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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Like in the children's paper and pen game of the same name, the main character takes incremental steps towards hanging a man, though here it's his own self induced destruction which is at stake. (plot twists come free but the broken fourth wall is non-refundable)

Submitted: October 03, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 03, 2015




by S.P.Webber

Four steps and a fall, that’s all it will take. The enemy at large was procrastination. The man steadied himself using the cheap and flimsy stepladders bought at the local supermarket, another deal that had trouble fulfilling its title. He was the wrong side of tipsy, more than half way through his late thirties, and although distressed, was doing an admirable job of maintaining an aura of decorum, this despite the lack of an appreciable audience.

Four steps and a fall was not exactly all. There was the slipping of the noose around the neck to be interposed between these two sets of actions. It was not so much a noose, in fact, as an elaborated slip-knot: a slip-knot with a knot on the jutting end of the rope to stop the slip-knot slipping off, so to speak. He would have preferred a proper noose, but noose making was now to remain at the top of a rather long list of things he would never get to learn nor master. And whilst looking at this slipping knot that he had fashioned in advance, he couldn't but notice how nylonish it was. Electric blue nylonish. Well, at least it matched the quality of the step ladders, he thought to himself, for to who else would he be thinking?

And he climbed the first step. This he considered to have achieved with solemnity, but to any outside observer the act would have simply appeared ungainly; alcohol’s first casualty in any head-on was dignity. He hadn't drunk a lot, just ¾ of a bottle of Bordeaux, but having for most of his life shied from regular drinking, perhaps as much for the disabling affects upon the mind as for the loosening of the said minds control over the body, this quite reasonable amount of alcohol (amongst drinking circles at least) was making itself blatantly known. No, this man’s drugs of choice were nicotine and caffeine, always together, each double barrelled hit never spaced more than an hour apart if can be helped, and this routine followed strictly since his late teens. The long term effects were showing. Indeed, more than showing, they were weighing. The skin and teeth had taken a hit and the heavy panting when doing anything physical wouldn't be mislabelled as upsetting, but it was the crackling of his lungs by night coupled with cold fingers and toes by day which were beginning to deeply gnaw at his subconscious. He was seriously clogging up the machine, he knew it, and whereas he could change the filters on his car, hoover or cafetière with relative ease, the same could not be said for the filters of his own corporal being.  Yet he knew he could never stop this slow burning self-mutilation. Even the merest thought of doing so sent him off the wire. From the degree to which he practiced the art he could see that the results were set in stone: he was destined to drown within his own lungs, but much before that, he would fall into ineptitude as his body parts, deprived of the essentials of life, would deny their own user full access. At this point in his reflections an ironic smile found a place upon his face, for what was really panicking him (and in this latter statement the ‘really’ should not be under-emphasized) was the fact that these drugs that were meant to sharpen his acuity of mind, were now (indeed, have been for some time) in the process of dulling it. The lack of oxygen was beginning to touch his mental capacities. He was getting 'smoker's fogginess'; the double edged sword was now falling the wrong side. Whilst mulling on these thoughts he assured himself that he could gain a better grip over them with a cigarette hanging off the corner of his lips, and so without a second's hesitation he duly lit one up, and then...

...he climbed a second step. And this second step was more sober than the first in both perception and reality. Reflecting over this addiction had brought his attention to a major cause of it: his lack of connection with people. And it’s here he felt his first pang of tangible emotional pain, not simply since the start of the day, but probably since a fair few years at the very least. He had made alienating those around him into a sport. Not for the want of not wanting to, but simply by sheer compulsion. People were to be guarded at a safe distance for to let anyone approach his mental being would be to introduce a ‘distracting factor’ akin to ‘grit in a sensitive instrument.’  And though these words as when first penned by Sherlock's Watson originally referred to emotions in general, according to the man on the stepsladder in the present case, they could equally be applied to those who induced them; and since all persons were capable of inducing emotion, everyone was caught (and thus excluded) by this clause.

It was not that he was unsociable. In fact, he was rather well appreciated when in company. It was just that he sought at each and every instance to avoid it. He thought to himself, look where this has led you, you fool. In the wake of this thought...

...he took a third step up. By now he could reach the dangling nylon rope, and the timing was good for without grabbing hold of it as he did, he would surely have fallen off the ladders. Close one there, you nearly had it. Even as he had had this thought he had realized that under the present circumstances thoughts such as these were completely ridiculous. Hard to fight against several million years of evolution, he supposed. And there in that last sentence was to be found one of his biggest bugbears with life in general, for under the thin veneer of all that was said and done between us, us the inheritors of this adorned spinning sphere, he knew would be found Darwin’s hand, and much less invisible than Smith’s at that.

