New Year, New (Dead) You

Submitted into Contest #179 in response to: Write a story in the form of a list of New Year's resolutions.... view prompt

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Holiday Fiction

Michael hauled another overflowing box to the curb and checked the time. It was 11:30 am. He’d been working for two hours, but two centuries felt like a more accurate description of the time spent. His arms felt like they were being used as pincushions, and if his back felt like his grandpa’s usually did, then he now understood why he complained about it so much. Michael’s eleven-year-old body coursed with exhaustion as he wiped a river of sweat from his forehead and took a quick moment to regret offering to help his friend, Joshua, clean out his uncle’s new house.

“Hey, Michael,” Joshua panted. “I’m gonna handle the rest of the kitchen. Uncle Pat’s already made good progress on the second floor. Would you mind joining him up there? I think there’s still a room or two that he hasn’t started yet.”

Joshua picked up a stack of empty boxes and offered them to Michael who nodded and took them, lost in contemplations of how much longer he would have to spend cleaning this house. He staggered up the stairs and tried not to lose his footing to the bizarre massive divot in the middle of the stairs. Michael made his way to the nearest room, and felt his heart, which was already in his stomach, drop when he studied his surroundings. The room was a complete and utter mess.  

The window’s curtains were little more than faded, rotting ribbons. A mirror on the wall was shattered and the vanity beneath it was turned on its side. Nearby, a collection of jars and bottles were broken, with their spoiled contents forever embedded into the carpet, which was mostly covered by black and white photos, sketches, marred dolls, and ripped gowns. The bed frame was broken in two so that the worn mattress and tattered sheets sagged in the middle. Cleaning out this room alone would probably take at least twice as long as it would to clear most of the entire first floor, and Michael knew it. He took a gulp and checked his watch again. Now it was 11:35. Putting it off wouldn’t fix the problem, so Michael, setting aside his apprehensions, rolled up his sleeves and got to work.  It was extremely tedious. Just picking everything up and chucking it into a box would have been monotonous enough, but Michael also had to sort the items into different categories and place each group into a different box, so that Uncle Pat would have an easier time figuring out what should be stored, pawned, or discarded. Michael didn’t like the extra work, but he understood the reasoning and knew he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He picked up each item and put in its appropriate box as fast as he could, though he occasionally paused to inspect items he found interesting, only to remind himself of how much there was to do and how he needed to speed up. This cycle continued until he saw a certain paper. It, like many others, was yellowed by years of existence, and Michael would have paid it no mind, if he hadn’t seen the title: Rosina Brightwell’s resolutions for the upcoming year of 1876, and Cousin William’s Annual Christmas Party on the top of the page. Michael didn’t think someone back then would have made New Years Resolutions, and he wanted to know what goals this person from 1875 set for herself.

1.     Try to prepare for events ahead of time, so that I am not writing anything that comes to mind as a draft of your resolutions for your cousin’s Christmas party on the way there. Of course, nobody ever even follows their resolutions, especially not Cousin William, given that every year he always writes “become a kinder man,” when everyone knows that he never could be considered kind even if he made any effort to be.

2.     Look for that wristwatch William borrowed and “lost” while I’m at his home. I swear I have seen that wretch he calls his wife wearing it. Given her previous actions, I have no trouble believing she told him to steal it, and of course he would because he wouldn’t have to spend money on a gift for her. Father is of course too good-natured to confront him, but I am far less angelic.  

3.     Attempt to stare at the ceiling less often while thinking, as it apparently tends to unsettle visitors. Quite frankly I have no idea why it would matter this much to visitors. If they’re so concerned about where my eyes are fixed, then they should be able to use their own to look away from me, but I cannot control their actions, only mine, and I do suppose that as guests in my home, they are entitled to a certain amount of hospitable treatment, which would include not being frightened by my bizarre habits.

4.     Learn how to comment upon other’s statements without wholly agreeing or disagreeing, so that when Uncle John comes to visit, I shall be able to avoid offending him without renouncing the last century’s worth of scientific advancements.

5.     Find a suitable man to marry by my 23rd birthday so that Mother won’t be saddened when her friends speak of their children’s weddings.

6.     Buy a pack of playing cards and teach Florian how to win a game of Rounce so that he can beat Grandfather when he visits for his sixteenth birthday.

7.     I swear that something seems wrong about that chandelier above the stairway, but I’m not sure what would actually be the problem. Perhaps I should read up on household fixtures so that I can figure out what the matter is now and identify problems with other items in the future.

8.     Start a new scrapbook. I had such fun with it as a child. Perhaps the theme could be birds. I do like birds. I like planning out vengeance for those who have wronged me and my loved ones more, but vengeance is notably difficult to scrapbook about. Even if I found a way, it still wouldn’t be worth it. Mother is already concerned for me; she doesn’t need more to worry about.  

9.     Read “Around The World in Eighty Days.” Winifred has been wanted me to read it for months now, and as her friend, I shouldn’t disappoint her.

With that, the list was over, and Michael was underwhelmed. He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting, but he did know that he was hoping for something a bit more interesting. His ruminations were cut short by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs, which jarred him back to his current task. He quickly tossed the list into the box meant for papers. Suddenly, Michael heard a voice behind him.

“Need some help?” Joshua inquired. Michael surveyed the room and realized how little progress he had made.

“That’d be nice.” He replied.

That one room took up most of the boys’ time, so that the subsequent rooms felt almost empty in comparison, but it, like the rest of the house, was eventually finished. Michael grabbed the last box and descended the stairs. He was so excited to be done that he completely forgot the large divot in two of the steps and almost tripped. As he steadied himself, he paid no mind to the strange hole directly above him or the slight burn marks in the divot. Nobody had, except for Uncle Pat, who was already thinking about who he would have to hire to get the stairs replaced. But that was a concern for another time, because now he was telling the boys that he was going to take them to a really nice restaurant that doubled as an arcade as a thank-you for the day’s hard work. Michael, quite excited for dinner, forgot all about the list of resolutions. Not even the sight of a certain Rosina Brightwell’s grave from the nearby historic cemetery reminded him, something made even more outrageous by the fact that Joshua mentioned that the year of her death, 1876, was the same year Willis Carrier, who he’d done a project on, was born. Rosina Adelaide Brightwell had many goals in life, and fortunately, making a lasting impact on a kid who helped clean out her house wasn’t one of them. 

January 07, 2023 02:23

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1 comment

Sorchia DuBois
16:16 Jan 12, 2023

A nice setup with the odd list catching your MC's attention. Many loose threads that need to be tied up--I think I see where you want to go, but the details need fleshing out a bit either with the list itself, other artifacts, and possibly conversation about family legend to peg it down a bit. I like the feeling that history and the present are more closely connected than the characters know--more development of that along with your good description of your MC's progress through this chore. Intriguing, for sure.


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