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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Crystal had every choice ripped from her hands, save for one. At the moment when that choice is threatened, life becomes clear.

Submitted: February 08, 2018

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Submitted: February 08, 2018





Crystal put away her phone with a smile on her face. That had gone better than she had expected. She took her phone back out and powered it off. After a second’s consideration, she went ahead and removed the battery from it, as well. It was better this way. Less of a temptation, somehow.

With this simple chore complete, she leaned against the railing and took in the sunset. She realized that she hadn’t watched many sunsets, even though she remembered loving them as a child. She would probably have loved sun rises, too, had they happened sometime around noon. Ah well.

Crystal lost herself in the last rays of the sun. Once the sun was gone from sight, she considered the deepening colors, and wasn’t sure which she liked better. She decided it didn’t matter, since both the sun and the resulting colors held their own beauty.

Now that night had officially fallen, this overlook was the place for her. The sweet wind blowing up from the water below carried the promise of peace. That was something that she desperately needed at the moment. What had started it all? She wasn’t sure if she could remember that first domino, or that she had even been aware of it at the time. Had it been that failed relationship? The harassment that she had faced at work? The lack of sleep that went back as far as she could remember? Was it something else completely?

She didn’t know. And honestly, she didn’t much care. What’s done is done. That was the saying, and in most cases, it was true. At least, it was true in this case. Everything had fallen apart, and no matter how hard she had tried, it wasn’t coming back together. There comes a time when it feels as though the fight is no longer worth it.

You see these inspirational posters that tout messages saying to give all your troubles away to a higher power, but that had always seemed a little too much like sticking your head in the sand. More power to those who could go through life like that, but that just wasn’t her. Then there are the ones that try to remind people of all the good things in life. She liked those a bit better, but sometimes those good things spoil, too.

Right now, Crystal felt that this overlook was a good thing, but in time it would spoil, just like everything else. She knew from experience that when winter rolled in, the wind that was blowing so sweet at the moment, would become so very cold, and could cut you deep. That was just the way of it. Sometimes, life spoils. But then at times it gives back, too. But waiting for life to give back can get hard to do.

All of this crossed her mind as she slid her phone back into her pocket, with the battery going into the other pocket. Even with these long thoughts, Crystal was still wearing her smile. When she leaned out over the railing to better feel the wind, she could feel it drying the tears on her face, and her smile broadened. With her eyes closed, she imagined she was flying, and leaned further into the wind.

Balancing with her stomach on the railing, she brought both of her arms up and out as though they were wings. The illusion was nearly complete. Just one more thing would complete the scene. If she leaned just a bit further…

“Mind the fall.”

She words made Crystal jerk and cry out. She nearly fell when she jerked, and instinctively grabbed hold of the railing to pull herself back. As soon as she was sure that she was steady enough, she whipped her head around to see who had spoken. Her eyes fell upon a guy that couldn’t have been much older that herself. His face didn’t have the lines that she had been noticing in the mirror lately, but he did have more grey in his hair. Mostly, though, it was his eyes. Even though the overlook only had one pole light, she could make out that his eyes seemed much older than they should have been. He was dressed as casual as she was. Jeans and a t-shirt that would probably be accompanied by a light jacket this time next month.

He stood back from her, allowing himself to be sized up. He didn’t smile, really, but she could tell that he probably smiled often. Lucky him, she thought. She thought of telling him that it was rude to sneak up on people, but didn’t even care enough to offer this mild rebuke. Maybe she would get lucky and he would see that she was back on firm ground, and he would go away, knowing that he had done a good deed for the day. Instead, he walked over to the bench placed under the pole light, and sat at one end of it. He gestured to the other end, and the invitation was clear: Come sit.

Ridiculous. There was no way she was going to sit on a bench with some man that she had never met. But neither did she leave. Instead, she leaned against the railing again, but with her back to the water this time. She crossed her arms across her chest as she looked at him, and she hoped the message was clear. She wasn’t looking for new friends, and if he was looking for more than friendship, then he was definitely in the wrong place. Now the smile came, he raised his hands, palms outward in a non-threatening gesture, and he spoke again.

“I get it, you want to be left alone. To tell you the truth, I came out here to be alone, as well.” He paused, as he sized her up as she had done him, “But perhaps we could spend a few moments being alone together.” He must have seen the look on her face, because in a rush he said, “Not like that! I’ll sit here because I like sitting on this bench, and you can stay over by your railing, because I can see that you appreciate the view. Never cared for heights or the wind in my face, to tell the truth, but to each their own. I just want to sit in silence for a few minutes before I go about my life.”

