A Stoner’s Christmas (An Anytown Story)

David Miller finished wiping his hands in the men’s bathroom, then returned to the mirror to give himself a once-over. He noticed the large bags under his eyes, which had grown larger and darker all that week, standing out against pale skin which hadn’t seen daylight for a while. Every day he had been at work at least sixteen hours, before the sun was up and after it had gone down, waiting for other people on the project to get their launch tasks done. David had his stuff ready to go the previous week in a failed attempt to secure time off before the holidays. He had received a hopeful, but noncommittal, but still might be possible okay from his boss, which was unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, revoked due to workload issues. And his reward for having his work done? David had been assigned as temporary issue resolution lead for the rollout this week, and he was tired.

Well, it wasn’t just the rollout. David had run out of weed earlier that week as well, after rationing out his last ounce over the past six weeks, and scraping all the resin out from the pipes, and even, shamefully, picking some roach nibs out of a bucket to look for whatever he could smoke. His dealer, Joel, had been picked up four weeks ago in a police raid, the first in a string of new initiatives to fight drug trafficking, part of a political compromise allowing cannabis medicalization and legalization to move forward in the state. Joel never moved more than cannabis and the odd bag of mushrooms that came his way, but massive cash rewards were being offered for information leading to arrests, and he got caught up. Now Joel was facing twenty years in prison, and David was out someone he could trust to procure safe and effective cannabis. The rationing had helped with most of the physical withdrawal symptoms, even helped in some ways with managing the sixteen-hour workdays, but that advantage dissipated as each over-caffeinated day passed.

David looked at himself in the mirror, then sighed. The music from the holiday party was thumping through the bathroom door, the usual holiday/wedding tracklist sprinkled with a few more holiday lounge hits for good measure. His suit looked rumpled after the three-hour ride from Anytown to the company holiday party, held on Christmas Eve this year because of course it was. The event was labeled as optional in all the company e-mails, but two years ago David had taken that literally and found himself with all the scut work for the next three months. Last year he came and got involved as a witness in a string of sexual harassment complaints, which had each dissolved into a never-ending hell of mediation and appeal until the complainants had given up, one by one. David knew his attendance was mandatory and so he was there.

Where David wanted to be was on a mini-tour of the region with his longtime friend Travis “Size” Sizemore and his cousin’s hip-hop group, Cannabusiness. David had gone to his boss with the opportunity, disguised as a request to visit family, which wasn’t entirely a lie. David didn’t have any family left than Size and his brother Andre, who had taken him in at sixteen after his mother had overdosed and his father had committed suicide within two weeks of each other. But David knew requesting time off to ride a tour bus smoking exorbitant amounts of weed wouldn’t be a winning request. Turns out there was no winning request. But David had hoped so much that he rationed his remaining weed to end right when he had planned to board that tour bus, and this week he had been paying the price for all those extra hits he justified along the way.

The bathroom door opened, increasing the music significantly. Three young upper management types in more expensive suits entered, wide-eyed and sniffling. David noticed a plastic bag of cocaine being quickly and poorly concealed in the hands of the shortest one, just out of the corner of his eye, but he kept looking ahead at the mirror, before turning and smiling the fake corporate smile he had been trained to do, then headed straight out before he ended up as a witness in anything else.

This job is killing me. Mandatory unpaid overtime, toxic co-workers, no advancement…

David’s thoughts trailed off as he walked his way back to the table he had been assigned. His wife, Jill, looked up from the table with a mixture of annoyance and relief: annoyed that David had taken so long in the bathroom, which he knew was true, and relieved that she didn’t need to pretend to give a shit about what his co-workers were talking about. David had picked her up in the rental car directly from work, wearing her stylish pantsuit under a warm long coat. She had been wearing a pair of sturdy boots and socks at pickup but was wearing a pair of strappy dress shoes at the moment. She looked great, but as tired as everyone else around the table. Jill decided to come along earlier that week, after David had lapsed into a panic attack after his second sixteen-hour day. Normally, David would just get high after a stressful day, get some solid rest, then wake up and get back to his soul crushing job. Instead, he had been awake most nights, getting two to three hours of sleep from pure exhaustion. Jill knew David making the three-hour drive both ways to the lodge wasn’t going to work, especially when the forecast was joyfully calling for a White Christmas.

