1: The Passion of the Joe

“And that, my fellow Americans, is the story of how I personally executed Osama bin Laden using the ancient legendary blade Shadowblood Excalibur.”

Frantic applause erupted from the stands. Joseph Robinette Biden flashed a pearly Irish smile and waved to the audience. They were really going crazy, clapping and screaming and whistling as loud as they could. One guy tried to climb onto the stage, desperate for the chance just to graze his fingers against the hem of Joe’s jeans, but one of the security guards kicked him in the head and he tumbled back into the audience.

“That story still gives me chills every time I hear it,” Joe Biden’s son (the alive one) said to him as he retreated to the backstage area.

“Well, it’s an important one,” Joe said. “My father used to have a saying.”

His son exhaled loudly through his nose.

“Lady Liberty has two hands,” Joe continued. “One hand is the people’s hand, the democracy hand… and the other hand is the hand she uses to smite the enemies of democracy using the legendary blade that seals away authoritarianism: Shadowblood Excalibur. If she were ever to lose either hand, it would be a dark day indeed for liberty and for America.”

“Wait, so which hand holds the torch like in the statue?”

“I don’t have time for these games, son,” Biden said through gritted teeth.

“Sorry, sir.”

After a crisp bottle of Deer Park and a bit of fussing with what remained of his hair in the mirror, Joe bid his team adieu and made for the exit, toward the car that would bring him back to the White House. It had been nice to get out for a bit, but he couldn’t be out for too long, or he would incur the empress’s ire, and that was the last thing he wanted. Even as an Irishman himself, Joe believed there was such a thing as too much ire. Lol. Nice little pun in there for you guys.

A pair of guards flanked him as he went, ostensibly to protect him—but really, the opposite was true. The guards were there to ensure that Joe didn’t try anything on his way to the car. Once the car reached its destination, there would be a new pair of guards to usher him to the prison beneath the White House, where he would spend his days until his next media appearance.

“He shook his head as he stepped outside, lamenting the state of things. The presidency had been a proud office, once. The president had been a man truly unshackled, capable of rearranging the world as he saw fit with a mere wave of the hand. Now he was a sad old man in a musty cell most of the time, chained into those fucked up restraints they put Tai Lung in at the beginning of Kung Fu Panda. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Are you going to get in the fucking car or are you going to keep talking about Kung Fu Panda?” one of the guards asked.

“What?” Joe said. “Did I say all that out loud?”

“No, I read your mind.”

“Wow…,” Joe said. So the CIA had developed psychic spies after all… The power of covert research was astounding. With that juicy morsel of information to chew on, he opened the door of the car.

To his immense chagrin, he found her sitting there in wait, her legs crossed menacingly. “Hello, Joseph,” she said, the very picture of an evil antagonist I want you to hate. “Care to join me for a ride?”

Not having much of a choice, Joe shuffled into the car. The guard slammed the door behind him.

“It was a riveting speech,” the empress said. “It’s too bad you’ll never lay hands on the legendary blade Shadowblood Excalibur again. I’ve hidden it far, far away, in a dangerous and mystical realm full of perils and horrors. I don’t think I could even recover it if I wanted to.”

Joe winced. The story he’d told his son had been true, but he’d left out one detail: the Lady Liberty hand with the sword had been cut off already. Now she just had the people hand. The democracy hand. And this witch was responsible. Liberty and America had been in darkness for some time now… All he could do was put on a brave face and prevent the good American people from finding out.

“Boast all you want,” Joe snarled. “You locked away the relic sword for the same reason you lock me away beneath the White House. You’re afraid. Afraid of what I could do at full power.” The empress averted her gaze. “Afraid that if I were ever to wrap my hand around the hilt of authoritarianism’s bane again… it would quench itself on your vile blood.”

The day would come. That much he earnestly believed. He would recover the legendary blade. Sometimes… he could feel his power returning to him, even despite the chi dampeners they slipped into his rations and drinking water. If he could just hang onto that thread of power when it presented itself to him, he could strike the witch down...

“Don’t flatter yourself,” the empress sneered. “You’re no threat to me or anywhere else. We keep you locked away because it’s less effort than babysitting you constantly.”

