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Next Year

Writing Prompt:

Once per year, you’ve attended a private party consisting of your past and future selves. This year you’re the oldest attending. As per tradition, you must give a toast.

“28, yes, this year that’s you, could you take care of 1 please? You can use the practice! Thanks.”

“Get on with the toast!”

“36, take it slow with the gin, okay? Remember you have to watch 8.”

“Oh, come on, 35 can handle it.”

36 took another swig.

“Dammit 36, you know the rules. Watch him.”

“Fine, 49, play the rules then. Get on with the toast.”

“I will, once you get 8 away from the cake, alright?”

8 quickly shuffled behind the cake, as if that would make us forget he was there. 9 and 11 too were eyeing their chances. 36 pushed himself off the chair, walked over to 8 and, with the trained grip of a father, pulled 8 back to the table. 11 turned back to me, but it took 9 another three or four seconds before he noticed my stare.

“Sorry,” 9 said. Then he sat down too.

Somewhere in the background 2 and 5 were laughing. Those young days. How the hell did they just pass by without a trace in my memory?

“Guys, can I start?”

“Sure!” 17 shouted, like I had done back when I was his age.

I sucked the air deep inside my chest. It had always looked so easy from the other side, but now, with all those faces staring at me, it felt very differently.

“Okay guys. Guys!”

The room settled and even the laughter in the back stopped. I smiled. Another breath.

“I know most of you heard this speech quite a few times before. But I know that, if you listen, you too will discover again something for yourself; something that reflects on your coming year.”

“Oh, get on with it!” shouted 36.

He was even more visibly drunk. 8 was back there again, like every year. Until 36 noticed the empty chair and turned and cursed until the cream-covered fingers froze and slowly pulled away from the cake.

36 should have known. But somehow we never learn it. Somehow we always just watch ourselves and the others just don’t quite feel real. Especially not 49, not the old one, not the one standing up there, speaking, because he will never return.

“If it has all worked right this year you have learned some lessons. And in a few minutes we will have some time to share those lessons, each one of us with the younger ones. And with all the questions that no one else wants to answer – well, come to me.”

A step forward.

“This life, our life, it has been wonderful. Every one of you, I am jealous of every one of you. Even you, 36.”

36 spoke and the younger ones did not hear, but the older ones, we all knew that he called me a “fuckwit.” We all had done it once.

“You know there are certain rules we have to follow. We have to pass the numbers on, each year to the previous one, don’t forget that, okay? Else one of us might actually have to work as a cleaner or something, alright?”

They laughed, like every year. But no one would forget. No one ever forgot.

“18, this year is your lucky year! You’ll get your first win and they’ll print an article about you in the local press. But keep it modest, okay? Don’t show off. And don’t say a word about this. I know most of you know that already, but if we were to break the silence this all would break, okay? Don’t tell a soul about this day.” I looked at 18. “Not even Angelika from the front row once she starts noticing you, okay?”

A nice tease, like every year. 18 – too cocky. She will only notice 19, when he has embarrassed himself and learned to behave. Right now 19 still feels betrayed, lied to, but he is happy at the chance to pass the joke on. He thinks it’s funny to play it on 18 since we all played it on him. She ignored him all year, even as we all told him she would swoon straight into his lap when the millions come. 19 glared at me.

“Sometimes pain is good. That is why there is no blame here. If we withheld something from you; some vital piece of information – believe me, believe the doomed one, that we did it because we know it was the right thing.”

19, he is frustrated. He’ll try to show off, buying all that stuff he shouldn’t buy. And he will throw up on himself at David’s beach party. Everyone will laugh. Everyone – only she won’t. Angelika will offer him tissues and walk him to the bathroom. And then he will know that the right woman is not the one that is nice to you, it’s the one that is nice to you – even when everyone else is not.

“Pain is good because there are lessons that words cannot teach. But also good things can bring lessons, right 28? How is it going back there? That thing you’re smelling, that’s our lovely number 1. And you have the honour to change him! 32, show him what to do, okay?”

32 grinned while making his way to the back. 1 cried when the two men, one with smooth movements and one with the shivering fingers of a bachelor, peeled 1’s clothes and finally his diaper off. 29, with a sleeping 2 in his arms, was laughing.

