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Fiction Sad

I’m freezing. Half dead. Someone is talking to me.

I whimper out a plea. “Leave me. Please just leave me.”

I guess they don’t listen because I wake up warm, in an unfamiliar room with sunshine pouring in. It’s obviously not Winter here. Where is here?

I look around and find a young woman sitting in a chair next to the bed reading.

“Good morning, Brian. We’re so glad you’re up. We can’t wait to get started.”

“We?” I ask.

A man sporting a toque comes in with a tray of food. “Gluttony, perfect timing.”

What did she just call him? Whatever his name, the tray of food he places in front of me looks and smells incredible.

He steps back kisses her on the cheek before leaving but turns back at the door. “Oh Grace, Temp was looking for you.”

She nods as he leaves. “I need to go see what my sister needs. I’ll be back in just a minute and if I can’t come back, I’ll send someone else up to help you with a shower if you want.”

“You could just tell me where the bathroom is.” I look around the room I’m in. “Also, where am I exactly?” I look at the doorway, but she’s already gone. I look back at the tray of food and decide to eat before she or whomever she sends comes to show me to the shower.

How did I end up here?

I remember waking up cold. I heard voices and tried to tell them to go away…

I remember seeing a group of people standing over me, but after that -it’s blank.

Before that though…it’s all very clear.

I wanted it to end. To just be over.

My thoughts are interrupted when a throat clears from the door, and I see a man with a black eye smiling at me.

My knuckles sting and I realize the two are connected. Or rather, they were.

“Did I uh do that?” I gesture to his face.

“You did.” He says very matter of fact. Not in a condescending way or even in anger or irritation. Just stating a fact as if to say the sky isn’t actually blue. It’s true but you would still like it explained to you.

“I’m sorry?” I ask, He waves off my proposed apology.

“You put up quite a fight last night. We thought maybe you didn’t want our help, not everyone does... You struggled to get up and I tried to help you. You punched me and I have to say it was impressive given that you had no pull back. Anyway, Pride knocked you back down and carried you all the way here. We have a lot of work to do.”

“We do?” This time my question and confusion are clear. “Who is we?”

“The Vices and Virtues. We’re an organization that helps those in need, be their best self. Bettering the world, one lost soul at a time.”

“Vices and Virtues? Aren’t those at odds with each other?”

“Lots of people think so, and maybe for a while we were, but through time and circumstance we’ve learned that there’s a lot more to each other.”

“Sorry.” I sit up in hopes that clarity will come. “Is this a dream or something? You said lost soul. Am I dead?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the pending status of your mortality.”

“Excuse me, my what?” I feel like I’m choking on air.

“Nothing to worry about right now. I’ll send Chastity in to help you get ready.” And with that he leaves and it’s just me and my half-cocked panic attack.

A moment later Gluttony or so he’s called, returns to the room, and takes the tray. I rush out a thank you and he just smiles and nods. “Big day.” He says and leaves.

What’s so big about today? Is it my funeral?

A younger man appears at my door now. “Are you here to show me the shower?”

He blushes wildly and I realize how that sounded. “Oh no, I’m sorry.” I stumble over an apology to clear up any confusion. “I just meant, the other guy said that…the bathroom…”

He sees my awkwardness and it must ease his own because he smiles, and it transforms his whole demeanor. “Come on. Big day.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I mumble. I follow him down a hall and he shows me a stack of towels and plethora of soaps to use. He’s also there when I’m done and takes me back to the room. There are now a pair of boxer briefs, a pair of dress socks, and an undershirt folded at the end of the bed. They look new and they're my size, so I pull them on.

Chastity hands me a suit from the closet. “Put this on and Humility will be up to get you.”

“Humility?” I ask but he’s already whooshed out of the room.

As I straighten the tie around my neck, I can’t help but notice the color of the suit. It’s blue. Not 50’s prom blue, more of a midnight blue. It’s not black though. Not a funeral suit by my standards. A small noise at the door pulls my attention from the standing mirror next to the closet.

“You must be Humility.” I tell the petite blonde at the door.

“I must be.” She smiles warmly and moves to my side to tuck my arm in hers. “I’m also your escort down.”

“Down?” In a near death experience or fever dream, whatever this is, down is generally a direction you don’t want to go.

“Downstairs. The interview is about to start.”

I’m led to what looks like a cross between a formal dining room and a conference room. Humility helps me sit down and then takes her place among the others on the opposite side of the long table.

