In the Trump Story Project, we’re presenting a series of short stories from contemporary writers, compiled by Ben H. Winters, imagining America’s future under President Donald Trump. Read Ben Winters’ introduction to the series.
Maybe it sounds like a joke. A slow, old joke, coming to you out of the past. Trump Land. But it wasn’t a joke. Not really. Even though you entered Trump Land through the ass—Trump’s asshole, to be clear. This was not metaphorical any more than Trump Land was metaphorical. But the place had a complicated history and there were good reasons why the people who came there visited through the back. Structural reasons. Ideological reasons. Reasons of state security. Reasons that changed over time.
I remember Trump Land because my dad worked as head of a construction crew, or as he sometimes put it, “deconstruction” on the site, and as the idea of the building waxed and waned due to people fighting about it far, far away, my young teen self would receive reports and updates and cursing. Lots of cursing.
“Changed again,” my dad would mutter. “Goddamn changed again.” He was never one of those guys who thought more work, wasted work, was a good thing.
It got worse by the time I was in high school, thinking about studying hard science or something abstract. I’d never heard my dad swear so much while working on a job. Sometimes he’d come home and rip off his dirty gloves and toss his hard hat across the living room and sit heavy on the couch in his muddy boots and full gear and smudged face and hair sticking out at all angles and just stare at the space where the empty TV stood.
My dad hadn’t voted for Trump, but a job was a job and those had become scarcer and scarcer. When he’d started out in his line of work, my dad could depend on having the pick of contracts, but not anymore. My dad had some college and he’d sold stuff door-to-door in the past and been part of a phone bank doing tech support once when a construction job got canceled. But it wasn’t really his thing, and any time he wasn’t doing what he’d trained for, he got antsy and uncomfortable in his own skin.
I am not telling you his name or my name because I don’t want retribution. Although I don’t know what direction that’d be coming from anymore. From the coyot-wolves? From the fucked-up drones so clumsy I’d be long gone?
* * *
It takes an effort. To talk about Trump Land. Maybe because of the distance or maybe because nobody knows shit any more, if they ever did. But let me tell you how Trump Land began.
Trump Land began as a kind of joke in the mind of John Fray, an evangelical that real Christian people around here called Magic Ray behind his back. Magic Ray hated Trump, thought he was a fraud, and couldn’t believe all the people like-minded to himself who had supported the man in our red state. About Trump voters who were Christians, he liked to say, “I guess they thought if you couldn’t get to heaven, maybe you could at least get to hell faster.” Magic Ray had a weird sense of humor.
Because Magic Ray was rich, once he stated his whim aloud, his underlings created blueprints and that led to investors, who by their very presence meant the satire became more of a celebration with a touch of the tongue-in-cheek. Because money is money is money, but other people’s money always turns into new ideas. “Rubbed their stink all over it,” as my dad said.
By then, Trump had begun to “drain the swamp” so much so that nerves were on edge, such that any disturbance, any vibrating tripwire, and the host becomes enraged, tries to change the irritant rather than soothe the sensitivity. And so “satire” gave way even more to “tribute” in the lexicon they used and the initial construction plans gave way to something else. Something more and less and yet still the same because sometimes there is no difference between the subject observed and the subject unobserved. I know that goes against physics, but I never did get my college degree, so I’ll blame that.
By the time Magic Ray broke ground in that cold place, using my dad and others as the shovels, they were cutting through earth in the spot where they had actually drained a marsh next to an abandoned roadside zoo. By then, the plans for Trump Land called for a giant building shaped to look like a reclining Trump on his side, head for structural reasons propped up by one right angle of an arm and hand. Early drawings my dad showed me, as we chuckled about it at the kitchen table, drinking hot chocolate, showed Trump dressed in a Playboy-esque red-and-gold bathrobe. In final, Trump was dressed in a dark-blue business suit with a red tie. But there was still a hole in his ass to let in the employees. “The holy rectum,” someone said. I can’t remember who.
For various reasons, the outer shell or façade went up first, supported by temporary scaffolding—perhaps because the investors were still arguing about what would go inside. So I remember when Trump Land was empty and full of shadows and dirt floors and you didn’t have to go in through his ass. Instead, a ladder led to a little door near where his bellybutton should have been, but instead there was the detail of one of his shirt buttons.