Crystal thought about what he said, and decided to take him at his word. After all, could her life get much worse? Well, yes. It most definitely could. But that wasn’t the vibe she was getting off this man. She could be wrong, but she didn’t think so. She wasn’t sure if he was looking for a response from her, but she gave one anyway.

“Fair enough. You enjoy your bench, and I’ll enjoy my railing. Then we’ll both go our separate ways.” Having said this, Crystal turned her back on the stranger, and once again closed her eyes against the wind. She wondered if he had noticed the tears on her face, or if the wind had concealed them. Normally she wouldn’t care, but she just didn’t want to deal with any questions that they may bring at the moment.

She had no idea how much time passed like that, because like so many people she knew, she no longer wore a watch. Her only method of keeping time was her phone, and that hateful thing was still disassembled in her pockets. By the time the last of the colors had faded from the sky, she turned back to the bench, hoping to find the stranger gone, but he just remained where he had been. He had one arm flung behind the back of the bench, and the other laying on the arm of the bench. His face was pointed up towards the light above him, and his eyes were closed. The smile was once again gone, but from this angle, it was easy to see a ghost of it on his lips. While she watched him, he opened his eyes and she could tell that he noticed her looking.

“Yes?” That was all he said.

“Nothing.” A simple answer for a simple question. Crystal turned again, and could hear him stand up. He’ll either leave, or he’ll come over to ‘get to know me’ she thought. Neither happened.

“I’m going to walk over to the railing now, but down here at the other end. I won’t be too close, so don’t worry. Is that okay?” In response, she just waived a hand in a ‘this is a free country’ manner.

She heard him walk over to the other end of the railing, and while it did bring him closer to her than the bench, he was still a good ten feet away. She could see him out of the corner of her eye, and tried to keep some of her attention on him, even when the thoughts of her life came back to her. It wasn’t easy to escape those thoughts, and she had tried plenty of techniques. Most of those techniques hadn’t been particularly healthy, but she had tried them none the less. Once again, she found herself lost in the twists of her mind, and didn’t hear him close the gap between them by half.

It wasn’t until he cleared his throat that she came back to herself to notice that he was nearly within grabbing distance. With a start, she called out, rather frantically, “Stay back!”

Again, he presented his hands in the universal gesture of non-threatening, but he didn’t back up. He kept his place, and gave her a quizzical look. “Are you in pain?”

Crystal nearly laughed at the question. Of course she was in pain. Everyone she knew was in pain. Pain was the new human condition. Had no one bothered to let this guy in on the secret? Instead of laughing, she told him, “Don’t worry about my pain.”

He lowered his hands and leaned against the railing. After a moment’s thought, he said, “I do worry, though. It’s who I am. I’ve always worried about those in pain. Doesn’t matter if I’ve always known them, or if they are strangers off the street. I won’t say that I can feel their pain, because that makes me sound like a nut, but I do know that there is more pain in the world than there use to be. I have taken it upon myself to do something about that.”

With that, he lunged towards her, and pushed her over the railing. She had just enough time to see his twisted features before she went flailing over. He wasn’t smiling.

She managed to grab hold of the railing as she went over, and she could tell that that had not been part of his plan. That is, if he even had a plan. Maybe he was just nuts. It didn’t matter at the moment, as she hung on for her life.

She should have been terrified, but this felt almost normal, as she had been struggling to hold onto life for so long. At least now, it wasn’t in just a figurative way. Before she could reach up with her other hand, he peered over the railing to look at her.

“Still here, I see. Well, that’s unfortunate. While you’re here, your pain is here, too. When I came up, you were trying to go over, so why not just let go and go over? What’s so different now?” He looked genuinely interested in the answer. But there was no way she was going to use her energy to give him one, not when she had to try to pull herself back up.

“HELP! HELP ME! PLEASE SOMEBODY!” She didn’t expect anyone to come rushing to her aid, though. She had chosen the overlook precisely because it was fairly isolated. She reached up with her free hand, but couldn’t pull herself up enough to grab the railing, and in trying to do so, she slipped.

She expected the next thing she felt to be the rush of wind and the sharp pain as she hit the water, but instead, she felt her feet hit a miniscule ledge that felt as though it were littered with small stones. If any of those stones slid, that was it for her, she was sure of it. She tried to look down, but didn’t want to risk shifting her weight. Her toes were on the ledge, and her heels were hanging over the drop. She wasn’t sure how long she could stand like this, but she would go for as long as she needed to.

