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Drama Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

//TW: Language. Suicide.//

Leo sits straight-backed on a bench on the south end of the Isabella bridge. He had half-sprinted and half-stumbled down its entire length–a good three miles–trying to build up the nerve to jump. The drop was larger than he had anticipated. This was not a bad thing per se, considering his goals, but it was intimidating nonetheless. 

There is no wind today, so the water is still. The young sunset turns it a soft pink.

The water is so far away it doesn't look like water. It looks like the glass top of a fine table. The waves are the bubbles and fine curves in the china. An art piece. Something he shouldn't dare to shatter. 

The day had gone poorly. Leo had not anticipated that killing himself would be such a complicated matter. His original plan had involved the small pistol in his pocket that has a weight unusual for its size. He scrawled his notes in fine pen and carefully spread cut-open garbage bags on his kitchen floor. Ms. Mabel, his landlord, was a kind old woman. He didn't want to trouble her with his mess. 

Leo called in sick. He prayed and smoked half a pack of cigarettes, singing along to his little radio.

Then he sat down on his mound of rubbery black and pressed the gun to his temple. 

When he found his hand steady enough to pull the trigger, the gun misfired.

He sat on the trash bags for a long while with his eyes screwed tight, the gun still to his head. It felt wrong to try again the same way. There had been some small miracle there that he had no interest in testing. 

Leo left his house in a heavy wool coat and suit–the outfit he planned to be buried in. He intended to jump in front of the business end of a subway car so he could be gobbled up by the steel. There would be no open casket this way, but it would be fast.

The subway was closed. Bomb threat, explained the plump police officer guarding its entrance. It's probably bullshit. Unless it's not. Then the bull shits on us. He laughed at his own joke. Leo didn't find him funny.

He watched oncoming traffic for a while, but he wasn't interested in killing anyone else in an accident. He returned home.

He tried to draw a bath, but Ms. Mabel pinned a letter to the apartment complex's door that the water would be shut off until five. 

While he considered the pills in his cabinet and tested the strength of his tie, a ghost hit him over the head with a chopstick. 

Leo fainted twice. Once upon seeing his dead sister standing barefoot in his kitchen, his leftover takeout in hand (that time he hit his head on his counter on the way down). And for the second time when he woke to see his blood all over the floor. 

Once he had regained his bearings, he ran, sprinting from the house and stumbling over himself. The Isabella bridge was a few miles from his little apartment. He hadn't considered it before as he is deathly fearful of heights, and the whole ordeal felt rather dramatic. Now, scared out of his mind, the drop seemed like a small horror.

The ghost chased after him, trying to keep the takeout boxes balanced in her arms. She giggled as she ran, eyes sharp and hunting like a child playing tag. Leo ran silently, his eyes wide and panicked as a doe's.

He stopped at the bench for three reasons:

  1. He was out of shape and his asthma was kicking his ass. Ghost or no ghost, adrenaline cannot replace a respiratory system.
  2. He realized he had spent the entire day trying to die, and although death by paranormal circumstance was not traditional, this was not necessarily a bad thing.
  3. He remembered that he is a sensible man, and that sensible men do not believe in ghosts. A sensible man seeks an explanation that appeals to his sensible mind.

The ghost sits beside him. She sits criss-cross-apple-sauce, her mouth filled with his food, with egg from the fried rice stuck to her sweating chin. She is wearing a suit, the sleeves rolled up and jacket thrown across her shoulder, her tie loosened and bouncing against her collar bone like a noose on a criminal waiting for the floor to drop. It is a man's suit she wears. It is not cut to her thin form, and the ends of the pants have been clumsily rolled up. She has not grown any older, her features still as child-like and soft as they had been in life. 

She wipes her mouth with her sleeve, staining the cuffs and knocking away the cuff link. Leo watches it fall with a frown.

It is his suit. It's his second favorite suit. He considered it for his funeral. 

"You still looked spooked Leo," she says with a grin, gobbling down the last of a spring roll.

