Short Story Poll Winner.

26 May

After tallying the votes excerpt number 1 was victorious by an overwhelming majority. The full story is below, under a cut due to its length which is about 2000 words. As always, criticism is welcome in the comments.

“Boots”

One year at a conference, Jessica attended a lecture about phobias. The speaker’s theory concerned the self-destructive fear that manifests itself as phobia- agoraphobics aren’t so much afraid of being outside as they are afraid of themselves, and what they would do if they were allowed to be free. Standing on the edge of a bridge, she wondered if he had a point.

It was cold up there, uncomfortably so, and she began to regret leaving her coat in the car on the end of the bridge. She briefly contemplated going back for it, perhaps the weight would help her sink, but she knew if she got down now she wouldn’t have the courage to get back up. She braced herself against a pole and closed her eyes.

“I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, I think you should stop”.

Jessica didn’t want to see whom the voice came from, to have anyone present for her last moments.

“Do I look like a care what you think?” she yelled over the passing wind.

“You bothered to respond, if you weren’t at least a

little interested you would’ve jumped already”

Jessica put one leg on the ground and turned. The man was in his mid 50′s, with a torn plaid shirt and wrinkled jeans. His work boots were covered in mud.

“I can see that you want to help, but I don’t need saving.”

“Normally I would agree, but in this instance I believe I can be of service. Give me 5 minutes and I’ll throw you over myself.”

“5 minutes”

“5 and 5 five only”

She put both feet on the concrete barrier.

“Ok, you’ve got 5. Make it good”

The man reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small metal container.

“Here, catch” he tossed underarm and she caught it in one hand. “You’ve got a good arm”

“Thanks” said Jessica, who was focused on the container. It was a silver flask, solid without feeling heavy. It was covered in scratches and scuffmarks, but the word ‘Louis’ could still be made out, engraved on one side.

The lettering was ornate, and appeared to have been expensive work.  She twisted off the top and drank deeply. Whisky, of the variety that’ll burn through the bottom of the glass if you leave it out too long. She threw it back and the man pulled out the edge of his shirt to catch it in his pocket. The flask missed and landed in his other hand, he slid it into the pocket of his jeans.

“Misdirection, the first rule of magic”.  He scratched the back of his head and then showed Jessica his palm. An ace of spades had appeared there. He did it again, and the card disappeared. Then he held both hands with fingers splayed at his waist, as a child would when learning to count.

“Louis, is that your name?” asked Jessica

“Louis…Louis is the flask’s name, but you can call me Louie. I’d like to shake your hand but I’m worried if I come closer you might find the urge to jump. Why don’t you come over here? I assure you I am not a serial killer or anything so terrible as that”

“A stranger who does magic gives me a drink and wants to shake my hand. Are you sure this doesn’t end in me being hacked to pieces in your basement?”

“Has it ever before?”

“Maybe not but I don’t want to be the first.” at that Louie laughed, the lines in his face shifted like tectonic plates.

“A compromise then. We’ll both walk three steps forward, simultaneously. We can meet in the middle so to speak”

“Okay, I’ll count us in. Three, two, one, go.”

Jessica walked in a John Wayne parody, swinging her hips from side to side. Louie followed, and they both drew imaginary guns from their fingers.

“What say we make it five for the sake of convenience, I’d half a mind to use my outside voice if this kept on longer” Jessica nodded, and they took two more cowboy steps. They’d stopped at the edge of the lane, each standing on either side of the curb.

“We should sit down at least, get away from the wind a little” Jessica suggested. Louie took no time in finding a spot and Jessica joined him at a safe but comfortable distance. Louie reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. An old metal lighter appeared in his hand, and in one swift movement he lit one and offered the pack to Jessica. She pulled a smoke out of the faded white packet and started the lighter.

“Does the lighter have a name too?” she asked out the corner of her mouth. She tossed the lighter back to Louie.

“No ma’am, the lighter just lights things.”

“You still got that flask?”  Louie handed it over and she took another swig. Jessica shook her head in cartoon exaggeration, trying to fight off the aftertaste.

“Cheers. You know, you don’t really dress like a magician. Figured you guys are more comfortable with the cape-and-top-hat deal.”

“Well I’m no professional. I got into it a while back, my son saw one at a carnival and he seemed to like it so I learned a few tricks to impress him. I started to enjoy the thing so I learned a few more. It’s won me a few bucks in bars when I was short on the tab, so the practice paid for itself.”

“What’s your son’s name?”

“It was Simon.”

“I’m sorry, but did you say was?”

“He died when he was 7. He and my wife disappeared off a pier one summer. Maybe they got hit by an errant wave, maybe they were abducted, I don’t know. But their bodies were never found”.  Louie gestured for the flask and drank deeply.

“How can you be sure that they’re dead?”

“I don’t mean to be rude ma’am, but they’re dead. I know this because I can feel it. If it was your child you’d understand.”

“Perhaps I would. I never had children of my own.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. I’ve never liked kids, even when I was one.” Louie nodded, and turned his head out towards the road.

