“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Please, don’t jump.”
“Go back inside, Harold,” I command, my voice stern and dry.
“Look, I don’t know what you’re going through,” Harold says, ignoring my order, “but this is never a solution.”
“Go back inside; it’s not safe out here.”
“I just want to talk,” he replies, climbing cautiously out the window.
“If you come closer, I’ll jump right now.”
“Okay, okay,” he says quickly, holding up his palms innocently. His elderly form sits halfway outside the window, about two arms-lengths from where I perch outside the eleventh floor.
“Look,” Harold says, trying hard to keep his tone leveled, “You’re a good kid, Jimmy, and I care a lot about you. Just tell me how you feel. Just take a moment to speak with me.”
I say nothing, feeling sweat run down my forehead.
“Let’s just think things through, nobody’s in a hurry right?”
Down below, police push back an impromptu crowd of onlookers. I can see them pointing and watching with interest the man out on the ledge.
“Just tell me what’s happening,” Harold pleads, “Did something happen today?”
I shut my eyes and shake my head, despising myself for doubting my plan now.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I answer with an anxiety stained voice, “This is just something I’ve got to do.”
“You’ve always been so optimistic and cheerful,” Harold says slowly as he settles into a more comfortable position, “You seem to be in a bad place after the accident, but you really seemed to be doing better lately. Did something happen today?”
I answer with a short nod.
“It might seem bad now, Jimmy, but I guarantee you it’s not as bad as you think. What happened?”
Gulping down a frog in my throat, I answer my neighbor:
“I won the lottery.”
For a moment he remains silent but then lets out a confused laugh. I shut my eyes and pull my head back in an effort to calm myself.
“Most fellows feel pretty good about winning the lottery.”
“I’ve won before,” I answer, gritting my teeth.
“You’ve won the lottery before? Do you have a system?”
I know now that he’s just keeping me talking, hoping that time will deter me from my decision. Dreading the drop to the pavement below, I humor the man.
“No, I’m just damn lucky.”
"How much did you win?” he asks with curiosity.
“Too much. Much too much.”
My pale white knuckles tighten their locked grip on the brickwork. I inch a foot towards the drop.
“Does this have to do with that air-wreck?” Harold asks suddenly, seeing my slight motion towards the ledge and offering a blunt guess as to why I might be out here in an attempt to distract me.
I say nothing, feeling cold and suppressing a deep shiver.
“I take that as a yes,” the old man sighs, “Look, there’s nothing you could have done; it’s just dumb luck.”
“You know what the doctor called me?” I scoff at his comment, “He said I was either a demi-god or a liar. People don’t survive plane crashes like that, Harold. I fell forty thousand feet without a parachute.”
“Other people have survived before,” he points out hopefully.
“Not like this.”
“It’s unusual, but it does happen, Jimmy.”
“I wasn’t even scratched. I didn’t even lose consciousness,” I let out a pained sob, “Nobody else even survived and I just waltzed away.”
“It was out of your control; you just got lucky.”
“I know,” I growl.
Harold does not speak, but I break the silence as anxiety pries my tongue loose:
“When we lost pressure, some of the passengers were yanked clean out of the plane. I saw them. I saw children hit the ground. They bounced. They fucking bounced.”
“This won’t solve anything,” Harold repeats quietly, “Just come back inside, and we can talk more.”
“I’ve been off from the start.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself.”
I ignore his suggestion, grinding my teeth. At this point, I’d might as well be honest.
“Did you know I wasn’t supposed to be born?” I say at last, allowing a short hysterical laugh to edge into my voice, “My mom had a gene disorder and was raped. Why? Who rapes a fucking retard?”
A pigeon shoots by quickly, ignoring the scene out on the ledge.
“Doctors said everything was wrong with me. They asked my mother: ‘abortion or stillbirth’. She didn’t understand; her parents wouldn’t listen. She died just before I was scheduled to come along. They cut me out of her and guess what? I was a perfectly healthy baby boy; everything in the right place. They called me Jimmy. They called me one lucky son of a bitch.”
“Just come inside,” Harold repeats, not knowing how to respond to my confession.
“I don’t deserve anything I’ve got,” I shake my head, “and I just won the god-damned lottery.”
“Why don’t you just give it away?”
“That’s what I did the first time!” I admit in a crazed laugh, “But the prize wasn’t meant for them. Their house burned down with them inside! Don’t you get it? There’s no way around it!”
“Just come inside. It’s alright.”
“I’m an abomination and this life doesn’t belong to me…”
“Please just come inside.”
“Don’t watch,” I say simply before shutting my eyes and leaning out over my base. Gravity tugs gently, sending a sickening lurch through my inner ear.
I can’t remember hitting the ground.