The woman in the center starts. She’s petite but her presence is commanding. Her short blonde bob cut screams CEO. I wonder which one she is.

“Why do you want this job?”

Job? Is this an interview?

“I’m not sure what this job even is.”

“What do you want it to be?” She asks.

“I’m sorry?”

“What was your old position?”

“Uh like my old job?”

“Did you view it as a job?”

I feel carsick in this conversation. “I’m sorry, what is it we’re talking about?”

“You’re life.” She responds.

“My life?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t understand. Is this a joke?”

“What would be the punchline?”

“I don’t know. What are you all hoping to accomplish with me?”

“We,” She gestures to the left and right of her, “are the Vices and Virtues.”

“Is this like an employment agency or something?”

A man two rows from the right end slams his hands on the table and I flinch at the sound. He’s breathing like a bull in a run but he begins to calm and looks to me.

“I’m sorry. I just hate it when people think we’re joking.”

“We’re not.” The woman next to him jumps in.

Charity speaks up. 

“Brain,” She begins, “We are the Vices and Virtues. I’m Charity.” She holds her hand out across the table for me to take which I do. “We do this a lot actually. We find someone who needs help, or they find us, and we try to help them on their feet.”

The man next to her follows that up with “to be their best self.” He too reaches over to shake my hand. ‘Nice to meet you, I’m Pride.”

They go down the line introducing themselves. I already know Grace, but I meet her twin sister Temperance. Chastity also has a brother who looks identical to him, Lust, who sits next to Humility. The man who hit the table is Wrath. Should have seen that I guess. The only others I had yet to meet were Patience, Sloth, and Greed. 

I look at each one of them. Could they all really be what they claim? I don’t really have anything to lose by going along with it, so I do.

“What was the question again?”

Charity smiles and asks again.

“What was your life like?”

“My life was…” I try to think back on it, but it feels like my brain is short circuiting. Like there are memories there but the tape is scrambled. There are snippets that come in clear every few frames. Laughing, crying, sometimes both, anger, fear, love, and joy. The happy ones are so much older than the others though. I look up and everyone is staring at me waiting for an answer.

“It was...a lot of things.”

No one looks disappointed by my non-answer. They all look really understanding.

Envy reaches across and puts her hand on mine. “What did you like the most about it? What was something you couldn’t live without?”

“I liked…” I give it a real thought. I know there were things I liked about my life. They just feel so far away. Like an old friend I didn’t keep in touch with. “I liked sleeping.”

Sloth laughs but Envy continues. “Did you like sleeping or was that just something you did?”

I don’t understand the question. “I slept. All people do and I liked it.”

“What was it that you liked? The part where you fall asleep, the dreams?”

“Falling asleep.” Drifting off knowing that there wasn’t a worry for me while I was there.

She nods but I don’t think it’s in agreement. She looks like she’s made her point and I don’t know what that is.

“What did you like least?” Gluttony asks.

“Uh…Waking up?” I laugh but no one laughs with me. Except for Sloth.

“Interesting, why?” 

“Because that meant sleep was over.”

Envy comes back. “Can you really like to sleep? You’re not conscious during it and you don't like waking up. Did you really like to sleep or did you just like not being awake?”

A feather could drop on a pillow, and I would be able to hear it right now. The room is silent at the revelation.

Someone new speaks up. It’s Lust with a hard-hitting question. “What are you passionate about?”

I snort. “I think it just became clear that I don’t hold passion for anything.” I’d rather be in stasis than awake.

“I’m serious.” His hard-set jaw illustrates that.

I close my eyes and try to shuffle through the images that carousel through. I’m not sure how long my eyes are closed before I finally land on an image I enjoy.

“Words. I like words.”

“But are you passionate about them?” He asks.

“They’re the building blocks for all things. Words are what keep us talking, keep us learning, they’re what keeps people together and splits them apart. They’re strength. They are passion’s fuel.”

This seems to sate him because he nods and I’m on to the next one.

“You’ve said that words are strength but what are your strengths?”

This is asked by Temperance.

“My strengths?” I parrot. 

What am I good at? Being someone that everyone can count on, only that’s not so true anymore. I became buried under the weight of unspoken and demanded expectations. It was death by charitable bloodletting. Helping them little by little became more and more. What I needed to do got pushed aside, never prioritized over anyone else’s requests and I made that choice.

I don’t say a word, but she somehow knows the conclusion I’ve come to in my head. She nods knowingly before I’m asked another question. This time by Humility.