He swallows the growing lump in his throat.

"You're supposed to be dead," he replies without looking at her. Instead, he stares at a piece of now-gray chewed gum beneath the toe of his shined shoe. Sensible men do not look at ghosts.

"It's good to see you too."

"You're supposed to be dead," he repeats, laughing quietly to himself.

She smiles. He can't see her smile, but he knows. Siblings know each other's smiles.

"Don't be so damn jealous. Envy is a sin, Leopold," she chides in a cartoonish form of their mother's accent. He would laugh, but sensible men don't laugh at ghosts.

He stares at his piece of gum so ferociously that the world trembles around it. It reminds him of a Doctor Who episode he watched when he was a kid. With the weeping angels. You look at them, and they cannot move, but blink, and they can do whatever the hell they want. Blink and you're dead. He was too young to watch that show. He spent hours practicing a weeping angel stare he thought would never use. Now he needs it.

He resists the urge to look at the spasming and purpling world around the gum. He refuses to look at the ghost. To look at it is to secure it. Is to make it freeze in place and set it in stone. 

"You're supposed to be dead," he mumbles quietly, his voice cracking slightly.

"Yup. You've mentioned that. Many times, actually. And as I have already explained to you, I am very dead, so no need to get so damn worked up about it. Everything is right in little Leo's world," she mumbles with a chopstick dangling from her mouth. She wipes a sweet and sour sticky finger on the front of his stolen shirt, leaving an off-orange streak on the fine cotton. 

"No, you're sitting here."

"No shit, Sherlock. But you buried me. You saw me all pretty and taxidermied in the coffin and shit I bet. Mom would have wanted that. I told you I didn't want to be buried but fuck what I want right?" She punches him hard on the shoulder. He flinches at her touch, losing his concentration on the gum. The world returns to focus from its fuzz. "'S alright, I forgive you. You saw me. Unless you were a pussy about looking, you saw me dead."

He digs a fingernail into his pointer finger hard enough to draw blood.

"You never told me that. You never said you didn't want to be buried. And we didn't taxidermy you for Christ's sake, Coella."

She stares at him, offended. He doesn't meet her eye.

"I told you. I told you. Fourth grade. It was two in the morning. We decided we were gonna try and make it to the beach and make a bonfire with a box of matches and some goddamn string. We got locked out so we just sat on the porch until morning, and I told you I would rather be burned if I got eaten by the coyotes," she says, a hint of a smile in her eye.

He remembers. He hates that he remembers. Leo drops his head into his hands and tries to steady his breathing. He learned a senses trick from his therapist, Mr. Roberts. You name five things you can see, five you can hear, five you can touch… and so on.

The ocean.

A pigeon missing the feathers of its neck.

A pink child's croc upside-down in a puddle.

The sun peeking out from behind the clouds.

A dead kid in his suit.

"I hit my head. I hit it real bad. This stuff can happen. It happens," he mumbles to himself, rubbing the still aching wound on his temple. 

He did see the ghost in her coffin. He remembers. They could not hide the swelling of her neck and face with their chemical concoctions, and the discoloration of her skin was too severe for makeup, so her face had been wrapped in red silk that matched her dress. She looked like a mummy. 

That was the last time he saw her sister. It had been seven years–exactly seven years–since he had seen his sister. 

I'm going insane.

"So you're dead?"

"As a doornail. Do you have a smoke?"

He giggles, and, with trembling hands, pulls two cigarettes from the little sweat-soaked package in his pocket. He tucks one between his lips and hands the ghost the other. She leans over to let him light it. She smells like his cologne, but there is something else. The smell of old, wet paper. Of a flooded basement left to rot.

Before he can light his own cigarette, she plucks it from his mouth, tosses it onto the floor, and grinds it beneath his heel.

"Shit'll kill you, Leo," she says, clicking her tongue as she breathes her smoke into his face. "Can't be getting lung cancer, eh? I'm already down and rotted, but you're a youthful young man."