I waited for them to finish while some of the others turned to each other, some exchanging wisdom and most exchanging jokes. Surprising to think how, even with such a unique chance, we would still waste it with jokes.

What things would men be able to achieve if they would use all their chances to learn? If they would dare to take every shot and ask every stupid question, rather than pretend to be smarter in front of people that know they are not?

“Can we have an applause for 28?”

Laughter followed, only a few of the younger ones tried to clap.

“I have to say, I’m probably jealous of all of you. For all those things that are still ahead. Even 48, shivering here in front of me and carefully trying to remember ever word I say, even he will still have a great year. But the one I’m most jealous off, that’s certainly 28. My god, you’ll be a father! 18 has become a man – but you, 28, you’re soon a father! Just remember not to spill the beans on who it is with – we don’t want to kill all the surprises for 27, okay?”

28 was staring at 1, but I knew he heard me because I remembered hearing the same words. And back then they were not just words, they meant something much more deeper, a life change, a whole change of storyline. A baby – and suddenly, when it is real, you know that you don’t just live for yourself any more.

“35, I want to say something to you too. I want to say so many things to each of you and for most of you I want to say mostly positive things. But 35, please stay strong. Look around you here and when the moment comes, please remember the scene here and remember that life goes on, alright? There will be difficult times this year, but it is worth it to go on. Things happen that should not happen, that is, sadly, how life goes. Please don’t be upset if we don’t tell you what it is – believe me, it makes it easier that way. And 36, the two of us have a little chat after this, alright?”

They both nodded, but they both didn’t mean it.

“But I’m not standing here to say sad words. I suppose it should be a goodbye, but when you come here you’ll all realise how many things we would like to say and how many things we regret not saying earlier. The thing is that we are lucky. We are probably the luckiest man alive, to have this opportunity to meet one another. Each year we get this unique chance to learn and to teach – not anyone, but ourselves. Each of you, remember the words that you were told last year. Yes, even you 5. Remember the words you were told – not the exact words, but what they meant and how they changed your life this last year. And then make sure to pass them on to the next one that will need them.”

This time nearly everyone nodded, even 36, just the young ones and 30 were somewhere else with their minds.

“The thing is, whatever makes us come here, it is a wonder. It is a pleasure. It is an incredible gift and I am glad that we have received it. This life was so precious, with all the love we received and all the love we had the chance to give.”

“But I have to admit, there is just one thing I always missed. I know we are free and you all know to keep the advice vague enough not to spoil the excitement – but still it was strange, all these years, to always know what would come next. Isn’t that crazy? While all the people around us live with nothing more than their eyes to watch out for speeding cars, we all had one another, each watching out for the younger one and making sure that the year would work out well.”

More nods. And, even for those that heard the speech so many times – silence and pure attention, the same attention for words that I too had felt every year on my birthday and only ever one other day, when she was lying there, surrounded by wood and pillows and her sisters stood at the front, to the left of the altar, with tears in their eyes, to tell a room full of people, but, really, just me, how much she had loved the kids and me.

“You know, all those years I looked up to the stage, to 49, fearing that age. And a few hours ago I still dreaded this moment, to return home, wake up, and suddenly not be sure any more of what will follow. I was so scared of coming here that I was desperately trying to stay awake – but I guess you all see how that turned out.”

This time the laugh was dry. Fear dries the throat.

“The thing is, now that I’m here and looking at all of you – I have to say I’m not afraid any more.”

I spread my arms and raised my voice, unconsciously shouting the last word. “I’m actually excited.”

“I know you think I’m crazy, but you know what, I think it will be interesting not to know where I will go or which mistakes I will make. I mean, you all think I will die – but, really, do we know? Maybe I just can’t return here any longer!”

41 turned his head to 32, whispering “I think he’s gone mad.” Just like I did back then.

“So there is just one toast I want to give this year. It is a toast that will mean something different to each of us. It will mean something different for each of you, considering what was and what will come. Let us drink a toast then.”

They all raised their arms, even 1. Only 2 was still asleep.

“On next year,” I said.

