This is the story of a man who thought he was God's gift to a small and desperate town. "Pride cometh before a fall."
In the small British settlement of Nitherton, the townspeople eagerly assembled for the first mayoral election since the Great White War had ended. The scarcely populated town needed someone to restore a sense of organization and stability--someone who genuinely cared about the barren, blackened fields that had been bombed mercilessly, turning thriving crops to snowy ash in less than the blink of an eye. They needed someone who cared that unfortunate victims had lost their homes, their belongings and countless family members and friends. They needed someone to guide them to a future of hope.
Sir Reginald Appleby appeared to be that someone.
He waited anxiously outside the ruins of the town hall, shaking hands with farmers and kissing soured babies with soaked diapers. He'd do anything to get their votes.
His mouth curled in disdain. Even smell like urine for the next hour or so.
Beside the ravaged skeleton of the town hall stood a forbidding statue that had miraculously been ignored by the war, forgotten and untouched by the blasts of bombs or the splattering of shrapnel. The statue was made in the image of Archibald Appleby--Sir Reginald's Great, Great, Great Grandpapa--who had founded the original settlement of Nitherton in 1837. The imperious form was carved from bronze and copper, and it bore a striking resemblance to the only heir to the Appleby name--Sir Reginald.
Every day, except during the relentless air raids, Sir Reginald would cautiously make his way through the scattered ruins of Nitherton to the bomb site where an elaborate town hall had once stood, and where the statue remained defiantly protesting the surrounding destruction. Every day, the sole survivor and heir to the Appleby fortune--a bomb-leveled mansion and two thousand dollars in debts--would reverently clean and polish the statue bearing his face. It was rubbed to a glowing shine, its radiance a beacon on a dreary moonless night. It was almost as if the statue knew that it was the only object of beauty left in the devastated town.
Sir Reginald stood quietly beside his statue and smoothly promised the townspeople that he would be a true leader. "It may have taken five minutes to annihilate our town, but it will take years to restore it. I'm your man. I will work for you and help you to build a stable and prosperous community."
Of course, he thought, only an Appleby could show the stability needed in the office of Mayor. And the pay won't hurt, either.
"I will be to you what Archibald Appleby was to our ancestors―the voice of the town. We will rebuild Nitherton from the soils of this barren land and we will make it fruitful again."
He turned slowly, observing the crowds. A greedy gleam glinted from the depths of his soul. He knew that he had everyone wrapped around his finger. A smile slowly stretched across his face. "And Archibald here is a witness to my promises. He was the past. I am your future."
A murmur of nodding heads and serious contemplation moved through his audience. They were impressed by his speech. He had given them what they needed, someone solid and strong--a real leader.
Sir Reginald smiled with self-content. He was going to be the next Mayor of Nitherton.
"But Sir Reginald," one older man huffed. "This week you want to be mayor. Last week you wanted to be fire chief. How do we know you'll actually follow through this time?"
"Yeah," shouted a tall skinny man. "How do we know you won't bail on us and run back to the city, like you did a year ago just before the bombs hit."
Sir Reginald scowled. He was losing ground. And fast.
He glanced at the statue and a spark of inspiration flared. If the statue had survived four wars in total, then it probably would survive the next one. That would give Sir Reginald lots of time to put the Appleby name on everybody's lips.
"As long as Archibald stands watching over us all, I will serve you unselfishly and faithfully."
He regarded the gleaming replica with satisfaction. It represented undaunted strength, stubbornness and stability, all of which were key elements in the making of a Mayor. The statue was as much a part of Nitherton--if not more--than the ground it stood upon.
Everyone smiled with admiration as Sir Reginald answered questions for the press. No one stopped to wonder how the photographers would develop their films when their darkrooms had been turned to dust. No one stopped to inquire how the local newspapers expected to print their story when the offices had been thoroughly obliterated from the face of the earth.
And no one stopped to ask the smiling statue of Archibald Appleby what he thought.
"'Sir Reginald?" a young, inexperienced photographer asked. "Could I have a picture of you beside Archie, please?"
Sir Reginald stood with his arm around the statue, waiting impatiently for the blond-haired girl to get her escaping locks out of the camera lens. He smiled--a stiff, glued-on smile--hoping that she was getting his good side. Were his teeth showing too much?
The girl focused.
It was a sound more devastating than any bomb.
Maybe it was Sir Reginald's weight leaning against the cold metallic body, or maybe it was simply fate suggesting to the onlookers that the Applebys were not as stable as they thought. That innocent click of a camera set off a chain of events that forever changed the history of Nitherton.
People screamed, pointing fingers at Sir Reginald. "Look! What's happening?"
That was when the final bomb fell.
A low groaning sound rose from inside the dignified statue, as if poor Archibald had a bad case of indigestion. It began to hum, vibrating against Sir Reginald so badly that his glasses fell off.
Someone peeled him away from the shaking monument.
"Wait!" he shouted. "I need your votes!"
Only the statue answered.
Sir Reginald's final vision of the noble face was that of an exploding breeze of debris. When he finally opened his eyes, nothing remained of Archibald Appleby. Nothing except a chunk of copper that lay at Sir Reginald's feet.
He searched the crowd in shock. There must be an explanation. Everyone was staring in disbelief at the deserted ground where a bronze image had once proudly stood.
"Guess Sir Reginald just isn't meant to be Mayor," someone muttered.
An old woman nodded, then glared in Sir Reginald's direction. "It's fate, I tell ya."
The crowd slowly dispersed--except the young girl with the golden hair. She chewed her gum impatiently and frowned at the photographic contraption in her hands. Then she looked up at him, blew a bubble.
Pop! "Don't think that picture will turn out, Sir Reginald. Can we take that shot again?"
© 1988/2006 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
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