The Calm of a Year's End

Setting: the end of year 3234; Knothole

The Mobian year is tracked differently from the Terran year. Mobians would see no reason to end the year in the middle of the dead season. Rather, years end near the start of what Terrans call "spring". That way, the growing season and the year start at roughly the same time.
At the end of the year 3235, Knothole had a relaxed feel to it. In an effort to do major damage before the year's end, Sally had planned a heavy series of raids; but, after a close squeeze on the third, she'd canceled the rest and told everyone to take it easy.
Rosie pulled a light bench towards a rapidly growing hole at the edge of Knothole. She set it up outside the hole and sat down. Sally was standing just outside the hole, and several Mobians were now climbing out. Rosie asked Sally, "Do you mind if I sit here?"
Sally smiled easily. "Not at all. Go ahead."
"Thank you, Sally. I'm not as young as I used to be, or I'd help."
"That's all right, we were just finishing here." As if to prove her words true, she turned to the emerged animals and said, "That'll be big enough, thanks." Sally then pulled a neatly folded piece of paper out of her vest pocket, dropped it in the hole, turned tail and walked away.
Rosie dropped her own piece of paper, then returned to her bench. Without warning a blur of orange and tawny blew past her head. "Oh my!"
"Sorry, Miss Rosie," apologized Tails as he dropped to the ground.
"Oh, that's okay, you just startled me, that's all. I don't think I'll ever get used to that!"
"Like you can't get used to Sonic?"
"Just like that."
"Miss Rosie?" asked Tails, approaching the bench. "Every year we dig a hole, and every year people drop their papers into it. I never have, and no one will ever tell me what's on the papers."
"You're not supposed to ask!" laughed Rosie.
"Come, sit here, Tails," the elderly animal said gently. Tails obliged and sat on the edge of the bench. "Now Tails, it's not that you're not supposed to ask, it's just not polite."
"I still don't understand."
"When a new year comes around, it's like a new day. You don't want to start with the same socks on that you had yesterday. And especially if you got the socks really dirty. Well, you also don't want to repeat whatever it was that got your socks so dirty."
"Well, yeah, if you were playing in the dirt." Tails' eyes twinkled. "But Rosie, that doesn't mean anything. What does that have to do with the hole and the paper?"
"You see, Tails, it's all the same. At the end of each year, a person takes a piece of paper and writes down all of the things they'd like to leave behind in the year that's ending. When they've done that, on the last day of the year…"
"Today!" piped Tails.
"…Yes, today. On that day, a community digs a hole, and each animal drops their paper into the hole. When it's buried, then the mistakes people have made, the guilts they've felt, the bad they've done… it all stays in the hole, and we can start the new year fresh, with a fresh conscience."
Tails' eyes widened. "It all stays in the hole?"
"Of course, it's not perfect. It never works that way with criminals or…"
"Or Robotnik?"
Rosie laughed. "If only. Perhaps if enough people left him behind… well, that's what Sally was trying to do. All those raids at the end of the year were to allow her to take Robotnik off of her conscience. Off of all our consciences."
"Oh." Tails looked again at the hole. "So why are you out here?"
"I'm out here every year. I look to see the health of the village."
"What's that?"
Rosie sat back and breathed deeply. "What it is… I look at all the animals who drop off their letters. You can tell a lot about an animal by the look of the paper and the way they walk. For example, if an animal walked here quietly and quickly, looking sort of hunched over, but left walking straight, then that person had something big that they needed to get off. Like him, for example," said Rosie, pointing to an animal who was now standing tall. "It really does make some feel better."
"Some? Not everyone?"
"Of course not, dear."
"You see, an animal can only be healed for what they admit." Rosie paused a moment. Antoine walked towards the hole with his nose high in the air and dropped a paper—obviously blank—into the hole. "They can only get out of it what they put into it," she said much louder, for Antoine's benefit.
Antoine gave a pout. "Eet ees not my fault if I am having so less much problems as othairs," he replied.
"Just try to make a list," Rosie urged.
Antoine looked skyward, as if he had an infinite number of more important things to do. "I could try to become less of my handsomeness, hmm-hmm," he smiled, "so zat othairs would not be having such jealous…"
Tails giggled, a gratifying sound to Antoine, who left at the peak of his "glory". Rosie sighed. "I always wonder why he turned out so."
"So, Rosie? You were talking about the health of the village."
"Yes, dear. Some years, a lot of people come here looking very depressed and run down. Other years, they're full of hope. That's the most important thing, dear. Hope."