She also felt guilty because they had another mandatory appearance tomorrow morning, this time at her parents’ house in Western Anytown. The Fitzgeralds were tasked this year with the great family holiday celebration at their house in their suburban neighborhood. Every year one family played host, which was a relief to the other families, but was a huge affair for the hosting family. Jill had been stuck all week helping with shopping, prepping, baking, decorating, mostly keeping herself busy while David was suffering at work. Jill was an only child, so there weren’t many others to help, and her family was too proud to ask, from anyone except her, apparently. David and Jill hadn’t been thrown into the rotation yet, ostensibly because they had a small townhome which couldn’t host everyone. Jill knew her parents were also still secretly hoping they would get divorced, which had almost happened after the first (and only) time David fell off the wagon.

That’s because David Miller was and would always be a recovering alcoholic. Jill knew that when they were dating, as well as his cannabis dependence. Knew about his tragic childhood and early alcohol and drug use. She also knew David suffered from acute anxiety and depression, which could manifest as panic attacks or, at his very worst, suicidal thoughts. But most importantly, Jill knew that David was fundamentally a good person now that he was sober. She had been uncomfortable about the cannabis usage at first, but with every new study coming out on the therapeutic benefits or refuting the garbage studies of yesteryear used to justify its schedule one classification, she had changed her mind, much like nearly two-thirds of the population.

Shit, I left her for too long. We should probably get going to beat the traffic. I think I shook hands with all the right people. I don’t think I said anything stupid. I need more caffeine, and do I already need to piss again? I don’t want to be here. Jill doesn’t want to be here. I made her come. No, David, she chose to come. Just a few more hours and you’ll be home.

David sat down next to his wife with the same corporate smile on his face, whispering a quick apology in her ear. He was so grateful for her presence, especially because he had gotten stuck sitting next to Bill Johnson, the resident office douchebag. He was busy commanding the conversation, complaining about whomever wasn’t at the table. Jill being present while he was away prevented David from being a target, but Bill had opinions about everything. He had been the respondent in at least one of the sexual harassment complaints from last year. He also generally made David’s life a living hell at work.

“You know what this party needs?” asked Bill Johnson, as David sat back down.

Jill immediately tensed up, knowing this question could only have one of a few equally horrible answers. She gripped David’s hand, which made him tense up, which was exactly the reaction Bill’s juvenile mind was seeking. Bill gave a sly smile, turning knowingly to the rest of their group, sitting around a table full of watered-down drinks and two diet sodas. The group looked up from their phones, as if concerned by the pause in Bill’s nearly endless stream of alcohol-fueled chatter.

“Strippers.”

The group groaned.

“What, they can be both genders. Or all genders. Or whatever they’re calling themselves.”

A few men began jokingly chiding Bill for his lack of decorum. Two female co-workers stood up and began packing up their stuff, wearing clear masks of disgust. Bill began a series of half-hearted apologies. Jill pulled at his arm, tilting her head towards a clock hanging on the wall near the exit. David gulped down the rest of his diet soda while the disgusted co-workers stormed away.

“Time for us to head out as well,” said David.

“What, are you butt hurt too?” asked Bill.

David tensed, but in a different way now. His overriding desire was to start lecturing Bill on his behavior jeopardizing everyone at the company holiday party. He also wanted to correct Bill on the use of “butt hurt” in this instance, but he knew that was pointless as well.

“You should quit while you’re behind,” said David. “And we have to be somewhere tomorrow.”

Jill stood up, putting her long coat on. Bill looked her up and down in a way that made David uncomfortable.

