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1. Be a better person 

There. He wrote it. Cemented it in ink.

He leans back on his chair and stares outside the window of his office. The world outside is blanketed on white; he still can see the snow falling steadily from the sky, though earlier it had been much worse. 


The number he has just written stares back at him, waiting for what his second New Year’s Resolution would be.

If you asked him, he’d say this sort of stuff was stupid, but nonetheless, he was tempted to try. Last year he had lasted about two weeks before completely forgetting about the neat list he had written and hanged on the door of his fridge. Maybe this next year he could try and put a bit more effort into it, do a little better. 

The distant sound of thunder draws his attention back to his window, to the cold world outside. Inside his small apartment is so warm and cozy that it suddenly makes him think if there are people outside. In a perfect world, no one should be, but he knows that there are always those who don’t have a choice.

His eyes fall back to the cream paper on his desk, still mostly a blank page, only one little line on his messy scrawl staining it and before he knows it he's already abandoning the pen and reaching for the car’s keys. 

He thinks, as he slips on his shoes, is this a good idea? Tomorrow will the first of January. He could start his resolutions on the first, isn’t that the whole point?

He could go to bed already, is late enough, and does he really want to go out in the cold when he could just stay inside and warm and - But then there's no use trying to convince himself; his brain is already too focused on the idea that someone, just one person, could be outside in this weather and…

He sags his shoulders, picks up his coat and slams the door on his way out. 

Stepping out of his building the first thing that hits him is the cold, literally, in the face. It is actually painful. The second thing is how white it is, everything. The buildings and the pavement and the cars parked on the street and the couple that walks past him, brave enough to venture the world like this, huddled close and giggling like they’re already half-drunk coming from a party somewhere. 

This isn’t a nice neighborhood; he thinks about warning them about how dangerous it is to roam outside this time at night but then thinks it’s better to just leave the lovebirds be. He still remembers what it was like to be young like them.

His joints feel half-frozen by the time he manages to make it to his car and crank the heater as far as his old truck will let him before rubbing his hands together to try and get back the feeling on his fingers. 

As he drives away, carefully and slowly over the wet road he tries to think of reasons to talk himself out of this idea. But then again he is already here. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Just a few blocks away from his place he spots someone walking down the sidewalk, the first person he has seen since the drunk couple. He takes a look around, no one else in sight. 

The other man must be about his age, maybe a couple of years younger. He has on what looks like a very expensive coat and a black hat that he makes look very stylish; if it were him wearing it, it probably wouldn’t look as good. He only has to think for a second before he is rolling down the window on the passenger side and calling out for the other man. 

“Hey!” He yells loudly to be heard over the howling of the wind and the other man looks up, eyes wild and startled. He takes out one of his earbuds and smiles easily when he approaches the side of the car. 

He hates those things, it irks him, makes everyone seem so antisocial these days. Still, he hides his disapproval and smiles as he remembers. Isn't this the reason he picked up his truck and came out tonight?

“Can I help you?” The other man asks, his accent strong. He sounds like he is somewhere from up north; one of those rich and entitled types, the kind that used to shove him on the playground when he was in school.

But he rises above the memory. He got over it years ago. Once again pushing down his displeasure, he makes his best to at least put on a feeble smile.

Sure, when he left his house earlier that night he had something else in mind; he was thinking about the homeless people he might encounter outside. The ones he knew would be cold; the ones who had no one else because if they did then would they be outside when the weather was like this. 

But what was the difference anyway? A person’s life was still a person’s life. Even if he greatly disliked him. 

Especially because of it. 

“Actually I was wondering the same thing,” he says, the southern lilt he caught the few years he lived there seeping into his voice. “Do you need a ride or somethin’? It’s so late already,” he nods his head towards the sky, “I figured I’d ask. This ain’t a very safe place this time a night.”

The other’s man whole demeanor changes then and he looks so relieved that he smiles. It’s a feat because the way he is trying to keep his teeth from chattering is probably taking a lot of effort from him.

“I ran out of gas just a few streets away. At least I think I did,” he chuckles, a little awkwardly. “I hope that’s it anyway. I just thought I’d try the gas station first.”

The man nods along, he’d been on similar situations before too. “Well, hop in then, son.” He is already pulling on the door handle to open it for the stranger and leaning back on his own seat to watch as he climbs in.

