At 9 PM on December 31st, four separate alarms rang out. The owners of each respective device silenced the sounds and stepped outside of their homes. Within a few minutes, a black SUV sped down the highway, swung around street corners, and made four stops at four houses. Once they had settled into their seats, the girls in the SUV let out primal shrieks. It was a cry that grated vocal cords, one that had been building since the first day of the year. It had festered deep within their spirits and was now set free into the world: a cry of pain, exhaustion, and hope. It took minutes for their shrieks to die.
When silence fell upon them, the first girl stepped on the gas, continuing her wild race through their suburban town. She threw up her middle finger at each red light she sped past, eliciting excited gasps from her passengers. Her erratic driving did not cease until they reached the single road leading up to Salvation Hill. It wound around and around the base of the clay hill, and at the top was a large expanse of open greenery and trees. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, Salvation Hill was the premier destination to take graduation, engagement, and wedding photos, as well as being a nice place to ogle the little piece of nature their town possessed. In the winter, all entrances were locked and blocked off for the “safety” of the townsfolk. Ice formed over the grass blades, and if someone slipped and fell down the hill, the park attendants could not afford to be liable.
The girls knew this, and their hearts slammed in their ribcages as the car approached the first barricade. There were two neon orange wedges blocking the road for the next few miles. The second and third girls leaped out of the car, bundled in newly-gifted winter coats, and heaved the blockades apart, with just enough room for the car to squeeze through. Then, the girls shoved the wedges back together and returned to the warmth of the SUV.
The car continued its upward trek. Their second and final block came in the form of a large, electrified fence. It kept wild animals in (alleged, as these “animals” never appeared during the park’s open seasons) and trespassers out. The fourth girl exited the car and pushed past the bushes and brambles that concealed the fence’s wiring. Its power source came from inside an empty (and conveniently unlocked) guard station and could easily be unplugged. So, that’s what she did. She scurried back over to the fence, threw it open, and slid into the backseat with a confident smile.
The first girl slowed the car to a calm ten miles per hour as the tires crunched over the ice-glazed ground. She carefully pulled into a spot near the guardrail. It was the perfect place to have a movie-worthy moment: sitting on the hood of the car as you stare out at the twinkling lights of a town that, in it, feels suffocating, but now feels as expansive as the galaxy.
But, the girls were not at Salvation Hill for gazing at lamplights. They exited the car, silently arranged themselves in a straight line, and headed towards the dense cluster of trees that the park managers liked to call a forest, but certainly did not hold up to the definition. In its defense, the “forest” did provide stunning scenery, unique flowers, and peaceful silence: the latter of which the girls were practically salivating for.
There were no rules for this portion. Each girl was encouraged to express her true emotions towards the nature surrounding her in any way she pleased. The first girl touched each tree branch she passed, trying to remember the feeling of the different ridge patterns on her fingertips. The second girl snapped pictures of trees warped by harsh winter winds, fascinated by these living things seemingly frozen in time. The third girl removed a pocket journal from her tote bag and jotted down adjectives that matched her scenery. The fourth girl simply sat in the center of the dirt path with the least amount of sleet and sobbed into her mittens. When she raised her head half an hour later, one tiny teardrop rested in the palm of her hand, her sadness frozen in time.
At 10 PM, four alarms sounded. The girls reconvened near the SUV. In unison, they began stripping themselves of the layers they had so meticulously put on just hours ago. Scarves, coats, long-sleeved thermals, and fur-lined boots were folded neatly into the wide trunk until the four girls stood utterly bare. The first girl slammed the trunk shut. “Go!” she cried, and her friends scattered like insects, throwing themselves into the piles of sleet that littered the ground. The girls frantically rubbed the dirty ice along their bodies, smearing it in their hair and running it down their goose-pimpled skin. They shrieked in delight and discomfort. They shared moans of displeasure. The harshness of the cold seeped into their pores and set camp in their blood cells. It pierced their bones and pummeled their lungs. Had anyone been up on Salvation Hill with the girls, they would have mistaken the writhing bodies for wild, mating animals.
After thirty minutes of exposing themselves to this ruthless environment, each girl rose to her feet and hauled herself back into the SUV. The first girl jammed her keys into the ignition and blasted the heat while the third and fourth girls reached into the trunk and distributed clothes back to their rightful owners. They dressed wordlessly, only managing to communicate in shocked, guttural sounds. After a few more minutes of defrosting, coherency returned to them. The girls shared their thoughts regarding this certain part of the tradition: While it objectively sucks, it gets more bearable every year. They shared funny commentary and inside jokes. They cuddled with one another to share body heat because, within twenty minutes, they would have to exit their warm sanctuary and return to the cold.
Those thirty minutes quickly slipped away. At 11 PM, four alarms rang out. The girls silenced their devices and clambered back out of the car. Instead of diving into the woods or undressing, they stood in a four-person circle and, one by one, produced a personal item.