When my dad took me to the construction site, overwhelmed by all the trucks and trailers and the concrete mixers and the wire and all the other things that either went away or got shoved inside of Trump, I would sneak inside up that ladder and I would marvel at the echoes and the dripping water and I would wonder if sound would carry inside a hollowed-out human body. That was stupid, but I was just a boy. I didn’t even know the end of Trump Land might look like a return to its beginning.
My dad would bring me along on overtime, weekends, and I would climb down the ladder inside of Trump’s button and down to the floor of the reclining Trump and sometimes I would just stand there with my flashlight and listen for the quick, quiet sound of the pigeons and sparrows lost inside, the feathery slide of wings and the abrupt querulous sound of something trapped. My dad told me they’d flush all the trapped birds out as soon as they started the next phase, but I didn’t believe him. I put out stale bread crumbs, even though that was just a way of keeping them alive a little longer. Was that kindness?
A burrowing animal had, during the period between raising the façade and waiting to fill the insides, burst out through burrows in the ground. Some kind of marmot, tunneling through half-finished floors and fucking up the works. So I had to be careful as I walked around, because it was too easy to put a foot in a hole and turn an ankle. I didn’t mind, though. I liked marmots. I saw them on the hills overlooking Trump Land and sometimes they stood on their hind legs and observed as if they had their own plans. Maybe we should’ve been smarter, known when I stopped seeing those critters we should’ve left, too.
I had time to explore because I was home-schooled off and on by my mom. My dad and I were legal citizens by Trump’s definition, but neither of us were white or could pass for white, and the public school couldn’t or wouldn’t protect us and others like us. The abuse we got went in waves depending on what Trump said on social media. We got used to defending ourselves. We got used to being unsure if our legal status might change based on tweets, too, and kept our heads down. My dad told my mom not to go to PTA meetings anymore because it was too hateful and then we kind of withdrew all the way. My mom had come here more recently, from well south of the U.S., and we thought she wouldn’t be deported, but who could be sure?
“We’ve just got to ride it out,” my dad said. “Well, then why don’t we ride it out someplace else?” my mom pushed. But we couldn’t move, because of Trump Land. Under the new rules, my mom could stay in the country, for now, but she couldn’t get a legal job. The country she’d be going back to was just as bad, and she’d been away long enough she didn’t know it any more.
But, yeah, at least my dad had a job. And because it was close to our apartment, every day I could see Trump’s head on the horizon. Some days it was a fiery red in the sun. Others, it looked sad and gray and less like a person’s head and more like a mutant cauliflower caught in the middle of a mushroom cloud. Dad and I used to joke about it, at the beginning, sitting in deck chairs on the balcony. It seemed harmless to joke. But soon enough, we stopped, tried to find humor in other things.
At least, I think we used to joke about it. I can’t remember the jokes, though. Not a single one.
* * *
The cursing from my dad really started when the first investors pulled out and it took a while for others to come in and the shell lay waiting for someone else’s imagination to fill it up with things other than birds and marmots. I got used to a lot of cursing and banging of the phone against his desk as he tried to be civil doing temporary tech support for Trump’s crappy online health care system. It took 20 screens to apply for a prescription. You could almost hear the software creaking.
Then, the next winter, Trump’s men from the Bureau of Make America Great Again (BOMAGA) visited the site and soon it was all over the news: the bureau declaring the project un-American. Un-great. Ungrateful. Ingrates. Followed by Trump’s “pardon” of the site in a typo-filled tweet and his magnanimous agreement that construction could continue, so long as it reflected his vision for a “respectful” tribute. He must have ranted 60 or 70 times about how generous he was being even as Magic Ray got thrown in prison on some bullshit tax-evasion charge. He told us all how big and fantastic the attraction would be, how he would make it great again, even though it hadn’t ever even been open for one single day yet. How it would be free to visit for any students at his voucher schools, “better than Rushmore.” “Less boring.” I guess in the end, Trump just couldn’t bring himself to tear down a version of him as big as a reclining Godzilla.
We never heard what changes Trump asked for, but it became obvious from the orders for modifications on site. My dad got caught between relief he would be making more money and distaste for what he would be building. But still he built it.
“It’s mostly the hands,” my dad told me soon after the Twitter storm. “All about the hands.”
It was true that Magic Ray had given his Trump Land hands so tiny they looked like lemur hands attached to a gorilla’s arms. In an official ceremony, they blew up the old hands, which were still each as big as the star-shaped food court at the local mall, and built replacements three times as large. Now Trump’s head looked small by comparison and his hands looked like they’d had an allergic reaction to bee stings. So the next construction phase meant making Trump’s head larger, my dad shrugging and muttering about “stress fractures.”
But that made the hands look too small again, my dad shouting with no context one night, as we played a card game, “As if we’re fucking barbers who can’t get the goddamn sideburns right!”
Eventually both the head and the hands were seven times larger than the body around them, proportionally, and my horizon looking out from the apartment window at dawn had become cluttered and strange. Aerial views on TV shows made it look like Trump was all head and hands, and the rest of his body had withered like an exhausted party balloon. Except that the third phase of reconstruction meant the construction crew had been ordered to add a significant bulge at the crotch of Trump’s fiberglass slacks, and this too was seven times larger than the body, in part because of the orders from BOMAGA and in part for structural reasons. All that head and hands shit had made Trump Land unstable.
“I’m making a goddamn Frankenstein’s monster,” my dad told my mom, staring out at his creation from the rusted balcony railing as they shared a bottle of cheap wine. But he didn’t quit, kept doing whatever they said. I thought he did it for the money, because my mom still wasn’t allowed to work. But I realize now he did it out of fear, too.
The truth was, if you got involved with Trump, you were stuck with Trump—stuck to Trump. No slight was too small, no person too insignificant to avoid his attention. One week he spent deriding a schoolteacher who didn’t have the budget for school supplies and had blamed Trump. Another week he spent lambasting a teenager who’d made fun of his grammar, been the vector for enough hate that the family had to move. Except who knew if they’d moved or if BOMAGA had intervened somehow?
“It’d never happen here,” so many people said on social media, if not in so many words. They said it by what they focused their attention on. All while Trump was like a snake patiently eating a frog, crushing it in its jaws and taking time to digest it bit by bit, and the whole time the frog is claiming it’s not as bad as it looks. Some people made a difference. But most people signed useless online petitions and lived in their social media bubbles and thought what they did mattered at all to Trump even though it didn’t.
Do you ever feel the urge to scream? I do. Even now.
* * *
The media still called the place Trump Land, especially the outlets that it turned out Trump had bought through his blind trust. But many of us started to call it Trump’s Tumor and remarked on how the crotch resembled the absurd codpieces on medieval armor. “Tumor” became code for “Trump” until Trump screamed about how he was wise to that and anything someone wanted to say they should say to his face. Except if you did, you were saying it to BOMAGA’s face, too. Then we started calling Trump “the Bulge,” maybe because there wasn’t much difference between Trump Land and the man himself.
The Bulge, the Tumor, the codpiece, was the safest place structurally in all of Trump Land by then. So it served as the construction team’s headquarters, was where my dad got his marching orders. But I never saw the inside of it—my dad warned me away, forbid it, because now the site was crawling with BOMAGA agents. Sometimes they’d question the workers and several times my dad was afraid that he’d lose his job or worse. But they never talked to him and we only knew someone had been let go when one of our neighbors in the apartment complex just up and left.
“Disappeared,” my mom said, because it was too similar to the tactics of the regime she’d fled. Maybe they left suddenly because they couldn’t pay the rent. Maybe BOMAGA relocated them—“redistribution of resources” it was called. But we never found out, and we didn’t dare look too closely.
“He was a good man,” my dad would say, hat off, like he was speaking at a memorial. And no matter what happened to them, it was tough to lose even the ones we hadn’t known well because we were so isolated already.
My mom taught me what she could at home and we had no choice about education anyway because the private corp that ran the high school in our area had gone bankrupt and the Department of Education took a long time to approve another school and wouldn’t let school buses anywhere near Trump Land to bus us out of our district. We didn’t know why, but we could guess. If I wanted to go to college, I would have to leap past a couple of missing rungs.
By now, the insides of Trump Land had begun to be built, so the façade was no longer empty. Magic Ray’s plans, my dad said, had meant to copy the inside of the human body in a whimsical way, maybe a satirical way. But now that Trump Land was literal the idea changed to create several Halls of TRiUMPh, which the BOMAGA team assigned to Trump Land called HOT for short. HOT would chart different successful eras in Trump’s life and sell the appropriate Trump products.
A guide would be mandatory in leading you through any and all HOT, along an assigned path painted onto the floor and in each hall a 10-foot-tall marble statue of Trump with gold leaf for hair would stand in the middle of an elaborate fountain with iconography that symbolized his triumphs, with the eyes twin surveillance cameras. At regular intervals an intercom system would shout out a piece of Trump wisdom and a hologram of his best zingers would orbit the statue like a stock market banner. It was said that Trump himself had brainstormed the design of the statues.
“They’re too heavy,” my dad said. “They’ll be unstable, maybe sink.”
“How much will they sink?”
“I dunno. But that used to be marshes. Probably up to the waist. In time.”
Our cereal was always stale by then and so was our bread. We were shopping at cut-rate places and living on too much starch. My dad’s overtime pay had been taken away but he still had to work the hours and be told by BOMAGA what an honor it was he’d been chosen, what amazing dignity there was in his important duties. BOMAGA said he’d have a special plaque nailed to the side of the Tumor to commemorate his sacrifice. “You will not be forgotten,” the letter read.
“The Tumor’s not structurally sound, either,” was all my dad said.
He wanted to quit so bad by then. It was like being stuck inside of a nightmare that had the colorful flash and motion of a fun video game. Everything that should be good was bad and everything that should mean something meant nothing.
My mom didn’t leave the apartment at all now, but sent me out for jugs of water we could barely afford. But the apartment’s drinking water came out all orange, had gotten contaminated by something connected to Trump Land’s construction, so we had no choice. BOMAGA had taken over the apartments, so we paid rent to them, and they, in their mercy, had lowered the rent around the same time they’d cut my dad’s wages. Granted, with inflation, paper money was getting more and more useless.
For a time, I had had a phone and texted my old friends from school, but around this time the phone died and we couldn’t afford to replace it. I’d been more and more paranoid about texting anyway, gotten strange messages that might have been spam or could’ve been something else. Even when Trump’s people weren’t listening, they liked to make you paranoid.
Bored at home, unable to concentrate on my studies—what could it matter?—and unable to bear what the internet showed me was happening in the wider world, I took more and more of an interest in my dad’s work on Trump Land. It fascinated me because it had become so complicated and so odd. There were too many contractors now and too many plans because Trump kept changing his mind and wanting this added and that demolished and even the 10-foot-tall statues kept morphing as BOMAGA itself meddled.
What was finally built seemed to me like an odd hybrid of the original idea and the new direction—in part because Trump hadn’t wanted to pay for the added expense of completely revamping the plans. So there were indeed HOT, but housed within spaces shaped like human organs, with staircases like circulatory systems and tiny rickety elevators that could not adapt to the convoluted nature of the interior except through their size. They could only go up and down when the confused nature of Trump Land meant they really needed to go sideways too. You would enter an elevator only to exit onto a staircase leading to another series of stairs leading to the exhibit—or an odd bridge thrown across, say, a heart-shaped chasm shadowed by a liver meant to be a spleen and then enter a kidney shape through a malformed doorway, not knowing what Trump triumphs and products awaited you.
Truly, Trump’s patience for the project waxed and waned, with only BOMAGA to prop it up. The cycles of construction became so erratic, in part because by now we were in the emergency extension of Trump’s first term, with an increased military presence on the streets for our protection as, allied with Russia, he waged three overseas wars and threatened China with nuclear annihilation via tweet and frayed confidence in other parts of the world, enacting drone strikes against some group almost every day while violent protests in the streets of major cities became the norm. Opposition politicians were under house arrest disguised as “increased protection,” but more than half the country now believed the Democrats were all worse criminals than Trump, so what did it matter?
“Get with the program, people,” Trump shrieked. “We’ll have elections when you prove you earned it.”
* * *
By the time of the grand opening of Trump Land, the approved main entrance with its black marble steps leading into the crotch was unstable. Only the employee entrance in Trump’s ass was safe enough for tourists. They hadn’t anticipated that, so for a time what you got was warped wood with AstroTurf stapled to the steps, with a doorway that had a mine-shaft feel.
