“Jump!” a short story

I wrote this today (first published on my steemit blog earlier)

“Jump!”

 

The water might have looked inviting if it wasn’t so bloody far away. It was clear, and I could see the sand and the rocks below the surface.

That didn’t help.

I licked my lips, nervously. I wasn’t exactly afraid of heights (if I was I wouldn’t be up here looking down into the ocean below) but I did have a healthy fear of dying. It had served me well up until this point.

“You’ll be alright,” Jim said. “You don’t need to do a fancy dive. Just a jump, straight down, legs together. It’s deeper than it looks.”

That was good. It didn’t look very deep.

“And, everyone does this, do they?” I asked again.

“Yes, I told you. It’s part of the initiation.”

I couldn’t make out the others: they were so far below I could barely see there were people in the boats, let alone make out their faces. I imagined they were looking up at me, a tiny dot standing on the rock that jutted out over the ocean above them. I imagined Clara’s face, laughter lines accentuated as she squinted against the strong sunlight.

What would she think of me if I bottled it? Would she think less of me? Would she think anything at all? I swallowed. Was I really going to go through with this insanity, just to impress a girl? At my age?

Who am I kidding? Of course I was.

I took a deep breath closed my eyes and leaped into the air. I could feel my legs moving, and fought to keep them together, as the air rushed past my face. I hoped my decent didn’t look as undignified as I felt it was. There was an unpleasent noise – a scream. I knew it was me. I tried to turn it into an excited sounding whooop! but – to my ears at least – it sounded like someone torturing a puppy.

And then my legs hit the water. I seemed to be going downward for so long I thought I would never stop. And I realised with all the screaming and falling I’d been doing, I had forgotten to take a breath, before I hit the water. I began to panic, and started flailing. My feet made contact with the sand – just a touch – and then I was moving back towards the surface. By this time my eyes were open, my lungs were aching and I wanted to scream again, but knew as soon as I opened my mouth the water would be pouring down my throat filling my body. The light was getting nearer and I broke the surface with a cry, sucking in air. Around me I heard the others whooping with excitement, and at least one “Nice one, Phil!”. And then I felt hands grasping mine, and I was helped onto one of the boats.

“I can’t believe you did it, man!” someone said – I think it was Frank. “I can’t believe it!”

I smiled, trying to pretend I’d enjoyed the experience. Frank – it was he – passed me an open bottle of beer. I took it and took a gulp. It was warm, but I drank it anyway. Kit and Olly were the others on the boat. I was a little disappointed not to be on the same boat as Clara. Looking around – trying to appear casual, as I sipped my beer – I spotted her. She was on the same boat as bloody Martin. I watched as he said something and Clara laughed, leaning in and touching him on the shoulder as she said something in his ear.

Fucker.

I didn’t like Martin. He was funny – or thought he was – handsome – if you liked that kind of thing – and young. I hated him. He looked over, our eyes met and he waved. I dragged a smile onto my face and raised my bottle at him. Clara didn’t look over.

“Come on,” Olly said. “Let’s get over to the beach. I’m bloody starving!” Olly was always hungry, it seemed. Skinny as an anorexic stick insect, but he ate more than I have ever seen a human being eat.

“Are we not waiting for Jim?” I asked.

“Jim?”

“To jump.”

Olly laughed. Kit looked a bit embarrased.

“What?”

“No one else is stupid enough to do that jump, man!” Frank said, starting the engine. “It has always been a bit of a joke,” he shouted over the noise. “You’re the first. You’re a legend, man! You’ve got balls, especially for an old dude.”

Oh.

Frank took the lead, and the boat skimmed over the waves. I sat back in the boat, toying with the now empty bottle of beer, pulling of the label, trying not to notice Olly and Kit sucking each other’s faces off.

What was I doing? It was one thing to chuck in my job, and go see the world. Why not? My brother’s death – four years younger than me – from a heart attack brought home how random the lottery of life is. If you have a chance to do something – to grab hold of life and give it a shake, before it turns round and chokes you – then do it.

But this…

Joining up with a bunch of kids I could have been old enough to father, and to pretend that they were hanging with me because they thought I had something to bring to the party. To hope they thought I was “cool”. God, I felt like an idiot.

