jefferson chuckled, “Would that I could, Sally. Were I Emperor I would free all the slaves from their shackles, but alas you belong to Martha.”
“I belong to myself, Thomas. I don’t care what some contract says. We could make a run for it, be out of the city before sunset, the fat bitch won’t even notice we’re gone before we’re out West. The militia won’t be sober for another four days; they’d never find us by then–”
“Sally, really. Martha may be a tad cheeky but–”
“She’s a lazy, fat bitch just like her mother.”
Jefferson chuckled, “Oh Sally. You’ve really been there for all of us, haven’t you? Raising the children, caring for our home, drying out Martha’s folds – if there’s anything I can do for you just say the word and it’s yours.”
“Oh really?” Sally smirked, tracing her finger down Jefferson’s cheek, “Anything I might ask? How about you make good on that promise in Paris?”
Jefferson stammered, “Why – why yes, Sally.” He took her by the hand. “But for now it appears I must be off.”
“Oh come on now, Thomas.” Sally leaned in to whisper into Jefferson’s ear, “She’s probably passed out in the chair by now. We could go upstairs and nobody would hear us. Marry me, then consummate our union. There’s two horses waiting for us.”
Jefferson stepped back, “Well yes, Sally but I must be off. Goodbye!” He waved as he hustled away to the woods outside town.
“To Richard III, reigning King of Britainstan: Firstly, I wish to remark that we admire your candor as a leader when you said that, quote, ‘a bunch of redneck chimps in a breadbasket they never earned can suck my fat one with their thumbs up my ass.’ However, at this juncture we must cease our existence as a colony of your Empire and become our own sovereign nation.”
Franklin stared at the window and paused. He took out his metal pipe and lit the bowl, inhaling a deep puff. He clutched the smoke in his chest then spoke without exhaling, rivulets of blue vapor snaking through his lips. “Our reasons are many, and all of them I would expect a man in your station to accept fully on their own grounds.”
He paused again, tapped out his pipe, and prepared to yell when a slave rushed over with an open bag of Benjamin’s pre-ground “Evening Stash.” Franklin reached for his boot musket when the slave’s knuckles curled to plop a fresh wad of cannabis in his bowl.
“Tremendous work, Six-Twenty Five – for we came to this nation beggars and merchants, but have now grown to titans of industry through the justification of inherited wealth and free labor.”
“The time has come,” he coughed, “for us to revolt while cloaked in liberty and romance, so that we too may become kings and nobles in our own right with our own Empire to govern.”
Franklin cleared his throat, “Did you get all that, George?”
An eight foot tall reptilian humanoid with glittering teeth protruding from his brow sat at the table writing. He dipped a quill in ink and nodded. The little ivories flowed across and under the beast’s scales, pale reflections in the light of the oil lamps.
Franklin coughed, “Where was I?”
Washington flicked his tongue in his translator’s ear. The boy shuddered, froze, and sat transfixed as the alien lizard hissed in his ear.
A gnarled human-like figure cloaked in black sat at the opposite end of the table, lurking in a shadow which emanated from within the creature’s robe. It hissed, “The right of revolution, Franklin.”
“No, no,” Franklin shook his head and grinned at the Grand Elder. “I want him to say it.” Franklin looked at the young lad, wood protruding from his mouth. The thick nuggets tugged the boy’s lips out and forward, his face the tortured wood-work carousel of a squid’s genitals.
Franklin smacked his hands on his knees, coaxing the lad on like a dog or slow child, “Come on, say it.”
The boy sulked.
“What were we talking about? What were we talking about?” Franklin cackled and asked again, “Who can speak for a Lizardman? You can! Yes, you can!”
Franklin glared when the boy said nothing, then stomped over. He clamped his hands around the boy’s cheeks and spat at him, “Say it.”
The boy’s teeth clunked together in a dull, miserable beat, “Bleh wyte urf reblution, Mith-tur Fronklen.” He drooled on the floor.
“Excellent.” Franklin smiled at the Elder, “And you didn’t want me to widdle his replacements.”
The Elder hissed.
The boy sulked, a whimpered humph scrambling around his mouth nuggets.
