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"Charges"

Back when I was a pup, I worked a couple summers doing concrete repair and bridge maintenance for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. One afternoon the crew and I were taking a break at Mac Daddy's, a gas station and restaurant near the cheese factory in Big Stone City, when our region boss called to say someone had turned in one of our chainsaws at the county shop in Milbank. Apparently some teenagers had stolen it from our unlocked truck and thrown it on the side of the road.

As the crew and I drove to Milbank, we talked about what balls those teenage punks had to steal our chainsaw. Someone suggested that as punishment, they should have to saw down trees for us, like how on TV a guy will order a meal he can't pay for then end up doing dishes. That idea stuck with me, and not long after, I began drafting the story "Charges," in which two slacker teenagers are forced to apprentice under a laborer as retribution for a petty crime. I changed a few things—instead of stealing a chainsaw, I had the kids hit the laborer in the face with a cup of root beer, and rather than a state highway crew I made the aggrieved party a landcare worker who'd just moved back to his hometown, much like me at the time.

"Charges" came together sort of quickly, and it ended up being published by Jeff Pfaller and Robert James Russell at Midwestern Gothic. It's very much fiction. Once the crew and I got to the shop in Milbank, we learned that our boss had staged the chainsaw theft to prove a point. We were taking too long on our breaks, he said, we were careless, we were lazy, we needed to lock the damn trucks, come on. The whole thing was meant to be a lesson in accountability, which was most definitely lost on us.