She paused again. This time, it was Bunnie who walked towards the hole. "Hey Rosie, how y'all doin'?"
"Fine, dear."
"And you, sugah? How 'bout you?"
"I'm fine too, Bunnie. Rosie's telling me about the health of Knothole."
Bunnie smiled, then became serious. "Now you pay attention to ol' Rosie, 'kay, Tails? She's got some important things to say."
"I will, Bunnie."
"Good, sugah." She dropped off her paper, then walked away waving. "See y'all later."
"See, Tails," said Rosie, "never mind what was on her paper. Note the manner in which she spoke and walked. That's a person with lots of hope."
"Miss Rosie? I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to read people the way you do."
"Nonsense. I think you can read people just fine. It just takes some practice. I know of one time when you read someone well."
"When you were a kit, abandoned in Robotropolis, and Sonic came poking in when you made noise." Tails blushed. His unspectacular origin was not a source of pride to him. "You knew you needed someone who would protect and take care of you. You knew Sonic would."
"I guess so."
"Come on. I'll do the next one, then you can do the one after that, okay?"
"Okay," Tails said hesitantly.
The conversation stopped abruptly when a blur zoomed past them, halted at the edge of the hole and let loose a paper, then zoomed away again. Unfortunately, the vacuum from Sonic's passage—and it could only be Sonic—sucked the paper out of the hole and left it lying on the ground. Sonic walked petulantly back towards the hole, snatched the paper up, and dropped it again.
"Hey Sonic!" said Tails, waving.
"Hey, big guy," Sonic responded unenthusiastically. As soon as the paper was safely at the bottom of the hole, he zoomed off once more.
"Alright, dear," said Rosie to Tails, "see how quickly he came and went. Now, with most people, this means either that he didn't want anyone to know he was participating or he had something very big he wanted to get off his chest and didn't want anyone to know about it. With Sonic, I think he just believed that "some stupid custom" just wouldn't be right for "the dude with the 'tude"." And she laughed a bit before continuing. "But Sonic really believes this works, otherwise he wouldn't make sure he did it right."
"By making sure his paper stayed in the hole?"
"But what if he just didn't want anyone to see it?"
"Well, if that were true, then there would be something really big on it; and he wouldn't put something like that down on his paper unless he thought it meant something, right?"
"Right," answered Tails, sounding surprised. His face seemed to change, like he was looking at the hole in a completely different way.
"Alright Tails, we agreed that you would do the next one."
"Sure, Rosie," he answered. He looked around. "Oh, no one's coming. Too bad."
"Get back here, rascal!" said Rosie, grabbing at Tails and landing him back on the bench. "You're not leaving." Tails was giggling too much to hear.
"Rosie, I didn't know you could still move that fast!"
"When it has to do with young kits trying to be weasels, yes, I can move!" she said, then did a pantomime of Sonic's "too cool" routine. Tails couldn't stop laughing.
"What's all that about?" yelled down Dulcy as she passed far overhead.
"Nothing, Dulcy!" yelled two voices.
"Okay. Hey, check my aim!" Dulcy dropped her paper from far in the air. It fluttered down and about, swerving this way and that, and finally arrived safely in the hole. "Not too shabby!" Dulcy exclaimed, now standing next to the hole.
"You landed!"
Dulcy didn't seem to get it. Tails tried shouting louder to get his point across. "Dulcy, you were flying, and you landed down next to the hole without crashing!"
Realization exploded upon Dulcy's face. "REALLY?"
"YES!" shouted the two spectators.
"Oh my, I can't believe it! You know, never being able to land was the first thing on my list!"
Rosie cheered. "How's that for the start of a new year?"
"I'm gonna go and try landing again! Look out meadow, here I come!" Dulcy crowed before she took off.
"Betcha she'll make it!"
"That's a bet you'd lose, Tails. The hole can't work miracles. Dulcy won't be fixed overnight, but it's the first step for her. It's important to start somewhere."
From the meadow came a crashing, bumping, slamming sound that represented a more typical Dulcy landing.
Tails winced. "Guess you were right. Still, she had a lot of hope, didn't she?"
"Oh, so you're going to do an EASY one, are you?" Rosie pouted.
A mask of propriety appeared on Tails' face. "You said you get one and then I get one, and that means the very next one."
Rosie's hands went up in defeat. "You win, you win. So, what do you think?"
"She had a LOT of hope!"
"Yes, she's fairly overflowing with it."
"And that's good?"
"And that's very good."
"She didn't seem to take it seriously. I mean, dropping it from the air and all. But now I bet she will!"
"Very good, Tails! I told you it was easy."
They laughed the day away.

