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29 February 2000

by Jason Davis

“Come on, Peter, the government gives you one day every four years to waste anybody you want. There’s gotta be someone who really deserves a hot lead injection in the frontal lobe,” Travis had said at dinner. He had quickly amended, “Someone other than me, of course.”

It was February 28, 2000 and tomorrow was February twenty-ninth—Slayday.

The others, Peter’s sister and Travis’s date, had laughed with that nervous laughter you often heard the night before Slayday. Everyone in the restaurant had been on their best behavior. There had been a huge collective gasp when a waiter had spilled a drink on a customer. The clientele had watched in eager anticipation for the drenched man’s response. He had smiled and assured the waiter that everything was alright.

Sure, Peter had thought, and I’ll take the dry cleaning out of your wallet when I cut your throat at midnight.

Dinner had been remarkably tasty, not surprising given the chef’s mortal desire to please anybody with a weapon on them—which was everyone tonight. The Slayday’s eve dinner had become something of a tradition for Peter and his sister, Sara. It started sixteen years earlier when Peter had killed their mother and the two had eaten over her dead body while watching the very first Slayday unfold on the evening news.

Since then, they had made a point to get together before every Slayday and share a meal. On this occasion, they had been joined by Travis Black, a co-worker of Peter’s, and his girlfriend, Ashlie. There had been the usual small talk, though it was underscored by the tension that gripped everyone on the night before Slayday. Peter had always loved the edge that accompanied every utterance when everyone knew that a single word could sign their death warrant in the minds of those around them. Old grievances were avoided with absolute dread and everyone wore smiles to cover their distrust of their companions. Typically, conversation hinged on the discussion of the previous years slaying as everyone recounted their experiences being careful not to mention any specific names lest some relative of the slain overhear from a nearby table.

Dinner had ended and now Peter Soloman sat on the edge of his bed watching the blood red display of his digital clock count down to midnight. In pondering Travis’s question, he realized that in four years he had been unable to decide on the one individual whose death would best serve The State.

That was one of the problems with Slayday—too many choices. The first time it had been easy. He had simply offed the person who made his life a living hell. It’s no wonder that matricide was the most popular expression of Slayday in its first year. Fathers, children, and siblings were close behind and many found that they had little left of their families when they awoke on March 1, 1984.

Unfortunately, the wholesale slaughter of family members that year had led to a revision of Slayday regulations. The stress of so many orphans and widowed spouses was too much for The State’s welfare structure to handle. As a result, a law that prohibited the killing of immediate family was introduced to take the festivities out of the home and into the community.

The need for another target as the second Slayday rolled around became apparent and the obvious successors were employers, supervisors, and executives—in short, the boss. The business papers had to devote a special issue to the changes of CEOs and management that year.

With the killing of family members outlawed and everyone’s boss dead, the following two Slaydays became a catch-all for politicians, tax collectors, ex-girl/boyfriends, and anyone else that really deserved a bullet invitation to exit the gene pool. Of course, bullets were by no means the only way to execute your civic duty. The wealthy often planned elaborate kills with lavish deaths which they subsidized with the royalties from the television stations that bought the rights to air the killings during primetime on March 1st.

In its short tenure of celebration, Slayday had outdone Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July in its appeal. There were, of course, those who didn’t celebrate it. There were still people who didn’t do their civic duty and help “decrease the surplus population” as Dickens once wrote. To put the situation in perspective, it was still more popular than voting. In fact, the vote to accept Slayday as a national holiday had registered the highest voter turnout in history—nearly ninety-nine percent had voiced their opinion on the matter. The holiday had passed with seventy-nine percent and the date had been set as February 29—leap day.

There were some, like Peter, who thought that it should be annual rather than once every four years, but as congress had rightly rationalized: with seventy-nine percent of the nation allowed to kill one person apiece, the population would be far too rapidly depleted on an annual schedule.

On a secondary note, it also spared the elected officials a laughably short term in office. In fact, no elected President had been present at his successor’s inauguration since Slayday had begun.

After the first year, it had been declared illegal to kill your offspring. This was, in part, considered a protection mechanism against the backlash from the matricide before but also insured that the children were safe from the people who had the most reason to want them dead. Of course, this had been bypassed by the “I kill your brat—you kill mine” mentality of the last two Slaydays.

Peter didn’t have any kids, nor did he have a mother. He had been one of those that offed his mom in the first Slayday. He had rationalized several quality reasons to kill her but had finally decided that the fact that she irritated him was enough. If it hadn’t been her complaints about his grades, the state of his bedroom, the volume of his music, or any of her other typical naggings, it had been her opinions on Slayday.

From the time it was passed to the first celebration, there hadn’t been a day that she hadn’t gone on ad infinitum about the wicked nature of the celebration and the mental aberration of anyone who supported such a horrible idea and the decline of American ethics and morals, and so on.

Her lack of patriotism and common sense had disgusted Peter. He hadn’t understood how she could have overlooked all the benefits of the holiday: it solved the ever-increasing problem of overpopulation, it provided an avenue for releasing the pent-up hostility of the citizenry, and it culled the society of the most hated individuals inhabiting it.

On top of all that, it encouraged better behavior from people at large. The likelihood of getting a rude clerk at a convenience store was significantly reduced by the fact that within the next four years, the disgruntled customer would be legally authorized to shoot the clerk. People’s attitudes toward each other had turned more positive over night. The possibility of upsetting someone to the point of government sanctioned homicide made everyone nicer to their fellow citizens.

Peter’s mother just didn’t get it, so he’d shot her. She’d never gotten into the spirit of Slayday, but she had been part of it in the end.

That had been sixteen years earlier and now he found himself thinking back to those days when Slayday had been an anticipated novelty. Now it was a chore. You spent four years deciding who to kill but it wasn’t as simple as just deciding on someone and doing it. Nowadays, you had to figure it out in irritating detail. There were so many participants and so many targets that you had to make sure that you chose someone no one else would think of. Peter had learned that the hard way twelve years earlier when he’d tried to take out his supervisor at work. As it happened, he arrived to find Mr. Sanders sitting at his desk sans a head. Luckily, his nametag had been on, sparing Peter a twenty minute walk around the store looking for the jerk.

Whoever had killed Sanders must have been aced shortly thereafter since none of the remaining employees had claimed responsibility the next day. Perhaps it had been an irate customer—no one knew for sure, but everyone had gotten a promotion. That aside, Peter had still missed his opportunity to brag to his co-workers about scragging der fuhrer. He’d had to settle for shooting a customer who’d parked too close to his car. It hadn’t been near as fulfilling as his mother but at least it had been something.

Something was far better than four years ago when he’d planned an elaborate death for the tiresome girlfriend he’d acquired four years previously by knifing her boyfriend and saving her from a life of abuse. As it happened, four years of living with her had allowed him to sympathize with the man he killed and he’d decided it was time to end his misery.

He’d planned it all out. The beauty of his plan had been the element of surprise: he didn’t know when and where she would die. He’d rigged her car to explode upon ignition. He’d poisoned several items in the pantry. He’d left a live electrical cord in her shower. In case all these failed, he had bought a brand new .45 so that he could truly appreciate putting a bullet between her beautiful eyes.

One way or another, Lil was going to buy the proverbial farm. Unfortunately, an elevator malfunction had prevented him from getting to the street before she started her car. He’d heard the explosion from inside the building but had arrived on the street only to see the smoldering remains of the lousy little foreign car he’d told her not to buy.

In all, it had been incredibly unsatisfying. That would be the last time he blew someone up. It would have been one thing if they’d let him view the charred remains, but even that was denied him. Unfortunately, the rules of Slayday stipulated one kill per citizen so there had been nothing for him to do but wait.

Now the wait was over and he had no idea who to kill. There were only two minutes before midnight and he still had no idea what he was going to do. So, who would it be? The boss? The landlord? Or someone else?

What was it Travis had said at work the day before? Peter had asked who his co-worker would kill. Travis had said that no one really leapt to the top of his list so he was gonna try something new. He said that he would kill the first person he saw. That didn’t sound like a bad idea to Peter. After all, if you couldn’t kill for a good reason, you could at least kill for the government.

Peter loaded his pistol and brushed his teeth. This was gonna be great. There would be no hatred or malice or anything to distract from the pleasure of the kill. He would just pull the trigger and come back home to sleep. Tomorrow morning, he would wake up, go to work, greet his deceased boss’s replacement and go about his business.

Hell, he may even be in line for a promotion. That was another Slayday perk. It typically left your boss dead and virtually guaranteed a promotion. Of course, sometimes it was a safer idea to turn down the promotion. After all, there was always the danger of pissing off one of your subordinates and being the next one out.

One minute ’til midnight. Time to get psyched for the slayage. Yes, he’d get it out of the way and then he could get a goodnight’s sleep. The alarm on his watch chirped and he unlocked the door and stepped out into the hallway of his apartment complex.

Outside, he could already hear explosions and gunfire punctuated by the occasional scream. The hallway was empty so he walked down to the elevator and waited after punching the call button. Within a minute or so, he was on his way to the ground floor. He drew his gun and got ready to shoot anybody in the lobby. The door opened and there was no one in sight. Hell, now he’d have to go out.