“That’s a lie and you know it!” Joe barked. “I was close, so close to ending climate change. The talks with those carbon dioxide particles were getting serious—I was about to convince them and their buddies to take a dang hike to the moon or Venus or something—and that scared you. You’re afraid of real change.”

“Absurd. Carbon dioxide particles are a notoriously flighty folk. A promise from one doesn’t mean anything for the rest of them.”

“Yes it does. That’s the Biden guarantee, bintch.” Bintch? Goddamn it. He’d fucked the pooch on that one. But to his surprise, the empress was not laughing at his embarrassing demented gaffe. She actually looked… afraid. Afraid of his powerful, eloquent words. Yes, he could feel his chi flowing now. The memory of the cheering crowd just minutes ago rang through him, pulsed with each heartbeat—he became aware of the sensation of the blood flowing through him—the chi energons flowing from his neural core, down the spinal column, to each nerve ending, radiating from his true self, the soul, across every avenue of his physical form, out through the skin, mingling with the air then dipping back beneath the epidermic surface—energy, spirit form, aether, chi consciousness—

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the power vacated his body, leaving him feeling small and cold. The empress, on the other hand, had recovered from her brief bout of uncharacteristic apprehensiveness. “You doing okay there, grandpa?” she asked. “Did your enrichment activity get your heart rate a little too high?”

“I hate you,” Joe said breathlessly. Then the car came to a halt. He gave the empress a final scowl and then stumbled out of the car. The guards were ready for him; they took him by the arms immediately and all but dragged him into the elevator, which was built into one of the hedges on the White House lawn. It was really more of a mobile cage than an elevator; it creaked as it descended, and the too-white light overhead swung from its cable in a manner that hardly seemed up to code.

“Mr. President,” one of the guards said.

Joe raised an eyebrow. A guard had never addressed him like that. They usually preferred to manhandle him and call him things like “loser” or “dickwad” or “tiny eyes guy” instead. “Well now, what can I do for you, jack?” he asked.

“You got any gum?”

Biden sighed. “No. I have been stripped of all worldly possessions and rendered utterly destitute for all time.”

“Oh yeah,” the guard said. “Sorry.”

The descent was long, as it always was. Joe thought that the guard who asked for gum seemed pretty approachable, so after an hour two, he decided to try out a little joke he’d been working on. “We must be halfway to China by now, eh?” But no one laughed. If anything one of the guards seemed kind of pissed off. That one obviously needed some extra time in the workshop after all.

When they finally reached the bottom, the guards dragged Joe to his cell and started locking him up. First was the big, turtle shell-like container that he was sealed in. Only his head and hands poked out, like in Kung Fu Panda like I said before. The “turtle shell,” as he’d grown accustomed to calling it, was designed to contain his chi, so that even a powerful chi blast wouldn’t free him of his restraints. It was devilishly designed, he had to admit. Then they chained his hands and feet to the ground. Finally, they put a pair of tiny pink glasses on his face. That part was mostly a psychological thing.

Then the guards left him there. It was just him, the sound of the rickety elevator creaking upward, and his thoughts.

Unfortunately the elevator was annoying and he was basically out of thoughts for the day, so he got right to playing his favorite game to pass the time: spitsies. It was a game where he spit as far as possible and tried to beat his high score. It made him thirsty pretty quickly and it was kind of gross since he couldn’t wipe the spit off his chin due to the restraints, not to mention all the spit on the ground, but it was something.

He was close to beating his high score when his mouth started to feel a little dry. He probably only had one good shot left in him. Make it count, Joe, he told himself as he gathered the spit to the front of his mouth. He imagined the look the empress would probably have on her face if he managed to beat his high score—she would be totally blown away by his spitting skills and forced to admit to his oral dexterity—and let it fly. It didn’t come anywhere near beating his high score, unfortunately, but it did something weird to make up for it: when the spit hit the ground, it began to sizzle. It sounded like an egg was frying, and kind of smelled like that also. Little puffs of steam rose from the ground.

“Now what in the world?” Joe had to ask himself. Rather than subsiding, the steam grew more and more pronounced; eventually, great plumes of opaque steam were rising from the floor, billowing up the endless shaft above. It smelled oddly of incense. Memories of having the exact date and manner of his death dictated to him by old palm-readers in incense-filled tents at the county fair washed over Joe’s mind.