Franklin playfully slapped the boy’s cheeks and stepped back to his window. “But there comes a time in any young nation’s life when blood must be shed, when men must recruit others to wage battle against their lax oppressors to defend their propertied rights. When the people’s self-appointed representatives must forge a new society, where the free men are equal, where dignity is really just a word you – say, is someone knocking on the door?”
Franklin climbed his ladder by the window, unscrewed the hatch door in the ceiling, and crawled up into the main entranceway of his home. He heard a faint rap on his front door and pushed his bearskin rug back over the hidden latch. When he opened the door, he saw perhaps the second person he wanted to see most at that moment.
“Jefferson, what business have you in the forest at this hour?”
“She threw me out.” Jefferson moped into Franklin’s home, arms folded in a sad lump over his heart.
Franklin chuckled, “I’m surprised that fat bitch could get you past her elbows.”
Jefferson sighed, tears welling in his eyes, “Please, don’t.”
“That’d be a fucking sight I imagine. Like two wobbly sacks of russet potatoes filled with baker’s flour lobbing a–”
“Franklin, I know where this is going so can we just–”
“No, no, I’ve got it, I’ve got it – just a second. Like,” Franklin waved his hands in the air with a child-like excitement, “a sweaty, five-foot short-stack shot-putting a–”
“She’s leaving me. After everything her father did for me for her. She’s leaving.”
“Fuck, now I’ve lost it. Fat joke.”
“For an Indian, a Cherokee!” Jefferson sobbed.
“So what… she’s going to live in a teepee now or something? Hope she doesn’t wear any furs.”
“She’s keeping Monticello.”
“Because someone will think she’s a buffalo. Get it?”
Jefferson sighed, “Franklin, I’m lost.”
“It’s because she’s as fat as a buffalo.”
“I’m homeless and basically penniless. Can I stay here a few days until – what are you doing?!”
Franklin reached for his dagger and stepped toward Jefferson, “Homeless you say?” He grinned as the little blade slid out.
Jefferson stumbled back, “Ben, what are you – stop it! This isn’t funny, I don’t,” Jefferson tripped over the secret latch and fell. The rug followed.
Franklin marched on, dagger out and giddy with anticipation. “It’s not a crime, Jefferson. Who’s going to know? Your pain is invisible now.”
The trap door opened and the Elder peered out, “Franklin, we haven’t time for your shenanigans; the Eclipse nears.”
Jefferson gasped, “Who is this?”
The Elder’s head turned completely around to face Jefferson, though its body remained frozen.
“Who is the frail girl?” It pointed a gnarled finger at Jefferson. “Speak your name, interloper!”
Jefferson stared into the hooded face to see that there was no face at all. Under a black cowl swirled a murder of shadows, billowing forth from the interior of the hood, masking the Elder within a cacophony of horrors Jefferson could only comprehend as pitch darkness. A golden triangle with a ruby eye glittered beneath the shade’s neckline, a marigold candle twinkling in an abyss.
Franklin sheathed his knife, “An old childhood friend, Elder Mason. Seems the poor boy’s fallen on hard times. Homeless, you see.”
“Oh ho?” The Elder’s hood craned forward, stretched out far beyond the limits of its cloth in pursuit of Jefferson. He crept back, nauseated by fear at the wraith before him.
“Is the interloper’s blood fresh?”
Jefferson bawked, “My blood?!”
“No, he’s too old for the Quickening. He just looks like a little girl because he used to have money.”
“I see,” the Elder somberly hissed, flooding back into Franklin’s basement as a liquid void.
Jefferson gasped, wiping cold sweat from his cheeks. “What are the Freemasons doing here?!”
“The same thing they’re doing everywhere.” Franklin helped Jefferson to his feet and climbed down the ladder. He shouted back, “Come on down already, Jefferson. I don’t want your homeless ass out of my sight when you’re around my vaults.”
Jefferson crawled over to the ladder and down to Franklin’s basement. He closed the latch behind him.
“Oh! Hello, George.” Jefferson waved and Washington nodded. “What are you working on?”
Franklin walked back to his window, “We’re drafting The Declaration of Independence.”