You see, our man on the steps was a reductionist. Not by will nor wish, but simply as of fact, and almost certainly as a result of the very evolution which now found itself under the surgery theatre spotlights of its dissecting offspring. For our man reduced all that he was, is, and was to be, to a by-product of evolution. If he saw in desire, fear, doubt and relief mere tools for assuring that one’s genes were not only passed on further in time and wider in space, but that the next time around they would find themselves in a better place to repeat that process than anybody else’s, it was because a thousand generations had honed that trait. He knew that with this information, as with all information, came power, and where power lies men prosper. With this last reflection an anecdote he had heard heard concerning Ghengis Khan came to his mind; that 16 million of his descendants were at large in the present. "And the meek shall inherit the earth," he muttered to himself whilst shaking his groggy head. Through-out his life he had kept open the hope of finding some trace of god. Not for a voice within nor miracle without, but simply for some pattern built in to life itself that once turned inside out would reveal the hand of a creator. There were times where he had almost believed to have found so, like when he first saw a periodic table, how ordered it was, and thought secretly to himself the Lego of the ‘great builder.’ But curiosity had later led him down paths of discovery which quickly turned to disappointment. The death nail of these discoveries was evolution, but not for the reason one might think. Most felt that if the ‘survival of the fittest’ was responsible for our being here than nothing else could be. Not so for our stepladder man, he was wise enough to admit that there could be a god who was simply the writer of the rules by which the universe ‘evolved.’ 

No, there lied not the fault. To him, it lay with the sheer unjustness of the inner workings of natural selection itself. Our man had met many arse-holes in his life, which didn't surprise him for he knew the world to be jam-packed with such cretins. Each time he had stood before one, particularly in the latter more bitter years, he would often think to himself, "how many good, kind, generous, unselfish, loving, docile beings have you and your ego driven, selfish, traitorous, lying, stealing, sexually perverse ancestors taken the place of since the dawn of mankind? When famines came, yours were the ones taking the last loaf of bread out of the village pot whilst no-one was looking and in so doing the only b*ggers to have survived them. Yours were the ones who ventured to strange lands, massacring those found there, taking the women and fields and selling the children to slavery." At these times he knew that it was not the descendent of the dispossessed that would be standing before him for knew that being dispossessed was incongruous with survival.

In fact he didn't know which he despised more, the men who did anything and everything to beat the system or the woman who chose the winners. But of course, in time, he had realized that the buck should stop, not at the players, but the games inventor. This train of thought would always lead him to a stark choice between two unenvious possibilities. The first, that nature’s choosing of the select few, being so inherently cruel and unjust, meant that no righteous god in their right mind could have invented it, and therefore god didn't exist, making ‘the thousand natural shocks the flesh is air to’ all the more pointless to endure. The second was more frightening: that this selection process was so inherently cruel and unjust that it could not have arisen by accident and so must have been created, and whoever had created it... well.... must be one hell of a sadistic c**t, making those very 'thousand natural shocks' a simple a taster of what’s to come. 

In the face of such diabolical alternatives, he let his head, turned heavy under influence of the alcohol his body was struggling to filter out (turned heavier still by the weight of these profounder than usual thoughts) loll to the left. Simultaneously, the balance of weight shifted within his entire soon-to-be corpse. The weight of his head overhanging his left shoulder pushed the centre of balance of his whole body in that direction causing muscles in his arms, both of which were poised upward to the right and whose hands were still holding on to the rope, to contract. The rope, with hands attached, was now acting as a pivot, and his legs and feet, in due obedience with the laws of physics, saw the upper body’s move to the left and raised it with its own to the right in equal measure. The top of the step ladders, on which the man’s weight had previously weighted, was now pushed off to the right by the feet upon them, who clearly didn’t want to travel alone. This was not looking good for neither man nor step ladder, and for the latter in particular as it's designers, in their race to the lowest build cost they could get away with before the number of potential litigation claims outweighed potential profit, had clearly neglected ‘ease of toppling’ (among all other eventualities it has to be said) as a reasonably foreseeable occurrence to test against.

However, a mili-moment before the point of no return, evolution played its joker: adrenaline. Before the hapless man could have quite possibly taken account of the unrolling of these events, his subconsciousness had already flared the danger. A burst of adrenaline coursed through his veins, his hands became like vices, his arms locked like steel, and the pivot now became the safety line. His feet hooked themselves around the top bar-rest of the step ladders which were at this point falling faster than the feet themselves. Then, in one determined swoop, the man pulled himself and the ladders into full and proper alignment. A flash of an idea passed through the man’s mind. He... TO BE CONTINUED

Or perhaps not to be continued... Well, not in a way one would expect, if indeed an expectation could have been expected at this particular point. You see, it is here that the second man in this story, the man writing it, would have liked to have continued to explore the depths of despair of the first man in the face of such underwhelming yet overbearing realities of man in general's existentialism. The structure being that with each step up (it was intended to be a high ceilinged house with a rather tall step ladder to reach it) a new depth of despair would have been explored. But the story was also meant to be a story of hope: at the very least a glimmer of hope amongst the stinking pile of excrement that can be life, once boiled down to its essentials and the blissful veil of ignorance withdrawn. You see, the man was meant to have reached the top and be at the very cusp of no return when struck by the more than irritating thought that to leave 'this mortal coil' without issuing an excuse for his very soon to be enacted act, however paltry the excuse, to his not very 'loved ones' would have made him even more of an arse in death than he had been in life.

