The Fall (a short story)

Now…
Danny felt like shit, for two reasons. The first was the recurring dream he’d had last night, which had allowed him about 3 hours’ sleep. The second was the prospect of facing his boss, Westward, who was quite simply a textbook sonofabitch. Danny tried to ignore his craving for sleep, thoughts dwelling on his boss a while longer, then surveyed the scene before him. The subway always played host to the same array of commuter stereotypes. There was the kid with the headphones, decked out in designer leisure wear, blissfully unaware of the torment his music was causing the ancient lady sat in the seat next to him. Then there was the overweight middle-aged executive, all flabby jowls, plump hands and acrid cologne.

Looking out of the window, Danny saw an unusual splash of colour, surprised that he’d never noticed it before. As the subway train slowed a little, he found he could read the graffiti artist’s seemingly endless message, daubed on the brickwork along the side of the track: ‘WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB-WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB-WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB….HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE???’ Danny realised he was looking at his life. The point hit home, which only made him feel worse.

The train lurched to a standstill, creaking and groaning from the strains of its daily duties. As Danny slowly rose, he imagined that if it could feel, it would feel like he did right now – same stop, same routine, same New York. As he ascended into the gloomy morning, leaving the hustle-bustle of the subway to join the daily rat race, Danny could already see Westward Electronics’ office building looming menacingly overhead. A testament to modern architecture’s persistence to be the biggest, its lofty point seemed to lacerate the clouds, releasing the relentless drizzle of Fall.

As he walked towards the building, Danny noticed a group of people gathered beneath it. They were standing in a rough circle, each making their own contribution to a cacophony of raised voices, shouts and gasps. A police officer who happened to be nearby had noticed the commotion and was trying to cut his way through the throng, who remained unaware of his efforts and were eagerly searching for something that would break the monotony of their morning routine.

As Danny got closer, he could make out some of what was being said:

“Come on folks, let me through!”
“Oh my God!”
Looks like a leaper, man.”
Holy shit, what a mess.”
“Jeeesus”
“Goddamn sidewalk pizza!”
“It definitely looks like a suicide…”

Almost everyone had something to say. Danny cursed himself for being just like the rest of them, an eager witness to death. He muscled in beside a young woman – “Hey, watch it mister!” – and eventually found himself at the front of the group, struggling to keep his place and to avoid stepping in the slowly spreading pool of blood. There was lots of the stuff and the boy’s – was it a boy? – the boy’s clothes looked…Jesus Christ, his face!

Then…
It was the summer of 1981. For two carefree kids of 15, it was a summer that seemed to last forever. Danny had been overjoyed when his parents had allowed him to stay in Denver with Richie’s aunt and uncle. Both families knew each other well and as a result, Danny and Richie Arnold were best friends. The holiday was going great and five days in, Richie’s uncle had suggested a trip out to the Rockies. The boys had been thrilled. The trip was planned for the weekend and the idea was that they’d camp out – “rough it” –as Richie’s uncle had explained to the boys earlier.

Danny was born in Topeka, Kansas, and had never seen so much of his country’s natural wonders in one go. He eagerly drank in his surroundings, enjoying the sights and sounds as he looked around in awe. His parents tried to get out with him whenever they could, but the Rockies were something else. On the Saturday, after a long hike, they’d all sat down to rest, a good distance from a ravine which gave way to a stunning view. Danny had gazed intently at the opposite rock face, the distant horizon, and the mountains. He could even see a section of the Arkansas river, glistening in the distance.

It had all happened so fast. When Richie’s uncle’s back was turned, Danny had suggested they go to the edge of the ravine, to look straight down. The drop was huge. Richie, who had always been the more careless of the two boys, started fooling around, balancing on one foot close to the edge. Danny shouted a warning to his friend to be careful, to which he replied:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

Richie didn’t listen of course. How was he to know that what he thought was firm earth beneath him was loose rocks? Danny could see his friend’s expression for an instant – a strange mixture of terror and confusion – then he was gone. He rushed to the edge, shouting Richie’s name, and just had time to see a flash of his friend’s red and black shirt, then nothing.

Danny returned home in sorrow. He didn’t stop crying for a week and every night he would dream. Only it wasn’t a dream. He was awake in his room. His model spaceship hung from the ceiling, his wardrobe was a tall, dark shadow, while his desk lurked squat in the corner. Then, Richie would appear. His red and black shirt was stained with gore, his left arm a shattered ruin, bone jutting from a rent in his sleeve. His face was the worst of all. His left eye was completely missing, an ugly bare socket gazing out vacantly, endlessly, while his skull was crushed madly inward on one side, like a collapsed eggshell. Richie would always hold his hand out in the same beckoning way and Danny would scream as loudly as he had ever screamed in his life. Yet, above the sound of his own terrified voice, he would hear Richie’s, through shattered teeth and burst lips:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

It would always end there and Danny would wake up, still screaming, as his mother rushed in to comfort him. Mom wasn’t there last night though. Last night, Danny had experienced his childhood recurring dream for the first time in 15 years.

Now…
He suddenly felt faint. The people seemed to be looming over him and all he could do was stare at the shattered 15-year-old face of Richie Arnold. As he began to sway, an office worker grabbed Danny’s arm to support him, saying:

“What a waste…I dunno, he just fell out of the sky.”

Then, someone else, the headphones kid from the subway train, added:

“Fell out of the 80s too…just look at those threads.”

Now, Danny felt sick and light-headed, the nausea rising from the pit of his stomach as unconsciousness beckoned. Before he passed out though, he swore he could hear Richie’s voice:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

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