Happy New Year
By: Stevie Kopas
Christmas was supposed to be different this year. Just last week I'd arrived back in my home town for the holidays. I didn't tell anyone I was coming; I had just left Garrison and decided to go back home.
I was going to set things right. I hadn't talked to my sister, my only living kin, in years, and I'd hoped that we could set our differences aside and become a family again. Whatever friends I once had, I was going to make things right with them as well, but on the days leading up to Christmas Eve last Saturday, I found that no one was returning my calls or responding to texts. Facebook messages went unanswered and even when I dropped by my sister's house and rang the bell, only the barking dog beyond the locked door was there to greet me.
I ended up at a diner, eating a simple meal alone on Christmas Eve. The place was dead, save for my waitress; I could see her eyeing me with pity as she stared at me shoveling mashed potatoes and gravy into my mouth. Christmas music played on the old speakers, reminding me that this was just another year that I'd spend alone during what was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. The waitress sat down across from me in the small booth and slid a chocolate milkshake to me.
"On the house," she'd said with a smile.
I smiled back; she'd reassured me that, while my old hometown had changed quite a bit since I'd been gone, there was still good here. For the remainder of the meal, she'd sat with me, at first making small talk, but then we got to know one another. She was a simple woman named Gladys, a churchgoer and a volunteer on most weekends down at the children's center. I told Gladys my story, expecting her to run off and abhor me just as the rest of the people in my life had done without reason, but she told me a story of forgiveness and placed her hand on mine.
"Everyone deserves a second chance."
That's where I got my idea for the New Year's Eve party. Gladys was a genius. A party was the best way to get everyone in one place and to go into the new year with a sense of togetherness and joy. A new year and a new beginning for me, for everyone, but I was staying in a motel and that was no place for a party.
Gladys offered to throw the party at her apartment, and I sincerely felt like I was the luckiest person in the world all of a sudden.
Over the next week, my calls continued to go unanswered and people were still ignoring me as if I didn't exist. I kept thinking that I ought to just give up - no one wanted me back in town, no one wanted to forgive and start over. I called Gladys and told her that I wanted to cancel the party; I didn't see a point in trying anymore if no one would even give me the time of day.
"Don't give up," she told me. "You'll find a way to get everyone together."
I don't know why I trusted Gladys so much - I didn't even know her - but something about her voice on the phone comforted me, made me think that everything was going to be alright. So I took her advice and didn't give up. The following day, New Year's Eve, I set about getting everyone together at Gladys's apartment. Surely no one was going to judge me on the place - there was barely enough time to plan a party; I couldn't even think about decorating.
Gladys talked me through the whole thing. I had to be the ultimate party host, so I set about picking everyone up and bringing them back to her place, one by one. She even came with me to pick up my sister, Amelia. It was a bittersweet reunion, and I was lucky Gladys was there with me. I liked her, liked having a new friend that cared about me. She understood how important the holidays were and how important it was for me to get everyone together to make things right.
Back at her apartment, it was nearly ten o'clock, two hours to midnight. Two hours to the new year! Everyone was so excited. My ex, Samantha - I hadn't seen her in years - she'd changed so much. Her hair was super short now, but she was still so beautiful. We'd been high school sweethearts. I didn't mind that she was married now; it was nice of her and her husband to both come to the party. They sat together at the dining room table, eyes fixed on one another. I couldn't help but smile, though I was a tad jealous. It was rather romantic.
My best friend from high school, Todd, and his roommate, Joey, hung out by the television like a couple of couch potatoes. I still remembered Todd's favorite beer - several empty cans strewn about the coffee table and his clothes were soaked with it. He was already wasted. It made me laugh. I wondered if he'd make it to midnight drinking at that rate. My other friends from high school that still lived in town - Jacob, Mary, and Frank - were gathered around the cheap card table I'd set up for more seating. They kept to themselves mostly; understandable - it'd been so long since we were all together, a little awkwardness and shyness was to be expected.
Amelia stared at me from the recliner, an empty look of disdain on her face. I know she'd forgiven me, but she still didn't seem like she wanted to be there. Gladys was the only one really doing any talking. I asked her to sit with Amelia for a bit, try to help her warm up to everyone while I filled drinks. They seemed to be getting along okay.
As the time ticked on, everyone was starting to liven up a bit. We played some party games; I won every single round of charades! It was hilarious; no one seemed to understand the concept of the game, which was a bit frustrating, but hey, I don't ever win anything, so I was totally okay with it.
I turned the volume up on the television as midnight approached and gathered everyone in the living room.
"Let's raise our glasses for a quick toast," I instructed, and everyone obliged.
I looked to Gladys and she gave me an encouraging nod.
"I'm so glad you could all make it here tonight. This is all I've thought about since I've been away... getting you all in one place so that I could make things right between us. I know none of you thought that this evening was ideal, but that doesn't matter. You're all here now, and I couldn't be happier to start the new year with anyone else."
I made my way around to everyone so we could touch our glasses together - a toast to a fresh start, a toast to the new year - and then the countdown started and the ball began to drop.