“On next year,” they echoed.

 

The Hardest Speech of his Life

A young lady pulled him aside. “What?” he asked. With swift fingers the blonde wiped a cotton cloth along his forehead. “It will smear the makeup,” she said. He glanced at his watch. “There are more important things now,” he said. The lady pulled his shirt straight, then he managed to escape her grip. He stepped into the small room, took a quick glance at the flag and sat down in front of it. He nodded. The man behind the camera held up three fingers. Then two. Then one. A red light. “My fellow citizens,” he said. “Today is a day this nation – even this world – will never forget.” He swallowed. The sweat was running down his forehead. “From this minute on our nation is at war.”

Fresh Luck to Its Owner

I last saw it sixteen years ago, still remember every detail of the watch.

I was on a road trip with friends. I don’t remember the city name; we just stopped because the bars looked inviting and, I think, because we saw a group of slightly underdressed girls walking into one of them.

A round of drinks; dance; a round; trying to chat up girls. It was a good night. One of the guys hit it off with a local girl in a short black dress; the rest of us watched from the safety of the bar. A horribly smelling guy walked past us. Somebody bought a round of tequila. I licked the salt; poured the hot and cold liquid down my throat; bit the lime. That’s where my memory ends.

I woke up at the side of a road. The hard sand below me was as dry as my throat. Continue reading

They Made Her Watch

Trigger warning!



On the 20th of March 2013 I saw my sister for the last time.

She is not dead, or at least I don’t think she is. Rachel looked like she had a plan and I think she will be able to survive. But she is gone. She told me she would leave the country. She said she couldn’t stand the people, the fake smiles, even the language and standard greetings anymore.

She left and she told me, point-blank that she would change her name and try everything to forget our parents, her old friends and classmates, her ex and his friends, and even me.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t close, certainly not since Rachel turned seventeen. I was fifteen back then, when she met the man that ruined her life – now her ex. But there was a pain that I can’t put in words, something that broke inside my heart, when my own sister told me, point-blank, that I would never see her again.

She told me that even to just look at me made her feel sick.

She is somewhere else now. I would like to think she is in South America, somewhere where it’s warm. But honestly, she could be anywhere from Siberia to the French foreign legion to somewhere in a Tibetan monastery.

She didn’t leave because of me. None of this is about me. It’s all about her and that guy, Matthew.

I think Rachel got with Matthew because she wanted to prove our parents wrong.

I heard the fight in my room, how they made her promise to never see him again, right after the party. He wasn’t even invited. Maybe a friend of hers brought him along, or maybe he just crashed the party.

I was in the corner, talking to two of her more geeky friends – those guys that did Rachel’s homework from grades five to seven – they were the only ones I could talk to back then. I ogled her friends, but I only talked to the other nerds, and even they were embarrassed to have me around.

It was strange to see Rachel in her skimpy clothes, dancing with her friends, and with guys I had never seen, on the makeshift dance floor in our living room.

They broke the TV and stole the aquarium. Yes, not the other way around. That’s how horrible that party was. I’m just happy I had the clarity of mind to lock most of our upstairs rooms before I went to bed. But then, maybe, if I had stayed downstairs, maybe I could have saved her.

I didn’t even see him during the party. I went to bed around 3 am; he must have arrived after that.

I still don’t understand why our parents let her have that party; why they even felt that they had to leave the house to the kids for the weekend – which, in the end, meant they left it to Rachel and I would be in my room. They tried to convince me to stay at a friend’s place or visit my grandparents; I refused.

Rachel got a new laptop, but the real birthday gift was that weekend; one weekend without parents, but, sadly enough, with her younger brother still in the house.

I went to bed at 3 am and got up around 11. I stumbled down the stairs, ignored the comatose soon-to-be-a-college-douche on the stairs, saw the gaping hole in the TV – and then he was there. Matthew. He was mixing flour, eggs and milk in a pan; straight in the pan, not in a bowl. And he was wearing nothing except boxers and my dad’s shirt.

He took Rachel’s virginity in our parents’ bed; in the bed that they had had since their wedding; in the bed in which Rachel and I were conceived.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He laughed.

