Adventure Drama Sad

This story contains sensitive content

Note: Hundreds of people have died due to attempts to take spectacular photos and selfies.

Mateo realized his mistake when his leg lodged hip deep into the old, moss-crusted roof. He had his digital camera in one hand and a bottle of Coke in the other when he’d fallen in. Glistening soda splashed the aged roofing. The surprise overrode the pain for a blink, but as he watched the bottle roll down the roof and off the ledge the stab of something in his thigh screamed for his attention.

The sky was the fading blue of late midday, the air sweet with spring edging towards summer. It had been the first day it hadn’t rained in almost a week. Mateo tasted metal in the back of his throat and smelled a sudden burst of mold.

He’d only been on the roof to get a full view of the main asylum grounds. He could see all the windows on the north side from where he was on top of one of the groundskeeper’s houses. The area was supposed to be heavily patrolled by staties. Where were they? His throat was caught around pain, but after a second of choked silence, he was able to gasp out a groan.

It wasn’t the first time Mateo had been at the old asylum. He’d never seen the state troopers that were supposed to be there. The asylum grounds were huge, mostly shrouded by tall pines, and crawling networks of vines and underbrush. He’d seen squirrels, and foxes, and taken a great photo of an owl, but never seen the police. He’d avoided other trespassers, turning a blind eye to their petty crime as they did to his.

The first few moments went white as the tidal pain rose like his belated gasp. The stink of wood rot drifted from the hole his leg was stuck in, his other leg out in front of him on the roof. The agony of pulled sinew and mashed balls gave way to a mental reboot. In the purity of shock, his mind tooled backward in time.

He’d sipped from his bottle at a time when he should have been paying attention to the flex and give of the rotten roofing beneath him. He’d climbed through a window empty of glass and shimmied up the side of the house without a problem. It was so easy. Effortless.

All his focus turned to staying cognizant. He hissed through his teeth, “Fffffuck. God… This is fucking bullshit.”

Birds twittered in the distance. Mateo tried to look around, see the ground, see where the beaten paths were around the overgrown yards but even just moving his head caused his thigh to scream under his skin. The inside of his leg felt hot and wet. Was it bleeding or had he pissed himself? Either, or both, was possible.

“Fucking Coke,” he gasped, easing his hands down to push at the crumbling tarry sheets of roof shingles.

If it hadn’t been for the Coke…

He pushed gently, exploring the possibility of dislodging himself. A fresh, sharp burst of pain shot from that place in his thigh that he could not see. If he could see the damage he could assess it. Was it dug in a quarter inch, or halfway through? What was stuck in there, a splinter, a plank, metal flashing? Was it in his femoral artery and any motion at all would kill him in seconds?

As embarrassing as the situation was, his nerves were starting to eat at him. He still wasn’t fully invested in being caught trespassing there, but he couldn’t see his leg. The pain was significant. But was it his mind playing with him?

If someone showed up and it was something he could have gotten out of himself…

Mateo put his camera in his jacket pocket. It barely fit, so it was a struggle. His hands were shaking, and the wide body of the camera kept slipping just past the pocket mouth. He finally got it in with both hands working together. 

Once both hands were free, He tried to push one down to find the spot where he had been invaded by unknown material. Flakes of old, dry, moss-impregnated roofing were gently scraped back to show the downward bend of metal pockmarked by rust.

He vaguely recalled the last time he’d gotten a tetanus shot. He’d been waist-high to the doctor. That white lab coat and the dull ache that followed days later had been much further than ten years back.

He tried to find his phone in his back pocket. It was wedged against his asscheek and the roofing. He tried to lean forward to get some weight off it, but the fresh bright pain it caused in his thigh stopped him. Instead, he tried to get his fingers on either side of it to pry it up and out. His arm was angled awkwardly, and his sweaty, dirty fingers slipped on smooth plastic.

“Shit,” he muttered. Nothing was worth saying except curses. Deer caught in barbed wire fences, rabbits caught in snares, foxes caught in brutal claw traps, and him. They all had something in common. The difference was that no one would check this trap for its quarry.