He reaches into his pocket to retrieve a replacement cigarette, but the pocket is empty. He drops his hand to his side and snorts. 

I'm a sensible man suffering a concussion. A nervous break. That's all-

"A sensible man? Fuck, Leo, sensible men don't go trying to shoot themselves in their kitchens. You aren't all mad, though. You don't want to die," she says, examining her cigarette. The joy has faded from her voice. She sounds severe. Adult. She sounds as old as she should be if the world had been kinder. He stiffens. "You think you do, but trust me. It isn't all it's cut out to be."

He says nothing.

"Jump. I think you should jump." She lightly taps the side of his coat, where the heaviest of pockets tugs at him. "You aren't good with guns. You'll fuck it up again. Miss this time. Or make it all wrong. Through the neck and around the spinal cord. Around the special stuff. You've always been the lucky one, Leo. Best you go with the water."

He looks out at the soft waves and draws a shaky breath.

"I wish I had water. It would have hurt less." She rubs her neck, her voice laced with well-suppressed pain. He knows that voice. He uses that voice.

Leo closes his eyes tightly. The warm summer sun burns through his eyelids.

"Please just leave me be, Coella. You aren't real. Leave me be," he pleads.

She does not.

"Do you remember when we used to play blackjack? We would play at church and gamble the fruit snacks they gave us at Sunday School. We didn't give two flying shits about the sermons. We gambled in the Lord's house. Remember that, Leo?"

 He does.

There is a soft rustling as she searches the pockets of her well-ironed pants.

"Look."

He doesn't.

Something vaguely rectangular, and exceptionally cold is pressed into his hand. The ghost pries his fingers out of their tight fists and forces them around the small shape.

"Look, Leo."

He looks down at the little box. It is a deck of cards with a toucan on the cover, The edges of the box are worn and faded. His initials are scrawled across the front. L.M. 

I am a sensible man.

"You didn't have to run like the devil. This is all I wanted. Let's play." The ghost says, spreading out her jacket to sit on the floor. She pats the ground across from her. "C'mon, Leo. Let's play."

He sits down slowly on trembling knees.

"If I win," The ghost begins, rolling her sleeves up as tightly as she can, "you go home. You go home and you call mom and tell her you love her. And you take her out for dinner. A nice dinner. None of that cheap shit. And you punch dad. And you go home and you get yourself some sort of pet. It isn't right to have a home without a pet. You straighten up, stop your smoking, and quit talking to ghosts."

Leo draws a shaky breath and pulls the cards from the box. Each is printed with a small cartoon bird. They are exactly as he remembers, only colder and softer, mold curling around most of the edges and chewing away at the paint.

"Long list of demands."

"You're lucky Mr. Leo. You always win blackjack. If I'm going to gamble on a losing dog, I'll at least make the miracle appetizing."

He smiles. He always does win blackjack.

"And if I win?"

She juts a chin at the water.

"Go and be a sensible man and enjoy your concussion. See if you can fly."

"And if I can't fly?"

"Then enjoy your fall, Mr. Icarus."

He shuffles the cards. It is difficult and he drops the deck three times from how ferociously his hands tremble. The ghost watches him patiently, her brow furrowed. 

"Just one game?"

She nods and chews her lip. She looks pained. Tired. As if she had just gotten off a long flight. Physically, she is just as young as she was when he found her hanging like a particularly heavy wind chime from the closet. It is the small bits behind her features that are older. It's her self that has grown weary. 

"Just one game," she assures.

He places her first card face up on the concrete and hands her the second. Her fingers brush his when she takes it. They are cold like metal. Cold like they are pulling at your warmth.

  Her card is a seven of spades. There is a blue macaw in a swimsuit on its face. She glances at her second card, then holds it close to her chest.

His card is a king of hearts. There is a frigate bird with a crown on its face. He stares at his second card. It's an ace. His breath catches, but he keeps his poker face. He knows how a game of blackjack is won.