“Oh yeah. Your wife’s family’s party. Guess we know who wears the pants in this family.”

Jill rolled her eyes in disgust, gave David a knowing look, and headed for the door. Bill started doing a few whipcrack motions as David followed her out, then paused suddenly, forgetting what he was doing. Bill was starting to blackout, something David was quite familiar with from his drinking days. A small part of him missed being able to let go, but David knew the faster he got away from this scene, the better, especially as Bill moved towards the next group of employees.

David was wrapped in his own coat, scarf, and hat, fueling up the rental vehicle at a gas station. Jill had checked directions, discovering that a massive car pile up had increased the return trip to four hours and climbing. David had tried to secure a room at the lodge where the company party was being held, but there was no room at the inn. He received the same response at the other hotels and lodges in the area, which left them with only one option. The pump clicked, thankfully. David replaced the gas cap and nozzle, grabbed his receipt, and ran his way to the store to pick up snacks and more caffeine for the road, noticing his soaked socks and spotted dress shoes. He hated wearing dress shoes for this very reason, not to mention his feet were killing him. He grabbed the snacks and drinks, paid the cashier, and braced himself for the dash back to vehicle.

“Why do they have the party all the way out here, anyway?” asked Jill, as David got back into the driver’s seat. David thought quickly about using the bathroom again but figured he should be able to make it back to Anytown, or at least to another pit stop on the way.

“Officially? Tradition. I guess some major deal was closed here that lead the corporation to its initial success. Unofficially? I think some of the VPs are silent partners on the lodge, which allows them to transfer extra money into their business venture. Legally.”

Jill could hear the air quotes in that last word after a few years of marriage. “Gotcha.”

“So, what’s the deal?” asked David, deciding whether to keep his long coat on for the ride.

“We can make it. It’ll just take about four and a half hours, but we’re fueled up and the worst that happens is that we need to stop and refuel again. Plenty of ways to do that.”

“Okay,” said David.

“And you? Are you okay?”

It was a simple enough question, but when Jill asked David if he was okay, it covered a wide range of check-ins.

“Yeah. Most of the irritability is gone when I’m not stressed out. I didn’t even punch Bill!”

“That’s good progress… for you. Bill could use it, though. God, his breath was a gross combination of chicken wings, chocolate, and vodka cranberry. And he kept looking at my breasts, for fuck’s sake…”

Jill liked to swear. David loved that about her.

“Well, I can see the appeal…”

Jill laughed. “You’re lucky they didn’t have a hotel bed available for us, mister! If you think you’re tired now…”

“Oh, I’d much rather be home with you in bed.”

They smiled at each other, gazing with eyes that promised more later on when their ordeal was over, but David also saw that faint hint of worry in Jill’s eyes.

“Hey, I’m good,” he said. “Too wired to sleep anyway. Just don’t fall asleep on me.”

“I slept enough on the way up. Thanks for that, by the way.”

“No problem. Let’s do this.”

David started up the vehicle and they pulled out into the steadily falling snow.

The first two hours were uneventful. David slowly drove down the highway, following the directions as they updated. GPS systems and mapping applications were re-routing folks on new routes as far as a hundred miles back, sending alerts and advisories as more accidents happened. David had driven past a few cars in the ditch, slowing to make sure no one needed help. The rental car had four-wheel drive and enough space for at least five other people. David had argued about the upgrade at first, but he appreciated all the extra features now. Jill used her phone to get more information on the pileup, which was up to 60 cars now. She had been reading some of the stories aloud until she saw an anxious look appear on David’s face while he white-knuckled the steering wheel. Jill put her phone away and turned towards David in the passenger seat, as much as the seat belt would allow.

“I really appreciate you coming to my parents’ thing tomorrow.”

“I know.”

“I mean it. You could have begged off given everything else.”

“And leave them wondering why we could go to a company holiday party hours away, but not their house across town? No thanks.”