And so, he would have descended the ladders and in a drunken stupour, picked up the nearest writing instrument to hand. As a result of an uninteresting turn of events, not important to mention now, this would have happened to have been a piece of white chalk, broken into a third of its original size (as was and will always be the fate of all chalk sticks in all the known and unknown universes.)

With this crude writing instrument in hand, and encouraged by the half sit, half chaise longue position on the floor that he would have collapsed into through the what would have then seemed to him like near monumental effort of picking up the said chalk stick, his choice of substrate upon which to write his last words would have appeared obvious, if not fated: That very same unvarnished hardwood floor that the second man in this story had intended for first man to find himself upon.

Words... Words strung together to form sentences. Arranged with aforethought these sentences would have semantic meaning. Atleast this was the theory that the first man would have been aware of whilst staring at his blank, though somewhat gnarly canvas. Yet... and yet... 

Self-expression! The idea would have caused him a shudder registrable on the Richter scale if this story had had been finished with due and proper care. As it is we can only suppose, and in our supposition we could also imagine what words and sentences would have come to him when he would have finally broken the seal on his life time prohibition against such self-indulgence. At first, the writing would have been controlled and well-formed but would have soon become a flurry of wide half ovals and merging spaces. And the fury of this bursting dam would lead to the whole floor being carpeted with chalky, almost illegible lines of pure internal soul code. The secret workings of man, or at least this very man, our first man, and perhaps quite bit pertaining to our second man, hidden off scene, behind the slightly sweaty keys of his very grubby keyboard. 

And both men emptied, both fell asleep, or would have fallen asleep, or had have... nevermind.  

Morning would have broken or just simply have arrived. Light would have pierced the thin eyelids of the chalky fingered man lying over what would have in the coming moments dawned on him to be, had these events taken place, not so lastly of words. His first thought would have been 'f**k.' His second, only slightly more elaborated though none the less crude for it: 'I've got to clear this sh*t up before anyone comes round and notices.'

This he would have done, and whilst he would be doing so he would notice a peculiar thing: he felt light. But not just this. The day felt light. The room felt light. The air felt light. His breath felt light. The space he could have potentially been occupying had he have been written to have been there, felt light. Even the light that would have struck his face felt light. His very being would have felt... lightened.

At this point, our second man (our ghost of a writer) is going to take charge as time for him is more than of an essence... it's running out. This man of second status fame, much to his own displeasure at doing so so hastily, whisks you to a scene that he would have wanted to describe to you within the story but which he has cut short to a simple description of what he would have written. This is what he wrote:

The stepladder man is lying flat backed on a couch, his head propped by an improvised cushion, his laptop on his lap (of all places.) He finds himself in this position after much deliberation as to the cause of his...  erm...  lightness. And it took him some time to realize what the cause was, despite the patent obviousness of it all. He had spoken! This may not seem a lot and yet there it was. He had spoken. Not his lips, not his head, not to be obliging, nor to manipulate. Not to make gain, not for a loss to be avoided. Not to maintain an esteem of self among others. To say that he spoke, is in fact misleading. What had happened was that his very being had been expressed, and in so doing, a weight had been lifted. And the logical next step: to continue to do so.

This was why he found himself in the position I just described. He knows he needs to write. But what to write? "Don't make mistakes of the past!" he tells himself, staring at the overly back lit screen. "Write what you know, what you've experienced, what, if you dare (and dare you must), what you feel, what you have felt."

And so he begins and this is what he began with:

‘Four steps and a fall, that's all it will take...’

Though be it by an awkward post scriptum way, you are now being informed that our second man is very much relieved (though far from satisfied as to the way in which he has managed to do so) that he has brought his story to an end. He did not know how long his quickly developing dementia would have permitted him to do so, but that matters little now, for he considers his story done. Laying laptop aside for most probably the last time in his life, he settles down to await his inevitable slip into living oblivion.

And when oblivion came (or was at least at the door), his last thoughts were to god, to the possibility that there was a god, that that god had let the world come to be by deliberate omission, that that god had let it continue to be by sheer curiosity, that that god had become enamored by its wonders but later despondent by its savagery, and that that god is still waiting for his first call to be proven right… 




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