Rachel didn’t wake up until the afternoon; he was long gone.

I saw her panicking, how she stuffed the stained sheets in the washing machine, how she googled “emergency contraception.” She closed the browser when I looked over her shoulder, but I looked in the browsing history.

That night I found out what a ‘booty call’ was. He called. She looked scared, still she said yes.

“He’s the one.” Rachel told me before she ran out.

On Sunday night our parents took me apart. Rachel wasn’t home, so they blamed me instead. Stolen aquarium? Me. Broken TV? Me. Rachel not there? My fault too. Vomit in the closet? I had to clean it up.

I don’t remember Rachel coming home; she just rushed out of the door in the morning. Her eyes were swollen, her pupils unnaturally wide, and she was strangely hyperactive, on edge my dad would have called it if he had seen her.

I don’t remember many times when my dad and I agreed. But I didn’t even need to tell him about the stolen shirt and the stained sheets; he knew Matthew from just a two second phone call on Monday evening.

The phone rang. My dad picked up.

“Hello?” Dad said.

“Rachel there?”

“Who is it?”

Click.

Dad cornered me, questioned me. I denied everything. I didn’t even tell him about the stained sheets. But he knew anyway.

Monday night Rachel wasn’t home.

Tuesday night I heard the fight; I don’t even know what time it was.

Rachel screamed “I love him.”

Dad screamed “You will never see him again.”

A door slammed.

“If you walk out that door you can’t come back.”

Another door slammed.

The next day, when I came home from school, her room was empty.

Mom cried. Dad drank for the first time in years. Mom didn’t stop him.

That was nine years ago.

Since Rachel left Dad drank every night.

Two years ago his liver failed.

Rachel didn’t even come to the funeral


A number I didn’t knew; I recognized her voice despite the rough voice and despite the sobs.

“Hey little one,” Rachel said. “Can we meet one last time?”

How do you say “No” to that?


“What the fuck?” I said when she sat down at the other end of the plastic table.

I wasn’t even sure what I was referring to – the scars on her face, the scars on her arms, the greasy short hair, or the fact that I hadn’t seen her in nine years.

“Hi.” Rachel said. “Thanks for coming.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“How’s mom?” She asked.

“Alive.” I said.

“Sorry.” She said.

I drank my coffee.

“Really sorry.” Rachel said. “For everything.”

“Okay.” I said.

“I couldn’t leave.” She said.

“Sure.” I said.

“They forced me to stay.” She said.

“Sure.” I said.

“They made me watch things.” She said.

I stayed quiet, looked at the caked blood on her nose, the faint dark rings on her right eye, the small, round scars on her arms.

She pulled her sleeves over her arms.

“I wish I hadn’t left.” She said.

“That would have been better.” I said.

“They hurt people.”

“They hurt you?”

“Not just me.”

“Why did you stay?” I asked.

“They wanted me to stay.” She said. “They wanted me to watch.”

“They?”

“Matt and his family.” She said.

“You stayed with him?” I asked.

“Dad kicked me out.” She said.

We sat quietly.

The waiter asked for her order and left.

“What did they make you watch?” I asked.

“They hurt others.” Rachel said.

“Who?” I asked.

“Mostly girls.” She said.

“And you watched?”

“Yes.” Rachel said. “They made me.”

“Why didn’t you leave?” I asked.

“I was scared.” She said.

“Scared of them?”

“Scared that they would kill me like –“

Rachel stayed quiet.

“Like the other girls?” I asked.

“Yes.” She said.

“They made you watch?” I asked.

“They made me.” Rachel said. “And I helped bury them.”

“What did they do?” I asked.

Then I regretted asking.

“They tied them up.” Rachel said. “And then they –“

“They what?”

“They raped them.” She said.

“And then they killed them?”

They kept them for days.” She said. “And they tortured them.”

“Fuck.” I said.

“Yes.”

For just a moment Rachel smiled.

I moved my hand towards my coffee cup; I pulled it back when I realized it was shaking.

“They tortured them?” I asked.

“Until they died; or until their bellies grew.” Rachel said.

“When their bellies grew?”

“Then they killed them.”

“And you?” I asked.