“I’m Harlan, by the way,” the man, no, Harlan says. His fancy accent still grinding on the man’s nerves. “You’re a real lifesaver.” His face already looks a bit flushed from the heat inside the truck as he tugs on the seat belt.

“Ah, is no trouble,” the man smiles, all cold eyes and white teeth, like a shark. Harlan shakes his head, the thought gone just as suddenly as it came. “Just give it a couple of minutes for the warmth to seep in; I can give you a ride back if you want to.”

Harlan smiles his thanks. “That’d be amazing, I don’t even know how I can thank you enough," he sounds earnest. "I was already starting to think I’d freeze to death out there before I got to the station. Didn’t even think about the trek back.”

“Don’t worry about it,” the man shakes his head, his eyes locked on the road as he drives painfully slowly. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, he always thought. “Where did you say you left your car?” He steals a quick glance at his passenger. “You locked it, right? You can’t trust too much around neighborhoods like this.”

“Oh yeah, I parked it about half a mile away, I think. It was right in front of the Laundromat. But my sons are there, they wanted to come with but I didn’t like the idea of the two of them coming out when it's this cold. Figured it’d be safer to let them with the car.” Harlan shrugs then, a what-can-you-do sort of expression on his face and the man smiles at him, 

“That’s good thinking.” He never had any kids himself, but he can understand the desire to protect something you love. “Oh, by the way. There are a few blankets in the backseat if you want. You look like you need it.” He does feel like a father when he says it like that though. 

Harlan smiles his gratitude again, instinctively looking back to find the blankets. There they are, the kind that is big and fluffy and just out of his reach. He stretches one arm, the strap of the seatbelt digging on his shoulder, if he could only…

He hears the noise first, maybe. That sickening zap as a million thoughts rush to his head but he doesn't have enough time to process them before his body goes rigid; the pain shooting through his whole body.

He couldn't know where it was coming from, but he could feel it in his bones, shaking his brain as he loses all control. His every nerve-ending feels like they're on fire, it's excruciating.

Yet, funnily (or maybe not) his head still feels clear. Even if he can't move a muscle. 

“Shhh,” he hears the man say, sickening pleasure in his voice as if he were talking through a smile too big to contain. “Oh, this thing?” he asks taunting. Talking as if they were just picking up a conversation from earlier as his face appears just in Harlan’s line of vision. “This is just where our fun begins," his smile spreads through his face, a testament to what Harlan can only think as insanity. "Wait until you see my needles.” 

He laughs then. Hard and loud and unbridled.

Harlan thinks he can hear himself yelling out for help, maybe someone would hear him. Maybe- but even before he can remember how devoid of people it was outside, he feels his teeth clenching as the never-ending pain keep his body stiff.

There was no voice coming out from him, calling out for salvation. With a sinking feeling, he feels all the hope leaving his body just as quickly as his consciousness fades away too. 

Before everything goes dark, the last thing he sees is the smile. Like a shark.

The man was never very good at keeping track of time. He is, however, pleasantly surprised when the sky is set afire in colors just as he parks his truck by the river. The fireworks wash everything in pretty shades of blue and green and red and golden. It’s beautiful and a damn better spectacle than last year, so that’s saying something.

He makes sure there are no stains on the leather when he pulls the body away from the backseat, wrapped and tied as expertly as he always does. He always stays to watch as the water swallows the proof of his crimes, although this time the sound it makes when it hits the frozen water is only mildly satisfying and for a second or two he contemplates finding the car with the sons.

The explosions of colors still going on in the sky reminds him that is past midnight already. 

It’s the first; wasn’t he going to start with this whole resolution thing on the first?

Sighing, he abandons that particular line of thought. Good for the sons. He thinks that there might still be a bottle of champagne on his fridge waiting for him at home, he could drink that and finally finish his list. 

Maybe he’ll be better at keeping at it than he was last year.

January 24, 2020 05:01

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1 comment

Arthur Tiberio
13:15 Jan 30, 2020

I absolutely adore subtle truths in the writing I read. You've got that in spades. "He has on what looks like a very expensive coat and a black hat that he makes look very stylish; if it were him wearing it, it probably wouldn’t look as good." Loved that line, and the beginning, rather more than I expected to. They pack a good, solid punch.


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