Roof

Late-ish Halloween story. Themes of suicide herein. Sorry if that bothers you. I promise this is more hopeful than it sounds.

Ah. Hey there. It’s been a long time, friend.

I’m standing on the roof of a building. It’s pretty high. Not so high that it’d make it into tourist-bait ads and catalogues, but high enough that you’d probably be a not-too-pretty splat if you fell off it.

Or… y’know. Jumped. Stepped. Took a casual stroll into thin air. We’ve all thought about it, right?

Someone in an apartment a couple floors below has left their window open. Screams, laughter from the small, probably sofa-bound audience. Some shitty horror movie. I hear a familiar, slightly echoey voice, and realise that whatever they’re watching has Vincent Price in it. Good. I always wanted to die accompanied by the voice of Vincent Price. Could do worse, I s’pose. Least it’s not Bela Lugosi. That might be a little too cheesy, even for me.

I inhale, sigh a little. The air is almost fresh up here, y’know? Up above all the shit and the grey and the petty little cruelties, you can almost understand why some people find cities beautiful. Almost.

A few feet behind me, someone coughs, loudly and pretty unsubtly. It’s not an accident – it’s an alert, a signal to tell me they’re here.

“Look,” I say, surprised by how shaky my voice sounds, “if this is some kind of Samaritans shit, the decision’s already made. Trying to be a therapist’ll just make me jump a little faster than I would’ve. ‘Kay, buddy?” I almost sound scared, which is bullshit. I’m not. If I was actually scared,  like hell I’d be on this roof. I’d be down there in some dumbass costume, prancing around and trying to scare kids. I used to love Halloween. Still kinda do. A good day to die young.

I turn round, because they haven’t actually said anything and it’s creeping me out a little.

Then I promptly lose my shit, because they’re dressed as William Shakespeare. No, seriously. Bald cap and stupid little moustache and everything. The bald cap, in particular, is… really not convincing. I’m laughing so hard I’m nearly crying. “Let me guess… you majored in English?”

He makes this small resigned noise, a sigh, and then says, “Hey, Richie.” He sounds really familiar, though I have no idea where from. He could be someone from another apartment or a sports presenter, for all I know.

“Hey,” I respond. “How the hell do you know my name?”

He walks towards me, and I tense. If he tries to catch me I’ll jump, honest to God. “You’re twenty two,” he says.

“Uh-huh.” Still not telling me shit. Wh y does he know this? Is he some kind of stalker?

“Why the hell are you standing here?”

I look at him, angry because I have a right to be, and spit, “Because I tried everything else.”

“So med school fell through.” He shrugs. “You know, there’s more than one way of helping people.”

“It’s all I wanted to do. And if I’m not good enough for that, what the hell am I good for?” Shit, I’m tearing up. Like hell I’m gonna cry in front of goddamn Shakespeare.

He takes a few steps further, and I lean a little too close to the edge to get away from him, suddenly wanting to puke. He doesn’t even touch me, though: he just casually sits down at the edge of the roof, kicking his legs.

“Long way down,” he remarks, after a while.

“Yeah.”

We stay there in silence a little longer, then he says, “It all works out okay, you know.”

I snort. “Sure.”

“I’m not just saying that.” He looks at me, and his eyes are these deep, blue pools of earnestness. I stare a little. Feels like I’ve seen them on a photo somewhere before. “Look… you know how you wanted to write, maybe?”

How the hell – ? I just decide to go with it. “Uh, yeah.”

“Trust me,” he says, “stick with it.”

I laugh. “Like you know shit about my life.” That’s a lie. He knows a helluva lot, and it’s freaking me out.

“Three years after this, you see a kid just like you, on a roof just like this. You know what you did?” When I shake my head, he says, “You gave him a story. Sometimes that’s enough.” Another sigh. “He didn’t jump, if it helps.”

“What – ?”

“I mean, the book deals and the fans are pretty sweet too, but kids like that made you start.”

I grab him by the shoulder. “Who the hell are you?”

He takes off the bald cap, the moustache. Looks at them. “Shitty joke,” he mutters, and then he looks up at me, grinning.

Shit.

I stop and stare. I run a hand through my hair, feeling suddenly like I can’t breathe right. “Hey, Richie,” I manage, after a minute or two.

That damn grin is still all over his face. Dammit, I’d forgotten I got dimples. Too long since I’ve smiled. “Smartass,” he replies. His face is undeniably older, he’s got at least a decade on me, but I recognise it from the mirror every morning. “Look, the stories chose you. Work for ’em, let ’em carry you, and you’ll be great, kid. I promise there’s a better way than this one.”

I nod dumbly, and then I say, “But are you happy? ”

He pauses, looks at me intently. The grin’s left his face. Oh, shit. “Yeah,” he says, and his smile this time is smaller, something secret and more genuine. “Yeah, I actually swear to God I am. I haven’t been on a roof like this since…” He waves a hand in my direction. “… well, you.” He stands, looks to the roof access. “C’mon,” he says, “for me?”

I nod, and he puts an arm round my shoulders, leading me to the stairs. I climb down them, and down the next flight, heading to my apartment. I reach my door, and I turn, ready to let him in…

The hallway’s empty. Huh.

I exhale, glancing round but seeing no-one else. Part of me wonders if I imagined it, but I know I didn’t. I know it in my bones. I let myself in, sit at my tiny, shitty, rickety desk and do two things: ask my therapist to move our appointment forward, and think, That was weird as hell, but it’d make a damn good story.

I sit there a few seconds longer, praying old-me was right, and notice that the partiers downstairs have moved onto The Bride of Frankenstein. I smile a little, because it’s safe to do that where no-one can see it.

Then I start typing.

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