“I made food.” Rachel said. “And in return they let me live.”

“For nine years?”

“It felt longer.” She said.

“How did you get out?” I asked.

“Matthew was looking for another girl. And I killed his dad.”

“You killed his dad?”

“While he was using me.” Rachel said. “He deserved it.”

“How?” I asked; the word nearly got stuck in my throat.

“Scissors.” She said.

“Oh.”

“While he was on top of me.” She said.

“He was –“

I stopped when I noticed her belly. “It grew.” Rachel would have said.

“Yes.” She said instead and lowered her eyes.

“Whose?” I asked.

“Matthew or his dad.” She said. “Or maybe one of their friends.”

My mouth stayed open.

She pressed her lips together.

My shaking hands grabbed the cold coffee.

“I’ll leave the country.” She said. “I need to end this.”

“End – this?” My eyes were on her belly.

“Yes.” She said. “I wouldn’t have told you, but I need money.”

“You want to abort?” I asked.

“He killed the first four.” Rachel said. “It’s better like this.”

“What?”

“I need to leave the country.” She said. “Don’t tell mom.”

“Never.” I said.

“Thank you.” Rachel said.

We talked for a few more minutes. I withdrew $200. Then I brought her to the hotel, paid her room, handed her the rest, and left.

Two days later I gave her all that was left in my account.

Rachel had tears in her eyes.

She hugged me; she smelled like old cigarettes but somehow clean.

We talked for a few minutes, I asked her what her plans were – she said she wasn’t sure.

When she got quiet I said goodbye. She smiled when I closed the door.

Her lips moved. I think she whispered “Thank you.”

The next day I phoned the hotel. They told me she was gone.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

The M Show Fan Club

Youtuber ChasicusMaximus kindly narrated this story:


When I was 9 years old I had a favorite TV series. It had human actors and actors in animal suits and funny and educational clips in between. I don’t want to name it because it was a really good show and this story is not at all a fault of the show. I will just call it “The M Show”.

The M Show was running for years and I had been watching it for as long as I can remember. I always sat down, straight after school with my older sister Scarlett and my best friend Brandi, who lived next door.

It was our ritual, every day the three of us sat together – with sweets, if our moms allowed it, or else with apples or grapes – and in the breaks of the show we talked and gossiped about all those important issues in our lives.

Then, I remember it was a warm summer Friday, Scarlett found a prize competition in one of her girl magazines. It asked questions about the show and first prize was a travel with your parents to Disney World. But even better, everybody who sent in the correct answers would become a member of The M Show Club, a fan club for the show. The same day, after watching the M Show, the three of us huddled together on the couch to answer the quiz.

The questions were very hard; they asked details about old episodes of the show. Without Scarlett, Brandi and I would never have managed to answer all the questions.

Scarlett begged our mom for stamps and envelopes and we filled the three envelopes each with a paper with our names and contact details and the answers to the questions. Scarlett even told us to vary our answers slightly so that we wouldn’t be called out for cheating.

The letters were sent off and every day we all rushed to the mailbox to get our The M Show Club badges. When the first snow began to fall we stopped checking the mailbox. Brandi was still passionate about the show and watched it every day, but Scarlett lost interest. When Scarlett stopped watching I too began to skip the show. Brandi still came over, but she was the only one watching. I sat next to her while working my way through Scarlett’s old girl magazines.

It was early spring. I remember there were tulips in our garden and my mom reprimanded me for plucking two to decorate the kitchen table. But right after her lecture she handed me a small square letter with my name printed on it. The back said “Welcome to The M Show Fan Club.”

There was not much in the envelope – only a short leaflet that welcomed me to the club and a small ID card with my name on it, a big logo of the show and in black letters “The M Show Fan Club,” and in the line below, in big black letters, the word “Member.”

Brandi got her envelope the same day. She was glowing with happiness. Scarlett was jealous at first, but two days later she got her envelope too.

From then on, every Friday, each of us received a leaflet about the show with photos and anecdotes and background information on the characters. Occasionally the leaflets also called on the club members to promote the show and to watch out for “The M Show Tour.”

