“Do Not Go Gentle” (Full text)

Apex Magazine’s “Holiday Horrors” flash fiction contest had 350 entries, but only one winner (and two runners-up). This story was not one of the latter–though it did make the final 20! Go read Charles Payseur’s, Clint Collins’s, and Inês Montenegro’s stories over at Apex. And if you’re still hungry for 250-word holiday horrors, read my story about an old year that refuses to yield to the new, below. I swear I wrote this before the election.

Do Not Go Gentle

by Rajiv Moté

Twisted and skeletal as a withered tree, the naked old man shuffled down the maternity ward hallway, sniffing the air like a starving wolf. Each exhalation was a wheeze. The satiny sash that only occasionally covered his unmentionables read “2020.”

Graveyard-shift workers and pacing fathers-to-be averted their eyes. They didn’t like to think of him. They could think of little else. They were resigned to waiting him out.

By the clock on the wall, they wouldn’t have much longer to wait—if the old man honored tradition. His bloodless lips twisted in a sneer.

An orderly wheeled a bed down the hall. New mother. Doting father, holding her hand. And the newborn. A satiny sash covered its shoulder, peeking over the blanket.

“Hello, 2021,” the old man wheezed.

He had visited the hospital the last three New Year’s Eves. 2020’s reign had warped and gobbled down four years already. Why not five? Twenty? He’d done so much. He had more to do. Everyone called him “unprecedented.” Nobody lifted a finger to stop him.

Inside their room, the new parents would stare, coo, and rhapsodize about the miracle of life. Baby New Year was a fresh beginning. Hope. But soon, the father would yawn so wide his jaw cracked, and insist that his wife get some rest. She would protest, feebly, but he would gently lay the infant in the bassinet and begin snoring as soon as he hit the pull-out bed.

Hospital rooms didn’t lock.

The old man licked his lips.

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