A Short Story by Sara P. Cullen
It went off at 3:05 in the morning, but he’d been awake hours before, just waiting for the shrill sounding alarm that would have most people groaning and curling back into their nook of blankets.
Not him. He’d been waiting impatiently. Barely creased, he pulled back the covers and pulled on his boots, still dressed from the day before.
They slid off the curve of his finger as he tried to yank them on, catching his hand. Cursing, he waved off the wound, sucking on it briefly, and grabbed his jacket that he’d folded over the back of his chair. He toyed with the idea of bringing his phone but decided he wouldn’t need it.
Laying it carefully on his bedside counter, he took a look around his room. It looked perfect, untouched but for the few things that lay around making the space his.
Tapping the side of the wall, he clicked the door closed quietly. Sound easily traveled.
Stepping out into the hall, he almost expected someone to be waiting there, ready to stop him, demand that he go back to bed and quit waking up the whole house. But there was no one there and, listening to the silence, he realized no one was coming.
His mum was sleeping gently, but his dad had woken up to the sound of the door. He heard him toss and turn before grumbling something intelligible under his breath, something that resembled, “Stupid, fuckin prick.”Realizing that standing on ceremony was pretty pointless, he strode down the hall purposefully and banged the door frame loud enough that the whole house rattled. He could imagine his mum waking up in a gasp of, “What was that?” And his dad, gently ushering her back into bed, eyeing his bedroom door with that scowl resting on his tight, overdrawn lips.
Disappearing down the backfield, he listened for commotion, but there was nothing. He drew his jacket tighter on his shoulders and sucked in a sharp breath of the biting cold. The dawn started to make its way through the darkness, making the path just visible. He’d been walking this track for months, and he could feel it calling to him. He could hear the waves crashing against the edge of the mountain in one crackle of bristling thunder.
It calmed him. Not the water, peacefully waving in and out in one melodic motion, but the angry hurtle that sounded louder than him, angrier than him, was heaven.
Just as he came to a huddle of trees lining up the golden passageway, a fox ran by with no intention of stopping but, catching a glimpse of him, came to an abrupt halt.
The fox seemed to size him up. His heartbeat raced, and he thought for a second that the fox was going to jump at him. Foxes weren’t known to do that, but there was something in the translucent glare of the eyes and the snarl of the lips that made him think the fox was angry at him.
There was no reason to be frightened. He made his hands into fists and stepped forward.
The fox blinked sadly at him, almost disappointed, and raced away.
What the fuck.
Blinking in concession, he shook off the daze and stumbled onwards, raking a hand through his hair. It was just a fox. Just a fox. He laughed to himself.
Rounding the last arch of the bend where the trees leaned away back to the forest, leading an open break of light to the runway before him, he thought, I’m finally here.
Speeding up with a smile on his lips, he jogged on, catching sight of the precipice looking forward onto the sea. What he saw surprised him.
There was a girl there, her feet dangerously close to the edge. Her dusty blonde hair whipped around her pale face by the cutting wind as she stared forward.
She was messing up his plans. For a second, he thought about going home, trying it again another day. But he’d made his decision. This is the plan. This is the time. This is the day.
Tiptoeing forward, careful not to spook her, he moved within a breath of distance behind her and carefully placed a hand on her shoulder. Ready to pull her back if needed.
She felt odd, almost gelatinous.
A sharp breath escaped her, and she waved forward a circus performer riding a unicycle.
“I got you,” he said, steading her and moving her an inch away from the edge again.
She turned and slapped him. Hard, in the chest. She seemed dainty, but he could feel the burn into his lungs, and for a moment, it was hard to catch his breath.
“What are you doing here?” she spat, moving back to the edge. “I came to do this, and I won’t have anyone stop me.”
He was too stunned to speak as her gaze narrowed in on the jutting rocks, and for a moment, he thought she was going to soar right off the top.
Leaning forward, he grabbed her and yanked her back once again.
She slapped him harder this time. He doubled over, his stomach lurching.
“Just wait,” he said. “I’m not trying to stop you. I came here to do the same thing, alright?”
He laughed, but it came out oddly, and her face scrunched up in confusion. “Then why do you keep pulling me back?”
Scratching the edge of his jaw, he searched.
“Cause I planned to do this now, and you’re fucking it up.” He sighed, “If I see you do it first, I mightn’t have the balls to jump.”
She eyed him warily as if he was trying to trick her. “I don’t care if you wanna die or not. Not really my problem.”
He held up his hands in surrender.
Studying him, she nodded and wordlessly held out her hand. It was cracked and uncared for.
He stepped away from her and looked from her outstretched hand to her imploring eyes.
“Take it,” she snapped, waving it at him.
“We can do it together.”
He supposed they could, but something about taking her hand scared him. It seemed wrong, and from the way she felt before, he could only imagine what it would feel like in his. He felt like he didn’t have a choice.
Nodding, he took her hand and fought back a dry heave.
It was coarse and grating, and he could almost feel it shaving pieces of his skin. Her palm dipped oddly. It was empty and not touching his.
“Your hand feels strange,” he said.
