Orville Baumgardner is back and he’s a problem.
Political satire by James Hanna
Art by Kiki Ren
Orville Baumgardner and the Circle of Limbo
“Good students of Christian Theological Seminary, thank you for inviting me to speak here this morning in your glorious assembly hall. As a castoff from Indiana’s Republican Party, a pariah with no safe port, I am grateful for the temporary harbor you offer me today. Yes, I once found asylum in the Indiana General Assembly, but this mooring was my undoing when I deigned to speak out of turn. So forgive me if I slur my words and smell slightly of Johnnie Walker. I must confess, dear students, that these days I drink a bit.
“Now before I discuss the sacrilege that spawned my banishment—the disparagement I cast upon our venerable Second Amendment—I would like to say something about myself, enough so you may know the sad and crooked highway that brought me here today. But do not think of me as a convert, my friends—my soul is too shoddy and weak to endure the stringent demands of being born again. No, that which I could champion today, I would gladly abandon tomorrow, for I remain a lackey at heart and the most mediocre of men. So, think of me more as a barnyard turkey, a noisy, strutting fowl—a bird which, if it endeavors to fly, will not stay airborne long.
“But even the most outlandish of speakers must provide a bit of fact, so let me give you my background before I discuss my breach. I was born in Castleberg, Indiana, sixty-two years ago, and I spent my childhood collecting stamps and gathering butterflies. No childhood rebellions for me—I was utterly content to sit in the back of my classrooms and peek at girlie mags. I attended Butler University, where I in no way distinguished myself, but my gentleman’s Cs were sufficient to earn me a bachelor’s degree in economics. After graduating, I challenged the Democrat incumbent in House District 54, and to my amazement, I won the seat with seventy percent of the vote. I do not attribute this to the power of my ideas, but because I had the good sense to express no ideas at all. Ideas are invariably half-baked, at their time of implementation, so I spent my time reading great books instead of proposed legislation. I daresay I have read over two hundred books, including all of Shakespeare’s plays, and I believe my talents would have been better served had I been a thespian.
“Ah, I see one of you has a question. Yes, please speak up, pretty miss. You want to know why I shunned the stage in favor of politics. Well, what are politics, my dear, if not theatre in the raw? And is theatre not a distraction from the exploitations of life? And so, I pledged my talents to the stage of politics while my vote on every issue I gave to the GOP’s donor class. To the public at large, I served only pablum—stark, ridiculous skits that kept them tilting at windmills and jumping through endless hoops. Ah, the fortunes we made off our voters—the bounties we controlled. We had only to provide enough circuses to divert them from what we stole.
“Dear students, I must shun modesty and say with conjurer’s pride that the fantasies I fed to our public were the best that money could buy. It was I who concocted the rumor that a dreaded Covid vaccine was injecting socialist dogma into unsuspecting brains. I even improved on the rumor that school shootings are staged events—I did this by assuring my constituents that the deep state wanted their guns so that government surgeons could storm their homes and make women out of men. And did any of my supporters suspect that my tales were wholly absurd? No, dear students, I blush to confess that they swallowed every word.
“Ah, I see another hand raised. Yes, what is your question, good sir? You want to know how I justified my sorcery of lies. I offer not justification, young man, but the law of natural selection. Are chickens not born to be plucked? Are cattle not born to be herded? And should the public prove to be as tractable as sheep, is it not its destiny to be systematically fleeced? In truth, I was never a confidant to altruistic plans, but a pickpocket’s shill—a raconteur whose uninhibited tongue enabled the robber class to get away with its sleight of hand.
“So why, you may ask, did I choose to break ranks from my brethren in fraud? Was I a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge? Was I visited by three ghosts? Was I whisked to a realm where I could take stock of the darkness I had sown? No, my friends, I became a pariah because I am a spiteful man—because I was paid a mere pittance for being the Charles Dickens of shams. Although my lies spurred the purchase of millions of AR15s, the NRA did not bother to seat me at its feast. Instead, I was paid just a few thousand dollars—a sum that hardly compared with the fortune Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio shared. Those three are too trite—too shopworn—to fetch such a price for their souls, yet they were invited to dine with tycoons while I supped from a bowl of gruel.
“And so, being loath to settle for such an insulting fee, I chose to take a pauper’s revenge on those who had cheated me. It took me no more than a sobering glance at the hallowed Second Amendment to vest it with its actual meaning and not the polemics of greed. This law states simply that gun ownership is not to be infringed because a well-run militia is necessary for the security of a free state. Do these words not suggest recruitment over singular crusades? Do they not proclaim that arms only be used when all are under attack? And since we lack hostile Indians to slaughter or slave uprisings to put down, is the NRA not whipping a gelding that perished long ago? I say this: Had our vigilant founders not wanted us to breathe free, they would not have set a condition upon this ancient decree.
“And so, I became an outcast. Discarding my genius for lies, I claimed that polluting a bygone law had made it too easy to die. I told our fawning congressmen that their patrons had stolen too much and that only Armageddon could result from such a theft. ‘Hear me out!’ I hollered. ‘Since you have sated Babylon’s Great Whore, a punishment will befall you for which you cannot atone!’ And when they called me a traitor and deemed me of no further use, I cried, ‘I am truly a turncoat, but I’m no longer a traitor to truth!’
“Ah, how I wish that my breach had been founded on principle rather than spite, that my heart bore the honor of Lincoln when I chose to set things right. But since my rebellion was spawned by no more than vicious jealousy, I fear I was wholly deserving of the coals that were heaped on me. My friends, having dared to speak freely, I have lived like a hunted man. I have roamed the country in tatters—I have been spat on, slandered and stoned. Predictably, I have had death threats, but on these I do not dwell since I welcome the day when a charitable bullet will free me from this hell.