Tickets bought at the front, entrance up the ass, and then through various organs on a winding path up into the brain. Except, and perhaps to be expected, the body was still not internally correct. The anal passage—what else could it be called, even if the door hole was asymmetrical, lodged in Trump’s lower right butt cheek?—led to a stomach, without the mess of gall bladder or intestines. The stomach had been connected in unorthodox ways to the lungs and the heart, and what had once been meant as the liver was located in one of the giant hands and both kidney-shapes in the other hand.
You could pay extra to lunge into the tunnel formed by a finger and, squirming forward like an earthworm, stare out for no good reason on the ravaged land and muddy parking lot beyond through a hole-window in the tip.
My dad missed the grand opening of Trump Land. He couldn’t bear it, took the risk of calling in sick. By then he felt like an indentured servant as BOMAGA had nationalized the project to the extent he didn’t get a wage; he got chits for food and products that he could use at the local Trump-Mart, which was a former chain also nationalized by Trump. All the prisons were privatized, though. By then, Trump didn’t care about even seeming inconsistently consistent. But it was consistent. If he gave a shit about it, he nationalized it. If he didn’t, he threw it to the wolves.
By then, too, my mom had left the country because she felt safer back home than in the apartment complex. BOMAGA came through on raids from time to time and you had to show an ID card to drive out beyond the security fence they’d put around the apartments. Only the construction crew lived in the complex now.
I couldn’t stand it, my mom being gone, and I cried for a long time and got mad and couldn’t be reasoned with. But I think it was a relief to my dad for his wife to be somewhere a little safer, to not have to worry about her fate, and if he could have, I know he would have sent me, too. But just as there were restrictions on the wrong people coming in to the country or staying, there were restrictions now on which citizens could travel abroad.
We got letters from my mom for a time, but then they cut off abruptly and we knew BOMAGA was monitoring the mail. Instead, I would watch her movements on social media, without commenting, and I knew she would post some things just for me. But dad said I didn’t dare reply in case she was now on some kind of list. It was enough to know she was OK.
* * *
The structural problems meant that my dad’s job didn’t end with the opening of Trump Land. I guess he had thought he might be free of it, be allowed to move somewhere else, find some other job. By then he longed to just do tech support for some bad product people didn’t need. That seemed like a kind of heaven.
But the massive scaffolding around Trump Land’s head amounted to a head crutch that had to be constantly monitored and reinforced so the head wouldn’t fall off. This was an urgent issue for BOMAGA and they had even issued a directive that the construction crew must at all costs keep Trump’s head on his body. The order had come from the top that now the park was open, any embarrassment to the president from this larger-than-life version of him would result in consequences for the construction crew. Even though it was BOMAGA that had approved the final, fucked-up construction plans.
Worse, my dad confessed to me—in a whisper, with the bathroom faucet and bathtub water running—that a separate construction crew brought in at night by BOMAGA had built an underground level for their own purposes. I did not like the look in my dad’s eyes, the way he seemed to be pleading with me to believe him. And I think there was no separate construction crew and some of his unpaid overtime at night was building this underground complex. But I pretended to believe him because we did not have the luxury of blaming ourselves when we were just cogs in BOMAGA’s system.
But pretending became harder and harder. It soon became clear that BOMAGA brought people to the site and held those people down below Trump Land for their own purposes. The number of black BOMAGA SUVs in the parking lot at any one time was excessive for their presence above ground. There could be hundreds of BOMAGA security forces existing in some subterranean command-and-control. What else they did down there other than question detainees, I never found out.
My dad got free tickets to Trump Land that he was supposed to give out, but instead he tore them up and flushed them down the toilet.
“Never give out the tickets to your friends,” he said. “Never go there.”
“I don’t have friends anymore,” I said. “So don’t worry.”
Although I had to go, since I was the son of a member of the construction crew. That meant I had to work the ticket booth three days a week and witness the lack of joy in the “tourists,” most of whom from the start had been bused in. Some of them were old people on patriotic tours, but the majority were school children and government employees who didn’t want to be there.
I saw an old man have a stroke before he could be shoved up Trump’s ass.
I saw a 9-year-old schoolgirl shouted at and smacked by her teacher and pushed by her classmates for having a bad attitude.
I saw a high school basketball team do the tour, every one of them clearly drunk as hell, and their coaches, too, and there was such fear in their eyes at being in that place.
I saw worse things. Much worse. But I’ll spare you since all of that is ancient history now.
I also spent time online taking Trump Land informational courses with the idea that one day I might be a tour guide. I didn’t want to be a tour guide, but I didn’t want to cause trouble for my dad. By then, I knew in my bones, knew from being at the ticket booth, that BOMAGA sent Trump Land tickets to groups and individuals they wanted to question, and so there were people who entered Trump Land but did not exit. There were horrors you never saw and so couldn’t describe, could only imagine.
But the convenience of it, the cynicism of it, was the most obscene thing.
We were two years into what would have been Trump’s second term if elections had actually been held and well into our fifth state of emergency. Terrorists kept setting off bombs and driving trucks into crowds at county fairs and other gatherings. Homegrowns kept going into the charter schools still open and executing students while more and more ordinary people took to violence against BOMAGA agents because they’d had enough. But that meant more excuses for repression and there were too many too desperate to hold onto whatever they had left who still gave excuses for Trump. If you were white, you still suffered a little less, were maybe able to eke it out.
A new West Coast BOMAGA meant to monitor the governors there and to litigate any perceived disobedience took up much of Trump’s time. Most of that version of BOMAGA had just finished gutting and purging the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon, as far as we could tell. But still we had hope that resistance would only stiffen, even if it did not help us in our daily lives.
My dad looked bad by then, sallow and listless. Some days, when he wasn’t needed on site, he didn’t get dressed, just kept himself apart, on the balcony, as if trying to keep his depression from spreading.
I had to cajole him into going outside, had to be lighthearted to get him out of his moods, even as I couldn’t blame him. I remember most about those days how difficult it was just to move, how you felt like you were pushing against air so thick that you could only shuffle, and how your heart pounded fast in your chest and your hands would shake. I drank a lot then, just like that basketball team, and it was poor stuff, cheap beer and off-brand liquor.
My dad didn’t stop me; he couldn’t stop himself. On the best nights, we’d dissolve into laughter over memories of better times. That was all we had left. We couldn’t see my mom’s social media feeds anymore; Silicon Valley had caved like it usually did. We didn’t get tweets or links from national media, either. We knew they were still out there, and still reporting, but you just couldn’t see it most of the time, and when you did get to a link, it loaded so slow that the computer would freeze up half the time.
I felt like I wasn’t really alive during that time, but I wasn’t dead, either. It would have been liberating to be a ghost, to feel like I could drift through walls or float up into the night sky. Instead, I was dead-alive, frozen, and even though I hated Trump Land I was made to revolve around it, even to worship it.
I’ve been out here, in the wild world beyond Trump Land, for a long time now, but I never felt less like a human being than during those months. I was more like some kind of object that pretended to be human.
* * *
Then Trump changed his mind again, as if he’d visited Trump Land incognito and truly seen it and understood how fucked up it was. BOMAGA closed it all down while new modifications were carried out and after those final mods, my dad was out of a job for good. For a while, that meant we sold the furniture in the apartment for money and lived off of the meagre severance pay. Money? What was money? Nothing anymore. New emergency currencies issued by individual states were worth much more in some places.
My dad pried the plaque commemorating his service off the side of Trump Land one night, and sold that, screws and all. It was made of good copper. But even that wasn’t enough, because one day BOMAGA told all of us living in the apartment complex that it was being commandeered for BOMAGA officials and we had a month to vacate the premises.
You would have thought my dad and his crew would have banded together and come up with some kind of plan, founded a tent city nearby or fought for their rights. But it didn’t work that way. For too long BOMAGA had kept us isolated from each other, afraid to even invite over a neighbor for fear of some unknown repercussion or a careless conversation. There was no community to rally around, only a weak hope that surely life after Trump Land had to be better—anywhere. I know my dad felt an easing of his conscience, for that link to be broken, and maybe, too, that is why the crew broke up. Each one a reminder to the others of what they had been part of.
There was a relocation site we could have gone to, but my dad had heard it was more like a work camp, so instead we became homeless, wandering from shelter to shelter. None of those liberal billionaires or Hollywood types had made a dent in Trump’s plans, but at least they had the money to fund some private shelters so we could eat hot food every once in a while and have a cot to sleep in.
I remember the day we left and walked in a daze along the trash-strewn side of the highway toward the mountains, looking over our shoulders constantly, unwilling to let Trump Land out of our sight because it had been our most important landmark for so long. But eventually the mountains hid it and we were on our own. At least the air was fresh, so much fresher. I realized I’d been breathing in poison for too many years.