And Clara… did I honestly think she was interested in me? Because she seemed interested in my story? Because she laughed at a couple of jokes.

Oh God. I’d turned into that guy.

I’d been so desperate to impress Clara – and the others, too, but mostly her – that I had fallen (literally, it turns out – into the fucking ocean!) for this story about an initiation into their group. An initiation ceremony for fucks sake. What was I thinking of?

Frank brought the boat right up to the beach. Jim was there – he’d driven down from the cliff top – and clapped me on the back when he saw me, laughing and telling me I was a good man. I smiled, accepted the beer he offered me. I watched Clara, Martin and Frank as they set about organising the barbecue and then assured no one was looking at me, I headed off, up the beach, back towards the campsite.

I turned around, just once. No one seemed to have noticed I’d gone.

 

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Nessie (462 words)

“You’re new,” the girl said, looking Maggie up and down. Not a statement, not a question: an accusation. The girl wore a sneer like Maggie’s dad wore his favourite jacket. It was ugly, but a perfect fit. And, just like her dad, this girl wasn’t about to take it off because Maggie didn’t like it.

Maggie considered all the various responses on the sarcastic spectrum, before settling on a neutral, “Yes”. This morning, over breakfast, she’d given Dad her word she would try her very best not to get expelled, not on the first day, anyway. It was a promise she intended to keep. This time.

The girl nodded, and continued to size Maggie up. There was a lot to take in, as Maggie was all too aware. She was tall for her age, and she felt as awkward as she thought she looked. Her size always drew the attention of people with something to prove, bullies and teachers alike. Being self conscious about it never helped: they could smell weakness, they thrived on it. Jenny, her last psychologist, said not to worry about it, she would grow into her body. Whatever the fuck that meant.

“Where you from?”

“Totnes, “ Maggie said.

“You Scottish?”

“Do I sound Scottish?”

“I don’t know. Never met a Scottish, before.”

“You still haven’t. I’m from Devon. Totnes is in Devon.”

“Hey! Anna!” the girl called over Maggie shoulder. “This one’s a Scottish! From that place with the monster.”

Maggie opened her mouth to respond, but another girl – presumably Anna – stuck her head in her face. Bright green sparkling eyes stared into Maggie’s brown ones.

“Looks like they’ve mislaid the monster, to me,” Anna said. “You are fucking huge, Nessie.” There was something in the way she spoke, in her smile, in her general manner, which stopped Maggie from punching her. Despite the words, there didn’t seem to be any malice.

Anna’s smile widened and she stuck her hand out, like her dad did when he was introduced to someone for the first time. “My name’s Anna,” she said. “What brings you down from Scotland, Nessie?”

Maggie found herself duplicating the strange girl’s smile as she shook her hand.

“I’m not Scottish,” she said. “Your friend, here, obviously doesn’t pay attention in her geography lessons. I’m from Totnes. My name is Maggie.”

“Don’t pay no attention to Dips,” Anna said. “She thinks the world ends at the M25. Never been out of London, have you Dips?” Dips shook her head, nearly – but not quite – dislodging the sneer.

“I know Totnes,” Anna continued. “Spent last summer at my cousin’s house, in Paignton. Went to Totnes for a day. Full of hippies and crystal shops. You’re well out of it, Nessie. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the others.”

First Date (273 words)​

They met at the vernissage of an art installation called “Mirrors in Scarlet”. Supposedly “a three dimensional critique on the use of reflection in The Scarlet Letter”, Dave thought it was actually just a load of bollocks. Red lights, scarlet ribbons dancing in currents of air (produced by two large men dressed as Pilgrim women each pumping a pair of massive bellows), mirrors of various sizes, and shitty atmospherique music, did not make what he considered to be art. There were, of course, the requisite number of beard-stroking hipster types, nodding appreciatively, as they quaffed the free champagne. And some dreary bloke (presumably the “artist”) wanking on about imagery, symbolism and other bullshit to a crowd of sycophantic hangers-on.

He watched Diane as she contemplated the scene. He couldn’t read her expression: did she actually like this crap? It had been her who had suggested meeting here for their first date: her friend had given her tickets. Dave hoped her friend wasn’t the dreary bloke or one of his simpering groupies. He really liked Diane: online chats, and the five minutes they had spent chatting outside, had shown she was funny, intelligent and cute. But he was fairly sure he would end up insulting someone if they didn’t leave soon.