I looked from face to face.
Everyone was here.
Everyone that I'd missed the last thirteen years.
And they were all smiling at me.
Someone was knocking at the door.
Had I forgotten someone?
Surely, I hadn't.
The pounding on the door was getting louder.
My welcome to the new year was interrupted as the front door was smashed open. I dropped my drink and stared in awe as several police officers poured into Gladys's home, weapons pointed at me. One of them suddenly became sick and began vomiting in the living room. I dropped to the ground as instructed by another officer, confused and scared - why would they interrupt my party like this? Why were they ruining New Year's Eve?
"Jesus Fucking Christ," one of them said, as another cuffed my hands behind my back.
Why were they doing this to me? I shouted for Gladys, struggling to find her in the room. The officer dug his knee into my back and ordered me to stay still. I screamed for Gladys, but she wasn't there. Why did she leave me?
"Gladys was never there, Gabriel," someone said to me.
And suddenly I wasn't in my apartment anymore. I was in an office, sitting across from a man I recognized. His desk was tidier than anything I'd ever seen in my life.
"Yes, Gabriel. I'm here."
I said her name and suddenly I couldn't remember what she looked like. I desperately searched my head for her face, for the clothes she was wearing the night I first met her in the diner, but all I cold seem to recall was the angry waiter who'd thrown me out for disturbing the other customers.
"Where did she go? Where's Gladys?"
"Gabriel," he said sternly. "Gladys was never there. The apartment you were in belonged to a man named Kevin Price. He worked at the diner. Do you remember what happened to Kevin?"
My head began to swim; I couldn't place my finger on just one thought or memory. There were too many of them, but the angry waiter, I did remember him.
"He slept through the party. He was in his bed. Gladys lied! She told me it was her apartment!"
Dr. Fields leaned back in his chair. "Calm down, Gabriel. And listen to my words. Gladys was never there."
I repeated the words back to him.
"That's right, Gabriel," Dr. Fields said, adjusting his glasses on his face. "Now, can you remember what really happened at the New Year's Eve party?"
I began to sweat as all the memories came crashing into the forefront of my mind like a freight train. Amelia, my sister... lifeless in the recliner, her dead gaze set straight ahead. Samantha and her husband, their throats slashed, lying side by side on the dining room table in a pool of blood. Todd and Joey, blue faces with telephone wire still tightly wrapped around their necks. The others... Jacob, Mary, Frank... hands and feet tied, their bodies lifeless on the floor around the card table, throats cut wide open. And that waiter... dead in his bed, his head smashed in...
"No!" I shouted, bringing my hands up to my head. I hit myself over and over to make the memories go away. "It's not real! None of this is real!"
Dr. Fields pressed a button on his desk as I continued to scream. He put those thoughts in my head; none of it was real. It couldn't be.
"Gabriel, calm down," he said as two men in white entered the office and grabbed hold of me. "We made great progress today; we'll try again tomorrow."
The two men restrained me and dragged me from my seat. I tried to fight them, but they were much too strong. One of them injected me with something and I suddenly began to feel weak; I could barely move.
I heard Dr. Fields; he sounded a million miles away.
"Keep him restrained and under twenty-four-hour surveillance. The patient is still prone to self-harm."
I couldn't wrap my head around everything that was happening. There was no way I could hurt Amelia and all of my friends. It was Gladys; it had to be. If only I could remember what she looked like, I could tell Dr. Fields and they could find her and arrest her.
They secured me in a wheelchair and threw a chart down on my lap. It was getting harder to control my head as it slumped forward and drool poured from my mouth. My vision was getting blurrier and blurrier, but I could make out something printed at the top of the chart.
Garrison Home for the Criminally Insane.
I started to fade, but I forced myself to repeat the word over and over in my head until I finally realized what it meant. This had been my home for thirteen years. I wasn't a resident of a city, but a prisoner, a patient. I'd done something... bad... all those years ago.
And I think I might have done something bad again on New Year's Eve.
About the author:
Stevie Kopas was born and raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. She is a gamer, a writer, and an apocalypse enthusiast. Stevie will never turn down a good cup of coffee and might even be a bit of a caffeine addict.
Stevie is the author of The Breadwinner Trilogy. Books 1 and 2, The Breadwinner and Haven were originally self-published in 2013 and 2014. The Breadwinner Trilogy was picked up by Permuted Press in May of 2014 and the second editions of both the first books were released in March and April of 2015. The third and final installment of The Breadwinner Trilogy, All Good Things, debuted in May of 2015.
Kopas also participated in the At Hell's Gates horror anthologies and all profits are donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Her short stories, Nefarious, Patient 63, and Spencer Family Traditions can be found in the first two volumes of At Hell's Gates.
She currently resides in Panama City Beach, Florida and tries to spend as much time as she can in the sun.
Stevie is also the Managing Editor of the website Horror Metal Sounds and a writer for the site. She is an avid reader and watcher of horror and post-apocalyptic fiction (especially zombie-poc).
Stevie's official website can be found here and you can connect with Stevie on Facebook and Twitter.