"Why are you here?" she asks, tapping the concrete. He throws her a card. A two of clubs. 

He swallows hard, his face burning with shame. He thinks for a long moment. He has a note on his desk, but the words there feel wrong now. They feel all wrong.

"I'm tired," he says simply.

She nods slowly, staring seriously down at her cards. She taps the concrete again. A five of hearts. She opens her mouth to say something, then thinks better of it

"Why are you here?" he asks.

"Because death has been pretty damn peaceful, and I don't want my dumb-as-rocks brother coming down to ruin all my quiet," she says with a giggle.

He smiles shakily back. 

She taps the floor. A three of spades.

"You've always been mom's favorite. She can't lose you. Me, she can handle, but not her Leo. You're her rock."

He shrugs and tosses her another card. An eight of hearts. She whistles through her teeth.

"Hit."

"You have twenty-three showing. You bust."

"Hit, Leo."

He throws her a card.

Ace of diamonds. 

"Thirty-two or twenty-four showing. You lose, Coella. You lose."

She spreads out her hand. Thirty-one in all. He frowns, the little cartoon birds glaring back up at him. He spreads out his hand. The ghost clicks her tongue at his hand and shakes her head.

"Lucky Leo. Lucky, lucky Leo."

She stands up, snubs out her cigarette, and nods towards the water.

"Good luck Mr. Icarus."

She holds out a hand. He stands, a knot forming in his throat.

"Don't leave me, please, we can play again and-" 

"'Cmon now, Mr. Icarus, don't be so modest. You won fair and square. Even though I hope we don't see each other for a long time coming, you won. You can take your prize. " She juts her hand towards him. Shakily, he takes it. Her hand is small and cold in his. She slides something into his palm. It’s warm.

"Keep your head up, brother. Don't let death take you with your eyes closed."

She is gone before he can argue. He stands alone on the bridge, one hand out, surrounded by an abandoned deck of children's cards. The wind picks up. It beats at his face and pierces his hot skin beneath his coat.

In his hand is a fortune cookie. 

He takes a seat on the floor in the ruins of his game, and gently tears open the package. 

Better a feather in hand than a bird in the air

Lucky number: 31

And Leo goes home. 

June 24, 2022 16:33

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5 comments

K. Antonio
22:19 Jun 24, 2022

This took such a turn, from going to something essentially dark to something actually paranormal and whimsical in the middle. I liked how we got to delve into Leo's day and everything that went on. I actually think this could be tagged as a "funny" story, when considering the dialogue and Coella's character. I loved this these two lines: "The water is so far away it doesn't look like water. It looks like the glass top of a fine table. The waves are the bubbles and fine curves in the china. An art piece. Something he shouldn't dare to sh...

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B.T Beauregard
01:03 Jun 25, 2022

Thanks for reading! I wanted to try and turn a serious and dark subject matter into something with some humor and ironic joy to it, so I am pleased to hear it had this effect. :)

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Claudia Morgan
06:42 Aug 26, 2022

Oh my God. That was magical. Absolutely enthralling, with a perfect hook and twist, so vivid. The turn from, essentially, tragedy, to an almost whimsical childlike reconciliation, with this undercurrent of cold sadness, and the perfect ending…may just be my new favourite Reedsy story & author. Amazing job!

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R. B. Leyland
20:29 Jun 27, 2022

A surprisingly humorous story considering the huge dark cloud hovering over it throughout. I kept thinking about the phrase "battling your demons" as I was reading it, and I was relieved at the end when he seemed to have won. Very interesting take on the prompts, well done!

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H L McQuaid
11:38 Jun 25, 2022

I enjoyed the dark humour and playfulness of this piece. It's very well-written, oddly-moving and deep (for a ghost story, which I appreciate!). One thing I wondered about: "...he sat down on his mound of rubbery black and.." Maybe say, "...mound of rubbery black bags and.." just to clarify. Great to see a story from you, I hope we'll see more. :)

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