Crystal’s head was just below ground level on the other side of the railing, but she didn’t think she could pull herself up from this position, and she didn’t dare try to go up further onto her toes so she could see if he was still there. He made his presence known soon enough, as he looked again over the railing to see her.

“Well, this is rather unexpected.” He said. “However, it may give you a chance to answer my question. How is it different when you try to jump than it is when I try to push you? Can you answer that?”

Now that she wasn’t in immediate danger of death, she actually did have an answer for that.

“Choice.” Simple answer for a complex question, she thought.

“Come again? Choice?”

“Yes. Choice. I’ve had so many choices taken from me lately, that I had only one left. The deepest, most personal choice there is. You tried to take that choice away from me. That’s the difference.” It felt absurd standing here debating choice with her would-be murderer, but that’s where her life was at the moment. And honestly, it felt good to say it out loud.

He seemed to actually consider this for a few minutes. She could hear him muttering to himself, and wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not. Finally, he looked back down and said, “Choice, huh? I hadn’t considered that. Do you think people choose the pain that’s in their lives? Do they choose to face it, or run away from it? Do they choose to lay their pain at the feet of others? Or do they not even consider others when making their choices?”

She didn’t have answers to most of those questions. She was just a woman on the side of a cliff, hoping her toes didn’t slip out over the void. But she did answer the one question that she could.

“When our pain reaches a certain point, it becomes less about saving ourselves from it than it does making sure the pain does as little damage to those around us as possible. We choose to take all of our pain away, where it can’t hurt those we love anymore. Does that create more pain? Sure it does. We know this. But if we are forced to continue suffering simply because our loved ones prefer us here, then that is a whole new level of pain. We are made to feel selfish because we want it to end. We are told that our loved ones are good reasons to live, and that we have to focus on the good things. It poisons those good things, when they are used against us. That’s why we make the choices we do.”

Crystal could feel her calves tightening from the strain placed upon them. She hadn’t had to stand like this since she was in gym back in school, and that was quite a while ago. She couldn’t have been standing there for too long, but it felt like she had been on the side of this cliff for hours.

Above her, the man said something that she didn’t expect, not that she had expected any of this, really.

“As you said before, fair enough.” With that, he climbed over the railing and reached down to offer her his hand.

Crystal didn’t know if this was just a ploy to finish her off, or if he was actually trying to save her, but she had no real choice but to take his hand. Her legs were worn out, and she couldn’t remain like this for much longer. It was either take the risk with him, or let herself fall. She took the risk.

She shouldn’t have been surprised by his strength, but he was able to haul her back up to the railing with little help from her. As soon as she got both hands on the railing, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Crystal climbed up so that she could go back over the railing, but paused for a moment and stood with her back to the drop and let the wind ruffle her clothes. She heard someone coming towards the overlook, and figured someone may have heard her, after all, when she looked over to tell her murderer-turned-savior that he may want to leave.

What she saw was nothing. There was no one where he had been moments before. She wasn’t sure if she heard the splash, but maybe she did. She was still on the other side of the railing looking down when the officer came around the corner and froze. She could tell he was expecting some sort of assault, but quickly changed modes to deal with an apparent jumper. She nearly laughed, then had to remind herself that until quite recently, that was exactly what she had been.

Crystal let the officer bring her back over the railing, but she kept looking back to see if her mysterious stranger might not climb back up. Even when she was in the back of the ambulance that the officer had called for, she kept looking for him. All the way to the hospital, where she was placed on a 72-hour hold, she looked for him. He was gone.

Crystal awoke, with the tranquilizers that the doctor had given her wearing off. They must have thought she was nuts, talking about a man trying to kill her and then saving her, while disappearing right as the officer arrived. It sounded crazy to her, and she had lived it.

She just lay in bed with her eyes closed, letting the quiet of the room lull her mind, when she heard someone moving in the room. Her eyes shot open, not sure she could handle any more surprises, when she was faced with one anyway.

He sat in the chair next to the bed, dressed exactly how he had been at the overlook. Were the cuffs of his jeans wet, or was that just her mind playing tricks on her? It didn’t matter. He wasn’t smiling, but she could see the smile hiding there.

“Tell me more about choice.” This was all he said.

Her response, “First, tell me your name.”


The End

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