“So does yours.”
When he looked up, she was smiling playfully with a catch of light in her eyes. Closing his own eyes, he took a breath and stepped next to her.
The wind was strong at the edge. It almost sent him hurtling out. He gripped her hand tightly and planted his feet on the ground.
“Why are you scared?” she asked.
“I’m not…” he trembled out, “I’m-“
“Scared.” She finished raising a cocky brow at him.
There was something in her, humming like electricity, and it was the only thing that kept him holding on; it soothed his anxious heart.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked her.
Turning, she looked into him, and without a hint of doubt, she said, “Because I’m all alone.”
She spoke simply, and he couldn’t doubt for a second that it was true.
“I’m here,” he said, squeezing her sore hand tighter.
“And you’re about to leave, are you not?”
Testily looking over, he analyzed the drop. It would be long, he would go down fast, and he’d remember everything until his body finally was smashed apart by rocks and god knows what else.
He thought it would be nice, his family wouldn’t find him, and he’d be taken into the sea like a million more lives before him. He’d be just another young troubled man who’d disappeared, but he hadn’t expected a girl surer of herself than him and so ready to jump.
“Mhmm,” He managed.
“Alright, then. You ready?”
He nodded wordlessly, and without a second to think, she outstretched one leg, hovering there for a moment. Her weight, heavier and stronger than it looked, pulled at his shoulder. He seized up in a blind panic.
In fright, he pulled back with enough force for two people and sent them crashing to the ground in an entanglement of limbs.
The bang left him dazed for a second, and he didn’t realize she was hitting him, over and over again until he had to hold back her arms and push her spindly body away.
Spit curled up at her mouth as her skin shifted and tried to find its place inside her. The more he pushed, what was wrong with her?
“Why’d you pull us back? Why’d you pull us back!”
Slackening his hold, she grabbed at his throat in a fit. His eyes were rolling in her head as she found the right grip on his neck, and visibly shaking, she gritted out, “Why’d you do it?”
Beating her away and shoving his knee into her folding stomach, he pushed her off and got to his feet.
“Cause what, eh?” She advanced towards him, hitting him again.
He hissed out a strangled breath. He didn’t have time to speak. His body was burning from the inside out and, with every push, he realized that she was stealthily guiding him closer and closer to the edge.
He could taste the crashing waves ready to eat him up, and he was afraid.
Whimpering as his heel caught the edge of crumbling rock, he grabbed her hand desperately with his own, “Please stop.”
Holding the strange form in his hands, he watched her calculating look and let out a relieving sigh, bowing his head at this strange, wonderful creature.
“Why?” she shouted.
“Cause I don’t wanna die!” he shouted back.
She dropped onto her knees and looked up at him.
“Fuck,” he said, running a frayed hand through his hair. “I get it, alright. I never really wanted to die. I’m just feeling sorry for myself. And you- you’re so sure, well you seem sure, but what if you aren’t and when you leap off the edge, you realize it’s too late to turn back? What’ll you do then?”
Smiling to herself, she got up and tilted her chin proudly up at him.
Moving in close, so her mouth was right beside his ear, she whispered, “I was never gonna jump.”
“…What…but…” he stumbled out.
“And I knew you wouldn’t either.” She winked, walking back towards the way he started, “Now you know.”
Her voice sang out from the trees, and he jogged after her. She’d only been a few steps in front of him, and the field was clear. There was nowhere to hide, but as he ran around the corner, she was gone.
Spinning around, he tried to spot any sign of her. There was nothing but the chirping of birds risen and determined to wake all sleeping things.
“How’d you know?” he asked the air.
“What the hell…”
After a few moments of disbelief, he kicked at the ground, alright, and headed back home.
Hands in his pockets and jacket zipped up to his neck, he raced back the way he came, and as he came to the field of his house, he saw a fox, paused and staring at him.
It tilted his head up at him and squared off its shoulders.
There was something familiar about its mouth, and for a moment, he thought he saw the curl of a smile. He found himself smiling back as the fox skipped through the long grass and disappeared into the woods.
Laughing still, he went back into the house, quiet as he could. Letting himself into his room, he fell onto his bed and went back to sleep in a matter of minutes. He hadn’t been to sleep so quickly in a long time.
Sara P Cullen co-runs an equestrian centre with her mother in the countryside of Ireland, spending most of her active lifestyle with her horses and many pets. Leaving not much time to pursue other hobbies.
However, her love of books and movies plays a huge part in her life, running off to the cinema any chance she can get and staying up late at night to finish another string of books.
Her sporty nature comes from her mother, but her father’s side comes from a family of show-people, funfair folk, and musicians who encouraged her to pursue a more creative past time. Sara had been writing stories since she was very young and has now taken creative writing courses to further her craft.
Although she would describe herself as an avid animal lover and perceived less people friendly, her stories have a vivid and descriptive narrative of other people’s personalities and their relatable internal struggles. Showing a great interest in the people around her, usually from a witty first-person narrative.
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Cannot wait to read more from Sara. Beautifully written. Mature and sensitive. BRAVO