While my dad’s phone still worked, we maintained the weakest of ties with our old home. The Trump Land website kept being updated with news of fresh exhibits and the pretense given that the place was still a tourist attraction. But you couldn’t buy tickets online and, in fact, you couldn’t visit Trump Land anymore. It existed in a virtual space only, through a 3-D and HD Dolby sound guided tour that dated from a year or two ago. Trump spent $10 million from the Department of Education on free, cheap 3-D glasses so citizens could take the tour even as people starved and died of lack of vaccinations and civil unrest grew and grew.
Then everything went to hell for real.
I only heard news about what Trump Land became next from people I met while traveling. I was on my own. My dad died from lung cancer very fast on the road, maybe 18 months after we left the apartment. I had no way to tell my mom, or even find her ghost on the internet, and besides I was concentrated on my own survival by then.
I hadn’t made it all the way to the West Coast, was held in a detention camp for a while, and then when I got out, civil rule had collapsed. Too much political upheaval and too many extreme weather events. Countries rose and fell across the corpse of the United States. News wasn’t a thing you came across accurate or easy anymore, but I heard there was a New Confederacy for a while, led by some assholes down South. Some kind of hipster paradise that grew up around a farmers market in the Northeast fell to avowed Marxists and then right-wing militias. There was a rumored libertarian paradise that collapsed within months, even as some Native American communities managed to carve out safe zones and fortified borders. Socialist communes turned into survivalist camps with no fixed ideology. States that survived turned their police into military.
The total lockdown on internet access made things worse. It was like people who thought they could see into each other’s thoughts and make some kind of common cause were suddenly cut off and we went from being empaths to being in millions of tiny locked rooms inside our skulls.
There was no time to grieve, no time to seek out any other family I might have had. I just had to keep moving and the best times were when I was in wilderness so deep I didn’t see a single person. If I saw a marmot, it was a good day. It’d gotten so you didn’t know who was approaching and whether you’d have to use your gun or not. Everyone was on edge and even people who should have trusted each other, didn’t. Some days I prayed with vigor for some kind of invasion, that some other country, no matter how despotic, would say “Enough!” and rescue us. Or some long disgraced politician would come forward at the head of an army of liberation. But, instead, Trump’s people turned his drones inward, on us, and travel became ever more dangerous.
Trump Land had become a BOMAGA prison and BOMAGA itself was its own army, no longer relying on U.S. armed forces or the National Guard. BOMAGA loyalists with automatic weapons and a strange insignia on their black armbands had replaced not just Trump Land’s security but the municipal police force for the towns nearby.
Even as the country fell apart, the Trump Land Prison stayed focused on its task: specializing in traitors from the armed forces, along with civilians who got caught in surveillance dragnets saying something subversive. Inside Trump Land, too, now resided Magic Ray and all of the original investors and some of the construction managers; if my dad had still been alive, no doubt he would have been rounded up. Trucks came in and trucks came out but very few people ever left. The secretary of state, while we had one, didn’t bother to deny it. Homeland Security, while we had one, used the civil unrest as an excuse to declare an extralegal war on drugs. Hundreds were killed in the street on little evidence. Thousands were deported to Russia, and then Siberia, as part of a mutual protection treaty before the end.
That’s all I really heard from people I met, the chronology smashed to bits. Most people had never heard of the place. It wasn’t important to them, and over time it became unimportant to me, along with a lot of other things. If I told someone about it, they’d look at me funny.
Trump Land sounds ridiculous now, and it was ridiculous then. That was the problem.
* * *
Everything is hot now and getting hotter. Everything seems off or wrong and it is hard to get your bearings because so few of the old landmarks remain. It is hard to believe that some things ever happened, that certain places ever existed. Sometimes I am convinced my memory is wrong or fooling me. The idea that there might be a United States. The idea that this vast and unruly countryside, these ruined cities, these endless refugee camps, might have once been something else. If no one invades us now and only some countries send food and aid, it is only because they too are under stress. Or because we are so fucked up and so many of us have so many weapons. Somewhere in the lost places, there are still nukes, too.