The first girl’s item was a T-shirt bearing a local diner’s logo in swirly white font. She explained to her friends that she had gotten her first paying job earlier that year. Although being a hostess was not the first career path she would have chosen, the pay was great, and the food was even better. However, it soon turned into a living hell. Her boss couldn’t remember her name or mixed it up with one of her fellow hostesses until he ditched trying to remember and settled on just labeling her as “Big Tits.” The verbal harassment continued throughout the following month until it turned physical. She had been handing out small beepers to the line that wound outside the doors when something grazed against her butt. Looking behind her, she made eye contact with her forty-year-old, married boss. He smiled back at her. She immediately notified HR, who assured her the boss was “not the type of man to do such a thing.” A two weeks notice was sent in but never completed. Her heart rate spiked each time one of her blissfully ignorant friends suggested they go eat at the diner. When asked why she didn’t eat there anymore, the girl would nonchalantly respond, “It gave me food poisoning one time, and I’m scarred for life.” She always added a light giggle, and no one questioned her decision further.
“Death to this girl,” the first girl said, and she dropped the t-shirt on the ground. “May she find the strength to overcome her fears in this new year.”
The second girl produced a peach. Its fuzzy skin glowed white beneath the moonlight and only bore one bruise. The girl explained to her friends that ever since graduation, she had struggled to find motivation. Getting out of bed, using the restroom, cleaning the dishes after a meal . . . all of these were monumental tasks for her. For the first three months of the year, she felt like a ghost in her own home. She merely faded from one room to another to accomplish one menial task after another. In the spring, however, her new neighbors, an elderly couple, began leaving her fruit baskets every Saturday. A handwritten note explained how the couple had yet to meet their new neighbor in person and wished her health and happiness. The girl sobbed herself to sleep that night. In what felt like decades, the tears were not of sorrow. They were joyous. These baskets were a sign to her. She began harvesting fruits in her tiny backyard, her favorite of which became the peaches.
“Death to this girl,” the second girl said. The peach fell to the ground with a dull thud. “May she continue to nurture the joy that rests inside her.”
The third girl produced a sheet of printer paper covered in complicated numerical equations. On the top was written a large red C, encased in a large red circle. She explained to her friends that receiving a degree was all she wanted in life. It was all her parents had drilled into her brain from the ripe age of three up until present day. A’s and B's followed her on every report card, exam, and pop quiz. She was (and her parents were) content. Until college. The change was almost immediate. She struggled to comprehend subjects that had once been a breeze. The first time she received anything below a B–the C-earning paper currently clutched in her shivering hands–she considered dropping out. However, the large amount of money her parents invested into her education quickly shut down that option. She countered this thought with suicide (why waste life on an idiot?), but that, for the same reason, was squashed within seconds. Her morale and spirit began to take an evident nosedive, and in October, her favorite professor recommended she talk to the college’s on-campus counselor. After two sessions and a few sheets of paperwork, she was diagnosed with anxiety and encouraged to explore other avenues that she succeeded in, or to at least find pleasure in the failures she would inevitably endure. She struggled to take this advice.
“Death to this girl,” the third girl said. “May she find peace of mind in this new year. And success wouldn’t hurt, too.” The paper floated onto the ground where puddles of melted ice happily greeted it.
The fourth girl pulled out a wedding ring, prompting a gasp from her shivering friends. The diamond resting in the center of the silver band, thanks to the moon’s glow, appeared like an iridescent, alien crystal. She explained to her friends how this ring had once been her mother’s prized possession. Her mother had toted that wedding ring around like a golden Oscars trophy, showing it to willing and unwilling alike at every opportunity. But then came the day when the fourth girl’s father arrived home with divorce papers at the ready. She watched her mother collapse to the ground, shivering and sobbing into her hands, pleading for him to stay. With a callousness the girl had never before witnessed, her father simply watched his distraught wife beg at his feet and refused to leave until she signed the stack of papers. Two weeks later, the girl and her boyfriend of two years amicably broke up. The grief of her parent’s split caused an emotional gorge to open between them while he struggled to find steady income. Although the decision had been mutual and civil, the girl found it weighing heavily on her every single day.
“Death to this girl,” the fourth girl said. Her fist trembled as it unfurled, and the ring collided with the ground. “May she cling to the hope of true love’s existence.”
12 AM arrived with an obnoxious amount of flair. The booms of multiple fireworks going off blasted their eardrums. The alarms rang out, but this time the girls did not bother silencing them. They walked forward until the tips of four boots touched. Four lips met in the center with no passion nor romance, but with the gentleness each girl had so craved for the past twelve months. After the midnight kiss, they backed up, and with screeches somehow more primal than before, they began to dance over their fallen items.
“Death to this year!” they chanted. “Death to this year!”
One girl began sobbing. One began laughing. One started vomiting. One merely danced in silence. They stomped and smashed and spit on their items well into the early hours of the new year.