“Fair point.”

Jill fiddled with the radio knobs, looking for some music for the road.

“I imagine you’re happy not having to help out tonight,” said David.

“Absolutely,” sighed Jill. “It’s been years since I’ve left home, but whenever I’m there, it’s like I’m twelve years old again. I’d be over there right now folding napkins or baking cookies while getting an earful about how I never come over anymore.”

“At least it’s not the grandkids discussion again.”

“Oh man. I never knew how interested my mother would be in my sex life until we got married.”

“Gross.”

“Tell me about it. Ever since we saw Lakshmi do that bit on replacing ‘when are you going to have kids’ with ‘when are you going to adopt a pattern of sexual behavior that leads to procreation’, I’ve never felt comfortable. And that goes double when my grandmother would ask.”

“Double gross.”

“Yeah, although they were us at some point, right?”

“Your parents? Sure. Suburban white middle-class with steady income. Mine? Probably not.”

“Sorry, if this is…”

“No, it’s okay. Really. I’m just on edge with this storm.”

They rode in silence for a while. David cracked open one of the tall boy energy drinks he had picked up, taking a long pull. His caffeine levels were already pretty high, so instead of getting the jolt he needed, he simply maintained his buzz. David had been staring at the same pair of taillights while the same pair of headlights reflected off the rearview mirror. The radio was a bust, with mostly holiday tunes that neither Jill nor David wanted after the company party.

“Have you ever thought about fully quitting?” asked Jill.

They had had this discussion a few times. David could tell that Jill was genuinely curious about his answer, not insinuating or suggesting anything. David had tried quitting once before, when getting the job as a server administrator at the corporation, but soon fell off the booze wagon pretty badly, before putting himself back on it.

“Seems kind of pointless with the laws changing,” said David. “I mean, every single study shows that cannabis usage is better than alcohol, and it’s not like I’m smoking bong load after bong load all day, every day. A little when I get home. A little before bed. A little more on the weekends while playing video games, or when I have a particularly shitty day at work. I mean, I made that last ounce last six weeks. Big Snoop Dogg would have blown that in a night. Hell, an hour.”

David stared out at the white mess of the road ahead of them. The snow was coming down steadily, slightly wet from runoff. The car in front of them was riding their brake quite a bit, making David nervous about the car behind them, who was riding too close. The last thing they needed was to end up in a ditch.

“I just hate what it means I can’t do while high. I can’t help drive, although we don’t do a whole lot of that in Anytown. I can’t go certain places, legally, and other places just become socially awkward. I know you don’t mind, but that doesn’t stop folks from judging people like me as stoners. I know that gets to you sometimes, and I’m sorry for that.”

“It does, but that’s not your fault.”

“Thank you for saying that.”

They rode in a silence a little longer.

“How long until people change their minds, do you think?” asked Jill.

“Some never will, even as they’re drinking or popping pills without a hint of irony. But I think once it’s legal in enough places, including our state, then it’ll just be something people either use or don’t, like alcohol. And I’ll still just be a fucking burnout to whomever finds out I smoke weed.”

“David, stop.”

David took a sharp breath. “You’re right. It’s just the depression talking. It just sucks that’s also what people actually think and say.”

“But you don’t have to think that about yourself.”

“You’re right, I don’t.”

Jill’s phone chimed. She looked down at the phone, showing another set of delays, but also a brand-new alternate route that would save about thirty minutes.

“Where at?” asked David.

“Right up here. Turn left at the stoplight.”

“Sweet!”

David hit the blinker and got into the turn lane.

Another hour passed. David and Jill had grown quiet. They had been alone on the road since turning left, the only car moving in either direction. Snow was continuing to come down, a bit harder now, but the road was becoming less and less packed as they drove up and over small hills along the prairie. David had hit powder a few times, hearing the scrape of the drifts flying to either side of the rental vehicle. Jill was looking for alternate routes, but only the GPS connection remained active. David hit the radio, learning that cellular networks were down for most areas, although the cause was not yet known, and it was causing malfunctions with mapping applications.