The steam suddenly subsided. Then, one more great cloud puffed from the ground, this one a deep violet in hue. Joe was about to ask again what the hell was going on, but the words caught in his throat as the purple cloud opened a pair of blood-red eyes.

“Demon!” Joe cried. “In the Name of Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, strengthened by the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Blessed Michael the Archangel, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and all the Saints. and powerful in the holy authority of our ministry, we confidently undertake to repulse the attacks and deceits of the devil—”

“Silence!” the cloud cried, its vaporous face suddenly split with a white grin even more chilling than the grin of the twisted psychopath Joker. Its voice was like the hissing of a kettle. “Your human god has no power over me. I am not of this realm.”

“Merciful God,” Joe whimpered. “It’s worse than I feared… The empress has summoned a l-l-leprechan to dispose of me…”

“Idiot,” the cloud snarled. “I am no leprechaun. I am Genghis Gar, emperor of the shadow realm. You may call me Gengar.”

“Genghis Gar…,” Joe repeated. The words felt familiar on his lips. “The shadow realm, eh? So you must know about the legendary blade, Shadowblood Excalibur.”

Gengar squinted. “Uh… Yes. I know everything about Shadowboot Ex-Calibrate. I forged it myself.”

“I am humbled by your presence. What brings you to our lowly mortal realm?”

“You did, human,” Gengar answered, looking down at the ground, or the spitsies field as Joe liked to call it. To Joe’s amazement, the trails of his spit on the ground formed a perfectly-drawn pentagram.

“Wow,” Joe said. “I didn’t even do that on purpose. But I won’t complain about a little company. It gets lonely down here.”

Gengar’s eyes widened. “You didn’t—this was an accident?” it asked, sounding fearful.

“Well, yeah,” Joe said. “I was just playing spitsies. I was trying to shoot in a straight line every time, but I can’t fully control my lips sometimes, so I guess that’s the diagonals. I don’t really know how to explain the horizontal lines. That’s just plain weird if you ask me.”

This seemed to increase Gengar’s nervousness, but after a moment it melted away, leaving a look of revelation behind. The steam cloud squinted at Joe. “Well, I am here now, whatever the case,” it said. “I can free you from these binds, if that is your wish… for a price.”

“What kinda price are we talking here?” Joe asked. “I ain’t got much in the way of money these days, not since the empress stripped me of all worldly possessions and rendered me destitute for all time. But I’ve got a good story or two up my sleeve. There’s this crazy one about Cracker Jack Pete—oh, actually, if you get me out of here and help me restore my power, I can do anything you’d like, being president and whatnot—”

“Enough blathering,” the ghost demanded. “I do not require any of these things from you. I merely require an… agreement. You must speak the oath, and I will grant you your wish. In exchange, you must perform a simple task for me. Do you agree to these terms?”

Joe made to rub his chin before remembering that he was in a giant restraint ball. “My mama taught me better than to make deals with demons, let alone talking steam clouds,” he declared. “What’s in it for me?”

“What?” Gengar frowned. “Everything’s in it for you. Nothing is in it for me in the deal I just offered at all. Are you listening?”

“Hmm, a compelling argument…,” Joe said. “So what’s in it for you?”

“Uhhh…” Gengar’s eyes shifted. “The sword… Shadowbump Escargot. It has been in the hands of evil for too long. It must be returned to the righteous. That is my task of you.”

Joe nodded. That was a worthy enough cause. He looked around himself, at the grimy stone walls and the pinprick of light above and at the trails of spit on the ground. Nothing this adventure could throw at him could possibly be worse than the reality he was experiencing right now. “Oh, what the hell, Gengar. Let’s do it.”

Gengar smiled widely. “Excellent. Now, you must repeat the oath exactly. Ready? ‘I’... and then you say your name.”

“I, Joseph Robinette Biden,” Joe said.

“‘... do agree to be bound to the terms of this oath…’”

‘“... do agree to be bound to the terms of this oath…’”

“‘... and warped to the communist realm for eternal enthralment.’”

“Uh, what was that last part again? I’m not sure I agree to that.”

Gengar looked to the side. “It is an old oath. We are not allowed to change the verbal terms due to… paperwork. But if you complete the oath I shall grant you your specific wish, and not send you to the communist realm for eternal enthralment.”

“Oh, okay. I, Joseph Robinette Biden, do agree to be bound to the terms of this oath and warped to the communist realm for eternal enthralment.”

Gengar’s eyes widened madly, its smile twisting up and up past its eyes and toward the distant ceiling towering overhead. Joe’s restraints began to glow, dimly at first and eventually blindingly, and then they suddenly disappeared. He fell to his knees, which squelched in the spit on the ground. Free at last!

“Gee willikers! Bless your soul, Gengar, I’m free!” Joe exclaimed. But then he began to levitate.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Gengar said, mania creeping into its voice.

“What’s happening to me, Gengar,” Biden said as he floated upward. He looked down at his hands—they were becoming transparent.

“You’re being warped to the communist realm for eternal enthralment, you bumbling dolt! I tricked you!”

“No!” Biden cried, making swimming motions in the hope that it would bring him closer to the ground. It didn’t. “You lied to me! Wait—that means—”

“That’s right!” Gengar exclaimed. “My name isn’t even Gengar! Kangaskhan would have been a way better Genghis Khan joke! You were right the first time! I’m a leprechaun!” The steam cloud coalesced into a diminutive man in green garb with bright orange hair. He began jumping in place and clicking his heels. “Hee hee hoo! Hee hee hee hoo!”

“Aaaaaargh!” Joe screamed, but it was no use. He was just floating higher and higher and becoming more and more transparent. Then he was nothing at all, and everything became white. The only sound in the world was that infernal leprechaun’s laughing.

“Hee hee hoo! Hee hee hoo hoo hee!”

- - -​

When Joseph Robinette Biden awoke in the communist realm, he was a fluffy little fella with big old teeth. When he looked down through blurred vision at his grubby little paws, he screamed in the highest audible pitch.

“Aha!” came a nearby voice. “The bidoof has awakened. He is screaming at his hands. That can only mean one thing…”

“Oi,” said a second voice. “Not another human. The revolutionary army needs to put that fucking leprechaun in line. Damn it.”

“The General Secretary will be displeased,” the first voice lamented. “We cannot eat this bidoof, as he is of a higher mind. Yet he has no taxes we can nefariously pilfer, either. Thus he is of no use to the party.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Joe said, rubbing his eyes with his little hands. His face was furry. “Where on God’s green Earth am I?”

“This is not Earth, and there are no gods here. Otherwise I would have said ‘goddamn it’ a minute ago instead of normal ‘damn it,’” one of the voices sneered. Joe blinked away the blurriness and got a better look at the speakers. One was a plump yellow duck, and the other was a small purple woman with big lips and blonde hair. “You are in the communist realm.”

Joe’s eyes widened into dinner plates. “No… It can’t be…”

“Best get used to it,” the purple woman said. “You’re standing in the Portal Room.” Joe took in his surroundings—they were in a poorly-lit stone room not unlike his prison room, only the walls were decorated with murals of fantastical creatures at war, all wearing those weird winter hats that communists are always wearing.

“Every few days, the devilish leprechaun Gengar sends a new Earthling lifeform through the Portal into our realm,” the woman continued. “Usually it is an animal mind that can be swiftly disposed of and converted into resources, but sometimes…”

“Sometimes a human mind appears instead,” the duck butt in. “We shall shortly bring you before the Portalburo to determine your position within our society. Your teeth are quite supple. Perhaps you could be used to whittle wooden tools from branches.”

“NO!” Joe cried. “I will never whittle wooden tools from branches! Back on Earth, I was the most powerful man in the world! The president of the United States of America, and wielder of the legendary blade Shadowblood Excalibur!”

The duck and the woman exchanged panicked looks. “You… You speak untruth,” one says. “This cannot possibly be true.”

“Well, it’s true!” Joe cried, hopping up and down on his tiny little beaver feet. “You can bet your sweet bippy on that one, jack! Or my name ain’t Joe Biden!”

The duck suddenly wailed as if visited upon by a vision of an angel of God. “Ouuuhh!” it cried. “The prophecy! No! It cannot be!”

“Silence, man!” the purple woman said, smacking the duck across the face. Little bubbles sprayed from its beak. “We do not give a revolutionary fuck who you were in the capitalist realm. You are here now. For reasons completely unrelated to the stuff you just said, we must bring you directly to the General Secretary now. Now let us go.”

Joe cautiously followed them out of the Portal Room. They stepped outside into an idyllic tropical paradise. The sky was deepest sapphire blue, and waterfalls fell all around them into lazy burbling creeks slicing through overgrown chunks of land. Palm trees and berry bushes and moss covered everything, and the vegetation teemed with all variety of birds and critters, chirping and squeaking and chasing each other around and even burping out showers of embers or clouds of delightful bubbles. They walked along a small path made of iridescent tiles, surrounded and covered by a picturesque archway of trees.

This is the communist realm?” Joe gasped, amazed. “This looks like heaven on Earth!”

“Heaven is fake and you are not on Earth, you insolent fuck,” the duck said. “But yes. Unshackled from the oppressive chains of capitalism, we have crafted a paradise here, perfectly in touch with nature.”

“Wow…,” Joe said, but he didn’t believe it. It seemed too perfect, and he was all too aware of the horrors of communism. Hell, he made a living out of defeating it! There was sure to be a gruesome underbelly to this seemingly utopic paradise. He looked all around them as they passed through the lush jungle, searching for signs of hidden corruption and oppression… but he found none.

His heart was beginning to sink when they passed a group of workers harvesting berries from the trees. The workers were big gangly bug things with long arms and kind-looking faces. They used their scythe-like hands to cut the stems of the fruit and caught them in their wicker baskets. A fucked up fat purple dog thing was watching them with stern eyes. It was wearing one of those communist hats.

One of the workers caught sight of Joe and his captors and accidentally dropped its basket of berries since it was distracted. “Fuck!!!!” it cried. “Oh, fuck me!!!”

“LEAVANNY JASON!” the fucked up purple dog howled. Joe paused to watch the scene unfold. “YOU HAVE DROPPED THE PRODUCE OF THE PARTY! SOILED IT IN THE DISGUSTING DIRT!”

“I’m sorry, Commissar Granbull!” the bug, apparently Leavanny Jason, squeaked as it fell to its knees and attempted to shove the berries back into the basket. It was having a hard time since it had weird leaves for hands and couldn’t really pick stuff up normally.

“LEAVANNY JASON, YOU FOOL! You are placing the soiled berries back in the basket with the non-soiled berries, thereby soiling them all and spoiling even more of the party’s precious produce! You complete imbecile!”

“Ouuhh! I’m so sorry, Commissar! I only wish the best for the party! Please!”

“No, you know what, I’m sick of your shit, Jason,” the Commissar snarled. “First I heard you making fun of my overbite to the other workers, but I let it go. Well you know what? We don’t get to pick what bodies we get warped here in! At least I don’t have stupid fucking knife hands!”

“O-Ough! I didn’t mean for you to hear that!”

“THEN, when I asked you if you had any Pez, you said no, but then when Leavanny Peggy asked you for some you said yes! What the fuck!”

“I’m sorry! I’m really weird about who eats my Pez, it’s a personal thing!”

“And now this. I’ve had enough, Jason. You’ve wronged the party one too many times.”

Jason shrunk into his own shoulders as the Commissar approached him with heavy footsteps. “P-P-Please… Have mercy on me… I am merely a humble worker…”

The Commissar seemed unimpressed with Jason’s pleading. He simply reached into his bag and produced a sphere, half red and half white. Somehow, Joe thought he recognized it.

“NO! NOT THE BALL!!” Jason pleaded.

The Commissar grunted and fucking domed Jason with the ball. Jason promptly dissipated into red energy, which was then sucked into the ball.

There was no sound except the gentle babbling of the creeks and the twittering of the adorable woodland creatures for a moment. Then the Commissar said: “Well? Anyone else want to do some dumb shit and get sucked into the Prison Ball?” The remaining leavanny erupted into a chorus of no’s and no way’s. “THEN GET BACK TO WORK!”

“Glory to the party!” they shouted in unison, and then got back to work stuffing their baskets with berries, twice as quickly now.

“Let’s get a move on,” the duck said grimly, snapping Joe back into reality.

“Gosh,” Joe said as they started walking again. “That was so messed up. That guy didn’t do anything wrong, he just made a mistake.”

“Quiet, fool,” the purple woman snapped. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. The Commissar was totally right about that Pez thing, Jason was always pulling that shit. Asshole. Goes against the revolutionary spirit if you ask me.”

“You would imprison a man simply for not sharing his Pez?” Joe demanded.

“All things must be shared for the good of the party,” the duck said. “And he was a bad worker. You saw him ruin all those berries like an oaf. Then he would have dumped those berries in the berry crate for transport with all the other berries, and soil all those too. And then all we’d have is soiled berries. You want us to all eat shitty ground berries forever just so that we don’t have to put one guy who won’t share his Pez in jail? Huh? That’s what you want?”

Joe felt sick. He was silent for the rest of the trip.

- - -​

After a few hours of walking, they finally arrived at their destination. The General Secretary’s lair was a big castle sticking out of the jungle like an ancient temple sticking out of the jungle. It was big and extravagant and intimidating, but also looked really ugly and boring in the way that communist architecture always did, just a bunch of flat grey surfaces and stuff.

The entrance was guarded by a couple little brown bumps with big red honkers, half-submerged in the dirt. “Greetings, Comrade Dugtrio,” the duck said. “We come with an important prisoner to be assessed by the General Secretary himself.”

“Yeah right,” Dugtrio said. “You just want to meet the big man himself face to face like all the other fanboys. That guy is probably just your bunkmate or something.”

“No, he’s… Well…,” the duck stammered, then leaned in and whispered something where you’d expect Dugtrio’s ears to be although it didn’t really look like they had any.

“I still don’t believe you,” Dugtrio said. “You. ‘Joe.’ Prove your identity.”

“What?” Joe said. “How? I just showed up in a Portal. I don’t have anything but the shirt on my back… or, well, not even that, no more. ‘Sides, my father had a saying. Who you are, where you come from, who you come from, that stuff doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what you do with the time that you have of the place that you have and what you do with it. You could be a everyday guy from the tiniest town in America, even an Irish guy like me who used to be one of the most oppressed people in America, hell you could even be a black guy, not that I see color, but these days that stuff doesn’t matter so much anymore, hell I was even vice president for a very well-respected black man who made it really far, maybe you’ve heard of him. Anyway you could do anything you wanted with your life if you know what the things to do and really believed in those things.”

“Mother of god,” Dugtrio said. “It is true. The prophecy… You may proceed, comrades.”

They passed through the gate and into the castle. It was cold in there and there wasn’t really anything worth describing, just featureless hallways and grey walls. “You should be honored to meet the General Secretary,” the woman said. “He’s the most communist guy of all time. He’s the one responsible for all this. Most people never get to meet him.”

“Yeah, well, people used to say that about me. Except democracy instead of communist. Big deal.”

They walked down a lot of hallways that didn’t seem to have any doors for a long time before finally arriving at a big metal door. There was a little pink fella outside. “Comrade Jigglypuff,” the duck said. “We would see the General Secretary. It’s about… the prophecy.”

Jigglypuff just smiled blankly. “Okay! I’ll go let him know!” Then he miraculously squeezed between the tiny space between the door and the doorframe. After a few moments, the door opened. Jigglypuff was standing there, staring vacantly. “Come right in. He will see you right away.”

They stepped through the door into an office room. At least this room actually had some stuff in it for once. A fine carpet lined the floor, and a wide window overlooked the luscious jungle below. A polished wooden desk stood at the center of the room, covered in little communist knick-knacks like a hammer and sickle and shit like that. Behind the desk, facing away from them and toward the window, was a towering purple dragon that kind of looked like a shark I guess if you really squint at it. Joe inexplicably recognized it as a garchomp, because I’m getting sick of physically describing pokémon.

“General Secretary,” the purple woman (who was a jynx) said, a note of trepidation in her voice. “We have brought you… Joe Biden, president of America.”

The garchomp turned around, a devilish grin on his face. “Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Biden. I wondered when we would next meet… I have long awaited your arrival in this realm. It is I, the most communist guy of all time…

“Mikhail Garchompev. I mean Gorbachev.”