the short story project


Harmony Stalter


The world has changed. The government runs our life no matter how much we protest. You either do what they want, or you end up in jail or worse dead. They will allow you to live your life on your own. They watch your every move. They monitor everything you do, from your job to your personal life. Every year it is the same thing. We all submit our resolutions to the government website and wait to find out if it has been approved or not. If it is not, then we have come up with another one. If we fail to submit one that is approved by the December 31st deadline, then we suffer some form of punishment. First-time offenders get a 30-day stint in jail. Second offenders get six months jail time. If you become a third offender, then you suffer public shaming in the middle of the capital city of your state. There are live streams of your shaming broadcasted over the internet and on television. People bid on the things they can say and do to you to make it worse for you, hoping you will learn your lesson.

             I have seen events where people call each other names, throwing things at the person, and even beat them. It is a terrible thing to watch, but it takes over everything, and we have no choice. Because the government controls everything we do, they know when a person is not watching and fines them a hefty sum of money. If you do not pay it, you serve jail time and work it off a few cents a day in the kitchen, as a janitor, or doing the laundry. The government claims they only want to people to better themselves. Some of us do not believe them. Those who rebel, are punished with a death sentence carried out in the town square, much like the lynching that took place during the slave era. The only difference is the public gets to choose how you die and for just how long you suffer at their hands before the sentence is carried out.

            This year, I am unable to come up with a resolution, and I fear for my well being. I have done the health kick one and followed through on it. I have started my own business and become more financially stable. I have given up bad habits, smoking, drinking, drug use, and gambling, and find my life more fulfilled. I am at a loss as to what to resolved to do next. It would not be my first time as an offender. I have failed to submit government worthy resolutions in the past. This would be my third offense. I know I will suffer public shaming and the people I have hurt the most in my life will be the ones who come forward to punish me in front of everyone. I do not think I can survive their tirade.  

            I have hurt a lot of people throughout my 40 years on this earth. I have cheated on my lovers. I have caused heartache with my family members. I have even murdered someone and walked away without repercussions. I know the family of the man I killed over a drug deal gone wrong will be there to see me punished. I know killing him was wrong and I feel the guilt of it every day, but I was not willing to spend the rest of my life in jail for it or get the death penalty. I was able to convince the jury that it was self-defense and walked away. I have seen his family since and they scream at me every time they see me. His brother has been the worst one. He says one day he will have his revenge. He may get it in the next couple of weeks.

            I submitted my resolution to help by donating to more charities in the upcoming year. Now, I wait to see if it is accepted by the government. They know I already donate to ten charities throughout the year, which is the max we are allowed to do by law. I have nothing else to commit to. I have nothing else to change. The only change in my life needed is to admit what I did was wrong and spend my time in jail or on death row. I am not willing to do that, yet. I have met the woman I want to spend the rest of my days with. I want to get married and have a child. If the government rejects my resolution, I will not get to do that. I will be publicly shamed for everything I have done in my past, and she will run. I may even be killed over those things. I can only hope the government has strict guidelines when it comes to the punishments allowed for the unapproved resolutions. I want to live, and I hope my new love will understand when things about my past come out to in public, ruining me in her eyes. I hope she forgives me for everything she hears and stays with me despite my formally evil ways.

            I wait for three days before hearing back from the government. They have rejected my resolution. There is no more time for me to submit a new one. I will suffer through a public shaming on January 5th. They will send a car to pick me up, taking me to the state capital. There I will be put on a platform, and the public will be allowed to do what they want within the legal limits. I expect to see a lot of familiar faces at the live event. I pack a bag like they tell me to do. I try to get my affairs in order, in case I do not come back. I leave the business for my workers to run. They have worked hard in making it a success, and they deserve to reap the rewards from it. My girlfriend gets the house, and my beloved dog, Bosco, a mix breed.

            I am unable to sleep over the next few days. I am worried about things to come. The car arrives at 6 am. I give Bosco one last pet before I am whisked away. I zoned out on the four-hour ride to the state capital. I walk into the building, and I am ushered into a room where I put my bag in a locker. I am ushered to the platform where there is already a large crowd forming. I scan the first few rows for familiar faces. I find my sister and parents, a few ex-lovers, and the family of the man I murdered. I see the red lights from the cameras placed around the square turn on and hear the click of the amps turn on. A voice comes over the loudspeakers.