“How much further?” asked David.

“GPS says another hour and a half, but it’s been saying that for a while.”

“Beginning to think this isn’t going to work.”

David squinted into the winter wonderland, tapping his fingers to the beat of the holiday hits station they had reluctantly put on to cut the tension between them. David was starting to get nervous; he might know Anytown pretty well but had never really gotten to know the outer suburbs and rural towns that surrounded the city. The GPS suggested that their current road would connect with another major highway further down the line, and he had been desperately holding his bladder while they waited for the next pit stop.

“I’ve gotta stop,” said David. “I really can’t hold it anymore.”

“Go, go!” exclaimed Jill. “I’m surprised you’ve made it this long.”

“Did you need to go, or…?”

Jill looked at him. “In this weather? No way! Now, go use your male privilege so we can keep moving!”

David laughed as he pulled off to the side of the road, then stepped outside into the blistering cold, walking around back for privacy and to get out of the wind. He could barely feel the cold, though, as he unzipped and released the pressure that had been steadily building with every sip of energy drink. He sighed in relief, then started shivering as warmth left his body. He could feel his shoes and socks getting cold again and oscillated back to anger.

Stupid, David thought. Stupid situation we’re in because I’m trying to be a goddamn hero. Should have just stayed home and taken my lumps at work. Should have left much earlier instead of listening to Bill dig himself into a hole. Should have…

David paused mid-thought and mid-stream as he heard a soft thump. He quickly finished, looking around for the source of the sound before seeing the left-side of a green mileage sign now reflecting in their vehicle’s headlights. He heard a second thump, and more snow fell from the sign, revealing Anytown was just twelve miles away, along with a town called Bethel about four miles away.

David started laughing, chiding himself for not having faith, and went back into the car.

“David, check it out!” said Jill, pointing at the sign.

“I know! We’ll be home in no time! I guess we just can’t see the glow through the snow.”

David groaned about his shoes again, as they squelched on the floor mats while putting the vehicle into gear, but he knew he could make it the hour back to Anytown. He would get some sleep, they would put in their appearances, and then have a few days off. Everything was going to be okay.

Two minutes later, after David and Jill were a half-mile down the road, the rest of the snow on the sign succumbed to gravity, revealing the full sign.

Anytown 124, Bethel 46.

Thirty minutes later, the roads were almost unusable. David had put the vehicle into the lowest gear, trying to use landmarks on either side of the road to keep himself out of the ditch. The rest of the snow in the sky was coming down hard now, as the temperatures continued to drop and the wind began to rise. David started seeing patches of starry night in the clouds above, which was when David knew something was wrong. The light pollution from Anytown should have been unavoidable at this point, but he could barely see lights at all on the horizon, even when he turned his lights off to check briefly.

“David. Lights.”

“I got it!” snapped David. He made a big production of turning them back on. “Fine now?”

“Yes. Geez.”

“Well, I’m trying to drive here.”

“I know. I’m scared, too.”

David paused, wanting to argue the point, but Jill knew him too well.

“Sorry. Again.”

“Don’t be. I’m afraid to ask, but what’s our fuel looking like?”

David glanced down to see a nearly empty tank on the dashboard.

“Shit.” David felt his heart contract, or what felt like his heart contract. The temperature outside, according to the same dashboard, had dropped into the 20s. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“How much further do you think we have?”

“To Anytown? I don’t know at this point.”

“No, I mean… until we have to walk.”

“I have no idea. Goddamn it… should have packed the winter stuff from our car. Should have packed extra blankets. Should have…”

“It’s okay, David.”

David’s breathing became more rapid, rising up next to his heart pounding against his chest. He hadn’t felt this kind of stress since…

“I need you to drive,” said David.

Jill didn’t hesitate. “Yes. Of course.”

