“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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Careful What You Wish For (1217 words)

 

The barista is a dead woman, or she soon will be. As she prepares his coffee, he sees a bug crawl out of her empty eye socket. It scuttles down her cheek, dislodging a piece of flesh. Rotting meat and bug fall with a plop into the coffee she now offers him.

“Anything else?” she says, smiling. Or at least, Brett thinks she is smiling. It is hard to tell, what with the lower jaw hanging at that odd angle. Yes, he considers saying. Stop serving coffees for the minimum wage, and the occasional tip. Go and experience life: enjoy yourself, while you still can. Life is short. For some – for you – it’s shorter than you could possibly imagine.

But he doesn’t say this. There is no point.

“No, thank you,” Brett says, taking the coffee. He hands over a note, waves away the change. “Keep it,” he says.

He sits at a table, in the corner. There is a mirror on the wall and by sitting with his back to the coffee shop he can use it to see what people really look like. What they look like right now, rather than how they will appear in exactly three hundred and seventy two days time. The woman who served him, he sees now, is an attractive twenty something. She looks healthy enough, no sign of illness. He wonders how she is going to die. By the state of her future self, it will be in the next six to nine months. A car accident, perhaps? A victim of a crime? Wrong person, in the wrong place. She glances over, catches his eye in the mirror, smiles. He looks away.

He takes the wooden stick – a poor imitation of a spoon – and half-heartedly stirs the coffee. There is no bug, no decomposing piece of cheek, floating in the dark liquid. It doesn’t work like that. It was an illusion. He knows this. But he looks anyway.

Brett doesn’t really believe in curses – although he acknowledges that part of him must do for it to work – but there is no other explanation he can find to better describe what happened, so he chooses to accept it.

To be fair, when they first met, Divina said she was a witch. Brett laughed, spraying beer out of his mouth and nostrils.

“It isn’t funny,” she said, her lower lip sticking out, the beginning of a pout enhancing her cuteness. “I’m a good witch. Although, if you cross me, you’ll regret it.” He stopped laughing, then. Not because he believed in her threat, but because it was obviously important to her, and, he realised, he really wanted to sleep with her.

It took eight weeks of hard work (romancing not coming naturally to him, Brett experienced it as such) and tongue biting (her pseudo-hippy-pagan-occult beliefs irritated his scientific-sceptical-atheist brain) before he managed to get her into bed. Weeks became months became a year and he found love had replaced lust (or that’s what he told himself), and they were living together.

One morning, a week before her twenty ninth birthday, he found her crying on the floor of the bathroom, a pregnancy test in her hand. Although Brett was shocked to see the test – he assumed she had been taking precautions, and had no wish to be saddled with a child – he sat down next to her and took her in his arms. Divina sobbed salt water and mucus all over his clean shirt. It took fifteen minutes before he could understand what she was saying. It would have been her Grandma’s birthday, today, a week before her own, she said. Grandma had been a witch too (her head buried in his armpit, Divina would not have seen Brett rolling his eyes at those words). Before she died, twenty years ago, she told Divina she would find her love of her life, but would be alone and childless by the age of thirty. With a year and one week to go she was worried that the prophecy would come true.

“I promise I will never leave you, my love, and we can try for a baby, if that’s what you want,” he said, checking his watch. He was late for work, and wondered if he had time to iron another shirt.

Promises are easily broken, especially when temptation, dressed in a short skirt and low cut top, calling herself Eloise started work in Brett’s office, the very next day. Of course, Eloise wasn’t to know Brett had a girlfriend. Brett kept that information to himself, as he found divulging such facts tended to spoil his chances of sleeping with beautiful women.

Brett finally told Divina he was leaving her, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, not for any other reason than he had been seen kissing an obviously pregnant Eloise by one of Divina’s girlfriends and was given an ultimatum: you tell her, or I will, you lying, cheating, little shit.

Contrary to Brett’s expectations, Divina did not breakdown into a teary, snotty, begging, mess, nor did she shout, scream, punch or kick.

She simply said, “You promised.”

“That was a year ago!” he said, knowing, even as he said it, the excuse was weak to say the least.

“One year, and one week,” Divina said.

“I couldn’t predict what would happen. No one can see into the future, no one can see what will really happen a year and a week from now,” Brett said. And then he said the words, that would come to haunt him: “I wish I could, but I can’t.”

Divina smiled.

When she arrives Brett is still stirring his coffee. It is cold, now, and bitter tasting.

It is ten years since he saw Divina last. He is single, and despite the loneliness of his situation, he survives. Eloise left him with a stinging face, the final straw a casual observation that she would still be a fat hog a long time after she’d given birth. He has had few dates, and no real relationships since. It is simply impossible to say the right things when you are looking at the image of what someone will look like in three hundred and seventy two days time. He is jobless, but he gets by, thanks to an inheritance: his mother dying, the only luck he has had recently. He lost his job, the same week Eloise threw him out, through unwise, and unkind, comments made to customers.

Brett wants to be normal. Not just for his sake, not anymore. Brett is pleased that Eloise is with Paul – a kind, decent man – he treats Brett’s child as his own. But Brett would like to be a good father to his son.

Brett is a better person, now, he admits to himself. A humbler person. A person who considers others feelings before his own. Most of the time.

Brett is here to ask forgiveness, to ask for the curse to be lifted. When Divina sits down opposite him, the smile on her face as warm, and sweet, as his coffee, he isn’t surprised to see she looks no older than the day they met.