“But I’ve already written it!” Jefferson stormed over to Franklin, “You even said it yourself, ‘you aren’t some fairy’ – wait, what on earth is that?”
Jefferson leaned over Franklin’s shoulder to see past his basement window. Beyond the glass, an endless factory filled with broken and battered slaves chained to their seats whirred with the steady hum of industry.
“My factory. We’ve had a good year, Jefferson.” Franklin chuckled, “Well, I’ve had a good year.”
Horns blared as rotating oil lamps descended from the ceiling. Franklin’s voice boomed through a loud hailer while moist grains rained from trap doors overhead. Slaves tugged at their chains and scooped as much of the slightly moistened oats as they could, voraciously gnawing at wads of barley fearing they would waste their weekly, five-minute meal break.
“Is that… is that screaming in Mandarin?”
“Keeps ‘em on their toes. And from learning English.”
“What are they building?”
“Never mind that, Jefferson. Important work.” Franklin knocked on the glass, “Back to your conveyor belts, you dogs!”
“Franklin,” the Elder snarled. “I must return to the Hive; the Molting approaches.” The Elder stood and exploded in a burst of blue-green fire. The flames dissipated in the air, leaving behind neither scorches nor ash.
“Damn Illuminati.” Franklin shook his head. He twirled his hands in the air, “Worse than fuckin’ Quakers with the ceremonies and theatrics.”
“Franklin, I’m in huge trouble here. I’m homeless – er, temporarily nature-bound,” Jefferson corrected as Franklin reached for his dagger. “My wife left me, and my children are either gallivanting across the countryside or becoming savages!”
“Bellerophon will be fine. I taught the boy myself.”
“Yes, and I’ve spent years covering for the mysterious deaths of our neighbor’s pets from combination knife/penis wounds thanks to your ‘lessons.’”
“Well that’s their own fault,” Franklin corrected. “Who keeps animals in their homes, really.”
“Look at me with my cat, Tiggles. I keep a box of his shit in my house!”
“Well, I,” Jefferson stumbled. “Huh.”
Franklin spun, “You fuck her yet?”
“Sally,” Franklin said. “You fuck her yet?”
“Mithtur Fronklen,” the boy with an oaken grill clacked.
“Who the hell is that!?” Jefferson squawked.
“Ah, you haven’t met Washington’s translator, have you? Jefferson meet…uh…well his name’s not important.”
The boy sulked.
“Why does he have wood teeth? I thought that was all a Satanist conspiracy?”
“Who knew,” Franklin continued, ignoring Jefferson, “that the Braddock Expedition would bring about the greatest alliance in human history? That one young soldier who rode back to find the survivors would witness their landing – a fallen meteorite which brought the Reptilians to our solar system?”
“This is Washington’s translator? Why are his teeth gone?”
“Not gone,” Franklin wagged a finger at Jefferson then pointed to Washington’s brow. “Simply transplanted by Reptilian science. All the translators made certain…sacrifices to communicate with them.”
Washington flicked his tongue.
“We’ve got a whole operation going, Jefferson. Plans are in motion, and someday this shuckle-toothed ninny will be the King of America.”
“Wait, wait, did you say King of America?! I thought the entire point of the revolution was to have a land without–”
Franklin rolled his eyes, “Well yea, we won’t call him that but grow up; an executive is an executive.”
“Are those… real wood?”
“The upper jaw is pine, but I ran out of trees working on the prototypes so the lower is mostly oak.”
The boy spit out a globule of spit, blood, and splinters.
“But who knows, I gathered most of this set from my scrap heap.”
A chime rang from the factory. Franklin leapt to the window and leaned forward, pressing his face to the glass. He snapped his fingers, “Jefferson, get back to Sally and fuck her before I do it myself.”
Jefferson folded his arms. “I think I have bigger concerns than bedding my… wife’s… servant girl.”
Franklin did not look away from the window. He tapped on the glass and made a slicing motion across his throat with his finger. “Fuck her then bring your shit back here. We’ll work something out.”
Jefferson stood shocked. “Ben… do you, do you mean that? Truly and forever?”
Franklin began unlocking the latch to his factory door, “Just get your shit and bring it back. We’ll work something out.”