“I’m sorry, Jill,” said David, slowing the vehicle.

“It’s okay, David. We’ll be fine.”

The car made it another few slow miles down the road before stopping, completely out of gas. David tried using their phones to connect to any cellular network, but it was hopeless. He scanned the horizon from inside the car for a house or dwelling, but all he could see were fields and fences between the two short hills where the vehicle had come to rest, and a glow on the horizon down the road.

“I can’t see anything. That other town can’t be too far from here, right? Bethel?”

“Like Bethlehem?” asked Jill.

“I dunno. Maybe. Does that make you the Virgin Mary?”

“Ha ha,” said Jill.

“This isn’t your way of telling me you’re pregnant, is it?”

“HA!” exclaimed Jill. David laughed.

“All right, so what should we do?”

Jill looked down at her feet, which she had already placed into her socks and boots after leaving the lodge. Her feet would be okay, but she was worried about David’s thin dress socks and discount dress shoes. David had wrung out his socks after switching to the passenger seat, but they still weren’t totally dry.

“How do you feel about your toes?” asked Jill, with a wry smile.

“I’m pretty attached to them,” said David.

“Well, let’s hope they stay that way. If we sit here, in this big car with leather seats and no blankets, we’ll be freezing in no time. The weather is supposed to continue dropping in temperature. If we keep moving, and make it to Bethel, we’ll have to hope someone can take us in for the night.”

“And if the inns are all full? Do we hit the manger?”

“If we need to,” said Jill. She was glad to see David’s humor coming back, had noticed his nervous ticks were diminishing. She didn’t say that walking the rest of the way would also give David something to do. “Can’t be more than a few miles, no matter how bad this GPS is working. We can cover that in an hour if we stick to the packed snow and the wind doesn’t start drifting the snow around too much.”

“Okay,” said David, even though he felt far from okay.

“Yeah, me too.”

They got out of the car, locking it up behind them, then started walking down the street, clutching each other for warmth. They started out at a good clip, and their body temperatures maintained the warmth from the car for a while. Once they made it over the first hill, they could see the glow of Bethel in the distance, and their hearts rose, but as they made their way over the next hill, and the next, the road seemed to grow longer. David and Jill had their long coats buttoned up all the way, with scarves and hats and mittens helping to stave off the cold, but the warmth was leaving their bodies with each step. The wind picked up as well, whistling its cruel sound, commanding the drifts to begin covering the road.

Five hills later, David couldn’t feel his feet in places. Wiggling his toes was becoming an exercise in trust rather than confirmation. Trees started appearing on either side of the road, steadily picking up into a small forest lining the road. The trees dispersed the wind somewhat, but every now and again, it still managed to snake through the trees and rattle their teeth with a quick blast.

Rounding a curve, David and Jill saw an abandoned building down a short driveway, along with hearing a banging sound. Jill looked down at David’s feet, which were taking on snow with each step, and knew David needed to get out of the wind and find a place to warm up, or risk losing his toes, if not more. Jill pointed towards the abandoned house. They pushed their way through the drift towards the house, but found it locked, then went around to the other side to finding a small shed with its door banging in the wind. They walked up to it, peered inside to make sure it was empty, then got inside and pulled the door closed behind them.

David was stomping his feet, trying to feel them and failing. Jill pulled over a bucket and had David sit down, taking off his shoes. She saw his feet were turning a bluish color among patches of red. She started rubbing them within her long coat, bringing as much warmth and blood back to them as she could. David looked embarrassed at the attention, worried that he wasn’t feeling ticklish at all.

“I can’t feel them, Jill,” said David. “What are we going to do? I can’t feel my feet…”

David was at the end of his rope. He could feel another panic attack welling up inside of him. The rental vehicle didn’t seem so bad at this point, not compared to the rickety shed providing shelter from the wind, if not much from the cold. He could make it the rest of the way if he just had a decent pair of socks and shoes that…

“Well, you’re not going to like this, but I have an idea. Pull up your pant legs.”

David did as he was asked. Jill then unbuttoned her pantsuit and squatted over David’s feet, releasing a warm stream of urine. David was at first shocked, then relieved when he could feel his feet.

“That’s kind of nice,” said David.

“Shut up,” said Jill.

“Not exactly how I thought I would go out.”

Jill started giggling, which interrupted the stream.

“Stoner found dead with his wife. Feet mysteriously covered with urine.”

Jill started laughing, doing her best to maintain her squat with her pantsuit around her ankles.

“And the best part,” said David, now tearing up with laughter. “The headline: MERRY PISSMAS!”

Jill finished, almost convulsing with laughter, pulling up her pantsuit.

“We’re telling absolutely no one about this, okay?” said Jill.

“Not a single person!”

They continued laughing, but eventually the cold crept back into their bodies. Jill shivered from her own loss of warmth. David shook his feet off, doing his best not to think about what had happened, then realized they had probably just delayed the inevitable. If only he had…

“David. Look!”

And that’s when David saw a pair of sturdy work boots, the kind you buy at specialized stores, not the department store shoe section. They were old and dusty, but after checking for holes and nesting critters, were still usable. Jill looked around the shed some more and found a still sealed package of old tube socks. David put on two pairs, along with the boots, and while he looked ridiculous, he could feel his feet warming up. Jill put on the other pair of socks over hers, and they stomped around a bit to warm up their feet.

“Well, that certainly helps,” said David. “Thanks for, ummm…”

“Not. A. Word.”

They both laughed, then hugged each other, trying to create warmth between them.

“We still need to find someplace to hold up,” said Jill into David’s ear.

“And that’s not here, is it?”

“Nope. Same problem as the car.”

David pulled away and moved his feet in the boots. They still had a little wiggle room, but the double socks filled most of the gaps. They would work for walking, at least for a few more miles.

“All right, let’s go…”

They opened up the shed door… to stillness. Above them, the night sky had cleared up, and the final snow clouds were blowing away from them high up, but the wind around them had fallen to a slight breeze. David and Jill walked back out in the night, scared, but resolved to keep going, even if they might not make it. They made their way back to the road, and continued down it, walking swiftly to stay warm. Another mile or so down the road, it curved to the left and opened back up into the prairie.

And that was when they heard it, a deep, rumbling shake across the land, followed by another rumble, and another.

“Is that music?” asked Jill.

It was. David looked ahead, pinpointing what was becoming a steady bassline down the road, now punctuated by keyboard hits when he listened in the stillness. David saw lights at the top of the next hill, around what looked like a building with cars parked around it.

“It’s not just music, Jill. It’s dub!”

They broke out into grins, then started heading down the road, faster now. The amorphic bass tones and sharp hits began to resolve themselves in a standard reggae rhythm, as they approached the building. A large sign proclaimed Bethel Banquet Hall and Music Venue, with “SURPRISE SHOW” written out on the marquee. David and Jill saw all sorts of cars parked in the lot, and thought he recognized the music coming out the door with each ingress and egress. David and Jill made it to the driveway, then crossed over the ditch into the parking lot.

“No shit,” said David.

Jill turned and saw what had caught David’s eye: a familiar tour bus which had Cannabusiness written across the side in large letters. She looked over near the tour bus and saw some folks huddled outside chatting. David squinted across the lot, and then there he was, Travis “Size” Sizemore, coming off the tour bus, wearing his own clothing line under an unzipped parka that accented his dark brown skin. He started chatting with the folks huddled outside, then started heading for the service door to the venue.

“Size!” called Jill.

Size paused, then looked their way.

“Holy shit. Jill? David?”

Jill waved and started speed walking over to Size. David started doing the same, beginning to cry on the way over. Size met them both, then wrapped up David in a big hug.

“He’s not doing well, is he?” asked Size.

“He’s been dry for four days,” said Jill.

“It’s been a struggle,” said David, embarrassed. “What are you doing here?!”

“We got re-routed on our way back and got stuck here in Bethel. Funny name, right? Anyway, we called the folks here to see if we could rent out the space for tonight for a little surprise show. Clearly a lot of people needed to get away from their Christmas dinners. Seems like the whole town might be in there right now. What are you doing here?”

“Same. Re-routing, but our car ran out of gas a few miles back.”

Size’s face grew concerned. “And you all walked here in this? Jesus, let’s get you all inside.”

Size paused, then turned towards the tour bus and caught the eye of one of the runners hanging out. He made a few hand signals, and two minutes later, David could smell it, wafting off the bus as a roadie walked over to the three of them, pulling up to David’s right, and handing him a beautifully wrapped cone, soaked in resin and sprinkled with keef. David could feel tears welling up.

“To the left, my man,” said the runner.

David took the cone without hesitation, pulled in a massive hit and held it. His mind, his heart, his hands, his entire body immediately unclenched, as the warm, cotton-like feeling began pervading his circulatory and nervous system. He passed the cone to Jill, who took a much smaller hit, and passed it to Size, who just passed it back to the roadie because he didn’t smoke. The roadie took another quick hit, then handed the rest to David.

“The rest is yours, my man. We got a small box of pre-rolls on the bus if you need more. Also, we’ll take up a collection from the folks on the bus, send you home with a nice salad of our favorite strains. Here’s some tickets for the door. Just let me know if you need anything else tonight. Cannabusiness just finished up, but the reggae band just started…”

But David heard absolutely none of that. All he heard was the music inside. All he felt was his wife’s hand in his. All he thought was how lucky he was to be alive. And all he wanted to do was enjoy the time they had, as Jill and David sought refuge in the Bethel Banquet Hall and Music Venue, holding one another and dancing, high as kites, gently swaying to the reggae band within the warmth of each other’s arms, the company of good friends and chosen family, and the love that comes from being accepted for who you are, failings and all.

“Where are they?!” asked Helen Fitzgerald, running madly around the house.

“She’ll be here. Cell towers are still out,” said Martin Fitzgerald.

“She better be. Can you turn the music down?”

“We don’t have any music playing, Helen.”

Helen walked out to the living room where the men were seated. Helen and Martin looked at each other, as they heard a bassline growing louder. The women from the kitchen and day room came into the living room, and everyone moved to the living room window to see where the noise was coming from. A few moments passed, then they saw a large tour bus slowly turning into the neighborhood, and began working its way down the street.

“Please don’t stop here,” said Helen.

But she wouldn’t get what she wanted that Christmas, as a tour bus emblazoned with Cannabusiness pulled up outside, honking a horn which played the melody from Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” in time with the bassline. The Fitzgerald extended family began to display an array of emotions on their faces: anger, disgust, envy, and among the younger members, smiles. The doors to the tour bus opened, with an ejection of smoke, and David and Jill emerged from the doors in their rumpled suits, absolutely exhausted and completely high. Martin shook his head and went back to sitting around with the other men, who complained about the state of the world today. Helen buried her head in her hands, wondering where she had gone wrong as a parent. But David and Jill, knowing exactly how it must have looked, nevertheless composed themselves and set off to join the festivities, giggling the whole way.

Christmas dinner tasted amazing.

December 18th, 2021

Camarillo, CA

David, Jill, Size, and yes, even Bill, will return in Stoner in 2022. If you are interested in publishing a full-length novel featuring these characters, feel free to reach out! Query letters and manuscripts are being sent in the new year.

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Amateur writer, reader, critic, and philosopher. Follow for fiction, satire, analysis, books, and philosophy with a leftist bent.

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Joseph Dobzynski, Jr.

Joseph Dobzynski, Jr.

Amateur writer, reader, critic, and philosopher. Follow for fiction, satire, analysis, books, and philosophy with a leftist bent.

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