New Year

It was dark in the house and packed with people, hot and humid with breathing, loud with a hundred shouted conversations, bitter with the smell of beer, sweat, desire, cigarette smoke. The first set had just wrapped up, some nameless, tuneless wall of sound pushed into too small of a space on amps turned too high, and his body still thrummed with it. Like pushing your arms against the sides of a doorway until they float up on their own accord when you step forward: like that.

He pulled a random beer out of the pile in the kitchen and went outside into the damp December chill to get some air, some space around his skin. Chris was leaning on the railing smoking, looking out into the inky darkness at the end of the road, the sharp clear borders of the last streetlight, the faint trace of Orion barely visible over the town. He sat down on the step next to him and drank his beer slowly in exhausted, companionable silence.

“Good party.”

“Mmm.” Chris was tall and blonde and ironic. “Glad you could make it.” It was Chris’s house, his band, his beer, his raspberry painted walls; not quite an end of the year tradition, but close to it. Every time the door opened, a wave of happy noise pushed out with it, people going to their cars, to the gas station for more cigarettes, more beer, wandering off into the night to other parties, other shows, other groups. He was happy just to sit and watch smoke curling up against the moon, and enjoy the relative quiet.

I Am Valued, I Am Loved

“You’ve come so far in our sessions, and I want you to know that,” says her therapist. “You’ve made fantastic progress, even if it’s hard to see that on a day to day basis. It helps to take stock, every once in a while, to look backwards at where you started and where you are now.”

Sybil wipes the blood from her face and blinks slowly, looks around. Three, no, four bodies? “I have some concerns about this treatment modality,” she murmurs.

Therapist’s voice tinny in her ear buds. “That’s not uncommon midway through the process, once the initial rush of disruption has worn off. But remember that we’re trying to change some very deep-seated patterns of behavior, and that takes time and repetition.”

Another two, their voices muffled behind the door. She wipes her knives clean on the blouse of one of the bodies, takes a deep, centering breath. “I want you to repeat your affirmation,” says her therapist. “Feel the truth of it.”

“I am valued,” says Sybil, and forces herself to smile. “I am loved,” She relaxes her shoulders, rolls her neck, puts her hand on the door handle. “I will get revenge on everyone who has done me wrong.”

Daron

Out of high school between sophomore and junior year, Daron gets a job as a lifeguard at one of the parks. “Here’s your union application,” the rep tells him.

“Lifeguards got a union?” wonders Daron.

“Course lifeguards got a union, you work for the county, don’tcha? All the county employees got a union. Keeps us strong, keeps wages high, turnover low. Means they can’t spring anything on you, and if they do, well, you come talk to me or give me an email or a call or whatever works for you. Sign here; we take 1.74% of your paycheck in dues.”

So he signs then mostly forgets about it. Long hot summer working on his tan and yelling at kids to stop running. He has to fish a four year old out of the deep end once, that was exciting; kid had wandered off from some birthday party in the shallows. Kid was fine, just a little shook up.

Years later, after graduating, after graduating again, pushing thirty, newly married, he’s got a job at the parks department doing landscaping. The rep squints at the name and looks at him, smiles wide. “Guess I won’t need an application from you, huh?”

“What’s that about,” says Daron.

“Sure, you worked here ten, fifteen years ago, yeah? Union doesn’t forget, kid; you’re a member until you tell us you don’t want to be a member. Welcome back!”

Strange, he thinks, to be remembered.

8 For What We Will

End of shift, though not the end of the workday; Valiant was on the clock for another hour, gratis, to cover commuting time, a sop to the union for another year where the COLA lagged inflation. Price gouging, he corrected himself reflexively, without heat. An old grudge, that one, worn as smooth as a river stone.

The boss in his bulletproof office was white-eyed and sweating as the last workers filed past; he flinched when Valiant waved at him, good. This was the real pragmatic justification for the commuting bonus, to give the workers time to get bored and disperse before the bosses leave for the day. First in, last out, ha. Valiant grinned wolfishly, ran a red tongue over red, red lips.

Outside and the smell of tear gas and arson, even through the mask, heat beating up from the pavement through his thin soles. On the clock but off work; Valiant rubbed dry hands together and headed out, pockets weighted down with bricks.

You Can Always Tell A Swede

Things at the church potluck have spiraled rapidly out of control. Fjaler brought in an enormous spread for the seventh time, despite Pastor Strawn expressly telling him not to, that he was upsetting the brethren, but you know Fjaler, he can’t turn down an opportunity to stunt.

Things soured when he pulled out the tenth cooler, and the crowd started closing in when he spread out over an entire table.

“What the hell is this, Fjal,” growled Per. “What are you pulling here.”

“Oh, well, you know,” Fjaler grinned. “Just happy to see everyone get fed. Can’t bear the thought of anyone going hungry, and, well, God has blessed us this year with plenty, so, you know, I figured from each according to their abilities.”

Oli spit on the table, right on the table, and Fjaler just grinned wider while wiping it up. “Please, neighbors, I beg you: if you are hungry, come and eat. Let no one go away hungry. There’s plenty for everyone.”

“You sick son of a bitch,” yelled Gustaf. “What did we ever do to you?”

“Please, if you need, just let me know and I or Dana can pack up a tin for you to take home. There’s more than enough!”

It was at that point that Ruric threw a chafing dish at his head. By the time the dust cleared, well, no one got anything at all to eat and frankly that was probably for the best.