Jefferson stared as Franklin walked into his factory, his shouting muffled behind the door and glass as slaves panicked for a shield. Franklin grabbed the closest slave by the throat and began shaking vigorously.
Jefferson chuckled. Franklin was always a friend to depend on. A ruffian and a free spirit, yes, but also a man of liberty – a man whose friendship was precious, not only in the shade but in the sunshine of life.
Franklin throttled his slave then cracked the young lad’s skull against the window. Jefferson stepped to the ladder as the boy’s face slid down the glass as a smear.
Franklin opened the door. He wiped the blood off his hands with his face, then grabbed a candlestick off the table and handed it to Jefferson. Franklin winked, “It’s dark; you never know when you’ll need a light.”
Jefferson smiled. Thanks to the benevolent arrangement of things, he knew the greater part of his life would be sunshine.
Jefferson’s task weighed heavy on his guilt parts as he navigated the thicketed maze between Philadelphia proper and Franklin’s log mansion/industrial complex. When he arrived at the town’s edge, the flicker of lamps dotted the streets and his fellow Americans were beginning their usual twilight routine.
He watched with little amusement while the Philadelphians rushed to their homes filled with terror. As people born from the superstitious and stupid of Europe’s backwash, the goodly townsfolk feared the possibility of bugbears and switch devils roaming the dark alleys at night. Certain that a wooden door smeared with goat’s blood could ward away most evils, the Town Council enforced a strict curfew at sunset so the Town Watch could barricade the people’s homes with entrails.
With a gentle nod to the baker’s wife as she scuttled for her home muttering about witches, Jefferson slid his key into the lock and wedged the door open.
The room was silent. Jefferson waited a moment, held his breath, and strained to hear Martha’s snoring. By the evening’s wane she was typically in some fitful coma, bundled and hunched in her favorite chair.
But the room was silent.
Jefferson closed the door and drew the curtains shut. Martha was probably in bed by now; he could grab his suitcase and be at Franklin’s cabin in under an hour if his pace was swift.
Without thinking, Jefferson clutched the heavy candlestick in his coat pocket and trudged to his former room. The suitcase was in the closet, still packed with his clothes from Monticello. As he clasped the chest shut, he wondered if he would even bother returning home for his other belongings.
“I knew you would come back.”
Jefferson spun to see Sally, standing in Martha’s old silk negligée she hadn’t worn for over two-hundred pounds.
“Sally.” Jefferson picked up his suitcase. “Where are Martha and the girls?”
“They’re with Ashwin and the Tribal Guard.”
“Oh, well then I suppose I should be on my way. Can’t have them see me like this.”
“Wait, Thomas.” Sally put her hands on her hips and swayed forward, translucent bodice ruffling seductively. “We’re alone now.” She traced Jefferson’s collar with her fingers, down the lapel and to his waistband.
“Why yes, yes we are.” Jefferson giggled nervously. They waited a moment in silence, then he added, “Well, time to go then. Goodbye, Sall-ee?!”
Sally gripped Jefferson by the candlestick and smiled, “Something tells me you don’t want to go.” She massaged the dusty shaft and leaned in close. Jefferson smelled lavender and roses, a perfume he bought for her long ago…
“Oh, that’s not my–”
Sally pushed Jefferson onto the bed. The suitcase bounced to the floor and opened.
“Sally, no! I’m a married man!”
“Not anymore,” she whispered. “Now you’re mine – Mistuh Jeffuhsun.”
“In the eyes of the Skyfather, Martha and I still are – Sally stop unbuckling my – enough!” Jefferson pushed Sally off and sat up.
“Thomas, you know I’ve always admired you. Don’t sit there and act like we don’t share a passion.”
“Yes, Sally, I,” Jefferson stammered, “and I’m… quite fond of you… too?”
“Martha’s never seen how good you are – that you were too good to her.” Sally swished over to the bed and sat in Jefferson’s lap, “You’re the one good man in this world, Thomas.”
“Sally, I’m,” Jefferson’s head sank. “…I’m no one, Sally.”
“You’re a man who wants to create a nation.” Sally cradled Jefferson’s face in her hands, “Where everyone else wants to get rich off of somebody else, you actually want to save people. Sure, it’s a stupid dream, but it’s also noble. You think I would have learned to read if any other man owned me? Would have had my own children,” she smiled at Jefferson, “my own life, if you weren’t the kind of man to not tolerate injustice?”
“But Sally, I don’t do,” Jefferson whispered, “…anything.”
“So what if you just feel guilty. You think Martha feels guilty? Or any of your drinking buddies?”
“The Continental Congress?”
Sally whispered, “Do you remember what you said to me in Paris?”
“That I… we–”
“I’ve seen them, sculking around Carpenter’s Hall with lizards and vampire lookin’ things. I tried to warn somebody but a militia man just said I was having one of those ‘slave fits’ and they all left, laughing about sickle cell and weak blood strains.”
Sally crossed her eyes and marched in place, lowering her voice to the octave of a buffoon, “But they’re good athletes and workers.” She turned her head, signifying a new voice to the conversation, “Gotta keep ‘em occupied. Play them drums but leave my daughter be, boy – hur hur.”
“Sally,” Jefferson warned, “the Freemasons are dangerous; don’t trifle with their–”
She stood, crossing her arms. “Then why should you stay here too? You think their revolution is really going to make a free world like you want?”
“…no?” Jefferson’s head twitched to the side and he stared blank at the unlatched suitcase. He had always known subconsciously but wasn’t actually aware until he had said it, but Sally was right; this was never his revolution.
“All they want is to kick the King in all three of his nuts while France and Spain have his pants down.
“But what else can I do? I’m too far gone now.”
Sally stomped and demanded, “Why did you even come back then if you’re ‘so far gone?!’”
“For my…,” Jefferson realized he was still gazing dumbstruck at the suitcase.
“For what? Where are you going?”
“Franklin said I could–”
“That bigot cunt? We could be out West before–”
“It isn’t right Sally, I know that. But you are Martha’s. I can’t–”
“I’m yours, Thomas. And according to your will I, as your marital property, am free after your death.”
“Well yes, but once the divorce is final – wait, what?”
“Then let’s go tonight. We’ll fake our deaths and move out West.”
Jefferson sniffed the air, “Do you smell kerosene all of a sudden?”
“We’ll be free – both of us.”
“Fuck America; what about us? What am I to you?!”
“Sally, stop; I’m leaving, we can’t… we can’t do this.”
“Fine, go!” Sally threw her arms up and shrieked, “You never cared about me or your family or shit! Just get on back to the forest with your boyfriend.”
“But you walk out that door and know what I’m gonna do? I’ll tell everyone you’s a nigger fucker.”
“Sally,” Jefferson laughed, “Come now. The neighbors might hear–”
“Let ‘em! I’ll tell everyone. I’ll run down to every plantation and work house across the colonies, waving my arms around shouting, “Hey! If you’s a nigger and you wants to get fucked, go see Massah Jefferson. It don’t matter how much nigger you is; Thomas Jefferson’ll fuck yah good, cuz he’s a nigger fucker!”
Jefferson bent over and hoisted his suitcase. He chuckled, “Yes Sally, I’m sure you will. That’ll be quite the talk of the town’s cracker barrels.”
“Then I’ll wait until the next week’s Sunday witch burnin’ and run down to Philadelphia Square. I’ll jump up on the platform when the teenager’s screaming about how she just gave somebody medicine and yell, ‘Hey! Has yoh nigger been fucked? She all walkin’ low and swole up pregnant and shit? Betcha it was that Thomas Jefferson. Oh, you didn’t know? Shore ‘nuff, mah auntie Bernice done said me; Jefferson’s a nigger fucker!’”
“Sally, your imagination is a magnificent treasure.”
“And then nobody will side with your revolution, not after I’m done.”
Jefferson paused. Slowly, he lowered the suitcase to the floor and thought. She was right; what American would join an adulterer’s revolution? Or a rapist’s? Who could trust a man who so wantonly disrespected his property’s rights?
Sally crossed her arms, “And you know what else? History won’t remember you as nothin’ but a nigger fucker. When the King hires somebody to write up the history of the American colonies, they’ll put more in about those Calvinist terrorists than your nigger fuckin’ ass.”
Jefferson anxiously grabbed the candlestick in his jacket pocket. She was right, and he couldn’t force himself upon Sally when he was still wedded to Martha in the infinite eyes of Deist Skyfather. He reached for the heavy lump of copper; the bannered eagle over his shoulders and the patriot’s call trumpeting in his ears.
“And everybody you know will always shout it when you walk by. They’ll say, ‘There goes Thomas Jefferson; there goes that nigger fucker!’”
Jefferson lifted the candlestick in the air and cracked it against Sally’s head. Her eyes crossed and she fell with a, “Yiieuw!”
The room was silent.
A dog barked in the streets. A voice shrieked, “There’s a devil outside; hide the first-borns!”
“…Sally?” Jefferson gasped, “Oh god, oh no. What have I–”
Two hands clapped together in the shadows. Franklin emerged proud, cannabis pipe clenched in his teeth. “Well done, Jefferson.”
“You mean you were here the entire… How long were you standing there?!”
“Long enough.” Franklin took a hit from his pipe, “She dead?”
Jefferson tapped Sally’s body with his foot. “Sally? Sally are you alright?”
“She’s still cross-eyed. I think you conked her dyslexic, Jefferson.”
“Oh god, I’m a murderer. I’m a murderer!”
Franklin cupped his hand over Jefferson’s mouth, “Quiet you fool; you’ll wake the neighborhood.”
“But I killed her, Franklin!”
“Yes, you did. And you’re too far gone now. You can never go back, you hear me, Jefferson? Soon you’ll devolve into a cackling fiend before you turn on yourself or the militia gun you down in the streets.”
Franklin slapped Jefferson across the face, “Calm down, you cold-blooded magnificent bastard! You have to keep your head straight. You’re a wanted man now, Jefferson. We’ll–”
Franklin sniffed the air, “Is that kerosene?”
“What do we do? What do I do?!”
“You’ll have to leave town. Now, while you have the cover of darkness. But I can’t make this sound pretty. There are some hard times ahead of you, and there’s no way around that. They’ll hunt you across the continent, Jefferson. But…,” Franklin began to snicker, “don’t worry… because I’ll be… I’ll be there for you buddy.”
Franklin cackled, “I’m sorry, I can’t keep this up. You killed a slave, Jefferson. Who’s going to care?”
Jefferson sniffed. He looked around puzzled, “I… will?”
“Nobody. Now help me get her body to the basement. Is her tongue sticking out too?”
Jefferson scowled, “No.”
“Damn. With those crossed eyes; shit.”
Jefferson sobbed, grabbing Sally’s ankles. Franklin hoisted her by the shoulders and laughed, “It’d just be funnier is all I’m sayin’.”
“Why the basement?” Jefferson asked, propping the door open with his foot.
“The furnace, Jefferson.”
“You want to hide her in the furnace?”
“You can hide anything in a furnace if you set the temperature high enough.”
“We don’t have a furnace.”
Franklin dropped Sally. Her head clunked on the wooden floor and her eyes closed. “You don’t have a furnace?” he asked, dumbstruck. “What do you do with your dead slaves?”
“…Franklin, how many times have you done this?”
“Slaves or just in general?” Franklin sniffed the walls. “Is that kerosene?”
“Yes. I think she soaked the entire house before I arrived.”
“Even better, that was my Plan B! We’ll just light up the hallway and burn the entire place down. Boom! Ashes n’ shit.” Franklin grumbled, “If only I’d known beforehand… I could have saved a month’s worth of kindling, too.”
“You filled my vacation home with kindling?”
“Yup, some associates and I spent the last twenty-minutes cramming this shanty from ceiling to cellar with slaves.”
Jefferson stared, wide-eyed. “Why?!”
“Because it was my Plan B, Jefferson. What if she hadn’t soaked your home in starter and we were in the same situation, hrm?”
“Can’t we just… you know, bury her? She deserves at least that, Franklin.”
“Sure, but I’m still burning the house down.”