Clouds striated the sky, and the sun was easing into the position he’d wanted for the photo. It was this moment he’d come for. The moment when light and dark were at their peak across the building, highlighting all the glory and misery of the old asylum’s architecture.

He felt tears pricking his eyes as he groped his jacket pocket for the camera. His fingers were trembling, trying to pry it out of the pocket he’d fought so hard to put it into. At least he’d get that picture, he thought as he wiggled it slowly free. Inch by inch until it popped past the tight fabric. His sweaty fingers slipped. When had they gotten so sweaty?

The digital camera spun on the tip of his index finger. He jerked to try to get ahold of it and then, just as suddenly forgot about it. The jab of pain at the desperate motion tore a ragged howl from his gut, the sound trembling at the end.

Something went clunk on the roof beside him. Through wavery vision, he saw the camera slowly sliding away from him, teetering on the edge of the rickety roof, then disappearing over the edge. Until just then he’d been scared, but not that scared.

Without the camera, without that shot, it had been for nothing. All the stupid things he did, all the pain, all the potential fines and doctor bills were for nothing. The failure was absolute.

Mateo put his hands on the roof and pushed, hearing his jeans tear, feeling the lighting hot jab of whatever it was in his leg. God, he didn’t even care, anymore. He should have been calling for help.

He felt hot wetness slide down his leg. Oh yeah, definitely bleeding. He stopped trying to escape as suddenly as he started. His defeat was a lightning storm without the warning thunder.

He slumped there, aching leg he could see out before him. He stared at his hiking boot. Brown leather, a little worn, very muddy, the boots accompanied him on many journeys before this one.

Had it just been time? Statistically speaking, you can’t get away with being reckless forever. It hadn’t seemed particularly dangerous at the time. He’d climbed plenty of more dangerous things for a good photo. Why now?

Because you don’t get to pick perfection, his mind supplied. The voice was darker than his usual inner voice. You, Mateo, aren’t able to create perfect scenarios. You can imagine them, but they always fall short, don’t they? No matter how hard you try, you do something like this. You indirectly fuck yourself.

Mateo watched a bee land on the trail of Coke splatter. It flashed its wings as it sucked up the sweet liquid. A droplet disappeared, then another. The bee flew away as abruptly as it arrived. 

Mateo blinked. It had been late afternoon when he got up to the roof, right before the bullshit chain of events happened. The sun was brushing the tops of the tall pines. What did that mean? When had that happened? He deliriously considered the position of the sun.

It meant no one would be here. It was a long walk from the closed road to the train tracks, through the echoing dark tunnel, and to the public parking lot where people left their cars. Where he’d left his car, not to park and ride but to walk the lonely course to the abandoned buildings. Other trespassers would have already left to avoid traveling the dark train tunnel at night or getting stopped by the states.

“HELP!” Mateo heard his hoarse voice echo and bounce across stone buildings to peter out somewhere in the muffled pine forest. Should have done this earlier, should have tried to call for help and screw the embarrassment, should have… not indirectly fucked yourself. Or, in this case, directly.

Mateo screamed in ways he’d never screamed before. He’d shouted at games, at parties, at people, even, when they pissed him off. This sound coming out of himself was not recognizable. It was unthinkable, but it was happening.

At that moment, he realized that any terror he’d ever known was vicarious. Other people were this scared, not him. Other people had been afraid for their lives, not him. He’d known fear of poverty, fear of bullies, fear of bosses, and fear of embarrassment. Not this shit.

Penance, he realized, as his voice gave out. He had not truly respected the concept of mortal terror until that day. The sun was no longer visible, a faint glow emanating between the thick, bristling pine branches. The shadows were long, the buildings dressed for mourning in their shrouds. He was alone. He was thirsty. That last sip of Coke had been barely a sip before the bottle was gone.

He had stuff to think about. He was getting used to the pain, in a way. It was constant, but the aching stabbing object had become familiar. His girlfriend, whom he saw on the weekends, wouldn’t worry about him until maybe the day after tomorrow when he didn’t text or respond to hers. Didn’t call or answer. His boss would call tomorrow morning when he didn’t show up. Would he be dead by then, or would he still be there on the roof?

Mateo tried to get the phone out again. It worked about as well as the last time. It was pinned perfectly by the roof. 

“If only my booty wasn’t so juicy,” he giggled to himself, something wet and slick finding its way down his cheek. The tear kissed his lips and he spat it out. 

No one was there to hear him. He decided to save his energy for an indication of people. Light, voices, something like that. The road with its multitude of barricades wouldn’t allow patrol cars. But there were others like him, people that came to take photos or look for ghosts. Cops had to make the walk down, eventually. They had to. He held onto that hope to keep himself calm.

He might have passed out for a while. Browned out, lost track of time, definitely. He slowly became aware that his trembling wasn’t from his emotional state. He felt delirious, feverish.

Trauma can induce a febrile reaction. What did that mean? He heard the thought echo in his mind, then remembered what it meant. Trauma can induce a lot of things.

It was deep night. The stars were out, though the light pollution from the area killed the true beauty of the starfield above. Even so, the hazy quality was charming. The pine forest had its share of rustling. He heard doves cooing somewhere. It was nice.

The building he was on was a two-story house, on a higher elevation, far enough away from the main campus of crumbling stone wards to give a great view. It was a stunning panorama of eminence in decay. Mateo rested his palms on the dewy slick shingles and took a deep breath of moldy air. 

It was beautiful up there. He felt like he was on top of the world, far from people. A delicious sense of loneliness filled him up. He was shaking with fever, pinned to motionlessness, but something in him felt almost content. At the moment, everything was okay. It was the way things were supposed to be. His soul felt swollen, yet thin enough to brush over everything, everywhere.

He felt kind of sad, though. It was sad. The whole thing was. Life was beautiful and sad. No one else could experience this incredible, profound beauty in the way he did. They looked at his pictures, spoke with him, and experienced the same things, but they’d never recognize the same things he did. And he couldn’t see their star field at the top of the world how they did. It was a rightly forlorn tragedy.

Sure, a small piece of him was crouching in horror at what could come, next. He felt lighter than a bee’s wing, floating on an interstellar breeze. No more tears were sneaking out. Sweat clung to his face, hot and cold. His leg was throbbing, sticky, hot, and felt far too big to be hosting whatever it was that was stuck in it.

Mateo closed his eyes to save his strength. If he saw the sunrise, there might be a chance to live. If there was a tomorrow, he hoped he wouldn’t eventually forget this, as he'd forgotten so many other pivotal, visceral things.

Maybe, if he survived, he’d finally learn how to not indirectly fuck himself. Maybe he’d remember how to stay on top of the world, no matter what happened. Maybe.

April 02, 2024 22:56

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Tammie Williams
20:09 Apr 18, 2024

Wow, I felt every bit of his pain. Amazing visuals on the descriptions. But now I'm vested and want to know if he makes it or not. This could be a whole book about someone's turning point in life.


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03:10 Apr 11, 2024

Great blend of tension, emotion, and reflection that makes for an engaging read all the way through. I was a little worried some of those ghosts might make an appearance when the sun set. Well done!


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03:09 Apr 09, 2024

A heart-wrenching reminder of the dangers lurking behind our pursuit of the perfect shot. Mateo's journey from an adventurer seeking beauty to a victim of his own recklessness is both profound and sobering. You beautifully capture the thin line between passion and peril.


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Helen A Smith
11:30 Apr 08, 2024

An excellent story with great visuals and language. I could almost feel his pain. It was something that could happen to anyone that is inspired by the power of unusual scenes. Well done.


S. E. Foley
18:36 Apr 08, 2024

Thanks. Any little thing can have profound consequences.


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Kristi Gott
00:26 Apr 03, 2024

Wow, this is very suspenseful, immersive and engaging. The imagery and sensory descriptions are vivid. Well done!


S. E. Foley
18:38 Apr 08, 2024

Thanks. I was hoping to take everyone who read it on Mateo's fateful journey to realize how simple mistakes add up fast.


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