Villagers came and villagers went until nighttime. Bunnie rounded up the last few by ringing a bell and calling, "Better hurry up, the hole's closin'!"
The entire village gathered around the hole, as Sally, Sonic, and a few others held torches to light the scene. "Now," said Sally, "it's time to say goodbye to 3234, and say hello to 3235. May it be a good year, but not too good; then it would have to take away from years to come."
"Hey, we're due a good year." Sonic, of course. "You gotta admit, 3224 to 3231 pretty much stank, and the past few years haven't been that good, either."
There was general assent with this statement.
"Well," said Sally, "I can tell you one thing that will make 3235 a year to remember: if this is the year Robotnik is laid low!"
This one was greeted by widespread cheering.
It all died away as quickly as it had come, for everyone heard the soft cooing of Uncle Chuck's messenger. It flew straight to Sally's outstretched hand. She handed her torch to someone nearby and began to read the message.
"What's it say, Sally-girl?"
Sally suddenly clasped her hand over her mouth and blushed brightly. Trying to choke her laughter, she announced, "It's Uncle Chuck's list for the year!"
Everyone got a good roar out of that, especially when Sally sent the paper fluttering down to meet the others. "And now," Sally shouted, slowly quieting the crowd, "and now, we say goodbye to 3234." She took the torch that she'd given and dropped it into the hole. The flame quickly ate up the papers before the Knothole citizens started dumping dirt back into the hole. New year or not, too much smoke was a bad thing.
When the hole was filled, the villagers turned tail and headed for their huts. All except two; Sally remained behind to help Rosie with her bench. "So, Rosie… how's the health of the village this year?"
Rosie smiled. "There's a lot of hope, Sally, from everyone. Their confidence is growing, and they're getting much more settled. It's been a good year."
"Good. Thanks, Rosie, I knew you'd know."
"I'm just thankful to be still alive, watching all of you. You've amazed me, Sally, you do every day."
Sally decided that the tingling she felt was from the waves of maternal feeling coming from Rosie.
"You know," Rosie said as they neared her hut, "I'm very grateful to be alive. Because, every year, I've buried the thought of Robotnik outliving me!"
Sally smiled. "We won't make you a liar, Rosie."

Knothole was still when 3234 passed away and 3235 became reality. In fact, the village looked exactly the same in the new year as it had in the old, with one exception.
Almost outside Knothole was a mound of freshly tilled earth, and atop it, a grave maker. On it were two words:

Bryon Nightshade

Disclaimer (defined as "the only thing between an author and financial ruin"):
This story uses characters and situations that are not the author's property, and the author does not claim them as such. Rather, they are the property of one or more of Dic, Archie Comics, and Service and Games (SEGA). This story, on the other hand, IS the property of its author, Sam Durbin (a.k.a. Bryon Nightshade). Any attempts to profit from, maim, reproduce, or otherwise malign this work without its author's consent are fully prosecutable and NOT recommended.