“Because it’s not your house anymore, remember? Are you saying you want all those slaves crammed into the woodwork for nothing? Do you know how much that cost me?”
“Well you didn’t have to fill my entire house with them.”
“I needed an even flame; in arson and ever always in life, one doesn’t want to leave any skeletons that aren’t a distraction. All the teeth in the ashes would have been an excellent diversion, but now we can just pin the whole fire on the broad.”
“So how are we going to get all of them out in time?”“…Get them out?”
The Jefferson vacation home in flames, a drunken Franklin and a praying Jefferson meandered to the forest. Slathered in grit and stained with chlorophyll from their hasty burial of Sally’s corpse, Franklin cheerfully swaggered with a shovel resting over his shoulders. He reeled back and laughed to the looming trees as the Philadelphia bell clanged, waking the militia from their inebriated sleep terrors.
“You know Skydaddy can’t hear you right?”
Jefferson clasped his dirtied hands together, whispering the Deist’s creed. “I believe in the Divine Spirit, that the Skyfather’s teachings are holy law of the nondenominational megachurch.”
“Uh oh, getting Skydad involved. Too bad Skydad can’t hear you all the way up in his moon base. Quick, scry out a projection enchantment!”
“By the jeweled scepter of Kromdar, in the eighth celestial house of Ogron.”
Franklin swigged from his boot flask and coughed, “No, no, you’re doing it wrong. All the stat buffs are in Psalms.”
“Demiurge of stone and sky.”
Franklin belched. “I want plus-five against ogres.”
The town militia had released the hounds. The barking of dogs grew behind Jefferson with the rhythmic clomp of men’s boots. He prayed, “I summon thee to wield the wand of Odin, born of the virgin Jessica.”
Franklin belched. He flipped his musket and fired a shot in the air. “Oh no, I shot Skydad! No more Christmas.”
“And life everlasting, amen.”
“Life everlasting, man you people will fuckin’ buy anything.”
The two friends walked silently for a while. The charred home began to collapse, shaking the ground beyond the city limits.
“You didn’t have to burn the house down, Franklin.”
“Of course I did. The kindling would’ve starved in less than a week. We’d have to fumigate all of Philadelphia after they finally dug out all the bodies. Some of them,” Franklin laughed. “We had to tamp into the woodwork with a chimney sweep.”
Jefferson pursed his lips. “And when you say chimney sweep–”
“I mean a kid; I think his name was Gregory.” Franklin demonstrated like he was slamming a child face-first onto the earth by the ankles, “Snapped his neck like five different ways by the time we were done.”
“Well, that’s a shame – considering you didn’t have to fill my house with human starter either!”
Franklin snorted, “Damn right. Your house girl soaked the whole place in lighter fluid. Like a Buddhist fuckin’ pray-in. Why did she do that anyways?”
Jefferson rolled his eyes, “Something about faking our deaths and heading out West.”
Franklin stopped. He touched Jefferson’s shoulder. “Really? And you still turned that down to live in the woods with me? I’m flattered.”
“Well, your friendship is a gift, Franklin.”
“Shame you didn’t fuck her though.”
“Yes, I suppose.”
Franklin held up his shovel and winked. “Not too late, buddy.”
They walked on. Jefferson stared at the ground and kicked a pebble.
Franklin cleared his throat, “You know that I had to burn the house down, right? You couldn’t.”
“Why not?!” Jefferson asked offended, then baffled when he realized he was actually offended. “I mean… I’m a loyal friend; I’m honest… trustworthy even.”
“Exactly; you’re too good of a person. It’s a weakness. Yours is a limp-wristed, velveteen grace of a gentle faggot. I can’t trust you when the crunch is on.”
“How can you say that? I was the one trying to get out of town as quickly as possible. You’re the one who just tossed a lit match in the door and watched for twenty minutes!”
“Oh, like you never read your own poetry either?”
“Well then what about the drums, Franklin?”
“The drums, the drums you started playing the minute your ‘kindling’ started to catch. The only reason anyone even noticed their tormented shrieks in that ungodly hellfire was you pounding on your damned drums!”