Diane mouthed something. Dave raised an eyebrow, not quite sure if he’d understood. She moved close to him, and whispered in his ear.

“Let’s go to the pub,” she said, her breath tickling his lobe. “Before I end up punching one of these arseholes.”

Dave smiled, and they linked arms as they left the room. They were going to get on just fine.

KillJoy – A Work Place Drama (256 words)

 

Karen, from Accounts, holds the knife at Joy’s throat. The receptionist’s eyes are wide, fearful. We watch in silence. I see a single tear well, and then roll down Joy’s left cheek. The knife point presses hard, but there is no blood. Steve, from warehousing, stands close to me. I feel him move – just a bit. He is going to intervene, to say something. I put my hand on his arm. I don’t want him to interfere: this is perfect.

“You are going to die, you bitch!” Karen says, spitting the words into Joy’s startled face. Her voice is strong, powerful. For a moment I almost forget that this is a woman normally more comfortable with spreadsheets than people. I had wanted to be the one holding the knife. But, I admit, Karen is a better choice.

The canteen door hits the wall as it swings open. We all jump at the sound. Mr Jennings stands in the doorway.

‘What the hell is going on in here?” he asks, looking at Karen and Joy and then to me. Karen lowers the knife. Joy smiles. They break character in unison.

I cough. “Rehearsal for our entry in the Inter-Office Amateur Dramatic Competition, Mr Jennings. We thought it would be alright if we rehearsed in our lunch hour.”

Jennings stares at me. His eyebrows, always bushy, pulsate with anger.

“What have I said about this, Evans?” he says.

“The workplace is no place for drama, sir,” I say, almost singing the words.

“Quite right,” he says, and leaves.


You can listen to the author read this story (and others) on Soundcloud:

Ibiza (470 words)​

I find the water’s edge, easily: it glitters in the light from the moon and the stars. The sand against the skin on my back is warm, soft and I push my feet through it, until I feel the cool water lick my toes. A tingle runs up through my body, and I smile, watching the stars above dance in time to the pounding beat of the music from the bar, far behind me.

The smell of a cigarette tells me I am no longer alone. On a Saturday night in Playa d’en Bossa, you’re never far from someone. I turn my head towards the scent, and see the silhouette of a man sitting beside me. I see moonlight reflected in his eyes, and the glint of his teeth as he smiles.

“Hello”, he says. He is English. From the North I think, but I am no good with accents so can’t be more specific. He offers me one of his cigarettes. I take one and as he leans in to light it I catch the scent of his aftershave. It’s not one that I recognise; pleasant, delicately spiced, possibly expensive.

“What’s your name?” he asks, as I inhale deeply, letting the smoke trickle through my nostrils.

I shake my head, to free my hair of sand. He blinks against the flying grains.

“Sandy,” I say, and laugh. He laughs too. “And yours?”

“My name is Ibiza,” he says.

“No man is an island,” I say, and laugh again. There is a glimmer of a smile and I realise it would not have been the first time he’s heard that line.

“I am,” he says. “Like this island I am full of contradictions: popular, tacky and obvious like San Antonio; classy and rich like Ibiza Town; and I have isolated spots of beauty hidden from those who don’t know where to look,” he pauses to stub his cigarette into the sand, and carefully puts the butt in a tin. ‘This island is in my DNA,” he says, “I was conceived here. Eighty-eight: the second summer of love.”

We share more cigarettes, stories and jokes. We sit here, on this beach for what seems like minutes, but it might be for hours. It might even be forever.

Overhead, something roars. A plane, coming into land at the nearby airport, flies so low I can see the detail on its undercarriage. A shiver runs up my spine into my brain. A cheer erupts from the people on the beach around us: they wave and shout woo hoos, come ons and let’s ‘ave its into the nights sky, welcoming the latest bunch of party people to our island.

I leap to my feet.

“Come on, Ibiza,” I say. “We need to dance.”

He takes my hand and we run back up the beach.

A thief from the Night (410 words)

This story is also available in audio format on Soundcloud

 

Night began as a whisper: a rumour of shadows at the very edges of the Day. But once started, it quickly gathered pace.

Leba knew Day would fail soon. The dark cracks would spread, tendril-like through its foundations. Inevitably, Day would split, shatter, and crumble into the sea.

And when Day failed she would too.

As she ran, Leba risked a glance, back, towards the Waghorn. Immediately, her breath was sucked from her lungs, pulled back back towards the dark rocky outcrop. Despite this sign – this symptom – they were not following.

Not yet, anyway.

The tide was coming in fast, threatening to cut her off from her friends. The hungry sea licked at her feet. It tasted her. It wanted to consume her. Her feet sank a little deeper into the wet sand with every stride. A moment of doubt overcame her. She had left it too late. She would be swallowed by the sea, or the sand. Or the Night.

No. She could make it. She would make it. She had to.

Leba knew her friend’s waited for her, but could not see them. The distance and the diminishing light made that impossible. Over the sound of her breathing – in….OUT….in…OUT –  and the pounding of her heart and feet, she fancied she could hear them shout. Encouragement? Warnings? She couldn’t tell.

She could feel the sharp edges of the stolen object cutting into the palm of her left hand. The pain gave her comfort, strength even. Pain meant it was safe.

She could see them now, her friends. Emaj was jumping in the air, hands and arms all over the place. She could hear him, too. His words, shouted over the sand, distinct and clear: “You CAN make it Leba: come on!” Nimos was standing statue-like beside him. She could see he was not looking at her, but straight behind her.

She would not look back. Not now. She had seen them before and had no desire to see them again. She could feel their icy presence, as they closed on her, cold fingers at her neck. Emaj was yelling for her to HurryUpForFuckSake! She was close enough to read the expression of terror on Nimos’s face, to see the dark stain of urine crawl down his breeches.

She was nearly there. Emaj had stopped jumping and was reaching down, his strong hands reaching for hers. She was going to make it.
And then the Night came.

Ten Minutes Later (393 words)

Tick…

Tock.

Tick…

Tock.

Tick…

The sound, regular and clock-like, was comforting: something to focus on, while she tried to work out what the hell had just happened.

Tock.

She blinked.

Tick…

And blinked again in an attempt to clear her eyes of the sticky substance that ran into them.

Tock.

The liquid – her blood, she guessed – began to run out of her eyes, up her forehead, and into her hair (making a mockery of the two and a half hours – and several hundred dollars – she had spent, in the hair salon, this afternoon).

Tick…

Her vision began to clear, along with some confusion. She was upside down.

Tock.

She was in her car, held to her seat by the belt.

Tick…

She blinked again, and was able to focus.

Tock.

The time on the dashboard clock was 00.05

Tick…

Ten minutes had elapsed since they had said their goodbyes.

Tock.

Or, rather, since he had said goodbye – even offering her one last goodbye hug forgodzake – and she had screamed: spitting hate and saliva, into his startled face.

Tick…

She remembered slamming the car door so hard she thought the glass would break.

Tock.

She remembered the squeal of her tires and the smell of rubber. The car driven by her anger, by her hate.

Tick…

She remembered glancing at her phone when it beeped.

Tock.

She remembered seeing he had texted, she remembered throwing the phone against the dash,  she remembered trying to retrieve it from the floor. She remembered looking up to see a transmission tower where it shouldn’t be.

Tick…

She realised she didn’t feel hate anymore. Nor anger, nor pain neither.

Tock.

She didn’t feel anything.

Tick…

No feeling in her legs. Nor arms.

Tock.

What was that noise?

Tick…

It reminded her not so much of a clock, now she was properly listening to it. It was too…

Tock.

… irregular. No. It reminded her of the time she’d had a leak in the basement pipe: that drip-dripperty-drip onto the metal shelf beneath.

Tick…

There was a smell. Familiar.

Tock.

Gasoline, she thought. And what was that other noise?

Tick…

A cracking sound, like a whip.

Tock.

No, it was more electrical.

Tick…

She had just enough time before the explosion to wish she had taken the hug, when it was offered at five minutes to midnight.

 

 

This story was written to the theme of “Five Minutes To Midnight”. An audio version of this story can be found here