With confusion, my eyes flicker open and observe my unnatural surrounding. Inky shadows intermingle within a shimmering wall of blackness. It hovers around me in every direction and ripples like a theater curtain when a draft drifts through the air.
Coldness radiates out from the pitch-black veil, and in response, goose-bumps dance over my exposed skin.
What is this place?
From the unearthly dark, a silhouette appears. It hovers over the threshold, until a slight breeze calls it into sight. The pale creature paces forward into my vision. I recognize it from the photos and identify it in shocked disbelief:
She’s naked, her lower half stained red from a jagged scar over her abdomen. A leather muzzle wraps her mouth and links to a chain, which hangs out into the shadows.
“Jimmy!” she says beneath the muzzle, her eyes lighting up as she sees me. She stumbles forward towards me until the chain snaps tight, pulling her sharply back out of reach. I watch in detached horror, not believing my own perceptions.
“Jimmy!” she repeats happily, clueless to my fear. From behind her, I make out a shape that holds her chain.
The things steps out from the darkness, a stout deformed creature. Veins swell from its dull gray skin, and I swear I can see its every heartbeat as the veins bulge and contract with a simple rhythm. Empty eyes adorn its misshapen skull and scarce long hairs sprout from its bald head. The entire being reminds me of how I would picture a drowned infant might look. This image washes out of my mind when I notice the lower half of the abomination. A massive throbbing erection extends from its groin, leaking out spoiled yellow mucus.
It holds my mother at the end of the chain as one might a feral hound. Never as it walks forward does the small being break eye-contact. A light grin draws over its face.
“What is that thing?” I ask, backing up nervously. My mother glances back to the creature and then turns to me with a stupid smile.
“He’s my friend!” she says cheerfully.
“That’s right, Jimmy, I’m her friend,” the little demon giggles in a honeyed, charismatic voice and gives my mother a soft pat on the head with its sweaty palms.
“I stepped off the ledge,” I say to myself, my mind reeling, “What is this place? How am I alive?”
“Don’t be foolish,” the creature smiles, revealing rows of crooked teeth, “You very well know your answers.”
“Jimmy!” my mother squeals, still overcome with excitements, “It was all for you!”
“Quiet,” the short thing commands with a quick yank of the chain.
“Who are you?” I ask, shocked at the display and not yet quite understanding.
“She already told you; I am her friend,” the demon smirks, his warm timbre resonating through his small body in a soothing, bizarrely fatherly voice, “No more, no less.”
“Mom, what is that thing?”
A look of puzzlement fills her face as she strains herself in thought. I can see her lick her lips beneath the leather muzzle before she answers:
“Not sure. He’s very helpful.”
“What has he been helping you with?”
“With you!” she smiles at last, still apparently pleased to be talking with me.
I stare, unsure what to say.
“Aren’t you going to thank us?” the demon asks, leaning his miniscule mass forward, “We’ve given you so much.”
My mother nods, the chain bobbing as she moves her head.
“Don’t you feel blessed?” the thing chuckles, “for all the gifts over the years? Remember that bicycle you wanted as a kid? We got it for you in less than a day!”
Again, my mother nods in agreement, the rattle of her chain the only sound in the air.
“That bicycle,” I say at last, choosing my words very deliberately, “Belonged to my cousin and was given to me after a drunk driver ran him down.”
“Everything has a price.”
“Paid for your college tuition and won you the lottery. Twice, might I add.”
“Your mother gave her very life so that you could be healthy little baby,” he finishes my statement effortlessly, “She didn’t want you to have to suffer a life like hers.”
“What have you done?” I ask, despair underlying my tone.
“I was simply fulfilling my contract,” the demon replies, “I live to serve, after all.”
“Why?” my voice cracks as I look towards my mother, “Why would you make a deal with that thing?”
“I didn’t want any of this,” I murmur weakly.
“That’s what makes it a gift,” the short thing responds cheerfully.
My mother looks sad, clearly not understanding what has upset me so.
“It’s all for you!” she repeats, hoping I get the message.
I fall down to the dark mass that makes up the floor and lay my head in my opened hands, not wanting to believe my senses. As I lament over my circumstances I can hear the heavy breathing of the short creature increase with excitement. My eyes avoid looking at the thing, as though I might be able to blot its presence from my mind.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure,” the demon says with glee, “But our business is done, darling.”
He shakes my mother’s hand politely and calmly hands me the chain.
“Take good care of her, sport,” the creature says with a wink. It leans in close enough for me to smell its rotten stench and pats me on the shoulder before vanishing out into the drifting darkness beyond.
My mother looks at me sadly as we sit silently.
Beyond the void swirls chaotically and somewhere within its dark matter I can hear screaming. I can feel the excruciating pain of tortured souls, trapped. They will never know what they died for. Who’s miserable lifestyle they perished to maintain.
“It’s all for you.”
Written by Levi Salvos