“Proper ambience. I threw ‘em in the fire when we heard someone coming. I may be a little proud but I always drop the garbage and make it out with what’s important when the crunch is on.”
A voice called out in the darkness, “I think I hear someone over there!”
Jefferson’s head snapped around, “What was that?”
“The crunch,” Franklin muttered. He pushed Jefferson into the bushes, “Get down and stay down.”
“Oh, Mr. Franklin,” the voice called. A young boy, no older than thirteen and sporting the militia’s lack of uniform, stepped out. He led two droopy-faced hounds more interested in licking their genitals than sniffing down the arsonist.
Franklin waved, “What business do you have in the woods at this hour?”
“Oh, well,” the boy stuttered. The leashes jangled as his hands shook. “I’m the official hound boy and… see they told me to look for… that is… there’s a fire at the Jefferson vacation home!”
“A fire? In Philadelphia?”
“The best we can make of it is a slave orgy. Someone left their slaves unattended and they started… um… ‘cavorting’ underneath the Jefferson vacation home.”
“Oh really?” Franklin smirked at the bushes.
“Friction from the grinding must have sparked a fire. What do you think? You’re the town fire marshal after all.”
The boy’s hounds sniffed the air. Jefferson crouched down in the bushes. His breathing grew heavy, and despite the brisk night air he was beginning to sweat. Like any defeated animal wishing for a friend in its struggle within the maw of a jaguar, he prayed.
“You’re in my Junior Firemen’s Brigade.” Franklin smiled, “What do you think caused the fire?”
The boy paused. “Well, my paw says he found a drum. Says they must have gotten to playing so fierce with their Africarnal rhythms that they grinded up into the woodwork. He said there was fingernails and scratches all over the wood what wasn’t burnt.”
“How…,” Franklin strained not to laugh, “ghastly.”
“They must have been carryin’ on omething’ fierce in those walls. Wasn’t Christian, Mr. Franklin, not Christian at all.”
“Drums, you say?”
Jefferson stopped praying and looked through the bushes. Had Franklin known that–
“So I guess that’s it. If Paw saw that then that must be what happened.”
“Yea,” Franklin said, disappointed. “Must have been that.” He put his hands on his hips and shrugged, “You know how slave sex can get; they’re a more earthy and spirited people.”
“Right,” the boy smiled, relieved. “Of course. Must have been that.”
“Well, go on,” Franklin replied. “Get the fuck off my land.”
“Yes sir,” the boy chirped, “right away Mr. Franklin!” Then he bolted down the dirt path while his stubby legged dogs trotted to keep pace.
Franklin took a hit from his pipe and exhaled. “He’s gone.”
Jefferson tumbled out of the bushes. “That was incredible; how did you know he would believe that?”
Franklin guffawed, “Because I’m Benjamin fuckin’ Franklin and that boy’s a right fuckin’ idiot like the other eighty-five percent of our species.” Franklin helped Jefferson to his feet. “Plus I’ve got a gun strapped to my leg, a shovel, and a whole lotta private property,” he added with a wink as he rolled up his pant leg to reveal a musket roped to his shin.
Jefferson dusted off his jacket, “So then where do I stand?”
“Oh come now Jefferson, you know I don’t mean you. You’re different; you’re like me. We wouldn’t be buddies if you weren’t.”
“Don’t ruin this for me, Jefferson. You’ll be sleeping in your own room.”
“That’s not what I–”
“I wouldn’t tell you about how awful these cretins are if I didn’t think you were above them. Guys like us, we have to stick together in this world or we’ll drown in the mass’s shit.”
“I suppose…” Jefferson’s thoughts trailed away. “What?”
“Look at this,” Franklin said, reaching into his jacket. He pulled a worn leather notebook from his breast pocket and flipped through the leaflets of paper. After turning past an uncountable number of pages slashed through with tallies, he came upon a blank page and wrote “Jefferson.” He chuckled as he drew a point.Franklin nudged Jefferson with his elbow, winked, then cleared his throat and closed the booklet. “Looks like you’ve got some catching up to do, buddy.”
The Young Adult's Guide to America is a serial comedy on Kindle. Check it out on Amazon and follow the author at @GeraldSallier. Thanks for reading!