No. A better idea formed in his mind. He’d go floor to floor in his own building. Then he wouldn’t have to go out.

No, wait. Even better. He could sit in the elevator and just wait for some poor sucker to press the button. Excellent. He wouldn’t even have to walk around. The doors closed and he stood there, waiting for any indication of movement.

For an hour and a half, nothing happened. Where was everybody? Didn’t anyone in his building do their part for population control? They made him sick—sleeping when they should be slaying. Anyone of the lazy bastards deserved a lead headache.

Peter leaned against the rear wall of the elevator and had nearly lapsed into sleep from boredom when the sudden motion of the elevator car startled him to attention. This was it, he thought leveling his weapon.

“Happy Slayday, sucker” he thought to himself as he arrived on the third floor.

There was a pause as the elevator lurched to a halt and the doors prepared to open.

This was it.

The door opened.

Peter dropped the gun to his side in shock.

“Travis, what are you doing here?”

Travis smiled, “I live here.”

Peter was stunned, “I’m on the fifth floor. I can’t believe we’ve never run into each other before…”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” Travis said raising his gun.

The report of gunfire echoed down the hall.

“And a last,” Peter told the corpse as he punched the button for the fifth floor having fulfilled his Slayday obligation.

It was too bad it had to be Travis. It was him or Peter, and Peter much preferred the latter alternative. At least the louse would never borrow money for lunch again. Then there was Travis’s girlfriend—she’d need comforting, and she looked like she’d be fun to comfort. This could be a good Slayday after all.
Back on the fifth floor, Peter unlocked his door and went inside. He locked the deadbolt, kicked off his shoes and headed for the bedroom.

“Hi, Peter, remember me?” asked Lil as she smiled at him from his bed.

Peter froze. He couldn’t decide which was more terrifying: her gun or the smile on her face as she pointed it at him.

“I’ve missed you,” she said cocking the hammer.

“Lil, I thought—”

Her smile disappeared. “That I was dead?” she asked. “I would be if you had locked the door after rigging my car to explode. As it happens, the thief who was intending to steal my stereo got more than he bargained for. And now it’s your turn, Peter.”

Without thinking, he raised his gun and they stood in his bedroom staring over their sights at one another. Lil broke the silence, “Am I correct in my assumption that you’ve already fulfilled your obligation?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, it’s one kill per customer,” she said, “if you kill me, it’s murder and you’ll get death. It’s either now or later, Peter. Happy Slayday.”

There was a gunshot. There was a body. There was one less hunter in a world where man was prey to his own kind.

Half of you are aghast at the concept and the rest of you are appalled by the execution, and you’re all correct.

We recorded the video version of “Slayday” in a three-hour session the Thursday before the Columbine Massacre. I think Richard said a few words about the production before its single screening, a week after the tragedy.

I tinkered with both the story and the screenplay for a few years, hoping to craft one or both into something with a glimmer of hope.

Then, fourteen years later, The Purge came out. Richard saw it, and he told me, “The choices they are forced to make have inevitable similarities. But your characters and situations were far more interesting.” He was speaking of the movie version of “Slayday”, I hasten to add, which developed the characters well beyond what you just read.

Which brings us back to where we started—with Ms. Forsythe’s birthday and my anniversary—and probably makes this picture from the wedding reception a bit creepier than it was at the top of the page.

Cynthia and Jason Davis on Slayday, 2008. Photo still by Bo Nash.

If you’ve made it to the end, I appreciate it. Maybe it was neither delirium nor delusion. Maybe Jason Davis, Writer, is an ongoing dream.

If you have any thoughts on the story (or the story of the story), feel free to write.

Happy Slayday…

Thanks to Cynthia Davis and Doug Lane, for looking this newsletter and post over prior to publication. Special thanks to Richard Allen, for his kind words and 25 years of support. For their help in bringing “Slayday” to life, thanks also to Dalis Bondurant, Debra Boyle, Ashlie Brookhart, Yvonne Campbell, Jonathan Fielding, John Garza, Natalie Haas, Scott Haro, Regan Jackson, Jessica Judd, Lee Melhorn, Caleb Moody, Nathan Neely, Amber Nosbisch, Bridget O’Gara, Yuka Ogasawara, Lindsay Owens, Kristina Peterson, Petra Spencer, Molly Surber, Jason Vorel, Amanda White, Jamie Wollrab, Sachi Yahashi, and whoever judged the Bill Camfield Memorial Award for Humor and Satire in 1999. I don’t typically meditate on awards, but because I was mentioning my own in the context of this essay, I accorded Richard and my one-time employer their writing accomplishments as well.

To learn more about Bill Camfield, aka Icky Twerp, click here.

©1999 and 2024 by Jason Davis. All rights reserved.