“Gentle students, let me compose myself—I must take a minute to weep…There, I now feel strong enough to tell you about my dream. Like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, the pummeled prophets of old, I was visited by a prophecy that I cannot disown. In my vision, I was trapped within a column of marching souls. We were shuffling along, six abreast, towards some common goal. We were moving in perfect unison, as though bound to each other by chains, and the landscape was so sobering that none of us dared complain.
“Beyond us lay a darkness as deep as the infinite reaches of space. Above us were sallow-faced angels, offering us prayers and thoughts. And before us lay endless wasteland, a desert so burning and bare that not a single shadow interrupted its searing glare.
“We trudged along in lockstep for what seemed like a century. Occasionally, I looked at the faces of those that walked with me. Many were politicians, some of them household names, but their eyes were as still as marbles—their faces seemed hewn from stone. Eventually, I realized we had transgressed to such a degree that we could take no comfort from each other’s company.
“We marched without resolution—we marched without fervor or faith. But finally, a chorus of cherubic voices gave us some hope of relief. The sound was like a welcoming rain that promised to slacken our thirst, but our tongues began to blister when we realized the source. These were the voices of children that a heavier shower had slain, and they were calling for their mothers—they were not ours to claim.
“After marching for what seemed like a century more, we arrived at the shore of a strait—a channel whose breakers towered and snarled as though daring us to cross. No seabirds flew over the surface, no sunlight caressed the brine—it looked like it offered a passage from which there could be no return. But rafts lay anchored along the shore and my companions in sin were being detained in front of these rafts by legions of goat-footed men.
“A roving creature, nine feet tall with alabaster skin, confronted my cohorts, one at a time, as they stood on that terrible shore. The creature had six human heads affixed to the body of an ape, and it wore a black judicial robe and it carried a glowing slate. The heads of the creature examined the slate when a sinner stood in its path and then, like an unearthly jury, the heads nodded in unison. And after this judgment was pronounced, a pack of the goat-footed men bound the culprit with biting ropes and tossed him onto a raft. Not a sneer nor a growl escaped the heads as they inventoried their stock; they displayed the detachment one might expect from a crew of shipping clerks.
“Year after year, I stood like a stone and watched those rafts pull away. Their wretched cargo pleaded and moaned, but the goat-footed men were not swayed. They dug their oars deep in the writhing sea and they pulled with herculean might, and I shook with apprehension as I watched the rafts fade from sight. Where were they heading? I wondered. What was their final port? I could not imagine the outland to which these rafts had been deployed, but as Samuel Beckett wrote in his most-famous play, there is no shortage of void.
“At last, I stood before the creature and waited to hear my fate. Five of the heads nodded in concert, but a sixth head cleared its throat. ‘Not this one,’ it said, and my goat-footed guards dropped their ropes, and an image slowly materialized to show me where I was bound.
“I saw a groundswell of chilling fog. I saw gardens, trees and a brook. I saw a giant castle that glowed with a fiery light. And then, I saw a courtyard where a group of men in robes was strolling beside a glittering stream and talking among themselves. I saw Homer, Horace, and Virgil. I saw Socrates and Plato as well, and I knew from my readings that this was the first of Dante’s nine circles of hell. It was the benevolent Circle of Limbo where the righteous pagans dwelled. It was a place where great minds met and discussed the state of the fickle world.
“Was I to join these intelligent souls? Was I to walk with them? Was I to be privy to true conversations and not the prattle of fools? I felt only terrible guilt at the thought that I alone had escaped the withering exile that had befallen my cohorts in crime.
“The head, whose intervention had spared me a place on one of the rafts, spoke to me in a mellow voice for it already knew my thoughts. ‘Of all the scoundrels before us,’ it said, ‘you’re the greatest of them of all. But by the time you shed your mortal coil, you will have already been punished sixfold. You will have suffered a mountain of stones hurled upon you by sightless, greedy men. You will have died in the darkest of prisons once they’ve charged you with treasonous vows. Your life will have been of such misery that you will welcome your demise, but, through it all, you’ll have planted a seed—a seed that is not going to die.’
“‘So place me on one of those rafts,’ I cried. ‘Reduce the full weight of my sin. When those noble souls take my measure, I will surely be stoned yet again.’
“‘Not so,’ said the head. ‘They will know the true worth of the seed you have daringly sown. When you go to the Circle of Limbo, my friend, they will greet you as one of their own.’
“I was slick with sweat when I woke from my dream. I woke to the crackle of rounds, and I heard once again the pleas of the children—their cries too piercing to drown. I had traveled too far and my soul was so weary, my puffery so defiled, that all I could do was bow my head and bawl like a newborn babe. Alas, good students, my speech is now done. Be assured that I’ve spoken the gospel truth for the first time in my life. I remain the most mediocre of men. I have lived my life like a clown, but the blessed Circle of Limbo is where my soul is bound.”
About the Author
James Hanna is a retired probation officer and a former fiction editor. His work has appeared in over thirty journals, including Sixfold, Crack the Spine, and The Literary Review. His books, most of which have won awards, are available on Amazon.
About the Artist
Kiki is best described as 45% Elvira, 45% Dolly Parton, and 10% Danny Devito. Though she’s always been a lover of all forms of art, technology has always been her forte. She studied computer science for four years before dropping out and coasting through life in various retail management positions. That’s until she found her true calling: being an embarrassment to her family online. When she’s not whipping up websites or blessing the world with memes and generative art she’s hunting for oddities at thrift stores or reading the most disturbing pieces of experimental fiction she can find.
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