“What are your weaknesses?”

Well now I think helping people is my weakness. Or is it what made me weak? What is it that has made me strong? I’ve never felt stronger than when I’ve walked away from something that no longer supported me. When it didn’t just stunt my growth but fed off the delay of it. Even as I felt like I was dying in that alley, I felt strong, because I had chosen myself. Is that good? Is that a strength? Wouldn’t strength be that I’m able to take on both my burden and theirs? Am I not supposed to be strong? Am I not meant to help? Am I not good enough?

Even having said none of this out loud the thoughts are known. It’s proven when Patience asks the next question.

“Would you say that’s what motivates you? Helping others? For better or worse?”

“I suppose so, yeah.” I can’t remember the last time I made a decision that was for me and me alone. Except maybe the last one. The one that led me here. Again, without voicing all of my thoughts another question is asked.

Charity speaks up again. “Why did you leave your last position?”

“I had to.”

“Even without any prospects? No security blanket, no plan b. Isn’t that why you stayed for as long as you did?”

“Yes but…”

“Then what was it that made you leave? What was it that made you finally say no more?”

No more…That was it. No more of what I was stuck in. Of what I was forcing myself to endure. Of what I thought I deserved. If it was that or nothing, I chose nothing. “I just wanted it to end.”

“What would you want instead”? Lust asks. “What does your dream look like?”

No matter how wrong it did me, how wrong I did myself, I want to help people. 

I can’t help but to want to help. But that didn’t turn out so great last time. How could I make it work? How can I make it work for me? If I could help people but still enjoy myself. What is it that I enjoy? I said words earlier and it’s true. I’ve borrowed so many others’ words to feel something other than what I was, to be someplace I couldn’t, to be someone I wasn’t. I could write those words for others now. I could help them the way they helped me.

“I want to be a writer.”

Diligence speaks up this time. “Let’s say you’re a writer. You return to your life and become a writer. Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Five years? That seems so comically far away for such a small number. “In five years as a writer, I see myself writing.”

This was not the answer he was looking for. “What does the rest of your life look like? Do you have friends, a family, a pet?”

I’d hope to have all of those things, but I don’t know if I’ll actually get any of them in five years. And writing is a lonely job. It’s what I like about it. That I’ll be able to be close with people and help them but from very far away. From a safe space beyond the pages, they have access too. I know what it’s like to have people around you filling those roles by proxy but to still be so alone. 

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll have any of those things in five years, but I do want to be in a place where I could try. A place where I’m secure enough to trust myself, to love myself, and to be open to trusting and loving others, and letting others trust and love me”

“Would you consider that your greatest achievement?” Pride asks. Seems fitting. “If you accomplish all of that, what is it that you would consider to be your peak? Is that what would secure your happiness?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

His brow raises. “You think you could do something better than all of that?”

“No. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get all of that, but I do know that happiness isn’t something that can be secured. Not by self-fulfillment. Not by exclusively serving others either. Happiness is something to cultivate and share. It’s a living breathing thing that needs nurturing. If I can do that, that’s what my greatest achievement will be.”

Charity asks the next question.

“What would make you quit?”

“Quit?”

“The life you make for yourself. What would it take to make you throw it all away?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. If my life is like that, me doing something I love, bringing happiness to others and joy to myself, why would I throw it away?”

“Things don’t always go according to plan. You attempted to help others before, to give of yourself, and it ended that way as well.”

“In what way?”

“You. Ended. In the alley where we found you. You were done with it all.”

“But you saved me. Surely that wasn’t for nothing.” 

She shrugs. “That’s up to you.”

“I understand. I want it. I’ll take care of it.”

“Take care of what?” She says coyly.

“My life.”

Greed interjects. “So, you want the job?”

“Oh, um yeah. Yes. Definitely. I do.” I answer with more excitement than I’ve expressed since I was a kid.

“What do you want for it?”

“For what?”

“For the work you do. All the writing and love sharing and all that making the world good and better, what sort of compensation are you looking for?”

“Um…I don’t know.”

“You want an eternity there? A ticket up?”

“No. No, I want to live and die like I would have, just an opportunity to make it better in between.”

He makes a mark on the paper in front of him and passes it down. Everyone makes some sort of note on the paper until it reaches Pride at the other end. He looks at it and makes his mark on it before folding his hands over it.

“Congratulations. You’ve been reinstated to life. Do you have any questions?”

September 17, 2021 02:02

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