It took many years to find my way back to Trump Land, and then only because my path through the mountains took me nearby. I was a different person by then. I could survive off the land, knew how to tell when strange weather was coming—the storms that destroyed from all points of the compass—knew the difference between the sound of an approaching plane overhead and a military drone. I knew the signs of a bivouacking militia and something less sinister. Even so, I was just scraping by and living like a nomad. Like most people. Drought and hunger, hunger and drought.
By the time I returned to Trump Land, Trump had been dead for years, of natural causes, although those two words had become tricky under BOMAGA. No one even knew where he was buried and no one cared. Perhaps his name meant more in the military bases that held out, here and abroad, maybe in some rumored underground bunkers full of drug-addicted frightened congressmen. But circumstances had overtaken his importance, forces put in motion long before he came to power. The names of his minions had taken on more weight, cut into the flesh of victims and screamed out in defiance before the country fell apart.
As the myth of Trump Land had grown in my head, I felt almost a perverse nostalgia. Maybe this is inevitable. Maybe memory wants to squander the bad out of self-protection. It was what I had known, and it was where I had known my dad, my mom, and as I walked, cautious, out of the mountains, I felt a kind of nervous excitement. I wanted to seem presentable. I wanted my return to be some kind of event. I had lived out this moment in my head more than once, and usually in my daydreams I came back with some comrade in tow, some friend I’d made along the way.
But I was alone and Trump Land had been returned to the wild animals. It was waiting for the return of no one, least of all me, and marmots once again stared solemn from the hills.
The Bulge had suffered a raging fire or an explosion, collapsed in on itself. The head had fallen off, too, spent ordnance scattered all around. There was just the turret of the exposed, ragged neck, while tough gnarled trees and shrubs had sprung up at the margins and some of the marsh had come back, rusty water leaking up from the aquifer. The smell made me put a rag over my nose and mouth. Chemicals and poisonous building materials, now exposed, and probably stockpiled weapons, too.
The place was abandoned. But Trump’s ass was still secure enough, and I managed to get inside that way, found evidence that others had taken refuge there for a while, some of them clearly BOMAGA. One look at the mangled remains of the stairs leading down into the basement made me walk up into the misplaced organs instead. The underground tunnels had collapsed, with the aid of what looked like grenades and the splintered and twisted skeletons in that space told a terrible but familiar story.
Up through the stomach and up into twisted remains and elevators that no longer worked. I felt exposed, claustrophobic, sad. Past more than one sinking statue of Trump, the visage unrecognizable in the gloom. There had been no electricity there for ages, and birds once more flew through those depths, and bats clung to the ceiling, and in the floors, often returned to dirt, burrowing animals had burst up and through. The smell inside was dank, but natural. A kind of comforting loam.
Eventually, I found a makeshift ladder and made my way up into the neck turret. Someone had built a precarious platform at the end of the ladder, cut rifle sights in the curve of the neck. But no one lived there now except a skeleton draped in the remnants of a Confederate flag. Some failed dipshit who had been honored in death by some other dipshit, now long absent. But none of that meant anything right now.
From the top I could look out across to our old apartment complex. It had taken a direct hit from some missile from above and there was a jagged wound cutting right through the top three stories, black and livid around the edges. There was movement on the edge of the broken roof, some kind of animal. I couldn’t tell what kind.
On the other side of the neck, right below where I stood, Trump’s enormous head had hit the ground and split wide open. There was nothing inside but a gray, empty, fire-washed space and some barrels of garbage. Whatever treasures Trump’s head had once held were gone and I doubted anyone who passed that place even knew whose face it was supposed to be. Least of all the coyot-wolf and her brood who scented there now and looked up with a wary mournfulness.
We stared at each other for a moment that stretched. She had a direct gaze that devastated, that rattled me and woke me up. It made the Trump Land all around me fall away, seem more like a haunting, less of a place. It was a kind of knowing look, an appraisal that knew more than me.
That moment of perfect stillness, me above and the animal below. A moment for a life to begin, or to end.
Then the coyot-wolf’s ears pricked up and like ghosts she and her rangy pups disappeared over the side of Trump’s head, into the underbrush. Did she hear drones approaching or just another person? Or had it been me she was running from?
I stayed the night on the platform in the neck, under the sudden stars, the dark moon, because there was no other shelter. I said a prayer for my mom, for my dad, and for everyone who had died there in a time long past.
But in the morning I left that place, and I never came back.
These difficult days, I try hard not to think about it too much.