Either way, it worked: We loved the show afterwards. I think from that day on, after I proudly stuffed the membership card in my bag, I didn’t miss a single episode.

Then, in mid-June, we all got two leaflets. The first was the usual one with facts and photos. But the second was an ad:

“The tour bus is in town – this is your chance to become an ‘Elite Member’!”

The bus was coming the next Sunday to our town. We were all allowed to go. We were beyond excited.

The leaflet didn’t have much information and that was before we had a computer at home. The tour bus would arrive at 1pm and the main characters of the show would be there to welcome everybody and play games with us. Those that participated in at least four games would be upgraded to “Elite Member”-status and receive a new, golden membership card.

Those nine days of waiting for “The M Show Tour” were some of the longest in my life. Brandi and Scarlett and I planned every day how we would take photos with each of the characters and then play games with them. I secretly dreamed of beating Scarlett at the “knowledge game”, where our knowledge about the show would be tested.

On Saturday Scarlett went to a birthday-sleepover at one of her friends’ houses. The parents were supposed to bring Scarlett back by 12 on Sunday.

Around 12:30 Brandi came running to our house. She knocked on the back door, like she always did, and I let her in. Brandi was beyond excited; her mom had volunteered to accompany the three of us and she wanted to go early so that we wouldn’t miss anything.

My mom called the house of Scarlett’s friend, but they didn’t pick up their phone. She said that Scarlett would be home soon – early enough to go on time.

At 12:45 Brandi’s mother came over to ask for us. She said that we would have to leave so that the queues wouldn’t be too long. My mom said we should wait for Scarlett, but Brandi threw a tantrum; she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to hug all the characters if we came late.

Brandi’s mom decided to drive. I wanted to come along – but my mother said that she would drive Scarlett and me. I felt like I was being punished for Scarlett’s being late. I begged. I cried.

Nothing helped; Brandi went alone.

Her friends’ parents dropped Scarlett off at 13:40. I was mad at her, but my mom said if I made a scene we wouldn’t go at all. I relented.

We arrived around twenty minutes later at the big parking lot where the bus was scheduled to stop. We saw the crowds from the distance, parked the car and walked over.

I asked my mom where the characters of the show were; she said that they were just behind the crowd.

They all held the “The M Show Tour” flyers, but it looked as if the crowd were mostly parents. They stood in a half-circle towards the edge of the parking lot. Some of them looked concerned, but most of them were laughing and talking.

My mom spotted Brandi’s mother at the other end of the half-circle; we walked over to her. Brandi’s mother was one of the worried ones.

She told us that the bus had been there, together with all the animal figures from “The M Show.” They had a large bus with the “The M Show” logo and they handed out sweets.

One of the animal figures had explained to the parents that they had built a set outside of town where we all could make our own short film with the characters of the show. They said they would drive everybody there.

They took the children first. They were all so excited that few parents objected. Still, three or four parents came along and that calmed the rest. The next bus was supposed to arrive within a few minutes, to bring everyone to the set.

When I heard that I was excited like never before.

I ran to the street to look around so I could be the first on the bus. Scarlett followed me.

I didn’t see the worried expression when Brandi’s mother talked to mine.

I didn’t understand why the police came not even an hour later.

In Monday’s episode of “The M Show” one of the characters came on stage and told us to call our parents to watch the show. Our mom was already sitting with Scarlett and me.

The character said that “The M Show” didn’t have a fan club.

That week Brandi’s parents cried a lot. I was still sure that Brandi was okay, I thought she just had so much fun that she didn’t want to come back.

She must have had a lot of fun; she never came back.

Brandi’s mother cried even more, that Friday, when the small parcel arrived.

There was a new “The M Show Fan Club” membership card for Brandi. It was golden and said “Elite Member” in big, bold letters.

The parcel also contained a video. It was only a minute long; a minute of Brandi at the set of “The M Show.” She was wearing the same dress as when she came over to our house that Sunday morning.

On the video she Brandi smiling; an actor in a big animal suit stood next to her, silently.

“Hi mom, I really like it here.” Said Brandi. “I really wish you could be here.”

Then she laughed. “I’m sorry the others were late. I’m sure they would have loved it too.”


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.