            “It is time to let the shaming begin. Up first we have the family of this man. They have a lot to say to him,” the man says. The first person to step up is my fragile mother. My father and sister help her up the stairs. It broke my heart to see her this frail. I had not been home in fifteen years. I left and never looked back. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and I did. I regret not going home, but my parents would have put me in rehab, and I did not want to do it.

            “Jasper, you have broken our hearts,” my mother said through tears. “I prayed you would turn out to be a better person. You did not live up to the expectations we had for you and for that reason we have disowned you. We do not want you to even carry our last name, but you have to have a last name, so we cannot strip you of it. We thought you were dead years ago. I wish you were. If you leave here today, forget about us and never return home. I do not have long to live, and I prefer not to see you again before I die.”

            “Son, why could you not come up with a resolution the government approved? Are you still as stupid as you were when you were a child? We knew you were never the smart one in the family, but we would have hoped you were smart enough not to have to go through this. I feel sorry for you, but not because of this because you will never amount to anything,” my father said.

            “Brother, please stop putting our family name to shame,” my sister said. “You are hurting our parents more than you can ever understand. We need to get past your mistakes and live peacefully, but you keep popping up into our lives and messing everything up. Our parents are frail and do not have much longer to live. Let them die in peace and stay away from us.”

             “The next people to step up is the jilted ex-lovers,” voice over the loudspeakers said. I watched my parents make their way down the stairs, and three of my ex-girlfriends step up. They stood in front of me single file. The first one open hand slapped me as hard as she could. The crowd let out a collective “oh” as she walked back down the stairs. The second and third followed suit. I could feel the heat of their handprints still stinging my face after they had all walked away.

            “The final round of people is the Diaz family,” the voice said. The three remaining members climbed the stairs. They stood in front of me. I waited for them to say something or do something. The time seemed to stand still. His mother was the first to hit me. The father punched me in the stomach so hard I vomited. The crowd cheered him on. The parents walk down the stairs and left me with the brother. He punched me in the stomach, again. As I bent over, he landed an uppercut, sending me backward. The crowd erupted. Blood flew from my mouth. I wanted to fight back, but if I did, I would die in front of the crowd at the hands of the officers standing by. He kicked me in the ribs, breaking two of them. He continued to stomp on my midsection until one of the officers pulled him off. I could not catch my breath. One of my broken ribs punctured my left lung.

I was carried away by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The nurses and doctors barely came to see me, as was the law. If we could not heal on our own, then we were to be left to die. Food was provided, but there was minimal care given. They were allowed to remove the rib that punctured my lung and patch the hole. After the initial surgery, we can no longer be treated for the superficial wounds and must heal on our own. I take my time to eat as breathing is still difficult for me. Once I can breathe normally, I begin taking walks around the hospital halls, becoming stronger every day. After a month in the hospital, I have been given the okay to leave. I go home, hoping to still find my girlfriend there and my business still intact.

My girlfriend left the day after the publicized shaming, taking Bosco with her. She told me to call her if I ever came back home to retrieve him. My business thrived without me there. I decided to let the employees keep it and move on. They deserved it. I called my girlfriend. She came over with Bosco, who was excited to see me as I was him.

“I didn’t want to stay here without you,” she said. “I felt so alone and was hoping you would come back. If you didn’t, I was going to sell the home and keep Bosco.”

“I was worried that you would leave me after the public shaming and never come back,” I said.

“No, what you did in your past made you the man I fell in love with. I cannot walk away from you because of things that happened before we were together. I want to give us a fair chance before deciding about us.”

“I knew I loved you for a reason,” I said. “If you let me, please let me prove myself to you and when the time is right asking for your hand.”

“We can work on it. Let’s see what the future holds for the both of us,” she said. We continued to work on our relationship. Within six months we became engaged, and on New Year’s Day, after we both had approved resolutions, we were married. The first year we continued to build our relationship and started a new business together. The following year we resolved to bring a baby into the world, and it was approved. We now live happily in our home with Bosco and our two children. The governmental rules are becoming stricter by the year, but the protests are becoming greater, causing the government to give some leniency when it comes to the resolutions.

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