“I got sick when I was very young, so through most of my childhood I had a limp. The other kids were pretty cruel about it, but I can’t say if it weren’t me I wouldn’t have done the same.  There was another girl, curly hair like yours, she had a bad back so she had to wear a brace to school. Kids used to call her the trash can, throw orange peels at her, horrible things like that. Well her and me became friends after a time, and she taught me a game I’d like to show you now. By my count I’ve still got about two minutes left, and it won’t take all that time.”

Jessica stood up and brushed invisible dust from her jeans.

“Ok, what do I have to do?”

Louie jumped up and flicked his cigarette over the concrete, holding his arms outstretched.

“Last I heard this is called sinks, but it’s gone through a couple of others names. The idea of it is to trick the brain into thinking it’s moving when it’s really staying still. I want you to take my hands and then slowly step backwards until I’m supporting your weight. I’ll talk you through what comes next.”

Jessica stared into Louie’s eyes, and found no malice there.

“You know, I never did tell you my name.”

“I don’t know about never Jessica, never is an awfully long time.”

Louie smiled, and Jessica took off her shoes and placed them neatly together on the edge of the curb. She took his hands, and as she slowly walked backwards she could feel the damp night air seeping between her toes. She closed her eyes, squeezing them shut until spirals of purple and green appeared in the inky blackness. Her feet could go no further, so she hung there for a while, suspended from his arms like the rusty bridge she’d driven to in what seemed so long ago.

“I want you to imagine you’re on a mountain top,” said Louie, his voice now soft and lilting. “You’re standing at the very peak, and there’s a ski jump below you. It reaches way, way, down, the end is right at the horizon and you can’t see where it goes. You’re wearing the clothes you are now, but you aren’t cold at all. You feel warm, content, like there’s a heat coming from inside you. You look to your left, and you see your sister there. She’s smiling, she’s so happy you’re doing this. To your right are your parents, they’re smiling as well, they’re so proud of you Jessica. You look behind you and there’s hundreds of people there, all clapping and cheering. Every friend you’ve ever had, every lover, every kind hello you got on the street, every patient that found their way to you. And they’re all so happy Jessica, they really are.

The mountain starts to shake now, it’s time to go. You’re wearing skis Jessica, and everyone is rushing over to you, so you push down the hill. You’re going fast, faster than you ever thought you could. The trees are starting to blur together, big thick lines of green and grey. You’re going so fast you can barely stand it your glasses are pushing into your face. Then you see the ramp and fly straight off it and into the air and everything is blue and all around you are clouds. You hover there for just a moment and then you’re falling

falling

falling

imback in the office oh jesus its the onethirty i dont know if i can deal with this today i shouldve taken another day off cant these people heal themselves for once in a real christ listen to me go narcissism and delusions of grandeur off to the loony bin with you fuck i need a coffee no i need five of them intravenously and a rail of coke like a nuns ruler theres catholic education for you always with the guilt shit hes here hes not making eye contact this is going to be a bad one ok jessica pay attention you can do this you have a duty of care other people rely on you other people have relatives to miss as well now just shut up good afternoon kevin how are you feeling today hes not saying anything something must have happened how was your trip last weekend did you do anything exciting exciting what the hell does that mean exciting thats bullshit your doctor tells me youve started to decrease your medication this week why dont we talk about how thats going hes not even pay attention he just putting his hands in this jacket whats he doing oh christ oh christ oh christ hail mary mother of god i cant move my hands my hands wont fucking move call an ambulance right fucking now damnit right fucking now

Jessica opened here eyes and saw nothing but tiny flecks embedded in stone. Her face and clothes were damp, the night air had made the road cold to the touch. She stood up slowly, and Louie was standing close by.

“How long was I there?”

“Ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Apologies about getting you dirty, but it’s the only way it works.”

“I saw something, when I was falling. A memory. Does that always happen?”

“I’ve only got the two of us to go on, but it seems to”

“I remember the first time I did this with you, and you told me about how you went after your son. It must have been so terrifying, floating out to sea like that. ” Jessica paused, one hand scratched the back of her neck.

“Wait, you haven’t told me that.”

Louie laughed in that old volcano way.

“Not this time I haven’t, but I tell it so darn well I’m not surprised you remembered so quickly. Before you came along I didn’t have much else to do but practice”

“How many times have there been?” she asked, watching the fog roll slowly in.

“Couldn’t rightly say, but I think we’re on about one a year now. When I met you, that first time, you said you were sorry for not being able to help me. That’s why I liked you Jessica, you cared too much. It was impossible you know, I’d been gone before you were a little girl”

“I know.” She looked out towards the fog. It was closer now, Louie was only partly visible, like an unfinished charcoal sketch.

“You’d gotten it backwards. I’m the one who’s sorry, truly, for not being able to help you. When you came back I knew I had to try again. I haven’t gotten it right yet, but I think I’m close”

“I think I’m close too. It’s my turn next, maybe I should open with a magic trick.” The fog grew closer, and Jessica could barely see past her face.

“Why don’t we take a walk together? Get away from this place, just for a little while. I’ll teach you something to pass the time” Louie reached and undid the laces of his boots, then pulled them off and placed them next to Jessica’s shoes. Together, they joined hands and walked away into the night.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: