In the Trump International Penal Colony and Golf Resort

After Kafka.

Image: sergio_leenen

“It’s an absolutely one-of-a-kind apparatus,” said the President to the Tourist, as he pursed his lips and looked with admiration at the machine, with which he was already of course quite familiar. “It’s terrific. Just amazing, the best.” The Tourist had accepted the invitation to witness an execution mostly out of politeness. He’d been on the seventh hole minding his own business, when suddenly there was the President himself, Scotch-taped crimson necktie flapping in the wind, tangerine skin setting off the glowing chartreuse of the hills around him.

“My executions, nobody else even comes close,” the President had said. “I am the greatest executioner that God has ever created.” To avoid awkwardness, the Tourist had allowed himself to be installed in a golf cart and spirited across the course and behind the clubhouse, where a haggard brown-haired gentlemen stood handcuffed and shackled, swaying under the hot sun, his glasses askew. The man had been hard to see in the glare of the gleaming contraption that rose up behind him, whose virtues the President was now using his limited vocabulary to extol.

“Now look at my terrific Bed,” said the President, jerking his creased chin toward the bottom part of the device, an eight-foot-long slab of marble festooned with straps and buckles, “the biggest, most beautiful Bed you’ve ever seen, a great Bed, stupendous Bed, believe me.” The slab appeared to be flecked with dried blood. “And up there,” said the President, indicating the canopy of foot-long, solid-gold spikes that made up the machine’s top half, “that’s the best part, the best of the best, the Stabber. I named it myself. Terrific name. Just great.” Each spike was monogrammed at the top with an ornate T, almost impossible to make out amidst all of the surrounding embellishments and curlicues. “My cyber guy, he set it up. I use my thumbs to type important things on here” — the President removed from his pocket a small, black telephone — “and boom! Gets carved right into the skin, with my great spikes. Amazing! No spikes carve amazing words into flesh, until the person bleeds slowly to death over a period of twelve hours, like mine. Everybody comes to watch my executions, biggest crowds in history, period.”

The Tourist glanced beyond the President to the vacant, listing bleachers on the other side of the machine. He remembered that he had read somewhere, in one of those secret periodicals still printed on paper, left quietly on park benches — which you read without picking up, pretending you were looking down to tie your shoes — that interest in the President’s worldwide chain of luxury-resorts-slash-internment-camps had waned.

But during the President’s early era — his first sixteen years — the executions, which he insisted upon overseeing personally in spite of his other responsibilities, had been a big draw. The resort colonies were a place the President’s donors and sycophants could gather, golf, have a steam, and then join a coterie of leggy, grimacing young hostesses to witness the drawn-out eliminations of their enemies. Only Nines and Tens in the VIP Booth had, in fact, been ratified as the Thirty-Fifth Amendment to the country’s Constitution, behind the instatement of the death penalty for “unfollowing” the President, and in front of universal suffrage for semi-automatic firearms.

Problems arose, however, in later years, when the colonies’ guests would invariably get drunk and attempt to flatter the President, but fail to be flattering enough, and then end up on the machines themselves. And since the executions had long since dispatched the journalists — only afterward did the President realize they, who had broadcast his every move for the world to see, were his greatest allies — there was nobody left to spectate, nobody left to broadcast, and nobody left to execute. Or, at any rate, almost nobody. Clearly, the President had dragged this latest fellow out from somewhere.

“Look at this loser here,” said the President, at last turning his attention to the man in shackles, who now appeared to be sleeping standing up. “He’s going to die, and he doesn’t even know why. Sad!”

The Tourist, in spite of himself, cocked his head to one side. He really wanted to be back in the clubhouse, eating caviar off the bare back of a girl from the President’s new mandatory national service program, for women attractive enough to be seen naked but too annoying to be heard speaking.

But the President seemed pretty keen to keep talking. “Of course he doesn’t know what he’s done. I don’t even know what he’s done. But I alone,” he said, “am judge, jury and executioner here. And CEO, boss, definite billionaire, and also President. And,” he said, “what I say goes: Guilt is NEVER to be doubted. Ever! And this guy, believe me, I’ve heard things, from good people. He did it. It doesn’t matter what it is. But don’t worry,” said the President. “After about eight hours, it will dawn on him. He’ll figure everything out with his wounds.”

The Tourist snuck a glance at his watch, and the man in shackles started snoring audibly.

“So,” said the President. “You’ve had the exclusive, luxurious private tour of my Presidency’s most magnificent achievement. Is this,” he asked, “not the most fabulous, the greatest return to law and order you’ve ever seen?”

The Tourist cleared his throat. “Uh,” the Tourist said, still slightly phlegmy, so that the next word caught in his throat: “Maybe?”

“Maybe?” said the President. “I’m not maybe. You’re the maybe. You’re the maybe.”

The President brought out his phone and started jabbing at it, presumably to hasten the sleeping shackled man’s demise. Instead, the man’s cuffs sprung open and he jolted awake. The prisoner stood gaping, expecting to be tasered or shot. But the President was busy typing with his thumbs. The Tourist peeked to see what the President was writing, but it looked like gibberish. As the President’s breath grew jagged and he showed no sign of looking up, the prisoner gave the Tourist a wide-eyed stare — the Tourist shrugged — and then ran toward the far hills, tripping a few times on underused legs before gaining his footing and picking up speed.

After what seemed like hours, and with a pronounced sniffle, the President looked up and noticed he and the Tourist were alone. “A huge crowd, still, I see,” he said. The Tourist looked back at him. “Well, then,” said the President, “it’s time.” With that, he marched up to the machine and sat down on the Bed himself. The Tourist looked around to see if anyone was watching. Before the arm and leg restraints had a chance to snap around the President’s limbs, he jabbed one last commandment for the Stabber to arrange, narrating along for the Tourist’s benefit.


The machine rumbled to life, the Bed vibrating from below and the spikes jiggling from above, showing no sign of arranging themselves into any letters, but jabbing closer and closer to the President’s head. The Tourist felt like he should probably put a stop to this, but he didn’t know how. He almost couldn’t bear to look, as the Stabber lowered ever closer — and, just as suddenly, halted. Out of a set of speakers embedded in the Stabber’s canopy came a single sentence, repeated on a loop: “Maintenance invoice past due. Maintenance invoice past due. Maintenance invoice past due.”

The President was still buckled in, unable to reach his phone as the spikes hovered a centimeter away from his running nose, a screaming silhouette against the bright vermilion sunset. It was a magnificent sight indeed, the best sight, an amazing and beautiful sight. But the Tourist missed it all, having turned his back to traverse to the clubhouse on foot, where he planned to redeem a two-for-one coupon on braised panda.

Rebecca Schuman’s debut memoir SCHADENFREUDE, A LOVE STORY: Me, the Germans, and Twenty Years of Attempted Transformations, Awkward Miscommunications and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For is available FEBRUARY 7 from FLATIRON BOOKS.