Stan stood at the podium and adjusted the microphone in front of him; the applause died down, and every eye fixed on him. Stan removed his mask, went to speak but then stopped. He put his hand to his mouth, paused, and then gave a solemn shake of his head. Everyone leaned forward in their seat. “You know,” said Stan, his voice choked with emotion, “on the way here today, I saw a homeless man sitting by the road, playing the harmonica. I had my driver pull over, and I went to speak with the man. He was very frail, and his voice was weak. He said to me, ‘Stan, I am in terrible pain, and I don’t have long to live.’ I said to him, ‘What happened to you?’ He looked up at me with eyes full of regret, and said, ‘Stan, I have been a fool. When the Covid pandemic hit, I didn’t believe you when you said it was a dangerous virus, so I didn’t get the vaccine.’” Audience members gasped. “The man said to me, ‘Stan, if only I had listened. You see, I caught Covid and infected my family. And because I didn’t believe in wearing masks, they all died. Now I am all alone. I have late stage Covid, and soon my internal organs will burst, and I will die. The one thing I had left was my harmonica, but now I am too weak to even blow a tune.’ He tried to play me a song, puffing with all his might, but he could barely make a sound—the virus had shrivelled his lungs. He looked at me and said, ‘Stan, you are the best premier. If only I had listened to you, my family would still be alive, and I would not be in such excruciating pain. If I could have one last wish, Mr Premier, it would be for everyone to get vaccinated.’” Stan stepped back from the podium and wiped a tear from his eye. Murmurs of admiration circulated the audience. He stepped back to the microphone. “I hear tragedies like this every day. Listen, the science is settled—Covid-19 has killed more people than World War I and World War II combined. It is now the number one cause of death for… probably everyone—children, adults, men and women of all ages. And it is preventable with a simple injection. That’s why we need people to get vaccinated. Whatever it takes, no matter the cost. If it means shutting unvaccinated people out of public places, so be it. If it means separating unvaccinated people from their families, then that’s what I am prepared to do. I want you to know how serious I am about defeating Covid. When it comes to the unvaccinated, I am prepared to deactivate their social media accounts, shut down their businesses, seize their belongings, and have them arrested and placed in camps. If it takes starvation, imprisonment and hard labour for the unvaccinated to change their minds and get the jab—if that’s what it will take to end the suffering—then that’s the price I am willing to pay!” A thump of his fist on the lectern emphasised the point, and the audience burst into applause.
Stan stood tall and made a face he often used on the campaign trail, a face he called “gazing boldly into an uncertain future”. After a moment, he motioned for silence and continued. “Years from now, we will look back on this pivotal time in history, and each of us will remember what we did. For those who refuse the vaccine and disobey government mandates, you will be haunted with shame and regret. It would be better for you to go out into the wilderness and live the rest of your days as a hermit than to ever look another human being in the face, knowing that you left us all for dead with your selfishness and your baseless distrust of my leadership. But for others, you will look back on these days with pride. You will remember with a clear conscience the actions you took when your state needed you, when humanity was on the brink of extinction. I’m talking about you loyal ones, you selfless ones, you great-hearted and courageous ones. All of you who not only received the vaccines, but also disassociated yourselves from the unvaccinated. All of you who wore masks while eating and refrained from hugging at family gatherings and scanned QR codes wherever you went and took regular nasal swab tests—and taught your children that this is normal. All of you who ever physically assaulted someone for wearing their face mask below their nose. All of you who championed lockdowns and isolations and hospital appointment cancellations and gyms being closed and playgrounds being fenced shut and children missing a year of school and the silencing of unapproved opinions. You are the heroes of this pandemic. You are the ones who made it easy for those of us in authority.”
“We love you, Stan!” cried a woman near the front of the audience.
Stan smiled. A few people clapped, and then a few more. Soon the whole theatre was filled with applause. Stan wiped away a tear. The applause grew. He stepped back and a glorious brightness sparkled in his teary eyes. He looked to the ceiling and saw a stage light shining like an angel above him. Standing there, gazing in wonder up at the light, things became clear. He closed his eyes and stretched out his arms. Drawing a long, deep breath, he nodded then exhaled. As he approached the microphone again, the crowd hushed. He looked out upon the five thousand faces waiting upon him. “You are weak,” said Stan, “like… little snails—you know, snails so small if you touch their shells they break… But it’s okay, little snails, I have been sent to save you. That’s why I am premier.” He smiled. “I forgive your sins.”
The room fell silent. Faces screwed up in confusion, people looked at one another and shrugged, but for a full minute there was not a sound. Finally, Stan turned and walked off stage, the clicks of his footsteps echoing through the theatre. Belinda stood offstage with her face buried in her hands.
“Oh bugger, I forgot,” said Stan. He ran back out to the podium. “Two-week lockdown starts at midnight tonight.”
The crowd jumped to its feet and cheered.
© 2022 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED